The first time I dreamed about her, she was naked. Her body was wrapped in movie film, like some kind of sexy mummy. She didn’t say anything to me; she just turned to me and started crying, her big eyes filling up then overflowing with huge, shiny tears. Kids’ tears, I thought in my dream.

She wasn’t the kind of girl I usually dream about. She was slender, with hardly any breasts and only the barest hint of hips. She had a small, heart-shaped face with a splatter of light freckles across her small, upturned nose. Her eyes were a deep green and her hair was cut in one of those bobs that are longer in the front. I remember thinking she was too cute for a wet dream.

The film was wrapped around her torso, but it shifted as she moved, revealing glimpses of her teacup breasts and the dark hair below, winding down to her thighs and trailing onto the floor behind her.

I woke up the next morning feeling depressed and worn out, which was odd. Normally, I woke up from naked girl dreams feeling ready to face the day - kick ass and take names. That morning, however, I felt like I was dragging myself through my morning routine. I couldn’t shake the crying girl’s face out of my mind.

As I lethargically tapped buttons on my keyboard at work, I tried to place her face. Had I seen her here at work? Was she at the coffee shop downstairs? I felt like I knew her from somewhere…high school? It was driving me nuts.

I was still brooding about it on my way home, leaning against the glass wall of the bus stop and chewing on the corner of my lip. Suddenly, something caught my eye on the ground. There was a little cluster of litter trapped in the corner: a coffee cup, a flier for some rock concert, cigarette butts, and a short strip of film. My heart shivered a little, but I bent down and picked it up. It was six frames of a dark movie. I held it up to the sunlight and there she was…my dream girl.

The first frame showed her cowering in a corner, trying to cover her nakedness with her arms, her feet pulled up under her and her face turned to the wall. Her neck was pale and smooth, but there was a bruise rising there as if someone had grabbed her roughly where her neck met her shoulder. There was a shadow cast over her. It got bigger in each frame and, in the sixth, I could see the barest sliver of an arm. It was a big, muscular one covered in dense, dark hair. the girl hardly moved in the frames, just curling deeper into the corner.

I looked around but couldn’t find any more film on the ground. I went home feeling ill, my heart heavier than ever. I tossed and turned all light and when I was finally asleep, I dreamed of her again. She turned toward me again, her big eyes full of tears. “Who are you?” I tried to ask, but couldn’t make any sound. She began crying. “Help me,” she said, her voice thick with sadness.

I woke up with my pillow soaked with tears.

I called out of work that day. I felt like my heart was breaking. I hadn’t felt that way since my dad’s funeral, three years before. I stayed in bed, curled up and moping, until ten or so, when I got up to use the bathroom. I stood over the toilet and noticed that peeking out from behind the tank was a strip of film. My hands shook as I picked it up. It was longer than the first at a whole twenty frames. The man drew closer to the girl in each frame, his hand reaching for her. The angle of the camera cut him off at chest level, never showing his face. He was of broad build and covered in dark hair. He was naked, too, so I could even see the hair covering his ass. The girl cringed further down but, in the last frame, his hand closed around her upper arm.

I was shaking all over. My heart seemed to actually ache in my chest. I could feel it throb with each beat. I spent the day in bed, with my blanket pulled over my head. I drowsed a little in the afternoon…and dreamed. The girl was crying harder than ever, her whole body shaking and her chest hitching madly in and out. “Stop!” I tried to scream at her. “Stop crying! You’re breaking my heart” The girl only looked at me with those big eyes filled with tears. “Please,” she sobbed, “Please help me.”

I woke up, my own chest hitching with tears. “Who the hell are you?” I yelled, the sound of my own voice scaring me enough to let out a thin shriek. My neighbor pounded on the wall in retaliation. I jumped out of bed and threw on clothes. I needed to get out of the apartment, feeling I’d suffocate if I didn’t. I pounded down the two flights of stairs to the lobby and ran out into the twilight. I stood on the bottom stair for a moment, sucking in deep breaths and trying to calm myself when…there, on the ground, fluttering in the light breeze, was another strip of film. This time, it was over six feet long.

I held it up and the streetlight above me flickered on. The man was dragging the girl across the room, throwing her face down across a table. He yanked her legs around and began to rape her. My stomach turned and I had to look away, but I felt my eyes drawn back, dragged back, and ran them down the rest of the film. The girl tried to fight and crawl away, but the man punched her hard in the back, grabbed her by the hair, and slammed her face down onto the table. In the last frame, there was a trickle of blood running across the table, dripping from her nose and mouth.

I threw the film back on the ground. The breeze picked it up and it went curling down the street, tangling around a stop sign. I followed it and saw another strip down the street tied to a sign reading, “SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY.” The film wound and curled its way around the corner and disappeared on the next street. My feet began walking that way. I tried to stop, as I didn’t want to know where that film led, but I continued moving anyway.

It felt like I followed that film for miles, weaving through neighborhoods I didn’t know and stepping over hobos sleeping on sidewalks. Sometimes the film wound around poles and signs and I caught bits of the images it held: he raped her, beat her, raped her some more, and beat her some more; she was covered in cuts and welt and was hardly recognizeable by the end.

Finally, the film began winding down a narrow alley choked with garbage. It dove under a pile of metal scraps that had fallen against a wall and disappeared there. I began pulling the metal aside; it was heavy and there was a lot of it. I uncovered a rusty steel door, held shut by the debris for god knows how long. I kept pulling the metal aside until I could yank the door open. It was dark inside and I could hear a fan blowing endlessly. I went in, pulling my lighter from my coat pocket as I did. I flicked the wheel and saw the movie from the film strips. There was an old projector set up on the table and a man sitting in a chair next to it, facing the blank white wall.

"Hey, I said. The man didn’t move. The fans whirred on and on. I stepped closer. "Hey." Nothing. I drew closer and my lighter’s flame finally fell on him. He was dead - long dead. The fans whirring endlessly somewhere in the darkness had dried him out completely; his skin was stretched tight over bones and his pants were a moldy puddle around his ankles. His left hand was lying on the reel of film in the projector, like he’d died caressing it.

Someone sobbed softly behind me.

I spun around so fast that my lighter blew out. I fumbled with it again, trying to light it, but my shaking hands only spun the wheel and slipped off the button.

"Help me." It was her voice. The dream girl. The film girl. I knew what moving that man had been watching as he died, trapped in this room by the pile of metal that had fallen over, trapped in here with his dying, broken toy and his sick masterpiece. I finally struck the lighter and saw a bundle of cloth in the corner. My heart gave a final lurching bolt of agony before falling back to the normal, steady rhythm it hd been keeping for the past 27 years. I knelt at the cloth and peeled it back.

She was cringing in the corner, her skin pale white and those big tears running down her cheeks. She turned her face to mine and whispered, “Take me out of here, please. I don’t want to be in here anymore with him.”

"Okay," I said, wrapping the cloth around her and covering her naked body. "Okay, let’s get out of here." I picked her up; she was so light, she hardly seemed to weigh anything. She pressed her face into my neck, her tears beginning to slow and then stop. I carried her through the door and she sighed as we passed out of that awful chamber. She seemed to get lighter still and I looked down at her.

She was gone. I was carrying a pile of bones, broken and splintered from all the beatings. A single tear rolled down my cheek and struck the top of her skull, ran into a wide fissure, and disappeared. The skull caved in with a soft whispering sound, then crumbled into fine dust. As I watched, the rest of her bones broke apart into dust and blew away in the night breeze.