Awakening a Nightmare: Chapter Six

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Aria

Life had the miraculous ability to warp time. It was almost like someone held the remote control to her life. They’d press the fast-forward button, pause, and slow it down. Aria spent the better part of her life detached from ownership of herself. The sun rose, it fell, and she did the bidding of others to make paper, to then exchange for a place to live, food in her belly, a drink in her hand. She felt like more than a specter, a whisp of a thing traipsing her way through the world, leaving only ghost stories in her wake.

It was there, in the autumnal chill she came alive.

She came alive because she saw her again.

Eli. The woman she had so badly hurt and left with the most gruesome ghost story of all—a story of a love interrupted.

The cruel time master found a way to make the world slow, and race simultaneously.

Aria watched on powerless as Eli sprinted through the woods. Then, there was a muted bang, a splatter of blood. It happened too quickly for her to call out a warning, but slowly enough, she could see every heartbeat that brought Eli to her knees.

There was a scream, and Aria couldn’t tell from whom it came. Her or Elizaveta.

A man called out from the darkness, his footsteps heavy, plodded, and clumsy.

Aria acted without thinking. No sooner did the brute stand over Eli’s body, staring down at her like she was a prize doe, did the butt of her shotgun crack against his skull.

The man toppled to the side, sparing Aria the worry that he’d hurt Eli further.

Panicked, she knelt beside her ex-girlfriend’s body. There was a lot of blood. Too much. Eli’s face was pale, and her eyes were wide open. Aria reached for her with shaking hands, brushing aside her dark hair to feel her pulse beneath her skin. It was there. Still beating strong. Aria heaved a sigh of relief.

She didn’t think. Not when she reached into her pack and produced her medical supplies. Not when she stripped Eli of her jacket and her shirt. Her movements were steady and sure, even as she felt adrenaline spiking in her veins. Aria heaved a sigh of relief when she noticed that the bullet had gone clean through. It was a gut shot, though. One of the most painful and often fatal shots one could make. 

Training took over. Aria knew the steps: pressure on the wound, call 911. She gritted her teeth as she hooked her arms under Eli’s and dragged her to the nearest tree. She propped the injured woman up to the best of her ability. Eli was far more muscular (and much heavier) than she remembered her being.

A low, pained groan came from Eli when Aria pressed her palms down against the wound. A sense of relief flooded through her. Eli was awake. 

“Eli, listen to me, okay? You’ve been shot.”

“Aria?” 

A small smile twisted on her lips. A sad, apologetic smile that seemed to say, “I’m sorry we had to bump into each other like this.” “It’s me,” she whispered. “I’m going to call an ambulance. You’ve been shot in the belly, so I’m going to need you to stay still for me, okay? Just stay alert and with me.”

“No,” Eli snarled, her hand closing around Aria’s to push it against the wound. “No ambulance.”

“You could bleed out!” She protested.

Eli shook her head again, her expression fierce. “No ambulance.” 

“That’s the shock talking.”

“No,” she growled. “Wrap me up. Send me on my way. If I go to the hospital, I’ll wind up dead in the next twenty-four hours.”

Aria felt like the breath had been ripped from her lungs. She stared at Eli for a long moment, holding her gaze. It was clear that she was tired. Sweat stained her brow and her muscles shook from the pain and the effort of keeping her head lifted.

“Promise me,” she croaked. “Promise me you won’t call an ambulance.”

Aria couldn’t bring herself to speak past the lump in her throat. Instead, she nodded resolutely, hating herself for agreeing to it. It went against all her baser instincts. She pulled her hand back and quickly bandaged the wound, tying it tight. 

Eli was visibly relieved that Aria agreed and slumped back against the tree. Her shoulder pitched to one side, nearly sending her toppling to the ground.

“Eli,” Aria murmured, her voice thready with panic as she pushed her shoulder hard. “Stay with me.”

Her once-lover opened her eyes and offered her a heavy, dopey smile. “And I thought you would still hate me.”

Her half-lidded eyes closed as unconsciousness took hold. Aria’s eyes stung as she lifted Eli in her arms and made as hasty an exit as she dared.

Against her better judgment, she listened to Eli. Every fiber of her being screamed out about its wrongness. Injured people should go to the hospital. They should see a doctor, not a make-believe field medic whose training was mainly on the fly and common sense based. 

It was the fear in her eyes that kept Aria from acting. Eli had always been rather timid. She was sweet. But the woman she held seemed so far from that person. The years had been kind to her. Long willowy limbs filled out, as did her curves. It seemed that very little of her was left un-inked. Her dark hair had grown, cut into shaggy, fashionable layers. And by God, did she look good in leather and denim.

It felt wrong to harbor such thoughts about her. Especially given that she had been the one to pull the plug on their relationship. When she thought back on its flatline, she could only blame herself. But being near her for the first time in nearly a decade, she was forced to acknowledge that those feelings never died. They had been buried. Well buried in fact. So well buried that she had no idea how she would explain Eli’s arrival to her live-in girlfriend, Salena.

“Hey,” Aria murmured as she slipped into the backseat of her car. She looped her arm around Eli, tugging her close to her chest. She smelled of cigarettes. Alcohol. The woods. She must have been drinking at Trout Mouth Lodge and cut through the woods to get back to town. It was the worst case of the wrong place at the wrong time. 

“Hey,” she repeated, shifting her arm beneath Eli’s. “Do you think you can walk?”

Eli nodded, her eyes glassy and distant. Her fingers sunk into the meat of her shoulder as they slid out of the backseat. No sooner did Eli’s feet meet the ground did she tip forward. Aria braced herself, trying to maintain buoyancy in her knees, so they didn’t face-plant onto the concrete. 

“No hospital?” Eli gritted.

“No hospital,” Aria agreed. “You’re at my apartment.”

It was evident in Eli’s half-moon smirk that she desperately wanted to make a smarmy comment, but the pain was still too much. Her jaw set as she offered a sharp nod, “good.”

Deciding it was best not to press her luck, she allowed their conversation to die. Instead, her focus remained exclusively on getting Eli up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. It was a harrowing and arduous process.

By the time they clumsily reached the top landing, they were both coated in a thin sheen of sweat. Aria was panting. On the other hand, Eli hardly seemed like she was breathing with how she gnashed her teeth. 

It took far more restraint than it should have to stop herself from brushing her hair from her damp forehead and pressing a kiss there. 

With a bit of finagling, Aria produced her keys from her jacket pocket and slipped them into the door lock. They stumbled through, near-drunkenly, across the threshold.

Salena stood in the kitchen, directly facing the front door. Her painfully slim arm was wrapped around her middle as if she was holding her insides in her belly. She clutched a phone to her ear, hardly looking surprised when she saw the two tumble in.

Knowing better than to interrupt (and, frankly, unwilling to start the conversation while Eli was in so much pain), she limped them both to the guest room.

“Who was that?” Eli asked, seemingly no-less-relieved for the pillowtop beneath her back.

“Salena,” she replied, albeit with a strange, unnamable hesitance. “She’s my girlfriend.”

It was impossible to know what was going through Eli’s head. Her mouth moved in what could only be described as a shrug. Finally, her eyes rolled lazily toward the ceiling as she let out a noncommittal “oh.” 

Aria began stripping her, taking great care in not touching Eli directly. First to be shed were her boots. Then the jacket she had sloppily tossed back over her shoulders and the torn shirt, held together only by the hem of its collar and bottom. 

With considerable hesitation, Aria worked on her bra. Eli didn’t seem to mind her own nudity. She was in no rush to cover herself. 

Aria’s gaze remained clinical as she assessed her for any more damage. She disappeared briefly to grab soap, a cloth, and a makeshift basin filled with warm water. By the time she returned, Eli was already out cold, propped up on a mountain of pillows. Aria was careful as she washed the grime off her skin. The bandages had to be changed and would likely need to be re-dressed several times over the next twenty-four hours. To Aria’s surprise, the wounds looked far better off than she had thought initially.

She frowned as she re-bandaged her and dressed her in clean clothes; a threadbare high school debate club t-shirt and a pair of oversized gym shorts. 

Eli snored peacefully as Aria left the room. She resisted the urge to look back at her as she closed the door. Aria barely had a chance to catch her breath when Salena appeared at the end of the hallway, her gaze hard and suspicious.

“We need to talk.” 



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