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By Nancy Granata
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Nancy Granata
All rights reserved.
"Ceeeeelie has a secret, I know Ceeeeelie's secret; Ceeeeelie Wainwright took an axe, gave that demon fifty whacks."
"Get away from me! You have the wrong Cecile Wainwright! Get away!"
"But Ceeeeelie, there is no escape from the spider web of madness. You can't get away. Here spider, spider. Here spider, spider. Come see Ceeeeelie."
"Stop it! Keep those nasty things off me! Get 'em off!"
"Tee-hee, Ceeeeelie, sooner or later everyone gets exactly what they deserve! Golden rule at loony school; when you've been good, you get very very good but when you've been bad, you get horrid!"
The first ring jarred Cecile from a dead sleep and instantly the dream was lost to her inherent dread of the incoming call. Late night calls were notoriously bad. She awoke muddled, caught in the transitional fog between half-awake and half-asleep, unable to make a complete connection with either but having the uncanny awareness of being in both at the same time. Her body was drenched with dream panic sweat accompanied by such fierce pounding in her chest that no amount of grogginess could keep her from knowing something evil had found its way into her sleep. The clinching validation that identified evil was the skin-crawling sensation it had left behind.
Double-shift exhaustion had been stealing dreams from the twenty-nine year old nurse for months. She had succumbed to the thievery but not without resentment. Sleep deprivation had forced change upon every part of her life, none to her liking, but dream loss happened to be an especially bitter one. Dream interpretation had always been a fascination and was one of few pleasures in her life. Prior to the grueling hospital schedule Cecile had kept detailed accounts in her treasured dream journal presently wedged between her nightstand and bed, covered with a thick layer of dust. The book's neglected sight was a sore reminder she'd lost her recall ability and hadn't put any effort into trying for a long time. That was, until this dream; a dream so terrifying it left nightmare hangover. This was a dream she wanted back with a chilling sense of urgency.
* * *
"There is no escape." Their mother read in her witchiest storytelling voice as she held the book up to show the evil witch's picture. "Once you drink my magic potion you will turn into tasty nibbles for my prehistoric insects to feast upon." Her eyes glanced from the page to the empty pillow noting that four year old, Cecile, and three year old, Alicia, had scooted to the middle of the bed pulling the blankets completely over their heads. "Girls, girls, what's going on? What are you doing?" She asked. "I thought you wanted this for tonight's bedtime story?"
"We don't!" Both girls cried out at the same time. "It's too scary."
Katherine Wainwright closed the book as she tried to peel the covers back. "You can come out now. No more reading tonight. There's nothing to be scared of. It's just a make believe story."
"Being food for insects is scary!" Cecile insisted as she and Alicia poked their heads out from under the blankets. "It would be a mergency if you were about to be feasted on." Alicia's head bobbed up and down in agreement.
Their mother smiled warmly. "The word is pronounced, emergency, and I agree, it would be a scary emergency if you were about to be feasted on. But it's just a fairytale story. We've read lots of fairytale stories."
"Not with witches and magic potions?" Cecile interrupted with a wide-eyed worried stare.
Mrs. Wainwright took each daughter by one hand and squeezed both with motherly reassurance. Her voice was soft with love. "There's no magic potion that can turn a person into pet food if that's what you're worried about. You have to go shopping at the store to buy pet food. Remember seeing the pet food isle?" She paused to see if her explanation was enough to resolve any worry and was relieved to see both girls were wrinkling their noses with thoughtful expressions of acceptance. "How about we put this book away until you get a little older and understand make believe better? And it might just be a good night for a sleep together? What do you think?"
Cecile and Alicia squealed at the same. "A sleep together! Thank you, mommy, thank you."
"Is that what this was about? You girls hid under the covers pretending you were scared of the story so you could sleep together?"
"No, mother, no." Cecile insisted. "We aren't pretending. Mergencies aren't pretend things, they're serious."
"Good night, girls. There will be no emergency tonight." Mrs. Wainwright went to the door and turned the light off as she left. "Ten minutes and then I want it quiet in here."
Twenty-five years had passed and the story had been forgotten. The only thing from that night that had followed Cecile into the present was learning the correct enunciation of the word, emergency. As charge nurse of the ER she had come to know the word well. To her own surprise, emergency room care had replaced her once-upon-a-time dream-job goal and turned out to be her true dream job. Trauma care was the exact right fit for Cecile. The work required a nurse with her exemplary skills and training and in return it filled her need to be needed. There was a time when she jumped at working extra shifts but at present too many shifts had taken its toll. Off time was so precious she now dreaded even answering the phone for fear the hospital was calling her back to work. Cecile's dread had nothing to do with the job itself, everything to do with the six-month hiring freeze.
