I had a dream last night.

I had a dream last night.

The afternoon sun was just beginning to fade.  There was a light breeze but it did little to cut the heat of the day.  A lone bird hidden in a nearby Oak Tree nearby sang an unfamiliar tune.  I was sitting on an old wooden bench, the paint all but worn away, on the edge of a bare gravel parking lot.  To my right was a chipped and rusting enamel sign with “BUS STOP” printed in bold letters on the front.  It sat atop a steel pole welded onto an old car wheel.

Across the lot behind me was a small service station.  The nondescript white box had a large sign above the entrance that simply said “Chuck’s Service” and was bookended by a Mobiloil Pegasus and a large round Coca-Cola sign.  Two service bays with glass paned doors sat off to the right.  A pair of gas pumps sat abandoned out front.  There appeared to be a few people milling about inside but they were indistinct through the shadows and small dusty windows.

I was sitting, watching the rutted two lane road in front of me, when a young man sat down on the opposite end of the bench.  He propped up a guitar case, the neck leaning against the seat close to his side.  I nodded and smiled politely.  He returned the gesture in kind.

The young man was in a clean tan suit with a dark printed tie and pressed white shirt.  His shoes showed the dust and toil of a long journey.  Clean shaven, his dark skin glistened in the fading sunlight.  His black hair, shaved close on the sides, was slicked back in glossy waves up top.  He exuded confidence and charm.  He had no luggage, only the guitar.  Like everything else around me though he seemed to be from a time long gone.

The young man reached up with a silk handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his brow and caught me staring at the case beside him.

“You play?” he asked, motioning towards the guitar.

“I try.” I said.  “Just can’t find the time to keep it up.”

“Yeah, life gets busier every day.  It’s all about choosing how you want to spend your time I guess.”

He spoke in a slow, comfortable drawl.  I’m not sure why I chose to open up to him, but I did.

“Making that choice is the hardest thing.” I said.  “I get scared sometimes.  I feel lost, like I’m living someone else’s life.  I don’t know how to get where I want to be.”

“Well,” he said, “We all struggle inside.  The point is to do the best you can.  Make a difference to as many people as you can.  The sky’s the limit really.”

“I just feel like I’ve wasted so much time.”

“Then do whatever you have to do to be happy now.  It’s never too late to change direction.  Don’t waste your time with regrets.”

“Pretty wise words coming from someone so young.” I said smiling.

He smiled back and looked down at the ground.  “Oh, I’ve been through enough.  But I don’t feel bad.”  He looked up into the cloudless sky.  “I feel pretty good.  I’m finally going home.”

I followed his gaze. We both sat in silence, watching nothing in particular until the clatter of a large internal combustion engine broke the trance.  In a flurry of noise and billowing clouds of dust an old Continental Trailway bus veered off of the road and came to an abrupt stop directly in front of us.  The door opened with an unpleasant groan.

The young man stood and picked up the guitar case in his left hand.  “Well, I’ve got to go.  It sure has been nice talkin’ with you.”

“It’s been nice talking to you too.” I said.  I stood and put out my hand.  “Sorry, I should have introduced myself.  My name is Shane.”

His rough hand grasped mine with a firm grip.  “Riley.  Nice to make your acquaintance.”

He gave a broad smile, nodded once, and then made his way up the steep steps into the waiting bus.

I closed my eyes as the bus engine revved and it accelerated away, kicking up another massive dust cloud.  When I opened them, the sun was fighting to make its way through mottled grey cloud cover.  Outside my bedroom window rain was falling in a slow drizzle.  A lone Robin sang in the distance.  As I sat up in bed I knew something was different, that something important had been lost forever.

The Ride

I had a dream last night.

I was riding shotgun in an old Volkswagen Kombi.  The headlights showed little of the surrounding Outback as we barreled down a narrow dirt road in the desolate wilds of Australia.  There were so many stars in the clear night sky that I couldn’t pick out any familiar constellations.

The inside of the Kombi was dusty but uncluttered.  It smelled faintly of the ocean.  The passenger compartment held only a large canvas bag and a pile of wrinkled clothes.  A small cluster of foam floats sat in the bunt of a throw net hanging along the driver’s side back window.  There was no signal on the AM radio, or it was broken, I don’t remember.

The flatulent Aboriginal behind the wheel wasn’t much for conversation. He was hunched forward, forearms resting on the steering wheel.  Every now and then he would brush the unkempt mop of silver streaked wavy hair out of his eyes.  His bushy white beard seemed to have secrets of its own.  Above the waist he was naked except for a thin rope necklace with a cluster of quills hanging low.  His dark skin seemed to glisten in the dim glow of the instrument cluster.

