The Red Car
Bolting upright in the bed, I tried to still my racing heart and the fear that gripped me. Opening my eyes, I looked around expecting to see something other than the familiar wall beside my bed. I swung my legs over the side, sat there praying my heart would stop racing and the cold sweat that gripped me would go away. Taking a drink of water from the glass sitting on the desk nearby, I laid back down closed my eyes and saw the same thing that had jolted me awake a few minutes ago.
The dream rolled by in perfect clarity, every detail replayed in my mind like a movie on the screen. The trees overhung one side of the hill alongside the road. The other side was a vista of valleys overlooking the fields of meadow flowers and corn or soybeans. Laughter in the back seat brought my attention from the road to the rearview mirror as I listened to the story they were telling.
Janice nudged me from her place in the passenger seat while Jack and Rita continued replaying the conversations earlier in class. High school was like that. We didn't have the same classes, in fact we only had one class together all day. This was our time to catch up and reconnect before we got home.
“Did you see her face when the teacher asked her to read aloud the note she tried to pass to him? I about died,” Rita nudged Jack as she doubled over, her laughter echoing through the car.
“What did the note say?” Janice turned to face them as I looked back in the rearview mirror.
“It said, and I quote, 'Will your parents be home tonight, I would like to come over and spend some time with you?'” Jack shook his head, looked at Janice who's smile went to a look of shock.
“She didn't? I never thought she was like that.” Janice stared at Jack before turning back around.
“She did. Had I not been there I would have questioned it as well,” Rita shook her head again slapping Jack on the knee.
“Of all the notes for the teacher to confiscate, I'm sure they will devise a different way to communicate after that.” I rolled my eyes as we continued down the road. “The teacher didn't give them detention or something like that?” I turned my eyes back to the road knowing a series of curves was just up ahead.
“Oh you know how Mrs. Miller is, she gets all huffy then doesn't follow through. She is older than dirt, I'm actually surprised she didn't have a heart attack from it.” Jack doubled over laughing at the thought. Mrs. Miller really was old. We wondered when she would retire but every year when school started she was still there. It wasn't like she was the only one, most of the teachers in the school district were over the age of fifty making all the students wonder why they continued to deal with us.
“She didn't double up the homework like she usually does?” Janice turned around again.
“No,” Rita straightened up as if the thought just struck her, “she usually does, doesn't she?”
“Yeah, that is very unlike her.” I replied, the car speeding up as we began heading downhill.
“I know, right. I was as shocked as you are. But,” Rita rubbed her chin in thought, “she had already assigned ten pages of reading and three of problems to solve due tomorrow, so,” she shook her head, “maybe she knew someone was going to goof up.”
“Yeah, three pages of problems in geometry is like reading a novel in a weekend. Doesn't leave much time for anything else,” Jack offered.
“Did you get it started in study hall then?” Janice turned to face the road thinking the story was over.
“Of course. Lee, you know that nerdy geek that carries the brief case? Well he let Rita here copy off his paper and of course she slipped it around study hall so we have it done.”
“Way to go, Rita.” I laughed at the same time they broke out laughing as well. My laughter died a second later when the car careened off the road.
Everything turned to slow motion as we flew through the air flipping over and landing a few feet from an old rusty plow. The grass closed in around us, screams replacing laughter and the sound of breaking glass and crushing metal roared in my ears. I tried to understand what had happened when I heard a moan nearby. Turning, I saw blood running down Janice's face dripping on the roof of the car.
The rearview mirror was cracked, but through it I could see Jack hanging at an unnatural angle and Rita half in and half out of the car. Screams echoed through my head, where they were coming from I didn't know.
Feeling my body float, I retraced the route we had taken from the road to the ground. Hovering above the overturned car I tried to memorize the exact location. We left no skid marks, no broken rail, there was nothing to tell anyone where the car laid but the depression in the grass some eight hundred yards away.
The renewed feeling of fear brought me back upright in the bed. My heart raced and sweat ran from every pore on my body. Closing my eyes, I saw them in the car. Saw the car sitting in the field all but buried in grass and debris that made it impossible to see from the road. I had no idea who they really were, where they were going or how long ago this had happened if it had happened at all. All I knew was I was being given a message and had no idea who I was suppose to tell about it.
