TRAPPED WITHIN A
A Romantic Horror Suspense
J. P. Uvalle
Copyrighted by Beautifully Twisted Publishing 2020
All Rights Reserved
They say that when you die in a dream, you die in real life. I can tell you that isn't true—I died in my dream, and what happened to me was much stranger than that…
Willow Divine, a goal-driven medical student with midterms around the corner, has enough on her plate. When she begins having a recurring dream with a shadow-like entity haunting every corner of her mind, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blend.
Axel, the lead singer of the college rock band, only complicates her situation. She believes his pursuit of her is more sinister than he lets on.
She discovers she’s right a little too late.
With no way out, Willow is trapped.
Can Willow discover the truth
and escape her worst nightmare before she’s trapped forever?
JP takes you on a thrilling supernatural journey, filled with terror and twists at every turn inspired by some of her most horrifying nightmares.
*Not for the faint of heart*
Another Day, Another Dream…
The library was my sanctuary, an escape from the busy world filled with murder, hate, and corrupt politicians driving humanity into the ground.
Others may have hated the silence, but I found comfort in it. It was the only place where I could genuinely gather my thoughts.
My mind was buzzing more than usual lately, my body off-kilter. Part of me believed it was because midterms were next week. The other part of me thought it was because of this recurring dream I had over the past few weeks.
A shadow bearing a resemblance to the grim reaper had been stalking me at every turn. When it moved—my palms began to sweat just thinking about it--the shadow was like a marionette dancing on a stage, turning everything, it touched into darkness.
I felt all this had to be some sort of sign. But what did this figure symbolize?
I opened another book about dreams and chugged my fourth coffee cup, thumbing through the creamed-color pages. The warmth of salted caramel somewhat put my soul at ease. I was determined to find my answer even if it took me all night. Or…until the library closed, anyway.
“Willow?” a familiar voice whispered from above.
I reluctantly craned my head up to greet bright brown eyes and a temptingly wicked smile framed by tousled black hair.
The face of sin, the poster boy for all things, dark, brooding, and utterly dangerous.
“Axel.” I went back to my research. I didn’t have time for distractions.
I heard the chair next to me move, and Axel’s broad, muscular body appeared in my peripheral. He pulled my chair closer to his; his jeans’ friction sparked a warmth against my bare thigh. Smirking, he placed a brown paper bag in front of me. “I thought you might be hungry.”
The smell of grease, cheese, and hamburger meat wafted into the musky air tangling with his cedarwood cologne—a potently tantalizing combination. My stomach clenched, a rumbling noise barreling through me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. Glancing down at my wristwatch, I shook the daze from my head, fully aware of my hunger. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. My momma would take a belt to my hide if she'd known I’d been surviving on coffee alone.
Southerners didn’t play when it came to food. I didn’t grow up in the south, but my momma had ingrained her rich heritage into every part of our lives, bringing the southern charm to wherever we lived. Our neighbors certainly appreciated her home-style cooking; it kept her busy when my daddy was overseas.
Reminiscing about Southern eats had me biting my lip, anticipating the juicy, salty cheeseburger’s mouthwatering taste.
“Thank you, Axel.” I reached for the bag, but he slapped my hand away.
I turned toward him, pinning him with a glare. I should have known there was a catch attached to this meal. That’s how Axel worked; he always wanted somethin’ from me.
“Not so fast.” That devilishly handsome grin I loved to loathe grew wider, consuming his face.
“What do you want now, Axel?” I leaned back, folding my arms over my chest.
His gaze bee-lined to my chest, but with a blink, they have linked with mine again. “Relax. I just want to have a meal with my girl.”
I rolled my eyes, blowing out a breath. This guy was relentless. “I’m not your girl. We ain't even datin'.”
He leaned closer, his breath heating my ear. “We don’t have to be dating for you to be mine. Just make it easier for both of us and just accept it. Fry?” He dug into the bag and removed the carton of crisp and steaming waffle fries and waved it back and forth as if he were a hypnotist, and I was his powerless victim.
Who in the hell did this guy think he was? My second attempt to snatch the fries away failed, and he pulled them toward his chest.
“Just admit it, Willow, so we can eat.”
“No. I rather starve.” I didn’t understand his pursuit of me. I was startin' to think he had a bet going with his buddies because there was no way the lead singer of the college’s infamous rock band Devil's Descent wanted me to be his one true love when he could have any girl on campus.
His lips tugged into a frown. He set the fries down on the table and ran a hand through his shiny black hair. “I want to give you everything, but you just keep breaking my heart.”
“It ain’t my fault you won’t take no for an answer. I’ve been quite clear with how I feel ‘bout you.” My glare remained fixed. My momma warned me about boys like him, and I wasn’t giving in for anything.
He met my glare with his. “Suit yourself.”
He snatched up the fries and shoved them back into the bag, taking the entire and whispered, “sweet dreams, princess.”
His words froze me still, the chill frosting down my spine. Why on earth would he say that? It was still daylight. Maybe he was being his usually nosey self and noticed what I was reading.
I watched Axel disappear into the dark corner of the library without turning back.
After rolling my shoulders back to release the tension in my body, I continued my search, scanning the pages until a section caught my attention.
My heart strummed against my chest; my skin suddenly hot. My eyes widened as I blinked, not wanting to believe what I was reading. Had I found my answer?
The Dream Man:
Over twenty years, there have been reports of young women between the ages of 18-28 who had died in their sleep. In recent years, more deaths have followed before tapering off. The women had mentioned to family members and friends that a shadowy figure was haunting their dreams, nights before their sudden demise.
I snapped the book shut, sliding it across the table, unable to read anymore. The horror within the pages infected my mind. That can’t be true. Right? Things of that nature didn’t exist. Those were just myths and urban legends—ghost stories. I shook my head in denial. I’m just really stressed. The shadow…it means nothing.
I got up from the table, gathering all the books I took from the shelves, and put all of them back in their proper place. I then grabbed my tote and strolled to the exit, because the sight of a book suddenly made me want to vomit.
Home, sweet home...
On the way home, I turned the music on blast to drown out the troubling thoughts swirling inside my head. Those poor women. So many questions...
I parked my car in the driveway, and the quiet suburban street met me on the outside. The sun was starting to set over the horizon—a clash of orange, pink, and blue painted the sky. I inhaled deeply, trying to calm myself. I didn’t want to alarm Momma, so I needed to get myself together before walking through the front door. When I was finally ready, I slipped the key into the lock and turned the knob.
“Hey, baby girl,” Momma immediately greeted me, planting a kiss on my forehead. “I’m so happy you’re finally home. We have a guest.”
My Momma's smile beamed brighter than the sun, and the sight soothed my nerves.
The smell of chicken, spicy sausage, and shrimp lingered in the air, making our four-bedroom bungalow feel like we were in the middle of a heatwave as if the Florida heat wasn’t hot enough. Geez! It must be a special guest if she is whipping up her famous gumbo. Beats a greasy cheeseburger and fries any day. Maybe Papa was home.
Without another word, I sprinted into the kitchen, my heart pounding with excitement. Papa had been overseas in Japan for three long months. I couldn’t wait to catch up. Him, Momma, and I would spend hours on the porch, sipping iced tea, listening to his war stories, and world travels.
My heart sank when I rounded the corner. Not Papa.
Frozen in place, my hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end.
How did he know where I lived? Has he been following me?!
“Hey, babe.” That grin appeared—the one where it sounded like a sword being unsheathed from its holster, cutting through me every time. Nothing but the worst intentions loomed in his eyes. I knew it in my heart and my bones.
He turned back around and added more Cajun spices to the pot. “I think it’s almost ready, Mrs. Divine.”
“Please, call me Dolores.” Momma scooted passed me and gently squeezed the top of his shoulder. They shared a smile before she turned back to me with her hand hugging her hip. “Willow, your boyfriend said you haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Momma, he is not—”
“No excuses, Willow. Now, I’d done told you I don’t want you out there starvin’. I know how you get when you get preoccupied with somethin’.”
Axel peered at me over his shoulder with that same grin I wanted so desperately to smack off his goddamn face. “She is driven that one. One of the many reasons I adore her so. She’s so inspirational.”
Momma nodded. “And two…why have you been hiding this strapping young man from me?”
His deception ran deep if he was able to convince my momma he was no trouble. But arguing with Momma now was pointless. I just wanted to eat and avoid falling asleep.
“Sorry, Momma.” With my shoulders strung low, I made my way to the table and took a seat. Minutes later, Axel served me a steaming bowl of gumbo and some iced tea.
“Dolores said it was your favorite. I hope I did it justice.” He winked before stepping away and pulled out a seat for Momma, serving her as well. She immediately dove a spoon into the hearty mixture. “Um-mmmm. I’ll be damned if this boy can cook. Willow, honey, you better marry this boy. This gumbo is delicious.”
Oh God! Don’t give him any ideas, Momma. I groaned inwardly, shoving a spoonful into my mouth. An explosion of flavor took over my buds, and for a moment, I had forgotten he was even in the room. This is pretty damn good!
I looked up to find Axel staring at me from across the table, licking his lips as if he were a wolf fattening up his prey before eating it. My momma enjoyed her meal so thoroughly, and she was oblivious to the predator in the room.
I gulped. “It is not polite to stare.”
“My apologies. I just have a hard time believing you are mine.”
“Because I’m not.”
“Ah, you too, are adorable. How did you guys meet anyway? Momma wants all the deets.” She excitedly clapped her hands together.
“At a show. I’m in a rock band.”
“Oh, wow. My baby snagged her a musician. Isn’t that sweet.”
I rolled my eyes.
“We aren’t big-time or anything, but we have a decent following.”
“Either way, I’m proud of you, suga.” She ran her hand across his forearm, and I wanted to vomit in my mouth.
I wished I had gotten to talk to my momma about him before he dug his sharp claws into her. Now I’d never be rid of him.
Why couldn’t anyone else see past the charm to the devil hiding underneath? I didn’t have solid proof, but I knew something was off. Call it a woman's intuition.
After dinner, Axel offered to wash dishes while I dried so Momma could put her feet up and watch her stories.
I finally rounded on him when she turned the volume up on the TV. “What the hell do you think you are doing? Coming to my house like this, lyin’ to my momma about us,” I snarled.
“You refused to eat dinner with me earlier, so you gave me no choice but to take drastic measures. You need to take better care of yourself, Willow.”
“Bullshit. What do you want from me, Axel?”
The last time he cornered me in the girls' bathroom out of nowhere, said he was just checking on me. He was up to somethin’ and still was.
He placed the dishes he held back into the sudsy water. His eyes burned with such intensity; it was palpable like the spices lingering in the air. “I. Want. You.”
“You. Can’t. Have. Me.”
“That’s too bad.” He leaned in closer, the heat of his breath against my earlobe. “Because I’m not going anywhere, babe.”
“Thanks for dinner, and helpin’ with dishes, but I think it’s ‘bout time you left.”
“Not until I know you're in bed, falling fast asleep.”
“You're not going anywhere near my room, let alone my bed.”
Instinctively we both turned to find my momma asleep in the recliner.
“Who's going to stop me? Your momma? She’s dead asleep.”
I narrowed my gaze at him, a nagging feeling taking over my gut. “Did you put somethin’ in that gumbo, Axel?”
“Oh, c'mon. How awful do you think I am?” A laugh erupted from his chest.
“Pretty Goddamn awefuuulll.” I started to slur my words, my surroundings blending like paint on a canvas. I gripped the edge of the counter, desperately trying to keep my world from spinning. My muscles began to feel lax; my knees were weakening underneath me. “You, asshole,” I choked out.
