Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 12
It’s been a long time since I’ve graced my own blog with my presence…
The words have been tough to come by over the last year or so but I’m determined to get them working again.
To that end I wrote this short piece for my good friend Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge. Follow this link to view the page; http://purplequeennl.blogspot.nl/2017/05/mid-week-flash-challenge-week-12.html
This piece is rough, as in I fought it sentence by sentence until I got my story told. I’m out of practice. Consider this a fresh start.
It’s entitled, “The Sky is Burning”.
The sky burned.
Smoky oranges and amber yellows clashed overhead, cut up by ridges of shadow where the clouds collided out above the water. The sun was gone. Only the fire remained.
The lake absorbed the light and shot it right back, enveloping everything in sight in the glow. The water flared and sparked when the early evening wind raked the surface.
It was just like I’d dreamed, down to the distant cries of birds and the musty, earthy smell coming from under the warped but sturdy boards of the pier.
Funny thing about dreams. People have been interpreting dreams for as long as there’s been people around to dream. Everyone’s got an opinion. Dreams show you the future. Dreams are born of the past. Dreams reflect your desires or your fears or maybe they point toward a solution for a problem you may or may not even know you have. Ask ten people what any given dream means and you’ll get ten different answers.
I never put much store in the meaning of my dreams until I had one that kept on coming back.
This place. This lake. This pier. They appear in my dreams several nights a week.
I’d find myself standing at the edge of the pier, looking out at the blazing visage in front of me. How I’d gotten there and what I’d been doing beforehand are complete mysteries to me. The one thing I do know is that I’m looking for something. Or maybe it’s someone.
I’m not always alone in the dream. Every so often there’s a man standing with me on the pier. He’s just a regular guy, dressed in old jeans and a t-shirt not unlike my own. He seems to be about my height and has my build. That’s all I get though. I know I’ve seen his face in many a dream but I couldn’t tell you what it looks like. I know him more by presence than by sight.
I feel the same flutter of hope each time I see him, thinking that this will be the time when he tells me what I’m doing there, what I’m looking for.
The man disappoints me each time. Every single time he’s around.
He just stands there, staring out at the horizon, so I do the same. I stare and I stare, looking in the same direction as my companion, and time passes. Don’t ask me how long because I have no answer. Then he’s gone. He doesn’t walk away. He doesn’t swim away. He doesn’t even fly away. He’s just gone.
I wake up soon after his departure, but not before getting a glimpse of something on the horizon. Something. It appears at the apex of the light and the shadows. That’s all I get though. The images blur as my eyes fight their way open.
The cries of the faraway birds are the last part of the dream to fade away.
The dream took over my life.
I spent every available hour in the car, going up and down the coast looking for that pier. I stopped at every lake and every river I could find. I searched for months. It wasn’t long before I began using time I didn’t have to quest for the place in my dream.
The search continued for nearly a year. My job and more than one relationship lay in the wreckage my life had become.
By then the dream was a nightly occurrence. I’d even begun to look forward to it, considering each instance another opportunity to glean some kind of clue.
I found the pier by accident.
It happened in a diner in a small town not far from where I’d grown up.
“It’s the best spot,” a young woman in the booth behind me had said. “The light just after sunset. It’s spectacular. Best shots I’ve ever gotten. The way it hits the water, it’s a blaze of orange and black. It’s magic, I swear.”
I heard the woman’s companion ask where the spot was and I stayed just long enough to memorize her directions and drop some cash on my table.
Standing on that pier should have felt like a momentous occasion. It didn’t.
I took in the solid reality of my surroundings. The feel of the boards beneath my feet, the lake smell in the air, and the cries of birds from somewhere out over the water.
And the sky. It burned.
I felt the man’s presence next to me on the pier. We stood together, staring out at the horizon for what felt like a week.
Then he spoke.
“What you’re looking for,” he said in a voice I recognized as my own, “is over there.”
He pointed to a shape on the horizon. I looked right at it, fearful to let it out of my sight for even a second. Whatever it was it was getting closer to shore.
I didn’t have to look to know that the man had gone away.
The shape on the water had gotten close enough for me to make out its silhouette against the dying light of the sunset.
It was a small rowboat. I could pick up the action of the oars by watching the ripples in the lake. There were two people in the boat, one rower, one passenger.
As the craft drifted closer the pier I recognized the man from my dream as the rower. The passenger was a young girl. She might have been eleven or twelve, with an unruly shock of dark brown hair, large round eyes, and a mischievous, lopsided smile.
I recognized her immediately, though I hadn’t seen her nor thought about her in nearly forty years.
Wendy, I remembered. Her name was Wendy. She’d lived in the house behind mine when we were kids. Her family had moved away long before I left home. I’d saved her from a beating by a bunch of of neighborhood bullies one time, at the cost of two teeth and the bruising of the knuckles on my right hand.
Wendy had Down Syndrome.
She waved at me and I waved back, then we just looked at each other for a while.
I remembered something during that time. I remembered hearing about it in school, after she’d moved away. One of my teachers told us about it, that Wendy had gone missing.
The boat stopped a few yards shy of the pier.
“This is as close as I’m allowed to come,” she said. “I need you to help me.”
I tried to ignore the voices in my head as they yelled at me to disbelieve what I saw in front of me. My heart raced and I began to sweat. I did not want to disbelieve, not after all that time, after all of those dreams.
“You were always kind to me,” she said, answering my question before I could ask it. “And you were the only one who answered.”
The memories rushed back faster than I was able to process them. Flashes of our time growing up as neighbors skipped through my mind, good ones and terrible ones both.
“You can’t come any closer?” I asked. The act of speaking helped me regain my equilibrium.
She nodded in reply.
“Can I wade out to you then?”
She looked to the man on the oars. If he said anything I didn’t hear it.
“No,” she said. “If you get too close you won’t be allowed to go back.”
I accepted her response as the truth. There didn’t seem to be any reason to do otherwise.
“What do you need me to do, Wendy?”
She smiled at me, though her eyes now showed a deep sadness.
Then she told me what she wanted.
“I knew I could count on you,” she said after I’d agreed to help.
The man in the boat took up the oars.
“What happens to you now?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “I guess I’m finally gonna find out.”
The man began to row, taking the boat back out toward the horizon.
She waved and kept on waving until she faded out of sight, back into silhouette.
When she was gone I jumped in my car and drove in search of a pay phone far, far from home.
Local police found her remains three days later. She was there, under the pier, stuffed into a trunk and half-buried in the soft lake bottom.
Wendy had been able to tell me who had killed her and now there were at least three law enforcement entities working the case.
They never identified the anonymous caller who gave them the information.
I still see that pier every so often, but only when I drive out there to visit Wendy.