Pleasant Springs

I don’t know why,

But cruelty always lived in that town.

Maybe it was in the water,

Regularly dosing the inhabitants

As it was swallowed every day.

Perhaps it was under the influence

Of some madness inducing parasite,

Indifferent to it’s casualties.

Or maybe it was cursed

By the remnant of some spirit,

Exercising wrath against the living.

Or maybe it was just cruel.

All I know,

Is that it was hardly innocent.

Behind the pleasant persona

Of a quaint woodland town

Lurked a sea of illness,

Brutallity, and active hate.

To walk the streets

Was to be exposed

To those who stalk the weak

For hardly any cause at all.

Stories of random beatings,

Robberies, and rape

Would circulate so often

To be an ever-present rule.

The law,

The real law evident to all,

Was the Melian Dialogue.

Never spoken, but even so,

Obvious to all who saw.

Small town America,

Christianity and moral life,

Those superfical platitudes applied

So heavily to disguise

The ever-present disscordance

Dancing before their eyes.

The same persons clamoring

For prayers in church gatherings

Walk out continuing

To prey on one another.

Maybe it’s the water,

Some parastie, or spirit.

Maybe it’s a culture

Of sickness they inherit.

I don’t know

What caused the place

To be the way it is,

But cruelty lives there

Nestled deep

And all do as it bids.

 

Luna Under Ashes

I awoke,

Unsure of who I wanted to be.

Ashes fell from the overcast sky.

This happens every now and then.

I watch while making up my mind.

My possessions do little to assist,

Insufficient to help define.

My wandering thoughts distract,

Muddling every link I find.

A fluttering flake of ash

Descends and falls upon my eye.

I’m coated in the grayish dust

But still, I can’t decide.

I remember I was something,

But I know I don’t want that.

It lasted while I could,

But it isn’t where I’m at.

From gray to gray the sky revolves

And then from gray to black.

I’m shrouded in an ashen cloud,

Alive and inexact.

A vague idea still persists,

But it’s tangled up in doubt.

Endeavoring to fix the form

That’s tarnished in and out.

My restless mind has overstrained

And craves to leave me deep.

I’m swallowed under piles of dust,

Thus blanketed I sleep.

 

The tinkling sound of water

Streaming down

A silver fountain

Sweetly soothes

My troubled mind

Like smiles from precious friends.

I yawn and stretch

My brittle wings,

Glad of being found again.

Soaking in the pool,

The water crisp

And crystal clear,

I find I’m staring back

At my reflection unobscured.

“Love,” she said.

“You’re beautiful and

All that you should be.”

I close my eyes

And hold my breath,

Then plunge into the deep.

 

 

Jane’s Therapy

It must be said that I don’t expect this story to be in any way believed. That being so, it doesn’t trouble me one way or another. I’m not hoping to convince anyone or solicit any kind of sympathy. I’m only hoping that the act of writing will provide me with some kind of catharsis. Some way of processing everything I’ve seen. Maybe by the time I’m finished, I’ll have found some release from this,… moral terror, that I’ve been feeling.

