“He can see us,” one of them squeaks.
I never believed they existed, but this one is staring right at me. It looks like one of those walking sticks you find in the woods – well, maybe not this time of year since they prefer summer. Still, Christmas Eve or not, there’s an army of walking stick insects performing some kind of science experiment on my older brother.
“What are you doing?” I whisper-scream.
Drew stirs under his covers. Like ants caught red-handed, all their motion ceases in a split second. Drew and I would’ve done the same if Mom had caught us in the pantry after midnight.
“Told you he can see us,” squeaks the one staring at me.
Six of them are propped on my brother’s pillow, holding a glass beaker near his face. The pear-shaped vial looks like something from chem lab. I have to wipe my eyes to be sure, but there’s some kind of bright, transparent goop floating in it like a dead jellyfish. I see another three stick bugs holding a syringe to Drew’s ear while a fourth pulls on a microscopic handle. I have to look past their surgical instruments to notice a platoon of them spread atop his blanket and bed covers, holding clipboards and notebooks. Another two dozen are on the wooden floor, passing messages along in an elaborate game of telephone, their line trailing off into our closet.
“What are you…?” I start to repeat.
“Shhh!” one of them protests, waving twig arms thinner than dental floss. Do I see miniature bifocals and a small puff of white beard on its face? “We dare not hurt the lad.”
I know it’s my hearing, not my sight, that’s failing me now, but I rub my eyes aggressively with closed fists anyway. As my vision comes into focus again, I see only a handful of the walking twigs with their chemistry equipment. The others must’ve scattered back into the closet.
“Dreamsnatchers are shifty critters,” Grandpa used to say. He’d share the same long-winded myth every Christmas. It’s been a couple years since he passed, but I can still see him sitting in his favorite recliner chair, the one grooved uniquely for his robust form.
“Their work is precise,” he’d say. “In and out quicker than a flash and just like that, your childhood dreams are gone. Dreamsnatchers! Thieves in the night.”
“It can’t be…” I sigh without thinking.
Drew stirs again, threatening to turn completely around.
“Cease and desist, boy,” the bearded twig begs me.
“He’s critical, Doctor,” says the twig next to him.
“Doctor?” I repeat to myself.
“We can’t have you wake the lad,” he says.
If Gandalf were a stick, I think to myself.
“Did we extract the requisite volume?” Dr. Gandalf asks.
“My estimates show eighty percent,” one replies.
“I concur, Doctor,” says another.
“Are we able to proceed without completing the procedure?” Dr. Gandalf asks again, rubbing his chin with his twig arm. The beard looks like the snow-smeared bark on the redwoods outside.
“I wouldn’t wager it,” one says from under the syringe.
“We’ve had success from ninety percent extraction, but no less,” adds another from under the jelly-filled beaker.
“It’s a risk,” contributes a third. “Not one we should take. We owe it to our people to collect as much as we can.”
Their high-pitched debate continues, but it’s Grandpa’s raspy bass that I hear, like an echo from behind a curtain I can’t see. The nostalgia puts his ghost in the corner of my bedroom. I can see his kind blue eyes hiding behind thick-rimmed glasses. I can see his Einstein hair and the white stubble on his chin and cheeks. I can smell the cigar smoke infused in his sweater.
“It happens to everyone,” Grandpa would tell us. “One day, we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed children chasing far-fetched dreams, confident that anything is possible. The next, we’re wondering how to escape our grown-up routine. We become weighed down by the burden of adulthood. It’s not the dreams that have changed, it’s us. And why’s that, bumpkins? Because the Dreamsnatchers take them!”
Drew and I never believed Grandpa could be telling the truth! Wasn’t it just a fairy tale that grandparents told their children’s children on holidays? Some way parents could explain away their growing up? I look to Drew’s bed and see the small squad of walking twigs preparing to reinsert the syringe into his ear!
“Stop!” I cry out, careful not to be too loud.
“For heaven’s sake,” one of the Dreamsnatchers say.
