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Denis Bushtalov
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tiliwakeup2.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

...'till I wake up

 

by Denis Bushlatov

 

 

Alice is dreaming. The dream is vivid and at the same time it is grey like the endless sea which surrounds her.

As it usually happens, while dreaming, she does not feel the need to understand what is going on. There is just Here and Now - all other constants have been deleted.

Alice finds herself in an old boat. Once painted sky-blue, but now blotchy-grey, it is creaking like old bones. There are a short paddle and a wineglass on a wooden stem. This wineglass evokes a feeling of aversion, even disgust with a bit of terror. She does not understand her feelings, but she is trying to keep her distance.

Wherever she looks, she is seeing a shoreless green sea in grey hues. Here and there, the crests of waves are curling up with dirty-yellow foam. Looking into the water for a long time makes nausea creep up her throat, because it seems like the boat is moving, dragged by the waves, and at the same time standing still, rocking on the dunes of the watery desert. When she squints, she understands, that the sea is liquid.....what else could it, surely, be? But when she unfocuses her eyes, the picture changes—now it seems she is stuck in a wide openness of slow-cooking tar-thick lard.

Once she dreamed, she saw a sea-gull. She would take interest, if it was real. The sea-gulls nest on land, don't they? But it was a dream, just a dream. She followed  the flight of the fat awkward bird indifferently. Who cares about sea-gulls, besides, this one was obviously ill. It was flying erratically, now gliding over blubbery waves, now almost touching them with absurdly short wings. Once the bird cried out and its cry was also ill, miserable. Then everything got hidden by thick swabs of a humid fog, and for a while Alice was floating alone in yellowing darkness. There was an acidic, chemical smell which was rising off the water. She kept looking over to the other side of the boat. There, semi-visible in the deep fog, was a rolling wineglass on a wooden stem. It was wetly tapping the rotten wood.

Soon the fog dispersed.

There is almost no wind now. Heavy clouds, painted gray, hang low over the weakly rising boundless sea, so low, that if she lifts up her hand she will touch its muculent pregnant belly.

Her dream is becoming more realistic. Now Alice is feeling a persistent itch in the palm of her left hand. Without looking, she opens up her palm and reaches it with the fingers of her right hand. Her nails barely feel any resistance of something soft like long-decayed suet and then they slip into a cold, gooey hole.

Without any interest, Alice is looking at her hand and for a moment she is sure that her palm has bitten off her fingers. She even wiggles her fingers to convince herself otherwise and with slipping curiosity and with just the same slipping revulsion she understands, that her fingers are in place. They have stuck up to the middle phalanges in the huge, bloodless wound in the center of her palm.

Alice pulls her fingers out and stares at them, looking them over carefully, studying... They are covered in pus-yellow slime, which smells of the same strong chemical odour. Not giving it another thought, she lifts her fingers up to her mouth and licks off a wad of springy substance.

There is the wound again. She sees it framed with petals of purple, swollen flesh, it looks like a crater of a dormant volcano. Inside the hole, the meat has almost lost its colour. The skin edge of the wound is speckled with light-blue shades of dead water lilies. 

Alice is distracted for a moment, she is shivering - her skin is crawling over with goose bumps and for the first time in her dreams she is feeling the cold, chilling to the bone and at the same time stifling, suffocating coldness. She hugs herself, but remembering  her wound, she lets her left hand drop down to her knees. This movement was enough to nudge the boat and that damn wineglass on a wooden stem begins to knock about again. Tap, tip-tap. Splash. Wet, viscous sound.

The wineglass should go overboard. She is glancing at the water by the boat and is seeing some marine inhabitants through a translucent, rainbow film. Not large - no more than half a meter in size, they look like thick, slick torpedoes - can't make out heads or tails. They are swimming quickly, not like snakes, but more like pieces of plastic, gently touching the boat from time to time, squishing as they do so. Alice is watching their weird, clumsy dance. Now, one of the creatures stops and its fat body is shaking with a spasm. It is starting to inflate - now Alice can see a twisted network of purple capillaries in unexpectedly delicate skin.  It is continuing to balloon... and now there is a sphere in front of her, inside of which, she swears, are tiny fish scurrying around, looking almost like goldfish, except instead of tails they have...

Alice groans and forces herself to close her eyes, hard. Now she is seeing darkness, speckled by twinkling stars.

Same old irritating itch in her hand.

She is looking down at her palm carefully, scrupulously and she realizes with fading disgust, that the wound is harbouring inside a translucent writhing worm. Without any hesitation, she grabs it and pulls. The worm does not give, it stretches and eventually slips out.

With a newfound fury, Alice lifts her hand up to her mouth and sinks her teeth into the slippery flesh of the worm. Rips it out and... leaves the writhing half in her mouth. She spits it out automatically. Puts her fingers in the wound again, but the worm is too short now and she can't grasp it. Alice is just observing, stupefied, as it voraciously gnaws the colorless meat at the depth of the wound. She does not feel any pain, only an insatiable itch. With difficulty, she does not allow herself to sink her nails into rotten raw flesh and scratch, scratch, scratch...

The worm is almost out of sight. If it doesn't stop, it will chew through the hand and fall out onto the bottom of the boat and crawl to the wineglass with the wooden stem and then.... No, no, it mustn't happen!

Still, Alice is not afraid, but much to her surprise, she discovers that she is surprised. Strange, paralyzing stupor is receding, much like a local anesthetic and with each passing second Alice is feeling more and more persistent involvement of the surrounding reality. Cold air is covering her naked body with wet flakes. Occasional waves are crashing on the sideboard and are splashing her with droplets, which stick to her skin like an instant glue. Fat, plastic creatures under the water are showing much more interest in her—they are hitting the boat on all sides, making the wineglass roll from one side to another, from board to board.

Alice is looking to her damaged hand leveling it at her eyes. Now, in the center of an endless fatty disturbed vale, there appears a stinging hole. Seems like the worm is almost finished and, in a moment, she will see right through her palm.

Why is she still unafraid? Surely, it can get scary in a dream, can't it? There could be nightmares, stifling like a pillow over face. There could be visions so horrible, that even memory of them could torment the dreamer, making the heart beat amiss.

You could even happen to die in your sleep for no reason.

She puts down her hand and stares into the unending, unstable expanse. There, beyond horizon, the sky taps the sea, forming a single black and broken line. Maybe, she is being carried onto far and unknown rocks?

Something is touching her leg softly, passively. Alice looks down and barely stops from screaming.

There is the wineglass on the wooden stem at her feet. Its tapping is soft, but demanding.

Without thinking, as it often happens in dreams, Alice reaches out and grabs the wineglass hard. She leans down and scoops up some gelatinous water - eyeless creatures are staring back from below.

...She is sipping it. The liquid is spreading over her mouth cavity like petroleum and is leaving a coating on mucous membrane.

She is taking another sip.

She is looking at the ever-distant broken line, a scar which is holding together the sky and the sea.

Alice is drinking the rigid flesh of the ocean and is awaiting.

Awaiting for the dream to be over.

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Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2017

Denis Bushlatov is a Ukrainian horror writer. At the moment, he has published two short story selections: Devolution and The Gift, which are sold worldwide in more or less every bookstore featuring Russian literature.  He has recently published his first novel: The Keeper of Void and rumors say that the second one is on the way.

Unfortunately, up till now few of his works has been translated into English. 

Denis Bushlatov currently lives in Odessa, Ukraine with his wife, his 12-year old son and full-of-nuisance cat, Richard.

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