In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Nightmares.”
“Shelly! You look like you’re about to fall asleep right here on your feet! Are you sure you don’t want to take a nap?”
She shook her head, fighting back a yawn and trying hard not to sway as she stood, leaning on the doorframe as inconspicuously as she could.
“I’m good, thanks.”
“Come on, come sit down next to me. There’s nothing you have to be doing – why don’t you relax for a bit.”
“Darren, you’re sweet, but I’m good, I promise.” She wiped her face off and started straightening the books on the table, puttering mindlessly to keep herself distracted. She felt his hands on her shoulders, guiding her towards the sofa, and didn’t have the energy or will to resist. He helped her lie down on the sofa with him, her head resting on his chest.
“Honey, why haven’t you been sleeping?” He asked, quietly, as he arranged the afghan over the two of them.
“Nightmares,” she muttered, fighting to keep her eyes open.
“Want to tell me about them?”
“Not really. I wish I could just sleep without waking up more tired than I started.” He wrapped his arms around her.
“Try now. I’m here – it’ll be ok.” She sighed, adjusting her head slightly.
“Can’t hurt to try, I guess.”
Without further prodding, she was soon fast asleep – and instantly transported back to her childhood home, around the time when she was 15.
Her mom had recently broken up with her boyfriend of a year and a half – Jake Sullings, a firefighter and training instructor. Shelly had liked him okay – they didn’t agree on several points which she considered important, and he could also be a sexist pig, but she could look past that if her mother could. It was over now.
It was a bright sunny afternoon and she felt she should do some cleaning. As she was dusting off the piano in the front room, she saw Jake’s old green SUV pull into the driveway, and froze. Why was he here? What did he want? She knew better than to go outside, instead, she turned off all the lights, locked all the doors and windows, and went downstairs, closing her door, and waited, listening.
The front door opened and he came into the house with his heavy boots, making no effort to be quiet. She remembered too late that he still had a copy of the house keys. She barricaded her door with as many things as she could shove in front of it, then opened her window and climbed out, quietly. She ran into the woods, just deep enough where he couldn’t see her if he looked out but she could still see the house. She caught a glimpse of him carrying a gas can around the corner of the house and then disappeared from her view. Within seconds, the entire house was ablaze beyond repair, and she had a stroke of panic as she remembered the three cats were still inside it. It was too late for them now.
A hand descended on her shoulder and she jumped. In her panic she had forgotten to avoid Jake. She turned to see him smoking a cigarette – which was unlike him as he knew the dangers of any type of smoke. He blew the cloud of smoke into her face and she fell unconscious immediately.
She awoke in a tent with her hands tied. Sitting next to her in the same predicament was her mother, spitting out her gag and working at the ropes around her wrists.
“Mom! You’re ok!” Her mother wrenched her hand from her ties and went to work on Shelly’s. “You gotta watch out for the cigarette – it knocks you out.”
“We gotta go now if we want to escape.” They crept out of the flaps of the tent and saw there were more tents around them and that it was early dawn. They took off running quietly through the fields of dewy grass and heard shouts behind them. Jake and several other equally brawny guys were chasing them with their cigarettes and they were so much faster and there were clouds of steam and clouds of smoke and she fell, choking on white mist….
…and awoke with a start, trembling. Darren jerked awake instantly and sat up to comfort her.
“Was it the same nightmare?” He rubbed her back as she gasped for air. She nodded. “Tell me.”
She did, the words tumbling off her tongue and spilling over each other like water. “A-and I don’t know why I’m having these dreams they broke up over 10 years ago and he never did anything like this and it’s horrible and I can’t shake it from my head and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared….”
“Shhhhhh,” He pulled her in close for a hug. “It’s ok – he’s gone, it won’t happen again.” They lay back down again on the sofa and she entwined her fingers in the folds of his shirt. The adrenaline in her blood gradually dissipated and her heart rate went back down. She felt his chest rise and fall slowly and his arms around her back and she smiled, because she knew that nightmare would never trouble her again, and in the event that a new vision of equal horror should pop up, she would be able to fight it back down because there was someone who cared willing to help her through, no matter what.