Have you ever felt like you're losing your mind? Actually worried about going insane? I have. Recently, at least.
For the last two weeks I've been having these dreams. Nightmares, really. I think. They always start the same. Or do they?
I'm on my way to work, running late but stopping by my favorite café on the corner, regardless. There is a long line - there always is. They have the best coffee in town so of course it's immensely popular among the nine to five zombies in the morning. Like me.
As I stand in line, a little anxious because of the time and the vast row of people ahead of me that keeps moving yet I don't seem to get any closer to the front, I notice a hooded figure. It's a mild and sunny day so the black rain coat stands out like a coffee stain on a white shirt. I look down on my shirt and realize there actually is a coffee stain there. How did that happen? I took it fresh out of my closet this morning and surely there hadn't been a stain there then. Still puzzling over this I look up again, my eyes automatically going back to that hooded figure. He's still in exactly the same position: right hand stretched out to open the door, left foot slightly hovering above the ground. How odd. My brain is trying to make sense of the information provided by my eyes but it's failing completely. I look around. Surely someone else must have noticed this - but everyone is only staring at me. Some look shocked, some look worried, some are pointing at my chest. With a growing sense of irritation and confusion I look down at the stain on my shirt again. It's grown considerably in size and I realize it's not coffee at all … it's blood.
I wake with a start. I'm drenched in sweat and tangled up in my sheets. I sit up on my bed, eyes closed, willing my heart to stop pounding. It works, for the most part, and I shake my head at the ridiculousness of having such a strong physical reaction to a weird little dream that I can't even remember anymore. Something about coffee stains. I check my alarm clock: 8.30 am. Completely shocked that I seem to have slept through my alarm, I jump out of bed. I hurry through my morning routine, get dressed quickly and grab my keys and my phone. I see a message from Claire, asking if we're still on for today. That stops me in my tracks. Claire and I have made plans to go to the lake on Saturday. But today is Thursday. Right? I check the date on my phone: Saturday the 16th. I stand in my hallway, unmoving, left hand clenched to a fist around my keys. I try to recollect this past week but no matter how many times I go through it I always end up at today being Thursday. I wait a couple more minutes, or possibly an eternity, before I slowly put down my keys again.
Somewhat shaken, I sit down on the nearest chair, a bar stool in my kitchen. I open my friend's message again and type my reply. Yeah, sure thing. Smiley face.
I need coffee. Maybe something to eat. But I don't move. I just sit here, in my kitchen, trying to make sense of things. But after a while I just give up. It's futile so I might just as well get ready for the day trip with Claire.
I exchange my business outfit for something a little more casual, pack my swimming gear and some provisions - just in time before a short message lets me know that Claire is waiting outside in her convertible.
It's a gorgeous day and the nice summer breeze quickly releases some of the tension left from this morning. Claire is in a chatty mood today. She just started a new job and seems really excited about it. So the two hours it takes to get to the trailhead parking lot go by blissfully fast. From there it's a nice one and a half hour walk to the lake. It's a bit of a steep climb at first but once you get through the dense forest the trail levels off and you have an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. There are two small lakes along the trail. We walk past the first one and head straight to our favorite spot by the larger of the two lakes. It's a bit secluded, tucked away in a cute little bay, surrounded by a few pine trees. Here, even though there are quite a few people out and about, enjoying the summer weather, it feels like we are the only people for miles and miles.
To cool off from the hike we decide to prioritize the crystal clear, cold water over lunch and hop in from a perfectly located rock. Being fed by a river straight up from the mountains, the coldness of the lake takes me by surprise every single time. It's both a little unnerving and exhilarating at the same time. The sting lessens after a little while and we do our usual swimming exercise: butterfly our way to the middle of the lake and then breast swim back to where we started. It's a fair distance and by the time we get back to the shore both Claire and I are famished. We devour the food we brought and as soon as we're done we lie back on the enormous blanket feeling the best kind of exhausted, with a full stomach and the sun tickling our faces. I drift off with a silly grin on my face - this is the good life.
I wake slowly and roll over onto my side. I risk a quick peek at my alarm clock: it's almost 7 am; the alarm will go off in a few minutes. Nevertheless I close my eyes again, trying to remember as many details of the dream I just had as possible. A perfect day at the lake. I smile at the image of Claire failing miserably at not getting her food all over the blanket. It had been such a vivid dream. I can't wait to finally go to the lake again. The weather has been rather miserable lately which is why we had to postpone our first hike and swim adventure of the year a bunch of times.
I look out of the window: the sky is a gloomy grey and it looks suspiciously like rain. Again. Oh well, can't be helped. I turn off the alarm and head to the shower. The nice, warm water reminds me of that dream again - ironically enough. For a second I contemplate switching to cold water … But that idea is quickly abandoned and instead I turn up the hot water a little more. I get out of the shower and get dressed. I'll use the early start to the day to stop by my favorite café on my way to work. They are always ridiculously busy in the morning and I usually don't have the time to grab breakfast - a large coffee, sugar, no milk, and a ham and cheese croissant - there. I can already feel my stomach rumble at the thought of that. So I put on my black rain coat and get going. It's just a short walk but the cold wind and the relentless rain make me hunch over and hurry to the café as fast as possible. Just as I am about to open the door to the café - jacket already open to get out my wallet in eager anticipation of a delicious breakfast - I hear a loud noise, almost like a gunshot. I freeze for a second, noticing a sharp pain in my chest. Everything feels like slow motion all of a sudden. I look down and see a bright red stain forming on my white shirt. Small at first but growing larger by the second. I feel dizzy and I think I'm about to collapse …
And I wake up with a start.