February 1, 2015

FICTION BY BRAD SIDES "ACHIEVED DREAMS"

Bradley Sides holds an M.A. in English. His fiction appears in numerous print and online journals. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his debut novel.


 Achieved Dreams



At night, she fights.  Her sisters offer assurance and hands, but the girl knows that her dreams are hers alone.  Fearing and dreading the coming hours, she wrestles with the inevitable.  Her moans flood her own bed before they fill her room, and as they continue to build, they leak into the hallway.  Collecting there, too, until the walls can no longer contain them, her cries creep down the staircase.  When finally Ms. Hartwell’s Home for Girls can hold no more, the girl’s screams burst through the door and escape into the nighttime sky, floating upward until they are a soft whisper.  Deeper, further, and away, Abigail gives into her dreams.
***
“Welcome back, my dear,” she hears a deep voice address her.  “I’ve missed you.”
Abigail, facedown on a warm, firm surface, looks up.  She no longer questions her surroundings because they are so familiar to her now.  She sees no one.  Ripened tangerine flames are all that light the darkness that surrounds her.  She concentrates on her legs, rallying her muscles to gain the strength to stand. 
“Are you ready to begin?”
Abigail, now erect, faces the direction from which the voice comes.  “Why do I deserve this?  Please, I don’t want to know anymore from this place.  Please.  I just want to be left alone.”
She hears nothing more.  The flames fade into total darkness.  Abigail knows the plan.  She closes her eyes and counts to ten.  When she opens them, she sees what she expects:  cerulean flames covering the walls with a lone bowl propped atop a glass stand.  She sees dozens of tunnels surrounding her.  She runs toward one but collapses.  She tries another. Then, she gathers her strength to try once more.  All three efforts give nothing more than proof of a solid wall within fifteen feet of the entrance. 
Abigail walks to the glass stand and looks inside.  She sees Miriam.  Abigail shakes her head and whispers, “Not tonight.  Ah, Miriam.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try, but I’m sorry.”
***
“Will you be quiet so we can hear who it is tonight?” Lizzy says to the group of girls surrounding Abigail’s body. 
“It’s Mary!  It’s Mary!” says Alexi, holding Abigail’s hand.  “Hilary, it’s Mary!” 
“No, it’s not.  She said Miriam.  Will you listen for once,” Hannah corrects Alexi.  The girls standing over Abigail laugh at Hannah and Alexi. 
“False alarm, Hilary!” Alexi sarcastically yells out the door to the group of scared girls gathered outside Abigail’s door.  “Of course, Hannah heard Miriam so we all know that she’s right.” 
“Who is it really?  Stop joking!”  Katie yells from down the hallway. 
“It’s Miriam,” says several small voices. 
Miriam’s name echoes throughout the many rooms of Ms. Hartwell’s until it finally reaches a group of girls who stand outside.  One yells across the yard to find Miriam, who is running in a nearby tall field of wheat.  Miriam stops immediately and sprints to the front door.  She forgets to takes off her shoes and instead jumps up over the rickety stairs and into Ms. Hartwell’s Home.  The other girls stop Miriam and assist in removing her shoes and brushing off her pants.  Miriam bursts through Abigail’s door and sits beside her. 
“Have I missed anything?” Miriam turns to ask Lizzy and Hannah. 
Alexi answers, “No.”
“Alexi, will you please be quiet.  We can’t hear with you blabbing.  Anyways, Miriam was talking to Lizzy and I,” says Hannah.
Alexi rolls her eyes and starts to speak, but Abigail’s words make them all stop.
“Don’t die,” Abigail says.  The girls look at one another and squeeze Miriam’s shoulder—unsure of what else to do.      
***
Abigail stares into the bowl, as ripples overtake the once recognizable image of Miriam’s face.  The ground begins to shake and the stand slips underneath her feet.
“Are you ready to fight for her?  Do you want to keep your friend alive?” the voice asks.
Abigail doesn’t hesitate.  “Yes,” she says, knowing the procedures.  “I’m ready.”
The voice laughs, and the ground rumbles.  Abigail hears pebbles fall from the roof of the cave.  The tiny sounds create an echo that begins to build until the walls surrounding Abigail collapse.  Like them, she tumbles.   
Abigail gets back up, not knowing how much time has passed since she last stood.  What surrounds her is no longer the darkness of the cave; instead, she stands in the middle of a field.  When she looks up, the moon illuminates the world she inhabits.  Before she has a chance to fully comprehend her new environment, she hears an explosive splash and a shriek that pleads for saving. 
“Miriam.  I’m coming, Miriam!  Don’t die!  I’m coming!” Abigail says, racing toward the sound. 
