Never In Control

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination, it is an area which we call the Twilight Zone." - Rod Serling

This was the end. There was no escape, he was cornered. Trapped. Sweat poured off his body as his fingers desperately scrabbled at the brick walls of the blind alleyway. He could hear the meticulously slow thud of heavy footsteps as the beast approached, bringing with it the dark, oppressive fog that obscured its physical form. More phantasm of fear than tangible terror, but all the more frightening because of it. Adam turned to face the creature, sharp mortar piercing his back as he pressed himself hard against the wall, hoping vainly that it would miraculously open and swallow him. Demonic, red eyes drifted lazily through the fog, seemingly disjointed from the deep pounding of the methodical footfalls, the beast's canine maw searching the dimly lit back street, its nose quivering, sensing, touching on every smell, but focused on the smell of fear. No true shape, no real form, save the burning eyes and the cruel, slavering lips, lined with razor teeth. Adam's heart was in his throat, his stomach clenched tight and his neck hairs raised when abruptly it stopped walking, its questing muzzle pointing directly at him. Slowly the mouth opened showing a faint light from within the throat, the mouth continued to open wider and wider, all the time the light growing stronger and brighter until it dazzled Adam and he raised his hands to shield his eyes.

It was all over, he was awake now with the sun streaming into his bedroom through a careless gap in the curtains. Adam sat upright in the sweat-soaked sheets, roughly arranged on the bed after his traumatic nightmare. He glanced quickly at the alarm clock, 06:29, he paused a few seconds and watched as the softly illuminated display resolved itself to 06:30 and the insistent, yet redundant, beep-beep-beep began. Eight dreams like this so far this month, Adam wondered whether he would ever defeat his nocturnal nemesis. It was always the same, falling to the ground, getting up and running away from some unseen pursuer, stumbling blindly down narrow city streets until he found himself stuck in the alleyway with no exit. Then the footsteps, the breathing, the shining eyes and the evil wolf-like teeth. The loss of sleep and the distress the dreams caused were starting to affect his work, he was irritable and short tempered, he hadn't had a project in on time in weeks and his boss kept asking if he was all right in a way that inferred he should buck up or hit the road. Then there was the tatters of his social life. But enough was enough, today he was going to try and fix the problem. One friend, that was still talking to him, had mentioned a good book store downtown that dealt with all kinds of self help and spiritual healing subjects. As quirky as all that new age mumbo jumbo was, Adam felt it was time to do something, as quite obviously the "wait and see" approach had yielded nothing.

He showered, dressed and washed down two pieces of toast with a strong cup of coffee. Then, grabbing his briefcase, he made his way out his apartment and started toward the stairs. As he passed his neighbour's door it opened and Michelle stepped out into the corridor. "Morning," Adam chimed, trying not to make his voice sound as desperate as it really was, "How are you today?" As Michelle checked her door was locked she twisted her head to face him, "OK, I guess, but I have to fight with this damn door every day, I must get on to the maintenance guy about it." Satisfied that it was indeed shut, she joined Adam and they walked down the stairs and out into the street where they went their separate ways to work. Adam glanced back a few times, watching her disappear into the morning rush. Michelle had moved in next door about four months ago and Adam had been meaning to ask her out every time he saw her, but two things stopped him. Firstly, he was convinced that she would turn him down because she was so pretty and he saw himself as an ugly duckling. Better to live in hope than to be crushed by rejection. Secondly, he could never seem to find the words that would sound right, everything he came up with made him sound like a totally perverted psycho or just a plain old nerdy geek. Either way, even if he had the words and the guts, he was in no shape to deal with that problem today. Michelle, and her beauty, would just have to wait.

Lunchtime rolled around and Adam found himself stepping off the city train in an unfamiliar part of town, but the directions he had were clear and he followed them to the letter. Turn right at the bakery on the corner, down the street to the Fast Groom Barber Shop, left at the next lights and then left again just after the wedding dress emporium. This last instruction led to a dingy little alley that presented its own very special sense of foreboding. Adam double checked the instructions his friend had imparted. Those were definitely wedding dresses in the shop window, so this must be it. He started cautiously down the peculiarly familiar alleyway. A sudden clanging noise startled him and he spun around to see a cat, coloured like the night, rummaging in a trash can. The cat glanced up at Adam, held his stare for what seemed like forever and then, without warning, jumped to the ground and ran in front of him, disappearing into an open doorway.

