What Unbound Us

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Chapter 5: Short Pause

When I woke up, it seemed like no time had passed, but I felt better than before. Emma, who still sat sleeping next to me, had a pained expression on her face. Even when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t escape the nightmare this dream was turning into it. Carefully so as not to disturb her, I slowly got up and stretched, glancing down the aisle as I did so. The bookstore was the same as usual, but standing there in the silence, it felt more ominous for some reason.

Maybe because what had just happened to Emma and I in the last story still weighed heavily on my mind. There were no physical traces of me being set on fire left, but mentally it kept replaying in my head. The fire still felt hot and unbearable in my memory, and I shuddered.

“David? Are you okay?”

I jumped, my gaze turning back to Emma. She had just woken up, and yawned loudly before rubbing her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just trying not to think about some things,” I replied.

Emma chuckled. “I know what you mean.”

“So…uh. Do want to go into another story already?” I asked, wringing my hands.

Emma frowned. “Actually, no. I think we could both use a break. Too many terrible things have happened, and we deserve some time to breathe.”

I let out a sigh of relief. A part of me had hoped she would say that, because I didn’t think I could handle another story so soon. Not if something terrible could happen to me again.

“Well then, what do you want to do?” I asked her after a while.

“I think we should just sit down at the tables for a bit and talk,” Emma said.

I blinked owlishly down at her. “Talk? What do you mean?”

“You know, talk. Like most people get to do when they’re not trapped in dreams. Small talk, or whatever really,” she said.

“Really?”

“Why not? We’ve just gone through two stories together, but I barely know anything about you. Don’t you want to get to know me better?”

“I do,” I said, because I honestly did. “And you’re right, we really don’t know anything about each other.”

“Great! Follow me then.”

Emma pulled herself up and stretched, then strolled down the aisle with me trailing after her. As we walked, I felt some of the earlier stress begin to fade. At least for that short amount of time, I would be allowed to relax and pretend the two of us weren’t stuck inside the bookstore, or that we would both need to look for another book soon.

It didn’t take us long to find the tables again, or the one with the books piled on top of it. Both A Knight’s Tale and The Jungle’s Wrath had joined the pile, and I tried not to scowl when I noticed the latter story. Emma didn’t even bat an eye at the stack, and instead reclaimed the seat I had initially saw her in at our first meeting. Since it was the only available chair, I sat down across from her as Emma smiled at me.

“So David, let’s start with something simple. Like, what’s your full name?” Emma asked.

“My full name? That sounds like a question you’d be asked at a job interview or something,” I said, laughing. “But it’s David Emmanuel Turner.”

“I like that, it has a ring to it. Mine’s Emma Marie Morris.”

“That flows much better than mine. It’s pretty.”

Emma blushed at the compliment, and stared down into her lap. “Uh, thank you.”

I grinned. “Let’s see, what should we talk about? Oh! Any hobbies or interests? I’m guessing books are included somewhere in them.”

“Yes, they are. I love books, and reading. It’s why I became an English major. Otherwise, I like music, but who doesn’t? Puzzles are fun, like Sudoku and stuff, and I knit in my spare time.”

“Really? Like hats?”

“Yeah, sometimes I knit hats, or scarves. Whatever I feel like really. I mostly just give them to relatives or friends though, but I’ve been told I should try to sell them,” Emma said. “Oh, and food. Yes, food is an interest. It’s amazing.”

“Who doesn’t love food though? It’s awesome,” I said.

“Of course it is. And what about you David? Any interests?”

“Well, I do like to read, but I don’t know if it’s at the level of love. I like hockey, and actually used to play for three years at one point. I’m really interested in radio, which is why I’m majoring in Broadcast Journalism at my university,” I said. By now a smile had worked its way permanently onto my face, and I found myself leaning forward more towards Emma.

“That’s pretty cool actually. What university are you going to?”

“Maryfolk.”

“Really? I’ve never seen you around. Being an English major though, I guess I haven’t met too many people. I’m always hiding somewhere reading or writing essays,” Emma said, laughing. “Are you also a sophomore?”

“I am actually.”

“Awesome! You look my age at least, so I had a feeling you were.”

“Huh, interesting. A lot of people actually tell me I look older than nineteen. Oh, and my turn. Favorite color?” I asked.

