Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real.

She whispered the words over and over into the quiet of the night. There was no clock in the room, but she knew it was late because of the subdued silence emanating from the nurses' station. Visitor's hours had ended long ago and with it the hushed whispers and muted laughter of families passing through the linoleum halls. Once the graveyard shift began, the lively banter subsided as patients, like her, attempted to sleep despite the residual glare of the fluorescent lighting.

Of course, something was wrong. She didn't need a doctor to tell her that. Normal people know who they are. She didn't even know her own name although everybody else seemed to. They had a name for her, but it didn't feel like hers. Some people acted as if they had known her for years, but they felt like total strangers. They assumed too much. They spoke too much. They felt too much. Their affection unsettled her, especially when she could assume nothing, answer nothing, and feel nothing in return.

She was confused. She just wanted to go home and lie in her bed. Did she have a bed? If she couldn't remember her home, how would she ever feel the peace of being there? Even though it might belong to her, she was doomed to spend every night in what would ultimately be a stranger's bed. Nothing was familiar, which made everything bewildering.

Sleep offered little reprieve. She was haunted by visions of twisted landscapes populated with warped men. What did the dreams mean? More importantly, what did they mean about her? The dreams were often grotesque and violent. The nightmares did not frighten her; however, the way they made her feel did. She wondered what kind of person would feel the way she felt about such appalling images.

Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real.

Repeating her mantra, she settled under the cloud of fatigue and sedatives. She hoped the words would stay with her as the visions flooded her mind. Maybe if she could hold onto that truth, then she could shake herself free from the cage of her subconscious mind. She closed her eyes and stepped out of the waking world.

No, she thought as the dreams began. Not again, please.

She tried to stir herself awake, but failed. She attempted to control the images which surrounded her, but she was powerless. In anguish, she submitted, knowing the only way out was to forge ahead.

A red sky above. An ashen wasteland below. The clouds were red, but not like proper clouds. They were more like smoke—the smoke from a large fire. She looked on them with alarm. Beneath the sky was a ruined field, littered with broken debris surrounding a hundred trenches. In the distance she could hear the screams of dying men. Mixed in with the moans were the animalistic, guttural roars of some unseen monster. She felt the cobbled stones of the castle tower where she stood shake under her feet. Whatever was out there was enormous, unstoppable, and coming for her. The blood in her veins felt like ice as the hopelessness of the future crashed over her. She clutched a book to her chest as if it were life itself and bowed her head in despair. Her tears fell onto a golden gown.

The bright yellow hue of her dress was replaced with a new shade of gold, one she had never seen before. The crisp satin cloth was replaced with thousands upon thousands of tiny, dry, metallic, golden scales. In the shadows, the gold seemed to shine through a thin overlay of olive-green. It was the precise shade of greed—a mixture of gold and envy. She realized she was no longer looking at her dress but at the face of a man whose skin appeared as abrasive as his character.

The man, if he could be called a man, smirked at her. He folded his hands in front of his chest, as if inspecting a newly purchased painting. He threw his head back and laughed with glee, his fierce eyes flashing haughtily. Although he spoke to her, she could not hear his words, only silence.

His compact frame towered over hers as his thin lips pulled back to reveal the sharp points of his teeth, covered with rot and decay. A Dark Lord of great power, all men shook with fear at his presence. She could feel the blackness emanating from his heart. It cleaved hers in two.

Glinting triumphantly, his over-large eyes only added to his manic appearance. The irises, though strangely colored, were brilliant and dynamic. She thought of the tiger's eye stone, its amber crystals flecked with streaks of black. However, those eyes forever appeared to change color. At times they were hazel, at others, brown, and now the color of honey. At last, she watched them become black as coals.

His countenance fell, the mirth behind those midnight eyes dissipating. He hung his head and stared at his golden hands, examining ridges of his black fingernails. His shoulders rounded; he was quiet now, his breath shallow and shaky. She sat next to him on some sort of a wooden bench in front of a fire in a large room. The impossibly high walls were covered with ornate tapestries. Everywhere she looked some kind of treasure was on display. The room was old, opulent, and kingly. She was in a castle. He was mumbling something, but once again she could not hear his words. Suddenly, he turned his head to look at her. She sucked in a deep breath; his eyes were clear and calm. These were the eyes of a man.

Her pulse quickened. She took his hand in hers. Her heart swelled at the sheen of tears in his eyes. The tension in his face fell away, replaced by eager anticipation, drawing close to her. As their lips met, she felt a rush of wind about her, fusing their souls together as one. In that oneness she felt a joy, complete as she had never felt before. That love stretched through the ages, although only a moment passed.

Abruptly, he flung himself away from her. His face contorted, twisting into an evil mask. He waved his arms wildly, dancing in scorn. He rushed towards her, his ghastly visage filling her field of vision. He screamed at her in uninhibited rage. The heat of his breath, which was not foul as she expected, warmed her cheeks. She shied away from him, but not out of fear, for she felt none. She longed to reach out and take him into her arms, to soothe his tempest with her embrace. However, she understood that her tender touch would only push him away, rather than gather him in. For this she grieved as he tossed her into an empty, barren room save for a straw mattress.

She lay down and waited on the bed. Tangled in the sheets, she tossed and turned until they wrapped about her, and her hair hung loose about her face. The room had changed. Now, it was more like a bedroom than a cell. She unraveled herself from the smooth cotton sheets and wandered through the wooden hallway of the modern house. A staircase led her downstairs. Many of the same treasures which had once decorated the castle had found new homes mounted on walls or settled on the mantle.

A man stood in the kitchen, his face punctuated with sharp, pointed features. His small, dark brown eyes were cold and focused. Layers of straight brown hair rested against his cheekbones and jaw. But, when he turned to her, his features softened and warmed. She recognized him as the man from the accident—the one who had touched her arm, healing her injuries. Glancing down at the bare skin on her left arm, she gasped. There were no scars.

He held out his arm, and she sleepily stepped into his embrace. Through her nightgown she felt the layers of his clothing—as many layers as had barricaded the heart of the golden beast. But now she could slip her hand beneath his overcoat and jacket, tucking her hand just under the lapel of his vest. There she could feel the beat of his heart and the warmth of his chest. He kissed her forehead and smiled. She glowed from inside and watched his silent lips speaking to her. He whispered five words over and over as he began to kiss her cheeks, her lips, and her neck. She desperately wanted to hear those words. But, as she could not hear them, she had to trust the way she felt in the heat of his arms.

Now, he held his black cane high in the air and brought it down mercilessly on a body already broken and bloodied. His eyes blazed in fury, and he ground his teeth with a snarl. She sucked in a breath. It was the same mask, only stripped of its gilded coating. The demon and her lover were one and the same; she loved them both.

She started awake, as always, in a cold sweat. Her breath coming in ragged gasps. Fear was not part of her dream. How could she fear that which she loved? But it was this love which wrought fear as cold as iron in the pit of her stomach. No matter the color of his skin, just under the surface of his composed façade lurked the heart of violent, wild, and cruel spirit. She shuddered. Only a depraved heart could love a fiendish soul.

Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real. Dreams aren't real.

A/N: Thanks for choosing to read "Shattered." Please, feel free to post your comments, questions, and reviews. I welcome any and all feedback! :-)