It had to be a symptom of oxygen deprivation, or carbon dioxide inhalation, or something. Something. None of the many hastily researched websites and academic journals and peer-reviewed studies had confirmed it, but she was sure -- Sasha had to be sure, it was her job to be certain of the information she possessed -- that strange dreams had to be caused by something, especially when they were as vivid as the ones she’d been having.
Case in point: last night, her first night not spent worrying about how early she needed to get up the next morning for work, she’d gone to bed at an unusual time. Sasha liked to sleep at what she referred to as ‘round hours,’ ones that ended in a zero, like eight or nine or ten thirty. Nice, easy slices of the clock, even halves or wholes. She would keep herself up for them, even, but that first night, she’d been nodding off at strange, crooked numbers like six thirty-seven or eight fourteen. It seemed odd, but not too odd -- just a little tickle at the base of her skull, like someone brushing a fingertip over it every other moment.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had stopped there, but every moment she wasn’t asleep after that first doze was tinged with an odd dizziness. Fatigue and clumsiness were common, even expected after high concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this felt more like she’d gone out to a party back in uni days and taken a hit of whatever was being offered her. Her mouth was dry, then all too wet; her body felt like it was being pulled forward gently, as if carried, but her limbs were heavier and heavier every time she passed her bedroom, and when she could not physically keep herself awake any longer she fell into her sheets with the momentum of a dropped boulder.
Her eyes saw the clock she kept on her nightstand: nine forty-seven. And then she was lost to the world.
Sasha was a researcher by nature, not just by trade, so she kept a journal by her bed. The dreams she had were standard, by most people’s estimation: a night or two of being unprepared for an exam, an impromptu meeting with Elias, sometimes a romp through whatever she’d done that day. Even the sexual ones weren’t very weird, given that they usually featured some old boyfriend or girlfriend gyrating themselves against her, with a few given special mention because they featured her co-workers instead of some past flame. (Tim, in particular, would have enjoyed the one where he’d been in nothing but a string bikini and a clown nose, but that was beside the point.)
Last night’s journal entry, however, was oddly blank. She tried to put it down on paper, to put the experience into her own words, but she couldn’t -- which was odd, definitely odd, because she remembered it so clearly. So...shamefully? And Sasha James was not in the business of being ashamed, or embarrassed, or taken aback.
It wasn’t as if it was strange to begin with. She tried to rationalize it in the way only dream logic could be, which was that there was no logic, but the situation had been normal enough. She’d walked down the stairwell of her building, looking out of the window at the people below, and there had been a tall man. It struck her very suddenly that he was beautiful, in a way she couldn’t describe nor place, his hands long and graceful even from a distance and his fingers curling, curling, curling around the stems of the flowers he touched, looping just like the ends of his hair, hanging wild down his back and shoulders. She remembered flicking her tongue out to wet her lips as he cut his bouquet himself, a small bunch of lilies that seemed to shift in color with the light, and then he had turned around to look at her, looking at him, and smiled just a little too widely before making his way across the street to her building.
She was hit with the immediate desire to run. It was less a conscious desire than a primal urge, knowing somehow that he was coming for her, that she had gotten his attention somehow. She hurried back up to her flat, aiming to lock the door behind her, but he was there -- the lock turned anyway, the door opened.
“Good, you were home,” he murmured, closing the door behind himself, and she realized that he’d locked it only when she heard the click of the latch. “I’ve missed you.”
His voice was familiar, but so gentle that she found herself relaxing despite the fact that her heart was still thrumming like a rabbit’s.
She didn’t know this man. She didn’t remember living with this man. But he walked forward to embrace her anyway, the lilies thick and fragrant as they tickled her nose, his long hands crossing themselves over and over and over on the small of her back. His mouth was sharp on her neck when he kissed it, but she could feel his smile as it dragged down her pulse, one finger hooked now into the collar to expose a shoulder, his lips caressing it tenderly.
“I don’t...” said Sasha, and she was dizzy again. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Sasha,” said he, his voice lilting as he only continued to peel her shirt from her shoulders. It occurred to her distantly that he was shredding it with his nails, but she couldn’t begin to understand how or why. “We’re friends, aren’t we? More than that -- we’re lovers. You let me inside of you.”
Inside? In what definition of inside? Her mind, her flat, her body? And she was still being touched, kissed all over, her breasts being exposed to the air and nipples pebbling rapidly. No, but this was a dream. It had to be a dream, or else his tongue wouldn’t be able to stretch so far down to curl around one of those nipples, to tug at it in a way that made her next words die out in her throat. She had so many questions. She needed to know what was going on.
“Who are you,” she tried again, because there was a name here, one that she was forgetting. All she received in return was a laugh, one that made her ears ring and tingled all the way down her spine, and she asked again: “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
His hands were on her thighs now, and her knees were weak -- she could feel his fingers prodding between them, stiff but slippery, and realized that it was all her making those wet, filthy noises as he slid them back and forth between her folds. He didn’t respond at first, just pressed her back up against a wall that she didn’t know was there, and then looked down at her with that same beautiful, twisted face, its features indistinct but somehow moving, even as it leaned down to kiss her. What she felt against her lips was like wet leather, then clay, then amorphous, warm flesh. His tongue, too long, slipped slickly between them, and pressed some sort of fluid into her mouth, which she was startled into swallowing.
She was swooning now, about to fall over, and he held her closely to himself and pulled away to press his mouth to her ear, instead. “Because I’m interested to see what happens next.”
She’d woken up after that, a gasp on her lips and a hand between her thighs, and the first thought she’d had was that he hadn’t given her the chance to come. Her fingers were soaked, but in some way -- some way too small and thin and straight, which was the strangest thought, but she knew that no touch she could give herself could satisfy the need that the dream had given her, and she still hadn’t shaken it off.
It was night once again, her second night away from work, and she’d spent the whole day thinking about the dream and occasionally responding to concerned text messages from Jon, Tim, and even Martin, who’d heard she was away for a bit and hoped she hadn’t been eaten by any worms.
That last one had kept her thinking the longest, actually, because where she hadn’t been eaten by worms, she’d been consumed by the kind of longing she used to scoff at in romance novels. Long fingers, long blond hair. Had she even liked blondes when she had the time to date? And why was all of this so familiar -- she recalled making a statement to Jon about something similar, but the details seemed to blur together in her mind. All she knew was that there had been worms, and that she’d hurt herself in the process.
She had to sleep, she thought, having finished her washing up and feeling oddly dizzy and heavy once more. She could probably see a doctor if it continued on like this, maybe she’d permanently damaged her brain or heart.
The clock read seven twelve when Sasha placed her head on the pillow.
Sleep came on suddenly, like someone had smothered her with a heavy blanket. She was back in a familiar place, the walk from Victoria Station down to the Institute, and to her right was the cafe and its bright little windows and cheery smell of vanilla and coffee piping out from where people were coming and going. She looked in, aware of a sense of urgency on her part, but stopped short when she noticed long blond hair, fingers wrapped around and around and around a coffee mug.
She looked at her watch, and found that it was broken. The dials did nothing, the hands spun round and round, sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. She knew she was late to work, but when she looked up again, he was looking right back at her, and she felt her knees go weak in the same way that they had been just a night ago when he’d -- when he’d --
He gestured to the chair across from him with an unreadable smile, and she entered as if pulled, the bell at the door jingling as she stepped inside. It seemed as though the others disappeared as she walked through, like constructs made specifically to add color to the scene; by the time she sat down they were alone together, with nothing but his eyes on hers, and a steaming cup placed before her. His was empty, dried out long ago, but he took it in hand and raised it for her to clink against.
“Drink up,” he said cheerfully, as he pressed his own mug to his lips and drank deeply, and she looked at the prismatic colors swirling in her cup before she closed her eyes, felt the curve of the china against her mouth, and swallowed.
It was hard to describe the taste other than an explosion of lights, color, sound. It was like someone had set off a box of fireworks in her mind, lit the fuse on her tongue. She saw the world in a wavy, multi-colored way, as if looking through blown glass and a kaleidoscope both, and blinked hard, rubbed her eyes, before she realized she was already reaching for the cup again, to swallow another dose of whatever he had made her drink.
“I don’t understand,” she tried, through a too-wet mouth, his hand now reaching to take hers. It almost looked as though their fingers might meet, instead of Sasha’s being too small, too regular to fit around his own. Her own flesh looked wavy and wrong, and the man was smiling at her with delight in his eyes, if they could even be called eyes anymore. “What is it that you want with me?”
“I thought I explained myself already,” said the man, pouting gently, interlocking their fingers now. Her arm was too skinny, her hand too long, her fingertips pointed. “I want to help, of course, but I also want you. You, Sasha James, are one of the most interesting parts of that whole Archive, but you’re being tragically misused there.”
“Use,” she repeated, and she looked down to see that her cup was empty. “I’m not being used. I’m -- I’m a researcher, for God’s sake, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on -- ”
“And doing a bad job of it,” he countered, although he was still smiling at her, if it could be called a smile. “You’ll never learn anything under the Archivist’s employ, nor will you ever be satisfied by it. Or him. Are you saying that being an underling is your true passion in life?”
She opened her mouth, saw the words she meant to say falling out of it like colored blocks: how do you know about i don’t even know you that’s personal no but you don’t understand that i mean if i wanted a new job i could go and get one but it was out of my hands but but but.
“As I thought,” he said, with a little too much human in his voice, and then rose from his chair. They were still holding hands somehow -- and his mouth was on hers, despite the body being so tall, and her heart was back in her ears again, thumping hard, percussive. “Why don’t I finish what I started, and then you can consider what I’ve said with a little more context.”
“No,” said Sasha, trying to rise herself, but his hands were on her and her clothes were a construct, too. Her body itself seemed to be a construct, just shapes moving carelessly against one another until he found her folds again, tucked in that inimitable chasm between her chest and her knees, stroking them in a way that implied his fingers were moving backwards to do it.
It felt the same. It felt better than normal, shocks of intensity rising up and up what could be called her spine, random bursts with no pattern as he pinpointed her hard, non-Euclidean clit, the twisting corridors of her sopping cunt. His wrist was bent at an odd angle as he began to press first one, then two of those crooked, horrifying, wonderful fingers into her, stretching her endlessly, without shape or form. Her head fell back against the chair as he watched her come apart on them, the orgasm just as frenzied and nonsensical as the sex, until she was twitching from the sheer overstimulation of it all.
It didn’t stop when he pulled his fingers away and showed her that her cum was the same color as the kind she’d drunk, glimmering strangely in the cafe lights and as iridescent as an oil spill. The aftershocks only continued as he pressed those same fingers in her mouth, an odd but right texture, heavy and solid on her tongue as she lapped away the physical reminders of the sex.
And then she woke up. The morning was golden and twisting on her bed like something in death throes.
The fact of the matter was that she needed to tell somebody about this, honestly, either Jon or a doctor, but the feeling she had when she woke up was that of being as fluid and shimmering as a jellyfish. It was like she’d been electrified, with new nodes of her brain being stimulated at random intervals -- she considered how good it felt, and then how exceedingly wrong it all was.
Was the solution just to not sleep at all? She knew that was a foolhardy plan even as she thought it; she’d start going mad from deprivation and seeing worse things than the man in her dreams, maybe even doing worse, as well. But the other option seemed to be going back to sleep, and letting him do what he wanted with her -- provided, of course, that she wasn’t just having hallucinations, aftereffects of her chemical experimentation, but there was that old saying…
Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. That’s right. She’d just used that, a few days ago. (But for what?)
It didn’t stop her, of course. Either from thinking about how to deal with it, or from touching herself idly throughout the day. Jon was telling her that the Archives seemed to be much less efficient without her, that Martin’s episodes of paranoia were getting worse. He himself had seen a few worms lurking around the building as he’d walked in that morning, and Elias was just now ordering the tanks of carbon dioxide that had proven useful against them, much to everyone’s dismay. It only made her heart wrench with betrayal when she found that she resented the messages, resented being nothing but an assistant to help speed up the work in the Archives, and left Jon on read for entirely too long.
She needed to go back to work. She needed to make sure that this recuperation period stayed limited to a few days. She needed --
It was night again before long, and she washed up, brushed her teeth, flipped through a few pages of the newspaper, not really seeing it. Words seemed more and more meaningless to her -- she wanted action, she wanted hands spreading her open, a long tongue that shouldn’t exist invading her body, making her convulse. But she didn’t, she shouldn’t. She couldn’t.
She still went to bed at five twenty-one.
This time, she was met with nothing but a door. Not the door to the flowershop, or the door to the cafe, or even the door to the Institute. Just a door, yellow like long hair, stiff like fingers with sharp tips. Her hand touched the knob and it was warm, like flesh, shifting and rearranging itself to become whatever was required of it.
It was very simple to open the door. Even easier to walk inside.