As a new author, I get excited easily and get ahead of myself. On revision three and the story is shaking loose what does and doesn’t work. The early post was the raw story. There are hundreds of mistakes of all sorts of nature. I was trying to present the plot of the story, some of the characters and a bit of the fanfare. Not sure it was worth posting all of my early mistakes too? Like I said I am new at this. So here is a repost of Chapter one with the mistakes removed.
Chapter one – The Dream
Jack knew he should have died in these dreams a hundred times or more somehow, he always escaped. The dreams kept coming more and more often. It was happening again, he was in a firestorm again where sparks and embers were as thick as fireflies after dark. They whizzed by, nipping and burning as they struck Jack everywhere.
He had the sensation of flipping and rolling along. In a void, fireflies buzzed past him. He had the sensation of floating along in some strange river of force. His head buzzed like he was drunk. His smell brought hints of bayberry, vanilla, and licorice. Each as distinct as a fingerprint drifted. Which way was forward? Whatever direction he was headed in, that was forward. More fireflies hit and stung him.
Blurred sounds at first without distinction rose and fell. Then screams and moans followed. Deep bass commands, he did not understand, shouted over and over again. Words beating themselves upon the screams. More screams and voices filled his ears followed by sinister laughter, menacing laughter, shadowed by more pleas and screams. Those sounds he understood. Bloodcurdling sounds followed by sounds of bones snapping. He cringed at the thought of where he was heading. Another nightmare, he thought, a torture chamber perhaps.
Jack had other strange dreams, though none started like this one. Those dreams, all were in strange places with strange people he did not know. He just woke up there, in strange taverns, or farms, under a different sun. Always someone would find him and ask him strange questions.
The direction changed quickly like he was tossed down a shoot, spinning and tumbling, the sinister laughter faded away behind him. He picked up speed, the shoot was slick, cold and smooth providing no friction. Jack whizzed along faster. All went quite, devoid of sound. Jack was left with white noise in his ears. That horrible static made it difficult to discern any real sound from the fray of din echoing in his own head. Slowly that too faded as a booming sound took its place rising in the distance. The rhythmic pounding of machines rising and falling. It grew louder as Jack moved ever nearer to it.
Each time Jack dreamed, he would be caught and questioned about the gift, the band of brigands and his name. They tortured him when he did not provide the answers they want. What band of brigands? Each time just as certain death was about to strike, somehow Jack was rescued and he woke in his bed.
The sound became decimating trying to split the world. Jack shook, the space around him shook. Lights blinked or was that synopsis in the brain firing the nerve in his eyes reacting to the sound. It boomed again, and waves rippled rolled over him sending him reeling. It boomed again much closer to Jack. Waves of bass rippled across him and he felt his heart and lungs reverberated with the incredible strength of the pile driver trying to split the world.
Dizzy Jack realized he was not moving. He stopped in this place of intense waves of sound so loud it shook him like he was under attack. Then it stopped. Someone poked at him. A voice slurring its words asked, “What is this?”
Another voice that of a sweet woman spoke, “You again. You can’t keep coming this way they are going to catch you one time and your secret will be lost. Best we send him on his way to save High Earth. Quick everyone back to back to work before the master sees.”
He could not see, could not move, could not speak but he was there. He tried to move but could not find his feet or hands to help him get up. He felt wrapped in a cocoon-like an infant. Jack thought he was resting on a rock. He imagined he felt the hard, cold, stone but he really couldn’t feel anything.
“What are you thralls doing is not work, Stop lollygagging around and get to work. There will be no food for those who do not meet their quota today! Instead, they will get twenty lashes.” A deep rough voice shouted. Whips cracked like firecrackers near-by.
Someone touched Jack’s cocoon. He could feel their presence. He was confused about his form he could not see or feel.
“This traveler always gets stuck here for some reason.” A rough female voice spoke. She snapped her figure at Jack something changed he thought.
The ground shook slightly as a large beast approached Jack and the women. Its breath was like a coal stove, smoky and burnt smelling. “I said back to work. Didn’t you hear me thrall?” He snapped a whip in the air near her.
“Yes, I heard you. I was just making water. It’s hard to work and urinated at the same time. Can I have a second please?”
He looked at her and smiled. “Vera, make it quick or I will report you.” His steps thunder as he walked away.
