by McCamy Taylor
As I closed and locked the front door behind me, my computer announced that I had mail. I groaned. After a day spent in the university library, the last think I wanted to do was to sit down at my desk. I went to the kitchen to start supper. In the old days, it would have been waiting for me. Beth's image popped into my head. Suddenly, I did not want to be alone.
Once again, my PC reminded me that I had mail. Glad for the distraction, I sat down. It was a message from my kid brother, Josh. Good old Josh. He always knew when I was feeling low. Not for the first time, I wondered if siblings have some kind of psychic link. I opened the message.
It finally happened. I stopped by Better Latte than Never to pick up a decaf mocha and an Observer. There she was, right out of an Irish folk tale, long black hair, milk-white skin, blue eyes circled by shadows. She looked as if she had not slept in a month. Not like a java junkie. Like she was too sad to sleep. She fixed my cup, took my five and made change without ever looking at me. Like only her body was there in the coffee bar, and her soul was somewhere far away.
"Cheer up," I said with a laugh. Then I felt like kicking myself. What if her mother had just died?
She looked up. A little smile, but her eyes were so sad. Something about her made me want to take her home. Yes, I know what you are thinking, but it was not like that. She was like a puppy. A puppy that has been kicked and starved and abandoned. Someone had treated her like dirt, and I wanted to make up for it.
"What time do you get off work?" I asked.
To my surprise, she told me.
Two hours later, we were walking into the Sushi place next to the Portuguese place. You know the one I am talking about. Her name is Melanie. Melanie Colley. She sipped some miso soup and picked at a California Roll, while I polished off the Sashimi special and three Sapporos. Before you start thinking "Uh, oh, she's anorexic", let me tell you that on the way back to her apartment, we stopped by Krispy Kreme, and she polished off six donuts. Just kind of inhaled them.
"I have a bit of a sweet tooth," she said with a little laugh. You can tell from listening to her that she was born in Ireland but came to the States a long time ago.
"Sweets before bedtime give you sweet dreams," I said, repeating something grandma used to tell us. My face must have turned bright red. Would she think I was propositioning her? I swear, sex was the farthest thing from my mind.
I know what you're thinking. I am not trying to be PC. If she had thrown off her clothes and said "Take me," I would not have said "No". But there was something about her that made me think of a magnolia blossom that you want to get home and get into some water, before it wilts. She was real cool about it. Did not call me a rapist or pervert or anything. But I figured I had blown my chance of getting invited upstairs to her apartment.
I was wrong. She did not even ask if I wanted to come up. When we reached the street door, she held it open for me. "After you." Her apartment was plain. No stuffed animals, no refrigerator magnets. The only art was a drawing in a wooden frame that she had propped up on the floor beside her mattress. It was a charcoal sketch of a guy who looked a lot like Melanie.
"Nice," I said. "Who drew it?"
"I did." Her eyes filled with tears. "It's my brother," she whispered. "My twin brother. I drew it from memory. He is dead."
Then, it just kind of happened. She threw her arms around me. The next thing I knew, we were in bed. I am not going to give you all the steamy details. There are some things a guy just can't tell his sister (grin). But it was great. Afterwards, I fell right to sleep, and I had these amazing dreams about castles and knights and Viking ships. When I woke up in the morning, I figured it would all turn out to have been part of that incredible dream, so I kept my eyes closed for a while so I could keep pretending. But it was not a dream. I smelled something cooking. I opened my eyes, and she was there, dressed in an over-sized T shirt, with her long black hair falling down her back. "Do you like syrup or powered sugar on your French toast?" Yeah, I know. Sounds too good to be true. But it is true. It happened to me. The only thing that bothered me was that Melanie still looked sad. And she still had the black circles under her eyes, even after a full night's sleep. I guess you don't get over losing your twin brother that easily.
As I read the message, I felt a tiny pang of jealously. Two years after Beth's death, I still had not found anyone. Josh had been in the city only a few months, and he already had a girlfriend. Also, I found myself resenting the dark Irish beauty, Melanie. As ridiculous as it sounds, part of me felt as if she was stealing my little brother. Which was silly. Lovers come and go, but your brother is your brother forever.
I remembered that Melanie had just lost her brother. Embarrassed at my selfish thoughts, I typed a cheerful reply.
so you finally scored. hope you used protection. yes, i know it is none of my business, but i am still your big sister. i am not trying to burst your bubble or anything but be careful. she may need someone right now to help her get over losing her brother. if you want to be that somebody that is fine. but when she stops mourning, she may change. this is not coming out right. what i am trying to say, josh, is don't fall in love with her until you know who HER really is. i mean, what if she stops being sad and all at once she is one of those go-go-go people, always shopping or dancing or traveling. a chick like that might not have much use for a slacker like you; this still is not coming out right. don't worry about the future. just be glad for what you've got now and score one for the skipper (grin)
love and kisses, skipper
I knew it must be serious when he did not reply right away. Were his feelings hurt by my words of caution? If my message had upset him, his next e-mail showed no sign of it.
