Emily jolted awake, not seeing anything due to the sleeping mask which covered her eyes, not hearing anything due to the earmuffs which covered her ears. She was gasping for air, her chest feeling tight as she threw the earmuffs from her head followed by the sleeping mask.
She was in her room, in her bed, laying there. She’d woken up. She hadn’t died.
Emily let out a long, relieved breath and felt her body go slightly limp as she relaxed into the mattress. The dream- or nightmare- had felt so real. It felt as if she’d actually died. Well, given that she didn’t know what death felt like, she didn’t have any frame of reference, but it felt as she’d imagined it to. She’d felt cold. Her senses had started to fail. Her body felt fuzzy as if she’d been electrocuted, and her mind had gone completely blank. She hadn’t been able to move, hadn’t been able to say anything. That was probably because the car had hit her so abruptly that she’d never had a chance to think before…
Feeling the vibrations coming from the phone on her chest, Emily gazed at it, pulling the device from the charger and staring at the screen. She’d woken up at the same time as her vibrating alarm had begun to buzz. Maybe if the alarm hadn’t been there to wake her, her brain would have shown her something past dying, fabricated something else for her to experience? Or maybe she would have woken up regardless.
Emily silenced the alarm and clambered from her tiny bed, her heart still beating quickly. She placed a hand over her heart and realised that she could feel it slamming against her ribs like a prisoner trying to break free of their cell, like a drummer finishing a climactic song.
After sliding to her feet, Emily stood, quickly climbed into her work clothes and walked towards her mirror, gazing at herself. Her long, light blonde hair was as tangled as usual.
Emily dropped into the seat in front of her make-up table and grabbed her hairbrush, painfully brushing the knots out of her locks before, once she’d placed the hairbrush back onto the surface, she examined her face. A small spot was beginning to form on her left cheek, a little bump interrupting the regular smoothness of her pale skin.
After quickly applying a small amount of concealer to the area, effectively hiding the spot, Emily paused. She’d done that in her dream. The spot had been in the exact same place. How had she known that one was going to form there?
Emily shrugged the thought from her mind, chalking it up to a strange coincidence. Maybe she’d scratched her face while she’d been asleep, had felt the beginning of the spot and had pictured it in her dream. That was probably what had happened.
Emily then stood, heading towards the kitchen after having grabbed her phone, wanting breakfast.
It took a few minutes for Emily to make her toast, having spread a small amount of butter onto the bread before she flopped onto the couch, the plate resting on the space in front of her, her feet pressing against the arm of the seat at the other end as she propped herself up. One hand held the TV remote as she flicked through the free channels, searching for something to watch.
After Emily had stopped on a channel, she noticed that the content which was playing was the same as what had played in her dream. She couldn’t remember the exact details of what she’d previously seen, but there was a similar premise, at least, something which Emily pondered slightly but shrugged off. She’d probably seen the low-budget show at some point before. Maybe she was watching a re-run. Maybe she’d seen the episode before and had recalled it in her dream, it simply being a coincidence that the same episode was playing on the screen in front of her.
Emily finished her breakfast, remained in front of the TV for a while and, after checking the time, saw that it was time to leave.
After standing up and placing her plate in the sink and brushing her teeth over the bathroom sink, Emily walked to her room, grabbed her coat, then walked out of her apartment, checking to make sure that she had everything while walking away from her newly locked door. Phone, money, keys. She had everything which she would need.
After descending the stairs and making her way out of the door, Emily felt the light, cool breeze on her face and realised that it was a good idea to have decided to wear a coat, especially as the sky was slightly grey and it looked as if it was going to rain at some point.
Emily began the journey, seeing immediately that the traffic was as bad as usual. Given that it was nearing nine in the morning, Emily knew that plenty of people were on their way to work or school, making the roads and the pavement fairly busy. It definitely didn’t help that Emily lived in a city, either.
And so began Emily’s stop-and-start journey, having to pause at almost each road which cut across the pavement, at least two cars using the passage, making Emily and the surrounding people halt their journey to allow for the vehicles to pass. Such a thing occurred a few times, gradually making Emily more and more frustrated as she would usually become, not liking the inconvenience.
It didn’t take too long for the roof of the shop which Emily worked in to become visible. Emily stood about two-hundred metres away, waiting for three cars to move so that she could cross to the continuation of the pavement on the other side. As soon as Emily saw the roof, she gave a light smile, definitely preferring the idea of being at work than the idea of travelling through the slow hellhole which was the streets leading to the shop.
After another few minutes, Emily made her way across the car park and into the store, immediately heading to the break room so that she could clock-in. She b-lined straight to the door to the back room, not saying anything to the two colleagues whom she passed as she made her way, pushing through the doors to the back room before making her way towards the door to the break room.
Emily drew a small tick beside her name before she placed the pen back into the holder, took a step back and let out a small sigh. She was finding it slightly odd that what she was experiencing was the same as what she’d experienced in her dream, but she could only guess that it was the case as every day was a meticulous routine. If she was in work, she’d do the exact same thing, more or less. The only changes would come when she’d have a day off, though she mostly spent that time doing one of two things: relaxing at home or spending time with a few friends. Emily guessed that her dream had simply copied her regular life to each, exact detail.
