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Blurred Borders

by Brin Manoogian-O’Dell

Was it worth it? The nightmares hadn’t shown themselves recently, and work was becoming more intolerable, if that was possible. He supposed one tune-out wouldn’t hurt in this joke of a meeting, another sermon-on-high from the supervisor. A day for work, as unpleasant as it was, could come tomorrow. It was a shelter from the dreams, one not unlike a prison cell, but better than none at all.

Deciding it was indeed worth it, Tim ignored the boss, trying to focus on some of the more pleasant dreams, to reflect them into waking perception. Where were the beauties of last night? His life had begun to blend in this manner, dreams substituted for reality, immersion in the excruciatingly dull, but safe, routine of work when dreams turned against him.

The images did not come so easily this time. He shut his eyes, trying to slip into the memory of his dreams. It was no use. His mind did not spring to the images. Instead, it threatened to sink into sleep. Tim’s eyes opened just as his head lolled.

Tim reached for his collar, making the motions of loosening it again, despite the fact that it was loosened to its maximum extent. His tie was hanging half-way off his neck. Despite his efforts, his eyelids slid shut once more, and he fell into sleep.

* * *

An anarchic mass of movement was the scene that met his eyes: Modern dance is a sight to behold, especially for the uninitiated. People move in all directions, slow or fast, often for little apparent reason.

To this tumultuous sea of human movement he added his own movement. He slid toward the door, a door that was infrequently visible across the dance floor, but as he moved deeper into the throng of dancers filling the room, their motions gained purpose.

They glided toward him, their eyes blank. He was soon at the center of a circle of them. Moving erratically in any other direction, but steadily toward him, the ring closed continually tighter. He struggled to escape the dancers, but they pressed closer, nearly asphyxiating him, trapping him like an insect in amber. He felt futility in his efforts, but struggled still, flailing his arms above the crowd.

His thoughts raced faster, blurring into tighter circuits, as if they, too, were being constricted. The only thought that stood out amid them was of his impending end, smothered by dancers’ limbs and costumes!

Then, as suddenly as they closed in, the performers retreated, still doing their own individual, unsynchronized dances. He stopped his flailing when he realized that danger had subsided, but, almost immediately, the dancers began closing in on him again.

“Oh, not this way!” Running toward the door, he found himself unable to continue. Some force, an invisible barrier, prevented him. At the edges of the door he could see hands and feet emerge slowly from the wall. He turned his back to the invisible obstacle and saw the dancers advance toward him, a line of them stretching from one wall to the next.

Glancing back to the barrier, his cheek pressed to its smooth surface, he saw the mirror images of the dancers emerge from the wall. They too began advancing toward him. He crouched against the wall, with no exit. The dancers moved closer.

In desperation, he beat at the invisible barrier, trying to get to the door. He continued until the mirror images reached him. Turning back to the dancers as they, too, encircled him; he flattened himself against the barrier, until he felt hands grasping at him from behind. The mirror images moved through the barrier!

As the crowds pressed on him from both sides, he could just see the door between their bodies. It had opened, but beyond stood only a wall of darkness, impenetrable to his eyes as the mirror surface was to his body. This darkness was elemental, untouched, showing itself not merely as absence, but as a cancellation of the light around it.

He stared into this void, and then fell through it, through space devoid of light and air, every direction down. He tried to scream, but could not fill his lungs. He was now suffocating in earnest, as if drowning in sand.

The last he saw was his own hand reaching upward, but he didn’t really see it, in the conventional sense. His eyes were useless in the blackness. It was as if he could feel the sight of his hand above him as he fell. Then, this perception, too, was extinguished.

* * *

He awoke with a start. Sweat stained his loose collar. He glanced back and forth, but no one seemed to have noticed either his sleep or his awakening. Wait, who was that looking at him across the table? No, he was smiling, no harm done, just like a joke.

Tim returned the smile, before glancing up at the clock. Seeing that the meeting was nearly ended, he gathered his things and left. The others looked up as he left the conference room. He, in turn, took no notice of them. Instead, he grimaced at the touch of cloth around his neck. He shivered at the cold of his own fingers when he pulled off his tie and unbuttoned the collar.

As he walked, Tim thought over his nightmare. Why had it unsettled him so much? He tried for so long to keep his waking world away from the nightmares, but, it seemed that he could no longer trade freedom for security. His memories of work and dreams ran together more as he thought over this nightmare, and he shuddered again.

When he reached his cubicle, Tim was still unsure what to make of his dream, but he’d found a conclusion. He emptied his desk, jumbling his possessions haphazardly into a cardboard box. He was done with escapes in idle dreaming. He was tired of stifling refuge in work. There would be no more dreaming, and no more work, not this way.

Copyright © 2008 by Brin Manoogian-O'Dell

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