I want Mandy out of my head.
They say the Dream Doctor is the man for the job.
He is a small, hunched man of vaguely Central European origins. He wears small rectangular glasses perched on the end of his nose. He is the timeless kind of withered man who could be 70 years old or 7,000.
“Her name, again?” he asks, adjusting his glasses on the end of his nose.
“Mandy,” he repeats, pecking at a tablet with his crooked index fingers. “Symptoms?”
“I can’t sleep without dreaming about her.”
It used to be one or two nights a year. Then once a week. Now it’s every night. Every night the same dream. Mandy on the beach with the wind teasing her straight, black hair. Mandy smiling her thousand watt smile. Mocking me. Or maybe inviting me. Impossible to tell which.
Each time I wake in a cold sweat, trembling. And each time Rachel is there beside me, asking about my nightmares.
“I have a wife,” I explain. “I love her to death…”
The Dream Doctor holds up a palsied, skeletal hand. Again he adjusts his glasses. “Cash or credit?” he asks politely.
“Relax. Focus on your breathing. Relax.”
The treatment bot’s eight utility appendages loom over me, swaying to and fro as if it’s the bastard offspring of an octopus and a needle exchange program. Its modulated, synthesized voice is so soothing it is totally inhuman.
The bot describes how it will administer light anesthesia, followed by things it calls “helper nanites,” and assures me treatment will be over in a few short minutes. “You should expect to wake up in the recovery room. Now please continue to focus on your breathing. Relax.”
Then it’s all buzzing, whirring and the pointy ends of some very large syringes.
“Relax,” the bot repeats. “Focus on your breathing. Relax…”
Mandy stands on the beach, smiling. Far behind her, the sun is just beginning to dip below the horizon. A light wind teases her straight, black hair. She is smiling her thousand watt smile. A mocking smile. Or maybe inviting. Impossible to tell which.
The sun turns blood red.
The sun and the sky begin dissolving, as if they’re made of celluloid catching fire and burning white hot — a thousand suns going nova at once.
Still Mandy smiles.
Blackness lurks behind the white light. Not just the color black, but living, seething blackness, undulating like an ocean. It devours the sunset, the ocean, the beach.
Mandy keeps on smiling.
Not a shout or scream. Not a voice. Not even a sound, really. Just words reverberating inside my mind.
The living blackness eats everything. The sky, the sun, the beach. It eats Mandy from the edges on inward until the only thing left is a thousand-watt cheshire cat smile.
Then it eats that, too.
I wake up on a lumpy mattress with the Dream Doctor standing over me, adjusting his glasses on the end of his nose.
“How are we feeling?” he asks.
“Fine,” I croak.
Funny how people always answer “fine,” even if they really feel they’re about to vomit their guts up or that someone’s driven a dull railroad spike into their skull.
“Excellent,” the Dream Doctor says. Then he hobbles away to check on someone else.
The dream doesn’t stop.
Mandy stands on the beach beneath a gunmetal sky.
No more wind to tease her hair. The ocean is made of shattered glass.
Only half of Mandy’s smile remains. The rest of her face has been eaten down to the bone, leaving a ragged edge of skin peeling up off the center of her forehead and the bridge of her nose like a band-aid losing its stick. Same with her arms and legs. Bands of flesh droop off her delicate bone structure. They could be leftover scraps on barbecue ribs — still moist, still alive in their own peculiar way. Her right eye dangles from its socket, bobbing on the end of the nerve as if it’s a fishing lure.
still pretty with makeup you know
The words come from the good half of the Mandy-Thing’s smile. Still not sounds. They materialize like comic book callouts then dissolve back to nothing.
The Mandy-Thing holds out its decaying arms, hungry to embrace me.
I wake up sweating. Not only that but screaming.
“There, there,” Rachel says. “It’s just another nightmare.”
She holds me till I stop shaking but the whole time she’s soothing me I’m thinking about drilling into my skull and ripping the Mandy-Thing out of my head with my bare hands.
I don’t deserve her sympathy. Not after building that secret beach fantasy in the depths of my brain. Not after visiting Mandy there in my subconscious every night when it should be Rachel I see in my dreams. Sweet, loving Rachel whom I owe nothing but loyalty and affection. It’s clear now Mandy will always be there, waiting with her putrid arms outstretched, whenever I drift off to sleep.
Just like I always wanted.
Malcolm Chandler lives and writes in Western Pennsylvania.