The sun was so nice on my skin. I could feel the hot rays beating down on my eyelids, the warmth relaxing and just right. In the background, the sounds of the waves crashing against the sand soothed me even more. Belinda Carlisle said Heaven is a place on earth, but I was yet to find a place quite like that which I could dream. Admittedly, it was a somewhat lucid dream, and I always came back to this beach. It was where I’d met him, all those years ago, before he’d decided he’d had enough of his current path and had decided to go abroad for a year. That was three years ago. Since then, I’d heard nothing from him, but the reception in Africa wasn’t great. Assuming he was actually in Africa; the letters he sent each month were postmarked there, including some polaroids which showed him tanned and handsome among crowds of African kids. He was living his dream... and I was lucidly living mine.
I often spent hours in my lucid dream state, because it meant I got an actual break from the world around me. While Tom was off in Africa, building houses and schools and water wells, I was working a bland and boring nine-to-five in Manchester, the concrete jungle where dreams are killed. I work in a bland and boring office, entirely grey (although I'm fairly sure the carpets were at one time cream, sometime in the seventies), my desk is bland and boring because any plants I have die due to the lack of sunlight. My computer is slow as shit because it’s a stack from the early 00s, and still runs Windows 95 because they apparently can’t make the existing software work with the newer versions of Windows. So, I spend half my time waiting for the frigging thing to load something that loads in seconds at home.
My colleagues are as grey as the place itself. Half of them should retire, they’re practically geriatric and it’s obvious most of them don’t want to be there. They’re always complaining about their plans being scuppered by this wretched job, because they want to be off doing gardening or whatever it is the late-sixties do these days. Not that I have anything against the older folk, but working with them daily and having zero other option is so draining... and half of them don’t even need the fucking money!
Sorry, I could go on all day about how much I hate the job I have.
It’s a family-run legal firm, and I run the accounts. You’d think, being a legal accountant, there would be other jobs in bigger firms that would pay better and have a younger average age, but you’d be wrong. Manchester’s one of the few places I can afford to live. The salaries down London way aren’t high enough to cover the cost of living, and I’m not about sharing a house with people I don’t know. And I’ve come to realise during that job search that I actually lack updated skills most of the newer grads (or people who’ve worked somewhere with updated tech) actually possess. And I can’t exactly go back to university to re-complete the degree I’ve already been awarded...
I digress – I was on a beach, sunning myself in a lucid-dream state. It was heaven, waves, sun, heat, silence except for the sea... and then, in the distance, thunder clouds. I loved a good storm like the rest of them, but I didn’t want a storm on my lovely beach. I opened my eyes and watched the clouds rolling in, crashing and banging, the sounds so loud they hurt my ears, yet so far away. I didn’t understand it at all. I didn’t like it, either. I focussed on my mantra when things started to go wrong.
“On my own, pretending he’s beside me,” I started to sing. “All alone, I walk with him till morning…” I closed my eyes and sang a bit louder as the clouds started to roll away. “Without him, I feel his arms around me, and when I lose my way I close my eyes… And he has found me.” The thunderclouds had gone, only the sounds of the sea, and some gulls.
“Look at me, beautiful.” Tom’s voice, soothing as ever. I opened my eyes, and met his green grey ones, sparkling… deep… I leaned in for a kiss, and got one. Deep, passionate… deep. Everything about us was deep. He broke the kiss, and gazed into my eyes a little bit. “I miss you every day.”
“I miss you more.”
“I wish I could be there with you.”
“I wish you could, too…”
“Why did you have to die?”
“I didn’t choose to, Mia. You know that.” He stroked my cheek, his eyes gentle. “It doesn’t change how much I love you. And how much I want you to stay safe.”
“You were my world.”
“And you were mine…” He ran his thumb over my lip. Our surroundings were a forest now, where we’d had our first proper date, and the kiss that had sealed us as a couple. “But that doesn’t mean I want you to give up your world for me. Go back out there, Mia. Find another love.”
