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Contemporary Suspense Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

CW: unreality


Tuesday, 5:30 P.M.


The road ahead is dark, illuminated only by the dim, flickering lampposts that line the empty path. The drumming symphony of the rain is their only soundtrack as Bash slows the car down, driving into the gravel track in front of the cabin.


Behind the wheel, Bash frowns; the only thing ahead of them worth noticing for miles had been the sky darkening through yellow and purple, like a bruise. Bash's eyes have been on the horizon the entire time; he doesn't know how he could've missed it when Sam pointed it out.


But there it is. It stands tall, proud and rusting, out of a swell of land over the beach. As night falls, the lighthouse flickers, illuminating the black sea below at seemingly random intervals. Bash thinks it might be faulty.


Sam catches him staring and raises her eyebrows at him.


"Well, I see it now," Bash says, killing the engine. He opens the truck's door, failing to suppress a flinch at the loud creak in the quiet night.


Bash's attention is on the cabin but he feels Sam's presence as she stops beside him.


"Jesus," Sam says. Bash glances at her, catching her grimace. He suppresses a smile. Saying the online pictures of the cabin were inaccurate would be an understatement. "Well, it has... character?" Sam offers, shrugging.


"A little too much, if you ask me."


Sam rolls her eyes, bumping his shoulder before making her way up the decaying wooden steps leading up the front door.


Bash stays put a beat longer, eyeing the outside of the cabin. It's made out of rotting dark wood and stands crooked on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Two of its windows are boarded up and ivy scales the sides of the walls. Bash doesn't think he's ever stayed anywhere so run-down.


He climbs the steps and pushes the front door open. It creaks loudly.


"Home sweet home."


***


Tuesday, 6:00 P.M.


Something clatters loudly, making Bash look up. Sam's fighting with the wood pieces covering up one of the windows. She's losing.


Bash gets up from the kitchen table to join her.


"What on earth are you doing?" he asks, amused.


Sam glares at him. "I'm trying to make this place hospitable."


"Sam, it's only a week—"


"I'm thinking yellow. For the curtains," she says casually.


Bash sighs. He's not winning this one. "Sure. Where the hell are we gonna get curtains, anyway?"


"We could drive into town. I saw a fabric store on the way here."


Of course, she did.


"Fine.”


Bash reaches over and helps her pry the wood out of the windows.


By the time they're done, his fingers are aching, but the last rays of sunset bleed into the cabin through the now-uncovered windows, bathing Sam's face in gold. 


The sunny smile she gives him is worth it.


***


Tuesday, 11:00 P.M.


The bedroom is so decrepit, they consider trying to fit themselves into the mouldy couch in the living room to sleep, but soon they realize the wooden boards had been up for a reason; the broken glass lets in the chilly night air.


The bedroom isn't much better, but at least there's no risk of hypothermia.


They're both beneath the covers when Bash whispers, "Sam."


Her eyes remain closed, but she goes still at Bash's voice. Sam's probably worried he'll say something... emotional. But she doesn't tell him to shut up, so he's encouraged to go on.


"We should go to the hardware store, tomorrow. I think I can fix the kitchen sink. Just enough to get it working."


Sam exhales, and if Bash wanted to read into it, he'd say she's relieved. She's silent for a long while until finally, she murmurs, "Sure."


Then, she turns over so that her back is to Bash. He gets the message.


Sighing, Bash looks up at the ceiling, counting the misshapen water stains until he drifts off to sleep.


***


Wednesday, 3:35 A.M.


Bash wakes to a dark blanket of sky instead of roof and stars in the places where water stains are supposed to be. His body aches and wracks with shivers. 


He's lying in the middle of the road.


Bash gets up with a start. How the hell... he thinks. Looking around, his heart jumps to his throat when he realizes he can't see the cabin from where he's standing. But he knows this road; they took it on their way into Clatsop. He's still wearing his pyjamas.


He's never gone sleep-walking before.


Hugging himself against the cold, he makes his way back. It could be worse, he thinks. At least he's wearing shoes.


He walks for hours; the only sound the dull crunch of his boots over gravel.


When he sees the shape of the cabin in the distance, he stops before making his way uphill. He turns towards the lighthouse, standing completely dark. Someone should really fix that, Bash thinks a little deliriously. 


Down by the water, old fishing boats rock, slow and silent. Some deep part of Bash's brain says they should be loud; creaking and rocking against the waves. Maybe his hearing's off.


Without noticing, he'd started walking again and reached the front door of the cabin.


It's closed.


Bash is wondering how he's gonna get inside without a key when suddenly, it's like someone turned the volume on the world again. There's a loud crash of waves below. Bash turns towards the sound, startled that he can hear the fishing boats rocking against the sea now, and when he turns back around, the door is open.


***


Wednesday, 9:15 A.M.


Bash wakes up shivering. Sunlight’s streaming through the windows, falling directly on his face. He expects to see Sam beside him on the bed, but he's not on the bed at all. He's sprawled on the couch, and he can't remember passing out here last night. He also doesn't know why he didn’t grab blankets; he's freezing.