Emily began the day slowly, dealing with a few basic chores. She began replacing any items which needed to be replaced, aiding the occasional customer, helping out in the check-out area until, about an hour into her shift, the first rush-hour began, cementing Emily to the till as she dealt with customer after customer.
“Have a nice day,” Emily stated with a monotone voice and a forced smile to a young girl who was very clearly skipping school, not appearing to be ill and definitely not looking old enough to be considered a graduate.
After gazing down the conveyor belt, Emily saw that there were only two more customers to deal with before she could leave the last few to whoever was controlling the other till.
As soon as Emily had finished with the second customer, she closed the till and went straight to the break room, thinking that she deserved a break for having worked for over an hour straight.
After entering the break room, Emily saw that a few others had the same idea, taking small breaks. The break room wasn’t very big, so relaxing wasn’t very easy. Emily even gave up on leaning back and taking a breather, spending the fifteen-minute-long break which she was taking on her phone, scrolling through social media to pass the time and tapping her foot to the beat of a song which was stuck in her head.
It was only when two more employees entered the break room and another two left that Emily decided to get back to work, following the two employees from the room and back to the main area of the shop.
Lunch came and went in a flash, Emily not seeing the time approaching as she was busy getting on with work. When the inevitable rush-hour arrived, she helped out on a till, making a little, polite conversation with a few customers, including an older gentleman whom she could have sworn had tried to look the neck of her shirt, making her recoil, realising that the same thing had happened in her dream… and that the guy in her dream looked identical to the man who was stood in front of her.
“You can keep the change,” the man grumbled, giving a strange, toothy smile before he took his receipt from Emily, making sure to brush her fingers lightly with his, all the while Emily staring at him, bewildered. As soon as the man had left, Emily stared into thin air for a moment until another customer snapped her out of her stupor. She shook the moment off until things quieted down before retreating to the break room for half-an-hour to eat lunch and to have a small rest, trying not to ponder the occurrence too much.
From her lunch break to back to work, Emily found herself engrossed in her job except for when the distracting thought of the older man would pop into her head and confuse her. She’d been thinking that the whole day had been the same as her dream as each day would usually follow the same events, but for such a thing to be identical to how it had been in her dream? And something so… unpredictable, too? Emily felt extremely odd thinking about that. She felt like she was reliving the exact same day and, in a sense, she was. The only difference seemed to be that she was conscious of the oddity of the situation and that…
She was going to die. She’d been struck by a car in her dream and had died. If everything which had happened in her dream was happening and was going to happen in real life, then she was destined to die, right?
Emily leaned her back into the shelf which she’d just finished stacking, feeling the structure of it wobble slightly due to the force, a single can of green beans tumbling and smacking into the floor with a clang. She moved forwards and scooped it up, quickly returning it the shelf, trying to shake the thought from her head. All which she had to do was avoid the car, right? It wasn’t like she was destined to die. She could avoid it. Maybe the dream had been like some type of warning, something to tell her to avoid that car. Maybe that was it. Maybe that was why the death had felt so strangely real to her.
All which she had to do was avoid dying. But, Emily realised, petrified, what if she couldn’t change the event? What if she could avoid the car but would be killed by another? What if she would be extremely careful when crossing the road only for a vehicle to swerve from the road and slam into her? She’d still die. She wouldn’t escape the fate. What if she couldn’t prevent her death? What if she couldn’t change anything?
Emily ran down the aisle, disregarding the box filled with products which were supposed to refill the shelves. She ignored the gazes of confused customers and the cut-off question of the employee whom she zoomed past. She was going to keep working at the till. That was what she was going to do. She’d spent this time in her dream working in the aisles, not scanning items and sending people on their way. If she could work on a till, it would be different, and maybe that would prove to her that she could save her life. Maybe she could survive.
As soon as Emily had arrived in the till area, she lightly shoehorned the employee who was already there away, assuring her that she could take over as if she was doing it out of the kindness of her heart, like working at the till was some type of torture.
It took a moment for the customers to disappear, all of them having been served, but as soon as they’d left, Emily took over, dropping into the seat and closing the gate-counter, letting out a light sigh. There was already a difference. If there was going to be something to say that she couldn’t work at the till, something which would force her back to the aisles to work there, then at least she’d already made a slight change by being in charge of the main till for a period.
After a small amount of time, a customer placed a few items onto the conveyor belt, properly beginning Emily’s act of defiance against what she guessed was laid out for her.
A few hours passed, Emily spending as much time as possible working at the check-out. She was pulled away two hours in, though, another employee insisting for her to have a break given that she’d served what must have been close to one-hundred people, so she agreed, tired and sure that the change was big enough to prevent her death from happening. She didn’t even know if her idea was going to work, but what did she have to lose? Without doing anything differently, she’d probably die, and it would be for real this time! Emily was petrified of the idea of death. She’d already technically experienced it once, and she wasn’t a fan of the feeling.
After Emily’s thirty-minute break, she returned to stacking shelves and helping the occasional customer to find something, eventually making it to the end of her workday where she grabbed her coat and waited for five minutes to leave. She hoped that she would be able to avoid the car which possibly had her name on the bonnet, but she realised after a small amount of waiting that she would still be in the cataclysm of traffic, so she decided to just go home.
After crossing the car park and then extremely cautiously crossing the road, her head going from left to right every second, scared of a car somehow sneaking up on her, she made it to the other side of the street.
Emily breathed a sigh of relief when she made it to the other side of the road. She was unharmed. She only had to walk for another fifteen minutes to get back to her apartment, then she would be safe, right?
And so began Emily’s cautious, paranoid trip home, walking slower than usual, making sure to stay as far away from the side of the road as possible, not wanting there to be a chance of another pedestrian knocking into her and sending her flying onto the tarmac, a vehicle angled perfectly to crush her skull like what had happened in her dream.
Whenever Emily would have to cross over a small stretch of a street, she would pause and stare in both directions which any vehicles could come from. She’d look both ways what would be at least six times each before she’d begin to cross, hurrying constantly, not wanting to spend too much time while being stood on the tarmac. She sprinted once, knowing that the road was busy, feeling that she’d be hit if she would walk.
Emily continued her actions, making her way home gradually, until she came to the crossing where she’d died in her dream. She stared both ways, petrified. She could feel herself sweating, something which had gradually built-up over the course of her journey, but she was aware of it now. She could tell that her back was damp, was fairly certain that the work shirt which she wore underneath her coat was a different colour. It didn’t matter that it was a slightly chilly day, she was sweating regardless just due to the paranoia and the fear which she felt building over every passing second.
Emily stepped onto the road slowly, cautiously, then broke-out into a hasty sprint, making it to the other side of the road within seconds.
A few people surrounding Emily looked at her, some looking bewildered or confused while others looked slightly entertained at the prospect of a grown woman being petrified of crossing the road, but they didn’t know what was rushing around Emily’s mind, piercing each thought with the reminder that she could die within any moment.
After making it across the road, Emily simply continued her antics until she entered her apartment building. She began to ascend the stairs, wanting to flop onto her couch and to cry from the built-up stress and fear which she could still feel even though she’d passed the point where she’d previously been killed.
Maybe it was just a weird coincidence, Emily wondered as she approached her door, pulling her keys from her pocket. Maybe I’ve seen that man somewhere before…
Emily stepped into her apartment, closed the door and pulled her coat off extremely quickly, letting out a long sigh before she chucked the jacket onto the floor. She didn’t care that it was slobby to throw it on the floor, too hot to bear wearing it for any longer and too tired to face carrying it to her bedroom so that she could hang it up. The stress, the fear, the way-too-loud thoughts had made her exhausted. She felt as if she’d just ran three marathons in a row. Her legs felt as if their bones were melting, something which she knew was being caused by her anxiety. She needed to sit down, she needed to clean the sweat from her body… she needed a bath.
After confirming with herself that she could be bothered to bathe and not drop into bed five or six hours earlier than usual, Emily staggered towards the bathroom, pushing the door open and immediately turning both taps on, not caring about the temperature of the water, only wanting the tub to fill-up.
Emily stripped, pulling all of her clothes off and disregarding them on the floor before she sat on the edge of the bath, watching as the water filled the tub. She urged it to go faster, the water only filling about a third of the amount which she wanted. She just craved the ability to sink into the water and to let her muscles loosen. She needed a decent thirty minutes to sit and ponder.
It took another few minutes for the bath to fill, the water ending up at a fairly decent temperature. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold, so Emily didn’t find it hard to let herself slide into the tub, a small amount of water splashing over the side and landing on the bathmat.
She immediately closed her eyes, leaning back. It was lucky that she was short enough to be able to stretch-out fully, her feet extremely close to being pressed against the plastic underneath the two taps. She could relax properly, close her eyes and just try to think about whatever she wanted to think about.
Emily tried to consider the dream, tried to consider the parallels between it and reality, but stopped herself once she found herself trying to figure out just what it meant. She could figure that out later. She was probably too tired to come up with something which would make sense, anyway. All which she could come up with while laying in the bath, her arms resting on top of the water, was the thought that she was psychic, something which she didn’t entirely rule out as she quite liked the idea of being a one-of-a-kind type of person, but knew that there was probably a much more realistic explanation.
As soon as Emily had decided to let the thoughts wait until the next day, she felt herself sliding further down the side of the tub, her knees bending to ensure that she had enough space to do so. Her shoulders were starting to get cold, so she wanted to keep them warm underneath the water. Not to mention that it was beginning to get cosier and cosier…
Before she really knew what was happening, Emily began to fall asleep. Her eyelids drooped, her head lolled towards her left shoulder, then her breathing steadied and her heartrate slowed.
Then she fell asleep, unaware as the muscles in her knees which were keeping her in position relaxed, allowing for her to slide deeper and deeper into the bathtub.
Emily’s instinct kicked in, but she didn’t wake up. She didn’t slosh around. Instead, she held her breath until she had to let it out and replace it, inhaling water, filling her lungs with the slightly dirty bathwater.
Yet, still, Emily didn’t wake up.