“I know what you’re doing,” I say with timid accusation
Today hadn’t exactly been a textbook Christmas Eve. Drew went off to the Boy’s Academy last August, the first time we were in separate schools. Every student in the Academy chooses an emphasis, but Drew didn’t know what to focus on. Dad pressured him to choose something reliable like he had back in the day: science. But I grew up next to Drew. He never liked numbers or formulas or laws. Drew plays the fiddle better than the tavern musicians. He writes stories better than Grandpa used to tell. Drew’s an artist. He came home today, much later than everyone wanted him to – after all, the Academy’s winter recess started two weeks ago. Well, Dad found out that Drew chose creative writing. Their Christmas gifts ended up in the trash bin. Let’s just say today would be the worst day to have his dreams stolen.
“Please don’t,” I say with a shaky voice.
Dr. Gandalf peeks at his neighbor’s clipboard.
“Andrew Joseph Edmonds,” he reads aloud. “Age fifteen?”
“Yeah, but I’m fourteen,” I call back. “Take mine instead. Drew needs his still.”
“Gregory Stewart Edmonds?” Dr. Gandalf asks.
“That’s me,” I say, nodding.
“You aren’t due for extraction yet. Not for another twelve months, at minimum.”
“So what?” I can feel my heartbeat quicken. These Dreamsnatchers may be small, but the sight of them terrifies me. And even more than how they look, it’s what they do that sends a chill down my back. “Drew needs them, please don’t steal them.”
“We’re not thieves!” cries the one who caught me staring.
I can tell now that it’s a female, and a lot younger than Dr. Gandalf. A few of them dart to my bedside with remarkable speed.
“Take it back!” she yells at me, pointing a twig arm so close to my nose, I can almost feel its prick.
“Nurse Gwen,” Dr. Gandalf says, trying to calm her down. He turns to me, poking his bifocals further up his twig nose. “Take care not to accuse too hastily, Gregory. Despite what you’ve heard, we don’t take dreams from children.”
“But Grandpa told me…” I start.
The wise Dreamsnatcher raises his arms to silence me.
“I know very well what he told you, but it wasn’t the whole truth. We don’t take dreams away, we rescue them.”
It takes a second for the big reveal to sink in. Even so, I still can’t grasp what Dr. Gandalf is trying to say.
“Human beings are the greatest wasters of dreams in the known universe,” Dr. Gandalf shares. “Most adult humans choose a path of security, wasting the limitless potential they had as children. Every child inherently understands the inspiration of what surrounds them, the magic of what it means to be alive and to live while you’re alive. Somewhere along the way, life chips away at that raw childlike awe. Then, there comes a pivotal moment of no return. The dreams don’t come back after that.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “Drew’s chasing his dreams. He just declared an emphasis at the Academy. He’s going to be a writer!”
“Is that so?” Nurse Gwen shoots back.
“I’m afraid that’s not altogether accurate,” Dr. Gandalf says. “The note folded in his journal will confirm that he elected medical science. Andrew will be a doctor, and a good one, too.”
“How can that be?” I wonder.
As if talking to walking sticks isn’t already hard enough to accept, I have a harder time believing that my brother and best friend chose to follow Dad’s footsteps. I tip-toe gingerly across the room to find the journal buried in his book bag. When I remove the folded paper from inside the front cover, what I read confirms Dr. Gandalf’s statement. Drew probably lied about his emphasis today because he was lashing out. Maybe, he resented Dad for forcing him into something that wasn’t his dream.
“But he wants to be a writer…” I mutter.
“So did your father.”
I turn around, wide-eyed. Only Dr. Gandalf and Nurse Gwen remain on my pillow, the other Dreamsnatchers and their surgical tools gone from sight.
“My father wanted to be a writer?” I ask, thinking I may have heard wrong.
“He would’ve been one, too,” Dr. Gandalf explained. “But when his mother passed – your grandmother – he forewent his heart’s desire to learn more about the sickness that took her life. A noble choice indeed. After that, I ordered the extraction of his dreams myself. Our people use this dream energy for wonderful things. It is our lifeblood. We only extract them if and when the adult foregoes them of their own choice. Andrew, like your father, made his choice.”
