The latest installment by the Gods appeared in the form of a movie house. It was an environment Ben Marvin was all too familiar with. It stood to reason he should have felt at ease. But that was not the case. Far from it.
Illumination streaming off the theater screen breached the encompassing darkness, unveiling AMANDA, in more than just a silhouette. Her image came to light in splendid detail, wavy black hair, lips so superbly ample—perfect, and those mesmerizing blue eyes always drawing him in. She was as beautiful as ever. That came as no surprise to Ben who sat at attention to her right. He failed to recognize the outfit she was promoting, but what did that matter? She was here. Sweet, sweet Amanda was in his presence, acknowledging him. The face that was capable of inspiring poets, pacifying the disgruntled, and verifying the existence of a supreme being had returned. To him.
Ben was thoroughly ensnared, willingly, recklessly. The doting twenty-nine-year-old wasn’t going to take his eyes off his beloved, not even if God commanded it so. He would avoid blinking at all costs. He felt up to the challenge. Whether or not Amanda considered his attentiveness to be peculiar behavior was inconsequential. Losing sight of her was the only dreaded consequence to fret over. That was his baby sitting next to him. It was a rejuvenating encounter he hadn’t had the pleasure of delighting in for some time.
Ben sat quietly in anticipation of an Amanda-like exploit. It would act as further confirmation it was actually her rekindling his lust for life. As if sensing his wishes, Amanda proceeded to evince that exclusive smirk of hers. In that glorious moment, the weight of the world rose from his shoulders, the toxic anxiety troubling his mind began its steady departure. He felt composed enough to smirk. His effort was well received by his angel, her smirk blossoming into a full-blown smile.
Amanda’s silence persisted, almost as if she was waiting for a more opportune time to convey her thoughts. But it wasn’t a major concern for Ben. There would be ample time for a verbal exchange later. For now, the visual of his love, on display in impeccable form, trumped all other aspirations.
Stealthily, Ben slid his left forearm between the smooth, padded armrest and Amanda’s right forearm. He grasped her right hand securely. The simple, mundane union was colossally stirring, immeasurably gratifying, soothing even beyond his expectations. The sensation from the skin to skin contact helped propel him back to a time when there were gods, magnanimous forces ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.
It wasn’t enough.
The inescapable temptation to set his right hand atop both theirs, sandwiching hers, was pulling at him, but he was genuinely fearful of a perceived inelegance.
He had a visual on her as well as a secure physical hold. Now she would never slip away. How could she? He didn’t care what was taking place around them? All that mattered was holding onto the love of his life—forever, this time.
As rewarding as the moment had become, something was still missing. He craved an ancillary form of contact. His heart demanded it. He had to absorb her, every molecule of her. He drew her hand up to his lips and pressed them to her extended fingers, slowly allowing his eyelids to seal. Even the faint bulges of her knuckles were detected by his lips, further augmenting the legitimacy of the moment. He lingered in that rewarding pose, basked in this emotionally enriching state. The tension from his lips conveyed more to Amanda than any crafted passages could accomplish. He knew the message he was imparting to her was explicit.
While eager to release his inhibitions, Ben fought mightily to rein in his impassioned tears. This was a joyous occasion—at least, that’s what he wanted her to construe. Tears would surely change the mood of the moment, possibly becoming groundwork for unwelcomed misapprehension, he feared.
Needing to confirm she was still in attendance, he allowed his eyes to open, to take her in once more. She was still there. Nothing had changed, not a single enchanting detail. His lips remained on her hand, anchored in the creases between her fingers. A feeling of revitalization overtook him. Finally, a moment so consoling, there would be no grounds for downhearted tears. The heaven he once knew—he once delighted in, had returned.
Ben had consummated what he sought from the spellbinding kiss. It was now time to dispense his meaningful words over the gurgled dialogue emanating from the bleary film characters. “I don’t want you to go. Please—please, show me how to make this last forever. I’ll do anything,” he implored, applying the most desperate tone he had ever resorted to. It was imperative she answer him, answer him sonorously. That was his only hope to keep from losing her yet again, to keep from losing his will to press forth.