The alarm clock brought me up with more questions than answers. Pushing the dream aside, I trudged down to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee and rubbed a hand over my face. Picking up my books, I straightened them out before heading back up to dress for class.
“Hey, Julia, what's wrong? Didn't get enough sleep?” Alex nudged my shoulder.
Reaching into my bag, we turned the corner together to head across campus, “Yeah, I slept, had a ton of homework and a few tests to study for. Why?”
“Maybe we should stop and cover those bags under your eyes.” She nudged me again as the science building came into view.
“I'm good, besides, we don't have time.”
“Whatever,” she shook her head as I held the door open. Making our way to the classroom, I took a deep breath and started to think about the next test while memories of the dream faded away.
Days pass without a dream I can remember or associate with. Relaxing into my studies, I pushed the whole thing to the side. As soon as it seemed as if everything had returned to normal it came back again. Every. Single. Detail.
Waking again with my heart racing, I sat on the side of my bed trying to pinpoint the road. It had to be something I knew, right? Somewhere I had been before? Maybe. Or was this one of those dreams that was just that, a dream with no real significance. Closing my eyes, my mind replayed the way the car flew off the road and landed on it's roof among the abandoned implements. Where was that? I pulled myself out of bed, turned on a light and cracked open a book. If I wasn't going to be able to sleep than I had better study.
Dropping my pen down, I rested my head on my hand while I tried to figure out the dream. It was almost the exact same dream I had the first time with a few exceptions. The conversations weren't as clear and it started a few feet before the car left the road. I shook the vision from my mind trying to concentrate on the pages of sentence structure. Diagramming bored me almost as much as sports. Heaving a sigh, I slammed the book closed and pushed away from my desk. Looking out into the blackness of night, I leaned against the cold pane and watched my breath fog up the window.
“Hey, Julia,” Alex called running to catch up with me.
“Alex, why are you headed this way? I thought you had econ today?”
“I decided to ditch today, besides, I wanted to talk to you. I haven't seen you in a while, what's going on?” She slowed her steps to match mine.
“Same old, same old. School, work, school, work.” You know me, no time for anything else.
“Why did you take a full course instead of stretching it out like the rest of us? I mean,” she stopped in front of me holding my arm, “You only need one course of math to graduate and you have taken three already? Same with science and then you jam in electives.”
“You know I want to graduate early, well at least with honors.” I shrugged off her hand, sidestepping to get to my class. Running to make it before the professor began, I slipped into my seat as the lights dimmed and his film began. 'Ugh,' I thought, resting my head against my hand, 'another film loaded with information that counts for one third of our grade. Just what I didn't want.' Trying to concentrate on the objectives of osmosis and symbiosis, I doodled on the open page.
It was easy during the day to forget about my dreams, it was that hour or two after I woke up that they engulfed my thoughts. Immersing myself into school and my job as a waitress, I chose to ignore what I didn't understand. Leaving campus, I ran home, dropped my books and changed clothes. Giving myself thirty minutes, I drove to my job seven miles away. Making it in the door with five minutes to spare, I tied the apron around my dress and loaded my pockets with pens, straws and a fresh order pad.
Six hours later, I was back in my car heading home to break open my books and see how much homework I could get done before exhaustion demanded I sleep.
Wind whipped through my hair, the speed increasing as I saw the ground getting closer. Waking before I actually hit the bottom, I sat up in bed with my heart racing. Putting a hand on the mattress, I tried to slow my breathing while I regained my composure. Leaning against the wall to the side of my bed, I close my eyes and felt myself running. Running until there was no longer ground below my feet. I felt the wind as it raced past me. Opening my eyes, I shook away the thought and try to piece it together. Nothing was making sense. Heaving a sigh, I crawled out of bed, turned on the light and started reading.
I have never told anyone about my dreams, never thought I was different than anyone else. It was just a dream, right? Besides, it wasn't like I could control them or anything. Finishing up the chapter, I slammed the book closed and raced in to grab another cup of coffee. Weekends were suppose to be for fun, parties, friends. Mine were loaded with hours at work and trying to catch up with the homework I had neglected on Friday. Since most of my classes were independent, I got a list of assignments with suggested due dates. All I had to do was complete them before they were due. Easy enough, I thought. It allowed me to work on each assignment when I wanted to instead of actually sitting through a lecture and attending classes. I would hand in two or three at one time putting me weeks ahead of schedule.
