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Dreamland Stories

Lent 2016 Day 14 -Bess’ Nightmare

Bess blinked and found herself in the boat. It was wider than it had looked. She could lie down and have room to sprawl if it weren’t for the boards nailed to the top. Seats? Ribs? She didn’t know boats.

She scanned the countryside for her mother, but saw only growing shadows and morphing hills. The outlines shifted as if worms were wriggling atop one another in a mad game of King of the Hill.

The waters had cleared though. They were the brightest blue she remembered seeing and sparkled as if catching stardust. Frowning, she took a seat on one of the boards, gripping the wood tightly. A mast grew from the bottom of the boat with a groan that was almost painful to her ears, and a golden sail snapped as it caught the wind.

She sailed down the winding creek, the wind tugging at her long, brown hair. The scene didn’t change much, remaining all shadows and worms. Sometimes, she passed by tall mountains of them, other times, buildings and structures.

The boat didn’t stop and the creek didn’t widen.

“Why are we stuck?” she asked the air.

She’d been with River, trapped in the dream net, for months. She’d picked up a thing or two about Dreamland, things he probably didn’t realize she knew. Then, when she’d possessed him, slowing the progression of his illness, she’d learned a great deal more about Dreamland.

She knew she was in a nightmare pod. She knew a nightmare, a person, was somewhere in this pod with her. She knew there was a message.

She knew she wasn’t alone.

“Hello. Nightmare. Where are you?”

The wind continued to blow. The boat creak as it went around a bend. The hillscape shifted into the two towering mountains in the distance again.

“I am here.”

Bess jerked and stared at the board in front of her. A man sat there, dressed all in black. Silver adorned each shoulder, but she couldn’t make out what they were in this light. The gold light from the sail glinted off his bright, red hair and made his freckles take on a sheen.

But the thing that caught her off guard was that his eyes glowed black.

A dark expression floated over his rather angular face. “I should not be here, Bess.”

“Then why are you?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “You are a special case.”

She nodded. “Because of what happened on the river boat.”

“Yes.”

The captain of the river boat had been a dream killer, a failed nightmare who had been shot out of the Sea of Dreams to wander without purpose or means. He’d discovered the riverboat and had started collecting others the Sea of Dreams spat out. They fed the motor, the roaring heart of that white and red beast dreams.

Her dreams.

Her hopes.

River had said he’d seen dreamers kill themselves after their dreams were eaten by the dream ships. He’d even come to see her, wanting to know how she was, ready to talk her out of suicide if the thought crossed her mind.

But she was still here.

“You know Dreamland, how She works.”

“Is that why I’m stuck on a boat going nowhere?”

He tipped his head to the side, his brow furrowing as he let out a sigh. “No. The boat is going nowhere because that is where you’ve chosen to go.”

She took off her wire-rim glasses and rubbed her eye. Symbols. Always symbols. “Mom told me to get in the boat.”

“Repeatedly.” That word was laced so much meaning, the air grew thick with it.

“Okay, fine. She repeated it repeatedly, and, yes, I know that when someone special comes into a dream and repeats something, it needs to be noted, but I noted it, Nightmare. I noted it.”

“And ignored it.”

“She told me my girls were in the boat, but it’s an empty boat.”

“And now it is not.”

“Look.” She cleared her throat and slid her glasses back into place. “Dreaming of having a life with my daughters is what got me here in the first place. It’s the reason my dreams were out there to be caught. It’s why I’m stuck in a dead-end job. It’s why I can’t get out of this financial rut I’m in. It’s the reason I can’t move forward. Why, when someone asks me what I like to do for fun, I have no freakin’ clue because I don’t know. Fun? I’ve been afraid to have fun.”

The nightmare’s expression slid into cool stone.

Bess grabbed the base of her ponytail and flipped it, gesturing with her hand to the scene around them. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m listening, Bess. No one has heard your side of your story. You don’t tell it. Everyone changes it for you. So I’m just listening.”

She raked her teeth along her bottom lip and stared at the morphing shadows. “Worms? Really?”

“You conjured them. I merely gave them shape.”

She fingered the wood edge. “What am I doing here, Nightmare?”