Adam's eyes followed the cat and noticed an old, worn sign above the doorway that had just swallowed the cat, "Make It Happen" it read in faded gold writing, with smaller text underneath "All sorts of books, all sorts of reasons." A quick glance left and right and Adam strode in through the doorway. He was surprised by his immediate surroundings, quite the opposite of that inferred by the exterior of the shop. Everything inside was fresh, clean and well laid out, although the décor and fittings seemed to be a few hundred years old. Row upon row of books presented themselves to Adam, more like a generous private library, with its friendly intimacy, than the commercial bookstores that prevailed in the modern city. Walking to the counter he found an old woman sitting comfortably in an old armchair knitting some kind of rough woollen garment. As he leaned on the counter to speak the cat leapt up from behind the desk startling him once more. The old woman smiled at his involuntary flinch, "Friendly that one." she confided.

Adam started "I am looking for …" and the woman finished " … a book which you will find on shelf two of stand seven." This said as she gestured toward the rear of the shop. He was about to try and explain himself again when she unexpectedly rose and withdrew through a narrow curtained doorway behind her chair, leaving the cat to sit and stare at him. "Shelf two," he muttered in slight mockery of the old girl as he turned to review the store "Stand seven." Making his way along the rows he came to stand seven, ducking in between the bookcases he located shelf two, still not sure why he was doing any of this. He scanned the titles of the books on the shelf, Uncommon Lightening Strikes, Obtuse Animals, Physical Deformities of the Pituitary Gland, Advanced Dream Control. The former titles caused him to not only wonder but also become slightly concerned at his rationale, but the last one, a tidy, leather bound volume seemed to be what he was after. He drew the pea-green, pocket sized book from its resting place and thumbed through to the table of contents. All the key words were there; bad dreams, recurring nightmares, sleep loss, control, results, side effects. This was indeed the book he needed. Flicking back to the first page he found the price marked in pencil, £7.99. Plucking a £10 note from his pocket Adam made his way back to the counter to find that the cat had vanished and in its place was a receipt for £7.99 with £2.01 in change sitting atop it. Too perplexed to question this, he dropped the £10 note into a delicate pottery dish that sat beside the ancient till, scooped up the change and the receipt and then left the store.

The book stayed safely tucked in his coat pocket until later that evening. After a scant meal Adam poured himself a glass of wine and sat down to read. The first few chapters dealt with the sort of experiences that people have in their dreams and nightmares; falling, running, being tied up or being chased, that sort of thing. It also tried to explain some of the causes of these psychological symptoms. Adam looked up as he heard Michelle's door being slammed shut; she really needed to get it fixed. He paused to consider his ubiquitous dilemma regarding his attractive and, apparently, single neighbour, but once more dismissed the idea for the same reasons he always did. But also, tonight, he was more interested in his new book. Returning his attention to the pages before him, Adam was surprised to find many references to just the sort of thing he was suffering from, including illustrations that weren't too dissimilar to the horrific creature in his own night time visions. The hours slipped by as Adam hungrily devoured chapter after chapter, determined to find some solution to his dilemma. Close to midnight and nearing the end of the book he felt he now had enough information to start making a change, although he was sceptical as to what results might be achieved. It was late so he closed the small tome, intending to finish the last chapters, Results and Side Effects, tomorrow.

Once he was settled in bed he began to put into practice the techniques as described in the book. He cleared his mind and then started visualise the beast while all the time repeating to himself the simple phrase "The beholder wields the power". Then he imagined himself in the predicament which faced him in the dream and to started to summon possible solutions or alternative endings to the scary situation. All the time repeating "The beholder wields the power". Ever so slowly his eyelids began to droop and his consciousness ebbed softly out into the sea of dreams.

Blinded, tripping on something hard but unfelt, falling, arms wind-milling to catch something, but there is nothing to grab. Impact. Adam's eyes fought the dreamy lace-like blur that fogged his vision, opening slowly to find himself lying sprawled in the dirty street of some deserted part of town. His whole being was consumed by a solitary notion, to run. His feet scrabbled at the street surface, unable to find purchase on the apparently smooth plane, unable to propel himself upwards and away. The driving terror pushing him to think of nothing else but self preservation, not even knowing the hunter but feeling, nonetheless, like the quarry. Finally he managed to right himself and although he felt like he was wading through a swamp of jelly he ran as fast as he could to the street corner, head flicking from side to side, trying to see all about him and locate the unseen pursuer. Knowing now that he must hide as he could surely not outrun the enemy at this laboured pace. An alley, dark, secretive, and inviting. Adam stumbled into the opening and looking back could already see the dreaded mist crawling around the far corner of the street, this was inevitably followed by a dull thump, thump, thump - the herald of the beast. A tiny bubble of memory struggled to surface in the thick quagmire of Adam's befuddled brain, he noticed it and mentally tried to grab hold of it, fighting to seize and hold onto the information before it slipped away into the broth of his consciousness.

