~ a short story

Dana jolted awake with a soundless scream from out of her gut. Eyes open, the dread wisped away. Almost instantly, as the dark lifted, in her return to consciousness, the mundane sights of her morning-lit space illumined and invited. Lamps and posters and bookends brought her mind back to the coming day’s travails. The glory of another day, alive and breathing. She found gratitude in a deepening breath, sourcing from her gut, the trenches of her very soul. On the mantle next to her bed, her phone’s screen was dulled into an awaiting blackness. Awoken before the alarm. Exhale. A diffuse relief washed through her. Always a good feeling. The press of the sheets cocooned her in a silky soft bosom; the gleaming streams from the windows on the far side of her 2nd story apartment bathed her whole world in a warming glow. On the table, in front of her still open laptop, a mug waited. Did I finish its contents from yesterday? A late night. She’d forgotten it was there, awaiting her sip. Judging now by the light out, a late morning too. Slept in. Yet this grogginess. Why? Need to get moving. Much to do. No, it’s the weekend. Ah. But still … much to do. Memories of a dream wafted in. Reverie of the outdoors, on a hill of the greenest grass. Walking under the shade of a lone tree making its home at the peak of a hill with a figure I do not know. I could feel the hot blades of grass lick under my feet. The air is fresh. I am smiling. Then what? The sun’s light is warm and more than inviting. But the shade from the tree envelopes. Leafless, the branches wind around and crack the sky into its component parts. A clear sky, impossibly blue… becoming grey and cloudfull. And I am walking under this sky, this mosaic of arms of a dying tree, staring up. The figure is near to me. Getting nearer. Nearer. Why can’t I see them? What am I wearing? Am I wearing anything at all? The sun is setting. The tree is gone. The shade covers me. The figure is with me now. I do not know them. Why haven’t I woken up? I have lost contro-

Dana’s heart raced. Unease returned. The dread, nameless and relenting only in the alighting of her senses, washed through her. Just a dream. Just a dream. The soft bedding flowing pleasurably between her legs, brushing her nipples, reminded her that she is here and not there, that she is alive and not not … This… this is Reality. Though the old wooden fan wobbled at low high above her, the environment was perfect, for neither was she chilled nor sweating. But that weight? Not upon her chest, but in it. What to do with it? What is it… Who was the figure? What was the end of the dream?

Dana closed her eyes and tried to remember. On her back, nestled safely in the central axis of her bed, with nothing yet to do and anywhere to be, she stayed. And she breathed and kept a mental cadence to calm herself into a condition more fitting of such an exercise. Of anamnesis, of remembrance. Initially, only a blank canvas fell before her conscious digging. An un-memory. Blanked. Maybe for good reason… She’d considered journaling her dreams before. A psychology class in college gave her the idea; some of her classmates had, to varying effects and ends. Journaling dreams in an effort to unlock their mysteries. Why didn’t I? Lacked the will… The will to recall my dreams, or just the will to record them in such a morning-weakened state? Dana was no morning person. Just the opposite. Another late night of writing. Another noonday awakening… When was the last time I got to bed at a decent hour? When was the last time I didn’t sleep all the way in… Yet another late end, late start doubleheader. Another chapter down, another essay drafted. To what end? End… Ending… What was the ending of that dream?

For the first time in her life, Dana became immobilized, physically and psychologically, by the prospect of her own lacking will. No recall. Still blank. She could not remember. The dread burden weighted more and more definitively, commensurate with her own struggling search to find those images and words again from her sleeping session just previous. She just could not remember. The end, the endings. But as she strained, Dana began to remember other dreams. Dreams from the tired days and weeks of her tireless working, oft never leaving her little apartment at all. Locked inside, only partially of her own obsessive volition. Working to perform, to chronicle, to survive. Ordering out. Going for half-days, later full days, without eating much of anything. Drinking coffee after coffee. Making coffee and then forgetting about it. Salvaging it later and drinking it ice cold, like a savage. Not even tasting it. Not even reacting to the prospect of her own regressive living situation, mired in a mess, barely a person at all, closer to an instinctual mass of tried-and-true movements. An animal. A beast. Sleeping but late, sometimes near to dawn, and then only fitfully. Awakening in the middle of the day, she’d have to readjust to those toxic mores and paths of conscious working, working, working all over again. Every day brought with it readjustments back into the hellish scapes of her modern life as these months forged it.

And she remembered the dreams now. Eyes curtained for such focus. She remembered them. Rather, she remembered it.

For all the dreams were of one. All were the very same dream. The grassy rolling hills, her striding barren form along them. A figure beside her. The more she recalled the recursive nature of this dream — always on the hills, always with this figure, always dawn, always this singular tree, leafless and threshing in a weak but constant wind — the more that she unraveled its layers. Not any more of its rather simple imagery, but its emotional qualia. She took on the vulnerabilities again, same as she carried on those hills. Dana pulled her covers closer, over her chest, to her neck. The wind cut her from behind, down her back, through her the curves of her body. Nestled amidst her bedding, Dana crossed her legs tight, urging herself closer to a fetal, protective shell. Most of all, she re-experienced the glaring eyes of the figure. Never beside her. Always trailing. Watching. Waiting…

Dana seized her soul upon the moment. A chill down fell down her spine. It struck straight through the draining warmth of her silken roost, true to her body’s inner core, the trunk of her being suddenly bowed at this dream’s full cognizance. Grimacing under the ominous remembrance, white-knuckling the edges of the silk that now covered her whole body, save for her head, Dana finally opened her eyes again. The beige and white ceiling surface welcomed her. A return to reality, firmly out of the reverie that she could now reliably name as a nightmare. Her body’s sweats defused and dried in the folds of her covers around her, the surfeit from this session of absorbing psychosis.

But the weight remained. That dread bulk spilled from out of her chest, her heart’s most hidden and devout passages. The weight remained. Not heavier, but more definite in its presence. More real. More alive and intervened… and present.

Laying on her back, the nape of her neck resting easily upon her azure feather pillow and quite unable to rise, still seized in an immobile fit that she was soon to panic about, Dana lowered her gaze into the fore of her space, of her body. A scream quite soundful, from the deepest zone of her guts, trickled out of her tightened and unmoving jaw, grim grimace flashing and eyes now half-closed, half-opened.

From atop her chest, nestled in between her breasts with spiny little back turned, He sat.

The young woman, her wake now maximalized at the cusp of noonday due to the smallest burble of impossible fright at the sight of the skinless yet armored, grey-titian tinted beast now seated upon her chest, making its grotesque home upon the bony threshold of ribs just above her thrashing heart, those bones straining and feeling near to breaking at their edges from Its shocking weight. The daemon, the gremlin or goblin, or Creature Manifested From The Furthest Realms Of Endless Unconscious Night, finally turned in its comfortable cross-legged stance to stare back into Dana’s eyes. Its crimson orbs articulated something unimaginably vile, something so impossibly wretched and abhorrent, so abominable — both due to its own malicious formation, small but imposing in its implications for this Reality, and due to Dana’s own immobilized and quite vulnerable form — that it could not be articulated at all, with a thousand years of tireless trying at the hands of a score of multivariate artists across cultures, generations, psyches.

Until Its smile did just that, and revealed all that the Creature had personally in store for Dana, the restless and paralyzed, the deprived, the forgetful-but-evocative dreamer. ~

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli