Pain seared through the darkness, turning his field of vision white interspersed with red. Through it all, he could hear footsteps. It was not the dogs, but another human. He cowered, expecting the goddess with another curse, but then he heard a voice. Patrice was calling to him, actually sounding worried. The dogs were no longer whining, the traffic no longer surging past and hurting his ears.
Patrice’s voice drew closer. He struggled to his feet, attempted to greet her with as much dignity as possible. Colors exploded in the blackness, made him grunt. The footsteps stopped, hesitated, then pounded towards him. His wife was rushing to him in a panic, and all he could do was whimper to draw her nearer. Eventually, she was in front of him. She was close enough to touch, but he did not reach for her.
“What’s happening?” she asked. “Your clothes are torn, and you’re filthy.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone. It was a wonder his tumble had not shattered it. The goddess said he could not talk, not that he could not write it all out in a text message. Several of them, in fact. Patrice’s phone beeped with each frantic revelation. He finally had proof of the reality of his dreams. Several moments passed. Clicking confirmed Patrice was reading what he sent.
“This is crazy, Samuel. You aren’t cursed. We’re the only two people out at this hour, and the only creatures around are road kill.”
She did not see his dogs. He sent her another text.
“You can’t see because you want your delusions to be true so badly. Nothing will happen if you talk to me. Maybe you’ll even give up this insanity.”
If he could see her, he would have gaped. Finally, he texted her about his dogs.
“I told you, I didn’t see anything. This patch of wood is too close to the road to house dogs that big. Why don’t you end this? Talk to me.”
For several moments, he simply stood there. How could his dogs have left him? Eventually, he heard a whimper. He texted Patrice.
“I didn’t hear anything. Why do you keep insisting you’re something other than what you are? Why can’t you be happy with reality?”
Because there was more to reality than she knew. Perhaps he did not know everything about the world, but he knew there was more to it than what she wanted him to see. He went for the keys on his phone, ready to tell her what he thought, but she snatched it away. He heard it hit the ground. It crunched against dead leaves. A moment later, Patrice was gripping his hands as if the pressure would wake him.
“Throw off this illusion, Samuel. Nothing is going to happen. Speak to me if you love me.”
“Patrice,” he began.
Pain tore through him. His body felt like it was caving in on itself, twisting out of proportion. The more he cried out, the more it ripped him apart. Patrice let him go. He fell to his knees, rolled onto his stomach, felt his phone crack beneath his weight. In the final moments of his transformation, his vision returned. His wife’s expression was twisted ― not in pain, or even fear, but contained laughter.
The sound of her released mirth followed him when he threw off the pain, fled from her. Something in her eyes reminded him of the goddess. Perhaps it was madness. In his haste to get away from her, he broke from the trees, darted onto the road. His car was parked where he left it. When he reached for the handle of the driver’s side, his hands slipped off. It took him a couple times before he looked at his hands.
They were hooves. He was not given long to think about that. Bright light blinded him. A car sped toward him, narrowly missed flattening him, and he ran for the safety of the trees. The car made a sickening noise, skidded on the asphalt, but did not crash. The driver kept control, drove away, and he was left cowering in the dark. Samuel’s thoughts banged against his head like the car.
What was he to think? The goddess cursed him. It was proof he was not dreaming. He tried to talk at Patrice’s insistence and transformed just as she said he would. His wife witnessed it, was standing before him when it happened, but was not afraid. She was not even awed at how wrong she was. She was amused. Her laughter rang in his ears, her twisted expression flashed. It was cruel and mocking.
There was something wrong with Patrice. Perhaps the goddess did something to her too. He could imagine his wife seeing the goddess and giving her a card for a dispenser of Botox. She was perpetually obsessed with appearances. The goddess would have given her madness for insulting her. It made sense to Samuel. It stopped his heart from pounding, allowed him to go back into the woods.
Mad or not, Patrice was his wife, and he could not leave her alone. She had no survival skills. If she had ever been anyone else in her dreams, anyone with more depth, she never showed it. Again, he wondered why he married her. His memory still failed him. At least there was one advantage of being transformed into an animal: he would not be expected to uphold their marriage vows.
When he went back to the space where he left her, she was gone. He knew it was the right place because his phone remained, beckoning to him. He pushed aside some leaves, uncovered it with his hooves. It was glowing. When he pressed his snout to the ground, he could smell her. Perhaps he could track her the way the dogs followed prey. With that in mind, he remained close to the ground, walked slowly, tried not to lose the scent.
