Short Stories by Diana McGuerty – It Was Just A Dream…And More

It Was Just a Dream….

She quietly awoke, with the feeling of being observed. A small toddler stood looking down at her. Well. perhaps she wants to play. No. No sign of recognition or friendliness. Just… curious… perhaps.

Except, I’d been sleeping on a grassy knoll, and the book that I must have been reading was there beside me, patiently awaiting my return. Or so it would seem. A favorite poetry anthology.

Unfolding, my somewhat cramped form, I continued to be watched. But not a word was spoken. She didn’t seem frightened, barely interested actually, as she turned and walked directly up the hill toward home. An independent little character.

Scattered across the grassy hillside were several rather pretty neighborhood homes, even more attractive due to the well-chosen landscaping.

But wait! Where is my car, my trusty 3-cylinder silver Sprint? Had I parked it on some nearby country byway and walked all this way, just to sit and read my book?

Well… if that’s the case… where are my shoes? My baggy shorts and little blouse don’t indicate my usual hiking clothes. And… barefoot? Where are my sneakers? Although, this cool and lovely grass does feel good underfoot.

Let’s check with some of the folks nearby. Perhaps the Sprint is parked down the road, and someone can direct me to it. Being barefoot isn’t all that bad.
Perhaps they’ll think I’m a vagrant. Naw… not carrying an over-sized poetry book hugged to my chest. Here: I’ll stop at this family cottage and inquire about my car. Should I just walk in the patio door? It’s open, so there must be folks indoors.
Even the soft carpeting feels good on my very bare feet. I’ll just walk through the rooms until I meet one of the family.

Strange, I’ve passed two ladies and a couple older kids, but no one seems interested in my wandering through their private residence… through their rooms and on out the side door. No questions. No comments. But I am attracting their attention, however neutral they may seem as I proceed through another attractive home, and then another, through their yards… as I continue to seek out information about my car… and my footwear.

Not a word from anyone. And certainly… no help offered. They just watch… and then turn away. What the heck. Doesn’t anyone care that I am walking through their homes and pretty yards? Nary a question or comment. They just… watch me.

How on earth am I going to find my Sprint, or even where this country village is located? It’s obviously a rural winding road down there at the bottom of the hill; I must have come in from that direction. But… from which direction, to the right… or the left?

Well, feet. No help from these good folks, obviously. Let’s head that way; maybe my Chevy is parked just around that curve up ahead.

Hmm… walking barefoot on this asphalt is not near as pleasant as on soft cool grass or smooth carpets. Oh well. It’s bound to be close by. I couldn’t have walked too far.

There! Up ahead. Two guys… from whom I can ask directions,or if they’ve seen the Sprint. That’s funny; I could swear that is Dennis Miller. I never did like that arrogant guy.Yup. It sure does look like him. Some snotty grin. I don’t recognize the fella with him.

Approaching them carefully, I must have looked sight, because now I am feeling a tad edgy with the lack of response from the locals. Not a word of courtesy at all. Not even an offer to help me in my plight. Weird… at best.

Okay. Like him or not, I’d best see if he can help me. “I’m looking for my car, a silver Chevy Sprint. Have you seen it anywhere close by?”

“Sure.” My first actual response! And from this nasty creep himself! “It’s up there, where we left it,” pointing further up the road.

“You left it?? And I suppose you’ve seen my shoes too? Oh my gosh… what about my purse?”

“Yeah. We left them in the car,” as he smirked belligerently in my face.

“Did you steal anything? And… what the heck is going on??
“Nah. Nothing worth stealing. Not from you, anyway.”
And he chuckled, truly enjoying my confusion and increasing anger.
“Why wouldn’t anyone back there offer me some kind of help? Not a word from anyone, even the kids.”
“They weren’t supposed to.”

“What a whacky bunch! I’m getting out of here. You didn’t do any harm to my car, did you? Maybe cut the brake line…just for kicks?”
“Nope… we never got around to it.” Another snotty grin.
“Well! I guess that’s that! Thanks a lot! I can’t say it’s been fun.”
“Oh, but it has… for all of us!”
“But… why?!”
“Why not?”

