“Who wants another beer?”
Sloane lifted a reluctant head from the flattened sofa cushion. Surveyed the room, bleary-eyed, through a curtain of tousled curls.
“Better not.” Perched atop the wooden windowsill was best friend Alex, cigarette in one hand, half empty Miller can in the other. “Else I'll never drag my butt outta bed for class tomorrow morning.”
Her bare feet rested lightly on the shoulders of her boyfriend Silas, as he slouched beneath her on the hardwood floor, chewing the inside of his lower lip.
“Quick. Someone call Ripley’s.” A cheeky grin began spreading across his face. “Lex just turned down a brew.”
Unamused by the wisecrack, Alex shook her head. “You want a beer…or not?”
“Nah. I’m good.”
Sloane’s gaze drifted, then, to the final member of the group. Fellow sociology major Jamie, who was sprawled across the only armchair with her eyelids squinched tightly shut.
“What a lightweight!” Silas feigned a comical snore. “She’s totally out of it.”
“Hey.” Reaching over with sock covered toes, Sloane tapped her guest gently on the arm. “This isn’t a motel.”
Jamie woke abruptly from her slumber and blinked drowsily at her smirking audience.
“Gimme a break.” The protest was accompanied by a gigantic yawn. “I hardly got any sleep last night.”
“Don’t tell me you finally hooked up with Mr. lacrosse team?” Alex’s eyes brightened. “It’s about time!”
“I wish.” Jamie hauled herself up onto an elbow and ran a hand through her mouse-brown hair. “No, nothing quite so gossip-worthy. I just kept having this really weird dream.”
“Weird as in kinky? Dream as in fantasy?” Silas’ tone was teasing. “About bumping hips with the captain of the Lacrosse team?”
“Ha-ha,” Jamie picked up the pillow she’d been warming and tossed it lazily in his direction. “No, seriously, it was bizarre. I dreamed that I heard a rustling sound, in the middle of the night. Coming from inside my bedroom closet. So I leapt up to investigate, slid open the door…and I found my closet was full of babies! Little tiny babies. All lined up in a row.”
“That is weird.” Sloane interjected.
“Right? And they were covered in plastic. Clear plastic, like…Saran Wrap. Bundled up, real tight, from head to toe.”
Her beer, on its coaster, was warm and flat by now, but she gulped down a mouthful of it anyway. “At first, for some reason, I thought they were made out of wax. You know, kinda like those creepy, old-fashioned dolls. But then one of them started twitching. And I saw that they were real. Alive.”
“So of course, I was freaking out. Screaming bloody murder. Trying frantically to tear this stuff from their faces, one by one, before it was too late.”
“Were you able to save them?”
“Well the problem was, every time I managed to release the last kid…I’d look back along the line and see that they’d all somehow been rewrapped. So I’d have to start all over again.” Her eyes dropped, as if she were addressing the varnished floorboards rather than anyone in the room. “It was awful. These babies…they didn’t cry, didn’t struggle, didn’t make a single sound. They just stared up at me, wide-eyed, pleading silently for my help. With these pitiful looks on their little faces.”
“Maybe you were hungry.” Alex chimed in playfully. “Maybe those tots wrapped in plastic represented the packet of sausages, lurking in the back of your refrigerator. And that pleading look was ‘cause they were begging you, Jamie, please don’t eat us. Please…”
Three of the four faces in the room were lit by tickled grins.
“This ain’t funny, Alex. The whole thing totally creeped me out. I woke up in a puddle of my own sweat, with my heart racing. And for the rest of the night, every time I finally managed to drift off…I’d find myself back in that closet.”
“Wonder what it all means.” Sloane was sitting upright now, her knees tucked underneath her chin. Her toes curling and uncurling themselves over the lip of the sofa. “I know, why don’t you try looking it up in one of those dream dictionaries?”
“Dream dictionaries?” Jamie shook her head. “Nah…I don’t believe in them. I’m sure they’ll just say my dream means something completely ridiculous. Like…I’m gonna win the lotto or be married within a week. Personally, I reckon dreams are just a bunch of random images, floating around our brains, for whatever reason. They don’t really mean a thing.”