Too late. I am already in love. Her lease was up on her apartment, so she has moved in with me. All her possessions fit inside two suitcases. I don't think that I have to worry that she is going to turn out to be a "material girl."
You need to come up here and meet her. Melanie's great. She is happy just sitting around the apartment or going for walks in the park. Well, not happy exactly. She still looks pretty down most of the time. But I catch her smiling every once in a while.
Anything important happening in the world? I have not turned on the television or radio since she arrived. The newspapers are piled in recycle bin, unread. Melanie is such a great story teller. She can talk about things that happened a thousand years ago and make them seem so vivid that you would swear that she lived them herself. Most of her stories are about Ireland, but she knows a lot about Italy and Turkey. Her stories about the Sultan's harem are so fascinating that I told her she should write a book.
"Stories are always better spoken aloud," she said.
I guess she has a point. Especially if the story teller has a voice like hers. I love that little accent of hers. I know that if you met her, you would love her to. Come to think of it, you might love her too much. I keep forgetting that you are competition (grin). Promise me that if you come to the city to see me, you will not make a pass at my new girlfriend. Agreed?
I was so busy working on my dissertation on Aboriginal dream magic, that I did not get a chance to read and reply to my brother's latest message until it was three days old.
sorry i took so long getting back to you. my faculty adviser says that if i don't get my dissertation ready by summer she isn't going to give me another extension. i have come too far to blow it now. i must admit i am a little bit worried. you are falling in love so fast. oh well, you are only young once and i guess no one ever died of a broken heart. i promise, cross my heart and hope to die, that i will not try to steal your girlfriend. she sounds a little fem for my tastes. if she does not cheer up soon you ought to suggest that she see a doctor. even people in mourning can benefit from anti-depressants. i ought to know.
see ya soon, skipper
Josh's e-mail reply arrived while I was up to my neck in computer print-outs. I had at least ten times as much data as I needed for my thesis. In addition to an in-depth study of Australian aboriginal dream legends, I had conducted a quick survey of dream myths from other cultures. I was trying to decide whether I should sort them by country of origin or subject matter when the message arrived. I welcomed the opportunity to take a break. After pouring myself a club soda, I sat down at the PC.
I am glad to hear that you are going to visit. Melanie is much better. The dark circles under her eyes are starting to fade, and she smiles more. This morning, I woke up to the sound of her singing a song in some language I have never heard before. She said it was Irish. I am feeling a bit tired, but that may be because I am not used to having a live-in girlfriend (really big grin). I would have thought that a girl from Ireland would have a lot of hang ups, but Melanie -- let me just say that Melanie is great. You must promise me one more time that you will not try to steal her.
Again that little stab of jealousy. My kid brother sounded like he was having the time of his life, while I was drowning in a research project that I was beginning to suspect was way too broad. But I have always had this thing about dreams. They can take you anywhere, let you do anything. Several times since her death, they had even returned Beth to me. Would not it be something, I thought, if I could control my dreams the way that the Aborigines claim to do? Close my eyes each night and pay a visit to Beth. True, it would be my memory of Beth, not the real Beth. But a memory was better than nothing.
Or is it? When do the memories get in the way of life? I turned my attention back to my kid brother.
sounds like you have really scored, big guy. how about a threesome? just kidding. but i was serious about the protection part. sounds like your girlfriend has been around a bit. you know that i am no prude, but i don't like the idea of you getting AIDS or anything. half the guys i know have it. it would be a shame if my straight kid brother came down with it, too. tell melanie i am glad that she is feeling better.
I was away from my apartment for over a week after that. My faculty adviser was going out of town and wanted someone to house-sit. When I finally got home, my apartment had that "Oh, no, I left something perishable in the garbage" smell. I bagged up the trash and opened the windows. Then, I sat down at the PC to check my mail. There were a couple of messages from college friends, a bunch of junk mail, and one from my brother.
Are you there? I really need to talk to you. I have not been feeling so good lately. It is these dreams. I keep having dreams about a castle. Melanie is there, along with this guy who looks like her. They are wearing old-fashioned clothes, and they talk in that language Melanie sometimes sings in. I cannot understand a word they are saying, but I understand the looks they give each other. A brother and sister are not supposed to look at each other like that.
Yes, I know that it is crazy to be jealous of my girlfriend's brother. Especially her dead brother. Maybe it is because I know how much she misses him, and there is nothing I can do. She seems a lot happier than when I first met her. She still wants to mess around every night, even though I have lost interest. I am not eating very well, either. She makes cakes and cookies and scones, trying to tempt me to eat. I manage to get down a few bites, just to make her happy, but my appetite is shot. I hope it is not hepatitis. I know you told me I should use protection, but I... you know how it is. Actually, I don't suppose you do. You don't need protection, do you?
