Who is the dark figure haunting Emily's dreams?
The sun shone through Emily’s window, and birds sang sweetly in the big oak tree in front of her house. It was 9:00 Saturday morning, and her brother, Josh, would be there in an hour to pick her up. They had always spent Saturdays together since they were kids, but today, Emily didn’t feel like going anywhere. She groaned and pulled her comforter over her head when she heard Cathy knock gently on her door.
“Sweetheart, Josh will be here soon, and we need to talk first. I got a call from your Physics teacher, and he told me you had a breakdown in class yesterday.”
Emily groaned again and pulled the comforter from her face. “It wasn’t a breakdown,” she snapped. I wasn’t feeling well so I ran to the washroom. Why does everyone have to constantly blow everything out of proportion?”
Emily’s door opened to reveal Cathy with her arms crossed over her chest, and a stern look on her pretty face. She was dressed in a pink bathrobe and matching fuzzy slippers. Her short blonde hair, still wet from her shower, was brushed back behind her ears. “I don’t care for the tone you are using with me. This isn’t like you. Is something bothering you?”
Emily and Cathy had always been close. People always said how much they looked like sisters. Although they weren't related by blood, Cathy had the same honey blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and similar delicate features as Emily. Emily hated lying to Cathy, but she just couldn't bring herself to tell her about the terrible nightmares.
She sighed and sat up in bed. She felt silly for the childish way she had reacted. The nightmares and lack of sleep had made her irritable and on edge. “No, Mom, I’m fine. I’m sorry. I guess school is just getting to me. I’ll be okay.”
Cathy didn’t look convinced, but she smiled, walked over, and sat down next to Emily on the bed. “Okay, I’ll let it go, but if you need to talk about anything, you know your father and I are here for you anytime, and you know you can always talk to Josh too.”
Sure, I just can’t wait to tell you all about my demon stalker. You won’t think I’m crazy at all.
Forcing a smile, Emily kissed her mother on the forehead. “I know mom. Thank you” and she headed over to the washroom to quickly shower for the day.
Emily dressed in a pair of white jean shorts and a black tank top. It was a hot, humid day, and Josh wanted to take her to the amusement park. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and ran downstairs where Josh was already waiting, scarfing down a plate of bacon and eggs like it was his last meal. “Hey Joshikins! You know you do have teeth. They are really good for chewing.”
“Ha Ha,” Josh said sarcastically, giving Emily a playful punch in the arm as she sat down next to him at the breakfast nook.
"Looking particularly evil today," she teased. "Get into Jen's makeup again?" Josh was nineteen and had a style that often made people cringe when they first met him. His spiked black hair, tattoos, piercings and gothic makeup intimidated many an old woman or young child, yet as wild as his style appeared to be, Emily knew him better than anyone else. She knew the scared little boy underneath who was hiding behind a mask to protect himself from the world that had been so cruel to him. She sensed that he was only trying to look tough so people would fear him and not hurt him again.
"Vy, thank you my lady," Josh said in what had to be the worst Transylvanian accent Emily had ever heard. "Exactly the look I vas going for."
"Oh wow, seriously!" Emily laughed, waving her hand in front of her face. "Is that the breath you are going for? I thought vampires were allergic to garlic?"
Josh wrapped one arm around her neck and rubbed his fist roughly against the top of her head messing up her ponytail. "Josh!" Emily squealed. "Now I have to redo my hair!
"Okay you two," Cathy scolded, as she placed a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Emily. Act your age, not your shoe size."
Emily fixed her hair and stuck her tongue out at Josh.
“So what do you two have planned for today?” Cathy asked, as she sat down with them at the table. She had changed into a pair of tan capris pants and a white, short sleeved blouse.
“We’re going to try out the Twister today, aren’t we Em?” Josh answered with a wink.
Emily almost choked on her breakfast. “I don’t think so! That ride should be banned!”
The Twister was a roller coaster that had so many twists and loops that it took an iron stomach to make it through without losing your lunch, and Emily couldn’t even stand watching people ride it. “Where is Jen today anyway? Why can’t she ride it with you?”
“Jen had to work. It’s just you and me kid,” he replied, putting his arm around her and giving her a peck on the head.
Emily looked up at her brother and smiled. There was no one in the world she loved or trusted more than Josh, and she knew he felt the same way about her.
It pained her when she thought about how Josh hadn’t been as fortunate as she had been. He had been abused and neglected more than once by foster parents, and had lashed out by committing a variety of petty crimes. Emily at one time had been afraid that he would turn out like their biological father, who was serving a twenty year sentence for a series of armed robberies, but when he met his girlfriend Jen, he changed his life around and now he was using his talent for drawing, working at a local tattoo studio.