“You’re probably right.” Alex extinguished her cigarette in the ceramic ashtray beside her on the ledge. “I mean, you have a dream about…let’s say…an elephant. Books and journals and therapists might have you believing you’ve got, I don’t know, penis envy or something. Truth is, you just happened to see an elephant on TV that night while you were dozing off on the sofa!”
Silas stole a swig from his girlfriend’s beer can and wiped his lips with the corner of a sleeve. “Have you ever been in the middle of a dream, and found yourself wondering whether you were asleep or awake? Wondering whether everything you see is real…or just a dream?”
“Of course.” Alex nodded along in agreement. “I’m sure everybody has.”
“Well, the next time that happens…try to remember one thing.”
He raised both arms, stiff elbowed before him. With palms outstretched and fingers worming through the incense smoke that billowed, streamer-like, across the room.
“Hands?” Jamie repeated the word with a crinkle in her brow.
“Yes! Focus on your hands.”
“What good does that do?”
“It makes you realize that you’re dreaming.”
“Er, I think you’re a little confused, honey.” Alex rolled her eyes skyward. Patted her partner, sarcastic, on the head. “Doesn’t the saying go, when you suspect you might be dreaming…you’re supposed to pinch yourself?”
“No, I’m dead serious. Think about it…you rarely see your own hands in a dream. And if you do, you immediately cotton on to the fact that you’ve wandered into dreamland, and that normally snaps you out of it. Wakes you up right away. But if you can concentrate on your hands, really see them, and manage to stay asleep…you can take dreaming to a whole new level.”
“Yeah,” Sloane chipped in. “I think I remember reading something like that once.”
“It’s called lucid dreaming.” Silas pushed the fringe away from his forehead, unveiling a pair of lively eyes that were apple-green. “When you’re totally aware that your dream is just that. A dream.”
“What’s so special about that?” Unimpressed by the notion, Jamie laid her head down on the armrest once more.
“Oh…it’s amazing. Unlike any dream you’ve ever had before. More lifelike. More…intense. You feel yourself surrendering to the dream completely. And it takes over. Becomes your world. It’s like…watching the most spectacular movie, in 3-D. And the best part is...you get to play the leading role!”
“So I take it you’ve experienced this.” Alex was messing with his hair now. “You’re not just blowing smoke?”
“Yeah, I’ve had the pleasure. I mean, it’s not easy to do, but I’ve gotten there a couple of times.”
“No wonder you’re always muttering in your sleep,” Alex giggled. “Seriously, though, it must be pretty awesome to have a dream that vivid. You could do things you’d never be able to do in real life, and not have to worry about the consequences.”
“Absolutely,” Silas agreed with a nod. “But don’t take my word for it…you have to give it a go for yourselves. All three of you. Next time you go to sleep.”
“Speaking of sleep…” Sloane rose to her feet, and stretched her back with her hands on her hips.
“We can take a hint.” Hopping down from her roost, Alex leaned against her boyfriend for support. Then teetered, on one foot, while she bent over to strap up her sandals.
They made an interesting couple to look at. Sloane had quipped that her petite friend would fit quite snugly into Silas’ top pocket. As they headed for the door, the ladybug tattoo peeking over Alex’s shirt collar was not much higher than the elbow of her burly squeeze. His skin was ruddy…hers pale. His untamed mass of sandy hair the polar opposite of her sleek, beetle-black bob. Still, Sloane mused, as she waved to them from the doorway, they seemed to be as thick as thieves.
Jamie, sluggish to rise, was the last one to leave. Escorted by her host, who’d offered to walk her to her car. They said their goodbyes on a grubby sidewalk, where the insects scurried aside to avoid the streetlamps’ glare.
A mischievous wind came tiptoeing down the boulevard, leaving the scads of litter trembling in its wake. Causing the palm trees to whisper as Jamie climbed into her Taurus and trundled off into the night.
Back inside Sloane’s third floor apartment there was no suggestion of a breeze. She flung the windows open wider, in the vain hope that it might just come to call. Then busied herself picking up beer cans and emptying trays full of cigarette ash.
Despite its years, it was a pleasant enough space, with ample closets and ceilings that were unusually high. The oversized windows allowed sunlight to flood in, and friends back home had been envious to hear that she could view the Hollywood sign through them. Low-hanging, vintage light fixtures in all the rooms added to the apartment’s retro charm. There were ancient flower boxes on the ledge, and crooked shelves had been put up where you’d least expect to find them.