She squatted next to Jack. Her rags of a dress hid the source of ammonia as it rose from the stream of water. She fumbled with her sandal trying a buy a few more seconds while she extended a hand slightly toward Jack with her palm facing him.
A feeling of great wellness flowed. His confusion faded and strength returned. A smell of lilac perfume floated on the air, light and almost not there, Jack thought. Jack tried to speak. He desperately wanted to ask what was going on, who are these … people. Jack felt he should know about this weird place. I have been through this before, she said. She said I always get stuck here. I don’t remember this place, these people. No matter how hard Jack tried he could not remember.
Softly a whisper spoke. “Go, Jack, you do not belong here. Go before they discover you.”
A glow of hope surrounded him and breathed fresh life into him. He felt safe, no longer afraid. Jack tried in vain to open his eyes to see where he was and those around him. He could not. Cocoon him preventing him from seeing anything. He tried to turn to his left and then to his right the cocoon held him fast and permitted no movement. He was frozen. His lips, his hands, his feet, and even his eyes refused to open. He could not even blink. He felt lifted by the wind.
“You should never return this way hero. I fear for you. Let this mark guide you safely on your journey.”
Something searing hot, burned through the cocoon deep into his hand. Jack wanted to scream out in pain, but couldn’t. A smell of burnt flesh and sage rose around him. He could not see but his sense of smell and hearing were keener than before. Then he started to move again.
No, Jack thought, don’t send me back! No, not again. Don’t send me back, don’t send me back! He screamed in his head. Then a whisper came to his ear. “Remember Elvendale.” and he was thrust away, hurling again, tumbling onward to wherever fate held for him.
He thought of Elvendale and felt comfortable. I have been there before. That word Elvendale he remembered hot sunny days. A large bed of white moon roses, and rolling green hills. His direction change and he turned. He felt himself accelerate. Like a leaf in a stream he moved and bumped off objects, he could not see. He was drawn toward Elvendale though he was unsure why, or what Elvendale was.
Warm thoughts surrounded Jack. Soothing feelings and Jacks nervous fears were held at bay. Elvendale he thought again. It sounds so pleasant and peaceful. Elvendale a beautiful place of songs. Crisp mountain air, birds, and a large waterfall all seemed like things associated with a name like Elvendale. He realized he knew the name. He knew things about Elvendale like its orchards of fruit, and fields of sunflowers. He knew about the fresh cool mountain air and the warmth of its people. Elvendale was a happy place calling him. He could not track time. Maybe hours passed but Jack was always moving and those pleasant images wrapped him.
Suddenly, Jack was blinded by the bright light and then blue, green flashed. He wasn’t weightless anymore. He was falling uncontrollably. His arms and legs flailed aimlessly trying to grab anything. There was warmth and there was light all around him. The trek was over when Jack struck the ground.
He laid dazed on the ground listening to the sound buzzing in his ears. Jack blink trying to clear his vision. Jack’s eyes tried to focus. He closed his eyes and opened them again. No good, still blurred. Burry, dazed and confused he tried to separate the images. Tall streaks of green, patches of white and blue mixed with a bit of brown. No luck. Jack closed his eyes and held them shut while he started an extremity check.
First his legs and feet, then his arms and hands, last his back and buttocks. Nothing hurt enough to be broke. His left shoulder and right buttocks took most of the impact. They might be a little bruised but not more than that. Not any worse than when he fell off his horse while running in a full gallop across the field last summer. On his left hand was a fresh burn. The mark to guide him. Branded?
His ears were ringing or was it buzzing and felt kind of plugged so he tried to open his ear canal by opening his mouth as wide as he could to reset the pressure as if he had been mountain climbing. First, the right ear popped and the sound rushed in, and then the left ear followed and the sound of songbirds flowed to his ears. The sound of birds and the wind rustling leaves was all he got.
He tried his eyes again. Better, corn stalks scatter about around him clearly marked his impact. He squinted and tried to focus and refocusing a few times again looking up at the sky. The light stung his eyes. Between sapphire blue skies dark puffs bellowed high in the afternoon sky. Flocks of birds were flying frantically away from him. What on earth just happened?
