The Bad News: My head hurts. Boo to head-aches, but at least I've stopped feeling like I'm going to puke.
Anyway, to keep the typing down to a minimum I thought I would share a little story that I recently wrote. It failed to win the 24 Hours Flash Fiction Competition from the London Sci-fi Festival, but I still quite like it. It's only 1000 words, so won't take you long and I hope you enjoy it.
Sara awoke with a start. Her heart was beating hard as if she had just run a marathon.
“What the fuck was all that about?” She muttered as she wiped the sleep from her eyes. She vaguely felt that there was something important that she was meant to remember. She rolled on to her side and looked at the DRM 3000. Her sister had brought the dream recording machine for her as a birthday present, but so far Sara had only set it up. There was a thin sheet full of censors under her pillow, attached by wires to a small device on her bedside table, about the same size as her digital radio. Sara sat up and pulled it over to her. The display on the front offered a number of options. She could replay any of her dreams from the night before, look back at an archive, or access the dreams other people put online. Sara couldn’t think of anything worse than letting the whole world in on the workings of her subconscious mind. Sure, some of her dreams were funny, or just boring, but what about the ones born from her anxieties, or from her deepest fantasies? Still, she couldn’t help browsing through the online database. It didn’t take her long to realise that there were a lot of people in the world who didn’t share her sense of propriety. There was everything from boring dreams about the weekly shopping to ones marked XXX requiring a proof of age to view.
Then Sara noticed something odd. A lot of the dreams had similar titles, the words “Left Again” were cropping up repeatedly.
“That’s weird,” Sara muttered, and then yawned, shaking her head. The clock showed 6.30am. Her alarm would go off in half an hour. If she watched the dream, maybe she could get it out of her head and at least doze for a while before she had to face the day.
Sara returned to the home page. The dreams were arranged in order of strength, from odd fragments, to things that seemed like something from the movies. She selected the clearest dream, and pressed play.
Sara was at her work desk, typing things onto her computer, just as she would on any normal day, but something was different, something felt wrong. Then she noticed a button on the edge of her keyboard, a dark red button just to the right of the “Q”. Sara ran her finger over it and realised that it was soft and warm. It felt more like flesh than plastic.
“When I tell you, and not a moment before, press that button.”
The voice made her jump. It had come from right behind her, close enough that she could feel the breath of the speaker behind her neck.
“Do not turn around.” The voice was deep and unfamiliar. “Just do what I say. When the time comes, turn left, and left again. Let me know if you understand.”
Sara nodded, tried to speak, but could only whisper, “Yes.” The breath on her neck was so cold it made her shiver. She didn’t want to see who was talking, didn’t want to see the person who could make her feel so afraid with so few words.
“Good. Now, press the button, Sara, and remember.”
Sara reached across the keyboard, pressed slowly on the button, and as she did so warm blood oozed up and over her fingertip.
Sara placed the DRM 3000 back on the bedside table and took a deep breath. She wished she hadn’t looked at the dream as there was no way she was going to get back to sleep now. She stood up, and shook out her limbs before wandering into the bathroom. She stared at herself in the mirror.
“It’s just a dream, Sara, pull yourself together.”
She walked into the shower, allowing the hot water to wash away the memory of that cold breath, and decided to treat herself. She would go out for breakfast. She was never awake early enough to do that, and now she had plenty of time to cheer herself up with a plateful of bacon and eggs.
It was cold outside, colder than she would have hoped for a May morning. Sara saw a bus at her stop and ran to get on it. Once seated she started rummaging through her bag, feeling that maybe she had forgotten something. A few minutes later she was satisfied that she had her wallet, keys and phone and sat back to stare out of the window. It was only then that Sara realised she had got onto the wrong bus, and in the short time she had been travelling, had completely lost any idea of where she was.
“Shit,” she muttered under her breath, ringing the bell and hurling herself off the bus at the next possible stop. She looked up and down the road. How could she be this lost, this close to home? She took a deep breath and told herself to chill out. She couldn’t be that far from her usual route, she’d just walk back the way the bus had come and she’d surely find something familiar soon.
The road reached a T-junction and she turned left, certain that was the way she had come.
“Turn left and left again.”
The words scratched at the back of her mind. There was an alley right there, on the left, and somehow she couldn’t help herself from walking down it. It was cold and dark, and Sara couldn’t really fathom what she was doing.
“It was only a dream, woman, pull yourself together.”
Just as she said these words, Sara reached the end of the alley and laughed at herself. She was back on her road, but before she could step into the sunlight she felt a hand, cold and strong, clasp around her neck and a now familiar voice whispered in her ear.
“It is never just a dream.”