Air rushed across my face. I could breathe, but my instincts told me to keep my head up and move my arms. Nowhere felt like this, nowhere smelled like lucite and wet metal. I felt suspended. There was liquid on my skin; not necessarily water but something wet and syrupy. A constant beeping sound followed a minor shock so subtle that I wasn’t sure I felt it at all. There was a scraping sensation on my skin; it wasn’t painful, but it was startling. Voices slow, distorted and unintelligible made their way into my dreams.
I spent what felt like hours crawling through mud in a dark field of vegetation and bitter cold. My body was heavy, and my leg was injured, but I needed to reach the target. The mud sloshed into my mouth and my eyes. I had to lay flat at times to hide from the people walking around me. I couldn’t say who was hunting me or what they wanted, but I knew I was dead if they found me.
I have read that you can’t die in your dreams. This same article also said that you can’t smell or taste anything and that you don’t feel temperature or see color. I think that is a bunch of crap. I die fifty ways a week in my sleep. I don’t talk about it, the dreams, it’s not normal and I’m sure it would make me sound like a crazy person.
There is a dream I have had over the years. It’s always the same dark, cold feeling followed by the taste of gunpowder. The smell of dirt and dried weeds burnt by the sun lingers sick and heavy in the air. I can hear my horse breathing. His heavy pulse beats beneath my hand as I run my palm across his chocolate hide. The lulling rhythm of metal slapping leather counts down the seconds as the horse trots into the cold morning air. A thin sliver of sunlight threatens to rise from the edge of the earth. Powerful and single-minded, I am determined in my purpose. Logic and etiquette have been abandoned for this goal, and I am quietly terrified.
Dirt clings to every piece of fabric coiled around me, and I’m annoyed to be so unnecessarily soiled. I’ve positioned myself as flat as I can be against the saddle, but I have to get off the horse and walk him down the sloping hill in front of us. The obedient horse follows my subtle gestures and stops completely allowing me to slide to the ground. My gloves fall in the dirt. I quickly retrieve them and slide them on my hands.
He is my horse. It’s something I take great pride in, but I have not learned to ride him well enough to be out in the open terrain unattended. I know that I am not where I’m supposed to be and I’m most certainly unattended. The ground is hard under my heeled boots, and the hem of my thick skirt swishes across the flattened landscape.
The sun is rising in front of me partially blocking my view of the field below. What the dusk obscures now the sun hides in blinding first light. Smoke fills the open space and looms like fog hugging the ground. I step gingerly. The horse picks his footing. The beautiful creature is leading me down the slope. I realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. All the bravery and determination I gathered vanishes.
The unmanicured terrain is not what I had expected to find, and I know my father will be furious with me. I try not to step on whatever litters the ground. Pieces of something are scattered all around. I can feel the unyielding shapes under my boots, but I can’t see what they are.
The reigns have become uncomfortable. The coarseness of the braid pokes through my thin leather gloves. They are dark brown and have beautiful Lily's stitched above the thumbs, but they’re not meant for more than casual riding. My dark knitted scarf is pressed so close to my eyes that I can barely see. I’m looking for someone, desperate to find him, but I’m too scared to uncover my face.
The sun is almost past my eyes. My heartbeat pounds in my ears and I’m frozen in place. The sun pours across the field. The larger shapes on the ground light up. It looks like toys abandoned to the floor by little boys at bedtime. Battered men and horses lay in disorganized piles. Some bodies are huddled beneath wooden transports others are out in the open.
I take a deep, hot breath through the scarf and prepare myself to walk out in the field. He is there. We were told that no man left the field. No one else would go, certainly not my bellowing father. He sat in his chair by the fire with his belly as fat as his pipe was full and told me there was nothing to be done. He was wrong.
A rustling sound comes from behind me in the tall scrub brush. My horse reacts with a low snort. His ears move towards the sound. He shifts his weight and turns his head blocking the sun from view. The air moves and I can feel that someone is near me.
I try to steer the dream. I try to get back up on the damn horse and ride away, but it never works. Each motion is set in stone. No deviation is ever allowed. I wake choking to the feeling of rough hands tightening around my neck, hot breath on my cheek, and the scream of my treasured horse in my ears. A sense of profound failure and rage is fresh in my mind. I’m determined to go back out and look again.