This time the dream dumped him in a cornfield. Usually, it was in the forest or near a mine where slaves were hauling the dirt out, maybe a tavern, or an Inn. This is entirely new. And that… ride what causes that? One minute I was in bed dreaming about fishing and the next I am hurling through…. whatever to here? And where is here? Jack tried to collect himself and clear his head. Never was he able to clearly understand this. Every time he tried to ask someone, they backed up from him and ran away. Then the hunters showed up looking for him. Something about a gift. Each time somehow Jack escaped and woke up at home where he fell asleep.
Who really cares? He had to be dreaming so none of this really mattered. He just fell asleep and dreamt his way here so it could possibly be real. Though most of this certainly looked real, it was just a dream, right? He would probably wake up on the floor wrapped in his blankets with a knot on the side of his head. Then Mrs. Callahan would place ice on it in the morning.
Jack dug his way out of deep thought back to the reality facing him, dream or not. The air smelled like rich farm soil the dark loam kind. Jack sat up taking in a view from his far left to his far right. Corn as far as he could see in any direction. Golden corn four feet tall everywhere. He remembered the birds all flying away from him when he landed.
Slowly he looked behind him and saw dark purple clouds swirling in a great rotation moving towards him. Lightning flashed cracking loud before thunder boomed like massive pile drivers assaulting the field. Jack, quickly rose to his feet. The hair on his neck rose straight up. The static charge in the air building to that electrifying discharge again … lightning. The sky flashed and Jack began to count. One Mississippi two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, and the sky bellowed a deep rumble clearing its throat. He stood and swayed a little. Lightheaded from the fall he regained his balance. The air hung still. Nothing moved, except in the distance beneath those imposing clouds.
All the way to the horizon behind him the sky was purple and green mass of rotating clouds. The sky roared and thunder rolled across the plains to him and beyond. The wind picked up and the cornfield swayed pointing away from the storm as the lightning flashed. The swirling clouds left Jack thinking it might be a tornado, though he had never seen one before. That and the birds were a fair sign that Jack had better get moving. That thunderstorm was barreling down on him quickly. Jack again looked right and left in a full semicircle in front of him. I have to seek shelter he told himself. There is no way to outrun that storm. There wasn’t a single building or hill that might provide cover. Just flat cornfield stretching out before him. Jack looked over his shoulder one last time at the storm and ran diagonally to his right away from it as fast as he could.
Corn smacked his face, arms, and legs but Jack kept moving. He slipped on corn leaves, fell and got up and ran some more. He could hear the crashing of objects the storm had picked up thrashing the ground. Jack did not have to look back to know he was in deep trouble. It was like a giant grinder sucking up everything and grinding it into sand blasting particles. The sky had turned dark purple above him, with a twist of strange green swirled in it. The air had the scent of licorice mixed with ample amounts of dirt in it. Jack would be sucked up into the storm if he did not find shelter. He started to panic at the thought of dying in a dream. Urban legends say if you die in a dream, you die for real. He didn’t want to leave the dream without any answers but he didn’t want to die either. Especially not like this.
From out of the corn stalks something grabbed Jack’s arm and screamed, “This way.” Jack did not resist. He made a fast right turn and fell into a ditch head over heels. He found the wind pulling at his feet and legs trying to suck him into that grinder, while someone was pulling both his arms forward. There was two of them pulling him toward a wooden iron-bound door. The wind screamed and
They all fell into a hole in the ground and spilled into a cave or something. The wind was trying to suck everything out into the sky. Lamps, bits of glass, plates, blankets or bolts of cloth, and a straw broom flew over his head and towards the door. A short man closed the door cutting off the wind. He grabbed a flat iron bar and dropped into the reinforced slots on the door. The door strained against the pull of the wind but did not give way. His companion, a woman was chasing a dust devil around the room taking everything it tried to toss about away from him until it spent its energy and collapsed into nothing.
The wind howled at the door as the storm raged on. The short man touched his arm, “Don’t worry we are safe in here.”
Jack nodded his head trying to believe what he just saw. He looked from the little man to the little woman and back. Everything airborne came crashing to the ground. Jack’s mouth hung slightly open. He had seen the wind dance, holding hands with leaves or dust but nothing like this before. It had plates, pitchers, and bowls hovering and dancing about the room.
“Oh dear. He’s not from here or anywhere nearby, is he dear?” the little woman asked her mate.
“No Martha I don’t think so. If he was he wouldn’t look so perplexed. Look at him gawk at us.” The small man replied.
