A shot! Blood, so much blood! I can feel it, seeping from the back of my head. I know I should be dead, should have died before the bullet reached the back of my skull and shattered it all over the carpet, but I know why I’m not…
As I realise I’m awake I find myself bolt upright, my entire body is coated in a thick, suffocating terror sweat. I can smell my own fear. You can smell fear, if you live with it long enough you can anyway. I feel sick. I feel as though in a kind of drunken confusion that normally only plagues you after half a bottle of JDs. Jen is awake; she’s holding me. I can feel her trying to reach out to me through the panic, but she can’t. I don’t think anybody can now. I don’t know if anyone ever could; that feeling of being completely alone and helpless can be more frightening than the knowledge that your life is almost at an end.
The nightmares are getting worse. They started about three weeks ago, I think; when I woke sweating and shaking from a vague memory of a dream, the same dream. Jen had held me then, too. I loved her once, I’m sure I did. I think I knew then, and maybe she did; deep down, maybe she sensed it too. I think we do, as a species. I think we sense a lot; I think we know a lot; and I think that knowledge is so frightening that we suppress it. The feeling of death and despair clung to me then, just as it clings to me now.
The dreams, the nightmares, they aren’t always the same, but they’re always similar. Although it feels real at the time, I’m also aware that it’s a dream. I know that what’s happening in the dream isn’t real and I know it can’t hurt me. I know all this, yet I still wake from each dream screaming inside, sweating from my very bones with terror. The feeling of blood seeping from the back of my head, sometimes I see a gun, sometimes there’s someone there: stood above me. They laugh at me – I can hear them! And this is the most insane, the most frightening part – it always sounds like Jen.
Jen’s asking me to go back to sleep. I wish I could, but I’m too scared! It’s like getting an electric shock every time you touch something, after a while you just don’t want to touch it anymore. Well now I just don’t want to go back to sleep, I don’t think I ever want to sleep again. A glance at the bedside clock tells me it’s 2am so I don’t really have much choice but to try, not if I want to get up for work tomorrow. I lie down again and drag the covers up. I turn away from Jen – I just want to be alone. I find I’m staring at the bedside clock, the LCD display slowly ticking to seconds off… the seconds ticking over to minutes… and then hours. My body numbs over time, resting itself but sleep won’t come, partly through the shock of the dream and partly through fear of drifting back into the nightmare. Somewhere in my mind I know Jen’s holding me, somewhere I know that she loves me, but every time I try to cling to that thought I hear her laugh in my mind – that shrill, hollow laugh.
When the alarm finally goes off at 6am I’m waiting for it and I catch it before it has time to click the radio on. The last thing I need at the moment is an irritating DJ telling what a good day it is today because it’s Friday! Days just don’t seem to matter to me anymore.
I climb slowly out of bed and wake Jen with a half-hearted nudge. I’m dressed by the time she stirs awake and starts asking how I slept. I lie and tell her that I slept fine at about 3am. She doesn’t question me because she doesn’t want me to tell her that I haven’t slept again; that I’m too frightened to sleep. Why would she want a burden like that? I wouldn’t if the roles were reversed.
—– ~ —–
It’s after breakfast when Jen next speaks. She holds me square on to her and tells me that we have to talk. We don’t have to talk at all: we never had to talk in the past. We never have to talk when she’s got a problem. We didn’t have to talk after the affair, but now we have to talk. I brush her off and head for the door but she corners me. Her eyes lock with mine and suddenly I flash back to the dream, I can see her standing over my lifeless body, I can see her laughing!
“Andy, we’ve got to sort this out. Your eyes are like pits in your head, you’re white as a sheet all the time and you don’t look like you’ve slept in a week!”
I shake the vision from my head and drop my gaze. I don’t want to look into her eyes: I’m too frightened of what I might see there – of what I have seen there.
“Andy! Are you even listening to me?”
Her voice snaps me back, she’s telling me how I look and how I feel! Well, for your information, Jen, I haven’t slept in a week! Every time I shut my eyes I see you! I see you in the dream! That’s what frightens me more than anything else; it chills me to the bone! I don’t tell her this of course, how can I? I just fob her off with something about work and things going around and then turn the conversation toward the time.
I always drive Jen to work before I head on to my own. It’s not on the way, but it saves us having two cars. Crawling behind the wheel I start the engine, find reverse and slowly roll out of the drive. Jen’s looking a little unsettled next to me, she hasn’t spoken since we left the house and I have no particular desire to speak: I’m too tired.
It’s Jen who finally breaks the silence by screaming the first warning that I’m drifting out of the slip road right into another car. It’s probably just as well she screamed because through my glazed eyes and ears I would never have taken any notice otherwise. Not that this helps the situation much. The other car tries frantically to escape but there’s nowhere to go. In my maddened confusion I make a mental note to congratulate the driver for deftly avoiding me for so long.
The second warning comes in the form of a crash. The steering goes to pot at this point and I try to steer onto the hard shoulder, but without much success. It’s Jen who finally grabs the wheel and brings us to an abrupt halt somewhere between the hard shoulder and the embankment just beside it.
“Jesus Christ! What the fuck do you think you’re doing! You almost killed us!”
