What the Sky Can Hold
I never put much stock in dreams. To me, they’re just a junkyard, the
place where your brain dumps all of the stuff it can’t find a use for.
A friend of mine likes to interpret dreams. He’s always asking me if
I’ve had any interesting ones lately, then getting out his dream book
and telling me the sea represents, I don’t know, mystery or something.
I just think it means I haven’t been surfing in a while.
Anyway, that was before last night’s dream. It was about Darla. Now for
those of you who don’t know, Darla is the most amazing, beautiful,
all-around magnificent creature on God’s green Earth. The instant I
laid eyes on her, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that we were
going to move in together, have babies, and change each other’s diapers
when we were ninety. It lasted about six months, seven if you count…no,
let’s not even go there. The point is, I really thought I was starting
to get over her. It’s been almost a year, and I haven’t stalked her
Facebook page, woken up sobbing in the middle of the night, or made
excuses as to why I couldn’t attend a social gathering, then sat on my
couch eating Cheetos and watching reality TV in a good long time. But
this dream, man, this dream was intense. So intense that when I started
crying in my dream, I woke up with tears in my eyes. I don’t know what
it means, but I’ve got to find out.
I’m on my way to Darla’s house right now. I know it’s reckless to just
drop by someone’s house unannounced when you’re trying to forget them,
but I can’t shake the feeling that she’ll have something to say to me.
Besides, the only class I have this morning is Intro to Econ, and that
puts me to sleep. Wish me luck!
Okay, that was weird. Turns out Darla had a dream about me, too. And
she was sitting there, wondering if she should call me or something
when I knocked on the door. We’re both kinda creeped out by the whole
thing. Her housemate isn’t, but that’s because she belongs to some New
Age cult that believes in this kinda stuff. Anyway, the train is just
pulling up to the platform. I’m gonna bury myself in schoolwork and see
if I can get my mind off whatever’s going on here.
Christ, I’m freaked out. I just woke up from a nap—why did I fall
asleep? I wasn’t even tired! And had the most
crazy-ass dream. I was being stalked by this dude who looked like
Sauron from “Lord of the Rings” (when he was fighting in the battle in
the first movie, not when he was the giant eye on top of the tower). At
the end of it, he was holding me over a huge pit, and I swear I could
feel a breeze. I called up Darla, but she’s not answering. I hope she
didn’t have the same dream. That would be freaky.
I’m a little scared to go to bed. Everything that’s happened today has
freaked me the hell out. But I’m just so tired. I’m leaving my journal
next to my bed, so if I die in my sleep, somebody will read it and
maybe try to figure out what the hell was going on. Eh, it’s probably
nothing. My mom always said I had an overactive imagination.
Well, that was different. No ex-girlfriends, no stalker Dark Lords,
just…me. I was standing over an abyss. I was up on a mountain, on the
edge of a perfectly round hole that was so huge and massive I couldn’t
see all the way down. It was cold. When was the last time you noticed
the temperature in a dream? Phone’s ringing. I hope it was Darla.
It was her housemate. Darla’s gone missing. What the hell is going on
here? Her housemate—Tara—says she’s got something for me. She wants to
meet me out in the woods, out by some hiking trail I’ve never heard of.
What’s she gonna do, lead me to a woodshed, then butcher me? It can’t
be that much weirder than what actually happened to Darla. I’m taking
this with me. If I see anything weird, I want to record it.
Good God, I don’t even know where to begin. These past 24 hours have
been so messed up I don’t know if I’ll ever be normal again. It all
began with Tara. I met her out by the trail just like she said. It was
funny—even before we started walking, something looked different about
it. Like the other trails all looked like part of the landscape, but
this one looked like it had been added in later. There were other
people there, but I don’t think they could see this trail. We started
walking. She told me that she knew all this was really weird, but she
had something to show me out here that would explain everything. I said
that could be interpreted any number of ways. She laughed. I don’t
think I’ve ever heard her laugh before.
Then we came to a clearing, and I knew once and for all there was
something funny about the path. I’ve hiked every trail in this park at
least two or three times. It was weird enough that there could be a
trail I didn’t know about, but looking around, I didn’t even recognize
the landscape. It was like the trail was a portal into another world.
Even the vegetation looked…off. I’ve been in love with the outdoors
since I was a kid, but I still didn’t recognize half of these trees.
