The Dreamer


My name is Anna, and I have the gift of prophetic dreaming. I know it’s difficult to believe, but it’s true. In all other ways and to all other superstitious beliefs, I am an Atheist. I don’t believe in fortune telling, psychic mediums, faith healing, ghosts, or gods. I am a logical and scientific minded person, you see, and I have no evidence for any of those other things. Logically, I should also disbelieve in my prophetic dreams, since I am the only one able to measure and study them, which I have done for the better part of thirty years. I’m 45 now, and truthfully, I only really noticed the dreams on the eve of my 15th birthday. Once I did notice them, however, I recalled that every year, on the eve of my birthday, for as far back as I could remember, I had had a portentous dream. Just one dream a year, every year.

That’s how it works, you see. I don’t dream about other people and their lives. My dreams can’t solve anybody’s problems, and they don’t strictly foretell global events. Every year, on the night before my birthday I have a dream about where I will be at the same time, the following year. As a teen, I used to think everyone had these dreams, until one day when I had asked my best friend, on the day before her birthday, if she was excited for her birthday dream that year. She, of course, had no idea to what I was referring, and told me that I was acting strangely, before she hung up the phone to work on her ‘surprise’ party arrangements with her step-mother. That had seemed to spell the end of that friendship.
Later on, I had broached the subject with my mother, who listened attentively, a small frown creasing her brow. She had then told my father about it, and being the helicopter parents they were, they sent me to a therapist. I saw that therapist, in his thoroughly modern chrome and black leather office, twice a week, for three months, until we all worked out that it was just a joke. Haha. And that was where we left it. My parents were less than amused, and grounded me for a month, until they let me off after a few days, figuring that it was better to send me to therapy, and be safe than to be sorry. I have never mentioned the dreams to anyone since, until now.

Back to the dreams, however. They weren’t spectacular shows with golden lights and flashing signs letting me know that they were prophetic, but rather brief, flickering slideshows, showing me two possible paths my life would take in the following year. Each option was portrayed in a series of snapshots, with the final few showing the inevitable conclusion of the choice I had made. You must understand that I am not given foreknowledge of every minute event during the year, just the highlights. So you can imagine that this has led me to be in some very good, as well as some very bad situations in my life. Like the dream I’d had just before I turned 19.
I was shown that the year could have two conclusions, as usual. In one, I was sitting in my dorm room, surrounded by books, as I studied for a test. In the other, I was at a party, looking like I was having a great time. Naturally, being 19, and feeling immortal, I happened to choose the path that culminated in the party, making sure that I was well prepared in advance for the test the following day. (I was a party girl, but I wasn’t a total loser!)
I had had a great time, and my friends and I were heading back to the dorm in high spirits after the party had ended. We were all a bit tipsy, apart from our designated driver, who had been sipping colas and soft drinks all night. None of us could have predicted what happened next. She had lost control of the car, for some reason that never became clear, and had sent us careening into oncoming traffic. I have no memory of the events that followed. All I know is that I woke up in hospital the next day, on my birthday, wearing a full body cast. Doctors told me that I was lucky to be alive, and that my survival was nothing short of a miracle.
That was the only year that I had missed my birthday dream. Not that it would have mattered anyway, as I ended up spending the next two years of my life in a wheelchair, as I focused on my recovery and learning how to walk again. I never did take that test.

Last night was the first night in my entire life that I didn’t have a birthday eve dream. Today is my birthday, and I am spending my day connecting with my friends and family, and letting people know that they have been loved, and are worthwhile. It won’t matter after today, anyway. Today is the last birthday I will ever have. In fact, it is the last day that anyone will ever have.

