Emma woke in the middle of the night, heart pounding.
She sat up and turned on the light on her nightstand, taking deep breaths. Already, the nightmare was leaving her conscious mind — but the fear she'd felt remained.
There'd been a storm — wind howling, rain lashing down through the night. There'd been a barn, too. She remembered seeing it when a flash of lightning had lit up the sky.
There had been blood.
“Okay,” she said, softly, needing the sound of her own voice to break the silence, “it was just a nightmare. Come on, Emma — you're a big girl now, right? You're not going to let a little thing like a nightmare bother you.”
She sighed, took a deep breath, and reached for the light, ready to turn it out, ready to try to get back to sleep.
At first, she thought it was her imagination or the remnant of the dark dream but it wasn't. She distinctly heard the sound of ticking in her bedroom.
Her alarm clock was electric.
As she listened, the sound of the ticking grew louder — and faster. She threw the covers off and stood up, trying to determine where the sound was coming from. She moved slowly around the small room, trying to locate the source of the ticking, but it seemed to come from all around her.
Her heart raced — and the ticking pace increased, as well
It grew louder and she wanted to run away, wanted to get out of the bedroom, needed to get to safety — but she remained where she was, trapped as it grew louder and faster and —
— and suddenly stopped.
As quickly as it had started, it stopped and Emma closed her eyes, letting out a long breath, her entire body shaking.
Emma sat down across from Kelly, who was already halfway finished with her white chocolate mocha.
As she sipped her morning coffee, she refrained from thinking about what had happened the previous night. It had taken her a long time to finally get back to sleep and the only way she'd managed to do so had been to tell herself that she'd actually been caught in a dream within a dream.
When she'd first woken up, she hadn't really woken up — she'd still been in the dream. An online search showed her that her case was not unusual and that it happened to quite a few people. It had never happened to her before, however, and she definitely hoped it wouldn't happen again.
Kelly gave her a long look and said, “Don't take this the wrong way, Emma, but you really look awful. What's wrong? You're not coming down with something, are you?”
Emma shook her head.
“No. I'm fine.”
Kelly looked skeptical, but shrugged and said, “So, would you like to hear about my latest disaster?”
Emma grinned, her mood already beginning to lighten. Kelly was one of her best friends and was constantly attempting to find true love, even though it usually meant falling for the wrong people.
“I take it your blind date didn't work out?” Emma asked.
Kelly rolled her eyes. “Let's put it this way,” she said, “it's been a long time since I've been with someone who made me want to rush into the bathroom and climb out the window to avoid seeing him again.”
“What was wrong with him?”
Kelly sighed. “He was one of those losers who thinks that the reason I agreed to this blind date was so he could talk about his ex-wife all night and what a horrible person she was and how could she have left him when he was such a great guy and after ten minutes of that, I was definitely understanding why she decided to leave him.”
“Well, your night was still probably better than mine,” Emma said.
Kelly raised her eyebrows. “Go on,” she prompted.
“I just had a really bad night, that's all — and yes, I know I told you that I'm fine and I am…but last night, I definitely wasn't. I had a nightmare and I woke up from it…at least, I thought I woke up from it but it turned out I didn't because I heard a ticking sound that grew louder and faster and then it stopped and I guess I must have woken up at some point after that — but, to tell you the truth, I don't actually remember the waking up part.”
Her friend frowned.
“What did you eat before bed? Did you have Chinese food again? You know you can’t eat that after eight o' clock, Em.”
“No. It wasn't like that. It was — weird. The first nightmare definitely seemed like a nightmare; you know? It was disjointed and stuff and I only got flashes of images when I woke up — but the second nightmare felt so real. It just had me standing in my bedroom and hearing this ticking sound grow louder and faster.”
“What kind of ticking are we talking about here? Was it like a ticking time bomb or something?”
Emma thought for a moment.
“No — it was like the ticking of a clock…but not really a clock. The tone was different. It was like — I think it was like the ticking of a watch or something smaller like that.”
Kelly glanced at her wrist and said, “Speaking of watches, mine is telling me that if I don’t leave within the next thirty seconds, I'm going to be late for work again and I'll have to sit through another of the Dragon Lady's lectures. I'll see you later.”