Damn it, I can’t stand this, she thought, straining her muscles and listening to her joints pop as she sat up and threw her legs over the couch’s side. Isn’t it enough I can’t sleep? She had the life she’d always dreamed of: a home, a loving family, a beautiful son. So why couldn’t she focus on that? Her bones ached from the sofa, but she forced herself up. Tired from another restless night, dreaming that a flood of unpaid bills had washed over her, choking her beneath their weight, fighting for each breath she-
Stop it, stop it, STOP IT. It’s just a dream.
She forced her stiffened legs up the stairs to the kitchen. She needed a caffeine infusion; the steam from her cup carried the scent of ginger, lemon, and camilla sinensis. She breathed deeply. She could still feel her heart pumping furiously in her chest, but she concentrated on her breathing.
Flashes and red lights went off in her head, but she ignored them. Just another panic attack. Worry could trick the body into a fight or flight response; her mind was playing tricks on her body. Just as soon as the house was repaired and they caught up on their bills, the panic would fade. She would-
-concentrate on the things she could control. Balance the checkbook. Clean the house. Replace the batteries in the fire alarm.
Dammit, why couldn’t she calm down? Normally, she could calm herself down once she-
The volume increased, piercing the artificial veil of reality created by the machine. She opened her eyes to brightly flashing lights. Gasping, she yanked the electrodes from her scalp, heedless of the hair she pulled out in the process. Her eyes stung from the smoke rapidly filling the pod. Deafened by the alarm’s din, she banged against her capsule’s glass door, alternately gasping and choking from heat and asphyxiation.
As she lost consciousness once again, she took grim satisfaction in noting the slumped and lifeless bodies of the AR attendants.
They had sold her on the promise of living her dreams. If she was going to die in them, it was only fitting that they should join her.
*This is my first stand-alone flash since posting my serial, so please be kind. Polite feedback is always welcome and appreciated.