My dream last year was the most unusual one I have ever had. As I’ve mentioned before, the dreams usually show me snapshots of my life, very personal, and important only to me, and perhaps to the people in my life, culminating in the usual portent of my fate should I take either of the two paths presented. This dream only had one ending. This one showed me The End. That’s right. The end of everything.
By this time tomorrow, life on earth will have ceased to exist. Earth will have ceased to exist. The end comes in an asteroid strike, that smashes our tiny planet from its gentle orbit, and sends it hurtling towards our Sun, where it is swept up in the gigantic gravitational field, and incinerated so thoroughly that not even ash remains.

My name is Anna, and as of today, you have one day to live.

ETERNAL LOVE


Rose rocked on her porch. Fat tears rolled down her wrinkled face, and splashed into her lap. Her friend and companion of thirty years had just been put into the cold, unforgiving earth, and she wasn’t sure she knew how to exist without him. The service had been lovely, and the actual interment heartbreaking. She feared that she would collapse from grief, but the strong arms of her son, Michael, had supported and comforted her. She still wore her funeral dress, dusty now, in the dry heat of late June. The cheery ring of a bicycle bell sounded, as one of the neighborhood children greeted her as he whizzed by. She didn’t even look up. She felt terribly old, suddenly, bowed by years of living, bearing the marks of too many seasons. She still loved Ed so much, and she knew that she always would. Still, she rocked and cried.

Towards nightfall, when the shadows crept closer to the house, bringing the cool of darkness with them, she rose and went into her tidy little house. Everything felt foreign without Ed here, every room seemed to echo with emptiness and despair. She missed him so much already, and she feared that it would get worse before it got better. Rose sighed, and made her way to the small but spotlessly clean kitchen. She set about warming herself some soup, and before she realized what she was doing, she had laid out two bowls. She clucked, and shook her head when she noticed her small mistake, a sharp thorn of sadness piercing her heart, and then twisting pain throughout her body.
“Only one from now on, old girl,” she whispered to herself under her breath, blinking rapidly to stop another flood of tears.
She sat at Ed’s usual spot at the small kitchen table to eat. Somehow it helped her to feel close to him. Recalling happier times at that table, she mechanically spooned the soup into her mouth, not tasting anything.
This is where Ed sat for every meal, where he spent time doing their household accounts and yearly taxes, and where he pored for hours over his collection of ancient artifacts from all over the world, cataloging and labeling them with care. Her beloved Ed, always so careful and meticulous about everything he did.
It had been Ed’s only hobby once he had retired from his career as an anthropologist, and he allowed himself one small purchase every few months, to grow his collection. He , spent hours researching and flipping through catalogues  to find just the right one. As a result, their home was filled with colorful, unusual, and often  primitive art and crafts, giving it an exotic and eclectic feel. The artifacts gave Rose an uneasy feeling, but she didn’t complain, because she loved her husband, and his hobby brought him such joy and contentment.

Now that he was gone, it was part of her duty, as executor of his estate, to pack up the artifacts and make sure that they were sent off to the various museums and collectors that Ed had bequeathed them to in his will. She wasn’t looking forward to the task at all.

After finishing her meager meal, Rose washed her bowl and spoon, and ran water into the pot, leaving it in the sink. Then she headed up to bed, her body weary and sore, and her heart felt wrung out from all the grief. She hoped she would sleep well that night, as she had many things to take care of the following day, and many loose ends to tie up surrounding Ed’s will.

She lay down in her soft bed with a tired sigh. It felt so vast and empty without Ed there, and she reached out her arm to touch the place where he usually lay beside her. As she turned out the light and closed her eyes, she felt tears slipping from her eyes once again, wetting her pillow. Eventually she drifted off into an exhausted sleep, allowing her body and mind to rest for a few hours.

