This story was written for the Reedsy contest "Haruki Murakami".
More specifically by the prompt: "Write a story in which the lines between awake and dreaming are blurred."
Out of Breath
It’s dark and it rains when I reach the bus stop. My new job is challenging, my new colleagues seem fun to work with, but it’s an understatement when I say that the location of my new work space isn’t ideal. Every day, I’m supposed to commute to an office building that looks like a huge cube made of concrete and glass, dropped next to the highway in authentic seventies style. Its large parking facilities and the proximity of a highway exit were listed as major assets in the job advertisement. Since I don’t own a car —I don’t even have a driver’s license; I’ve always been too scared to be at the wheel of such a murder machine—, that part of the employment offer was irrelevant to me. I would have thought twice about applying for the job if the opportunity had mentioned that there was only one bus to and from the premise every other hour.
I hear the roar of cars in the distance. I try to imagine it’s the hum of waves and the sea, but I don’t succeed. The sound is void of all the romance I associate with a lazy day on the beach. I blame the miserable and dreadful rain for my current mood. I cast a glance in the direction of the road, hoping to see my bus driving up early.
To my horror, something completely different is approaching: I'm about to be hit by a tsunami. I panic; paralyzed by fear, I can’t move, I can’t run. The next second, I am swept away by the flood. My whole body is surrounded by water. I can no longer breathe. I am drowning! As my brain races for solutions, my arms and legs start kicking around at last. I gasp for air the moment I succeed in getting my head above the tidal wave.
I open my eyes. Everything is normal again. I’m still standing at the bus stop; the rain is still pouring down on me. Five more minutes and the bus will arrive.
I can’t wait until winter is over. I hate daylight savings time during winter. If it must be dark, I prefer it being dark in the morning, while my demons are still fast asleep. In the dark of the evening, anything can happen. You never know what to expect.
As if the devil read my mind, the streetlights falter. Suddenly, darkness falls like a thick, wet blanket upon me. It crushes me to the point I almost suffocate. I can’t see anything anymore. The splish and the splash of the rain is the only sensation that keeps making sense, while blind fear is getting a hold of me. I hang onto that sound, although I know for sure I’m going to die. And then lightning strikes, followed by a deep rumble of thunder.
In that split second, my world lights up again. I regain myself. I inhale, I exhale, and repeat. Once more, good has conquered evil. Three more minutes and my bus will arrive.
How I wish I would have a colleague going in the same direction. I would gladly pay a colleague good money for a ride home in his or her car. I would even pay if a colleague would agree to accompany me on the bus. I hate being alone outside, in the dark and in the cold.
I feel a sudden sense of doubt. Am I here alone? I hear rustling in the thicket behind me. I’m not sure if I dare to look at what’s stirring in the brushwood. I decide to look anyway. Before I can determine what is standing behind me, I feel two rough paws grabbing at my throat, choking me. Two thumbs squeeze my esophagus. A creature is trying to strangle me! A smothered cry escapes from my larynx, startling my assailant abruptly. Much to my relief, the grip on my neck loosens.
I blink my eyes and look straight into two glowing coals that light up in the underbrush. A big rat is coming out of a flooded hole in the ground. I shiver. One more minute and the bus will arrive.
Finally, two lights appear on the far end of the street. I’m too exhausted to rejoice that my salvation is near. I can’t imagine having to go through these emotions every day for the rest of my career. In my mind I have made my decision, but my body hesitates. I start running towards the bus, slowly at first, then faster and faster. I want to be done with it right here, right now. I hope the bus doesn't slow down.
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