NO PART OF THIS SHORT STORY MAY BE USED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER WITHOUT THE PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR.
THE DREAMER by Christine Hayton – April 20, 2015 – Revised March 2016
Mom baked her best chocolate cake, and stuffed thirteen pink candles into the dark frosting. Twelve appeared slightly used, probably lit the prior year, but no one noticed or cared. Dad bellowed the birthday song as far off key as he could, just so my younger brother, Tom, would laugh hysterically. My mom would do the ‘oh-Fred-please-stop-it’ routine in a disgusted voice, but she always smiled the whole time.
My birthday fell in mid-January, and always on the coldest day of the year. I don’t remember what present they bought me that year, but I will never forgot the dream I had that night. My dreams began the day I turned thirteen.
The dream felt real—not like a dream at all. The small log cabin sat nestled in the foothills of the Rockies. An exotic fragrance filled the rooms. I later identified it as jasmine, but back then, it just gave me the impression of exotic beauty. The sound of classical music, gently echoing off the walls, created a stunning backdrop to the mountains in the distance. I remember watching “The Sound of Music” in the theater, and thinking how much it reminded me of the music and setting in my dream. The cold chill of the snowy meadow outside the window, gave the room its own embracing warmth. The fireplace percolated a welcoming heat, and flames reflected off the polished floorboards in a macabre dance.
In the dream, I sat at a large window. Always in the same room, at the same window, but each dream brought a new panorama—a new venue for my musing. Seasons changed, light changed, and weather changed. I watched it all. My hand wrote fluent prose across the lines of a notebook. I smiled at the sunshine, and dozed in the moonlight. I felt a solitude that wrought great comfort. Somehow, I knew every inch of this cabin, yet my dream never took me through it, only to the window. The wheelchair confused me at first. As time went on, it became comforting much like the rest of the cabin.
The dream inspired a splendid feeling. I wondered if these dreams visited everyone. Maybe they arrived with puberty, and everyone kept it a secret. Perhaps those tiny demons, and little angels, deep within my new teenage soul, had created this illusion just for me.
Although the dreams recurred regularly, eventually I gave them little notice. September brought a new school, and new teachers. I knew I would hate every moment, and cringed at the very thought of everything being different. Shy and quiet, I never made friends easily. The entire concept greatly disturbed my equilibrium. My cabin dream actually provided the only peaceful influence, through these real-life terrors.
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Then things changed.
Suddenly, social activity dominated my life, maybe even more than my studies. Always book smart, but a bit awkward, I surprised myself. My social calendar filled quickly. Overnight I morphed from the geeky thirteen year-old, to a popular, social butterfly, and somewhat good-looking teenager. My new confidence had me getting into all kinds of things, I would have never attempted before. I had the world by the ass, with no intention of ever letting go.
Toward the end of my junior year, I literally tripped over Brad. He studied on the campus lawn, his nose in a textbook, his back to a tree, and his legs stretched out in front of him. I stumbled along, trying to balance my open chemistry book, a massive tome, I was positive weighted at least fifty pounds, and scratch on a notepad at the same time. When our stars collided, I hit the ground. I laid face down, multiple vulgarities spewing past my lips, and blades of fresh cut grass stuck to my face. Then it happened. I saw this gorgeous hunk get to his feet, and try to help me. My mouth dropped open. I sputtered some kind of strange dialect, as he helped me back to my feet, and bent down to collect my things.
He apologized, and I’m know when I heard his voice, I swooned. I stared up at him, and secretly hoped my brain would engage soon. I wanted to be smart, sexy, and beautiful. I finally smiled, and he smiled back. He reached over and brushed the grass off my nose. I fell in love that day. He did too, because from then on, we became inseparable. Our high school romance proved real enough to carry into our adult lives.
Brad headed off to a university several hundred miles from my nursing school. We worked hard keeping our long distance relationship afloat—not easy when we added part-time jobs to our schedules. It all worked, and we remained one of those predictable couples, with only a few minor burps along the way. I finished my schooling ahead of him, and got a job in a nearby city. Before he took his bar exam, he received a job offer from a prestigious legal firm in that same city. I knew then, we shared a destiny.
On his graduation day, he proposed. I said yes.
Years before, on my first night in residence, a new dream had surfaced. I envisioned my marriage to Brad. The light blue gowns, the white roses, the great food, and the outdoor ceremony enthralled me. The two of us exchanged vows and walked, hand in hand, to the edge of the crystal blue water. The day sparkled with the afternoon sunlight dancing on the calm lake. I saw it all, and knew someday we would have it all. Despite numerous suggestions from every direction, I planned and executed our wedding, exactly as I dreamt it.
