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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #1992719
This is just a dream.
Dreams are funny things. Sometimes, they seem so real, so life-like, that waking up is a shock. It is like being dragged out of a freezing pond before you even realize that you have been drowning. For the first few moments that you lie there in bed, awake but disorientated, you almost want to reject reality in favor your dreams.

Although, not all dreams are so sweet.

At first, I did not realize I was dreaming. The street seemed too ordinary and my company so familiar. I looked at my friend. She was walking next to me, her head thrown back in a long, loud laugh. She always laughed that way, like an explosion of good-humor. I could not remember why she was laughing.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

She looked at me and shook her head, running both hands through her thin, blonde hair to clear it from her face. “Nothing, I guess.” She did not elaborate, and I did not feel the need to push the issue. We walked in silence for a bit, and then she stopped. “That looks amazing!” she exclaimed as she pointed to a store-front window.

I had to admit, it did look great. The entire front of the store was glass so that you could see everything that was set out on display. It was a bakery, and I had never seen so many cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and pastries in one place before. The enormity of the inside of the shop seemed to deify the laws of physics. It was wedged tightly between two other shops.

The whole street was like that, store after store. It was an old downtown section of shops. Many were made of brick, and the shops all touched two others like the stores in a mall.

“Let’s go in. I want one of those,” my friend suggested as she pointed to the biggest doughnut I had ever seen.

“Later,” I found myself saying, “I think we were going somewhere.” Were we? I had not thought about it, but I was sure we were.

“Oh yeah,” she glanced back at the shop and sighed, “Maybe when we come back through.”

“Sure,” I smiled. She was the best friend I had ever had. Her excitement was contagious as she looked to the next shop.

“What about this one?” she asked. “We have time to go there, right?” I started to protest, but she was already standing by the door. I looked around at the people walking by. Nobody seemed to be in any great hurry. They wandered about like they were lost but not too concerned about it.

“Celia,” she prompted, “well?”

I glanced at the store. The façade was pink and glittery, and the roof looked almost like a cliché witch’s hat except that it was painted pink to match the front of the store. A string of lights ran across the brim of the hat, casting a glare on the door, which was painted a glossier pink than the rest of the building. There were no windows.

“Let’s go,” I gave in. After all, the shop was pretty cute.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. She disappeared inside the store and left me standing on the street. I started to walk toward the pretty little shop, and a subconscious excitement, rather than my own free will, seemed to pull my feet forward. I grasped the silver door knob and almost ran through the threshold.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” In my haste, I had knocked a sales clerk to the floor. I held out my hand to help her up as I spluttered more apologies.

“It’s all right,” she laughed as she dusted herself off. “I certainly cannot fault you for being excited. Our selection is amazing.”

“Wow, it really is,” I agreed. The store seemed to go on forever. Rows and rows of the most beautiful gowns I’d ever seen went on for as far as I could see. If there was a back wall, I could not find it. I spotted my friend browsing a rack to my left. The rack was crammed full of medieval-style dresses.

The sales women followed me as I walked to her. She was admiring a long gown made of scarlet velvet.

“That style was extremely popular in its time,” the saleswoman assured. “Why don’t you try it on?” My friend agreed enthusiastically and left with the woman to find a dressing room. I moved on to another rack that held an assortment of white dresses. I took one down to get a better look and thought the wide collar looked Egyptian.

“Yes, it is.” The saleswoman was hovering over my shoulder. I jumped a little at her voice. “That particular dress belonged to an Egyptian queen. I can’t be bothered to remember which one, but she had wonderful tastes,” she said as she admired the fabric.

“This is just a costume,” I said. She frowned at my skepticism.

“Of course it isn’t,” she replied. “All of our dresses are completely authentic. After all, this couldn’t be a royal dress shop if we sold knock-offs.” She put her hand over her heart in feigned offense.

Just then my friend pushed her way through the suffocating racks of clothing. She was breathtaking. The dress was long and flowing. The velvet seemed to be an even deeper red than it had been before. It was clenched at the waist with a gold belt, and gold satin lined the inside of the sleeves which bloomed out just below the elbow and dripped almost to the ground.

The saleswoman gasped a bit too enthusiastically, and covered her mouth with a perfectly manicured hand. “Trina, you look absolutely stunning!” she gushed. “And you my dear,” she turned her attention to me,” that dress has never been worn so well.”

I looked down and saw that I was wearing the Egyptian gown. “Thank you,” I replied. The woman led us to a large mirror, and I had to admit, we did look good. The dresses fit us like gloves. The gold collar of my dress framed my face beautifully, and the gold belt cinched my waist to give me a near perfect figure. The front of the dress was slit so that it almost revealed too much, and dainty gold bands circled my bare arms.

