Everybody loves a good tragedy! Wrote this one last year sometime while on a short-story kick. Not a zombie story, but one of my favorites anyway. Enjoy!
I started having these dreams when I was sixteen. At first, it was just bits and pieces; little fragments of scenes and events that I did not understand at the time. I would fall asleep, and soon I would dream about being in this strange medieval world that seemed like it was from one of Tolkien’s books. I would dream that I was going to buy bread from the market, or maybe that I was hunting in the woods or something. It was never a complete scene, just little parts of it. I remember dreaming on one occasion that I had just fashioned a bow of the wood from the nearby forest, and I was so proud of it. I was still proud in the morning, when I woke up.
Then, around my eighteenth birthday, things in my life fell apart. My dad died doing what he loved-- drinking while on duty. Some officer of the law he was. My mom decided I was old enough to be on my own, and ditched the house for months at a time to find a new boyfriend or something. I had never had much of a love life, but the one girl I liked decided we did not have enough in common before she even got to know me. I lost my job because depression was keeping me from cooking the food fast enough in the kitchen, and without the job I could no longer afford the insurance on my car. In just a few months, life suddenly seemed like a nightmare, and those dreams looked pretty good in comparison. So, as my own little outlet, I began to focus on them. I tried to see how much I could control in these dreams. I knew there was something strange with them since it was the only thing I had dreamed in two years, but I did not understand them.
The more I focused on the dreams, the more vivid they became. They were no longer brief moments from a daily event, but rather the entire event. Slowly, I began to gain the ability to make conscious decisions in the dreams. It was an amazing escape from reality, and I treated it like a game. I could hunt, I could smith, I could fletch, I could talk to people around town, I could do so many different things that it truly felt like the best video game ever made. I began to enjoy my time there more than in reality.
After I turned nineteen, the event that changed my life took place. I went to sleep one night, and when I found myself in my dream world, I was in the market, surrounded by the morning bustle. I inherently knew that I was there to restock the cellar on meat and bread, so I moved towards the food vendors. I began to hear raised voices coming from down the street, and glanced in that direction. I saw the slave traders’ post, and paused a moment. I had seen it many times before, but now I knew how to live vicariously in this dream. I patted the pouch on my belt, feeling the weight of the coin within it. A grin took my lips as I caught myself wondering how much a slave would cost.
I turned and moved down the cobblestone road toward the slavers, and saw where the raised voices were coming from. A man in a red cloak was hollering at one of the slave traders. The man was carrying a sword at his side, and wore a wide-brimmed black hat on his head. Pale skin and dark hair could be noticed, but other than that, the only detail that I could see was that his clothing was expensive, and he was probably either nobility or just plain rich. The slaver was a large man, much bigger than I was, who wore a black skullcap and tight-fit blue sleeveless coat that covered most of his other features. Again, expensive clothing, although that was not surprising for a slaver.
However, I only took note of them for a moment, as my attention was quickly stolen away. Behind them, bound at the ankles, wrists, and neck was a scarcely-covered woman hanging her head. She had long blonde hair that looked clean and well-kempt, and lush pink skin that appeared as soft as it did smooth. I could see her pale blue eyes flicker to me before for a moment, and the sadness and pain behind them seemed to fade slightly. Her back straightened a bit as she stood up completely, and her eyes widened slightly in hope and excitement. I tried not to look at her too much, since she was barely covered in a modest fashion, wearing only a tattered white robe that hardly extended to her mid-thigh and did not quite make it over her shoulders. When I saw how fixated her attention was on me, I gave a gentle smile and forced myself to look away.
The weight of my pouch came to mind, and I looked back to the woman. Moving to the slaver who was still involved in the altercation, I looked up at him and politely waited to be spoken to. Once he noticed me, he completely shifted attention away from the man who had been creating a scene and smiled at me. “Good day,” he said, folding his arms. “Are you interested in purchasing one of my fine young ladies today?”
I looked to the blonde woman, and for the first time noticed that there were other women on other posts as well. I was unsure of how to respond, but I supposed that my answer should be as straightforward as the question. “Yeah, I think so,” I replied.
“Ah, good. Have any of these young vixens caught your eye, my friend?”
“Her,” I said, nodding to the woman. “What’s her story?”
“Miss Madeline is my newest ware,” he said with a smile, looking over to her. “She understands the intricacies of servitude, and is eager to please without excessive discipline. She is twenty years of age, and has remained a virgin for--”
“You’re lying,” I said, folding my arms and looking at him with a sigh. “If she were a virgin, you wouldn’t have dressed her like that. You’re not trying to market a virgin, you’re trying to market a prostitute. I’m sure you’re only saying she’s a virgin so you can charge more. What’s your price?”