“But, but, but…” I struggle to find words.
“This is the natural course of life, Gregory,” Dr. Gandalf explains. “Human beings grow up. They pass their wisdom and knowledge to their children, who eventually grow up themselves. There is beauty in that.”
“But Drew doesn’t want to be a doctor,” I say. “He just wants to make Dad proud. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
Dr. Gandalf stops to consider my request.
“Are you thinking…?” Gwen asks in her high-pitched squeal.
“Hush, Gwendolyn. Perhaps, an experiment is in order.”
The wise twig pricks my nose so quickly that I barely see his arms move. I don’t even feel the needlepoint pierce my skin before everything goes dark.
* * * * *
It’s a bit harder to open my eyes than it usually is on Christmas morning. With gifts ripe for the picking, I’m usually sitting by the large pine before the sun rises. But after that strange dream pulled me another level into sleep, it takes extra effort to get out of bed. Drew’s bed is empty, but what do I see poking out from under the frame? It’s an envelope. I have to squint to see the writing on it:
We couldn’t undo our work on Drew, but you had plenty of dreams to spare. Don’t fret, we only took what little they needed. Merry Christmas. – Dr. Q.
I walk through the hallway, wondering how small that pencil must have been, when I hear a sound that had become foreign in these walls. Is Dad laughing? When the Christmas tree comes into view, I see Dad sitting on the couch with Drew on the ground in front of him.
“Not bad,” Dad says, waving a small pamplet in his hand. I'd recognize Drew's composition notebook anywhere.
“Really?” Drew says. “I didn’t know if you’d like it. Sorry I overreacted last night.”
I half expect Dad to begin one of his preachy sermons, but there’s almost a reciprocal apology in his face. Then, he says something I never thought I’d hear in a million years.
“Did I ever tell you I wanted to be a writer once?”
No byg deel, lets just laye back wher no one can c mee, etcetera.
its lyke the pytch that i creeayte when iam scared, etcetera.
y do thei tawk so lowdli? or maybee it is normel, etcetera.
whut can stap these words bruther? maybee sumthin nice, 2 remembur frum a happe playce, etcetera.
No honey, all the sad places, just looked happy, etcetera.
Don’t worry, I don’t like it, but it’s real and it breathes; etcetera.
Don’t cry, we still love you,
mummi still lovs u, so just hush in2o a lawng sleep now, non.
go to sleep mumey is heyre darleng
Campfire Story Teller
First, a warning …
Every now and then, there comes along the perfect campfire story, or the perfect Halloween tale for the night of goblins, black cats that cross your path, and witches who cast evil spells. Where pumpkins are carved with sinister eyes and a gaping mouth, seemingly ready to pounce on you and swallow you whole. They sit, staring as you listen to a tale of dread and deadly horror; and a taste of the black night’s shroud you feel enveloping you, never to release its hold on you ever again.
But this isn’t Halloween and there aren’t any campfires to be found.
Before you begin this tale; make certain your windows are latched closed, your door firmly locked, and don’t turn out the lights.
If you still have an extra minute, use it to settle into a story that will truly make you wonder. Is it worth trading fact for a dream? Or, simply use that minute to just walk away.
This much is known: this story was told to me many years ago and was told it is true.
I already have.
Step inside. This won’t take long.
Not long at all.
“Mr. Perkins? Can you tell us a story?”
“Yeah,” chimed in the rest of the boys.
Leroy Perkins is their scout master, and after their first day out in the woods, all the tents were set up and they had a big fire going, Leroy Perkins sat across from the six boys; flames licking upward into the early evening night sky, and it appeared as if he controlled the fire by the look in his eyes.
Besides being the scout master was also the town mayor of Pineville, a small country community, and he was also known as a master storyteller.
“Well, I suppose I could. What would you boys like to hear? Something funny, or,” he paused for effect, “something really scary?” Through the flames, his smile appeared sinister looking.
“Something scary, please!” all the boys cried at once.