Amanda was moved, noticeably, profoundly. Her eyes swelled with tears. A radiant smile materialized on her face, soothing Ben’s restless mind.
This moment was authentic! Ben elatedly thought to himself. Tears. Smiles. Expression changes—it had to be real. There was no way it couldn’t be. Life could not be that cruel.
At this point, Ben had hoped Amanda would provide some words, comforting words, elucidative words, but something grander was on the horizon. She drew her face closer to Ben’s. Their lips connected, gently at first, then tightly. He trapped her tender lower lip between his. It was his favorite position to set his lips in, always had been. The compelling urge to shut his eyes overtook him. His heartbeat continually slowed, augmenting the potency of his impassioned senses. The bodily warmth from her face radiated onto his. The moment was as faultless as any conjured setting he could conceive—had conceived in over three years. He so desperately wanted to fade away into the moment. It would be the idyllic pinnacle, a vastly improved and preferred finale to their truncated story.
Exhibiting uncharacteristic leeriness, Ben opened his eyes. He wanted to make sure his lips were still pressed up against Amanda’s, and that he wasn’t interacting with a conceptualized illusion. For the second time, he discovered she was real. She remained poised within embracing distance. The rampant force tugging at him to extend the moment heightened the demand to be vigilant, warranted the need to be cautious of potential eradicators. Based on recent disappointments, his trepidations were valid, warranted. He was now conditioned to anticipate harmful events emerging during any and all situations.
Was Amanda able to detect his paranoia? Ben wondered. If so, it would be fair to assume she would blame it on his overwhelming desire to be with her. Regardless, what mattered most was the fact she was in his company. Furthermore, she seemed happy, grateful to be here, equally appreciative as Ben.
There were so many things he wanted to say to her, so many things he needed to ask her, but gazing at her was ever so pleasing, hypnotically paralyzing in some respects. Why chance altering her brilliant expression with slipshod-based words? Taking her in with his eyes furnished him with a soothing serenity he dare not risk losing.
A foggy mass materialized from the rear of the theater and gained in thickness from contributing smaller masses from a host of locations. It rolled along the ceiling above and closed in on Ben and Amanda, exclusively. The giant blob of vapor seemed to have an agenda, behaving as if it was a tracking predator. It continually pulsated on its way towards the unsuspecting couple.
The impaling coldness of the mist assaulted Ben’s exposed flesh. Even his bones felt the chill of the freakish vapor. Within seconds, an expended gust from the fog overtook his face, infiltrated his airways and came to rest in his lungs. With every inhale came relative discomfort.
A colossal black-clad GOON in a ski mask quickly emerged from the fog. Columns of haze swirled behind him. Moving with unearthly stealth, he infiltrated the row directly behind Ben and Amanda. Without warning, the imposing figure slipped his arms underneath Amanda’s and violently yanked her out of her seat. Without hesitation, he dragged her along the otherwise empty row. Ben jumped up from his seat, his eyes discovering the goon. His mind worked feverishly on trying to make sense of what was taking place. For unknown reasons, his body felt weighted down.
The brazen hood was eerily composed. He continued to drag Amanda along the row as if she were an afterthought. The distance from Ben was widening. Despite the lucid look of horror riding her face, Amanda never once checked on the identity of her assailant. Her eyes were fixated on her powerless beau.
Ben stumbled over Amanda’s vacated seat. Surprisingly, he stumbled over the next one, the next one after that. Suddenly, his feet felt heavy, moved sluggishly. It was as if he was trudging in thick, ankle-high mud. Why?!
The hoodlum continued his methodical abduction along the center aisle. He never deviated from his pace. His demeanor remained stable.