The beholder wields the power. "Yes! That was it!" Like water through a burst damn, thoughts flooded in and everything fell into place. "I am in control, I have to make this work for me!" The fog was now thickening as it swept into the mouth of the alley and forced Adam to step backwards to avoid becoming lost within its velvety confines. The footsteps louder now and the demonic eyes, piercing the gloom. Adam stepped back once more and froze, his back pushed up against the wall. His hands shot out, searching for a gap, a door in the wall, anything. His search was futile and fruitless. The beast was close now, it had found his scent, it's slavering lips parted, a glint of pearly white hinting at the row of dagger like teeth concealed within. Adam paused, his head came up to face the creature and upon his face he wore a smile. As the nightmarish thing took a loping step towards him Adam raised his right hand, which held a large, shiny, handgun. He squeezed off several rounds right between the glowing eyes of the looming beast which stopped, shuddered, swayed and then fell with a deafening crash, wafting the bank of fog in every direction. It was done, the beast was killed. Adam's jubilation was short lived as his vision was engulfed with a vast, confusing nothingness and his hearing focused solely on an insistent beeping noise. He opened his eyes, awakening in his bedroom. Quickly he turned to face the clock, 06:30. Mentally drained as he was, a sense of triumph washed over him and he felt strong. Like a curse lifted, he felt free, but more than this, he felt powerful. The beast dead, the nightmare vanquished, there would be no more lost sleep for Adam.

Leaving for work Adam gave serious consideration to knocking on his neighbour's door and asking her out on a date. He even raised his hand to knock, but a sudden attack of cold feet was exacerbated by the appearance of the maintenance man coming up the hall with his tool box and Adam turned quickly darting towards the stairwell. The working day flew by, seemingly more a dream than those he had at night. Adam's work improved noticeably, he was with it and on top of things. But the day passed into night and Adam found himself once more turning his thoughts to sleep. However, tonight was different, he couldn't wait to get to sleep and try out some more dream control. It seemed that he had the world at his command, all he needed was sleep to take him to his seat of power. Now, settled in his apartment, he prepared himself a mug of warm milk with a sprinkling of chocolate and nutmeg, guaranteed to get him off to sleep. Adam then retired to bed to await the inevitable.

It seemed to be forever, yet also instantly that Adam found himself sitting on his couch, thinking that he had not yet gone to bed. But the air was thick, the walls not true and his vision fuzzy as if looking through a fine net curtain. His movements were sluggish and unanimated as he rose to make his way to the bedroom, all the while his docile brain screaming that this was too real. By the time Adam had forced his way through the viscous air down the short corridor, that seemed to stretch forever, his conscious mind finally caught up with him and suddenly he focused a small part of his brain on the knowledge that he was once more dreaming. This tiny realisation opened the door to exploitation and Adam silently chanted "The beholder wields the power" as he straightened himself up and took control. Still feeling trapped within this gauzy haze, that seemed to afflict his whole body, Adam physically shrugged off the sensation and everything became clear. His movement was less impeded as he made his way directly back to the lounge. This time, the corridor was but a brief stride and the air had lost its torpid feel. He gazed about the room with a bewildering clarity, all things seeming large and so well defined, with vivid colours and crisp edges. A moment passed, or was it an hour? Time was as distant and unrecognisable as a star is to the naked eye. A slight glow coming from the television caught his eye and he turned to face the screen. A sense of anticipation filled every fibre in his body as the glow spread across the screen, getting brighter, stronger and more piercing as it progressed. Soon the light was so strong that Adam involuntarily shielded his eyes with his hands. Almost simultaneously, the familiar beep-beep-beep of his alarm clock resumed its daily ritual. Adam's eyes blinked open and he found himself staring straight through that familiar gap in his curtains at the morning sun. One hand shot out and hit the button that would stop the electric rooster's synthetic crowing while the other rubbed his eyes. Abruptly aware that something was amiss, Adam stared at his bed sheets strewn on the floor. Enough of his night's dream remained present in his mind for him to recall shrugging off the shroud type feeling, this must have been the sheets. Adam pondered the fact that some of his dreaming touched upon the waking world and, therefore, not all his night time activities would disappear with the dawn. He would have to be more careful.

