Stuff of Nightmares by Alanna J. Rubin

For Kendra & Erika: Thank you for being the unrelenting pushy bitches that I love. Cheers!

It stared at me with hollow eyes–that metallic face I’ve come to know so well in my nightmares.

Finally, I was able to confront my fear, but it was hard to believe that it was over. For what seemed like months, I’d been plagued by a single dream and last night was no different. I stood in a pitch black room struggling to find a light. Just as the panic started to rise and I felt the fear begin to cripple my ability to reason, I found a flashlight.

As I picked it up, I was filled with a sense of relief which was quickly replaced with the anxiety of what I’d see when I turned it on. But my fear of the oppressive darkness outweighed my fear of what might be waiting for me in the light and I pushed the button with a satisfying click. Without delay, I shined the light around the room desperately trying to find a means of escape and when a door across the room was illuminated, I ran over to it anxious for my freedom. I was about to throw all caution to the wind by pulling it open when I hesitated as my hand rested on the cool metal of the door knob. My chest tightened and I swallowed hard gripping the door knob more tightly as if it were a lifeline in this world of darkness yet a harbinger of what lay beyond.

With a few deep breaths, I rallied my nerves and swiftly pulled the door open and, in front of me, blocking my path was the disembodied face; frightening and yet familiar. Something started tugging at my mind as if I were struggling to grasp a memory dancing along the edges of my consciousness and just as the memory began to surface, I would wake up with a start, sweat dripping from my brow.

Immediately, as I had done when the nightmares started, I drew the face. Putting every fleck of color, every contour, and every imperfection that I could remember down on paper in the hopes that the elusive memory would spring free, but it only seemed to recede farther away into a place I couldn’t access. I had sketch pads full of these drawings each one exactly the same as the last, like it was a message. What was really odd, though, was that I didn’t remember being able to draw until these dreams began. With frustration, I put the sketch pad down when, suddenly, I felt my shoulders shake violently and I began to cough uncontrollably.

In the distance I heard, “Oxygen levels are back to normal,” and then a comfortingly familiar voice say, “Wake up. Wake up, Kira.” The sound of my name broke through the fog that owned my mind and my memories started to come back. I looked out through partially opened eyes, “Merick?” I asked in a raspy voice I hardly recognized. A smile of relief graced my husband’s lips and I experienced a brief sensation of being lifted as I fell back to sleep.

The next time I woke up, I was in the medical bay with Merick standing over me. “What happened?” I asked.

He lovingly smoothed my hair back away from my face, “We picked up the distress call and came as fast as we could. You must have just managed to put yourself into cryo-sleep as the oxygen system went critical. You’ve been asleep for several days. We fixed the CO2 scrubbers and levels were coming back to normal just as I was pulling you out, but your vitals kept spiking. You were giving me quite a scare.” The worry was etched in his brow.

“I’m so sorry,” I said hoping I could take his distress away. Groggily, I sat up, “Did you say days?” He nodded. “But it felt like months,” I said with disbelief.

“That’s the side effect of the dream state induced by the cryo-chamber.”

I looked around the room trying to get my bearings. The sterile medical bay was a stark contrast to the plush apartment in which I thought I had been living. I continued to scan the rest of my surroundings and that’s when I saw it. The confusion on Merick’s face was plain to see as I abruptly got off of the bed and approached the cryo-chamber, which had been my salvation, with caution. Carefully, I reached out and traced the edges of the shape that plagued my dreams. The words “Cryo-Dreams Inc.” were printed beneath their metallic silver logo that had always reminded me of a creepy mask perfectly situated over the face of whoever would be the occupant, like a mask worn in death.

An anxious laugh escaped my lips, “You were the stuff of nightmares after all,” I whispered.

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