Halden was eleven years old when his nightmare asked of him eight adjurations:
befriend caterpillars but no one else
point shoes toward your bed
grow your hair long
make two children and no more
never miss a night of sleep
always sleep on your back
drill a hole in your bedroom wall
outlive your father
Some of them were almost too much to ask, but Halden embraced them and obeyed.
The last one took a long, long time.
* * *
I was a student of anthropology in need of fieldwork, so one summer I went to study the nightmare-haunted children of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
I had forgotten the story for years, and then a song reminded me of it: one of those overwrought rock songs dads like to listen to when they ride wheelies down the street and—Mom shielding her eyes, the kids delighted—peel out in the gravel at the end of the drive, smile. The song came on the radio at work and there was a little detonation of remembrance and I heard the story in my head. It was just a few lines set to rhyme about a man bringing nightmares to the north. I remembered every word and scribbled them on a napkin to study.
They say there’s a kernel of truth to all folk tales and myths, and I meant to find this one somewhere in the empty lands and vast forests of that horned peninsula: a beast on the back of which I had once journeyed as a child, skipping across its spine and drifting through the thickness of its mane, my hands in its hair. Even then I think I had some idea that the truth was even larger than the story. The legend was the seed, and the truth was a tangled plant with questing tendrils that had since stretched into the Lower Peninsula: would they one day reach me? I didn’t wait to find out.
I traced the story to its origin as you might find a hive by the sight of bees. There were long days of driving through haunted, hallowed places looking for signs of restless nights. I lost myself in the northern wilderness and felt something close at hand, but just out of reach and invisible. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end: the configuration of the world is laid bare up there.
But then I found what I was looking for. Tahquamenon—the silent roads, the puffy-eyed nappers, the campground handed over to the wilds without a fight—was like an old hollowed tree around which bees hover. A bee lands, crawls into a hole you didn’t see before: yes, this is it.
There were a few tourists come to see the falls, but the locals were easy to find. They were old proud hunters, wild children with weeds for jewelry, and thick-thighed women who more than once offered me places to eat and sleep. They told me that boys and girls still had bad dreams, but that the real nightmares had grown up with the children who first had them.
“I still can’t sleep but once every few days,” one of them told me. His hair was falling out in strange patterns and what was left was going gray. He was, like most of the others, in his late twenties or early thirties, and that’s about how old the story was at that time. It doesn’t take long for a story to be diluted and distorted, pulled in as many directions as there are people, like a message in a children’s game of telephone.
“Last night I slept okay, but the night before and the night before that.” The young man shook his head.
“It’s not so much the dreams anymore. What’s in them doesn’t really bother me. I mostly wake up before she puts them in.” He patted his chest. “She’s too heavy.”
“Who is?” I asked.
“The woman with the caterpillar eyes.”
* * *
For the last time, Halden walked out of Reichert Tool & Die and left behind all the noise and heat and noxious fumes and—little slivers of sliced metal built up in the corners of his trembling fingers—went home to his wife and boys.
Jacob was doing homework on the dining room table, and the bee mo mo bee mo in another room meant the other was already done with his and playing video games. He would be hooked up to that black box of wonders like a patient to oxygen and might not even say goodbye and, when he finally came back to the real world, might wander outside and call once or twice into the darkness: “Dad?”
“Dinner’s almost ready,” his wife said. She was in the kitchen wearing ragged shorts and no shoes. Dark veins snaked up her calves. “How was work?” She pulled a roast out of the oven.
“It was all right. Hey, Jacob. How we doin’?” He bent over the boy’s homework: numbers tangled together, some neat and typed, some wild and looping. “Need help?”
He was glad and wondered when his children had become smarter than him. He had gone to college and gotten some small degree (what did they call it, an Assistant’s Degree?), but that was a long time ago and schools were better these days. Jacob was pulling numbers out his head like rabbits from a hat, and the other one. Already the teachers saw signs of some selective genius or autistic brilliance. He hardly believed he had anything to do with bringing them into the world.
He stepped into the bedroom and closed the door.
The truck was already full (packed in silence the night before), but there were things he couldn’t take without her noticing. He had to gather those at the last moment, and so he did and thrust them all in an old army duffel: shirts and pants, long johns, socks, and a wad of bills poorly hidden in the top dresser drawer. He threw the fat duffel on the bed and paused to think about who he had shared it with, thinking of two: his wife and the one that wasn’t.
