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    I woke up to the stale smell of the bus seat, it reeked of tobacco and bodily fluids. Groggy, I looked out the windows to see where I was. Well, to see anything for that matter. But there was nothing. Just white. White? I started to frantically look around, only to see a toothless lady giving me her best cheshire smile, four inches from my face. She smelled of printing ink and wore a tight fit apron. Only an apron, how curious. What is wrong with this woman? How many drugs is she on? Her presence began to make me nauseous and all I wanted was for her to go away, at least to a different seat. My hands began to clam up as I clenched my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut. When I released my eyes of their own corset, the lady was floating, and her gums formed into blades as her eyes became hollow. She opened her mouth and influenced by many horror movies, I expected a gut wrenching shriek, but only heard her vocal chords imitate an old, creaky staircase. I could even hear feet ascending each stair. Left. Right. Left. Right.

    I woke up in a puddle of my own sweat, my baby blue sheets a now sopping, navy blue mess. This was how it was every day. Every day I had the same dream of the odd woman. Everyday I woke up frantic and sweating, and everyday, I had to care for Mum. Knowing that she must have been hungry, I quickly showered then rushed to make breakfast. She only likes toast, no butter or jam or anything on it, just toast, cut into ten equal rectangles. I brought it to her on her favorite Conway Twitty china plate. It’s peculiar, she doesn’t even like Conway Twitty, or music at all for that matter, but in all fairness, many things were strange about Mum. She had all these quirks that assimilated into ways of appeasing her infinite superstitions and paranoia. As I approached her room, I knocked on her door nine times. The only way I am allowed to knock on her door. She began to whistle, signaling me to come in. Her room was brown. Everything. The tv set, the sheets, ceiling, duvet, drapes, everything. Mum smiled at me from her bed that was lumpy from being stuffed with sprigs of eucalyptus. She believed it warded off the “evil ones” as she once put it. Clearly longing for her toast, I handed it to her and backed away, standing behind the blue line of painter’s tape she’d stuck on her floor. She doesn’t like me too close when she is eating.

    Out of nowhere, Mum began to sob hysterically, quickly I sat on the edge of her bed and held her hand. This seemed to calm her down for a moment, she stroked my hand with her thumb and looked up into my eyes, as if she were examining something. Then she acted in a way that I had not been expecting, she had let out a wail of pure terror. Shaking, she attempted to speak. I leaned in, Mum hadn’t spoken in three years. I do not know why she became mute, but she did.  All my mother seemed able to do was croak, I hushed her and brought her hands to my lips to plant a kiss. Her hands smelled of rubber cement and a little bit of something else, lilac maybe. She freed her fragile hands from my loose grasp and gripped the sides of my head. Mum began to sway her arms, moving my head back and forth rhythmically. I thought she’d been imagining a song playing in her head, at least something semi-reasonable, but she began chanting beneath her breath. After her chant, she grabbed a scalpel from her nightstand and gripped my arm. I began to panic as she brought the small blade to my freckled skin. I didn’t move though, I was curious as to what she wanted to do. She proceeded to cut a symbol into my skin, kissed it, then whispered “For protection, my child.” I’ve never seen the symbol before, it seemed old. Why would it protect me? What do I need protection from?

    “Mother. Protection from what? Where did you get the scalpel? Go to bed, you aren’t right today, less so than usual.” I rambled on attempting to convince myself, more so than my mother, that there was nothing to fear.

    “They are coming Zerxes, they are coming.”

    At this i began to heave. Who was coming? What did they want? My name is not Zerxes? Mum always had strange outbursts, but nothing like this.

    “I can only protect you so long, my child.”

    I decided my mother’s condition was simply worsening. I called the doctor to schedule a time he can visit, then put some antiseptic and bacitracin on my new protection cut. Subsequently, I went to the store to get myself some ibuprofen for my headache, and of course some more bread for Mum’s morning toast. I walked to the store, for it was just a mile away. The store’s sign that read “Welcome!” was faded and quickly rusting. I walked inside quickly, wanting to get home to Mum before lunch time.

    Walking down aisle two, I felt a small hand grip my shoulder. I turned to see a young girl whom possessed a type of inhumane youth and beauty, accompanied by an aura of authority. “Zerxes, my beloved, you have gotten handsome.” I gasped at her statement.

    “But. But, my name is not Zer-”, I was cut off by a swift blow to the face from the young girl, followed by an aggressive darkness.

    I woke up to the smell of the bus seat, it reeked of tobacco and bodily fluids. I looked out the window to see where I was. My home. Relieved, I stepped away from my seat and into the aisle. Something didn’t feel right, I don’t remember getting on a bus. Nevertheless, once I reached the front, I turned to thank the driver, except, there wasn’t a driver. I shrugged it off, perhaps he went on break or something. I walked up to my house, the gutter was falling and the mailbox was rusted, I thought, I should probably fix those soon. I opened the door slowly and saw something I hadn’t expected. A ten story spiral staircase. In the living room of our ranch style home. Out of curiousity, I moved up the stairs, sluggishly. Each step I took let out a chorus of creaks from the aging stairs. Left. Right. Left. Right. After what seemed like years, I reached the top, only to see the hallway to Mum’s room. The hallway that used to be at ground level. I would have liked to find some reasonable explanation, but there was not a single one.

    I knocked on Mum’s door, nine times, and heard a faint whistle. Opening the rotting door, I saw white. Lots of it. The room was no longer brown. I looked up and saw Mum’s empty bed and raced to it. Now, up close, the bed didn’t seem so empty. There was a group of girls laying upon it. A toothless girl. A girl who only wore an apron with no other garments. A girl whose scent of ink pierced my nose. A blind girl, with grey, seemingly empty eyes. A floating girl. And lastly, a girl with blades for teeth. Six girls. In synchronization, they said. “You didn’t think I wouldn’t find you, did you Zerxes? Come. Time to return home.” The girls combined, intertwined, and melted together. All forming one girl. A specific one perhaps, but not how I’d expect. I expected them whilst in their combination to morph into the woman I see when I sleep. Instead, I saw the beautiful, young girl from the supermarket. She spoke, “Come Zerxes, it’s time you see me somewhere other than a nightmare, let’s go to a dream.”


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