Chapter Twelve

When Chris first began his dialogue with Carly two days earlier, he had no idea she was going to be the answer to the question he had been asking himself just moments before opening her initial email. Someone to talk to, to trust, he had requested. Though he still hadn’t confided in her yet, and still didn’t know that he could, he did feel like, somehow, someone had just been delivered to him. Time would tell.

After she had "bailed on him mid-sentence," as she had put it, during their brief third encounter on that first evening their lives had (fatefully) intersected, Chris had skipped the nightly cleaning chores around the house and remained online until hearing his papers being dropped off in his driveway. He had also eaten his dinner from a tray in his lap as he sat in front of his computer just in case LorettaC had decided to reappear before he had to begin work.

He had assumed, as was confirmed in their next encounter the following afternoon, that ‘Rocky’ had been the cause of the sudden and premature halt in the chat. At the time, he didn’t give it a second thought. She had certainly been a pleasant distraction from his other mind consuming affairs of late. If she wanted him to "practice" a little missed romance with her online, well, that was the least he could do in return for the favor she had unknowingly given him. He was grateful to her for that.

Besides, according to the picture she had sent him, she was indeed very cute. He hadn’t lied to her, wasn’t pretending, when he had told her that practicing a little romance with her over the e-waves would be easy. He had found that, so far, he easily liked her. What might be hard was not wanting more than that. But then, he was in no shape to start anything with anyone these days, policy or no policy, married or not. In reality, offline, he knew he was a mental wreck.

As much as Carly had occupied his waking mind over the last two days, she still proved no match for his sleeping mind. Once again, seemingly as soon as he laid his head down and closed his eyes, Chris found himself trekking up the familiar graveyard path toward the ominous looking sky ahead. The mourners, the Priest, and Randolph awaited his presence at the top of the hill.

Randolph had first appeared the night before meeting Carly, very old and very faded. Chris had already guessed that he wouldn’t be back more than another day or two. Randolph was also ready to go. Chris felt more and more like a mere observer, like one of the hired mourners. He was the only one that ever spoke to the coffin’s inhabitants, and was in turn the only one they ever addressed, as though none of the others were even there. But then they never saw themselves lying in a coffin, either.

Benjamin had best described to Chris what his visitors must see or feel when he said he wanted to "go back to sleep" and that Chris hadn’t been invited, he had simply appeared. Chris was a presence in their dreams, with their own backdrops and props, their own story lines and agendas. Benjamin and the others had not seen the mourners or the Priest…or the fact that they were lying in a coffin. The graveyard scene, as well as the eyes he felt following him on his daily journey, belonged solely to Chris.

Or maybe this grisly scene, he thought, belonged to the Priest. He chased that idea out of his head immediately, not because he thought it was far-fetched, but because he didn’t want to think about what that might mean if it were true.

Randolph had indeed faded to the point of doubtful return by his third appearance and seemed to be quite happy about it, though the fading as Chris saw it was not something the old man was aware of. With a misplaced youthfulness, he claimed that he was dreaming his final dreams, that he was moving on, and saying good-bye. His grin was genuine and ear to ear. He said his pain had already left. Chris was happy for him and told him so.

While listening to Randolph bid his fond farewells to the things and the people that he had loved in his long life, Chris tried to ignore his surroundings. When Randolph took control of the conversation, Chris tried to let his mind wander to his chats with Carly the previous two days. He knew he could not close his eyes in this recurring nightmare. Even if he felt they were closed, it was as if his eyelids were transparent; they refused to shut out the light. The mind’s eyes have no lids.

Tonight he stared at Randolph as though he were studying a ‘magic-eye,’ one of those computer generated pictures that hides an image beneath a blanket of what appears to be a random splash of colors in disarray, an image unseen by the working eye yet clear to the lazy eye. The image Chris was trying to replace Randolph with was the picture Carly had sent to him of herself. He was recalling the conversations they had typed out to each other. How she had made him smile. How she had…

Chris snapped alert as if out of a daydream, but still within his nightmare. Back awake, yet still asleep. He suddenly thought he had caught some movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced up from Randolph to the Priest. The Priest’s head was still bowed as though listening intently to every word of Randolph’s prattle. But Chris could have sworn the Priest had just been looking directly at him, studying him as he tried to block out the dream with thoughts of Carly, trying to read his thoughts. For just a moment, he thought he could feel the Priest inside his head.

