Jack could not see but had the sensations of flipping and rolling along. Darkness surrounded him. He felt as if he was just floating along in some strange river having an out of body experience. He could hear a loud buzzing in his ears and had the sensation that things had bumped him as he moved along. Colors in great kaleidoscopes flew past Jack as he hurled through time and space. His smell increase with his lack of well-defined vision and brought hints of bayberry, vanilla, and licorice. Each as distinct as a fingerprint drifted past Jack as he was hurled forward?
Voices rose and fell on Jack’s ears. Screams and moans a blur of sounds somewhere out in front of him. Commands he did not understand shouted over and over again beating themselves upon some poor soul. More screams and voices Jack did not understand filled his ears. Sinister laughter, menacing laughter, followed by more pleas and screams. Those sounds he understood. Blood-curdling sounds followed by sounds of bones snapping. Jack understood those.
Jack’s only sense, his hearing was acutely aware of his own heartbeat and picked up sounds he could fathom what they were. He felt things strike him stinging like molten sparks from a welder, and he could hear. All the rest of his senses were dead to him. Maybe that is why his hearing was so strong trying to compensate for the lost?
Suddenly the direction changed he was sliding downward rapidly gaining speed, spinning and tumbling the sinister laughter faded away behind him. It was slick, cold and smooth providing no friction.
Suddenly a void of quiet followed. All the screams, the shouting ceased. It was so quiet 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. A thumping sound took its place rising in the distance. The rhythmic pounding of machines rising and falling. It sounded like a huge printing press turning out newspapers in a rhythmic fashion. It grew louder with the passing of seconds as Jack moved nearer with heat beat in Jack’s chest.
Jack remembered all of this from somewhere in his past. It was a recurring dream that wasn’t going away. It lasted a bit longer each night. Sometimes restarting where it left off. Never did it make sense to Jack. Always the theme, impending doom, darkness, and suffering clung to it him like a thick fog.
Soon the sound was replaced with thunderous sounds of a boom like a hammer trying to split the world. Jack shook, the space around him shook. Lights blinked on or were that the nerve in his eyes reacting to the sound. It boomed again, and waves rippled, rolled over him sending him reeling backward. It boomed again much closer to Jack. Waves of sound rippled across him and he felt his heart and lungs reverberated with the incredible strength of the piledriver.
Jack realized he was not moving. He stopped here in this place of intense waves of sound so loud it shook him like he was under attack. Great pressure was trying to crush him like an egg. He felt his skull cave in five pinpoint places and cracked in a few others under the assault. The pounding stopped, and rods of cold steel reached inside his head like worms exploring a new home. Ice cold as they poked and probe Jack. Jack screamed though no sound left his mouth. A voice boomed in his head.
“What is this? Can we eat it?”
A voice of a sweet woman spoke, “Leave it alone lest the guardian take your head. Quick back to work.”
Jack was resting on the cold hard ground of rock. 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 was wrapped like a butterfly in a cocoon.
Whips cracked like firecrackers near-by. “What are you thralls doing? This is not working. Back to work or feel my whip!” A deep rough voice shouted.
Feet shuffled tossing lose gravel from under them. “Yes’ em master.”
“No work, no food, Remember you must fill the quota for the day.” His voice called out to them. Hurrying Feet pitter, pattered away from Jack.
Someone touched Jack, he thought. He was not sure where 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 flicked her figure at Jack and his appearance changed. His cocoon looked like the ground around him.
“You, I said back to work! Didn’t you hear me thrall?” A large upright bear grinned and showed her his yellow teeth while snapping a whip in the air near her.
“Yes, I heard you. I am making water. Can I have a second please?”
“Make it quick! Or it’s the whip for you!”
She remained squatted next to Jacks hidden form. She fumbled with her sandal while pretending to make water. She extended a hand slightly toward Jack with her palm A facing him and concentrated for a moment.
A cool wind flowed over Jack. Pain drained from him from his head to his feet. A feeling of great wellness flowed. His fear faded and strength returned. A smell of lilac perfume floated on the air, light and almost not there, Jack thought. Jack tried to speak. Not even a squeak emitted from him. Desperately he wanted to ask what was going on, who are these … people. The words got caught in his mind and could not form in his mouth. His reply was silent.
I have been through this before, but when, he thought. She said I always get stuck here. He tried to remember being here before and came up empty. Softly almost a whisper lilac on the air he heard her speak. “Go you do not belong here. Go before they discover you.”