Rose dreamed that she and Ed were in a summer field, enjoying a lazy afternoon picnic in the golden sunshine. To their right, the woods lay, deeply shadowed and excitingly mysterious. They were young and so much in love, and she smiled in her sleep. Soon, however, the dream turned dark. Ominous and menacing clouds rolled through the sky, and a cold wind began to sway the trees to and fro. She looked up in alarm, as a dark shadow wrapped around Ed, and started drawing him away from her. She tried to cry out, but the cruel wind whipped her voice away. As Ed was pulled further and further from her, she saw the trees reaching out skeletal branches to trap and hold her, and keep her from going after Ed. She thrashed and cried out in her sleep, twisting the covers around her body. Further and further, he was drawn from her, until he disappeared into the distance. She tried to run after him, but looking down, she found that thick dark vines had sprung from the ground, holding her in place. The more she struggled, the tighter the vines constricted around her legs and hips. A violent storm broke above her, lightning lashing down from the sky, trying to strike her where she stood, powerless to save her husband. Finally, she found her voice, and she shrieked in horror, and desperate frustration, waking herself up with a violent spasm.
She sat upright in bed, her body bathed in the cold, clammy sweat of terror and helplessness.

She flicked on the small bedside lamp, and, after untangling them from the twisted bedclothes, she swung her legs out of bed and pushed her feet into her worn but comfortable slippers. She pulled a couple of tissues from the box on her night stand, and blotted the sweat that clung to her face and neck. The dream had left Rose feeling cold and sad, and her shoulders sagged as she began to sob.
“Oh Ed,” she wailed, ” why did you have to leave me all alone? How will I cope without you?”
She cried quietly, fat tears popping onto her night dress and disappearing as the flannel fabric absorbed them. Twisting the tissues in her hands, she soon shredded them to little pieces. Suddenly she felt his big hand close over both of hers, calming her fidgety, and soothing her sadness.  She looked up in shock, expecting to see him standing there with that loving twinkle in his eye. Of course, there was no one there. She felt a sob catch in her throat, as she realized how much she missed him. She would do anything to see him again, to hold him again, and to feel his gentle touch and hear him say her name. No man had ever cherished a woman more than Ed had cherished her. During their entire marriage, he had never made her feel anything less than precious to him, Theirs had been no ordinary love, she was certain.
She sighed once again, blaming her imagining on her overwrought state. She rose, and made her way to the bathroom to empty her bladder and fetch a glass of water. Soon she was tucked up in bed again, and once more she drifted into sleep. There were no more dreams that night.

The following morning, Rose woke early, as was her habit. She lay for a few moments, allowing the sleep to clear from her fuzzy head, and as it did, a blanket of realization and gray sadness drifted down over her. Slowly she rose. After washing and dressing, she had a quick breakfast of toast and coffee and then decided to begin tackling the task of sorting Ed’s artifacts.
As she worked, she kept replaying the dream and the incident thereafter. She became convinced that Ed had paid her a visit the previous night. She hoped that he would do so again.
“He must still be here,” she thought, “he doesn’t want me to suffer alone, and so he’s staying around to make sure I’m okay.”
The thought gave her comfort, and a small measure of happiness, and made the task of sorting his things easier. She kept a running commentary as she sorted and stacked the objects, talking to Ed as if he was still there. Every so often, she would look up, and tilt her head, imagining she heard a reply from him.

