It filled my lungs, but not my heart. Hard and fast, it beat. Bleating for a chance, it bled out and I couldn’t breathe. Flooding over me like cool waters, this recurring dream came once more. Like a trance, I could see these hands wrap around my neck. They grasped and my vision went black. As I gasped, my hands clawed wildly, desperately lashing out for a chance to break the clasp. My scraping nails traced his skin. His palms we’re warm against my throat, as they tightened. Tighter and tighter they squeezed until the picture faded, and I flashed back into reality.
I found myself alone in the dimly lit room after another endless night. These terrors filled my mind and kept me there in fright. I cried myself to sleep when the madness of my wake crept deeper into sight. These dreams, I dared to sleep, knowing without keeping light, my side shrouded like blight upon my life. This couldn’t be right, but I felt they may be.
Uptight and upright, I rose to the light. I couldn’t deny the day. As it embraced me in a feeble glow, I tried desperately to break the night’s grasp. It had clasped its night around my neck and pressed upon the throat. Stealing breath and leaving a silent pain, I forced myself to believe that today won’t lead to night. If I could break the curse of fright and not let the fear begin to rise, maybe then I could take leave of the terror that is within and begin my life again.
A loud knocking broke through the silence, and I stumbled quickly to the door. Tripping over myself, I found that my limbs are still heavy and left dormant.
’There is something to wear the paralysis away and my thoughts at bay,” I tumbled forth.
The cold metal of the knob graced my palm, I hesitated. Who could it be? It’s so late, but yet so early. Shadows still traced the floor. The sun was half-asleep.
“Hello?” I uttered as I opened the door to see a man, just like in my dreamscapes.
His sandy hair swept sleepily over emerald eyes. A grim expression crossed his face. Perspiration dot his forehead. A ragged breath escaped his throat.
“Who are you?” The sentence escaped my lips, before I could think of a proper response to a single thing he’d say.
“Apartment 4D,” he replied, his voice relieved, “I heard screaming”
My hand covered my mouth. I had been awakened by my own cries, but never realized they were actually audible.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” my voice traveled off.
‘What could he possibly be thinking? There are only a few reasons why a person would be screaming out loud at 3:00 in the morning. And I live alone. That is common knowledge among the complex. So, that narrows things down.’
“I promise I’ll keep things down,”
That didn’t come out the way it should have. I could tell by the incredulous look that painted his face. He looked away, embarrassed by his own assumptions. A light pink blush smacked his cheeks. He was young, mid to late 20s, at most. Possibly in his first place alone, outside of college. To be honest, I never really put the time and effort into getting to know my neighbors. Between work and home, there wasn’t much time to. Not that I wanted to. They were just a bunch of strangers. Confidentiality was part of the game. There was no first name basis in assisted living. Most days were 12 hour shifts with people I couldn’t even refer to outside of work.
“Oh,” he coughed, nearly choking on his tongue, in attempts to break the awkward silence.
“I didn’t mean it like…” I began, but his hand went up to stop me.
“It’s none of my business, I just thought…” he struggled to find the right words to say.
‘This is the longest conversation I’ve had with anyone here and I might have unintentionally made myself out to be a deviant.’ I heaved an internal sigh.
“I have these dreams,” I said, embarrassed
“They don’t sound pleasurable,” he said in a low voice, an aside to himself.
“What?” I asked, trying not to sound offended.
“More like nightmares,” he recovered, leaving the cynical remark to thin air.
“Well, goodnight 8D,” he pushed himself up from the doorframe.
I never noticed how casually he was leaning against the frame, strange, how easily relaxed he got, like he knew me.
“Wait,” I peeked my head out the door. The chain lock snapped back in revolt, startling me.
“Yes?” He came a few steps back, closing the gap to keep this conversation between us and not into the overhearing halls.
“Who are you?” I’ve said that before, “Your name”
“Oh, I thought you meant personally,” he chuckled, “I’m Otari, many just call me Ri,”
“Ri?” I repeated back at him
“Like: can we retry that?” he smiled, “So, what do you say, Mari? It’s late. How about we call it a night? You’re safe, right?”
