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By Star and Sand

When We Inherit the Night

By Donald ShrodePublished 10 days ago Updated 10 days ago 8 min read
By Star and Sand
Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

“It’s silly to believe your dream could be the same. I just…”

She can’t find the words because she isn’t being honest with herself or with me.

“Stop it sis. You know it’s true. It might have stopped for you but for me...night after night.” I said, rubbing my chest. Jennifer looks at me, sighs, and tightens the scarf around her neck.

“You’re doing it again. Getting yourself worked up. Let's just take a break from this. It’s late and I need to get back to school. It’s getting colder and you know mom doesn’t like me driving with these old tires still on.”

I look over her shoulder at the ancient sedan outlined by the horizon's darkening clouds. “Yeah, I know. You should probably get going.” She gives me a hug.

“If you get accepted into university next year, and you probably will, we will we see each other more, ok little brother?”

“I know. Sorry to bring up the dreams.”

“That's enough. Now get home and comfort Mom. You know it’s hard on her when any of us have been gone for too long.”

The wind is picking up, scattering what's left of dead leaves and cutting through my too-thin jacket. Jennifer opens her door with a creak as I turn towards the bus stop in time for the number 7.

“Kareem?” Jennifer says behind me. She strains to raise her voice above the engine and hissing hydraulic brakes.

“Yeah?”

“Be careful if the flame turns dark red. He doesn’t like it.”

She closes her door and drives away.

The air is angry and cold. I wait for the shooting star to pierce the Southern Cross and lift my aching body from the desert floor. The wind is left unchecked against the barren landscape as it carves its path. I am pulled as it takes me with it. Stepping slowly across hard ground I see misfigured rocks standing tall with their palettes of brown washed over with moonlight blues and nightmare blacks. More steps. I’m thankful for the cold, numbing my feet to dull the pain shooting through my body. Deep slow breaths wake me up as dust kicks up from the wind, scratching my eyes, forcing me to squint. I make out the caves ahead. Sockets of dark in the skull of the land.

I hear a droning hum from the shadows ahead. The wind plays the caves, tuning the land for desert harmony. A chill creeps up my spine. These aren’t songs I’m supposed to hear. I am trespassing. I feel a sharp pang sprint up my leg. Instincts make me jump back, loosening the wind's grip on me. Looking down I see a still, smoldering fire. The ashes cover burning embers. I lean over to salvage the flames. Not letting my desperation get the better of me, I cradle the fire and blow. Beside me is a scattering pile of underbrush. Gathering them, I continue trying to save the life of the fire. I feel eyes pitying me from above and recognize fear lying to me. Small flames jump and crackle to life. I pile more sticks and watch as the fire illuminates a small cove protecting me from the wind. The flames grow and I see this isn’t a cove but the entrance to a small cave. Tattered cloth hangs on the inside of the rock walls. Symbols of yellow on dark green waving in the wind. At the edge of the cave are sticks with cloth-wrapped ends. I have nowhere to go but sitting by a bright light on a dark night isn’t safe. I dunk the head of the torch into the fire. The flames lap hungrily up the cloth as I step into the cave.

I wake up in the middle of an infomercial sales pitch. Mom is asleep on the couch clutching the pillows. I find the remote but decide against turning off the TV. Maybe the voices keep her company. Walking upstairs, I open the door to Jennifer's room. It smells like old carpet and hairspray. Turning on the bedside lamp, I open the nightstand drawer and find her journal. Only it’s not her journal. At least I don’t think it can be. It’s too old. The brown pages stick together as I try my best at flipping the pages. The older entries aren’t even in her handwriting. Here it is. Aug. 7th, 1994.

"I can’t wait to get out of here. I know it’ll break Mom's heart but this will be for the best. The best for all of us. I can’t pretend things are the same as long as I put my head in the sand. But maybe, someday, I’ll make it better. I made it to the edge of the desert last night. I feel sore. Even in dreams, I’m out of shape. The oasis wasn’t what I thought it would be but I made it out. Not without some bumps and bruises. Meriam told me to rest when I can but to watch the stars. When Darius’s comet breaks the Southern Cross it will be safe to continue. I feel something changed last night though. I am afraid I won’t see the stars at all."

That's the last entry. I found this journal when moving Jennifer out before the start of college. I wondered why she left it behind. Maybe it was her trying to cut loose from all this. The house and its weighty mortgage. Mom and her bottles. The clanging of glass on table tops after her second shift at the mill. Our warning bell of restless nights starts with comforting her through the midnight drunkenness and ends with us pretending not to hear her sobbing herself to sleep. Yes, I see why Jennifer left it all behind. The journal was the least of it.