"It is crazy to be jealous of my girlfriend's brother" he had written. Did he know that I was jealous of my brother's girlfriend? There was a strange symmetry about it. I reread the message. The symptoms seemed pretty clear to me, but then I knew all about depression. After Beth died, I had tried to kill myself. I was still taking medication.
you don't sound like you are doing too well, kid. i want you to promise me that you will call and make yourself an appointment with a therapist or a psychiatrist right away. i mean it. depression runs in families, and i had all those same symptoms after beth died. yes, i know. you are going to say that nothing bad has happened to you. good things can make people depressed, too, like getting a new job. or a new girlfriend. also i want you to promise me that if you even start to think about hurting yourself you will call me. understand? call me collect if you can't afford the long-distance charges. if only i could get some time off to come see you. i promise i will, very soon. as soon as this damn dissertation is finished.
i love you,
I called him that evening and e-mailed him a couple of times over the next two days. He seemed to be doing better, so I decided it was just some kind of temporary funk. They say that too much sex can drain a man. I would not know. I am not a man, and I have never had sex with one. Monday morning, I was supposed to meet with my faculty adviser to go over my progress. I stumbled out of bed and into the shower. When I emerged a half hour later, dripping wet, I heard my PC beep. There were three messages, all from Josh. The first was posted at 2:30 a.m., the second at 3:48, the last at 5:15.
I don't know what is happening to me. All I do is sleep and dream about that damn castle. I can tell Melanie is worried about me, because she has quit her job and never leaves me, not even for a moment. She has them delivering our groceries now. She is right here beside me, day and night. When I am asleep, she is there in bed with me, even though she can not possibly need as much sleep as I seem to be needing lately. Is she watching to make sure I don't do anything stupid? The only time I feel really awake is early in the morning. For some reason, I can't sleep then. Melanie is in bed. She looks so peaceful, like she is really resting. I wish I could sleep like that. I wish I could sleep without these awful dreams. Over and over, the same thing. Melanie and the guy who looks like her brother, reliving the same days, the same nights -- Do you think I am some kind of pervert, imagining things like that about my girlfriend and her dead brother? I am afraid to tell Melanie about my dreams. What if they freak her out? What if she leaves me? She is the only thing keeping me sane anymore.
It hurts so bad! Everything. I hurt all over. Inside as well as outside. Sometimes I don't know how much more of this I can take. I want to sleep so bad. Sleep without dreaming. Alcohol does not help. The dreams are worse when I get drunk. And I feel worse when I wake up. Maybe some sleeping pills would help. Melanie makes me herb teas. They don't do a bit of good, but I hate to tell her. She is trying so hard to take good care of me. It hurts so bad. How can anyone hurt this bad inside and not have something wrong with him? Do you think I could have cancer?
Do you think your faculty adviser would let you get away if you said it was a family emergency?
I tried calling him on the phone, but the line was busy. Was it off the hook? Or just being used to keep Josh logged onto the Internet while he waited for my reply? Should I call the police? I reread the messages to make sure that I had not missed anything. If what he wrote was true, Melanie would make sure that he did not hurt himself, but I could not let a stranger take care of my brother when he was in the middle of a crisis like this. Without even stopping to think about it, I made up my mind what I was going to do.
just got your e-mail. to hell with my faculty adviser. hold on. big sister is on her way.
i love you ,
I arrived at my brother's apartment house in time to see the ambulance carry him away. I did not realize at first that the ambulance was for him, but something dark seemed to crawl over me. A few words with the elderly women gathered on the curb confirmed my worst suspicions. "It's Josh. His girlfriend found him in the bath tub. Blood all over the place."
"How is he?" I asked foolishly. From her eyes, I already knew the answer. "Where is his girlfriend?"
"She went with him in the ambulance. Poor thing. Crying. Are you a friend?"
"I'm his sister," I answered. Without waiting for their condolences, I hailed a cab and went straight to the hospital.
In the emergency room, they told me that he was DOA. The cubicle where they had deposited the body was dark. There was a sheet pulled up over his head. Standing beside him was a skinny woman with stringy black hair and tear-streaked cheeks. She looked up when I pushed back the curtain. The light behind me seemed to blind her for a moment, but she soon adjusted.
"You must be Kate."
"Skipper," I corrected. "No one calls me Kate." I went to the other side of the stretcher and pulled back the sheet. Josh looked as if he was sleeping. Except for his pallor and the bloody red gashes up and down his left forearm, he could have been lost in a dream rather than lost forever. I touched his forehead. His skin was already beginning to cool. Strangling a sob, I threw myself across his body and began to cry.
A cool, delicate hand touched my shoulder lightly. "There, there," Melanie whispered. Her voice was deep but soft, like smoke.
It was Melanie who handed me the papers to sign, Melanie who hailed a cab and got me back home to Josh's apartment. One of the old women must have seen me leave my suitcase on the front steps of the apartment building, because it was right outside the door of the apartment with a note attached. I let Melanie read the note, Melanie carry in the suitcase. All I wanted to do was take my pills and go to sleep. I do not remember how I got from the bathroom to the futon sofa. The next thing I remember was waking up in the darkness. The mattress under me was unusually firm. Where was I? I looked around. Through the open window, I saw the neon sign of a liquor store. This was not my house. This was Josh's apartment in the city.
That was when I remembered. I felt a gnawing pain in my gut and a tightness in my throat. Luckily, my medication was still working. It hurt, but I could live with it.