The building probably dated back to the twenties and Sloane liked to imagine that, in its heyday, it had been the chic abode of swanky, showbiz types. She wondered if perhaps, long ago, each floor had been a separate, spacious condo. After all, it was mainly the outside walls that were made of exposed, russet-colored brick. Some of the inner walls were fairly flimsy, as though they’d been added much later to section the building into flats.
Of course now, the neighborhood was a little run-down. The fading glamour of Hollywood couldn’t reach this far. But at least the one-bedroom was affordable and, knock on wood, relatively cockroach-free.
It was nearly two a.m. now. Sloane stood before the bathroom cabinet mirror and pulled her raven curls into a loose bun. Although April had barely arrived, she had already begun to tan and her skin was an even toned, reddish-brown. Thank Heaven she’d said goodbye to the chill of San Francisco and chosen a school in L.A. Here, the weather forecast was almost always a welcome one, and summer seemed to last virtually the whole year long.
Sloane smiled at her reflection, remembering her parents’ faces when she had first announced her plans. Both Mom and Dad had grown up in small towns, and for them, the name Los Angeles conjured images of drugs and violence and warring street gangs. It had taken a lot of gentle persuasion, a lot of pleading, a lot of promises to be careful, but once she’d talked them round, her folks had done all they could to lend support. Sloane’s Dad, ever practical, had been feeding her college fund since around the time he’d bought her first bike. And though not exactly flush, she was able to concentrate on studying and pick up temporary jobs only during summer break.
A quick shower, then to bed, dressed in baggy shorts and a faded, yellow tee. Sloane rolled lazily onto her back, with her lips slightly parted and her fingers crisscrossed above a gently heaving ribcage.
In the distance, a faint and familiar lullaby, stuttered by the last dregs of traffic on freeway 101. In the air, the rich odor of jasmine. Almost too rich. Almost sickly. From a flower bed somewhere below.
And as the moon sent the shadows of unknown things slinking across her window blinds, Sloane’s head began to loll. Her breathing to slow. Her eyelids to gradually droop.
A movie theater.
Cold. Dim. Old-fashioned. With timeworn chairs upholstered in velvet.
With pot-bellied cherubs tooting on their bugles as they pranced across a mural on the ceiling.
The only sound the whir of a projector, crackling harsh and unsteady in the background. The only illumination from a blizzard-like fuzz, which swarmed the featureless screen.
Sloane sat amongst the shadows, in the rearmost row, blinking madly over out-of-focus eyes. Eyes that struggled to see, to adjust to the feeble light, as they flitted around the tiers of empty seats.
There was another moviegoer here. A couple of rows in front.
Tall. Male. Motionless.
His stare, unblinking, was fixed intently on Sloane. His teeth were clamped into an unnatural sneer.
She managed a polite half-smile, then turned to face the screen…hoping this stranger would do the same. But he continued to gaze at her, with a grin so unwavering that it reminded her of a gargoyle. Ugly. Unsettling. Chiseled in stone.
Minutes passed. Tiny particles of backlit dust dancing along the narrow projector beam overhead. Sloane squirming awkwardly in her seat and hearing its prickly fabric rustle against her skin.
She could almost feel the eyes upon her. Glistening with wetness and mischief. Swollen eyes. Praying mantis eyes. Protruding so strenuously from their sockets, that Sloane wondered if they would pop right out of the strange man’s skull.
What is this guy’s problem?
There was a touch of panic in the question, even though it was spoken only in her mind.
And when is this damned movie ever going to start?
The frigid air hung heavy all around. Making her shudder. Making her flesh creep as if a goose had waddled over her grave.
Sloane folded her arms. Partly because of the cold and partly because of indignation. The odd man’s insolence had started to annoy her. To grate on her very last nerve.
It was then that the burgundy curtains began to ripple, as though an unfelt wind were slithering along the walls. And indignant feelings turned into feelings of foreboding. Foreboding into out-and-out fear.
She glanced at the man. Timidly. From the furthest corners of her eyes. Then about the room, in search of the comforting glow of a neon exit sign.
