Wrealmstober Writing Contest Entry
Inspired by: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Emily Browning
She knocks twice on the solid oak door. The second echo does not finish resounding in silence as the person on the other side beckons.
The slender, raven-haired enchantress steps inside the cozy room, appearing less confident in her entrance than the ones she is used to making. She tugs out of nervous habit at the edges of her coat before burying them inside her leather jacket pockets.
“Doctor Bronn?” Zatanna inquires to the woman behind the desk, trying to discern her features from the warm glow of her desk lamp illuminating her face. She appears to be mid-aged, perhaps in her early forties. The worn lines around her mouth suggest she smiles often, and the rings under her eyes suggest she spends many nights working late. Her hair is a tawny brown, pulled back in a bun that may have once been neat at the start of the day, but as it was now seven in the evening, several strands had fallen out onto her neck or stuck out in odd angles around the center of the bun.
The woman waves casually from Zatanna to the empty chair in front of her desk, inviting her to take a seat. “Yes, and you must be Zatanna. I understand you needed to see me regarding an issue you have spoken about regularly with your usual therapist, Doctor Mendez. I believe,” she states, glancing down at some papers in a manilla file folder “It was in relation to a reoccurring dream?”
Settling into the aforementioned chair, she nods and elaborates. “Nightmares, actually.”
“Alright, well as you know, I use a low to mid-level hypnosis technique to guide you through the process in order to alleviate the symptoms and help you to sleep better. This can be a little invasive, so as always, I provide a technique that will allow you to safely exit the process at any point you deem necessary. Before we begin, do you have any questions?”
Zatanna inhales, taking a moment to ponder nervously what lies ahead and try to find the words to phrase all of the questions that had bubbled up in her mind since this had all started, and since she had decided that she needed a deeper level of help than she was used to receiving. She slowly exhales, relaxing her shoulders and deciding on a simple one to keep things light. “Does this procedure normally take very long?”
The woman leans back slightly, and gently rocks back in her chair and says casually. “No, not typically, but it depends on how the process goes for you. Some people are in and out in 15 minutes, others take anywhere up to an hour depending on how deeply elaborate these dreams are. It is important to focus on taking this one step at a time and not focusing on the time that has elapsed in this office while you are under hypnosis. Are you ready to go over the procedure?”
Zatanna nods, settling back into her chair. “I think so.”
“Good!” Doctor Bronn says and reaches into her desk, producing from it an amethyst on a long silver chain. “This” She explains, allowing the gem to dangle “is the focus object that will help you to enter the trance. During this time you will be able to explore deeper into your consciousness, and we will then examine your dream. In order for you to control what is happening, I invite you to envision a key, how elaborate you picture it is at your discretion, but it should belong to a space that you know well; a room, a house, a childhood home, a place that you deem as a safe space in your mind that you can escape to should the visions become too much to handle. If that does arise, you will use the key to unlock your safe space and exit the trance. Any questions?”
As the doctor spoke, Zee started to formulate ideas on this key and its owner, knowing in her heart the place she felt the safest without a second thought. She nods, eager to get started so that she can get over it. “I’m ready.”
“Very well,” Doctor Bronn replies, standing from her chair. “I have already received a detailed description from Doctor Mendez of your dream, and for a portion of this, it is possible you will hear my voice guiding you through it. Do not be alarmed, this is perfectly natural, and try to focus on the images you are seeing rather than the words I am speaking.”
“What if-” Zee shakes her head, looking at the woman as she laughs bashfully. “I’m sorry, you must get this all the time, but what if this doesn’t work? What if I can’t- you know, be hypnotized?”
Doctor Bronn smiles, standing in front of Zatanna as she sits halfway upon the corner of her desk in front of Zee, within arm’s reach of her. “I tell my clients, I cannot do it for you, part of entering the trance is to have the willingness to do so. Usually, if you have gotten this far, you believe and have some acceptance of what is about to happen. If you find yourself resisting, focus on the intention that brings you here and you should be just fine.” She takes a moment to allow her words to sink in and then she asks, cheerfully. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Yes.” Zatanna says, and as Doctor Bronn raises her pendant, Zatanna begins to relax, sinking deeper into the chair.
Back. Forth. Right. Left. The pendant sways. Zatanna keeps her head still but follows it with her eyes in its lazy list from one end to the other through the air.
“Now, focus on the key you have in your hand. What does it look like? Feel the weight of it in your hand.”