The weirdest part of it was that there was no sign of civilization in
sight. No sound of traffic, no buildings off in the distance, not even
another hiker anywhere I looked. For all I knew, we could be the only
people for 100 miles.
“Jim,” Tara said, turning to me. “I’m going to tell you something I’ve
never told anyone. At the end of it, I’ll tell you what happened to
Darla. It’s not pretty, but I’m telling you because I think you’re a
nice guy, and I know she really loved you.”
“Loved?” I said. “Past tense?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she walked to the edge of the clearing. She
closed her eyes and turned in a circle, and for a minute I thought she
was going into one of her trances. Then she opened her eyes. “Jim?” she
said. I half-expected her voice to be unusually deep, like someone else
was speaking through her, but she sounded normal. “Come look at this.”
I stepped closer. She came right up to me and grabbed my hands. I had a
vision—not a flash of images, just one: the abyss from my dream. Except
this time, it wasn’t me who was teetering over the edge—it was Darla,
and she’d fallen in. I could see her face just before she disappeared
into the darkness. She looked scared. The only time I’d ever seen her
that scared was when we had that rollover the night of Liam’s birthday
party. I said I was sober enough to drive, but we hit an ice patch on
the way back. We skidded off the road and into a ditch. I’d gotten
pinned down by the steering column. She crawled out, waved someone over
from the road, then held my hand while he called for help. She was
shivering in the cold. I offered her my coat, but it was torn to
shreds. She said she’d never leave me.
I know what you’re thinking: serves me right for driving drunk. Except
I wasn’t. The breathalyzer test confirmed that my blood alcohol content
was way below the legal limit. That wasn’t why she dumped me. When I
asked her why, all she said was that I thought sacrifice was enough.
I’m still not sure what she meant.
“Don’t let it happen to you,” said Tara, jerking me out of my fantasy.
“I saw it happen to my grandfather. I can help you, but you have to let
I didn’t ask her what she meant. I pulled away, turning back down the
path, back to the real world where everything was normal. I got back in
my car (Kumar’s car, actually—I’d convinced him to lend it to me) and
drove home, driving safer than I’d ever driven before.
I’m not going to think about this anymore. I don’t know what happened
to Darla, but I’m sure that it has nothing to do with whatever Tara was
talking about. I’m going to watch “Miami Vice” all afternoon until I’ve
forgotten all about it.
I can’t take this shit anymore. I haven’t been to any of my classes
this week. Mostly, I just sit in my room or go out walking along the
beach. My dreams are so intense they don’t even feel like dreams
anymore. Every morning, I wake up and I have to check my clock just to
make sure that I went to sleep at all. I’m calling Tara. Maybe she can
Tara says she can help, but she wants to talk to me in person. I told
her I’m sorry about what happened on Monday. She said it’s okay, that
it was a lot to spring on me all at once. She’s on her way over right
now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just want whoever reads
this to know that Darla was right: Sacrifice isn’t enough. I wish I’d
learned that sooner.
There’s a party going on next door. My neighbor’s parties usually sound
like fun, but I’m not in the mood for crashing right now. Tara’s gone.
I don’t know when she’ll be back. I’m pretty sure she’s not gone for
good like Darla, though. All I have is the letter she gave me before
she went. I’m supposed to wait until the next rainstorm, then open it.
At this point, I’m too tired to even ask what the hell that’s supposed
So yeah, she came to my apartment. I asked if she wanted to go for a
walk. She said sure, but not on the beach. I was about to ask how she
knew about that, but she stopped me. So we went down the street. I
asked if she wanted to stop for coffee, but she said no. So we just
kept walking. “What’s going on here?” I asked after we’d gone a block
without saying a word.
“It’s actually kind of simple,” she said. “You, Darla and I are all in
danger of being turned into demons.”
The signal on the opposite corner changed from “Don’t Walk” to “Walk”.
I reflected on how odd it was that we were having this conversation
while surrounded by people who were just going about their days. I
missed the days when I didn’t have to think about demons.
“I’m surprised you didn’t laugh,” she said when we were about halfway
across the street.
“I’m through laughing,” I said.
“You laughed when I asked if I could give you a Tarot reading.”
“That was different.”
“Right, because demons are so much more believable.”
“My ex-girlfriend wasn’t missing. Please, Tara, where is she?”
“Are you an atheist?”
“So, you believe that after you die, there’s nothing, right?”
“That’s where Darla is right now. She’s hiding in nothing.”