She found nothing. No lighted words. No beacon to guide her from this unpleasant place. In fact…Sloane could not see anything that even resembled a way out.
She scrambled to her feet, desperate to be anywhere but here. To escape from that smothering gaze. But the man was rising also, ever so slowly, up from his rickety seat. Each joint in his body creaking noisily as he straightened his spindly limbs.
Until he loomed, tall and gawkish, before her, in a well-pressed suit of midnight black. With fingers writhing and fidgeting at his sides as if he didn’t quite know how to still them.
And finally came Sloane’s horrified realization that the man’s trunk appeared to be pointing forward. That it was his head alone which had swiveled one-eighty on his neck to face her.
Only then did the notion crawl into her mind, as a tiny shriek escaped from somewhere deep inside her throat. Could this theater, this man, this awful knot in her belly, all be part of some hideous dream?
The words Silas had spoken echoed within her, and she began raising clammy palms toward her face. Craning forward to search for them through steadily widening eyes.
She saw forearms. Saw wrists. Vaguely beneath the fitful smattering of light.
But beyond that…nothing except indistinguishable blur.
Now, without warning, the room became alive with sound. Some sort of movie had started to play, accompanied by its discordant soundtrack. All trumpets and melodrama and clang.
Sloane shot a look back at the man, who was fumbling around between the velvet rows. Feet pointed one way. Smile facing the other. Lurching clumsily, grotesquely, toward her.
She swallowed hard. Exhaled sharply. Visible breath that swirled, mist-like, just in front of her mouth. Then lifted her elbows higher. Higher still. Eyeballs bulging into the gloom.
Until suddenly…hands. Distinct. Crystal. For a single lucid moment they appeared in perfect focus.
And then, like a helpless puppet being dragged from a toy chest, Sloane was yanked out of the dream realm and deposited back beneath her bed covers.
She struggled upright, blinking herself awake. Peered at her spread open fingers, which were lit by the early morning sunlight that filtered through the plastic blinds.
A shake of the head. A deep breath, held for a second before she expelled it. Sloane allowed her shoulders to flop back against the pillow once more.
And laughed aloud.
Sloane dumped her heavy book-bag just inside the front door and hung her keys on the coat peg beside it. She kicked off her sneakers before heading for the fridge to fetch herself something to drink.
Then on to the computer desk, which basked in the noonday sun as it shone through the living room window. The sky was cloudless, brilliant, though a light breath of wind kept the day from becoming too hot. It was the kind of afternoon that begged to be spent out of doors.
Nestling in her scruffy swivel chair, Sloane switched on the modem, sipping soda as she waited for it to start up. She sighed loudly, as she braced herself for the tedium of writing essays and deciphering scribbled lecture notes.
Hours passed, while Sloane hunched over the keyboard with a ring binder in her lap. Till eventually she slouched back against the seat and massaged the nape of her neck.
Time for a break. She stood, stretching her arms out straight, with her fingers intertwined. Then, on an impulse, she sat back down and re-opened the web browser. And in the toolbar at the top, she typed the words that had been skulking into her mind all day.
The search results numbered in the thousands, and were a good deal more interesting than her dull study about population growth.
Apparently, quite a lot of research had been done on the subject, by everyone from psychiatrists to paranormal investigators.
There were reports by UFO buffs who theorized about a link between vivid dreams and alien abductions. Painting their grotesque pictures of otherworldly beings who would creep in during the night, to prey on unsuspecting wretches while they were sleeping blissfully in their beds.
Even ancient Tibetan monks had, centuries ago, explored the realms of conscious dreaming.
Sloane was riveted by now. Leaning attentively toward the screen, she read webpage after webpage about dreams that appeared somehow…amplified. That seared themselves into the memory.
At first, she ignored the sound, annoying though it was, as it echoed along the corridor outside. But it only grew stronger, shredding her concentration with a cruel and incessant malevolence.
A rapping sound. Rhythmical. Like a cursed little hammer, striking at her eardrums and resounding throughout her skull.
Until finally, she rose and marched over to the front door to fling it open wide. She craned around its wooden frame and peered down to the end of the hallway.
A solitary pigeon, somewhat disheveled. Feathers gray as grime. It teetered on the hallway window ledge, head cocked, pecking savagely at the outer surface of the pane.
