Sipping her latte, Jana shuffled around her apartment, weaving through boxes as she packed the last odds and ends of her life. Gathering oddball collections of things she returned time and time again to the garbage bag in the middle of the kitchen floor. Mouth gaping like a suffocating carp to consume the detritus of a busy life, the bag sat next to a box of miscellaneous items. Muttering as she sorted handful after handful, “Garbage, garbage, ooh! Keep…”, and on that word, something would plunk down into the box.
From time to time, she would check her phone for a message from Mel. He was due back any time, and Jana was anticipating the delicious smell of the promised Pad Thai. She stopped for a breather, looking around the apartment. Puzzled that she wasn’t making more progress, she swallowed rising frustration over the sheer amount of stuff still left to pack. She decided to change scenery and ran upstairs to the bedroom to take stock.
The picture in there was even more dismal: a dresser, bedframe, and a full length mirror kept company with clothing heaped around like colorful, less noisome versions of the cowpies she frequently dodged at work. With a deep breath of renewed resolve, she grabbed some of the bedframe pieces and dragged them back downstairs and stacked them near the front door. Grabbing one of the half-packed boxes from downstairs, she trotted back upstairs with the intent of loading the box with clothing to pad fragile items.
She walked into the bedroom, and grabbed a handful of clothing, revealing an old photo of Jana and her mother. Stopping to look at it, she sat down. Looking up, she stood up in the living room and began to pick up things and put them in the box in her hand.
Time slowed as she gazed around and verified her surroundings: She was standing downstairs in the living room, box in hand. Looking back up the stairs, she shook her head. “I must have dozed off, it’s been a long couple of days,” she thought, and walked up the stairs. Walking into the bedroom, déjá vu set in as she bent down, grabbed a handful of clothing, and saw the picture of her and her mother underneath. For some reason, it drew her like a magnet, and she sat down with it again.
Rubbing her eyes, Jana looked up again, at the walls of the nearly empty living room. Her heart began to pound as she again took in her surroundings. She stood, in the center of the living room, box in hand, right where she had started. The hair stood up on the back of her neck as she got the distinct feeling she wasn’t alone in the apartment. “That was no nap,” she thought, “something is wrong with me.” She walked over to the base of the stairs, and paused, listening. For a moment, she thought she heard a voice whispering from upstairs. Comfort, quiet, and peace it seemed to offer. She was tired; maybe she needed a nap. She could curl up for fifteen minutes on the bedroom floor, and by then Mel would be back with Pad Thai nirvana; fuel for the final push so they could finish the move today.
Jana was only half conscious of her feet walking upstairs, pulled by an invisible thread. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could hear herself screaming, pounding on a glass wall; trying to get her own attention. She was so close, a few more hours, and the move would be complete, and the first concrete step of her dream underway. Jana stopped halfway up the stairs. Looking back, she noticed something that jolted her awake: the photo of her and her mother lying on the living room floor, glass cracked and a dent in the wall where it had been thrown.
She HAD been up these stairs before, it wasn’t a dream! Turning, she ran down the stairs to the photo, tears rolling down her cheeks at the sight of the cracked glass. The precious photo was still unharmed, but she would have to re-frame it. Somehow, she knew SHE was the one who had thrown it. It was a warning; don’t go back up the stairs.
Adrenaline pumped as Jana looked back at the stairs, all senses on alert. Her instincts screamed at her; someone or someTHING was up there. Swallowing her pounding heart, she catwalked her way to the stairs, and slowly moved up them. Years of martial arts training coming to the fore, she deliberately relaxed her breathing and moved with a balanced, fluid walk back to the bedroom door. Turning the doorknob, she suddenly slammed the door in while releasing it and pivoted to the side of the opening. The door flung backward and bounced off the bedroom wall. From her vantage most of the emptied bedroom and open closet were in full view. There was nowhere to hide; no one was in there.
Feeling a bit foolish, she walked in the room, still on high alert, and checked behind the bedroom door. Anyone standing there would have been smacked by the door, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Finally, she convinced herself that no one was in the bedroom. “I must be under more stress than I realized”, she thought.
She spotted her journal lying on the floor and sat down and opened it. As she did so, her overwrought nerves caught movement out of the corner of her eye and she spun to look: nothing there but another pungent clothing cowpie. She turned back to look at the journal in her hand; blinking, she realized the last entry was today. She didn’t remember making any such entry; she began to read. Venting her frustration with not being able to make progress packing, she must have scribbled down some notes and forgotten it. She reached up to loosen her turtleneck, it was really getting a bit warm to have something so high up on her neck. She turned the page with her other hand and froze: the entry ended with “BEWARE THE WHITE VAMPIRE SNAKE”. Suddenly, she realized the turtleneck fabric under her other hand didn’t feel like fabric at all, and she remembered: it was July, she wasn’t wearing a turtleneck, she was wearing a tank top.
Panicking she reached to her throat with both hands and pulled. Whatever was there was wrapped around her neck and fastened into her skin; she felt skin pull as she struggled to free herself. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror she saw a crystalline-white ropelike thing stretching across the floor from under the nearest clothing pile, and she could see it was wrapped around her neck. As she pulled, it flattened out and tightened its grip. Finally, Jana managed to pull a loop of it to her mouth and bite it. It was resilient, like trying to open a plastic package with her teeth. She bit and tore and finally it released her.