“All dressed up with nowhere to go,” the woman sighed. “Wait,” she clapped her hands, “I have just the solution. Come with me.” She grabbed my wrist and dragged me to a door on the left wall of the shop. It was white, clean and inviting. I reached for the knob before I could question myself.

As soon as the door opened, the woman gave me a hard shove. “Enjoy,” she said as she shut the door behind us. At least I think that’s what she said; the room was vibrating with music. It was deafening. Trina was standing next to me. I looked back, but could not find the door we had just come through.

“Oh, I love this song!” she tried to yell above the noise. The room was packed with people. It was nothing but a giant dance floor, lit only by black-lights that flashed to the rhythm of the music. Everyone was dancing.

A waitress carrying a tray of bright drinks walked up to us, smiling. “Thirsty?” Her teeth glowed in the florescent lighting.

“Yes please!” Trina accepted a large glass of neon liquid.

“Well,” the waitress urged. She looked awfully familiar. I gave in and took a glass. It was delicious. I grabbed her before she could get too far and took another for each of us. Trina and I drained our glasses and began to dance.

I lost track of time and the number of drinks that I had had. Eventually, I could no longer concentrate and my feet were throbbing. My body was on autopilot. It moved along with the music, which never seemed to change, until I thought I would collapse. I tried to call out to Trina, but she seemed to be in a trance, dancing and drinking like she would never stop.

I was almost to the point of tears when the waitress returned and leaned down to whisper into my ear. “Isn’t this the most fun you’ve ever had?” She did not wait for an answer. “This is only the beginning.” I could feel her smile against my ear. She grabbed Trina and me and led us through the crowd. We came to another door in the wall. It was white like the first and glowed eerily under the black-light. I looked back at the waitress just before she opened the door and shoved us through.

She was the saleswoman from the dress store. She had on pounds of club make-up and her hair was dotted with glitter, but it was definitely the same woman.

The door slammed behind us, and we stood in a brightly lit general store. Trina began to browse the aisles like nothing odd had happened. “That waitress,” I said, “she was the woman from the dress shop.”

“Was she?” Trina seemed uninterested.

“I’m pretty sure.” I glanced toward the register and my heart skipped a beat. “There she is again,” I pointed to the woman as she moved from behind the cash register and walked toward us. Her smile, which had been so soothing at first, now seemed too large for her face. Her lipstick seemed too red, and her nails were too shiny.

“Girls,” she purred as she spread he hand wide in welcome. “Welcome to Sweet Dreams. Go on, look around. I’ll wait until you’ve finished.” Something finally clicked.

“This is all a dream, isn’t it?” I asked the woman. She smiled a little wider, but otherwise did not acknowledge me.

“Do you own this?” Trina asked. As I looked around, I realized that we were not in a general store, but an enormous candy shop. There was an aisle for chocolate, hard candies, taffy, things covered in chocolate, caramel, and marshmallow cream, and every other sweet thing I had ever heard of. Except for the three of us, the store was empty.

“Of course,” the woman laughed. “Please, take as much as you like. I insist.” She winked at me before she turned to leave.

“Wow, this is great.” Trina said. She reached into a glass jar filled with jelly beans and began to eat them. “Here.” She held a handful out to me. I hesitated, but took the candy.

Again, I lost track of time. We hurried around the store eating as much as we could as fast as we could. My stomach felt like it would burst with every bit, but still I kept eating. I began to get nausea, but when I mentioned this to Trina she only laughed and handed me a mug full of hot cocoa.

I accidentally split half a cup of the chocolate down the front of my dress. I heard the woman laugh from across the room, and when I looked down my dress was still as white as her perfect teeth.

“Trina, I have to stop. I can’t eat any more,” I pleaded.

“Alright, more for me,” she smiled as bit into a chocolate covered cherry. The juice squired out and ran down the side of her chin. It looked like blood against her pale skin. My stomach rolled.

“Let’s go. I need some fresh air,” I said. Before Trina could argue, the woman was standing in front of us, blocking our path.

“Now, I’ll have none of that talk in my establishment,” she chided. “Like I said earlier, this is just the beginning.” Once again, she took us by the wrists and led us to another white door. I planted my feet and pulled against her.

“Stop! We want to leave.”

“Do you, really?” she looked to Trina, who was obviously torn.

“Celia, I really want to stay. I’m having a great time,” she pleaded.

“No, Trina, this doesn’t seem right. We should leave.”

“But, isn’t this only a dream?” Trina asked. “What could it hurt?” So I was right. It was a dream. I sighed and realized that she was right. Reluctantly, I let myself be led to the door.

The next room was another costume shop, but it was nothing like the first. The walls were black, and the racks were filled with Halloween costumes.