Sloane scrunched her brow. Wondered why he was doing so. Wondered how he was doing it so loud.
Dentist drill loud.
She took a step, from the brown, hardwood floor of her living room to the blue, wire-haired carpet of the corridor beyond, shielding her eyes against the rampant sun that flooded in from outside.
Then she stood, perplexed, in her bare feet, before treading a few paces further along the hallway.
Hesitant steps. Half-hearted. Steps that soon came to a sudden halt.
Another bird, more mangy than the first, had come to join this strange percussion. This spectacle of flapping wings and glaring amber eyes.
Sloane’s curiosity was beginning to desert her. Was being replaced by a horrid sense of unease. As a third pigeon…a fourth…a fifth…descended on the sill.
And, before she knew it, a whole army of these unkempt creatures had gathered there. Working themselves into an ear-splitting frenzy of talons and beaks against glass.
Loud enough that Sloane did not hear the door sneak to behind her. Eerie enough to make her retreat, groping backward for the door handle.
The cacophony, unrelenting. The door…locked.
She spun, desperate, toward it, rattling the knob to no avail. Eyes scudding wildly from door to window ledge and then back to door again.
When the hush fell, it fell so suddenly that it was almost as alarming as the din.
The circus had vanished, without trace, leaving the window ledge as peaceful as they had found it.
Sloane sighed. Giggled. Feeling a little silly now, for allowing the harmless flock to spook her. Wondering what could have frightened them into fleeing so abruptly…
All those birds.
And yet, not a single shed feather left behind. No marks, no mess, no proof that they had ever congregated on the sill.
She was frowning, pondering, eyeballing the empty ledge when the questions finally welled in her.
Real or imagined? Awake or sleeping…
Am I dreaming this?
Sloane stared down at her hand, still clasped tight around the doorknob. She began unfurling her fingers, one by one. Then she lifted her upturned palm, peering intently at every crease and crevice upon it.
Until suddenly, a lasting, guttural gasp resonated throughout her entire body. And, all at once, she understood what lucid dreaming was.
She found herself swimming in this…other-world. This hyper-reality of her own creation. She became instantly aware, so very aware, of every particle of her being.
She could almost hear the silence. Could almost taste her own tongue. The soles of her feet tingling with the knowledge of every fiber of the carpet below. The hairs on her forearms rising to welcome the caress of the corridor’s stuffy air.
And all the while, she kept her eyes trained doggedly on the trembling hand. Clinging to the evanescent dreamscape which hung, fragile, like a cobweb before her.
Don’t break the spell.
Sloane placed her pulsing fingertips gently against the wall and skimmed them lightly across the uneven plaster. Tracing each lump and groove and imperfection in the paint, which had abruptly become a more radiant shade of blue.
And then, with baby steps, one foot in front of the other, she began toddling gingerly down the corridor. Feeling her way, so as not to lose sight of that all-important hand.
Don’t let it slip away.
Reaching the end of the passageway, she crossed the sun-patched carpet in a single, tentative stride. Then she started back along the opposite wall, her palm pressed flat against it, her face barely six inches from her knuckles.
Don’t let me wake.
By the time she drew level with her front door again, Sloane’s hand appeared to have taken on an aura of its own. Translucent white. Phantom-like.
Mesmerized, she gawked at it, watching the veins throb underneath her skin. Hearing the swish of flesh against plaster as her hand grazed the slick gloss paint.
A new game now…her forefinger had strayed aimlessly into a shallow gouge in the cement, and she was scratching, in slow motion, up and down its powdery surface. Fascinated by an act that in the waking world would have seemed rather mundane.
To her astonishment, the plaster began to crumble easily beneath her touch.
Sloane continued to scrape away at it, each stroke more vigorous than the last. Small grains of the chalky debris lodging themselves deep under her fingernail.
Until a tiny hole started to emerge, scarcely big enough for the tip of a finger. An inquisitive finger that burrowed inward, loosening a few more chunks and sending them noiselessly to the carpet, amid a miniscule puff of dust.
So possessed now by the dream, Sloane finally dared to let her gaze drift away from her hand. And with one eye snapped shut, the other eye gaping, she pushed her nose up against the wall and peeked around the jagged edges of the newly punctured hole.