The day warmed quickly, and soon her tummy gave a little grumble, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten lunch yet. She made herself a ham and cheese sandwich, and poured a cool glass of tea, deciding to eat out on the back porch where she could catch a breeze. Years ago, she and Ed had placed a little round table and two chairs on one corner of the porch, and they had often shared lunch or an early dinner there, when the house became unbearably hot. It was also a perfect vantage point from which to look out over their neat garden, with its rolling lawns and carefully edged flowerbeds. As she sat and ate now, Rose called up another favorite memory of Ed. In her mind’s eye she saw him pushing the old fashioned mower in straight lines up and down the lawn, his face set in a determined frown, and his shirt clinging to his broad back with sweat. She smiled to herself, as she took a long sip of tea. He had taken good care of her, and of their property and possessions.
Finishing her lunch, Rose sighed and rose from the chair. She brushed the crumbs from her lap, and from the table, letting them fall to the floor, where she knew the birds and ants would make short work of cleaning them up. After rinsing her dishes, she continued with the job at hand. Some of the artifacts were really hideously ugly, and Rose shuddered as she boxed them up. She wondered why Ed had purchased them, as they were very primitive looking, and the artists who had created them, didn’t seem at all skilled. She shrugged as she picked up  a small mask, that looked particularly garish and fearsome. It was painted in what was once bold red and deep black, with white lining the eyes thickly. The mask looked like it represented the face of a fearsome devil, caught in a menacing grin, or a snarl. Feeling silly, Rose held it up to her face, peeping through the eye holes, and made a low growling noise in her throat. She noticed that donning the mask gave her a different perspective of the room, almost as if she was seeing everything through a thick haze of smoke. She looked around the room, fascinated, and then she saw something shift in one corner. She focused on that spot, and gradually a vaguely human shape took focus. She wasn’t sure, but it looked like Ed. She would recognize his broad, tall form, and slightly stooped stance anywhere. She felt a stab of happiness as she recognized her husband.
Heart pounding in her chest, she lowered the mask from her face and looked again. There was nothing there. Slowly raising it, she looked through the eye holes once more, and sure enough, there he stood.
“Ed,” she said softly, and the apparition turned towards her.
“Oh, my love,” she whispered, “I knew you were with me.”
She felt a sharp flush of joy, looking at him. Even though he was pale and insubstantial, her heart leapt in recognition and butterflies began to flutter in her stomach. He had been, after all, her beloved companion for so many years, and the love of her life.
Ed reached out a wispy hand towards her, and his eyes, always so full of love, were now filled with inexpressible sadness. Rose drew in a shuddering breath. She had so much to say to him, but she had no idea where to begin, so she just sat there, mouth agape behind the hideous mask that she held to her face. Slowly, the apparition of Ed moved towards her, and as it drew closer, she felt the air around her grow frigid. Her breath made a white plume as she exhaled. In a few seconds, he was right before her, and she could see his mouth moving, as if he were saying something, but she didn’t hear a thing. She looked at his anguished face, wondering what he was trying to tell her.
“I can’t hear you, Ed, darling,” she exclaimed with exasperation, “I can’t hear what you’re saying, my love.”
The ghost of Ed looked pained, and Rose wished that she had learned to lip read at some point in her long and full life. She shifted her gaze, looking past him to the rest of the room. What she saw there, made her blood run cold. Behind her husband, many more wispy shapes were gathering, some of them bright white, whilst others were murky gray, and one or two ominously dark figures. There was a growing crowd of them. Rose felt cold fear rushing up and down her body. She suddenly felt clammy all over, and her heart pounded as she watched the smoky figures gather behind her husband, crowding into her field of vision like a fast building thunderstorm. Spirits! Hundreds of them. She lost sight of Ed in the pressing figures, and just as they were about to reach her, she hurriedly pulled the mask from her face. All was normal again. Sighing with relief, but still gripped by fear,she whispered softly in the direction that she had last seen him,
“I’m sorry, my darling, there are too many.”
As if in response to her words, the catalogue of artifacts that Ed had spent so many dedicated hours compiling, whipped off the desk beside her, and flew across the room, smacking against the far wall exactly as if someone had swiped it angrily off the polished oak surface with one hand.
She jumped in shock, and fear tightened its grasp around her. Quickly rising, she hurried through to the kitchen, and filled a glass of water. Her hand shook as she held the glass beneath the faucet, making it rattle against the metal of the sink. She gulped the water, and placed the empty glass upside down on the draining rack. After taking a few deep breaths, her heart began to slow its frantic rhythm, and warmth crept back into her limbs. Sitting at the small kitchen table, she battled to slow her racing thoughts. Joy, confusion and fear all struggled for attention, and Rose took another deep breath, drumming her fingers on the table as she struggled to make sense of what she had seen. She desperately wanted to see Ed again, and try to discern what he was attempting to tell her in the brief moments she had glimpsed him, but the crowding shadows she had seen behind him, terrified her. She could only imagine that they were the spirits of other lost souls, who were also trying to get a message through to the world of the living.
She had to try to find a way to speak to Ed, without the myriad other spirits crowding around, to terrify and distract her.
Rose’s granddaughter, from her son Michael and his wife Angela, was a bright but rebellious teen, when she was with her parents, but she and Kim had always cherished a very close relationship. It was Kim whom Rose brought to mind now, wrestling with this problem. Kim had always been, to her mind, dramatic, gifted and incredibly creative, even though her preferences tended somewhat to the dark and esoteric. She recalled a conversation they had shared during one of her visits about two months back. Kim had been excitedly babbling on about a new friend she had made, and how this friend was introducing her to new music, books, and art. Rose was thrilled that her granddaughter seemed to be keenly interested in their family history, and had started researching the family tree. One weekend, while she was over for another of her frequent visits, she shared with Rose what she had discovered so far.
One of their distant female ancestors, had been put to death in the infamous Salem witch trials. From the testimony, that Kim had uncovered, it seemed that she had often been observed speaking to thin air, waving her arms about and muttering to herself. Rose knew that these were all signs and symptoms of the mental illness that seemed to haunt the family; schizophrenia, and told Kim as much. The young girl, however, seemed convinced that their ancestor had seen and spoken with the spirits of the dead. She continued her research, and decided to also research medium ship and white witchcraft. Rose usually scoffed at mention of the supernatural, having no belief herself, but now that she had seen Ed’s spirit with her own eyes, she was no longer quite so certain that it was all smoke and mirrors, and deception. She decided to call young Kim, and invite her over for a visit and a chat.

