The next morning Lisa would only remember fragments of her nightmare. She would think this a blessing, but the shadows of memory and disconnection would tug at her sensibility, suggesting in low whispers that she really should remember. That it was important somehow.
And she would try to shrug that off, with only minimal success, using her pragmatic nature to tell herself it was the combination of many things : the excitement of meeting their new neighbour, the special sort of thrill that ran as an undercurrent through the evening between her and Damien – it had been so long since she’d really felt anything like that – the strange history of the house they met in and also the wavering tension in the air that held its origins in the emergence of her suddenly and unusually bright and inter-active daughter.
But before she woke, before she had the chance to shuffle the dim flickering images into some form of daytime sensibility, she bled into the night, torn from one image to the other.
First it is the three, the three of them, back in the dining room of his lovely home. He is laughing, telling a story, entertaining them, though something is distorting the sound and she can’t quite make out his words. Then she realises what it is. The table is humming, then it rumbles, and out of the centre, breaking through the fine tablecloth with ease, grows a tree trunk, slim but sturdy. And as they regard this with less awe than such an event should evoke, the trunk’s branches sprout. Three branches, one for each of them, reaching out like long limbs to embrace them all.
But it is not so much an embrace as a connection, an insertion, a possession, for into the chest of each the branch burrows itself without pain. She looks at Damien, a bit bewildered, wanting a cue as to how to react. He just looks back at her, calm, but with a faint glimmer in his eyes. Then she looks at Mandy and is alarmed to see not confusion, not fear, not disorientation but something else. Mandy is revelling in this, glowing. She is a flower claiming its light on the branch of a tree. The first flower of springtime, she is blooming.
‘Very neighbourly of you,” Damien says suddenly, looking at them both in turn, as though he approves utterly.
Mi casa, su casa.
Then the colour drains from her vision and she is outside, in a black and white, shadowy world. It feels cold, there is a breeze against her skin, chilling her. She feels grass beneath her bare feet. And she hears a strange creaking, swinging sound, and looks into the shadows to try to coax more clarity in her sight.
Creak, swish, whoosh, creak, swish, whoosh. Rhythmic and almost calming.
Slowly she sees a tree. Another tree! This time on a hill, and it’s familiar, but she can’t quite place it, and in any case her eyes are drawn to a movement and something so strange. What is that hanging from the sturdiest branch? Is that a childrens’ swing?
But no, the shadows retreat and she can see the figure. It is the figure of a girl, hanging upside down, swinging. She is lifeless, though she has not been hanged in the traditional sense. The noose is not around her neck, it is around her right leg, against which her left is crossed and tied. Her neck has not broken, she has not been robbed of breath. Somehow Lisa knows that death came some other way. The grip of the rope and the tree is strong, and the wind is making her swing back and forth, her dark hair trailing like a ragged scarf in the breeze.
The dark hair completely covers the face so she can’t see it, can’t see who it is, but the hair, the body, is so familiar, she suddenly thinks she knows. And she screams.
Then she is in a darkened room lit by many candles. Damien is there again, a dark figure sitting solemn across from her. A small but raised coffee table separates them. He is shuffling cards. Large cards, too large to be playing cards, then he starts to lay them out, face down, in a strange pattern, but one that is also vaguely familiar.
He turns the first card. She sees an image like the hanged girl on the tree, and he nods. Something distant in her memory is whispering the word ‘tarot’ to her, and beneath this is some knowledge of the basic theory behind the cards. She went to a reader once, she thinks, a long time ago, and they said her marriage would be happy, and they were wrong, wrong, wrong, so how can you trust the cards?
This isn’t comforting though.
‘What’s next?’ Damien asks quietly, more to himself, as he goes to lift the second card and turn it over.
And she’s somewhere else again. After the black and white, then candlelight hues, she’s in a cacophany of colour. An auditorium, or some type of large event room of that nature. But there’s lots of noise, just behind her, and people are wailing and shouting. She’s perfectly still, just beyond the turmoil, looking at the walls, the bright yellow walls. Now splattered, like a Pro Hart painting with something else, something garish and red, something that looks like blood.
Then she’s back with Damien in the candlelit room and he turns the next card. On it the picture of a skeleton sweeping the ground ahead almost seems to laugh at them.
‘Of course,’ Damien says, ‘The natural order of things. Death follows a sacrifice.’
She doesn’t know what he means, but she’s gone from him anyway. It’s black and white again, and she’s glad for the vision leached of colour. For everywhere around her are bodies. Many, many bodies, piled on top of each other. It’s like the end of a battle, or something far worse. Thoughts of nazi concentration camps occur, and she thinks, indeed, the quality of light and the terrible vision is like those early newsreels from that time. She half expects that when she turns she will see a camera projector and she will be in some old-time movie theatre.
But when she turns it is still more of the same, and something worse. A dark hooded figure, impossibly tall, impossibly large, is striding towards her, effortlessly wading through the bodies. And as it gets closer, it raises its head and she sees the face and she thinks: I know that face.
And she screams.
And she wakes, sweating profusely, heart racing, but the last images already retreating to places inaccessible to memory. And for long moments she lies in the early morning light, in wonder at what she can recall. She feels lost, struggling in vain for what she can’t remember, and reliving of what is left only that which she can bear.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved
Hate nightmares. If only they would last in the memory they could be analyzed and debunked.
Very true. The ones I hate the most are when you wake in the middle of the night and can remember just enough that you don’t want to go back to sleep too quickly in case you pick up where you left off by waking. 🙂
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I agree. I wrote a whole series of short stories based on that concept.