That thought sent a solid, strong shiver throughout his entire body like a twelve volt jolt of electricity. The jolt woke him up, this time back to level one, back in his own room, in his own bed, where he was once again sweating profusely on his own pillow. He lay there unmoving for a few minutes, eyes wide, staring at the familiar swirls of plaster on his bedroom ceiling, breathing hard as if he had just made a quick escape. An escape from what, he wasn’t sure.

As his pulse began to slow to normal again, Chris climbed out of bed and started his morning ritual. Under the pulsating, hot shower, he tried to scrub the feel of scum off the back of his neck left from the Priest’s eyes as they had momentarily seemed to crawl under his skin. Small shivers continued to quake throughout his body like small aftershocks of the major quake that had awakened him. This morning he exhausted the hot water before he was able to exit his small sanctuary and begin another day of seeking distractions from the ever growing questions that weighed so heavily on his mind.

Just as in the two previous days, Carly had come through with the necessary distraction that afternoon when she sprang to life on his computer once again. The nightmare set aside, Carly center stage. Stupid, silly, insane…no matter. He was more than willing to appease Carly’s desire, cater to her need. It was definitely a two way street.

* * * * *

Over the next three weeks, Chris and Carly fell into the routine of almost daily interaction between one p.m. and four p.m. during the weekdays, and most of the evening on Friday nights. Bowling leagues were done for the season for Jerry (Chris still only knew his name as ‘Rocky,’ his adopted name for the Internet since Carly and Chris’ first night of contact) but now on Friday nights he and ‘the boys’ got together for poker at Billy’s place, or so he had told her. Carly doubted they were dealing out any cards on Friday nights, let alone that they stayed rooted at Billy’s, but she looked forward to her free time with Jerry gone so she certainly had no intention of challenging the fact.

Chris and Carly were technically still in the ‘getting to know each other’ stage of their new Internet relationship, but a true friendship had already begun. Though they still ‘practiced’ a little romantic flirting and banter back and forth every now and then in fun, as Carly had suggested when they had begun, their connection was genuine, less like the more scripted game Carly played as LorettaC with the rest of her Internet pals. More honest. More real. Chris hadn’t yet told Carly about his recurring nightmare, nor had Carly yet mentioned her recently broken nose, though both had become sufficiently comfortable with each other to do so when the proper time came up. And both felt that time was nearing as they had covered just about everything else in their respective histories. Chris already knew the full story of how Carly and Rocky had gotten together, something it had taken almost a year for LadyAvec2 to find out and even then with no real details.