This wedding dream hung on until the day Brad proposed then it disappeared. I wondered about that, because all the details remained clear. I decided reality had taken its place. The dream about the cabin showed up again like a comfortable old friend. I’d forgotten about it, and enjoyed its resurgence.
The second night of our honeymoon, I awoke screaming, my skin clammy from perspiration, unable to breathe, and tears flooding my face. I fought to settle myself. As they often do, this nightmare seemed real. Tiny vignettes of the scene had bombarded my subconscious. Brad lay tangled against the sidewalk, flaming wreckage illuminating his corpse. His eyes stared vacantly from a face torn and bloody. More blood escaped from the back of his head into a growing pool on the pavement. Two faceless children lay further down the road—their tiny bodies grotesque—broken, bloody, and twisted. Trapped, I fought the steaming metal that gripped my body. Surrounded by intense heat, my nose wrinkled at the putrid odor of gasoline, and my throat closed from the heavy smoke. Flames consumed my clothing, my arms, and my hair. My skin, boiled by the blaze, twisted my face. My mouth fell open in a silent endless scream.
I finally calmed down. I dismissed the terrors, blaming the nightmare on too much wine and rich food. Brad thought the oysters might have been the culprit. Honeymoons are wonderful, but they can be hard on a person. Brad snuggled, and I finally fell asleep. That nightmare never completely returned. Occasionally a disturbing visual from that night would disrupt my sleep. The scenario always proved incomplete and sketchy. I dismissed it as nothing. I never realized these nightly visions could, and would foretell my future.
Most nights I dreamt of the cabin. Sometimes I isolated writing ideas from the dreams, and found myself doodling scenes, and jotting down ideas for book plots, as I nursed my coffee in the morning. When the twins arrived just before Christmas, the following year, I discovered true joy. Paul and DJ became the center of my world. My dreams took their rightful place as mere dreams, and even the story ideas drifted into a void.
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Ten years passed and life changed again. I no longer dismissed my dreams. I set out to find that cabin, if it even existed. I knew now, those visions could foretell my future. I knew I had no control over my life. I knew that cabin would be my destiny.
I grasped the windowsill with both hands, and pushed my body into a standing position. Scattered on the edge of the meadow, spruce trees joined to form a thick forest that climbed up into the mountains, and ended abruptly at the tree line. The sunlight reflected off the ice crystals atop the pristine snow. I recognized this cabin, this scenery and thought this might be the one. In all the years I dreamt about this cabin, I never forgot how it felt. I closed my eyes, and pressed my forehead against the glass. An overwhelming sense of joy and peace shot through me. I closed my eyes, sensing relief. I had finally found it.
I couldn’t explain to anyone why this place had to be mine. I already knew every inch of it. Every room, every cupboard, the view from every window, became familiar friends long ago. Many hours of peace and quiet generated by this very structure, filled my dreams over the years.
I opened my eyes. “How much is this cabin listed for?” I kept my back to the young female real estate agent, and gazed out the window.
“Two hundred thousand, but that amount’s negotiable. The owner has one of those crippling diseases. Her kids hospitalized her last month, and asked me to sell this house right away. The price is quite reasonable given the amount of land included, and it accommodates your wheelchair. It’s perfect and ….”
As the woman spoke, I slid back into my chair, and spun around to face the agent. It seemed rude, but I interrupted her anyway. I knew this cabin, and I certainly didn’t need her sales pitch.
“I’ll take it. I’ll pay the asking price in cash. My only condition, is I want everything closed by the end of the month.”
I caught her off-guard. The agent sputtered, and flipped papers as she tried to compose her thoughts.
“But ma’am … you haven’t seen the rest of it yet … the end of the month is only … a week away … yes … yes … of course … I’m … sure it can all be arranged.”
I nodded and turned back to the window. At that point, in my life, I wasn’t polite, and I wasn’t considerate. I hated that I had no control over my own existence. Life sucked, and if I could give someone a hard time, I did it. I didn’t need it in a week, but she didn’t know that.
That horrible nightmare, I had while on my honeymoon, had come true. Exactly what I saw in the dream passed into reality one evening in late August, two years ago. We drove back from the beach on a beautiful Sunday evening. Only a few blocks from our home, a drunk driver sped through a stop sign, and broadsided our car. It rolled over and caught fire. The incident killed Brad, Paul, and DJ instantly. The fire destroyed me, but left me alive. In that single moment—a mere split second—my family, my career, and even my entire life, disappeared forever.
I thought about the nightmare from our honeymoon. I thought about what the dreams meant. The wedding mirrored my dream. The accident mimicked my nightmare. This cabin had better prove to be that wonderful source of peace and happiness, because at this point I desperately needed both.