Rose dialed Kim’s number on the cellphone that her son and daughter in-law had purchased for her. They had spent long hours patiently explaining to her how to operate the newfangled device. She knew that Kim always preferred to communicate via text message, but she was too impatient for the hunt and peck game of typing. Kim’s phone rang on the other end of the call, and then immediately switched to voice mail. Rose left an exasperated message for her granddaughter, urging her to call back and arrange a visit as soon as possible, and then ended the call.
She checked the time, and was surprised to note that it was already early evening. The day had seemed to slip away from her, and she looked up to see the house already shadowy with twilight. She thought about the approaching darkness, and her heart gave a loud thump of fear, as along with that thought, the memory of the crowding shades rolled through her mind. Never having been afraid of the dark, she now clicked her tongue at her sudden silly and irrational dread.
Moving through the house, making sure the windows were shut, and drawing the drapes, she had the sudden urge to turn on the little lamps that stood scattered around the house and served to cast pools of light into the most shadowy corners of the rooms.
In the kitchen she set about making herself a light supper. She quickly made a small green salad, and scrambled two eggs. Just as she sat down to eat, she heard an annoying and tinny sounding tinkling. She was baffled for a moment, until she realized that it was the notification sound her cellphone made when receiving a text. Pulling the device from the pocket of her house dress, and slipping on her spectacles that dangled from a chain around her neck, she peered at the screen. The text was from Kim, and read simply, “C u 2mrw 3pm xox”
After spending a few moments deciphering the unfamiliar text speak her granddaughter was so fond of, Rose finally deciphered the message, and smiled in satisfaction, slipping the phone back into her pocket, and picking up her fork.
After dinner, she quickly washed her dishes, leaving them on the draining rack to dry, and then went back through to the study where she had left the mask. She wrapped it up neatly but quickly in the tissue paper it had been stored in, and placed it carefully into a small cardboard box. She carried the box upstairs, and laid it gently on the dresser, between a photograph of her and Ed on their tropical vacation two years ago, and one of Michael and Angela at their wedding. Smiling wistfully, she patted the box, and whispered,
“See you soon, my darling.”

She caught herself humming, while she descended the stairs, and went back to the kitchen. Switching on the electric kettle, she readied a mug with a tea bag and a teaspoon full of honey, while she waited for the water to boil. Looking absently out of the kitchen window, framed with cheerful yellow curtains she saw her neighbors standing outside their kitchen door, calling their kids in from play. She smiled distractedly, and stirred her tea, carrying it through to the living room where her comfortable armchair and her book awaited her.

After reading for about an hour and a half, Rose felt her eyes begin to grow heavy, closing every few moments, and making her lose her place on the page she was reading. She also had a headache building behind her eyes, which she hoped would go away after a good night’s rest. She sipped the last of her cooled tea, closed the book around her bookmark, and rose stiffly. Flicking off the standing lamp, she carried her cup to the kitchen, before slowly ascending the stairs to her bedroom. After completing her nightly ablutions, and changing into her sleep wear, she carefully lifted the cardboard box from the dresser, and sat down on the edge of the bed with it on her lap. She folded back the four flaps that made the lid of the box, before reaching inside and pulling out the tissue wrapped mask. Smoothing back the tissue paper, she took the mask in both hands and examined it closely for a long time. She couldn’t see anything special about it. It was just a crudely made, garishly painted piece of folk art. Rose marveled that something so primitive seemed to hold such power. Resisting the urge to hold it up to her face again, she re-wrapped it and placed it back on the dresser. Still tense with grief, but feeling a little more comforted at the thought of Ed watching over her, she climbed into bed, and lay down, flicking off her bedside lamp before closing her eyes to sleep.

Rose began to dream. In the dream, she was in an old fashioned hospital bed, and she was writhing and twisting with a terrible fever. Ed was there, comforting her and wringing out a cool, damp cloth to lay across her burning forehead. She felt weak and disconnected, and everything around her felt unreal. The doctors and Ed tried everything they knew to try to heal her, but nothing they did was of any use. A nurse in a starched white uniform entered the room, and pulled Ed aside. She watched them talking quietly, and then Ed bowed his head, and brought his hands up to his face, as if  in grief. She wanted to cry out, to tell him that she was fine, that she was still there, but he turned and looked at her with the same sadness she had seen in his eyes when she saw him through the eye holes of the mask. He sadly shook his head, and turned away from her, leaving the room. In her dream, she burst into tears, feeling the loss and emptiness of losing Ed anew. Eventually the dream faded out, and Rose slept peacefully for the remainder of the night.

The late morning sun playfully poked bright shafts of sunlight through the blinds of her bedroom window, and Rose woke with a start. She could tell by the quality of light leaking into her room, that she had slept much later than usual. Her head felt fuzzy, and her tongue felt thick and coated inside her mouth. As she sat up in bed, she reached for her glasses and slipped them on, and then took a long sip from the glass of water on her night stand. Her gaze strayed to the dresser, looking for the box that housed the mask. A puzzled look crossed her face as she saw that it was not there. She scanned the rest of the room in front of her, but could not see it on any of the surfaces, nor on the floor. Turning her head to the right, to examine the rest of the room, she spotted something out of the corner of her eye. She turned towards it, and her mouth fell open in bewildered shock. The garish mask lay neatly in the center of Ed’s pillow. The box sat squarely on his night stand, the tissue spilling from the open top. The horrifying expression seemed to mock her, and Rose felt ice cold fear drop into the pit of her stomach, and then turn her body to ice. She rose and went around to the other side of the bed, staring down at the ugly thing lying on Ed’s crisp white pillow. Her heart thudded in fear. She didn’t want to touch the mask, so she used the tissue it was wrapped in to scoop it up and drop it back into its box. She hurriedly closed the flaps and then jerked back from the innocuous looking package.

After bathing and dressing, Rose carried the box downstairs and set it on the kitchen counter while she made toast and coffee for breakfast. She was hesitant to let it out of her sight. She kept her eye on it while she ate, and then it occurred to her to check the catalogue which Ed had so meticulously kept of all his art and artifacts. She rose from the table, and rinsed her dishes, then she went through to Ed’s study, and unlocked the filing cabinet which housed his catalogues . She opened the first of the three drawers, and flipped quickly through the folders there.  Wondering how she would find anything, she stopped for a moment and thought about his filing system. There were alphabetical separators between each lot of folders. A for Art, B for Bowls, C for cups, and so on. Noting that the drawer she was looking at went from A to L, she closed the top drawer and opened the next, flicking through the folders until she came to M, for Masks. She smiled, trust Ed to choose the most simple and straightforward system. Removing all the folders filed under Masks, she did a quick tally and saw that there were about fifteen of them, each with a photograph of the mask it represented stapled to the front. She turned the folders face down, one by one, until the photograph of the hideous mask, with its frightening grin stared up at her. Opening the folder, she took a seat behind the desk, and began to read. Soon, a worried scowl crossed her brow. The information that Ed had had on the mask was quite sparse. She read that it was an ancient Aztec piece, imbued with powerful magic for speaking to the dead. The mask was used exclusively by the shamans, and according to the file, the direst consequences would befall any person attempting to use it without first performing a ceremony of purification, and reciting the correct protective chants. Apparently the curse began with a raging fever, and a strange lassitude, followed by terrifying visions, and culminated in death. According to the farmer from whom Ed had purchased it, it had been in his family for many generations, and anyone who had used it without the proper preparation, had fallen under the curse. Unfortunately, the secrets of the purification ritual and the chant had been lost, or forgotten, and no amount of research that Ed had done online, had brought it to light. The rest of the information noted the specifications of the mask, and where he had purchased it. Rose sat back from the folder, and immediately her rational mind dismissed the warnings as superstitious nonsense. The shamans had to add a little danger to the mythology of the mask, she reasoned, in order to maintain their exalted position within the tribe. If the tribes people knew that simply anyone could don it, and see and speak to spirits, the shaman would, in all likelihood, lose his position and status. After all, she had not performed any rituals or chanted any magical words when she had held the mask to her face, and she felt absolutely fine.
Deciding that the whole business about the curse was nonsense, she closed the folder, and then placed it back into the filing drawer, along with the others. She went through to the kitchen again, and was relieved to see that the box had not moved from where she had placed it earlier.
“Of course not,” she thought,”why should it have moved, you silly old goose!”

Checking the time, she saw that it was almost eleven am. and that she had plenty of time before her granddaughter arrived at three. She scooped up the box, and trudged upstairs to her bedroom. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she opened the box, and removed the mask. She was planning to tell Ed that Kim was arriving soon, and that they would figure out how to keep the other spirits at bay, while allowing her to be with him.

Holding the horrifying mask to her face once more, Rose was immediately overcome with a terrible weakness. As she gazed at the room through the eye holes of the mask, she was terrified to see that the crowd of ethereal spirits almost surrounded her, as if they had all shuffled closer in preparation for the next time she donned the mask. She couldn’t see Ed anywhere, and cried out in fear and confusion, as the menacing spirits moved even closer. She tried to pull the mask from her face, but she was so weak, and it felt like the thing was glued to her features somehow. A low humming noise began, quickly rising in pitch, until it became an unearthly shriek.  She fell backward onto the bed to try to escape the pressing wall of spirits, but they were relentless, surrounding her and reaching out to touch her. One by one, they reached out insubstantial hands to grab at her. As the first soul touched her, Rose felt a cold snake of terror coiling in her gut, the hairs on her whole body stood rigid as the air around her froze,  and her bladder released with a gush. Her heart was pounding so wildly, it felt to her that it would burst from her chest. The touch was horrific, sending the most terrifying visions straight into her brain as well as a searing agony where their hands fell, and she let out a long, wailing scream that seemed to last an eternity. The horror and revulsion was so overwhelming, and the pain was so great, that Rose’s old and tired heart faltered in its terrified beating, stopped, and never restarted again.

The sun beat down on the neat little house, and for a moment the teenager regretted dressing all in black . She stood at the door, waiting for a reply after ringing the doorbell. After a minute, she dug in her tatty school bag and withdrew a set of keys. Finding the right one, she slipped it into the lock, and entered her grandmother’s house.
“Hi Nana, I’m here,” she called, as she dropped her bag beside the umbrella stand in the hall. She crouched down, and tiptoed down the short hall towards the kitchen, hoping to sneak up behind her grandmother and give her a surprise hug. It was a game they had played since she was a toddler, and by now it was practically a tradition. As she reached the doorway, she quickly scanned the kitchen, and seeing it empty, she straightened and called out once more.
“Nana, it’s Kim. Are you upstairs?”
The house was absolutely silent, and despite the almost oppressive heat outdoors, it held a deep chill, as if the air-conditioning had been left on high the whole day. She waited a moment, listening for a reply, before taking the four steps over to the kitchen window above the sink. It looked out onto the back yard, and Kim could see that her grandmother was not out there either. A look of plerplexion flashed across her face as she turned and headed towards the stairs.
Upstairs, she went directly to her grandmother’s bedroom, and quietly rapped on the door with her knuckles.
“Nana? Can I come in?”
Turning the doorknob, she slowly opened the door. As the double bed came into view, Kim saw her grandmother’s bundled form beneath the covers. Thinking it odd that she would be in bed in the middle of the afternoon, she stepped into the room, and went to her side. She reached out and gently shook her by the shoulder, leaning close, and whispering,
“Nana, time to get up. Are you all right?”
Her sleeping grandmother didn’t respond at all, and in touching her, Kim felt that her form was solid and unyielding, unlike the soft relaxation of sleep
As her jostling moved the covers, the sheet fell away from her grandmother’s face, and Kim gasped in shock, feeling panic begin to flutter in the pit of her stomach.
She had expected the serene face of sleep, but now she looked into a frozen expression of absolute terror on her grandmother’s face. Her eyes were stretched wide, and her mouth was open in a silent scream of horror. Kim held her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream, as her mind raced frantically while she struggled to make sense of what she was seeing. She fought against her every instinct to run, and instead pulled her smartphone from her pocket and hurriedly dialed 911.
After talking to the operator and giving him the details and address, she reverently pulled the sheet up and covered her grandmother’s face again. Partly as a sign of respect, but also because she could no longer bear to see the terrible rictus of fright contorting her beloved features. She slumped down on the floor, and tears overwhelmed her. Her body shook with great wracking sobs, and she howled in sorrow and loss.

Weeks later, after the funeral had been taken care of, Kim’s parents were at her grandparents’ house packing up the goods and furniture in preparation to sell it. She was home alone, and she was bored. She found herself in her father’s study, idly snooping around. A copy of the police report on Rose’s death lay on his desk, and she pulled it closer to read it. It stated that for all appearances, Rose had died in her sleep. They were at a loss to explain the terrified expression frozen on her face though, attributing it to a dream she had had, that caused her heart attack.
After reading the report, Kim felt her throat close, and her eyesight became misty with tears, as she thought,
“Poor Nana, she died of a broken heart.”

She didn’t notice the innocuous, plain cardboard box that also sat on her father’s desk.

The End.

Kindness * by Sylvia Plath


plath children

Kindness glides about my house.
Dame Kindness, she is so nice!
The blue and red jewels of her rings smoke
In the windows, the mirrors
Are filling with smiles.

What is so real as the cry of a child?
A rabbit’s cry may be wilder
But it has no soul.
Sugar can cure everything, so Kindness says.
Sugar is a necessary fluid,

Its crystals a little poultice.
O kindness, kindness
Sweetly picking up pieces!
My Japanese silks, desperate butterflies,
May be pinned any minute, anesthetized.

And here you come, with a cup of tea
Wreathed in steam.
The blood jet is poetry,
There is no stopping it.
You hand me two children, two roses.