Written By: Matt McGraw
Artwork By: Julia Lewis
(Warning to the reader: Excessive Language Featured)
Richard sat bolt upright as the dream woke him up. He sat there for a bit, wide-awake and still breathing hard. He ran his hand through his sweat-slicked hair as he tried to get a handle on himself, realizing slowly that he wasn’t really in any danger. He was in his bedroom, safe and sound. ‘Christ, am I ever going to get a good night’s sleep again?’ he thought to himself. He glanced at the glowing digital clock next to the bed, which read a time he knew he couldn’t afford to be waking up at now that he was working a second job. He also knew the chance was remote that he’d be able to fall back to sleep again for a few hours at least. This dream generally did that to him.
Christina rolled over next to him and mumbled something in her sleep. He glanced down at her and instantly felt a little better. ‘At least I didn’t wake her up too’, he thought. He knew she wouldn’t have minded too much, she’d been putting up with his bullshit for the last two weeks since the dream started. She’d hug him and talk to him as he came back to reality. She’d tell him that it was just a dream, and that it was all okay. He knew that neither of those things were true. Usually it wouldn’t just be the dream that kept him up after that. He’d lie there and stare at the ceiling and think about it over and over and he’d drown in his own guilt.
At least tonight the only thing that was going to keep him up would be the dream. He lay back down for a few minutes and tried to get comfortable. Maybe if he could just think about something else, maybe if he could just focus on the dark surrounding him. Maybe if he could focus on his wife’s steady breathing. Maybe if he could imagine literally anything except for that woman’s contorted face…
“Fuck,” he whispered to himself. He knew better than anything that wasn’t going to be happening, probably ever.
He sighed as he rolled over and buried his face in the pillow. He recoiled however, as he realized it was soaked with his own sweat. In fact, he noticed his whole side of the bed was drenched. The pillow, the sheets—even the mattress was deluged in his perspiration. Nasty. He flipped back over so he was once again in his customary position of sleeplessly staring at the ceiling. He was really starting to hate the sight of that ceiling fan.
The moisture sticking to his back from the bed wasn’t helping either. He felt like he was back in college, swimming butterfly laps around the pool. Except for instead of refreshing like pool water, the bed felt hot and unpleasant. He knew he just had to try not to think about it. There was that idea though: pretend it was pool water. Pretend that, instead of his saturated mattress, he was floating on his back in the crisp, cool liquid; enjoying the warm sun above him and the calm waves beneath him. Imagine floating there peacefully, and then slowly sinking, down—down into the tranquil abyss below…
Her face popped into his head again.
“Fuck!” He screamed aloud. Christina snorted, picked her head up, and said something unintelligible. He instantly froze and looked at her. After a few brief seconds however, she put her head back on the pillow and started breathing peacefully again. Whew.
He was angry with himself. It was bad enough he was waking her up every night with his nightmares, without him almost waking her when he had some control over it.
‘Maybe a drink of water will help me fall back to sleep’, he reasoned. He silently slipped out of bed, quietly opened the bedroom door, and walked down the hall towards the bathroom.
As he flipped on the light he suddenly froze. He stared at the spot in the center of the room where he could have sworn that for one brief moment, he had seen someone standing there. Someone with long blond hair wearing a white gown stained with red.
After a few tense seconds, he brushed the thought away. He must really be losing it. Still, he noticed his hand was shaking ever so slightly as he reached for his glass and turned on the faucet to fill it. As it filled, he inspected his face in the mirror. He looked like shit. These sleepless nights had really been taking their toll on him. His face was scruffy and unshaven, his bloodshot eyes had enormous dark spots under them, and his skin was the color of spoiled milk. He put the filled glass on the counter and turned the faucet from cold to hot so that he could wash the perspiration from his face and neck. The steamy water slowly fogged up the mirror as he put the plug in the sink and let it fill.
As the sink filled, his mind slowly wandered back to the dream that was always the same, to that night two weeks ago—after all, he probably wouldn’t be getting much sleep the rest of the night anyway.
He had been driving home from his evening job when he had fallen asleep at the wheel. His car had run a red light at an intersection and a girl who had been coming the other way had T-boned his car with hers, probably expecting him to stop. He woke to the crunch of metal, a screech of tires, and an airbag exploding in his face.
Moments after the crash, he had taken stock of himself, and found that aside from a slight case of whiplash and a few bruises, he was fine. For some unexplainable reason, perhaps because people do weird things following a life-or-death situation, he remembered looking in his rearview mirror and seeing the light just as it switched from red to green. ‘Great,’ he had thought, realizing that he had caused the accident, ‘now I’m going to have to pay for their damages.’ He had then tried to open his driver’s side door and realized that the other car had pinned it closed. That was when he had looked up into the other cab, and seen her.
The girl’s airbag hadn’t gone off. On impact, her face had collided at 60 miles-per-hour with the steering wheel. Her jaw had been pulverized. All but one of her teeth had been knocked out and most of the lower half of her face had been jammed up into her brain. Her neck had broken. She sat there, totally still, blond hair in a wreck, her bright blue eyes staring accusingly at him. There was more blood than Richard had ever seen in his life. For a whole minute he had just stared back at her, frozen in disbelief and horror, and then he promptly threw up.
When the police had come, he had told them that she had been the one that had run the light, and since she had t-boned him, the cops didn’t have any reason to think otherwise. Additionally, after the toxicology report on her body had come back a week later, it had turned out that the girl, who had been coming back from a high school dance, had alcohol in her system. The authorities had ruled it a drunk driving accident and blamed the girl, as all the evidence pointed at her. Richard had been lucky. Very lucky. She hadn’t been.
Water dribbled onto the floor as the sink overflowed, quickly waking him from the dark thoughts of that night. He fumbled with the tap, shutting the faucet off and staring down into the pool of rippling water. Feeling nauseous at the memories, he quickly doused his face and neck with the warm water. It didn’t help. He let the water drip down his face and neck, and pool on the already damp floor as he reached up to brush the fog off the mirror to look at his face again. He wiped away the fog and instantly stiffened.
She stood behind him. Her crushed face stared at him in the mirror with that furious, accusing look in her bright blue eyes, her head cocked at a funny angle due to her broken neck. He stared too, petrified, mouth agape. Then she did the closest thing to a smile she could, the most grotesque, horrific smile Richard had ever seen. Her final tooth dropped out and bounced off the linoleum floor.
He screamed in terror—broken from his trance—and tried to run, but slipped on the water that had pooled on the ground. On his way to the hard floor, his chin cracked on the sink and he heard a loud snap. Then he hit the ground hard, with his face landing right in a puddle. Lying there on the linoleum, he attempted to move, to get his mouth and nose out of the tiny puddle so he could breathe, but felt no sensation in his body. He panicked as he realized that his neck was broken. Teeth and blood dribbled from his gaping mouth into the shallow water that would spell his death. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t scream, he couldn’t even breathe.
As Richard inhaled the water, he finally understood why he was having the dreams, why he couldn’t sleep—just like he shouldn’t have been sleeping at the wheel that night. He was guilty. He had caused her death and he had gotten away with it. This spirit of punishment was taking its vengeance on him, and he deserved it all. Now, they could both sleep in peace. He relaxed, closed his eyes, and drifted off to the sleep that he so desperately craved.