“No. She’s just…”
“How did she-“
“She had to eliminate her self. It’s like meditation. You know how in
meditation you try not to think about anything, just be a blank slate?”
“Well, that’s what it’s all about. I think it is. I only took one
class. Anyway, Darla isn’t thinking or feeling right now. She’s just
“Can she see us right now?”
“I’m sorry,” I said to no one in particular. “You were right. It’s not
all about sacrifice.”
“Do you want me to tell you about the demons?” she asked.
“They’re not, like, red, with spiky tails or anything. They don’t
breathe fire. I call them demons because I don’t know what else to call
them. They’re not in any of the books I read.”
“So what are they?”
“They creep in when you’re not looking.”
“So, like, the things I see in the corner of my eye? And when I turn
around, they’re not there?”
“No. They’re too fast for that. They’re like what’s behind you all the
time, like they’re on the back of your head, so when you turn around
they turn with you, except you can’t feel them. Does that make sense?”
“Sorta.” I stopped walking. We were standing in front of a movie
theater, one of those places that shows old movies. This week, they
were showing a Marx Brothers movie. I’d gone in there once with
Preston, only it was really run-down, so we never went back. “Is there
any way you can see them?” I asked.
“Think of it this way. If you put your back up against a wall, no one
can be behind you, right?”
“If you can do that, but, like, with your mind, they come in front of
“What do they look like?”
“I can’t do it. Darla could. It’s why they came after her. She was
trying to teach you to do it, too. That’s why you started having
dreams. They don’t like it when people make them do things.”
“So this whole thing started when Darla figured out there were things
she couldn’t see, then tried to see them? Why couldn’t she leave them
“It doesn’t work that way. Look, I have to be somewhere. Can we start
I took off my jacket as I walked. Spring was here, and it was getting
“They don’t ever leave you alone,” she said, her pace a bit brisker
now. “They’re always there, trying to make you do things you know you
shouldn’t. Like when you spend money on something you know you can’t
afford. Or don’t study for a test even though you know you’re
unprepared. It’s when you know you’re going to regret it, but there’s
no one to make you do it.”
“What did Darla do? Did she refuse to give in?”
“No. She tried to destroy them. She thought if we could just get rid of
them, we’d never have to do anything bad ever again.”
“And they didn’t like that?”
“No. They tried to destroy her. And you, because you were touched by
“I don’t remember—“
“You will.” She stopped and turned to face me. She drew an envelope out
of her pocket and pressed it into my hand. “I have to go.” We were
still a block from my apartment. “There are instructions on the
envelope. Don’t open it until the time is right.”
I tried to look, but she grabbed my hand. “Please. Wait until I’m
gone.” She kissed me on the cheek and set off in a direction
perpendicular to the route we’d followed. I meant to ask her what she’d
wanted to tell me back at the clearing, but it slipped my mind. I’d
been too busy trying to get away from it all.
As I write this, I’m feeling a little better. The letter is stashed in
my bottom desk drawer. I think I might sleep better tonight. All I know
is that we haven’t had rain in over a week.
I’ve been thinking about what Tara told me. I think she had it wrong. I
don’t think the “demons”, or whatever you call them, are just, like,
your insecurities. I don’t think the only way to deal with them is just
to let them be. I think you have to fight with them constantly, or
they’ll take over. Darla’s mistake wasn’t trying to destroy them, it
was thinking she could. They’re too powerful for us to handle. That’s
why everyone else just learns to live with them, like the one relative
you hate but still see every Christmas.
What’s worse, they’re taking physical form. I saw one the other day. It
looked like a spider, but with one too many legs. Or too few. Hard to
say. All I knew is that something was off about it. I was asleep, not
dreaming for a change, when I felt something crawling up the foot of
the bed. I woke up, or at least, I thought I did. I had one of those
dreams where you’re lying in bed, but can’t move. My eyes were closed,
but I could see anyway that there was this huge spider-thing on my
chest. Its body was longer and thinner than any spider I’ve ever seen,
but it didn’t have a head, and it was standing on my chest, waving its
front legs in front of my face like it couldn’t figure out where to
sink them in. I tried to scream, to knock it away or something, but I
couldn’t move. Then I woke up for real. I was about to relax, but then
I realized there were little puncture marks in the bedspread where its
claws had sunk in. I’m afraid to go to sleep.
Okay, here we go. It’s raining at last. Not just a drizzle, either—a
full-on thunderstorm. I guess it’s time to open the letter.