He noticed my judgmental glance after the textbook definition of “silent but deadly” enveloped the cabin.  His wide smile showed all of his remaining teeth, yellow and crooked.  “Powered by Natural Gas mate.”

Without taking his eyes off of the road he reached down into a brown paper bag sitting between the front seats and came back up with half a sandwich in his hand.  He looked at me, offering the wedge in my direction.  Between two pale white slices were what looked to be a thick cut piece of cheddar surrounded by a foul smelling brown paste.  After I declined he shrugged and bit off half of the sandwich in one go.  Chewing slowly he returned to his position at the wheel.

We drove on in silence, save for the hum of the aircooled engine ticking away behind us like clockwork.  The empty turtle shell hanging from the rearview mirror swayed gently back and forth as we traversed the uneven road.

At some point that could have been minutes or hours later, my nameless friend pulled the Kombi over to the side of the road and turned the ignition off.  “Need a rest mate.”  I asked him if we could keep going, just a little longer.  “Nah mate, I’m buggered.”

With that he opened his door, jumped down to the dusty road and then wandered off into the night.  I reached over and closed the open door and then sat back, defeated.  Not knowing what else to do, I waited in the dark for whatever the night was going to bring.

The Spiritual Retreat

I don’t understand how I keep getting myself into these situations.  Jimmy had convinced me to come along to a weekend spiritual festival out in the middle of the Nevada desert.  Said it would be great, lots of free thinking, good looking people expanding their minds.  Damn him and his inability to do anything by himself.

We left the car in Henderson at about 5am and hopped onto a retired school bus that had been converted to run off of used vegetable oil and had Precious Rebirth Spiritual Retreat hand painted in a crude manner on the side.  Two hours later we escaped the broken seat springs and the faint odour of stale French fries and were deposited at the festival site.  There were vibrantly decorated stages and large tents set up in the main area, a few camp sites and various forms of hastily built free accommodation were to the west.

It had been a pretty long day, we attended a number of seminars and workshops on pretty much every form of spiritual advancement you could imagine.  Some were interesting and some were just plain crazy.  So were most of the people attending.  I’d never experienced anything like it in my life.  It seemed like I might have been the only person in the crowd who was wearing store bought clothes or that enjoyed the benefits of deoderant.

After grabbing a bite to eat and wandering around the meager marketplace Jimmy had gone to sleep off the day’s adventures in an Igloo supposedly made out of recycled phone books and hemp.  I wasn’t tired, so I set up shop at one of the bonfires just south of the camp.  People came and went but I didn’t take much notice, I was enjoying the sunset and the cool breeze coming in off of the sand dunes.

At some point I looked up to find myself alone except for a rather large fellow who smelled vaguely of incense and cabbage.  His rotund mass was not flattered by the large patchwork muumuu that adorned it.  Beneath the long, thin strands of greasy black hair were eyes devoid of any real emotion, no matter how wide the crooked but ever present smile on his face grew, and a nose best described as porcine in nature, flat and protruding.

He called himself Master Suraj, a self-proclaimed spiritual guru from Biloxi who said that all the world’s problems could be solved by embracing ISHTA yoga and self-love.  I had seen him briefly at a round table earlier in the day, he had come off as a bit of a flake and our meeting did nothing to improve on that impression.

He had an amazing talent for carrying a conversation all on his own.  I couldn’t have said more than ten words the whole time, but he just kept going.  As I stared into the desolation of the dying fire he continued his interminable hypothesis of how man had evolved from an ancient race of half gods originally from a planet on the northern tip of the constellation Perseus.  At some point he segued into describing the benefits of juice cleanse that he had invented and patented.  He explained that only a select variety of fruits and vegetables could be consumed, in very specific combinations of course, and how it had done wonders for him personally.  That might have been the one thing that I believed come out of his mouth that night, if by fruits and vegetables he meant Twinkies and McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

At some point, which seemed like hours into his diatribe, he announced that he needed to go off for a wee.  Don’t worry he said, I’ll be right back.  I still need to get your email address so I can sign you up for my newsletter he said.  I nodded and smiled politely in return, but as soon as that fat bastard was lost in the crowd I bolted.

I wandered into the desert, homesick and alone, while the small collection of fires glowed a short distance away.  I suffered in the knowledge that there was no hope of escape from this madness until the french fry bus came to get us the next day.  I tried to keep my mind on others things, knowing that you worry most about the things you can’t do anything about.  Laying back in the sand and I searched the stars, many of which I had never seen before, searching for the constellation Perseus and pondered the meaning of life.

Meredith

Thunder rolled in the distance.  Rows of tightly packed homes sat somber in the growing shadows.  The Aspens that lined the quiet street swayed as the wind grew out of the west.  A pair of crows circled overhead, agitated by the coming storm.