“Aww, you're looking a little sleepy, there, babe. I think I should carry you to bed.”
No! No! No! I reached out to push him away, missed, and ended up in his arms anyway. The world seemed to dim around me, my vision tunneling. The darkness came to me with a confident smirk on his face. It told me that he had finally won this game.
But I told myself he hadn’t won the war as I slipped in and out of consciousness.
When Dreams Recur...
My recurring dream started as it usually did. I was a medical student with midterms coming up, so it made sense that most of my dreams pertained to me being a doctor in the Emergency Room. I wanted to become the best damn general surgeon there was...
It was dusk—the sun was setting behind the palm trees as I glanced out the window from the hospital’s fourth floor. The surgery team careened around the corridor, wheeling a gunshot patient to the operation room. Earlier, the EMS arrived with an unresponsive man, bleeding profusely from his chest; blood had completely soaked through the bandage I had applied moments ago, and he was now unconscious.
We don't have much time.
I said a prayer my momma taught me before following behind the team. Once we were beyond the double swinging doors of the O.R., I went in another direction from the surgical suite and entered the scrub room. I watched through the window as they maneuvered the patient onto the operating table from the hospital bed and prepared him for surgery. The time it took me to get into my surgical gear occurred within a blur…I was suddenly wrist-deep within the patient’s chest.
Times before, I had watched this man die on this table with my hands still in his chest. Because no matter what I did or said, the outcome was always the same; his death was haunting my waking life to the point I doubted becoming a surgeon altogether, which was why I didn’t want to experience the guilt associated with this again. Even if it were a dream, something had to give.
“The patient is in v-fib,” the anesthesiologist shouted.
“He’s losing too much blood. I can’t find the bleeder.” At this point in my dream, I would make the same mistake, the situation out of my control. I would continue shifting his organs around, asking the doctor to assist me in suctioning the blood away to locate the bleed. But this time, everyone moved around me in slow motion, their mouths pleading for what direction to take. This part hadn't happened before. Why does this feel different?
Unexpectedly, I was hypersensitive to my surroundings, my hands covered with blood, and his heart and lungs felt warm against my gloved hands. I narrowed my eyes, glancing around the surgical suite as a chill overtook me. Am I dreaming? If this was a dream, then maybe I could change the outcome if I focused hard enough.
Come on, Willow, think. What do you do?
I didn’t know his name or how old he was. Or if he had a family. I just knew I needed to save him this time.
I needed to correct the problem and fast. What his heart needed was...a jolt of electricity. If I could get him back to a normal rhythm, it would give me more time to find the bleed. That’s it! “Prepare him for defibrillation.”
My surgical team moved around with purpose and renewed confidence. The defibrillator paddle handles magically appeared within my grasp. Inhaling a breath, I closed my eyes briefly as my grip tightened around them: my heartbeat a stampede, the sound echoing through my skull. “Stand clear,” I said, pressing the thin paddles on either side of his heart.
No response. The cardiac muscle remained unmoved, taunting me with its stillness.
Dread trickled into my core. Please, come back to me. I ordered a nurse to turn up the voltage as I waited for my moment to try again. “Clear.” With my second attempt, the nervousness from my team and me filled the room like a flood. This had to be it. I was starting to feel the strain of standing there for hours in my neck, back, and knees, the sleepiness weighing my eyes down like an anchor.
His heart throbbed within his chest cavity, and we all glanced at the EKG monitor for assurance. Normal P, Q, R, and S waves. The numbers on the screen were crystal clear to me when numbers and words had been blurry before.
“Yes, normal sinus rhythm,” the anesthesiologist cheered.
Everyone joined in as my assisting doctor nodded in my direction. “Well, done, Dr. Divine.”
I smiled even though no one could see it hidden underneath my mask. “Now, we just have to find the bleed.”
Several hours later, the man was recovering in the intensive care unit. I made my rounds with the day shift doctors when I opened the door to find him being attended to by a nurse in purple scrubs.
What a second...our intensive care unit nurses usually wear red.
