Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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Perchance to Dream...

by Bruce Memblatt

The evening air falls soggy-humid and heavy. I walk towards a vision, a tree in the distance.

There's a band of men traveling closely by, but I don't know who they are, or why they're at my side.

The night is lit by the shadowy sweep of the moon. I see fire burning around me, blazing wild like torches. I hear the clean crackle of tight twigs snap as we slowly advance. I feel the pointy rush of leaves brushing away from my feet when I suddenly realize my feet are bare. My nerves sizzle with fear. but I keep walking steadily as if I'm drawn to that tree. Somehow I know I don't have any options; all choices have vanished.

Suddenly the bark of a dog followed by the pained yelps of tens of dogs barking and snapping wild. There's a strange scent in the air, an odd mixture of must and stinging burnt rubber. I feel a chill, and then another as the wind whips up in a fury and dies down just as quickly. The tree is still pretty far off in the distance, but we're getting closer with each step.

Why do I know we're heading towards that tree?

Now I hear muffled speech, but I can't make out words when I realize there's a piece of cloth covering my head, a heavy ,coarse burlapy piece of cloth ,but how can I see? I can still see. I can see everything. Everything I don't want to see. Suddenly I feel my heart begin to gallop like a steed and I can't slow it down. I breathe in deeply. There it steadies for a moment, but I'm still scared beyond anything I can recall, and I'm still here, wherever here is, this strange place. Now the moon seems brighter, we're in a clearing. I sense a trickle of water seeping under my cold feet and the cakey moist feel of mud around my toes. It must have rained here recently.

I try to make out faces on the other side of that beckoning merciless tree. There are people behind that tree, people that seem familiar, almost a crowd. They're standing on the other side of that tree, silent still like they're watching something. Like they're watching an ambulance, or a fire engine racing down a street, but they're not watching an ambulance or a fire truck their eyes are pinned on me.

My heart starts to gallop again I have to steady it, I have to calm down. The tree is getting nearer and nearer. We're almost there. I see the face of a preacher. Oh my God! I know what's happening! I know what's happening. Suddenly, complete darkness, my eyes are open now. Oh my God, dear Lord it was just a dream. I need to turn a light on to make sure I'm awake and assure myself it was just a dream, just a sliver of my mind. It felt so real. I've never dreamt a dream that felt so vivid and clear like that before, like ice. Dear god, there' sweat on my brow. A cold wet sweat. I need a cigarette. That's what I'll do, I'll turn on the radio and light a cigarette. Wait, forget the cigarette I'll just lay here still for a moment and catch my breath in the deep dark. It was just a dream, just a silly dream nothing to fear.

Man, I'm tired; I've never felt so tired before. My eyes feel heavy, so leaden I can hardly keep them open.

The rain is gently falling. I'm outside somewhere, I don't know where. There are men at my sides, a group of men.

We're walking towards a tree.

I feel the warmth of fire nearby. I hear dogs barking like crazed wolves. My heart is racing.

Why do I know we're walking towards that tree?

The moon is so full tonight, bigger than I've ever seen it before. The moon looks like it could swallow the earth. The night is cold and sharp like thistle. The tree is still pretty far away, but I feel it getting closer and closer. The moon is growing even brighter. We're in a clearing, a muddy clearing.

The rain is gaining strength; my heart is racing. I need to slow down. I want to shout at these nameless faceless men to slow down! I see a crowd in the distance, familiar faces stark and starring bewildered. Further down I see an ambulance.

Wait, we're walking past the tree, why are we walking past that tree?

I hear the men at my sides speak in mumbled voices. I can make out words.

One mutters, "She's dead. He did it." What does he mean?

Then a harsh rush of wind and the group of faceless men by my side vanishes into the night. Where have they gone? My heart is speeding like a train, like a demon train. I breathe deeply. I try to close my eyes to forget where I am but I can't close them. I'm in a car driving on a road right near that tree. The rain is falling hard. The windshield wipers can hardly fight the pounding rain. I see a shadow dart out of nowhere.

Wait it's not a shadow, it's a little girl! I try to swerve. I can't see! I hear a sharp thud.

Oh my god! My god, the little girl! I must have hit her. She must be hurt, or dead! Oh my God!

I see an ambulance. Who called the ambulance? How did it arrive so quickly?

My heart is going to spin out of control.

Everything appears in flashes now, in bright flashes of blue and yellow and red from the ambulance's rooftop lights.

I see a preacher. I see a crowd. I hear the preacher reciting the girl's last rites. I see the ambulance speed off, sirens whirling in anguished screams.

The preacher's still here, I see the tree again, there's a noose around the tree, a hangman's noose swinging from that tree. I can't breathe. My heart is beating like a drill rattling its way through pebble-filled cement. Suddenly, total darkness. My eyes are opening. Oh dear god. It was a dream, another dream. But my heart won't stop pounding, it's racing fast, faster than fast.

I can't...

High pitched staccato beeps wailed through the hospital room where Jack Stewart was having a heart attack. Suddenly harsh white light filled the room as nurses and doctors darted in, a sea of white shoes, and pants and shirts dotted with silver tools, stethoscopes and needles dangling and they pounded his chest. Pounded and pounded until Jack would come back. Till his heart ran at a normal pace. The lights on his heart monitor flickered erratically. The top numbers read twenty-five, fifty-nine, seventy- nine, and then back to twenty-five, then sixty, eighty, one hundred and twenty he was coming back. A doctor furiously recorded what was happening on a hard silver chart as he stood quietly next to Jack's bed. A nurse was sitting in a small metal chair on the other side of the bed watching her watch and holding John's wrist as she checked his pulse, her white shoes tapping against the shiny white floor as she counted beats off in her head.

