It was time to tell her the truth.
Shaking nervously, Mandy looked up to the open window of Sam’s apartment. It was so cold outside, Mandy couldn’t imagine why she would have left it open. The girl had some unusual habits, but that was one of the things she’d always liked about her. Sam was someone that stood out, who wasn’t afraid to do things her own way.
For months, Mandy had been waiting for a night like this. A night when she’d be able to summon enough courage to do what she knew needed to be done. It was a scary situation, especially not knowing how Sam would react. Mandy had learned long ago how these kinds of things could go wrong. She’d also learned that no matter how wrong it went, it was something she still had to go through with. There was no way she could go on knowing her without explaining the way she felt, at least not without making herself miserable.
The stairway to Sam’s apartment on the 2nd floor was outside. By now, Mandy was shivering just as much from the cold as from her nerves. Taking a deep breathe and swallowing her inhibitions, she knocked three times on Sam’s door and waited.
It took nearly a full minute before the door was opened. There she was, her blonde hair flowing nearly to her waist, wearing an expression of amused surprise. For a moment, Mandy was too struck by her appearance to even move. There was no way around it, the girl was simply beautiful.
“What’s up?” Samantha asked.
“Um,… Hi,.. I’m just,…” Mandy stammered. Her thoughts felt like they’d just been warped, and it was hard to find any words at all.
They stared at each other awkwardly. Then, Sam opened wide the door and gestured welcomingly.
“Come in,” she said.
Mandy did as suggested, smiling coyly as she passed but quickly averting her gaze. The apartment was cozy. There was a velvet fold-out sofa which Mandy settled into with Sam following soon after. The only light in the room came from a shaded incandescent lamp sitting next to where Mandy sat. It wasn’t a fabulous apartment, but Sam had managed to transform it into something lavish. A number of paintings hung on the walls, most of them rather grim landscapes of foggy forests and snowy mountains. These were just another aspect of Sam’s tastes.
“It’s a bit late to be out isn’t it?” asked Sam, looking curiously at Mandy. “Don’t you have physics in the morning?”
“Yeah,…” said Mandy, nervously fidgeting with her fingers as she endeavored to recover her ability to speak.
Silence passed between them, and still Mandy was having trouble. Sam was staring at her expectantly, waiting to hear what she’d come to say. It was evident that the only thing Mandy could do was dive straight in, say what she needed to say, and hope for the best.
“Sam I,… I’m sorry to come over all late like this,” said Mandy. She was stalling for time, still searching for words. “I just,.. I need to talk to you. Actually it’s just, I need to tell you something.”
Mandy hesitated, and still Sam waited. Then, as if though they had been building up inside her, a rush of words came pouring expeditiously out of Mandy’s mouth.
“Sam, the truth is I’m in love with you ok,” she said. “I know, I’m sorry to tell you like this, but I just can’t let it go. It’s been bothering me every time I see you and I think about you all the time and I know you probably didn’t expect anything like this from me but I need you to know, ok? Just,… just tell me what you think,.. whatever it is, I can take it,…”
It was difficult to force herself into silence, but Mandy held her breathe and waited for Sam to react. Her heart was pounding, painfully aware of how much she’d just exposed herself. She searched Sam’s face desperately for some trace of recognition or emotion, but her expression hadn’t changed. Sam was still staring at her as if totally unfazed by everything Mandy had just said. Frightfully, Mandy began to think that she’d gone too far.
“It’s okay if you don’t love me,” Mandy said, hoping to soothe over any damage she may have caused. “I know I’m,… you know. It’s okay. I just needed to tell you to get it off my chest,… you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.”
Mandy hung her head, still waiting for a response but unable to look at Sam’s face any longer. She knew that she couldn’t expect much, her past experiences had taught her that. Still, as long as she got something from her, just some kind of assurance that it was okay, that was all that she would need.
From the corner of her eye, Mandy noticed Sam rise to her feet. Looking up, Mandy was horrified to see Sam’s finger pointing towards the door and her face wearing nothing but the same blank expression.
It took a moment for Mandy to register those words. Did she really just say that?!
“Sam, I -”
It was chilling. No emotion, no empathy, just a command. Mandy gaped horror-stricken, unable to believe that this was what was happening. Sam had always been distant, but she’d never imagined that she would behave like this. This was cruel.
“I’m sorry,” Mandy muttered, slowly rising to her feet. “I’m sorry, I’ll just leave.”
She made her way slowly to the door, all the while unable to escape the harshness of her friend’s immediate dismissal. It was exactly the worst thing she could have received. Worse than if Sam had been angry or disgusted. It was as if her feelings weren’t even worth considering, that she was unworthy of any human response.
The cold enveloped Mandy once more as soon as she stepped outside. She turned to see Sam staring out at her dispassionately, and tried once more to get something, anything else from her.
“Sam, I really – “
The door shut in Mandy’s face, and Sam was beyond her reach. It had taken her scarcely five minutes to ensure that they would never speak again. All she’d needed to do was express her feelings and a friend was gone forever. It was typical.
Mandy turned and began to make her way down the stairs. If she had been younger she may have cried or else pounded on the door until Sam came back, but she was well beyond such things by now. She had already experienced losses of this kind and knew there was no point in dwelling on them or making them worse. That didn’t make the experience any less painful though. She really had expected more from Sam. If not acceptance, then sympathy at the very least.
Her heart heavy but contained, Mandy began making her way home shivering in the chill wind.
Samantha stood with her head leaning against the door, breathing heavily and doing her best to calm her furiously pulsing heartbeat.
This is bad.
It was all she could think. Over and over again those words echoed through her brain.
This is bad, bad, bad, bad,bad,…
There wasn’t any other way to maintain her self control. Her emotions were screaming for some kind of physical release, for catharsis, but there was only so much she could do. Sam knew better than to give in to her feelings. Doing so would surely lead to the result she most feared.
Eventually, Sam’s adrenaline wore off enough that her body could relax, but her misgivings were far from eased. The problem was that it was impossible not to feel something after what Mandy had said. Such a thing hadn’t happened to her since the boys in Sam’s high school learned she wasn’t interested in them. It had made her unpopular, and she’d never made any close friends since she was a child, but avoiding people had become so familiar by now that it was practically mundane. Now, this girl whom Sam had known scarcely more than a few months had broken through her defenses and penetrated deeper than she’d been prepared for.
Sam had been working on the same bottle of wine for the last hour, but she ignored it now. Her hands shook too chaotically to hold onto a glass and she was in no shape to be amplifying her emotions anyway. Sam knew she had to get her feelings out somehow, whether she had to scream or throw her belongings against the walls, she absolutely had to expel the negative emotions from her mind. She’d become a professional at such things, but tonight was especially difficult. .
Mandy had been a sweet girl. She may not have been very charismatic or ambitious, but she was nice and Sam had liked her. Never in her life would Sam have considered her as a romantic prospect, but the reality was Sam never considered anyone in that context. It had been decided long ago that there was no way she could ever be close to anyone and she’d abandoned the hope of finding romance before she’d even reached puberty. Even so, this sudden revelation from Mandy could have been dealt with civilly if it hadn’t surreptitiously stirred something so heavy in Sam’s core. Of all the people to fall in love with in their city, Mandy had chosen her and had come all the way to her house on a cold night to tell her. Poor girl.
Sam might have worked something our with her, but as it was there couldn’t be any compromises. Sam would never be able to acknowledge her again. They would never speak, lock eyes, or be in the same room together as long as Sam could help it. Imagining how that would make Mandy feel was heart wrenching, but it was unavoidable. The only thing that made any of it seem better was the knowledge that Mandy hadn’t meant to do what she did, she’d been incapable of knowing and had simply chosen the wrong person. This fact alone seemed to be enough of a catharsis to get the closure from the matter she needed.
