Judith was alone in the waiting room when the dental hygienist came in and told her that she would be next. Judith smiled at him. He said that he could see problem areas in her mouth from where he stood. She stopped smiling and turned to a mirror that was positioned near the window. Judith curled back her lips and widened her mouth into an exaggerated smile to see for herself.
At the top of her gum line just above her eyetooth, she could see something wiggling in a hole slightly smaller than a dime that, oddly, she had never noticed before. She could feel it writhing. It peeked its pointed head out, and she could see the striped, shining body living in the small tunnel in her mouth. The head was cream colored, followed by a ring of orangey red, then brown. Knowing the miniature serpent needed to be removed, she went to grab it, but it pulled its head back in. She blew air through her mouth and felt it pushing the worm out toward the entrance to the hole.
She wondered how it got in there, how long had it been there, and why she had not noticed it before. It must have been living off of particles from the food she herself was eating. Under normal circumstances, Judith would have felt disgust and panic, but her ruminations were purely academic as she considered the best course of action.
The air forced the worm out enough that she could grab the end, firmly but gently, not wanting it to break off inside the hole. She would be so embarrassed to have the dental hygienist find this beast in her mouth. He would accuse her of being negligent of flossing. Judith pulled tenderly, feeling the worm’s length ending in her ear. It thrashed between her fingers and inside of her sinus cavity, hitting her eardrum.
Having no legs or pincers with which to grip the inside of it’s tunnel, the striped body slid smoothly out of the hole, wet with Judith’s saliva. There was a relief in her ear, the pressure she had been feeling on and off for a month finally gone. The worm was six inches in length and curled and writhed, panicking between her fingers. She looked around the sterile waiting room for a place to deposit the creature. Near a plant was an iron container filled with sand and some type of large blue crystals in a pile at the top. She laid the worm on top of the blue crystals. With a small scream, its body hissed atop the mound, Judith realizing it must be salt. Sprouting legs and a scorpion-like tail, it continued in its death throes, sizzling and writhing until it came to stillness.
Judith watched, detached from the creature’s agony, and glad that this thing was no longer living inside of her. She had no idea what it was or how it got there, but now her main problem was what the hygienist would think when he saw the burrow in her gums that was once home to this monstrosity, now steaming on the blue rock salt.
A high-pitched drilling sound entered Judith’s head. She wondered was kind of instruments the dentist was using that would make such a loud noise. It stopped and then started again. She began to realize that she was laying on her pillow, the covers in disarray, the noise resonating from outside of her bedroom window. Knowing it was a dream; she ran her tongue along her teeth and gums to make sure there were no holes she had not noticed before. Her mouth intact, she got up to brush her teeth, her mouth feeling dirtier than normal upon waking.
The dream would fade after a while, usually taking a couple of days to fully dissipate. Unlike most dreams she had had throughout her life, the ones of late clung to her mind, woven into the threads of her brain tissue. Judith actively participated in these dreams, making sleep a lively event. The difference in her dream state appeared after she had begun asking for information, requesting knowledge from beyond.
She left it up to the Powers That Be to determine what information It imparted. It was up to her to interpret the message framed in bizarre symbolism. The task was daunting at times, her mind involved in its analysis for hours of the following day. Most of the meaning went undiscovered, yet she requested more and more night after night. Sleeping with a Herkimer Diamond perched on her nightstand close to her head intensified the experience and encouraged lucid dreaming.
This dream seemed to hold the message of purging and cleansing. She needed to shed aspects of herself that she and others found repulsive. The list of things she would change needed to be created, and then addressed. The image of gripping the worm and pulling it out slowly and steadily would be uppermost in her mind as she sought to rid herself of annoying habits and revolting behaviors. There was much to change about her persona in the conscious world, yet she was nearly perfect in the alternate awareness of the dream state.
Holding on to waking reality was becoming a chore, and Judith looked forward to the life she visited deep in sleep. She wished that she could foster the same interested detachment in people and situations during the day that she could in her dreams. Dramatic scenarios in dream worlds elicited a calm response that allowed her to take positive action.
Not so in her daily wakeful life. Succumbing to the whims and complaints of others, feeling tightness in her stomach when confronted, Judith was Anxiety’s poster-girl.
If they could only see how strong she was when challenged in the bizarre scenarios conjured by the gods. Most of them would be in awe at her inventive solutions and calm certainty. Like the way she stayed focused as she pulled the worm from its burrow in her mouth. Displays of strength and fortitude were commonplace in the nether world that existed behind what others deemed true reality.
Her boss, Mr. Dooley, would be shocked if he became aware of the power she wielded during her nightly travels and her connection with the gods. He probably would not understand and make fun of her as he usually did. She did not want to address his lack of respect toward her by asking the gods for intervention. Judith knew they were preparing her to take care of it on her own.
Judith moved through her day, dodging situations that prompted discomfort and avoiding people who would put her in emotional jeopardy. The time passed in spurts, clumps of minutes spent in evasion. In between, her thoughts drifted to her bed and the sweet experiences she would undertake, no matter how vial under normal circumstances. The dream state awaited her visit to places where she was strong and capable, able to withstand challenges of all sorts. At last she climbed into bed and asked for the privilege of visiting the realm that will reveal the next message. She closed her eyes.
