(This story is part of a series. Go here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)
I awoke with a yell and the bitter taste of bile in my mouth. I fumbled at the cup of water on the nightstand and knocked it over. With a sigh I rolled out of bed, tossed a towel on the spilled water and made my way to the bathroom. I rinsed my mouth with tap water and spit it into the toilet. It was reddish. I flushed.
I splashed water on my face, scrubbed and rinsed. I kept my eyes shut and the water running. I did not want to see if there was blood on my lips too. I blotted my face dry with a towel and tossed the towel halfway between the pile of dirty clothes and the trash. I would decide later whether to trash it or wash it, but I was leaning toward trashing.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like hell.
“Who the fuck are you?”
My reflection had no wisdom to offer regarding the girl – who was real, not a dream. I had seen her at the video rental place down the street a few times. She creeped me out, but so far she had not made me vomit blood. She looked 10, maybe 12, but acted like an adult. It was not simple seriousness. Lots of kids around here had that going on. The way she talked, the way she assessed things. No 12-year-old did that no matter how jaded the bad neighborhood they lived in had made them. The rest of her family, at least what I had seen of it, seemed normal enough.
I ticked off fingers. This was the fifth time I had the dream. Each time there was more detail. The new detail last night had been her painting my forehead with bloody vomit. That and having blood in my mouth after waking up. Though I supposed that did not count as a detail of the dream. Either way I was not looking forward to the next edition.
Tonight I was going to stake out the video place and find out where the girl lived. I felt stupid planning to stalk a ten year-old girl. I needed to figure out what was going on and she seemed the best option. First though, I needed to head to work.
Work made me think of Emma. Without a doubt she would have offered to hypnotize me. Emma thought hypnotism was the answer to everything. Well, hypnotism and meditation. Mind over body and all that. A recurrent dream seemed a job for hypnosis if ever there was one. She had quit last week though and I did not know her outside of work, so no hypnosis for me.
I worked at a co-op market as a stocker. It was Tuesday and work was slow. Most things had been restocked the night before and Tuesday was always our slowest day. I busied myself reorganizing a few displays when between infrequent restocks. If precise alignment and symmetry could sell free trade coffee, it would be flying off the shelves tomorrow. I was considering a more creative way to stack the organic apples when I saw Emma. I waved and she joined me.
“Slow day, I take it?”
I grinned. “Yeah.” I considered whether to tell her about the dream.
“What’s on your mind?” The mulling must have shown on my face.
I opened my mouth then closed it. Emma might be the last person to think I was crazy when I told her, but this was more than a little weird.
“Oh come on.”
I told her. I kept to the facts as much as I could – no embellishments, little speculation, and no mention of my plan to stake out the video store. If Emma thought I was crazy she did not let it show. It made the telling easier and more honest. She did look surprised when I told her about the blood in my mouth though.
“Okay, that is weird. Did you bite your tongue or something?”
“Nope. Tongue and mouth are both fine.”
“Anything else? Like a scratch or something like that? A bruise? Dirt under your finger nails?”
Unlike Emma, I had no poker face. I was surprised at her lack of surprise and her matter-of-fact questioning, and my face showed it. She took my hands and looked at them. I wished I trimmed my nails more often.
“No dirt, and I’m guessing you don’t scrub or clean under them like we do.”
Embarrassed I shook my head. She laughed and let my hands go.
“Relax. You’re hardly the only guy that doesn’t trim his nails as often as he should. Anyhow, my guess is that you psyched yourself out.”
“Basically your mind was so into the dream it hurt you. It happens, not often, but it does.”
“No shit?” I was skeptical. “But what about the kid? She’s definitely real.”
“She weirded you out and you put her in your dream.”
I shook my head. “No. I never saw until after I started having them.”
“Oh. Hmm. Superficial similarity and your memory and mind did the rest.”
This was not going how I had expected. Despite my earlier reluctance I had thought she would be the one speculating wildly. “But-”
“Look, I know this seems super weird. But trust me when I tell you that your mind can really do weird stuff and you’re not the first one to have something like this happen.”
“No. I mean, yeah, I believe you. I just don’t think it’s my mind playing tricks on me.”
“Okay, so what if it’s not? What are you going to do?”
My face betrayed me again. I could tell my embarrassment showed.
“What?” Then she did the math. “Oh, please tell me you aren’t going to stalk a 12-year-old girl.”
“I hadn’t completely decided…” It was lame on top of being a lie, so I did not finish the sentence.
“Unh-huh. Let me know if you get caught. I want to see how long it takes before someone calls you a pedophile.”