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Prequel to Waking Nightmares by AsheeChaos

 

Sometimes you have a dream that is so vivid and so long that it feels like you lived through a whole part of your life. But when you wake up, it’s gone.
You know that you dreamt and that there were important things happening. But you are left with a pale and blurry afterimage, with the unpleasant knowledge that it was there and you have no way of recalling that dream.

“… I hope your flight home wont get delayed as well, honey. I miss you.” she huffed through the phone, conjuring a smile on my face.
“I really don’t think there are thaaat many people trying to smuggle syringes onto planes, usually they’re smart enough to hide drugs without things that the metal detector could pick up, right?… ”
… and sometimes you have a rich idiot flying first class who didn’t think twice about bringing his questionable material in the carry on luggage.
“Honey, I know how you don’t like it if things don’t work out as planned, you don’t have to hide it.”
True, but usually Darleen wasn’t as miffed about it as she sounded now. Hopefully that annoying quirk of mine didn’t rub off on her.
“It’s okay, really, I got here a bit late, is all. I’ll sleep now, try to ignore the jetlag and in two days I’ll be home.”
First a shower though, the long flight had left the back of my shirt all clammy.
I had already gotten rid of it, and was busy getting out of my socks by now.
“And then we have a whole month to ourselves. I can’t wait!” even the smile in her voice was audible through the headset. Her eyes always sparkled when she smiled, it made me miss her even more.
“I promise I wont leave the house again then, or at least not without you, okay?” she laughed a bit dirty and I imagined her shaking her head at me.
“You’re stupid and silly, husband. I sent you an E-mail with the contacts of the rental service your car is at. Be good and get some rest now, I got a lot of stuff to prepare still for when you come home. Pick something small and black and sexy, you know.”
“Thanks luv, have a good night.”
“Love you, lovebug.”
“Love you too, sunshine…” she hung up and I sighed.

Since a few months she had started helping out with my business trips and it was such a huge help.
And made me feel even worse whenever I left her home alone.
Not that she’d be bored or locked up, she had plenty of hobbies to occupy herself with, and her own job was quite demanding too. Articles and predictions for the various business magazines, that had saved our stocks a few times already.
Taking that econometrics course was the best idea I had in my life… at least the best in my social life… She was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t tried to flirt with her, so she had started to flirt with me to find out whether I was gay or just shy,  she thought I was cute when she found out it was the later.
I was also there to pick up business stuff, not girls, but there was no reason to say no to her, really. I wasn’t going to find a girlfriend on my own any time soon and if she decided I was a good catch, why convince her otherwise?
She was smart and also attractive, which according to everyone who saw us together was… less likely than winning the lottery. Which is pretty rude, because there were a lot of both smart and attractive women in my informatics course. Then again, intelligence and humour ARE attractive to me, so I might be blurring the line between physical and mental attractiveness… But Darleen, she knew she was attractive, still chose me, and was so modest. She was the nicest and kindest and most charitable person I ever met. Always offering her help, laughing at my jokes, never pressuring me into anything and just… hanging out at my place or letting me code at hers. And holding my hand at those very exhausting dinner parties and business soirées, drawing attention to herself when she noticed me getting overwhelmed.
And the attention was like sunshine and water to the flower of her beauty, she blossomed and I was enjoying my time there much more, watching her being happy. It gave her such a glow.
I always felt like I wasn’t good enough for her, she liked the stage light and I preferred working behind the scenes. But she assured me, we were perfect for each other, our somewhat different personalities complimenting each other. Opposites attract and such. It was her who gently nudged me to pose the question when I was worried she’d say no.
Our wedding was beautiful, I cried when I saw her. She looked like a goddess in that white and golden dream of a dress.
And so far our marriage was perfect, nothing like those clichés you’d expect.
We didn’t have kids yet, but we still had a lot of time for that.
We both had our jobs and loved each other possibly even more than before.
Even worse so, that she took the time to arrange my business trips for me, with her own career booming. She had an impeccable sense of style and luxury, always knew the best places to book, for my somewhat anxious ass.

My toes greatly enjoyed the warmth of the heated bathroom floor in this hotel. Everything was spotless, even between the tiles. The air freshener was a small mister attached to the heating system. Sprinkling salt-water onto a hot stone. It smelled like actual ocean, instead of a chemical perfume breeze. My nose rejoiced… The mood lighting and warmth of the shower made me drowsier than I expected with a local time of 3 pm. I really needed that month off to get my biological clock in order again. Thanks jetlag..  Stumbling out in the most comfy bathrobe, and just sitting down to wait out a dizzy spell, I discovered that the bed was a soft, warm fluffy cloud.
I was out like a light…

Naturally I woke up in the middle of the night, firing up the laptop and working for a few hours, until the breakfast buffet was open. Afterwards, since the air was still pleasantly cool before the midday heat, I dropped my laptop in my messenger bag and decided to head for the city. People ignored me, I was just another pasty faced British tourist.
I checked out the rental service Darleen had picked out for me. It was easy to find, since they were also the main taxi service in the area, so their advertisement was all over the place.
She even had booked a car already, just like I liked it. Nothing pompous or fancy, with a good grip on the streets, and easy for me to feel comfortable in, what with the different side the wheel was on here.
I would come back there later to get the car, if I even needed to, the conference centre was only about two hours to walk from the hotel, according to google and the nights here supposedly were pleasant, I could easily walk there and after the expo closed, walk down and marvel at the night sky…
For now I seemed just fine without the car, strolling down the boulevard and trying to get some sun on my limey skin and a little souvenir for my lovely darling.
I made a point out of never coming home empty handed.

They had beautiful summer dresses in the windows of some shops, also bleached white straw heads with fake hibiscus blossoms on them, but Darleen didn’t like it when I brought her clothes home as gifts. She usually didn’t like the flowy style I tended to pick.
She did like swimsuits and beach wear but again, our styles deviated, so that was not an option either.
We should definitely come here for vacation though. She loved trying on different, form fitting outfits for hours. And while I was not a fan of shopping for myself, I sure do loved watching her enjoying herself…
Luckily for me she did like to accessorise her dresses with jewellery. So that coral reef- styled golden necklace with a blue topaz in the gold smith’ shop window would hopefully be a good gift, especially with the matching earrings they offered me for a top deal.
Such tiny and delicate things, weighing almost nothing and yet so valuable.
Sometimes it was saddening, that I didn’t have the kind of style that went well with accessories and bling…
They went into the messenger bag too, and I spent the next hour in a little café with a fruit smoothy in the shade.

The heat was getting to me, but the expo was only a short walk from where I was now, so still enough time to marvel at the local knick knacks before heading into the air conditioned building and checking out the competition and new gadgets on the market.
My presentation didn’t start until 8 and distracting myself by trying out VR headsets to strap your phone in and the newest augmented reality funsies helped to keep me from worrying too much.
Naturally the prestigious plans of many internet and phone providers, especially in the mobile branch were advertised with great effort.
The age of faster, better, bigger was definitely what they aimed for, and I was part of it.
You spent the first three years of your career building and improving and fine-tuning apps and coding to make electronic transactions and advertising available to the broad public. Comfortable and save with the click of a button, social networking to link thousands of developers and establishing a broad connection for easy micro transactions.
And then you spend the next five years trying to code ways to battle the incredible amount of fraudulent transactions, misuse, ad subscription traps and letterbox companies.
Collecting and sighting data to weed out problematic third party providers and as soon as you do, they come back under five new names. Like a digital hydra of pop-up ads.
It was an exhausting field of work, especially if your company was among the leading three to have created and worked on those issues.
Our booth was swarmed, both by competitors, affiliates and of course delegates from companies interested to work with us in the future.

There were set dates I had to be at the booth for important meet and greets and I believe I handled those well, having switched into a more formal business attire and smiling professional, even if my bracelet told me to move from coffee to water because my pulse was through the roof…
I managed to get some air in between, take a deep breath and check out the booths of other companies as well.
People didn’t know my face, they recognised the logo on and the name on my conference ID. I made regular detours to our booth to drop off the various promotional gift and VIP bags. I did love the lanyards and the pens, lanyards were just…  they had a certain fascination to them… I couldn’t explain it. Playing with the closing mechanism was calming…
And the pens were very useful since I kept losing mine or breaking off the little clip when fidgetting with it in skype calls…
So I could never have enough of those.
It seemed wrong to buy them just because I couldn’t be bothered to keep proper track of them…

I broke two behind the podium at my presentation, but my voice didn’t waver.
I had rehearsed it and prepared for deviations and questions that might throw me out of the loop. I knew what I was talking about 100%, that wasn’t the problem. But my heart was beating in my throat. This conference room was huge. Almost a theatre. And live streamed online.
If I had gotten any tan from my brief stroll outside today, it went unnoticed, my hands were ice cold and my face probable pale as a sheet, but well, I was always pale.
When I was done answering questions on the stage and only had the 3 or 4 people come up to me, my legs were a bit wobbly. Soon it would be over. There was the obligatory shaking hands and being offered more business cards, while the rest of the audience flooded out of the hall already.
I smiled, I listened, I explained. Took a sip from my waterbottle, contemplated some answers to slow my voice and politely rejected an invitation to a local sushi bar to wind down with some other CEOs.
I just wanted to get back to my hotelroom and hear my wife and then drop dead.

Our representatives at the booth didn’t mind me hanging around there while I called the rental service to ask if they could send someone to pick me up.
My wife had paid the car in advance they told me, they didn’t have any limo service available at such a short notice. She had made sure to instruct them that I was to be given this car and none else, and that i preferred to drive it myself.
She was right. I usually did not enjoy being chauffeured around like a pompous billionaire. And I saw no sense in driving a sports car, since I wasn’t a speed devil. Or a Maybach, since I didn’t want the car for attention.
Just driving from A to B. A comfy, save car was all I ever wanted.
But I was exhausted from socialising and the climate was poison for my cold blooded British sensitivities. Not to mention that my jetlag still told me it was long past my bedtime. I’d be a hazard on the street like this.
They refused to send a taxi because Darleen had been quite clear with her instructions and made it sound like she had threatened them with a non-fulfilment lawsuit if I were to be given any other car. Which, frankly I doubted, because I had never seen here in a state that was more than mildly annoyed. But they agreed to send one of their drivers to pick me up with my designated car.
Which was all I asked for really. I was warned that I probably needed to wait a bit since he was new in town and didn’t know the best routes yet.
It gave me time to tie the gift bags together with lanyards and lug them to the parking lot.
Where, surprisingly enough, the young man was waiting already.

He greeted me with a smile, when he saw that I was roughly his age. Even told me he had expected some old, wrinkly bald guy, not someone he’d have a beer and a game of Mario Kart with.
I felt flattered and relaxed. If there was something that made me more uncomfortable than socialising with people, it was socialising with people who treated me like a raw, golden egg. Businesspeople were chummy sometimes which was okay, if it wasn’t too unprofessional. But people whose services I paid for often ended up being weirdly respectful, almost terrified of me.
I guess it made sense, there were some higher ups in my contact list with a rather short and moody temper, who had never delivered pizza or worked in customer service themselves. I would be rather save than sorry before escalation a customer as well…
My driver was chill though, I gave him fifty bugs in advance to help me load my goodies into the trunk and not tell anyone about me curling up in the backseat in a fetal position to get some sleep on the way to the hotel.
He laughed and slapped my shoulder, handed me the emergency blanket from the expired first aid kit (there was a second up to date one too, thankfully) and then turned to a radio station playing smooth tunes to lull me in. He promised to drive slow, so my pretty head wouldn’t get bumped by the road too much.
That made me feel flattered too, but in a weird way…
He was really nice, I made a mental note to leave an awesome review on yelp for their company and maybe find a way to get him some extra credit or hook him up with someone from our resident office, if he wanted to change job. But my body sensed the chance to boot down and I slept like a baby the moment he switched the backseat light off.

I don’t know what happened, it was probably a really weird and unconnected dream. Even though I thought I was awake for a moment at least. It was like several things happened at once, and my head just processed them too slow.
I thought I was woken by one incredibly loud bang, like a blast - at the same time… pressure on my ears and intense silence but also a high frequency tone whistling unnervingly. My body was pressed deep into the seats, maybe we had bumped into something, but the force felt unreal… especially my upper body, my head, pushed back, I was being smacked right in the face, breaking my nose and jerking my head, like my brain being smashed against the back of my skull—

The dream stopped and I woke up, sorta, my legs were heavy and tired and I couldn’t breeze, there was stuff all around me and it was hot everywhere, I choked on air and the smell off iron and burned rubber and then choked on liquid stuff in my throat and nose. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t get up. I could move my arms but my legs didn’t obey me. I think it was loud around me, but it sounded like someone was covering my ears with their hands.
There was biting, cutting wind near my face sucking more heat in my direction from the other side and the urge to move away from there.
My eyes were burning and watering too much too see, and I wasn’t sure which way was up or down, it seemed to change all the time.
I tried to crawl towards the cold. My legs barely helped propping me up, at least I wasn’t hurt. The car door was open and I pulled myself closer to it, letting my weight drag me out, hands grasping for hold in the grass beneath, trying to pull my legs out. I felt a jostle and a sudden tug of gravity and then more blows to my side and front and back and my head spin and then the movement stopped but my head still spun and my face was in dusty muddy ground that tasted of iron and then I continued to sleep and the dream stopped…