He looked at the plastic bug house on the desk above the computer.
“It’s time to go, boys.”
He pulled off the lid and lodged the house in the crook of an open window. Eventually the little caterpillars—some slender and smooth, others fat and hairy, one with orange-tipped bristles like tiny paint brushes and a watchful blue eye on its back—would crawl into the flowerbeds, where they could chew and chomp until they had had their fill. Cocoons would grow beneath leaves and twigs. One day they would wiggle, writhe, and hatch.
Halden stood in the doorway with the duffel hanging on his shoulder. “I’m going,” he said, but the boys didn’t hear.
His wife almost cried.
“Don’t. Quiet. They’ll hear you.”
“It’s just.” She wiped her nose. “I’ll miss you. I miss you when you’re gone, you know. It’s the little things that do it. The little motions and movements that stop when you’re not here, finding something in another place after I come home from work. It’s annoying when you’re here, but. How long are you gonna be gone?”
“I don’t know.”
Her eyes sparkled. “I’ll miss you.”
“I know,” and he walked out the door.
He threw the duffel on the passenger’s seat and reached down to take his wallet out of his back pocket and tucked it in one of the little spaces between the seats, where it wouldn’t make his butt go numb on the long ride north. The long ride from house to home: foliage changing along the sides of the highway, scattered stations on the radio, and air like the breath of summer. It was the pavement path to another life: the next life, one step higher on the helix that coiled through the cosmos. He opened his windows and sang. He peed in a bottle and tucked it under the seat to be emptied later, and stopped to watch a black bear lumber into the forest. Gray stone gave way to gravel. He was getting closer. Even the names of those great northern places suggested the numinous, not by any meaning or word origin, but by the very sound of their names. Manistique and Ontonagon, Ishpeming and Munising.
And then he was there.
Halden parked the truck and went down to the lake. He washed his hands first, and then his arms and face (scrubbing at the stubble), and—before he knew it—he was naked and swimming and rubbing sand on his chest, thighs, and up and down the cleft of his butt. He scraped his skin with the sand, released it, and watched it return to the bottom and with it his filth: factory dirt and domestic dust and—deepest, darkest grit there was—the fog of daily life accumulated over so many similar days, each filled with the anxious toiling that makes a man want to get on to the next day when there’s so much left to be seen in this one.
He dove and wept under the water, but he was laughing when he came up for air. He let forth a great bursting bubble of laughter, and it sped across the top of the lake and reached two fishermen on a distant boat. Their tiny figures shifted and then settled back into relaxed positions as they waited for fish to bite.
Halden left the lake without drying himself—water trickling behind him, making little rivers for ants to ford—and made camp. The pounding of tent stakes echoed through the trees. Camp made and a can of soup warming in the fire, he fell on his back to admire the sky and watch branches toss in the wind.
He remembered those branches.
What faith had brought him back? Was it the same faith that led him to church every Sunday? Or perhaps that wasn’t faith at all and only some faint duty or obligation. That was a shadow, and what brought him here the object that cast it. Did he even believe in God anymore, after all this?
He slurped his soup from the blackened can in which it had boiled.
“I’m back,” he said, and the forest’s massive wide emptiness made his voice sound small.
“I’ve done everything you wanted. You can come out now. Mara. Mara?”
* * *
I lived in his crooked Tahquamenon house.
Living there reminded me of camping because the electricity had been shut off and there was no running water. At night, surrounded by silent darkness, so many memories floated up from my consciousness. I remembered fishing through coolers—the ice inside mostly melted—to find the juice box I wanted among the floating jars of ketchup, milk, and mayonnaise. I remembered hearing thunder or something like it roll around the bowl of the lake and wondering if there was something greater than me out there. And I remembered building a fort of ferns with my brother, his fingers—always poking about for frogs—covered in duckweed. I started fires in the backyard and saw more things in the flames and shadows.
I asked someone to visit me there, but he wouldn’t, and so I met him at the coffee house where eerie antlered rabbits hung and sat and lounged about. Some looked ready to pounce or butt heads. I found him by the bright orange cap he said he would be wearing.
“Why wouldn’t you meet me at the house?” I said.
“Because he used to live there.” He pulled his cap away, swept his hair back, and replaced it. “Wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.”
“You think the man that used to live there did something?”
“I know he did. You do too or else you wouldn’t be here asking these questions, poking around just like he did.”
“Did you ever see him? Do you know his name? What he looked like?”
