Thursday, March 12, 2009

Waking the Dead

NOTE:  This post is an entry to the Friday Challenge, which can be found here.

The shooting star arced across the sky, leaving a trail that must have been miles long, shooting sparks in all directions.  It was easily the longest shooting star he had ever seen, awake or dreaming. 

He was dreaming, wasn't he...?  He looked around, seeing the children playing basketball with an inflated frog next door.  Across the street, there was a horse and carriage in the driveway, instead of the Honda that was usually parked there.  And he was getting ready to leave for work with bright, fluffy pink bunny slippers on his feet.

Yes, he was pretty sure he was dreaming.

He let the dream carry him across the street and around the block, and where there should have been an elementary school, he instead found the quiet neighborhood where his grandmother lived.  If he hadn't already known he was dreaming, this would have cinched it, because her home was a forty-five minute drive away--more during rush hour--and he had just walked the distance in thirty seconds.

There was grandmother, tending her roses.  As he walked closer, he could see that roses were blooming every time she touched her the plant.  She was surrounded in red, white, orange, and purple roses, and more were blooming all around her; in fact, it was getting harder and harder to see her amidst the colors of the flowers.

Off in the distance, a bell chimed.  One...two...three...four.  

As he walked up to the gate, she stood, and waved a greeting.  He waved back, and stepped into the yard, but behind her there was a sudden rustling in the bushes, like a crowd of children getting ready to burst out of school at the sound of the bell.  He paused, not sure what was going on, and an immense flock of birds exploded out of the undergrowth.  They were small, like finches or sparrows, and they were all the colors of the rainbow, plus a few that weren't in the rainbow, and they were arrowing directly for...grandmother.

As she smiled and waved, the first few birds reached her, and blasted through her hand.  The first bird took her index finger as it passed.  The second took a bloodless bite out of her wrist.  The flock blasted through, each taking another small chunk while she continued to smile, and continued to wave for as long as she had a limb to wave.

The smile remained hovering in the air long after the mass of birds had flown through.  Finally, the last three birds, flying in a "V" formation, snapped that out of the air as well, and there was nothing left where his grandmother had been except the explosion of roses.

Mick woke, kicking and thrashing, finally tumbling out of bed tangled in sheets.  The dream stayed with him, all through breakfast; he couldn't get that image of the birds out of his head.  Or the smile.  As he was finishing off his coffee, his daughter--all of four years old--came to the table, still in pink pajamas.  She poured her own cereal, added milk, grabbed a rag and cleaned up the splashover, and then sat crunching contentedly, swinging her feet--

Mick choked on the last swallow of his coffee.  She was wearing the pink bunny slippers from his dream.  "You like my slippers, Daddy?" she asked.

Was he dreaming?  Still?

He looked around, but everything seemed real.  No clues that this was still a dream.  He blinked away the confusion, and headed off to work.

As he walked up to the glass door, a sonic boom rattled the windows and triggered car alarms all around him.  He spun, looking for the jet--and instead, saw a massive shooting star.  It left a trail of sparks and smoke in the air before disappearing over the horizon.  It was all anyone could talk about all around the office; no one was getting any work done, least of all Mick.  He tried to lose himself in the code he was working on, but his thoughts kept coming back to that smile, floating in the air, and the monster swarm of color...

At ten, he dialed his grandmother, and it rang...and rang.  Hadn't she heard of voicemail...?

At noon, he dialed again, still, no answer.  At two, he blew off the rest of the day; not that he had been getting much done anyway.  He headed for the freeway, but became stuck in traffic less than three miles out.  An accident had this entire stretch of highway bottled up; the cars were inching along, backed up for miles, squeezing between a flipped semi and the concrete barricade under the careful supervision of a motorcycle cop.  It took more than an hour to creep along two miles, and Mick's temper got shorter every time he jammed on the brakes.  The temperature outside wasn't helping any, either.

Finally, he was allowed to merge right, and get in ahead of a minivan full of school kids, and it was finally his turn to squeeze through the gap.  Why did it take so long to clear a wreck from the highway?  He was finally moving again, but he wasn't going to get there until--

...until nearly four o'clock.

Mick shoved the accelerator down, pushing well past the speed limit, dodging around cars.  He wasn't sure what was going to happen at four, but he knew he had to be there.  It was ten minutes before four when he found the off-ramp, and pulled out into the neighborhood.  It was three minutes before four when he shut off the engine and stepped out onto his grandmother's driveway.

There were no vicious flocks of birds in the yard, or multicolored roses either, for that matter.  He pounded on the door, but no one answered, so he let himself in.

The living room was clean and tidy, just as she always kept it.  The television was playing with no sound; it was showing news footage of a disaster site, a helicopter view of a battered and burned building.  He stared at it for a few moments, and then wandered deeper into the house.

He found her in the kitchen.  The floral wallpaper seemed to surround her with flowers, just like the last time he had seen her.  She smiled, and offered him a plate of hot chocolate cookies.  "It's about time you found your way here," she said.

Mick froze.  Slowly, the pieces started to fit together.  The images spilled into his mind--the coffin, the flowers all around her, three years ago.

And the television...and the twisted hunk of rock and metal that fell out of the sky.  A meteor collided with a satellite, and the combined lump of tons of steel and rock had come hurtling to the ground, landing on his desk as he was getting ready to leave...precisely at four o'clock.  Three days earlier.

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