The slaver narrowed his eyes. Feeling put in place, he replied, “I am asking five hundred gold.”
“I’ll pay four hundred upfront. It’s right here.” I patted my pouch, and looked back to the woman. It was customary for buyers to purchase a slave with half of the purchase made, and the other half delivered after a certain period of time determined by a contractual agreement. I was not interested in that.
“You have a deal,” he said. He opened his palm, and I placed the four large coins that were in my pouch into his hands. He moved with me over to the post, pulled one of the many keys from his ring, and turned the lock that lashed her bindings to the post. He handed me the key, the lock, and the end of the rope that she was tied with, and sent me on my way.
As I took the rope and walked back into the streets, I felt an amazing feeling of excitement wash over me. I looked to the woman, who was peering at me timidly through blond bangs, and smiled. To my surprise, she smiled back.
“Madeline, right?” I asked. She just nodded. “I’m Eric. It’s, eh, good to meet you.” I saw her look away, still smiling a bit. I tried to understand why she was smiling, and a few things came to mind. Maybe she knew I was not going to hurt her, and her slaver had not given her that luxury. Maybe she was just happy to be with an agreeable person.
We made it back to my small home, and I opened the door for her, closing it behind us. She stopped and turned, and I quickly moved forward. “Come here,” I said gently, turning her around. I carefully unlashed the cord around her wrists, and moved down to undo the ties that kept her from running. Finally I pulled the loop of the harness-like cord over her head, tossing the whole thing to the side. She smiled widely and leaned forward to embrace me.
“Why are you so happy?” I asked. “I just bought you. I own you, like any other possession.”
She looked up to me, and in a sweet, gentle voice, she said, “Because you are so much better than the man who would have taken me.”
“All I’ve done is untie you,” I said, not understanding how I could have done anything better than anyone else yet.
“Indeed. You have not struck me, you have not screamed at me, and you have not forced me upon you against my will. And now you untie me. So you are much better than he.”
I paused a moment, and chuckled, saying, “Who said I’m not going to force you on me?”
With a grin, she replied, “After this, it may not be forcing.”
My face flushed, and I turned away. I was trying to seem like a badass, but I was awful at it. I could tell that she saw right through my act. I moved into the quaint little kitchen to start some tea, and asked over my shoulder, “This other man-- the guy you said would’ve had you-- was that the other guy there? The one in the red cloak?”
“Yes,” she replied with a sigh. “That is Leroy. He is a very temperamental man… I was once his servant, until I escaped and gave myself to a slaver.”
“Why would you do that?”
“He was looking for me. There was no one else around that could protect me. But if I belonged to a slaver, then the city guard would protect me from him. Leroy’s ownership over me was not entirely legal.”
It made some sense. Leroy probably kidnapped her or something, and so she escaped to a different slave driver in hopes of finding better conditions. It worked, since I had purchased her. I placed the kettle of water over the woodstove and let it heat, while I put the herbs into a small cloth packet. After both packets were ready, I pulled two wooden mugs from the cupboard and set them aside for when the water was done. “Well, you don’t have to worry about me abusing you or anything. But I’m going to get my money’s worth.”
She smiled softly to that, I noticed. I did not seriously think I could force her to do anything she did not want to do. I could never rape someone. I need the emotional dependency of being truly intimate, and I could not fool myself otherwise. But if she thought that I would force her, maybe she would be more accepting of the idea when the time came. As these thoughts passed through my head, I sighed and pushed them away. That was not at all like me. That was wrong, and once I realized how I was thinking of her, I felt the guilt slap me across the face. No, she was there to be a companion. I decided that however far it went would be her choice. Theoretically, anyway.
Soon, the water was boiling and I poured us both cups of hot homemade tea. We sat at the table and drank it, exchanging brief stories and things about ourselves. I found it interesting that some of my stories were from real life, things that had actually happened to me, but most of them had taken place in these dreams. There truly was more happening there than in the real world.
Sometime after the sun set, she and I stood from the table to prepare for bed. I opened the bedroom door and looked back at her as she made her way in. We had begun to prepare for sleep when I got up to lock the house, and Madeline followed. At that time, I heard a knock at my door. I sighed gently, and moved to the door to open it, Madeline at my side. As the wooden door creaked open, I heard Madeline shriek. I saw before me the man in the red cloak, wearing his wide-brimmed hat. Just as I was about to ask what the hell he was doing at my door, I felt a knot jerk together in my gut, and my breath got short. My vision hazed slightly, and I heard a strange noise. As my muscles tensed, I looked down to see a shocking, horrifying sight. There was a sword buried in my gut.
