by Devon Miller
The house stood tall among the ancient trees. It wasn’t hers but standing alone on the grand balcony, she could trick herself into a sense of ownership. Breathing deeply, she took in the impossible landscape. Snow-capped mountains scraped the purple twilight sky above and yet, sat lower than the crashing waves on the beach that was otherwise serene in the bright daytime sun. “That’s not right,” she whispered as she acknowledged a feeling of déjà vu that was, in itself, familiar.
I’ve been here before, feeling that I’ve been here before, and before, and before again, she thought as the sky turned fuchsia and points of light burst and sparkled and fell in deliberate patterns like choreographed shooting stars.
“It’s begun!” someone behind her yelled. “Come see!”
People poured out of the house, rushing toward and past her, pointing at the sky with gasps and exclamations of “Ooh!” and “Ah!”
“The sky is falling!” someone squealed.
“It’s all so beautiful!” cried another.
She did not share their revelry. It’s all crashing down. Anxiety and the repeated familiarity snaked around her chest and squeezed tightly. “It’s all crashing down!” she called out a warning, but there was not enough force behind her voice to push the words through the cold oatmeal drying on her tongue.
Another light burst in the sky and cast a beam on the peak of a ridge outlined in the distance. The ridge had previously gone unnoticed, but now it was the illuminated focal point. She had been here before and she knew that they had to take cover from whatever was about to happen. Sometimes it was an explosion. Sometimes the bright light brought monsters, or one giant monster. She knew she had to run and predicted that she wouldn’t be able to.
Her prediction came true, and while she’d guessed that she might be dreaming, she knew it now as surely as she knew that everyone else would soon sense the danger and they would be able to run while she still struggled to move through waste deep molasses. They would leave her behind and lock her out of the house to avoid inadvertently allowing passage to whatever horror came for them, nipping close at her heals.
But now that she knew she was dreaming the rules of the waking world didn’t apply. She heard the tell-tale shrieks of realization pierce the air behind her and felt the surge of people rushing at her like a wave, which she caught and rode through the doors.
For a moment, she couldn’t make sense of the chaos. She followed crowds of people through open doorways that they’d worked to block off just seconds before. Lost in confusion, she needed the room to be quiet, and so it was. Everyone was gone and she regretted wishing for silence.
Frantically she tried to find everyone, or at least someone she recognized, and in her state of near panic (only near panic because she still knew she was dreaming), she forgot to avoid the staircase, a frustrating place to land. “And now, it’s going to shift,” she said to herself, and it did. She would reach the top in time to watch the hallways narrow and the exits and doorways shrink to the size of pet doors and mouse holes. She sighed. She was tired, but she didn’t have the patience for this dream again. Fairly certain she was still tired enough to fall back to sleep, she kicked herself awake.
Rather, she tried, but to no effect. She was not even granted the swift change of setting that made her believe she was awake, but would prove to be a kind of mirage when her alarm rang, or when something else so unbelievable happened that the only explanation was that she was still asleep.
Perhaps the dream in which her teeth rotted and fell out of her mouth in rapid succession.
She pinched her eyes shut and tried again. Again, she opened them to the staircase. “No, no, no, no…” she attempted to scream herself awake, but it came out a strangled moan. The familiar lump of dread settled hard in her throat and she tried to control a heartbeat that she suddenly realized she couldn’t feel. Having expected her heart to pound like it always did when she couldn’t exit a nightmare in time, she wondered at the new horror her psyche visited upon her.
Knowing she had to get off the stairs, she turned to head back down and race for an exit when terror gripped her. Something horrible waited for her down there. She just knew it. Something below her opened its gaping, stinking maw and waited for her to logic her way inside; so as illogical as it seemed, she had to run up, higher on the ever-shifting staircase that led to the narrowing hallway. She would fret about things like heights and precarious ledges once she squeezed her way through a narrow exit. She just had to get there first.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she found to her dismay that there were no exits in the hallway. No windows, no doors, no escape routes. She ran the length of the hall taking care as she passed the staircase not to rouse the evil in the dark below, but even the staircase had disappeared. A wall now stood where the top step should have been, but the evil remained.
Again, she closed her eyes, kicked, and screamed, “No, no, no!” Still, lifting her lids revealed the same scene with one significant change: the hallway was tighter, both narrower and shorter. She spotted a crevice at the end of the shrinking hall. This was a dream, after all. Perhaps she could push herself through the crack by sheer force of will if she just tried hard enough, but by the time she made it there, the crevice, too, had closed.
It sounded pathetic to her when, with eyes closed tight, she repeated, “No!” and then, once more with pleading despair, “no” as she opened her eyes to nothing but walls closing in on all sides of her. Soon, she didn’t have the room to turn around. The walls constricted around her hips and shoulders first.
“No,” she choked out her last breath.
Her ribs popped and snapped as the walls squeezed tighter, crushing the air out of her and then crushing her. She felt her eyes bulge and her vision fade as reality dematerialized from the outside in. She believed in neither Heaven nor Hell and had always hoped to slip into The Void in her sleep. It simply hadn’t occurred to her that it might happen during a nightmare.
-Halloween flash fiction, 2019