I decided to go to the bathroom. As I sat up, I saw something on the floor. It was Melanie, stretched out on a couple of pillows like a faithful watch dog. I remembered Josh's e-mail about how she seemed to be afraid that he would do something stupid. Was she worried about me, now? How much had he told her about me? I stepped over her carefully on my way to the bathroom.
Next morning, I woke to the smell of pancakes.
"Do you want maple syrup or blueberry?" Melanie called. She had tied her long hair back from her face in a pony tail. She was wearing a pair of Josh's jeans that were several sizes too big with a cord knotted around her waist to hold them up. A skimpy little tank top showed off muscular arms and small breasts. She did not look anything like the medieval damsel in distress Josh had described. Not at all fem. Josh had been right to worry that I might find her attractive. Not that I would dream of trying anything at a time like this.
"Are those yours?" she asked, pointing to an amber prescription bottle.
My name was printed right on the label. "It is my antidepressant," I told her. Some people are embarrassed to talk about mental illness, but as far as I am concerned, an illness is an illness.
Melanie frowned. Her black eyebrows touched above her blue eyes. I recalled something I had read once about an Irish beauty with "black beetle brows". The description had sounded odd at the time, but now I understood what the poet meant. "I have heard that such drugs can be harmful. Are you sure you ought to be taking it?"
Great, I thought, a Scientologist. Or a Christian Scientist. It was always the healthy young people who were drawn to that "no medicine" crap. They seemed to think that they were immortal.
I was on the verge of telling her to mind her own business. Then, I remembered how she tried to protect Josh when I was too busy working on my damned dissertation to come see him. Hell, I had even packed my research material in my suitcase, so that I could keep working while I was visiting him. Compared to my own selfishness, she was a saint.
"You should have seen me before I started them. Sure, there are side effects. But I'll take the side effects any day if it means the difference between living a normal life and what Josh--" It hit me again. My kid brother was dead.
Melanie reached across the table and took my hand.
There was something about her that made me open up in a way I almost never do. "I was always the moody one, the unstable one. I thought it would be me. I never thought that Jo--" It was hard to say his name.
"I understand," she said, as if she really meant it. God, she was beautiful. I missed my brother so bad, but it eased the pain a little just looking at her, the curve of her neck where it met her shoulder, those eyes -- like the bluest sky you ever saw, coal-black hair that shimmered like silk.
With my brother barely dead, I was already thinking about making a pass at his girlfriend. I came to my senses and finished my pancakes instead. After breakfast, I left the apartment to take care Josh's affairs.
I had planned to try to get everything done in one day, so I could get back home. From experience, I knew that work would help take my mind off my grief. However, around lunch time I suddenly got tired, so I came back early to Josh's apartment. Melanie was in the kitchen, baking something, I guess, since there was flour or sugar on her hands. She looked surprised to see me.
"You look awful," she said bluntly. She wiped her hands on a dish towel.
"Sit down. I'll fix you something to eat."
Josh had been correct about one thing. She was a regular Susie Homemaker. After lunch, I took a nap. I did not wake up until supper time. After taking my medication, I picked at the food which Melanie fed me. Finally, I said "I'm feeling awfully tired. I think I will turn in early."
That night, I dreamed about a castle perched on top of a green grassy hill. Melanie was there, though she wore her hair loose and was dressed in some kind of Renaissance Fair get-up. There was a man who looked a lot like her. They were walking through an herb garden, holding hands. The dream seemed to go on forever and ever. Several times that night I woke, only to fall back asleep again, at which point I always returned to the dream. The next morning, I felt fuzzy-headed, and my nose was congested. I took my medication, then forced myself to go make the arrangements for Josh's cremation.
By the time I got home, the nasal congestion was worse, and I had begun to have diarrhea. "I think I am coming down with a cold or something," I told Melanie. "I'm going to bed."
Almost as soon as my head touched the pillow, I started to dream about Melanie and that castle. It was so vivid. The green of the grass seemed to burn right through my eyes. I slept like a rock until four in the morning, when I woke with a horrible feeling in my stomach. A trip to the bathroom helped relieve the intestinal cramps, but as I was washing up in the sink, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. For a moment, I did not recognize myself. Who was I? Where was I? Melanie appeared behind me. "Are you alright?" Her face was more real than my own.
"Fine". I hurried back to bed. Melanie followed me. She was about to stretch out on the floor, but I mumbled "There is plenty of room up here. I promise I won't bite." I was asleep before she even laid down. Immediately, I began to have that dream again.
When I woke the next morning, Melanie was standing over me with coffee and fresh-baked danish. I drained my cup greedily, desperate for something to clear the sleep from my head. Slowly, my memories of last night's dream faded. My nose was even more congested today. When I coughed, I brought up phlegm. However, I did not feel feverish or achy. I felt exactly the same way I felt when I went on a trip last year and forgot to bring my medication.