As I watched the blade disappear into me, I heard the sound of it tearing through me and wondered if I was dying. Strangely, the first thing I felt was the cross guard of the sword pressing against my abs. It was cold. I gasped for breath, and looked up to see his deep, hate-filled brown eyes and stoic grimace. I felt his other hand secure on my shoulder, and with a shove, he hurled me from his blade and onto the wooden floor of my home.
The pain set in as soon as the blade was free. I slammed to the ground and curled up, gasping, coughing, crying. I tried to scream, but found no air. All I could do was tremble. Tremble, and bleed to death. I vaguely heard Madeline screaming. I saw him smash the hilt of his sword into her head, and she went limp. He proceeded to drag her into the street, but was forced to drop her when the night watch set upon him. The last thing I saw was her body hit the floor, as he raised his bloody sword to fight the two approaching officers. Then, my sight went black.
Slowly, the world came back to me. I saw bright lights, smelled a sterile environment. It was not my comfortable hut, I could tell. I felt the cold touch of metal on my forearm, and jerked away. The touch of cold steel immediately reminded me of the icy hilt of the blade that had run me through. I looked down to see what had touched me. It was a railing. A railing to a hospital bed. I was wearing a green gown, tucked into the white sheets, with an IV in my arm.
My guts were on fire. I winced as I tried to lift my head to look around, causing a shooting pain through my abdomen. This was all real. Rapidly, I tried to sort things through. I was stabbed in my dream, and then I was in a hospital bed. Had someone stabbed me in real life?
Soon, a doctor came in, looking at a file of my information. He proceeded to explain to me that I had been impaled by a wide, flat blade, like a sword or something similar. He told me I had been rushed there for immediate surgery and that the police were still investigating. When I asked, he informed me that a neighbor had heard he holler in pain and entered my home to find me bleeding to death in my bed.
At this point, I was certain. It made no sense, and yet it was the only logical explanation in my mind. The dreams I had been having for so long seemed so real because they were real. Maybe they were something like a parallel universe, or another dimension. Maybe it was some sci-fi answer that I could never get my head around. The only other option was that I was completely nuts, the dreams were just dreams, and I got spontaneously run through with a sword during the night.
If the dreams were real, than Madeline was in serious danger. My heart broke when I thought about what that bastard was probably doing to her while I was awake. I lied and told the doctor that I was in unbearable pain, hoping he would medicate me enough for me to fall asleep. My ploy worked.
I woke up on the floor of my home. But I found that I was in no better condition here than I was in the real world. I was unable to move without excruciating pain. I began to cry, knowing that there was nothing I could do in either my dreams or my reality to help Madeline.
And so, time passed. I was either lying in the hospital bed, or lying on the floor in a pool of dried blood, for a few weeks of recovery. But eventually, I recovered enough to continue living. The time spend in recovery gave me plenty of opportunities to reflect on what had happened. I had a deep, special hatred for this Leroy, not just for what he had done to me, but for what he had done and was probably doing again to Madeline. So, when I could, I finally stood up, pulling myself from the bloody wooden floor. I wandered out the door, and into the street, where I found the corpses of two guards-- the night watch that had confronted Leroy just before I passed out. I stooped down and picked up one of their swords. When I found Leroy, I would either kill him with it, or die trying.
I only had one lead to find him: the slaver that sold me Madeline. Maybe Leroy had purchased or sold with him before, in which case the slaver would have all of Leroy’s information. But when I went to the slaver, he said he had never really done business with him before. So, with nothing but a cold trail and a useless sword, I returned home and began to lose hope.
I awoke the next morning, sleeping in my bed at home. I finally had a job interview that day, the first opportunity to quit my standard fast food job. It was within walking distance, so I tried to forget about the events of the night and put on my suit and tie, and went to the interview. It was for an office job, and felt fortunate in that I had an interview with the owner of the company.
I remember entering the building and sitting in the waiting room like I had been instructed. The receptionist came out and smiled, saying, “Mr. Wallace will see you now.” I stood and entered the room to see the man on the phone, his back facing me.
After a moment, he hung up and said, “Sorry, Eric, but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to reschedule your interview. Can you come in same time tomorrow? A meeting just came up.”
I smiled and nodded, replying, “No problem, Mr. Wallace. I know you’re busy. Thanks for the time.”
He turned to shake my hand, and I hesitated. I hesitated because I recognized him. As I placed my hand in his, I was unable to fake a smile. I looked over to his desk to see his nameplate. It read “Leroy T. Wallace” in bold script. As I looked back up to him, I saw his smile was completely gone.
I got the hell out of that place in a hurry. Suddenly I was afraid that the people in my dreams were real people, and that we were actually interacting with one another. If that was the case, then Madeline was not just a girl in the dream. She was a woman in reality as well. And if she got hurt or killed in the dream… Well, I knew what would happen from experience.
I went home and thought about it all. It was a lot to take in. But I decided that, for my own sake and for my own peace of mind, I would confront Leroy at the interview the next day. He probably had no idea how his actions affected other people in his dreams, and he was probably just as freaked out at seeing me as I was at seeing him. I did not sleep much that night, but instead stayed up and worked out everything I would say to him, I had it completely planned, almost scripted, know what to do and say for his every reaction. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened.
When I arrived at the office, I was stopped just inside the entrance by the receptionist who said, “I’m sorry, but Mr. Wallace has taken the day off today. But he left this note for you.”
As she handed me the envelope, I looked up to her and asked, “Do you have any idea why he took the day off? I was supposed to be interviewed yesterday, but he told me to come in today.”
Sadness captured the woman’s eyes. “His secretary… She committed suicide early this morning. She woke up, dressed for work, and shot herself. Mr. Wallace and she were close and he is deeply affected by it.”
I nodded with a sigh, hanging my head as I left. It was a absolute shame to hear of such horrible things, and it pained me to know that people would take their own life because of worldly problems. I tore open the envelope which was politely addressed to me and pulled the letter from within. I was surprised when I saw that the letter was actually addressed to Leroy.
I can’t do this anymore. No one believes me. This isn’t your sick little game. This is my life, too. This was his life, and you took it away. Just because you think you own me in this world doesn’t mean you have a right to own me in that one. I won’t serve you anymore, ever again. If you killed Eric, then you’ve killed me too. Now he and I can be together. I’m not your slave or your secretary anymore. Now, I can sleep forever and live in a better place than this. I hope you burn in hell, and Eric and I will watch and laugh.
Horror, shock, anger. I could not contain it all. I read it over a few times, before finally, it snapped loose within me, and I screamed out in the middle of the street. It was her. It was Madeline, and she killed herself because she thought Leroy had killed me.
I folded the note and put it in my suit coat. I returned to my home, and pulled from my closet the gun my dad left behind from his service, a small black revolver. In the kitchen, I used the phone book to look up Leroy’s address. And just after nightfall, I started the walk there.
He was sitting in his living room, crying. I did not care. I kicked open the door, and he leapt to his feet. I approached him rapidly, and he began to protest. Without a second thought, I fired a shot into his left thigh. He screamed and collapsed to the ground. Standing over him, I placed my foot on the bullet wound in his leg, and grabbed a handful of his hair, forcing him to look at me. “You are going to go to sleep, and you are going to go to my home in the town. If you do not, I will blow your head off right here.”
Leroy belted out acknowledgements, and I released him. Then, with a heave, I slammed the revolver into the back of his head, knocking him out cold. I thought I would give him a little time to get to my home, so I took a seat on the couch to mull things over. I could not help but smile. I regretted nothing. I was avenging a woman who deserved better than that scumbag. So, ready to go back to sleep, I placed the revolver against my temple, and pulled the trigger.
Suddenly, I opened my eyes, and I was standing in my living room again, in my cozy little hut. The sword was still in my hand. In the streets, I could hear whimpering. I could hear groaning. Rushing out, I saw Leroy clawing his way toward my house. His leg was bleeding.
“Please don’t kill me,” he pleaded between groans.
“I wouldn’t kill you in that reality,” I said, tightening my grip on my sword. “If I did, you would sleep forever. You would always be in this world, and I can’t have that.” He looked up at me and whimpered as I added, “No, instead I’ll kill you in this world, removing you from both.”
His eyes widened. I took a deep breath, and thought of Madeline. Then, with a holler, I brought the sword over him, driving the tip downward into his shoulder, running through his body into his hips. I knew I had completely run through a lung and probably a number of other important things, and I was pleased that he did not die quickly. Yanking the sword from his flesh, I watched him slump to the side, and waited a moment. Recalling that modern-day surgery had saved my life, I made certain that he could receive no such generosity from fate by removing his head.
Leaving him in pieces on the street, I tossed the blade aside, and followed the trail of blood he had left from the bullet wound in his thigh. It led down the street a few blocks into a large manor. I shoved open the door and stepped in. There, Madeline was standing where she had been in this world when she killed herself-- roped to the foot of the bed. She had been beaten, and was naked, but I noticed the mark on her temple first. A round mark, with what looked like a burn around it. Tears appeared in her eyes as I approached and knelt down to her, gently touching the mark. She reached up with her frail hand and touched my temple, where the same mark was. The only proof that we were now trapped in this world was the scars of our suicides.
As I looked into her eyes, tears appeared in mind as well. I untied the rope and kissed her soft lips, pulling a few inches away to say “Now I can sleep forever…”
She whispered, “And live in a place better than that.”