Well, that was interesting. No telling me to meet her out by some
hiking trail. She just wants me to close all my windows and lock my
doors. Good thing my roommate is at her mother’s for the weekend. I
don’t want her to see what’s about to happen.
I’m writing this quickly because I don’t have much time. I closed the
bathroom window—it was the only one still open—and checked the doors
(they were already locked) and my radiator sprung a leak. A minute
later, the kitchen faucet burst. I tried to turn the water off, but the
valve under the sink won’t turn. Pretty much every faucet and pipe in
the place has started to spray water by now. I can’t leave—the doors
won’t open, and when I pound on the walls and scream, nobody answers.
My cell phone won’t work (big surprise), so as far as I can tell, I’ve
got another fifteen to twenty minutes before the whole place is
flooded. I’m going to seal this notebook in a plastic bag so anyone who
finds it will at least know what happened, even if they don’t believe
Before I go, I need to say one thing: I figured out what Tara meant
when she said Darla was trying to teach us to fight off the demons. The
whole time we were together, she kept taking me places I’d never heard
of, trying to get me to join her for stuff I wasn’t really into. She
took me to a rave even though I don’t use ecstasy, then to this
underground club where all they played was noise music. I don’t think
she was into this stuff, either—she just wanted to expand her horizons.
When I asked her why she did all this, she said that you can’t be
afraid of something if you don’t wait for it to seek you out. I don’t
think that’s true, but at least I understand why she made me sit in on
one of Tara’s sťances even though she thought the whole thing was
bullshit. The demons, or whatever you call them, don’t hate being
challenged, they just don’t like it when you try to beat them at their
own game. If you try to do to other people what they do to you, you
start to become one of them.
I have to finish up now. The water’s at my waist. Catch you on the
flipside, if there is one.
I’m not bothering to date this entry because it will be my last. A
lot’s happened since I last picked up this book, and I want to make
sure I get it all down before I stash it away.
Here’s what happened: the water kept rising, and I started to wonder if
I was going to drown. I couldn’t break the windows and I could only
tread water for so long, but just when the water was getting high
enough that my head was about to touch the ceiling, I felt a breeze. I
looked around, but couldn’t see anything because the lights had all
gone out. Water started falling on my face. Was it raining? Lightning
flashed overhead. I was outdoors! The water was moving around a lot
more violently, and just when I was started to wonder if I’d be smashed
against a rock, somebody grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of the
I was, I realized, on an enormous raft. We were headed downriver, and
before I could thank my savior, he pulled me towards the center of the
raft saying something about getting me out of the way because we were
coming into some rapids. The place where he was taking me turned out to
be, rather than a cabin or overhang, an actual house with windows and
plaster walls. Before I could say thank you, he opened the door and
shoved me inside. I caught a glimpse of him just before the door
closed. He was black like me, and wore what appeared to be really
ragged mid-19th century clothes. “Get over here, Jim!” someone shouted.
“Yessuh massuh,” he replied, and closed the door. That was the last I
saw of him.
The house was small, consisting of only one room in the front and a
smaller one in back that I couldn’t quite see into. The front room was
lit by a small lightbulb hanging from the ceiling that swung back and
forth with the movement of the raft. One of the spider-things stood in
a corner, watching me (I think.) In an adjacent corner sat…
“Darla!” I ran forward to hug her, but she held up a hand.
“Hello, Jim,” she said. “Have a seat.”
The room was unfurnished except for the crate she was sitting on, so I
sat cross-legged on the floor like I was waiting for story time.
“We have much to discuss,” said Darla, unnecessarily.
“Where is Tara?” I asked.
“She’s fine,” said Darla. “I want to know about—“
“Is that thing going to kill us?” I pointed at the spider-thing.
“No,” she said. “It’s actually quite friendly.” The spider-thing rubbed
two of its front legs together in approval. Or anticipation. Hard to
“Tara said you were hiding from them,” I said. “Does that mean you’ve
“Silence!” she snapped. “Or I will have Rollo here discipline you.” The
spider-thing, despite lacking eyes, was gazing at me very intently, its
legs tensed as if ready to strike.
“Why did you leave me?” asked Darla, staring down her nose at me as if
I were a disobedient child.
“Me?” I said. “You left! I begged you to stay!”