“Alrighty then. You boys have been real good today, so I’m gonna tell what some folks around here to believe to be true, while others say it’s only a story. When I’m finished, you’ll all know in your own heads if it’s truth or not.”
Leroy Perkins smiled. He loved telling this story because the ending had such an effect on children. He could see the look of keen interest in their eyes.
“Over two-hundred years ago, a small farming community was started by our ancestors that came over on the Mayflower, or so people say. What started out as just one family eventually sprouted to nearly three dozen within the first year or so.
“The whole area soon came to life. The wheat, barley, corn, blueberries, and of course the livestock became plentiful.
“One day, a stranger came to town in the dead of night. His hair was as white as fresh-fallen snow and his eyes held the color of flames that seemed to penetrate into a person’s soul.
“The following morning, not one child could be found. It was said the Pied Piper of Hamlin had come in the night and all the children followed him to a land never to be found again.
“The parents went on a long and futile search. Days turned to weeks, then months, and none of the children were ever found. It’s been said well over forty children vanished in the winds of the night, on a night filled with black clouds and a black moon.”
The boys looked up into the night sky and their eyes had somewhat of a fearful look in them. What had before appeared to be a clear evening had suddenly developed into dark clouds, and the moon, which earlier had been full and bright with life, was no place to be found. Leroy Perkins continued with his devilish smile that held the boys captive.
“Nope, they never did find those children, but a strange thing happened one year later to the day. In another farming community, so people say, a stranger came into town in the dead of night and the following morning, all the children were gone. Again, the parents searched, and they too, never found their children.
“This kept up for two more years and suddenly there weren’t any more reports about missing children. It seemed for all practical purposes the stranger with the snow-colored hair was finished, or just outright disappeared. A hundred years went by before it happened again.
“All the children prior to that, went missing from the state known as Rhode Island. When it happened again, it took place in North Carolina. Once again, the stranger came in the dead of night, and on three different occasions, children came up missing. There never were signs of a struggle, no signs of blood or anything to indicate an out and out act of violence. Then, just like the last time, the disappearances stopped.”
Leroy Perkins spread his hands out, palms up as if signaling that the story was over.
“Mr. Perkins,” half-shouted Tommy Lee Harding, “that isn’t all of it, is it?”
Leroy Perkins looked at Tommy Lee and the other boys settled in closer to the fire, and his eyes started to redden even deeper as if they caught the fire from the flames in front of him.
“No, Tommy Lee, that isn’t all the story. See, as this tale goes, the children, so it goes, grew up into adults and continued to do the work of the ageless white-haired stranger who waited in the depths of hell. The children grew into adulthood and continue, even now, to rid all the communities of children until no children are left on earth. It is said once all the children are taken from the earth, the devil shall have free rein on the world and the devil will have finally beaten the heavens.
“The devil had mastered all of the children’s minds and retaught them how to think and act. They became his children. His disciples.
“Now kids, that’s the end of the story and I think it’s time we all turned in. Tomorrow begins a new day for all of you and I want you to be fresh as a daisy when you wake up because each and every one of you will have a busy schedule.”
The boys headed for their tents, and a few of them looked into the still, dark clouded night that had hidden a moon that was full and bright less than two hours ago. A couple other boys shivered at the thought of all those children disappearing; children their own age.
Regardless of their thoughts, within minutes they were snuggled inside their sleeping bags caught up in deep slumber.
Leroy Perkins didn’t fall asleep. Rather than go to his own tent, he stood and walked directly into the flames that held his eyes in flickering heat.
As the flames coated the clothes he wore, he whispered words of adulterous adulation.
“Master, the time has come once more. Even as I speak, the children sleep. As with all times past, I shall steal their souls and deliver them to you as you have had me do so many times before.
“My only wish is that it could be as easy as it was in years gone by. Be it the six tonight, or sixty tomorrow, your wishes shall be fulfilled. I sense from you the others have done as well as I, and that soon, very soon, your commandment, and your prophecy shall rule.
“Once we have all the souls of all the children held in captive in the Kingdom of Hades, there will be no true leadership, no truer religion than your own. With your teachings, we shall have finally beaten the heavens as you have pronounced to be true. Now I go to do your bidding.”
