Dread

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It had been a nice day. It was the first good day that Rachel could recall in a while, which did tarnish the glimmer of it a little. But it didn't deflate her, because it had been so easy. So simple. She just had to do things with her family instead of just wasting her own time on whatever allayed the boredom easiest. Just actually doing things she would find fulfilling, instead of empty distractions. It was obvious in hindsight. It had been obvious in foresight too, really, it was just difficult to tell what would be fulfilling or to muster the motivation for it. That was easier with other people.

She was tired. She had been awake for eighteen hours at this point, and it was the most active day she had had in a while. That wasn't saying much, but it was saying something. She would have to keep up with the stretching as exercise, even though there was absolutely no way she would ever be on Raven's level. She was ready to go to sleep happy, for once, and hopefully could keep that up.

It had started storming, like the forecast said, except 'snowstorm' would be an exaggeration. A mix of rain and sleet, making more or less the familial patter against the house in her bedroom. The wind was harsh and the sound wasn't calm, but Rachel still found it calming. She drifted off almost immediately once she was in bed.

Rachel woke up in the middle of the night. She begrudgingly opened her eyes, feeling lucid and annoyed. Apparently this really was just part of her rhythm. She had hoped maybe a good day would have been the end of it, but of course it wasn't that easy. She was tempted to close her eyes again, but no. She reluctantly tossed off her blanket, and then crawled out of bed. She made it again, looking longingly at the warmth and snugness it promised. At least she was in full pajamas so she could just go right to the kitchen for some water. It was cold. The storm was still raging, and it sounded even windier than when she went to bed. It almost drowned out the sound of her door creaking open.

She was still standing at the foot of her bed.

She felt rooted in place there, as the door was slowly pushed open. There was a dark spot behind it, a shape her eyes couldn't quite resolve in the dark. But she knew what it was, and her heart fell. But that didn't make sense. It had been so long! And she was awake! But she just had to watch as something unfurled from that darkness, a long and slender limb planting in her room and dragging the rest closer.

Rachel tore her eyes away, forced them shut and silently counted. She didn't have a number in mind, and broke on six, opening her eyes. The thing hadn't disappeared.

It had fully crawled into her room, and it was close enough to mostly make it out. It was still moving, dragging itself towards her with the oversized hands, almost digging its fingertips into the carpet. Its head was entirely shrouded behind knotted black hair, and the rest of it was pallid skin and the impressions of bones. The thing's spine stuck out so much it almost made a row of spikes. It looked like some twisted, spindly parody of a person. It made her skin crawl to see it unsteadily lurch towards her, but she had to stay calm. This wasn't real. It was just a nightmare. It didn't matter.

The thing suddenly jerked upwards and surged forward, bringing it somehow right in front of her. It was taller than her, looming over her despite still being on its knees. It was swaying uneasily in front of her, unsteady. But more than anything, that hair had fallen out of its face, and Rachel was staring at a maw that had been stretched open impossibly wide. It looked like the thing's face had torn at the corners of the mouth, a few stray tendons stretched taut to bridge the jaws together. Twisted, pointed teeth filled every space of the gums, crammed in and almost fighting for space. It could bite her in half, but she would never fit down the thing's scrawny neck. That wasn't much comfort.

Rachel felt that if she just kept looking at it, it wouldn't move anymore. She didn't know why, but she knew it was true with sickly certainty. Her brain had decided that was how the nightmare worked. Because it was a nightmare. It was just a nightmare. It was a dream. A lucid dream, but just a dream. The thing wasn't real. It wasn't there, even if she could count its teeth or feel the heat of its breath on her forehead. She just had to close her eyes, it would snap, and she would wake up screaming. But she wasn't going to close her eyes.

Her eyes started to water. That wasn't fair. Her actual eyes were closed, there was no reason she had to flinch in the dream. She tried to move, but it felt like she couldn't move a muscle outside her face. She squinted to keep her eyes open, and the thing fell on her.

She started to scream, but the wind was knocked out of her when her back hit the ground. It hurt like she had actually fallen, and then that thing had that all-too-familiar weight on her chest with one hand. The other hand was pinning her right wrist to the ground, and that maw was gaping over her. Rachel could move again, and shoved her left hand into its forehead, just trying to push that head away.

"Get off of me!" She was shouting before she knew it, more hissing with how all its weight was on her chest. It was pointless, she knew it was pointless, but she couldn't help it. "You aren't real! You don't exist!" She screwed her eyes shut, and tried to suck in a breath to keep going. "You don't exist! Just a nightmare."

She felt like she was going to choke. Her arm wavered, not strong enough to hold anything back, and fell to the ground. Her heart was hammering in her chest like she was actually about to die, and then... The weight suddenly lifted, and Rachel greedily took a deep breath. Then she started sobbing. It was stupid, but she couldn't help it. She knew it wasn't real, but she still felt like she had almost died, and she had thought it was all finally over, and then...

It might have been a minute before she stopped crying. She rubbed the tears out of her eyes, and then opened them. The monster was gone, and she was just sitting on the floor in her room. Her door was wide open. She didn't know why she hadn't woken up yet, or why everything felt so real. She had to be asleep. Right? Or... Did she hallucinate all of that while awake? She had almost felt paralyzed, but... That wasn't how that worked. But she really, really didn't feel like she was dreaming, not even lucidly. Was she just going psychotic? She looked at her open door.

Rachel picked herself up and slowly crept out of her doorway. She knew she didn't need to be so quiet, but it couldn't hurt. Some water would help her think straight. In the hallway, she couldn't hear the storm anymore, but there was a sound of static from Raven's room. It was coming from her doorway, which was... ajar. A stupid fear suddenly welled up in Rachel's gut. It was just a coincidence, she knew it was just a coincidence, but she wasn't sure, and she had to be sure.

She peered into her sister's room, and of course there wasn't a monster. But Raven was curled up on her bed, over the covers, clutching her radio. Which was only playing static. Rachel felt guilty for invading her sister's privacy and spying on a moment of weakness, but... "Raven?"

Raven looked up at her with an expression of horror, and Rachel felt an acute pang of guilt. She quickly hissed "Sorry!" and ducked out of the doorway. What was wrong with her? And... what was it that had Raven crying? But now instead of being able to help, she must have just made it worse by butting in. Because she was worried about her own hallucination actually being real, because she was an idiot and insane and—

"Rachel?"

She almost hadn't heard her sister say her name over the sound of her own thoughts. She swallowed, and tried to calm down. She didn't stick her head in the room this time. "Yeah, Raven?"

"You can come in."

Rachel stepped in, and quietly shut the door behind her. Raven was sitting up in her bed, under a sheet. The radio was still next to her, only playing static. She looked disturbed, and Rachel wanted to kick herself. "Sorry about that, I... I was worried. It was stupid, but—"

"I get it." Raven was talking very quietly. Rachel stepped closer, and then her twin flinched.

"Sorry. I—" Rachel cut herself off. That wasn't what was important. "Raven, what's wrong? Do you want me to go?"

"I want you here. I just..." Raven broke eye contact to look down. It was almost a minute before she glanced back and finished her thought. "I don't want to hurt you."

"What?" Rachel had to try not to tilt her head. "You aren't going to hurt me, Raven."

"Don't you get it!?" Raven snapped and sprung forward in bed. Then her hands were in her hair. The sheet fell, but it wasn't the time to worry about that.

Rachel swallowed. "Raven, it's okay. I don't understand, but I know you aren't going to hurt me. Even if you're... Also feeling like you're going crazy."

Raven responded by bending the rest of the way forward to look down. Rachel could make out the shape of her spine on her pale back, and then looked away. Her eyes landed on that pentagram band poster. There was an awkward, awful silence, until finally Raven broke it. "That's not what I mean. I don't know how to say it. You wouldn't believe me."

A sickly feeling settled in Rachel's stomach. This wasn't good. Her mind's eye was just suddenly full of that sight of almost spikes on that monster's back. And... "Maybe I won't. But I promise I'll listen, if you want to tell me anyways."

Raven didn't answer for a while. "I don't want to say it. I don't want to admit it. I don't want it to be real. If you don't understand, then I think it probably just means I'm crazy. And that would be better."

"Raven... You aren't crazy, I promise. But if you need, we could try and find a therapist? For real this time. I mean I..." Rachel nervously laughed, but it didn't ease any of her nerves. "I hallucinated something again tonight. I wasn't even asleep, I'm pretty sure. It was..." Rachel hesitated, but she needed to get it off of her chest, and hopefully out of her imagination. "It was that monster again. It snuck into my room and... almost ate me. And then it left, and well, I was worried it had come in here to eat you." Suddenly her stomach dropped. Raven had seen it too, back then. And there was whatever she had been saying about the beef...

"You lied that we weren't seeing the same thing. Sorry, if you were trying to ease my worries, it didn't work." Raven sighed, and Rachel winced.

"Sorry. But..." Rachel swallowed. Her heart started to race. "But it's not real. It can't be real. Even if we're having some shared delusion, it doesn't exist."

Raven shifted and was quiet for a minute. It looked like she was debating something, and Rachel almost hated her for letting that silence stretch out. When Raven finally spoke, her voice was almost lost under the radio static. "Yeah. That's what you said." Raven grinned, and it looked like she was about to cry.

She didn't understand, but she knew that didn't mean anything good. An awful, awful thought started to creep into her head. It had been lingering the whole time, but she didn't want to be thinking it. "Raven..." She swallowed, and then shook her head. She took a few steps forward, and Raven recoiled, but Rachel gently grabbed her hand anyways. "It's okay. You aren't going to hurt me, I know that. We can get help together."

Raven stared at her, and then started crying. Rachel started to tear up too, and then she was hugging Raven. She didn't know what was going on, or what was wrong with them, but they had each other. She was about to let go, but Raven pulled her closer. Rachel could still hear her sobbing. If nothing else in all this, she could be here for her when Raven clearly needed her. And she still needed it too, as she realized she was shivering. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up, and her arms were in goosebumps. The embrace was almost tight enough to hurt, and yet it wasn't helping her feel safe.

"Nine five four seven four five nine—"

Rachel flinched at the sudden unfamiliar voice right beside her, and Raven finally let go. She shot Raven a look of concern, but she was just starting to laugh.

The radio on the bed with them had finally found its signal again.


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