LorettaC: So why didn’t you go back to Howard
Johnson’s after you recovered from the
accident? You like working nights better
than days?
F8meNOT: There’s more to it than I have told you
LorettaC: So we still have secrets, eh? That’s okay, I
have one or two I haven’t told you yet
F8meNOT: it’s not that I haven’t wanted to tell you,
in fact, I want nothing more. But I’m not
sure you’d believe me, and if I tell you, it
is important to me that you do believe
LorettaC: Chris, this is Carly, dear. I know we have
only known each other a few weeks but I
feel like I have known you a lot longer
and already consider you a true, close
friend…my only real friend, sad as that
may be…hee.
LorettaC: I would believe anything you told me if
you told me it were true
F8meNOT: well this one would certainly put you to
the test on that…it’s something that I
even have trouble believing myself, but it is
very, very true, I assure you
LorettaC: you are actually an alien from another
F8meNOT: I wish it were that simple
LorettaC: Rocky broke my nose the day before we
met…2nd time he ever hit me…told the
hospital little Johnny ran in through the
bedroom door as I was coming out and
slammed it into my face
F8meNOT: oh jeeez, Carly! Are you okay there?
LorettaC: Rocky said I never kiss him anymore like
I used to…he’s right, I don’t…and
probably never will again, either…but I
am not going to leave him, so don’t tell me
I should…at least not yet, not until the
kids grow older and I can make a
living for myself…and he might come
around yet and realize what a cad he has
turned into…but…
LorettaC: but…um…hee…
F8meNOT: but what?
LorettaC: well…I think about kissing you all the
time…hee…ok, I told you both of mine.
what’s your secret?
F8meNOT: wait a minute! I’m still back at the
hospital portion on yours…aren’t you
afraid of a 3rd time? a pattern has begun
to form already with two in the books,
you know
LorettaC: I’m fine. I can take care of myself. I don’t
think there’ll be a 3rd time.
F8meNOT: you can’t be sure of that
LorettaC: I told him if there was a next time he’d be
spending the rest of his life turning his
pay checks over to me through the court
F8meNOT: I’m not telling you to do so, as you
requested, but wondering all the same,
why the hell you don’t leave him now?
LorettaC: the kids need their dad…they love
him…I’m not ready to take that away
from them yet. he’s had his rough times
and is an ass, no argument there, but he
has his good points, too. he’s good with
the kids when he tries to be…he deserves
the chance…he’s been warned
F8meNOT: as have you been…but you know him
better than I do of course. just be careful,
LorettaC: don’t worry about me…I’ll be ok. Now! I
believe you owe me exactly one secret…
and a kiss!
F8meNOT: ~~smooooooooch~~
LorettaC: wheeeeeeeeeeee! I like it! kiss! kiss!
LorettaC: and the secret? I’m not letting you off
that easy! besides, now you have my
curiosity stoked
F8meNOT: I could never explain it here, like this. It
would take all day. I’m not the fastest
typist, as I am sure you have noticed
LorettaC: I’ll give you my phone number…I would
love to hear your voice anyway
F8meNOT: that won’t be breaking any rules?
LorettaC: nah…I still don’t even know what you
look like
F8meNOT: I told you what I look like last week
LorettaC: you still owe me a pic too, now that you
mention it
F8meNOT: I should have quit while I was ahead
LorettaC: oh stop that! you sounded gorgeous!
don’t deny it. I make the rules around
here…woman’s prerogative, and the rules
say you are gorgeous…555-2193…you
have one hour to make me believe
F8meNOT: that may not even be enough time for my
LorettaC: then you better hurry up and get
started…talk to you in a minute…xoxo!!

Carly’s screen name then instantly bleeped out of sight from his buddy list after her last message appeared on his screen. Chris closed out his own service, took a deep breath, and moved over to the phone next to his bed. He hoped she would believe. He needed her to believe. He knew it wouldn’t actually change anything for him. The dream would still come, the questions would still haunt him, the Priest would still scare the bejeebers out of him, and the people would still die. But knowing that someone else knew, someone he trusted, someone who truly believed, someone he liked, seemed to ease the burden a bit. Meeting Carly online, getting to know her, letting her get to know him, had been a wonderful change in the rut he had fallen into over the previous six months. Carly was pretty wonderful herself, actually. But married, he reminded himself, not for the first time in these past three weeks.

Many times over the last few weeks and months, Chris had almost broken down and decided to tell his parents the truth about what was happening to him, out of the need to let someone, anyone, know. But he knew they would just get overly worried. They would probably insist on coming to Minneapolis, or worse, insist that he move to Seattle. He would only succeed in turning their lives upside down. And still, he doubted they would believe his experience to be real, to be more than just a dream.

He hoped Carly would believe.

Chris picked up the phone and dialed the number Carly had given him.

* * * * *

At ten minutes past four, Chris hung up the phone, leaned back against the pillow he had propped up on his bed, and let out a heavy sigh. Carly had played her role perfectly. Never once during their seventy minute call did she question whether what was happening to Chris was real or not. She quietly listened where she was supposed to listen and only asked questions so that she could better understand what he was trying to convey. When the story was done, she hadn’t accused him of being insane, she hadn’t asked if he was seeing a shrink, and she hadn’t pretended to know what he was going through, just as he couldn’t understand why she was so adamant about living with a man who had maliciously broken her nose in a rage. What she did do was believe, and that was what Chris needed more than anything, someone to listen, and to believe.

