“I dreamed again.” She said. Her voice was shaking, as were her hands. “I dreamed of a tornado, and an old professor of mine, and her head was shaved, and animals were floating in the air. I think they were dead.” She rolled over across the bed and laid an arm across his chest. “There was a cow. And a crow and a rooster too. And a deer. Its tongue was out.” His eyes did not leave his book.
“What did your professor have to say?”
“She said ‘stay awake.’ And then ‘stay away!’ And then ‘stay awake’ again, but louder that time. Isn’t that funny? She wanted me to stay awake, but I was asleep. Isn’t that funny?” His eyes did not leave his book. “Isn’t it?”
She sat up. “I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette. You wanna come?” His eyes did not leave his book.
It was cold beneath her feet. The crescent in the sky hung limp above the clouds; moonlight slipped in and out of the gray darkness. Smog crept up between her legs and beneath her nose. Smoke left her lips and hung about her mouth, before fading into the ether. A mist was rising. Her breath mingled with it until they were of one thing, and the whole world was fog. The beach spread itself between her toes. Muddy sand mingled with breath and smoke and mist, and she approached the small dock behind the house with trepidation. She stubbed her cigarette out on its first pillar.
Waves lapped gentle on the wood, and occasional drops of water touched the bottoms of her feet through the board. The sound made her smile. In it, she heard her childhood, the sound of boats and tackle-line, and sometimes the faint whinny of a horse. Mist rolled across the water, and in the darkness her eyes made temporary paintings on the scape. She closed her eyes. The whinny-wave grew louder and closer. Her eyes opened; the afterimage of a coal black mare set itself in the drear evening before her.
She was talking again. “Do you remember that trip we took, with Aunt Eddy and Uncle so-and-so? To the island with the ponies?” Her brother did not look up from his book.
“Yes. What about it?”
“I was just thinking about it. Remember when we rode together? You were five, I think, so I was six. No saddle, or bridle or anything. Uncle so-and-so led us with his hand on its neck.”
“I don’t recall that part. I just remember the park ranger telling us to leave.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Well, I do. He made us leave because you weren’t supposed to ride the ponies.”
“There are lots of things people aren’t supposed to do. But they do them.”
“Yes, well, the law will have its way sometime or another. I don’t think Aunt Eddy and her boytoy got in any trouble, regardless. We just had to leave.”
“Sometimes you have to leave.” She laid her arm across his stomach. He did not look up from his book.
“You know, I dream about leaving a lot.” He did not reply. “Leaving, and running, and hiding, too. I see tornadoes sometimes.”
“Of course you do. We saw one as kids, remember?”
“I don’t. And besides, I don’t think its about the past, I think it’s always about the future.” He did not reply. “I was dreaming just the other night, about running from a tornado. Me and Mom. We were running, and then we hid, and Mom was gone. Instead there were all these weird people, in a decaying house, and I could hear the tornado getting closer. And there was this tv, and it was all static, but sometimes you could make something out. And this guy sat in front of it, all bowling ball like, you know, kinda roly-poly and he sort of, uh, leaned back and forth on his feet. Then a pair of shoes came out of the tv and melted into the floor, and this girl I hadn’t noticed before took a tape measure out of her skirt, like from a pocket but the skirt didn’t have pockets, and she swallowed it, up to the little metal thing at the end.
I thought I’d seen something I shouldn’t, or even done something I shouldn’t. And then I got scared, and I went to the door, but I knew the tornado would get me if I left, so I had the madhouse or the tornado. I didn’t know which one was scarier. Outside I’d die but inside I’d lose it. Hell, oh, I’m scared now. I need another cigarette.” He did not look up from his book.
“Don’t get picked up.” He said.
The street asphalt’s cracks spread beneath her bare soles, and the only streetlight sputtered in and out of life. The fog had lifted. Her smoke rose in a tribute to the empty sky; the stars were not out. She walked a little way, finding more light beneath the next lamp. Beneath it, leaning on the pole, a tall man with coal black hair sat, seeming to sleep. He opened his eyes. Their sea-green struck her immediately with thoughts of wet-weed and choking, of air bubbles rising from a shadowy depth. The man motioned to her, and smiled. He rose, and walked toward the dock.
"I can’t sleep,” she said. “I don’t know why.” Her husband did not look up from his book.
“You never have.”
“Now I really can’t. I’ve always just dreamed, you know? And now, I’m staying awake.” She looked at him, and laid her arm across his chest. “I just keep dreaming, and then I wake up. But tonight I’m not dreaming, or maybe I’m not waking up.”
“Do you think that you’re a butterfly somewhere?”
“Shut up.” She sat up. “I’m serious.” He looked up, but she would not meet his gaze.
“Well, do you want to talk about your dream?”
“No. I don’t want to talk about it.” She rose and began to walk outside. His eyes followed her, but he made no motion to rise. As her hand went to the doorknob, his face lowered back down to the page.
“Be careful,” he told her. “There are dangerous things outside.”
The path to the beach was dark. She stumbled for a moment over something she could not see; regaining her composure, she looked down to see a venison carcass, its rotting tongue hanging out its mouth. She gave a small cry and ran.
On the beach, a woman waited for her. Coal curtains hung low across the stranger’s face, from which her eyes poked through and pierced. The woman approached her, raised the cigarette to her mouth and lit it, with a flame that came from nowhere. They watched each other as the mist rose around them. The whinny-waves wasted themselves on the shore, and the wind rose howling about her face. She looked upon the stranger’s rotted green teeth, and decided the hidden face was mannish in character; the eyes were watery, but animal. Some desire there, a hunger.
Wind whipped them. The stranger’s body, long and equine, approached her. She found herself thinking no more as she reached out. The horseflank was soft to touch and cold, frigid like icy northern water. The air carried to her an ancient scent, of bog and death-stench. Together, through the wind and mist, they crossed the beach and sank into the waves.
Alone, under the water, she saw the darkest part of the eve break open; purple light poked through in the east, and the starless sky turned blue as the sea. Everything was melting into one plane for her, as she turned forward and propelled herself forward into the freezing blankness afore, and her brother in their bed sat his book on the side-table and laid down to rest.
J. D Goodman is a writer, poet and semi-retired retail manager from rural Maryland (currently living in Tennessee). He holds a degree in Philosophy from Belmont University, and retains a deep interest both in the workings of mind and environment, and in the history and aesthetics of writing, all of which finds its way into his creative work. His previous writing can be found in the Belmont Literary Journal, as well as on his substack, Through a Half-Romantic Eye. His twitter is @platofan402, though he deleted it for Lent.