Written by Shelly Moore
When the alarm sounded at 5:07 am, Jeanette begrudgingly left behind a satiating dream in which she had been screaming furiously in the face of her ex-husband all the things she had been too meek to confront him with in waking life. Within the dream she was quick-witted and deliberately vicious, not sparing an ounce of accumulated fury as the man she had once loved cowered beside her like the troll he was.
“Damn it,” she mumbled groggily as she reached for her phone to stop the noisy alarm.
“Damn that was a good dream, Icky.”
She scratched the belly of her dog, Ichabod, who snored peacefully beside her, then walked out the door and down the hallway toward her bathroom.
She didn’t bother turning the lights on, as per usual, as she turned on the shower and stepped in. The small LED nightlight was enough to illuminate the cozy bathroom, and Jeanette found it oddly relaxing to shower in the dimly lit room as her mind and body slowly awoke. It seemed to set a good tone to her mornings, and it had become a habit she’d kept since she was in middle school.
She toweled off, brushed her teeth, then finally flipped the light switch on so she could apply makeup and fix her hair. She was shuffling through a drawer for her moisturizer when she caught her reflection in the mirror and froze.
She stared at herself, bewildered.
Long, wet, dark mahogany brown hair fell just below her breasts. She dropped her towel to the floor and stared into her reflection. She gazed into eyes as blue as a springtime sky, and her confusion desperately deepened.
Jeanette, you see, was and had always been for every minute of every day of her thirty-two years on this planet, a red-headed, emerald-eyed woman.
She had been born to a very Scottish woman named Aoife Jane O’Malley, and subsequently inherited her fiery red hair, grass green eyes, and freckle-kissed cheeks. She had been ruthlessly teased all throughout grade school and middle school for these distinguishing features. She had been called many nasty names by many nasty children, and bullied relentlessly for so many years that it had taken a toll on her mentally, causing depression and severe social anxiety as she entered adulthood.
Overall, Jeanette was a normal, happy, healthy, functional adult of which whom no one would ever suspect mental illness. She was well-liked and well-respected at the law firm she was partner at, and had a tight-knit network of wonderful, supportive family and friends.
However, she questioned down to the depths of her very core the accountability of her own sanity in this moment as she touched her foreign deep brown tresses with trembling, apprehensive fingers. She leaned in to stare into beautiful blue eyes that had never once belonged to her, and her brain struggled to piece together the information it was transmitting. Finally, after a few forced breaths, the synapses in her brain connected coherently enough to form the question, “Why is my hair brown and not red, and why are my eyes blue instead of green?”
She dropped her head to the sink basin and quickly turned on the faucet. She splashed her face with cold water a few times, reached for the towel from the ground below her, and dried her face. She looked again into the mirror in front of her, but to her dismay nothing had changed.
She feverishly wrapped her towel around her body and walked out into the hallway where framed, captured memories lined the walls. She moved from photo to photo in disbelief, seeing herself in treasured moments past as a blue-eyed, brunette-haired woman. Her signature fiery red locks were nowhere to be seen, as if they had somehow never existed at all.
She ran to her phone and called her mother.
“Hello? Jeanette it’s not even six for cryin’ out loud-“ her mother answered in her thick accent.
“Mom, what color is my hair?”
“Just answer me. What color is my hair?”
“Did you make that magic mushroom tea for breakfast again or something, my dear?”
“No, Mom, c’mon. Just-” she sighed, “just humor me, okay? What color is my hair?”
“Why are you asking me this? Is this a trick-question?”
Jeanette held the phone away from her face and screamed quietly in frustration, then banged the phone on the wall a few times.
Putting the phone back to her ear, she said, “Mom. For the love of everything holy, it’s a simple question. What color was my hair when I was born?”
“Well, I mean, it was almost black like your father’s, but it lightened up a bit over time and eventually became, I don’t know, sort of the chestnut brown shade you’ve got now, I suppose-“
Jeanette dropped the phone onto the floor before her mother could finish.
Instead of admitting to herself that she had likely fallen into some sort of psychosis, she decided to continue with her morning routine, and to go about her day as if all was completely and utterly… rational.
She finished her hair and makeup, got dressed, then whistled for Icky as she made her way down the stairs to the kitchen. She was beginning to push the oddities of the morning out of mind, and as long as she kept her own reflection out of sight, she thought to herself, she’d just be fine.
