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Karen doesn’t leave the house anymore.

Food comes by delivery. The money won’t last forever, but forever is more than a day away, so she doesn’t think about it. Lily’s kibble comes by delivery too. She needs walks, of course: Karen stands in the doorway and throws her a ball, sometimes feeling guilty for not cleaning up after her – sometimes grateful for the times when her cousin comes to help – sometimes unable to care.

She spends most of her time in bed, with Lily cuddled up beside her. When she’s awake, she stares up at the ceiling, scritching gently behind Lily’s ear and trying not to remember. When she sleeps, everything she wants not to remember comes flooding back: flashing headlights; screeching brakes, screeching metal, shattering glass; the raw red line the seatbelt left seared into her breast; Tanya’s gasping choking breath, the naked panic in her eyes, the metal jutting from her ribcage; the taste of blood on her lips when she kissed her, frantically, as if to keep her alive; the silence, before the sirens –

Karen tries not to sleep.

This isn’t sustainable – she knows that – but in the moment she can’t be bothered to care. One day follows the next, and nothing changes.

She stands up, one day, to drink a cup of hot chocolate and feed Lily, and Lily doesn’t follow her. Her tail wags, once, twice, but her head stays bedded down beside her paws, and her closed lips are pulled back and puffing with every breath.

Karen panics, calls the vet, and makes it nearly to the door before the memories hit her. Headlights stabbing at her eyes, shards of glass glittering across her arms. Pain. Whiplash. Tanya’s bloody fingers laced in hers, her grip weakening with every passing heartbeat –

She finds herself curled up on the floor, shaking, head tucked tight beneath her arms.

Usually Lily would come to her, lick her hand, lie beside her until she could breathe again. But still, she lies on the bed; still, her skull is tight with tension.

Karen calls her cousin. No reply. She leaves a voicemail, grabs her laptop, emails him, and bites at her fingers while she waits for a response. In between page refreshes she looks at vet sites on the internet, trying to find something that matches Lily’s symptoms; nothing she sees is at all helpful.

Somewhere between the search results something catches her eye: necklace … heals those who wear it … realm beyond dreams … still … anyone can … hope. It’s gone before she can get a closer look.

Her cousin calls her. He’s on his way.

Karen goes back to bed, curled up tight around Lily’s back. Panic keeps her awake, at first, but after a while it wears her down. She hasn’t slept right in weeks.

Face nuzzled close to Lily’s ruff, breathing in the furry scent of her, Karen drifts into blackness.

She’s in the car again. Tanya is beside her, driving. Laughing. Her lipstick is red as blood against her teeth.

Karen knows what’s coming. She knows. Helpless, as always, she waits for the slam of the brakes.

… realm beyond dreams … heals those who wear it …

Lily.

Tanya reaches for her hand, polished fingernails shining. To deny her feels like a betrayal. I love you, she wants to say, I love you, please, survive – this time, this time, don’t crash – this time, this time, stay with me – but Lily needs her, and Karen opens the door behind her and rolls out of the car.

She’s in a forest, evergreens towering high into the sky. The smell of earth and needles is soft beneath her feet. She sinks her fingers into the soil and pulls: clumps of loam fly through the air, and then there is a hole beneath her, a well, a winding stone stair. Down, down, down she clambers – runs – falls. There is a realm beyond dreams, she knows, and she will find it.

There is a door, massive and wooden, gilt with runes she cannot read. She enters.

A labyrinth of ruined walls surrounds her, shining with danger, beneath a bruised and reddened sky. She doesn’t know this place. She doesn’t know the way, but there is a soft sick dog-scent in her nose, and she walks on.

The moon takes its place in the sky, then sets again. Karen keeps walking. Each turn leads to more turns, endless and twisting. Her feet grow sore, and her eyes forget the meaning of weeping. She has walked for days, for months, for years, maybe. Snakes lurk in the shadows, hissing when she passes. Ancient traps spring at her, triggered by a faulty step, a hand in the wrong place, a word not spoken. She lets them wound her, and walks on.

At last, after a thousand lifetimes of walking, she finds a road that has an end: a wall rising up in front of her, and a wooden chest before it, almost crumbling into dust. It falls apart beneath her fingers. Between the ashes she finds a necklace of burnished gold and burning amber, warm as life beneath her touch. She lays it around her neck, and looks up at the bloodstained sky, and wakes.

“Awake yet?” It’s her cousin’s voice, loud and harsh against the memory of the dream. “I’ve been to the vet and back already. Sorry to run, but I’ve got to be off again – I’ll talk to you Saturday, yeah?”

“Where’s Lily?”

“Right here. She’s fine now. I’ll tell you about it when I’m not late for work.”

A jangle of keys, and the door opens and closes. Karen finds Lily lying at her feet.

She stands. Her fingers hover by her throat – the memory of gold and amber, the burning life-warmth in her veins.

She eats breakfast. Lily follows her, looking hale as ever.

She picks up the long-forgotten leash that hung by the door.

“Come on, Lily,” she says. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Written for Flash Fiction Month 2018, day 1, challenge 1: write an adventure story around a character, a setting, and a MacGuffin respectively suggested by three different FFMers. This year I'm also fulfilling a challenge by an anonymous contributor: Every character must be queer.

