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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #123180
It's a dream, or is it a dream? Mental illness or reality?
         Julianna had reached a point in her life where she felt her world was completely under control and things were unfolding pretty much as she’d planned and expected. As it turned out, she was wrong.

         She’d lived in New York City all of her life and was content with her life. College was behind her. She’d been through the trauma of a love affair of major proportions, but that was in the past. Now, at 27, the present encompassed a good job as an advertising account executive, an apartment of her own, friends, fun, and adequate money to support herself and to allow her to vacation when and where she wanted. She thought she was close to having everything she wanted.

         Admittedly, there was no important man in her life yet, but she knew that fulfillment of that part of her life would come in its own good time. Her looks would never make a movie star, she knew, but the guys didn’t throw rocks at her either. Life is good, she thought. And it was, except for the persistent nightmare that haunted her. At times, it was bothersome enough to take the edge off her sense of well being and happiness.

         The dream was the same one night after another. It was the same, that is, except that each night the dream went a little further and a little more happened in the dream before she awakened. This worried her for she didn’t like the path the dream was taking. Often, the nightmare left her fatigued, headachy and depressed the next day, which she knew harmed her performance at work.

         As the hour of bedtime approached each night, Julianna became more apprehensive. Sleep is necessary, she would tell herself. It’s only a dream. Don’t fret it.

         And still, she fought the dream each night. She would lie in the darkness, feeling the cold dread and her reluctance to surrender to sleep. Fear stirred restlessly within her like a living creature and tightened her belly while dryness closed the tissues of her throat. She swallowed hard to loosen the tension but the fear lurked behind her eyelids and she struggled to defeat the tentacles of sleep that reached up like an octopus to grasp her restless body.

         Fatigue pushed her forward into sleep even as fear pulled her back. As the hours passed, however, sleep would triumph, as she knew it must, and she would fall softly into the warm darkness, drifting softly downward into unconsciousness.

         Abruptly, with no feeling of transition, she would find herself standing alone on a desolate, red-soil, rock-strewn plain.

         Looking down at herself, she realized that this was not her body. It was different, far different from her own. This body was female, but stronger, heavier, more muscular, and was darkly tanned with taut skin hugging the solid frame. She felt taller, with longer legs and longer arms. There seemed to be a stronger life force in this body, a greater muscle and skin tension, an overwhelming feeling of life and health. She found this feeling of strength to be as frightening as it was invigorating.

         She wore a garment of long dark animal fur, soft and sleek to the touch, like ermine or mink. The garment covered her body adequately, leaving her legs and arms exposed. Her feet were bare, but they were tough and callused and not bothered by the harsh terrain.

         A chill wind whispered sharply through the rocks, pushed itself heartily against her, and rubbed her skin numb with cold. The fleshy self-knowledge of this body caused it to shake itself roughly, vibrating those powerful muscles, throwing off the cold of the wind and warming her while increasing the pace of her blood and the action of her mind.

         Ahead, as she looked across the plain, was a low hill. Squinting, she saw the dark mouth of a cave half hidden in the tumbled hillside. She stood for a moment as if listening and sensed a monstrous force, a psychic force that pulled at her from the cave, drawing her toward it. She raised her hands in front of her face as though to place a barrier between herself and what she dimly sensed in that cave. The muscles of belly and throat tightened again with unnamed fear and she leaned away, resisting the relentless attraction that pulled at her. Images of a presence within the cave flashed quickly through her mind. But the images moved too quickly for her to seize a picture of the creature. She felt intense distaste as she sensed something totally different, ugly, and more dangerous than anything she’d ever encountered.

         Against her will, she found herself taking one reluctant step after another, moving across the plain towards the dark mouth of the cave, her feet stumbling over the rocks. The journey seemed to take hours. After an endless walk, she approached the entrance to the cave. She stared into the darkness and saw nothing in the absolute blackness. Her heart beat faster, fluttering in her throat like a captured bird struggling to escape, as she sensed the horror in the cave and breathed the foul exhalations of the beast within. Possessed by a force outside herself, she reached out a trembling hand and touched the edge of the darkness, grasping at the red soil. As her every instinct insisted that she flee, she found herself leaning closer, peering into the darkness.

         Now, she sensed not only the fear but also an attraction, a growing fascination with the creature within the cave. Something in its mind spoke to her, awakened something in her that she’d never sensed before – a need to plunge herself into dirt and vileness, like a child leaping into a mud puddle or a dog rolling in carrion. Her stomach heaved and she took a deep breath to steady herself, wondering if this horrid need was a feeling of hers from her own being or if it was something belonging to and coming out of the body she inhabited. Even as she observed this feeling in herself, her mind was revolted at the possibility that these thoughts and desires might originate from her own soul.

         She stepped forward, still holding to the wall of the cave entrance, and looked deep into the darkness, as if she looked into the depths of her own soul. In that darkness, she saw dimly the reddish glow of predator eyes, small eyes, but many feet above the ground. Gasping, she tried to encompass the size and shape of the creature that dwelled in this place. Dimly, she sensed the shape and horror of the huge foul beast in the cave, the beast that existed there of its own being, without support from the outside.

         And what was this place? Her mind, perhaps? A deep, bitter darkness that inhabited her own mind, an evil growing within her own soul? She screamed at the thought, at the possibility, that this monstrosity could be an inhabitant of her own being. It must be an outsider or a part of this body that she inhabited. It could not be part of her civilized soul. It could not.

         Then, as had happened before, beneath her feet the red soil vanished and she found herself falling down, down, down into darkness. As she fell, she cringed as the evil grew closer to her, wrapping itself about her and pressing into her mind and her body, possessing her, becoming one with her, and binding her soul into its darkness.

         And she awoke, as she had before, sitting up in her bed, trembling, pulses racing, breath rasping in her throat. But this time was different. She felt something changed within her, changed and dirtied forever. Darkness covered her soul and she knew that the light of her life had gone out forever and she would have to live in darkness for the rest of her life.

         She looked down then and saw a handful of coarse red soil clenched in her trembling fist. She screamed and threw the dirt across the room, against the wall, where it slid to the floor as Julianna sobbed and pounded the pillow with her fists.
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