“Finding peace, I think.”

“This is peace?” She gestured to the shadows and looming gloom.

“For you, yes.”

She ran her fingers along her lip, her emotions churning inside her chest. She wanted to let go of the suffocating sorrow, of the assaulting grief. She wanted to release the stabbing betrayal, the shooting pain of broken trust. She wanted to forget the emptiness of loving people with all her heart . . .

. . . who refused to love her back because she hadn’t earned it.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Nightmare.”

“Then change our course.”

She shook her head. Her heart had nowhere to go. Her mind lacked direction. Her every waking moment for the past ten years had been to create a life for her and her daughters.  Acknowledging that would never happen had stripped her of the one thing she had left.

Will through reason.

She’d always been the type of person who created goals and then met them. But now? Those goals just slipped right by.

She should have a full collection of artwork ready for the gala scheduled in a few months. She should have three sculptures complete. She should have her Etsy store open, taking in new customers a normal brick and mortar store couldn’t reach.

Without purpose, though, without reason, she had no will to make any of those things happen.

“I don’t know where to go.”

The nightmare breathed, his chest rising and falling the darkness. “My name is Danny.”

A surprised ghost of a smile lifted the corner of her lips. “That’s not a terrifying name.”

“I’m not here to scare you.”

“Then why are nightmares so terrifying?”

“To make it easier to deal with you real life by comparison.”

She raised her eyebrows and leaned to the side to see what the shadow worms were doing next. The setting had changed. Instead of the tall building coming up next, they built what appeared to be a pedestrian bridge, crossing the two banks in a wide arch. Her heart skipped a beat. “We’re safe in the boat, right?”

He lifted one shoulder.

She gripped the side of the dinghy as her heart raced. “They’re building a bridge.”

“Why should that concern you?”

“What if they get in the boat?”

“Then you are no worse off than if you had stayed.”

She let out a frustrated breath. “Why did you want me in the boat so bad?”

He looked up at the golden sail, glitter raining down on his cheekbones, accentuating the shadowy glow seeping from his eyes. “I didn’t tell you to get in the boat.”

“My mother is dead.”

“You called up the image of your mother.” He propped his booted feet against one side of the boat and folded his hands behind his head, leaning against the mast. “All I did was open the dreampod.”

The worm bridge drew closer. The muscles in Bess’ neck tightened as she shied away from that, away from—

—away from the black hole inside her, sucking every last dredge of life she had.

The bridge grew further away as if they’d back peddled.

The isolation. She’d pushed everyone away, protecting herself. This did feel like relief, this break from the wearying anguish. She didn’t trust people, didn’t want them around.

Her soul was already filled with the shadow worms.

As one, they raised their heads. Tiny beads of light shot from their little, worm heads as though they had eyes as they stared at her.

She didn’t want to . . . She didn’t want end up like that, without emotion, without meaning, without . . . without.

Danny opened one eye and peered at her. “You know what I always liked about you? You’re a quick study.”

The shadow worms slithered into the ground and disappeared, leaving only rolling hills of muddled earth.

“That’s going to come in handy.”

She looked around him and the sail, trying to pierce the darkness beyond the glare of the sail.

He sat up and slapped his palms against his knees. “I have a proposition for you.”

The shine from the sail grew, piercing Bess’ eyes with daggers of pain. “What?”

“Come with me. It’s a locked and protected dreamplane. Months there will be mere hours on Earth.”

“Why?”

“The Red Queen has a program for people like you.”

Bess opened her eyes to mere slits, blocking out the sail glare with both hands. “Like me?”

“Broken. Failures.”

“Thanks.”

“She has a place for you. You can grow there.”

“You said months in Dreamland?”

He nodded.

“I have obligations on Earth.”

“That you won’t miss.”

Her heart trembled. A chance? To be someone? To be something? To be someone to someone else?

Danny set his warm hand on her bare knee. “Bess, please. Do this.”

“If I don’t?”

He licked his lips and dragged his gaze to the surrounding landscape before returning it.

She swallowed hard. “And if I fail?”

He smiled. “We all fail, Bess. It’s what we do afterward that defines us.”

Lent 2016 Day 13: My Wildest Nightmare

So, um, I missed a few days. Mr. Dork and Things 1 & 2 were moving in, I was editing a book, and working on a few websites, while working the new job (with the longer hours and no additional pay), and getting a book launch organized. So, um, yeah. I missed a couple of days. And I’m okay with that.

So, today marks the first day of historical/fantasy romance. The key word here being “romance” because I’m not really good at that. But, anyway. Here it goes.


Her gut fell as the glass and metal elevator lifted her to the upper floors. Bess sighed, knowing what would be on the other side of those doors depending on the floor it stopped on. If it opened in the basement, she’d be stuck in a maze of rubble, following cries of people she thought she recognized, but could never find. If they stopped on the fourteenth floor, she’d get a promotion, a big cake, and Godzilla tearing down the building. She’d wake up falling, having been tossed out the window of the skyscraper.

The sixteenth floor had a band of wild monkeys tearing up the engine room of the spaceship taking her away, as far away from Earth as it could. But shortly after the doors would open, and after only a few frantic moments of trying to re-wire the engines, chill would sink in, and she’d awaken frozen and unable to breathe.

This was the elevator to her nightmares. Which one would it be tonight?

The roof.

With a quick frown of surprise, she checked the numbers at the top of the elevator cab again. She twisted behind her to look out the glass. A wide, green, hilly landscape went on for as far as the eye could see.

That was the sign she was safe.

But this was the elevator to her nightmares. She was never safe in her nightmares.

The elevator dinged at her, but the doors didn’t close.

She needed to gather all the symbols she could so she could write them down when she woke. Bright beautiful suns, a large, blue moon, blue sky, green hills. Singing trees. Fuzz balls in the rainbow colors of her yarn collection floated in the air.

She narrowed her eyes and turned to the door as it dinged again.

Her mother, Jean, stood in front her, looking so young. Her blond hair fell almost to her lower back. Her green eyes danced with mirth as if she’d just heard a fantastic joke. Her large bosom was covered in a many-flowered shirt that fell well-past her wide hips. She cupped Bess’ cheeks and whispered, “Bess.”

Bess jerked and swallowed. When her mother had passed away, they hadn’t been the best of friends. They hadn’t liked each other at all, practically. She didn’t dream of her mother. Ever. She’d sided with Aiden when they’d split. She’d told Bess to give up on her girls, to find a new life.

Sure. She might have meant well, but she hadn’t realized what she was advising or what she was telling Bess. She’d basically told Bess that she wasn’t good enough, that Aiden would be a better father than Bess would be a mother. Sure. He had the better job. Sure. He had a great support system in his family, and by great, she meant scary good. But she’d had her mother and her brother.

She’d taken it as a personal affront. She’d lost her daughters. Her heart had been ripped out of her chest, and to add salt to the insufferable, agonizing wound, her mother had told her point blank that she wasn’t a good mother.

So why was she here providing love now?

Her mother didn’t offer any answers. Sunlight glowed, shining a halo through her hair as a soft breeze played through it. Her green eyes softened and she took a step back. “I’ve come to tell you to get on the boat.”

“You told me to leave my children, to get therapy to make it easier, to get a new life.” Tears of anger and betrayal and hurt surged to the surface as Bess balled her hands into fists, her voice rising in level, lowering in tone. “You helped him take my children. You lied in court!”

Jean flinched and looked away, her lips flat.

“Why—why would I do anything you told me to now?”

“Bess.” Her mother raised her face to the sun and drew in a Jeanp breath through her nose. “I was wrong not to believe in you. You were wrong to listen to me instead of to yourself.”

“I was alone! And terrified out of my mind!” Bess’ nails dug into her palms as she fought to keep her emotions under control. “You said you’d be there! You said you’d help me, and then . . . ” A chest-wracking sob stopped her words.

“I know,” her mother whispered. “I know.”

A tear-filled giggle escaped Bess’ lips. “You know. After all this time, you come back from the dead to say ‘you know’.”

“Bess, get on the boat.”

“No.”

