Christine was having trouble deciding whether or not she was dreaming.
She was in a grassy field with no recollection of how she got there. The sky was going dark. She was, for some reason, dressed in nothing but a thin white gown that was almost transparent. An enormous willow tree drooped overhead. Nothing was familiar.
Yes, it must be a dream, she thought, but she still wasn't sure. Everything felt solid and tangible. She could hear her heartbeat. The air was so crisp that it stung her throat when she inhaled; had she ever noticed her breathing in a dream before?
Something rustled in the brush nearby.
"Hello?" she said. Her voice sounded strange. It was like an echo coming out of her own mouth. "Is someone there?"
More movement, but she saw nothing. She pressed her back against the trunk of the tree. It's all just a dream anyway, she thought. None of this can be real. I will wake up any minute.
The sound of approaching footsteps through the tall grass was unmistakable now. The sky was going dark, and something was getting closer, and it was just as she felt the touch of an unseen hand at her throat that the scream welled up inside of her, and-
Christine woke to sheets tangled around her body and staleness in her mouth. It was hot. Everything was damp with sweat. She kicked her way out of bed and stuck her head out the window. Three stories below she saw the pavement baking.
She was sure she had been dreaming a moment ago, but now she couldn't remember anything about it. The clock told her it was ten thirty. She dressed without even knowing what she was putting on. Her mind was already on the thing that was waiting for her in the living room.
She had been up all night working on the painting. She felt a little thrill when she saw the canvas: the scene showed a pale, blonde, nymph-like woman in a barely-there gown, lying in a green field under a rather dreary willow tree. She reclined on her side, head propped on one hand, chin tilted down, all daintiness and gossamer fabric and flowing hair. She looked (or at least, Christine wanted her to look) carefree and distracted.
There was a second figure in the painting too, a lean but muscular man who was covered in shadows. He stood over the distracted nymph, apparently unseen, his posture hunched, one arm reaching toward her. His fingers were a few inches from her throat.
The idea for the painting had come to her out of nowhere six weeks ago. One second it hadn't been there and the next it just was. Dazed by the sudden inspiration, she'd wandered for hours until finding an art supply store, where she spent hundreds of dollars on brushes, paints, canvasses, and other essentials.
That very night she had drawn her concept sketch, and then made her first attempt at the real thing. Disliking the result, she had tried again the next day. Christine had painted the same scene over and over, day after day, for weeks, but it was never quite good enough. The rejected versions were stacked by the dozens all over her apartment.
She considered the new painting from every angle. It still wasn't right. She had fixed the problems with the woman's proportions, but she still didn't like her face, which didn't seem to express anything. And there was something off about the man too. He should be darker, to set him apart from the woman's paleness. And something about the way he was reaching out? Was he going to touch her or strangle her? She couldn't tell.
She frowned. The male figure had always made her uncomfortable. Sometimes she was afraid to turn her back on him.
This one was an improvement, she decided, but still not good enough. She'd have to start over. That would mean buying another canvas, and they were expensive, but if she just let the cable bill go for the month she could afford it. A few weeks without television would probably be good for her anyway.
Her phone beeped, telling her she was going to be late. She had cancelled all of her recent appointments to afford more time for painting, but there was still one meeting she couldn't miss, even now. Just try not to think about it she told herself as she grabbed her purse.
Just as she got to the front door, there was a knock, and she jumped. Settle down Christine, she thought.
"Who is it?" she said. No one answered. She fumbled with the knob. "I'm sorry, but you caught me just as I was leaving. Maybe we can-"
No one was there. She looked in both directions. No one in sight. She realized she was holding her breath and exhaled all at once.
She looked back into her apartment as she was closing the door. If something had been there, she thought, I would have let it in just now. Now I'm locking it inside. It will still be waiting for me when I get home.
Stop it, she thought. You're making yourself late. She put one foot in front of the other and resisted the urge to turn around. Instead she thought about the painting. The cool green field relaxed her almost immediately. Behind her eyes, it was perfect. She wanted to put that perfection onto the canvas. She wanted it so much she could hardly breathe.