‘In every sense of the word,’ I winced.
“How do you know my name?”
“Your PO Box is near mine. I like to have a name to match a face” His fingers tapped in the gold plated 8D on my door.
“Liar,” I smirked, in spite of myself.
‘Is he hitting on me? No, I’m sleep deprived. He’s just being kind. I DID wake him, I’m sure of it.’
“Not entirely,” he chuckled into himself
His laugh washed away the tension and uneasiness. A smile still on his face, his hand rested upon the pine. and he spoke to me like an old friend.
“What are you doing?”
“Memorizing your face,” he said without a trace of subtlety, “Blue eyes, short burgundy hair, a cropped smile, tightly concealed by thin lips with a sharp jawline, almost pointed to the touch...”
He spoke to himself as his eyes began to trail, not down but past me. He was searching my apartment for something or someone.
“Well, goodnight,” I pulled my head back in and closed the door.
He paused there a moment. I could feel his weight on the opposite side of the door. My heart raced in a dull and heavy beating.
‘What was that all about? Am I just being paranoid? It’s just a coincidence. He isn’t the guy from my dark thoughts. I’ve never seen him before. I’ve never even met him.’ I peeked my eye through the peephole to see him.
Leaning there, he scribbled something onto a scrap of paper (probably from the suggestion/memo board). He folded it and slid it under my door. It read: “Now that you know my name, I better not be hearing it through the night - O”
’What the hell does that mean? My face shrunk in annoyance.
My nose crinkled. Lips pursed and forehead minimized as my eyebrows tried to meet. I could see his smug face in my mind. ‘He’s toying with me. But why?’ I tossed the note in the wastebasket by my bed.
Falling into my bed, I let my head hit the headboard and slid down slowly, as I shrunk into myself. I slink. Glancing over at the clock, it read 2:37am.
‘Still 4 more hours until work.’ closed my eyes and sighed. Seeing his face in my mind, my eyes sprung open.
“Tri!” I popped up.
In a moment, it flooded back into reality. A summer. The lake. The gentle breeze through the leaves was the only sound. The picture in my mind came to me like a PowerPoint, an old time slideshow. It was like my own personal viewmaster into the past; and then it all disappears with another knock on the door. One hard knock echoed through the apartment, startling me.
‘What did I just see?’ The vision went back before I could see a thing.
Once more I hesitated before unlocking the door. I prepared to apologize, but the doorknob turned on its own and swung open to the extent of the deadbolt. There he was. His expression changed, hardened and angry.
“...told you not to,” his voice was dark and murderous.
‘If looks could kill, I’d be a goner,’ I stood in stunned silence.
“I didn’t mean to,” I retracted, frightened by his entry.
‘So forceful, unexpected and completely out of character. But what do I know? We’ve never met?’
“Tri?” trying to remember it, the name escaped me again.
“No,” his hand snatched my wrist, swiftly.
The urge to ram the door to gain release was strong, but I was frozen in shock. My body completely shut down. My feet were glued to the floor. A scream caught in my throat, only letting out a pitiful yelp get by.
“Not again,” his grip tightened, feeling my body give weigh as I blacked out.
All I could hear were footsteps, one receding, and the other approaching. I could hear the chain above screech a high pitched wail. I opened my eyes to see he held the chain in his hand. He slid the chain from the frame. Allowing for the chain to be lifted from its metal casing, he opened the door effortlessly (like he had experience).
‘What’s the point of having a security lock if it could be so easily picked?’ I watched helplessly as he entered the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
“Mari, please, don’t scream,” he pleaded.
The crazed madness drained from his eyes. Behind closed doors, the same demeanor from earlier this morning returned.
“Do you remember me?” he began slowly.
I shook my head, his finger still shushing me, like he forgot it was there.
“I’m not sure if I’m relieved or upset,” he continued, troubled by the situation, “then why do you say my name in your sleep?”
“I do?” I took a step back, away from his touch
“Every night,” he confirmed, “At first, it was barely audible, but tonight, it was a full on death rattle. Do you know how disturbing that is? To hear a woman screaming out without a reason for it…”
“The neighbors will talk,” still frightened, I interrupted.