After breakfast, Josh and Emily climbed in his black 2002 Pontiac Sunfire, and headed towards the amusement park.
When they arrived, Emily felt that sense of awe and excitement she felt the first time she visited the amusement park when she was a little girl. It was like passing from the real world into a land of magic and adventure, where none of her problems were permitted beyond the tall gates. She felt like a child again, grabbing Josh's hand and pulling him this way and that towards one ride or another or scarfing down corndogs, milkshakes and cotton candy until they felt sick to their stomachs. After almost losing their dinner on the tilt a whirl, they decided it was time to head home. As they headed back towards the parking lot, a sign caught Emily’s attention.
STAGE HYPNOTIST 8:00PM
Obviously, Josh had seen it too because the next thing she knew, she was being dragged by the arm into the large tent.
“No Josh! Hypnotists freak me out!,” Emily pleaded.
“Oh come on you big baby,” Josh laughed. “There’s nothing to worry about. It’s hilarious watching what these guys can make people do.”
Emily followed reluctantly. The tent was packed with people. Josh and Emily had a difficult time finding seats. Eventually they found a spot to sit close to the back. Josh and Emily could barely see above the heads of the ridiculously tall couple in front of them.
"Seriously!" Emily whispered in Josh's ear. "When a woman is that tall, does she really need to add two feet of hair on top?" Josh almost spit his milkshake right into the overly teased mane in front of him.
The hypnotist started by picking random people from the audience, and having them sit up on stage. He then proceeded to tell each person to relax, and listen to the sound of his voice. The hypnotist's voice was deep and calming. Emily was exhausted from walking all day, and began to feel herself drift off to the sound of the man’s voice.
She was in the dreaded forest of dead trees. It was frigidly cold, causing goosebumps to pop up on her bare arms and legs. She hugged her body with her arms trying to warm herself. She looked in all directions but could see nothing but the gnarled white branches reaching out for her in all directions. They seemed to glow faintly in the darkness, lightly illuminating her surroundings. Her heart pounded loudly in the eerie silence. It felt entirely void of all life.
Hearing rustling behind her, she spun around, her body trembling with fear. No one was there. Then she heard a deep voice whisper her name. She tried to scream but no sound came out.
She started to run, dead leaves crunching under her feet. She felt something catch on her foot and she fell to the ground. She shrieked as her ankle twisted under her causing a sharp pain to shoot up her leg.
How am I feeling this? You can't feel pain in dreams can you?
Before she could get up on her own, she felt icy cold hands reach under her arms and pull her up. “NOOO” she sobbed, Squeezing her eyes shut to avoid seeing the dreaded figure in front of her. “Let me go please!”
“Don’t cry my love,” the all too familiar voice soothed, “It pains me to hear you cry. I just want us to be together. It can be like it used to be. The two of us, sitting and talking for hours about all our thoughts and dreams!”
“What are you talking about!,” she cried, pounding on the figure’s chest with her small fists. "I don’t know you! Leave me alone, please!”
“Emily! Are you Ok?”
The ominous forest and the dark figure disappeared and in it’s place was the tent full of people, many of which were staring at her. Josh was holding her close and rubbing her back.
“Wha…What happened?,” Emily stuttered.
“You must have gone under.” Josh replied with a deep look of concern on his face. “You just started screaming and hitting me! You’re tougher than you look! I think I’m going to have some good bruises tomorrow.”
“I’m so sorry Josh!,” Emily cried. “I warned you that these guys freak me out. Take me home please.”
“Of course kid,” Josh said, helping her up and walking her out of the tent with his arm protectively around her. A sharp pain shot through Emily's ankle as she put her weight on it. "Oww!" she cried.
Josh stopped "What's wrong?"
"My ankle, it really hurts."
"It didn't hurt when we went in there did it?"
Emily didn't answer. She was too horrified to speak.
“What was that all about anyway?, he asked. “What did you see while you were under?”
“I can’t remember,” Emily lied, but she remembered all too clearly. How could she ever forget?
* * * * *
He stormed through the forest, ripping branches from the dead trees as he ran. Tears stung his eyes. How could she be so cruel? He was only trying to comfort her. He loved her and was literally going through hell for her! Why couldn’t she see that? He couldn’t lose her. He needed her! He ran until he came to the end of the forest. As far as he could see was nothing but dry, rocky desert glowing faintly beneath a starless black sky. He fell down on his knees and sobbed on the cold hard ground, but there was no one to hear his cries.