Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: The Fourth Awakening

Another week without a prompt from Chuck Wendig, but I had it covered, thanks to the story I couldn't finish in time last week. I used a random title generator, and got "The Four Awakenings," which I changed a little after I finished the story because I felt like it. The setting must have been inspired by how cold me feet have been lately!

The Fourth Awakening

My first awakening was simple, and normal. When the sun came up, I opened my eyes, same as any day. Sleeping, then not sleeping, just as usual, and really only about three-quarters awake. That morning, opening my eyes was about the last normal thing that happened. I rolled out of the sack, and instead of my bare feet hitting the fuzzy rug that’s been by my bed since I was ten—that’s 15 years, for those of you wondering—they hit sand. Mom bought that rug at a rummage sale, and when she brought it home I hated it. It was tacky, and pinkish, and dated even though it was brand new. But I kept it anyway, because it was fuzzy and warm on my toes. None of which mattered now, because the rug was gone.

That was my second awakening, you might say. When the ground under your feet has literally moved, or at least changed completely, you tend to pay attention. My eyes snapped open the rest of the way, and I noticed that the sun was a lot brighter than it should have been. It was hot, bright, and my rug was gone.

So was my room. I was standing in a desert, nothing but sand anywhere, and wearing nothing but my skivvies because I was too cool for PJs. I was now very awake indeed.

I didn’t know if I should stay put and hope my bedroom reappeared, or start looking for shelter and water, because I was definitely not equipped for desert survival. I could feel my skin burning already, after five minutes in the place.

That made my mind up for me. I would have to find shelter and water. If there wasn’t any to be found—the very uniform nature of the sand worried me—then I was toast. Take either meaning of that; both work.

So much for the first two awakenings. The third awakening took longer, because I thought I was about as awake as I could get.

I walked for a long time. Nothing changed, except that I grew hot, tired, and thirsty, and my skin continued to burn. Also, my feet began to feel raw. The sand was smooth and free of burrs and stones, but my 21st-Century office-worker feet were tender, and the sand began to feel like, well, sandpaper. Coarse grit.

I swore a lot, but I didn’t stop moving. After a while, I had to stop swearing aloud. My mouth was too dry. I was in a sticky spot and no mistake.

I didn’t so much resent that I was about to die, as I resented that I hadn’t put myself in this position. It just…happened. If I’m going to die a stupid and senseless death, I want to have had fun getting there. I want to get the chance to say, “hold my beer.”

You might way that was my third awakening, though it was more of a gradual thing than the others, and like I say, not a physical waking up. I realized that I was going to die, and not in the abstract “we all have to die someday” sense. This was concrete and personal, and when it sank in I got mad.

When I got mad, I took action.

In one sense, of course, I’d been taking action from the start, as best I could, looking for water and shelter from the sun. I was starting to second-guess that decision: maybe I should have stayed put until the sun went down, instead of walking through the heat of the day. Maybe not, with no way to shade myself from the sun at all. Maybe it didn’t matter.

The action I now took was to think about how I got there in the first place. I don’t know too many people who could make me wake up somewhere other than where I went to sleep. And there was something not quite right about this. No desert I ever saw was so smooth and purely sandy, for such a long way. Maybe some parts of the Sahara were; I hadn’t been there. But I knew no desert in North America looked like this. Probably none on Earth.

Once I’d figured that out, I thought of Sarah, who’d long since promised to send me to hell. This looked like a good approximation. Knowing who was behind my troubles gave me something to work with.

I hoped.

I didn’t have any magic to counter whatever she’d done. I didn’t even know how to make her hear me protest.

All I could do was to refuse to believe. See, I’d learned a long time back that magic can’t affect you if you don’t believe it can.* It’s the best protection you can have. The challenge is not believing. It’s hard to generate genuine unbelief when your whole body knows you are barefoot in Hell.

I mean, my feet hurt. I had to overcome abraded feet and burned skin and sand in my skivvies and a mouth so dry I couldn’t speak, and make myself believe I was still at home in bed.

That might have been the hardest thing I ever did. I stopped walking, lay down, closed my eyes, and told myself that I was in bed, it was a little chilly in the room, and I needed to get up and go pee. I figured if I could believe that last, desiccated as I was, I had the thing in the bag.

After a long time, I swung my feet over the side of the bed, curled my toes in the fuzzy rug that covered the cold hardwood floor, and enjoyed my fourth awakening.

Then I went in search of Sarah. I had a score to settle.

*This is clearly related to the power of belief to create magic, as practiced in every production of Peter Pan, where the applause and belief of a room full of little kids keeps Tinkerbell alive.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
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