Dreams – Part 2: The Crossing
So she went to work. Bandaged up the foot as well as she could and limped in. Truth to tell, it was limping to the bus and then sitting, so Jasmine found it ok – just. The bus dropped off a mere twenty yards or so from the entrance to the building she worked in, so it was no big deal, really. Her foot still bloody hurt though, if you put any real weight on it. No-one bothered to remark upon it as she sidled in, determined to be as inconspicuous as possible. Perhaps no-one noticed. That would be about right, seeing as she was hardly the life and soul of the workplace. It wasn’t that she hated her work as such, but more the fact that her work didn’t interest her. Never had really. She knew she had to earn money, so she got a job she could do, and with as little stress as possible. So why she was still bloody single, she had no idea! She tried “getting out there”, as her sister put it, but it wasn’t always as easy as that. Dating at work was definitely a no-no, and for several big reasons.
Firstly, it was a mostly female office, apart from the older men who were in charge of a couple of departments. It was funny, but she enjoyed working with men more, and it wasn’t just a sexual thing; she found men more straightforward and they never seemed to hold grudges. Phil and Trevor held no romantic interest for her – they were too old and boring if she was being honest, but they were much better company than the girls in the office. They were often at each others’ throats over something or another, but once whatever the problem was was sorted, it stayed sorted. The alpha male tendencies were very much in the fore and as their desks were on opposite sides of the large office, they could retire to lick their wounds. Not that there was often much posturing or aggression – just a lot of disagreements. They were from very different backgrounds: Trevor, the working class man who had made his way up through what he called “hard graft”, and Phil, who was university educated and very much the intellectual. If they both could see it, it actually made for a very productive office, as the challenge to each departmental head was enough to keep them on their toes. And they complemented each other’s ways of working, which meant for greater productivity still.
But the women! Ahh, what a bunch of bitchy, gossipy females they were! And Jasmine had no time for such a gaggle of crones! Could you call young women crones? she wondered. Some were in their forties and fifties, but most of them were in their twenties and, God help her, full of as much insipid, useless and pointless trash as possible. And often about non-entities purporting to be some kind of celebrity. She did occasionally get drawn in to the chatter, especially if it was about some period drama on the telly, but, as far as the gossip went, well, she wasn’t really bothered. So that was why she preferred spending time with the men. That, and the fact she just enjoyed their conversations more. Besides, it was fun to see the occasional spat where the blood was up, and the way Phil and Trevor often metaphorically butted heads reminded her of a dinosaur documentary she’d once seen, where some giant herbivores had done it literally. A something-o-saurus, but she couldn’t be certain. She found all that testosterone quite exciting, even if she wasn’t physically attracted to either of them.
So that was work, and when she got in on Monday morning she felt drained, as if she’d spent a week working hard, rather than it being the start of the week. And she knew it was down to the dreams. Quite clearly, they were becoming more and more real to her during those hours of sleep, as she never normally recalled what she dreamed about. And now she was able to do so. And with unexpected and unwanted clarity. She could recall every gut-wrenching and stomach churning moment. And she’d struggled even getting to work this morning because of them. She had been trying to be a bit healthier of late, so the bagel and honey had been replaced with porridge and seeds. A few bits of peach or something similar finished off the bowl of mush. And she had almost convinced herself it wasn’t the wallpaper paste it resembled. All the cinnamon sugar in the world sprinkled on top wouldn’t totally convince her, she suspected, but she was almost there. But its lack of appetising nature was almost lost in the background of the disgust and nausea she felt this morning. She’d managed a cappuccino, but barely. She drank herbal teas during the day, especially at work, but this morning needed the caffeine. Big time.
And she’d struggled even with that. But she’d coped and she’d gone to work. The journey this morning to work was uneventful… except for that crow. It had been uncomfortable, even a touch painful, to walk the short distances, but she did so with stoicism. Part of her welcomed it, as it took her mind off the dreams. She sure as grilled bread was toast didn’t want to relive them anymore! Not that she had much chance with that wish. Wherever she turned she was presented with reminders. Cricket stumps in the neighbours’ garden made her remember the bones, the hands on her clock kept morphing into wizened and broken trees and there was a postcard from a friend on the dresser with a beautiful beach scene. But, try as she might, she couldn’t stop that fading into the monochrome vision of that seashore she had been at when she’d ripped her foot open. And to top it all there was that bloody crow!
It hadn’t had a cat’s eye this time, so that should’ve put her at her ease. And anyway, England was full of crows, rooks, jackdaws, ravens wasn’t it? So why should it hold some special significance? Answer: it shouldn’t. So why did it? She clenched her teeth at the memory, seeing again in her mind’s eye as she sat at her desk, the crow staring balefully as she passed. That was it! That’s what unnerved her! The crow seemed to spot her from its perch on the crossbars of a lamppost, as she passed by on the bus journey. And it turned its head to carry on looking as the bus went past. But surely she was imagining things? Wasn’t she?
She wiped the sweat from her brow. It was cold and clammy, and she sighed. What was it that bothered her so? Why couldn’t she laugh it off? Why the hell did she take this to heart so? She lowered her head onto her hands, unable to concentrate on the computer screen in front of her eyes. ‘Bollocks,’ she breathed. ‘Why am I struggling so much with this? It’s only a bloody dream!’
There was a sudden whiff of sulphur and a hint of cordite, although she’d never before been able to understand what that smell was before. Her head jerked up. ‘What the fu-?’ was all she managed before launching herself to her feet. Her chair crashed over backwards as she did so, but the only noise she could hear was a strange, muted, flapping sound. But I felt the chair fall, she thought. I mean, it was really crashing to the ground of the office, so I must’ve heard it. Surely?
Caw! came the cry in the half-light.
