By Ivana Milaković
I wake up covered in cold sweat, sick with fear. I know it was just a bad dream, and yet, I have to get up and check her out, just to see she’s fine. Barefoot, without turning the lights on even though it’s the middle of the night, I walk to her. She opens her golden eyes and looks at me, and I start to breathe, realizing only then I was holding my breath.
Her gaze is calm, so I calm down too. I feel sorry for waking her up, and comfort myself with the thought that she always finds it easy to sleep.
Sleep doesn’t come so easy to me, though. I don’t even remember the nightmares and don’t want to; all I want is for her to be safe, and there’s nothing in the world that could guarantee me that. Nothing and nobody could guarantee me that someone wouldn’t hit her with a car for the fun of it, or cut her and post the pictures on Facebook or videos on YouTube. People are becoming increasingly angry, increasingly nervous, and many of them like to take it out on those who are smaller and weaker than they are – and she’s so small and vulnerable. I tell myself that she has her own strengths anyway, that she is really smart and careful – sometimes even more careful than me! – but that’s not enough to comfort me.
Sometimes I think of locking her up, of not letting her go out of the house. There are people who do that, some of them even pride themselves for being careful and reasonable. I couldn’t do that to her, though. I couldn’t just lock her up and take her freedom away. Even if she lived longer that way, would she be as happy as she is now, free to do what she wants and go where she pleases (within reasonable boundaries, of course – if there’s a neighbor with a mean dog, I’m going to yell at her for getting anywhere near that yard, and go ahead and laugh at me for acting silly, I dare you!)?
I lay in my bed, still awake, still afraid for her, when she comes to check me out. Has she heard me? Did I make some noise I wasn’t even aware of? Or has she sensed something? I don’t know, and at that moment, it doesn’t matter. I look at the contours of her small body, at her beautiful golden eyes, and I calm down. There she is, right in front of me, and she’s fine. She’s perfectly fine.
I make myself comfortable as she jumps on my bed and purrs me to a peaceful sleep.
Ivana Milaković is an author, a freelance writer, a translator and an editor. She has a degree in Dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, Serbia. Ivana is the author of a short story collection, a mixture of horror, fantasy, and fairy tales retold, Mačji snovi, or Cat Dreams. She enjoys writing short fiction and has been published in various magazines, e-zines and anthologies. To learn more about Ivana, please visit her blog.
By Barry Napier
It fades in like film grain marching across an old theater screen.
She is standing in the middle of a dirt road, cars and gravel only phantoms in the tracks. The ditches to each side so worn and faded that she can imagine the finger of God etching them shortly after Eden. The dirt track wound away to both sides, bending to the right ahead of her where it eventually merged into the distant forest. In the other direction, the path sketched itself through an impossibly green field where it then narrowed to a pencil point on the horizon.
A butterfly passed by her, circled back around perched on her shoulder. It seemed to be directing her eyes slightly to the left where a long forgotten white house stood untouched by human hands for countless years. A once-white porch sat crumbling and gray. A porch swing hung from a single chain with its fallen twin curled up in a rusted loop on the porch boards.
She looked beyond the house and saw a fence, the majority of it cracked and fallen. She waited for a human shadow to fall across the posts, as she knew it would because it had before — both in her real life and in this wheel of a dream that never stopped coming. The sun blazed down fat and bright, but there was nothing behind the fence to cast a shadow.
She studied the wooden fence, its rails splintered and cracked, waiting for that figure to appear. But the blue country sky on the other side of the fence and the golden fields that rolled out beyond them were all there was to see. She knew that something was different this time, some new design that unknotted her ability to rely on the same old haunts, the same old reassurance that this was only a nightmare from which she would eventually awake.
Then she saw him, not behind the crooked fence as he should be, but coming down the road from the opposite direction. He was dressed in a black suit and from this distance he was so small; he was just a speck on the landscape, nothing more than an approaching fly.
But as he closed the distance, covering the dirt track as if it were a cut and he was a stitch, he became that larger looming horror. He closed the gap, smiling at her, bowler hat cocked slightly to the right on his head of gray hair.
He smiled as he passed, his eyes red and his lips cracked. He smelled of mold and her grandmother’s old linen closet where she once hid as a little girl.
“We’re coming,” he said as he brushed by her.
Her heart dropped and in both the dream and in her bed, she shivered. She watched him walk away, longing for him to turn back around.
Whether to decode his message, or because she didn’t want to be alone on this road, she did not know.
Barry Napier has published more than forty short stories and poems in online and print publications. He is the author of The Masks of Our Fathers, 13 Broken Nightlights, and A Mouth for Picket Fences (his first poetry collection, released by Needfire Poetry). His novel, The Bleeding Room, was released by Graveside Tales in September 2011. To learn more about Barry, visit his blog.