JESSICA THERRIEN

From Imagination To Publication

Monday, April 18, 2011

Short Story

Hey everyone,

The editing is going well....finally.  The tears have subsided (for now) and the changes in the story are exciting and fun to write.  I'm actually loving it.  I wish I could share all of the new ideas and details with you, but I'm not sure my publisher would appreciate that.  Plus I have to build some suspense right?

In the meantime, I thought I would share a short story with you that I wrote a while ago.  It's not perfect, but it is a little taste of my writing.  I hope you enjoy it :)



Dreams

If there was ever a point just before the clinically insane wondered if they were truly going crazy, Megan Reynolds was there, right on the precipice of madness, testing her footing before she took the leap.  If she were asked why, she would say it was because of the dreams.  They were the reason she refused to sleep tonight, but maybe she was already gone, already crazy.
At 23, she sat alone in her off-campus apartment trying to convince herself everything would be all right.  Her best friend and roommate, was out on a date, which made it much easier for her to sit wide-awake on their couch at 1:30 in the morning dwelling on her situation.  She knew sleep would eventually find her, and so would the dreams, but if she could put it off a while longer, she would.
Over the past few weeks, Megan had noticed an older version of herself occupying her dreams, like a fly that just won’t let you be.  She followed her through every whimsical fantasy her brain managed to conjure up in the night.  No matter where she ended up, the older her was always there, with the same wild brown curls and honey gold eyes.  Any sane person would say her woman self was a figment of the imagination, that on the nights she invaded Megan’s dreams, it was the mind’s portrayal of some internal conflict.  What convinced Megan she was losing it was the idea that it could be real.
She had always thought her dreams were just dreams, fleeting and imaginary.  There had been so many throughout her life, so many she’d chosen to ignore or let herself forget.  The memory is fragile and the content of Megan's dreams always seemed to break apart in the morning and by breakfast all was forgotten.  Last night’s dream was different.  It stood out as sharp and clean as a still water reflection, and it made her wonder how many like it she had let slip from her memory like drops of water evaporating from the earth.  She should have been listening.
The image of her own matured eyes pleading back at her made her stomach turn.
“Who are you?” Megan asked, unable to ignore the woman’s consistent presence in her dreams.
“I think I’m…you,” she answered, “just older.  We’re in different places, or times.  I don’t know.”
“But what do you want?  Why have you been following me?”
“I’m hoping you can help me.”  The request seemed simple enough, but there was something more hanging on the end of her words. 
“I don’t understand.  How?”
“I want to undo something I did a long time ago, something I think you’re about to do.”
Megan watched as the woman struggled with the decision to tell her.
“What is it?” she pried, suddenly intrigued.
She was hesitant, not wanting to be the one to break the bad news, but she had no choice. 
“You kill your best friend.”
Megan laughed in her sleep.  “That won’t happen.”
“I know you don’t believe me,” her dream self accepted, “but if I'm right, I think I'll be able to prove it.”
“Then, prove it,” Megan challenged her with confidence.  She knew with unwavering certainty that she would never hurt Eric.  Not ever.
“What year are you in, what month?”
“I thought you knew everything,” she teased, playing off of the woman's earlier accusation.
Although her eyes were older, they still rolled with the same irritated expression as Megan's.
“I can only judge the time by what I see in your dreams, I only have a general idea.”
“It's 2010, October 5th.”
“We don't have much time,” she said, trying to hide her obvious anxiety.
“Yeah but, I mean this is just a dream right?”  The woman’s sincerity was starting to make her nervous.
“I don’t know.”
“It is,” Megan comforted herself.  “You are always in my dreams.”
“And you’re in mine.”
