I stifled a scream as I bolted upright in my bed. My heart pounded in my ears so loudly that I would not have heard a marching band outside. I gasped for breath as the real world reasserted itself over that vivid nightmare. It was the same every night, even now I could still taste phantom blood in my mouth and smell the charring of flesh. I checked like I did every night after this nightly terror, I ran hands over my cold clammy skin. I had long since known it was irrational to check myself like this after waking form a dream but it helped to calm me after the recurring nightmares. There never seemed to be much to remember.
It was just a blur of blood and fire.
I reached over to find cold empty sheets it was all I could do to clamp down on the surge of emotion that tried to force its way to the surface. We had been through that argument more than a few times, she knew it would mean so much to just be here for me even once. I knew that no matter the time I awoke after taking her to bed she would be long gone into the night. She had never stayed a full night, but she refused to explain why she always left. She knew all of my roommates and had met them many times. Maybe she simply knew how much it would mean to wake up next to her if for nothing else than to see how it felt. They were nearly always on the same page and they were nearly as in sync as I was with my own twin sister. She boggled my mind with how resistant to a simple request she could be.
I let out a frustrated breath I got out of bed. I threw on a pair of boxers I headed for the balcony. I averted my gaze from the dresser mirror, I knew exactly what I would see. I would see my normally pale skin turned a bone white. I would see my dark hair soaked with sweat draped past my shoulders. I would see my face, always thinner than last I remembered. The dark bags beneath tired gray eyes. I would be reminded of the weight I was losing as theses dreams haunted me. Thankfully I wouldn't see the blackened form my dreams showed me.
I sat down in my normal chair, the city still rumbled on regardless of the late hour. I gorped out into the darkness I reached over to a small red box with a golden eagle on it. With shaky fingers I pulled a cigarette. The same as every night at this point, I steadied my lighter in both hands. It took a few attempts before a good flame appeared. A face appeared suddenly illuminated by the flame stared straight at me.
“SHIT! FUCKIN fuck Tibs you’ve got to say something when I walk out and you’re just sitting there.” My roommate and friend Marcus Tiberius Jones sat in the next cheap plastic chair over, he guffawed over the near heart attack he had caused.
“Sure, sure.” Tibs said as his laughter calmed to chuckles. “And next time I’ll say something to startle you right over the railing, down five stories to land in the shrubbery.”
Luckily I had somehow not lost the cigarette as the last sleep fled from my tired bones. I took a long drag the familiar feeling of the cheap, harsh smoke to smooth my rattled nerves. I held that breath for a moment before I shrugged, “It’ll be fine once someone fills in the crater I leave on impact.”
Tibs laughed, “That’s assuming you land on your head, idiot.” His eyes locked on my shaking hands. He sighed heavily before he just bulldozed in, “How long are you gonna let this go on Fynn?” Tibs reached over grabbed my wrist and hold my trembling hand hand out so he could skip the denal I would have given immediately.”
“It’ll pass. It always does.”
“It’s getting worse and you know it.”
Worry was clearly plastered on his face. The normally carefree look gone to twist his features oddly. Absent the glimmer of mischief in his eyes and his near perpetual grin like the cat who caught the canary. Tibs looked so alien when he was serious. It was so strange to see my friend who normally floated through life so at ease look troubled, and it was because he was worried about me.
I resisted the urge to lie and reassure him, I finally let down my guard. It would only do more harm to continue to hide it. There was no doubt he had noticed and let me have the silence, and tonight he was done with it. I shook his head slowly, “I never thought dreams could hurt me. I thought at best I might lose sleep but that’s not just it. I’ve never even heard of someone feeling pain in a dream, but it does. I can feel it as the inferno swallows me whole and burns me to blackened bones, and even without lungs I still scream.” Letting go of my careful control I let the terror take me as my friend pulled me into a bear hug and held me there.
Quiet sobs shook us both.
Pain split my skull into two throbbing halves. I groaned, the sound only added to the pain shooting through my skull. I rolled over into empty space I found myself falling the short distance down to the threadbare rug. Mercifully the direct sunlight was on the other side of my bed so I needed only concern myself with a pounding headache, a potential bruised face along with a definitely bruised ego. I slowly rose on shaky feet to the sweet smell of perfect eggs. I thanked any deity that may be listening for having at least a morning person for a roommate. The night stand I could see, held the disappointingly empty bottle of bourbon.
I grabbed my flask as I shambled out of the bright room. My other roommate in her usual morning ritual, cooking breakfast for her more nocturnally natured roommates. She danced there in an oversized T-shirt and boy-shorts stood Tara. Long sandy blonde flew left and right as she sang along with the latest bad pop song. Some might refer to her figure as short and plump but Fynn always thought that inadequate and thought the word stacked would fit her better. As usual Tibs and his other girlfriend, Mari hadn’t gotten out of bed yet
Iarely contained my glee when she didn’t notice the stealthy entrance. I sat down at the bar that separated the tiny kitchen from the common area of the rest of the apartment. The loud music only exacerbated my relentless headache. Mischief parted my lips as an idea flashed into my mind, it would hurt but be worth it.
The phone was unlocked so it only took a moment to quickly change songs. The upbeat pop song suddenly replaced with sudden, brutal death metal. Tara was completely thrown off by the sudden shift in music let out a shrill shriek which for a moment harmonized with the screaming guitars. She turned to glare at me, her cute button nose and round face undercut her attempt at seriousness. She barely lasted five seconds before she broke into giggles. She turned back to the stove to finish breakfast as she was one to do or the house would just go without.
In her own words “It’s unacceptable that you three would skip the most important meal of the day. If it means I get up and make sure you eat, I’ll do it.”
There was a question on her face but she held it before she returned back to the cooking. I had seen that look and it wouldn’t be long before they talked about it anyways. Tibs already informed you of last night?”
Her shoulders tensed, she clearly wasn’t ready for the conversation yet. She would try to gently tiptoe around the situation better to just have it out. “Yes, although I’m not confident the last part happened since, and I quote ‘he then grabbed that half bottle of bourbon tipped it skyward and downed it like a fuckin’ champ!’ So I’ll grain of salt that.”
I gave the flask a tentative shake, it was distressingly empty. “Well I’m sold!” I declared.
She gave me a sidelong look before she shook her head. She placed eggs, scrambled of course, bacon, and toast in front of me. Tara gave me a good once over before I sat down herself. “You look like you could use a drink.”
I held up his flask and gave it a shake it silently. Unable to hide the grin from my antics she just explained as if to a particularly slow child. “ No ya mook something to actually hydrate you.” She reaches over to the refrigerator and pulled out the last of the grapefruit juice and poured it into a cup. “Is it really as bad as you say Fynn?”
I swallowed hard, “I think I’m not portraying it well enough to tell you how bad it really is.”
Fynn could see the anger on her face at his admission. She would have been shouting if Tibs and Mari were definitely awake. “What in the hell is her problem! She should be trying to help you through this rather than God only knows what! What the hell has she been telling you?!”
Par for the course. I knew how angry she’d been so he’d avoided telling her. No need to piss off a mama bear she’d just put your insides on the outside. This was gonna be where she got really mad. “Ah, Kyra, said umm, that when we get through this we will be stronger for it?”
Tara was silent. I had expected an explosion the silence implied so much worse. Tara normally much more bubbly and sweet did not play when it came to hurting her friends.
“Wait. No. No. Don’t do what I think you’re going to do. I’m not going to let you.” Saying I would let her and stopping her however were not the same thing. At 5’5” and a hundred and thirty pounds I knew all I could do would be to slow her down.“Just let me take care of this. I really feel like she means it.”
She let out her held breath “Fine, but any of us find out she’s trying to hurt you on purpose and she’s done. Got it?!”
I breathed a sigh of relief, “Yes I get it.”
As if awaiting their turn on the stage Tibs and Mari shuffled sleepily in. Tibs was in just boxers, same as Fynn. His messy brown hair showed off the fact the pair had only just rolled out of bed. His eyes were still closed as if he were sleepwalking using only his nose to find the cooling food. His strong jaw and handsome face would have anyone believing he had two girlfriends, his confident, mischievous, slackers personality was how he kept them. Mari every bit as tall as her 6’4” boyfriend. Her platinum blonde pixie cut hair was still messy from sleep. She wore a half shirt to bed as normal showing off her incredible, rippling six pack abs. She looked like a sleepy viking warrior woman.
The pair finally managed to feel their way into the room to sit for breakfast. Tara gave Tibs his tea and Mari her coffee. They mumbled greetings between hurried drinks when they finally noticed their other roommates.
Finally Mari opened her eyes to see me. She reached up to place her hand comfortingly to my shoulder, “How are you feeling this morning? Better I hope?”
I winced and fought the urge to massage my temples. “ Not so loud.” I complained. Her eyes lit up after a moment, realizing his awful attempt at levity so early in the morning. “I’m a bit better emotionally speaking.”
“Good.” A cool smile lit her face. Her icy blue eyes locked on me intensely. “What are you planning to do with your Saturday?”
“Well I was planning on grabbing some bourbon and going over to chief Miyagi’s library for a few hours of reading.” She wrinkled her nose at his choice of title. “Yea, yea I get it. I shouldn’t call him chief, but how else would you think of someone with as the largest collection of Native American artifacts outside a museum.” she huffed and let the point fall.
“Just cut back on the drinking a bit. It can’t be healthy to drink as much as you have been.” Concern clearly painted in her eyes as she spoke.
I nodded and began to eat again. I could not have asked for better friends. If I could just figure out this consistent nightmare that haunted my slumber I might be in a good spot, emotionally anyways. No amount of satisfaction would help me make a bit more money to get the four of us to a space that wasn’t a glorified closet. But that would be a problem for Monday. Actual professional help was too far outside my means, so I had to figure out this problem on my own.
I thanked Tara for the meal I left to get ready. A quick shower before I threw on my usual attire, simple jeans, old faded T-shirt, worn boots and a long coat I had found in one of those second hand stores. The coat had once fit nicely but now it hung a bit loosely. It was a bit unnerving to see myself with recent weight loss like i was seen a stranger in the mirror. I thought I needed to either lose a few pounds or gain a bit of muscle but to have suddenly lost 50 pounds gone in less than 6 months made me feel like a stranger in my own body. I didn’t feel like I moved right anymore. Just more incentive to fix this damned problem. I checked myself before I left. I carefully avoided my own face in the mirror. It had been many years since I had given myself more than a cursory look to make sure I wasn't too disheveled. I don't remember when i started that but I just can’t stand more than a few seconds of my own face in the mirror. I grabbed my keys, a pad and pen and a pocket knife into my coat I left the safety of home. It would take nearly an hour to get to where I was heading but there was a corner store along the way that would help pass the time.