Sunday found me at work to clean at ten in the morning. I yawned, covering my mouth one hand while I held the mop with the other. Setting up the tables after the floor dried, we were ready to open by noon for the church crowd. While racing between the dining room and the kitchen, I felt my skin crawl. Stopping in my tracks, I turned to scan the room behind me. Making eye contact with everyone that seemed to be looking at me, I couldn't figure out what caused it so shook it off and continued with my work.
I had to leave by ten so I would have time to drive home and make sure everything was ready for my Econ class the next morning. Stopping in the middle of my routine, I got that feeling once again. The shiver that ran up my spine felt like an eerie presence. I looked around the room to see who could be giving me this horrible feeling. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Forgetting the rest of my duties, I grabbed my purse, slipped off my apron and ran for the car.
'Is it me or was someone really leering at me?' I thought as I started up the car. Snapping my seat belt in place, I threw it into gear and headed home. Turning the radio up, I listened to the music hoping it would take my mind off all the strange things that seemed to be happening to me.
Singing along to Simon and Garfunkel, I pulled into the drive and sat still letting the strains of “Sounds of Silence” envelope me. Making my way into the house, I dropped my purse, poured a glass of water and headed to my room. Cracking open books wasn't something I really wanted to do but needing to make sure I had everything ready for class I took a seat at my desk and looked it all over.
Tossing my dress into the laundry basket, I washed my face and pulled on a extra large t-shirt. I pulled my knees up to my chest, covered them with my t-shirt and flipped on the TV. Running through channels, I stopped when I saw a nameless comedy. Listening to the silly exchange between the parents and their kids had me laughing. By the time I really felt tired, it was just past midnight. Turning off the TV, I crawled into bed, checked to make sure the alarm was set and nodded off to sleep.
Bright sunshine filtered past my eyes before the car came into view. The red car careened around the corners as if it was made for it. The laughter from my friends in the back seat had me shaking my head. She ran her hand up to the radio as the car took flight. Screams echoed through the enclosed space as time slowed to a crawl. The speed at which the car made it from the road until it landed on it's top in the field felt like hours. Narrowly missing the rusted plow, we landed on the roof in the tall grass. Looking around I saw the bloody faces of my three friends. 'Funny,' I thought, 'I don't hear anyone. No screams, no moans, not even the sound of them breathing.' Dread engulfed me as I tried to determine why I kept having the same dream. Once again I was floating above the tires as they continued to turn. Looking around I tried to find a landmark, something that would tell me where this car was. Turning my attention back to the car, I cringed seeing the rusted metal below the rotted tires.
I sat straight up in the bed, every fiber of my being shaking from the feelings the dream awoke. My breath came out in short pants while I tried to slow my racing heart. 'Why do I keep having the same dream?' Drawing my knees to my chest, I hugged them close while I once again tried to figure out why the dream kept haunting me. It wasn't like I had it every night, in total it had been over a month since the first time but other than a couple other dreams, I had never had the same one over and over again. I had never been in a red car. Really didn't know anyone that drove a red car, even the people weren't familiar. Trying to focus on what I could remember about the road, I ran through every memory I had and still drew blanks. People died in that car. Did someone see them fly off the road? Was it their spirits that were calling to me so I could tell people where they were? What was the reason for ME, of all people, to be haunted by their accident.
Not understanding why, I got out of bed, looked at the clock and groaned when I focused my eyes on the time. 4:12 am. Well, nothing to do but flip open the books, I knew I wouldn't get anymore sleep tonight. Concentrating on the fractions, I finished off two more independent assignments before I had to hit the shower and head to class.
“Julia,” Alex called across the quad, “Hey, Julia, wait up.”
I turned to see her jogging toward me with books in hand. Huffing as she caught up to me, I laughed at her antics, “Where's the fire?” I asked as she slowed beside me.
Still trying to catch her breath, she panted between words. “I, haven't seen you since,” her breath short as she tried to get out the words, “Friday. Where have you been hiding?”
“Work, mostly, why?”
“Didn't you hear?”
“Hear what?” I glanced in her direction before sidestepping a group that had stopped to talk.
“The contest. The winner gets a scholarship.”
My curiosity was piqued, “What kind of contest is it?”
“Speech, that's why I thought you would have heard.”
“And when is the deadline?” I grabbed her arm before she plowed into another group.
“Two weeks. But I know you can do it. Just write three-thousand words on an international dilemma.”
“I don't have time to sit and write, besides, what exactly would I write about?” I stopped at the door to my class, glanced at my watch and hoped she would hurry and answer.
“Poverty, crime, surely you can think of something. Besides, you are one of the best writers I know. Shoo, you aced the speech contests in school.”
“They were scripted monologues, Alex. I didn't have to write anything, I just had to memorize it and give it life.”
“See, halfway home. Come on, do it.” The laugh I had been holding in at her animated features erupted. Shaking my head, I reached for the door.
“I'll think about it. Gotta go.” I kissed the air near her cheek, opened the door and disappeared inside. A contest for scholarships, I thought as I took a seat near the middle of the room. Taking out a pen, marker and my book, I leaned back in the chair and let my mind wander. By the end of class I had an idea and a few notes jotted down.
My dream started to really bother me, or maybe it was the thought of the people dying and no one finding them that had me disturbed. I couldn't stop thinking about the road with the curves. Should I know it? Why would I have dreams of something I had no experience with? I definitely didn't know the people so why am I having dreams of them? Trudging to the kitchen, I poured another cup of coffee, flounced down in front of the TV and heaved a sigh. I don't have to go to work tonight, don't feel like studying and there is nothing on. Closing my eyes, I let my mind drift over nothing in particular hoping to find an answer to the car in my dreams.
Try as I might, I couldn't picture the people, the car or the road. The only thing that stood out was the rusted plow buried by the grass and weeds. Opening my eyes, I turned my attention to the speech contest and pulling out my laptop and started putting my thoughts into words.
Choosing to stay away from political agendas, I decided to write about poverty and the impact on families. Drawing on experience and what I had seen among my friends, before I knew it I had over two-thousand words. Pulling out my phone, I called Alex.
“Hey, whatcha doing?”
“Oh, hey, Julia. I'm heading over to the coffee shop, care to join us?”
“Naw, just a quick question if you have time?”
Listening to her friends chattering around her, I hoped she could hear, “Where are the submissions for the contest suppose to be turned in at?”
“Not sure. Let me grab a flier and I'll send it to you later, okay?”
“Great. Thanks.” I hung up before she could beg me to join them. I loved Alex but some of her friends could really intimidate me. It was like I just didn't fit in with their yuppie lives. Leaning back on the sofa, I felt a shiver run through me. Ignoring it, I flipped on the TV in hopes of finding something that would take my mind off of everything.
Why I stopped on Mysterious Disappearances I don't know. Maybe it was because my phone dinged with a notification, maybe it was because I ran to use the bathroom. Maybe I was distracted by a need for something to eat but when I actually stopped to pay attention it was there. My dream.
I hadn't told a soul about it. Had nothing to prove it was almost the same as my dream but listening to the narrator give an accounting of their disappearance sent another shiver through me.
Sandra and three of her friends, Janice Palmer, Jack Salvadore and Rita Kitchens were last seen leaving a memorial day party. She was reported to be driving a red Ford Focus with a Missouri license plate B422946. Despite the reward, no one has come forward with information on their whereabouts.
Looking at my phone, I furrowed my brow in thought. If they left this party May 28th then they had been gone for over six months. 'Oh my,' I thought as I felt this overwhelming sense of fear shoot through me. What if they are the ones in my dream? What if I am one of the few people that know about where they could be? Part of me wanted to call in and tell them about my dream, the other part of me was afraid I would be called a freak or fraud for giving a bogus tip. With my phone in hand, I debated with myself for the rest of the show. Keying in the hot line number, I sat there wondering if I should call or not.
It took me the rest of the night to talk myself out of it. I didn't know where they were exactly. I didn't even know if it was really them. Hearing my phone ping, I flipped it over to see a message from Alex. A picture of the flier attached, I saved it to my pictures and plugged my phone in. Tomorrow would be another day. Maybe I should talk to someone about this dream.
Deciding I would if I had it again, I locked the house, set up the coffee and went to bed. Shutting down my mind was hard. All I could think about was the report of their disappearance, the car and the road in my dreams. Feeling as if something was off, I rolled to my side and closed my eyes. Focusing on flowers and butterflies, I let sleep overtake me.
Days flew by before the dream haunted me once again. Seeing the car almost completely covered by grass and weeds left me wondering how much time had really passed. The rusted plow was obliterated by the foliage, the color of the car more a rust than the deep red I had imagined. Sitting up on the side of the bed, I slowed my heart with long deep breaths. Reaching for my phone, I called the 800 number that was listed on the show.
“Hello, disappearance hot line,” the pleasant man said, “Do you have a tip?”
“Hi, uh, I'm not sure.” I felt as if the conversation was going to be one where he listened and then hung up thinking I was one of those psycho's.
“Let me decide that, now, do you have any information?”
Lulled in by the tone of his voice, I took a deep breath and hoped I wasn't labeled a weirdo. “I saw an episode of a woman and her three friends that left after Memorial day. You see,” I took a deep breath and hoped once again he wouldn't discount me. “I had a dream of the car flying off the road on a curve and landing hundreds of yards away on it's roof.”
“Flying off the road, are you saying you had a dream they were involved in an accident?”
“Yes, but there wasn't another car, they just missed the curve and went off the road. The car landed on it's roof in a field of weeds and old farm implements.” Thinking I sounded like I was completely nuts, I almost hung up the phone.
“Thank you ma'am,” the man said, “we got several other tips in that are similar to yours. Do you happen to know what road they were on?”
His question caught me off guard, “No sir, I don't. I am pretty sure it is not a road I have ever been on before.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“No, I don't think so,” I couldn't understand why he was being so nice.
“Thank you ma'am.” He hung up before I could think of anything else. Setting my phone aside, I wondered if it was the last time I would have that dream.
Worms and Bugs
No matter how hard I try, there are things that will always stick with me. Those memories that bring about the same feelings I had when I first experienced them. I don't know if it was my mother or grandmother that made the many quilts that graced our home but one in particular bothered me more than I could say. Laying the quilt across my bed, I marveled at the unique way the different fabrics made a nondescript pattern. During the daytime it made my bed mine alone. At night it scared the daylights out of me.
“Hey, Julia, what's up?” Alex nudged me out of my thoughts.
“Uh, nothing, why?”
“I asked you a question, did you hear me?”
“What?” I turned my attention to her in hopes she would repeat it.
“Are you going to the concert with us tomorrow?”
Feeling like I was lost in a dream, I faced her, “Remind me again, who's playing.”
“I swear sometimes you are the biggest air head.” She rolled her eyes before she bumped her shoulder against mine. “That new group that has the song about friends and dreams.”
“I guess, what time does it start?”
“Eight. We can swing by and pick you up if you are sure you want to go.”
“It'll be fun, sure I want to go.” Not really convinced, I gave her a bright smile and turned my attention back to the paper I had written for the contest.
“Are you about done with that? You know it is due in by Wednesday.”
“Yeah, just reading back over it to make sure it doesn't sound dumb.”
“Are you kidding? You nailed it. Relax.” Taking the paper from me, she dropped it on the table, grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door. “You don't have to work, right?”
“Naw,” I shook my head, “I'm off until next week to get ready for finals.”
“Then it's time to go do something crazy.”
Laughing at her exuberance, I couldn't help but ask, “And what do you call crazy?”
“You'll see.” She waited for me to grab my keys and phone before we headed out the door.
Climbing into her car, we went to the edge of town before she stopped. Looking around I cast a questioning look in her direction. “Come on,” she jumped out and waited for me to follow behind. Practically skipping away, we rounded the corner to a chorus of “Surprise!”
“What?” my eyes turned wide as I took in the number of people she had waiting.
“Happy Birthday, Julia.” She gave me a gentle push toward the group taking in the whole assembly.