Jack tried in vain to open his eyes to see where he was and those around him. He could not. A thick film covered him preventing him from scraping the film from his eyes. He tried to turn to his left and then to his right and nothing changed. No matter how he tried to move he was frozen. His lips, his hands, his feet and even his eyes refused to open. He could not even blink. He felt lifted perhaps by hands perhaps by the wind. A something touched him, searing hot, burning deeply into him. A burnt smell of flesh rose around him. He was marked on his left hand. Then he started to move again.
No, Jack thought. No, not again. Send me back, 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.
Jack thought about Elvendale his direction turned, he felt himself accelerate. Like a leaf in a stream he moved and bumped off objects, he could not see. He was aware Elvendale was where he was headed, though he did not know how, why, or what Elvendale was. Warm thoughts emerged for 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 colors and songs. Crisp mountain air, birds, and a large waterfall all seemed like things associated with Elvendale. Maybe hours passed but Jack was always moving and those pleasant images wrapped Jack. Jack could not track time. Maybe it was years or an eternity.
Suddenly his eyes opened and sunshine poured on Jack. Blinded by bright light and then blue, green flashed by him in a rush. He did not feel weightless anymore. He was falling uncontrollably. The good thing was it was warm and there was light. When Jack struck the field, it hurt. Dazed he laid on the ground listening to the sound buzzing in his ears. All he could hear was the thrashing wind the corn swaying in the field.
His eyes were trying to focus on what he saw and discern the images. Blurry, 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 started an extremity check for pain, 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. It wasn’t New York he landed in. He could smell a difference in the air.
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.
He tried his eyes again, images of 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. Beautiful sapphire blue with pure white puffs floating lazily by. What on earth just happened? Jack wondered. This is not near home. And that… ride what caused 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. Not a building in sight. No woods, no stream, nothing he recognized. He thought it must be a dream but it felt so real.
Of course, he was dreaming. Just fell asleep and dreamt his way. Though most of this certainly looked real, it was just a dream, anyways right?
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. Then he noticed the birds all flying away from him at incredible speeds. He looked behind him and saw dark purple clouds swirling in a great rotation moving towards him. Lightning flashed in them cracking loud thunder boomed like massive pile drivers assaulting the field. Jack, quickly rose to his feet. The air 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 strove to maintain his balance.
All the way back 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 corn swayed pointing away from the storm as the lightning flashed. 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 directly away from it as fast as he could.
Corn smacked his face, arms, and legs but Jack kept moving. The ground was hard to dry probably had been without rain for a week or two. He slipped on corn leaves, got up and ran some more. He could hear the crashing of objects the storm had picked up thrashing the ground and being sucked up again. Branches of trees few pass Jack. Baskets, blankets, and even a pig streaked ahead of him into the cornfield somewhere. He 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 soon if he did not find shelter.
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 something pulling at his feet and legs, while someone was pulling both his arms forward. There was two of them pulling him toward a wooden iron-bound door while the wind had grabbed his feet and was trying to draw him into the storm.
They fell forward into a hole in the ground and spilled into a room or something underground. The wind was trying to suck everything in the room 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. It strained against the pull of the wind but did not give way. His companion, a short woman was chasing a dust devil around the room taking everything it sucked up away from it until the closed door shut off its source of energy and collapsed into nothing.
Jack shook his head trying to believe what he just saw. He looked at 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.
“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.
Jack paused. He thought really hard before he answered. He was lost confused. All he really wanted was to be back in his bed fast asleep. Trying not to panic he looked around the room for clues. Everything in the room was smaller than 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. They were well proportion for their overall size. Their bodies were shorter, a bit wider but otherwise perfect. Carefully Jack tried to pick his words.
He stammered a bit at first and then 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. He paced about the room checking its wares out. His level of disbelief showed through his efforts to act casual. He pushed the confusion in his head down trying to take control of his wilts, when Jonathan jumped to answer him.
“Why yes, it is all built underground. I built it myself with the aid of my neighbors.” Jonathan replied, proud of his handy work. “I’ll give you a tour if you like.” He smiled.
Jonathan certainly was a friendly farmer of sorts Jack thought. Martha leaned in looking for Jack to answer the rest of her question but waited patiently for it. She reminded Jack of his grandmother only much shorter, very pleasant version of her.
Jack hated silence and questions almost as much. “Thank you ah… Jonathan. 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. “What brings you here? Where did you come from?” She pressed again.
“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 Samson forge 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 in 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.
“What do you mean like I did?”