Jean bit down on her lips, rolling them out. She held her hands palm out on either side of her. “I wish I could take it all back, but I knew the fight would be too much for you. You’re not a fighter, Bee. You never have been. I knew he would provide a good life for your daughters. I didn’t realize he’d—” She took in a ragged breath and blinked away tears.

“He erased me, made my girls fear me.”

“He did.”

“I’m not following your advice again.”

“Well.” Jean pressed her fingertips against her closed eyes and turned away.

The elevator was gone. Green sprawled around them in waves of tall grass. Blue wild flowers beckoned on a far hill. A long, slender creek wound its way through the grass, vivid blue against the bright green. If this was a nightmare, she’d accept it.

“Don’t.” Jean dropped her hands, desperation shooting from her eyes as she took two steps to grab Bess’ hands. “Don’t. This is a trap. This sense of ‘relief’ or whatever you’re calling it, it’s a trap. It looks great because the pain is gone, but you were so close.”

“Close?” Bess shoved her mother away. “Close? You want to know what my great victory was the other day? Jemma initiated a conversation with me. You call that close? Mom, she’s seventeen! Close isn’t anywhere near where I’m at with her. I’ve lost ten years. Ten years.”

“And you’re okay with just giving up?”

“I didn’t give up, Mom! My dreams were destroyed.”

They’d actually been consumed by a ship that sailed the Sea of Dreams. For two months, I’d moved through life without the heavy weight of all of my failed dreams, dreams I’d never had a hope to attain. They’d all rested on Aiden coming to his senses and allowing me in, allowing me to see my girls by myself, allowing me to talk to them, allowing I-love-yous back into our conversation.

For two months, I’d felt light.

That is the trap, Bee.”

A rowboat appeared nestled among the grass along the banks of the creek.

“All this is yours.”

Bess shook her head with a puff of breath. “I accept. Sign me up!”

“But where are the people?”

People hurt. Those she’d loved with all her heart had spat her out as if she’d never existed, and to them, she guessed, she probably hadn’t. They brought her out, noticed her, called her when they needed something; money, food, their house cleaned. People used the things you loved most and twisted them so you’d never find joy again.

There was a lot of . . . sunlight in this meadow. Sunlight wasn’t joy, but it could be.

“You’re not the kind of person who can survive by herself.”

“I listened to you,” Bess roared, her blood beating with rage. “You said I was weak. You said I’d never survive. You said I needed help. I don’t, Mom! I don’t! I don’t need anyone ever again. I provide for myself. I keep myself fed, housed, clothed, bathed. I fix everything. I take care of everything. I provide. And I do that while giving half my income to Aiden to support my girls, and I do that while supporting you and your son!”

“I’m dead, Bee.”

“And I’m still paying for you because no one else will.” The rage left as quickly as it rose, leaving Bess spent. Her shoulders sagged as she stared at the soggy earth. “I’ll take this, Mom. This is so much better than anything else I’ve had. The grass is green. The Earth is wet. The water is clear. The sky is bright.” All those symbols meant good things in a dream. Good things. “This is good, Mom. This is better.”

Jean gestured behind her. “Your girls are on that boat.”

Bess leaned to the side to see around her mother. “Really? Because all I see is an empty boat. My boat is always empty, Mom. It will always be empty, and for once, I’m finally okay with that.”

“Your girls are on that boat, Bee.”

Bess shook her head sorrow swimming to the surface of her chest. “They will never be in my boat. I just have to accept that.”

“Your girls are on that boat.”

“Stop repeating that,” she screamed past the pain in her throat. “No one is in the boat!”

“Jemma.”

The name was like an arrow in Bess’ chest.

“Jacki.”

A sob ripped its way out as tears filled her eyes.

“Are in that boat.”

“No, Mom,” Bess said around her guilt and sense of failure. “That boat is empty.”

“Get in the boat, Bess.”

She shook her head. “The grass is green here. I’m okay with here.”

Jean grabbed Bess’ arms and shook.

Bess fought, trying to regain some ground.

Jean stopped moving, her green eyes dim.

The sun dimmed.

The ground filled with wriggling worms.

The grass drooped and turned brown.

The water of the creek browned and muddied.

Jean’s eyes lit up as she bared her teeth. “Bess, get in the goddamned boat!”

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