"Wow," Carly said as he finished, catching her all the way up to the newest host, Miss Gantry, an elderly, never-married housekeeper who had spent the majority of her life caring for her younger brother with Hodgkin's disease. Miss Gantry’s brother had finally died a few months earlier at the ripe old age of 42 and after all her efforts to make his life as comfortable as possible, she was now waiting to see if she could find him once again in the afterlife. Chris told Carly her wait was not going to last more than another day or two.

"You know you can’t blame yourself for Sherry’s or Benjamin’s death, Chris," she assured him.

"I know that, at least in Benjamin’s case anyway, but I often wonder if I might not have been able to prevent both had I done the right things," Chris replied.

"No. Even Sherry. It wasn’t your fault the cord broke. Nor was it your fault the doctors had missed something," she reminded him. "You said Sherry admitted as much in one of your dreams. She was right, you can’t take on the burden yourself."

Carly was right. Chris knew that. But up until now it had been easier to accept the presence of the dream by also accepting a good portion of the blame for Sherry’s death. It was easier to think of it as a punishment, a price to be paid for his role in the incident, than any of the other possible unexplainable reasons for this phenomenon.

Suddenly a thought occurred to him. This is why he needed a friend who believed, he realized. To bounce ideas off of. To allow himself to think again. He had lived with this problem for seven months by himself now and had never thought of any solutions. Now he had talked to his new friend for one hour and already he had a new idea.

"Carly, I just had a thought. Tell me if this sounds stupid or not," he said. "What if it were my fault that Sherry died. I mean totally my fault. What if this isn’t a punishment or a price to pay like I’ve been thinking, but rather a chance to make up for it. A chance to make something better. You know, like that old TV show Quantum Leap where the star bounces from past life to past life altering something to make it better before he can bounce to another life." Chris’ mind began to race and his words could barely keep up. "What if the only way I can stop these dreams is if I DO prevent someone from dying. You know, to give back what I took. A life for a life. You know what I mean?"

"But who would be monitoring this action?" she asked. "Who would be the one that decides this is something that must be done? God? I thought you didn’t believe in God."

"I don’t know what to believe in anymore. I suppose anything is possible. But if I am right about this, or even close, I would have to put my money on the Priest in my dream as the one who is in charge. He scares me," Chris said with a shudder.

"Wow," Carly said again. "Damn. Chris, it’s after four. I need to start getting things ready for Rocky…I mean Jerry, that’s his real name, by the way. But I don’t want to go."

"It’s okay. I’ve kept you too long," Chris admitted. "Thanks for listening, Carly…and believing. You have no idea how much that means to me."

"Hey. What are friends for. You’re the best, Chris. Let’s talk more about it tomorrow," she said. "Maybe I can sneak online a little tonight and we can toss around that idea of yours a little. It’s not stupid. Like you said, anything is possible. But don’t sell yourself on it too quickly and raise any false hopes. Let’s let it sink in a bit first, okay?"

"Okay. Thanks again, Carly. You’re a wise lass, as well as a beauty."

"Hee…God I hate to go…but I got to. Kisses!"

"Kisses," Chris returned, and then heard Carly hang up the phone as he did so himself.

Leaning back against the pillow bunched up against the wall by his bed, he thought about his new ‘Quantum Leap’ idea. But it only took a moment of thought to toss the idea out as merely wishful thinking. There were too many old people in his dreams. In fact, most of them had been old and ready to move on. If his purpose had been to save someone that appeared in his dream, wouldn’t they all be of the Benjamin type? Or even the middle-aged insurance salesman who had drunk himself to death? There would be no point in saving someone who had already lived a full life and was looking forward to their next one.

The only part of the idea that had survived his rational thinking, that still made some sense after five minutes of consideration, was the one he wanted to shake off the most. Who was responsible for this nightmare? Who was ‘monitoring’ this, as Carly had put it? His answer had been the Priest. That thought, that the Priest had more to do with all this than just being a prop for his backdrop, did not sit well in Chris’ mind. But there it sat. And it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere any time soon.

* * * * *

Chapter Thirteen


Front Desk

Return to Author's Page

As Fate Would Have It

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven