Here’s part one of a continuing story as I promised. Part two will be published on or about next Friday, May 11. I hope you enjoy the entire story.
Florence Witkop (contemporary romance with a gothic feel)
WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE
I had the dream while wide awake. Sitting on the grass in the park across from my apartment watching my cousin handle first base with his usual finesse, putting runners out with ease while I yelled encouragement. Yelled instead of playing because I can’t catch a ball if someone hands one to me. But I can cheer with the best of them, so that’s what I do. It’s what I do every Saturday, every summer.
My normal routine is to show up shortly after noon and lay out a blanket on the sidelines, then hand out pop and potato chips to any kid who happens to be passing by even while I yell encouragement to my cousin and the rest of the team. By the time the game is done and I wrap up the blanket and head off to do my week’s grocery shopping, I’m hoarse and the neighborhood kids are so full of pop and potato chips that they don’t eat dinner and I hear about it later from their parents. I am definitely not popular with parents on Saturday nights.
So that’s my usual Saturday schedule. That afternoon was no different at first, just another afternoon at the ball game. Until it suddenly got weird.
As my cousin Joe prepared to tag still another runner out and I opened my mouth to let out my usual scream of triumph, a picture flashed before my eyes that was so vivid, so real, that the sound died unuttered and all I could do was sit there with my mouth frozen in a cheer that never materialized as a scene appeared before my eyes that was every bit as real as the park, as solid as the blanket beneath me. A scene as familiar to me as the dogs and kids and parents who were yelling and screaming even as I went mute but that couldn’t possibly be real because it belonged two hours away in the wilderness where I grew up.
It wasn’t real, of course and I knew that. It couldn’t be because it wasn’t blocking out the baseball game, rather it was superimposed upon it, a ghost image with colors that were vivid and true to the colors I knew belonged in that place.
It wasn’t real. Didn’t matter that I could see it as clearly as the baseball game beyond. Couldn’t be, though I could actually feel the tall bluestem grass of my childhood waving about my body as a gentle breeze moved through it. Bluestem doesn’t grow in the park and there was no breeze to cool the baseball players. I knew that, knew I shouldn’t feel it. There was a breeze, though, in that clearing, slipping through a clearing I loved so long ago surrounded by the Jackpine trees of my childhood home in the forest and I felt it and was grateful for the way it cooled my heated skin because it was a hot day, too hot, really, for baseball.
I stared at the mirage, willing it to disappear but it didn’t and the more I looked, the more I realized I knew those trees as well as I knew my own name. I saw them so clearly that I felt I could reach out and run my hands over the bluestem even as I also saw the game with my cousin on first base.
I knew it wasn’t real. I knew that if I reached out my fingers would touch nothing. Which meant it was a dream.
I’d heard of people having dreams while wide awake though it had never happened to me. But that had to be what I was experiencing. There was no other explanation. The trees, weeds, wind, all of it, even the little girl in the middle of that clearing surrounded by bluestem taller than she was and sobbing her heart out was nothing more than a dream. It wasn’t real. She wasn’t real. Couldn’t be.
She seemed real, though.. Four or five years old, with blond braids, tear-filled eyes, a dirty face with tear streaks that were the only clean part of her face, and a voice as frightened as the eyes, small and hoarse from much calling for help said, “Please…”
That’s when I realized there was a second person in the dream. Me. I, too, was in the dream. Near the little girl, standing in that bluestem field, looking down at her. Holding out a hand because she was frightened and needed reassurance. My dream self said, “Don’t be afraid.”
Her breath stopped. Her eyes grew large and round as she stared at me. “Who are you? Where’d you come from? You weren’t here before.”
Where indeed? But this was a dream and dreams by their very nature are strange and therefore don’t need explaining. So my dream self merely smiled and said, “Who are you? I don’t believe we’ve met.”
That stopped her. “MaryLynn Abigail Smith.” Recited so carefully I knew someone had coached her.
“Okay.” I smiled widely to reassure her and some of the terror in her eyes retreated. It was still there but in abeyance. A good start, my dream self thought. “And what are you doing here?”
The terror started to return so I squeezed her hand tight and it helped somewhat. But I’d have dropped her hand at her next words if she hadn’t been holding so hard. “I’m lost.”
“Lost?” My dream self looked around. “You’re not lost. You’re in the bluestem field. I used to play here when I was your age.”
She licked her lips. “I don’t like it here.”
Our eyes locked. This small child was terrified in a place I’d loved when I was young. “Nothing will hurt you here. It’s a good place.”
She shook her head hard. “I don’t like it. I want to go home. I want my daddy.”
I knelt before her. “Where is your daddy?”
“I don’t know.” The words were so soft I could barely make them out. “I looked and looked but I can’t find him.”
Okay. Now I knew what had happened. The clearing with the bluestem field was near a campground where families often spent a weekend. “You were camping with your family and got lost?”
“With my daddy.” My dream self waited until she continued. “I saw a butterfly and wanted it.”
I hugged her, dirt and all, pulling her small body against mine. The dream was so real that even as I watched my cousin put still another runner out on first base in the park I felt the warmth of her small dream body against mine and the beat of her heart as the sun beat down on us in that patch of bluestem in the forest clearing. “I used to chase butterflies when I was a kid. I caught some.”
She examined me. “Did you keep them?”
“Once I got them I didn’t know what to do with them so I let them go.”
“If I’d have got it I’d have let it go too.”
“Was it hard to catch? Did you chase it very far?”
“I chased it a long ways. I almost got it. Then it flew too high so I wanted to go back but I couldn’t find the way.”
“It’s not far.” I stood up, still holding her hand. “I’ll show you.”
She rubbed a dirty cheek. “Will you?”
I considered her. “When did you see the butterfly? After lunch?”
Her head shook, braids flying. “Breakfast. It was after breakfast.”
I tried to hide a quick inrush of breath. It was now late afternoon and she’d been lost since some time in the morning. “Maybe first you’d like something to drink. And to wash.”
“Do you have pop?”
“No but I know where there’s a spring that has the best, coldest water anywhere. And you can wash your face there but it’ll be with cold water.”
“No pop?” I shook my head. That is, my dream self shook her head. “I suppose cold water will be okay. My daddy likes me clean.”
The dream was becoming so real I was losing awareness of the park and the baseball game. “Then let’s head for the spring.”
A sound brought me away from the dream. Several people were staring at me strangely. One of them had asked a question. I focused. “Are you okay?” I said I was but even to me my voiced sounded wrong. “I have a headache.” Better than telling them what was really happening to me.
“Don’t go! Please stay with me!” The little girl’s terrified voice pulled me back into the dream. I felt dizzy and had to concentrate on her voice. “You came back. I’m so glad. You were going away and I thought I’d lost you like I lost my daddy.”
I wanted to answer, to tell her not to be afraid. To tell her I’d stay with her. But people were looking at me. People I knew. People who would do something if I didn’t snap out of it and pay attention to them.
What to do?