Five minutes is what usually it takes for me to realize that there is nothing to go out looking for. This time was different; I couldn’t wake up. There was no way to crawl out from under the heaviness and dread. I could hear my name being called far off in the distance, but I couldn’t break free of the fog to answer.
“We need to reduce the meds. She should be more alert.” I could hear the calm voice of a man near me.
“Her vitals look good. She is resting comfortably.” A woman’s voice came from the right side of my head.
“Yes, that is excellent progress. I’m happy with the results we have gotten from the nanites. Reduce her meds over the next four hours. We need to keep her comfortable but maybe not this comfortable. Let’s see if we can’t get her in a room by noon today. The room adjacent to the lab is my first choice. The next closest room down the hall is my second.”
“Yes Doctor, we will do our best.” The woman sounded eager to meet the challenge she had been given.
Shoes were squeaking and scuffling on the hard floor around me. I felt movement and heard pneumatic sounds, like air escaping from a machine, and thin plastic crumpling. Someone lifted my arm in a firm and careful motion.
“It’s going to be okay dear. We are going to move you to a more comfortable place. You are going to wake up slowly, and you don’t need to be afraid. We are here to help. Can you squeeze my hand?” I did as the woman asked but I couldn’t tell if my hand moved or not.
“Very good. That’s very good. Now I want you to relax. You are going to feel us move you, and you don’t need to help, just relax.” The woman’s voice was reassuring, but I was afraid.
The sensation of falling startled me. A bright fluorescent light from above me made it hard to keep my eyes open. I was lying on top of a warm, thick, jelly slab. There was nothing to focus on but the cold air moving past my skin and the bright light rhythmically changing above me, darker and lighter, darker and lighter, just like at the hospital.
Semi conscience again. This time, it sounded like I was inside a large, open room with high ceilings. The loud hum of light bulbs was coming from behind me. A shadow blocked the light, and I heard the sound of a pull chain being tugged on. The annoying sound stopped. I was so relieved that I mumbled thank you to the room and felt a large warm hand on my bare arm.
“You are safe, rest.” The low voice sounded ghoulishly distorted and slow.
I lifted my arm to touch my forehead, pain shot up my side and through my chest. I let out a shuddering moan. My throat was dry and raw. I felt the cool touch of a wet cloth on my lips.
“Try not to move. It will get better soon.” The ghoulish voice almost sounded reassuring.
I drifted back into the vast, black void in my mind. When I closed my eyes, I felt minuscule inside the overwhelmingly massive dark space. I was a tiny thimble in the center of a pitch-black warehouse. The feeling panicked me and I could hear my heart racing. Hours seemed to pass by but when sleep finally did come my dreams were painful, a snakebite in one, crawling across broken glass to escape some demonic creature in another. It was chaotic, ripping, scraping sleep.
“Caylnn can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?” A man’s voice filled my mind; it was low and calm, waking me, saving me from yet another horrific image of torn flesh.
I moved my hand to my face and then back to the bed. Concentrating on the feel of thick blanket fibers under my fingers I tried to coax my brain and skin to work together again.
“Grab my hand Caylnn. Squeeze it as hard as you can.” I squeezed.
“Okay good, now draw a big letter B with your index finger.” I traced an oversized capital B on the warm palm.
“Let’s slowly reduce the drip rate and see how we are in another two hours.” The man began giving orders to someone nearby. I could hear a pen scratching on paper and shoes turn on the hard floor and hurry out of the room.
“I will be back in one hour to check on you. Try not to move your head. It is important that you lay still.” I poked the warm hand twice.
The man laughed and patted my arm. “There is someone close by all the time. Everything is fine, try to relax.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what everything covered. What happened to my husband and my son? What happened to the people at the restaurant? The hostess, was she badly hurt? What became of the old couple sitting across from us; They were so helpful getting Matt out of harm’s way. I wish I could have thanked them.
Panic overcame my rational mind, and I began to relive my ordeal in bits and pieces of dream and memory. The voice that whispered to me in the restaurant, skillfully guiding me where I needed to go. How was that possible? How could I have known how to do those awful things?