Chapter Twenty-Four

The rain, though no longer coming down in buckets, continued to steadily fall throughout the night. Chris didn’t mind. It made him think a little harder about what he was doing, putting the papers in the proper tubes and keeping them dry, as opposed to dwelling on the shock he had had earlier in the evening.

He had been jolted awake at 10 p.m., showered, gone looking for Carly online, hadn’t found her, ate dinner, and paced the floors of his small home until he heard his papers dropped in his driveway for delivery. He was trying not to think about what the change from routine in his dream could mean.

On the one hand, any change could be good because it meant things could change, and maybe he did have a chance at changing Kimberly’s presumed fate. On the other hand, he knew from experience that change wasn’t always for the better.

On the one hand, if the Priest and his band of half-sized followers were just a backdrop to the scene for his dream, his own creation, then the words were also of his own imagination, and their meaning had to be figured out from within himself. On the other hand, well, that was the hand he really didn’t want to think about.

As the black night began to change to a dreary gray morning, slightly off schedule again due to the rain, Chris turned down his final street still searching unsuccessfully for Kimberly. It was Wednesday morning now and Monday was beginning to seem too far away. He was wondering if maybe he shouldn’t be laying it all out for Kimberly before then. He felt it was already time to start keeping a closer eye on her even though her fading had not noticeably begun yet. He wished he had gotten her address when he had spoken to her. Then he could at least drive by a few times a day to look in on her. Of course, that would make her suspicious and he would need to tell her why, which he just wasn’t ready to do yet. Maybe he’d call her later.

Or maybe he should try talking to the Priest some more first. Not a comfortable thought.

But what he really wanted to do was talk to Carly. He needed her input, an unbiased opinion, or at least a second opinion, on this newest development. He needed to talk to his only real friend, the only person he knew that somewhat understood what he was going through.

Chris returned from his routes and showered off the inky film the rain had helped coat him with through the night. Although tiredness was now an ever present condition for all his recent memory, he wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep after sleeping all evening just before he had started his deliveries. And he also had no desire to return to the dream site, at least not until he had a chance to talk with Carly and hear what she thought of the new twist.

By 8:00 a.m. Chris was online reading the local news and weather reports, trying to pass the time, watching for Carly. At 8:15 a.m. he saw her screen name pop into view.

F8meNOT: Good morning
LorettaC: it used to be "good morning sexy"
F8meNOT: you’re still the sexiest married woman I
know, love
LorettaC: okay, I guess that’ll have to do. ;-)
so how was your night? talk to Kimberly
again this morning?
F8meNOT: no…worse
LorettaC: ???
F8meNOT: the Priest
LorettaC: NO WAY!!! What’d he say?!
LorettaC: no wait!! don’t answer that yet. you
wanna meet me at X again? can you?
F8meNOT: yeah…I can…would like to…need to
LorettaC: hang on…brb

Carly jumped up from the computer, found her cell phone in her purse, and called Nancy next door.


"Nancy. Carly. It’s not too early is it?" she asked.

"Oh, heavens no," Nancy replied. "These kids got more energy than General Electric. I don’t even know why we set the alarm clock any more. I’ve forgotten what it sounds like. What’s on your mind?"

"I hate to bother you so early, Nancy, but I need a really, really big favor," Carly said.

"Bring ‘em on over, honey," Nancy said without even being asked. "You know I love Johnny and Sasha. Have they had breakfast yet?"

"They’re not even awake yet," Carly admitted sheepishly. "Let me get them up and dressed and fed first. I really, really appreciate this, Nancy. I owe you big time."

"I tell you what," Nancy said. "You sound in a hurry. Just get them up and dressed and bring them over. I was just getting started on breakfast here, Randy’s already gone to work. You can get to where you need to go."

"I don’t know how to thank you," Carly said, feeling guilty for imposing again on such short notice.

"I do," Nancy replied with a smile Carly could almost hear over the phone. "When you pick them up, I’ll make us some coffee and you can tell me what’s going on! Twice in three days! I mean, I don’t mind, really. And I don’t mean to be nosy, but you looked aglow Monday when you came to get them. I know something’s going on. Do I know him?" she asked with a giggle.

"It’s not what you think," Carly said. Then added, "And no, you don’t know him. But it’s a deal. You won’t believe me, but I don’t think he’ll mind if I tell you. But for now anyway, promise to keep it to yourself?"

"Cross my heart," Nancy said, sounding quite satisfied. "See you in a few."

"Thanks again, Nancy. Gimme about half an hour."

"Oh! Dress them in rags," Nancy said before hanging up. "I promised Mikey he could finger paint today since it’s still raining. Okay with you?"

"I owe you big," she said again and hung up.

LorettaC: back…an hour good? you bought the
hot chocolates last time, I’ll spring for
breakfast this time
F8meNOT: deal…thanks Carly…see you in an hour

* * * * *

They sat in the same place they had sat on Monday. It was 9:30 a.m. and there was only one other customer in the shop, busily writing in a journal. Chris wondered how the place stayed afloat.

"Eat first," Carly said. "We’ll be able to think better if we aren’t thinking about being hungry."

They ate bending over the coffee table, silently glancing at each other between bites, offering bashful smiles as they chewed. They looked like a couple on a first date, too nervous to say anything for fear of not saying it right. Chris ate ham and eggs and home fries. He was surprised at just how hungry he was as he all but licked his plate clean in record time. Carly allowed herself to indulge her sweet tooth, something she usually only allowed herself to do on holidays and the rare special occasions, with an order of chocolate chip pancakes smothered in maple syrup. Chris took their empty plates back to the counter when they had finished and ordered two of the infamous large hot chocolates to wash it all down with while they talked.

"Okay," Carly said as she sat back in the La-Z-Boy with her cup. "So what did He say?"

"I asked Him who He was, or actually, who ‘the hell’ He was, to be precise," Chris explained. "And then He said, ‘I am the one whom you deny.’ And then I woke up. Kinda shaking, truth be told."

"Holy shit! Pardon my French," Carly said, putting her hand in front of her mouth. "So what are you thinking?"

"I’ve been trying not to think," he confessed. "I wanted to know what you thought."

"Weird. That’s what I think," she said. Then, "I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you mean." She looked thoughtful a moment. Chris waited.

"I think," she finally said, "that you need to talk to him more. Why did you wake up?"

"I think I was just shocked awake," he said. "I don’t seem to control anything. The coffin closed before he answered me, too. That was the first time I had seen it close. It really was eerie."

He told her how the voice seemed to be inside his head, of the possibility that it was all from his own imagination.

"Wait a minute, Chris," she interrupted. "I remember when you were first describing everything to me, before you climb the hill. Didn’t you say that the Priest is reading from a book or something?"

"Yeah," Chris said, thinking. "Every night He is reading as I approach, but I hear Him from where He is, not from in my head like it was when He answered last night."

"What is He saying?"

"I can’t tell. I’m too far away. But it doesn’t sound like English," he recalls.

"And do you speak any other languages?" she asked.

"No," Chris said putting his cup on the table, looking up at Carly. "No, I don’t. Which means what?"

He thought he had a pretty good idea what that meant, but he didn’t want to admit it, out loud or to himself.

"I think it is time to open your mind up, Chris," Carly said looking at him seriously. "You have already proven and accepted that what you are having is more real than a dream. These people you see actually live, and they actually die. It might be time to accept that this Priest guy might be more real than you thought, too. But I think, if you can, you need to talk to him more."

Chris was listening, but looking at his feet, shaking his head as if in disbelief. How can any of this be happening? How can any of it be real? His whole life has been a long nightmare ever since the accident. Maybe he will awaken any minute from what seems like the longest dream of his life. Maybe he’s still in a coma from the accident and this is all happening inside his head, the Priest, the dream, Carly, Kimberly.

But he knew better. He wasn’t going insane, though he wondered if that might not be a better way to go. Carly was confirming exactly what he was trying not to let himself think about. He knew she was right. He had already thought the same thing, but had tried telling himself there must be another explanation. But Carly wasn’t giving it to him. She was giving him that second opinion, but it was the same one as the first that he had given himself, the same as the one he wanted to discredit. The people he met in his dream were real. No question. And now, he had to accept, no question, the Priest, or whatever he is, is also very, very real.

"Shit," Chris said without looking up. "I know you’re right." Then looking up, trying to smile, weakly, "You sure you don’t want to come with me?"

"I know it’s easy to say, but I wish I could," she said. Then, "Maybe I can."

"Yeah, right," Chris said sarcastically. "Like you can join me in my dream. I appreciate the offer, Carly. I know you mean it, but I don’t think that is possible."

"Well I can’t be in your dream with you," she explained, "but maybe I can be there for you. I don’t know. I’d have to think of something to tell Jerry, but I could come over and, you know, be there in case it gets weird."

"You’re a true friend to offer. Really. But I don’t want to get you in trouble with a jealous husband," Chris said, genuinely touched by her suggestion. Actually, he wanted more than anything else in the world to take her up on her offer. She’s married, he silently reminded himself for the umpteenth time. "I’ll be okay. I just need to psych myself up for it. I’m not looking forward to it, but if it might help save Kimberly..."

"You like her, don’t you, Chris," Carly softly said more than asked.

Chris thought he sensed a touch of jealousy in her voice, but couldn’t be sure, not that it mattered. She’s married. "She’s nice," he said. "You’d like her, too."

"Don’t set yourself up to get hurt, Chris. You said yourself that odds are against being able to help her. What if there’s nothing you can do? Don’t let it destroy you, too."

"Maybe that’s what He wants," Chris said calmly. "Maybe that’s what He’s after. Maybe that’s all He’s ever been after. Me."

A shiver ran through his body as the thought sunk home…and almost made sense.

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty-Five


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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