In The Beginning:
Turning The Page;
Joe And Laura
Joe opened his eyes to bright sunlight leaking around the drapes in the bedroom. He felt disoriented for a few seconds, staring at the drapes.
The drapes were new, he had brought them to block the light and sound so he could get sleep during the daylight hours. Once that clicked in his mind, he accepted that he was in his own bed.
He looked toward the clock, but didn’t see the red numerals. That was when he remembered that Laura was there with him. At the same time her low breathing registered, and a slight movement of his arm found the heat of her body. He was reluctant to move his arm now. Instead, he slipped it over her shoulder and drew her into him. She came willingly. Waking as she did, turning in his arms, bringing her face up to his own.
“It’s early yet,” she said as she wrapped her own arms around him.
He buried his face in her hair and pulled her close. “I didn’t mean to wake you; I thought I was dreaming.”
“You weren’t,” she said. She moved her head, tilting her face up to his once more.
She looked at him with her sleepy, dark eyes, pulled him closer and buried her face in his chest. “We’ll sleep a little longer… Okay?”
He mumbled a yes and slipped back down into sleep.
Into The Long Night:
Legends And Myths;
Laura And Bear.
“What happened to the woman who held your power,” Laura asked?
“She died,” Bear said. He looked up at her. The fire snapped and threw a small shower of sparks up into the black night. “There is a story about it. I heard it myself and was surprised. Some was wrong, some was right.”
“Tell me,” Laura said.
“It’s a long story,” Bear said.
Laura motioned up at the night sky. “We seem to have a great deal of spare time.”
The old man that Laura had a hard time acquainting with Bear, thought for a moment, cocked his head as if to listen to something in another world, Bear did that often, then began to talk…
“Her name was Mouse. She lived so many years ago that her people are no longer here. They have become other peoples. Evolved, changed. I see people, sometimes, that remind me of her. You remind me of her in many ways, the bone structure of your face. Your hair. Many ways. Even your will to do things right. Your heart is like hers too.”
“She came from the Mountain people. They were her people. The mountain people were not fighters and so when she was very young, legends say five or six seasons, she was taken by the Curew, the tribe who dwelt in the lakes’ area of what is now Canada, during a raid.”
“She had at once shown an ability to dream. But she also showed remarkable ability to heal. She had been taught, legends say, by the best medicine women the Curew had.”
“I came to know her in her twelfth year when she became a Medicine woman and Dreamer for the Beaver Clan after their Medicine woman was killed in a war.”
“She had already begun to bring herself the power that would make her the most powerful Medicine woman of the Curew the year before when the one who trained her, Jet, had died. She took a snip of her hair. It contained her power. It was the place her power was concentrated in. She began to build her power bag.”
“When the old chief died she took clippings from his finger nails and one of his teeth.
The hunter’s came back after a hunt with a huge Bear, and she kept his claws. A wolf skull she found gave her wolf canines. She collected this power. None of it small, all of it capable and powerful but put together in one place, it began to become something else. A power beyond what it should have been able to generate.”
“As time continued to pass the power grew. She added to it whenever she found power. And she knew where to look. There is so much power around us all the time. We simply don’t know where to look… She did.”.
“The power began to become a whole. Began to feel. Think. Expect. And she taught the power about the ultimate power, the Creator. So from the first the power was on the side of good. Subject to the Creator as she was. Not opposed as some power is.”
“She quickly became the most powerful medicine woman in all the Curew. None came close. She used the power to do this, but the power allowed it because it had been Mouse who had created the power in its present form, and the power looked at her too as a Creator of sorts.”
“She used the power for good. And so, although she was feared for the things she could do, it was not because of misuse of the power.”
“As Mouse grew she began to hear the story of her own life. The frogs. Crows. The Beetles, would tell her as she sat in the early morning quiet and the late night quiet and listened for them. As she learned about how she had come to be with the Curew, it made her long to see her own people. Her own home. The Crows told her about it in great detail. Coming to sit with her, sometimes for hours, as they described her former home and her people to her. She listened, and some times she would dream and go in search of the places that the Crows told her about.”
“One day as she dreamed her way into the mountains she came upon a small village. An old woman sat before a small fire and stared up into the black diamond sky.”
“Her hair, the bones of her hands, her face, all seemed familiar to Mouse when she saw her. It took her just a short while to realize why and then it came to her.”