I’m so sorry, it’s not your fault Mandy, Sam intoned quietly to herself. It’s not your fault you poor girl,… It’s me,… I’m tainted,…
Exacerbating her empathy towards Mandy helped to relieve the distressing sentiments that had so suddenly flared up. Sam found it was easy to distance herself from people the more she pitied them. It didn’t take long to let go of whatever feelings Mandy had stirred within her and return to the state of solitude she was comfortable with. It wasn’t a positive state of being, but it was comfortable enough to live in. As long as she felt alone, Sam knew she wasn’t going to hurt anyone. As long as she felt alone, she could sleep.
The fairy-tale palace of her dreams had always changed as Sam grew older. By now it had adapted into a cross between a luxurious lounge and a shrine to her most private impulses. There were plush sofas and chairs with glass coffee tables and beautiful ornate rugs throughout the whole entrance chamber. Aside from these, there were also plenty of objects for decoration that would make any casual visitor instantly disquieted. There were more than a few disfigured human-like statues standing here and there between chairs, as well as sculptures reminiscent of living organs and paintings of vast empty landscapes tucked away here and there. All of this combined with the architecture created a space both modern and fantastic. It wasn’t exactly accommodating, but for Sam it was familiar enough to finally let herself loose.
“I’m back!” Sam called expectantly.
From out of the shadows, from behind chairs and under tables, the slendery pale forms of her friends twisted and crawled their way into the light, groaning winsomely.
“Did you miss me?” Sam asked as the closest one approached her.
Congested wet groans were the only reply she was given. Her friends were gentle, idly tapping their pincers on the tiled floor and stretching out onto the sofas and rugs. They were never much for conversation, but Sam had always felt as though they listened to her. Even now, their faces followed her wherever she moved and their gargles fell into a rhythm with the way she spoke.
“Today was tough,” she told them, making sure not to sound too upset. “I really struggled to stay faithful to you,… but I did.”
Her friends gargled and moaned appreciatively. Sam smiled sadly at the roomful of her comrades, and sighed mournfully.
These were the only friends she was allowed. These misshapen inhuman monstrosities that shared her sleeping hours since as far as she could remember. There were times when she loved them, when she counted on them, when she knew they would always be there when no one else was. For that, it was impossible to hate them, but it wasn’t easy to appreciate them either.
Tonight, Sam decided to sit in her throne at the end of the chamber and watch them as she almost always did. When she was younger she had occasionally gone exploring with her friends or played games with them, but such things no longer appealed to her. She was much happier sitting and doing nothing until her mind finally decided it had gotten enough sleep. There would be plenty of time for dwelling until then.
Loneliness was such a constant part of Sam’s life that it hardly even registered as an issue anymore. Tonight was different though. Tonight, her loneliness had been put into sharper focus than it had ever been since her childhood. The fact that no one, not a soul, had even tried to form a real connection with her for so long, left her more aware of her isolation than ever before. She’d survived all this time with the most minuscule human contact imaginable and she’d been numb to the fact for too long. It had been easy after so many years to accept this as inevitable, that other people were simply beyond her reach. That all changed the moment Sam understood why Mandy had come to her. For another person to actually confront her, to insist that she was in love and force her to act, had thrown everything into sharp relief. Sam was alone, had always been alone, and that was never going to change. She would never know what it was like to kiss someone, or hug them, or hold them in her sleep.
The voice rang out across the entrance chamber. On the far side of the room a woman came scampering into the torchlight looking frantic. It didn’t take long for Sam to recognize her as Mandy.
The woman came pelting across the chamber towards the throne, alerting Sam’s friends who hastily hid themselves in the shadows. Mandy dissolved completely into anxiety by the time she reached Sam’s throne. Her sudden presence drove a cold shaft a fear directly into Sam’s heart.
“SAM!! Thank GOD!! Help me, please Sam, help me! I don’t know where I am, I’m lost, and I have no idea how I got here! ”
“Mandy,… Calm yourself please,… I know what’s happening and I need you to be calm,… just trust me.”
