183 The Dream that was not a Dream*
Rassa was sure he'd been dead. Or at least stuck in the sub-death. All he remembered was the pounding pressure of the ocean, his fangs sinking through water and shadow, then endless darkness. He had no indication of how much time had passed, nor what had become of him, let alone his friends. Yet now, as he smelt the distantly familiar scent of bread baking, and heard dogs barking and children laughing close by, he could not help but think that he must have died for good. Because that was the only logical explanation for what he was sensing.
The blankets covering him? The cot he rested on? The scent of the bread? Even the taste of the air. All of it…he was positive that he was in his bedroom…inside his parent's cottage…in Cordon.
But that wasn't possible. It must have been a dream. Could he dream in the sub-death? He hadn't thought so. Victor had never mentioned it, and when he'd experienced it for himself he'd spent days in perpetual nothingness. How long had he been in the sub-death that he was dreaming?
Weeks? Months? …Years?
He frowned at the thought, shifting ever so slightly. The rub of his sheets and blanket, the smell in the air…no, this can't have been a dream, it was all so real. He dared not hope it was real. Because if it was real, if he was really here in Cordon smelling his mother's baking…it would mean that the life he'd lived in chains, in a cage being tortured and experimented on, violated beyond reason…it would mean that all that had been the dream. And all that had felt real as well.
There was only one way he'd find out for sure. Only one way he'd know that this wasn't a dream.
Rassa opened his eyes.
The wooden dresser that his father had constructed for his third birthday sat opposite his cot, the light from the window by his head streaming past onto the uneven wooden floorboards. A chair sat beside it, leather boots sitting on the ground beneath it and a coat folded over the back. A ball, stitched together from old leather and filled with a half-sack of rice sat by the door. He used to play with that as a child. It was a gift for his fifth birthday, and he'd played with it endlessly, even after what had happened to him.
Rassa slowly sat up, the blanket falling to collect at his waist. He frowned, his head ached. He reached up, and found a bandage wrapped there. Strange, he didn't remember hitting his head.
He didn't remember how he'd gotten to Cordon either.
As Rassa contemplated how all this was possible, his ears picked up soft humming outside. He remembered that tune. His mother used to hum that tune whilst she baked.
Rassa shifted his legs over the side of the cot and stood, padding to the door and reaching out to grasp the handle. He twisted and pulled gently, the door barely making a sound as his eyes were met with the living area he'd called home for more than half his life. The dining table sat in the centre of the room, tools to boots and a wash basin by the door to his right. In the far corner was the kitchen, the fire crackling beneath a stone tray which held a browning loaf of bread. His parent's bedroom to the right had the door partially opened, but there was no one inside.
Rassa stepped out into the living area, his eyes wide as he took in everything. This was impossible.
The front door opened, and there, looking only slightly older than the day Rassa had last seen her as he was carted out of Cordon, was his mother.
Anna's eyes widened as she noticed Rassa standing in the room, but her expression quickly softened, "Oh thank the gods Rassa, you're awake".
Anna stepped towards him with a soft smile, though concern was laced in her gaze as she approached him.
"How are you feeling?" asked Anna, "The Doctor said you should take it slow, you took quite a hit-"
"Is it really you?" asked Rassa.
Anna paused, meeting Rassa's gaze before she gave a short laugh, "Did you take such a hit that you cannot even remember your own mother?"
Rassa's eyes watered, his emotions swelling to the surface. He must have been dead. After all, he knew she was. He'd been to her grave.
"Oh, honey," Anna said, "Why are you crying? Does it hurt? I'll go fetch the Doc-"
Rassa drew her into her arms, hugging her tightly as he gasped pitifully. It was his mother. She was smaller than he remembered…no he was just bigger. But this was definitely his mother.
"It's okay," said Anna with a small smile, gently patting his back, "Gods you haven't cried like this in years, nor held me so tight. Whatever happened to 'I'm a man, mother, men don't cry in their mother's arms".
Rassa barely held back a sob as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. Nothing could replicate this scent. Like flowers and warmth and…not blood…not blood?
Rassa's expression froze in confusion. Ever since the change he'd always been cautious when he'd held his mother. When he'd held anyone. Being so close to his food source he'd always been tempted to take a sip. But now that he thought about it, he couldn't smell her blood at all. In fact…he didn't even feel the hunger. At least not the hunger like he had before. As he thought of hunger, he caught a whiff of the baking bread once more, and stood as he turned to look at it. Wiping the tears from his face as he stared at it.
The bread actually smelled…appealing. No, it smelled delightful. He could almost taste it and his mouth watered at the prospect.
When was the last time his mouth had watered for anything but blood? He couldn't remember. His mother smiled and gently released him.
"You must be hungry, you've been asleep for three days," Anna said as she approached the oven, picking up a thick wooden paddle so she could fetch the bread. She scooped it up and brought it out to test it, smiling, "And it looks like you've woken just in time. Come on, sit down".
Rassa watched her, intrigued. It was just too real. Too perfect. It was everything he'd ever wanted. Normalcy. Just a sense of it again. And now, as he stepped forward and sunk into one of the dining chairs, and his mother presented him with a plate of freshly baked bread and some cheese, he couldn't help but feel his emotions swell within him again.
Again he dared to hope. Hope that the dream was the nightmare he'd woken from. And as he bit in the fresh bread and nearly moaned from the taste of warm, fluffy, freshly baked bread and creamy cheese, he could not help but believe it.
His mother sat opposite him, tearing a piece of her own bread and nibbling it.
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"It's good that you're up. We'll have to go and see the doctor later though. Just to make sure you're okay," Anna smiled, "After all, we can't have you being incapacitated for your engagement party".
Rassa choked on the bread he was in the process of swallowing, then coughed violently. His mother stood in concern and walked around the table to help support him.
"Rassa? Are you okay?"
Shock continued to move through him, and a cup of water appeared before him as Anna held it out to him. He took it and drank, downing it quickly as he turned to his mother.
"Engaged to who?" asked Rassa, his tone incredulous.
Anna smiled awkwardly, "Jane of course".
Rassa almost forgot to breathe. Which of course ended in another coughing fit.
"Since when was I engaged to Jane?" asked Rassa.
Anna's expression turned to a look of concern, "On the night you injured yourself. You took her to the lake in the orchard to propose because that was where you had your first kiss. Then the boys all thought it would be hilarious to surprise you. It worked a little too well, both you and Jane slipped in the damp mud on the edge of the lake. Jane managed to escape unharmed, just soaked to the bone, but you hit your head on the way down on a rather large rock. Jane was in hysterics, and by the gods did she let the boys have it…" Anna took in Rassa's confused expression, and she sobered up in an instant, "Rassa, don't scare me. What's the last thing you remember?"
Rassa combed through memories, but all he could remember was the nightmare…what was the last thing he could remember that was not a part of that nightmare.
"Chasing the rabbit into the woods," Rassa admitted slowly, "When I was five".
Anna's eyes widened in shock, "I think we should take you to see the doctor, Rassa. You haven't chased rabbits since you were injured in the forest when you were five. You haven't even stepped foot into the forest since then".
Rassa took in her shocked expression, and the question that had plagued him since he'd woken up here came to the forefront of his mind once more. Was this a dream, or was the last thirteen years of torture and blood and isolation the dream?
He certainly knew which one he preferred.