Megan woke abruptly and without answers.  The distant sound of droning music reverberated through the floor from a downstairs neighbor like pulsing sonar pulling her out of the deep well of her subconscious.  She groaned with frustration as she tried to hold on to the dream, hoping she would find it again, but the music grew louder.  Apartment living had its drawbacks.  She was awake, and it was gone.  She expected the pieces to float away from her as soon as she opened her eyes, but she remembered the conversation vividly.  She had dreamed a warning from the future; somehow, she had killed Eric, or would kill Eric.  The thought made her blood pulse too quickly, and her throat squeeze tight, hindering her breath.  She was too afraid to ignore a dream that seemed so real.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Eric asked from the drivers seat on their way to campus.
His bright blue eyes were pinched together, not in anger, but in amused curiosity.  
“Nothing,” she shot back.  “Why?”
“Well first of all you’re not talking my ear off, which means I’ve had to do most of the talking and you’re not even listening.”
She laughed.  “You sound like a woman.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
It was funny to think someone of his size could have such thin skin.
“See, now your being all sensitive too.”
That shut him up.
She was being too hard on him, after all, it wasn’t his fault she’d had the dream, but it was easy to take things out on Eric.  They had known each other for so long.  He was like a brother to her.  Their parents had been friends when they were born, so by default they had been as well, and for as long as she could remember, Eric had been there to help her take on the world.  He was as good as family, and no matter how awful she was, he would always forgive her.  That’s why she wanted so badly for the dream to be wrong.
“Sorry,” Megan apologized, not wanting to ruin the day, a day she hoped would not be their last.
She tried to think of something else to talk about, a way to make things seem normal, even though she knew they weren’t.
            “So how was your date,” she asked, trying to recover.
            The question caught him off guard.  “Oh, it was good,” he answered without enthusiasm, and she could tell “good” meant “not so good.”
            “It couldn’t have been that bad, you were out pretty late.”
            He smiled at her.  “Ok, so she wasn’t my type,” he admitted.  “I went out for a beer with Charlie instead.”
            She shook her head, smiling back.  “You’re too picky.”  Part of her was happy though.  It wasn’t that she was jealous, they were too much like family to ever have feelings for each other, but Megan knew that a girlfriend would steal away her time with Eric, and she was selfish.  She wanted her best friend all to herself, but if the dreams were right, a girlfriend would be the least of her worries.  He would be taken away from her for good.  The thought made her stomach sink, and she couldn’t think of anything else.
“Do you believe in time travel?” she asked as he parked the car.
“No,” he answered with a laugh.  “Why?”
She ignored the question.  “What about premonitions or fortune telling?”
“You know, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m having a vision right now.  Wait…” he said, eyes closed tight in mockery.  “Yes, I’m seeing you and me, being late for class.”
Megan was not amused.  “All right, all right, you don’t have to be sarcastic,” she said, rolling her eyes as her older self had in the dream.  The memory brought on the fear, and her face tightened up, like it always did before tears.
Eric recognized the look immediately.  “Oh come on Megs.  I’m sorry okay?”
He was solid and strong, and his heavy build nearly swallowed her up as he held her close.  Eric had developed the look of a man, far before he ever truly became one, always the kid who could walk into bars at 16 without a second glance.  Now that he was in his twenties, his brawny figure suited him well.  Megan tended to look past his intimidating physique, knowing him as more gentle than most would think, but as she found herself wrapped safely up in his sturdy body, she realized one thing—death would not find such a strong man easily.  In that moment, she gave in eagerly to that comforting thought, tucking all ideas of his preordained death away into the back of her mind. 
“Why are you being so serious?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a sigh. 
            The day played out as most Mondays did for the two of them—class until 2:00 p.m., the campus bar for happy hour, where Megan managed to completely forget the haunting thoughts that had been following her, and then home.  Although it was Megan’s night to cook, too many White Russians meant Taco Bell and bed before sundown, but none of it kept the dreams away. 
