The metal was cold against the bare flesh of her back, butt and thighs. She shivered and Goosebumps dimpled her skin.
It was amazing, she thought, how cold a person could feel even in a dream.
This had to be a dream. She never went to bed naked, unless her husband was in the mood, which was less and less frequently. Otherwise, she wore a sporty pair of blue or pink cotton pajamas – pullover top and pull-on shorts – just a few flowing bits of fabric, but enough to cover her up and keep the chill of her home’s air conditioning at bay.
So it had to be a dream. No way would she be lying nude on a metal table, under a stark white light that blinded her. Yes, a dream. Right now she was at home in bed, asleep, her husband snoring beside her.
She read in one of her magazines – Redbook? Vogue? Women’s Health? – that dreams were a product of the subconscious mind and manifestations of a person’s deepest desires and fears. She also knew that most people had as many as seven dreams at night. They lasted anywhere from a few seconds to twenty minutes, and ranged from normal to surreal.
This one was definitely surreal. She was dreaming about a dream and if that didn’t qualify as surreal, nothing did.
On a tray beside the stainless steel table on which she lay was a gleaming array of neatly arranged surgical instruments – scalpels, forceps, retractors, vein strippers, dissectors, sponges, and something that looked like an electro-cauterizer. She watched a lot of medical shows with Brad – “Grey’s Anatomy” was her favorite – and paid attention because who knew when that sort of information might come in handy.
Must be some sort of medical dream. Perhaps that explained the odor, a combination of disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, gauze, ammonia and antiseptic. Could things actually smell in a dream?
She tried to recall everything she’d read in the article about dreams. The piece theorized that images and scenarios of our involuntary nighttime visions are rooted in some sort of reality and that everyone in them are people we’ve either met or seen somewhere. But she couldn’t remember if it said anything about being able to actually feel and smell. It must have, though. Otherwise … well, it must have.
The dazzling intense light above her gave her a headache. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the pain swelled in the space behind her eyeballs and mushroomed to the top of her head. She went to lift a hand to block the unrelenting light, but discovered that her arms were strapped tight to the table. She squirmed. Found that her legs were also immobilized.
Wow, this really was some doozy of a dream. More like a nightmare. Well, she could end it by just waking up. Open her eyes and there would be Brad, hogging the covers as he always did, his arms clutching his pillow the way he used to clutch her, and breathing through his mouth so loudly he shook the bed. She might not be able to fall back asleep, but if this was what was awaiting her in dreamland, that would be fine. So, she commanded herself to open her eyes! Do it right now, right this second! Wake. Up.
She didn’t wake up. Minutes passed. How long? Five? Ten? Twenty? She was freezing now and her head felt as if it were about to explode.
“Wake up, dammit!” she yelled, startling herself with sound of her own voice.
Wait a minute. If she could hear her own voice then … oh God, this wasn’t a dream. She wasn’t sleeping. She was awake, and this was real.
But how? How had she wound up strapped naked to a metal table? How did she get here? And where was “here?”
Just as important was why. Why were her wrists and ankles strapped to the table? Why was she naked? Why was there a tray of surgical instruments nearby?
What was the last thing she remembered? She wrinkled her brow, strained to pluck fragments of something, anything, from her memory. An image bubbled up from the murkiness of her mind. Two people. A nice young couple expecting their first child. He was in IT. She was … well, pregnant and … it didn’t make any difference. They were looking for a home and she’d shown them one. A nice little two bedroom in Dadeland.
She was starting to remember now. Details floated up out of the gloom of her dream like tiny bubbles from the bottom of a pool. Her name was Sandy Bell and she was a real estate agent. The couple … his name was Troy, hers Sheila. He did something with computers and she … she was an administrative aide for a construction company. Sandy had shown them the house, which they loved. At least, Sheila did.
“The second bedroom would be perfect for the baby,” she recollected Sheila telling Troy.
Troy, however, wondered if the house was too pricey for their budget and asked what the mortgage might be. Sandy ran through all the options of down payment, and closing costs, and points, and interest and principal, and fees, and commissions. She was good with numbers. She did the calculations quickly in her head. She gave them a number and Troy smiled. The couple took one more look at the second bedroom and left. Sandy was certain they would soon be calling her to make an offer.
A few minutes later, as Sandy was organizing her briefcase, the front door squeaked open. Need to get that can of WD40 from the truck of my car, she told herself.
“Back so soon?” she called out, thinking it was Troy and Sheila.
It wasn’t. It was … Christ, her brain just wouldn’t work right. Think. Think! It was a man. A strange-looking man. He was holding something in his hand. A gun? No, that wasn’t it. It was smaller, something with … a needle. It was coming back to her now. The man had stuck a needle in her neck and everything immediately went black. Like she’d dived into a deep, dark cave. After that, she couldn’t remember a thing. Until now.
What had he done to her? And why?
Her body involuntarily shuddered when she heard a sound coming from the darkness just beyond the halo of light that bathed her. What the hell was that? A moan? Was there someone else in the room?
“Hello?” she said. “Is someone there? Can you help me? Where am I? What’s happening?”
As the words spilled from her mouth her breathing grew more rapid.
“Please help me,” she yelled. “Please …”
A door opened and someone, or something, moved into the room.
“Is someone there?” she asked again.
She lifted her head as high as she could and peered into the perfect blackness. She narrowed her eyes and focused as hard as she could, and thought maybe she could make out a shape of a man.
“Please,” she said. She tried swallowing the growing panic rising up from inside her. “Please.”
There was no answer. But clearly, someone was moving about in the room. She could hear him.
“Answer me!” she shouted. “Say something!”
As the silence continued, a band of tightness coiled around her chest. Her breathing turned ragged.
“Please, please, I have a family,” she whimpered, barely able to draw a breath. “What have I done? Who are you? Where am I?Someone clad in green hospital scrubs stepped into the nimbus of light, surprising her. A cloth cap tied at the top of the head and a surgical mask that covered the nose, mouth and chin obscured the person’s face. Only the eyes were visible. They were hard eyes, granite hard, and they were fixed with a frightful stare.