Fiction: As Jane Dreams
By J. Iner Souster
Jane stared at the ceiling, it helped keep her mind blank, allowing her to think she was conscious, but she had no way of knowing whether she was subtly waking up or drifting off to sleep.
She had no idea how long she had been out, if it was morning, afternoon, early evening, or night. She felt lost in thoughts and memories fading with time.
The only thing that remained constant was the throbbing pain in her head and neck, which only grew worse as she made unsuccessful attempts to adjust her posture.
Her face was more worn than usual, bruised and caked with blood, staining the white cloth that covered her body. Her lips were dry and cracked, and her skin grew paler by the second. She twitched as she lay there wanting sleep, her teeth raking her bottom lip.
She shook her head, trying to clear it of its foggy mists. Jane was awake but dreaming, and in her dream, she was taking in the details of the room and beyond. Occasionally, she wondered about the people who lived there and the stories they could tell.
Jane was having difficulty concentrating. Her mind was constantly wandering, jumping from one thought to the next. She'd find herself submerged in a sea of memories that washed over her like a storm. Reminiscing about the previous day's events until those days turned into years of ruminations, followed by decades of unfulfilled dreams.
There was an increased sense of urgency, more so than she usually experienced during those frequent episodes of insomnia. Each thought made her pause to ponder why she kept thinking of these things in such a visceral manner.
In her mind, she would glimpse that tranquil field she had been standing in the day before, the patch of grass where she sat to take in the perfect August afternoon, complete with billowing clouds and cool summer breezes.
She would notice the forest highway that led northward, the road Jane was driving that day. She could see the vague form of a female standing in the distance, and she would see herself standing opposite this woman.
Then she would gently close her eyes and think of a small white wooden church. Jane would open her eyes, and her vision would start panning the scene, seeing the forest, the highway, and then a blurry figure in the distance, and she would see herself walking forward.
Using all her energy, Jane would suddenly close the gap. It was like watching a film where the same actors played different roles. Without thinking, she would clear her throat and begin speaking immediately: she wanted to know if the woman heard her voice. "How many lives have I lived?"
The woman would glance and smile. The film would continue its course, the sound of its motor from the projector creating white noise, completely hypnotizing Jane until she drifted off, back into her memories.
A young girl stood alone at the centre of an empty stage, dressed all in white and looking out at the audience through large dark eyes. The very sight of those eyes hurt Jane's soul. The audience laughed and clapped. Jane would look at them as the girl struggled through her lines.
Jane would allow the laughter to wash over her as she struggled to keep her eyes on the audience, the pain inside her growing more and more until an older woman took the stage.
"How many lives have I wasted?" The words spoken were in a soft, lilting tone, like a lullaby. Jane fought the pain that gripped her. The audience stopped when the woman recited the following words.
"How many times have I died?" The voice came from nowhere, now louder but somehow distant, cold and hollow. "How many lives must I take to reach my goal?"
"Focus, Jane." She heard a whisper. "Don't let the pain get to you."
"How many times have I been born?" When she spoke again, the words were not hers but someone else's, trapped inside her mouth, twisting her tongue and never letting go. She tried to rise from her bed. The lights dimmed, and lights flashed on the stage, bright white beams falling upon her. "Am I dying?"
She woke up with a start and gasped for air, struggling to breathe past the thick haze still clinging to her senses. She felt a presence behind her and turned to see a face framed by tousled black hair, a girl's face, about twenty years old, with a grey, lifeless look.
She had been sleeping, punching her time card, daydreaming - missing out on her death. She lay there, staring at the stainless-steel canopy, only inches away from her face, not understanding what time it was now.
Jane knew she had been born many times before - each birth had been like the last, living a life where nothing happened day after day. Until that day when everything happened at once, a flicker that started moment by moment and ended up, a lifetime.
All she could do was wait for the sun to rise again, praying it would be enough to bring her back into this world. It flashes, it burns, and it ends. Out of the haze, she finds herself in a bright room where she sees a little girl more brilliant and beautiful than she remembered before.
Each death had been like the last, and Jane had died many times. She was no longer sure how long she lay there, staring at the ceiling, but eventually, she fell asleep again.
Jane Doe had the habit of waking at night, staring at the ceiling. Her red, raw eyes were empty, not even a glimmer of life in them. She closed them with a smile; she had no regrets, nothing else to do but sit back and enjoy this time alone with her thoughts in the silence that only the dead can know or understand.
J. Iner Souster is a painter of landscapes and portraiture, a sculptor who creates musical instruments out of reclaimed materials, metal dresses from handspun metal, and a collection of upcycled FauxBots. He's also a photographer, musician, illustrator and mixed media artist. His writing has appeared in Spillwords, Wicked Shadow Press, Friday Flash Fiction, A Story in 100 Words, 100 Word Project, The Drabble, and 101 Word Stories. He is also the winner of the 2022 Friday Flash Fiction Edinburgh Festival Competition.