“I can’t,” I said quietly. “You died with my heart.”
“Over here!” Tom shouted. I frowned.
“What?” His voice sounded oddly distant. I didn’t like it at all. “Tom?”
“I love you, Mia, but it’s time to wake up.” He kissed me again deeply, and then kissed my forehead. “Wake up.”
“I don’t want to wake up!” Always the same, I wrapped my arms around his chest and clung to him, but I could already feel him slipping away as I woke up.
My bedroom was pitch dark. For a moment, I thought I was blind, because of how thick the darkness was. I reached around for my phone, but my hand couldn’t move. In fact, my whole body couldn’t move. I was trapped. I started to panic, and it took a moment for me to realise that I wasn’t blind; a piece of clothing was over my face, but I couldn’t move to get it off.
I stopped panicking, and took stock of the situation. I could hear, still, and every now and again, something tapped, like metal to glass. I was trapped. I tried to cry out, and my voice worked fine. And then…
Tac tac tac!
A knock on the window. “Hello?!”
“IN HERE!” I bellowed, unsure of what parts of me were visible. “IN HERE! I’M ALIVE!” I moved whatever part of me I could.
“WE’VE A LIVE ONE IN HERE!” The window smashed, and someone climbed through. “Hello?! Can you hear me?!”
“I’m trapped – I can’t see!”
Slowly but surely, someone lifted the heavy things off me, and I was freed. My leg was entirely dead. Someone pulled the cloth from my face. A man.
“Jesus Christ, love – how are you still alive?!”
“What?! What happened?”
“Bombing.” I sat up, and pain shot through my hips. “Woah, woah, lie down… the ambulances are coming, don’t worry…”
“The place got bombed… didn’t you hear the sirens? There’s one right outside your house!”
“I… I didn’t… hear, why is my leg so painful?!” I shivered. Something was hurting me.
“It’s alright, nothing major. Don’t worry about that.” His words didn’t reflect what his face and eyes said. “What were you doing?”
“Lucid dreaming,” I murmured. The pain was getting more intense. “Am I going to die?”
“No, no, don’t be silly.”
What I didn’t see was the state of my left leg. It was a bloody, pulpy mess, the bones reduced to nothing from the hip joint down. My right leg was badly broken, but my left was irreparable. I was losing blood. A little too much blood. The man was explaining how we’d been bombed by some random force, but I wasn’t listening to him. Tom had finally come back to me. Stood in the doorway. Smiling… holding his hand out to me.
“If you’re not going to do what I told you… then come.”
“I can come with you?” I asked softly. “To Africa?”
“To Africa. To the ends of the Earth. But I’d rather you held on a bit longer.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Then come. Take my hand.”
“Are fine.” I looked down. He was right. They were fine. I stood up and ran to him, and then stopped. “If you take my hand, there’s no coming back, Mia.” He didn’t retract it. I hesitated for a second… but then, I slipped my hand into his, and felt my entire soul glow. “Look.” Tom gestured to where I’d been lying.
My body, mangled from the waist down, was lifeless. The guy who’d found me was still talking to me. He hadn’t noticed my chest fall still. My eyes were open and glassy, but a small smile etched on my lips. I understood, then. I hadn’t been lucid dreaming at all. I’d died, this time.
I turned to Tom and kissed him.
“Ready?” he asked softly.
“Ready,” I replied.
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love this, although you have used two different names tom and stuart and that confused me a little. Really sad in one way, but if she wasn't really living then why not
Messing up the names?? So I did!! I don't know how I didn't spot that - I reread it before submitting, I promise!! Thanks for letting me know. Fresh eyes always help (and mine certainly were not fresh) :D Thanks so much for reading! I did enjoy writing this one, I was going to have her survive, but admittedly I was a little too close to the final deadline for submissions, so it had to be a quick one!