Continued from A Tourist Again, Pt. 6...
Though she didn’t sleep for any more than a couple hours that night, Beth managed to slip under long enough to have a terrible nightmare. In it she was walking down Main Street in Claremont, only it wasn’t the Main Street she recognized. The street was pinned in the shadows of monolithic brick buildings on either side that matched the style and shape of the youth center and ran off, unbroken, to where they shrunk into the horizon. The feeling of being trapped between the tightly crowded buildings was unsettling at best, for she couldn’t remember how she'd ended up walking the double yellow line and was horrified to find that the buildings extended off into infinity behind her as well.
Spaced every twenty feet or so was a set of concrete steps jutting out from a doorway identical to the one she’d passed through and propped open for her father, only when she walked up and tried them at random they would not open. Naturally the idea to break one of the windows on either side entered her mind, but there was no stone wall from which to grab a rock, only sidewalks littered with brochures.
As Beth stepped down from what could have been the tenth door she’d tried, she paused with the eerie stillness of the street pressing down upon her and bent to pick up one of the brochures. It was a single leaf of paper, occupied by an image of ocean waves crashing on black, volcanic rocks washed smooth. Beyond the rocks, bordered by an unbroken fringe of green bushes and pink hibiscus flowers, was a beige seaside pathway meandering toward a mostly unseen village in the trees. The sharp point of a church steeple poked up over all the green.
Bold letters were spaced over the imagery, reading:
VISIT OGUNQUIT MAINE!
RELIVE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!
BEFORE MOM SHOT HERSELF IN THE LEG
AND BECAME AN OPIATE ADDICT!
BEFORE DAD BECAME A
BEFORE THOSE PUSSY LIBERALS
SET THE WORLD ON FIRE!
ALL LODGINGS NOW DISCOUNTED
TO THE LOW, LOW RATE OF FREE!
WHO KNOWS, YOU MIGHT FIND YOU’RE NOT
THE ONLY PERSON LEFT IN THE WORLD!
She let the brochure fall out of her hand, stepping away from it as if it were some poisonous reptile ready to snap at her fingers. It drifted and curled its way back to the sidewalk in the still air, coming to rest face-down. Beth stepped reluctantly toward it, just close enough to read the block letters printed over a picture of her own house on the back:
WHAT’S LEFT HERE FOR YOU ANYWAY, ELIZABETH?
All at once every door for miles and miles in each direction opened in a synchronized whoosh. Spinning to her immediate right, Beth’s gaze fell upon the figure standing in the threshold of the door she’d just tried to open. She opened her mouth to scream at the sight of the man standing there, but was unable to make a sound.
It was her father, his face ashen, skin hanging loose, eyes sunken and glazed over with fog. His nose, ears, and mouth ran with a soft trickle of blood as red as strawberry filling in a Pop Tart. He shambled through the doorway, nearly collapsing forward as he misjudged the six inch gap between the threshold and the top step, but he was with it enough to correct himself and regain his balance. He continued toward her.
“It’s all right, baby,” he said, his voice emerging in its normal cadence despite how obviously dead he was. As he spoke a fresh burp of blood spurted from his lips and ran down his beard. It dribbled onto the breast of his flannel shirt. “I’m with the others now. The ones who moved on out of town. We all drank the water.” He paused and lifted his hand to his lips, coughing into it before holding it out and inspecting it. As if for emphasis, he turned it around and held it out so that Beth could see the blood that now coated his calloused flesh.
He started forward again, not bothering to wipe his hand off as it returned to the railing and began to grease it in splotches of crimson. “The plague that cleansed the earth… God’s final solution for all the liberals ripping babies out of their mothers’ wombs and celebrating all those queers coming out of the shadows.” He jerked forward, taking the second step off balance and coughing out a thick cloud of blood that misted toward her. He crashed sideways into the railing but managed once more to correct his posture.
Beth went to scream again, but once more found herself mute. She began to stagger backward, away from this horrid vision, but after a brief glance behind her she realized that others had emerged from the buildings that lined the road. They moved languidly, in the same state of marching death as her father, and all of them with their fogged eyes on her.
Daddy, she tried to say.
“It was hard,” Dad said, pushing himself away from the railing and taking the last step onto the sidewalk without issue. “Raising you without your mom. But I got you here, didn’t I? I got you to the end of the world.” He fell forward onto his knees coughing, and a thick torrent of blood gurgled out of his mouth to where it spattered all over the brochures lining the sidewalk. The fit didn’t last long. His head lifted, and he regarded her through those foggy, dead eyes as he crawled the remaining few feet toward her. “I got you to the end,” he gurgled.
Beth gasped, so terrified that she felt her chest might explode as dozens of hands fell upon her neck and shoulders. Unable to disengage herself from her father’s dead stare, she struggled feverishly to escape the cold, clammy grasp of the others as Dad reached up and took both of her hands in his, smearing them with his blood.
“Don’t let the New World destroy my baby girl.”
She threw her head back, eyes clenched, and cried out to the sky above. This time she’d found her voice, and while at first it echoed like the shrieking wail of a banshee between the buildings that lined the street, the booming reverberation of her terror quickly diminished to a more encapsulated and muffled cry. Though she refused to open her eyes at first, she came to realize quite quickly that the hands she’d felt upon her were no longer there and that the eerie darkness of the shadowed street was now replaced by a darkness so full and thick that there was no question she had been transported elsewhere.
As her crying gave way to confused sobs, she slowly opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. At first she could make out nothing, her hands uncurling from where they’d been pressed defensively to her chest and feeling about in the black for something she might use to make sense of where she was. Her fingers pressed through soft, thick plastic and poked into soft soil. She was in Rooney’s Hardware Store.
It was a dream, she thought. Who could have thought her mind was capable of conjuring such terrifying things? Drawing her knees up to her chest, she hugged them tightly and pressed her face into the space between. Her breathing was heavy and interrupted by the occasional stuttered inhale, but the relief that washed over her at having escaped that warped version of Main Street and the creatures that tried to seize her was like a cool ocean breeze on sunbaked skin. She remained like this, holed up in her little cocoon, for an indeterminate amount of time before lifting her head back up and noting the slivers of sunlight now poking between the aisles outside of the gardening section. The warm light curled over the dips and knots in the floorboards as if trying to reach out to comfort her. All that was missing was the springtime chorus of birdsong outside.
Beth drew in a deep breath, glancing toward the rack of shovels hanging on the wall across from her. Before long she was off on her way back to the youth center with digging utensils propped over her shoulders. After the first mile she’d forgotten all about the nightmare, though such ominous visions were never meant to stay banished forever. Sometimes the otherworldly wisdom of the subconscious spoke softly… other times its voice was like a necessary brick to the head.