My psychiatrist had explained that one of the side effects of my anti-depressant was that it blocked the part of the nervous system that made people have nasal drainage and vomiting and diarrhea. Cholinergic. Anti-cholinergic. One of those. Stopping the anti-depressant suddenly could make people get rebound symptoms, she said, often within one to two days, so a clear nose suddenly stopped up, and the bowels ran wild. Had my medication expired? I checked the bottle. It was supposed to be good for another six months.
Melanie was watching me. "Is there a problem?"
Suddenly, I had a premonition. I forced myself to smile. "Nothing. Just jet lag. I think I'll go brush my teeth." I took the prescription bottle with me. After locking the bathroom door, I opened a capsule and tasted the contents. It was pure sugar. Melanie had empty the capsules and substituted sugar. Why? Was she really that fanatic about medication?
I debated whether or not I should confront her. Since I had no proof that she made the substitution, I decided to keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. Luckily, I kept an emergency supply of medication in my backpack. Enough to last a week in case I got caught out of town unexpectedly. I had taken my backpack with me the day before when I went out to take care of Josh's affairs, so she could not have filled these capsules with sugar. Just to be sure, I opened a capsule. The white powder inside was bitter. I took my usual dose. Then I cleaned up and got dressed.
"I still have a few things to take care of with the lawyer," I told Melanie on my way out the door.
"Come home for lunch," she called. "I am making something special." Yeah, right, I thought. My medication was already starting to kick in. The stomach cramps were gone, and I could breathe again, but I felt nervous and depressed in a way that I had not felt in over a year. Was it just Josh's death, or had Melanie fed me some strange herbs? Lots of so called "natural" remedies were just as bad or worse than prescription drugs. Was I having paranoid delusions? Had Josh's death tipped me over the edge? I put a call into my psychiatrist, forgetting that it was her day off. The woman at the answering service asked if I wanted to talk to the doctor on call, but I said no. I did not feel bad enough to spend a half hour describing my history and symptoms to a stranger, who would then tell me to make an appointment with my regular psychiatrist.
Lunch was a tense affair. Though the food was delicious, I would not eat or drink anything until Melanie tasted it first. I "accidentally" spilled my iced tea, and over Melanie's objections, I took my glass in to the kitchen, where I rinsed it thoroughly before filling it with tap water.
"You are not feeling well," she commented, frowning slightly. God, she was beautiful. I forced myself to look away." You should take a nap."
Something within me, some sixth sense cried out silently 'Don't do it!' Why not? The fact that Melanie wanted me to take a nap seemed as good a reason as any for not doing it. Also, there was some research I wanted to do. Something that I seemed to remember from the piles of documents I had copied.
"I need to get to the library," I told her. I am a good liar, but there was something about her clear, blue-eyed gaze that told me that she would spot a lie. So I decided to tell her the truth. Part of the truth, anyway. "I am working on my dissertation. My deadline is coming up soon."
"Josh told me. You are writing about primitive mythology. Anything about Ireland?"
"No, I'm studying Australian aboriginal legends. Work usually helps when I am depressed."
"We could talk," she suggested. Her voice was as soft as a summer breeze.
She looked so beautiful sitting there with her smooth, pale arms resting on the table on either side of her plate. I longed to reach forward and touch her. Something told me not to. I stood up instead.
"I may be late getting back for supper."
"I will keep it warm for you."
Walking out of that apartment was the hardest thing I have ever done. Out on the street, I blinked at the bright sunlight. Ordinary things, like lamp posts and fire hydrants looked strange. People's clothes looked strange, as did the asphalt pavement. When I closed my eyes for a moment, I saw green hills and a gray castle silhouetted starkly against a storm gray sky -- I opened my eyes and hurried forward. In the library, I found an unoccupied cubicle. I opened my bulging backpack and removed my dissertation data. It took me a while to find what I was looking for, a photocopy of a Nineteenth Century pamphlet entitled "Dream Thieves."
"The Vampyre of Eastern Europe is not the only mythical creature to feed off the life of others. There is a tale commonly told on the west coast of Ireland about a family of fairies who were cursed to be forever without dreams. Since dreams are as necessary for fairies as they are for mortals, the fairies grew sick. Despite their immortality, some of them died.
"One of their number discovered that he could steal the dreams of mortals. If he lay beside a woman who slept, he could pluck the dreams from her head. He taught his kin the art. Most contented themselves with snatching a dream here or there, a process which did not harm the mortals and which allowed the faeries to survive.
"However, a few of these Dream Thieves learned how to alter the dreams of their human prey. They could force them to dream more than usual and about subjects of the fairies' choosing. All this dreaming led some of the humans to fall into melancholy and madness, at which point the unfortunate victim generally took his own life. It was said that the fairies had a preference for those who were already moody or who possessed a tendency towards melancholy, since their dreams were easy to control. Certain naturally occurring substances which decreased dreams and improved the melancholy disposition were said to be protective, such as Hypericum Perforatum, more commonly known as St. John's Wort.
