Bad dreams

The little girl could not sleep.

She sat at the dining room table in the dark, legs drawn up into her nightgown. She listened to the steady tick tock of the grandfather clock until it became a part of the quiet and she couldn’t hear it anymore. She gazed out the picture window and watched snow fall thickly onto the street.

And then she saw it.

The woman who lived across the street, Paula, darted out of her home and into the snow, screaming in pure terror. Paula slipped on the fresh snow and scrambled to get up, tripping on her nightgown and sobbing. A large dark figure emerged from the house – her husband, Michael. He crossed the lawn and stood over her. He bent over and punched her in the face. Paula pleaded for his mercy and cried for help. But the heavy snowfall seemed to hush everything, even the violence of the scene, and no one came out of their homes. Michael pulled Paula to her feet and held her with one arm while he punched her again and again. The snow turned dark at their feet. Paula went limp and her crying stopped. Her husband looked at the dark houses all around him and dragged her inside his house. The door shut.

The little girl was shaking. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of what she had seen. She was even less certain about what she should do. She looked at the ticking clock: 3 am. She did not dare wake her parents, who would be angry with her for rousing them. She quietly dialed another neighbor, a woman who felt a bit like family, and described what she had seen. A few minutes after they finished speaking on the phone, the neighbor appeared outside and surveyed the tousled snow, including the dark spots and the two straight thick lines that Paula’s feet had left when her husband dragged her back inside.

The neighbor glanced toward the girl’s house and then toward the dark house of Michael and Paula. Then the neighbor stood out there for a long time, staring up at the snow falling rapidly, filling in all the signs of struggle on the lawn. The neighbor finally turned and walked to the girl’s door and tapped on it gently.

The little girl opened the door quietly and peered out at her neighbor. Cold air bit her face and snow swirled through the cracked opening. The neighbor whispered: “There’s nothing out here. You just had a very bad dream, girl. Go back to bed now and forget what you dreamed.”

The girl shivered, but not from the cold, and nodded her head in understanding. She shut the door and walked straight to her bedroom. She lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling. When she heard more screams later, she put a pillow over her head and hummed a lullaby.

When the ambulance arrived the next morning to take Paula to the hospital, the girl stood at the picture window and watched silently. She listened to the steady tick tock of the clock until she couldn’t hear it anymore.

The girl resolved never to share bad dreams with anyone ever again, in case that made them come true. And then she went about her day.

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