Release

Soon the men arrive, six of them, packed like raw sardines against the smooth chrome of a beat-up Chevy just as in the dreams. She’s not afraid of them, not quite. Right now she’s afraid of the idea of the men, of their uneven peculiar maleness, that which separates her from them – not that she thinks of them as entities separate from herself. The stale odor of sweat and cigarettes that emanates from the passenger door as it opens into the dark unrecognizable night reminds her of home, of a homecoming: of a reckoning, maybe.

They ooze from the car, pouring themselves into the night air, their scent mingling with the woods. She keeps her hands at her sides, suddenly self-conscious about them, their weight, their length, their heft. Hands almost like a man’s, hard hands suggesting roughness, hands suggesting – what, exactly? She’s not sure why she’s embarrassed; she’s seen them all before, they’ve seen her; they’ve felt her hands and her skin, bare and creased as theirs, just as mottled. Even if it was only in a dream.

Assembled before her in a neat, almost military formation, they are strikingly similar in height, build, dress. In a line-up she would never be able to tell them apart, but perhaps she wouldn’t need to: perhaps each is a stand-in, a body double, a mannequin made of the original Man, of Adam, or of each other. Studying them, she feels simultaneously powerful and powerless, a single woman alone in the woods late at night, unprotected. Wanton. They haven’t spoken yet, as if expecting her to speak first, but she doesn’t know where to begin.

She clears her throat. To start this the only way she knows how.

“Of course you’ve done this before.” Surprised by her own voice echoing in the clearing, she pauses. Takes a breath. “Of course you know why you’re here.”

The men sneak glances at each other, one by one down the line, nodding in assent: Of course we know, of course we’ve done this before, that’s why you’ve brought us here, you know we’re professionals – and if you didn’t know it then, you’ll learn it soon enough. They’re emboldened by these thoughts, shuffling weight from one foot to another, eyes gleaming. They’re made solid, real, by their proximity to her, a wall of waiting flesh.

Willing.

“If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have come. After all, you wouldn’t have even known where to begin, where to find me–where we would end up.” Now she’s talking rapidly, trying to cut through the men’s uncomfortable silence, their inevitability. “But none of that matters, now that you’re here.” She sighs, a slight choking sound, abruptly ending her preamble.

Minutes pass. She’s not sure what else to say, what signal to give, to let them know that she’s ready. Nervous, yes, but ready.

That she’s been ready her entire life, or at least since the dreams began. How long has it been now? She’s not sure, but it’s felt like years. Two years, at least, ever since she moved out of the city and into that sullen strange hamlet on the island far east of home. A getaway location, an escape from the stresses and bustle of modern life. Less than two thousand residents surrounded by the lake, and during the summer, the tourists. Quiet living, mundane – too mundane, she’d first thought, too quiet. Until the dreams began.

How she’s relished those dreams, since overcoming her initial shock upon waking. How she’s come to love the six nameless men who visit her in her sleep, tormenting her with the promise that one day she’ll join them, she’ll become one of them. That she’ll become whole, at last. The six nameless men who now stand before her, whom she has known intimately, if not a little uneasily – at least, at first. Touching every part of her with their burning need, their lust, their desire for blood night after night, the same dream repeating, never straying from its practiced rhythm. She was afraid of what it could mean that her waking self wanted it as much, if not more, than her dream-self; that she wanted to lose herself in the blades, in the violence, in the silence of a darkened wood. She was afraid until she realized that her dreams were only mirrors, and that which she saw in them was herself, sharp and crude, waiting for completion.

Aiming her gaze at the first in line, she gives him a curt nod, and he smiles back with his teeth like needles bared. He waves at the others to join him, and before she can register what is happening, they surround her as they always have: hands and legs tearing, ripping at her overripe skin, gouging and gorging themselves on her throat, her thighs, and she is happy. Elated. Awake. She knows that one of them must have the gun to end this, although she will never know from where it fired, from who’s hand, or when; all that matters is the moment of capture, of her release.