“C’mon, Icky boy. It’s breakfast time. Get your lazy bag of bones out of bed,” she called up the stairs.
She smiled when she heard the his metal tags clank together as he stood and shook, which was the routine every morning. He would stretch, then eventually, on his own time, mosey down the hallway and down the carpeted stairs toward his bowl.
She waited, tapping her fingernails on the granite countertop, but he didn’t come so she called for him again.
“Ichabod get your eighty-four pound, old man ass down here or I’m going to be late for work,” she said loudly.
She heard footsteps finally making their way down the hallway, so she brought a can of lamb and rice over to the electric can opener, which was mounted under the cabinet next to the sink. With her back to stairs, she heard as Ichabod descended, followed by the clicking of his nails as he walked across the porcelain tile toward her.
Before the can of dog food was fully opened, she stopped the noisy can opener and set the can on the counter.
She braced herself on the counter with her arms, shut her eyes tightly, and inhaled deeply through her nose then exhaled audibly from her mouth.
Anyone who owns a dog and hard floors can tell you a dog’s clickity-clack as they walk is almost as individualistic as a fingerprint. Their pace, their weight; most owners could likely pick their own pet out of a blindfolded test.
This was absolutely not the clickity-clack of her beloved Ichabod, and she wasn’t prepared to handle any more crazy today.
She slowly turned around to face a smiling, wagging, beautiful, old, white-faced golden retriever.
She dropped to her knees and began rubbing behind his ears, and as she did, she reached for his metal tag affixed to his brown leather collar.
“ICHABOD “ICKY” PEDERSEN
401 STONECREEK CT”
This was, but wasn’t, her dog.
The room began to spin slightly and she began to feel a bit queasy. She sat on the cold tile with her back against the cabinet and her knees drawn to her chest. Icky sniffed her hair, wagged his tail, and licked her ear.
She called into work sick for the first time ever. She then called her therapist, who was with a patient at the time but the receptionist with the sweet southern-draw assured her he would call her back as soon as the session ended.
She fed and then walked the dog around the block, as she would normally. Just as they made it back to her driveway, her phone rang.
“Jack?” she fumbled with her phone as she answered it.
“Yes, hello, Jeanette; Maggie said you called? Said it was urgent?”
“I know this is going to sound really weird, but… What color is my hair?” she asked him.
“Next time just call my cell, you know that. Are you okay?” he replied.
“I don’t know yet. What color are my eyes?” she asked.
“Well I believe they are blue like my own. You sound shaken, Jeanette. What’s happened?” he asked.
Jeanette was silent for a moment, then asked, “What color is my hair, Jack?”
“Brown, I guess. Jeanette, I’m worried about you,” he said.
“Jack, I’ve always had red hair and green eyes. We’ve discussed it in dozens of sessions together… the mental anguish the teasing during my childhood caused me, haven’t we?” she asked, her voice shaky with emotion.
“I”ve never known you to have red hair, Jeanette, and we’ve known each other a very long time. I can look through our session notes, but I don’t recall ever talking about-“
She cut him off, “I’m a ginger. I’ve always been a ginger…”
“Jeanette, why don’t you meet me at my office around, say, two o’clock this afternoon. I’d say come sooner, but it’s my first available opening. Will you be okay until then?” he asked.
“Sure. I think, anyway,” she replied.
“See you then,” he said, and they disconnected their call.
Jeanette retreated to her bedroom to change from her work attire into running attire. She wanted to distract herself for as long as possible, and a good, long run would do that for her. She laced her shoes, casting a quick glance over at the Icky that wasn’t Icky, who was happily chewing on a bone under the dining room table, shook her head as if to clear her mind, and walked out her front door, shutting it behind her. She turned around to punch the four-digit code into the electronic deadbolt in order to lock the door. A high-pitched beep accompanies each key compression on the lock, and when she hit the fourth digit in the key code, the beep sounded but stuck in its tone, malfunctioning and emitting a long beeeeeeeee– without shutting off.
She banged on the keypad in an attempt to get it to stop. She pushed all the buttons, and then banged on it with her fist but the high-pitched eeeeeee- persisted.
Just then, she heard a males voice call out from just behind her, “She’s bleeding out!”
She spun around, startled half to death, and expected to come face to face with either a salesman or a murderer, but instead of gazing out onto her front lawn, all she saw was darkness. She turned to face the front door again, but it had also seemingly vanished into this unexpected black void. She held her hands in front of her face, but could not see them. The darkness seemed infinite; as if no thing and no human nor animal or insect body occupied the same space she did, for not just miles, but infinitely. She felt within her bones this vastness which stretched not just beyond her city’s limits nor just her country’s, but it stretched indefinitely with no barriers on any side, rendering it as expansive as the universe itself.
She closed her eyes tightly and tried to calm her breathing. When she summoned enough courage to open them again, she found herself standing in her unlit bathroom once again; hair wet and towel on the floor beside her. She looked into the mirror at her terror-stricken face, and into her emerald green eyes. She cried and laughed with relief as she ran her fingers through her beautiful, fiery-red hair. Tears fell from her eyes to the sink beneath her.
She didn’t know how to explain whatever it was that had just happened, but she was undoubtedly relieved to be awake. It must have been a dream, she told herself, although the theory didn’t quite explain how she found herself in her bathroom and not in her bed. She pushed the thoughts to the back corners of her mind, and brushed her teeth happily. She sang along to Creedence Clearwater Revival as she spat into the sink and rinsed. She wiped her hands and mouth on the hand towel, then made her way back down the hall toward her bedroom. She flipped on the light, and she gasped as she saw the beautiful golden retriever, the incorrect Ichabod, snoring happily on her bed.
She stumbled backwards into the hallway and fell against the wall, then gathered herself and ran to the bathroom to get her phone. She dialed Dr. Jack Russell’s office number, and Maggie, the sweet receptionist with a southern-draw, answered and again said he was with a client.
“This is extremely urgent, Maggie. Can you please interrupt him? I would never ask you to do something unless it was absolutely urgent, you know that, right, Maggie?” she said, the panic evident in her voice.
“Yes, Mrs. Pedersen, just hold one moment, okay?” she said.
“It’s Miss-” Jeanette attempted to correct her, but the hold music cut her off.
A moment later, Dr. Russell picked up the line.
“Jeanette?” he asked.
“I am so sorry to interrupt your session with your client, Jack. I swear to you I’ll never do it again-” she said.
“It’s okay, Jeanette, I knew something must be amiss if you needed to speak with me so urgently. Are you okay? Should I call the authorities?” he asked.
“No, no. I mean yes. I mean… no. Have we already spoken today?” she asked tentatively.
“Why, no, I don’t believe so… what’s going on, Jeanette?”
“I had a dream… or something… where I had dark hair and blue eyes, and my dog wasn’t my dog, or he was, but not the right breed,” she explained.
“I see,” Dr. Russell said. “What breed do you believe your dog should be?”
“Icky is a chocolate lab mix, you know that, Jack. How many hikes have we gone on together with our dogs? I rescued him six years ago specifically because I had always wanted a chocolate lab named Ichabod, but the Ichabod laying in my bed right now is a golden retriever,” she said.
“I see,” Dr. Russell replied.
“Don’t do that, Jack,” Jeanette said.
“Don’t do what, Jeanette?”
“Patronize me; I’m fully aware of how insane I sound right now. I need my friend right now, Jack, not my doctor. Well, shit, I suppose I need both, actually. Why is this happening?”
“I really don’t know, Jeanette, and I certainly didn’t mean to patronize you. I apologize if my tone said otherwise. Here’s my advice, for now, anyway, until I can get you in. Go sit in a dark room and meditate. Calm your mind, steady your breathing, and see if you can’t get your brain to reset through meditation,” he said.
“Seriously?” she asked.
“Yes, seriously,” he replied, “Can you come in around two this afternoon?”
“I’ll be there,” she said, then disconnected the call abruptly.
Jeanette walked downstairs to her office, grabbed her yoga mat and cushion from the closet, laid them out on the floor behind her desk, then drew the curtains shut. She closed the door to the room and turned out the lights, taking a seat on her cushion. She reached above her onto her desk to grab her phone, selected a meditation album she used often, and hit play.
The soft melody climbed a gentle crescendo as she closed her eyes and breathed deeply; in through her nose and out through her mouth. Soft chimes rang within the melody which is said to help keep meditative focus, but Jeanette was a having a difficult time steadying her breath and calming her mind given the morning’s unexplainable events.
A second set of chimes rang out, and she felt ice cold air sweep across her face and arms. Reflexively, she opened her eyes and stared out into a void once again; however, this time the void was white and sterile, but just as expansive as the blackened void had been.
The meditative music had vanished, and in its place was a mysterious murmur coming from all around her. When she listened closely to the murmur, it was almost as if she could distinguish voices within it. Three or four different voices speaking simultaneously, although she couldn’t make out the words they were saying. She closed her eyes tightly, counted to ten, then reopened them; hoping she’d be sitting on the floor of her home office once again, but that didn’t happen. The vast, white, infinite, empty space filled her vision and she instinctively closed her eyes shut again in an attempt to convince herself what she was seeing wasn’t real.
The murmur grew louder, and she focused intently on it, hoping to pluck a word or two from it. Cold air bit at her skin, and her teeth began to chatter.
“She doesn’t know…” a male’s voice said.
“She won’t feel it…” another said.
She trembled and hugged herself, and began to weep.
“She’s waking…” a woman said, and before Jeanette could take another breath, she opened her eyes and found herself standing in her bedroom doorway with the towel around her and wet hair on her skin.
She was looking at Ichabod happily snoring in her bed, all eighty-four pounds of him, and she cried tears of relief as she jumped onto the bed and hugged his chocolate brown Labrador coat. This was the Ichabod she had rescued. She ran to the bathroom and smiled at her red-haired, green-eyed reflection. She was relieved, but the relief was short lived and replaced by a deep, deep confusion.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten, and when she reopened them she still stood in her bathroom staring at her familiar reflection; her hair still red, and her eyes still green. She walked down the hall and peeked in on Icky, who was still a pudgy, chocolatey, snoring sack of lovable Labrador bones. She remembered the voices she had heard, and considered their words as she made her way to her kitchen to make an incredibly strong pot of coffee.
She doesn’t know…
She won’t feel it…
Did she dream it? It hadn’t felt like a dream, but she also considered the countless times she had awoken from dreams that felt as real as waking life. She had always been a vivid dreamer, even as a child. The part that didn’t make a lick of sense, however, was the moment she had supposedly awoken from the dreams. She awoke standing upright in her bedroom doorway. Prior to that, she had awoken in her bathroom. Had that been a dream within a dream?
For every memory of the morning she could recall, three or four questions arose. It made her head spin. She grabbed the folding stepstool from between the refrigerator and the wall, unfolded it, and stood on it to reach into the cabinet above the fridge. She grabbed a bottle of whiskey, climbed back down the stepstool, and added a heaping serving to her coffee.
She walked out her sliding patio door and took a seat on her porch swing, oversized coffee mug in hand. She pulled her legs up onto the swing beside her, and sipped the hot coffee. Just then, her cell phone rang and she grabbed it from her pajama pants pocket.
“Good morning, Jeanette. This is Dr. Russell. How are you?” the deep voice said to her.
“Jack?” she asked, finding it both slightly funny and quite odd that he’d refer to himself so formally although they had known each other since middle school.
“Yes, Jack,” the voice said.
“Why so formal all of the sudden? And what the hell’s with the Barry White voice?” she joked.
He laughed nervously as he replied, “Oh, I’m just being silly. You know me. You just crossed my mind this morning, so I wanted to reach out and make sure everything was okay. That’s all. Is everything okay, Jeanette?”
“Oh yeah, absolutely peachy god damn keen,” she replied sarcastically.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She was tired of thinking about it, and quite frankly she just wanted to finish her damn coffee without having to think about it, so she replied, “Just feeling like I might be coming down with something, that’s all. Called out sick today.”
“Gotcha. Well, give me a call if you need anything, okay? Not just as your friend, but as your psychiatrist, Jeanette. I’m always just a call away,” he said.
“Noted,” she said, “Enjoy your day, Dr. Russell.”
She sipped her coffee, or what might be better described as her whisky with a splash of coffee, with reverence, enjoying its warmth and comfort. She watched as two gray squirrels chased each other across her yard and up a tree, and then as a large crow flew from the trees tallest branch. She heard a woodpecker searching for its breakfast in the nearby tree line, and the rumble of a motorcycle as it passed by on the road in front of her house.
After the motorcycle passed, the area had again quieted and she could hear the sound of dried leaves crunching as if someone were walking toward her. She turned to her right to see who it might have been, and was surprised to see a tall, thin man in a white doctor’s coat and mask staring at her.