Martha looked at Jack and didn’t even blink. “You know, he arrived here through the storm. They all arrive here through the storm. The storm plucks them and transports them to this field. That is why we are here, to collect them.”
Jack thought for a moment and could only remember his first name. 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 Uber.” he lied. Jack wanted to learn more about his hostess and his surrounding before he gave up much more information. He sensed more now like Martha and Jonathan were holding onto more than they were willing to tell.
Everyone waited for someone to say something.
It was Jonathan who broke the uneasy tension, “Martha why don’t you fix us some nice mint tea while we wait out the storm, and I will 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. “Beyond this door is our winter storeroom.” He pulled the 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 most 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 Johnny 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 around 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 to the east is where we planted them this year. We try to rotate the crops for better soil management.”
“Good Idea Johnathon.”
The boards were tightly grove 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 how or 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 last name again, Jack?” she asked.
A voice in his head said “You don’t remember your name. Do not speak your last name! They are dangerous Jack.”
Jack smiled, maybe out of nervousness or stress. He tried to remember his last name. The harder he tried the more he didn’t know. It was as if some powerful mind control was blocking that information from him. “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. Martha’s body language said something was wrong. 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 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. Where did you get that mark on your hand, Jack?”
Jack thought back to the weird trip, and that burn he felt. This was the mark they put on him.
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 last name, JACK?” Jonathan insisted. Jonathan threw his own spoon down and stood up abruptly. His voice shifted from the friendly farmer to a menacing raving lunatic. His eyes were no longer soft and understanding. They were bulging and demanding. Martha grabbed a large knife from a butcher’s block on the counter and turned to Jack. She was smiling but, her lips were drawn up, her teeth gleaming. The branding on his hand glowed, blue at first and then red.
“Yes, what is your real last 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 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? Why is my last name so important?” 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. Who is whispering in your ears today Jack boy? Are you going to run again or face your fate finally?”
Oh yea, you know your name Jack O’ Lantern bring of the plague, evil incarnate, shadow of 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, after the torture you first! Whatever is left of you will go to the mines where you will work until you’re dead.”
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. Beautiful looking they were.
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 pretty well 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. The storm had already passed through. 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. Jack’s escape route was blocked by that thing.
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 around 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 his 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 spat 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, 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 an 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.
Jack began screaming. “Stop. Stop. It’s only a dream. Wake up Jack, it’s just a dream!”
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 strike the beast to no avail.
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.
In Jack’s mind, he heard, ”Don’t tell them, Jack, they will kill you! Wake up Jack it’s still just a dream as long as they do not kill you, you will be okay.”
Silently the spider turned about and began walking toward the hole in the wall it emerged with Jack dangling in midair. He wildly thrashed about trying to get loose of that spider thing.
In Jack’s mind, he heard that voice again, ”Wake up Jack! Wake up, Jack!”
Panic took over common sense, and Jack passed out. Or so he hoped.
He woke covered in sweat. Before he could process 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. Jack’s head bounced off the floor. Disoriented and confused Jack shook his 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 of his dream.
Mud was caked on his sheets, and on his sleeve. What? Jack stood up and his left ankle buckled under his weight. He lifted his foot slightly taking the pressure off it. Jack realized he was dressed not in his night clothes. His favorite Jeans and wolf t-shirt would never be the same. Mud and grass stains covered the right leg. 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 sneakers, 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 had read a book Mrs. Callahan gave him about a teenage boy who dreamed himself across the world to avenge his father’s betrayal. Was such travel possible? Could it…
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 of a world like this. Elves, Dwarves, and unicorns and dangerous creatures seeking to kill him. Off in some strange foreign land being chased by something. Usually, it was lizard-faced beings or alligators. But always they were after him. Some claimed to know him. Most wanted a reward for turning him in. Now they want his gift?
Always he woke while under the threat to die. He was often being followed by someone or a group of people and he was asked about a gift. His mother’s gift they would say. This was the first time he was injured in his dreams. Maybe they weren’t just dreams?
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 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 or so she says. He had always been on this small farm in the Catskill Mountains of Ulster County New York since he was too little to remember.
Mrs. Callahan homeschooled him through to ninth grade before she allowed him to go to public school. It was tough at first, but four years later Jack had learned the ropes and was looking forward to graduation in a month.
Jack finished 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. It was early June but the weather had been warm for two weeks and showed no signs of getting cooler. Knowing he was going to get only three hours of good sleep, he wasted no time falling to sleep