And when she awakened that quiet Sunday morning… it all continued to play in her mind. She could still feel the cool green grass under her bare feet. Still see those pleasantly attractive homes on the hillside. The silence of the people who lived there. Even the heavy poetry book… a thick anthology of William Blake, actually.

All… a very clear picture in her mind.
It WAS just a dream… wasn’t it?…


She watched him…a solitary figure hastening toward the empty field area below, where the gaudy carnival had settle for a few weeks on the outskirts of town. Seldom had she seen him walk with such energy, and with such direct purpose.
Her chatty neighbor had been right, although her whispered words had been uttered more as a friendly aunt, a murmur from Iago to the unsuspecting Othello. A hint…a terrible possibility…that her own lover, her true friend…was seeing someone he had known intimately, long before meeting her. The eager gossip who had offered this damning tidbit called the girl “Debbie”. Yes, she remembered… in conversation recently with him, the name had been very innocently mentioned; he had “bumped into her at the grocery store… how plump she had become… yes, people do change… why, it must be at least nine years since I last saw her… and then, it was nothing more than having lunch at her place, a little conversation, not much more… oh well…” and that was all he had said.

And now, here she was, actually following him… spying on him, however embarrassed she might feel as she traced the much-worn path which led through the empty lot and down the rock-strewn bank to the field below… where the brilliant lights and bawdy carnival music drifted up to her, tantalizing and cruel at the same moment.
“I have no business doing this!” she muttered to herself. Certainly he had merely decided to innocently wander the noisy maze of cables and crowds as they played at games of chance… hoping to win a brightly stuffed toy for a lady love, to show as a badge of one’s resourcefulness and devotion. In all fairness, hadn’t she always been fascinated by just such a scene… always the child, eager for the stimulating sounds and excitement of a carnival night? Perhaps, even now, he planned to test his skill, in order to surprise and delight her with his winnings… when he next came to visit with her.

And yet, she sensed a distraction that displaced this optimistic possibility. Above the entire kaleidoscope of vivid colors and activity there loomed the impressive form of the Ferris wheel, gigantic in its proportions… intimidating, in her perception. For she had always been frightened of the great wheel, with its brightly colored seats that swung precariously back and forth, threatening to catch you unaware and tip you out into the dark and empty sky.

As a child, her sister and friends had teased her by forcing the seat to shake and roll… to such an extent that they themselves had lost control, and had come dangerously close to actually hurtling them all into the black void of the summer night. It had been a terrifying time, and had somehow remained indelible in her memory. How angry she had been with their inane giggling… and how horribly panic-stricken, all at one.
Not ordinarily a woman to be easily frightened, as a child or even now, in her middle years… this one experience still served to remind her of an urgent need to avoid even the fascinating sight of the wheel itself… which perversely resulted in her being drawn closer to it. She was the unsuspecting moth being drawn to the impending doom of the alluring yellow glow of a bulb.

So intent was her attention on the great circle which now so overwhelmed her, as she stood at the edge of the carnival grounds… that she had momentarily forgotten about the man whom she had been following, and had lost sight of him. Yet, she knew with a certainty that he was there, and she also knew why he was there… Debbie!
Her cheeks flushed with a dry red blotch that turned to the touch. This involuntary reaction revealed the rage which was slowly smoldering within her. On the surface, she was a calm woman who seemed able to handle uncomfortable situations rather well, ordinarily. But this intense reddening always betrayed the truth; her inner reactions were still most aware when she was either being cheated or dealt with in a dishonorable manner… though she might not have said anything directly to that effect. It was her inner wisdom’s silent declaration, nonetheless: “I do not like what you are doing to me. You’re not fooling me. I am quite aware of your deceit!”

