Dreamwalker by Desiree Coutinho
The morning dew was still dripping from the leaves, and the sound of a branch snapping wasn’t far away. From where he stood—or, was it hiding?—behind the bush, the noise seemed as if it could be as close as an arm’s length.
He walked out of his trailer, and lit a cigarette, scanning the green canopy for shadows in the brush. The morning air was cold, but the subtle warmth of the pale sun warmed his face.
A shiver ran down his spine. Fine hairs on his neck stood on end.
The texture of the light was off. It had the same unsettled quality of last night’s dream, of which he could only remember bits and pieces. A dry dusty desert, black rock mountains in the distance.
“Whose there?” He scanned the perimeter, no dark shapes, no undefined shadows. He knew how to survey an area. He had been trained to do it. It was probably just a deer. Then why did he feel like he was being hunted? The dream was just lingering, perhaps.
He went into the trailer, grabbed his gun from the cabinet above the couch. Instinctively this made him feel safe. Whatever it was, animal or man, he would shoot it. He had killed before. In defense. On command. He shuddered, feeling the morning shadows strangely ominous. How did I get here? His head was foggy. This was his home? This was his country. He’d bought this property after his discharge, far from any town or people. That’s what kept him safe. It kept them safe. He was only the shell of a man. He’d been trained to kill. His friends were not his friends. His family was not his family. Kill. They’d taken the human out of the man and made a weapon.
He grew his plants. He drank beer. He was still alive. That was what he had now. His wife left him. He was a different man, not the man she’d married. She couldn’t handle the rages over lost keys, tearing through the house, cold sweats, screaming, talk of ghosts and repentance. The nightmares. A black beast, never the same shape, but always the same. The terrors came, every night. In the mornings, he would wake, dry mouthed, scratchy throat, still whiskey drunk. Memories assaulted him. He couldn’t escape.
Walking down the driveway, rifle in hand, he felt eyes watching him, like the eyes of the Haji children watching them enter the village.
They’d brought the war home. Where was it hiding? Why now? Why here? Stop it, Bill. Get a grip. Wake up. There! He heard it again, rustling in the bushes.
“I said, show yourself,” he commanded. Silence. An animal would have run. It wasn’t animal. It wasn’t human. He was being hunted.
“Whatever you want, you can have it. I don’t care.” It was true; he didn’t care for things. He wasn’t afraid of death. He had been expecting it for some time. Death was the only guest he ever entertained, his priest, his teacher, his master. He was not afraid of death, but he was afraid.
What had the dream been? He felt it coming back to him. Square mud huts surrounded by miles of hard, cracked, brown earth. Brown moon dust puffing under his feet, like walking on the bottom of an ancient, dried ocean. Gun shots. Dark men in plain white dresses standing outside their houses, watching. Black masked combatants. A pale blue sky, dusty air heavy with death.
Sticks broke, the bushes rustled. It was getting closer. Suddenly he remembered the end of the dream. Relief spread through him, the presence still lingering, the beasts still lurking, but the inevitable end was somehow was a comfort.
Black butterflies in a desert. A corpse rotting by a flowering bush. Silence.
This story felt “complete” to me. The author said what needed to be said to make me understand the character and what he was feeling/experiencing. The author’s words painted a picture of not only the environment the character was living in, but the character’s emotions and state of mind and how he got to those places.
– Karen Polsgrove, Owner, Village Books