She giggled, feeling like a mischievous child, playing peek-a-boo between her fingers, as she found herself squinting into the front room of her middle-aged neighbor, Mr. Phillips, who lived across the hall.
The place was decorated much as Sloane would have pictured it, in a rather dowdy and tasteless manner. No piece of furniture seemed to fit properly with another…the gaudily patterned sofa clashing horribly with the well-worn rug beside it. The chintzy figurines looking completely out of place next to the Asian-style lamp they shared a coffee table with.
In fact, she could see only one item that wasn’t brazenly garish in either color or design. The door, in the furthest corner of the room, was a dull and understated white.
Sloane nudged free another fragment from the lip of her spy hole, blinking to flush the dust that followed it out of her eyes.
Just in time to watch the plain, white door begin to tiptoe gradually open.
As Phillips entered the main room, Sloane stifled a snigger with the back of her hand, hoping he wouldn’t catch sight of the ragged hole, or the busybody peeping into it.
A thick, cotton apron covered his ill-fitting slacks and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up beyond the elbows. He loitered there, just in front of the doorway, wiping a sweaty palm across his hip. Muttering to himself, a mile a minute, words Sloane couldn’t quite seem to make out.
On second glance, she noticed his odd appearance. Eyes glistening wet. Cheeks flushed scarlet on either side of a set of firmly clenched teeth. His glasses, normally so tidily positioned, perched crooked on the end of his nose.
It was then that she spotted it. Smeared about his middle. An ugly, misshapen splotch. A stain that must have been left behind by some sort of crimson fluid.
The smile left her mouth immediately.
Mr. Phillips moistened a thumb pad against the very tip of his tongue. He used it to rub benignly at the red mess across his front. He took a step forward. Another. Inspecting his fingernails as he trod.
But as he edged further away from the yawning doorframe, Sloane’s eyes chose not to follow. They were drawn, instead, by a sudden stirring in the shadowed room behind her neighbor.
If she tilted her head, at just the right angle, she could see into the dreary chamber. Could make out the windowless walls. The unadorned floor.
The denizen within.
A female. Young. In her teens, perhaps. Kneeling naked on the tile. Her arms stretching heavenward, like the stems of a scrawny weed that was desperate to reach the light of the sun. Her wrists held fast by a large-link chain that dangled from the ceiling.
There were bruises, vivid purple, that appeared to cover almost every inch of her haggard frame. There were jagged wounds blemishing her legs, her belly, the ribs that could be counted, one by one, as they jutted through her pallid flesh.
And there was blood. So very much of it. Some clotted amid the tangled thatch on her scalp. Some dribbling over the strips of duct tape that smothered her lips and eyes.
Even her nostrils were oozing it, as they struggled to draw breath. As her miserable body drooped there, chin slumped against an unclothed chest.
She was barely moving, barely hanging on. A fragile, wretched thing. A decrepit Barbie doll some kid brother had borrowed, and played with far too roughly. Returning it to the toy box, filthy and bedraggled. Missing handfuls of its once pretty hair.
Sloane stood reeling in the hallway, a forearm pressed against the wall the only thing preventing her from keeling, horrified, to the ground. A stream of tepid tears began slithering over her cheeks and leaving glistening slug trails down the length of her throat.
When at last her blurry gaze shifted back to her neighbor, Sloane felt her heart lurch into her mouth. He was staring, face contorted in a sullen scowl, at the hole in his living room wall.
Hesitantly, he started toward it, head tilted, at a shuffling, uneven pace. His eyes blinking. Questioning. Disbelieving this new development. This puncture in the boundaries of his clandestine lair.
Sloane was frozen rigid, on dead legs that refused to budge. The scream she longed to give life to never amounting to much more than a gurgle in the depths of her throat.
Mr. Phillips was mumbling again, though he could hardly be heard, for the gaggle of pigeons had returned. They filled the air with noise and chaos, as they clamored to peer through the glass windowpane at the end of the corridor.
They seemed to say, with their shrill and frenetic squawking.
But Sloane was paralyzed in her dream state. Her limbs unresponsive. Her feet fastened to the carpeted floor.
Her breath was coming in throttled gasps now as Phillips drew nearer. Nearer still…
A single glob of sweat crept along her hairline and down to her stiffly clenched jaw, where it lingered on the edge of her chin for a second, before splashing silently onto the front of her shirt.
Then, Mr. Phillips halted. Only a yard or so from where she stood.
“Who is that?”
He had caught sight of the eye that was fixated on him, as it wept profusely beyond the wall.
“What do you want?”
His voice, crescendo. A screeching kettle, coming to a boil.
“Get away from here!”
The words exploded from him in a burst of anguish and venom and spit.
And then he sprung, suddenly, violently, toward the hole, slamming an outstretched palm against the crumbling cement that surrounded it.
Sloane’s head catapulted forward on her neck. A rasping gust of air saturated her lungs. The pulse thudded hard and brisk in her veins as she hauled herself upright in her seat.
She was once again in front of her computer. The screen was still showing the results of her web search as it cast its crass reflection against the cooling windowpane.
Her eyes darted hurriedly about the room, seeking solace in the familiar things that surrounded her. The place was bathed in twilight, the sun having vanished, leaving only a stain, bubblegum pink, across the sky.
It took both hands on the edge of the desk to steady her, as she rose, weak-kneed, from her chair. Then tiptoed, in her naked feet, over the wooden floorboards.
Arriving at the front door, she pinned her clammy palms up against it and squinted into the peephole.
For a while she lurked there, peering through the tiny glass bubble. Trying to convince herself that nothing frightful awaited her, on the other side of the door. Trying to convince her fingers to stop shaking as they gripped the handle and unfastened the lock.
The hallway was deserted. Noiseless. Everything…ordinary. Everything in its place.
Sloane crept uneasily across the carpet, toward the facing wall, where the paint had returned to its original and most dismal shade of blue. She swept a clumsy paw over it, searching through narrowed eyes for a gash in the textured surface.
She found nothing, except a few superficial dents to mar the aging plaster.
Just a dream.
Sloane blew forcefully through rounded lips.
Just a stupid dream.
The sky had dimmed to a gloomy gray by now, as she turned to face the window at the end of the hallway. The ledge was uninhabited, with no evidence to suggest that it had ever been anything but.
In the stairwell behind her. Sloane whipped around with a start. Saw a man climbing steadily up to the third floor.
His clothes might not have been fashionable, might not have been top-of-the-line, but painstaking care had been taken to ensure that there was barely a wrinkle or speck of dirt on them.
He was five nine or so, and fairly lean save a hint of thickening around the gut. There were lines crisscrossing his forehead, from years spent in a place where the sun rarely forgot to shine.
His hair, the color of charcoal, thinning somewhat on top. His eyes a watery blue. His overbite, though subtle, just noticeable between a pair of slightly parted lips.
He had reached the top step now, a plastic grocery bag clutched in either hand.
“Hi…Mr. Phillips.” Though it pained her to do so, Sloane ordered her mouth to form the semblance of a smile.
“Can I help you with something?” His tone was pleasant. Sugary. Candy and kittens sweet. “You look a little lost.”
“Oh…no. I’m fine. I just…I thought there was somebody at my door.”
“Well, it doesn’t look as if there’s anyone out here. Only you and me and the crane flies. Eh…neighbor?”
“Apparently.” She attempted to join him in a chuckle, but the sound that came out of her was phony and short-lived.
“Alright, then. You have yourself a nice evening.” He had placed his shopping on the floor and was rummaging in his pants pocket for a key.
Sloane threw her front door open and lunged inside, banging it shut behind her. Made certain every lock, bolt and chain was ever so securely fastened. And didn’t venture out again for the rest of the night.
Lucid is out now in PDF e-book edition and Amazon Kindle edition. To purchase Lucid or find out more information, please visit my website: www.katherineangelayeboah.blogspot.com
Text Copyright Holder: Written by Katherine Angela Yeboah
Cover Design by Katherine Angela Yeboah
2nd Edition Published 2009
To purchase a copy of Lucid, please visit my website:
Release Date: 06-01-2009
All Rights Reserved
This novel is dedicated to my dogs, Bina, Broni & Fable, and to the millions of shelter animals and strays in desperate need of a home and someone to love them.