Leroy Perkins walked through the flames to Tommy Lee first. Such a bright and inquisitive lad, he thought. And dangerous. As Leroy opened the tent’s flap and reached his hand out to touch the chest which protects Tommy Lee’s heart; the face of Leroy Perkins no longer looked the same.
His hair became white as snow and his eyes held the color of fire and his flesh became waxen with age. This is how he really looked, but to others, they were blinded by trickery. And like all the other times, trickery would win out.
The night was filled with black swirling clouds without a moon filled with life and six children were lost. Their souls captured, and their flesh burnt away to a fine dust that blended with the grassy dirt that lay under their tents. So too, was the camp itself.
For nearly a month, the townspeople of Pineville searched for the missing children and Leroy Perkins. The State Police and National Guard as well as volunteer’s from surrounding counties joined in the search, but they found nothing. No tents, no sign of tracks leading in any direction, and no sign of violent foul play.
Leroy Perkins was smiling as he prepared himself for another town, another face, another life.
Trickery; how sweet the sound.
The tall man walked into the coffee shop. The coffee shop, where all the forgotten go. No one knows why they go there. They just do. And they are called the forgotten because they have forgotten who they were in life.
Forgotten the very things that made them who they were, so when they arrived, they ordered vast amounts of food and drink to see which they liked.
But the tall man that came through the door this very cold spring day was not a forgotten.
He remembered, he remembered everything about his life. So when he came in the door, the people about him stared. They stared for they could tell he was different from them.
He sat at the counter and ordered a sandwhich and a drink. The ones closest to him, asked “what did you oder?”
He he looked at them and said,” a liverwurst and onion sandwich and a milkshake”. The two forgotten looked at each other and then back at the tall man.
”Excuse me, but what is livurwurst and what is a milkshake?” The one forgotten asked, most curious to find the answer.
As soon as the forgotten finished their question, a plate with a sandwhich, chips and pickle were set in front of the tall man with a tall glass of pink drink in front of him.
“My good people, this is a liverwurst sandwhich“ the tall man lifted his sandwhich“....and this is a milkshake” and lifted his hefty drink, “..and for me, it’s heaven...”
Shine your light
Ever so bright....
Let your spirit move
Through your veins.
Comfort like no other
Pass it on to one another....
Moving within your body
Flowing with so much pow’r.
Heart beating still
Calm no need to take a pill
Breath deeply— — — — — —
And mind can drift off.
Spin of the Clouds
I will dance
in amethyst shadows,
wrapped in translucence
in daisy chain, twisted
in tendrils of hair,
swaying in blooms
of the wind,
tangoing in world
draped in black lace,
in bare feet,
to the end of my toes,
shimmying my heart out
to the end of love
spinning to edge
in the spin
of the clouds,
deeply within soil
whether the world
No matter what, people will stick you in boxes
There was a boy named Jack
people gave him lots of flak
He was labeled some time a genius other times a fraud
Jack shrugged, his spirits never thawed
After all the Pirates of Carribean have always awed....
...IMAGINATION examines IMAGINATION...
YOU + ME
so IMAGINE this
that the animal
which knows its end is near
is the most dangerous.
those cornered eyes,
those which have abandoned all hope
have nothing left
and so can fight
as if they have nothing to lose.
the end of the hunt
is the most dangerous.
but the rabbit
which has been hunted too long
which has accepted its fate,
it is already gone.
those who have always been tread upon,
becoming one with their bodies
and forgetting the pain.
for those who have known none but pain
does she not become the doting mother,
she who loves with raised hand and glaring eyes?
who let the wolf catch it,
it drips blood limply,
red eyes fading
to a close.
why would it fight
when the wounds
had already been inflicted within the mind,
when it had already given up?
pain dissolves in a haze of pleasure.
no one gives up without having already been broken.
there are only two kind of existences. that which will struggle again and again, against all odds, for they have nothing to lose. and that which will fall, easily, as a petals off a wilted flower, for they have lost everything.