After a few moments, he was sure he heard her moving. It was not frantic as if she were trying to run. Instead, she sounded as if she were strolling. His wife, his Patrice, who hated dirt as much as she hated the dark, was strolling in the woods in the middle of the night. He was even more convinced the goddess cursed her with madness. The woman he knew would never be so nonchalant no matter how close she was to the road.
Suddenly, she stopped. He stopped too. “Is that you, Samuel? Are you enjoying your new delusion?”
Delusion? She saw him change. He looked down at his hooves. Her reaction was not what he expected, but she certainly saw it. Was she saying he imagined the pain, invented the change? When he reached for the car door, did he imagine hooves slipping off the handle? Was she laughing at him because he was dreaming right in front of her? Patrice was still speaking, but his dog’s voices suddenly drowned her out.
His hunting dogs, his faithful companions, were making a chorus with their cries. They were moving too. Each sound brought them closer. He was not sure if Patrice heard them, but he was not sure he cared anymore. Perhaps he could hunt with them for the rest of his life, leave her to her madness. She was probably mad before the goddess cursed her anyway. Anyone who denied reality was mad.
Without much consideration, he gave the dogs a verbal signal. They stopped whining, listened. He called to them again. His voice sounded different, they were probably confused, but they would not be able to resist for long. One more call and they were running towards him. The problem was they were snarling rather than yipping happily. Afraid they were after Patrice, he threw himself into their path.
Their teeth pierced his skin. He could feel the breaks, the tears, even the blood leaking from it. They were merciless. Each contact burned him. None of them left him to pursue Patrice, making him wonder if she was ever the target at all. Just before everything went black once more, he heard Patrice’s voice. She was yelling something at the dogs. They stopped. A moment later, he heard them walking away as if nothing happened.
“You’ve always been a fool no matter what form you took in this mortal world.”
What was she talking about? Was the madness overcoming her, coloring everything she said? She did not sound mad. She also did not sound amused. Her voice was perfectly calm. When she sat down beside him, he could barely see her, but he could feel her. Her hand on his shoulder managed to impart warmth despite all the blood he was losing to the grass. Would she tell him it was an illusion? Part of him hoped she would.
“I rushed the transformation because I’m tired of his existence,” she said. “Besides, you’d already been seen, recognized, and cursed. That’s the way it always starts. It’s only a few hours before you get yourself killed and I have to follow.”
It was a horrid time to inform him he was not dreaming. Samuel wanted to tell her to keep insisting on his delusion, but could not. Even if he had his human form, he would not have been able to speak. He had lost too much blood, was suffering too much pain, and hoped he could pass quietly into a dream. There, goddesses never accused him of impropriety and his dogs never attacked him.
“Your dreams have been real all along, Somnus. You offended Zeus long ago during the Trojan War, and now you’ve run afoul of Artemis.”
The woman in the spring was Artemis? It made a sort of sense. Patrice was not mad, and she was not as boring as she wanted people to believe. She was simply trying to keep him safe. Zeus was still angry with him for giving him a sleeping potion during a crucial moment. They were hiding from him in mortal skin. His lovely Patrice thought normalcy was the ultimate disguise for gods avoiding gods.
“Patrice,” he said. His voice was like a bark, but the word was distinguishable.
“Don’t speak, Somnus,” she said. “Perhaps you won’t be so foolish next lifetime. Perhaps you’ll be happy with the reality we create.”
“Pasithia,” he whispered. The name came with a flood of memories.
“Sleep, my unlucky, foolish, husband. We’ll meet again next lifetime. Perhaps we’ll have longer to enjoy it before you go chasing your dreams.”
Lucinda Preston is an historian by training, a lover of research by nature, and an avid reader of multiple genres. She writes stories based on twisted dreams that are further shaped by mythology, a macabre google search history, and library books that were covered in dust (and perhaps spider webs that she would rather not think about) before she removed them from their respective corners. Her stories contain a bit of fantasy, a bit of horror, varying amounts of romance, and a large amount of real world truth. When she’s not writing, or reading, she’s sewing, making wire wrapped jewelry, painting, cooking, singing, spending time with those she loves and/or laughing about inappropriate things. You can explore her mind through her twitter account @lupreston1983 or her blog at https://lucindapreston.blogspot.com/.
Featured image via Frans Snyders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons