Tamara's Long Dream

It was dark, it had been dark for a long time. No use hoping to wake up: there was no reason to think the dream would stop anytime soon, since it had already gone on so long. The room was huge and featureless, no furniture and no light, nothing. She had walked around it dozens of times, trailing her fingers along the wall, navigating by touch as she searched for the exit. The wall was always on her right, she always went anti-clockwise for some reason. She had told herself that she would start in a corner and count four walls, four corners, memorizing every doorway and every other feature along the way until she returned to her starting point, having mentally mapped the entire room. Except that she kept getting it wrong, getting confused, forgetting how many corners had already passed. It seemed that she had gone around many times now, many more than four - but that was wrong, she must have mis-counted. Because she hadn't found the door yet, and if she had already gone all the way around then that must mean - but no, she had mis-counted. The door was just ahead, a little further along this stretch of wall. Or maybe it would be best to start again. Hadn't she gone past four corners already? Oh no wait. Stupid! It was FIVE corners, not four. 1, 2, 3, 4, for the four corners of the room, and then 5 to return to the starting point. That was why she kept missing the exit! Of course, it was also possible that she had simply changed her direction at some point, turning around without realizing it in this darkness. From now on she would make sure that she always went counterclockwise, always, and didn't take her hand off the wall ever, even for a second. Always her right hand. She had been around dozens of times now and she had messed it up each time, why did she keep messing it up? She wasn't normally that stupid. She suposed she must be getting tired, she had been here for days now. Days? No, that was ridiculous. It should be possible to tell time roughly by how often she got hungry, and how often she slept. She wasn't hungry or sleepy yet, so she couldn't have been here for more than a few hours, though the thought kept coming into her head that it had been much, much longer. A dream couldn't last more than a few hours anyway. Eight hours at the most. How many times had she made the circuit of this vast room already? It felt like hundreds - oh, but of course, of course, she hadn't REALLY been around hundreds of times, she had only dreamed it! She remembered doing it but that was a memory of a dream. A dream within a dream. And that meant that now all she had to do was find the wall again (for the first time, really!) and follow the wall until she found the way out. Better hurry, she'd been in here a long time already. Gods, Mom would really be mad! That would be OK though, she wouldn't even mind getting yelled at, once she got out of here.

Hadn't she had these thoughts before? Hadn't she had that exact chain of thoughts before, and gone along the wall round and around in the dark, counting dozens of corners rather than just five, although she always lost count, finding nothing, no exit, until finally she got so frustrated and scared that she curled up on the floor and lost herself in helpless crying? Well no, that had just been another part of the bad dream, obviously. Because if that was real, it would mean that there was no way out, that she had already been over every inch of this room and found no exit, that she kept losing count of the number of corners because she couldn't admit to herself that she was trapped here, forever. It was really interesting how the brain protected itself - if a certain fact was so horrible, so terrifying, that you just wouldn't be able to deal with it if you knew, then your brain simply blotted it out. It was good that the brain did that, it kept you alive, it allowed you to keep going. OK, enough daydreaming, time to get out of here.

With renewed determination Tamara sat up, wiped the tears from her face, and crawled gingerly through the darkness. When she found a wall she staggered to her feet and placed her right hand against the cool surface. She took a step, and then another, and another, her fingers moving in long slow arcs, eager for the feel of a door.