Too busy for his son, Otis may never see him again. 52 Wks
|Otis looked up and seen two signs, one read DANGER, the other just had a childish image of a skull and crossbones. He was lying on wet sand with rocks scattered all over and his head hurt. How did he get here, and where was here? He sat up and looked around him to see the same thing in every direction, sand and rocks. Not that he could see very far, it was like a fog hung in the distance that he could not see through.
Reaching up to his head, Otis rubbed the sore spot and felt a big lump. “Yep, a real goose egg.”
His voice seemed small and lost in this vast sandy plain. When he looked at his hand, he didn’t see any blood, which somehow seemed to make the dull ache feel a little less painful.
He got to his feet and looked all around, nothing but sand and rocks littered the landscape, vanishing into the gray fog in the distance. There were no footsteps, just an indentation where he had been lying. He could see where one elbow and his knees had left deeper impressions in the wet sand, as well as a pretty good sized rock where his head had been. “Well, that explains the goose egg.”
But it didn’t explain anything else.
Rubbing the sand off as he walked, he headed toward the two signs. He was surprised to see he was wearing just his pajamas and didn’t have any shoes on. At least the sand was soft to walk on, as long as he didn’t step on any of the rocks. It had been many years since Otis had gone barefoot, and his feet were very tender and soft.
When he got to the signs, he was surprised again. The signs where almost as tall as he was, but they were drawn in with a pencil, a really big pencil. Looking close, he could see the boards that made the signs where balsa wood, and the posts where giant toothpicks. Even more surprising was the way they were held together, with a huge piece of tape!
It was like a giant kid had made them and stuck them in the sand in his sandbox. Even the sand seemed odd, and the rocks even odder. They looked too rough and uneven. Otis was reminded of ocean sponges, but when he felt the rock, it was rock hard. It reminded him of the time his family visited an old volcano and the way the lava rocks looked. But he wasn’t visiting any volcano now. He just couldn’t remember anything about how he was where he was.
Otis sat on one of the medium sized rocks by the two signs and rubbed his head. Danger of what? And, what did the skull and crossbones mean? Why was he barefoot and in his orange and yellow striped pajamas, and even more important, where was he?
It was odd sitting there on that rock, with no sound at all. He couldn’t remember ever being in absolute quiet before. There was always sounds, the house creaking, or crickets, birds or traffic, something, but here there was nothing. It was like the gray fog blocked sound as well as site. Otis closed his eyes and listened even harder, there had to be some sound.
Nothing. No sound but he was remembering something. He was just getting dressed in his pajamas, after taking a shower. He could see the bathroom just as it had been after his shower. Yes, now he remembered.
He had worked late, again. It seemed like he was almost always working late, but that was life in the city and working for a major corporation. He had called home and talked to his wife, Margo and explained that he would miss dinner. She was understanding, but still he could hear the disappointment in her voice as she told him she would put a plate in the fridge for him.
Later, after he was home, Margo had gotten up and warmed his food while he took a shower and changed into his pajamas. “I know your job is important and you have to put in these long hours to get any advancement, but Honey, Finnian doesn’t understand why his daddy is always gone.”
He smiled at her across his plate of warmed up noodles and hot dogs. Macaroni and cheese with hot dogs was his son’s favorite food. He would have preferred something more adult, but being late getting home, he didn’t make a fuss out of it.
“I know, and once I get this next promotion, we will have a good income and I’ll have time to spend with Finnian.” He forked another big scoop of noodles into his mouth then pushed the plate away. “That’s plenty for me, I’m tired and have to be up early to give my presentation.”
Margo took his plate and looked at him. “Did you forget that tomorrow is Finnian’s birthday? He’ll be heartbroken if you don’t spend some time with him. I thought you had the day off?”
“Oh no. I forgot. Honey, I told Mr. Hermanson that I would give my presentation tomorrow on the new line of toilet paper we have been developing. Maybe if it goes well, I can get done early and come home and spend the afternoon with Finnian.”
Margo left for the kitchen, then returned. Sounding just as disappointed as she looked, she said, “We know how well that usually works out. But who knows, maybe this time it will be different. I’m going to bed, I have a big day tomorrow with Finnian, and someone around here needs to make his birthday special.”
“Margo, don’t be mad, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just a birthday. I’ll stop and buy him something special on my way home.” Otis had stood up and was going to go peek at his son before going to bed himself.
“Otis, don’t you remember being a boy and how important these things were. That’s your problem, you know, you forgot what being a little boy is all about.” Margo turned and went down the hall to their bedroom, and vanished behind the closing door.
Otis remembered now. Margo was upset, and Finnian would be even more upset in the morning when he woke and discovered his dad had not taken the day off like he had promised him. “Kids, they just don’t understand what’s important.” He thought out loud.
But, what had happened? He went to look in at Finnian, and the next thing he knew, he was here. He closed his eyes again and tried to remember what had happened after he finished eating. Margo had gone to bed, and he had walked down the hall and quietly opened Finnian’s bedroom door. He had turned the lights off, so he wouldn’t wake his son when the door opened and the bright hall light streamed in.
As the door opened, he was expecting a faint light from Finnian’s frog night-light. Instead of the faint green glow, however, there had been a purple glow. Yes, he remembered now, standing in the open doorway he had seen his son lying on the bed, covered with his favorite blanket. It was a soft fuzzy thing with a picture of a pond full of lily pads, cattails, and frogs.
But, there was something else there, too. There was a pulsing purple light alongside Finnian’s bed, floating in the air, and it was growing bigger as Otis watched. He stepped into the room and went towards the glowing, purple orb that was now almost as tall as he was. It wasn’t perfectly round, but more oval and it fluctuated and pulsed. Little sparks floated within purple sphere and then someone stepped through it.
Otis felt alarmed when the figured stepped out and next to his sleeping son. He rushed forward to protect Finnian but was too far away to stop the figure from throwing something into his sleeping son’s face. Even as Otis reached for him, the person turned and seen Otis. He quickly jumped back into the sparkling purple --- hole, that’s what it was.
Otis seen the surprised look on the person’s face, but couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman in his son’s room. He grabbed hold of a sleeve just as the person jumped into the sparkling, purple hole. He could see the person was dressed up like some kind of wizard, wearing a long purple robe with little yellow stars all over it. On the person’s head was a long pointed stocking cap of the same material and colors. It looked like the old fairytale sleep hats in a storybook.
Yes, Otis seen him clearly for just a second, but once he was back into the purple, sparkling hole, he blended right in. He turned and looked at his son as his fingers clutched at the purple sleeve. Finnian was still sleeping, but there was sparkling dust floating onto his face.
Holding fast to the sleeve he tried to pull the person back into the room, but the hole was quickly shrinking. He felt his fingers slipping and just when he thought he would lose his grip, he felt himself falling head first into the purple hole, now only half its size. As he fell everything swirled and twirled as he tumbled and turned. Then it was dark.
“So, that’s how I got here.” Otis spoke into the emptiness around him. “But where is here?”
“This is Sandland and who are you?” A voice spoke behind Otis, making him jump and fall off his rock. He landed on his hands and knees but stood and turned just as the purple robed wizard stepped out from behind some rocks just past the sign.
“You! I knew it, you grabbed me and followed me through. Can’t you read, moron?” He pointed to the sign that read, DANGER.
Otis brushed himself off, “And just who are you and what were you doing in my son’s room?” He looked around, and where the hell am I?
The purple wizard stepped closer, then reached out and poked Otis. “Yep, you’re real. This is not good.”
“What,” screamed Otis? “Tell me what’s going on here.”
“Okay, just mellow out. I’m the sandman, and this is Sandland. I visit your world each night and sprinkle dream-dust into children’s eyes so they have nice dreams. I was visiting Finnian because he was having a bad dream when you stepped in and grabbed me.”
Otis could see the sandman much better now that they were face to face and he was turned. But he didn’t look like a he, he looked like a she. No, not a she, like a man with a little boy or girl face. In fact, it seemed to change back and forth as Otis watched. “Stop that!”
“Stop changing like that, it’s making my head hurt.”
“Changing? Oh no, don’t tell me things are changing. This is most notably not good.”
Otis had looked away, and things were changing. The sand was turning gray. No, not the sand, the gray fog was closing in, like water washing upon a beach, getting closer and closer to his feet. “What’s happening?”
The sandman stepped back, it’s why I put up those signs. “This place is dangerous to your kind, you can’t be here. I mean, this place doesn’t exist for you.”
“What I mean is, this is my world, I leave here every night and visit the children, then return in the morning. But, for you, this is only a dream world, and when morning comes, it ends.” The sandman told Otis.
Pointing out into the gray nothing, he added, “See, morning is nearing and this dream is ending. Soon the gray will swallow you up and you will be gone forever.”
“What do you mean, gone forever. Gone where?” Even as Otis spoke the gray seemed to cover over him and when he looked at his hand, he could see, just barely, through it.
“Gone, you will just become part of the gray and then you will be gone. Gone from here, gone from your world, just gone into the gray. No one has ever returned from the gray.”
“How do you manage to come back?’ Otis sounded panicky as he watched the gray grow deeper and darker, or was it him growing grayer and more transparent?
“I don’t vanish in the gray, it’s my night and I sleep until it turns purple and sparkles. When I wake, I step into it and come to your world, to visit the children and bring them nice dreams.” The purple dressed sandman was now also growing dimmer, or the gray was covering Otis and he couldn’t see out much.
Otis heard his voice once again, but it was also growing faint. “I’m sorry, but you should have heeded the signs, this place is danger to you and your kind. I will visit Finnian often and help to make his dreams happy, for when you never return to him, he will be haunted by nightmares.”
