Beth's eyes flickered open. She was cold and incredibly uncomfortable. She had utterly no notion of where she was, except that she was not at home in bed. She tried to gather her wits, but coherent thought was as impossible as movement. The sensory input sent to her brain was confused and meaningless. She felt almost weightless, as if gravity had ceased to affect her stiff and unfeeling body. Her limbs were the worst. One leg throbbed dully, but it was distant and relatively unimportant for the moment. Her arms might as well have been missing. Beth's neck seemed to bend at a strange angle, as if her head was trying to rest on her shoulder. She tried to bring her head up to its natural position, but this effort was stopped by sudden pains which shot up her neck as well as through her head. It felt full of broken glass, or perhaps shards from a mirror, reflecting and distorting patterns of thought like a kaleidoscope. The muscles in her neck were useless, making the usually simple movement as difficult and painful as lifting a bowling ball with her little finger.
Panic began to take hold of Beth, and it took a huge effort not to struggle. She felt trapped in a total, malevolent darkness. The feeling was not helped by the restrictive pressure on her chest, which had begun to make breathing difficult. She squeezed her eyes closed, trying desperately to overcome both the pain and the panic and to think a way out of the situation.
Eventually, when the agony in her head subsided to a bearable level, Beth tried to make her hand respond to the orders her brain sent. Her left hand was resting against a solid surface, but at some distance out from her body. It was unimaginably heavy and the muscles in her arm refused to lift it. Her right arm, lying across her chest, seemed more promising, and after a short while some feeling came back into her hand. It was still heavy and awkwardly unresponsive but she managed to raise it to her face. Her probing fingers barely avoided adding to the pain she was already in - her nose protested violently to any pressure, the left side of her face was hot, swollen and tender. Beth could only presume that the sticky substance they encountered was blood - she was still in darkness. A fresh surge of panic swept over her, and the tenuous control she possessed over her arm failed. As her hand fell, it smashed into her nose and her head exploded with agony. Her mind, unsettled by panic, collapsed in on itself, chased by the steady pulse of hurt.
The drums beat slowly, monotonously.
Beth came round slowly, forced awake by pain. Her head throbbed in time with the drums, and it took a moment for her to realise that they were separate. Her mind wasn't much clearer than before, and it flitted between her previous period of consciousness and her current situation. At first there seemed to be no difference - the pain had subsided a great deal, but it was still dark. Gradually she began to notice a significant change in her circumstance. Gravity appeared to have taken full effect once again, and for this she was more than glad. Her position was a great deal more comfortable, lying flat on a smooth, solid surface.
After a moment, during which she was cautious not to move, Beth recognised another variation. The steady beat of the drum was not the only sound, although it was the most distinct. Beyond that, she could detect a low murmur of human voices. It was distant, unemotional chant, of which Beth could make no sense. Over that, louder and yet further removed, rose a high, wavering scream.
That scream was enough to torment the pain in Beth's head, but it also chilled her heart. Reality caught up with her abruptly, and panic threatened to follow. She had absolutely no idea of where she was, or what was happening to her. Then, just as she was on the verge of total hysteria, a new sensation froze her completely. Somebody, or something, was in the darkness with her.
For one eternal moment, Beth's heart stopped beating. She held her breath, filled with the conviction that, although she could see only the absolute darkness, someone was staring at her, watching for some hostile reaction to its presence. Before she had time to think, a bright streak of light appeared in front of her face, its intensity so great after hours of blackness that it seemed to burn through her retinas and into her brain. This time she did scream, partly because of the pain when she jerked her head back, but mostly because she was terrified of what was behind the light.
She came around again slowly, still unaware of where she was. The memories of her previous intervals of consciousness seemed to float through her mind. At first Beth assumed that she must have been dreaming. Then she opened her eyes.
It was no longer dark, but it made little difference to Beth's terror. She found herself in a huge, arena-like room. At first she thought she was outside, but then realised that the light above her head was not the sun, bright as it seemed. Its strength was enough to make it difficult for Beth to see without squeezing her eyes into slits. When she did, she realised that she was not alone. A single figure dressed in white towered over her, and over the altar-like structure which held her. Beyond it, many other creatures, some in white, others in pale green robes all seemed to crowd towards her.
Her eyes were drawn back to the figure - the priest - standing over her. Beth struggled to move, but her head was restrained by a strap and her neck was encircled by a large collar. Several of the creatures rushed forward to hold her down. A sharp, hot pain flared in her arm as one of them pierced her skin. The light began to fade, and Beth once more found herself slipping into darkness. She struggled to think, to remember something, anything. Her life, her job, driving home... losing control, losing consciousness...
The drums ceased only to be replaced by a piercing, high-pitched moan.
"She's in arrest. Start external cardiac massage. Get me one milligram of adrenaline."
"She was in a car crash, wasn't she?"
"Yeah, started screaming in the ambulance."
"Seemed pretty upset in here too, probably having a nightmare."
"Right, thanks people. This one's gone, I'm afraid."