Where am I now?
The world around her was so grey and barren. Before her was only a cracked terrain dotted with haggered trees. The petite young woman was barefoot and walking forward with each step cracking loudly in the air, no matter how lightly she stepped.
Where am I going?
Into her field of vision came a massive, putrid cesspool and, despite her desire to run, her feet continued foreward. Her heartbeat grew faster, but she tried to keep her breaths controlled; a putrid stench made every breathe a struggle. The closer she got, the more the unsettling slime bubbled; waves being formed and causing it to churn.
The surface erupted and a hideous, gelatinous rain fell in turn. She scrambled backwards and was thrown to the ground by the force of two large tentacles slamming into the dirt on either side of her. She hurried to her feet in time to see the ooze rise up into a mound, and then fall away from a fanged skull. The skull itself was merely hiding the real creature; two stalked eyes slithered out of the empty sockets.
Its eyes briefly darted back and forth, then, in a flash, the skull darted at her. She turned to run, but her foot broke through the ground, shattering like splintered glass. Her mind prepared her, expecting, to hit and sink into a sea of slime, but the surface she hit was cold and fluid like water. Braving to open her eyes, she, indeed, saw that she was sinking into a watery Abyss. The broken ground provided enough illumination to know she was sinking quickly into darkness, and held her breath as long as she could.
Naomi finally gasped for breath and sat up in her bed, surrounded by the darkness of the old farm house once more. Shivering and soaked in sweat, she paused to reflect on her nightmare before she forgot its details. She had begun having nightmares at the beginning of summer break, though, she had no idea why. The nightmares weren’t always the same and none had been as terrifying as this one. No matter how much she looked up the symbols of dreams, she could find no relevant meaning to them.
She shivered as she got up to the bathroom to deal with her sweat soaked face. It had become so routine that she had begun setting out a towel and shirt before bed. All the while she was cleaning up, her mind would race over the details of the nightmares over and over.
This one ended sinking in water. I was surrounded by an ocean before. But there was the swamp and a garden before too.
All the books said she was stressed or overwhelmed. Was she? Sure, she was stressed. She was going to begin her senior year and hadn’t thought beyond it. Her former summers had been spent with her best friend Christopher, but his father had forced him to get a job this year. He was told he needed to help with bills but everyone knew his father was an alcoholic.
Chris was only five when his mother left them. She had left a note saying she was leaving to live her life and they had heard nothing more or since. Of course they searched for her, but, in such a small town, and limited resources, it wasn’t long before it was closed with the conclusion that she had simply wanted to leave. His mother was not from the town and had always been seen as a kind of outsider, so the only broken hearts were the family she abandoned.
Naomi’s family had experienced the same coldness from the town when they had moved there. Despite having a four and ten year old child, Naomi’s mother tried to lessen the burden for the now single parent by baby-sitting Chris while his father worked. She had thought that he would become friends with Naomi’s older brother Adam, but, being the same age as Naomi, they quickly bonded instead. As Christopher’s father’s depression spiraled downward and the alcoholism grew, his presence among their family became second nature.
This had been the first summer Naomi had barely seen Chris. He worked part time at the grocery store and part-time at the local Diner; often leaving him exhausted and unavailable. Whenever she tried to call his house, his father would simply say that he was busy or sleeping and then abruptly hang up. She would often go with her parents for any chores in the town hoping to run into him and try to talk as much as they could. It was barely ever anything; he was constantly too busy for more than a "how are you?" And there always seemed to be a manager lurking nearby.
She had even considered applying for a summer job as well, but her mother forbade her from doing so. With no car of her own, or license, her only option for transport would have been her worn out bike but, after past attempts to town, it's parts were ruled to be too worn for the distance, and her mother didn’t want it breaking down mid-trip. Instead she had spent her summer assisting her father with repairs around the house.
As an independent contractor for the town, he normally had many projects in the summer, but this year had been slower. Now with fall approaching, her father decided to focus on adjustments to the house to prepare for what was supposed to be a rough winter. He always managed to find another project on the house or yard. His recent quest was to repair the shed in the backyard.
If Naomi wasn’t helping her father, her options for activities very were limited. Unlike others her age, she was not gifted with a cellphone and the only computer was a laptop monopolized by Adam. CDs, nature walks and library books had composed the majority of her alone time this year.
Returning to bed after the nightmares always resulted in a dreamless, restless sleep followed by a rough morning. Naomi knew she looked terrible after the particularly vivid nightmares but when her parents found out the cause was a "bad dream", it no longer concerned them and they took on a "that sucks" attitude whenever they noticed her haggered appearence. It didnt seem to matter how gruesome they were, so Naomi stopped talking about them.
That morning, the first rays of sunlight stabbed at her eyelids and her head throbbed with pain. Her body was sore, like always, but she pulled herself out of bed; any hope of additional sleep dashed by her migraine. The smell of coffee wafting up the stairs told her that her mother was already up. At the foot of the stairs, Naomi watched her mother hurry around the house while preparing for work. The energetic woman paused when she caught a glance of Naomi at the bottom of the stairs.
