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Have you ever had a dream about someone you know? We’re talking about one of those dreams where they were there at the exact right moment to say or did the right thing in a way that was quintessentially them. The type of dream where you wake up, and you know it’s corny, but you still feel like you have to tell them about it. You know it’s cheesy, but at the same time, you want them to know even if it’s subconsciously that you were thinking of them, trying to include them in your subliminal state. I didn’t know anything about the person I was dreaming of. I honestly don’t want to know them. Now, everything has become a waking nightmare.

To be honest, at first I didn’t even know her name. We worked at the same office for years, but we never interacted in any meaningful way beyond idle chat in hallways. I think the closest we ever were to each other was accidentally bumping heads when we weren’t paying attention in the halls. It was one of those acquaintances where you realize after months of small talk that you don’t even know their name and you’re too embarrassed to ask at this point. You keep hoping it’ll come up in conversation, but even when it does, it slips out of your mind moments later. I didn’t know her name six months ago, but now it’s seared into my memory.

Penelope. I dreamt of Penelope.

The dreams were innocuous things at first. I dreamt of work. It started as standard day-in-and-day-out re-imaginings of my time at work. I didn’t like the idea that I would work fifty hours a week, get off my shift at six with enough time to cook something to eat before bed, and then I’d dream of work. It’s like I was selling them a majority of my free time and they were getting my dreams for free. Before you ask, it was one of those jobs where you swear to your friends that you’re just working there until you can get your feet off the ground in the field you really want to work in. Years later, you’re still telling the same story, but you know that nothing is ever going to change. You’re bound to the job now, you can’t escape. It was a weekly occurrence, and it was mundane. I would dream of running into her at work and talking to her. There was no grand importance to it, at least not at first. There was no deeper meaning. She was just there.

Nothing registered as being out of the ordinary. It was just me dreaming about a job I didn’t like with a co-worker I didn’t really know. It started as idle chat for the first couple of weeks, but slowly, my conversation with her became more personal. I’d ask her about her family and what she was doing outside of work, and we’d laugh and joke. To be honest, a small part of me almost looked forward to those dreams. They were comfortable, they were a fixture in my mundane life.

I barely noticed when they started to occur more and more often. I went from dreaming about her once a week to every five days. I think a small part of me started to feel guilty that I was having these pleasant dreams and I didn’t even know her name. A few dreams later and I eventually learned her name was Penelope. There was no awkwardness. She introduced herself and I did the same, then we continued chatting like nothing was out of the ordinary.

The dreams became a part of my weekly routine. I’d get off work, cook myself a cheap meal, watch a movie, go to bed, and if I was lucky, I would dream of Penelope. In some sad way, it was my only real human connection. I had a few friends in the area, but we only saw each other every couple of months. I was too busy during the week and too tired during the weekend. The Penelope I met in my dreams was the closest thing I had to a friend. At least that’s how it was when I was asleep, at work it was different.

There was a bit of awkwardness at work, especially on my part. We would bump into each other in the halls and pass by quickly without as much as a word. There were a few times that I would go into the breakroom for lunch and I’d see her there. I’d quickly prepare my food and leave without acknowledging her. I’d eat in a hallway to avoid her. The dreams were that awkward. While I slept, she was my closest friend. In the cold light of reality, she was a complete stranger.

That all changed at the office party. It was one of those moments where work changed from a mind-melting malaise of menial data entry to something far more awkward. It was Christmas and the higher-ups wanted us to seem like one big happy family so they scheduled a party. It was free food and drinks, so I went. Penelope was there too. It was three drinks deep into something that someone called a “one of everything” that was as disgusting as the name sounded, but it was alcoholic enough to numb the awkwardness of hanging out with people I didn’t know that I decided to talk to Penelope and tell her about the dreams.

“Hey, I know this is weird, but I had a dream about you at work.” The words tumbled out of my mouth and the instant they were free; I knew it was too late to recall them. The alcohol had blunted my brain and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was getting ready to try to minimize the awkwardness when I saw her face. She was shocked. She looked like a deer in headlights. She had not been expecting me to say like that.

