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Dream Man(2)
Author: Linda Howard

Warm, humid air poured through the open window. The officer flashed the light beam around the interior of her car. “What’s the problem here, ma’am?”

She felt cotton-brained, thought processes dulled, but even so she knew better than to blurt out the truth. That would immediately get her hauled in on suspicion of being under the influence of some kind of drug, probably a hallucinogen. Yes, that was it; that was the vague danger she had sensed. A night in jail, for a normal person, would be bad enough; for her, under these circumstances, it could be catastrophic.

She had no idea how much time had passed, but she knew that she must look pale and drained. “Ah … I’m sorry,” she said. Even her voice was shaky. Desperately she sought for a believable explanation. “I—I’m an epileptic. I began to feel dizzy and pulled over. I think I must have had a slight seizure.”

The flashlight beam sought her face, played across her features. “Please step out of the car, ma’am.”

The trembling was back; she didn’t know if her legs would hold her. But she got out, holding to the open door for support. The blue lights stabbed her eyes, and she turned her head away from the brightness as she stood there pinned in the glare, a human aspen, visibly quaking.

“May I see your driver’s license?” Her limbs were leaden. It was an effort to retrieve her purse, and she dropped it immediately, the contents spilling half in the car, half on the ground. Innocuous contents, thank God; not even an aspirin bottle or pack of cigarettes. She was still afraid to take over-the-counter medications, even after six years, because the mental effects could be so unpredictable.

By concentrating fiercely, holding the crippling fatigue at bay, she managed to pick up her wallet and get out her license. The policeman silently examined it, then returned it to her. “Do you need help?” he finally asked.

“No, I’m feeling better now, e-except for the sh-shakes,” she said. Her teeth were chattering from reaction. “I don’t live far. I’ll be able to make it home.”

“Would you like for me to follow you, make sure you get there okay?”

“Yes, please,” she said gratefully. She was willing to tell any number of lies to keep from being taken to a hospital, but that didn’t mean she had lost her common sense. She was incredibly tired, the aftermath worse than she remembered. And there was still the nightmare image—knowing or memory, she couldn’t tell—to be dealt with, but she pushed it out of her mind. She couldn’t let herself think about it; right now she had to concentrate only on the tasks at hand, which were remaining coherent, upright, and functional, at least until she could get home.

The policeman helped her pick up her belongings, and in a few moments she was behind the wheel again, edging back onto the pavement, driving with excruciating care because every movement was such an effort. Twice she caught herself as her eyes were closing, the darkness of unconsciousness inexorably closing in.

Then she was home, turning in to the driveway. She managed to get out of the car and wave at the officer. She leaned against the car, watching him drive away, and only when he turned the corner did she set herself to the task of getting inside the house. To safety.

With weak, shaking, uncooperative hands she looped the strap of her purse around her neck, so she wouldn’t drop it.

After pausing for a moment to gather strength, she launched herself away from the car in the direction of the front porch.

As a launch, it was spectacularly lacking in power. She staggered like a drunk, her steps wavering, her vision fading.

Every movement became more and more difficult as the fatigue grew like a living thing, overwhelming her muscles and taking them from her control. She reached the two steps leading up to the porch and stopped there, swaying slowly back and forth, her blurred gaze fixed on those two steps that normally required no effort at all. She tried to lift her foot enough to take the first step, but nothing happened. She simply couldn’t do it. Iron weights were dragging around her ankles, holding her back.

She began to shiver, another familiar reaction from before, in that other life. She knew she had only a few minutes to get inside before she completely collapsed.

She dropped heavily to her knees, feeling the resulting pain as only a dull, distant sensation. She could hear her own harsh, strained breathing, echoing hollowly. Slowly, torturously, she dragged herself up the steps, fighting for each inch, fighting to keep the darkness at bay.

She reached the front door. Keys. She needed the keys to get in.

She couldn’t think. The black fog in her brain was paralyzing. She couldn’t remember what she had done with her keys. In her purse? Still in the car? Or had she dropped them? There was no way she could retrace her steps, no way she could remain conscious much longer. She began fumbling in her purse, hoping to find the key ring. She should be able to recognize it by touch; it was one of those stretchy bracelet things, the type that could be slid onto the wrist. She could feel metal, but it eluded her grasp.

Bracelet … She had slipped the keys onto her wrist. It was a habit so ingrained that she seldom even thought about it. The shaking was worse; she pulled the key ring off her wrist but couldn’t manage to fit the key into the lock. She couldn’t see, the blackness almost complete now. Desperately she tried again, locating the lock purely by touch, concentrating with her last fierce vestige of strength on the herculean task of guiding the key into the lock … Got it! Panting, she turned the key until she felt the click. There. Unlocked.

She mustn’t forget the keys, mustn’t leave them in the lock. She slid the bracelet back onto her wrist as she twisted the doorknob and the door swung open, away from her. She had been leaning on the door, and with that support suddenly gone she sprawled in the doorway, half in and half out of the house.

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