In Aveny’s dream, a woman studied her with furrowed brow. Her hair was long and dark, wafting around her luminescent face like an ebony wind storm. Her skin was the color of fresh cream; her eyes like glimmering orbs. She muttered something and her words poured pain over Aveny’s body – more acute than anything she’d ever felt before.
Then she was gone, swallowed up by the blackness.
In Aveny’s next dream, demons scurried over her like raptors on a corpse. They grabbed hold, trying to rend her in two. Pain exploded in cataclysmic bursts with every touch. She tried to scream for help, but no sound came. There was no air here.
Suddenly, they only hoisted her into the air, an offering to some archaic God. “They’re going to eat me,” she thought, almost indifferently, before sliding back into oblivion.
In Aveny’s next dream, she carefully worked her paintbrush into each crevasse of the shiplap siding. The house was distinctly two colors now – brilliant blue and the old slightly mossy grey. She loved blue. It reminded her of the sea.
Nearby, Brand ran a roller over the vertical planks. He smiled at her and her heart soared.
Then there was nothing but bars. Framed in on all sides, Aveny couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t wake.
She’d had dreams like this before, nightmares where she tried in futility to escape, trapped within the solitary confinement of her own slumber. If she did successfully rouse herself, she only emerged into a new layer of the same imagined reality.
Then Brand was there and Aveny’s heart filled with hope. But he’d brought Brecken, Luca and Tali. They stared down at her, horrified at what she’d become – a caged sideshow attraction.
Breken and Tali started to cry. She wanted both to hide and to comfort them, but the cage bars remained firm and immobile. Luca stared at her, wide eyed and afraid. Brand’s face was baked into steely indifference. He took Tali’s hand and withdrew into the darkness. Blinking, the boys followed him into the night.
Aveny’s heart cleaved and she cried after them. She strained against the bars, willing to slice herself into slabs if only it would grant her freedom to follow them.
In her next dream, the cage had changed. Its metallic frame glowed in a strange criss-crossing pattern, reflecting the starry sky of industrial lights glowing just beyond. Aveny blinked as she gazed through them, willing her vision to focus. Walls came into being, followed by a slightly open door.
She was in a room, then. It was dark out, aside for the colorful lights beeping and blinking on machines all around her. She wondered what kind of Kevorkian horror would emerge to torment her next.
Aveny could breathe now, but barely. Each shallow inhale was excruciating. She attempted to lift herself but was cut short by physics and a blinding jet of molten pain. Panting, she looked down and discovered her seal skin body – or at least part of it. Only one flipper was visible outside a large swath of white. Aveny whimpered in fear and confusion.
The door opened and a woman stepped through – a coffee cup in one hand and a stack of papers in the other. Her eyes studied the documents as she walked. Aveny thought, for a moment, that it was the woman from her dream. But no, her rouge-hued hair was coiled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck and a pair of thin spectacles perched on the crown of her graceful nose.
They locked eyes and Aveny stopped breathing, cornered, afraid. But the woman was neither startled nor frightened. She smiled. Carefully, she set down her items, walked over and squatted gingerly by Aveny’s cage.
Despite the woman’s amicable expression, a surge of fear welled in Aveny’s chest. She’d been seen – seen and captured. Adrenaline filled her body and she writhed away, desperate to escape.
The woman didn’t try to stop her. The pain did.
The woman made low, soothing sounds like Aveny used to make for her kids when they woke in the night, frightened by some fleeting phantom. Aveny studied the woman’s visage carefully, searching her face for signs of malice. She detected none.
The woman slid something through the cage and Aveny craned her neck to see, sniffing involuntarily. A small fish. Her stomach rumbled in response, but she was immediately overcome by a wave of crippling nausea. Her head collapsed to the floor as the room spun off its axis.
There were footsteps and the sound of a door shutting. Aveny was alone.
She cried herself back to sleep, hoping against all hope that she would wake to find this strange new reality nothing but another nightmare.