“Well, aren’t we being rude Jonathan. Where did our manners go? Sir, my name is Martha Morning Star, this is my husband Jonathan Morning Star. Welcome to our home. Would you be staying long or are you just passing through these parts?’ she asked.
Jack paused. He thought really hard. The last few times that he could recall no one asked such questions. They only wanted to know about the gift his mother left him. This woman was being so nice and polite. He was lost for words. Trying not to panic he stuttered as he looked about the room. “I… I… don’t know.”
Everything in the room was smaller than the normal size for a person like Jack. Small wide chairs, low ceilings, wide doors all told Jack he was not in his hometown anymore. Jack looked again at the man and woman. No more than four feet tall they looked sort of like a midget but different. Carefully Jack tried to pick his words.
Jack gathered himself together. “Thank you, mam and kind Sir for aiding me back there. I did not see your wonderful home from the field, but I am thankful to be here. Is it all underground?” Jack asked. Jonathan jumped to answer him.
“Why yes, it is all built underground. I built it myself with the aid of my neighbors.” He replied proudly of his handy work. I’ll give you a tour if you like.”
Jonathan certainly was a friendly farmer of sorts Jack thought. Martha leaned in looking for Jack to answer her question but waited patiently for it. She reminded Jack of Mrs. Callahan only much shorter.
“Thank you, ah… Jonathan. Maybe later. Ah… yea… how long will I be staying? If you don’t mind I will like to wait out the storm at least. Maybe in the morning. I need to get my bearings before I leave if that is alright? I am not sure exactly where I am, I think I got myself lost. Where are we again?” he asked.
“Of course, you must be tired after your travels and in need of rest,” Martha answered. “Just where did you come from?” She countered.
“Oh, you know you are right I have traveled far today and I am very tired. I am not sure if you know of my town. I am from Samsonville. That bang on my head has me confused. I am rightfully not sure of much it seems. I might have lost my way.” He admitted. “Where am I now?” He asked again.
“Oh, my Johnathan, another one.” Martha looked at her husband with concern. Her smile drooped at the corners when she spoke.
“What do you mean another one Martha?” Jack asked.
“Another boy about your age, your build, your… color came through her last month on much the same way you did. We got to him and he was pretty mangled. Broken arm, lots of cuts and bruises. He could not remember his name. Strange, what is your name?” Martha asked again.
Jack thought for a moment and could only remember his first name. The bang on his head when he landed really did affect his memory. His last name was gone, erased or lost. He struggled for a moment and then smiled trying to relieve his hostess concern. “My name is Jack.” Jack wanted to learn more about his hostess and his surrounding before he gave up much more information. He sensed Martha and Jonathan were holding onto more than they were willing to say.
It was Jonathan who broke the uneasy tension, “Martha why don’t you fix us some nice mint tea to wait out the storm, while I show Jack the rest of the house?”
“Of course, how rude of me. I’ll warm up the tea biscuits too.” Martha made her way to the larder humming a lullaby softly to herself. One Two, buckle my shoe, three four, shut the door, five six put up sticks…. She was smiling while she worked.
Jonathan motioned for Jack to follow him into the next room. “This is our winter storeroom.” He pulled a door open and stairs presented themselves heading into the darkness. “Every home has to have its root cellar. Need this baby for storage and for those nasty storms. Watch your step on those stairs,” He warned. “We keep mostly roots down here, carrots, potatoes, beets, and stuff like that. It holds enough for me to trade with my neighbors for other things during the long winters. My Neighbor Reggie helped me flush this room out. First with shovels and then placing the beams and wood to reinforce the walls. The floor stones I got from Little Stoner. The blue slate has held up well and it was cheap. When he reached the bottom of the stairs Jonathan step aside giving Jack full view of the room.” This is what I call a dry room. We keep the moisture down in here to slow spoilage.”
Jack looked over the room. Clean without a sign of dust. Barrels and boxes stacked neatly against the south wall. Sacks hung from the rafters with what smelled like onions and garlic. In the center of the room, a globe of soft green light hung in the air two feet below the ceiling. Jack could not make out what held it there. The temperature felt like mid-fifties to Jack, or slightly less.
“I only saw corn in the field above. Where do you get the root vegetables from?”