“We should be quick.  I don’t know how much time we have.”
Megan ignored the older version of herself, like a defiant child would a mother.  She didn’t want to believe any of it was real, and being back here in another dream only validated the insane thoughts she was fighting all day long. 
“Megan!” the woman yelled as she turned her back.
“Look, I don’t want to dream about you anymore.  There’s no way I’m going to kill Eric, so just leave me alone.”
Megan saw the relief in her face.  “So he’s still alive.”
“Of course he is still alive,” she answered with frustration.
The woman looked at Megan half defeated, knowing she needed to get through to her before it was too late.
“Ok,” she said, reaching for proof.  “You’re going to go to the campus bar for Halloween dressed as Batman and Robin.”
“You’re part of my subconscious; of course you would know that.  You know what I know, that doesn’t prove anything.”
“That night, Eric is going to break his hand.  You offer to drive him to the hospital, and…” The woman was obviously uncomfortable reliving the memory Megan had yet to experience.
“And what?” Megan asked, unable to hold back.  She wished she could just ignore the woman’s claims and just believe these dreams weren’t real, but if there was even the smallest chance it was true, she had no choice but to go along. 
“You wreck the car.  You live, Eric dies.”
She tried to disregard the woman’s comment as though it didn’t bother her, even as her skin began to pulse and bead with sweat.  “So I just won’t drive.”
 “What if that’s not enough?  What if someone else wrecks the car?”
 “Ok, so I keep him from breaking his hand I guess.” 
“I want to test it, and it will prove this is real too, but it has to be something small.  I don’t know what will happen to me if you change things.”
The decision was simple.  Megan would do the opposite of everything she planned for the day.  She wouldn’t go to school, wouldn’t eat breakfast at the campus café like she did every morning, and wouldn’t work her night shift waitressing at Marisco’s. 
“Hey, we’re going to be late!” Eric’s deep voice bellowed from outside her bedroom door.  She would have ignored him, but his persistent pounding required some response.
“I’m not going!” she yelled back.
Eric burst in without invitation.
“Why?  You have an Econ test today.  You’re going, get up.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Eric to have to coax Megan out of bed, but this time her resistance was not out of exhaustion or laziness.  She thought about how to explain, but the truth seemed too absurd to say aloud.  My dreamt up future self told me to stay home today.  She wasn’t sure Eric would see that as a legitimate excuse.
“I don’t feel like it,” she offered.
He laughed, unconvinced.  “When does anyone ever feel like taking an Econ test?”
She thought about it, and an easy answer came to mind.
“When they’re on their period,” she groaned with feigned discomfort.  It was the one excuse he wouldn’t reject.
“Wow.  You really don’t have any personal boundaries do you?”
“You asked.”
“Well if you’re not going, I’m not going.”
“Really?” she beamed.  She liked the idea of them playing hooky together.  Besides, it was unplanned, just the thing to throw her future for a loop.
He shrugged.  “Yeah sure.  What do you want to do?”
“Stay in PJs, drink mimosas and watch marathon episodes of Seinfeld.” 
It was something she liked to daydream about when she was bored in class.
He shook his head with a smile.  “I love you Megs, but you are the worst influence.” 
“Oh, shut up and go buy the champagne already.”
It really was an awesome morning, maybe it was the thrill of knowing it was never supposed to be written into her life that made it so much fun, or maybe it was just the mimosa. 
“So, remember when I was asking if you believe in future premonitions?” she probed, feeling a little loose after a few hours.
“Yeah,” Eric answered, with Seinfeld commentary in the background.
“It was because I have been having these dreams, and my future self is telling me what is going to happen.  Crazy right?”  She laughed, playing off the comment casually. 
“Crazy,” he agreed, without taking it to heart.
“The thing is, I think it’s like…real.”
“You feeling a little loosey goosey or what Megs?”
The numb buzz of the alcohol was suddenly too strong, and Megan wondered if she’d said too much. 
“Yeah, you know what…never mind.”
The brush-off would have worked on anyone else.