It helps, I suppose, to start with the person I was before.
When I first left my childhood home, I was admittedly of poor experience in matters of love and intimacy. In fact, the first “real” relationship I had as an adult was also the first time I ever felt for sure “in love”.
Jane was a kindhearted person with a gentle soul. A pretty good match for someone as inexperienced and tender as myself. Of the two of us, I was perhaps the more hardened. There were times I thought of her as oversensitive or even naive, but I always kept such things to myself and thought little of them. Whatever flaws I may have seen were eclipsed by the sincere adoration I had for her.
I was intoxicated.
The sensations of physical affection, vulnerability, and explicit trust were new and magical to me. For weeks we spent nearly every spare moment of our lives together. We went out occasionally to movies, or restaurants, or any other place young couples are supposed to go. The best times though, were when we were alone. As soft, or perhaps as pitiful, as it may seem, I absolutely adored those occasions. I had never been more content than when it was only the two of us and nothing else in the world.
As the months began to pass I learned more and more about her. The more I learned, the more I realized how much tragedy she’d seen through her life. It soon became apparent that she was exceedingly more familiar with suffering than I was. I learned that she’d been diagnosed with severe depression at a young age, that she’d once been addicted to opiates, and that she’d been estranged from her parents for several years. She rarely went into details about her past, preferring to explain things only in the broadest sense. I quickly came to understand that there was a lot about her she wasn’t prepared to discuss, at least not for the foreseeable future.
The brief illustrations I had of her troubles left much for my imagination to piece together. Often, the things I imagined were so horrible I wasn’t sure if I’d be prepared to know the truth. I was concerned for her, and also curious despite my misgivings.
Perhaps my ignorance had blinded me initially, but once I knew about her past I began to notice things I had never previously perceived. Though she was almost always cheerful while we were together, I began to notice brief instances in which she would appear almost paralyzingly dispirited. On two separate occasions, she appeared to me with a face so pale she could have easily passed for dead. She drew no attention to this fact and acted as ordinarily as she ever did, but there was no concealing that there wasn’t a drop of color in her flesh. The matter cleared up within the hour, her face returned to normal, and I said nothing.
The third time this happened, I could no longer hold back my disquietude. Tentatively, I asked if she was alright. Her answer came with a most re-invigorated smile.
“I’m good,” she responded simply.
I could scarcely believe she was sincere.
“There isn’t any color in your face,” I said. “Did something happen?”
She looked at me strangely, as though pleased with something, and laughed casually. Her reply was not to worry and that everything was alright. When I persisted, she told me she had only just returned from therapy and that this was to be expected.
“What kind of therapy makes you so pale?” I asked.
“The only kind that’s ever worked for me,” she responded. “Trust me, I always come away looking a little sick, but I feel great.”
She refused to elaborate any further on the matter. For my part, I couldn’t imagine what kind of therapy could make someone feel good while making them look so unwell. However, her cheery attitude did seem genuine. Perhaps my concerns had been misplaced, though my curiosity was far from abated. I continued to question her but received no further information in return. At length, I was forced to concede that she was unwilling to share any more.
It was easy to restrain my concerns for a while. As long as we were happy together, I felt I could remain reasonably secure about her secrets. Several times afterward she appeared to me as pale and sickly as she had prior, but as she always seemed more elated than depressed, I said nothing. Eventually though, her moments of disparity began to tally, and I could hardly pretend I didn’t notice. It seemed her therapy, however helpful it may have been, couldn’t keep her from succumbing to depression time and time again. It was agonizing to see her in this state, and even worse to know there was nothing I could do. Anytime I ventured to comfort her, she would only respond with disinterest or tell me not to worry. It came to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand to watch her being miserable and feeling helpless to do anything about it. I told her that the next time she went to therapy, I wanted to go with her.
She smiled mournfully after I said it, and sighed.
“Would that make you feel better?” she asked me.
“It would,” I responded. “Whatever you’re going through, I’ll go through with you. You don’t have to suffer alone.”
Her lingering smile was one both pitiful and amused. My ignorance must have been all too plain for her to see, yet I’m sure she believed I meant what I said. In fact, I did.
“Alright,” she told me. “You can come if you want to.”