Ben’s anomalous struggle with the theater seats persisted. It failed to make any sense. He wasn’t a bumbling, uncoordinated goof. He was athletic and intelligent, enough so to overcome a remedial obstacle such as circumventing theater seats. Desperation ravaged his soul. He needed to make progress—and quickly.
“Stop!” he yelled from the top of his lungs. “Let her go, or I’ll fucking kill you!”
The brute was unhindered by Ben’s threat. He never so much as hesitated in his movements. The callous ruffian wasn’t merely dragging Amanda away; he was removing the life out of Ben.
Why was this happening? What had been done to this apathetic soul to provoke such profane retribution?
Ben lunged onto the carpeted center aisle. He landed flat on his face. Despite all his efforts, he struggled mightily to raise himself upright. Once again, for unknown reasons, his body was failing him. This wasn’t fair! he thought to himself. He proceeded to crawl along the ascending aisle as fast as humanly possible. Unfortunately, his accelerated pace failed to gain any ground on Amanda and her abductor. They had made their turn onto the perpendicular aisle. A different strategy was warranted.
In desperation, with both hands, Ben seized the metallic base of a chair and pulled himself forward with all his might. He repeated the process three additional times, on three subsequent chairs. With every effort, the carpet fibers irritated the exposed flesh of his arms. He had finally made it onto the dividing aisle when he caught sight of Amanda and her assailant, just before they coalesced with the abounding fog. Once again, Ben tried to pull himself up but collapsed violently. He laid still on his back, crippled from physical agony. He rocked his head from side to side, trying desperately to establish a visual on his love. All he could manage was an inverted glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye.
With his strength depleted, Ben was forced to remain in his pose and rest. Sadly, with every passing second, he was losing any remaining visual on Amanda. At this point, all he could make it out was her shifting silhouette. He was growing increasingly agitated over his inability to rectify the situation. He was further vexed by the fact that Amanda wasn’t exactly doing her best to get away. She was a tough girl, never a pushover, indisputably capable of handling the direst of crises. Her unwillingness to repel her attacker was uncharacteristic. And it was working mightily against Ben.
The backpedaling assailant punched a gaping rift into the bulkiest layer of the fog. The swirling vapor promptly began filling the void, concealing Amanda for its culmination.
“Amanda!” Ben frantically cried out, voice cracking. “Amanda!”
Despite Ben’s harrowing cries, Amanda failed to answer back. How could that be?! It wasn’t as if the goon had covered her mouth, at least not prior to their evanescence into the fog.
Ben couldn’t allow this to be the last contact he experienced with her—NO WAY! He had to hear her voice, lock in on it, and locate her. “Amanda! Say something—please!” he commanded in a strident tone.
Ben’s strife to raise himself up endured. His arms and legs were failing him. His mind overflowed with abortive resolutions. His temper intensified by the second. The sinking feeling inside his stomach raged out of control.
Why wasn’t anyone else helping him?! Ben wondered. Where were all the other patrons?! It was a fucking movie theater! Movie theaters were never empty!
The theater became ominously silent. The already meager light existing in the venue was fading rapidly. Ben’s hope for an alternative outcome was fading just as swiftly.
There had been too many forces working against him, inscrutable, prevailing forces. He never stood a chance. Deep down, he knew he was contending with insurmountable odds. But he was bound to see this farce run its course. To see that face again—that gorgeous, intoxicating face—he would have done just about anything. He was more than willing to sacrifice anything he had left to offer. Unfortunately, no such option would be afforded to him.
Amanda was gone… again. She had disappeared from the movie theater, disappeared from his life. Ben was duped into thinking he had some mastery this time around. For the second time in his young life, he was proven mercilessly wrong.
Wisps of vapor lingered in the air as if they were the villain’s calling card.
Ben’s overstimulated heart delivered a resuscitating charge throughout his entire body. His eyes shot wide open—to their limits. It took a moment for his overstrained brain to distinguish his current location. Another fucking nightmare, he realized. His implausible struggle with all those theater seats finally made sense.