***
Hilary peeks inside Abigail’s room, where Abigail’s body sweats and twitches.  “Is she winning tonight?” she asks.
            “Something bad is happening.  I’ve never seen her get this bad.  I think she’s in trouble,” Alexi says.
            Hannah and Lizzy look at Hilary and nod. 
            “Should I go find Ms. Hartwell?  Do you think she needs to help Abigail?” Hilary asks.
            Miriam looks up, “It’s me that she’s fighting for.  I should be the one to go help her.”
            Hannah, Lizzy, and Alexi look at Miriam and then back at one another.  “I think it’s Miriam’s choice,” Lizzy says.
Hilary steps inside the door for the first time in her life.  Next, Katie comes inside.  Then, the others enter.  By the time word spreads about what is happening, all of the thirty-six girls of Ms. Hartwell’s Home are inside Abigail’s small room.  They pack tightly inside the quaint room to look at Abigail, whose body seems to be shaking and sweating more than before. 
“I’m going to help her.  She shouldn’t have to fight for us alone,” Miriam says.
“None of us have ever been where Abigail goes.  You can’t just say you are going to help her.  We don’t know how,” Hannah says.
A creak in the floorboard causes all of the heads in Abigail’s room to turn around. 
She stands tall, with hair the color of a moonless night.  Her emerald eyes survey the girls.  Her skin shines in the low light of Abigail’s room, but her pale tint blends into the white paint on the walls.  She slips through the door and saunters by the girls who circle Abigail’s bed.  She sits and puts her hand on Abigail’s leg.   
“Ms. Hartwell, Abigail is in trouble.  We think she’s trying to save Miriam.  Miriam wants to help, but she doesn’t know how.  Well, none of us know how.  We don’t know what to do,” Alexi says.
“Hush, child,” Ms. Hartwell says to Alexi. 
“Alexi doesn’t even know what she’s talking about.  Be quiet!” Hannah says. 
“Alexi knows just as much as you, Hannah.  She’s younger and needs time to grow.  Don’t be so hard on the girl,” Ms. Hartwell says. 
Alexi looks at Hannah and smiles.  Hannah smirks back at her.
“What we have here is far more pressing than your silly girlish bickering,” Ms. Hartwell says.  “Abigail is more than just serious trouble, girls.  Our girl is dying,” she says.
Several of the girls shriek. 
“Ms. Hartwell, I can’t let her die.  Not for me.  I want to go in and help her.  Please, grant this for me!  Please!” Miriam pleads, resting beside Abigail’s body. 
“It’s too late, Miriam,” Ms. Hartwell says.
“Please!  Please let me go!”
Ms. Hartwell reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small bottle.  “Well, I’ve never met another natural like Abigail, but I know this potion will take you where you want to go.  Hurry and drink it up, child, if you really want to help her.” 
Not even taking time to consider it, Miriam pours the liquid into her mouth and passes out. 
“Good luck, Miriam,” Alexi says.
“Good luck, Miriam,” the other girls echo.
***
Abigail arrives at the scene and sees Miriam splashing, trapped under a tree that looks as if it once provided a summer’s day’s shade to the abandoned lake.  “Help!  Help me!  Abigail, help me!  Please!  I can’t move!” Miriam says. 
“I’m coming,” she says.  Abigail jumps into the water and kicks as fast as she can.  Struggling for air, Abigail reaches Miriam.  “I can’t feel my legs,” Miriam says.  “It’s
okay, Miriam.  I’m here.  I’ll save you.”
            Abigail looks up toward the lake’s bank when she sees someone running toward her.  “Abigail, Abigail!  Don’t fall into the trap.  It’s a dream.  It’s a dream,” Miriam says, running toward Abigail and the other Miriam. 
            “I know it’s a dream, but if I let you die here, then you’ll die for real, Miriam.  Remember Kayla?  Remember Claire?  Remember Logan?  Remember Starr?  Remember Kennedy?  Remember them all?”  Abigail asks Miriam.
            “Of course I remember them, but you can’t do this.  Your body is not strong on the other side.  You are barely alive.  It’s a trap.  I know that it’s a trap!” Miriam says.
            “You can’t know that.  You can’t.  No one knows if the connection from here-to-there is real or not until I wake up.  If I let you die here, you might really die, Miriam.  I’m not having your blood on my hands,” Abigail says.
            “It’s not real, Abigail.  Believe me,” Miriam says.
            “I can’t.  Stop arguing and help me save you,” Abigail says, waiting at the bank for Miriam to swim out into the lake with her. 
***
            “Is Miriam helping?  Are they going to be okay?” Alexi asks.
            No one answers her; instead, they watch.  Abigail’s body shakes harder than before.  Tears flow down her already damp cheeks.  Alexi reaches across Abigail’s body to grab a tissue.  She pulls a couple from the box and presses them against Abigail’s face to catch her tears.  “It’ll be okay, Abigail.  I’m here.  We’re all here,” she says.