“What?  You’re serious?” Eric asked, a little surprised.
She didn’t need to answer.
“Ok, so what happens in the dream?  What does she say?”
“That you die,” Megan answered, releasing the burden with a sigh, “because of me.”
Eric’s face was still, blank as a storefront manikin, and Megan couldn’t read his reaction.  Then suddenly all of his features lifted in amusement.
“That is officially your last mimosa.”
Megan couldn’t help herself, and they both burst into drunken laughter.  In that moment, when everything was so right in the world, it was hard to believe anything could go wrong. 
Eric fell asleep hours before Megan, but she let the episodes of Seinfeld run on, one after the other late into the night.  With the T.V. blaring and all the lights on, her eyelids finally began to sink right as the sun was dawning.  Then suddenly she recognized herself staring distantly from a park bench, and knew she’d finally lost to sleep.
“Did you stay home?” the older Megan asked.
“Yeah.”
“Nothing changed, or if it did, I didn’t notice.”
“What does that mean?”
“I have no idea.”
They tried other things, things that seemed more drastic.  Megan quit her job completely, cut her hair to her chin, and bought an old yellow Volkswagen for $500, but her future never changed.
“What’s going on with you?”  Eric had asked.
“Nothing, just need a little change in my life,” was always her response.  She could tell he never really believed her, but what could she say?
When Halloween came, her whole chest was tight with worry, and from the moment she woke up her heart felt heavy and overburdened with fear.  She thought about how to approach the subject, how she would manage to stop the worst from happening.  The only answer she could think of was to be straightforward with him.
“Eric, if I asked you to stay home with me tonight would you?”
“What?” he answered in shock.  “Megs, you’ve been looking forward to this for months.”
“I know.  I just feel like something bad might happen tonight.”
He rolled his eyes.  “Is this about the dreams?  If it is, we’re going just so I can prove to you they’re nothing.”
“Even if it is about the dreams, you can prove the same thing by staying.”
“But we’re Batman and Robin,” he groaned.  “How cool is that?”
She smiled at her brilliant idea for them to be the pair.  “It is cool.”
“So?” he asked hopefully.
“Look.  I need you to stay,” she begged.  “As my best friend, I’m asking you to please just stay.  Please.”
It was to her benefit that he could never say no to her. 
“All right,” he agreed with a heavy sigh of submission.
Megan couldn’t hold back her smile as all the pressure released from her chest.
“Thank you.”
“Yeah, well, you still have to wear the Robin costume, because I’m wearing mine.”
“Deal.”
The two of them camped out on the balcony to watch the night ensue.  Halloween in their college neighborhood was always a drunken riot.  Groups of dressed up students passed beneath them through the courtyard, yelling and laughing like gaggles of geese. 
“See what we’re missing?” Eric joked with a beer in his hand, clad in tight grey leggings and a bat cape.
 “No,” Megan answered honestly.  “I’m glad it’s just us.  I don’t really care about being with anyone else anyway.”
“Not even Randy?”
“Randy?  Randy who?”
“From Marisco’s.”
“What, the drunk guy that’s at the bar every night?”
“I thought you liked him.”
“Hello, he gives good tips.  A girl’s gotta make the money honey,” she said saucily.  “Why?  You jealous?”
“No,” he said too quickly.  “I just…I don’t know.”
His uncomfortable hesitance changed the atmosphere.
“You are jealous,” she observed with realization.
“Yeah, so what,” he admitted.
“Why?”
“Megs…” His tone alluded to the obvious.
It took a while for it to sink in, for her to fully register that there had been undisclosed feelings.  How had she never noticed?
“For how long?”
“A few years.”
“Shut up,” she scoffed in disbelief.
“Well, what do you want me to say Megs?”
She had been so stunned by the whole reveal, that she hadn’t really taken time to process whether or not she felt the same.  It made sense, they were close, they loved each other, but they were best friends.  If things went wrong, she could lose him, and that wasn’t worth it, not to her.
Too much time had gone by without words.  It was his opportunity, who knows how long he had waited to act.  He leaned in for their first kiss.
“Wait,” Megan reacted harshly, propelling her body up and away from the kiss.