Bash's feet touch the floor. He has his boots on.


Frowning, he looks around. Sam’s at the kitchen table looking at him; mouth a thin line and eyes hard. Bash wonders what he did now.


She doesn't say anything, though. She never does. Bash sighs as he stands up and beelines for the kitchen.


He doesn't look at Sam as he busies himself with the coffee machine. It's only when he’s halfway through frying eggs on the stove that Sam can't stand it anymore, clicking her tongue in exasperation.


"So, why'd you sleep on the couch, then?" she asks with unabridged hostility. "You trying to punish me or something? For this past year?"


Bash is stunned for a second. How is sleeping on the couch punishing her?


"You don't get to make me feel guilty about that when you're the one who screwed things up in the first place.” Sam scoffs. "I was actually trying. When I said we could try sleeping in the same bed again, that was me giving you a second chance, you asshole! And you're throwing it back in my face?"


"Sam—"


"I had every right to be mad and need time apart, Bash. I won't let you make me feel bad about it."


"I know. I know, okay?" Bash says soothingly. 


He can feel Sam slipping through his fingers again. "You're right. But I didn't do this to— to punish you or anything. I think I got up last night and then just... crashed here. I don't know, I don't really remember."


Sam frowns at him. "Have you been drinking again?" she asks evenly.


"Jesus, no."


Sam raises her eyebrows at him.


"Sam, I promise." 


Bash steps to embrace her and he takes it as a good sign that Sam doesn't pull back. She wants to believe him.


"You're cold," she complains softly.


"I'll put on something in a second," Bash counters, not wanting to let go.


Sam leans towards his ear and whispers, "Your eggs are burning."


It's a moment before Bash catches her meaning. The bitter smell of burnt eggs envelops the kitchen and Bash hurries to remove the pan from the stovetop.


When he turns back to Sam, she's already gone to get dressed. 


Smiling slightly, Bash follows her.


***


Thursday, 8:30 A.M


The curtains they choose are, in fact, yellow. They're floor-length and a little cheap but they'll stop the sunlight from sneaking through in the mornings, and that's all Bash needs them to do.


Sam’s threading the curtain rings through the fabric; her fingers deft and delicate.


Bash stands on one of the rickety kitchen chairs, sure it's gonna give under his weight at any moment, reaching over to hang the first curtain.


Sam quips complaints from a distance.


"It's kinda crooked, maybe I should do it."


Bash grunts in annoyance, but stretches to straighten it. "There. That good enough for you?" He turns so Sam can see his smirk.


Sam's smile stretches out slowly. "It's as good as you're gonna manage."


"Oh, really?" Bash challenges. "I'd like to see you try it."


He leaps down to catch Sam, trying to get her on the chair. Sam shrieks in surprise, attempting to run away, but her laughter slows her down. Bash picks her up easily, chuckling as Sam squirms, her shouts of "Bash, stop it! Put me down!" dissolving into giggles.


"Make me," Bash says as he sets her down. Sam turns in his arms and kisses him, mouth wide from smiling.


After they part, she has a playful glint in her eyes, one Bash hasn't seen directed at him in a long time. "I still could've done a better job," she taunts.


"In your dreams—"


Bash opens his eyes to sunlight streaming through the windows, landing bright on his face from his place on the couch.


He's disoriented, but the first thing he thinks is that they really need to find a way to block the sunlight from coming through. He's tired of being woken up by it.


He checks on Sam. She's still asleep. Bash exhales in relief; she hasn't noticed he somehow made his way to the couch again.


Bash goes to start the coffee machine, then heads over to the fridge to get milk and eggs out. Sam likes omelettes; he’s gonna make her one. He closes the fridge and wakes up on the couch.


Bash blinks, startled. He lies still as he tries to calm his heartbeat. He thought he was awake when he wasn't. It felt so real. Is he still asleep now? Is this just another really vivid dream?


Bash sits up gingerly and looks around. Sam's asleep in the bedroom. There are no curtains on the windows. He's awake.


He goes through the motions of making breakfast slowly; like any sudden movements will cause reality to dissolve around him. Eventually, Sam comes out of the bedroom.


"Couldn't sleep?" She kisses Bash on the cheek before sitting down at the kitchen table. "Your side of the bed was cold; you’ve been up for a while."


Bash places the omelette in front of Sam. She takes a bite out of it.


"Yeah." Bash can't think of anything else to say.


***


Thursday 3:45 P.M.


Sam turns the kitchen sink on and it splutters half-heartedly before going dry.


"That's it," she says. "We're going to the hardware store so you can fix this crap."


Their trip into town is short, but it takes Bash a while to get back; he passes the dirt road five times without noticing it. Sam has to point it out to him, and only then does he see the cabin uphill.


The afternoon drains away as Bash fixes the sink and Sam lounges on the couch, reading a withered paperback. Bash glares at her sporadically, affronted he's the one doing all the work. Sam pretends not to notice.


When he's finally done, the sun is setting and Sam kisses him softly.


“Y’know, I would've helped if you'd just asked," she drawls.


