New voices, new flash-length fantasy.
By Antoinette McCormick
The noises began near the end of October.
Three taps on the window, then, nothing.
The first time I heard them, I was half-asleep. Thinking they were only rain against the window, I snuggled under the covers and drifted back into my dreams.
The next time, the sounds shook me from a sound slumber. In their wake, a vague foreboding malingered, clammy and sour smelling as my sweat-soaked sheets. “Only a nightmare,” I tried to tell myself. I’d had more than my share since the accident in April, so again, I paid the noises little heed.
But they continued for a week, and they were always the same: tap-tap-tap on the window, then, nothing: a charged emptiness, an expectant stillness. Each time, I’d surface, clawing at my covers and swallowing a scream. Then, tearful and trembling, I’d sit in bed and stare at the ceiling, the memory of those sounds lingering, clinging to me like a second shadow, a darkness even daylight could not dispel. I cancelled my classes. I couldn’t eat.
Finally, I told my best friend, Aimee. A part-time professor, Aimee owned Ananke’s Attic, Middleton’s only occult boutique. We met in her shop on Saturday.
“You’re not crazy, Devon,” she said, shooing a fly from the rim of her coffee cup. She’d propped the door open to take advantage of any foot traffic on Harker Street. So far, the fly was her only customer. “Grieving people sometimes experience these things.”
“Stephan’s not haunting you, sweetie.” Aimee stared through the window at the falling leaves.
“What should I do, then?” I squirmed in my seat.
She shrugged. “Next time, let it out.”
I nearly dropped my coffee. “Out?”
“Your heart,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze. “Let it out and follow wherever it leads. Just don’t bring back anything heavier than a memory with you this time, no matter how tempted you might be.” Wagging a warning finger at me, she said, “You know what I mean.”
I did. It was a dream I’d had—one whose ending even Aimee couldn’t explain.
While walking in a strange wood, I found an old coin lying in the long grass inside a ring of birch trees. It was silver, an octagon with a hole punched in its center. Strange symbols and flourishes covered one of its sides. I knew it was special, but when I picked it up, the ground gave way beneath my feet. As I fell into a swirling, almost-sentient darkness, I fisted the coin against my chest.
When I awoke, I still held it in my hand.
Aimee said to destroy it, but I couldn’t. It was beautiful, in an odd, primitive way. Stephan didn’t believe how I’d found it, only that we should have it appraised. His friend was a collector. That’s where he’d been headed the night he died. Drunk driver. Head-on collision. Nothing left behind. Nothing.
The over-door chimes shrilled. Startled, I looked up, but saw only a flutter of red and gold on the threshold: an autumn dervish, driven by the wind. Feeling sadder and even more confused than I’d been before, I left Aimee’s shop.
When the noises came again, I stayed inside the dream and opened night’s window. There, on the lawn, a solitary figure slipped amongst the shadows beneath the trees. I knew it was Stephan, but when I called his name, a gust of wind whisked him away in a whorl of dry leaves.
I awoke crying, but knew then what I had to do. The heart’s reach is as long as its cry is loud, and when its ache runs so deep, no measure to reclaim what has been lost seems too extreme. “Nothing heavier than a memory, Devon—promise me!” Aimee’s parting words reverberated in my mind, but I couldn’t listen. If I could dream a coin into existence, why shouldn’t I use that power to reclaim what death had stolen from me?
It seemed so simple…
I lit candles for luck, then willed myself into the ring of birches where I’d first found the coin. Overhead, bare and bone white, branches swayed in the soughing wind, interweaving, forming curious symbols and mysterious portents.
Behind me, a twig snapped.
Still wearing his old cargo jacket and torn jeans, Stephan stepped into a shaft of moonlight. With eyes glinting beneath his hair’s shaggy fringe, he said, “You shouldn’t have come.”
Before he said another word, I pulled him inside the circle and held him fast. The wind screamed, lightning split the sky, and trees crashed. Then, just as it had before, the ground juddered open, and I fell from the dreamlands on a roll of thunder.
I opened my eyes.
Stephan lay next to me. Maybe it was the candlelight; maybe it was all the time we’d spent apart, but he seemed younger, his features softer. I told him how much I’d missed him, but when I tried to kiss him, he pushed me aside.
Rising, he kicked his way through the candle ring. When he reached the closet’s mirrored door, he beckoned for me.
“Enough of the silent treatment,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“Look,” he said, pointing to the mirror.
As I stared at my reflection, my auburn curls flattened and started to turn white. “It’s a trick,” I said. “I don’t understand.” The voice in my ears sounded thin, reedy. “Why are you being so mean?”
“Look!” He’d never raised his voice to me.
When I stared into the mirror again, I screamed. Standing next to me was a boy of no more than fifteen. He pulled something silver from the pocket of his jeans.
“Death’s due.” Stephan pressed the coin into my palm. “Oh, Devon!”
Horrified, I watched Stephan become a toddler, a baby, and then, a glowing seed. While he receded, I withered inside my body’s bony cage. Then, an unseen hand spirited me away into silence and sentient darkness.
Here, suspended in night’s cauldron, I am still waiting, waiting, waiting…
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Student, editor, coffee hound. Loves cheeseburgers and anything that goes "bump" in the night.
Labels: Antoinette McCormick