Off she went, into the darkness of sleep, gliding on the etheric wave to destinations unknown. Awareness came as she found herself on a train platform underground. The regional rail station had concrete walls, the floor sporting a bright yellow strip warning travelers away from the edge of the platform. A train could squash me like a bug, she thought, knowing she had better sense than to teeter near the edge. No one was around, so she walked to the stairwell and ascended into the main station. It was abandoned and so quiet that her footsteps echoed in the emptiness.
She passed the newsstand, a coffee shop, and a pizza place, all vacant, yet the doors were open. A faint shuffling sound came drifting past her ear; she was unsure of the direction from which it originated. Vigilant for a repeat of the noise, Judith turned her head slightly to try to tune in to subtle vibrations. There was no need for such intensive focus, as the next sounds she heard were a screeching howl and pounding footsteps moving in her direction from behind. She turned to see a wild-haired maniac running at her at full speed holding a large butcher’s knife above its head in an overhand stabbing position.
A moment of surprise held her to the spot, but she quickly recovered and began running away from the maniac. It looked neither male nor female, yet could be either gender. Tattered, dirty clothing and filthy bare feet added to the feral look of the pursuer. Judith also noticed long grimy nails on its fingers and toes. She heard it screeching and laughing behind her and glimpsed to see how close it was. The knife blade shone in the low light of the train station, proving to be the cleanest part of this abomination. She was thinking that it took pride in the blade and spent long hours polishing and sharpening. The thought brought no fear to her mind or heart. Adrenalin pulsed through her body, allowing her legs to pump faster to keep ahead of the relentless maniac behind her. She ran and ran, through the deserted train station, up and down steps, and down long hallways; the pursuer kept pace, and Judith never broke a sweat.
An unknown span of time went by, it seemed like ages, and Judith grew tired of running and listening to the lunatic’s laughter and threatening shrieks. It was time to take action. She stopped abruptly and turned to face her attacker. The foe stood with a surprised look on its face, dirt outlining every line and crease on its face. Judith took one step forward, grabbed the knife from its filthy hand and held it above her head, wielding the blade in the same posture used by the would-be assailant. It began backing up, holding its hands out before it to ward off Judith’s rebuttal.
A wave of lunacy passed over Judith. Eyes wide, she felt the madness pass through the knife handle and into her. A wide smile spread across her face baring her upper and lower teeth in a threatening grimace. Without hesitation, she pushed the gleaming blade down through the air and into the beast. The first wound was in the chest, and a hissing sound of air escaping the lungs gave Judith the satisfaction she was looking for. She stabbed again, over and over, the maniac crumbling into the ground unable to defend itself. No blood flew from the gashes; no liquid of any kind came forth to indicate life leaking from its body. Yet Judith felt the victory was hers and continued to impale the dirty bundle even after it lay motionless on the concrete floor.
Pleased with herself, Judith threw the knife down, no longer needing its comfort. With its release, her smile withered to a satisfied grin, and she turned to walk away from the grubby pile without fear of retaliation. She awoke still sporting the smirk that was the mark of the triumphant. No situation was beyond resolution; no threat was too much for her to overcome. She rose from the bed feeling strong and confident, ready to take on the day.
She dressed, pulling on a bright red sweater that was a badge of the violence she used to defend herself, the color representing the blood that would have spilled in the physical world. Head held high, smug look on her face, others stared at her, unfamiliar with this stance from the likes of mild, anxiety-prone Judith. She greeted each onlooker with the smile she bestowed on her victim, as if daring them to challenge her. Her solid footfall, straight back, and direct gaze took people off-guard, and Judith relished the feeling of superiority. None of them would have been able to conquer a knife-wielding maniac.
The day flew by without anyone asking her a question or joking about her fears. Not even grumpy Mr. Dooley emerged from his office to torment her in his annoying fashion. The purging had begun. It felt good to be in control in this world as well as in the dream state, but she was still eager to return to the unknown world of unconscious imaginings. The plan was to hurry home, grab a quick supper, and read until she fell asleep to dream the next important message that would contribute to her transformation.
She arrived home and had no sooner gotten her coat off, then came a knock on the door. Odd, she never got visitors. Judith had no friends to speak of, so who could it be? Worry crept into her stomach, overshadowing her newfound self-confidence. Ear to the door, she couldn’t hear anything that helped her to identify who it was. Another knock, harder this time, made her pull her head back from the pounding. Through the peephole in the door she could see someone wearing blue and asked who it was.
“Police, open up.”
What could they possibly want? She wondered to herself. The police were there to protect and serve, so there would be no harm in opening the door. She unhooked the chain and turned the lock on the doorknob to let them in. A tall policeman stepped through the doorway, with another one close behind.
She smiled at them showing a gaping hole where her eyetooth should have been.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Robert Dooley.” He pulled out his handcuffs and snapped them tight around her wrists. The dried blood coated her hands and face, darker than that of the red sweater. Her hair was in wild disarray as though she had just woken up.
“You have the right to remain silent…”
So silent she was. She knew they would take her to a place where she could lay down and go to sleep. Then she would be able to escape into a dream state, the realm of the gods. They would protect her. They would welcome her and she could stay forever.