After Waking

by Ann Hillesland

As soon as Aurora closes her eyes, the falling fear sucks her in: once asleep she won’t wake. Her body snaps alert, jolting the bed. Early in their marriage, her husband would roll over and kiss her. “I can always wake you up again,” he’d say. Now he’s used to the bed quake and doesn’t wake.

Aurora has always claimed the hundred years of sleep were dreamless. A lie. The scenes tumble behind her eyelids, still vivid after almost a year—sunset lights pulsing and fading, empty corridors, dark leaves against a dark sky crushing down, trapping her in the bed, clogging her throat. Burying her alive.

In the candlelight (she must always have a candle burning) her husband’s chin is prickly. If she leaned over to kiss him now, she’d have to fight her way through the thicket.

She is so tired. Her arms and legs have no strength. She nods off during state dinners. She no longer rides for fear she will fall asleep in the saddle. Would smacking the ground wake her?

Her husband rides to the hunt without her, grasping his bow eagerly as a boy while he paces his horse. Women wave scarves and cheer their young king in the cold morning, breath rising like a magical silver mist. Aurora props herself up against an icy stone wall, feeling decades older than her grinning husband.

At night she rises from her hated bed and wanders the castle, candle in hand. The halls are cold and silent save for snores, as they must have been all those hundred years. But now she’s awake. She slips the helmet from a sleeping guard and perches it on a stag trophy head. With the cook snoring near the kitchen fire, she builds a pyramid from the breakfast loaves.

Back in bed, she watches her husband sleep. If he dies before her, will she slip back into the world of endless dreams?

Suits of armor spear apples on their lances, dressmaker’s dummies embrace in the ballroom. And still the queen yawns away the days, prowls the halls nightly, waits for sunrise.

One night as she rises, her husband opens his eyes. “Why are you doing it?” he asks, grasping her wrist so she can’t leave the bed.

Her hands are shaking. She has not been able to hold them steady for days.

Do you think it’s funny?” he asks. He is not so handsome now, not so charming. Below his bloodshot eyes, a red pillow-fold line slashes across his cheek. His breath smells of onion tart. She would not kiss him awake.

She lies down beside him, in the position she held all those years, hands folded corpse-like on her chest. Her eyes are heavy, but when they close, her mind fills with the old dreams that she is trapped in the bed and will never move again. She gasps alert.

She slips away from her sleeping husband, takes the candle and by its flickering light climbs the stairway she has never, in all her night wanderings, approached. The spiral steps are narrow and shadowed. The bad fairy’s curse has lasted longer than the good fairy’s. The spindle is still there, needle sharp, ready this time to send her into the dreamless sleep from which she will never have to wake.

Ann Hillesland’s work has been published in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Sou’wester, Corium, and SmokeLong Quarterly. It has been selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions, won the grand prize for prose in a Spark contest, and has been presented onstage by Stories On Stage. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Queen’s University of Charlotte. For more of her writing, see