All nurses were working killer hours but Cecile more than most. She fit all the 'call first' requirements; unmarried, no children and qualified to work any place the hospital needed extra hands. Mostly she was called back to the ER but she had such broad experience she was number one on every ward's want list. She also had a personal set of nursing standards known to everyone at the hospital that never allowed her to say "no" when they called, so they called often.
When the demanding schedule first started Cecile hadn't considered herself a victim but rather welcomed the filled hours of her empty personal life. Now those personal hours, even empty, would have been more than welcomed back. She had reached complete work burnout. Even the extra income meant nothing.
Her appearance red flagged the most noticeable damage done by the double-shift abuse. Her six-foot-one stature had gone from shapely thin to string-bean shapeless. Clothing bagged in the bust and butt emphasizing she lacked an identifiable waistline that even nursing smocks no longer hid. The gold sparkle in her green eyes had been stolen by the two obvious lack-of-sleep thieves, bloodshot and baggage. Both telltale visuals were exaggerated by washed out skin tone and the now glaring skeletal curve of her high cheek bones.
Cecile was well aware the weariness showed. For the first time in her life she was using makeup concealer and overdosing on get-the-red-out eye drops. Her top priority was to never frighten a patient or cause them to question her nursing ability but under the liquid mask, she had times of questioning herself. Routine things now required step-by-step thinking and strong black coffee was mandatory throughout every shift. On more than one occasion she'd even used stay-awake stimulants, something she was not proud of. Taking such pills went totally against her own nursing codes but always on her mind was the one thing that frightened every minute of every shift. She knew exhausted people could make fatal mistakes and not even be aware they were doing it. That fear didn't make pill taking right but in her mind it justified the need.
* * *
Impervious to the sleep daze, Cecile's sixth sense was sending a clear message. The evil entity, whatever it was, had more than just traumatized her sleeping world. It had escaped from the dream and now existed in both dimensions. The dual presence was unmistakable. An atmosphere void stifled Cecile's breathing, taking her breaths away before she could catch the air for her own lungs and a gaudy perfume scent had leached onto her wet skin and was beginning to seep up through the covers. The specter's nearness had a magnetic energy pulling her close, keeping them together as one unit while at the same time moving them further away from the realm of sleep. There was no misconception about what the subliminal intruder wanted. It wanted a permanent host into the waking world. Forewarned by her inner psyche that she had unleashed an insidious predator, a panic siren wailed in Cecile's semiconscious, warning her she had to finish the dream right then and put the evil back where it came from or she would never have another chance.
In the tiny space of silence that comes between the end of one ring and the start of another, the passing of time hung suspended as Cecile tried to force the return of her dream. Her mind searched itself for the place dreams are stored but the harder she tried to find that place, the further the dream seemed to slip away. Her feverish ideas on how to regain dream status quickly expanded into illusive chimera most of which came and went in the same fl ash. The concept of walking back through a door marked REM sleep was as short lived as winding back the hands on the clock so the dream could revert to where it had been earlier.
Cecile's neck muscles tightened. Increased anxiety knotted in her throat and swallowing went to a trickle. The putrid perfume stench had worked its way into her nostrils shocking her senses with smelling-salt brutality. She fought the stimulant all the while hearing a sing-songy voice in her head coaxing "wake up now, Ceeeeelie, time to wake up."
"Get away from me. You have the wrong person, the wrong person." She instinctively fought. "My name is not, Ceeeeelie. My real name is, Cecile, not, Ceeeeelie!"
* * *
All her life Cecile had hated nicknames. By way of experience she grew up associating nicknames to be the equivalent of name-calling; hurtful and mean. Since first grade she'd been taller than every child in the class making her self-conscious and shy. Her legs were so long her knees bumped the underside of her desk, sometimes raising it off the floor if she moved even slightly. The entire classroom would quickly erupt into "Floating Desk" giggles which she pretended not to hear by appearing engrossed in her workbook. But she always heard. Sometimes on the school bus kids would yell "goodbye, Floating Desk" when she was getting off. "My real name is, Cecile." She would call back but no one seemed to notice. They had moved on to throwing paper wads at each other and sharing leftovers from lunch boxes. She wanted them to care, to know that name-calling was mean, but as the doors on the bus closed it was clear no one cared what her name was. The next day she would still be, Floating Desk.