Showered, breakfasted and out the door on his way to work. The usual routine. But just as Adam closed his apartment door, Michelle's opened and she steeped out into the hallway. His usual cheery morning greeting stuck in his throat as an unknown man traipsed out after her putting his arm about her shoulders. Her front door closed easily as the giggling couple ambled off towards the stairs. Adam stood, rooted to the spot, something of a battle sprung up inside him. His pessimistic and optimistic selves fighting each other, one trying to justify the current state of affairs whilst the other simply laid blame about his lack of action. Either way, Michelle had someone in her life now, there was little he could do about it and it was time for work. His attitude today was not as exuberant as the previous day, yet Adam remained cool and applied himself well to his tasks. He was still on a high from beating his demon dream and getting some well earned sleep, this semi-euphoric state was only slightly dampened by the fact that his neighbour, that he fancied rotten, was seeing someone else. The working day drew to a close and Adam was considering the night's plans when it struck him, maybe he couldn't have Michelle in this world, but what about in his dreams? It was an obvious enough remedy to the situation and, after all, he had more control in his dreams, there he was not afraid, he was not shy and everything now went as he wanted it to. He would try it.

This time alcohol replaced the milk drink, to some degree drowning his sorrows and also meting his anger. The hard scotch on an empty stomach soon brought Adam to a state of somnolence and he drifted off to sleep in front of the TV. Now feeling like routine, Adam was quicker to recognise that he was within his dream world, he took stock of his immediate surroundings. He was standing in the hallway outside his apartment, but the colours were all wrong and the hallway was far too long, such as it was he could only vaguely make out the stairwell at the far end. In reality there were a number of doorways on this floor, but now there was only one, Michelle's. Adam tried to concentrate, but his actions were a blend of his new found control method, regular dream actions and alcohol induced acts. In this way, everything appeared totally unreal, but seemed totally normal, making it hard to keep track of what was going on. His normal inhibitions melted by the alcohol that also took the handbrake off his imagination, resulting in little or no quality control. Pausing outside Michelle's door, Adam was beset by a flurry of sinister thoughts that changed his perception of his current activity. He now found he was wearing black gloves and was dressed somewhat similar to a stereotypical cat burglar. This caused him no concern as he imbued himself with the skills of such a character. Suddenly there were tools in his hands and he was picking the lock on the door, it sprung open and Adam deftly slipped inside, silently closing the door behind him. He quickly made his way towards the bedroom of the small apartment, unthinking, unknowing of his objectives, only aware that something inside him shouted out to get close to her.

The carpet was luxuriously deep which easily masked any sound his creeping footfalls made. In an instant Adam was inside Michelle's room, back to the door, watching as she slept peacefully. The furnishings here were as opulent as the carpet, thick drapes, rich wall coverings and lavish linen on the bed. Michelle herself, a perfect pearl, set in the midst of this treasure chest of extravagance. Her long hair spread evenly across the pillows, a serene look upon her face as she slumbered gracefully. Adam was vaguely aware that this scene owed more to fantasy than to any potential reality, but was still struck by the beauty of what he saw. But as he watched there was an almost imperceptible change in the atmosphere, something fundamental yet indiscernible had been altered, Michelle stirred in her sleep, the peaceable expression now replaced by an anxious air, her limbs twitching, her body began to writhe under the bedcovers. Sensing some kind of danger, Adam cautiously made his way to the bed, with each step Michelle's struggles grew more vigorous and her state of distress more vocal as her murmurs became pleading calls for help. Reaching the bedside Adam was aware of movement on the other side of the bed, he looked up to see himself reflected in the mirror, but surely that was not him! In the mirror he was drenched in blood and he held a large kitchen knife, also dripping with blood. Michelle was nearly in a state of hysteria as Adam became aware of a steadily increasing glow, emanating from behind the curtains, its intensity growing parallel with the ferocity of Michelle's behaviour. He struggled to change what he saw in the mirror, but the thick veil of booze usurped his attempts, he moved right beside the bed and reached out to the panic stricken woman to calm her, but the figure in the mirror only plunged his knife towards the sleeping woman's chest. At that instant, the sun broke through a narrow gap in the curtains, streaming onto Michelle's face and she sat bolt upright screaming into the morning sun. The scream died in her throat, replaced by sobs that wracked Michelle's body. As the tears streamed down her face she looked up at the clock, 06:29, again.

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