I was expecting to find a more professional looking establishment when we arrived, but as it turned out Jane’s therapy took place in a house. The reason for this, I was told, was that her therapist preferred to work in a more intimate setting. A lavish flower garden and perfectly trimmed lawn greeted us as we made our way to the door. The house itself was relatively charming and rather well-preserved compared to others in the vicinity.
Our host stood waiting for us as we entered. My initial thought was that she looked quite young for her profession. Her hair was curled in shimmering strands of blond and she wore a soft and glistening black dress. She and Jane greeted each other like old friends, sharing a warm and prolonged embrace on the spot. I was offered a handshake for my turn, at which point she introduced herself as Adreena. Just Adreena.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she told me smiling. “I can’t tell you how much good your relationship has done for her. She’s been coping much better than she ever has.”
I offered her a smile in return, somewhat reassured by her pleasant demeanor and attitude towards our relationship.
Jane and I were quickly led into the living room where the three of us settled into a matching set of chintz chairs. So far, the entire place seemed both lavishly decorated and exceptionally comfortable. I found no difficulty in relaxing there, the three of us chatting casually as though this were nothing more than a social outing. I’d assumed from her appearance that Adreena must have been around our age, but it soon became apparent that she must have been quite a bit older. I learned that she’d been practicing psychiatry in her home for several years, that she had worked briefly as a professor, and had even developed her own techniques in psychotherapy. My concerns for Jane rapidly evaporated as I came to understand that she was in the hands of a genuine prodigy.
At length, Adreena asked Jane if she was ready to get started, to which Jane animatedly consented. I was asked to remain behind as the two of them left to a more secluded room upstairs. In consideration of my solitude, I was left in the company of Adreena’s assistant who introduced herself to me as Aeris.
She too looked much younger than I would have expected. Her hair was jet black, with vibrantly red lips, and curiously bright brown eyes. She also wore a dress, this one a sparkling scarlet reminiscent of a film noir. So far, she and Adreena both seemed more like movie stars than therapists.
I’d assumed that Aeris must have been a student, but I was vastly mistaken once again. It turned out she already had a masters degree in psychology and had worked for two years as Adreena’s assistant.
“I was a good student,” she told me in response to my amazement. “I was even offered a university appointment after graduation, but I chose to work for Adreena instead.”
“Why?” I asked, brimming with curiosity. “Why be an assistant? Surely you could have accomplished more at a university.”
Aeris smiled.
“Because of Adreena,” she said. “I may be talented, but I’m practically inept next to her. I don’t think I could’ve learned more anywhere else than I have here.”
“That’s astounding,” I replied earnestly. “I know Jane really depends on her, but I never imagined she’d be this impressive.”
“She does things no one else can,” Aeris said. “Her patients are lucky to have her.”
“What’s it like?” I asked eagerly.
Her cheeks flushed feverishly, as though she experienced a rush just thinking about it.
“Like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” she said.
I was reminded of the way Jane looked whenever I saw her after leaving these sessions. How depleted she appeared and how wonderful she reportedly felt.
“I can’t imagine,” I said at length. “I’ve never thought of therapy being so intense.”
Immediately after I said this, Aeris rose to her feet.
“Maybe you’d like to experience it for yourself?” she asked.
Her forwardness drove all other thoughts from my mind. At that moment her offer felt more than enticing, as though it were a rare treat in which I’d been privileged to indulge.
“Can you explain it to me?” I asked, doing my best to at least appear sensible.
“You’d understand better if we just tried it,” she said. “It starts by placing the patient in a state of deep trance. I assure you it’s very relaxing.”
“You can do that?”
“I learned from Adreena,” she said. “I could take you through the entire process right now if you want to.”
It wasn’t exactly what I had come for and despite my inclination to accept I almost refused. Some lingering sense of responsibility made me think I should refrain from getting involved, that it would be irresponsible without consulting Jane first. Then I remembered, as though bidden, that I’d promised her I’d go through whatever she went through. It seemed like the opportunity to prove myself had come.
“Alright,” I said with conviction. “I’ll do it. What must I do?”
Aeris’s smile grew immensely as she leaned forward, our faces so close that our noses nearly touched. Her eyes stared warmly into my own, welcoming my consent.
“Lay back,” she said, pushing a hand to my chest.
I did as she bade, laying as far back as I could in the chintz chair. Her face followed my own, hovering just inches away with her eyes completely level with mine. Within moments my breathing fell into synchronicity with her own deep rhythm. I felt my heartbeat slowing, palpable through her hand resting gently over my chest. When she spoke, it was barely louder than a whisper
“I want you to relax,” she said. “Let all your thoughts drift away, all your worries and fears fade, like smoke rising into the clouds. Be at peace with yourself. There’s nothing to worry about, no places to be or things to do. There isn’t anything here to hurt you, or control you, or make you do anything. There’s only you, me, and this place. Nothing more.”
My eyelids were already drooping. It was easy to listen, to follow her suggestions and forget everything else for the moment. The atmosphere had already left me more relaxed than I’d been before we arrived, and now I was practically soaking in it.
“It’s alright for you to close your eyes,” Aeris said. “Rest as deeply as you like. I’ll be here to watch over you, to guide you through this trance. Leave everything to me. Close your eyes. Rest.”
My eyes were shut. Already her words seemed more from a dream than reality. I could still feel her presence hovering over my body, enveloping me like a soft blanket, and I could still see her eyes as though they had become ingrained within my own mind.
“I’m here for you,” she said. “There isn’t any need to stay awake if you don’t want to. Everything is perfectly alright as long as I’m here. Let yourself go, your mind free to wander as it pleases. Sleep, my precious one. Sleep.”
Those were the last words I can remember hearing.

