0 / 0 / 7001 Aeris Era

     There was a humming in the background, an unfamiliar, yet constant humming.  Its lack of brightness made it distant; she thought it must be his air conditioner, but it sounded so perfectly smooth, never breaking up, never stopping.  Maybe it was a refrigerator or a bathroom fan.  She could ask him, but she didn’t want him to think she wasn’t listening.

     “…although many of my peers are under the impression that dreams do not have any real meaning, I believe that dreams are a method for our subconscious to present and resolve conflicts that the conscious mind cannot or will not handle.”  His shoes were bright and brown, flat and undecorated, no tassel, only creases over the toes—they looked like any other dress shoe, but somehow they emanated “expensive.”  Which, of course, they were.  He was a popular doctor, and especially popular with Sharon.  She might as well have bought those shoes for him instead of paying the secretary month after month.  But she needed him.

      “If that’s true,” she said, stumbling over the words in her mind as she stared at his shoes, “…how do I make them…how do I make them stop?  Please.  Although she could not look him in the eye to beseech him, she did lean forward as she said the word.  Her right hand, closed on her lap, twitched, the bones in her wrist tightening against each other. 

     “Sharon, as a psychologist, I believe that the patient is ultimately responsible for the cure.  I simply guide you to the problem.  And your problem is clearly a sense of helplessness.  Would you agree?”

      “Helplessness…yes…that’s what I feel.  That’s it exactly.  I’m helpless, and there’s no way out.  They have complete control over me.  Over my life…and it’s more than I can take.  So what am I supposed to do?  How do I stop them?”

     “Your sense of helplessness originates from fear.  You are afraid of confronting reality, afraid of the unknown, afraid of the future.  This is common, I feel it sometimes, too.  But your fear has grown to an extreme.  It has permeated your mind and your body to the extent that you have this recurring dream each night.  As I said before, the only way to destroy the symptom is to attack its cause.  Put simply, you need to face your fear.”

       “But…my fear comes…it comes from the fact that I can’t do anything.  How am I supposed to ‘confront reality’ when…when I have no hope!”

      “There is always hope,” he said, “Except in the most cruel of circumstances.” 

     She heard muffled voices from beyond the room.  It sounded like three or four people, grunting unrecognizable words.  Perhaps some sort of primal scream therapy.  This was a psychiatrist’s office, after all.  Still, the foreign sound of it unnerved her.

     She swallowed.  “I’ve tried.  I’ve tried.  Again and again, to escape.  To change things, somehow.  To fight them, if only for a moment.  I’ve struggled so hard, and I’m so tired, and nothing I do helps me, because nothing can help me.”

    “I can help you, Sharon.”  She heard the scratching sound of a pen on paper. 

   Sharon repressed a laugh.  “Can you?  Can you?”

    He didn’t answer.  “Tell me, what is it you feel you must escape?”  

    Sharon’s body shook, her neck grew taught.  “You know, you know, I’ve been here before, and I’ve told you.  Don’t make me say it again…”

    “I’m just trying to hear it in your own words.  I think, more than anything, you need to talk about it.”

   “No.  No.  I can’t.”  She was so cold…she pulled her jacket tight over her chest, but it didn’t warm her.  Her skin prickled, and she shivered.  Did they have the A/C set to kill intruders?

   “Okay, Sharon.  If you can’t talk about what’s wrong, can you tell me how you feel…?”

    “I feel…God, I feel shame most of all!  But it’s not even my fault.  I had no choice.  Why should I feel shame?”

    Cold, she was cold.  Beyond the scratching of his pen, she heard the grunting men, resuming their nonsensical conversation.  Then there was the clink of glass bottles being picked up, and the rattling of metal on metal.  What were they doing in there?

    “That’s alright, Sharon.”  “Go on…”

    “I…I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me next.  Afraid of losing my sense of self completely.  Afraid I’ll never be able to go home.”

    The scratching stopped.  There was a pause.  “Sharon, when you say, they, are you referring to real life?  Or to your dream?”

   Sharon bit her lip, and said nothing.  She’d talked to him before, he should know.

