Before I even opened my eyes, I knew I was somewhere I had never been. The smell of chlorine was so strong it was almost nauseating, and the air so humid the stench clung to my skin. When I finally did open my eyes I gasped, breathing in a gulp of water as I floundered to find my footing and stood up, bursting out of the water. I choked, my lungs fighting some of the liquid out of my throat, the chemically taste making me gag. Doubled over, I stared at my feet surrounded by crystal blue water and endless white tiles. They floated before my eyes, rippling back and forth along with the black tile grout, making me dizzy momentarily. The fluorescent bars of light on the ceiling cast everything in a sickly yellow hue, causing me to blink again and again as if that might focus my vision more clearly. But the hazy colors never righted themselves.
As I looked down I noticed I was wearing a white gown I had never seen before, the rough fabric sticking to my skin, my entire body soaked in the pungant water. Finally catching my breath, I looked around the circular room. Everything was tiled in those slightly off white tiles, the entire place sweating from the humid air, droplets of water falling like tears down the walls. In the middle of the room was a thick pillar, also fully tiled, holding up a spiral staircase. I tried to move but my body felt weak, and it was hard to wade through the knee high waters. My brain felt fuzzy, too, as if I couldn’t form a clear thought, yet the feeling that I was somewhere I shouldn’t be was sharp and distinct in my mind. My jaw clenched as I looked behind myself, but I was alone, and just paranoid.
I trudged through the pool to the staircase, the water eerily feeling like it was dragging me down further with each step. The only sound was that of me splashing through the pool, and then eventually my wet, pruned feet slapping against the tile steps. I figured I must be dreaming. Things kept popping up in the corners of my eyes, fast moving masses of black, but when I turned I would see nothing. Nobody. By the time I reached the top of the spiral stairs, though, I was sure I was asleep. It was all too surreal.
At the top of the staircase, the same exact room greeted me, and the level below seemed to be swallowed up as I left it. Like it didn’t exist without me in it. There was no way for me to go back down, only a new staircase leading me up once again.
I looked around for a moment, trying to find any noticable differences in the two spaces, but I couldn’t find a single change. As I made it to the top of the second set of stairs, I started sweating more profoundly. My skin was starting to feel sticky to the touch; It was as if each level I scaled got more and more humid.
I wished idly that I would wake up soon. As I went from room to room, climbing staircase after staircase, a dreadful feeling began to come over me. I started making my way up the levels faster, praying I would find some new scenery somewhere. But I never did. My hope was fading fast.
With each passing staircase, my stomach churned more violently, and I tried to wipe at my sweat but more beads would come to replace them in the same moment. Eventually, as the flourescent lighting made my vision go dizzy, I sat down on the edge of the bottom step so I was out of the water, trying to take a breath. My body was exhausted, and my mind still formed throughts slowly and in a haze. I could hear deeper in my brain a voice calling to me, like my conscience, though I couldn’t quite make out the words and it sounded … off. Each time I tried to open my eyes, the room spun and I felt ill. The voice in my head kept screaming, getting louder, along with the buzzing of the dizzying fluorescent lights.
I thought I might as well just sit and wait until I woke up, not wanting to subject myself to any more of the repetitive torture of climbing stairs to nowhere.
It wasn’t until I heard the sound of the water being splashed around that my eyes popped open and I jumped to my feet. My heart rose into my throat as my eyes darted around, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. I didn’t see anything. Just still, turquoise pool water, white tiles, and that disorienting yellow light. Suddenly, I could hear the voice in my head clearly, in unison with the splishing of the water. It spoke in a quick, scathing tone.
Doubling over again at the sound of the voice, hot, thick liquid rushed up the back of my throat. My eyes squeezed shut as I violently unloaded into the water in front of me.
When I opened up my eyes again I gasped in horror, watching as my blood mixed with the water, swirling into the cool blue pool. Wiping the back of my hand across my mouth confirmed it, rusty red blood seeping it’s way into the wrinkles on my knuckles. The metallic taste coated my mouth, mixing with the scent of the chlorine to make me even more indisposed.
WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP.
The voice was talking even faster now, almost growling at me. It skipped and stuttered in an inhuman type of way, screaming over and over, the reverberation of the sound bouncing around in my skull and making me feel sick all over again. In the panic, I hadn’t realized the sound of the water moving around had stopped. All that remained was the incessant humming of the lights, and the sound of me coughing up the left over blood that was coating my tongue.
My brain felt frenzied, going from hot and cold and back again. I collapsed down onto my knees again, wincing as I felt the skin of my knees scrape against the rough tiles, and more blood paint the wet ground beneath me.
The voice was getting softer now, as the pressure in my skull built to be more agonizing than ever. I spit out another mouth full of blood, tears streaming down my face as I begged everything to stop for just a moment.
My breath caught in my throat. What did it say?
YOU ARE AWAKE YOU ARE AWAKE YOU ARE AWAKE.
No. That can’t be. The voice started laughing then, monotonous and unsettling, like hearing a hyena outside your window at night. It grew inscreasingly loud as I felt my ears start to burn up. More of my blood began to drip into the water, disappearing into the abundance of blue. I touched my ear with my fingers, the skin all over my face suddenly tender. Both my ears poured blood, my nostrils soon following their lead.
I was lightheaded and clutched my chest, begging to get one breath in and out. It felt as if my body was shutting down, the room starting to ripple again as if my entire head were underwater. The voice was quiet, even the lights stopped their buzzing for a moment. I finally was able to take a breath, my vision dyed crimson as every orafice on my head oozed thick, red blood.
b e h i n d y o u, the voice whispered, giggling at my anguish.
When I turned, I was met with blackness. After a few more blinks, I realized I was lying in my bedroom. My TV was on, cartoon characters speaking exuberantly as the whole room was washed in muted blue light. I was soaked in sweat, gulping air as I turned and reached for my phone on my night stand. It read 2:37 A.M.
Getting to my feet, I quickly flicked the lights on, standing in front of the full length mirror I had mounted on my wall. I felt my body relax as I let the light from my ceiling fan wash over me, my toes sinking into my familiar pink shag carpeting. In the mirror, I looked over my face, inspecting it for any remenance of blood. I seemed to be good there.
The white gown was gone. I was back in my usual clothes, a pair of loose fitting jeans and a t-shirt. I must have gotten home from school and crashed, I thought to myself as my heart rate seemed to finally be regaining it’s stability. I sucked in another deep breath and chuckled at how flustered I had gotten. I usually wasn’t one to let dreams effect me in such a way. For whatever reason, that one had just felt so … real. But that was ridiculous. It was just a bad dream.
After a shower, I was able to shake off most of the feeling the dream had left me with. The uneasiness was slowly leaving me, drifting away as I searched through my drawers for some clothes to sleep in. I tugged on an oversized t-shirt, tying my wet hair up into a messy bun. Making my way back to my bed, I turned once more, my hand on the lightswitch, to look into my mirror.
When I did … my stomach heaved against my ribcage.
My knees. They were skinned. I gulped so hard I thought I’d swallowed my uvula.
From the corner of my room I heard a whisper, just like I had in my dream, even more dragged out this time.
b e h i n d y o u.
And then, that revolting stench. Chlorine.