I don’t know how long I slept, but I know it must have been immeasurably deep. My mind seemed to waken in slow steps, as though it were only realizing itself for the first time. By the time I was fully conscious of my body once more, I discovered that I had great difficulty moving. Every part of me felt weak and unresponsive, as though drained of all energy. It took some moments for me to even remember where I was and what had happened.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at a white and unfamiliar ceiling. My body lay flat on its back with my head propped only slightly above it. I wasn’t in the same chair I’d fallen asleep in. In fact, I wasn’t in a chair at all. I’d woken up in a bed inside a room I didn’t recognize. Evidently, someone had moved me while I was asleep. With some doubt, I wondered if this was meant to be part of the therapeutic process or if something has gone wrong.
Turning my neck was uncomfortable, almost painful. Clearly, my physical condition was in a delicate state. I willed myself to sit up, but the effort was both futile and excruciating. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, I couldn’t move my mouth well enough to speak, and I could feel cold sweat dripping down every part of me. It was simultaneously freezing and blistering warm. Every muscle was alive and screaming as though each one suffered from its own insipidness. The longer I was awake, the more I came to dread my condition. It wasn’t long before I began to question whether or not this was hell, or simply death. Sleeping had been better, I reasoned. Sleeping had been painless. All the while, there was no one there to help or comfort me in any way. I knew I was alone, that I was in ever increasing agony, and I could see no way out.
Then, I saw the needle.
The thick, long, silver needle sticking out of my arm. A hideous broad tube stuck out from the end of it, with dark red fluid flowing perceptibly from its source. My blood was being sucked.
However terrible this realization may have been, it was nothing compared to what I felt when I noticed the other bed beside mine. There was Jane, laying flat on her back with her eyes closed and an identical horrid needle protruding from her right arm. Both of us were being drained of our blood by some machine between the beds I couldn’t clearly see. Instinct took precedence over all else, and I began to scream. Hardly a sound came out and the endeavor tormented my every nerve, but once begun it was impossible for me to stop.
My pitiful shrieks did not go unnoticed for long. Within moments the familiar trim of a certain black dress wandered into my field of vision. I could only manage to gasp and gurgle feebly by this point. My listless babblings were met with a sigh and the most dispassionate voice of the prodigy Adreena.
“Aeris, come and look.”
I heard footsteps, followed by the appearance of the hem of a shimmering scarlet dress.
“What is it?”
“He’s awake.”
The hem of the black dress moved closer and a sharp biting pain hit my neck. Adreena’s fingers felt like teeth puncturing my skin as she forcefully positioned my head back into place. I could see the pair of them staring down at me now. The one critical and the other coldly intrigued.
“I did everything you -”
“I know what you did,” said Adreena. “You put him under too quickly, you were impatient. Your hypnosis wasn’t strong enough because you didn’t take your time.”
I saw Aeris look away for a moment before cautiously stepping forward.
“You want me to -”
“No, I’ll take care of it. We can go over your mistakes later.”
Aeris bowed and turned away leaving the room. It was only the three of us now. Jane was still asleep and I had barely enough strength to keep myself breathing. Adreena’s fingers drummed irritably against my chest, each tap like a sharp piercing pin. I wondered if she understood how much the slightest touch tortured me, if she was idly toying with me like a cat would a mouse. At length, I watched her sigh and drag her fingers down my arm towards the needle. She pulled it out gently and began to treat my incision with rubbing alcohol.
“It’ll be at least another hour before you can move,” she told me. “Aeris is a bright girl, but she’s still a novice. Too young and eager to do a job properly.”
My incision disinfected, she reached for a cotton ball and some gauze from a nearby table and administered a bandage for me.
“It’s a shame for you I’m afraid. If the hypnosis had worked as intended, you need not have suffered. You’d have slept through the entire procedure and woken up feeling as refreshed as you ever had in your life. You’d have loved it, you really would. Jane could tell you how marvelous it feels.”
She gestured towards the other bed. My wounds now properly addressed, Adreena stood and sighed once more.
She isn’t to know about this, understand,” said Adreena pointing towards Jane. “If I were you I’d keep my mouth shut about what I’ve seen here. If you tell her anything, it could jeopardize everything I’ve invested in her, and she won’t believe you anyway. I like my patients to be satisfied with the results and coming back happily. If you say anything, if you try to keep her from me in any way,… well,… just don’t let that happen.”
With one final stare, Adreena turned away and left my field of view. Already, my nerves were burning as life began flowing through them freely once more. With some difficulty, I managed to turn my head just enough to see what was going on beside me. Adreena had removed the needle from Jane’s arm and was attending to her just as she had to me. After she was finished, I saw her tenderly stroking Jane’s hair. Her voice changed to that of a gentle mother waking her child from sleep.
“Jane my dear, it’s time to wake,” she said.
I saw Jane’s body stirring faintly, her eyes fluttering between consciousness and sleep.
“It’s time to wrap this up, my dear. You did an amazing job today. You’ve really made a lot of progress. When you leave, you’re going to be amazingly happy. Absolutely, positively, cheerful and at peace. I know you will, Jane. You always feel so much better after your therapy, don’t you? I know how much you love it. You just hold onto that feeling until the next time we meet, ok? Take your time and rest before you get up. I know how exhausted you get after your therapy. Take as long as you need darling, there’s no rush. No rush at all.”
I watched Adreena lean in and place a gentle kiss on Jane’s forehead before turning away. In a few minutes, Jane’s eyes were fully opened and she was smiling contentedly. After a yawn and a feeble stretch, her face turned to see me lying next to her in the other bed.
“You did it too?” she asked, beaming appreciatively at me.
I don’t know whether I was still too weak or simply too appalled to talk back. All I know is I could only stare back with my mouth agape and no way of communicating to her what had just transpired.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked. Then she giggled, laying her head back and softly closing her eyes, soaking in gentle bliss.

