by Myles Abroad
Most times dreams are dreams, but sometimes they send a message.
Word Count: 2000
Oven-like heat saturated each breath. My eyes fluttered open, unease nagging until Mac's steady, sleeping rhythm soothed me. Dawn light pooled shadows on his gaunt, worry-lined face as I ran a chipped fingernail along his stubbled jawline. A tight smile thinned my lips. It took a strong man to handle me, a stubborn, volatile woman, he'd say. Gifted, I'd say. Easing from bed, I crossed the worn floorboards and opened the curtains. My breath caught. Three floors below, a thick, pristine blanket of snow covered the street...
An eerie tingle climbed my spine. Tick-tick-tick began to beat in my head, like a clock counting down.
Drenched, I bolted upright, clutching my throbbing forearm. Untangling myself from the sheets, I stifled a gasp when my arm swelled, turning red, then green. My palm ballooned as something wriggled beneath the skin, snaking around my wrist before climbing my arm. I clawed at the parasite, shrieking, but it slipped under my fingers, growing as it passed my elbow. Strong hands shook my shoulder, Mac's voice slicing through my panic. The pain vanished, my arm whole, thin, and pale. Sobbing, I fell into my husband's reassuring arms, his voice's gentle hum easing my hammering heart.
A pudgy hand gripped my knee before I met my three-year-old's glistening, round-eyed stare. Wiping my tears, I forced a smile. "Just a bad dream, Josh." He pulled himself onto my lap, and I hugged him, kissing his blond curls in time with the ticking rhythm in my mind.
The stench of rotting garbage drifted through the open bedroom window as I gazed down on our neighborhood. I nursed a cup of hot water, sweetened with a pinch of sugar from our meager rations. An indulgence Mac insisted on after one of my episodes. My hand trembled with a subconscious beat as I let the steam play along my lips.
Across the street, two feral dogs tore into the mound of stacked garbage before turning on each other in a snarl of gleaming teeth. They rolled between parked cars into the street where red dust drifted in waves, clinging to everything; vestiges of the dustbowl, once the breadbasket of America. The stifling breeze offered small respite to the early morning heat, already climbing into the nineties. Hard to imagine snow, but the thought urged me to flee.
Josh's excited laugh carried from the kitchen. We'd saved three eggs, and Mac promised pancakes, maple syrup the big surprise. Where Mac got it, I didn't know, but not our usual black-market channels. Another worry. I ran my eyes over my husband's tools stacked beside the wardrobe. God knows he did his best with work so scarce.
The roof groaned before the floor buckled. Heart in mouth, I dropped my mug, grasping the window's ledge. The building swayed, then settled, leaving dust motes to drift from the cracked ceiling while car alarms blared, and dogs howled. Mac threw the bedroom door open, cradling wide-eyed Josh. My husband sagged and settled on the edge of our bed.
"Just a small one," he whispered into Josh's ear, and my son raced back to his breakfast.
Mac stared at me with haunted eyes before running a hand through his greasy locks. "They're comin' more often, Dee. Rumors say it's cause Yellowstone's gonna blow."
I looked away. We'd enough to fret about. "There'll always be rumors. Besides, it's too far away."
"They say that don't matter." He pursed his lips. "You have the snake dream again?
Shuddering, I nodded. "Also dreamed it snowed."
Mac rasped a humorless chuckle. "Well, it ain't snowed in twenty years, let alone on Independence Day. That dream didn't come true."
Mac gasped a bug-eyed, "You nuts?"
Skeptics! Why? Anyone but Mac and I'd have walked, saving my own skin. But our damned love trapped me. Nostrils flaring, I yelled, "Why won't you listen?"
My hard-headed man clenched his fists. "Stop..."
"And we ain't goin' to the parade. Somethin's gonna happen." Pulling my hair, I wailed, "I feel it in my head."
"Damn it, Dee. It's just dreams. They're roastin' a hog at the ballpark. Maybe you don't care, but our son needs meat. We're goin'." Mac strode from the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
My head throbbed to a faster tempo as I slid to the floor, massaging my temples. Movement on the wall caught my attention. Trapped beneath the faded, rose-vined wallpaper, something slithered along the wall, stopping above Mac's tools. What the hell? Trembling, I stood. The wallpaper bulged, swelling, ready to burst. Two quick strides and I grabbed my husband's hammer, slamming it into the boil. The head punched a hole in the wall, but whatever-it-was fled like a mole tunneling under the paper. I followed, hacking holes in its wake until the wall puffed into a massive blister. Screaming, I drove hammer-stroke after hammer-stroke into it, tearing sheetrock and insulation from the wall before the bedroom door crashed open.
"What the hell you doin'," Mac bellowed, clamping my hammer-wielding wrist.
"It's in the wall!" I shrieked as I pulled against him, ripping insulation from the hole before he dragged me away.
"Stop this, Dee. Nothin's there." Panting, my eyes fixed on the light pouring through the fissure I'd opened.
Trying to break free, I screamed, "Oh God, it escaped into Nando's room."
Mac restrained me in a straight-jacket grip, forcing me onto the bed beside him. "Please, Dee. You're seein' things..." The desperation in Mac's voice broke through my anxiety. My heart ached when I saw fear painted in his moist brown eyes. Standing in the doorway, Josh sniffled, his lips trembling in silent grief. The damaged wall filled my eyes, and I dropped my head, hot tears scoring my cheek.