Maybe tonight would be the night. Maybe tonight she would finally make it perfect. She would start as soon as she got back. She just had to do this one thing first.
"No," said David. "Don't say it. Don't say 'I'm sorry I'm late.'"
Christine slid into the booth, where a cesar salad was already waiting for her.
"A wonderful person without a thought in her head, yes, I know, which is why I've already ordered for you, and look, here it is. Wine?"
"It's not even noon?"
"That's why I'm drinking white. Is that blood on your sleeve?"
Christine looked down. "It's paint."
"Redoing the living room?"
"No," Christine said, poking at her salad. David looked tired, but David never exhibited the same marks of exhaustion that made other people unattractive when they became run down. It was one of the things about him that annoyed her the most.
"You look-" he started, and she jumped to cut him off.
"You look exhausted!" she said. "Is it the job?"
"Oh God!" He made a big gesture of putting his head in his hands, and she took a bite to disguise her smile. "It's slow death. I feel like I've been there for a million years."
"It's been three weeks."
David pantomimed stabbing himself with his fork. "Why am I doing this?"
"The money, I thought."
"Oh no, of course not, people who only do jobs for the money are sell outs. I'm doing this because I have an all-consuming love for patent law, right?"
Well it would be nice if you loved something, she thought, but chose to stuff her mouth full of croutons rather than say it. They lapsed into silence for a few seconds.
"I'm glad you came out," he said. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too," she said, moderating her tone. "I was surprised when you called me."
"I don't know why. We agreed to be friends. Friends see each other, from time to time."
"Yes, but after last time-"
"Let's not talk about that."
More silence passed. Christine mentally composed dozens of statements about David, herself, and the general state of the world, then discarded each of them in favor of extending the silence.
David cleared his throat. "Okay Christine, you were late after you swore you never would be again, and that means it's time. It's time for the question."
"No!" Christine said, wincing as she swallowed.
"I'm sorry, but as per our agreement, you must hear me out."
"I never agreed to that!"
"I agreed for you."
"For the last time, I'm not interested."
"Troy is a great guy, I don't see why you won't at least meet him."
"Because I said no, I've said no repeatedly, and that's just the end of it. I don't see why you think this guy is SO right for me. Just because he's a doctor-"
"Intern. And he's thinking of quitting. That's all got nothing to do with why I want to fix you up."
"Non-doctor then. I think I can find a non-doctor on my own, if I wanted one."
"Christine, I worry about you. You haven't worked in six months, you haven't dated anyone in a year-"
"That's not true! I go on dates all the time."
"One night stands who you never see again."
"I'm playing the field. There's nothing wrong with that. You did," she said, sounding more hostile than she meant to let on.
"When was the last time you talked to someone other than me?"
Christine scowled. "I don't keep track. Correct me if I'm wrong David, but I thought you no longer had a controlling interest in my love life?"
"I'm not trying to control you, I just thought-"
"Well stop thinking."
"Christine, you don't-"
"Don't say that! Don't say 'You don't know what you want,' I hate it when you say that."
"Alright, fine, I'll drop it. So," he said, switching gears without a pause, "what is this about painting?"
Christine hesitated. Almost any change of topic would have been welcome, but somehow she didn't feel comfortable telling David about the painting.
"It's just something I'm doing," she said.
"A while ago. I wanted to try it out."
"I didn't know you were interested in art."
"Maybe there are lots of things you don't know about me."
"I'm having trouble believing there's even this one."
Christine sighed and closed her eyes, and as soon as she did she saw it again: the grass, the tree, the woman, and the dark man. The scene fluttered in and out of view as fast as she blinked.
"You look like you have a headache," David said.
Christine opened her eyes. "I do, all of a sudden."
"Do you want something for it? I have-"
"No, it's okay. I'll do something about it when I get home." Christine's fingers curled around the brush she wasn't holding.
"You know who I heard from the other day? Trina. She's pregnant, apparently. Eight weeks along and due in August. You remember that guy Eric? He's the father. I thought we should all get together sometime."
Christine nodded, but she wasn't listening anymore. She was looking out the window, squinting against the bright light. There was a tree across the street, with a bent trunk. A willow tree? Had it always been there? She had never noticed it before.