The other doctors didn't seem to notice the difference, but the more I stared at her, the more she looked familiar to me.
Then she spoke. “Oh, Dr. Divine. Your patient is recoverin' nicely. Vitals are now stable.”
The ICU nurse continued to smile at me, no recognition of who I was in her eyes. I stepped away from the doctors’ huddle to walk closer to her, her bright smile only growing wider as the other doctors talked amongst themselves about previous patients.
My eyes narrowed in on her like lasers as I stood right in front of her, not entirely trusting my eyes. Oddly, me standing so close didn't make her uncomfortable. The nurse's emotionless brown eyes just continued to stare back into mine.
“Momma?” I whispered.
The room’s energy alarmingly shifted, the temperature dropping to a teeth-chattering cold—the conversation behind me about who was sleeping with who died down. My momma's smile slowly faded, her once-vacant eyes slowly dilated with fear. The pressure against my spine intensified as I craned my neck over my shoulder.
The team of doctors had vanished. Darkness taking over the room replaced their presence, and there in the far corner of the room was...the tall, slender shadow in the shape of a man. The figure that had been haunting my dreams. The epitome of all my fears. He crept closer, his shadow elongating, arms outstretched. His fingers grew longer, my name a raspy whisper on his tongue.
My mouth fell open, my skin erupting with goosebumps. No! Not again! I laced my fingers through the nurse's hand, well aware of the warmth of our hands together as I jerked us in the door’s direction. “C'mon. We have to get out of here.” As we ran past, the shadow's fingers grazed against my forearm, and black tendrils twirled up my arm; the coldness infecting my veins caused my arm to lock in place. Still, I couldn't allow this to stop me. Gritting my teeth, I suffered through the pain and pulled us into the hallway.
Chaos ensued around us. The medical staff was running back and forth frantically while the building shook violently, almost as if an explosion had shifted the structure off its foundation.
Great...here we go again. I avoided running us to the elevator because precedent times had taught me it was a deadly mistake, and there was no way I was going to let something happen to the nurse that was somehow my momma. Something doesn't feel right about all this. Things were starting to feel a little too real.
So, I led us in the opposite direction and around the corner toward the stairs. Up ahead, the single door with a glass panel opened with a squeal. It stood ajar, no one walking through. Then, darkness from the shadow billowed into the hallway. “Willow.”
What did this shadow want from me? I wasn't sticking around long enough to find out, especially after his mere touch locked up my arm. The elevator, it is. Maybe, we can get off on a different floor?
“Dr. Divine. What's the plan now?” A worried expression marred her face.
Looking into her eyes, I gulped down the lump in my throat, the past of my dreams flooding my vision. “No matter what...never let go of my hand, okay?” A single tear fell from my eye as my grip on hers tightened. I had saved that man's life; hopefully, I could save hers, too.
I nodded slightly, changing our direction, and we ran to the elevator. No one else was in sight. The hospital was so quiet now. What happened to everyone else? Even the room where the man was recovering was no longer there. What the…? I touched the wall where the door used to be, my heart heavy. We hadn’t gone through all that stress in surgery for him to just disappear.
“Dr. Divine?” Momma’s voice snapped me out of my transfixion, pulling me back into the present.
The shadow was gaining on us, his arms extending the length of the hallway. “Come back.” His voice eerily echoed through the hall.
We picked up our speed, pumping our legs as fast as we could. The lights overhead began to flicker in tandem with my heartbeat. We slid into the elevator door, and I absentmindedly pushed the button for the first floor. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” The elevator never came fast enough when you needed it.
A symphony of moans traveled down the hall, stirring up the fear already present within us. The shadow slithered closer, devouring everything in its wake--the hallway nothing but a black hole behind him. One by one, the lights went out, soon leaving us in complete darkness.
“Oh, thank you, Jesus.” Momma breathed out.