“All of that time that mouse had lived with the Curew she had known she was different. Her face. Her thick black hair. The shape of her eyes. All different from the Curew. And her friends the frogs, the crows and the beetles had whispered to her and told her she was not of the Curew. In this woman she saw her own features and realized that she may have found her way to her own home.”
“She was careful to watch her way back. Landmarks. Rivers. Lakes. And when she returned to her body she was sure she could find her way back again.”
“Now the Curew did not want her to leave, in fact the brothers who sat as joint leaders in the village, forbade it. And although Mouse was loyal and tried to put it out of her mind she could not.”
“One day, the eldest brother Sky Cloud saw her and asked her why she looked so sad. Why she rarely smiled anymore. Mouse told him all she had come to know, and all that she had seen. Then Sky Cloud, who had known the story of Mouse and how she had come to be there, had felt compassion for her.”
“Mouse, I will speak to my brother, Heavy Snow, and we will speak together to the spirits to see what should be done.”
“Sky cloud kept his word, but Heavy Snow refused to consult with the spirits. “We will lose status! We will lose the most powerful medicine woman. No, brother. We can not do it. I will not allow it.”
“Mouse took the decision hard, but she pushed her feelings aside so she could continue to be who she was purposed to be. She understood purpose. And she believed it was probably the Creators wish that she stay with the Curew.”
“One day as she was praying in a ceremony to ask the spirits to bless the hunters. She spoke to Grandfather Sun.”
“Grandfather Sun asked her how she was. It was common to ask. She had asked him, he had asked her. And it was expected that the answer would be honest. So Mouse told Grandfather Sun how she felt and why.”
“I see,” said Grandfather Sun. “I know the people who you speak of. I saw you when you came to live with the Curew. I shine on your people every day. I will speak to Heavy Snow and see if he will listen to me.”
“So the next time Grandfather Sun was speaking to Heavy Snow he bought up his conversation with Mouse.
“This woman does not appreciate all that we have done for her. The power and position we have given her. She wishes to leave us and take our power to a strange people in a strange land we remember little of.” Heavy snow complained.
“It is only natural she would want to see them,” Grandfather Sun told Heavy Snow.
“I can not allow it,” Heavy Snow said. “It is too risky.”
“The news came back to Mouse and made her sadder than she had been. A darkness settled over her. She began to stop speaking with the powers of the people. She stayed in her tepee for days at a time. The hunters began to fail. Bad things began to happen to the Curew tribes. Other chiefs found out and became angry with Heavy Snow for not releasing Mouse to go back to her people.”
“Look,” they told one another. “The Creator is displeased with us. Only bad can come from this. All because of Heavy Snow!”
“In the end Heavy Snow relented. He was bitter though. And although he agreed to let her go. He sought to find a way to force her to come back. And he told himself, when she was back he would find a way to keep her.”
“When the word came to Mouse she quickly gathered her things together and set out from the village that same day to find her people. Following the memories in her mind from her dream.
When only two days had passed Heavy Snow called Mouse’s acolytes to him and questioned them. It was through them that he learned of the power bag. How she had collected the power and how she had been able to control it. As Heavy Snow listened, evil entered into his heart and he sought out one of her own acolytes to carry out a plan of revenge against Mouse for leaving his people. And to bring the power bag back to him.”
“That very night he sent the acolyte after Mouse with a promise that he would share in the power if she were able to obtain it from Mouse. He instructed the acolyte to track her down, kill her, and bring the power bag back to him. At that point the acolyte would become the new Medicine woman and share in the power with heavy snow.”
“Heavy snow promised to call upon his spirit name sake to bring snow to the mountains and slow Mouse as she traveled to allow the Acolyte to catch up to her.”
“Now the acolyte was anxious to catch Mouse too, but she had her own reasons. She intended to take the bag that contained the power but she didn’t intend to share it. She intended to keep it for herself.”
“Her plans fell short though. She managed to catch up to Mouse, but Mouse avoided her; hiding herself in a small cave as the heavy snow fell. The acolyte searched in vain for her, but could not find her. Eventually she had to return to heavy snow and tell him of her failure. Heavy snow had her burned to death for her failure.”
“The winter passed and another came. Heavy Snow sent others out to find Mouse, but none did. Another winter came and went, and another, and after the third winter Heavy Snow fell sick and was sung to the spirit worlds not long after that.”
