She wakes from a dis-orienting dream, and the strange light around her – so unfamiliar, though as she wakes it is hard to fully fathom why – makes her blink rapidly. Her eyelids are butterflies frightened by the wind.
She was dreaming, of course, though it was more a nightmare. But surely that sensation, that strange memory of the ordinary walk home in the twilight hours punctuated by inexplicable fear, a roughness, arms around her, whispered words she could not make out, then awful dizziness drawing her into the dark – surely this was the stuff of nightmares, not reality.
It must have been a dream. She knew that in the moment it occurred, that sense of your life tipping over into something so alien, so horrifying that you are shocked into complete disbelief. That had to be a dream, it couldn’t be anything else. It just couldn’t.
She was a normal girl, from a normal family, living a normal life. Well, normal enough anyway. She had been well brought up and wanted for little. Her life had been well-planned, and while she was a bit lonely, this would surely pass. The keys to the kingdom lay in wait for her, not some shadowy predator in the night. These things did not happen to her. Not to someone like her.
If anyone is frightening it’s me, she thought, with a bravado and belief from her youth. I’m not the one to be afraid!
And the other thoughts, spilling through : I’m so normal it’s terrifying; be afraid of the quiet ones; hassle me and I’ll have your throat. And images arose of her as queen bee in the school yard, tormenting others. She liked to think she’d mellowed since then, but really that was the social order, replicated at her work, where she may be a student of sorts but she already ruled her kitchen. Her kitchen.
So it must have been a nightmare, a stressful, anxiety dream brought on by the grind of work and the sense of dislocation she felt from time to time in this town. Nothing more, nothing more.
By now her inner mantra is aligning with her eyelids as they stop their ragged fluttering and her vision accustoms itself to the light around her.
And the first thought is – this must be a dream within a dream, a nightmare within a nightmare, I’m not awake yet, surely, because this..cannot…be.
She finds her movements limited. Slowly she realises that she is strapped down somehow on a makeshift bed. She is not panicking yet, knowing this as a dream, willing to explore its limits with some dispassion.
The mattress is soft, too yielding, and therefore uncomfortable. She begins to be aware of a pain in her back and an ache in her legs from being immobile for too long. She can lift her head enough to look around her.
It is a room, and at first sight almost normal, if sparse. A dressing table is nearby and something that looks like a wardrobe. Then the catalogue of strangeness starts to build. There are no windows in this room, or at least none she can see from this angle. The only light is from some lamps affixed to the walls, and they look old and unreliable. Yet their light suggests the room itself does not look old – instead it seems cold, almost clinical, as one might expect a hospital room to be. Is she in hospital? Is she dis-oriented and drugged in a hospital, seeing phantoms around her, is that it?
But no, looking further she sees that in the shadows on the farthest wall dark implements seem to hang but she cannot make out their nature or form from this distance. That is not like a hospital.
Then there is the smell. It is not a hospital smell. She can recall what that smells like from a time when she was young and her appendix ruptured and she spent days in such an institution as she healed. She remembers the smell of illness and clinical death mixed with disinfectant. This is not like that. Not exactly…..
It is a dank, steely, lost smell, like the odour of fear and regret. She recalls falling in her youth and badly scratching and tearing her right leg. She still has scars on her thigh from that. And she remembers the smell of blood as it coursed out of her. And somewhere here, now, is that smell also, below the coppery top note, or merging and forming that from something else again.
She realises her breathing is jagged, wretched. And as her senses attune in the preternatural stillness of the room the degree of clarity that arises brings the most terrifying message of all.
She is awake.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved