Black Petals Issue #91, Spring, 2020

I Dream of Fire
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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Hole in the Somewhere-Fiction by Richard Brown
Everything Echoes-Fiction by Todd M. Guerra
Exit to Dove's Tail-Fiction by Ken Goldman
I Dream of Fire-Fiction by Matthew Penwell
Living Doll-Fiction by Carl Hughes
Angelika's Tough Decision-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Cat-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
The Demon-Fiction by Misty Page
The Run-Fiction by Thomas Runge D'Amore
We Are the Monsters We Seek-Fiction by Karen Heslop
Brother of Mine-Flash Fiction by D. C. Plump
New Terror-Flash Fiction by Denis Alvarez Betancourt
The Flapping Thing-Flash Fiction by Robert Masterson
The Clown Loved Cherry Lipstick-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Ganymede-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Space Probe RH 120-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Buffoon-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Just Another Day in My House-Poem by Tom Davidson
Blue Bell Hill Beast-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Plum Island-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Thing in the Woods-Poem by Loris John Fazio

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Art by Hillary Lyon 2020

I Dream of Fire

By: Matthew Penwell

 

          My room felt as if it were five hundred degrees. I sucked in a hot, acrid breath, and flung the covers from off my body. A light breeze cooled the sweat slicking me from head to toe. Dream-flames leaped across my vision. I’d had the dream again, the one about the fire, the crumbling roof, and Elizabeth screaming.

          Elizabeth and I get along for the most part. She’s a year and a half older than me, so by default, she thinks she knows every answer in the universe. She doesn’t look a thing like me. Most people don’t believe us when we tell them we’re sisters. She took after my dad. I took after my mom.      

          I reached out blindly for the bottle of water on the nightstand. I sat up and gulped down the remainder of the bottle in a few swallows. But my throat was still dry and scratchy. I’ve never swallowed sand before, but I guess if you did, your throat would feel this way. I sat on the edge of the bed. It was mid-October, it shouldn’t be this hot in the house, I thought. I crossed my room and opened the window.

          The cool wind washed over me like a wave. My blonde hair swept out behind me like a banner. Goosebumps crawled over my arms and legs. There were no lights on in town. The streets were dark and empty, save for shadows that danced when the wind blew. I stayed at the window for a while. I couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. Fourth time I’d had it this month. My parents don’t know about it. I’m scared to tell them. I mean, I keep having a dream of my sister dying in a fire. The same dream. Over and over.

          After a while I turned away from the window and crept down the hall, to the kitchen. Guided by an Elsa night light, I got a cup from the cabinet and filled it with water. I drank it down and refilled the glass. I consumed half the glass and filled it again. My throat felt better. Not much better, though.

          My room had cooled by at least twenty degrees. I left the window open an inch and got into bed. I pulled the covers to my neck and kicked out my feet. I fell asleep fitfully. My body tried to resist the dream that may or may not come.

          “Wake up,” Elizabeth said. I turned over. She leaned in the doorway, one hand on the door handle, one on the frame. “School.”

          “Yeah. Yeah.”

          I got out of bed and slipped off my pajamas. I stood at the closet, looking over the black band t-shirts. One or the other. One or the other. I grabbed a random shirt and slipped it on. The Doors. Not too shabby.

          Elizabeth was already at the table when I entered the kitchen. She looked away from her bowl of cereal.

          “You don’t look so well, Jan.” Mother said. She strood across the kitchen in a flash and laid her hand across my forehead. “Do you feel sick?”

          “No. Not really.”

          “You don’t feel hot. That’s a good sign. Maybe you’ll look better after you eat. Get some protein in ya’.”

          “I just didn’t sleep well last night.”

          My mother looked at me uneasily. She licked her lips. There was something she wanted to say but couldn’t quite make the words come out. She swallowed hard. “We can go see a doctor about that. See if he thinks sleep medication would be something we could look into.”

          “I’m sleeping, Mom.”

          “I know, honey, but some nights I hear you tossing and turning. I can hear you walking back and forth across your room. Opening windows. Getting drinks at all hours of the night. You’re not sleeping well, Jan.”

          “I’m okay, Mom. Really.” I sat down at the table and started to spoon oatmeal into my mouth. Mom didn’t like it when I talked with food in my mouth. I swallowed and in went a second spoon. I looked across the table. Elizabeth was gone. I’d not seen her leave the room. Or heard her, for that matter.

          The dream hid in the darkness behind my eyes. Every night as I crawled into bed, I knew the risk. The dream would come back. I had a feeling inside my gut I couldn’t shake.

          October melted into November in a witches’ brew. The leaves lost their green lush, turned a dead brown, and littered the streets. I hadn’t had the dream in almost three weeks. I was beginning to feel like maybe the feeling in my gut had been wrong; maybe it wouldn’t come back. But one can only hope for so much.

          In the dream I’m always chasing after Elizabeth, although I never see her, I know it’s her. I can feel her. I’m chasing her into a barn. But before I can reach her there is a loud explosion and flames begin licking feverishly at the sun. Elizabeth is screaming for help. She’s screaming for God to help her. For Mom to help her. For Jan to help. But I never help her. The flames are too hot. I can’t get close enough. And then before I know it the roof is coming down with a crash. Embers light up the day like devilish fireflies. And then I would wake up. Every time.

          I sat on the edge of my bed, wiping off the sheen of sweat from my forehead. A cold breeze shuffled about the curtains. My lungs burned as if I’d breathed in hot ashes. Tears welled in my eyes. This couldn’t keep going on. Sooner or later it would kill me. I went to the kitchen and drank down three glasses of orange juice. It did little for my throat.

          “You feelin’ all right?” Elizabeth asked as she laid a hand on my shoulder.

          I jumped. Must have come down the hall when you had the spigot on. That’s why you didn’t hear her. I didn’t have any other explanation for why I hadn’t heard her footsteps.

          “Geez. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

          I shook my head. “You didn’t. Your hand was just cold.”

          “Sorry, sis.”

          “Don’t mention it. What are you doing awake?”

          “I could ask you the same question.”

          I held up my cup. “I was thirsty.”

          Concern came into Elizabeth’s eyes. “You look sick.”

          I couldn’t tell her about the dream. What would she think of me? I could tell her, though. I looked Elizabeth in the eyes. If I told her she would watch out for the barn. The fire could never happen. I was seeing the future! The sudden realization made my head feel swimmy. I clutched the counter.

          “You all right?” She asked again. She made a grab for my arm. I didn’t want her cold fingers on me. I jerked away.

          “I’m fine. Elizabeth. Do you know of any barns around here?”

          “What?”

          “Barns. You’re going to think I’m totally bat-shit crazy, but there’s something I’ve got to tell you.”

          “What’s wrong with you, bro?”

          “I think you’re going to die.”

          “You what?!

          “I don’t know.” I ran my hands across my cheeks. “I keep having a dream of a fire, and you...die in the fire. I think it’s the future. I think I’m dreaming of the future. You need to stay away from barns. Please. Promise me. You’ll stay away from barns.”

          “Calm down. Calm down.” Elizabeth said. “I’ll stay away from barns, all right, weirdo?” She ruffled my hair. “Let’s go back to bed. It’s late. You need some sleep. You don’t look well.”

          “I don’t feel that well, honestly. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’ve had this dream a bunch of times. I’m worried.”

          “I’ll worry about myself. I’ll be sure to stay away from any barns in town. I can’t even think of a barn in town.”

         

          “Get dressed,” Mom stood in the doorway. “You’ve got a doctor’s appointment.”

          “For what? I’m not sick.”

          Mom exhaled. “For weeks now I’ve dealt with you staying up at all hours of the night, pacing back and forth, screaming in your sleep.” Tears welled in Mother’s eyes. “But one thing I won’t deal with; where I have to draw the line is you having full conversations with yourself.”

          I sat up in bed, confused. “What are you talking about, Mom?”

          “Your grades are slipping.” She totally ignored my question. “Teachers are telling me you just stare off in a daze, that it’s like you’re not even there. I know, honey. I know right now is tough.” She turned away from me and sobbed. “Please get dressed. It’s a twenty-minute drive.”

          I got dressed slowly, thinking over Mom’s words. She’s the crazy one. I don’t talk to myself. She’s the one hearing things. She’s the one who needs to see a doctor!

Elizabeth was already in the car when I went out. I turned around in the seat. “Mom said I talk to myself. Do I?” I asked her.

“No more than anyone else.” She said, with a smile.

          No one spoke during the car ride. I sat in the front seat, watching the world sweep by in a haze. I listened to the wheels on the road. Usually Mom had the radio on. I guess she wasn’t feeling it today. She had a sour look on her face. I didn’t dare touch the knobs. I wished Elizabeth would. The car was too quiet.

          The building was three stories, brick. Mom nosed the car into a spot and killed the ignition. She looked at me. I didn’t like the look in her eyes.

          “You ready?”

          “Mom, please tell me what’s wrong. I’m getting freaked out.”

          “You’ve not been the same since the accident. I’m worried about you, for the love of God. You hardly eat anymore. Or sleep. You’re beginning to look like a corpse. It’s breaking my heart. This...you need to see someone.”

          “What accident?”

          Mother looked at me. Tears streamed down her face. “If you blame yourself, I’m sorry. It’s really my fault.” She blabbered. A runner of snot formed a puddle on her top lip. “I shouldn’t have let you play around the barn.”

          The world stopped. I heard nothing. Felt nothing. The tears on my mother’s face gleamed in the thin rays of light shining through the gray sky. How does she know about the barn?

          “I’m sorry, Jan.”

          “Mom,” I said, tears forming in my own eyes. “Don’t be sorry.” I reached for her, wrapped my arms about her, and buried my soaking face into her neck. Her flesh smelled sour. She hadn’t bathed in a while. “It’s all right. I warned her. I warned Elizabeth about the barn. She promised me she wouldn’t go around it.”

          “Jan, she didn’t promise you.”

          “Yes, she did.” I turned about in the seat. “Tell her, Liz. I made you swear not to go around any barn.” Elizabeth was gone. “She must have gone inside.” I turned back around in my seat. “You can ask her when we go in.”

          “Jan, Elizabeth…” A bray of tears came. “Is gone. You know that. Grandma’s barn.”

          “No!” I screamed. “No! I warned her. Last night. She hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s inside. She said she’d stay away from barns. She swore it, Momma. I swear she swore it.”

          “Okay, okay.” Mother said. She smiled the best she could. “It was probably a bad dream I had. Good thing you made her promise. You saved her life. But if Elizabeth went inside, we should go in and get her. I need to make sure she stays away from barns.”

          “She swore she would,” I said. Mother opened her door and got out. I repeated the process. She took my hand and led me towards the entrance. Elizabeth was standing behind the glass. There she is, you see her? I wanted to say, but didn’t.

Of course, Mother saw her.

 

Matthew draws influences from Faulkner, Stine, and classic Ace paperbacks. He has one previous publication.