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Safe and Sound

It's better the devil...

By Phil FlanneryPublished 3 months ago Updated 2 months ago 17 min read
Safe and Sound
Photo by Paul Trienekens on Unsplash

The mirror showed a reflection that wasn’t my own, it was almost me, like that of a twin, the same but not. They were standing in a room that wasn’t mine either. I stared into the eyes of my doppelganger and felt suddenly dizzy, like I was being drawn physically into them. I had to stop myself falling forward. I couldn’t break away from the glaring eyes staring back at me. I could feel their menacing intent.

My alarm rang and I opened my eyes to the smog filtered morning sunlight creeping through the slits of the window blinds, lighting up the floating dust like soft lasers. I felt like I hadn’t slept, like I’d been awake all night, but I wasn’t tired from it. I don’t usually remember dreams, I mean, why bother when there is nothing to dream about. I knew I dreamt, I never knew why I knew, I just did. This morning I recalled standing in front of a plain, wood framed mirror, for what felt like hours, staring into the vacant eyes of my stranger.

Contemplating my day, I stared up at the water-stained, mouldy white ceiling of my bedroom, following the cracks in the plaster, like reading a map and looking for new unexplored roads. Flipping my legs off the bed, I wearily drag myself to the bathroom to relieve the pressure on my bladder and ready myself for the drudgery of another working day.

The waking, repeating nightmare of reliving the same day played out, as I joined the same bored souls as yesterday, making their way to the same factories and offices as they had yesterday to complete the same mundane tasks as yesterday and the day before and the day before that, only to return home to eat the same pre-prepared food, and watch broadcasts of carefully scripted ‘news’, inane sitcoms, and action movies or dramas, or action comedies, or drama comedies or perhaps action dramas, all designed to show the glory of our great nation, the telecast finishing with a word from our grateful leader. It’s sad that one long sentence can explain every day of my life ad-infinitum. I wish there was a word for that.

At 10pm, my social partner arrived and after the usual pleasantries were exchanged, we entered my dingy bedroom, disrobed and had sex. It was not as regular and ordered as the rest of my days, but certainly not what you would call spontaneous, and it barely distracted from the overwhelming boredom of life. Appointments were scheduled for Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Today must be Wednesday, I guess.

As she rolled off me and we lay there waiting for the allotted time to tick down, I broke the silence. “Do you dream Olivia?” We rarely spoke. There was nothing to talk about, our meeting was a requirement of life. We did not live together, but everyone had to ‘socialise’ three days a week. Sex was as good a thing to do as anything. “What? Are we talking today? I haven’t prepared anything as a response.” “I remembered a dream from last night and I never do. Do you?” I asked.

In the gloomy light of my room, I could tell Olivia was panicking, trying to compose an answer to my unsolicited question. “I’m sorry Olivia. That was rude of me. You don’t have to answer.” “Perhaps I could have an answer for you on Friday, John. I will make time to contemplate your question.” Olivia had a worried look on her face, like she wasn’t sure she could come up with an response in time.

Her watch beeped and she rose quietly from my bed and went to the bathroom to dress. When did life get so homogenised, everything guaranteed to be the same day after day; ‘safe and sound’ was the catchcry. I had almost forgotten the word for joy. Oh! that’s it, ‘joy’. No surprises, another word all but erased from my vocabulary.

The war had raged for so long, I was only 10 years old when it finally ended, but thirty years of tedium has left blank spaces in my memory. Was the mirror in my dream a metaphor for something. Well, if nothing else, it has now reminded me of another word I haven’t used in a long time.

I heard my front door close and knew that Olivia had left, so I lay there still naked from our encounter, looking back up at the map on my ceiling. I couldn’t find any new cracks and was soon staring into the eyes of my twin in the mirror.

Once again, I felt myself transfixed, locked onto their eyes and with my hands firmly gripping the frame, I tussled with the gravity-like pull on my body, and the fear of losing my grip. The thought of losing the battle terrified me. This time though, its menacing intent seemed less…menacing.

My alarm sounded and, the dread of the coming day weighed so heavily, that I resisted exiting my bed. I wanted to sleep again, the struggle of my dream held more appeal than the boredom of the day, but like an automaton, I rose and dressed and ate and worked, and came home. I ate my evening meal and with glazed over eyes, stared blankly at the screen, all the while, my mind was swimming with thoughts I could barely comprehend.

Is this what life should be like…lifeless?

I strained my foggy brain to remember anything from my childhood and slowly, fuzzy images began to focus, and I remembered. I was about five years old and even then the fear of imminent annihilation was ingrained in my psyche, but I was five and I didn’t know what that meant. I knew only two things then, trust my mum when she tells me to run and hide and I loved my dog.

Love, now there’s a word to know. Shags loved me too; I instinctively knew it. He showed me his love when he wagged his tail so fast that his whole body moved. I could see the joy in his expression whenever we played. Even when there was little to feed him, I knew he loved me. Where did the love go? Where did the joy go? What did we give up for safe and sound?

I woke up right on time the next morning still on the sofa. I didn’t need the alarm because years of repetition have programmed me; I think I may be a robot. I dreamt again, it was the same pull I felt and resisted, but I am starting to wonder why. In my dream I was able to make myself look past the pale face of my tormentor and through a window in their room, I saw green, a bright verdant field before a line of trees. The only green I saw these days was the mushed vegetable gloop which sat next to the protein of the day. Even as a child, there was no green like this except for the errant weeds that sprouted in the concrete pavement, which were always quickly eradicated.

I feel something this morning, something that may be called excitement. I want to compress the day and get it over with, so I can dream again. I burst out onto the street and nearly knocked a fellow drone over. A passing enforcer stopped me and reminded me of the need for control. Be safe. Be sound.

The day was dragging its feet and I was struggling to contain my building exuberance. I wished that I worked with Olivia so I could share my thoughts. She may not have wanted to share. Then I remembered it was Friday and I would see her tonight. She may not be looking forward to our meeting after my rudeness.

The day finally came to an end, and I hastened my pace, so as to get home quickly and push through the rigmarole of the evening. I greedily ate my food, like I hadn’t eaten in days. I watched the screen and actually listened to the script; it was propaganda still. I laughed at the sitcom and shed a tear for the fallen soldier who gave his life so I could live safe and sound. By the time Olivia was knocking on my door, I was fed and showered and shaven, anticipating a conversation with the guarded Olivia.

“Hello John.” “Hello Olivia.” We kissed on the cheek like normal and walked together to the bedroom. As she began to undress, I asked her to wait and sit with me first, to talk. I could see the unease in her stance, but when I sat on the bed, she quietly sat beside me.

“Olivia, I am excited to see you today” “What do you mean excited?” She pulled back from me to see my face better. “Since we saw each other last, I have had my dream again, both nights. Have you considered my question? Do you dream, Olivia?”

I studied her face carefully, I scanned her features and realised I hadn’t paid much attention to her appearance before. I found her pleasing to look at. I had assumed she was about my age, but she may have been younger, or older, I couldn’t say. Calendars weren’t kept now and only the variation of season gave away the passing of time. I couldn’t even say how long we had been…Acquaintances?

I found the silence stifling, so I started talking, and couldn’t stop the words. I knew there was danger in words, people disappeared because of the words they uttered, but I couldn’t stop myself, so I let them flow. I didn’t care. I explained in detail everything that had played out in my mind, since last we met and when I finished, I felt free. I had expressed myself. I felt a rush of something I couldn’t explain.

Olivia sat silently until I finished. I waited impatiently for her response and as I opened my mouth to ask her again, she spoke. Her voice was low, and her eyes darted around the small room as if to check that no one could overhear. “I dream,” she said. “That’s great!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly. “John, you must be quiet, you don’t know who is listening.” She said, gripping my leg.

I didn’t care if someone could hear, but I realised then, looking at Olivia’s furtive expression, that I was not in my head now and it mattered to her. She continued. “I dream of a child, a baby. I know it is mine, but I can’t hold it. I often wake up crying. I have applied to become a mother, but the process is long and complicated, and I fear I will be too old by the time they make a decision.”

The sadness on her face was heartbreaking and I found myself uncharacteristically putting my arm around her for comfort. We said no more for some time, but eventually she raised her head and asked if we could have sex. I told her we didn’t need to, given her emotional state, but she insisted. It was possibly the loveliest coupling we’d had since our first encounter.

The face stared back at me and though the pull that made me stare back was there, I found myself able to search their periphery for clues. There was something about the room that was scratching at my memory banks, it was like I was trying to insert a key into a lock in the dark and kept missing the keyhole. Why was the room so familiar? A photo on a mantle on the wall behind the face, caught my attention. It was too far away to see properly, but I felt like I knew who was in it. I think I am in it with my mother. That can’t be right though. I concentrated all of my energy on focussing on the picture. It slowly became easier to see, as if it was getting closer. How can it be?

The face turned toward me and opened its mouth and spoke unknown words from a dark cavernous hole. I let go my grip on the mirror frame and in a blink, I was there, standing in the room with my stranger. I heard them speak now, “welcome home John.” I was frozen to the spot. A rush of information came flooding into my brain and I was failing to comprehend it. It was like all the answers to all the questions I’d never asked were here but were in a different language.

The room was my grandmother’s old farmhouse, I knew it but I had only ever been told about it. The photo frame held a picture of my mother holding me as a baby. I turned back to my ‘Stranger Familia’ and they were gone; I was left to myself to try and bring meaning to this new thing. Wandering around I let my mind absorb the welcoming homey feel of the room. The old furniture, dusty with lack of use. Familiar pictures of people I did not know. I think they are my grandparents. I made my way back to where the mirror should be, it wasn’t a mirror, it was a window and it looked into my apartment, I could see my sofa, I could make out the generic artwork in the plain frame which hung nearly unnoticed on the wall behind it. I could see the door that led to my boring everyday world.

I was astounded by my new surroundings; my heart was full of a nostalgia I didn’t own. As old as the farmhouse was and as long as it appeared to have been unused, it was colourful. I could see the deep cedar red of the wall linings, all the knots and the intricate grain, the door and window trim painted a lovely pale blue, the bright blue door that led to the outside world, and the window which framed that beautiful green meadow. By comparison, looking back at my pitiful space with the grubby brown sofa and the grey stained walls was like looking at a boring old sepia photograph.

Excitedly I burst out of the room onto an old porch, the bright sun, momentarily blinding me. It seemed to take forever for my eyes to adjust; the nearest they had come to such intense light, was the fluorescent tube lighting that illuminated my workspace. This was beautiful and gave new meaning to the word illumination. I desperately wanted to look directly at the sun, I was a child the last time I saw it; in my world smog hid the sky from everyone.

Walking on the grass, my bare feet tingled as I felt every blade tickle them. I winced at the rocks that poked my tender feet. I sucked in the sweet fresh air and watched as bugs flitted and floated around the wildflowers that sprung up through the grass. The home was built in a clearing which was surrounded by a wall of trees, all tall and straight and so densely packed I couldn’t see through them. I decided it was time to lie down and soak up this beautiful sunlight. This was the best dream I had ever had.

Why did I ever resist falling through the mirror? I wish I never had to wake up to my boring real life.

I opened my eyes expecting to see my dull cracked ceiling; I was still in my dream. I felt like I’d slept for a hours, but the day here hadn’t changed. The sun still shone brightly, but it hadn’t moved. I’m pretty sure it moves across the sky each day, at least that’s what it did when I was a child. I got up to walk toward the tree line in front of me, but no matter how many steps I took, I got no closer. Turning around, I see the homestead is still just metres away. I hadn’t moved; well at least I was still in my dream, I should make the most of it before reality smacks me in the face again.