“You don’t talk to them, you never have. I’ve been here longer than you have. I know”
“Who are you?”
“You are so caught up on that. I thought you’d figure it out already.”
“Tri,” I said, still uncertain of what that name meant to me.
“Say it right,” he demanded.
“Ota..Ri,” sill nothing clicked, “But Tri?”
“Was my brother. Otari (Japanese for man) and Autri (Sanskrit for prosperous)”
A sharp pain hit me in the chest, nearly knocking the air from me.
“I hit a chord,” he let out a cruel chortle, “Talk about repressed. Was being with my brother so bad, you can’t even look me in the eye?”
“What happened to him...me?” I asked him, but it was more of a question to myself.
‘Why do I keep having these dreams, but yet have no memory of what caused them?’
“Nothing- that I know of, at least. Apparently something, if you can’t keep it out of your mouth,” he closed in, inches from my face.
‘I’m being interrogated.’
His scent was intoxicating, like peaches and honey. A flashback of the lake returned. Two figures swam alone in the murky waters. One off to the side, there was another, hidden in plain sight. The tide swept over, rippling, bubbling and covering the two. The other leapt in. One emerged, a girl. The second washed ashore, a boy. The other, a boy, breathed into the girl, as the boy watched. A hurt expression rested upon his face. She was choking. A loud gasp was heard.
The picture faded in and out. I couls see it. I was that girl and my savior was- Otari. Autri was in the background with a stunned and painful expression. He pulled Otari away.
“I kissed you back,” I said at last.
Otari saved me from the undertow. In my dazed state, I couldn’t tell the brothers apart, and I advanced. I came onto my lover’s sibling. The memory turned violent from then on, between them and then with me. Autri got jealous. That night the nightmares began; and it ended. I blacked out and he fled. The dialog is still muffled in my memory. I can recall the shape of the room, the color of the sheets. His scent was just like Otari’s.
“And Autri got pissed,” I recounted back to him.
He mouthed the sentence back at me.
“He hurt me”
“We hurt him,” he defended.
I nodded in agreement.
‘Why would I block out all of that? To preserve the memory of him as a lover and not a monster?’ My head pounded and my throat had gone dry. These recollections left me empty and numb.
“Mari?” Otari’s hands rested on my shoulders, “You probably don’t want to hear this - especially from me- but I’m glad you’re starting to remember things”
“So, when you looked past me before, it was to ensure I was alone? You already ‘had my face memorized’”
“I thought he was here,” he admitted.
“How long ago was it?”
“A couple summers ago, After graduation. One last hurrah before Autri went off to pursue his masters… He graduated last month, but is still holding a grudge,” he nostrils flared, “Couldn’t have given him something else to linger on? You were my girl too!”
His eyes narrowed on mine, searching for answers- an apology for the last 2 years.
“Why now?” I couldn’t break away
‘Please deus ex machina stays away. I loved that scent. It reminds me of tenderness, vulnerability that I haven’t felt in so long’
“Otari, why now?” I asked again, weakened but not defeated.
“Mari,” he closed the gap, “Please don’t break away.”
His lips touched mine and warmth overflowed my body. There was a longing in his kiss. An unending need for closure. Our story was left open. His hot breath filled me and chilled me simultaneously.
’Was the more to us? - ‘You were my girl too’ he said. No. I was… Autri’s and Otari was...mine.’
“I’m sorry,” I spoke through his lips, broken, “I should have told him.”
“It’s over now,” he lifted my chin, restraining himself (for now), “Do me a favor?”
“Huh?” I caught my breath, off guard.
“Take my note to heart,” he broke away, unlocking the door behind him, “And lock your doors. There are creeps out there”
“Like you?” I teased, tongue out
“I see your sense of humor is returning too. Night, Mari”
Night, Ota-” I began, only to be hushed once more, “Ri.”
“Much better,” the corner of his mouth raised into a cocky grin, “Get some sleep.”
He left me without another word. I lingered at the door to see him enter 4D.