2. Tearing Awake
I fall and scrape my hands and knees again, only to look around and see the faint light bouncing off the granite and marble stones like all the times before; just enough light to let me read the now familiar inscriptions on those stones once more: "This one didn't wake up before she landed!" and "Another for the keeper of the closet!" and "They called this one Crib Death too!"... and then the same on that I always tripped on:
"He had a dream he was underwater,
Then remembered that he wasn't a fish.
He tried to pretend he was an otter,
But for waking up, he forgot to wish!"
This was the place to which I always returned; with its deafening silence and the silent laughter of that thing sitting just outside the boundaries. This is the final resting place of the Dreaming Dead, all of them collected by whatever is now stalking me. Sleep’s Graveyard.
This is where, on the verge of hysteria, I remembered that I was dreaming. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The words "this is only a dream and now I am going to wake up" had barely left my lips when that feeling of deja vu returned and I felt the stale air around me shatter as the Graveyard boundaries crumbled.
The thing howled in triumph, and its smirking bulk advanced out at me from the shadows, its wide-set eyes glowing green. Still on hands and knees, wearing nothing but the boxers and t-shirt I sleep in, I raised one scratched and bleeding hand high on the inside of my opposite arm and pinched as hard as I could. All the while holding desperately to the knowledge that this was only a dream.
Tears came to my eyes, but still the thing only grinned wider and stalked ever closer. I stopped pinching and just grabbed as much skin and flesh as I could in a tight fist, raising blisters just below my armpit.
Still, the grin got wider and those green eyes drew ever closer.
My knees and palms were stinging with sweat, but I didn't notice. I gripped tighter on my arm, digging fingernails into tissue, but still didn't wake. Gravestones snapped in half as the thing passed them, and the ones it stepped on shattered.
At that moment, I twisted my wrist, ripping the skin under my arm and sending white-hot spears of pain into my brain as I cried out, suddenly sitting straight up in bed. The sheets were soaked through with sweat and clinging to any exposed skin.
I hurriedly flicked on my bedside lamp, letting the light cleanse the room while I ran my stinging hands through my hair. Then I looked in my mirror, hanging at the end of my bed just above my dresser, and my relieved smile froze on my face… my dirty face.
I started trembling as I looked at my scratched and bleeding hands and knees, then shaking as I looked at the torn skin and bleeding welts on the inside of my upper arm that were dripping crimson onto my sheets.
Then a cold wind swept through, chilling me to the bone. My bedside light flickered like a candle and went out as silent laughter filled the room. My bedstand clock glared out the cruel, early morning hour of 3:02am.
Two, green, wide-set eyes grinned out at me from between the slats of my closet doors.
As I said earlier, this was the story of my last dream. A dream to end all dreams, if you will. A tale best told by firelight, just before dawn when the night is the coldest, when even the flames seem to hide from the darkness, and morning is the furthest away.
Per my understanding, sale profits of books and short stories from Story Shares are used to fund the creation of more reading material, and to promote and provide easy access to the library content for educators and students:
"...the Story Shares Hub bring[s] together authors, readers, and educators. For authors, the Hub
provides a digital book builder to guide the creation of just-right content, and access to a large
group of potential readers. For readers and educators, the Hub provides a library of newly created
just-right content, distributed on a platform with built-in reading assists to make it even more
Check out the hub! The Story Shares logo below is a link to their website. They also have a bunch of titles which are all available through Amazon. I hope you enjoy your weekend!
1. 'Falling' Asleep
People have always talked around campfires. They've told stories of great loves, and great loves lost; of Fairies, and of the Small Folk; of monsters from the grave, and of the evil lurking deeper; most commonly of ghosts, and most recently of aliens. And sometimes, just before dawn, when the night is the coldest and the morning is the furthest away – when even the flames seem to hide from the darkness – the tales of dreams begin to unravel.
This is one such story, fit for a fireside telling, but told 'round tables with electricity to push back the shadows. So light a candle, turn off the switch and snuggle up to someone you love, and I'll tell you the tale of the last dream I ever had.