            Around the room, the other girls watch both Abigail and Miriam.  Ms. Hartwell coaches Miriam, who shows her own signs of struggle.  “You can’t forget it’s a dream.  You have to come back.  Don’t get trapped.  Stay distant enough not to get trapped.  Listen to my voice, girl.  You have to come back.  Help your friend, but you have to come back.”
            Alexi reaches back across Abigail’s body to get another tissue, but when she does, Abigail’s body begins trembling.  At first, the shakes are mild.  Then, her movement becomes violent.  Abigail sits up in her bed and her mouth opens.  The girls look away, scared of what is happening to Abigail.  The already low light begins to dim.  Abigail’s lips don’t move, but a raspy, masculine voice comes from her mouth just the same.  “Dreams are coming true tonight,” it says. 
            “Girls,” Ms. Hartwell stands.  She points her hands toward the door.  “Get out of the house!  Get out now!  Hannah and Lizzy, help the small girls.  Alexi, go into my room and get out the small box under my bed.  Take it with you.  Do not come back inside this house for anything.  Alexi, did you hear me?  Do not come back in for anything.”
            Hannah and Lizzy instruct the girls to grab each other’s hands and follow them down the stairs.  When they reach the bottom, the house begins shaking.  Hanging pictures fall from the walls and glass breaks against the hard floors.  The entire foundation vibrates.  Wallpaper peels from the walls and begins to cover the ground.  Alexi runs to Ms. Hartwell’s room to grab the chest.  On her way down the stairs, she peeks back into Abigail’s room.  “Run!” Ms. Hartwell says.
***
            “I see you brought help with you tonight, my child,” the voice sounds again.  “We had a deal if you don’t remember:  you fight your own battles; you don’t die.  When you don’t honor your side of the arrangement, I don’t stick with mine.  It’s that simple.”
            “We didn’t have a deal,” Abigail says.  “We had nothing.  We’ve never had anything.  Do you think I want to have these dreams?  I’ve had them for as long as I can remember.  This is a curse!  Not a deal!  You dictate what happens to me, what happens to my friends.  You are the one who decides it all.  You always have.”
            “We don’t get to pick our curses, my dear.  They are bestowed upon us,” the voice says.
            “Abigail, ignore everything except our task.  You said that we have to free the other Miriam to get back home.  Let’s do it,” Miriam says.
            Abigail nods and grabs Miriam’s hand.  Together, they dive into the lake.  When they reach the fallen tree, Abigail instructs Miriam to swim to the other end.  “If we can roll it off her, she will be free and we can go back home.”
            “It’s too heavy for us to roll, Abigail.  We’ll never move it,” Miriam says.
            “This is a dream, Miriam.  A tree isn’t the same here as it is at home,” Abigail says.
            “No, it isn’t the same here as it is at your home, but it can do the same damage,” the voice says.  “Watch this.”
            Two other trees fall into the lake and trap Abigail and Miriam. 
            “Girls, I’m here,” a female voice says, rushing to the edge of the lake. 
            “Ms. Hartwell?” Abigail asks. 
            “It’s me, girls.  I’m coming.”
            Ms. Hartwell jumps into the water.  Her waves splatter the bank’s sides.   
            “None of you seem to understand how things work here.  Ms. Hartwell, our agreement was that you leave this girl to me.  Her dreams are hers—you can’t manipulate them,” the deep voice speaks again. 
“Why is it getting so cold?”  Miriam asks.
“I can’t move, girls.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have let you get involved in this, Miriam.  I’m so sorry, girls,” says Ms. Hartwell.
“There is nothing you can do.  It’s over,” the voice asserts.
“At least Abigail has us here with her.  Her dreams are ours now.  Forever,” Miriam says.
            “Your nightmares are over, Abigail.” Ms. Hartwell says.  Miriam agrees, “Now you can sleep.”
Abigail, Miriam, and Ms. Hartwell look at one another in the night’s shadows.  Together, they close their eyes.
***
            With all but three of its inhabitants outside, Ms. Hartwell’s Home for Girls crumbles to ashes.  The girls watch their home fall, thinking of their friends and only mother they’ve known leaving with it. 
            Alexi feels a breeze rub against her face.  “Do you hear that?” she asks.  “It sounds like a lullaby.  Good night, my sisters—my family.  Good night.”

~Brad Sides~

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