Alison opened her eyes, and tried to sit up, tried to break the surface of the bathtub’s water, even before forming the thought that she must have fallen asleep in the bath.
Then, greater panic: no matter how hard she tried, she could not reach the surface. It was as if the tub had become a bottomless pit.
Increasingly distressed, swallowing more and more water, feeling out of breath, instinct took over. Even without understanding how she could be doing it in a bathtub, Alison began to swim toward the light.
She felt great relief as she broke the surface, inhaling a stream of hot air. For a moment she stood in the water, arms resting on the edge of the bathtub, alternating between spitting water and breathing deeply.
Only then did she realize that she was leaning not, in fact, leading against the edge of her bathtub, but on hard, rough stone that bit through the skin of her elbows. Reflexively, the young woman shoved herself away, to float on the lake’s surface. Her eyes drifted upwards and saw the sky for the first time.
The sky was burning.
There was no sun. There were no stars. Just an expanse of incandescent orange, punctuated by coal-black clouds.
Around her, the colors of the sunset of the sun that did not exist covered everything as far as the eye could see. A dull expanse of gray and black rock stretched to the horizon, with no signs of vegetation, or any other hint of life.
This can not be happening, she thought. Where am I? This can only be a dream.
But she was a long way from the semi-conscious state of uncontrolled control that we feel when we dream. No – she knew full well, deep in her soul, that she was wide awake. And this drove her to deeper despair than the earlier, sudden feeling of drowning.
She rested her arms on the edge again; naked, lost, with nothing resembling civilisation close by. She started to weep, barely registering the damp, hot air that started to burn her eyes and lungs. But her weeping was soon interrupted by a hiss.
In front of her was a snake, its head raised level with Alison’s. Reptile and human eyes crossed for a moment, and Alison felt a shiver run down her spine. Then, an intense pain assaulted her right cheek.
The world began to spin. The girl was on her back, she was rolling on the shore of the hot lake, screaming, frantically trying to grab the huge body, the slippery body of the animal that was stuck in her face.
Alison felt the blood trickle down her chin, down her neck and into her breasts, the intense pain in her cheek. She felt herself growing weaker and heavier, until she succumbed once again to unconsciousness.