    “That’s okay, if you are uncomfortable then you don’t have to answer.  Let me say a few things, then.  I think that you have suffered a great blow, and your ego has been damaged, so damaged that you are unable to believe in yourself anymore, unable to believe in your own power.  That frustration with yourself manifests in your dreams.  I think the first step in resolving this is self-affirmation.  You have to believe that there’s a way for you to change things for the better!”

    She laughed, but only despair was in it.  “That’s easy for you to say!  Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?  You couldn’t imagine it, even if I told you!”

    “Calm down, Sharon.  And remember, this isn’t about me—this is about you.  I’m just trying to help.  Can you breathe for me?”

    Somehow, she couldn’t.  “No…I’m too upset.  There’s just…too much going on right now for me to calm down.  I’m getting assaulted from everywhere at once.  Physically, mentally, emotionally…I’m just…completely drained, and I don’t know what do anymore.  Please…you’ve got to help me!  Give me some medicine--”

     “There is no medicine,” he said.  “There is no magic cure.”

     She whimpered.  It was so cold.  She rubbed her freezing fingers against each other, but felt no heat.

    “Try this, for me, Sharon. Right now, envision yourself as a happy, successful woman who is comfortable in her surroundings.  See what that person is like, and try to become her, in your imagination.  Can you do that for me?”

     “I don’t need to imagine her—I was her!”  Tears watered beneath her eyes, but were too frightened to emerge.  “I used to be this…this power in the world!  I was beautiful, I was bright, men beat each other bloody for me and companies crawled over each other to hire me.  I had more friends than I could remember all at once, and even strangers seemed to know my name!  And now…”

    She stopped. 

    “And now…”

    “Yes, it’s okay, Sharon.  Take a breath, and go on.”

    She breathed.  The strange male grunts in the room beyond grew to a frenzy of snorting and clucking and throat-clearing.  She wanted to cover her ears.  Because now, she recognized what it was.  Recognized it, but dared not think it.  Dared not accept it.

    “And now…I’m lost!  Everything I had was taken from me by this nightmare…by them. Each night I dream that they come for me, they come for me while I’m asleep, in the darkness they come for me and they—and they take me!  WIth their cold, skinless hands they grab me by the arm and pull me out of bed and they talk to me in their guttural, nonsense language and I don’t know what they’re saying but they take me, God, they take me! --up into their blinding light, into that freezing metal room, and they tie me down and they…and they….and they….oh God!  Oh God!  Oh God!  I can’t…”

    Hands over her eyes as she sobbed into the darkness, shaking her head, trying to rid herself of the memories. 

    She heard creaking, the creaking of leather, the sound of his shoes groaning as he stood up.  They whined further as he walked to her side.  She was startled by the hand on her shoulder, that hand of—was it reassurance?— that gripped her shoulder.

     The humming in the background grew louder.  As she struggled to remember what it was, the nerves in her shoulder told her that his hand only had three fingers.  Three fingers….three fingers!

     “It’s not a dream,” he whispered in her ear.

     She screamed and flailed her hands in front of her, trying to fend off reality as it crashed back into her.  Her eyes wide open now, the floor of the doctor’s office was gone, and in its place was—black eyes!  Huge, solid black eyes, popping out of a too-smooth gray-blue face, skin oily and transparent and filled with jagged purple veins—and a tiny, tiny, lipless mouth, a mouth that smiled at her as it leaned closer.  She was naked and cold and her hands, her real hands, were bound to her side by some invisible restraint, bound to the narrow and comfortless operating table.  She thought then to kick, but, her feet were bound too—spread apart so that her private self was revealed to them, revealed and open, and he—yes, it was a he—squeezed her shoulder as he neared her, still smiling, as she screamed and screamed and screamed at him, at the others surrounding her, watching…

      …There was a humming in the background, an unfamiliar, yet constant humming.  Its lack of brightness made it sound distant; she wondered what it could be.  She smiled as she stared at the doctor’s classy, too-good leather shoes.  “Back again so soon?” he said.  “Well, that’s fine, I am here to help.”

     “I’m sorry,” she said.  “But I need you right now.  I need you.”

     “That’s alright, Sharon.  So, relax.  And tell me…what’s bothering you?”

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