Now it feels like the journal found me instead. I don’t believe it’s a curse or some form of oppression. I have come to believe these dreams are a problem, begging to be answered. The desert, stars, and as of last night, the caves. I don’t think you can inherit dreams. The thing that really bothers me is that if Jennifer couldn’t solve it, what chance did I have? Even now, I hear my dad's answer.

“Probably no chance at all. You give up anyways.” This was followed by staggering away in his own drunken stupor. Staggering right into the car that hit him on 32nd and Vine. Maybe glassed liquor on tiled countertops are less bells of warning and more chimes in death's song. Jennifer and I just happened to overhear. I sit on the bed looking for something new in Jennifer's entries. Exhaustion rolls in and sweeps me away.

The wind is deafening now as I push on. I look for refuge, if only to find relief from the howls piercing my ears and threatening to rattle me apart. The cave continues to open up. I afforded myself a sigh of relief as I expected it to narrow. A man stuck between jagged rocks, being hummed to death, isn’t the life I wanted. Light dances from my torch and I see a stone stairway leading to another layer in the cave. The hum dissipates and leaves me in the quiet. I almost prefer the winds songs. My steps echo as I ascend and I am struck with a sense of audacity. How dare I climb these stairs? Who granted this permission? Who…

I see him sitting there, waiting for me. A throne made of stone and bejeweled by streams of moonlight through the mountain canopy. A small fire in an earthen cauldron is burning. He sits hunched over, watching me. My heart translates the fear in the air. This is his cave, his desert, and his light. He stands up and the wind picks up again. Soundless but just as forceful. My torch struggles to keep alight. The impending darkness threatens to leave me alone with him. Plunging my torch into the cauldron, the red flame envelopes it whole. I toss it in fear and wait for the terrible burn, but it doesn’t happen. A deep warmth covers and surrounds me. I look down and turn my hands. I am on fire with the dark red flame. It’s not killing me but strengthening my body. The figure on the throne stands and takes a long, slow step forward. Sounds of glass clinking together follow him.

I wake up soaked in sweat. My mom is shaking me.

“Kareem! Wake up, baby! Kareem!” She shakes me as I struggle to find my bearings.

“I’m awake Mom! I’m awake! It’s ok.”

She looks at me and there is a few second pause. “Where are you?”

I look at her confused. “I’m…I’m here.”

“Where are you Kareem?”

“I don’t understand…I…” I see Jennifer's journals beside my mom and l look in her eyes. They are tired and carry a frantic suspicion.

“I’m...in the cave.”

“What part?

“I’m on fire.”

Her grip tightens as her eyebrows raise. She lowers her chin and her voice.

“Does he see you, Kareem?”

I’ve never seen this woman before. I nod. Her hands shake.

“Run!”

Her voice sounds like it’s falling down a valley. My eyelids become heavy. I am being pulled back to the desert, back to him.

The red flame engulfed the cave and created a barrier between me and him. I can see him clearer now. He towers above me in black stone garments and a crown that seems to grow from his head. He paces back and forth and stares unblinkingly. The wall lowers and I feel my pounding heart, throbbing in my throat. I recognize I am rubbing my chest as I look for an exit. The fire seems to grow around me. I stop and slow my breath. The wall is about gone now. If I can’t flight then I’ll fight. I jump over the flames and tackle him. He rolls, overpowers me, and pins me to the ground. He takes a long, thin blade from his belt and begins to force it down upon me. I grasp his wrist and push against him. My strength wanes. It’s as though the fire is my strength now.

“Hey!”

I hear a woman's voice and hear footsteps close in on us. I can’t see from what direction. A long blade slides through the side of the desert king's head and out again. It’s so quiet and seamless that I don’t know what happened until I feel his body grow limp. The flames die down as I crawl out from under him. I look up and see Jennifer. She is sheathing the blade that dealt the strike and looking at me, smiling. “I told you he didn’t like the flames.”

“How did you…?”

“It doesn’t matter now. When you told me you started walking the family dreams, I didn’t want to believe it. I thought it was only Mom and me. But here you are.” She embraces me. I slowly hug her back, still trying to understand.

“So it’s over?” I ask.

“No. But you’re not alone anymore. Now let’s find Mom. You know how she worries”

FantasyYoung AdultthrillerfamilyAdventure

About the Creator

Donald Shrode

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