"You’re up early..." Her mother began and then stopped as she took in Naomi’s appearance. "Oh, poor kid. Well, your father has to go to town today so you can go with him. I’ll see you tonight."
She was out the door before Naomi could respond, rushing to her job as the full time nurse for the town’s clinic. Naomi had never liked the doctor her mother worked for; he was also their family doctor and had only ever been a stubborn ass in need of retirement. Her mother had an odd respect for him and Naomi was written off as too sensitive. Whenever she was ill or injured, she would hide it as much as possible to avoid going to him.
In the kitchen, she could see that some coffee remained in the pot, enough for one more mug, and decided she would choke some down. Despite the bitter taste, the caffeine sometimes helped with her migraines, but, when she opened the refrigerator for milk, she heard her mug slide along the counter. She was surprised to find that her large, burly father had snuck up and claimed her mug.
"No coffee." He said before taking a sip.
"When was that a rule?" She replied. "I’ve had coffee before."
"Well, we’re low and I need it more." He said matter-of-factly.
"My head is killing me!" Naomi groaned.
Her father turned, opened a cabinet, and grabbed a bottle of pills, tossing it at her in one motion.
"A couple of those should help. If you take them now, they should kick in before we get to town.“ He said.
"I think I’d rather stay home." Naomi groaned, swallowing two pills with a sip of sink water.
"What?" He scoffed. "You always wanna go to town. We can eat and I need help carrying all the stuff."
"I’m not your only child. Or even the strongest!" She bleeted.
"You’re gettin’ stronger." He smiled.
Naomi sighed then said
"Look at me dad. I feel like hot garbage. Carrying lumber doesn’t seem feasible at the moment."
"I needed metal sheeting, but now that I think about lumber..." he said with a frown, stroking his dull blonde beard.
"Seriously? I know Adam doesn’t work today cause he always stays up all night on the computer." She snapped.
"Alright, alright." He groaned. "You’ll miss a chance to see Chris if he’s in town, though."
"He’s always working so hard, I don’t want him to get in trouble if I interrupt. Feels selfish." She sighed.
Her father simply nodded and then Naomi made some toast to take into her room. She closed her curtains and pulled her bed covers over her head, hoping it would help her migraine. She could hear muffled arguing from the hallway when her father finally woke Adam.
Adam was a cook at the diner Chris worked at and kept every penny for himself while paying no bills. He used their father's truck freely, but asking him to do anything always resulted in arguments. Ultimately, their parents allowed to keep to himself as much as possible, and came to Naomi instead.
The sound of voices faded and her father’s truck was heard driving away not long after. The quiet and the dark began to ease her pain and she could feel her mind slipping away.
A breathy voice seemed to whisper close to her ear. Her eyes flew open and she threw off her covers but she was alone in her room. A peek through the bedroom curtain showed the driveway was empty, and an ear to Adam’s bedroom door left her with the conclusion that she was still alone. It was just after noon when she crept back downstairs; the house was ded quiet.
After grabbing a glass of water, Naomi found herself staring out the back sliding doors towards the forest at the edge of their backyard. The trees still shown a bright green; the town was already flooded with amber and naked trees. The two friends would explore and play amongst the trees despite her parents protests; their sense of adventure always drew them back. When they got older, and her bike was new, they began venturing to the town for fun and the forest became a monument to nostalgia.
Eager for the warm remembrance continue, Naomi got dressed and grabbed a light jacket before heading out the sliding doors. The closer she came to the trees, more and more memories emerged. The nonsense games, treasure hunting, scrapes and cuts all gave a warm feeling. The trail that they had worn in the grass from walking was no longer visible, but she moved amongst the trees lost in memory. She finally halted when her shoe sunk into mud.
"Dammit." She hissed, reaching for a nearby branch to steady herself.
Quickly pulling her shoe out of the muck, she glanced to her left to find a familiar clearing. Off center of the clearing was a large boulder surrounded by soggy soil; it was a disappointing image compared to the lush green meadow from memory. Studying the ground for sink spots, she moved cautiously toward the rock.
It had seemed so much bigger in her memory, but only stood about three feet high. The top was a flat, 10 foot platform and had always been covered in soft moss, but was now damp, gritty stone. Among many other things, it had been a stage, throne for King of the mountain, and a place for picnics.
The longer she stood, the more her shoes sunk into the ground, so she lifted herself onto the boulder for sturdy ground. Instead of nostalgia, she felt disappointed to see mudholes spread over the ground like swiss cheese.
With a sigh, she cast her eyes down towards her feet, scuffing her feet against its gritty surface. The longer she stared, the more apparent it was to her that there were carvings beneathe her feet. Without the moss, there were definite lines, definite markings, but they weren’t letters or numbers that Naomi recognized.
She crouched over a symbol, trying to memorize its shape; feeling it with her fingertips so she could research it later. When she stood back up, however, she was surrounded by nothingness. Her eyes went back to her feet but the rock was no longer there. Her mouth flew open to scream, but, no matter the force she used, it was silent in the void.