The brass-plated ceiling fan came into view, along with the faded white ceiling surrounding the fan. The blades gyrated at their lowest setting. The steady breeze was felt strongest on his face and neck. His eyes began to shift methodically. He was taking in the details of his bedroom. Taking inventory of his furnishings gave him relative comfort. Their familiarity gave assurance he was no longer dreaming. But he had to be absolutely sure it was safe. The fear of returning to a dream state was a genuine concern, regardless of its improbability. Setting his sights on his wall-mounted, 40-inch flat screen proved to be the final confirmation he needed.
It was always a crap shoot with his dreams. There were pleasant ones and dreadful ones, and there were some he didn’t know what to make of, abstract and requiring unconventional analysis. This latest episode was unlike any he had experienced before. It instituted a whole new category. He had been lulled into a false sense of security, allowed to bask in a state of heavenly bliss, only to have his emotions trampled on in an instant. The nature of the varying dispositions experienced within his latest nightmare seemed to coincide eerily with the dealings of his real life. Then again, why would his dreams be any different?
He hated himself for allowing to be taken in by the forces controlling his dreams. He should have known the outcome of this latest nightmare before it unveiled itself. This manner of torment was inhumanly unfair, but he knew better than to let his guard down, even in his dreams—especially in his dreams. He had over three years to develop the ability to ascertain a dream while dreaming. It wasn’t exactly unheard of. He had come across a handful of souls claiming they had done so. And if others were able to master the undertaking, someone as adept and iron-willed as Ben should have been equal to the task. At least, that’s how he felt.
It was a maddening tradeoff for Ben. Outside of viewing video clips that triggered emotional anguish, catching sight of Amanda was only possible in his dreams. Unfortunately, many of the dreams were nightmares. What was he to do? He would never hope for an end to the dreams. Even in the nightmares, there was some assuagement in seeing her face, in hearing her tender voice on the occasions she spoke.
In an act of what he deemed to be retaliatory, Ben refused to sit up on the bedside. Normally, it was his go-to ritual when dealing with emotionally draining nightmares. Instead, he chose to remain resting flat on his back, waiting for his pulse to be restored to something analogous to normal.
Though he was now assured of his return to the real world, his drubbing palpations persisted. They were reduced in intensity from when he first awoke, but incontestably still present. It was time to curtail the anxiety once and for all. He reflected on Amanda’s presence in the theater prior to the gut-wrenching abduction. It brought him substantial comfort. He replayed the handholding experience, in an attempt to summon up the exact sensation. The two measures helped considerably, but it was the instant he focused on the visual of her eyes and her trademark smirk that truly soothed him en route to a calmer state.
Why didn’t she speak? Ben kept asking himself. Before the abduction. It would have been nice to hear her reassuring words… even if it were in a dream.
With his bearings hovering near normal, Ben drew his discarded comforter onto his body, up to his exposed shoulders. He shut his eyes. He sought additional sleep, additional rest. Most of all, he wanted to prove to himself, to the demons plaguing his sleep, he could return to a deep slumber despite their choreographed, ghastly nightmares.
His state-of-the-art alarm clock indicated in bright red numbers that it was 7:59 in the morning. Within seconds, 8:00 arrived and the piercing alarm sounded off. Ben’s eyes quickly peeled open. He took on a resentful façade. “You gotta be fucking kidding me,” he murmured.
Rather than turn the alarm off, Ben chose to hide his head under the comforter. It was yet another superfluous act of defiance. The soft material rested gently on his face. The comforter was consoling and did manage to muffle the buzzing volume to a degree, but unfortunately, the spiteful, rhythmic pattern could not be abolished. He started to regret having placed the alarm clock on the upright dresser instead of on his two-drawer nightstand. The strategic positioning of the clock was intended to evoke departures from the comfort of his bed, and thusly, ensure his full awakening. The tactic had a tendency to backfire.