"Is there any truth to these legends? A tale from Eighteenth Century Prussia seems to suggest that there is. A woman who was called 'The Dark Widow' lost four husbands to suicide. When the fifth died, his family demanded that the widow, described as a beautiful young Irish woman with black hair and blue eyes, be arrested. She was incarcerated in the public prison. A week after her arrest, one of her cell mates, a young prostitute with whom the Dark Widow had been noted to be very friendly, hanged herself with her own petticoat.
"Church officials were called in to see if the Dark Widow was a witch. She was removed to a private cell, where she quickly went into a decline. Two weeks after her solitary confinement, she was pronounced dead, and her corpse was transported to the cemetery for burial. However, the night before she was to be interred, the grave digger on duty reported feeling a sudden drowsiness. He feel asleep and dreamed of a strange country with rolling hills covered with bright green grass and a castle where a black-haired man and woman walked arm in arm. When he woke, he reported, the dead woman was standing over him, very much alive.
"'Since you have returned my life to me, I will leave you yours,' she told him in his own tongue. Then, she vanished into the night. Where did she go? A woman answering the same description was reportedly arrested in London five decades later on similar charges. Since there was no proof that she had murdered her three dead lovers, and since by that time people had ceased to believe in witchcraft, she was not hanged, but was instead transported to the Colonies."
To the colonies. To America. Now I know what people mean when they say "My blood ran cold."
If my suspicions were correct -- but how could they be? This was madness. Such things were not possible. And yet, in my research I had read some very strange stories. I scanned the Aboriginal data. In the group on which I had chosen to focus, there were stories about "dream stalkers," witches who lived only in dreams. The young people of the tribe were taught how to protect themselves. They learned to control the content of their dreams and master the dream world.
My head was spinning. I decided to do a little bit of research in the Internet. I found no references to the "Dream Thieves" or "Dream Stalkers," but there was a lot about the relationship of REM sleep to depression. I learned that people suffering from depression had an increase in dream sleep. Anti-depressant medication reduced the amount of time spent in REM. If depressed people were deprived of dreams by hooking them to an EEG and waking them every time they started to go into REM, their depression often got better even without medication.
Was it possible that the converse was true? Could you drive a person crazy by making them dream too much? Was there was some kind of drug that Melanie had fed my brother to make him dream excessively? Did my anti-depressant protect me from Melanie's poison? Is that why she tried to substitute sugar pills?
Worse still, what if the author of "Dream Thieves" was correct? Could there be supernatural creatures walking among us who fed on human dreams? If so, what were they? Fairies, or a kind of vampire, or something entirely different? Cats were called carnivores because they ate meat, cows were called herbivores because they ate plants. If a living creature fed on dreams, it would have to be a dreamivore. Or a remivore.
If the author of "Dream Thieves" was correct, the remivores did not merely have the power to steal dreams. They could also shape our dreams to suit their tastes. Was that why my brother and I dreamed of Melanie and her brother? She spoke of him as if recently dead, but their clothes suggested that they lived together a very long time ago. Had she kept him alive for hundreds of years through the dreams of others, discarding each host when it was used up? As if humans were nothing more than animals?
Though the idea was preposterous, I could not shake it. I was filled with rage when I thought of Melanie devouring my poor, sweet brother from within. Was that even her real name? Melanie Colley. Melancholy. All of a sudden, it sounded made up.
My mind was in a whirl. I knew that under no circumstances should I even consider going back to Josh' s apartment, but I could not stop thinking of him. How he must have suffered! I knew all about depression, how badly it hurts, how a person will do anything to end the pain, even if it means enduring more pain and then death. If my suspicions were correct, Melanie would kill again. And again and again. Unless someone stopped her.
There were plenty of botanicas and herb shops and magic supply stores in the city, but it still took me hours to locate the ingredients I required. One compound was impossible to come by. A clerk knowledgeable in Australian tribal magic said that the snake from which it was derived had been declared endangered. She recommended a dilute tincture of South American viper venom, which she claimed had similar properties.
"You must be planning to do a little dream walking," she said with a smile. I was strangely relieved. If even one other person took such things seriously, then maybe I was not going crazy after all. I considered asking her advice but then grew cautious when it occurred to me that there might be others like Melanie. A magic shop would be a good place to work if one wanted to keep tabs on the enemy -- in this case human sorcerers hunting for dream thieves.
I shivered as I realized that I had crossed some kind of invisible line.
>From an observer of ritual dream magic, I had become a practitioner of ritual dream magic. I crossed my fingers for luck and said a half-hearted prayer as I poured the powders and liquids into a bottle of mineral water that I had purchased from the small mom-and-pop grocery store across the street from Josh's apartment. The liquid was bitter and cloudy, but I drank it all.
I closed my eyes and said another prayer, this one heartfelt. Then I opened my eyes and crossed the street. Melanie was watching me through the window. She smiled and waved. I forced myself to smile back. Upstairs, I found her waiting for me in the doorway. She placed her hands on my shoulders and kissed me lightly on the cheek. She smelled of fresh-baked bread. It was all I could do to keep from grabbing her. I pretended to yawn. "I don't know why I am so sleepy. Could I get a quick nap before supper?"
