‘Start from the beginning.’ Dr. Johansen said slowly.
The two of them sat across from each other, in the shadowy side of the office. The doctor near the large desk and the young woman nearest the door. A faded burgundy carpet lay between and underneath their chairs. A small table stood to the side, two sweating glasses of water perched on it’s surface. The walls were white and bare except for a framed university degree, which hung high above the desk, to the rear of the room.
‘Before I went to bed, I sealed the blinds and closed the drapes.’ Cara said.
‘This is part of the dream?’ Dr. Johansen asked.
‘No. Before I fell asleep.’ Cara said.
‘I thought you wanted to talk about the dream?’
‘I do. I just want to point out what I did beforehand.’
‘Is it relevant?’
‘Why did you close the blinds?’
‘Because of the streetlamp.’
‘I see. Continue.’ Dr. Johansen encouraged.
‘The room was dark, except for slivers of light that got around the edges of my drapes. I’ve always hated those. I’ve thought about taping the drapes to the wall but I never quite follow through.’ Cara sighed.
‘Let’s stay on course with the dream.’ Dr. Johansen said.
‘I just want to say again, I always close the drapes. Always.’ Cara said, nodding to herself while swaying gently from side to side in her chair. She was nervous, she hated talking about her dreams, giving them life beyond her sleep made them more real, but she was the one who called Dr. Johansen. It was too late to back out now.
Dr. Johansen shifted her pantsuit, pulling at the ruffles, straitening a pleat. Cara was her final appointment for the day, one she dreaded. When Cara’s eyes dropped to her hands, as she formulated her next words, Dr. Johansen glanced at the clock. It was almost five. At six she was meeting colleagues for dinner, a business dinner. The kind of meeting that can shift one’s career. She needed something, anything to stimulate her practice, and this opportunity just might do. Maybe then she could stop putting ad’s on groupon for discounted sessions, which is how the young woman sitting across from her had come to find Dr. Johansen in the first place.
The doctor stifled a yawn and looked back at Cara.
Cara’s hands were clasped together and she turned them over and over as if she was folding towels. Her platinum eyes where distant, tired, fretful. Only she could understand the weight of what she was going to tell Dr. Johansen and she feared that, no matter what she said, the doctor would only prescribe medication, maybe telling her to journal the dreams, and set up another appointment, for full price, all without solution. But there wasn’t time for more appointments.
‘It was the house on Heckler Avenue.’
‘Is Heckler Avenue a real place outside of your dreams?’
‘Yes.’ Cara said with certainty, then recanted. ‘Well, I don’t really know, yet.’
‘Okay, the house on Heckler was in your dream?’
‘No. I was in the house.’
‘It was dark. Darker than my room is at night, even if I was to tape up the drapes. I couldn’t see anything.’ Cara took a long breath before continuing. ‘My left hand was on a railing. It was made of wood, smooth in places but littered with nicks and scratches and pealing varnish. It was old. My feet were on steps, steep and short, leading down.
It was very quiet. So quiet I could hear the way the air shifted throughout the room. It wasn’t a draft. No. There were things breathing down there, on the main floor. Things.
I held onto the railing and struggled to step down the stairs. It always seems like I have trouble moving in the beginning of the dream. Do you ever have trouble with that, Doctor?’ Cara asked.
‘I don’t dream much.’ Dr. Johansen lied.
‘Oh.’ Cara mumbled. ‘That’s very strange. Richard says everyone dreams. Everyone dreams, every night.’
‘Who is Richard?’
‘He’s the old black man in my dream.’
’So, you were struggling down the steps?’ The doctor directed the conversation again.
‘Yes. My feet were heavy. I felt as though going down the stairs might be harder than going up, like someone switched around the laws of gravity.
After a while, I made it to the bottom of the steps. I could only tell because- remember it was completely dark, I couldn’t see anything- my feet landed on a wide space, tiled, it was very cold. I nearly tripped because I didn’t know where the steps ended and my weight- oh, well. So, I held onto the post at the end of the banister to keep from falling.
The next time I looked around, the room had changed. Twilight was beginning. A gray light was hovering over everything as if the room was made of the stuff they put in clock hands to make them glow in the dark.’
‘Radium.’ The doctor said.
‘What?’ Cara asked.
‘Radium. It’s what makes clock hands glow in the dark. No matter, go on.’
‘Oh. Okay. So, things in the room were glowing but they were glowing a grayish blue.
There was a long couch against the right wall, a fire stove and hearth against the wall in front of me, a dinner table and chairs in an open room to the left which connected to the room I was in.
There was a desk, too. It was in a strange place, the middle of the main room, next to where I was standing. There was a stack of papers on it’s surface, the papers were glowing too, slightly brighter than anything else in the room.
I walked forward, in between the desk and the hearth and the long couch on my right. It was an open space, maybe a twelve foot square. And I just stood there and waited. I felt a chill. A breeze, coming from above. I looked up, expecting a hole in the ceiling to the sky but it was just an old ceiling fan. The fan was missing a blade. Every third revolution, and it turned slow, it screemed like rusty hinges.
Then a rumbling began. I thought it was an earthquake at first. But the room didn’t sway. It just echoed with the drum of falling hooves, like a pack of horses in the distance. The rumbling and the scream of the fan. Rumble, scream.
I was staring up at the ceiling fan when I heard a voice at my feet.