Every night I spent in that ICU, I dreamed of that cabin. After every therapy session, I dozed and dreamt of it again. With my spinal cord severed, my body, beaten and scarred, couldn’t hold me up anymore. When they brought me the wheelchair, I cried. It felt like finding an old friend, one who arrived with the sole purpose of making me feel better. I lived through surgeries, skin grafts, casts, therapists, shrinks, and horrible pain. I wondered why even I survived. A few months after leaving the hospital, I found it. I knew that cabin had to be my salvation, my reality. Nothing else existed anymore.
That I would even think of living alone, in such a remote area, deeply upset my brother, Tom. I knew in the cabin, I would eventually find happiness again. I treated him badly that day, even though I knew he cared about me. I knew he worried. The conversation went badly, but my moving, my life, wasn’t up for discussion. I’d already made up my mind.
“You’re a cripple now Abby, and you’re never gonna get any better. How can you think about living alone—especially in the middle of nowhere?”
“I can’t stay here. I can’t live here. Brad and my boys made this house my home, and now they’re gone. They’re not coming back here to save me. You can’t save me either, so stop trying.”
Tom paced in front of my wheelchair and tried to understand. He stopped and holding my hands in his, spoke quietly. “What about your job, your friends at work, and your patients? You’re a good nurse, and I’m sure they could find a desk job for you.”
I pushed his hands away. I hated pity. I wanted him to stop caring about me and loving me. I didn’t feel very lovable. The accident was my fault. I dreamt it and made it all come true.
I screamed at my poor brother. Tom showed more patience than I deserved.
“I don’t want a desk job. I’m never going back to work—that life is gone. My whole life is gone. I can’t get it back.”
“What are you going to do? You can’t just sit in that chair all day.”
I didn’t really have a plan. I only had the dream. The cabin would be my life. I remembered writing in the dream, and grabbed at it.
“I want to write books, and I know I’ll be good at it. The settlement from the accident buys me the cabin, and tons of time. It’s all in the dream. That’s where I’m supposed to live for the rest of my life. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
“You’re talking like a crazy person.” Tom threw his hands in the air. “Why? Please tell me why? You’ve lived in the city your whole life, and now you’re selling this beautiful house, and walking away from your job. Why? Because you dreamt it? Now you’re supposed to live in some cabin, alone, for the rest of your life, writing books. Abby, are you listening to yourself?”
My temper was rumbling under the surface. I looked up at Tom and forced the words out through gritted teeth.
“Am I supposed to spend my life trying to make everything go back to the way it was before the accident? I adored my family and loved the life we had together. Now I’m crippled and they’re dead. That life is gone forever now.”
I rolled my chair to the window and stared out at the lively suburban neighborhood. A place I would never be part of again. I turned back to my brother. He sat on the edge of the sofa, his eyes pleading with me. His face showed despair and pain. I caused that and I didn’t want to see that look ever again. I turned back to the window. I didn’t know how to explain, but I had to try.
“Maybe our lives are preordained in some massive journal somewhere. I don’t know. What I do know is this cabin is exactly where I need to be. It’s where I want to be. I know I’ll find my peace there. I’ve known that for a long time. I just didn’t understand until now.” I turned back to my brother with tears in my eyes. “If you won’t help me do this, I’ll do it without you. I know one thing for sure. I’m moving to that cabin.”
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My new home brought me great peace, and in many ways, proved ageless. After fifty years, it remained solid and safe. The trees grew, and the snow fell, but the landscape changed little over the years. Tom helped me stay. It didn’t take long before he realized I really belonged there.
Snowflakes, like tiny feathers on an afternoon breeze, danced in the air. I sat back, pulling my bulky cardigan around me, and put down the novel I was reading. I ran my fingers over the frosty glass. A sharp crackle from the fireplace caught my attention. The hardwood had burned all day, but those glowing embers could still cut the edge off the cold. I slid my hand to the remote on my chair. One button and Mozart filled the entire cabin. I smiled and fine-tuned the volume to create a subtle background.
A single snowflake caught my attention. It waltzed to the music that is winter and joined its friends on the windowsill. A chill rippled over my arms, setting the hairs on end. I slowly turned, drove my wheelchair to the hearth, and using the poker, positioned more firewood. I stirred the bright embers until tiny flames caught the dry logs. I moved down the short hallway.