I find myself back in the building, staring into my apartment, I am aware of movement just outside my field of vision. I see myself walk past and open the door. Olivia is there, she steps over the threshold and pecks me on the cheek and leads me toward my bedroom. The door is open but my angle stops me from seeing more.

Impatiently I drag a chair to my portal and wait for the couple to re-emerge. Even though this is a dream, I was strangely jealous; Olivia was my social partner. This was new thinking for me, Olivia was the only person I associated with outside of my work day; perhaps she had others. I found this thinking frustrating; I was unused to feeling such things.

Eventually they came back to the room naked and sat on the sofa together. I watched as my twin left her momentarily and brought back drinks for them both. She must have come earlier this evening, because they were obviously watching the screen and reacting to what they saw. Putting down her empty glass, Olivia turned and straddled my stranger there on the couch and they began having sex.

Looking through my window, I was horrified but mesmerized by what was happening right there in my home. Olivia would never do this, she was convinced the authorities watched us through the screen. Then in the middle of their passionate encounter, ‘I’ tilted my body from behind the thrusting woman and stared straight back at myself.

They seemed to last a long time, but eventually she did stop moving and Olivia climbed off and disappeared. Then with vacant eyes and a sinister grin my naked doppelganger stared back at me.

When will this nightmare end?

I ran from the room. It must have been nearly an hour of me watching the craziness of my dream unfold, but the day hadn’t changed, the sun was still shining brightly from exactly the same position. Was I caught in a strange terrarium and the sun was merely a lamp creating an unnatural environment. This place is feeling less like a paradisical escape from my boring mundane existence and more like a prison.

What is the point of this dream? What do I learn?

I lay down on the grass exhausted and forced my eyes closed. I had to wake up to normality. I found myself tracing the route of the cracks in my familiar ceiling. Thank the leader, I’m back. I take a deep breath as the alarm goes off, but I wake again in the beautiful green field, gasping for air and struggling to reconcile my dream with my reality.

Have I slept in my dream? Is that something you can do in dreams? A worrying thought entered my consciousness. Am I still dreaming? I must still be dreaming. I haven’t eaten, I don’t need to relieve myself, my beard hasn’t grown. Clearly time isn’t passing.

I dragged my body back to the house, which seemed like it had aged more since I left it. I found myself sitting in front of the portal to my apartment again and waited with morbid anticipation for what I might witness next. Though I couldn’t quantify how much time had passed, it felt like hours, while the day outside remained stagnant. Then the horror show began again. ‘I’ come home from work. Mostly out of sight ‘I’ go through my evening rituals, momentarily sitting in front of me eating while staring into my soul. ‘I’ disappear then come back and let Olivia in and the sordid scene from last time plays out before me again like a repeat of some pornographic movie. I couldn’t remove myself from my situation, as much as I wanted to.


I have felt sad about my boring life before, even frustrated with its inevitability, but this is the first time I remember feeling so deeply sad, that I could gladly end it all. I can’t talk in days here, because it is one long beautiful day, all the time, but I have lost count of the times I have awoken in the field and then watched Olivia with my evil twin. I have noticed a change though, not in my reality but in Olivia. She is developing a belly. I think she is pregnant. I am both sad for myself and happy for her at the same time.

Did she get what she wanted?

Countless times I have watched the wretched scene play out. I know what’s coming every time, but I am powerless to resist. I am forced to exist in a loop, and it is now terrifying. This is now past being a nightmare; I can’t wake up from this.

What did I stumble into? My life wasn’t bad, it was boring and predictable but not bad. Did I wish this on myself? Is that possible?

I am now staring at the couple again and Olivia is turned away from me as usual, rhythmically moving up and down, up and down, ‘I’ lean out and stare once more, but this time, with dark soulless eyes, Olivia turns and smiles a me.


About the Creator

Phil Flannery

Here I am, I made it to 60 and after three years of flexing my creative muscles on Vocal, I have an interesting collection of stories. I love the Challenges and enter, when I can, but this has become a lovely hobby.

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran2 months ago

    This was an amazing erotic thriller! So suspenseful right from the beginning to the end. I loved this!

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