Déjà vu


ago
4 min
8
readings
3
Qualified
It was in late April when I first moved.
I’d toured the space before signing the new lease. It was a studio. Small, but comfortable, with a window looking out over a small street intersection. Across the intersection, catty-corner from my apartment complex, was a large pre-Civil War brick building. There was a train station nearby and cars would drive by at all hours, their lights streaking across the blinds late into the night as they scoured the buildings for the half-hidden parking garage two streets over. I was dead to the world when I slept, so the revving of engines and sharp honks at two a.m. didn’t bother me.
But that was before the dreams started.
The first time, I remember waking up, skin sticky with drying sweat. It was dark, but the kind of dark where you could see the sky glow dimly in the window as the sun hovered just below the trees somewhere. The blankets were tangled around my legs, trapping me there, flat on my back. My chest rose and fell, shuddering with each breath as my heart beat slightly too fast. My mind felt foggy, disoriented. The dream had already slipped away into nothing. All I knew, all I remembered, was the fear.
It was only weeks later that I was first able to pull out fragments of images from the recurring nightmare. A flash of light, blinding. The kind that left an amorphous purple drifting glow imprinted on my vision. Dark leaves as shivering shadows against the sky. A harsh noise, grating and sharp. Silence. Deafening silence, ringing in the air, louder than the sound of my breath, than the pounding of my heart.
And the cold. I remembered the cold. The way the chill settled across my skin, slithering beneath the hem of my shirt, sinking into my hair.
Later, images became more distinct. An inverted triangle street sign, hanging crookedly on a rusted pole. A strong smell, harsh against my nose, clogging my throat as I inhaled. A figure walking toward me, impossibly suspended sideways. A sharp laugh. A low murmur. A hoarse shout. A long turn on an unfamiliar sidewalk, disappearing behind the brick wall of a building. Broken, uneven concrete. Slimy, decaying leaves sliding beneath my feet. A glowing screen, the numbers reading 6:14.
And always, always, that feeling of overwhelming dread.
By September, it came every night. I’d wake up with a shock, mind blank, heart pounding. Then, as the now-familiar paralyzing terror began to subside, flickers of memories would filter in. Nothing to explain the thrills running like shockwaves through my chest, in chills up my spine. Just flashes, fragments of pictures and an overwhelming sense of foreboding.
I’d stare up at the ceiling, tracing the familiar cracks in the paint with my eyes. Occasionally, a car would drive by. The headlights would filter through the blinds, then vanish along with the sound of rushing tires brushing over asphalt.
Then, on the twenty-fifth of November, the bus broke down.
There was an odd clattering, then the wail of the brakes and the familiar creaking of the rickety frame as the bus slowed to a crawl, then a stop. The riders became restless, murmuring to one another and darting glances towards the front where the driver was muttering only half-audible jargon into a radio. Finally, he spoke into the bus microphone, his staticky voice announcing that there would be a delay, and it would be another fifteen minutes before another bus came by on the same line. I looked out the window, recognizing the street and the shops. Three blocks and a turn and I’d be at my apartment.
I decided to walk.
As I stepped off of the bus, I felt the first prickle of fall chill brush the exposed skin of my cheeks and nose. The soles of my boots slapped on the sidewalk, carrying me away from the bus.
The street was familiar, but only vaguely. I spent most bus rides listening to music and watching the scenery blur together in splashes of grey and green that filtered by quickly, dissolving almost as soon as they appeared.
There were streetlamps lining the sidewalk, jutting up from patches of yellow grass. The bulbs were still unlit. It wasn’t quite dark enough yet. The atmosphere still held a strange, murky grey light that strained the eyes and warped the senses.
Something began to prickle at the nape of my neck. I looked around, slowing slightly. But there was nothing. A few people coming in and out of the illuminated doorways of shops, uneasy silhouettes. The murmur of voices. I kept walking. A couple was huddled beneath the awning of a shop I passed. One of them laughed suddenly, making me flinch. I realized my hands were clenched into tight fists in my pockets, my nails digging into the skin of my palm. I forced them to relax.
I reached the end of the gated park. The expanse of patched brown grass was half-hidden by the bare trunks of trees that stood just inside the black-painted bars. Branches stretched out over the sidewalk above my head, a few scraps of shriveled leaves still clinging there, caught in the web of twigs that formed a delicate web in the canopy. There had been a recent drizzle. The wet still darkened the bark, and filled the air with the cloying smell of decay. Beneath my feet the ground shifted, damp leaf carcasses slipping against one another in a dangerous blanket over the concrete.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket. The screen came on, blinding in the dimness. I squinted, eyes adjusting.
6:07
Seven minutes to go.
My stomach lurched. I shoved my phone back into my pocket.
Ahead, I saw the side of the pre-Civil War building at the end of my street, a network of brick. The sidewalk vanished behind it, following the gentle curve of the street.
I knew this place. Something heavy sank in my gut. Licks of adrenaline shot up my arms, my legs, beneath my cold skin. I knew this place. That building, that curve.
My dream. This was the place from my dream.
I’d stopped moving, paralyzed by the nameless horror waiting for me around the corner. I felt the cold again, biting into my skin.
I inhaled, taking in as much of the icy air as my constricting lungs could carry. My feet moved, carrying me forward again. My eyes were fixed on the ground, only half-seeing as it rolled away beneath me. I was suffocating, heart pounding, pulled forward like a puppet on a string.
The sidewalk in front of me, cracked liked dry crust as the structure broke and sagged into the gutter below, disturbingly familiar. I forced myself to look up.
Relief. Overwhelming relief. I could see my apartment building. I’d turned the corner. I was almost there.
I stepped into the street.
There was a deafening blare from the side. My head turned. Bright white lights, blinding. I tripped backwards, boots slipping out from under me. There was a rush of air past me, violent, whipping the bare skin of my face. My breath came out in a harsh gasp, my eyes squeezed shut. Purple lights danced behind my eyelids. Through the ringing, I heard the sharp screech of a car braking. Someone shouted something. It sounded like a profanity. Then the peeling of tires spinning as a car accelerated too fast.
It took me a minute to remember how to breath. To inhale, slowly. The noxious odor of burnt rubber drifted over me. I swallowed thickly, opened my eyes. The street was empty. A shuddering sigh escaped me. I unclenched my fingers, glancing back.
There, above me, was a faded yellow yield sign.
I stood there shivering in the cold for what felt like hours before I worked up the courage to cross the street again.
That night, I dreamed of nothing at all.
3

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