Most children are told by their parents that they can be whatever they want when they grow up. My mother never told me that, and I never figured out why until a week before my sixteenth birthday. That’s when the dreams started.
They always began the same way. I would always find myself standing in the middle of an empty church sanctuary. The eloquent room was decorated with various religious artifacts and a massive cross hanging at the front of the great hall. Hanging from the religious sigil was a Jesus like replica wearing a crown made of thorns with blood dripping from the tips. There was a podium on the stage and in front of it, a closed coffin. I glanced again at the coffin.
It was open.
My breath caught in my throat as I realized that the dream was different this time. There were people filling the sanctuary – all of them dressed in black funeral garb. It made me feel out of place as I stood in the center of the aisle wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt. Nobody seemed to pay me any heed, though.
Curiosity finally got the better of me, so I took a hesitant step forward. The only sound was my own heartbeat hammering away in my chest as I approached the front of the sanctuary cautiously. I could see the minister’s lips moving as he delivered the last rights of whomever the funeral was for. The casket was still too far away for me to make out the face that was sticking up amongst the multi-colored flowers and white pillows littering the black box.
‘A few more feet,’ I told myself over and over again – hoping that the dream wouldn’t change at this point like it normally did. There weren’t any flames dancing around me yet, so I felt more confident and began taking longer steps. Something still told me that this wasn’t right. In the seven times that I had experienced this nightmare before – it was never this calm. The ground would usually be shaking beneath my feet by this point as I would struggle to maintain my balance amidst jets of fire shooting up from the floor. No, this was definitely different this time.
The minister standing at the podium continued to address the congregation without even glancing in my direction. The congregation continued their silent mourning for the dead in front of me. I had to see who was inside.
My palms began to sweat as I closed the remainder of the distance between myself and the casket. My nerves were beginning to get the better of me, and I had to force myself to keep going.
‘Just a few more feet.’
I held my breath in fear that the dream was going to change and take this away from me. Weeks of nightmares leading up to this. I closed my eyes and reached out for the casket. Once I felt the cool smooth surface against the palm of my hand – I pulled myself forward and opened my eyes. I took one last look at the minister who was staring at me blankly before I peered into the coffin.
“Mom?” I gasped out in a choked voice.
The minister was gone when I glanced back to the pulpit. I looked around myself to find that I was completely alone in the sanctuary. All of the mourners were gone. I looked back into the future tomb through tear streaked eyes and stared at my mother’s complexion. Her long blonde hair was tucked underneath her head, and her blue eyes remained closed as if she was sleeping. I touched her cheek with the palm of my hand and recoiled at the feel of the stiff icy skin.
‘This can’t be real,’ I thought to myself as I tried to force the image of my dead mother out of my mind. ‘It’s just a dream, Elijah.’
Her thin pink lips were pressed tightly together. The blush highlighting her cheeks almost made her look like a statue instead of the woman who raised me and my little brother. The woman who dedicated her very existence to her children. The woman everyone loved. Was this supposed to be some sort of omen? Why would I even dream about my mother being dead?
I took a couple steps back from the open casket and sat down on the carpeted aisle-way. Resting my face in the palm of my hands – I could feel myself shaking. Why wasn’t I waking up yet? That’s when I heard another woman’s voice.
The soft feminine voice seemed to echo throughout my mind. I jumped to my feet to find I was still alone in the room. The casket had even vanished while my eyes were covered. I turned back to the front of the sanctuary to find a young woman with long black hair standing at the podium that the minister had once stood at only moments before. Her arms hung limply down at her sides while her face remained void of any emotion. Eyes as black as coal stared out at me from her pale white face as if she was looking through me instead of at me. I had no idea who this woman was. I had never seen her before in my life. She was barely tall enough to see over the podium she was standing behind. The white robe she wore flowed loosely around her like she was standing in a breeze. Her penetrating eyes never left me even as she stepped out from behind the podium and seemed to float down to the floor in front of me from the stage.
With the woman standing in front of me – I began to shake harder. I couldn’t stop myself. The dream was beginning to change again, and I wasn’t sure if I was really willing to witness another nightmare filled with screaming and burning corpses.
The young woman made no more move to approach me, so I held my ground even though I wanted to run from the church and forget everything I had seen already. Something told me I wouldn’t be able to leave anyways.
‘You must come to me, Elijah.’ I could hear her voice clear as day though her lips weren’t moving. ‘The world needs you.’
With that ominous warning – the young woman vanished in front of me, and the ground began to shake beneath my feet. I tried keeping myself upright, but the violent quaking brought me quickly to my knees. I wanted to scream out for help, but it was pointless.
I looked up as I began to hear people screaming, and glass shattering around me. I wasn’t in the sanctuary anymore. I was now sitting on my knees in the middle of a street packed with abandoned cars, and people running everywhere trying to escape from a black cloud that was forming directly above us in the clear blue sky. For a split second my own house appeared in front of me before exploding into a fireball that threw me backwards into the windshield of one of the abandoned cars.
‘It’s just a dream.’ I tried telling myself over and over again, but the smell of sulfur was quickly filling my nose and the smoke from burning cars was making it hard to breath.
I glance upwards at the cloud that was beginning to spread out like spilled ink across a piece of paper. Pure terror began to fill my mind as I imagined what sort of danger the clouds were bringing. My fears were soon brought to life as the center of the cloud began to glow with an orange colored light. I screamed as a massive ball of fire fell out of the heavens at me. I wanted to run but my shirt was caught on a shard of glass from the car windshield. Everything seemed to go into slow motion as I could feel the heat of my approaching doom. There was no escaping it. I screamed out as my skin started blistering from the sudden increase in heat. The ground was shaking even more violently than before, but at the center of the street stood four figures garbed in black cloaks that hid any of their features from my vision. They were standing in a circle with their hands held high in the air. They were the reason behind all of this – I was sure of it.
I looked back up to see the fireball gaining on me – mere seconds from killing me. The painful burning was too much and I cried out again – my voice choking on the thick smoke billowing around me. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes as the heat seemed to dry them instantly. Then…
…it hit me.
I woke up screaming and trying to put out a fire that wasn’t there. I was in my own dark bedroom again. I could still smell the smoke and sulfur on my clothes as a bolt of lightning illuminated my room for a split second. I pulled myself out of the bed and made my way to my bathroom to get a drink of water. The smell of the smoke was still on me.
I jumped when I turned on the bathroom light and found my shirt in tatters. Strips of it missing like it had been burned away by the fire of my dreams.
“What the fuck?” I exclaimed quietly – trying to keep from waking anybody else in the house. I was surprised my screaming hadn’t brought my mother running to check on me.
I pulled the shirt off and checked my chest and back to make sure the only damage done was to my clothing. Deciding that the smell was bad enough – I turned on the shower and stepped in to wash away the remnants of my nightmare.
‘This has to stop!’ I told myself as I let the warm water cascade over my body before grabbing a bar of soap. Was there anybody I could tell about my dreams? If I did, would I be locked away forever? Surely, my mother would find me crazy and have me committed if I told her.
“You’re not crazy!” I said to reassure myself.
“Elijah, are you alright?” I heard my mother call out from my bathroom doorway. “I heard screaming…”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I said peeking my head around the curtain to see my mother standing there already dressed for the day. I eyed her curiously for a moment wondering if she had even been to bed before I realized she was going to ask me something else. “It was just a bad dream, mom.” I said quickly to keep her from asking the question she wanted to ask.
She scowled at me for a moment before her expression changed to a warming smile. “I’ll make you some breakfast, son. Come down to the kitchen when you’re finished showering.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I replied as she turned and left me alone to finish scrubbing the smell off of me. ‘Did she smell the smoke?’
I closed my eyes for a moment as the hot water flowed over my skin making my muscles relax some. The image of the fireball engulfing me played over and over in my head as I stood in the shower. All I wanted was for the nightmares to end so I could sleep an entire night for a change, but that didn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. The nightmares were getting stranger, and more twisted with each passing night. I didn’t think that I would be able to handle very many more sleepless nights.
The kitchen smelled like bacon and eggs when I made my way downstairs, and I found that my mother had already set a plate for me at the bar. I quickly took my spot on a stool and set to work devouring the food. I didn’t even realize how hungry I truly was until I started eating. It was like I had actually experienced all of the events in my nightmare.
My mother took her place and ate lightly while she read the morning newspaper. She sipped on her coffee and didn’t push me to answer a bunch of questions about my dream. The smell of burning flesh filled my nose and I felt myself gag at the image of the people burning alive within the church sanctuary. My mother looked at me quizzically.
“Are you alright, Elijah?” She asked in concern.
“Yeah,” I managed to reply once my stomach stopped turning. “I just had a stray thought.”
I should have known she was going to press me for answers…
“Just another of my dreams,” I tried to shrug it off like it was no big deal.
“Oh?” I glanced at her to see that she was looking at me with a raised eyebrow.
I sighed in defeat. I had told her before that I was having nightmares, so there was no way to avoid the discussion completely. The best I could hope for was that she wouldn’t force any details out of me. My mother was the one person that I would do anything to keep her proud of me.
“It was another nightmare,” I tried keeping my explanation vague, hoping she would get the hint that I wasn’t really comfortable discussing it with her. “There was a church and it caught on fire. I just got the image stuck in my head for a moment.”
“Would you like me to schedule you an appointment with Doctor Meyer?”
“No, mom.” I replied quickly. “That won’t be necessary. I can handle this.”
“Are you sure?”
The brief honk of a car horn outside saved me from explaining any further.
“I’ve got to go, mom.” I told her quickly. “Brayden is here.”
She nodded in acknowledgement, but the look of concern never left her face as I ran out the back door. I hoped that she would drop the matter before I got home from school. My mother and I had always been close, but I hated discussing my nightmares with her. She would always suggest that I go see a psychologist. I just wanted to ignore the nightmares for as long as possible. Eventually, they’ll go away, right?