“You too?” Now it was my turn to gape at her like a gutted fish. We split off from the serving table to somewhere quiet that wasn’t blasting the same four Christmas songs on loop (“Wonderful Christmastime”, “All I Want for Christmas is You”, “A Holly Jolly Christmas”, and “Feliz Navidad” for the illusion of diversity). I told her about my dreams, and she told me about one of hers.

She dreamt of talking to me at work. It was the weirdest sensation to know someone was having the exact same type of dreams as you. She didn’t tell me how often she dreamt of me, but I knew from what I was experiencing that they were more frequent than either of us admitted. What we didn’t realize, those dreams weren’t just similar. They were the same, and they were about to become more frequent.

As if talking to each other catalyzed something, I dreamt of Penelope that night. It started out like every other one. We were talking, joking, and smiling. It wasn’t until we said our goodbyes and were set to go about our respective mundane nightscapes that it happened. I took a step away from her and I lost my footing. It felt like something had coiled around both of our ankles and by moving we had been ensnared by a bola. We teetered, toppled, and collapsed into each other. It should have been mortifying, but it wasn’t. It was comfortable. She smiled, I apologized, our breath hitched and then we kissed.

The dream ended shortly after that point, but it wasn’t the last time it happened. Now it seemed like I dreamt of her every other night. It always ended romantically. I would be wrapped up in her arms, sensing the warmth radiating from her, feeling happy. I would wake up with the smell of her shampoo in my nose, the taste of her lip gloss in my mouth, and her name on my lips. It felt real, it felt nice, it made me uncomfortable.

It almost felt like a perversion to dream of her like this. At first, I thought it was an odd occurrence. My brain was interpreting what was once a friendly conversation into something romantic. I felt guilty and embarrassed. It wasn’t until I ran into her in the parking lot at work that I knew something was up. The instant Penelope saw me, she blushed a bright red and quickly moved to her car while my heart started beating in my chest like it was trying to escape my body.

There was no doubt about it. She was having the same type of dreams as me. I tried to distract myself from thoughts of Penelope, but my mind kept looping back to her. She wasn’t just in my dreams now; she was in my thoughts. When I thought of her, it was like I could almost feel her skin against mine, her breath tickling my ear, her hands entwined in mine. She was warm. I absent-mindedly wondered if that’s how she really felt. I wouldn’t find out until that Friday.

She was waiting for me in the parking lot on Friday evening. Most people had gone home for the day. She was leaning up against my car. When she saw me, she pushed off and came towards me. Some part of me was deeply embarrassed by all of this. I was raised Catholic. I had lapsed ten years ago, but there was still that part of me that whispered: “If it feels good, it’s a sin.” I didn’t want to acknowledge our shared comfort. I was about to apologize to her for everything when she kissed me.

At first it felt like a dream. It felt exactly like a dream, the same one I had had last night. Her lip gloss tasted like passion fruit; it was the exact same flavor. She pressed against me, and it felt like I was cradling the sun. My hand instinctively sought hers and our fingers entwined, like in our dream. It was a reaction; it was muscle memory. She pulled away and looked at me. It looked like she was half-drunk, but I knew she was sober. She whispered, “I can’t stop thinking about you. It’s like we’re bound together. This feels right.” She went in for another kiss, but I pulled away.

Something about this was wrong, very wrong.

I stammered some excuse and left her in the parking lot. I wanted nothing more than to stay with her, to feel her, to be with her, but all of this was wrong. We literally did not know each other. Outside of our dreams, we had barely talked. We were practically strangers. Whatever this thing was with our dreams, it was not right. A small part of me cracked and a voice whispered from deep down, “Just because you’ve been hurt once doesn’t mean everyone is going to hurt you.” I ignored the voice and tried to distract myself. I succeeded for a few hours before I got a text.