‘Not you… again!’ Jasmine muttered, mostly to herself.
The crow winged slowly past her, almost as if it had been following her into this worldshe suddenly found herself back in. For she was certainly not in her office anymore.
‘Why, hello Toto; not in Kansas anymore?’ she said to the crow, her voice dead in the eerie calm. Jasmine forced herself to be as sardonic as possible, in an effort to appear as nonchalant as she could. Who for? came the thought suddenly. It don’t matter, came her retort; she wasn’t sure if she’d spoken that out loud.
Caw! The crow’s cry was louder this time.
Fighting the urge to run, Jasmine started to walk to the bird, all her senses screaming at her to turn and flee. The bird radiated a far larger presence than it should, and Jasmine was unsure if it was a presence of evil, or whether it was a presence at odds with the evil in the empty world she once again found herself in. But she had had enough. In spite of her fear, she needed to know what was going on. She was now fully aware of both lands in both the real world and the dreamworld – and that bothered her. This surely had gone beyond a simple dream!
Although the dream was never simple, she told herself drily. And I’m even starting to wonder what’s real and what’s imagined! Is this the dream or is this the reality?
‘Time to find out,’ she said out loud, her voice reverberating in the eerie stillness. But somehow her voice had more of a commanding tone to it, and the crow seemed to respond. It lowered its head in a semi-bow, its wings half opening in response to her.
She put out her hand and stroked its head. The feathers were sleek and cool to the touch and it bowed its head still further in submission. ‘Good,’ she murmured, as she looked about her. The wooded glade she was in was ghostly still and the tendrils of mist swirled and eddied in slow, sinuous bursts. Hmm, she thought, home.
She smoothed her clothes, noting with interest the sleek, black dress she was wearing, and the cloak she had slung over her shoulders. Somehow that fitted the tone of the place. Something colourful would have jarred with the twisted and gnarled monochrome landscape. She took a deep breath, for she knew now where she was headed. Back to the waters she had first seen in her dreams. But, hang on, wasn’t she just dreaming, now? There was a difference this time, though, because she possessed an awareness of her other life now, and in her dreams she never had. Besides, this had never seemed like a dream when she was experiencing it before.
She steadied herself, forcing her feet to take smooth strides as she progressed to where she felt sure she’d find the beach. She wasn’t wrong; only this time she had a crow sitting on her shoulder. When did it land on me? She wondered briefly, before dismissing it with a subtle shake of her head. Now’s not the time for such thoughts. Now’s the time to find out about my children.
- Children again! It was always the children! That’s what drew her here. That’s what she needed to know and what drove her steps now. In her mind she could hear the squeaking of a swing swaying in the breeze. She had that image in her mind, but this time it came with a sound effect apparently.
- Welcome back. More yourself this time. It was the crow. She was hearing its thoughts again, only this time it was no dream, wasn’t it?
‘Yes,’ she murmured, reaching up to stroke the feathers again. ‘It is me.’
So, do we find the children this time? Say it’s time, mistress!
‘I wish it were time, beloved.’ “Beloved”? “I wish it were”? What kind of English am I speaking? she thought. Have I disappeared and vanished into the Middle Ages or something?
The crow cawed in what sounded like amusement. Shouldn’t I be wearing a wimple then or something? She staggered and felt the crow’s claws dig into her shoulder as it flinched and then she flung her arms back and started to tumble backwards, pain spearing her chest as if a knife had plunged itself into her heart.
‘What the fu-?’ was all she managed before she hit the ground.
‘You all right?’
‘Can I get you something?’
‘Fetch her some water, someone.’
Amidst the clamour of the voices she could suddenly recognise Trevor’s baritone voice. She was finding it hard to see all of a sudden, the colour and the light lancing into her eyes, but she was glad of familiar voices.
So many words came pressing in to her that she stuttered and couldn’t seem to formulate a proper sentence.
‘Did anyone get that?’ Phil’s lighter, more tenor, voice broke in. ‘Something about children, was it? I didn’t even think she was married.’
‘That’s all you know, you old fossil. You don’t have to be married to have kids these days,’ an older woman’s voice interrupted. Marjorie, probably. She always got away with being testy and disrespectful to the Heads of Section as she was nearing retirement and allowed some leeway. ‘Not like we had to… Still, pretty sure she’s not got any.’
‘No, she hasn’t,’ said a much younger voice. Sadie, Jasmine thought. Of all of the office workers, Sadie was the nicest and close to her own age. Had she been on her own, Sadie would’ve been pleasant company, but she loved to gossip with the girls. Still she was the most genuine, Jasmine felt.
‘Help her up, then!’ Marjorie again. She loved to be bossy and felt she had the right due to age.
‘Enough, now, Marj.’ Trevor spoke decisively and Jasmine felt a strong hand behind her back. She was on her feet before she knew it and looked gratefully in Phil’s direction. Her eyes were open now and not painful any more. And what was more she could remember everything from, well, from her dream, she supposed. And she was determined to get back to some semblance of normality.
‘How’s the shoulder?’ asked Trevor. There were blood speckles on the left shoulder, easily visible through her white blouse. Though only moments ago, she only dimly recalled wincing as she had been helped up. Suddenly she felt energised and threw her shoulders back, her hair tumbling around her shoulders.
‘Bugger her shoulder!’ Phil was quite vociferous. ‘Look at her eyes, man!’
There were female gasps all around and it was left to Trevor to sum up everyone’s feelings. ‘Ho-ly shi-it! You’re right – look at ’em! That’s not natural that! How the hell’s that happened?’
For, although she could see quite well, her eyes had turned completely black.
Jasmine flexed her fingers, nails extending swiftly. And then she laughed. And she laughed again.
And it sent chills up the spine of everyone there.