The nightmare is the same as it always is. The same as it has been for the last six months.
I start out unaware, gazing blankly at the uneven skyline.
What am I staring at? I wonder, and shake my head, because I hadn't even realized that I was staring until that very moment.
The shadowy silhouette becomes a cluster of trees set against the night sky.
Ah, I think, placing the image, happy that it is something I recognize.
But then a distant hum, getting closer by the second, assaults my ears.
I move my lips in time with the vibration, and it sounds like, "VvvvvvVvv," undulating a little.
The noise fills me with apprehension, and I can't put my finger in why. A series of explanations cross my mind. The most ridiculous ones jump to the forefront, and I dismiss them.
A traffic helicopter? Too late at night.
A UFO? Who would they bother abducting in this town?
A car? Yes.
A car engine, coming in at a speed that can't be safe.
"No," I say in the air, and my voice is filled with alarm.
Why am I so scared?
I try to brush off the tingle crawling down my spine, but I can't.
"No!" This time it is a shout, and the ripple of distress has turned to abject terror.
I close my eyes against the fear. I feel a terrible heat against my face but I refuse to obey the commands that my mind is giving me. I ignore the urges. To look. To run away. To react at all. But the heat becomes unbearable. I have to open my eyes. There are flames everywhere and as much as I try to keep my mouth shut, I can't help it. I start to scream.
I wake up, thrashing against my blankets. My mouth is open, but no actual sound is coming out.
Thank God for small mercies.
If I'd been screaming for real, my mother would be at my side, asking questions that I don't want to answer and looking to discuss feelings that I have no interest in discussing.
I'm drenched in sweat and my heart is thundering in my chest. I try to calm myself down, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, like Dr. Brown showed me. It's meant to relieve anxiety, but it just makes me feel like I'm about to give birth.
I reach over and flick on my bedside lamp. My hands are still shaking uncontrollably. I feel around for my glasses and my hand lands on the prescription slip - two milligrams of eszopiclone, a sleep aid. It's the third or fourth time that Dr. Brown has re-prescribed the medication.
The first time, I had pretended to lose the first script. The second time I had gone so far as to fill it, but then dumped all of the pills down the toilet. The thought of being trapped in the nightmare and not being able to wake up terrifies me almost as much as the dream itself. It doesn't matter that I've been told it won't happen - my subconscious just won't accept that it's an impossibility.
Maybe today I'll fill it again, I think, knowing that I won't be able to talk myself into taking the pills anyway.
I slip my glasses onto my nose and glance at the clock.
I've managed to sleep for just a little over four hours. More than average.
I slip out of bed quietly and get dressed in the dim light provided by my lamp and sneak down the hall. I glance into my mom's room as I walk past. She's sleeping soundly, one leg hanging off the edge of the bed. I pretend not to care that in spite of almost a decade of divorce, she still keeps to her own side. I move silently down the stairs and into the kitchen.
In the dark, its general cheeriness is subdued, and less bothersome to me than usual. I don't dwell on why the blue and white tiles and the sunflower tea towels with their matching pot holders irritate me so much.
I sit at the table and choke down a cheese slice and an ice cold bottle of water.
The tiniest bit of sun creeps through the window, and instantly the homey coziness of the kitchen becomes oppressive. My head pounds uncomfortably and in spite of the water, my mouth goes dry. I glance around, feeling frantic.
The pile of chocolate chip cookies - baked fresh last night - sitting on the counter beside the stove makes me cringe. The tea kettle, shaped like a flower pot with a sunflower spout and handle, fills me with an urge to throw it to the ground and watch it shatter.
Bitter, bitter, I chastise myself.
My heart is beating quickly again, more quickly than it was when I awoke from the nightmare. I won't be able to stay in the kitchen for a moment more without screaming.
I grab my backpack, bypass the lunch that my mom has left me in the fridge, and head out into the chilly dawn air.