Hang Loose

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 77

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

I jerk upright in my bed, instantly awake.

“Just a dream,” I say to myself stupidly.

Whoa. I take several minutes to collect myself.

It did not seem like a dream; it had felt real.


The way the client had grasped at my hand as I pulled their arm. The painful sensations I had in my thumb as my client – who was busy dying, I would later learn – wrenched my thumb painfully backward.

Then they quit talking. Quit making any sound. So scared was I that I took two steps backward and ended up falling on the client’s chair, sitting on the client’s neatly stacked pile of clothes. Their glasses were sitting atop the folded garments, and I ended up badly warping one leg of the pair.

I honestly can’t remember if my client was a man or a woman. They had a sort of average physique along with a gender non-specific name, like Lynn or Laurie.

I remember seeing some symbol with two words tattooed on their back, but try as I might, I cannot pull it into my waking consciousness.

I’m no doctor; I’m a massage therapist. But even as I step back to the massage table, I can tell something is seriously sideways with my client.

They are dead. I know it, but my mind will pretend otherwise for the next several minutes so that later I can rest easy and claim that I did “all that I could do.”


It was an odd dream. I felt my loose fist bruise as I shove at the door to reception.

I don’t remember ever sensing such gross physical sensations in dreams before. I distinctly remember how I rubbed the base of my wrenched right index finger’s first knuckle. How already the pain was dancing around exuberantly without control or reason. I had merely struck the door with too much energy as I hurried to reach the front so that they could summon the proper medical authorities. While I joke that ‘I went to massage therapy school for seven months, I’m practically a doctor,’ I am a far cry from being qualified to serve at the lowest level in the medical community.


“It was just a dream,” I tell myself again. After a period, I’m able to sleep again.


The next day was a workday. And though I tried to fabricate a reasonable calling in sick that day, I simply could not. I needed the money, and it was only a dream.


“Lee,” I say to the partially occupied waiting room.

I’m expecting my next client to identify themself so that we may complete the socially unlikely yet acceptable tradition of massaging a stranger for money.

My client stands, approaches me, and fist bumps my hand.

It’s always amusing to me when a client will opt out of the hand-shake. You know, because of covid. Exceptionally ironic. The client doesn’t wish to touch my hand for fear of transmission. But my hands will eventually touch almost all of their body, including their hand!

The initial phase of our ritual complete; we proceed to my assigned massage room and begin the session.


I had almost forgotten about my dream.

I was operating with only a vague, low level of disquiet. The dream had retreated to some less-traveled corner of my consciousness and had sat quietly whimpering all day – the operative word being ‘quietly.’ As in, easily ignored.

And I had ignored it all day. But what else could I do? I had a dream. You can’t call 911 because you had a bad feeling. Can you?


I do my customary preparatory compressions and stretches before undraping my client’s back.

As I pull back the blanket and sheet, my heart threatens to explode.

There it is; the tattoo from my dream. It was a Shaka sign rendered neatly in three ink colors. Beneath it, in a cheerful blue, it said ‘Hang Loose!’

Deja vu.


I should stop the massage, I know, but what basis would I give for doing so? My acute spidey senses detected the looming heart attack.

I don’t stop the massage. I tell myself I’m acting irrationally, that it was only a dream, and to let it go.

I check the clock. There are only 34 minutes left in the one-hour massage. I force myself to slow down, to breathe deeply, to endure.


The client is face up now, and I’m pulling Lee’s arms, gently encouraging her body to release tension trapped in the fascia of her arms, shoulder girdle, and neck. Gentle side-to-side shakes discourage the muscles from voluntarily engaging the stimulus by pulling against the swinging, rhythmic motions I’m inducing in the limb.

I was starting to believe we would both get through this thing.

Lee’s hand clamps down on my hand, bending my thumb back and sideways, just as I had dreamt.

When I crashed into the corner seat where Lee’s clothing and glasses sat, I ended up breaking, not warping a leg of the glasses.


Seven of us from the spa stand and watch the ambulance slowly drive away. There was nothing we could have done, the paramedics told us, multiple times. Trying to console the guilt we might be feeling. But I know better.


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