"Am I going nuts?" I whispered.
Mac eased his grip, rocking me. "Hey, it's okay. You're just stressed, is all." He chuckled. "Better fix this before Nando comes home. Any excuse not to pay his rent."
My jaw clenched. "Maybe he'll leave."
I shrugged. "Don't know. Don't trust 'im." If Mac knew, he'd kill him. I'd been stupid. Nando's olive-skinned good looks and easy laugh drew me like a fly to trash. Maybe I led him on, maybe he was just drunk, but when he pinned me, groping and tearing at my clothes, everything changed. After I kneed him in the nuts and held a knife to his throat, he got the message never to touch me again. He'd called me a crazy bitch. He was right.
My weary husband groaned, surveying the destruction. He raked his hair and mumbled, "Don't worry about the parade. You and Josh stay home. Nando'll help me smuggle some food back."
With the men at the ballpark, I held Josh on my lap, watching the neighborhood from our open bedroom window. Our quiet time, our distraction. As a girl, I would have watched TV or surfed the net, but that's all gone now. Something about 'cleansing our minds of subversive lies,' whatever that means, but I needed a diversion from my pounding head. I pointed at a dog slinking in the shadows across the street, hiding from a Blackshirt patrol. Josh followed the hound's movements, transfixed.
A pigeon-sized bird buzzed past our window. Too fast for a pigeon. Another flew by, and a gunshot said the Blackshirts saw it, too. A distant rumbling drone grew loud, punctured by screams. I poked my head out the window as the patrol fanned out intent on a mob pouring from the ballpark. My mouth dropped open. A flock of birds hovered over the crowd, dive-bombing them. Oh, God! Mac!
I ducked as a bird whizzed a hair's breadth from my head, and slammed the window shut when it turned to hover before us. Not a bird! More like a giant green hornet. A dripping stinger emerged from the end of its long bulbous body and slammed into the glass. Clutching my hysterical child, I screamed as the glass cracked under its repeated, chiseled attacks. Both windowpane and insect exploded in a shotgun blast, scattering glass shards and green goo across the room. I fled the bedroom, barricading ourselves in the kitchen.
After shuttering the kitchen windows, I dropped to the floor, holding my son. While I quaked with sobs, insect drone rattled the apartment, pierced by screams, shrieks, sirens, and gunfire. Gradually, the noise faded, moving down the street.
My breath caught when ponderous footsteps climbed the stairs. The front door burst open, and I expelled a relieved cry when Mac helped Nando inside. Arm around his waist, my husband walked his friend to the couch, the vain charmer, bloated and green. Struggling to breathe, he lay down, gasping, "Dios mio, que bichos!"
Mac tore open his buddy's shirt, revealing an angry globular swelling on his chest. My husband gave me a panicked look like I'd know what to do. "He got stung. Lance it?"
Squeezing my boy, I whispered in his ear, "Josh, go to your safe place. Remember, don't come out 'til I say so." Trance-like, my traumatized child opened a kitchen cupboard to hide in its cushioned interior.
Steeling myself, I heated a knife over a flame, while Mac soothed Nando with booze. When ready, I nodded at Mac. He whispered in Nando's ear and lay across him, bracing his arms. I drew the glowing knife through the swelling, fighting nausea as blood and green-hued puss oozed from the gash. The sickly smell of burnt flesh almost overwhelmed me. Nando screamed and fought before passing out, blood flecks and phlegm foaming his lips with each rattled breath.
The wound flushed with liquor and dressed, I sat back, knees-to-chin, shaking before heaving sobs overtook me. Mac held me until the trembling stopped, only my mind's steady throb continued to tick. Once I'd coaxed Josh from his sanctuary, he nestled on my lap, and in silence, we sat beside the couch, listening to Nando's labored breaths.
"Will he make it?" Mac asked.
I shrugged. "Told ya somethin' bad was gonna happen."
Mac dropped his head and took my hand. "Should 've listened, Dee. If you and Josh..."
My husband searched my eyes. "Where?"
"Canada?" I said, but Mac was already shaking his head.
"Too heavily patrolled. Besides, our ration of ten gallons a month will only..."
"We have to," I shrieked, strangling his hand. "Or it'll be really bad."
"Okay!" Grim determination hardened Mac's face. "I'll make it happen." Cheat, steal, or kill, we'd survive.
Our patient groaned and vomited dark brown bile. Before I could react, Mac gasped my name, and I froze. Nando's stomach rippled in a spiral, as though a snake swam under his skin. Shrieking, I pulled Josh away from the prone man.
The thumping in my head became a continuous thrum, while I urged our son into his bolt hole. Grabbing the knife. I raised it over Nando's belly. Mac caught my arm. "You'll kill 'im."
Sirens outside startled us, followed by the blared announcement, "Attention! This is a public health announcement. Those stung by the dire-hornets must be quarantined..."
The message continued, unabated while pounding on the apartment doors below carried up the stairwell. Footsteps thundered up the steps before Mac opened the door, pointing towards his dying friend. Two Blackshirt stretcher-bearers pushed into our home, sweeping us with cold eyes. I gasped. Snowflakes clung to their hair, shoulders, and boots.
"Snow!" I hissed through rising panic.
A soldier sneered. "Snow? It's ash. Yellowstone blew."
The thrumming in my head ceased. In silence, the room spun, dread filling my heart. Winter's coming.