Isobel wakes up screaming.
She thrashes around, terrified that she's still in the dream. "No! Don't touch me! Don't touch me!"
"Isobel! Baby! You're just dreaming! You're okay! Baby!"
Isobel's eyes spring open, looking around the room as she pants heavily. "Austin?"
Austin pushes her sweat-drenched hair out of her face, holding her close. "It's okay. I'm here. It was a nightmare."
Isobel swallows thickly, clutching onto him. She feels him slide his hands over her back to comfort her but all she feels is searing pain. She cries out, moving away from him.
Austin turns her around, "Jesus Christ, Isobel! You're back is covered in gashes!"
"What?!" Isobel jumps out of bed, running to the bathroom to see for herself.
Austin follows her, his face filled with worry. "We need to get you to a doctor, Isobel."
Isobel nods, looking at the marks. "Do those look like... claw marks?"
"Jesus... Seriously, Isobel. Let's get dressed and go."
Isobel nods, walking to her closet. She grabs a button-down shirt and Austin helps her put it on before getting dressed himself. They go to the car and she climbs in gingerly, making sure not to touch her back to anything.
By the time they get to the hospital, her shirt has soaked through with blood. They immediately take her back and start working on her. Austin is with her the whole time, holding her hand and petting her hair. They give her some pain medication and put her in bandages before leaving her and Austin alone.
Isobel takes deep breaths as she lays on her stomach.
"What happened Isobel? How can a dream affect you in real life?"
"I honestly have no clue. I've been having nightmares for a few weeks now. It's never been this bad."
"No... The marks."
Isobel looks up when she hears him sit down. The look on his face is hard to read.
"At first it was just red marks like when you get sunburnt. Then it was scratches. I've been trying to investigate it, but I can't find anything that would be able to do that. I'm scared, Austin." She looks at him pleadingly, "Not just because of the marks. The dreams are terrifying, and they get worse every time."
Austin takes her hand, "We'll figure it out. Together. I promise."
Isobel nods, wiping a tear away from her cheek. "Thank you."
Several hours later Isobel is released and Austin takes her home. Once there, Austin pulls out his laptop to start searching for answers.
"What are these dreams like?"
Isobel takes a deep breath, "It starts the same every time. I'm standing in front of a massive tree that is split in two but somehow still alive. It's in the middle of a forest I've never seen but at the same time it feels so familiar. At first, there was this creature. I could tell it used to resemble a woman, but not anymore. She would tell me awful things... That you would leave me just like Andy did. That you didn't care about me. That you only wanted sex from me. Then I would run and she would chase me. She would always catch me no matter how far into the woods I would run. It seems like she's angry at me..."
"Why would she be angry at you?"
"Maybe because I refuse to listen to her? She's trying to break me down, to succumb to my insecurities and run away."
Isobel watches as Austin types away on the laptop, hoping he's able to find something.
"I think I found something. I searched for the tree, thinking there must be one in the real world if your dreams are focusing on it. This page talks about that tree and how a thousand years ago, it was used in a curse. I think this is what we're looking for. Oh! Here's contact information for the guy who runs the site. Daniel Jones."
"Brilliant. Let's call him. Hopefully he'll understand why this is happening to me."