"I have to go," she said.
"Now?" he looked down at his wrist for the watch he no longer ever wore, like he always did.
Christine stood, went for the door, remembered her purse, found it, then went for the door again. "It's this headache. I really have to go David, I'm sorry."
"It's okay," he stood as if to follow her, but stayed where he was. "If you want I can call later and-"
But she was already gone.
She went straight to the art supply store, then home, and then she painted for eight hours straight.
Her fingers were sore from gripping the brush, and the chemical fumes had stung her eyes pink. Her back and knees ached from standing in one spot so long. She barely made it to the couch before passing out, and there she slept, curled into a ball, hands still spotted with paint. She closed her eyes and-
She was in a grassy field, under a willow tree. The breeze was mild, and she felt it tickle through the sheer fabric of her gown. She wondered, briefly, where she was, but soon stopped caring.
Something rustled in the brush nearby.
"Hello?" she said. She squinted, but it was too dark to see anything. "Is someone there?" Silence, then the sound of a branch breaking. "Hello?" she said, louder. "Please don't go. Who are you?"
She jumped when a voice came from only a few feet away, although she could see no one.
"I thought I'd frightened you," it said.
Christine spun around. "Only just now," she said.
"Not now. Last time." It was a man's voice, but it was soft and slightly hoarse.
"Last time? I don't remember-" she stopped in mid-sentence. "Wait...I remember. I felt something touch me?"
"I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to hurt you." The uncertainty in the voice almost made her laugh. Whoever he was, he sounded like a grade school boy asking a girl out on a date for the first time
"You didn't hurt me. I was just surprised. And I didn't know what was going on. And I still don't. Where are we?"
"We're dreaming," said the voice.
"We are, you and me both. I dream for you all the time."
"You dream about me?"
"Not about you. For you."
Christine frowned. "Where are you? Aren't you going to come out?"
"If you would like me to. But I warn you, you might find me..."
"Frightening?" she said, and laughed. "If it's all that bad, I can just wake up."
"As you wish," the voice said, and then someone was sitting just three feet away.
It was a man who was barely older than a boy, with a narrow face, large brown eyes, and long, unruly hair. His naked body was lean but muscular, and his complexion was a strange dark grey. When he shifted his position a little she saw that rather than feet, he had hooves.
He ducked his head, blushing. "I must look terribly ugly to you," he said.
Christine wasn't sure how to respond, but after a few seconds she came out with the truth:
"Not at all! I think you're beautiful. Strange, very strange, but beautiful. I just don't...that is to say, I'm not sure...what are you?"
"That is a very difficult question to answer," he said. "Just know that I am your most devoted servant, and that I've spent many, many years dreaming about the moment when we would finally be together."
Christine blushed. His words were halting, but there was an earnestness about his expression that made her believe them.
She touched his cheek with the tip of two fingers. She was amazed by how hot he felt, and by the rough texture of his skin. "Are you sure this is a dream?" she said. "It feels so real."
"Only in dreams do perfect moments like this happen. Only in a dream could I talk to you, or be touched by you. If this were real, you would hate me."
"I'm sure I wouldn't," she said, not moving her hand. "What's your name?"
"Well Komos, I don't know where you got that idea, but I'm sure I would never do any such thing."
"Ah, that's what they always say, in dreams."
Christine laughed. "This is a dream, isn't it? I keep forgetting.
"And if it's a dream, then...I suppose I can do anything I want." She cupped her hand against his cheek and, acting before she had even thought about it, she kissed him.
His lips were rough and coarse, and they were hot, so hot that she thought she might be burned. Rather than pull away, she pushed closer, turning her initial, hesitant kiss into a fuller, deeper one. The heat of his mouth made her lips tingle.
At first he was perfectly still, body rigid, and then he began to tremble. When she laced her fingers behind his head, running them through his long, luxurious hair, he sprang to life, wrapping his arms around her so tightly that she gasped. He was incredibly strong, and for a second she was afraid she would be crushed, but then she relaxed, realizing that he was not using enough force to actually hurt her.
The translucent gown she wore did very little to separate them. The contours of her body hugged his, breasts crushed against his chest as he pulled her into him. The surface of his skin was so hot that she began to sweat immediately. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her lips still pressed against his, her tongue nearly cutting itself on his sharp incisors when she slid it into his mouth.
He pressed his mouth to the side of her neck, rough lips massaging her soft, sensitive flesh a few seconds before his sharp teeth sank into her throat. She clung to him, head lolling to one side, eyes rolling as she moaned while the sharp edge of his tongue lapped at the bruised red mark his teeth had left behind.
It took all of her strength to push him away even for a second. His shyness and boyish hesitancy were gone, and it was all she could do to keep him at bay now. She smiled, then turned and, glancing at him over her shoulder, went down to all fours, arching her rear into the air and wiggling her hips back and forth.
The sharp point of one his nails pressed between her shoulder blades. His fingertip traced along the curve of her spine, shredding the flimsy fabric of her gown until it slipped away and off, leaving her naked and trembling in the tall grass.
She gasped when his hands took her hips, dragging her an inch or two back toward him. He leaned over, kissing the nape of her neck, burning lips gliding over her bare shoulders, sharp edges of his tongue and teeth pricking her naked flesh. She ached whenever he pushed against her.
His hands slid down the sides of her body and up to cup her breasts as they swung underneath her with the rhythm of her squirming, gyrating hips. He squeezed, once, and her knees went weak. Pinching pressure on her swollen nipples made her head swim, and she bit her lower lip in an increasingly futile bid not to cry out.
She wanted to direct him, but didn't dare. She heard his hungry panting as his hands wandered across the curves of her body, seemingly testing how much she could take. He was as hot as a furnace now and she thought she might catch fire under his touch.
There was a throbbing ache at the center of her and a wetness between her thighs that he couldn't possibly miss. Ever other second she let out a tiny, panting gasp as he continued to fondle her. After a few helpless, panting minutes never being able to form a word, she finally managed to push out in a single, breathless exhalation:
Then he took hold of her, one hand on her hip and the other gripping the hair at the back of her head, pulling so hard that she screamed and then screamed again as he entered her and then began to thrust violently, almost painfully against her sex.
It was impossible to measure the passage of time in a dream. Minute, hours, days, Christine had no way of knowing how long this went on, her body bowed underneath his, the steady, mechanical, pumping rhythm of his cock rocking her back and forth, over and over again. She imagined that, in reality, they would both have passed out from exhaustion long ago, but here there was no limit.
Untethered from the world, Christine was plunged into an ocean with no bottom. Komos was a raw, raging torrent pouring himself into her. She shook, gasped, moaned, screamed, panted, clawed, swore, sweated, bit, writhed, and ached to the cues he provided. He held her hand, pushed her over the edge, and then caught her, just barely, before she struck bottom. She forgot everything except bliss.
After, he lay with his head in her lap as she ran her fingers through his hair.
"Komos?" she whispered.
"Is this really just a dream?"
"Are you real?"
"In some ways."
"I wish I could be with you when I was awake."
She blinked. "How?"
"I'll come for you when you're finished."
"When you're finished calling for me."
"I don't understand?"
He rolled over to face her. "You will." Then he was gone, vanished right out from under her.
"Komos?" she said, standing. "Where did you go?" There was no answer. The wind was blowing harder now, and it had grown cold. The boughs of the tree leaned in the dark. A few drops of icy rain spattered her bare skin. And then-
It was the pain in her hands that woke Christine up. In the dull, fumbling state just after waking, she couldn't place what was wrong. Then she realized that in her sleep she had balled her hands into fists in her sleep, and her nails had dug crescent-shaped gouges in her palms.
She was stiff from spending all night slumped on the couch. The flotsam of a particularly vivid dream floated across her mind, then disappeared. She sleepwalked to the kitchen. It was a sweltering day again, so she decided to forgo hot coffee in favor of the cold pot left over from last night. Her stomach growled and she realized that she hadn't eaten anything since the salad at lunch yesterday. In fact, she wasn't sure if there was even any food in the house?