“Forty acres in the east is where we planted them this year. We try to rotate the crops for better soil management.”
“Good idea Johnathon. How do you plant such a big field.”
The boards were tightly fitted with no space between them, running the length of the room. The blue slate fitting together with almost no lines also. Jack did not know much about construction but this felt like it was very good craftsmanship.
“Nice,” Jack said. “You and your neighbors do very good work. Some of those stones look pretty heavy, you must have a lot of neighbors.” Jack chuckled.
“We have a cold storage room very similar to this one and a wonderful smoke room for curing meats and preserving them too. Of course, we have our sleep room and a water room too.” Jonathan boast.
“Really… a water room?” Jack asked.
“Yes, it was a wedding gift many years ago when we first got married. Count Redding commissioned Pat Lilly, a craftsman to build it for us. It’s great for a swim or a long hot bath. Though I have never figured out why it works. But somehow it does.”
“Jonathan, tea is ready,” Martha called out from the sitting room.
“We don’t want to keep her waiting Jack,” Jonathan warned. “She works hard to make it all just right.” He motioned for Jack to follow him back up the stairs.
Martha was standing by the counter next to a hand water pump and sink. Jonathan looked up, stopped.
“What is your name again, Jack?” she asked.
Jack smiled, maybe out of nervousness or stress. “I don’t remember. I hit my head back there and I can’t remember. Is that important?” he asked looking first at Martha and then at Jonathan.
“No, not really, Jack,” Martha lied to him. We are just old fashion folk that like to be formal when we can.” She joked. “You know we don’t get many guests out here. There is more corn than folks, and … we keep a register who came calling. Sometimes it’s nice to page through it and review while passing the time.” Martha smiled.
Jack felt the uneasy tension in the air. The unspoken silence between Martha and Jonathan was unnatural. They were holding their tongues waiting for something to happen or be said. The looks they exchanged, the frowns, all added up to something. They reminded Jack of someone at the Hallow Fest back home. Jonathan and Martha looked at each other and then at Jack.
Jonathan motioned for Jack to enter the sitting room where hot tea was waiting for them on the low table, with fresh tea biscuits and jam. Two overstuffed chairs sat facing each other with the low table between. A soft light turned on as Jack and Jonathan neared the chairs. Motion lights Jack thought. How nice not to worry about finding the light when you enter. Martha staid in the larder near the hand pump and the sink.
“Jack, I don’t know you well, but I already consider you my friend. Friends tell each other things that they would not share with other folks. Like being lost, or afraid maybe. Why they might even have nicknames they might share or secrets about themselves or trade. They might share wine recipes, or their mom’s secret ingredient when making some wonderful dish.”
Jack stopped fixing his tea, put the spoon down and listened. He knew there was a point to this wandering conversation. “Jonathan, what do you want?” Jack asked.
“So, what is your real name, JACK?” Jonathan insisted. Jonathan threw his own spoon down and stood up abruptly. Jonathan’s voice shifted from the friendly farmer to a menacing, almost raving lunatic. His eyes were no longer soft and understanding. They were bulging and demanding. Martha grabs a large knife from a butcher’s block on the counter and turned to Jack. She was smiling still but, her lips were drawn up, her teeth gleaming.
“Yes, what is your real name Jack?” she glared at him.
Jack stood up and backed into the small table. Tea spilled out of the cups across the tabletop. Martha’s voice took on a new high pitch. Jonathan was circling him to his right, and Martha was headed to his left. He back up trying to keep the two of them in front of him even though it boxed him into the sitting room.
“Hey, guys what’s wrong?” Jack asked, “I suddenly think you don’t trust me.”
“Oh,” Martha said “we trust you, just not these lying words rolling off your tongue young man. I can see who you are behind that shroud you wear. Just an innocent boy lost on your way to grandma’s house, right? No, you are the one they warned us about. I saw it in your eyes, the way you talk, the hidden words behind your story. That accent on your tongue isn’t from here either, is it Jack?
Oh yea, you know your name Jack O’ Lantern bring of evil, darkness, and destruction of High Earth. The Retrievers are coming for you. When they get you, oh I hate to be you!” Martha laughed at him thrusting the knife out in front of herself. “They will suck the truth straight out of your pea size brain.”
Small emerald green spiders crawled out of the sink in the larder. Down the outside wood sink cabinet, they moved in a single line they lined up in front of Martha. They appeared to be made of some sort of crystal or glass maybe.
Jack had backed into the wrong corner. The door was to his left and Martha had him completely blocked off from it. Jonathan had him pinned on his right. Jack supposed he could cut straight up the middle and maybe still get to the door. They paused facing off against each other and contemplated their next move or waiting for … Retrievers?
The wall next to the wooden iron reinforced door burst outward, tossing lumber and earth onto everything in the room. Light beamed in from the field above, the air was still. Martha was tossed aside like a pebble in a spring flood. A spider-like creature as big as a bear leaped into the room and gazed over the three bodies in front of itself.
It was huge and taller than Jack and nearly as wide as it was tall. Long stiff black hair covered the head and lower abdominal section. Four arms – legs with the same stiff hair poked at the ground in front of it providing balance and giving it locomotion. Four more arm-legs stretched out in front of it flailing the air. Small crystal like green spiders scampered all over its back and head like a possum’s babies might cling to their mother. Its head turned right and left; noting where each person was in the room and stopped when it found Jack. Its mandibles clicked four times.
The storm outside had subsided. The sounds of its grinding had moved off. Bits of corn, dirt, and wood fell occasionally into the hole the spider made. He seemed unconcerned with the mess he made and moved forward.
Another spider burst through the wall next to where the first one came through tossing more lumber and earth into the room. It was like the first retriever, covered in stiff black hair but was slightly smaller. It too looked over the room and paused when it found Jack. Its mandibles ticked twice.
Suddenly the wall behind Jack trembled and then gave way to a third creature bursting through the lumber and tossing Jack back into the center of the room. A cloud of dust filled the room leaving Jack and his host coughing. Martha stood up and pointed at Jack coughing constantly but managed to bark out, “He is the one I told you about. It’s him!’
Jonathan could not speak. The dust had got his lungs all coked up and he was turning red. Jack rose quickly to his feet and was quickly assessing if he had any options. The first spider creature moved forward towards Martha clicking its mandibles frantically.
“Yes, it’s him. Do you think I am stupid?” Martha replied to the spider. “Leave what you promised and take him away. And next time use the door.” Martha said turning away from the spider.
In silent reply, the spider’s front arm made a half circle swing and took Martha’s head clean off. Its arm doubled as a large scythe. Blood squirted straight up, splattering the ceiling. The smell of copper filled the air. Her body stood perfectly still for a second before falling over in the direction of the swing. Her head rolled over to Jack’s feet and stopped staring up at him. Jonathan was still coughing and choking on the dust but his eyes suddenly bulged outward in shock as he took in the betrayal.
The spiders moved quickly forward towards Jonathan. There was nowhere to go and little resistance that Jack could offer. He zigzagged about looking for an opening he could exploit. Jonathan never stopped coughing and choking. His death was almost a mercy killing except for the part when they dismembered him. That almost gave Jack the opening he needed. Almost.
The lead spider caught him by his pants leg and hoisted him off his feet depriving Jack of any form of locomotion. Dangling upside down with his feet almost on the ceiling, Jack was sure his life was over. Pain shot through his left ankle and calve. The spider grasped Jack tighter while he tried to free himself. Jack’s heart began to pump rapidly pushing more adrenaline than he had ever felt before. The pain eased as his fight or flight motive took over and natural painkillers kicked in.
He flew into overdrive panicking, unable to find a way out. He began to thrash about trying to grab his new master, with no luck. Jack desperately tried to discern what was going on. Why was he here? Where was this place? Who were those little people and what did these huge spiders want with him? Better yet who was he? Jack tried to fill in the blanks with something but nothing fit. He figured he would die not knowing anything of those answers in a few seconds. The spider’s mandibles click four, five, six times and Jack understood the question. “Where is the gift?”
“What gift?” Jack asked.
Silently the spider turned about and began walking toward the hole in the wall it emerged from with Jack dangling in midair. He wildly thrashed about trying to get loose of that spider thing. Panic took overall sense, and Jack passed out.
He woke covered in sweat. Before he processed where he was, the old panic took hold of him. Jack tried to leap away from the spider and instead fell out of bed on to the floor dragging his bedding with him. His head bounced off the floor. Confused Jack shook his now hurting head. He sat on the floor untangling himself looking about his room. His heart was still pounding and he could still smell the coppery blood and the loam dust of the cornfield in his dream.