Much to Zatanna’s surprise, she seems to hear Doctor Bronn’s voice fading away, and when she blinks and opens her eyes she is no longer in the room she was sitting in, but rather, a dark area, devoid of all things, structures, objects, or color. A beam of white light shone upon her from overhead, allowing her to glance down at her right hand and notice a worn brass key, fastened to a keychain with a worn brass colored rabbit, sitting in a crouched position. She smiles down at it, stroking it fondly with her thumb, before looking up to locate the door it belongs to.
She begins to walk at a slow and steady pace, still slightly unsure of the rules of this world and whether or not her foot would connect with something to hold her up or if her next step would send her plummeting into darkness. She then recalled the concept that she was in control of this world, and nervously decided to not consider what would happen if she fell, in fear of creating it into this reality, and instead focus on the task ahead of her, finding her safe place, her home, Shadowcrest.
As she walked, she noticed the light above her seemed to move with her, much like a spotlight following her across a stage. She smiled at this small comfort, before focusing ahead on finding her safe space.
It seemed, to Zatanna anyway, that something that should be so simple, had started to take much longer to appear than the key had. She was toying with the notion that she would have to find another way or call for help, if the doctor could even hear her, when she spotted it’s black iron gates in the distance, and behind it, the manor of her ancestors. Her relief lasted for mere seconds, as she thought she heard the voice of the doctor, and although instructed against it, she found herself listening to try to catch the words she was speaking.
“...it is at this point, they arrive, and they turn their wooden heads all the way around, the painted, glazed over eyes, stare at me, waiting, watching my every move…”
To Zatanna’s horror, the nightmare begins, and her eyes dart back and forth to the sides of her, as her heart nearly beats out of her chest as she witnesses at least twenty of the very objects of her terror all turn to face her simultaneously. Shadowcrest somehow deemed further away, terribly far away. If she ran, she could make it, make it before the next part of the dream, before they…
She could not even finish the thought before it began. It started with the first one on her right, a small movement in the corner of her eye, that she did not perceive. She whips her head around to look at it, only to find it in place as she hears movement from her left. She turns her head to the left, heart pounding so loud it seemed like it would beat out of her chest any second, only to find one of the puppets from before was no longer there, and the one next to it, out of place. Before she could control what was happening, the dream suddenly changed for the worst.
The light overhead went out.
Zatanna wanted to scream, but no sound would come out. Tears welled in her eyes and began to run down her cheeks as she let out a quiet whimper, drowned out by the movement of wooden limbs, and a disturbing cackling laugh. The only source of light she could see was the glow from Shadowcrest’s windows in the distance. Terribly locked by the weight of her own body, screaming to escape and find safety, she compels herself to move forward. Soon is racing towards her home as fast as her legs can carry her, stepping over wooden limbs, wrapping around her legs, some wooden and hollow, some soft and padded, her vision blurred by the tears she could not stop…. And yet, Shadowcrest retained its distance.
“Please! Help!” She cries, hoping above all things that the doctor can hear her as the limbs of the puppets latch to her legs, crawling up, or around her arms or wrist. She attempts to cast, just as one wraps itself around her neck.
“steppuP raeppasi-” Her spell is stopped short as the doll squeezes, choking her. She reaches up, shaking off the ones clinging to her right arm and throwing it off her neck, all the while running. By the time she looks back up, she is through the iron gate and running up the lawn towards the door.
Zatanna’s heart races, elated. Soon, she would be there, she would be safe, she would not come back here to face this again, it was too much too soon. She reaches the door, nearly throwing herself against it as she feels her legs give out beneath her and she crawls her way across the porch, still being held by the creatures of her nightmares until she reaches the door handle, and uses it to help her stand. She swiftly kicks off what she believes to be the last of her tormentors as her hands fumble to fit the key to the lock, shaking so badly it was almost impossible.
She flings the door open, slamming it shut behind her as she collapses against the door, sliding to the ground and lifting her head upwards. She closes her eyes, trying to drown out the banging from the other side, telling herself that all of this is not real and that she will wake up soon, when she hears the disturbing sound of wooden chair legs dragging across the floor, telling her one thing that she did not want to hear. Shadowcrest had an unwanted visitor.
“You should be careful with a mind like yours, Zatanna. You never really know who exactly you are inviting in.” Zatanna could not bring herself to open her eyes yet, but her heart sunk deep into the pit of her chest, as she knew, unmistakably so, that the voice that rang out, clear as day, belonged to Doctor Bronn.
Moments later, Zatanna’s eyes opened, but there was a dark unfamiliar gleam inside of them. Her body lifted from the chair, but it was clear from the shaky movements to accomplish such a simple task, the actions were not her own…