The Dream Puller: Part Two

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.
“Get out.”
It took a moment for Mandy to register those words. Did she really just say that?!
“Sam, I -”
“Get out!”
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 – “
Slam!
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.
“Thank GOD!!”
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.
“SAM!!!”
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?”
“I’m dreaming??”
“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.
“Mandy,…”
“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.
“STAY DOWN!!”
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.
“NO!!!”
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.
“Hello?!”
“Mandy.”
“Sam?!?!”

 

The Dream Puller: Part One – https://poemsandshortstories.com/2018/04/14/the-dream-puller/

The Dream Puller

Andrew regretted his actions almost as soon as they’d concluded. In an instant he knew that he’d screwed up, that he’d let his emotions get the better of him and hurt someone he cared about. He’d gone from being truly mad to being guilty and ashamed. The consequences from his teacher and parents were nothing compared to knowing that he’d betrayed a loyal friend.
There wasn’t anything to do now but sleep. It was still early in the evening and the dim amber rays of the setting sun still shone through the blinds of his window, but sleep was the only thing worth doing. He’d already been sent home and sentenced to a weekend alone in his room for the crime he’d committed. It was just as well, as Andrew wasn’t in the mood to do much else. Until he could make up with Samantha in some way, he wouldn’t have the heart to do anything that would make him happy. Perhaps he would call her tomorrow, if she’d even consent to speak to him.
The memory of Samantha’s stricken face persisted into his thoughts as he laid in bed trying to rest. It simply wouldn’t leave him alone, as if deliberately reinforcing his guilty feelings. As his mind grew more and more dim, that face continued to confront his mind’s eye until he was scarcely conscious of anything else.
“Samantha, I’m sorry,” he whispered aloud to no one before finally drifting off to sleep.

It was foggy and gray, with a chill breeze blowing like a distressed whisper through the trees. Clouds of mist unfurled from the low wooded landscape up the side of the hill where Andrew now stood. Everything was quiet, without a bird or cricket or chattering chipmunk to disturb the serenity. The wood was thick and the trees were tall and imposing, like silent guardians of a sacred wilderness. Traveling through the brush would be difficult, but at the very bottom of the hill there was a narrow path which Andrew began making his way toward.
Once beneath the canopy, there was little enough light to see the path at all. What small amount of sunlight that persisted through the clouds and trees was barely enough to illuminate the forest floor. Andrew walked slowly at first, taking his time in descrying the path ahead of him. After a time his eyes began to adjust and he was better able to see the scenery he was enveloped in.
The trail was narrow but it was exceptionally clear. Not a single fern, or weed, or sapling stood in his way. In contrast, the forest on either side of him was thick with weeds, grasses, bushes, and immense towering trees. Their branches often interleaved with one another overhead, creating a sheltered archway for Andrew to pass through, as if the forest itself was a sort of wooded palace. The deeper he journeyed, the taller and thicker the trees on either side became. As far he could tell, Andrew was the only creature passing through those words. There were no other sounds but his own footsteps and slow steady breathing.
In the gloom just ahead, Andrew perceived a doorway with a stone arch barely discernable in the dim light. It was only a few feet away by the time he noticed it. At first, it looked like a relatively small structure but upon arriving at its entrance, Andrew realized it was actually massive.
A fifty foot tall stone tower stood before him, surrounded on all sides by near impenetrable forest. It was soon apparent that there would be no going around it. The trail ended here and the surrounding forest was much too dense. The gray stone stood out so peculiarly from the environment, that Andrew couldn’t help but feel curious about its place here. Clearly this was where the path was meant to lead, but what purpose could an enormous tower have in the middle of a desolate and deserted wood like this? Guardedly, Andrew grasped the wooden handle of the door and pulled.
Andrew was taken aback by what he saw next. There was a stairway here as he might have expected, but instead of leading up the length of the tower it went straight down. Lit torches adorned the wall every few feet but the bottom was too far down yet to be seen. He knew instantly that wherever this path led, it had to be somewhere deep underground. It was uncanny, and its appearance did not inspire much confidence, but it was still the only way forward.
Andrew had only taken a few paces down the stairway before he heard to door slamming shut behind him with a bang. The torches flickered and the echo reverberated ominously through the deep passageway below. Andrew swallowed and steeled himself to go on. He told himself that it had only been the wind. He walked on, wondering as he did if it wouldn’t be wiser to turn back. He couldn’t say, but he couldn’t help himself from feeling curious either. He had to know what secrets this trail might lead to, wherever he ended up in the end.
Deeper and deeper her descended as the torches grew further and further apart. The air grew hotter and heavier until it was almost difficult to breathe. The moist aroma of earth enveloped him, assuring Andrew that he was indeed completely underground.
The descent was so long and the air so thick that before long Andrew could feel himself slowly giving in to panic. His pulse quickened and he began to step faster and faster down every stair. His vision grew hazy and the walls began to look as if they were closing in, as if the passage was constricting, getting smaller and smaller, and that they would surely suffocate him if he didn’t make it to the end soon. He flew down the stairs, jumping several steps at a time, desperately hoping to reach the bottom before something terrible happend. Then, slam! His feet hit solid and level ground, the stairway ended and he was staring straight through an open archway several feet ahead.
Cautiously, still catching his breath, Andrew proceeded through the stone portal to find himself in the most dazzling room he’d ever seen.
A wide open chamber lit with dazzling golden chandeliers opened up before him. It looked like a palace out of some fantasy novel. The floor was marble white, stone gothic columns adorned the walls on either side, and ahead of him was a magnificent jewel encrusted throne upon an ornately sculpted marble dais. The air was much easier to breath here, and Andrew found himself unable to do anything but marvel at his surroundings for several moments. It was like waking up into a beautiful new world, so staggeringly gorgeous that it was a wonder why such a place would be hidden so far underground.
He wandered awestruck down the hall between the columns as if he’d been enchanted. It may have been several minutes before he even realized that he was not alone. Sitting in the throne at the end of the hall was a person whose eyes had been silently watching him this whole time. Her face was stern, and by all appearances she wasn’t happy to see him. Andrew couldn’t believe his eyes, but here she was, the person he most needed to see.
“Samantha!” he yelled, urgently sprinting towards the throne.
“Shhhhhhhh!!!” Samantha hissed. She stood and held a finger to her lips, glaring at him warningly.
“Sam!” said Andrew, lowering his voice. He ran all the way to the foot of the dais and stopped. “Sam,… I’m so glad it’s you! Listen, I need to apologize – “
“Shut up!” Samantha hissed dramatically. “Andrew, not now! Please, don’t say anything about what happened! It doesn’t matter!”
“Yes it does,” said Andrew earnestly, hanging his head in shame. “It does matter Sam, I shouldn’t let my anger control me like that. You’ve never done anything but try to help me. You’re the last person I should take my anger out on.”
“It’s okay Andrew!” said Samantha impatiently. “It’s okay! Just stop talking or they’ll hear you!”
“Just let me say I’m sorry, okay?” Andrew begged. “If you don’t want to talk to me after that I understand. I’m sorry for losing my temper and I’m sorry for hitting you. It’s just I-”
There wasn’t time to say another word. Suddenly, from every corner of the room came shadows. Dark silhouettes that sped towards his position until Andrew was surrounded. For a brief moment he could see them clearly, human-like figures clothed in black but terrifyingly inhuman-like in their features. Their faces were exceptionally pale and wrinkled. Their eyelids were shut tight as if they’d been sewn together that way. Gray tufts of thinning hair hung limply from their scalps and long dripping fangs hung from their grimacing open mouths.
Andrew was encircled by the things. Helplessly, he turned to Samantha who only looked down at him pityingly. In the next instant the were on him, jabbing, biting, pulling, and ripping. Every angle of his body felt like it was being torn apart at the same time and the creatures that were devouring him were all that he could see.
“I’m sorry Andrew,” said Samantha, her voice sad and possibly teary. “I didn’t want this to happen,… I’m so, so, sorry,…”
The pain was excruciating. Andrew could barely believe it was really happening, but his flesh and blood were flying all around him. The creatures dove hungrily into his skin and pulled away grinning maliciously as they devoured him. Andrew screamed loud and piercingly, until quite suddenly he was silent. Before long not a trace of him remained to be seen but bloody stains on the marble floor.