Sunlight illuminated the kitchen. I filled a kettle and placed it on the burner. The aroma of jasmine made me smile. My favourite fragrance also made a tea that left me warm and settled. I set a small tray with a mug and spoon, a healthy slice of lemon and the honey pot. Adding the boiling water to the tea pot, released that aroma. I added my tea to the tray. The whole thing secured to a moveable tray on my chair. Years ago, we replaced my wheel chair with an electric one. Over those same years Tom rigged, what he called luxury options, to that chair. I was able to do everything on my own.
Back at the window, I placed the tray on the side table and pulled a knitted throw over my legs. I sipped the fragrant tea, and hummed along with the music, watching the snow slowly blanket the meadow. The late afternoon deepened into night, and I let my mind savor the many years I had spent watching my private world. I switched on the lamp, and when my reflection showed in the window, I ran my hand over the scars that dominated the left side of my face. I couldn’t remember what I looked like without them—just as I couldn’t envision their faces anymore. Brad, Paul, and DJ were distant memories now. The sadness played itself out long ago.
I hadn’t dreamt since moving into the cabin, but I lived it now. In my dream, I never aged or felt pain. Reality was a different story. It was quite a shock to discover scars could wrinkle. The pills lined up on my kitchen counter, didn’t always take away all the throbbing in my back and arms.
In my dream, I scribbled ideas in a notebook, wrote my stories with an old fountain pen, and hoped I would be a successful author. Time and arthritis swelled my hand and finger joints, and writing became impossible. Fountain pens and note paper lost favor years ago, but the voice recognition program on my new computer, allowed me to keep producing my stories. I had finished a book that morning, and emailed the file to my publisher, hoping it would be as successful as all my other novels. My writing provided an excellent income and allowed me a very comfortable existence. Tom, his children, and his grandchildren would become very wealthy the day I passed on.
Tom always dropped by on Tuesday, for his weekly visit. Tom was two years younger than me, but at times, he seemed much older. He hadn’t missed a Tuesday, except when an occasional bout of bad weather prevented him driving the thirty minutes from the city. This week we would celebrate my eighty-first birthday. I smiled and my reflection smiled back at me.
Placing the empty teacup on the tray, I sat back, and closed my eyes. My mind drifted, as I dozed off. An entirely new dream manifested in my slumber. I opened my eyes. Since the day, I moved into this cabin, my sleep had been dreamless. After a moment’s quiet reflection, I knew I had just dreamt my future once again. I relaxed into my chair, and closed my eyes. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
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Tom arrived at Abby’s cabin early the next morning. He brought a small birthday cake and a gift for his sister. The wooden box full of hand painted bookmarks, she had admired in a catalogue. A second plastic grocery bag held four library books, and her mail from his house. Although mostly junk, he brought it all anyway. She loved the new catalogues, and seemed to enjoy even the advertising flyers.
“Happy Birthday, Abby!”
Tom called out as he stepped through the back door and into the kitchen. He dropped everything onto the table, and pulled off his sunglasses and gloves. He rubbed his hands briskly and pulled over a chair. Sitting, he removed his boots.
“It’s really cold, but what a beautiful day. I brought your cake and your present.”
Up again, he pulled off his coat, hat, and scarf and hung them on the hooks near the back door.
He found it odd for Abby not to have rolled in to greet him by now, but he decided she was probably napping. He had arrived earlier than usual. He filled the kettle with water, and put it on the stove to heat. He peeked into the back bedroom, where she slept, and when he found it empty, he continued into the living room.
The room felt cold, and the fire nearly out. The drapes hung open, and Abby sat next to the window, her head back, eyes closed, and a peaceful smile on her face. Tom knew immediately she was gone, but he wasn’t ready to accept that quite yet. He would have that birthday party—then he would deal with her death.
He stood in the doorway and spoke to his sister, only a slight vibrato in his voice.
“What kind of tea would you like with your chocolate cake?” Tears filled his eyes as he sucked his lower lip. He paused, listened to the quiet, then took a deep breath, and forced a smile. “I agree. I’ll make us both some good old fashion Tetley. The kettle is already on the stove. I’d better add more wood to the fire. It’s a bit chilly in here.”
He added a log to the fire and teased the embers until it caught. Walking calmly, he stopped behind her chair, and placed his hands on her shoulders, bracing himself. Through the window, he saw the overnight snowfall lay thick on the meadow. The white shroud glistened in the morning sun.
“It’s a beautiful day. Your favorite—the sun is reflecting off the snow. Looks like someone spilled diamonds everywhere.”
Moving around the chair, he pulled the blanket up to her chin. He touched his lips to her forehead and smiled, despite the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Sweet dreams Abby.”
He switched off the light, and picked up the tray from the table. The old man ambled back to the kitchen, and made a fresh pot of tea.
Copyright©2015 Christine Hayton