Even before first grade Cecile had been bothered by people that couldn't just use a person's real name. If they didn't know, all they had to do was ask. No one ever asked. They just assumed whatever name they called her was what she would answer to. The auburn color of her long hair drew a lot of names. Rusty, was common and then there was, Ginger, and even, Brown Sugar. A woman at their church one time said Cecile's hair was the color of fresh ground cinnamon and after that, every Sunday the same woman would call her, Cinnamon. Cecile would start to say, "My real name ..." but her mother would nudge her before she finished and she would make a crooked smile and politely shake the lady's hand. The church lady had a pet name for Alicia, too. She called Alicia, Daffodil, because her hair was a golden honey blond color. Cecile would start to say, "Her real name ..." but then her mother would nudge her and so, as the years passed, the girls hid their displeasure with the ridiculous names. One Sunday around the ages eight and nine, the girls learned the lady had moved away and that night they secretly celebrated in Cecile's bedroom with popsicles, raisins, chocolate milk and a bag of cheese chips. The end had finally come to the names, Cinnamon and Daffodil.
There was one name exception that Cecile considered the norm and never fused about. Alicia's baby talk version of, Cecile, was Ceil. Cecile had been called that for so long it never ranked as a nickname but no one else was ever allowed to call her that except Alicia. Eleven months separated the sisters and it was inevitable they became best friends. Alicia was more outgoing and got along with lots of people but for Cecile, Alicia wasn't just her best friend, she was her only. Although they never shared the same class rooms, they were inseparable every place else. Size wise, it was logical that Cecile became 'big sister protector' but much of the time it was Alicia that defended Cecile. Alicia didn't like name-calling either and she didn't hold back what she thought of it when classmates were being unkind.
In junior high Cecile had been dubbed 'Sally Short' by some classmates who jokingly gave her the name of a character in a book who was her same height, six-foot-one. Of any nickname she'd ever been called that was the one she hated most. Maybe the kids hadn't meant it as mean but when you're in seventh grade, taller than most of the teachers, the name-calling hurt. Sally Short stuck for five more years and the scar from it was permanent. Even now if she ran into anyone from the past who called her, Sally, it would bring fire to her green eyes. Only one other thing made worse flames of hate, her feelings for her brother-in-law. She triggered the same reaction from him brought about by a long ongoing tug-of-war over her sister. Cecile wanted to 'save' Alicia from Dan Damon and he wanted to 'own' her. Cecile had two descriptive terms for Dan Damon, neither of which she ever considered name-calling. One was, Devil Dan; the other, Jack the Ripper. She never thought either reference was unkind because she truly believed he was a mutation of the two.
Being the butt of tall jokes had made Cecile a person that kept to herself, not unfriendly but unsocial. She'd never even been on a date. Up until Alicia met and married Danny, the sisters lived together in the house they'd been raised in and neither had a social life. Both were more focused on grades and career goals. During Cecile's second year in college, Alicia's first, their parents were killed in a car crash while on a trip. The loss of their parents was life changing, especially for Cecile. Immediately her goal of becoming a doctor was gone. The cost was not doable with both girls in college at the same time. Without hesitation she set her sights on a nursing degree so there would be enough money to enable Alicia to also reach her goal. Alicia's degree in journalism never happened. She dropped out of college to marry smooth-talking Devil Dan.
The disappearance of Alicia in Cecile's life made her work harder to become better than the best nurse in all of Colorado. And she pretty much was. Her education, experience, commitment to the profession and skills earned her several nursing excellence awards and over the years, many job offers. Around the Denver hospital scene Cecile's admirable reputation was well known.
* * *
"Come on, Ceeeeelie, wake up. Stop fighting it. You can't put me back. I don't want to go back so stop trying to find a way. Not going to happen so wake up."
Instantly Cecile's mind began a subliminal search to put a face to the familiar sounding voice that was calling her, Ceeeeelie, but the moment of wanting to confront the name-caller was short-lived. More important was reaching the crucial dream destination. That goal was slipping further out of reach fast enough and she sensed a force working against her. The harder she fought to return to the dark, the stronger the push toward the light. Drugged with exhaustion made it seem that the state of REM sleep should be extremely easy to obtain yet no matter how hard Cecile tried, she couldn't overpower the resisting energy. As defeat began to appear more and more inevitable, she fell easy prey to the cocoon of helplessness.
Excerpted from Deserved by Nancy Granata. Copyright © 2015 Nancy Granata. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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