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She couldn't breathe.

Something was in her mouth. A rag. It tasted of dirt and oil and something else she couldn't place, like overly sweet cough syrup. Her head hurt, and a lingering chemical scent filled her nose as she tried to pull air into her lungs. She attempted to spit out the rag, but it was held there with something that wound tightly around her head. When she tried to bring her hands to her face, she found that they too, were bound.

Tape, she thought, a dim recognition flashing briefly through the haze that engulfed her mind. It's tape.

She tried to clear her head, to make the memories come, but the harder she tried the more confused she became. Where was she? Why was there a rag in her mouth? Why were her hands tied? She realized suddenly that she was lying on her side and that she was in a very small space. But it was dark, and she couldn't see anything. Why? Was there something over her eyes, or were they just closed? She tried blinking, and found that her eyelids didn't want to do what she asked of them. It was as if they were weighted down, shut tightly despite her fierce desire to will them open.

Finally she managed to open them a tiny bit, and even that was an enormous effort. But still she saw nothing. She was in total darkness. No light shone; there was just a fuzzy gray distortion in the blackness. Exhausted from the effort of trying to see, she let her eyes close again, almost thankfully, and concentrated on breathing. Her chest ached, and each small stream of stale air that moved through her nose brought new pain.

She knew she had to get free. But she couldn't move. Every new effort was met withresistance from the tape that circled her wrists, and she found that her ankles were also bound. She couldn't cry out for help because of the rag. And then the chemical smell came again, and she felt her thoughts becoming muddied, like the moon disappearing behind clouds. She tried one final time to breathe, and it was like hands closing around her throat.

Cooper Rivers sat up in bed, gasping. She reached for her mouth, realized that nothing was filling it and that her hands were free, and looked frantically around her. It was still night. She was in darkness, but the window across from her bed was filled with moonlight, which illuminated the familiar dresser, chair, and other contents of her room. Almost reluctantly, she let herself fall back against her pillows.

The dream had seemed so real. Even now she rubbed her wrists and moved her feet against one another beneath the sheets, making sure they were indeed free. She could feel, faintly, the tightness of the tape around her bones, and her throat was raw, as if she had been trying to breathe but couldn't.

She was afraid to close her eyes, afraid that if she did she would find that she really couldn't open them again. The sense of being trapped was still all around her. Where had she been? She tried to remember more details of the dream, but they were fading as quickly as the chemical smell that had been so strong in the dream. What had it reminded her of? For a moment the oily taste returned to her mouth, but disappeared when she swallowed, trying to place it exactly.

It was only a dream, she reminded herself. A bad dream, definitely, but still only a dream. And the strangest part was that it had come out of nowhere. Before that she'd been having a great dream, one about playing her guitar in front of a crowd at a packed club, her fingers moving over the strings while she sang the lyrics of a song she'd written. She'd been watching the mouths of the people nearest the stage moving along with hers. Then everything had gone black, and the bad dream had begun.

But now it was gone. She was breathing normally again. Her fingers rested on her chest, and she felt her heart beating. She blinked her eyes, one at a time, testing them to make sure she really could open and close them at will, and then felt ridiculous for even worrying about such a thing. Even as a little girl she had never let nightmares get to her. Dreaming had always been one of her favorite things to do, right up there with submerging herself in the bathtub and looking up through the water while she tried to count all the way to a hundred.

But she had definitely wanted this dream to end. There had been nothing fun about it. It was pure terror, and it bothered her that it had been so difficult to make it end. She had always been able to wake herself up when a dream threatened to become too frightening, and she knew she never wanted to experience what she'd just felt again. Now that she was awake, though, she was back in control.

She looked at the clock next to her bed. It was a little before six. No sense in going back to sleep, she told herself. It was almost time to get up anyway. She might as well work on one of her songs until it was time to get ready for school. But as she pulled the covers back and got up to get her notebook, she knew that writing wasn't the only thing that was keeping her from closing her eyes again'part of her was afraid that the dream was waiting for her to come back to it...

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