Mud was caked on his sheets, and on his sleeve. What? Jack stood up and his left ankle throbbed under his weight. He lifted his foot slightly taking the pressure off it. Jack realized he was not dressed in his night clothes. He drew the pant leg up and below it was a fresh bruise purple, green and black. A small laceration cut through his bruise oozing blood. On his boots, between the laces, a single thick black hair eight inches long was stuck. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all? Dirt and long slender leaves with rough edges fell on Jack’s head. Corn?
Jack dragged himself to his bed and pulled out his dream journal and began scribbling down every detail he could remember. This was his twelfth dream like this. He was always being followed and asked about a gift. His mother’s gift they would say. This was the first time he was injured in his dreams. Jack surmised they were becoming more real.
Jack’s mother and father died a long time ago in a high-speed car wreck. Jack was at a sitter’s house while mom and dad had a night out for dinner and dancing. They ran off the road by a drunk and died in the crash when their car went through a guide rail and down a cliff. When no family came forward to claim Jack, the sitter, Mrs. Callahan took Jack in as a foster child on her small farm in the Catskill Mountains of Ulster County New York. Jack was raised there by Mrs. Callahan and her three hired hands Lander, Jacob, and Red. They had rough crusty hands, lined faces from working in the sun and a good work ethic. They were rough men who were all about work, with outlandish characters always cracking jokes. They taught Jack the value of hard work and doing it right the first time or not at all.
Jack finished scribing his account of the dream and put the book back under his bed. He changed his clothes quickly wrapped himself in the light blank and sheet. He wasted no time falling off to sleep knowing he was going to get only three hours of good sleep.
Jack woke early as always. Jack put some antibiotic ointment on the slight slash to promote rapid healing then wrapped his tender ankle in an ace bandage for support. Ready he moved into his normal daily chores of feeding the livestock, chickens, rabbits, pigs, horses and that cute Black Angus steer. The feedings were the easier part. Cleaning the cages wasn’t too bad. Then the mucking commenced, and for hours everybody left Jack alone. The job was the dirtiest, the smelliest but necessary task in the barn. The ammonia and poo made it unpleasant for most and unbearable for the rest. Jack just breathed through his mouth mostly and avoided the smell. It’s like holding your nose when you eat.
The rhythm of chores took over. Jack’s body worked separately from his mind. In robot fashion, he shoveled while his mind repeated everything of his dream over and over. Jack was looking for something not as obvious or straightforward as the strong details he easily grasped. There was something there, in plain sight, he missed and failed to realize its importance. The dreams were something hidden in the back of his mind that occurred over and over again but for how long? Each dream left him with more details about what happened. Finally, Jack was building an image of what was happening to him.
His early dreams and those nights in the Hudson Valley Physic Ward taught Jack not to share everything that happened to him with adults. They said he lacked proof of his claims. That he made it up for attention. Jack promised never would he return there again. They shoved all kinds of pills down his throat claiming they would cure him. They made him lethargic. They dulled his senses so bad Jack found his “I don’t care spot” and stayed there. After his violence disappeared he was weaned from some of the drugs and eventually sent back to Mrs. Callahan. Mrs. Callahan warned Jack not to ever talk about what happens and to journal his dreams. She would talk to him about them if he wanted but no one else should know anything about them.
Jack tossed another heavy shovel full of muck onto the pile and thought more about all the strange things that have happened over the last year. The voices calling him home when he was deep in the fields. When he got home, no one claimed to be calling him. That feeling of being watched from the shadows and a few times he thought he saw something watching him.
Things in the barn moved from where they have sat for months, and the creaking noises in the house and the barn-like someone walking. How many of those where the building settling or the wind? How many were something else? Jack could not say it wasn’t just his overactive imagination until last night. Now he was sure something more was up. Something very strange was going on and he was the center of it. He began building a plan in his head to determine how to sort the real now and here from the slippage of that other place.
Another shovel of muck on the pile and the first stall was clean. Time for the hose and fresh hay Jack thought. Jack continued his chores grateful for the solitude and the time to think alone He groomed the mix breed horse and the pony in silence as he ran over the dream again and again. Something was eluding him. Something important slipped by. What was he missing?