Otis thought about Finnian looking for him and never finding him. He remembered how his own dad had left to go fight in the war and had never come back. Pain filled his heart as he thought about how he would miss Finnian and how Finnian would miss him. The poor boy would never know where his dad had gone or why he never came back. Otis screamed out, “Please, oh please, take me with you when you go back.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t take you. You won’t be here when the gray turns to purple. Please understand, I would if I could, but I just can’t. I’m growing tired and will soon sleep as the gray covers my world, but when I awake, it will be gone, and you with it. You, and those before you who have ventured here, are the grayness. Can’t you feel it pulling you into it, can’t you see your turning into grayness?” The sandman let out a big sigh, “I’m sorry, I really am.”
“What do you mean you can’t take me back? I need to go back, it’s Finnian’s birthday and I can’t miss it.” Otis was trying to climb up and out of the gray, but it was like he was just a mist himself now, no substance, just darker gray than the other gray.
Otis knew, there was no way back, there was no way out, there was just grayness around him and sand under him. He would never get to see his boy again. Tears rolled down Otis’s face, flowing freely as he remembered how much he missed his dad, and how Finnian would now miss his. “I’ll do anything to go home, anything to be with my family again, to be with Finnian again.”
“Anything?” A voice called out from the grayness around him. “Maybe there is something, but…”
“Yes, I’ll do anything. Please, tell me how I can go back.”
“There is but one way, and it’s not for certain if it will work or not. Right now your son is dreaming of his birthday, of cake and ice cream and of lots of toys. His friends are all there and he should be happy, but in his dream he cries. Do you know why, Otis?”
“Yes, I think I do, he cries because everyone is there and everything is perfect except I’m at work and not with him. He’s crying because I again let him down.” More tears flooded down his checks and left wet trails down the grayness that once was his pajama top.
“Yes, he’s sad because of all the things he wanted for his birthday, he wanted you to be there the most. But, he knows, even in his dream, that won’t be.”
“But it will, if I can just go home – I will take the day off and spend it with him. I’ll spend as much time as I can with him. I’ll quit my job to be with my family if I have to, if I can only get home. Please, you have to tell me how, no matter how slight the chance I have to try.”
Then think hard, focus and concentrate on Finnian. Send a message to him in his dream that you are there, and if he dreams you are there, it may just be enough to bring you back. There is nothing more powerful than a child’s dreams, you know.”
Otis closed his eyes and thought of Finnian, of his birthday, of being there with open arms to pick him up and hug him tight. “Finnian, please, see me. I’m here son, I’m here and I’ll never take you for granted again.” Over and over Otis thought this with all his might.
A thousand worlds away, in a dark room with a frog light, Finnian tossed and turned. He was dreaming he was running back to his room. He was crying and just wanted to be alone, his dad had not stayed home for his birthday. His eyes flickered and almost opened, but his dream lingered on, holding him in sleep for a few minutes more.
Just as Finnian got to his room, he seen something further down the hall. Was it? Could it be? He wiped at the tears and ran further on, down to his mom and dad’s bedroom. Yes, it was, his dad was still in bed. He had stayed home! Finnian jumped onto the bed and wrapped his dad in his arms, hugging him so very tight…
Otis was so lost in his thoughts that at first he didn’t realize anything was happening. But then he felt it, he was sinking. He opened his eyes and seen a faint green glow in the fog, it wasn’t much but it was enough for him to see that the sand under his feet was swirling and he was sinking in it. He tried to pull free but it only swirled faster and faster, pulling him in deeper and deeper. Then, all went dark as his head sunk below the sand.
He blinked and felt the grit in his eyes. Dry and scratchy, he rubbed at them. It was light now, not bright but light enough he could see. He was lying in his bed, Margo had already gotten up and he could smell coffee. Just then Finnian burst into the room, “Daddy, Daddy, you’re home.”
Otis sat up as Finnian jumped on the bed and right into his arms. He remembered his strange dream, it still seemed so real. “Yes, son, I’m home. Happy birthday.”
Finnian hugged him even tighter as Otis wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him tightly. A shadow appeared in the doorway, then Margo stepped through. “Good Morning. The office called.” She handed him his cell phone.
“Yes, Mr. Hermanson, this is Otis. No, no I’m not going to be in today, it’s my son’s birthday. I know I’m supposed to do a presentation this morning, but I can’t it’s my son’s birthday.”
There was a long silence, then Otis stated in a bit of an agitated tone, “I know, Mr. Hermanson, but I think a little boys birthday is a higher priority than toilet paper. I tell you what, why don’t you call me back and let me know how this new wipe works right after you blow it out… Hello?”
He looked up at Margo, “I think he hung up on me. Oh well, it’s just a job right. Well, it was, but it was just too demanding. I think I’ll start looking for something different, right after we celebrate my boy’s birthday.”
Otis got up still holding Finnian in his arms, “I had the strangest dream last night and I’ll tell you both all about it over breakfast.”
“Yes, please do, and while you’re at it, you can explain to us how you got all that sand in our bed, too.” Margo was pointing at the bed Otis had just climbed out of. He turned and looked and sure enough, the sheet was covered in damp sand…