The dream that ends all dreams, if you will…
I have always been one to have nightmares. Ever since the days of childhood, my nights have been peppered with shadows. Never a happy dream for me, oh no. Sunny days always turned to dreary nights, friends and family turned to foes, and strangers turned to dangers. Never a friendly face, and never a helping hand.
As a teenager, I learned to wake myself up from my strange and horrible visions by saying, as loudly as I could: "This is only a dream and now I am going to wake up." And in the few times when that didn't work, I would pinch myself as hard as I could until my eyes would open, wide with terror and bleary with sleep, the green numbers of my bedside clock glaring out at me with the blank fact of the early morning hour.
The last dream I ever had began in the same manner as any other I've had before: from a great distance up and accelerating at an alarming rate down. Down towards a tiny spot of light that I just know is going to explode up around me and bury me in all sorts of nasty things. Then, just at the very last moment before impacting with the tiny spot, it disappeared and I plunged into the sinister blackness of what I've come to call Shadow Land: the darkest corner of the dream world.
I stumbled around for a few moments, fear beginning to nibble at the edges of my mind and the sense of deja vu overriding all my senses as I began to walk east. Trees that had always been there suddenly grew up all around me in a think tangle. My sense of direction evaporated in the dense forest and, even though I knew that by going east I could get out and into the sunshine, I no longer knew which way east was.
I ran for what seemed like hours, always going in a different direction and always ending up back in the same place, tripping and sprawling and scraping my hands and knees each time I returned. Every time I walked away, a brightly colored, shiny bird would flit across in front of me, and then pivot on a sharp angle that only it could find to make a B-line for the edge of the forest. Every time I chased the bird, running as fast as I could, the bird flew faster and faster until I couldn't see it anymore. Every time after the bird disappeared, I felt those eyes staring out at me from a hidden place and a cold wind rustled through the dying forest to chill me to the bone. Every time, I forget the way that the little bird had gone and would just bolt blindly through the trees, the hot breath of that thing just behind me.
I don't know how it ended up being Friday today. I'm not complaining about the weekend, but I am wondering how it arrived already. Maybe it was just a fast week because things ran per the schedule and that was strange and unexpected? (I really am one of those people who has a schedule, and whenever I update it with logical and achievable things to do the Universe laughs and laughs. My hubby was one of those people who could make a plan and execute the plan and complete the plan. Then he met me. *shrug*)
One of the things that worked out right this week is that When it's Not Right released yesterday and is - for this weekend only - a FREE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD! And because it's a related story to When it's Not Perfect, I decided that both should be free downloads until Sunday! Click a cover below to learn more about the book and pick up your free download. :D
For more free reading, the below part of the short story Life after Life is the conclusion. This means that the free download is available over in Short Stories, just like the rest of my completed shorts. Next week's blog post will see the start of a new and spooky short story... Happy reading! Hope you have a good weekend :)
8. Life After
The tiger was watching the scene over Liam’s shoulder, barely even bothering to glance at the man crouching just ahead of him. When the big cat did lock eyes with Liam, there was so much more than just an animal looking out from the golden orbs. There were scars all over his body, and a limp when he stepped forward to sit down beside Liam with a grunt that turned into a sigh. He was an old cat, and tired. Reliving his worst day had exhausted him, but he hadn’t known any other way of life than to just keep fighting through so that’s what he’d done. His eyes, now that he could see himself dying, were just… sad.
Liam tentatively reached out and rested a careful hand on the tiger’s wide head, stroking and rubbing softly in a tender caress. The cat hooked a heavy front paw over the offered arm and turned his head into the contact, opening his mouth to pass his teeth harmlessly over Liam’s fingers. Liam smiled at the antics of the tiger lying down and rolling to his side so that he could hook both paws over Liam’s arm like an overgrown house cat. Liam sat down to play a little easier.
“You look like you could use a rest,” Liam told him when the big cat yawned.