“Purple, you?”

“Red.”

“Huh, I thought it was grey,” Emma said.

“Why?”

“Well, your whole outfit is different shades of grey so….”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.”

“Sorry,” Emma said, laughing more. “Anyways, let’s move on to something else. Do you have any siblings?”

At the mention of my siblings I paused, my gaze moving to the table. “Yeah, an older brother and a younger sister.”

“What are their names?”

“Pete and Tricia.”

“Is your relationship with them complicated?”

I frowned. “With Tricia…no. I love her the most out of all my relatives. I feel bad for her though, because I’m pretty sure she has some kind of learning disability, but my family doesn’t acknowledge it or get her help because my parents in particular are always focused on Pete. He’s…an asshole.”

“Ah, the asshole older sibling. I have an older sister named Jane, and she’s kind of like that. We didn’t get along most of our lives, but when we both went off to college things got a little better.”

“I wish I could say the same for Pete, but sadly, I think he’s a lost cause. That’s mean to say, but it’s the truth.”

I could feel Emma’s gaze on me, but I didn’t look up at her. My mind was on Pete, and how him worrying our mom was part of the reason I even ended up in this dream if my memory was to be trusted. He always caused problems for everyone else, even when he did one of his disappearing acts. Now I was in a dream that was already straining me, and what I thought was something easy to make fun of was now a cruel joke. A part of me just wanted to blame him to make it easier on my conscience.

“David?”

“I don’t want to talk about him anymore. I do need to talk to you about your ex boyfriend though,” I said, staring her straight in the eyes.

Emma froze, her eyes taking on a glassy quality. “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“You kind of have to. Because he kind of dropped in like a bomb on your dream, and I can’t even begin to understand why that is. What’s up with him?”

“I already said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“When will you then? Because I really want to get out of here. I can’t take this for much longer. Not that I haven’t liked talking like this to you, but I…I don’t want to have to do that again. Being set on fire, being half beaten up by dragons even.”

“What, and you think I like this anymore than you do?” Emma snapped.

“No, but now your apparently dead ex is showing up in here, so what am I supposed to think? What does it mean, Emma?”

“Please, stop! Leave it for now, okay? It’s too painful to talk about right now,” Emma cried.

“Yeah, and when is it not going to painful? When our bodies are old and wrinkled or they decide to pull the plug on us? That is, if we’re not actually dead already?” I yelled.

“Don’t say that! We’re not dead!”

“How do you know? We could be dead, or maybe just in a coma, but it still doesn’t change the fact that we’re stuck here in some fucked up brand of purgatory. Now a dead ex is just magically in your dream, and you’re going to sit there and tell me it’s not connected to why we can’t leave and I don’t deserve to know why?”

“This is not the time to be discussing this! And anyways, I barely know you! I don’t have to tell you my whole life story. I just wanted to get to know you better and relax, but you’re jumping down my throat about something I barely understand myself!”

I froze at her words, fully taking in Emma’s appearance. By then she had risen from her chair and placed her hands on the table, glowering at me as tears spilled down her face. She was right in some respects, but she didn’t know about Grim, or what he said. How her inner demons kept us here, and her not facing up to them would only make things worse for us. In that moment I knew her ex was the demon.

Something horrible must have surrounded him and his death, but since Emma obviously lied to me about the circumstances, I couldn’t ask her. Not when she was like that. It was a lost cause.

Getting up from the table, I stared across at her. “Obviously you’re emotional right now because I must have hit a nerve, so I’m going to walk away before I make things worse.”

Emma didn’t say anything, and just sniffled instead. I sighed, and backed away from the table, disappearing into the maze of bookshelves again. For a while I traveled around the store in silence, but once I was out of sight a groan escaped me. Sliding down to the ground, I put my hands against my head and stared down at the carpet. I hadn’t meant to yell at Emma the way I did, but my impatience was rising.

So much still remained a mystery about her and this dream, and then one of my nerves had been hit by her prying into me and Pete’s relationship. Why couldn’t anything be laid out like a map for us? Why did I either have to deal with an uncooperative Emma or a weird sentient being who liked to talk in riddles? Why did this have to be the most infuriating dream I ever had? There were too many whys with no answer in sight, and I let out another frustrated groan.

Then, on top of it all, our last adventure kept replaying in my mind. Charred skin, the blistering pain of the fire, smoke filling my lungs. My whole body shook at the memory, making me clench my head harder as I tried not to think about it. I honestly didn’t know if I would ever forget that feeling, even if I eventually woke up from this hell. Sitting like that and reliving the horror, I almost didn’t hear the distant rumbling from somewhere in the bookstore.

At hearing it I froze, turning towards the sound. From where I sat, it only seemed like it was getting louder. In three quick strides I scrambled up from the ground and made it to the end of those particular bookshelves, peering down the aisle. Nothing could be seen except the other shelves, but the rumbling got louder. Stepping towards the next aisle, I looked both ways before entering, but still, nothing mysterious appeared.

My curiosity mounted, and I continued down the row until the next opening appeared, and peered down that. Then, I saw it, or at least the tail end of it flickered briefly in my vision before disappearing. It looked like a huge, scaled body not unlike that of a snake. Jolting backward at the realization, I almost slammed into the nearest bookshelf. Not wanting to stick around, I ran back in the direction I came from, hoping not to be followed.

As the rumbling got louder my speed increased and I stupidly looked back. While I didn’t see anything, diverting my attention did cause me to bump into something. I tumbled backward, and when my head whipped back forward I discovered it was Emma, who also fell down due the collision.

“What the hell are you doing?” Emma asked, scowling at me.

“I was just….” I trailed off, glancing back behind me again. The rumbling noises of the snake sounded like it was incredibly close.

Emma seemed to hear it too, because she wordlessly pulled us both up and dragged me with her behind a bookshelf. We both poked our heads out in time to see a massive tan and black spotted python slither by, bookshelves shaking in its wake. My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head as I stared at it, but when I glanced at Emma she didn’t look fazed. Eventually it disappeared, and the mini earthquake it caused stopped as well.

“Well that was terrifying. Did you see that thing? It was the size of the bookshelves!” I cried.

“Eh, I’ve seen weirder creatures before you popped up in here. I did tell you when we met that sometimes things come out of the stories,” Emma replied.

I frowned, glancing at her face. Emma appeared to have calmed down from before, and even looked a bit disinterested by the python. Her eyes were the only evidence that something had happened between us; they were red and swollen still.

“Um…Emma?”

“Yes, David?”

“Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I’m feeling emotional too. For different reasons, but I am. This whole situation is just so messed up, and it’s starting to get to me and I just want answers. I’m just so confused,” I admitted.

Emma sighed, kicking at the carpet. “I know, and I’m sorry too. I just…can’t talk about Mark yet. It’s too painful. But overall I’m just as confused as you. We’ll figure this out eventually, though.”

“I hope so,” I said.

“No, I know so,” Emma said, meeting my gaze. She had a look of determination in her puffy eyes, and all I could do was nod.

We lapsed into silence, the two of us staring down the aisle. Neither of us knew what to say, but I did know what we had to do.

“I think we need to look for another story. We can’t keep avoiding it. I think if we just dive into a new one we can take our minds off of everything, and especially put the last story behind us,” I said.

Emma sighed again. “I know you’re right, but what if…what if I see him again? What if he follows us into another story?”

She didn’t have to tell me who “he” was.

“Well that’s a risk we’re going to have to take. We can’t just cower here forever. Like you said, we need to figure this out and get out of here. We have to keep moving forward,” I said.

“I guess you’re right,” Emma whispered, tears once again filling her eyes.

My heart sank at seeing more tears. I then realized what Emma was really afraid of: she didn’t want to see her ex because not only did she still love him, but he had definitely hurt her. In what way I didn’t know, but that was the only explanation I could think of as to why she was so scared to see him or why she didn’t want to talk about him.

“Hey, please don’t cry. Everything will be fine, okay? Where did that confidence from a couple of minutes ago go? I’ll help you through this, don’t worry,” I said, reaching a hand out for her to take.

Emma took the outstretched hand, wiping away the tears that tried to form on the corners of her eyes with her free hand. As she let out the last of her tears, I truly hoped we would be able to get out of the dream sooner rather than later. I didn’t know how much longer we could keep faking confidence before we got torn apart here.

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