“This is different,” I mused. Then, right on cue, the woman arrived. This time she was wearing a long black gown. Her dark hair was twisted into a tight bun, and a tiara of delicate black metal and red gem stones sat upon her head. She smiled her over-sized smile and her eyes sparkled.

“Please, have a look around. This is The Nightmare Factory, and we strive to make even your wildest dreams come true.” I turned to Trina, but she was gone. I looked around and just caught a glimpse of her velvet skirt disappearing behind a rack of vampire costumes. The woman’s voice echoed through my head. All of our dresses are completely authentic. I tried not to get too close to the clothes.

“Come back,” I called out to Trina. As soon as I had her in my sights, she disappeared again; this time around a rack of bloody wedding dresses. I could hear her laughing as she ran from me. As I passed the dresses, a hand reached out from somewhere inside the rack and grabbed at my arm. It was grey and deathly cold with fingernails filed to razor points. I pulled away and screamed. Then, another arm crept out from the folds of bloody cloth, and then another. They reached frantically for me as I backed away.

I backed into something hard and turned around. It was a door. I scanned the room for Trina, but I could not see her. More of the costume racks were beginning to rustle, and several sets of eyes shown bright in the dimly lit room. The air was beginning to smell foul, like smoke, dust, death, and blood. A whiff of decay hit my nose, and I felt nauseous all over again. My eyes started to burn.

“Trina!” I choked out. “Where are you?” A blinding light filled the room as the door behind me opened, and someone pulled me through the threshold.

“Celia, it’s okay. I’m right here,” a concerned voice said. The door slammed behind me, and I was standing face to face with Trina.

“Oh thank God!” I threw my arms around her. I felt shaky and weak. “We have to get out of here. We have to go,” I said. Trina laughed.

“Calm down, sissy. This is only a dream.” Trina was my sister. I remembered that now, but something was wrong with her. She looked different than I remembered. She took my hand and led me to the woman who stood waiting, as always.

This time we were in a toy shop. The room was filled with every toy that any child could ever want. A train so large that a small child could ride it followed a winding track across the room. The woman was dressed as a conductor.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she smiled. I swallowed my unease and looked her in the eyes.

“We are done,” I said. “We want out, and I mean now.” She laughed. Her mouth parted so widely that it seemed to take up her entire face. Her teeth seemed to elongate for a split second before she closed her mouth and returned my gaze.

“No,” she said, and then turned to walk away. Trina sat cross-legged on the floor, building a tower from brightly colored wooden blocks. She looked so content, so at ease. She seemed to be in her element, and I had another realization. I was eighteen, at least I thought so, and Trina was supposed to be ten years my junior.

I looked back at her, and now she was about eight years old, but that was not right either. She was ten years younger than me, but she should not be eight. She had only ever been five. She should have been five years old, and then all of a sudden, she was.

She looked up at me from her block tower and grinned. Her baby teeth were perfectly straight and white, and her blonde hair was tied up with a bright green bow. “Play with me, sissy,” she begged. I walked toward her, but she jumped up and ran away. I heard the train whistle blow in the distance. “Sissy!” she said from somewhere in the shop. “I hear the train.”

I felt panic creep into my bones. My muscles hummed with energy as time slowed to a crawl. I hear the train. She had said that once before.

The woman was hovering over me now. Her smile was cruel and predatory. “You’d better hurry,” she taunted. I ran. Finally, I found Trina. She was standing near the train track playing with a rubber bouncy-ball. I saw the train come around the corner just as she stepped onto the track to catch her ball after it bounced away from her.

This is only a dream, I thought to myself as I raced to the train to get to my sister. I reached out for her, and caught a hold of her hand. I pulled, and she fell away from the track just as the train sped by, moving much too quickly for any toy.

I cried as I hugged her tightly. A shadow fell across us as the woman leaned over us. “Very good, Celia,” she congratulated. “Now, come with me.” she grabbed us and led us to another white door. I pulled against her and commanded her to let us go. She ignored me, and I could not stop her from opening the door and pushing us through.

We were outside. People sauntered around us lazily and did not seem to notice the tears running down my cheeks. Trina was eighteen again, and we were wearing our normal clothes.

“Let’s go again!” Her eyes shown with the madness of the condemned. She pulled me across the road to the next set of stores, and when I jerked my hand from her grasp, she ran to the nearest door. “Come on Celia. We have to,” she said. “We really don’t have a choice.” She disappeared into the store.

How long can a person dream? I feel as though I have spent my whole life inside of this hell. We wander from store to store, and it always ends the same way, more or less. Sometimes, I cannot save her.

I chase her from one room to the next, trying to prevent us both from repeating the past. All the while, I keep repeating to myself; this is just a dream.
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