She quickly grabbed higher up behind the head of the creature and two small white fangs flashed at her as it snapped at the air, trying to reattach itself to her. The round mouth was rimmed with smaller teeth as well, reminiscent of the leeches she had examined in freshwater biology. Jana whipped the thing in the air, banging the head on the wall and stunning it, buying her time to escape out the door and slam it shut. Scrabbling on the ledge above the door, she found a key to the old-fashioned keyhole lock, and with shaking hands managed to insert the key in the lock and turn it and pocket the key.
She bolted downstairs, feeling a warm trickle down her neck. Running to the bathroom, she looked in the medicine chest mirror: two small puncture wounds bled from her neck in the middle of a purpling circle. Turning her head, she could two other bruises on her neck with neat little scabbed pairs of wounds. Swallowing, as she leaned in to examine the wounds and a sense of calm trickled in. The damage wasn’t so bad. In fact, the wounds began to disappear as she watched. Guilt crept in; she really was a lot bigger than that little snake thing, it was just doing what it needed to do to survive. She might have really injured it; after all, she bit it, tore it, and slammed it into the wall. It relied upon her and her blood to feed it in this hostile alien world.
Pictures came into her mind; promises kept, warm fantasies of a bright future, all comfort and daydream. Jana suddenly remembered: the snake was her friend; they had an agreement. It was the keeper of her dreams and it was the reason she was even getting to move: it gave her the vision and desire to pursue her dream career. Without it, she would be nothing, still a waitress. She would never have pursued the degrees and work that had led to this move. Daydreams of fame, of working side by side with her idols swamped her vision. Sleep lowering her eyelids, Jana began to wander trance-like back upstairs. She retrieved the key from her pocket, and as she put it in the lock, an even stronger image danced in her mind’s eye; one from about three years ago, when she first came to this place to start work. Walking in her new office, she had been so happy, so anxious to fit in. With a pang, she realized she was being ungrateful for all this place had offered. Like cold water dashing over her head, she woke up. This place no longer fit her, and the idea of folding herself back up to fit and stay on was nauseating; like an old dumpy pair of pants that had fit when she was 20 pounds heavier.
Shaking her head, Jana’s vision cleared and her heart leaped into her throat. She pulled the key out of the lock and threw it across the apartment into the mess. The creature had made a critical mistake: it had failed to realize her growth, and the seduction it offered held no power anymore. It must have sensed her lost connection, because the visions shut off, and the door shook as something hit it from the other side. Suddenly, Jana realized she was in mortal danger; if it got out, it would finish her once and for all. She vaulted down the stairs, leaping over the rail and ran for the kitchen. Banging continued on the door, louder and louder. Praying the door would hold long enough for her to find her purse and keys she frantically searched the kitchen. There! By the stove – her purse, and keys and phone next to it.
She snatched her things and sprinted to the front door. She could hear the bedroom door splintering as she dashed outside locking the front door. Praying the creature wouldn’t figure out that glass was more fragile and come out a window, she ran to her car in the driveway.
As she threw the car in reverse, she could see the front door push outward. She peeled down the street, manically trying to call Mel and warn him. Just then his familiar blue Honda turned the corner and began heading toward her. Flashing her lights and honking her horn, she stopped him. Mel pulled along side her, and got out of the car. She rolled down the window and began shouting at him, “Get in! Get in here! LEAVE IT!” she screamed, as he turned back to his car, confused. The sound of exploding glass made him look down the block toward her townhouse. The look on his face said volumes and he slapped his hand on door. “Go go go go GO!”, he screamed at her. “Its after you! Don’t wait for me, RUN!”. Knowing it was her only chance for survival, Jana punched the accelerator and the little Toyota leaped down the street. Looking in her mirror she saw Mel reach into his coat and pull out some kind of weapon and square off in the direction of the townhouse.
With a gasp, Jana sat bolt upright in the darkness, heart pounding and bedsheets drenched with sweat. Panting and shaking, she turned on the light, looked at the clock and groaned: 3 am. She had to be up in an hour. After an adrenaline rush like that, there was no way she could get back to sleep.
Jana shakily put her head in her hands and replayed the dream. God, how she WISHED she was moving, and how she missed Mel. She wondered if she should text him: they had spent enough years together that he was familiar with her powerful dreams. He might even have some insight for her.
No, no, he belonged to someone else now. She had no right to intrude. Dropping her face into her hands and drawing her knees up, she sobbed quietly into her hands. She had no cavalry to rescue her, no Mel with a magic weapon to deliver her from the demon that threatened to wring her life and dreams dry. The worst part was she fed the damn thing with her own implicit agreement. This. Had. To. Stop. Her neck hurt, and rubbing it she could swear she felt a welt where it had fastened on.
“Beware the white vampire snake.” Simultaneously strangling her and sucking her dry, it placated her into believing she was making progress, as her life ground to a halt. Difficult to see until its spell is broken.
Jana shook her head, dried her tears, and climbed out of bed. Every day was a struggle. She was trying to build a dream while she drank daily from the dregs of an old stale one. She knew she was self-sabotaging, but couldn’t see how until it had already happened. And somehow the knowledge kept wearing off, so she kept repeating the patterns leaving her stuck. So she did the only thing she knew how to do: Keep getting up and move.