As her consciousness shifted, the sounds from her dream slowly morphed into day sounds that she recognised. She kept her eyes closed. The sounds – birdsong mostly – beckoned her with the promise that today could be a good day. But how could it be good when she felt so emotionally disturbed. The presence of the dream lurked. Its tentacles, as always, reluctant to let her go. She pushed the duvet aside. Drenched in sweat, her body displayed the evidence of her struggle to get away from the dream.
She opened her eyes and sighed.
Daylight poured through the sheer yellow curtains. She had always liked yellow – such a happy colour. The curtains matched the accent wall opposite her bed. She wished she could match the happiness that the colour represented. But the darkness of the dream still clutched her close to its sinister bosom.
The alarm’s shrill call announced the day’s urgency. Simultaneously, her phone vibrated on her bedside table. It was a text message from Mary.
U still up for lunch? Xxx
Was she? Was she up for anything? She had to be up for work – no choice there. So, why not lunch.
Sure, see you there xxx
Her weekly lunch meeting with Mary had worked itself into her life with as much insidiousness as everything else she had allowed. It was one of the things she didn’t regret. A good old chin-wag was often the antidote to an assortment of anxieties and hang-ups. Perhaps it was just the act of sharing things with another person – someone you could trust – that did the trick. No need for scientists to fiddle with your mind when you had such a friend as Mary. Hopefully, Mary got as much out of their relationship as she did.
Outside, the day seemed friendly enough, unlike her fellow commuters who, no doubt, hated this part of their lives as much as she did.
At five minutes to one o’clock, she switched off the computer and tidied her work into her to-do basket. She grabbed her handbag from the bottom drawer where she kept it out of the way and walked around the corner to the tiny restaurant to meet Mary.
Mary had already secured their favourite table at the back of the restaurant and waved to her as she walked through the door, indicating that she had already placed their lunch order. A few other regulars sat at small tables but mostly, tourists who could not believe that such a quaint little place existed, made up its daily clientele.
Mary smiled at her as she sat down. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you look like you could do with some more sleep.”
“Not so much more sleep – more quality sleep.”
Mary leant forward, concern in her eyes. “Oh, no. Not again? Did you try writing it down, like I’d suggested? Has it helped?”
She shook her head. “No, I haven’t managed to write anything down yet. I’ve got the pen and paper ready on my bedside table, as you suggested, but unlike you, I don’t remember much when I wake up. There’s only the sense of danger and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. It’s really beginning to get me down.”
Mary nodded. “I can see that. But it’s not true that you don’t remember anything. You’ve told me about the door before. I take it you had the same dream again last night?”
“Yes, it was the same dream about the door. I don’t even know why it’s so terrifying. I mean, it’s just a door. The door itself isn’t scary. It’s actually rather beautiful – an ornately carved wooden door. I think it might be because it’s so old. I get a sense that it’s truly ancient and that the secret it holds must not be revealed.”
She sat back in her chair, flipping her hair out of her eyes. “It sounds so stupid when I talk about it. I can hear myself say these words to you and it sounds like it’s nothing.”
Mary’s eyes continued to show her concern for her friend. “Well, it’s clearly not ‘nothing.’ If writing it down hasn’t worked, and talking to me hasn’t worked, perhaps you should see a professional.”
“Like a shrink, you mean?”
Their food arrived and neither spoke while the waitress put the plates on the table.
When she left, Mary continued. “Maybe there’s some deep-seated something you need to let go of. How long have you been having this dream did you say again?”
She finished chewing a mouthful of mashed potato before answering. “Ever since I can remember… It must have started when I was very young – maybe five or six?”
“And there was no trauma around that time?”
“My dad died. But I was too young to really know what was going on.”
Mary sat back in her chair, a satisfied smile on her face. “Well, there you are, then. It must have something to do with that, don’t you think?”
But before she could continue, Mary interrupted her. “I know what you should do. Tonight when you have the dream again, you should open the door.”
Mary nodded as she munched on a tomato. “Yes, you should open the door.”
“But that’s what I’m scared -”
“Remember that it’s just a dream. You can’t really be hurt. If I were you, that’s what I would do. Confront your fears head-on. My mum always said when you do that, you’ll find the lion turns into a kitten.”
She smiled despite herself. “You mean you want to use me as a guinea pig to see if your mum’s words of wisdom are true?”
“Sure. Why not?”
In a way, it was a relief that Mary wasn’t taking her dread of the recurrent dream too seriously. It was just a dream, after all.
The afternoon dragged. She could hardly wait to get home to try Mary’s advice. Mary had inspired her to feel excited, rather than scared, about going on the adventure to find out what lies behind the door. Why had she never thought of opening the bloody door herself? Just the thought of taking action made her feel a hundred times better about the situation. Her feelings of hopelessness were almost completely gone.
That night, she took extra care when getting ready for bed. She made sure that the pen was lying on top of a blank page, ready to be used. She squished her pillow until it felt comfortable and then switched off the light, ready for whatever the night and the dream would bring.
This time, when the door appeared, it came with the knowledge that she was dreaming. She found herself moving closer and closer to the door, as always. Its massive size rose above her head and towered over her, shrinking her to the size of an ant. She had to stand on her toes as her hand reached out to touch the massive black handle above her head. So far, nothing was different from what had happened in the dream every single time before. But this time, instead of withdrawing her hand, she willed herself to stay. She knew this scenario usually ended with her running away as fast as her legs could carry her, even though she could never get away from the door – that was the horror of it.
Slowly, very slowly, she turned the handle. The door started to move inwards. On the other side of the door, only darkness met her eyes. She nearly lost her nerve then. Her breath was coming fast and high, her heart was thumping in her chest and she knew her body was drenched in sweat. The scream that usually accompanied her efforts to get away from the door sat in her throat. Her eyes felt as though they were on stalks as she stayed alerted to even the slightest movement that might spell danger.
The door moved further inwards and she went with it even though everything in her wanted to scream and run. She squared her shoulders and clenched her jaw in determination, instead. This time, she won’t be beaten.
The door stood wide open. The space in front of her was in total darkness. She remained in the doorway. Just as she was wondering if it was a good idea to go inside, light flooded the room. It was massive. Maybe that’s why it had to have such a big door. Her heart still thumped in her chest, but now it was with excitement. It was the most beautiful room she had ever seen. Every wall, from floor to very high, ornate ceiling, was filled with books. Rows and rows upon rows and rows of books…
The room drew her inside. As she walked, she glided her finger along the spines of the books. Each spine displayed only one name at a time. So many names – a different name for each book. Sudden insight flooded her mind. The names – it was their stories. Their lives…all our lives…they’re just stories. That was the door’s secret. She wanted to remember that. She wanted to write it down when she woke up. And she had to tell Mary that her mum was right; the lion, when faced, turns into a kitten. Except her kitten was the most beautiful, exotic sort of kitten she had never expected to find.