The clock struck twelve, and Sita sighed.
She watched Rei, her girlfriend of two years, get up and head to the kitchen, humming purposefully. The sound of the kitchen tap took over the space in the air where the clock’s ring had filled, but it failed to ease Sita’s heart. She hated it when the clock struck twelve. A long time ago, an old man had told her that if she was scared, she should pray to the Gods, and they would take away whatever worried her. She loved and trusted the old man with all her heart, but somehow, his advice had never worked for her yet.
“It’s time for bed,” Rei said with a smile, wiping her wet hands on her jeans as she came back into the living room. “I’m so tired. Don’t forget your promise, Sita - tomorrow at ten you have to follow me to that interview, so don’t oversleep, please!”
“I’m serious! You don’t have to stay up studying just this once, right? All-nighters are bad for you anyway.” Rei frowned. “You’re getting some really dark circles under your eyes. I’ll lend you some eye cream later.”
The blonde could only crack a weary smile. Sorry, Rei.
Everything that happened next was a blur. Sita didn’t pay any attention to herself or her surroundings as she mechanically undressed and prepared for bed. She also hated the whole process of getting ready to go to sleep. What was the point? When was the last time she slept properly anyway? No matter how relaxing her bath was or how comfortable her bed, she couldn’t get rid of the anxiety and dread that filled her heart.
Still, she had made a promise to Rei. Even though she wasn’t even part of Rei’s bakery business, she knew that her presence was a source of comfort to Rei, and Sita wanted to be there for her best friend and support her all the way. Rei had worked so hard, after all, and she deserved every bit of her success. I just have to get through this night, she thought. All I have to do is close my eyes, and then it’ll be tomorrow.
Sita turned off the light and closed her eyes.
Cold. The first thing she notices is always the cold.
She opens her eyes to absolutely nothing. It’s dark, and so very cold. She can’t see, hear, touch anything around her. There is nothing around her. There is only her and the cold and the unending abyss that stretches on and on in all directions. Nothing above her head, nothing beneath her feet. No ground to walk on. She pushes her arms to her sides, moving herself forward. She doesn’t walk in this world. She swims.
She is moving, although her surroundings don’t tell her that. The piercing cold feels like swords stabbing her skin, her insides. She doesn’t know what time it is or where she is. The only thing she can do is keep swimming.
A flicker of light appears in the distance. Not a bright one, but its weak glow is more than enough to make Sita frantically swim faster and faster, trying to reach it. It must be a safe place. Perhaps it’s the exit. If she can reach it, she can get out of here. With each stroke, each kick of her legs, a wave of icy pain hits again and again, shit, even her bones are probably frozen, but Sita tries to mentally block out the pain, focusing on the light ahead. She can do it. She’s done everything she thought she couldn’t do before. She’s strong enough to make it. She’s not weak. She’s not weak, she’s not weak, she’s not weak, she’s not -
But it must have been hours by now, and she’s still nowhere close to the light. It doesn’t get any bigger, any nearer. She can’t feel even a hint of its warmth. She wants to scream in frustration, but the taste of salt floods her mouth when she opens it, and she can’t hear her own voice. She hates the cold, she hates the dark, she hates the salt, she wants to get out of here, if only she could reach that damn light she knows she could get out of here. She’s been swimming for so long, even though she doesn’t know how long. Her body is getting tired. It’s so cold.
She becomes aware of something behind her. Her senses have dulled in the cold, but she can still sense something, not near yet, but getting closer and closer. She doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t want to wait to find out. She’s scared. What kind of creatures lurk in this place? Why is it chasing her? Sita tries to force herself to swim faster, gritting her teeth and trying - in vain - to blink away the tears in her eyes. But it doesn’t seem to work. Why can’t she swim faster? Why can’t she swim at all? Has she stopped? Oh Gods, she can’t move now. The light flickers mockingly in the distance, and the shadow behind her is approaching at a rapid pace. She can’t run, and she can’t fight. This is it.
She turns around and the last thing she sees is
Sita woke with a jolt, panting. Her heart was thumping so loudly that she was worried Rei might hear it from the next room. Her clothes stuck to her wet skin, and she felt her stomach churn. Gods. She wanted to die. Remembering what the doctor had said, she closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply. In, and out. In, and out.
When her heartbeat finally slowed down, Sita opened her eyes again. She glanced at the clock. It was only three in the morning. Three hours was more sleep than what she got the night before, but it was barely more than a nap.
“I can’t do this,” she muttered bitterly to herself, burying her head in her hands. “Why can’t I do something as simple as sleeping? What’s wrong with me?”
But she did know. She just didn’t want to face it. She'd spent her whole life not facing it, because every time she tried, it hurt more than every stab and wound and broken bone she'd ever gotten. So she was just going to pretend she didn't know. And she was just going to not sleep.
With a sigh, Sita reached over and turned on the table lamp. There was a book on the bedside table and she picked it up - The Interpretation of Dreams. She knew Rei would be mad at her for pulling another all-nighter, but it really was just too bad. As she opened the book and settled down to read, she wondered what kind of coffee she would buy at the cafe tomorrow. Something strong, probably. She’d need it.