Penelope must have gotten my number from some calling list at work. The text read: “I’m sorry about work earlier today. I think we really need to talk about it. Coffee tomorrow?” I fought my desire to answer. I wanted to message her back and set up a time and place. A part of me wanted nothing more than to invite her over to my apartment. I didn’t answer her message. She sent another message on Saturday morning. I didn’t answer that one either.

Something told me that if I saw her this weekend, I would lose myself in her. I wanted nothing more than to nuzzle myself in the nape of her neck and feel her breathing rhythmically in time with me. I told myself how unnatural this all was. Something was very wrong here. People do not dream about each other simultaneously for weeks on end and then become romantically entangled so suddenly. Something was happening to us that shouldn’t be. It felt like I had been shot with Cupid’s arrow and I was bleeding out. That same voice burbled up from the depth of my mind and said, “Maybe you’re just afraid of the past repeating itself?”

Penelope called on Saturday night. I let it ring. I was afraid that even answering the phone would be enough to open the floodgates. My phone dinged and let me know I had a voicemail. The moment I hit play, I deeply regretted it. Penelope’s voice started off slurred and was cracking from barely restrained emotion. As she rambled on, it sounded like she was on the verge of tears. It physically hurt to listen to. Here’s what I can remember:

“Hey, we don’t have to talk right now. Just maybe listen to me. I honestly can’t explain what’s happening. All I know is that this feels right. Don’t tell me you don’t feel the same. Maybe this is the universe telling us that we should be together. Please. I can’t lose another person. I won’t. Please don’t go. Please. I know you’re there. Please answer. Please.”

I scratched at my right ankle and deleted the message. I can’t explain it other than this: listening to that message felt voyeuristic. Like I was privy to a personal conversation that I shouldn’t be hearing. She was drunk, she was clearly dealing with something, she was emotionally vulnerable. Reciprocation would be the same as predation at this point. This wasn’t me taking the high road, this was me trying to be a decent human.

I shut off my phone and went to bed. The rest of the weekend was filled with an uneasy quiet. I dreamt of her on Sunday. She held me tight and whispered sweet nothings in my ear. She was warm, her touch sent shivers throughout my body, she smelled like a home I wanted to be in. I jolted awake with her scent in my nose, her voice in my ears, and the feeling of her fingers playing through my hair. I took a cold shower to wash off the somnolescent spoor.

The work week went by without any interactions. I avoided her when I could, and she did the same. I hoped that she realized that whatever was happening here wasn’t normal and that we should keep our interactions to a minimum until we could figure out what the hell was happening and try to stop it. We barely knew each other really. A part of me could see myself maybe falling in love with her in time, but not when it felt like we were being smashed together by some otherworldly force like toys that demanded we kiss and fall in love. It felt like something was binding us together and I knew that I would only disappoint her.

That Friday, the dreams escalated. We were laying in a field. My pinkie finger was hooked around hers. At a glance, it might have looked like we were lovers enjoying the day on a picnic. I felt genuinely content in that moment. I sat up and looked Penelope in the eyes. I couldn’t control myself. I couldn’t stop. My mouth opened against my own volition and words spilled out like blood from a rent in my chest. I wept as I told her my most intimate regret.

I was in college and dating Bella. We were bad for each other. No. I was bad for her. I put too much of myself into the relationship. I showered her with affection. I did everything I could in my power to show her how much I appreciated her. In my desperation, I even wrote her senior thesis for her. The gesture was received as poorly as it sounds. I was clingy, I was cloyingly saccharine. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t just so she would love me. I pushed her away by trying to pull her to me. I was afraid to be alone. I needed someone to love me because I couldn’t love myself.

Bella broke up with me shortly after I sent her my work on her senior capstone experience. She was right. The night she broke up with me, I begged her: “Tell me who you want me to be! I’ll be it. Please don’t leave me. Please love me.”  I knelt before her and groveled. She left as I wept on my hands and knees. We never spoke again. I didn’t actually love her. I loved the idea of being in love. I tried to lose myself in her. I didn’t like who I was so I tried to convince myself that I was someone worth loving if I could make someone love me. I was terrified that if I involved myself with another person, I would do the exact same thing to them. I would empty myself at the altar for them. I would seek obliteration of the self in their arms. I told Penelope that she was different. She could fix me. I was forced to lie to her. I wept in her arms for a few moments. My tears burned as they ran down my face and my throat felt raw. I felt like I had been torn open and exposed.

Penelope held me until I stopped crying before she told me about Tristan. They had met in high school She made a joke about high school sweethearts who say they are destined to be together and are broken up in a week, but for them, it was the real deal. He proposed to her the night of graduation. They promised they would get married after college. It would be a long four years apart, but their love was patient, it was devoted. He was her first, wrapped up in a blanket, under the stars. She talked about how genuinely good a person he was. He inspired her to be better. He was kind. He was gentle. He was hers. He completed her. It was just weeks before her graduation, that her whole world ended in screeching tires, three thousand and five hundred pounds of force smashing against an unyielding wall, and twisted steel.

Tristan died on his way to visit Penelope at her college. He had been driving all night from his university to her college. Their colleges were almost sixteen hours away from each other. He must have dozed off behind the wheel and lost control of the car. He never woke up. She had to identify his body at the morgue because there was no next of kin nearby. She remembered looking over his twisted frame and realizing that any love she could ever feel had died with him. She told herself that she would never open herself up to anyone ever again. She spent ten years alone, pushing people away from her in the fear that she would lose them too. Something told her that I would replace the hole in her heart that Tristan left in his absence. She told me that she would be by my side forever. The dream ended.

I woke up and vomited in the shower. No amount of washing could scrub away how dirty and exposed I felt. I went into the kitchen and drained a bottle of whiskey, but I couldn’t obliterate the memory from my head. I had been forced to reveal the deepest, darkest part of myself to someone. I hated whatever had done this to us. We weren’t being gently nudged together; we were being bound unwillingly by some cruel force that was going to destroy us if it had to in order to make us love each other.

On Sunday, my phone rang. It was Penelope. I felt something well up in my stomach. I ignored that feeling and answered the phone. She cut through any pretense and confirmed my worst fear: “I’m not Bella. It’s not my responsibility to fix you.” She sounded tired. I was too. This was the confirmation of the thing I desperately didn’t want to be true. Our dreams were connected. We had been forced to share our deepest secrets. She knew everything. I felt sick.

I answered her, “I can’t be Tristan. I’m not a replacement for him. Whatever is doing this, whatever is trying to force us together, I don’t want to be a part of it.” We agreed to ignore each other in the hopes that whatever ethereal Yenta that was trying to force us together would lose interest. After I hung up, I stood up to get something to eat and my ankle buckled under me. I righted myself and continued about my day.

For a week, we completely avoided each other. I ate at my cubicle, checked down hallways to see that she wasn’t walking down them, and made sure she wasn’t walking to her car when I was leaving work. We avoided each other like the plague. The dreams continued in disgusting detail. I did my best to ignore them. I tried to blank my mind of any detail her dream-self revealed, and I hope she did the same. Our mutual avoidance became routine by the end of the week. That routine was shattered on Saturday night.

That night I dreamt of Penelope. It started like any other dream. Penelope looked at me and kissed me. All that warmth was gone now. I felt nothing. There was nothing between us. Nothing would ever convince us to love each other. That insensate feeling was replaced by a dull pain as my fingers wrapped around her wrists and squeezed tight. I felt her wrist torse as I squeezed and twisted, then there was a sharp pain as she bit my lip. That sudden stab of pain was replaced with a tearing burning as she completely ripped my lower lip away in her teeth. My body acted against its own accord by punching her red-stained face. Her right hand clawed down my face and raked into my right cornea. I felt something wet and viscous dribble down my cheek. We collapsed into each other, a whirling dervish of punches, bites, scratches, and howling agony. We tore each other apart.

I woke up with a dull pain. My entire body hurt. It felt like I had just run an Ironman Triathlon, everything was sore. I could almost feel her molten skin against mine, her breath tickling my ear right before she bit and started tearing at it with her teeth, her hands entwined in mine, pinioning them as she clawed at my throat. I dragged myself into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. There were no scratches or bruises on my skin. My lip was still attached to my face and my eye wasn’t ruptured and leaking aqueous fluid. For all intents and purposes, I was physically healthy, but I was far from alright.

Nothing happened on Sunday. I took a hydrocodone I had left over from an old surgery which did nothing to ease the discomfort, but it made me care about it a little less in my hazy state. I scheduled an appointment with the doctor on Wednesday. The dreams continued on Monday. I shot out of the dark and grabbed her hand before she could react. I pressed it to the table and brought the rock down on her hand with all the force I could muster. She tried to pull her hand free and the rock connected with her pinkie. It crunched and she screamed. I stepped back to look for something else to hurt her with when she closed the gardening shears around my right pinkie. Before I could react, she slammed the handles together and sliced through skin, sinew, and the hinge joint. She cut me into pieces as I bludgeoned her to death. I woke up to find that I had voided myself. The shower felt like razorblades sliding through my skin. I wept at the hopelessness of my situation.

My appointment with the doctor was Wednesday and it was unproductive. She couldn’t find anything wrong with me and my repeated insistence that I was in agony was met with incredulousness. She thought I was drug seeking, and to be honest, I was. There wasn’t a part of my body that didn’t radiate pain, but I knew that I didn’t have anything physically wrong with me. I almost shrieked when I sat down on the examination table and remembered how Penelope had shattered my hip with a baseball bat after I had gouged her left eye out with a corkscrew. The doctor sent me home with nothing. I went home without having learned anything valuable.

I called work and told them I was sick and wouldn’t be in for the rest of the week. As I told them, they let it slip that something might be going around the office as someone else had just called in sick. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together and realize that whatever was happening to me was also happening to Penelope. I picked up my cell phone and went to dial her number. I winced as the memory of her smashing my hand with a ball-peen hammer sent jagged waves of electrical agony lancing up from my hand. I shuffled to the fridge and chugged an energy drink. It was noxiously acerbic like the fumes from the gasoline I had used to blind Penelope in one of the looping scenarios of aggression and unbridled assault I had inflicted on her.

I tried to stay awake for as long as I could, but the instant I fell asleep, the brutal bacchanal of blood began again. It was inevitable, unavoidable. I wrapped my broken and bloody fingers around her throat and felt her trachea collapse as she sawed into my abdomen with a straight razor. I woke up in the shower. It was the easiest place to wash the vomit off of me. This couldn’t continue. The nightmares were endless and they were not going to stop until one of us was dead.

The days bled together and my nights were haunted with a perpetual throbbing pain. In my waking moments, I was sensitive and sore and when I drifted off, the perpetual cycle of violence continued. I dreamt of getting in my car. I didn’t look in the backseat and by the time, I noticed I wasn’t alone, it was too late. She garroted me with shoelaces while I swerved the car into and out of traffic. I lost control of the wheel and we barreled into a concrete stanchion. I was hurled through the windshield and Penelope cried out as the shoelaces she had wrapped around her hands avulsed a third of the skin from her right hand. The last thing I saw before I woke up was her crawling through broken glass and transmission fluid to try and reach me to end all of this. Her teeth were gritted and there were tears in her eyes as she was forced to confront the memory of Tristan’s death in twisted tableau.

I opened my eyes. The hydrocodone was gone, the whiskey bottle was empty, there was nothing and I was alone. I spent the rest of the day laying on my couch and considering my options. These dreams weren’t going to end until one of us was dead. I clenched my fist as the thought wormed its way into my brain. The act of tensing the muscles in my hand was enough to send pain radiating through my body. The dull pain was now sharp and agonizing like molten lead. It blasted all thoughts out of my head except for one: I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill her. This wasn’t nobility, this was cowardice. A small part of me deep down wanted, needed her to like me, to validate me. My insecurities twisted something deep down inside me. I couldn’t do it.

I don’t know when I drifted off. I don’t even remember dozing. The dream just happened. I was walking out of my apartment, and she was waiting in front of my door. I didn’t have time to react as she swung the pocketknife in a wide arc and sliced my forehead open. I stumbled back and she advanced forward, swinging the blade into my raised hands. I lashed out with my foot and caught her in the knee, it crunched and she collapsed on top of me. We rolled around on the floor, a tumbling torment of screaming, slicing, and scratching. She buried the pocketknife in-between my ribs just as my teeth bit into her throat. My gasping breath was met with gouts of red flooding my mouth. Entwined in each other, we died.

I awoke with a start. I got off the couch and went to my door. I needed to get more food and something to numb the pain. I opened the door slowly and stepped out into the hallway. I was just fishing the keys out of my pocket to lock the door when my neighbor called out to me. I just about had a heart attack but managed to stop myself from squaring up out of Pavlovian perfunction. My neighbor was the type of person who was in everyone’s business and would tack a note to your door if she heard music playing from your apartment. We exchanged greetings before she said something that sent chills through me:

“Listen, this is an apartment with families in it. Whatever is happening between you and that girl is immoral.”

“What are you-”

“Don’t play dumb. I saw her this morning outside your apartment door. I heard you a few weeks back in the middle of the night breaking God’s covenant. She had enough tact to leave when she noticed me. Don’t be calling your random hook-ups out to your place-”

Her words bottomed out as I realized what she meant, and the shock set in. Penelope had been outside my apartment this morning. If it weren’t for this nosy busy-body scaring her off, I would likely be staring down Penelope when I opened this door. She knew where I lived! She was waiting for me. I ran off with my neighbor’s shouts echoing behind me. I had to get out. I got out to my car and got into the driver’s seat. A bad situation became worse the instant I sat down and heard the glass from the driver’s side window crunch beneath me.

I rolled up my window to see that someone had smashed it in. My stomach dropped as I realized what was happening. I dreamt she had been waiting in my car for me with a homemade garrote and now I find broken glass on my seat from my broken window. The next day, I dreamt of her attacking me in my home and I find out from my nosy neighbor this morning that a girl was spotted outside my apartment earlier that morning. She knew where I lived, she was waiting for me, and I knew in the deepest part of me that she didn’t want to talk.

I called my parents who lived out -of-state as I drove and made up a story that was soon to become true. I told them that I had lost my job and that I was being evicted. I wasn’t going to go back to my job, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay at my apartment. I asked if I could live with them for a bit and while they were caught off-guard by the suddenness of it all, they agreed. I had to get away from Penelope. Maybe if I put some distance between us, the dreams would fade, and the fatal attraction would recede.

They lived about seven hundred miles away, but that didn’t dissuade me. The further away, the better. I grabbed another energy drink when I refilled my gas. I could feel the cashier watching me cautiously. I must have looked like warmed-over death with my unkempt hair, groggy appearance, and furtive movements. I ignored her and got back into my car. I sat there for a moment as the weight of everything crashed down on me.

I closed my eyes for just a second. It was only a second, but that was all it took. I was back in my apartment, but it was like I was dissociated from it. I was seeing it, but I wasn’t actually there. I watched Penelope pacing from my couch to the kitchen and back again. She had grabbed a kitchen knife from the block. She looked even worse than me. Dark bags hung under her eyes, her makeup was running from crying in her sleep, she limped with every step and winced when her right hand gripped the kitchen knife tight. As she frantically stalked around my apartment, she came to a stop. It wasn’t natural. It was like the operating system of her brain had crashed and she just stared off into space. A moment later, she regained control of her faculties, I watched a smile crack across her face, and she walked out the door towards her quarry.