"How many heart attacks has he had, I mean this week?" she asked.

The middle-aged doctor with graying hair around his temples and calm hazel eyes responded "Three."

"How is that possible? How does he survive, one after the other?"

The doctor shook his head. "Does he ever wake up? Have you seen him alert?"

"Once briefly" the nurse wistfully continued, her hands playing with her black hair...

"He was reaching for something on the table next to his bed, then his eyes suddenly closed again."

"You know he's not in a coma, there's nothing physically preventing him from waking up and walking out of here, it's the strangest thing."

"Not so strange though, considering his circumstances."

"Well yes, and no," the doctor answered.

"Thing is they can't execute him while he's in the hospital," the nurse said calmly.

"But what a way to live." The doctor sighed as he checked off items on his hard silver pad.

"Worse than death, I guess. I wonder if he knows what's happening, the heart attacks, I wonder why he doesn't just get up?"

"The mind is a strange thing" the doctor answered in a sing -song professorial manner...

"He may be in a way be protecting itself, but in this case the cure seems pretty crazy, because his heart can't maintain this kind of stress too much longer. Fear does strange things, fear of things we can't face, or fear of things we can't escape. Either way he's had it. He either wakes up ,or dies from the strain his heart is taking, or he gets hung by the state. I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. Not for anything."

"Sad really there's no happy ending to this story. It's the feeling of guilt isn't doctor?"

"I'm sure his conscience has a lot to do with this strange condition. At least we know he has one, that he's not a sociopath."

"I hear he has, or had, a pretty average life. He's a widower. His wife died a few years ago from a liver disease. He had been living in their house all alone since she passed. His son tried to see him every week or so, his daughter used to come by fairly often as well, until it happened. It was a terrible rainy night when it happened..."

I'm in my car. I'm driving; I'm driving home from the supermarket. The rain is coming down hard, like pellets, like beady bullets. The windshield wipers struggle to fight the steady rain.

I have music on the radio but the rain is beating so hard I can hardly here the song in the air. All the way home I've been thinking about putting the food away, normal everyday thoughts. Nothing odd at all, except for this rain this heavy, scary rain. I wonder when it will stop, if this rain will ever stop? I'll be passing Chester Drive soon. It's on my right. There's that big white birch tree on Chester. The tree someone ran a car into last year. Someone died.

I'll bet it was raining that night just as hard as it is now. Funny I've never noticed it before but that tree has a dent in it, I think, I can hardly see where I'm going, but that's where he must have hit the tree on that sorry night. I see lights on in the house across the street. It looks like every light in the house is on. They must be running up some bill.

Oh shit! A flash of lightning, and thunder striking like a great explosion! I should pull over until the storm stops. I'm so close to home though, just a few more miles and I'll be safe and dry behind familiar walls.

Oh my what's that? What's that? A girl she's running out of that house. The house with all the lights on! I have to swerve, if I don't I'll hit her!

Phew! She made it across the street! I wonder why she's running so fast? Oh my god she's turning around she's coming back, oh fuck! I hear a small thud, my God I hit her, but she's still standing -- she's going to be okay!

Suddenly, bright light, my eyes are opening.

It was a dream, just another dream, but my heart isn't racing, I'm going to be fine. I see someone in the corner dressed in white. Looks like a nurse's aide or an orderly. Why am I in the hospital?

What's happening? Dear god what is going on? I've got to talk to that orderly. I have to move my mouth and make sounds. "Hello -- can you help me?"

Good. He's smiling! He's walking towards me. He looks friendly enough...

"Hey, Mr. Stewart, you're awake"

I have to tell him. I have to tell him the good news. "That little girl, I didn't kill her, I hit her but just tapped her really she's going to be fine!"

Something's happening... I feel cold. I feel numb...

A steady high-pitched beep filled the corridor. Nurses and doctors scrambled into John's room like pistols. They pounded on his chest, silver metal instruments flailing. They pounded and pounded, and applied a defibrillator, once, twice, three times, each time with a higher charge.

They shouted and counted, rammed a syringe of ephinephrine directly into his heart, but John Stewart didn't move. He lay there silent and still. The numbers on his heart monitor held steady at zero; the EKG trace remained flat. His heart stopped beating, the tissues damaged from dozens of interruptions to the flow of blood and oxygen until they could no longer sustain a steady rhythm.

No more dreams would haunt him, but a simple smile remained on his face.

The nurse turned off the heart monitor and sighed...

"Guess you saved the state a few bucks, old John."

"He said something," the orderly said.

"What?" The nurse was filled with surprise.

"He said something? He spoke?"

"Yes, he was happy, he was relieved. He said he didn't kill some little girl with his car, said she was okay. And then he smiled."

"Little girl? What little girl? He murdered his daughter. Ran his car into her over and over as she stood trapped by an old white birch tree over on Chester Drive.


© 2009 Bruce Memblatt

Bio: Bruce Memblatt has been employed as a bookkeeper, landscaper, nurses aid, waiter, dog walker, assembly line worker, shipping clerk and flower arranger, but no one ever asked him to write. On the other hand, no one told him not to write, so he thought he'd try it anyway.

E-mail: Bruce Memblatt

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