”They’re coming”, he said, “Giant rats.” He stared up at me with enormous golden eyes. It was Saxon, the cat I had as a little girl. He looked right at me. Then he licked his lips and walked away.’
‘This was your childhood cat?’ Dr. Johansen asked.
‘Oh yes. He was such a good cat. I loved him dearly.’
‘What happened to Saxon?’
‘What do you mean?’ Cara asked, alarmed.
‘How did he die?’
‘Oh he’s not dead. Not really.’
‘You said it was your childhood cat.’
‘I did. He’s sixteen years old now.’
Dr. Johansen nodded and pretended to make a note of it, while motioning for Cara to continue. She checked her watch, the session would be over soon.
‘The rumbling escalated, louder and louder.’ Cara said and tapped her fingers rapidly on the arms of the chair, the sound echoed in the empty room. ‘I heard little high pitched squeals, like bats, but I knew it had to be the rats Saxon warned me about. The room began to shake. I heard them run under the floorboards, above the ceiling, in the walls. Dust was knocked from the sheetrock. The room pulsed as if it was alive.
I became weak. I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life. My knees went numb and I collapsed onto the couch, so that I was facing the room. Any moment, I believed, the rats would find their way through the house and eat me alive, I knew it was me they were coming for.
I felt something against my lower back, creeping between the cushions, touching the bare patch of skin between the bottom of my shirt and the top of my pants. It took me a moment to realize that is was a nose. A cold, wet, despicable nose. I writhed and screamed and tried to get off the couch, but something held me there. I didn’t have the strength to get away. Oh, you can’t even begin to imagine, Doctor! I could smell it’s foul breath on me and I knew the teeth weren’t far behind.’ Cara said, trembling, as her voice pitched to the octave of a frightened child.
‘What did you do?’ The doctor asked, calmly.
‘I did the only thing I could do, the only thing the dream would allow me to do. I reached behind me and grabbed the snout of the rat and ripped him from the couch. Only his skin was entirely smooth and metal, not a hair on him.
Then I realized, it wasn’t a rat at all but a revolver. You know, the kind of pistols detectives use. It was loaded. For some reason, I knew it was mine but I don’t own a gun.
The next moment, the rats fled. The rumbling stopped. It was silent again.’ Cara said, her eyes dropped to something on the floor. She never met Dr. Johansen’s eyes at any point when she spoke.
A soft, singular beep from the doctors watch broke Cara’s concentration.
‘Ahh. We’ve run out of time.’ Dr. Johansen said, feigning remorse.
‘But I haven’t told you half of the dream yet!’ Cara pleaded.
‘We’ll have time for that in the next session. I would extend this one but I already have commitments tonight. You understand?’ Dr. Johansen said apologetically.
Cara nodded, still staring at the floor.
‘Well, I’m going to recommend this for your sleep.’ the doctor said, handing Cara a pharmacy note. Cara grabbed it without looking at it and didn’t speak.
Dr. Johansen cleared her throat theatrically.
‘Shall I put you down for the same time next week?’ Dr. Johansen asked brightly.
Dr. Johansen, taking this for agreement, penciled Cara into her calendar and closed the notepad. She stood and walked to the door, expecting Cara to follow. Cara didn’t, she kept looking at the floor, at the same spot underneath Dr. Johansen’s desk.
‘Cara! You must be going now. It’s not fair to make me late for my other appointments.’ Dr. Johansen pleaded.
Slowly, Cara rose from the wide backed chair, her small frame barely visible over the top, from where the doctor was standing. Then Cara turned, clutching her purse with both arms as if it was a baby, her eyes turned downward, and shuffled toward the door.
When Cara finally reached her, the doctor spoke.
‘Is something wrong, Cara?’ Dr. Johansen asked politely, not wanting to lose a chance Cara would come back for a full price session.
‘You remember the drapes?’ Cara asked.
‘Yes, how can I forget. The ones you always close before bed.’ The doctor assured her.
Cara turned her face up, she was a good foot shorter than Dr. Johansen, and looked the doctor in the eyes.
Dr. Johansen noticed how startlingly brilliant Cara’s eyes were. A sheer platinum, flecked with diamonds, ringed with dark gray. They were captivating, stunning. Especially for such a sullen woman.
Cara stared at Dr. Johansen for a moment. Then spoke with a voice much deeper, stronger than before.
‘The drapes were open when I woke up.’ Cara said and walked out the door.
Dr. Johansen shut the door to her office and collapsed in the chair at her desk. She suddenly felt very heavy and buried her face in her palms, massaged her temples, and tried to press the day away. There was work to accomplish tonight. A research job would mean she could give up this lousy office and her lousy clients, she could be part of something bigger, something that might change the course of psychology. Better yet, the future. She had to nail this dinner with the board.
Dr. Johansen scooted back in her chair and opened the desk drawer over her lap. She pulled out the bottle of generic alprazolam, anxiety medicine she began taking a year ago, and shook out a couple pills. Then she deposited the bottle back in the drawer and slammed the drawer shut.
Dr. Johansen screamed.
Under her desk was a dead rat.
Somewhere outside the building which housed Dr. Johansen’s office, Cara walked home slowly in the driving rain, still clutching her purse to her chest with both arms. Her eyes were distant, intent on nothing, as the edges of her lips curled into a smile.