By the look of the guy storming from the other car I could see that he was going to second Jen’s opinion and I scrap my mental note to congratulate him on his driving skills. I can see before he even opens the door for me to get out what he’s going to say. He’s going to tell me that I really shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel, but I’m too tired to care that much and probably half inclined to agree with him.
I stand before him like a school child with my head bowed, while he rants for about two minutes about my driving skills or lack thereof. Suddenly, the sound goes down; I can see his lips moving but everything has gone quiet, his arms are waving frantically and his face is so flushed, he looks like he’ll have a heart attack at any minute. Jen’s standing behind me somewhere chipping the odd word of support for me.
Everything seems distant.
I smack him. As hard and as fast as I can manage, I just hit him. I don’t know why, something inside me snaps – I want to kill him. I can see fear on his face now. I can smell his fear as well, like I said, when you live with something for so long you recognise it quicker than most; and I saw it there in his face, I saw it when I made the decision to hit him: he could tell. He must have seen it in my eyes.
I move towards him – he curls up on the floor, pleading with me to leave him alone. Jen is pulling on my arm, screaming at me to stop. I want to grab his neck and rip his throat out. One minute he was ranting at me, and the next, I made a calm and, what could almost be considered, rational decision to kill him. It’s like flood gates opening and all my emotions spilling out. I’m laughing and crying, I’m afraid and furious!
A therapeutic feeling of calm sweeps my body as I move towards him. The calm is spreading to my muscles and bones and I feel myself falling, everything goes black.
…The gun is on the table in front of me. I reach to for it and as I place the barrel in my mouth I see Jen, she’s standing just next to me. She smiles at me as I pull the trigger. I can feel the blood, damp and sticky – As I look up I can somehow still see Jen, she is covered in blood and laughing. Laughing at me…
Jen seems to fade, everything seems blurred. I look around, trying to make sense of the chaos surrounding me. I can see people moving around and it occurs to me that I must be in a hospital bed. I can’t see Jen anymore, but someone is near me, standing in her place. The blood seems to fade and slowly the room seems to change while I watch. Images are starting to become clearer and I can make sense of some of the activity. I’m in the accident and emergency department according to the signs I can see. A man next to me seems to be covered in blood and I can hear him moaning. A nurse approaches me and asks me how I’m feeling. I tell her fine and try to rise from my bed.
I need to get up now.
She pushes me back, offering me some tablets. It’s Jen, she’s standing there, where the nurse was. In her hand is a gun, she offers it to me and I take it. As I swallow the tablets the nurse laughs, she has Jens face. A chill runs down my spine. I can hear Jen’s laugh, even after the nurse leaves I can hear Jen’s laugh in my head!
When I wake again, Jen is sat next to me. She’s talking about how I’ve changed – how we’ve both changed – and I understand what she’s trying to say. She says that we’ll talk about this when I feel better, she reaches into her bag, pulling from it a gun and hands it me, but as I take it, it begins to fade. The gun is gone and as I look towards Jen, she’s gone too.
—– ~ —–
I’m sat in the house, at the kitchen table. The paper’s in front of me but I’m not reading it, I’m not doing anything, just sitting here with a paper in front of me and a cup of cold tea resting on a mat nearby. It’s been a week since I got the sack from my job and this is all I’ve really done, day and night, just sat and done nothing. I’ve managed to reach a state where I don’t think or move, almost complete rest without sleep. It doesn’t always work, though, like now for instance.
Jen left two days ago. She tried to discuss it with me, tried to convince me it was a trial period. I don’t blame her. I suppose it was too much to ask anyone to deal with. I used to love her, I’m sure of that now, but that was in the past – I was a different person then; that person could sleep every night; that person didn’t freeze in terror every time he met her gaze.
I wonder if I’ve gone mad. How would I know? I’d still think myself to be sane, and the rest of the world mad – that’s how it works. I hope I am insane, because if I’m not then the dreams may mean something – they may be some kind of sign or punishment.
I haven’t slept now for three days. Not a single minute of sleep. I feel so tired that I can’t really think about anything, not logically anyway. Every small task is mammoth; I can’t remember how to do basic things anymore.
I see Jen, standing next to me, laughing. She’s laughing just like in the dreams. That sound fills me with a cold chill, even the thought makes me shiver. I don’t even know anymore what I’m actually afraid of. I’ve been scared that long that I’m just frightened without cause now. Death would almost be a welcome release from the hell that is now my life.
She’s standing across the table from me now, laughing at me again. I reach out and the image fades, then I feel the back of my head and it’s wet, sticky wet. As I bring my hand forward I see the blood. Then it’s gone. I look across the table and next to Jen is a gun. She hands it to me, a smirk crosses her face as she pushes it across the table.
I pick the gun up, it seems heavier than before.
I lift it to my mouth and I feel that sensation of calm again. The gun barrel slides into my mouth and I bite down hard before I pull the trigger.
…Everything seems to be slowing down, I always imagined dying would be painful, but it’s not, it’s just quiet and relaxed. I don’t know why but even as I lay on the floor I can see Jen. Standing above my lifeless body, laughing.