Meredith hugged her knees as she edged back into the embrace of the soft brown leather armchair.  Her oversized hoody almost completely obscured her pale, round face and emotionless hazel eyes.  She sat there in the dark, the soft glow of a street light through the living room window not quite reaching her.  The clock hanging in the kitchen behind her provided a steady rhythm and was the only other sign of life inside the house.

The nervousness she had felt preparing for the evening subsided, whether through acceptance or the numbness of utter defeat.  Either way, the task ahead didn’t seem so difficult now.  Meredith surveyed the aging townhouse which she had been renting for the past six months.  Pale, bare walls surrounded sparse possessions, scattered about in an attempt to create a sense of home which had not been realized.  She wondered off hand what would happen to all of these things when she was gone.

Meredith grabbed a heavy crocheted blanket from the matching armchair to her left; it had been a gift from her maternal grandmother many years ago.  In fact, she could not remember a time when the collection of now faded and worn pink and white squares had not been a part of her life.  It was one of the only reminders of her childhood that she had left.  She dropped her legs down, feet barely touching the floor, and draped the blanket over her lower body.  She brushed the hood back off of her head and reached up to turn on a small reading light perched on the shelf to her right.  Then she pulled out a note pad and pen that had been stuck in the cushion of the chair, turned to a clean page and began to write.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to work.  I didn’t plan this at all, but I don’t see any other way out.  I’m not sure that explaining it will make it any better.  If it will help anyone understand.  Maybe this is only for my benefit. The fact is they are coming for me, tonight.  I’m too scared to tell anybody, I’m so tired of nobody believing me. I just can’t take it anymore.  I haven’t left the house in five days, I can’t trust anyone here.  Why did I come here?  I don’t remember any more. 

Meredith placed the pad and pen on the arm of the chair and leaned forward for the mug of Darjeeling that was cooling on the coffee table in front of her before sinking back into the warm leather.  She brushed a length of chestnut brown hair back behind her right ear and then cupped the large white mug in her hands.  So many thoughts were running through her mind.  Thoughts of the future, and of her past.  She second guessed whether she had locked the front door, the distinct click of the dead bolt no longer sharp in her mind.

Her trance was broken by the blaring ring tone of her cell phone which she had forgotten on the kitchen table.  It was like an air raid siren going off in the otherwise quiet room.  Meredith closed her eyes and let out a sharp breath in an attempt to calm her racing heart.  The phone fell silent, unanswered.  She set the mug back on to the coffee table, pulled her feet up beside her and adjusted the blanket.  Then she leaned over the note pad, picked up the pen, and continued.

It started almost two weeks ago.  Weird noises.  Seeing things out of the corner of my eye.  I thought I was imagining it at first.  Eventually though, I began to hear them in the back of my mind, taunting me.  A few days ago I saw them for the first time. They’re horrible.  I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do.

Outside the wind battered the living room window as the first drops of rain began to fall.  Meredith looked up then and stifled a scream.  Through the sheer curtains she could see eyes peering in from the night.  The large moss green orbs, mottled with flecks of black, and jagged split pupils.  They twitched back and forth as they scanned the room.  Meredith sat trembling, her breath coming in short bursts.  She peered over the half wall behind her to the window above the kitchen sink, and to the small window high in the back door, they too were filled with searching eyes.  We know you’re here, she heard them say, and we’re coming for you.

Meredith jammed the note pad and pen between her thigh and the arm of the chair.  She pulled two cobalt blue pill bottles from the front pocket of her hoody out onto the blanket.  Tears were streaming down her face as she removed the lid from the smaller bottle.  She grabbed the mug of tea in front of her, put the open pill bottle to her lips and emptied the contents into her mouth.  Fighting the tremors in her hands she drew deeply from the mug, washing down the powdery mess as the sickening metallic taste overtook her.  She repeated with the second bottle, but her aim faltered, causing some of the pills to miss their mark and fall onto her lap to be obscured in the gaps of the blanket.  She chewed the mouthful of capsules and followed again with the tea, draining the mug, and then fumbled for the note pad and pen one last time.

They’re right outside.  I can hear them now, telling me what they’re going to do to me.  They know I’m special.  They want my power.  But I won’t let them have it.  They know what I’ve done but it’s already to late there angry       I wont let them get me

Im sorry

Meredith dropped the pen and paper to the floor then curled in on herself.  She pulled the hood back over her head and the blanket up to her quivering chin.  The dull throbbing of the creatures rage began to drift away.  Her eyelids became heavy.  On the edge of consciousness, she heard a loud booming which at first she took to be the rumble of thunder, but soon realized it was coming from the front door.  After a moment the cacophony relented.  There was a brief silence, followed by the click of the deadbolt, and then nothing.

Shane Kroetsch / March 29, 2015