At last I pulled myself away from my work. It was late and I was exhausted. As I looked to the bed, however, I was as uncomfortable as I was looking in my own coffin.
I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
The weather had turned and it was unseasonably cold. I crawled beneath the blanket and tried to relax. I dozed off and on, both shivering and sweating as a fever took hold.
I did not dream so much as I followed a stream of thoughts, not all of them my own. There were impressions, like little snapshots, but they did not come from my own experience.
I recall seeing faces and knowing that was Grandma, that was my best friend Donnie. Here was my first bike, I loved it like a brother. It was red and chrome. My favorite doll smiled at me and whispered the sweetest things. I loved her.
I knew none of these people or things.
I could hear the voices of people talking about their lives. They spoke of their hopes and fears and how it was so much better to be one, all together.
I burned with fever. I thought of the icy lake and I wanted, more than I have ever wanted anything, to plunged myself into it. I knew it would cure the fever with one icy splash. It’d be just like going to sleep.
What was life? Why did death matter? We could be together, forever. There would be no more pain, no more fear or anger or disappointment. It was freedom from all those things, and all I had to do was join them.
If this was true, though, why was I still afraid? I began fighting these thoughts and feelings, pushing them away as soon as they happened. I was assaulted by my failures. Every wrong I had ever done stood up in my mind.
Just who was I? So tiny and imperfect, did I even know what I refused? No, I didn’t, I confessed.
“And I don’t want to!” echoed my words off the low ceiling.
After many long hours, the night had passed. The light of dawn crept through the windows. The thoughts were gone.
I laid in the bed trembling and caught my missing sleep through the morning and afternoon. When I finally woke up again, the fever had broken.
I made the rounds. There was absolutely no one left. I knocked on door after door, finding only the same emptiness of Reggie and Mary’s house.
What had happened here? Last night, these things had been real. Now there was nothing but nothing. Yet, I could feel it. I went back to my cabin and wrote a note to be found in case I never was. As I read it now, it seems like the scrawling of a madman.
“It lives in the Lake. It sleeps during the day. At night, it rises up and talks to us. It wants us to join it, but this is a trap! Don’t listen! Don’t take thoughts that aren’t yours, that’s how you recognize it! You have to fight it!”
As the sun set, I knew what I had to do, though I doubted my sanity every step of the way. In my first dream, I had been afraid to look.
I wasn’t afraid anymore.
Story by Joe Stanley