Fire gripped the nape of my neck when my head sprang up from the table. The scream that woke me from my dream moments ago disappeared. I brushed my chin against my shirt sleeve to dry the string of drool that had escaped my lips, hoping the act looked more like I had just scratched an itch. I glanced down at the Bible I was reading before I drifted off and rubbed my thumb over the wet mark that had pooled among the pages of Ezekiel.
Whispers erupted from a few fellow patrons, but thankfully the basement level of the campus library wasn’t the hang out of choice at eleven-thirty on a Monday night. My body slumped a little as I exhaled, slowly eyeing the handful of students sitting nearby. Though I did my best to continue studying as if nothing happened, my brain kept reeling over the images. Dead men walking. At least that’s what I nicknamed my recent series of nightmares.
Flashes of their faces haunted my thoughts as I desperately tried to dive back into my test material. Dried bones under rotted flesh continued to creep through my brain; all whispering something I couldn’t quite make out. As frightening as they were, tonight was the first time I woke myself up with my own scream. Then I remembered why. One of the corpses had turned into my little brother, Colton.
With a mock yawn I closed my books and stuffed all my things into my pack. Two hours of studying was going to have to be enough for my Bible History exam tomorrow. The class was mandatory for all undergraduates here at Baylor University, but I found it to be a nice filler between the two upper level sciences I had enrolled in this semester.
I dodged the stares of a few other students, hoping beyond anything none of them shared a class with me. Once outside, the brisk cool air charged my nostrils and left a trail of goose flesh across my bare skin. I appreciated the cool relief knowing full well tomorrow could bring with it temperatures near 90 degrees. There was one thing about Texas weather that was certain…it was going to change.
Like my mom before me, I was native to the state. And even if I ever wanted to hide that fact, it would be difficult with a name like Tyler Bowie Youngblood. Our parents made it clear that their money would only go to a Texas university, and Baylor was an obvious choice. It was far enough away from my parents to deter any surprise visits, but close enough to home if Colton, or I needed rescuing. Besides, it was my dad’s alma mater, which earned us both some points.
Once we decided on Baylor, my dad began his exhaustive search for a foreclosure near campus. Colton moved in with us this year when he entered Baylor as a freshman. Ryan Driskell rented the third bedroom from my parents for cheap, which was helpful since he was footing his own bill for school. We went to the same small private school back home, so he was good friends with Colton and me both. If all went as planned, Ryan and I would graduate in three years, which would leave room for our youngest brother, Peyton, to join Colton in the house.
The house was nestled among similarly styled homes just south of campus in an older neighborhood along South Fourth Street, just across from the Oakwood Cemetery. It was indistinguishable from any other on the block. It was a small, three bedroom, wood siding house that was painted white (newly painted this summer as part of our rent).
The clock on my phone read just past midnight when I flanked the curb of our street, almost at a dead run, thanks to the dream. Eerie memories of my earlier nightmare flooded to mind as I peered over my shoulder back at the graveyard that was now covered in shadows created by the lone street light in our neighborhood. The sooner we stopped studying Ezekiel the better. My subconscious apparently couldn’t handle the Valley of Dry Bones.
I finally tiptoed into the house, now darker and more lifeless than the graveyard outside. Both of my roommates wouldn’t dream of spending hours on end at the university library, especially to study for a test in Bible History. While I appreciated sleep and a good time just as much as the next guy, I wasn’t about to let this class, or any other, ruin the straight-A streak I’d had going since last fall.
Before I left for school my parents promised me $5,000 for each semester of straight A’s. If I finished this, my sophomore year with all A’s, I would be driving around campus in a Ford King Ranch truck with chrome everything. Until then I was stuck driving my mom’s old Malibu, which was almost as old as me.
Colton, on the other hand, didn’t have a car and preferred riding his bike everywhere. Prompted by wanting desperately to try everything his older brother did, Colton was riding a bike by age three, and nothing was too fast or too high. I occasionally tagged along on his biking adventures, but often grew tired of trying to keep up. Besides, I usually ended my ride either hurt or riddled with poison ivy, like this last weekend. The thought made me instinctively scratch at the area between my left thumb and forefinger.
After sneaking through the house to my room, I flipped on the television and I made myself take interest in the show that was now playing on late night cable, almost oblivious to my itchy hand. Some guys in a garage were ‘pimping’ a ride for some unsuspecting recipient. I laughed to myself. I wish one of my rich Baylor friends would take it upon themselves to ‘pimp’ their friend’s Malibu.
I don’t know exactly when, but I drifted into sleep. At first it was just incomprehensible events, just a clearing of my brain. Then another dream started, like one of those old black and white films. I recognized the place right off. It was our home church. The one our parents had taken us to since Colton was a baby. We were each baptized there, and my parents still attended religiously.
The preacher looked familiar, but I’m not sure why. He spewed scripture as if condemning the whole congregation to Hell, You believe that there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe, and tremble. The rest became incoherent, but I swear he glared straight at me while he continued preaching. Was I doing something wrong? I still went to church. I prayed. I believed.
In my dream I looked around from side to side. I sat beside my family. My mom, dad, and Peyton sat to my right and Colton beside me to the left. I shuddered as he glared at me with black marble eyes that reflected my own image back to me. Literally his skin started to melt off, burning like it was consumed in some invisible flame. The muscles, sinews, tendons all burned into ash like the tip of a cigarette, until all that was left was his skeleton.
I jumped up to leave, to run, but my feet only trudged through mud. A closer look revealed thousands of worms squirming all about my feet. They were everywhere, all over the pews, everywhere. Desperate now I tried to lunge myself over the pew in front of me, but this only sent me face first into the goo. As I desperately tried to right myself I heard the preacher’s voice beam out again, “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
I woke myself up with another scream. My breath only came in spurts as I looked around my room. Everything looked in place, even the television I had left on the night before. My eyes caught the clock beside my bed. The display let me know that any analysis of this latest dream would have to wait. I had twenty minutes to trek over to campus for my test.
I jumped up quickly and headed for the shower. On the way I peaked into Colton’s room. At first the site of his empty bed unnerved me, until I remembered that he had an eight o’clock Tuesday/Thursday class; naive freshman…
When I slid into the classroom the professor, Dr. Lockwood, had already taken his place in front of the stadium like desks that covered one end of the room. He wasted no time handing out the test packets and scantrons. I eyed the test confidently, noting not even one question on the Valley of Dry Bones.