As if on cue, the tiger rolled back to his belly and wiggled forward enough to shove the front of one shoulder against Liam’s hip. The big cat wrapped his front legs around Liam and then rested his head on Liam’s lap. When the cat blinked up at him with a question filling his eyes, Liam dropped an arm across the cat’s neck. After a moment, he bent his arm so that he could gently rub his fingers between the tiger’s ears without removing the half-hug.
“Not this time, friend,” Liam told him. “I think you’ve done enough by yourself that this one time you don’t have to be alone.”
The tiger breathed on purpose, his throat rattling heavy and deep in a purr. They sat like that for a while, watching the super-human efforts of the vet together, and then the golden eyes slid closed and the purring slowly rattled to a stop. The weight in Liam’s lap faded away with the rest of the scene, leaving sparkles rippling and twinkling over the grey like starlight on water, until he was just sitting there alone amid the dullness with a gap the size of a tiger’s head between his arm and his legs.
Liam dropped his hand into his lap and just sat there in the middle of the nothing. He hadn’t expected the tiger to just lie down. He’d actually expected to be ripped apart and his bits that weren’t eaten to be flung out into the nothing he was now here alone in. He thought about Kaylynd and how genuine she could be, and then about the sad and tired tiger. He thought about Nish and wondered if anyone would tell her he was dead, or if she’d just find out from the school newspaper. He wondered if his obituary would even be worth a mention in the school newspaper because even after nearly six years attending there he didn’t actually have friends.
What he did have right now were a lot of emotions which – with a moment to acknowledge them – were actually really heavy and burbling up from really deep. It was like the flood gates opened for everything he’d been put through years of counseling to train him how to deal with – and during each session he’d wondered why – but now all of it was really real and hitting him at once in a way that nothing had ever gotten through to him before. If he’d been breathing, he would’ve been having a really hard time doing so. His palms were sweating and he couldn’t stop his legs from fidgeting. One part of his brain wanted to analyze, compartmentalize, and assign all the tidy terminology that his counselors had given him over the years. Instead he took a page out of Kaylynd’s book, crumpled in on himself, and cried so hard he thought he might throw up.
It might’ve been minutes or it might’ve been years – time was different here – when the crying finally stopped overriding everything else. When he’d been a teenager and had full meltdowns, typically he would just fall asleep after and feel sick for a couple of days and then he’d start to feel better. Right now, here in the grey, he didn’t feel tired. It was like he’d completely skipped over feeling crappy (or maybe had gotten it all out) and was already into the feeling better part. He still felt raw and shaky and if Kaylynd was here he’d definitely want to get one of those genuine hugs from her, but for the moment it was enough to just sit up and remember some of the good times. Slowly all that counseling worked its way into his thought process and he assigned the terminology his analytical grey matter needed: breakthrough. He felt better now – lighter – because he’d had a breakthrough.
He spent another lifetime (or maybe a couple minutes) sorting out the events since he’d died, and came up with a general theory that this was some kind of limbo state and he’d probably be stuck here until he really, actually died. Until then he could be some kind of Davy Jones or Charon, making sure anyone else that ended up here with him was transported appropriately. He could be that someone to help them get through their worst days, if they wanted. That was pretty cool.
He’d kept getting accused of being ‘disassociated’ in his sessions, and everyone kept wanting him to engage more and maybe try for an emotional contact with anything. His counselor last year had given him a plant, but Nish had overwatered it and killed it. Thinking about the advice now was a bit of a laugh; he couldn’t get much more engaged than by actively chauffeuring the mostly dead through whatever they needed, and this new level of relationship was a lot more engaging than the insincere interactions during childhood and at university. Straight up, he’d just saved a little girl from drowning and then comforted a wild tiger in death. There wasn’t anything from his life before dying that even came close to being that beautiful or intensely good.
Liam looked around at the grey and felt more comfortable in his skin than he ever had before. Inside his chest was calmer without a pulse driving him around and the constant demand of needing respiration, and his heart seemed to have more ability for feelings without having to dwell on circulation. His head felt calmer now, too, without having to worry about what was coming in regards to where to live and how to afford groceries and rent and tuition. Right now, he just had to be right here.
He stayed sitting and stretched for a few minutes, cracking his neck and at the end and feeling… different. Maybe ‘new’ was the right word. He felt good and it felt strange. It took a few moments to realize that he could see the catwalk now. He leaned forward to stare at it, his hand dropping beside his leg to take on some of his weight out of normal habit. The catwalk felt like set gelatin against his skin. It wasn’t sticky, just definitely there and offering a slight resistance to pressure.
The tiger definitely hadn’t been wearing clothing, but had walked the whole way from wherever he had started to where he ended with his head in Liam’s lap. Inanimate things like clothes and coins could only be what they were, but the bit of vague philosophy from a couple first and second year classes Liam didn’t really remember held the notion that people were constructs assembled through all their experiences. Maybe, with going through experiences in the grey, this place was becoming more real around him because it was becoming more real to him, like his clothes were real to him.
Or maybe he was becoming realer within the grey as his constructs about himself fell away. Maybe he was learning to exist in the now that the grey presented. Maybe he was unlearning his experiences in life and just existing without the pressure of the construct he’d worn; existing like the tiger.
He stood back up and started walking in the direction that felt like forward. He couldn’t remember which way he’d been going when he’d laid down, but this seemed like the right way to be going now. After three steps the familiar shunk sound thudded against his ears and everything went absolutely black. Liam stopped and, a slow smile spreading across his face as he settled the crook of his elbow to hide his eyes from the coming bright, listened to see if he could hear who or what was coming next.
Oh, hi :)
So... how's your day going?
That's some weather we're having, eh?
And what about that local sports team? Their season appears interesting.
*Awkwardly staring at my screen because I have nothing prepped for a personal blurb*
So, uh... seen any good movies lately? ---> That was my clever segue to "My 3 year old has been watching Coraline lately and really enjoys it. We also watch a lot of Monster House and Teen Titans."
Small talk: my clever attempt at an interesting personal blurb. Which I believe has failed now that we're both awkwardly staring at the screen and slightly uncomfortable, possibly cringing. And, if you weren't staring awkwardly and getting slightly uncomfortable, now you are... because I said it.
Apologies, I'm tired and my humor suffers for it... which means others (such as yourself) suffer through what my exhaustion takes for humor. It was a busy week, but a really good one, and I'm more excited than the kids to have a long weekend. My goals are to find the living room floor, make at least one real dinner (with sitting at the table and using forks and all that), and maybe - if I'm super lucky and motivated - catch a glimpse of the inside bottom of the dirty clothes hampers because they'll be momentarily empty.
LOL! :D Hope you have a great long weekend and a very happy Canadian Turkey Day!
7. One Down...
He fought the gravity that made each movement nearly impossible, crawling on all fours to get over himself. Kaylynd tripped on one of his legs and the paramedic setting up the stretcher noticed the movement and thought it was spontaneous. The pair redoubled their efforts, and each step that Liam took away from the scene was easier than the one before. Another car with an open door beckoned straight ahead, on the path of the catwalk, and Liam crawled inside. The interior of it changed part way through and the closed door in front of him evaporated to reveal a door hanging open. They climbed out into a perfect summer day.
“I’m a doctor! Can I help?” the man yelled, leaving his car running as he slid down the steep edge right beside the road to the knot of kids that had just dragged Kaylynd out of the lake and toward the nearest trail up to the road.
“She’s not breathing!” one of the kids cried out as she looked up at the approaching doctor.
“Dad, help!” one of the boys with Kaylynd’s arm over his shoulders yelled.
The doctor swore and sprinted the few steps across the gravel beach toward the kids, yelling orders to lay Kaylynd down and asking how long since she’d stopped breathing. Somewhere in the confusion, he was able to get answers and get to her and get working to get her breathing. Kayland let go of Liam’s belt so she could stand beside him and watch the scene that was unfolding below. Liam knelt to feel the slope the doctor had slid down and his sleeve encountered the same smooth edge as the dish he’d been in when he’d first arrived in the grey.
“You’d better hurry,” Liam told her. “Wait too long and you risk brain damage.”
“What about you?” she asked, tucking her hand into his and looking up. He smiled at her.
“I’ll be good,” he assured her. She smiled her brave face, then her eyes watered up and she gripped around his waist in a hug that he felt all the way up to the top of his heart before she let go and spun away.
Her feet slid as she scooted down to the gravel beach. She stopped for a moment and waved back up at where Liam was still standing. He returned the wave and was rewarded with a huge smile, and then she turned, crouched down, and touched her fingers to her own ankles. This time the scene evaporated, she went with it. Liam closed his eyes and held tight to the fading sound of coughing and vomiting that started the instant Kaylynd went back.
The growling was closer than expected when the grey settled into silence. The catlike motion of what had been stalking them was now easy to attribute to the creature because proximity provided a clear view of the black stripes caging the orange fur. Something in the tone of the growl wasn’t right though and, as Liam watched the distant tiger, he saw it ducking and cringing from its own worst day. The big cat was terrified as it slunk and clung to the edges of the catwalk.
When Liam turned back to face what he considered forward, there was a jeep parked across a straight run at what he figured would be a few turnings away. All the doors were hanging open. He’d never seen a vehicle with a snorkel except in jungle movies, so he assumed this was for the tiger. That was good. It meant if he got to the other side of the jeep, the tiger should just stay in its own life because (Liam figured) animals preferred to stay alive.
Liam found the edge of the catwalk and hurried forward, smiling that the memory of Kaylynd’s grip on his belt had been replaced with the view of her brightest smile. He was doing some seriously comic book level hero stuff right now.
The jeep was idling, keys in the ignition, and all four doors opened wide. The radio started when he slid into the passenger seat and played in some other language for some song that didn’t make much sense because the rhythm of the lyrics didn’t seem to match the beat the way he understood popular music should be. When he looked up, heavy jungle had replaced the grey on all sides. Liam climbed over the manual gear shift and into the driver’s seat, letting the yelling he could hear be his guide once he climbed out and had feet on solid nothing again (the edge of the catwalk was, of course, leading him straight to the scene of the yelling).
A heavy caliber gunshot boomed. The leaves and branches directly behind his spine rustled and a few fell to the ground. A little moment of panic where his instincts told him he’d been shot almost made him run, but then he remembered he was already dead… after looking down to check his chest was still intact. The next corner swung left and broke out into a clearing that had been made only because it was packed flat by the amount of tromping on the low vegetation. In the middle of the flattened area was what was left of the tiger that was fighting its worst day back in the grey.
Liam stayed crouched low as the games officers and poacher finished their short shootout with one more shot, this time from a small caliber pistol. Kudos to the lady in uniform for just firing one shot into the poacher’s leg and then running over and smacking him in the head with the butt of her pistol while he was still screaming in shock. The rest of the game officers tied up the poacher and stripped all his gear and weapons before attempting to deal with the bleeding as the lady started going through his truck and pulling out whatever trophies he had with him. The growing pile of animal bits, collected from a lot of different animals, was enough to make Liam sick to his stomach.
The dead tiger was missing only one paw and had a long gash between its ribs and hips. One of the game officers was obviously swearing as he checked over the big cat, even opening its mouth, his shoulders hunching up in honest grieving over the waste of a beautiful animal as he set determinedly to try and resuscitate the tiger because all the needed bits for living were – if the man’s actions could be believed – still there. Liam couldn’t understand anything the officers were saying, but when each of the other officers paused, one by one, in whatever routine they had in order to pay silent respects over the warm body and offer help to the veterinarian, Liam empathized with them completely. He dropped his head and closed his eyes, mourning in his own way, until he felt the tickle on the back of his neck of thick whiskers and in-drawn breath. He froze in place. The same part of his mind that had noted the irony in his world ending by taking a day off school now ever so helpfully noted that he’d forgotten to pay attention to the tiger behind him because he was absorbed in the final moments of the one in front. Liam turned slowly and with an awareness all the way to his core that perhaps screaming in pain and oozing bodily fluids in the road really was a better place than right here and right now.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!