“Calm myself?! Sam, I’m scared shitless!! Where the hell are we?!?!?!”
Sam’s friends shifted agitatedly in their hiding spots. A few of them were already creeping forward, drawn to the sound of Mandy’s distress.
“Mandy,…” said Sam gently, taking hold of her hand and forcing herself to smile even though she too was scared. “It’s ok. Everything is ok. It’s just a dream. There’s no need to worry as long as we both remain calm, alright?”
“Yes,” said Sam shiftily. In truth, she couldn’t say for certain that this counted as dreaming or not. “You’ll see. Soon enough you’ll be awake in your bedroom. Why don’t you just sit with me until then?”
Mandy looked hesitant and there were still traces of disquiet in her eyes, but eventually she did as requested and sat on the steps of the throne next to Sam. Sam’s friends had quieted and returned to their hiding places, but Sam knew that they would be watching them sharply. They had always been shy and mistrustful towards other people. Unless there was trouble, they typically liked to remain unseen. That was what Sam had hoped for. As long as they could avoid any turbulent emotion for the next few hours, her friends wouldn’t feel the need to act.
“Are you dreaming too Sam?” Mandy asked after a length of silence.
“Yeah,” Sam replied. “We’re sharing a dream together tonight.”
“That’s so confusing,… I don’t understand how this is happening,… How could we both have ended up here?”
“I don’t understand it either,” Sam replied, somewhat agitatedly. “Just try not to worry about it now. Wait until we’re awake and I’ll explain it to you.”
“When we’re awake? What difference does it make if -”
“Just trust me, ok? We NEED to wait.”
The echo of their voices reverberated through the entrance chamber. Sam could hear her friends shifting agitatedly by the harsher tones, but they still remained hidden. Mandy hung her head, and Sam could tell she’d been upset. As long as she did as Sam told her until they awoke that was fine, but then Mandy started to sob. It was soft at first, barely audible, but the volume slowly rose until Sam’s friends began to notice.
“Mandy!” Sam exclaimed, endeavoring to sound both cheerful and comforting at the same time. “There’s no reason to cry, really! Try and stop for me, please? I really really need you to stay calm!”
“I’m sorry, I-I was just th-thinking,” Mandy said through her garbled tears. “I’m s-s-sorry I ever came over to your apartment today. I know you probably j-j-just wanted to be left alone and I ruined that.”
A few of Sam’s friends were getting bolder. The pale shambling forms of a few were lurking steadily into the light towards the throne, groaning as though ravenous. They were still cautious for now, but Mandy’s continued sobs were clearing drawing them out.
“Don’t worry about it Mandy,” said Sam. “Seriously, don’t even worry about it. None of that was your fault.”
“It IS my fault though,” Mandy continued to sob. “I should know better than to s-s-show up like that,… I was just SO desperate for you that I -”
“Mandy, I said it’s FINE. Please stop crying now, it’s only going to make things worse!”
“I’M SORRY!!” Mandy blurted.
Sam’s friends were especially interested in the pair of them now. Mandy hadn’t noticed, her back was to most of the room, but most of them had already left their hiding places and were shuffling their way towards them. If it weren’t for Mandy’s crying, she might have been able to hear the steadily increasing moan they were collectively emitting.
“I’m sorry Sam! I know you probably don’t want to hear anything I have to say but I’m dying! I can’t stand being alone Sam! I’ve been alone for so long,… I just wanted to feel loved again, ok?! That’s all I wanted! I never meant to hurt you -”
With those words, Sam’s friends lost all pretense of caution and swiftly closed in for their assault. The first one to reach the throne jabbed one of its enormous talons directly into Mandy’s shoulder, pulled back, and set loose a stream of blood pouring down Mandy’s chest. Mandy’s eyes widened with shock and her entire body went rigid. Before she could even process what had happened another talon came slashing down across her back leaving a deep trail of open flesh. Sam’s friends had nearly encircled her. They were going to pounce and in moments there would be nothing left of Mandy but blood stains on the floor.