Thanks to ilyilaice for the character: A person who has survived a near-death experience and who copes by never leaving the bed except to sip hot chocolate and to cuddle with dogs.

Thanks to NamelessShe for the setting: The realm beyond dreams, where magic still lives, and anyone can find hope. The forgotten ruins spread across the land hide dangers untold. Maybe there's a labyrinth.

Thanks to TheSkaBoss (Lyrrie) for the MacGuffin: An ancient necklace rumoured to heal those who wear it.

The rest of today's stories can be found here.

Edit 12.08.2018: for a while -> at first; twisting, endless -> endless and twisting.

Wordcount: 1000.

If you've enjoyed this story, you may be interested in the collection of all my FFM stories this year: Beyond Dreams. You may also enjoy my FFM collections from the previous four years: Borrowed Strength, Ephemeron, Palalgia, and Changeling.
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:iconthe-inkling:
The-Inkling Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2018   Writer
This is excellent in so many ways. Beautiful, poignant, all the things! Every word felt like it was exactly the right one for the job. :heart:
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2018   Writer
Thank you. :heart:
Reply
:iconmotionlesspassenger:
motionlesspassenger Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2018
Such a beautiful way to put in writing how a life and mind can shatter. Also a great last sentence to use in today’s challenge Clap 
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Edited Jul 7, 2018   Writer
Thank you! :D (And thanks for watching - I hope you like what you see!)
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:iconjoe-wright:
joe-wright Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2018   General Artist
The dog was okay! It's going to go on a nice walk! 10/10
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2018   Writer
And she's going to have SO MUCH FUN sniffing things!
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:icondeviantfredda:
DeviantFredda Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
I love it! I may or may not have quietly said "Yesss!" when she got out of the car.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2018   Writer
That's the best reaction I could hope for. :D
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:iconilyilaice:
ilyilaice Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018
This somehow reminds me of your first story from last year (yep, I have a weird memory), but with all queer characters this month and an inevitable prevalence of death (how else should we begin/end flash fiction, eh?), I suppose it's unavoidable. Are you ready to write a lot of romance this month??? Well, it's not like queer characters HAVE to be embroiled in some romantic entanglement - in fact, for me, it'll be so much cooler if they aren't.

Anyway, back to this story. I really LOVE the idea that the character escapes the confines of a recurring nightmare. It's a literal interpretation of the setting you were given, but I still thought it was super cool. And you have to love the cousin here - how he just comes and goes, no questions asked, helping the protagonist without needlessly fussing over her. :heart:
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
...It reminded me of my first from last year too. :XD: I feel a little bit awkward about it, but I'm doing a new-ish thing with it? Sort of? And yeah, it's kind of inevitable anyway. I do worry that all this death is getting a bit close to bury-your-gays, but I have the whole rest of the month to balance it out with, in theory. I mean, if I can ever figure out how to actually write relationships, anyway. :lol: There will probably be a fair amount of non-romance stories, whether that's because characters are aro/ace or because they just happen to not be romantically entangled, just because romance is something I kind of struggle with.

Very glad you liked the escape from the nightmare! It's partly that interpreting it literally happened to work out this awesomely, but also there's more to Karen's recovery than just the actual necklace itself, and breaking out of the nightmare was part of that.
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:iconilyilaice:
ilyilaice Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018
On the plus side, a "bury-your-gays" anthology, or just a queer one in itself, seems much easier to market. It definitely has a hook to it. :lol:
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
There is that. :lol:
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:iconinksoaked:
inksoaked Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
Oh, this is beautiful. I think this encapsulates the expanse of trauma and love in its messy honest package. Beautiful. 
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Thank you so much - that's wonderful to hear. :heart:
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:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Yes, I enjoyed this story. Lost track of Tanya, but it's flash fiction, and I THINK there's enough about her. Like the dog impetus. Good work.
Nifty way to get out of a vet diagnosis, too. (The little things...)  Look forward to more by you. (:
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Lost track of what happened to her or of who she was? I try to keep my FFM edits minimal, but if there's something confusing in here (that wasn't meant to be) I can try to think of a way to make it clearer.

The vet is definitely handwaved a bit. :lol: I was originally planning for the necklace to actually be there when Karen woke up, and to successfully heal Lily (and just semi-coincidentally heal Karen on the way, since she was wearing it in between) - but I decided against it because I don't want to promote the idea that you can put off taking your dog to the vet because you hope you can maybe have magic dreams. So Lily gets mundane treatment, but it's still vague and handwaved because it's taking the place of a magical cure.
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:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
re: tanya - i don't remember what i lost track of. :blush:

re: the vet - okay - and very thoughtful. (:
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
No worries - I'll just have to keep an eye out for any similar comments.
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:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Next time I'll write out a complete thought. :B
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
(This is why I would love a floating comment box for lit deviations.)
Reply
:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
Lovely. I was afraid it was going to be completely tragic; glad it wasn't. :)
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Hey, I'm not going to hurt the dog! I'm not a complete monster. ;)

But also, hope and recovery are important themes for me right now. I've defaulted to tragedy for most of my life, and that's starting to shift a bit.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Aww. Perfection. I loved this.
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:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
I'm very glad to hear it. Thank you!
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:iconnamelessshe:
NamelessShe Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2018
Beautiful. 
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2018   Writer
Thank you. :heart:
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July 1, 2018
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