“Now Jim, we both know that’s not true. You could have had me if you’d
I couldn’t meet her gaze. I stared at the floor. “You weren’t the woman
I fell in love with,” I said. “I kept trying to make you go back, but
you wouldn’t change.”
“Oh, I changed all right,” she said. “Just in the wrong direction.”
“I barely recognize you. Your hair is different, your clothes are…I
don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a red skirt before. What happened?”
“What happened?” She laughed—a cold, cruel, malicious laugh. “I woke
up! Why settle for being human when you can be so much more?”
“Listen to yourself,” I said. “You sound like the witch from ‘Snow
“I was going for ‘Sleeping Beauty’.”
“Anyway,” she continued, wielding a scepter that I swore she didn’t
have a minute ago. “I am going to offer you a choice. You can come with
me and be a subject in my kingdom, or you can go back to your life in
your little apartment and wait for me to conquer the world. No,” she
added, seeing that I was about to speak. “That is not how you decide. I
shall ask you a question. If you answer correctly, you can go home. If
you answer incorrectly, you will come with me.”
“What if I don’t answer?” She smiled. Rollo clicked his claws together
excitedly. “Where’s Tara?” I asked. “I’m not answering unless you tell
She waved her scepter in the direction of the door to the back room,
and some shadowy figure pushed a manacled, haggard Tara into the room.
The manacles fell away as she dropped to her knees at Darla’s feet. She
looked into her former roommate’s sadistic, gleeful eyes and scrambled
backward, grabbing my arm and burying her face in my chest. Sobs racked
her body. I put my arm around her.
“You can answer right or wrong,” said Darla. “She dies either way.”
“Ask your question,” I said. I saw no reason to draw things out.
She smiled—I was getting really tired of that—and held out her scepter.
“Look into the jewel,” she said. I did. Inside, I could see millions of
stars. It was the night sky all in one little stone.
“How many stars are there in the sky?” she asked after a long pause.
I remembered this night. We sat on her roof looking for familiar shapes
in the night sky, kind of like how people look for familiar shapes in
clouds, except we were trying to find new constellations. After a
while, I gave up. I said there were too many stars, and I couldn’t keep
my eye on one for long, because whenever I tried, I found one that was
even more beautiful. She told me not to worry about that because the
stars were infinite, and I should just try to find what was special
about one before moving on to the next. It was happiest night of my
“The stars are infinite,” I said.
“What?” I shouted. “No, that’s right. You said—“
“There are billions of stars in the sky,” she said. “A billion is still
“No,” I said. “It’s not about how many there are. It’s about how many I
see. And I see infinite stars.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You’re coming with me either way.”
I heard a crashing sound outside. The raft lurched underneath us. It
was splitting apart. Looks like we didn’t make it through the rapids
“Hold onto the scepter,” said Darla, still holding it out. “Or you’ll
I looked at the spider-thing. Somehow, it didn’t look so scary anymore.
“You were right, you know,” I said. “Sacrifice isn’t everything. But
it’s still important.” I reached out to the spider thing, not sure if
it was going to gouge out my eyes, or tear me into little pieces, or
what. Instead, it laid one of its front legs in my hand. I grabbed hold
just as the floor fell out from under us.
I’m sorry to say that Tara didn’t make it out with us. The spider-thing
guided us through the rapids, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t
hold onto her hand. I’m pretty sure she made it out okay, though. Last
Wednesday, I got a postcard in the mail. There was no signature, just
the words “Maybe someday” in what looked like her handwriting. I
haven’t seen the spider-thing since that night. That’s probably a good
You’re probably wondering what happened after the rapids. To be honest,
I don’t remember. Somewhere, the spray from the river started to feel
more like a faucet. The next thing I know, I was lying in the bathtub
being hit in the face by shower water while my roommate banged on the
door asking if I was okay. I checked the apartment. No sign of
flooding. It all looks more or less the same as it did before the
The police have questioned me about Darla’s disappearance, but I told
them I didn’t know anything, and they left me alone. No one seems to
have noticed Tara’s disappearance. I guess they’re used to her just
I don’t see too many stars in the sky anymore, or too few, but just
enough. I don’t look for new constellations, though. I miss Tara. I
wish she’d gotten to tell me what she never told me back at the
Sounds like the neighbors are having a party tonight. I think I just
might crash it.
© 2017 Patrick Niemeyer
Bio: Patrick Niemeyer lives in the Bay Area and enjoys watching
hockey, playing video games, and cooking. He has been published
previously in Aphelion.
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