We stumbled into the elevator, and the doors sealed us in. When the elevator jerked downward, so did my stomach, rattled I had forgotten to press for a different floor. Oh, no! No! No! Thanks, dream for having the buttons numbered on the outside instead of in. The elevator walls seemed to close in on me; my muscles constricted around my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Screeching of metal on metal filled our ears, and the elevator shook, plummeting faster.
“We are going to die, aren’t we Doctor?” my Momma enclosed me into a tight hug, still holding my hand, and began to sob.
I lifted her chin with my finger, so her eyes of concern met mine. “No. We aren’t going to die...I am.”
She shook her head at me, confused. “But, we are stuck in here together.”
“Momma, I need you to wake up.”
“Momma? Why do you keep calling me that?" After studying every curve and line on my face, her eyes widened. “Baby girl, it’s you. It's really you. But how?” She moved a strand of my hair away from my face. “Where are we? What is happenin’ Wha--what was that thing?”
“No time to explain.” I spun us around, taking her place. I shook her again, letting go of her hand. “Momma, wake up, plea--”
The top of the elevator ripped away; sparks flew up all around us. We screamed at the top of our lungs as a large reptilian-like hand with sharp black claws snatched me out of the elevator. Its claws severed my spine, coming out through my chest. A mind-altering pain ricocheted throughout my core, setting my insides on fire. Still, I will rather be here instead of my momma.
“Baby, no,” she cried, reaching up to me.
Drops of my blood landed on her face as I let out a blood-curdling scream, succumbing to the pain. I watched the elevator drop into the depths below. “Momma!” My screams drowned in the blood pool, filling my throat, and my dream world evaporated into a blinding white light.
Where am I?
A disembodied voice called out my name, waking me up. Eyelids heavy, I forced them open to a dense fog floating all around me. I bolted upright after that, noticing I was lying on a bed, wearing a gray floral dress, in the middle of...where am I? I had no clue. Fear crawled into my flesh, trying to make sense of my surroundings. Was I still dreaming, or was I in a nightmarish hell? Although I couldn't see past the fog, the air smelled of salty seaweed, and an owl was hooting in the distance. Was I near a lake or some body of water?
A severe chill suddenly swept over me, and I rubbed my arms, desperately trying to keep warm. The bed I sat upon was only a mattress with no blankets or sheets. A rather odd place for a bed if you had asked me, but at this point, nothing was making much sense.
I glanced over my body, running a hand over my chest. There was no blood, no wound. I exhaled a breath I had been holding onto forever.
“Willow,” the voice said again, and it seemed to be coming at me from all directions.
I cursed the fog, not being able to see. Here I was a sitting duck, but where would I run? “Wh—who's there?” I shuddered.
A black figure appeared amidst the fog, strangely parting it like the sea. In a blink of an eye, the figure was far away, and the next, sitting on the bed with me before I could have any sort of reaction. I pressed my back into the carved giltwood headboard
decorated with shells and scrolling foliage—a design from another century. My God, have I gone back in time?!
A hand made of ice touched me on the arm. This time the figure was not a shadow...but a man wearing a gray hoodie, the hood shielding his face. “Willow.” His tone laced with warning. The cold from his touch seeped into my veins; my teeth began to chatter, unable to move, my scream caught in my throat. Not that it would matter, I was in the middle of nowhere.
The hood came down in slow motion, and my heart stopped mid beat, the hairs rose on the back of my neck. I slapped my hand over my mouth. It can't be.
“I didn't want things to be like this, Willow, but you have left me no choice.”
“How could you do this to me? Where in Sam hell are we?” My breath came out in a puff of cold air.
“Doesn't matter, there's no escape. You are mine. Forever.” A ghost of a smile crossed his lips. I knew Axel was trouble, but I never imagined he was the shadow man haunting my dreams. Then it dawned on me... trapped in a cage with the predator, and I was his prey. This Dream Man…was a killer, and I was his latest victim.
Did you enjoy this exclusive sneak peek?! If so, Trapped Within a Dream is available for preorder and releases on October 30th!
Order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08H4TJ2XT/
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”