When she first felt the gentle stirrings of alertness, she couldn’t tell where or when she was. Gradually, sensation returned to her body, but it felt like her limbs were being pressed down upon by some invisible force keeping them locked in place. Thoughts swam freely across the expanse of her mind — vast, wild, and utterly empty. Holding one thread of thought connected to another was utterly impossible as she struggled against the pull, images barely coming together in more than swirls and blurs of color. Maintaining consciousness drained what little energy she had, yet the thought of plummeting beneath this seemed unknown adversary was just as terrifying.
A warm shell encased her body like a cocoon, and she wondered for a brief second if it would be too much to stay here. That brief second was all that was needed for her mind to conjure up further excuses. Effort in struggling only tired her out more, and if she had this much trouble remaining in some semblance of awareness, then sleep must have been much easier. Who would it harm if she was to sleep for just a moment longer?
“Five minutes at best… it won’t harm anyone if you just take five,” a voice whispers in the back of her mind.
What time was it now, she wondered. I have to remember, so I know when to wake up.
She wasn’t sure if she opened her eyes, but all she could see was darkness and the slow fall of a veil draping itself across her mind. Bit by bit, the heavy mantle of darkness inched over her consciousness, blinding her mind’s eye, and she was powerless to stop it. She decided then if her eyes were open, closing their lids would be the last step to ending this fruitless fight but the thought of succumbing filled her with a cold dredge.
But why am I afraid?
It would be so simple, too simple. Like falling asleep.
Incomprehensible as it was to feel fear, she tried to push against her arms or legs to bid them move to no avail. Every part of her felt numb and distant, as if the tide was sweeping her further away. A sliver of consciousness remained, and with it, she reached out though to what or whom, she wasn’t sure. It felt like her body was a sinking ship, and she was unwittingly caught in its whirlpool as it sunk beneath the raging waves.
The stirring of alertness began to calm, and the glimmering consciousness glinted once then sputtered before it went out, leaving her mind’s eye dark.
“Haven’t you slept long enough? Get up!”
She jerked once, struggling against the binds. When at last she could force her eyes open, she realized that all around her indeed was darkness. For the tiny light bobbing and weaving before her pierced the bleakness with a blinding golden glow. The light was no bigger than a mote of dust, giving off small particles as it came toward her. She worried that by the time it reached her, she would have fallen again, or the poor thing would be too small to be seen. Calling out to it was impossible when she couldn’t bid her tongue or lips to move, but she refused to lie there and not try.
“Asleep…?” She called out in her mind to the tiny light, hope ringing between her ears when it skittered to a stop. Desperately, she tried again with a bit more effort despite the strain she felt between her temples, “I’m asleep?”
The light seemed caught off guard by her speaking, but she knew it was right. When it spoke before, its voice was nothing more than a muffled murmur. Now, its sound was clear like a bell.
“Well, of course, you are!” It whizzed around errantly, sounding somewhat exasperated. “Though I don’t know who would want to sleep in a place as bizarre as this….”
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to sob with relief at being heard or tell the small creature off for its cheek. It was through her efforts that the little thing seemed to regain some of its luminous, after all, although it was only just a tad bit bigger. Still, it wouldn’t be worth their energy to argue with one another. If it hadn’t been for them, she might have given in to what had been dragging her down. An even trade then, though the scales were balanced heavily on one side with her pride stacked against her.
“Where is this?” She asked, sure now that she could see because she could feel her eyes sting and water as the light grew closer.
The light gave off a noise. A light, clear ringing sound echoed in her ears a few times before it spoke, “Well, we are inside your dream.”
“Inside my dream….” She echoed back, puzzled and disbelieving. Stories about people who recalled their dreams with frightening accuracy with the ability to change them, did she know of any?
“Yeah,” the light’s glow dimmed with its wistful tone. “You’re asleep, so you’re dreaming… but if you don’t wake up now, you might not be able to for a long time.”
Shame weighed heavily in her chest as she thought of her earlier annoyance with the little light. “You sound sad about that,” she said, unable to keep the surprise from her words.
The light shone brightly, crying out, “Of course I’m sad! I’ve spent all this time waiting for you to wake up, and you’re just going to fall again?!”
She wanted to glower at her. It wasn’t as if it had been her choice to fall asleep, and whether or not this was a dream — if it’d been her own, then the affront was not hers to carry. “And just who are you?” She shot back, pleased when the light flickered in astonishment. Recognizing what ground she held as intangible as it was, she wouldn’t relent. “How are you in my dream? How do I even know if you’re real?”
Confident as she was in those words, they did ignite fear. What if she was dreaming or falling without realizing it, and this little light was just a distraction? Alternatively, what if this light left her alone in the darkness, and she used up the last of her strength just for a petty jibe. An apology rested at the tip of her tongue, but she knew it wouldn’t have been genuine. She’d meant what she said, after all.
The light made the noise again then whizzed around before her eyes. “Answering a question with a question is terrible conversation, y’know. Not very polite either!”
Particles of light drifted down from its body, and as they disappeared from her line of sight, she felt warmth build throughout her limbs. The numbness ebbed away like a stiff joint gradually regaining its nimbleness. She almost felt as light as air. Her mouth finally opened, but when she tried to speak, hollow spheres passed over her tongue. They rose overhead, nearly obscuring the light floating away from her.
“If you’re so curious, come find me!” It called out, zipping across the darkness without hesitation.
Panic shot through her as she hurried after it, clumsily trying to bring her feet under her, for now, she knew them not to be lead. Her arms were no longer weights pinned to her side, and with them, she pushed back against the darkness. Throat burning as those spheres rapidly poured out of her mouth told her to close her lips as she chased after the light. Her eyes stung the closer she got to it, but she refused to close them now when she was so close, thrusting out an outstretched hand as her vision faded into white.
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