Eric followed, moving in for his normal hug and apology.  “I’m sorry,” he pleaded, but she pushed him back, defensive and forceful.  It was an instinctive reaction, protective of their friendship.  If she let him too close, lines would be crossed.
She never expected him to stumble backward, never expected him to fall, so when he tried to brace himself against the broken rod iron, her reaction wasn’t fast enough.  She heard the metal snap under his weight, and saw the look of horror as he realized he would fall, but as her hands reached to catch his shirt, they only clutched wildly at the air.
“Eric!” she screamed, as she watched him hit the ground three stories below.  The sound was unnatural, sickening, and it stole her breath as though it had been her who had hit the cement, knocking all the wind out of her.  She stared motionless, her insides too hysterical to act.
No matter how hard she willed him to get up, he never moved, and it wasn’t until she saw the blood puddle into a halo around his head that she could manage to move. 
She grabbed the phone and dialed 911 as she tore down the stairs, if she could only get to him, maybe he would be all right.  Her frantic screams for help drew no attention, not on Halloween. 
“Eric, please wake up, please get up,” she begged, wiping her tears with blood drenched hands.  Even there next to him, his face still and lifeless, she couldn’t break through the disbelief.
“I told you,” she cried into his shirt, but her stifled moans brought no relief.  “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” 
He was gone, and she had done it.  The grief, dismal and heavy like torrential downpours of falling water, made her choke for air as she pleaded for him to wake—her face marked with blood, like war paint. 
After Eric fell, Megan spent most days and nights in sleep.  She was hoping for an answer, an explanation that would relieve her inescapable smothering guilt, but all she found was a black hollow void that left her with nothing.  She would never find her peace, not when the dreams had stopped.
His family didn’t press charges, or blame her, although she thought they should.  To Megan, it felt like the world should have stopped when he died, because there was no world without Eric, but people kept on, as if his life’s movie continued to play after the credits.  It wasn’t right, and when all formalities were said and done, everyone returned to their lives leaving Megan to fumble through the wreckage of her mind, alone. 
It was easy for people to say, “Oh, she’s grieving,” when she refused to talk, eat, or even function, but it was more than grieving.  The single word couldn’t possibly encompass all that she was dealing with, all the loose ends, the questions, the blame, and the dreams. 
*
It took Megan years to recover.  Even then, she never felt as though she’d moved on, but one husband and three kids later, Megan had found what most would consider to be happiness.  Though, a part of her would always wonder what might have happened if she were to have saved Eric.  If they had just been given the time to realize that they loved each other, maybe things would be different.  It was something she could never let go.  Years of therapy had taught her to stay away from the what if’s, but last night’s dream made that impossible. 
It had dropped her in the back of the bowling alley where she and Eric spent most of their Friday nights senior year in high school.  As soon as she recognized her surroundings, her eyes found him.  He was waiting his turn, eyes locked in a different direction, smiling a secret smile that he thought nobody could see.  Megan’s heart hammered with excitement.  Over the years, her subconscious had only plagued her with the last painful image she had of him, dead and cold, his blood on her hands, but here, he was young and alive.  Each subtle expression made her ache with loneliness.  She needed to go to him.
“Eric,” she said as she pushed her way through people to get to him, but just as she was about to call out, she saw who he had been watching.  It was her, ten years younger and untouched by the weight of his death.  Megan’s own youthful face, bright with naivety, didn’t hang with regret as she knew it would.  She worried for the girl, dreaded what she knew would come to her, and then wondered if it would be like before.
“Megan!” she shouted, and the young girl’s head turned in response.  Their eyes met, and hope was suddenly reborn.

2 comments:

  1. A very nice story. I loved it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I keep thinking about it. I love this story.

    ReplyDelete