“Who the hell are you?” she demanded as she stood to face him.
“She’s waking,” the man said.
“What did you say?” Jeanette asked.
The man held up some sort of surgical apparatus that looked a bit like a power drill, and Jeanette threw her coffee mug at him and ran back into her home through her sliding glass doors, locking them behind her. She reached into her pocket for her phone to call the police, but it rang before she could dial the number.
“Hello? Jack? Jack call the police! There’s a man in my back yard with a weapon!” she screamed into the phone.
“Jeanette? Jeanette, calm down. I’m having a difficult time understanding you,” Dr. Russell said.
Jeanette looked out the glass doors for the man, but he wasn’t within eyesight.
“He might have left; I threw my coffee at his face. Jack, I have to go. I have to call the police,” she said, then disconnected the call.
Her phone rang again.
“Jack, I have to call the police!”
“She won’t remember…” a voice said on the other end before Jeanette got the chance to disconnect.
She held her breath. Her eyes grew wide.
“Who is this?” she asked trepidatiously, although the caller I.D. said, “JACK RUSSELL.”
She blinked and suddenly she was in the vast white void again, laying on what resembled an operating table with her arms strapped to her sides and her legs splayed on stirrups. She was completely nude, and grossly exposed. She panicked as she looked around her. Three doctors in medical coats and masks stood around her. Their eyes were larger than what Jeanette would consider to be normal human eye size, and were a shade of black so deep it reminded her of the black void she had first awoken in.
She tried to scream but realized she was completely paralyzed. She had suffered from sleep paralysis nightly leading up to the bar exam due to stress, and this was exactly what it felt like; a nightmare she was unable to wake from.
“She’s awake…” a voice said from the man standing near her feet, and the man to his right held up the same surgical drill the man from her backyard had held moments before.
She tried screaming. She demanded her legs to kick and flail, but they were unresponsive. She looked down toward her feet as if maybe she could will them to cooperate, and that’s when she noticed the blood pooled on the floor beneath her naked body.
“She won’t remember…” the voice on her left said as he placed his hand gently over her eyes.
Jeanette stood on her front porch, coffee in hand, and running shoes on. Icky stood beside her on leash, looking up at her imploringly, eager for his morning walk. She chugged the whiskey coffee, then threw the mug onto the grass in front of her.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?” she screamed into the air around her.
Her phone rang.
“What?” she answered.
“Well damn, Jeanette, that’s no way to greet an old friend,” Jack laughed.
“I’m having a rough morning, Jack. What do you need?” she asked, still not quite sure if this moment was based in reality or if it would again end abruptly and without warning.
“It’s two, Jeanette. You said you’d be here at two, and you’re clearly not here, so I was calling to check on you. You’re starting to worry me,” he said.
She held her phone away from her face and looked at the time.
“Jack, everything is messed up. Nothing makes sense. It shouldn’t be two yet. I wouldn’t bring my coffee on a run, so why are my running shoes on and my coffee mug in my hand, and why can’t I remember how I got here?” She felt she might vomit.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down, Jeanette. I’m coming to you, okay? Don’t move a muscle. I can be at your place in fifteen minutes. Okay? Just… just try to relax until I get there,” he said, then disconnected the call.
Jeanette tied Icky’s leash around the front porch railing and laid down on a wooden bench, throwing an arm over her eyes. She replayed the events of the morning, trying to figure out why her brain would be doing this to her. Why psychosis? Why now? There were no external stressors that would cause a mental breakdown, so there were no easy answers for her to grasp ahold of in order to pacify her trembling mind and frayed nerves.
She jumped off the bench ready to throw a punch, when she realized it was Jack.
“How…” she could barely manage to say, “you said fifteen minutes…”
“Yeah, sorry. I got caught in a bit of traffic on I-495. I should have called to let you know I’d be running a bit late,” he said.
“But… we just hung up…” she trailed off.
Jack looked at her with obvious concern.
“What’s going on, Jeanette?”
She sat down on the bench and put her head in her hands.
“I don’t know, Jack… I… I keep waking up from dreams that feel… god, they just feel so damn real…”
“What kind of dreams?”
“… but when I wake I’m not in bed, I’m standing as if I were in the middle of something,” she continued as her eyes fixated on the wooden railing in front of her.