And even now, as she scanned the revolving scene around her, cheeks raging still…her attention was drawn to the booth where tickets were being purchased for the ride on the giant wheel. Several people had already lined up at the wooden gate, talking and laughing in their eagerness to select a colorful wooden carriage. Just as the gate was opened by a burly attendant, and the first couple chose a blue enclosure, followed by two giggling teenage girls in a bright yellow one… she saw him!
How absurd… this man she knew so well, who was afraid of so many things. Afraid… it had been the word he had often used, when she had first met him on a country road almost five years ago, when their romance had fit begun. He had been afraid of…dark clouds, wind in the pine trees, the narrow mountain paths they once had hiked, a winding steep road that descended from 6500 feet to the sea level of the desert below. So many things had frightened him, and he had avoided them all his life, until meeting her. And…because she was daring and loved to explore, she had gently coaxed him to but taste of these small adventures, to realize there was little or no danger, under ordinary circumstances. With each achievement, it seemed that he was pleased with himself, and would say to her, “Aren’t you proud of me!” Eventually, he’d begun to congratulate himself for having accomplished so many new and untried ventures…never considering the fact that it was insistent and patient encouragement that had given him the confidence to experience these once-dreaded deeds.

But she had been proud of him, and had also enjoyed his companionship. Until she had met him, these excursions had always been of a solitary nature and… though she was content enough in her own company…it was much nicer to share the experience with someone you cared for. Someone you thought had cared for you… And yet, from the very start…she had always felt guilty for the nagging thought which occasionally crossed her mind: His attention is not genuine! You are one of many in line of women whom he has “loved” and given considerate attention to. Oh yes, perhaps he has been with you longer than the others…but then, perhaps you had been more patient and attentive to his needs than others were…before they too had recognized his questionable and acquisitive motives, and thus thought it wise to sever their attachment to him.

How many times had you, also, declared your suspicions, and insisted that he never see you again? Each time, he had softened, and exerted an even greater tenderness, with flowers and intimate declarations which overshadowed any such “foolish suspicions” on your part.
Yes, well…she wouldn’t have been the first woman in the history of man’s world,to succumb to the loving attentions of a…young and devoted companion.

There he was! Bold as could be about to settle into a red seat, swinging languidly as the wheel rotated slowly, bit by bit, to enclose each eager patron within its alluring embrace. Smiling, energetic, more gay than he had ever seen before…his seat companion was a large pink teddy bear, obviously won, or given to him…by an admirer who worked now at the carnival! Hadn’t he also once mentioned that Debbie had worked small jobs as a night cashier, when he had been seeing her and would pick her up after she had finished work? And might she not be here now, selling tickets or managing one of the many tantalizing games of chance?
Of course! Debbie had given the teddy bear to him! That’s funny. Only a day or so ago, he had also mentioned speaking on the phone with a “couple” he had given a dog to… and the woman had called the dog “Teddy Bear”.
Several times over the past years, he had chosen dogs from the pound, dogs with “potential”; after having trained them as pups, he was no longer interested in keeping them as adult dogs. Sometimes he had earned a few dollars, by advertising them to “good homes”…or had just given them away.
He had been reticent, initially, to speak of his life before having met her, and had…in fact…kept his personal life quite a secret from her. But, as he gained confidence in her, and trusted her loyalty and devotion, he had offered small bits and pieces of his life and thoughts, until she had fashioned a better understanding of him as an individual.

“H’mm…Teddy Bear…”. It had seemed an unlikely thing, that this married woman should call him on the phone, nine years later, to say that she and her husband were moving to another ranch in a neighboring town, and that they still had the dog he had given to them. Their beloved “Teddy Bear”…in case he wanted to visit, and see the dog. He had seemed very pleased that the woman had called, and confident that the relating of this incident would not even mean anything to his current sweetheart, as she had listened to the ridiculous tale of the telephone call, just a few days ago.

Too many coincidental points, not to notice. And here he was…at the carnival, hugging the teddy bear like an innocent child, anticipating the ride on the giant Ferris wheel, as though he had never been afraid of anything, even before. If she had even suggested that the two of them might attend the carnival, and share such a fearsome ride, he would have laughed and said “Oh no, that’s not for me…you go on, if you want to.”
But she had related to him, during one of their conversations about their respective childhood fears and experiences…the frightening incident wit her sister on the Ferris wheel. He remembered everything…when he wanted to. His mental file was filled with such items of memorabilia. He knew of her singular fear of riding on a Ferris wheel..which, even now, paralyzed her with dread and intense misgiving.

For she was even now being subtly drawn into the line, as she watched his handsome features glowing with excitement and animation. The attendant waited passively, as she was swept along beside a father and little girl, to share a black and silver bench; but she had no ticket!
It didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps the attendant assumed that she was the mother of the little girl. Had the man given a ticket for her?
While these thoughts raced darkly through her confusion, the guard rail was dropped across her lap, and she felt the wheel beginning to move again, as the ground disappeared from below her feet, and slowly…inexorably…begin to rise out and above the crowded scene below. So far! So high!

Her face tightened with fear. What was she doing there?! How had she been so lured… to voluntarily place herself in such a terrifying position?
And why was that little girl squirming around so much! Wasn’t her father aware of the jiggling the child’s movements were creating? Between them, the girl fidgeted and wiggled, chuckling to herself all the while. A pretty little blonde girl, nonetheless… in fact, a beautiful child. Her father ignored it all, completely oblivious to he terror glowing in the reddening cheeks of the woman whose gray knuckles clung tightly to the safety rail before her, the only thing which protected her.
From what?! Why should she need protection? Silly woman! And her hands relaxed their steely grasp. Perhaps if she put an arm gently across the child’s shoulders, the little girl would quiet down and cease that insufferable squirming. Perhaps the child was understandably aroused by this…her first ride on the giant Ferris wheel.

About seven or eight, the youngster seemed completely unafraid…much apart from her obvious and foolish fear. Now the wriggling child turned, and grinned up at her…such a disarming and lovely countenance, and that smile… those deep dark eyes set within the frame of lightly fluffing honey colored hair…such a stunning contrast! These sparkling eyes, looking up at her with such amusement, so familiar somehow, so much like… And suddenly, the child began to pull at the hands which once again grasped the safety rail across their laps. What is she doing?! “Stop that!!” she wanted to scream, looking in desperate exasperation at the father, who only turned his head and smiled absently, then resumed his gaze out over the carnival grounds.

At the same moment, she was aware that the continuous revolutions of the wheel had stopped… and they were left hanging, gently swaying, in the top position high above everyone else. She could still hear the music, more faintly now, from far below. The carnival had disappeared from her view, so intent had she been with her inner dread, and the undisciplined gyrations of the little girl.
Was she trying to hold my hands to hers, for companionship, or was she… actually trying to prevent me from holding on?!

For now, the child twisted to and fro, back and forth on the bench, knocking heavily into her own body crouching tightly in the corner of the seat… the father completely disinterested in the child’s efforts. The bench, in turn, began to sway as furiously as her body motions, and she could not regain her grasp on the rail. Wasn’t anyone aware of what was happening? Is my fear so foolishly exaggerated… that I actually believed this innocent child is intent on my total discomfort? Has my perception of everyone become so twisted out of proportion…that I dreamed up a scenario of suspicion about my own loved one, and actually am mad enough to suspect a mere child of trying to harm me? Why didn’t I just stay home tonight, instead of feeling restless and walking through town… until being surprised at sight of him, the one I so unwisely followed. Why?!?

As her thoughts banged confusedly against each other, in those tangled and terrifying moments, the child abruptly stopped… and lunged against her own leaning body…grinning…as she herself uttered a terrible cry of surprise… and tumbled from her seat into the depths of the night.

“Why, Teddy Bear darling…are you all right?” As the crowd gathered around the twisted figure of the woman sprawled like a broken old doll across the cables… a pretty blonde mother hugged a smiling child to her soft bosom, and comforted her; for this had been an experience most children would have been devastated by.
Standing nearby, among the many spectators… a handsome dark-eyed young man stood smiling at the blonde mother and child… as their eyes met in familiar, and tender, recognition.

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