“One day several winters later, a man was being chased through the mountains. He had run away in a battle and shamed himself, his brothers meant to find him and kill him. He found a cave to hide in and after his brothers passed him by, he made a fire so he could bring some heat into the cold stone. That is when he discovered Mouse, now nothing more than bones. She had frozen to death in the cave where she had sought refuge.”
“The legends say the power called out to him to save it. But the legends are wrong in that respect. Sometimes legends are. He had an understanding of power from his grandmother who was a Clan Medicine woman. He knew what the power bag was. And once he found it, once his hands closed upon it, he felt the power and he had to possess it.”
Bear leaned back from the fire.
“He misused my power,” Bear said. “He took it for himself.”
A scream came from deep within the woods. It sounded more cat than human. Either way it was a horrible sound and they both fell silent for a few moments.
“So what did you do,” Laura asked after a short period.
“I waited. The wolf-dog Bear came to me one day and I left the bag and traveled with the dog. I made my own way.” He looked over at Laura.
“That is the only body I ever knew. Even after he went to the land of the dead, I saw myself that way. When this started, I mean when you and Joe came along, I knew I had found my purpose. I left after he called me to him in his dream, to follow him. I had never been called into a dream. It made me realize how powerful he was. The most power I have ever seen in a mortal… Until I knew about you.” He stared into the fire.
“I knew my purpose was to be here now. Follow you.” He shrugged and cocked his head once more. Another scream came from deep within the woods and we both fell silent once more.
The First night:
On The Path;
I had not known that I would have to sleep. Have to eat. Be subject to my human body even though I was nothing more than spirit here. I had no more sat before my fire than my eyes had begun to close on me and sleep, and whatever might be within my sleep, was calling to me. I wondered at the feeling of drowsiness and wondered if it was all as it seemed or helped along by the drink or maybe the food. Or both. How could I tell. Thinking those thoughts I drifted off into a deep sleep…
The dream came nearly instantly. But it was so UN-dreamlike that I didn’t realize it was occurring as it began to unfold.
I drowsed at the fire, my head nodding, snapping up at the sounds that came from the forest and then succumbing once more to its great weight. I drowsed again and my head snapped up again at some sound closer to me and I found her before the fire: Sitting across from me.
“You can change it all, you know.” Her eyes. Her hair, nothing had changed, and my heart cried out to the feelings she provoked inside of me. Conflicted with what I knew I was beginning to feel for Laura. No, felt. Not beginning to feel, I corrected myself. But that only made the guilt set in deeper.
She waited, but I could not find my voice.
“I know. She was here. I was not.” She leaned close to me and I could smell her clean scent. “I don’t blame you for being confused. But, Baby, it’s only the confusion. It’s only confusion. I’m the one you love… You know that.” She leaned back. The fire turning to orange-red chips in her black eyes.
Tears rolled freely down her cheeks and my own began to spill to.
“You’re dead,” I managed.
“So is she,” she said softly, reasonably.
My mouth opened at that but I had no words. I had never thought of it that way.
“Look… I know you slept with her… You were lonely… You didn’t realize you could fix this… You had no reason to know. But now you do know. I came to you so you would know… I wanted you to know. You have no idea how lonely death is… How… Alone you are in death.”
She swiped at her eyes… “Maybe it’s different if you were supposed to go. Maybe… But when you weren’t. When you had everything to live for… A man you loved… We we’re going to have a baby… It wasn’t fair… And it wasn’t my time.”
She swiped at her eyes once more. I took a few deep breaths and tried to suppress a sob…
“I told myself I wouldn’t cry… Wouldn’t beg you… I told myself.”
My own chest heaved. I caught my breath. “You… You’re not real… What… What is this…” And that is when I began to realize that I was in a dream. It had that quality to it. But it had such a real quality to it at the same time.
‘I’m as real as she is,” she whispered. “Now. I don’t have a body… True… But you can fix that… You could undo what she did… You could.” She looked at me. Held my eyes.
“Tell me… Just tell me you don’t love me… Tell me… Make me believe it, because, believe me, I don’t… I see someone who filled a space.” She swiped at the tears that rolled down her cheeks once more, licked her lips and then continued. “Come on… Think about it…” She lifted strands of her hair in one hand. “The same hair. We’re built the same… You can’t see it? Baby, she’s a substitute… A substitute… She’s there because you want me. Because you still love me… It’s true… You know it’s true.” She leaned forward once more. Her hands came up, settled on either side of my face. The fire between us for a while. She let me go, leaned back and held my eyes across the fire as I tried to wake myself up.
The dream, if it was a dream, was too real. Too painful. I could not wake myself from it. I could not and really didn’t want to. I wanted answers to the questions she had helped to voice within me.
“What do you mean I can change it,” I asked her at last, once I was sure I had my voice and most of the emotion in me under control.
“You’re alive. You can dream. You can go back and change it,” she said.
The guilt hit me harder. I had thought of it. I had thought about that exactly. I could. I could, but it would be against the purpose of her life. She would only die some other way. At least that was how Benjamin had explained it to me when I worked up the courage to ask him about it.
“You could lose your gift. The creator doesn’t give the gifts he’s given to you lightly. To be misused,” he said.
And I had seen it then. But now, with what really seemed to be Jana before me, I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the reason. My logic seemed faulty, or Benjamin’s logic seemed faulty. Anything but truthful. Anything but the way it should be.
“Even if I did you would die some other way. Your purpose was to die.” I said the words but they were hollow.
“And who told you that,” she asked?”
I shook my head. “I dream. I know.”
“They lied. Yes, if I was purposed to die, yes. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t purposed to die. I was purposed to be your wife I was purposed to have your children. I was purposed to live that way. I know I was purposed for it… I wasn’t supposed to die…”
Her eyes held mine. “Would you let me show you? Would you? If I don’t show you, you will never believe me. I can take you there so you can see how it happened.” Her voice was not much more than a whisper.
I shook my head. My own tears flowing… “This can not be real… This cannot be real…”
“But it is… Let me show you… In a few moments all of this can be gone… You wake up in bed with me… Five years ago… It really can be that way. That easy. You can fix it, and… You can fix it… Please, please let me show you!” She leaned forward once more, her arms outstretched, hands cupping the sides of my face. I closed my eyes to the touch, but it was all wrong as much as it felt so right.
I blinked, opened my eyes and she was gone. My breath caught in my throat. I could feel the tears, drying on my cheeks, leaving me cold despite the fire in front of me.
I blinked but she was still gone. The other side of the fire empty and shadowed. My mind insisted that the fact she was not there had to be the unreality. That unreality was thinking it had been a dream. It had been no dream, it had been real. It had to be that way. And my mind set out to convince me. I closed my eyes to it. I blinked and Gary sat across from the fire. An intact version of Gary. He looked alive. Convincing. I blinked, rubbed my eyes, but he was still there when I opened my eyes again.
“What do you want,” I asked? “You want to convince me to go back too? Convince me that this can somehow all be set right?” My eyes were so tired. I rubbed them once more. My hand came away wet again.
Gary spread his hands, palms out. “Hey, man. I’m not here to bust your balls about this. But this, being dead, is my reality. I don’t like it. And the fact is you don’t even realize what happened.” He seemed so reasonable.
“Bull-shit,” I said.
“No, Man. You just don’t want to see… That Chick… What’s her name… Laura? She was there… You know it. But you don’t want to believe it.”
“Stop, Gary. Why lie?”
“No lies, Joe. No lies. She was there. Not only that, but if you ask her she’ll probably tell you. She’d tried to color it some other way than what it means, but she was there.”
I stared at him. “You make me…” I had clenched my fists, but I let them loose and a flexed my hands.
“Make you what… Want to kill me?” He laughed “Hey you already did that. But, hey you had no choice when that happened, Joe. You didn’t know it. The chick set it up… It wasn’t purposed… It wasn’t meant to happen. She made it happen… You killed me but you had help, Man…” He spread his hands out once more, palms up.
“You think I’m lying. But I got no reason to lie. And it’s easy enough to prove.”
I blinked. When I opened my eyes he was still there. ”Doesn’t work that way, Man. You can’t make me believe something that can’t be real,” I said.
“Think back,” Gary said. “Just listen to me… Think back to that night… Got it?… Humor me, Man. About to prove something to you… Think back… We’re leaving the bar… There’s a chick stumbling out of an alley as we pull up to the crosswalk… Remember?”
“She came from the alley… She staggers over and nearly falls all over the goddamn car. Falls across the hood, gets up and staggers off. Who was that… Who was that?… See it, man?… I mean, take your time, Joe, but tell me who that chick was… Who was it, Joe? Who?”
I held my hands out for him to shut up and he did. It was too much. And so what if there had been a girl there that night. But he had planted the seed in my head and my mind was after it.
A night dark street…
The car coasting up to the crosswalk. Sarah leaning across the front seat talking to Jana. Both of them laughing. Gary talking to me from the back seat. I closed my eyes and I could see it clearly…
Gary talking from the back seat. Coasting to a stop. I caught Jana’s eyes and she winked at me. She and Sarah were laughing over something, and then the car rocked. I looked up and there was a girl sprawled halfway across the hood. From the back seat Gary said. “I told you” but when my eyes flicked to the mirror he was looking at the girl sprawled across the hood too.
“Wasted,” Sarah said.
“God,” Jana agreed.
Long black hair. There was something about the way she held her shoulders… Something… Her head started to come up. Her face… Mascara running… Too pale… The shape of her mouth… Her hair hanging across her face… But the mouth… The hair swept away as she gained her feet, and her eyes locked on mine for just a split second.
“No!” I heard the word jump from my mouth, and my eyes sprang open. No one across the fire.
I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them once more. Gary sat there, a look of deep sadness upon his face… “I told you, man. I told you.”
And he had. And she had been there… It had been Laura… But how…? Why…? Was my memory even real? Was it? I closed my eyes to the flickering firelight, and when I opened them again Jana sat across the fire once more.
“I’m sorry… I did not want to hurt you,” she said in a near whisper. Her tears still flowed. Her face wet and swollen. My own tears began and my throat tightened up.
“I didn’t,” she said, “I didn’t.”
“Why… why,” I managed?
“She met you… She went back and changed it… When she hit the side of the car she must have done something to the tire… Can’t you see?… She met you… She wanted you… She went back and took me out of the picture.”
“No. Absolutely not. I do not believe it. You can’t… It can not be real… Why would she?”
“She loves you… She fell in love with you when she met you dreaming… She went back and made you hers. It hurts… That hurts me… But it’s true, Baby.”
She spoke loud enough to get me to look at her. “You can set it right… You can fix it… You…” She started to lean across the fire as she had earlier and flames suddenly flared up and caught her hair. It burst into flames. My heart jumped in my throat. I lunged at her and she vanished just that fast. My hands closed on air. I blinked. The fire was low. Very low. Morning on the way. Pink resting just above the horizon.
I lowered my eyes back down to the fire, blinked once more, and Benjamin Bear Killer sat on the opposite side of the fire. I blinked again.
“I’m real, Joe. As real as anything else is anyway. But I’m me.”
I opened my eyes and his met my own. “No more games,” I said.
“No games, Joe. You’re actually awake now… Abignew. It was Abignew… He’s on to you… You’ll have to be careful…” He flickered as he spoke.
“He was dead, the Thief bought him back.” He sighed. “I guess he will need to die a little better this time…”
He caught my eyes again and held them.
“She was there that night, that is true… But not like they said… Abignew did that, not Laura. Laura? Just a freak thing. Neither of you knew it at the time, or even when you first met… She remembered… Just a freak thing… Or maybe there’s a purpose in it… But she didn’t do anything to you, that was Abignew.”
“You mean it wasn’t supposed to happen… That was true?”
“I can’t say it wasn’t supposed to happen, Joe. I can’t and neither can you. The Creator has a purpose for all things. Nothing is without it.”
“Abignew went back and did it,” I asked? I was incredulous.
“I can’t say that… Did he? Maybe… Or… Maybe he did back then… I only know he did it.”
We were both silent.
“I can’t stay.”
I looked at him.
“Be careful… Try to find your way through this fast. Nothing alive is supposed to be on this world of the dead… You see what I mean?”
“Not exactly, no” I said as I rubbed at my temples where a headache had moved in, seemingly to stay.
“It will kill you… Try to… This place is about death, not life. It hates you, wants to kill you… It wants to kill you… I’m walking with you, Joe. I’m walking with you.” He nodded and then blinked out.
I blinked, opened my eyes but nothing changed. Maybe a little more pink on the horizon. I rubbed my temples, took a deep breath and tried to get my emotions in check. The book of dream states says… You can not undo what you dream. What you see, what you learn. Be sure of what you create. Be sure of what you believe.
No truer words.
I sat and watched the sky as it changed from pink to orange, to yellow bands mixed in with black. My first day was coming on, and I already felt as though I had been here a year. I rubbed my face, sighed, turned and kicked some dirt into the fire. I looked up at the sky once more and began to walk.
On The Path:
At first I thought he was just another one of the dead that had begun to flood the path from the nearby trees as soon as I had begun my walk. But it was clear after a while, that although he may be as dead as the others, he was not the same.
He walked beside me, his black eyes on mine. All black. No Whites. No pupils that I could see, still I knew his eyes were focused on me. He walked beside me. He didn’t speak for quite some time. When he did he had only a few simple words.
“We’re the same you and me.” His voice was gravely the signs of decay on his face reflecting what was going on inside, I thought.
“I’m not dead.”
“Yet,” he looked at me.
He held himself carefully as he walked. As if he were in some sort of great pain he could barely contain. His face was cracked and peeling in places. Green, and I could smell death on his breath which made me wonder how he could even manage to draw a breath. He carried a quiver of arrows. A bow across his back, the string tight across his chest. He was dressed in leather ceremonial leggings and top. Bone and shell beads surrounded his neck. Hair pipe and beads adorned his hair along with moldy feathers. At one time he had probably been impressive, but now the leather was rotted, sagging, stained. His hair moved on its own. I didn’t want to know what was in it.
I nodded, “I was told. What more can you say to me?”
His black eyes regarded me. “I didn’t come to tell you anything. I didn’t come to say anything to you. I came to watch you die. To see if you die well… And to ask you if it was worth it.”
I nearly stopped on the path, and would have if the path and the sides of the path had not been so crowded with the dead. An old woman behind me bumped into me when I slowed. Her body, nothing but dry skin and bones shuddered from the impact and one hand broke from its wrist and fell to the ground. I found myself bending to pick it up for her before I realized what I was doing.
She screamed. A rusty nail being pulled from green wood. I lurched back as she dove for the hand, picked it up and cradled it to her chest. Her chest heaved, choked sounds came from her as she pushed by me to continue her walk.
I looked back to the dead man walking beside me and finally did come to a full stop. The dead man held a short steel knife in one hand.
“What,” I managed. But as soon as I spoke he buried the knife under my ribs, thrust upwards once and twisted the knife cruelly. I found myself falling before I could get anything else out of my mouth.
My heart staggered… Skipped a beat… Staggered again… And then it stopped. My mouth opened, but I had no words, no breath to say them with.
The dead man bent over me staring down into my eyes. “Die well,” he told me. “Die well.” The knife flashed.
I felt nothing, but my eyes were still open and seeing as he came away with my scalp. I watched him fasten it to his waist. I watched, detached, as blood dripped and ran down his leggings.
I watched the dead part and move around us as they continued their walk unconcerned. My eyes seemed to lose focus. The world went over bright and fuzzy. I found myself in the void, spinning… Spinning… Floating free. His words echoed after me.
“Was it worth it.?”
In The Real World:
The Clan Grandmothers
Joe’s back arched suddenly and his body bowed into the air. Rigid. His breath dragging in and out of his throat, ragged and raw.
Grandmother Crow caught his body before he could fall to the floor, and the others came to hold him with her as he began to flop around. His breathing rasped in his throat, whistling as though something had lodged in his windpipe. His chest hitched, body rock hard, back still bowed. His eyes flew open wide. He struggled to pull a breath once more, then his eyes rolled up into its head, his breath came out in what sounded like a long protracted sigh. A second later his body relaxed and sagged to the table.
Grandmother Crow pushed her old gray head against his chest, she heard nothing. Together the three of them eased him back down onto the table.
“He’s gone,” Grandmother Doe Eyes said.
Grandmother Crow ignored her, raised her hands into the air, and began to pray…
On the path:
Laura and Bear:
Morning came in all of its silver glory, and we began to walk once more. As the day before, the dead were pouring out of the woods as soon as the sun was firmly established in the new sky.
Bear and I stayed close together, tried to ignore what was going on around us, and managed a little better than we had the day before. The morning wore on, the second sun lifted above the horizon, the predators showed up, and the dead began to thin out quickly.
I paid attention to those that left. They stumbled along, no better, no worse than anyone else on the path.
They didn’t seem to have more of a purpose, they didn’t seem to have a better idea of where they were going, but they did seem, just before they veered off the path and found their exit, to be listening to other voices. It was in the way their heads were cocked to one side. The way their eyes seemed to be seeing something far away. And there was more. I couldn’t put my finger on. A lot of it was subjective, maybe I saw it, maybe I didn’t. But it seemed, strangely, that they heard or saw someone or something, just before they made a beeline for their exit.
Bear and I analyzed it separately, and ended up in agreement. We got good enough at recognizing the signs that we could both tell one that was in that mode, disconnected from this reality, about to cross over to what ever alternate reality existed for him or her. Another world. We watched for them. I don’t know why, but I had the idea that it could be helpful.
“There’s one,” Bear said matter-of-factly.
I followed his finger and watched a young woman staggering along to the left of the path.
At first I thought that whatever killed her didn’t seem to be obvious. It must have been something internal, I thought. Even in death she looked healthy, maybe too pale. But then she turned toward me and I saw the neat blue hole by her temple. It sickened me. Reminded me of looking at my own body in the bathtub. The small blue hole in my forehead. Not enough power to come out of the back of my skull, just enough to get in and scramble my brains. Just enough to kill me. It must have been the same for the young woman, and I wondered if someone had done it to her, or she had done it to herself.
Her head was cocked again, almost seemed to look up into the small, silver sun. Her hands hung limply at her side. Her mouth hung slightly askew. Something moved in her hair. I didn’t want to think about what that might be. Her eyes were slightly bulged, more white than anything else. Sun faded? They looked that way. The way the sun could bleach something out. She stopped suddenly, seemed frenzied for a second.
“There she goes,” Bear said.
She suddenly veered off into what seemed to be an empty field. I hurried after her.
“Where are you going,” Bear asked? “Surely you’re not going to follow!”
I shook my head as I hurried after her. “I just want to see if I can see what happens.” As I spoke she winked out. There one second, gone the next. And I saw nothing at all. I walked the last twenty feet to where she had been. I walked past it. Nothing. Except… “Bear… Come here.” I waited until he got to me. “Doesn’t it seem warmer here,” I asked?
“Yes,” he agreed. “And it also smells like Ozone too… Or that electrical smell I acquaint with ozone.” He walked back and forth a few times. “But it’s fading fast. It’s almost back to normal.” And it was. A few seconds later, I couldn’t be sure where it had been exactly. No temperature change. No odor.
“Mind your own business,” a voice said.
I jumped and turned to find one of the dead standing and staring at me with one eye. The other a pink spongy ruin that oozed part way out of the socket. “Mind your goddamn business,” he told me again.
“I am,” I said.
“Are you,” he asked?
I stood my ground and looked him over. Tall, ceremonial clothes that had probably been splendid at one time. Now they were grave moldy, stained, sagging, in tatters. Half the bead-work was missing. Bugs moved here and there. The odor of the grave clung to him. He fingered what looked to be a fresh scalp that hung at his waist.
“Are you,” I countered?
“Oh yes,” he said. “All of this is my business.” He lifted his arms and waved them around to encompass everything. He turned his dead eyes back to me. “Ask me,” he said.
“Ask you what,” I asked?
“Ask me how your boyfriend’s doing… Ask me who I am… Ask me anything at all… I’m like… Like a God… I can tell you anything you want to know.” He smiled, and new cracks appeared in his face. My heart staggered in my chest. This must be an illusion, but it felt real enough.
“What do you mean ask you how Joe is… What do you mean by that?”
He giggled. “Right to the question… Right to it… Well, I mean ask me how he is. What he’s up to. How his day was. What shaking with him… Ask me… Ask me like that… Or… You do want to know, don’t you?… Maybe not? Do I see fear… Yes… I do… I do…”
“What’s wrong with him,” I asked? I seemed to have very little strength to push the words out.
“Oh!” He exclaimed. “Glad you asked,” he fingered the scalp hanging at his belt and panic leapt hard into my throat. Steely, metallic, electric, painful, from nothing to full throttle all at once.
“This,” he fingered the scalp, “used to be his… Dead… I see no need to sugarcoat it. Dead. I killed him… Let’s say that I collect souvenirs… Yes… Souvenirs.” He giggled again as he fingered the scalp.
My eyesight went fuzzy, my breathing whistling in my suddenly too tight throat.
He turned and pointed back down the trail. “Maybe a day travel back. He’s dead alright, but he’s not up walking. Just laying there… But… But he will be. Just a matter of time.” He giggled and then turned serious. “I did you a favor… You should thank me. Now you should go home or I’ll kill you too… I will give you some time to think it over.” He twisted his face, cocked his head, turning his dead eyes on me hard. “I will not let you walk your three hands… No way… You decide, Laura, you decide.” He leaned closer. “I’m surprised you didn’t want to know who I am… Not the slightest bit curious… At all…? Well I’ll introduce myself anyway. I am the Dream Killer. Think about that. I have a great deal of experience doing just what I did to your boyfriend…” He looked from me to Bear, then turned and started to shuffle off. He turned about 30 feet away. “I won’t wait long… Just leave… It would be good for your health…”
In the darkness:
Only about four feet above my body, I watched as the dead stumbled around. One woman stopped and took my arms, pulling me off the trail. One of the passing dead hissed at her, she hissed back causing a fine spray of red mist to leave her mouth.
I knew I was dead. And I had always believed that when that happened, supposing of course that I knew, I would be sad. Maybe even cry about all that I had lost, but I felt only peaceful. I felt no worry at all. I felt better than I had ever felt alive.
When the voice spoke I had expected it. The creator. He didn’t say he was the creator, but it was easy to tell that it was. Something inside of me clicked. Something else inside of me cried out for him. And something else, the human part of me that was still alive somehow: The part that had no faith. The part that had always doubted, knew without a doubt that this was the creator.
“I’ve missed you,” he said.
“ I’ve missed you too,” I agreed.
“Where would you like to start,” he asked?
“The beginning… How. How you made it all… Spoke it into being. How words can have power… All of it,” I finished.
I could hear him, but I couldn’t turn around and see him. I could not turn from the sight of my own body. It held me. And, I reasoned, possibly I could not look on God the creator.
I listened for a few minutes, or a thousand years, both, I didn’t know. I listened and watched the dead pass by my body. I listened, and I knew for an absolute fact that I was dead and I could have cared less. It was meaningless. It had no hold on me.
The time wore on. Sometimes it was black night, sometimes bright sunlight. And I wondered, how is it that the creator could spend so much time just with me. And as I wondered the answer came to me. He can. A frustrating answer to the old me, but perfectly plausible to me in my present dead state.
And then the time came.
“You have to walk, Joe, you have to do it on your own.”
I knew that too. I didn’t want to leave, but I had no choice. But I realized I could no longer be killed… The old man had been right. I should have started out dead. I wouldn’t be in this situation right now. I looked down at my ravaged body and then dropped the four feet back into my body.
The pain was incredible. My missing scalp was a mass of raw nerve endings. My chest ached, and as I stood a huge gush of half coagulated blood spilled down my stomach from the hole beneath my rib-cage
My feet didn’t seem to know what to do, how to move. I stumbled first one way then another, then I fell to the ground. The fall caused the hole under my rib-cage to tear even more, and something tried to slip out. I flattened both hands against it and tried to hold it. But I needed my hands to regain my feet.
I tried holding with one hand and using the other to get on my feet, but I didn’t seem to have the strength in my hands that I should have, I couldn’t hold myself in with the one hand and lift myself with the other, and both hands lost the battle of the same time. I felt another gush of cold blood as it spilled past my fingers with something more substantial, although equally cold trying to push past too.
A slammed both hands over the hole, but I was far too late to stop what had started. And I was repulsed by the cold, slimy feel of my insides that were suddenly outside, slipping past my fingers and sliding to the ground. I took both hands away for the moment, then used them to get myself to my feet: Coils of intestines spilling out, but I made my feet.
Above me the first sun was setting. The dead were nearly all gone. The predators were prowling the tree line. Thankfully they didn’t seem interested me. I patiently began to pull my intestines back from the ground and pushed them into the gaping hole. But even as I got them all back in I realized they would never stay: I lost the battle again and most of them slipped out once more.
I looked around for something that would help, but there was nothing. I Ended up removing my shirt, ripping it into strips, tying them together to form a long strip of bandage. I slowly, carefully, pushed everything back inside, wound my makeshift bandage tightly across the wound, tied it off. It bulged a little, but it was holding.
I had a little better control of my legs. I looked down the path. There was still some sunlight left.
I took it slowly, one foot following the last. I began to walk my path.
Dreamers on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/617155
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