Bash scoffs but he can't help feeling amused.


***


Friday, 6:10 A.M.


His hands cup Sam's face as they kiss good morning. Her skin is soft. He trails a path of feather-light touches down her neck and squeezes slightly. 


And then again. 


When draws back from the kiss, he sees he's strangling her. 


Sam's mouth is open, fighting for air. Her eyes are wide and terrified. He squeezes harder.


Bash wakes up on their bed, sweating and gasping. For a moment, he's frozen, trying to determine what's real. As he comes back to himself, his heart-rate slowing and swallowing down nausea, he looks over at Sam, sleeping soundly next to him.


He doesn't want to tell her, but he doesn't know what else to do anymore. 


Bash shakes her, rousing her from sleep. Heart pounding, he deliberates over how to phrase I think I'm losing my mind in the least concerning way possible.


"Sam, I need to talk to you.” He doesn't want to scare her, but he's breathing unsteadily and can't stop trembling.


Sam’s immediately concerned. "What's wrong?"


"I—" Bash swallows. "I've been having these dreams. And it's freaking me out, 'cause most of the time, it's just me doing normal stuff. And I think I'm awake, but then I wake up again and realize we never put up curtains."


The concern on Sam's face is deeper now, but she also just looks baffled. "Bash, what are you talking about?"


He doesn't know how to explain it in a way that makes sense. "I keep thinking I'm awake but it turns out they're dreams," he tries. "And it happens over and over again. I don't know what's real anymore. Hell, I don't know if this, right now—" He cuts himself off; he can't breathe through the panic.


"Bash, it’s okay. You're awake." He hears Sam's soothing tone from far away. He thinks, am I?


"I promise," Sam says, with every ounce of conviction she has. Bash has never found himself unable to believe her. "Here, feel this? This is real," she says, holding his hand in hers. The touch grounds him. He finds himself starting to relax. 


He nods.


"Okay, see? Everything's fine." Sam presses a kiss to his hand and Bash smiles. He's been overthinking it. He's fine. Everything's fine. He just had to talk to Sam about it. He feels better now.


He leans over, kisses Sam on the forehead, and then, he wakes up on the couch.


***


Friday, 5:35 P.M.


There's a storm raging outside their cabin. Huge waves peppered with rocks crash over the lighthouse. It stands its ground as the sea throws everything it has at it, shining erratically, going on and off as it's consumed by waves the size of buildings. Bash understands now, why it's known as Terrible Tilly. He doesn't think anyone on that rock could survive the tempest going on.


A storm this bad should scare him. Instead, it makes him angry. Because nothing's real. Not the storm outside or Sam standing in front of him, eyes wide, or his hands grabbing the coffee machine and tossing it across the room. He's furious, but more than anything, he's free. Nothing he does or says matters anymore. He's just gonna wake up and it won't have happened. So what's the harm in raging out like the storm outside?


"Did you know I hate coffee? We've known each other for twelve years and I don't think you knew that. I only drink it 'cause you like it."


The thing that looks like Sam stands frozen in the living room. It's just an illusion his mind's conjuring, but it feels satisfying to finally say all of this to something that has Sam's face.


"You kept trying to change me, and it was exhausting to keep fighting you, so I just went along with it! Drank the coffee, took the promotion, quit drinking. It was stifling. I was miserable. Why else do you think I started fooling around with Amy? She's not even that pretty; she just wasn't you.


And I'm tired of you constantly holding that over my head! It was a year ago, Sam, and I've done everything to show you I'm sorry. I slept on the couch without complaint, I changed workplaces, for Christ's sake! And now I'm here, in this crappy-as-fuck cabin, because you said you wanted to see the goddamned Tillamook Lighthouse. Well, there it is, Sam!" Bash gestures out the window. "I don't know why on earth you'd need an entire week to appreciate a lighthouse, but we're here, and I did it for you!” 


Sam looks furious, heartbroken and shocked all at once.


"I didn't need a whole week to see a lighthouse, you jerk! I needed it to fix things with you!” she shouts. “So that we could get back to the way things were before you fucking cheated on me!" 


Tears are glistening on Sam's cheeks. Bash didn't even see them fall.


That’s what snaps him out of it. This feels too real. It's been too long. This is usually around the time he wakes up.


"But I was an idiot. There's no fixing this," Sam deadpans.


Bash feels icy water run down his back. He's ruined everything. This is real; that's the real Sam and he's ruined his marriage for good.


"Sam—"


"Goodbye, Sebastian." She turns, closing the door with a slam.


"Sam, wait!"


Bash runs out after her. It takes his eyes a while to adjust to the darkness. 


There's no storm. It's a quiet autumn night. There's no dirt path that leads up to the cabin. Sam's nowhere to be found, even though Bash was right behind her and there's nothing around them for miles. The truck’s gone but he didn't hear its engine start or its creaky doors opening.


Bash turns around, his heart stopping in his chest.


There's no cabin.


Just an empty patch of land, rotting and overgrown, and the lighthouse in the distance, standing completely dark, as it always has been.

July 09, 2022 00:31

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