Samantha woke shaking from her bed. She grabbed her pillow and wept into it bitterly while curling herself into a sad ball. She hadn’t meant for it to happen, it wasn’t fair, but there wasn’t anything she could’ve done to stop it.
Her cries must have alerted her mother, who appeared outside the doorway of her bedroom worriedly.
“Sammy,…” whispered her mother delicately. “What happened…? Did you do it again?”
Turning toward her mother, Samantha sat up straight and nodded sadly. With a sigh, her mother walked in and sat next to her on the bed.
“Who was it?”
“My friend Andrew,” said Samantha, gasping quietly through her tears.
Her mother nodded solemnly, holding back tears of her own.
“The one who hit you today?”
“Yeah,” gulped Samantha. “I must’ve,… I must’ve been thinking about him before I fell as-s-s-sleep. That’s why he -sob- I pulled him in with me.”
Her mother stroked her hair comfortingly wearing the bitterest look of sorrow that a mother could.
“Mom,” Samantha gasped. “I-I-I’m so sorry! I didn’t want to hurt him! I just couldn’t control myself! H-h-he apologized and they just ripped him to pieces once they knew what h-h-he’d done!”
“No one will ever know child,” her mother said somberly. “Know one will ever know.”
It was what she’d always said, the only thing she could ever think to say. Indeed, no one would ever think of tracing his death back to Samantha. No one could have suspected that she had anything to do with the deaths of all those that had wound up in her dreams. It didn’t take much, just a slight annoyance was enough to decide their fate if she couldn’t keep them out of her mind. She was a danger to anyone that crossed her, and nobody would ever suspect it.
“Go back to sleep dear,” said her mother consolingly. “What’s done is done. Try not to dwell too much on what can’t be fixed.”
“Okay,” said Samantha resignedly.
Samantha watched her mother get up and turn out her light. The scars on the back of her neck served as a constant reminder of what she was capable of. Even my own mother fears me, she thought depressingly. Anyone who cares about me is going to wind up dead!