My sergeant drops me off a few minutes later. “Thanks, Sarge!”
I stumble to my front door and reach into my pocket, only to realize I gave my whole set of keys away. Now they’re all with the officer who waited with my car at the parking garage.
Sarge honks, watching to see if I’m going in. I wave him off. The spare key should be in its place on the back porch.
In the back of the house, I tip a flowerpot and sure enough, find the spare key. If only life were as easy as that. You lose your life and can pick up the spare where you left it. But for God’s wise reasons, we have one life to life. What was that quote?
Twill soon be past.
Something about what will last.
I unlock the back door, flip the light on, and immediately sense a presence.
I’ve known hardened criminals. I’ve known rapists and drug dealers and child porn ringleaders. Not as friends, but I’ve been in the room with them, and known their scent. In my kitchen right now, I sense a being. Someone in my house carries all that, plus more. Anger, rage, frustration, despair, desperation. But mostly anger. How can I know? But I do.
Who’d be that bitter against me? I strain my memory for any of the guys I put away who’d be up for parole. But it’s no one I’ve ever known before. I’d have remembered.
Here I am, alone in my two-story, empty home. I should have slept at the office.
The light flicks off. I spin around to see the back door latch lock tight in front of me. But no one has touched it.
No one, nothing answers.
I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in aliens. I don’t believe in… I do believe in demons. But this is different. Very different.
At that moment, I realize I actually must have stayed at the office.
Merely thinking I’m home.
Locks don’t latch themselves.
Lights don’t turn themselves off. Not like this.
I’ll go with it, since it’s a dream. What’s the worst that can happen? My heart is racing, but it’s supposed to right now. You can’t really die in dreams, can you?
I can feel the thumping in my chest.
Well, you can be scared out of your minds, or at least scared enough to wake up.
I make that my plan. I’ll face the thing, this dark sensation in my home, if only to scare myself enough to wake up.
Though, I think, I was pretty tired. It may take quite some shaking to wake me up.
The metacognition of my dream state encourages me. Don’t they say that as soon as you realize you’re in a dream, you’re on your way out of it?
Regardless, the me, there, in the dream or whatever, is not so eager to face the invisible thing that has locked my door. Metacognition aside, I’m still me, and still have to survive my dream. Can anyone know if it’s possible to die from a terrible dream? People have died in their sleep before, and maybe it is—for some of them—in the midst of a bad dream. No one would ever know.
Something sweeps over my forehead and my eyes go completely black.
Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Help me.
Lifting my hands, I feel it’s a scarf or cloth over my eyes.
I know not to pull away the cloth. Not yet.
The thing in the room reeks of sulfur and I suddenly get a very possessive affection for the solid state of my bones. “Is that you, Nick?”
No. Nick’s in the hospital.
A chill shoots down my arms. Was that a needle?
“Listen and don’t speak.” The voice is in my head, or not. I can’t figure that out. It sounds like it’s me talking to myself. But it also seems that it’s outside of me.
I hear a thump on the counter in front of me. “This will save your life. But it will take the life of your wife. Follow the directions. Do exactly as I say.”
“I’m not doing anything until you tell me who you are.” I know he heard my voice crack right there at the end.
I hear a snort of air, and I listen for anything that sounds like a needle. What does a syringe sound like?
“You will do step by step every demand on that paper. Or else Sophie will die.”
“Keep your hands off of Sophie!”
As I yank the blindfold off, the door unlocks. I whirl to the door and cool night air meets my face.
The smell has left, and along with it, the sense of the presence.
I’m trembling, head to foot.
But am I awake now? Or asleep? Am I at the office or in my home?
In front of me is a manilla envelope. I lift it up and can feel something heavy inside.
Now it’s me that’s angry. How dare they? Break into my house. Blindfold me.
Wait a minute. I lift the blindfold to my nose. It’s Mercy’s. From her closet! That creep—that thing—was up in our bedroom! I turn and run to the stairs, taking them two at a time.
I push our bedroom door open and wait. For what? The thing is gone. But I wait. And listen. I take a whiff of the air. If it was here, it’s gone now.
I hit the lights and hurry to the closet. An identical scarf is right there next to the one in my hand.
It’s all so confusing. And I’m tired.
I need to sleep.
To sleep perchance to dream.
No. I chase away the threat. No, I need to sleep.
But what if you’re already asleep? This would be a dream within a dream. You could get stuck.
I shake my head to get rid of my voice.
Stop it, Tim! That’s from a movie. I think.
I can hardly tell truth from fantasy now.
Sitting on my bed, I weigh my options.
I could go back downstairs and look in the package, or I could go to bed and face it in the morning. If I sleep, I may wake up at the office. Or I may never wake up.
If I check the package, I’ll just continue on in this dream. Or not. And if the directions tell me to do something without letting me sleep first… Sophie will die.
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek