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I sent in the below for a short story competition. I didn’t win anything, but I’m still sharing it here. As mentioned before, this is more like a chapter of a novel than a short story…As to whether I’ll continue to write on Leah, well, I haven’t decided. I’d like to, and I have some ideas on the themes I’d like to include in the story, but…if you don’t already know, writing is hell. It feeds me, allows me to vent and think, drives me on, and I love it. But it’s hell. The toll you pay to enter this hell is your soul, and ironically, the price you receive after surviving this hell is also (you got it) your soul.

Diminished, starved, drained to the last dregs…and yet, fuller, richer, and just more after the experience. I run away from it sometimes, screaming maniacally in my head. Yet, I always come back. I’m not sure whether I should feel happy about this or just plain sad. Anyway, I guess I’d let Leah decide whether she wants the rest of her story to be shared…

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I remember it like it was yesterday.

The hot, burning sensation in my chest as the flame of rage burst and then sputtered out almost immediately into the dark abyss of despair. The slivers of ice that pierced my heart and allowed an almost comforting numbness to seep slowly but unerringly into the deepest recesses of my soul. The cooled tea by my elbow that tasted of nothing but bitter defeat and aching loss. And across me, the baby blue shirt that mocked at me with memories of happier days, shared laughter, eagerly spilled secrets, and fragile trust.

As usual, dark, unruly waves tumbled all over my face and covered my back and shoulders like a shroud. Slender arms with no hint of blood beneath the skin led to pale hands that were clenched so tightly at the moment the tendons on the back stood out in stark contrast to the translucent skin. I worried at the hangnail on my left thumb with my eyes, willing…desperately needing all other existence to fade into oblivion.

Words floated into my consciousness. Soft, cajoling, with that strange yet achingly familiar, beloved accent. Tearing my gaze from the wretched hangnail with considerable effort and a great deal of reluctance, I blinked away unshed tears to stare fixedly at the hands across the table. Just so slightly pudgy, with long, straight digits and neatly trimmed nails. Gentlemanly hands that somehow conveyed competence and a life not wasted on idling…

The sonorous toll of a church bell sounded in the distance, and I shook myself out of my reverie. It’s not like me to space out in the middle of lunch, and I hurried to assure a concerned albeit slightly annoyed colleague that I still remember the file I’d promised to send her by the end of the day. Deadlines – cross them without delivering and you’re dead. At least, that’s what people who set them would have you believe.

But it’s hard to forget the day one died.

Even if it’s only in a dream. A dream that has recurred every single night of my life since I turned seven. I’m twenty-seven this year, and a mental count reminds me that last night makes it seven thousand, five hundred, and eleven nights of having the same dream.

This dream seems more real to me than reality sometimes. It haunts me like a shadow, popping out just when I feel happy, lighthearted, and about to start living in today. I have no idea how to explain this to anyone without being taken for a lunatic ready for lifelong commitment (to a mental institution, that is), but I always wake up feeling seriously disoriented and tragically sad.

It feels like I’m living one life at night, every night…and then I’d wake up in the morning to discover that I have to start being ‘me’ all over again. Repeat the cycle for over seven thousand nights and you’ll end up like…me. Paranoid, high-strung from a lack of fitful sleep, with countless layers of granite walls around the organ that we usually call the heart.

The yesterdays of reality are all blurry in a haze compared to the dream. That, is luminous in its clarity and the only yesterday that I feel to have lived through. There is that one major problem though. I never did get round to finding out how I died.

You would have thought that I’d be granted the dignity of knowing the details of my death in the dream, seeing as to how I’m being made to relive it so many times. All I get are seemingly inconsequential details like my hair, that trivial hangnail, my hands, his hands, the teacup.

And my feelings.

The constant ache in my heart, the hurt of betrayal, and the gaping hole inside me that screams of loss.

Pulling myself from the cobwebs of the dream always leaves me feeling drained, lost, and unwanted. Despite the fact that I sport shoulder-length tresses dyed a soft shade of mahogany with hints of auburn to set off my pale-but-definitely-on-the-side-of-sallow skin, I know without a doubt that the girl with the long hair and bloodless skin in the dream is me. Or I’m her. Just as I know that the dream is real. I don’t believe in God, or karma, and I have no idea how to explain this certainty I feel, but I. Just. Know. It.

‘Leah, do you have a minute? Introductions time!’

Right. There’s a new addition to the IT department today. I so do not have the inclination for mindless niceties, especially in my current mood. Swallowing a sigh that threatened to spill past my too full lips, I looked up from my computer screen.

And cursed that premonitions never happen in reality.