Melanie was all smiles. "I was going to suggest that you rest. There are circles under your eyes. If I had not seen you sleeping like the dead for the greater part of two days, I would say that you had not slept in a week." I gave her a side-long glance. She looked and sounded so innocent. What if my suspicions were false? What if I ended up dying from the herbs I had ingested?
Oh well, it was too late now. I could feel the soporific starting to kick in. If challenged, a dream-stalking witch generally forced its host to wake up, severing the psychic link. Or so the legends said. The sleeping agent was intended to keep the dreamer asleep during the confrontation. It also meant that the dreamer could not flee from battle. The other herbs were said to give courage and increased concentration skills. Would it be enough?
I stretched out on the futon. Melanie laid down beside me. "I think I will have a bit of a rest, too" she murmured. Her hand barely touched mine, but an electric spark raced up my arm. Resolutely, I ignored it. After that, I was aware of nothing until I found myself emerging from a fog. I was standing on the battlement -- I think that is what they call it -- of the Irish castle. The grass was the same blinding shade of green as before. Melanie and her brother wore the same clothes as always. They were standing together, staring into the distance. Melanie had her arm around her brother's waist. She was speaking to him in a language I could not understand -- until I reminded myself that this was my dream, not hers. "...you would have hated the world as it has become, my love." Melanie laid her cheek against his shoulder. "It is better this way. We can be together forever, you and I."
"You and you," her brother replied. His voice, though lower in pitch than hers, had the same slightly breathless quality. "What am I, but a dream?" "What are dreams but our bread and water? Indeed, dreams are our life's blood. Just as you, my dear, are my life." She turned to look up at him but saw me out of the corner of her eye. "Shoo!" she told me irritably. As if I was a annoying pet. "Go away." I stepped forward. "You killed my brother," I said loudly. I had not realized that sound was magnified in a dream. The words echoed off the stone walls of the castle.
Melanie covered her ears with her hands. "Stop shouting." She peered at me suspiciously through narrowed eyes. "What are you trying to do, Kate?" "Skipper," I corrected her. "No one calls me Kate, especially not in my own dream."
"This is my dream."
I laughed. I was putting up a brave front. Inside, I was scared to death. Her power was an almost physical thing. I could feel ropes made of sheer will trying to bind my arms and legs and seal my mouth and eyes. It took every ounce of determination I possessed to drive them away. The result was worth it. Melanie's jaw dropped. As her confidence waned, mine grew.
"No, this is my dream. Your brother died long ago. This... this thing you call a brother is nothing more than a doll."
She lunged at me. Claw-like nails gouged at my cheeks. For a moment, I felt the trickle of warm blood. Then I remembered. This was my dream. When she saw the wounds on my face heal miraculously, she knew that she was in trouble. "Wake up!" she ordered.
"Wake up, or I will kill you!"
Resolutely, I stepped forward. She braced herself for an attack, but it was not her that I wanted. After a feint in her direction to draw her of guard, I grabbed her brother. With one arm locked around his neck, I pulled him towards the edge of the battlement. I glanced once over my shoulder. The ground looked very far away. Just to be certain, I doubled the height of the castle. It was amazingly easy to manipulate dream space once I got the hang of it.
"NO!" Melanie shrieked, but she did not move a muscle.
"It is the only way. He died years ago in the real world. Now, he must die in the dream world."
Her eyes were frantic. She knew that it if she made any sudden, threatening moves all I had to do was throw myself backwards. Her brother would hit the ground and die, while I would fly away safely. This was my dream, after all.
Melanie's expression softened. "Please, Skipper." When that had no effect on me, her face changed. She became Beth. "I have missed you," she said with Beth's voice. The bitch.
"Go to Hell!" I replied. However, something stopped me from carrying out the final act of the dream play which I had written. Melanie's brother -- if this dream man could be called her brother -- was not to blame for the fact that her obsessive love had led his sister to murder countless people. The guilty one was Melanie. However, I knew enough from my research to be fairly certain that her death would only cause her to wake up. You can not kill a living person in a dream. Her brother, on the other hand, was nothing but dream. If I removed him from the dream world, then I removed her motivation for killing.
"Skipper. Don't." Now Melanie had adopted the form and voice of my brother. It tore my heart out to see him standing there, arms outstretched and know that I could not go to him, could not even acknowledge him. It would give her too much control.
Again, I steeled myself to jump, but again, at the last second I paused. The dream man whose neck I was throttling finally spoke. The words were strange to me. He had to repeat them twice before I grasped his meaning.
"Do it," he said. "Set us both free."
"NO!" his sister shrieked. She resumed her own form and threw herself at us. Her momentum sent all three of us over the edge. It took an impossibly long time to reach the ground. Even after I released my grip on the brother, Melanie still had her claws in me. She seemed to hope that if she held onto me, I would be forced to save her and her brother when I saved myself. She had not counted on my determination. If I had to die to avenge Josh and rid the world of this monster, I would do it.
I braced myself for the inevitable impact, but it did not come. Instead the ground was getting farther away. Would we fall forever? "Let go," said a voice close to my ear. Was it Melanie or her brother, I wondered? "Let go."
