Lynn was a sweaty mess when she was jolted out of bed, gasping. Her hazel eyes swept the room, only closing when realization washed over her like a warm breeze of summer in a cold night. Placing a hand over her pounding heart, she took deep breaths and tried to regain her composure.
The rustling of sheets brought a sense of calm to her, silencing the dark voices and dragging them back to the memory trunk they had sneaked out from.
"Nightmare?" mumbled a sleepy voice before a warm arm fell over her legs.
She glanced at his shadowy face and met his ocean-blue eyes. "A memory."
A light turned on, spreading yellow tears across the darkness.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
His husky voice was laced with concern, and she smiled before shaking her head. "Later, maybe. Go back to sleeping, Andrew."
He searched her face and took her hand in his bigger one. "Are you going out?" Her answer was a simple nod, to which he responded with a squeeze before lying down again. "Be careful."
As the light faded into darkness, Lynn stood and changed into sport clothes. A feeling was breathing to her muscles, demanding to begin moving until her nightmares disappeared into an ever-watchful background. But she had grown used to it; just as she had accepted that her scars would never fully heal. Faces and memories had been haunting her ever since she escaped, and they would keep doing so until her very last breath.
Lynn walked out of the room quietly, trying not to wake him up and wishing she could fall asleep so easily. The first rays of the sun announcing the ushered sunrise as they glided in through the window to trace her tired expression, as if the darkness in her mind would stop weighing so much by the mere remembrance of the warmth of light.
Stepping into the bathroom, she cracked her neck and splashed cold water over her face. Her hair stood on end suddenly, warning her of another twist of her mind. Lynn looked into the mirror as she straightened, and her heart gave a painful thud.
Dana was standing behind her, staring at her with empty eyes.
While the feeling of running grew, Lynn stood her ground and turned to face the ghost her mind had brought like so many times before. Her face was drained of colour, void of any expression; her body was still like a statue, soaked to the bone.
Lynn sighed and turned away, picking up a towel to dry her own face. She was used to seeing her friends, dead yet so alive in her mind. Their random appearances kept startling her, but most of the times, they would vanish in the blink of an eye.
Most of the times.
A cold shiver ran up her spine, bringing a long-forgotten feeling to her healing heart. Because the memory didn't fade; it blinked, lifted a foot and slowly began waddling out of the bathroom. Her eyes cast down to trace the wet trail it was leaving on the white floor, before Lynn lifted her gaze.
Dana had stopped in the long shadows of the hallway, body slightly turned towards her — waiting. With hesitant steps, Lynn followed her. Something in the air seemed to change as her feet walked down creaking stairs and long corridors.
Eyes were watching her; she could feel their stare on the back of her head, like a breathing evil crawling inside the walls. Her stomach churned at the familiar sensation slithering under her skin, and her attention was suddenly diverted.
Lynn stopped in her tracks, shaking her head. The ghost had finally returned to the dark trunk in her mind, leaving her alone with her thoughts. The feeling of being watched, however, seemed to become more intense with each passing second. She spun around, finally realizing her surroundings had shifted — she was no longer home.
She was at the lake house, back in a nightmare that wouldn't cease to exist.
A scream tore from her when the floor beneath her feet cracked open, like the mouth of a monster. She was swallowed by it, sinking into the deepest of darkness. But she was not alone anymore; the monster had been waiting for her, eager to claim her soul and get its revenge.
Her scream ushered many people inside the white room. Andrew watched from the other side of the thick glass as the nurses rushed towards the broken woman, who was battling against a monster they could not see — one he had met; one that had scarred her mind more than it had any of them.
"Will she ever recover?" he asked out-loud, forcing himself to tear his eyes from the heart-breaking sight.
A man in his late thirties let out a heavy sigh. "With time and the proper treatment, perhaps. Nothing is guaranteed, I'm afraid."
Andrew gave a curt nod and turned to face the room again. A false sense of relief flooded him when he found her asleep again, tucked in bed like her world wasn't about to collapse.
"You may go in now, Andrew. She's always calmer when you visit her," the man asserted. "Perhaps, you will be able to help her more than we can."
Andrew pulled a face. "That's because I understand."
"That's more than what any of the doctors here can do. It's what she needs to start healing."
"What do I do?" There was evident pain in his voice, a palpable desperation mingled with the unspoken promise to do everything and more.
"Her mind is struggling; whatever happened to her affected her perception of reality, and she rarely steps out of her illusion." He gave Andrew a sad look. "Her mind has created a reality in which she's safe, but that in itself is a contradiction — as you can see."
Sighing, Andrew ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "I've been trying to bring her out for... years, I suppose."
He started walking towards the door, determined to keep doing that — it was the least he could do for her.
"It's not in her files. For how long has Lynn been like this?"
Andrew paused and shook his head. "I don't know." With one last glance, he stepped out and closed the door.
After all, time worked differently there.
And this is the end!
Thank you to all of you who have read, followed and supported this story and me. This was my first horror story, and I hope you have enjoyed the ride and much as I have.
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*ONC 2020 SHORT LIST* Something evil dwells in the black lake by the misty woods, something that will claim the souls of those who dare to dive into its realm. Lynn Morris is ready to enjoy some well-deserved holidays in the company of her closest...