“Wow, thank you.” I reached for her hand knowing of all the people there, she was the one that meant the most to me. I barely knew most of them. Seeing them in class or at work didn't count as being a real friend. Alex was my only true friend. Smiling at her, I immersed myself in the festivities and enjoyed the cake, soda and games she had set up.
Hours passed before we finally loaded up and headed back home. Closing the door to my small apartment, I released a tired sigh before I headed to bed.
Insects moved over my decomposing skin. Worms wound their way through my bones leaving me with a feeling of disgust. My fingers ran over the velvety feel of a patch on the blanket while the dream played on in my mind. The smell of wet dirt engulfed me, pulling me further into the sensations of bugs as they made a meal of my body.
Watching from above as the insects crawled over me should have disturbed me but in some odd sense I felt comforted by them. I couldn't see fabric or clothing only my hands and legs as the sensation of worms slithered over my bones. Jolting upright, I tried to get my breathing to return to normal while my heart slowed. The memory of my fingers running over the velvet patch on the quilt brought the dream back in full force. Shoving my back to the headboard of the bed, I drew my knees up to my chest and hoped I could forget every part of my dream.
'Why,' I thought, 'does this happen to me? It's not like I have some special powers or anything.' Taking slow deep breaths, I remember crawling out of bed to flip over the quilt so I couldn't feel those patches. Crawling back in to sleep, I tried to get the sensation of the bugs and worms out of my mind.
The mere thought of that quilt always brought the same feelings back to me. One of those things I never told people when it happened because I knew I couldn't handle it if they looked at me like I was different. Whether I liked it or not I was already different.
Yes, good ol' Julia, the one with the 'special' brother and dorky family. The over achiever that had her head stuck in a book more often than not and wore clothes that were purchased at yard sales or the local resale shop. If I had a new dress or pair of jeans it was because it was the start of school and my parents had a few extra dollars. I didn't mind, really, I had a roof over my head and food in my belly, better than some but definitely not as good as most. Which is why I never said a word to anyone about my dreams or those things that seemed to happen only to me.
I gathered my books, poured a cup of coffee in my travel mug and headed out the door. Why the quilt and the dream it always conjured up came to mind I couldn't stay. Pushing it to the back of my mind, I slipped back in to grab the paper for the speech and rushed to class. Catching up with Alexandra, we walked to our Literature class avoiding the groups that had stopped to talk and avoiding those running late.
“You never did tell me what you wrote about,” Alex glanced at me with a knowing smile.
I shrugged, “Poverty, what else.”
“Why do you say it like that?”
“The one subject that is near and dear to my heart.”
“Until you graduate, that is. Any ideas where you are going to find that dream job?”
“I'm not even sure what I really want to do. Why do you think I am taking so many classes?”
“Have you thought about going on to get your bachelors degree?”
“Really, Alex, didn't you hear me just say I don't even know what I am going to major in let alone my minor. I have no definite career path. At this rate I will probably be a college student until the day I die taking courses just to take them.”
Laughing, she bumped my shoulder. “You are great at writing, you love to sing, you enjoy traveling. Why don't you go into journalism? Maybe you could be a news correspondent for one of those TV stations.”
I scoffed at her suggestion, “No, thank you. I am not going to be one of those people that is sent into the middle of a battle zone and try to look pretty with a helmet on my head.”
“You'll think of something.” She slowed to hold open the door letting me walk in ahead of her.
Taking seats side by side, I leaned close to her, “Have you ever had weird dreams and then find out later it actually happened?”
She turned curious eyes to me, “Like what?”
“You know, falling, dying, car wrecks, stuff like that.”
“I think we all have dreams of falling but car wrecks? No, can't say as I have.” She flipped open her notebook and laid a pencil down beside it. “Why?”
“Oh no you don't,” her voice well above a whisper, “You don't get to ask a question like that and push it off as curiosity. Spill.”
“Later,” I mouthed as the professors intern moved to the front of the class.
If I thought she would forget I was only kidding myself. Not two seconds after we were dismissed, she was on me, “So, tell me about these dreams.”
“It's nothing, just weird dreams that seem to come back when I least expect them.”
“Ah, come on, Julia, give me details.”