A shrill scream tears through the night. Not a cry of joy and merriment from the evening’s festivities, but one of horror that shatters all thought and detonates an urge to run.
Jack and I scurry to our feet, from the blanket spread on the lush grass meadow where seconds before we enjoyed a local band. It’s hard to tell from which direction the scream came, but the culprit reveals itself. From the far side of the grove, a black mist rolls our way. From within it comes a sound too fresh in my mind to forget—the howl of Bog Dogs.
This can’t be. It was only a dream… right?
A human stampede charges our way, and I cling to Jack’s hand. Then there’s only a wall of people. Heads twist in all directions with chaotic glares—all social conditioning gave over to fear. It’s every man for himself.
The light from the full moon fades like the gods are playing a terrible joke and erasing it from existence. We rush forward with the crowd. Cell phones flash to life and provide the only light source. The crowd is suffocating, choked at the only opening across the river out of the grove.
Jack hauls me throng of people. We run upriver to a low spot along the riverbank, and he plunges into the dark water dragging me with him.
“No, no, no.” I heave on his hand with both of mine. “We’ll never make it.” This is happening so fast I didn’t make the connection until now. I’ve seen the outcome of Jack and I crossing the river on our own--in a nightmare. I point to the opposite bank now shrouded in mist. The jaws of a smoke wolf breach the oozing black vapor that wafts down the riverside toward us. Staying with the crowd is our only option.
We hurry back the way we came and squeeze into the thinning horde. Those who saw us leave, take their chances and attempt to cross the river. A scream slashes through the dark, then another, then more than I can count.
I recall the details of the nightmare I dreamed five nights in a row. Each night it was different, but each path we took led to Jack’s and my death. First, the mist consumed the road once we crossed the river. Then it devoured us from behind when we stalled on the bridge. Even when we tried to run for home or inside any building void of light, it found us. We almost made it once, after floating down the river, but got caught in the rapids. That didn’t stop the dogs from finding us.
But there was a light. I see it in my mind. Just before the rapids, at the top of a steep hill, there was a light coming from the travel agency. Light must hold them off. The river downstream is our only chance.
“Come on,” I grab Jack’s hand, this time, dragging him down the riverbank which is much steeper on the left side of the bridge.
“Gail. We just tried this,” he pleads in a loud whisper.
“That was the wrong way. We have to get to the travel agency.”
I slip into the water as quiet as possible, my shoes sinking into the syrupy muck. The water grows deeper, and the current pulls us along. In the silent blackness, we drift hand-in-hand while screams from friends, neighbors, and the innocent warn of a possible fate.
I motion to Jack and point to the light coming from the travel agency at the top of the slope. Far from the rapids, we cross the river. Jack latches onto a sizable tree root, and we pull ourselves out of the water. Leaves and mud meet my face while I struggle to climb the steep dirt embankment. My fingers tangle in my necklace. I unwind them from the chain and stare at the mud covered dreamcatcher pendant. I tuck it in my blouse and continue climbing before the mist finds us. Perhaps it will bring us good luck.
We lay at the top of the hill and scope out the area. No one is in sight, not even the disturbing fog…yet, so we make our way along the side of the building.
Jack peers around the corner. “The door’s open.” He looks left down the street, then right. “Let’s go.”
We slither around the corner and stay low, then creep through the open door. Jack finds a chair and jams it under the door handle. In a crouch, we head into the dark office, then into a cubicle in a corner opposite a wall of windows.
“Someone’s gonna see that chair and know we’re in here,” I whisper.
“There’s nothing we can do,” he says.
We sit in quiet for some time, listening to distant screams and cries for help. What can we do, but wait? Jack crawls into a cubicle along the window and peers over the four-foot wall. Fear knots in my stomach. What if someone sees him? We’re lucky the lights are off.
My thoughts turn to the dreamcatcher necklace, and I slip it from the confines of my blouse. It was an interesting find at the flea market, different than any dreamcatcher I’ve ever seen. The merchant suggested it would make a lovely necklace, being it was so small, and I purchased a chain. I’ve worn it every day since.
I stare at it, the black string covered in mud. What did I like about it? It appears almost creepy now, and I slip the chain over my head. The nightmares started the first night I bought it. Could there be a connection? I wrap my fingers around it and scoff at the idea.
Jack returns. “I don’t see anyone.”
“What about the mist?”
“Nothing. But we’re not gonna chance going out there.”
I open my hand and stare at the dreamcatcher.
“What’s that?” Jack plucks it from my palm. His eyes grow wide, and his lips press flat. “Where did you get this?”
I don’t like his tone. “The flea market.”
“Didn’t you say you’ve been having nightmares?”
I swallow the lump forming in my throat.
“Gail? Did the nightmares start after you bought this thing?
I don’t want to say it out loud. This can’t be happening because of me. It just can’t be my fault. I nod, and Jack tosses it on the worn path in the cheap gray office carpet in front of us.
Tears run down my cheeks. “I didn’t know…I thought it was nice. It’s a dreamcatcher. Aren’t they a good thing?” I blubber and weep onto arms folded around my knees. “It’s just a dream,” I mumble into my sleeve. “How can it be real?”
“Shh,” he whispers and tucks his legs close to his body, away from the stream of light from the front of the agency.
Someone runs screaming by the front of the building.
Jack peeks around the corner, then stretches his neck to see over the cubical walls along the window. He ducks down and pushes against me in the corner, his face close to mine. “It’s coming,” he whispers.
An urgency to run sweeps over me, and my legs and arms twitch. I want to charge out of here and find someplace safe, but where?
“Shh,” Jack says again.
“It was…just a dream,” I stammer, and Jack covers my mouth with his hand.
“You bought someone’s nightmare.” He hugs me. “And now it’s yours.”
A Fresh Start won 3rd place in the January 5-18 Flash Fiction Contest, and Best Narrarator. It Was Just A Dream...Right? won 1st place in the following Flash Fiction Contest.