It was simply intolerable. Watching it happen just as it had happened to so many others before, Sam found for the first time that she was simply incapable of letting it happen. With a burst of terrifying adrenaline, she launched herself towards Mandy, pushed her to the ground, and screamed.
She had Mandy pinned beneath her. Blood from Mandy’s wounds continued to spurt out over both of them, but she was alive. Sam could hear her frantic breathing as her face contorted in confusion and pain. Her friends stamped and wailed angrily all around them, but their onslaught had been halted. It seemed they were reluctant to attack with Sam coming between them and their victim.
“Stay under me Mandy,” Sam ordered through heavily panting breath. “Just stay there, I’ve got you. You’re going to be ok.”
Mandy was either in too much shock or pain to respond. She simply kept crying, but at least she stayed still. Hopefully, she would hang onto enough blood to last the night.
“Leave us alone!” Sam yelled, turning her attention back to her friends.
Their wailing had calmed slightly, and some of them looked curious with the heads tilted to the side in a questioning manner. Still, their agitation had clearly not subsided. A few of them crept closer and started prodding whatever bits of Mandy they could reach with their talons.
“No!” Sam yelled, as one of them nearly stabbed through one of Mandy’s thighs.
Sam shifted her weight to protect Mandy’s exposed thigh, and the creature immediately withdrew. If anything, this made the rest of them even more agitated. First there were only a few, but pretty soon there was a whole group of them crowded around the pair of them on the floor; poking, prodding, and scratching at Mandy wherever they could find a gap. Sam fought with them, throwing her weight wherever she could to fend them off, but they were persistent. The more she exerted herself, the harder her friends tried to get past her to resume their bloody festivity. Sam resorted to kicking and punching her friends to keep them at bay, but this wasn’t an effective deterrent either. Her friends were either too strong or she was too weak to deal any significant damage to them. Eventually, her friends seemed to decide on a new strategy, and began locking their talons around Sam’s limbs in an attempt to drag her away.
Sam writhed and twisted as forcefully as she could, freeing herself and hastily attacking every one of the creatures within sight. Luckily, she was able to get back to Mandy before any more harm could be done to her. Her friends still surrounded them, but their onslaught had ceased. It appeared that they had given up on reaching Mandy while Sam covered her. Even so, they continued to hold a tight formation around them, watching and groaning without moving in too close. Sam knew that they were just waiting for an opening, that as soon as they saw her guard slipping they would move in.
Hours passed this way, while Sam did her best to remain vigilante and adequately covering Mandy with her own body. Every so often, one of her friends would try sneaking in to take a poke, but Sam quickly discouraged them and they would immediately retreat. Mandy had stopped crying and here eyes were closed. She was still breathing, but Sam couldn’t tell whether she was conscious or not. It had taken a long time for her bleeding to stop, and by now their clothes were both drenched in rapidly drying blood. After what felt like days, Mandy’s eyes opened slowly and Sam could see the passive fear present within them. Then she spoke.
“Are,.. we.. still.. dreaming… Sam?”
“Yes,” said Sam somberly. “It’s just a dream Mandy. That’s all it is. You’ll be ok.”
Mandy nodded, and her eyes dripped shut once again. For another hour they huddled together on the floor until daylight finally came in to the waking world.
When Sam woke up in her bed, she found her clothes were still soaked but her sheets were relatively clean. She breathed a massive sigh of relief and nearly choked on the unexpected sobs escaping her throat. She’d been lucky. It could have been catastrophic, but she’d managed to save a friend from a another cruel and merciless fate.
It was a new day. There were things to do, but first, Sam took out her phone and immediately dialed Mandy. There were things that needed to be explained.
A few seconds of ringing, followed by the voice of a scared and confused person who just woke up to find open wounds in their flesh.
The Dream Puller: Part One – https://poemsandshortstories.com/2018/04/14/the-dream-puller/