“Mark? I don’t know, something like that. I didn’t see him, but my dad did and his cousin too.”
“How can you be sure he was a real person?”
“Look at this town, you think we don’t know everything that happens? A dog on the other side of the falls can’t keep a flea a secret. And you’ve seen Paradise, right? How many people you think live in a little thing like that?
“All I know is I never had a nightmare until he came to town, and after he holed up there and disappeared into the house, no one seen him much really, and he left, that’s when it started. I wasn’t a fussy boy before him. Almost to the day he left was when it started.”
“How did it start?”
His coffee arrived, black and stinking. “I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move my arms, tried to call for Ma.” He had to stop for a moment and take a drink.
“You shouldn’t be living in that house,” he said.
Did the man in the story sit on the sill of the living room window and look through the doorway into the kitchen and—through that—the doorway of the bathroom to see just how bent his house was? I sat there and marveled that the house still stood at all. I supposed it was built on a hill, but it didn’t look like a hill to me. Closet doors came off their sliders. Little objects crept slowly this way or that until they fell off tables or counters. Some say it wasn’t crooked when he moved in.
Little girls had nightmares too, and they were visited by a variety of dark and strange men, or things that looked like men to them.
“He’d sit on my chest just like a cat and look at me even though I couldn’t see his eyes. He used to make me dream he was beautiful, and when I woke up I’d want to marry him in the few seconds it took me to see that he was a black and cruel little man. He was like a cat you don’t want in your bed anymore because he’s been there all night. Like my momma’s old cat Monkey. She called him that ’cause he was black.”
“What else did you dream of?”
A car hit the rumble strip in the middle of the road and made a sound like the world unzipping, see what’s inside?
“I said I still do. I still have the nightmares. There’s one with lots of shoelaces tying me down to the ground. Trees all around. Someone callin’ for help, and it isn’t me, but I should be. Some big bug or somethin’ comes down from the trees. Scares the shit outta me every time even though I expect it now.”
“Do you see him anymore? The catlike man?”
She laughed. “He’s not really a cat.”
“I know. But do you still see him?”
“Once in a while. He’s gotten bigger, like he grew up right alongside me. I used to be pretty, you know. Don’t laugh. I see you smiling.” She smiled too. “But him. He got uglier. Bigger and uglier. I wonder where he’ll go when I die. I don’t like the nighttime anymore.”
* * *
He had a vision of a horse ridden wild in the night sweating in the stall the morning after.
“Why are you here?” Her voice wasn’t so much a sound as a thing to be touched, like a brilliant streamer in the wind.
He reached out and touched it.
“Why did you let me design your life? You follow every word and request.”
“Because I love you,” he said.
“Did you know that would happen?”
“No. It happens sometimes though. It must.”
“All those creeping crawlers. Supposed to scare me?”
They came to him then, up to his chin. An inchworm did its pause-and-pull walk across the bridge of his nose, and he laughed.
“You like them.”
“I love them,” he said. “Don’t you see?”
She nodded somewhere.
“It’s just what I like. You know me, Mara.”
“The only one.”
“Yeah,” he said, and he could hear it echoing as he awakened.
The sky was a dark bruise. He wondered if it might not rain.
“Are you here?” he said, but he knew she was not: he could move and breathe, after all.
He unzipped the tent (a sound that always sent him back, and it was not the sound of a jacket zipper or the one on a suitcase: it was the sound of a tent being closed for the night and his body being tucked into a sleeping bag in which he would dream bright wonders, or a tent opened in the morning and his feet tripping on the little part at the bottom that didn’t unzip because he was eager to be out and alive) and crawled inside. He lit the kerosene lantern that hissed all night. He only needed a radio now to make the image complete. That and his father, laughing and humming and busying his hands with this or that. He could almost see the fire through the wall of the tent and his father’s silhouette, his hands dancing in the night. His own private puppet show.
His hair flew up in a knot, and she was there.
He laughed at what she did to his hair. “You better untangle that after you’re done. Hey, can I see you now?” Halden asked.
“Shhhh. Not yet. Time to rest.”
“How about now?”
“Do you remember how we met?”
She showed him that she did.
Halden was eight or nine again, waking in the middle of the night, made paralyzed and breathless by a weight on his chest: a spot of darkness blacker than the black room around him. He saw the gleam of tooth or eye or horn in passing moonlight. He slept past one, two, three alarms.
“God, Mom, give me a break, she rode me all night.” Halden laughed. “I actually told her that, didn’t I? Something like that.”
“Was I there?”
“No. But you are now. Come here.”
He was riding a deer down a dark soil road, its skull visible in the moonlight. Rain pooled in eerie three-toed footprints.
“Wake me up.”
He laughed. “Please.”
“Why do you care if you are asleep or awake?”
“I want to be with you when I’m awake.”
“Because,” but he didn’t know, or he didn’t know how to say it. Maybe there was no difference after all, or one only his dream self perceived, or perhaps it was the other way around.
“Never mind. This is fine.” The deer waded through fallen leaves and ate a few along the way. Halden did the same, and they tasted like almonds and beer. “This is great.”
“I can make it better,” she said, and she did.
“See, this is why I’m here, why I came.”
“What is it?”
“Mara, after you knew I liked you, when I was a boy, and you didn’t go away. I’ve never asked, but why did you ask all those things of me?”
Leaves swirled around him, hid him, and hid the world or the dream world or both.
“You will find out soon,” she said.
* * *
Clusters of bagworms swung in the wind in the trees behind the crooked house. I didn’t dream there, as if a screen or veil kept them from me, or perhaps there was a focus, like a rod for lightning: the others in the town who have grown up with their nightmares.
“Why don’t you move?” I asked one of them.
“She goes where I go.”
I asked if he could tell me what she looks like (those eyes!) but he couldn’t or didn’t want to, and so I let him be.
In the crooked house, a sampler above the front door reads, “Caterpillars and baby caterpillars, I am going, follow me.” I said it aloud like a chant many times, but they never came. I was alone most of the summer, and I went to the campground alone.
I hiked through fern-engulfed glades and broke through the forest and stepped onto a rocky road that wound up and down the hills, small campsites along the way like beads on a rope. They were marked with posts driven into the earth. The numbers were just little smudges now.
Where did he sleep and dream: number eight, number fourteen, or all of them at one time or another? I looked in the burnt-out shells where campfires burned a decade ago and into the trees above, as if his dreams might be hovering there still. Mullein stalks stood in an empty campsite, two tall, two short, like parents and their children. I walked up and down the stony road. Had he wandered there after a rain storm and looked to the road and found his gaze met by the fossil eyes of a Petoskey stone? Maybe he collected them and secreted them away somewhere in the crooked house, and I would find them if nothing else, something to take back for my trouble.
I sat at one of the picnic tables, the weeds beneath grown so thick and tall that they hugged my legs and grew through the spaces between the boards on top. The tassels overlooked my pen and paper, as if about to make corrections. Maybe they would tell me how it all went.
But there was nothing there. No name chiseled on a picnic table or heart carved into a tree. As I was leaving, I saw a woman sitting by the lake. She was holding a burden that turned out to be a baby.
She liked the peace of the place.
“The baby doesn’t cry as much here,” she said.
“Does he have nightmares?”
“Sorry. I thought maybe that’s why he cried.”
“Oh. Yeah. Maybe.” She thought for a moment and then recognized me. It was my question that gave it away.
“It’s so sad,” she said. “He left his family. How could he do that? What would make a man just up and leave like that?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“But why would you want to? Who cares? Just let everyone forget that old bastard.”
“Shouldn’t we at least try to understand? Maybe then we could—” but she didn’t agree and stopped paying attention, so I left and accidentally carried a big wooly worm into town.
* * *
Halden pulled into the gas station, the only place his old cell phone received a signal. He flipped open the scarred cover and called her.
“Oh my God, Halden? Halden, it’s been three weeks.”
He didn’t know it had been that long. “Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? What the hell are you doing? Do you know what I’ve been going through? Halden, are you, are you leaving me?” Words were lost in sobs.
Halden tossed the phone into the dirt, ran his fingers through his hair, and picked it up again. He put it to his ear, but she wasn’t done.
“Listen,” he said.
“No, you listen,” and she went on, but he heard a boy’s voice between her cries (“Dad? Is it Dad?”).
“Is that Jacob?”
“What? No. But—”
The other one, then. He smiled. “Make sure you tickle his back when you tuck him in. Hey. Listen to me. Please. Shut up for a second. I left you what I’ve saved. Most of it anyway. You know where it is. Tell your parents whatever you want. Everything’s worked out with Mom. And take care of the boys and tell them that. That I. Uh,” but he couldn’t think of anything that might make sense and wondered if it would matter anyway to them, who both always seemed so distant: polite and reserved, not like they were with their mother—always joking, laughing, playing silly little games—whom they must love so much more.
“Tell them I love them, I guess.”
He held the phone at his waist and let her cry herself out and say whatever she wished to say. A crow landed nearby and poked at something in the gravel and cawed, as if warning Halden not to take it.
Halden smiled. “It’s all yours,” he said.
The crow muttered, speared his meal, and—dead mouse dangling from his beak—flew to the branch of a tree.
Halden returned the phone to his ear.
“What is it?” his wife said. “What stole you from me?”
“Who is she?”
“It’s not what you think. No, really, really you can’t imagine. You never had much of an imagination. Not like the boys.”
But she wasn’t listening.
“Goodbye,” Halden said. “I’m sorry. Don’t try to forgive me. And don’t try to find me.” He snapped the phone shut with a click like a crow’s beak closing.
That was the last they heard of him for a long time, but he didn’t think about that on the way back to the campground, the lake, sleep.
“I love you,” Halden said.
Something small and many-legged crawled up his arm, and then he was crawling up one of its legs.
“Why does anyone love anything?” The bug’s legs became nests for giant birds that fed on Halden’s skin. Their singing beaks tickled his flesh.
“Pardon?” He jumped out of a nest and he was there in the tent. Sunlight had made an oven of it. “Huh? Are you here?”
“You are.” He opened the windows and the door and let in a cool breeze off the lake.
“I told you I cannot love like you.”
Halden tried to grab her.
“You will always miss.”
“I don’t believe you.” He tried again and sighed. “Mara.”
“You know, we’re told a lot about love, and some people even tell us how to love, like the church. My mom.” A doe fed just beyond the picnic table, and Halden wondered how long it had been there. “See that doe there? Can you?”
“Did you know I love that doe? Not as much as you, but I do. And she probably doesn’t even know it. And that’s okay, I don’t need anything back. It’s fine. I’m okay. I’ve had enough, I think.”
He fell back and scratched his big round belly and the belly button that spilled out of its bowl just a little. “I still want to see you though. That won’t change.”
“You will hate me.”
“I won’t. I promise. I’ll love you more.”
“You do not know that.”
“Please. Just let me see, oh!” and he did, but she was smooth and flat and full of muscle and had a thin trail of hair that led to a curled horn between his legs.
“Oh.” Halden rubbed his chin. “Oh.”
“See. You hate me.”
“Hey, no, it’s okay. I don’t mind. Look.” He laughed and pulled off his long johns. “See.”
“Are you sure?”
“Mara. Yes. Come here.”
The great horn unfurled.
* * *
No one knows where he went after he left the crooked house, and some say he never left at all.
I felt silly looking in closets and the attic—pulling the cord to unfold flimsy zigzag steps—but I wasn’t really looking for a living man, only a body or signs that one was once there. There were no old journals or letters left behind. There were no secret chambers, no messages spelled out in rat turds. There was hardly anything that meant a man had lived there at all, nothing to indicate that he had suddenly stood and walked out the door into the night.
I was sitting on the porch watching iridescent green beetles skitter across the sidewalk and wondering if he had done the same when a car pulled into the driveway. A woman stepped out, a bandage wrapped around the crook of her elbow as if she had just given blood. There was something wrong with her legs.
“I’m here about the nightmares,” she said and smiled.
I could tell she wasn’t afraid, and we sat on the porch and shared her story.
“Now, I don’t believe in ghosts. And I don’t believe in demons or witches or any of that, but I can tell you there’s something in my room at night.”
“Have you heard the rhyme?” She hadn’t, and I recited it for her. I still had the napkin in my back pocket, but I didn’t need it.
She chuckled. “Yeah. That’s a little too simple though. The rhyming makes it sound like a game.”
“You don’t like that? It’s more serious.”
“Well. This whole thing messed with a lot of lives.”
“I never met the man you’re asking about, but”—she reached out and brushed something from my shoulder—“you know, it’s all right. A lot of the others whine about it, and I’m sure there’s some real pain there. You’ve talked to them.”
“Some of them.” There was a strand of silk from my hair to my shoulder. “But some wouldn’t talk to me. And the parents or uncles and aunts, the old ones that were here when he was here, who saw him or talked to him, they didn’t even want to look at me.”
“But you came.”
“Yeah, I dunno. I’m fine, I guess. The older I get and the weaker I get—my legs are going, you know—the more I like sleeping. I sleep all day sometimes. Just to dream. I mean, there’s a real presence there sometimes. Like the others say, yeah, I’ve heard all about it, we share stories and dreams, but you know what?”
“I kinda like my nightmares.”
* * *
Halden returned to the campground even after it was closed because the state couldn’t afford it anymore. A rusty red gate swung shut, and it was as if he had been closed out of the next life: the end of the road.
He bought a crooked house nearby and hunted for food and sometimes stole what he needed on moonless nights. He lost his phone. His hair grew longer. And he didn’t dream during those days, as if something fed upon them before they reached him.
Halden would walk out into the night and call for him.
“Mara. Mara. Mara?”
But the streamer was silent in the wind.
He was gone then, and Halden felt in that loss every abandonment and divorce he had ever felt: the shattering of childhood at the gate to adolescence; moving away from his parents and his first home; the hardening of his heart for earthly love; the little jobs lost and the familiar faces moving away and the loneliness of a hospital visit; and the very fact that he had even once been removed by force—his tiny hands grabbing roots on the shore and not letting go—from the forest of ferns and old oaks by the lake he had been to in the womb.
His world seemed darker (moonlit, he thought) as the days went on, and his thoughts were not his own. He thought he saw heavy bags hanging from the ceiling, and he shot arrows through the walls. In brief moments of clarity, he had to wonder.
A wasp with a long body like a wizard’s bottle alighted on his hand, and Halden watched as it drove its stinger into the flesh between his thumb and first finger. He brushed it away and walked into the house to wipe it with the damp green marker his mother always used for beestings and bug bites. In the hallway he began to tingle, as if he had washed himself with peppermint soap. He fell asleep a moment later, and that began a perpetual ascending and descending to and from a dreamless land of sleep, but Mara wasn’t there.
His head filled with swirls and whirls. His vision blurred, as if his eyes were covered in dew, condensation from all the fog inside his head. He became drowsier as the days went on, and he lost weeks and months—he didn’t know how long—to dizziness and headaches. He often woke in a tangle of limbs and sheets, and once he was so famished that he rushed out the front door and onto the lawn. Before he knew it, he was nibbling clover petals.
He could imagine what it must taste like to the insects that sipped its nectar: such a delicate sweetness to him, but to them, ambrosia. He plucked a few petals from the center of the pale purple flower and bit into the ends and by sundown he had left none for the butterflies. The day after, he ate the patterned leaves instead.
He made and ate salads of petunia and raspberry and mint and thistle. He liked the fragrant moistness of tomato stems and the puffy pods of milkweed. He ate bull thistle, chickweed, giant foxtail, and sweet little leaves of lambsquarters. He learned how buttercups got their name.
He gathered every blanket in the house and pressed them to his body. He tore the curtains down and pulled the covers from the couch cushions. He coiled them all around him and fell back on his pillow into a dreamless slumber that lasted days and days.
He awakened just before sunrise (a sliver of sun not yet mounting the horizon), his head full and fluttering, and there was a sensation as of wings unfolding just behind his eyes: a hundred moths as big as a hand suddenly released from pulsing cocoons and flying away in all directions.
* * *
The last rain of that summer drenched me as I sat in the front yard of the crooked house trying to untangle the story of the man who brought nightmares to Tahquamenon. A blade of grass was brought to second life with a tremble when struck from above by something it probably could not fathom. It was the first drop of rain. Many more followed.
I stayed at the crooked house until the end of summer, when the first leaves fell like little yellow butterflies swooping down for a drink. I left on the morning after the night I finally had a dream.
My shoes beat a path to the trunk of a tree in which lived an old, old man. He came out and sat on the limbs with his eyes closed, and his weight was enough to make the branches sag and nearly break. There was a tiny hole in his head through which dreams could come and go and he held a ball of caterpillars to the moon. There was another man at the bottom of the tree who wasn’t me. He had long, wild hair. He kept looking up at the branches, and the old man popped out of the tree when he wasn’t looking, like a cuckoo in an ancient clock, but he finally caught a glimpse of him and smiled. The man with the wild hair looked at me then and my dream self wasn’t surprised when he spoke. We had a nice talk.
I still can’t be sure it was all a dream.
Kyle E. Miller lives near the places he writes about with the love of his life and their cat, Smoky Barnable. This is Kyle’s first published story.