The blobby stick of rushes dipped in beeswax I called a candle, melted faster than I would have liked in the darkness. But despite its rapid journey to its own impending doom, the flames fluttered frantically like wings desperate to detach from their wicked wick, descend to the heavens and fly far away to a land where they could brighten lives forever. Three long sighs and a toss and a turn later, the candle snuffed out alongside my consciousness.
Have you ever felt sleep? I mean, really felt it when it’s deep and dark and numb and empty like a blanket of shadow, the closest life to death? Have you ever been so asleep you couldn’t hear or feel anything actually going on around you?
I haven’t. I wish I could say I had. That’s not what sleep is to me. I feel it as just another realm, another room but the room is my mind and I’m trapped. Even though there is a door to reality, I can’t pinpoint it or move my hands to pry it open. I’m stuck in a nightmare: a horrifying, terrifying, sickening train of thought that drags me down and doesn’t let me breathe. I scream and writhe with panic but no one can hear me or see me because I’m coated in the curse that is unconsciousness.
I’m my worst when I’m asleep. Someone told me once, and I can’t remember who, that dreams are windows to the soul and we act out what we desire. If that’s true, then I deserved worse than I had coming to me so I hope not. I prefer to think of nightmares as uninvited spirits infiltrating the mind and trying to teach me gruesome lessons I’d prefer they didn’t.
Should I tell you what I did last night? It wasn’t real. When I do things in a dream, they don’t count in real life. They have nothing to do with who I really am, it’s just awful dread in an awful place. It was just a dream. It was just pretend.
I hurt someone. I didn’t do it on purpose, not really. I broke someone’s heart. I tore it out and ripped it up and left them crying and bleeding to death. I took a rock in my right hand and just… shattered it. Can you forgive me for a thing like that?
I don’t know who he was. He wasn’t real, after all, he was an imaginary person.
In my dream, he was good to me and I didn’t hate him. Part of me glowed with an imaginary warmth when his arm slid around my shoulders, an unexplained, very sudden affection for a person I didn’t really know. The way he smiled and stared at me was validating. Who doesn’t need or enjoy validation? I wasn’t as completely devoted to him as he was to me. How could I be? He wasn’t real. Even my affection was imaginary. I couldn’t love an imaginary person. Not really.
His validation wasn’t enough for me. I sought out something more. Far I fled, in just a dream. I hiked the mountain, ran the hills to the other side of the moors. Vibrant, grassy fields stretched as vast as my eye could see and I should have glided across them but I couldn’t glide quite. Each step was a crack and a crunch, one more step, one more punch, one more bone breaking. I killed him. The grass, I thought damp with dew was watered with his bright, young blood. I broke his heart, smashed it into pieces. Can you forgive me for a thing like that? Even if it was a dream? Can you?
I woke in tears, mourning the imaginary heart I’d destroyed, grieving the loss of a figment of my imagination that I’d never see again. Except I would see him still, every time I saw a drop of blood and every time I inspected my hands, wondering what I was capable of. The imaginary ghost of an imaginary person would haunt me, forever, not really alive but never forgotten.
Deborah Rose Green is Contributing Editor for Hey Young Writer! She is also the author of Dragon Pearls (2019) and Crown My Heart (2020). You can follow her on Instagram at @authordeborahrose or visit her website, deborahrosegreen.co.uk!