“The middle of what?”
“… but things are scrambled… things are wrong… my hair and eye color… my dog…”
“She’s bleeding out…” Jack said.
Jeanette looked at him with wide eyes. “What did you just say?”
“Have you been drinking?”
“That’s not what you said,” Jeanette stood and looked down at her friend.
“She’s bleeding out!” Jack yelled, startling Jeanette.
Jeanette took a step backwards, and Jack yelled again, “She won’t remember!”
“Stop it, Jack! You’re scaring the shit out of me!” Jeanette yelled, covering her ears with her hands.
“It’s not working!” Jack yelled.
Jeanette blinked and found herself in the white sterile place again, with the three doctors and the odd surgical instruments. They moved slowly, too slowly, and she felt again that something wasn’t quite right about them. She looked down at the puddle of blood beneath the table she was strapped to.
“Jeanette, honey,” a woman’s voice said from her right, “you’ve been in an accident.”
A nurse stood beside her wearing a skirted nurse’s uniform and cap straight out 1950, but what caught Jeanette’s attention even more so than the dated uniform, were her large, black eyes. She was much closer than the three doctors had been, so she was now able to see the large eyes of the nurse didn’t appear to have eyelashes, nor eyelids. The mask she wore hid her face, but Jeanette could tell just by the way it rested flat on her skin that there couldn’t be much of a nose beneath it.
“I’m going to give you something to help you sleep, honey. We’ll talk again soon. Rest up,” she said as she covered Jeanette’s eyes with her hand.
Jeanette awoke in a hospital bed with an IV attached to her left arm. She was groggy, but had her wits about her enough to be grateful the nightmares were over. She didn’t remember having been in an accident, but she knew people often had memory loss with traumatic head injuries, so she assumed she must have hit her head and suffered a pretty substantial head trauma, although no trace of the pain seemed to remain. She reached for the nurse’s call button and pushed it. A voice came over the speaker beside her.
“Nurse’s station,” she said, “Well, good morning, room 203! I’ll send someone down to your room immediately.”
“Thank you,” Jeanette replied.
Snow fell outside the hospital window. A nurse walked into her room.
“Well, good morning! It’s so nice to see you awake, Jeanette!” the young nurse said enthusiastically. “I can imagine you have a lot of questions.”
“How long was I out?” Jeanette asked. “It’s snowing.”
“Quite a while, ma’am, but we sure are glad to see you awake,” she smiled.
“What happened? What sort of accident was I in?” Jeanette asked.
“I’ll let Dr. Russell explain that to you. He’s on his way up from the cafeteria. He hasn’t left your side, you know,” the nurse winked.
“Jack’s here?” she asked.
The nurse reached up to the television and turned it on.
“I like to turn the news on for coma patients when they awake so they can get caught up. You can watch a bit while you wait for Dr. Russell,” she said, and then she wrote her name, Sydney, on the dry-erase board with a red marker, then she exited the room.
She watched a commercial for a Honda dealership and then one for a fast food joint, and before the news had the opportunity to catch her up, Jack was running through the door of room 203 to embrace his friend in a much-too-tight-for-comfort hug.
“Oh my god, Jeanette, I’ve been so worried! It’s so good to see your beautiful eyes open!”
“What happened, Jack?”
“You don’t remember anything at all?” he asked.
“Not a thing, unfortunately,” she replied.
“You were hit head on by drunk driver. Took three hours and the jaws of life to extricate you from your vehicle. I thought…” he choked, “I thought I’d lost you.”
“I don’t remember anything at all,” she said, “but I feel fine. Really, I do. What were my injuries?”
“I’ll leave that part to the medical staff, but god damn is it good to hear your voice,” he said as he held her hand.
“How long was I in a coma?” she asked.
“Quite a while,” Jack replied, then brought his head down to his hand – which still held hers firmly – to kiss it. He closed his eyes as he did so, and when he sat back up and reopened them, they were the large, black eyes that belonged to the doctors in her dream.
She scrambled to get away from him, and when he blinked, the monstrous eyes were replaced with gentle blue ones.
“What? What’s wrong, Jeanette?” he asked.
She trembled. “Nothing. My brain must be still in the process of restarting. Wires getting crossed,” she shook her head. “I had some incredibly odd dreams, Jack.”
“You’ll have to tell me all about them,” he said.
Jack left after lunch, but promised to return with a delicious dinner from Jeanette’s favorite restaurant later that evening.
The young nurse came in for another check and administered a sedative into Jeanette’s IV to help her rest. “Your body needs it,” she said although Jeanette protested. She wanted to be awake, because apparently, she had already slept for quite a while, and she didn’t want to miss another moment. She was looking forward to talking to the doctor so she could find out how long she had really been out, and what injuries she had sustained.
“She’s stronger than the others…” she heard a voice say.
“She’s a rare specimen…” another replied.
“She’s becoming suspicious…” a third said.
Jeanette awoke in a dark hospital room. The analog clock on the wall near the television set said it was 11:43 pm. She pushed the nurse’s call button.
“On my way,” a voice said from the speaker.
A round, older woman appeared in her room a short moment later.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I slept far longer than I intended to. Is there a doctor still on duty by chance?” Jeanette asked.
“Dr. Bertrand left about an hour ago. He’ll be back in the morning,” the woman said while checking Jeanette’s vitals without making eye contact.
“Shit,” Jeanette said. “I really wanted to talk to him.”
“You must have needed the rest, dear,” the woman said dismissively. “Are you hungry? A man came by earlier and left some food for you. It’s in the nurse’s fridge. I can go grab it for you.”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll eat it tomorrow. Thank you, though,” she replied cautiously; for as the nurse had been checking her monitors, Jeanette had noticed the way her mask clung to her face just as it had the nurse in her dream.
“Can you check my IV? It feels like it’s about to fall out of my arm,” Jeanette lied as she fidgeted with the tape that held the needle in her arm. The nurse walked to her bedside and the second she was within reach Jeanette grabbed the face mask and pulled it down, revealing two slits where a nose should be, and a large, inhuman mouth with jagged teeth and peeled back lips.
The nurse stumbled backward and promptly fixed her mask back into place, but when she looked at Jeanette her eyes had become large and empty, just as Jack’s had earlier that day, and the doctor’s had within her dream while she was in a coma.
The nurse calmly walked to her bedside and said, “Things were going so well. I really wish you wouldn’t have done that.” She then covered Jeanette’s eyes with her hand, and Jeanette slept.
When she awoke, she was once again in the infinite white, sterile room strapped down to the oddly shaped surgical table. The three doctors and nurse stood at the foot of her bed, and she realized once again that she was paralyzed and unable to move anything but her eyes.
“Most stay asleep, all too eager to escape waking life. You have been a difficult one to keep asleep,” one said.
“Yes, your body does not seem to react to our medicines the way the others do,” another said.
“It’s likely you’ve built an immunity over time,” the third said.
“This is not the first we’ve seen of this, but it is rare,” the first said.
“You are a rare case, indeed,” said the second.
“Yes, indeed very rare,” said the third.
“Your grandmother had shown a similar resistance,” the first said.
“Perhaps a resistance was passed down her familial line,” said the second.
“I believe that to be accurate,” said the third.
The nurse walked around Jeanette’s bedside and removed her mask, revealing the hideous mouth and snake-like nose beneath.
Jeanette could only cry.
“Do not be scared, human,” the nurse said, “I have known you for all of your years.”
“Perhaps we should keep the apparatuses on our face to conceal what she fears,” the first doctor said.
“I knew your mother and your grandmother. I knew your great-great-grandmother and her mother’s mother,” the nurse said as she stroked Jeanette’s hair, “and I’ll know your daughters, and your daughter’s daughters, and their daughters, too.”
Jeanette felt sheer terror and desperate confusion.
“Do not fear us, girl,” the second doctor said.
“Yes, there is nothing to fear,” the third chimed in.
Jeanette looked at the doctors, and then down at the blood beneath her.
“Ah, yes. I can understand why that concerns you, but try to calm your mind. We wouldn’t let you expire; it is not yet your time. We have been having a rather difficult time with your testing lately, but do not worry. All that is lost from within is replaced before you are returned,” the nurse explained. “I think it is time for you to sleep now. You will remember this when you awake, and for that I do apologize. It is indeed a rarity. We will need to run tests to figure out why the dream programs are not working properly for you.”
The nurse put a hand over Jeanette’s eyes, and Jeanette slept.
She awoke in her bed with Ichabod beside her, and just as the nurse had warned her, she remembered everything.