Unexpectedly, those words provided me with the inspiration I needed. Rather than holding onto my anger, I must release it. As long as I hated Melanie, she still existed. If I forgot her completely, then she would vanish from my dream.
I closed my eyes and cleared my thoughts. I took a slow, deep breath. Somewhere far away, I seemed to hear a voice whisper, "Thank you...." The final syllable faded to nothing. Then there was only silence and darkness, and I was alone.
I woke up. Darkness had descended upon the tiny apartment. Trembling, I reached out for Melanie. She was gone. I pictured her in the kitchen, looking for a knife with which to pay me back for killing her brother. Cautiously, I approached the swinging door. No one in the kitchen. The bathroom was also empty.
Last of all, I checked the front door. It was closed, but the chain was off.
She must have fled. Was she looking for a new dream slave? Someone to help her bring her dead brother back to life? Was it possible to resurrect a dream spirit from the dead?
The thought of failure sickened me. How many young men would gaze into her beautiful blue eyes and count themselves lucky to have found such woman? How many women would give up everything to possess a creature so fine? I had defeated her in my dreams, but now I had to take care of the living woman. Even if it meant being sent to jail for life for murder. I dressed, then I went to the kitchen to pick out a knife. When I switched on the light, I found the note.
I did it for love. All the deaths -- they were because I loved my brother, not because I hated humans. You will know this when you discover that I have died by my own hand. If I hated you or bore you a grudge, I would have stayed alive with my grief, knowing that it would not last long. You would have felt obligated to kill me, in order to protect others. Then, they would have sent you to prison. Even if you had escaped detection, you would have had to carry the burden on my death on your conscience for the rest of your pitifully short mortal existence.
However, I saved you from that by taking my own life. So you owe me. I know what you are thinking. I killed your brother. Well, you killed my brother. My dream brother. He was as real to me as your brother was to you. Now that I have seen him die in dream, I will never be able to find him again.
But you can find him. You have the gift of dream magic. This is all I ask from you. In exchange for giving you the opportunity to create for yourself a normal, happy life, I ask only that you dream of my brother and me from time to time. Give us a little more time together until death comes to claim you. It is not such a great thing to ask.
I was trying to figure out what she meant by "I have died by my own hand" when I heard the sound of a car screeching to a sudden stop on the street below. This was followed by the sound of a distant police siren. A premonition drew me to the window. There, in the street lamp light, I saw Melanie's broken body lying in the middle of the road. Her neck was bent at an impossible angle. Blood trickled from her mouth. Her eyes were wide and unblinking.
I pushed the window open a fraction of an inch. I could hear a man saying "She jumped in front of my car. She saw me coming. She even blew me a kiss. Then she jumped."
The police car arrived at that moment. Someone pointed toward Melanie's corpse and then towards the window where I was standing. Quickly, I retreated into the shadows. The police would be up here soon, in order to take a statement. They would want to know if she had been depressed. I would tell them, "Yes. Her boyfriend killed himself recently." They would ask if I had found a suicide note. I would tell them "No."
I never showed the letter to anyone. Over the years, I moved away from academics and into practice --- the practice of dream magic, that is. From time to time, I dreamed that Josh and I were walking together along the banks of a river which separated the land of the dead from the land of the living.
"You should do as she asked," he told me one night. I was horrified. "How can you say something like that? She killed you."
"I killed myself," he reminded me.
"Because she drove you to it."
He sighed, an eerie sound coming from a ghost. "She loved him."
"Loved him too much."
"Is there really such a thing as too much love?" He turned to me. As always, his eyes were obscured by shadows.
"If you could bring me or Beth back to life by slaughtering an animal, say a chicken or a dog, once a week, would you do it? Be honest."
"Yes," I replied reluctantly. "This is different. Melanie--"
"Killed mortals. We are animals to her kind. In the end, she showed you mercy. Can't you be merciful to her?"
I peered at him suspiciously. Could this be Melanie disguised as my brother? He read my thoughts and smiled.
"Silly. What difference does it make? All of this --" He waved his arm. "-- is just a part of your dream. That includes me. Melanie, too if you choose to allow her to enter here. It is your choice. Continue to hate her. Or let go."
Let go. I recognized those words. It was he who had spoken them to me as I fell from the battlements with Melanie and her brother. If not for Josh, we might have continued to fall forever in the dream world, until my body wasted away from lack of food or water, and my dreams ended in my death.
"I will do it for you," I told him.
"Do it for yourself. If you do not let go of your anger, you are not different from Melanie, who could not let go of love. Let go."
I closed my eyes, and slowly, ever so slowly I let my anger go. When Melanie and her brother appeared, I felt nothing but a kind of bittersweet sadness that this was all the happiness they had to look forward to and that life was so brief. Then Beth was there, and this time I did not turn away or try to hide, because there is nothing in our dreams that is not part of us, and the only way our dreams can hurt us is if we deny them.
Story copyright ©1999 by McCamy Taylor
Artwork "Monochromatic Dreams" copyright ©1999 by Romeo Esparrago <email@example.com>