A merciful horn blasted me from my reverie and I shifted the car into drive and pulled away from the pump as the 1958 Plymouth Fury’s driver gave me the finger and pulled into the space I had vacated. My mind raced as I drove down the highway and as the sun receded, my thoughts turned even darker. Our dreams had shifted once again, and I knew everything I needed to. Penelope had been stalking me and she had found her way into my apartment (likely when I forgot to lock the door while being confronted by my nosy neighbor). The knife in her hand meant that she wasn’t planning on having a conversation. My dream was from her perspective, and that spacing out was likely her seeing what I had just been doing like my brief peek into her whereabouts. We were bound together in dreams and the only way to escape would be to cut ourselves free from the other.

I spent the next eight hours in a haze as I drove back home. Every hour or so, I would have to pull over as I felt myself drifting and spacing out. I never went to sleep, but I can’t say I was fully awake either. I managed to make it to my parents’ house in the early morning the next day. They were waiting for me at the door. I hugged them tight and ignored the pain as I told them the story I had been rehearsing for the last two hours about being let go. It was easy to see that they didn’t believe me, but they still let me move back in. I love them for that, and I’m so sorry for what’s going to happen.

Weeks turned to months. I told my parents I was job-hunting and trying to get my feet back on the ground, but I spent most of my time trying to stay awake and terrified of the moment that sleep takes me. I tried to figure out what was going on, but my internet searches turn up nothing and doctors have no idea. I still dream of Penelope. I watch as she pored through every inch of my life to try and figure out where I had fled. She scoured my apartment for clues, asked co-workers about where I had gone, and even tried to steal personal information from human resources, but turned up nothing. Her eyes are bloodshot, her hair is beginning to gray and fall out, and her face is sallow and sunken. Any trace of the girl I was forced to fall in love with is gone. There is now nothing, but a fetishistic fury behind her eyes that is driven to hunt me down at all costs to end her suffering.

I can’t say that I look much better. The bags under my eyes look like they’re painted on, I move like my bones are made of glass, and my stomach is constantly churning from the stress ulcers. I threw up this morning and found little flecks of blood staining the toilet bowl. If she doesn’t finish me off, the stress will. I spend every moment of the day fearful for the moment that Penelope bursts back into my life like a half-mad ravager. The only comfort I have is that she hasn’t found me yet.

That comfort died tonight.

After a lot of cajoling my parents took me out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. I did my best to smile and pretend that I was happy, they deserved that much. The dinner was good, and in one hopeful moment, I saw my mom smiling at me. She had been so worried about me. She didn’t understand what was happening with me, but I think she convinced herself that I was getting better and soon enough, I would be back to the person I was rather than this human husk that was haunting her home. I let her believe that and I even managed to convince myself for a brief moment. I told myself that everything was going to be alright. All I had to do was outlast Penelope. She was spiraling fast, mentally and physically. I just had to stay away from her until she flamed out.

That night was the beginning of the end. I went to bed at ease and then, I dreamt of Facebook and that happiness died. I watched as Penelope scrolled through endless images of my life. Her face was goggle-eyed and ravenous as she went through the pictures. My first day of school, my first junker car, my college graduation, my first and last serious relationship, photos of Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, and Easter, my first serious job, a poor pastiche of my life. I realized that it was my mom’s Facebook album and that she was using a fake Facebook account after Penelope sent her a friend request. She’s been scrolling through hundreds of photos. She stops at a photo of me smiling at the restaurant that my mom had taken while I was distracted but smiling. She read the post. “Checked into “Taqueria Mi Pueblo” with my son and husband. Dinner was delicious and the company was even better.” Her face cracked into a smile and she clicked like.

It’s over. I can’t hide here. Anymore. She’s going to find me eventually and when she does, she’ll kill anyone in her way. I know this because I know what she’s going through. I know the agony she is experiencing and the maddening desire to end it all. Her desperation to kill me is the same desperation I feel to flee. She’s not going to stop. If I stay, I’ll be putting my parents at risk.  I won’t kill her, and I can’t keep running. She will find me eventually. She won’t stop until she finds me and severs whatever link binds us together. At this point, I don’t know if I care anymore. I just want the dreams to end.

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