Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Portent

Her eyes fluttered reluctantly as sunlight warmed her face. Was it morning already? She stretched and heard the whisper of crisp linen as the sheets pulled away from her body. One by one she let her legs drop over the edge of the bed. The room was blindingly bright and made her squint.

She padded out of the bedroom on autopilot, her brain still foggy from sleep and turned toward the half open nursery door. She pushed it and tiptoed across to the crib.

A tiny lump lay peacefully under the snow-white comforter. She smiled proudly down on her little man but didn't try to wake him. As the seconds ticked by she realised how quiet the room was. No creaks of timber expanding in the warmth of a new day, no leaves rustling on the tree outside, no cars passing, no voices on the street - no anything. Most importantly, no baby snores coming from under the blanket.

"Billy?" she said gently and laid her hand on the swaddled bundle. Not a stir. "Billy?" she said again, her fingers drew back the cover. She could only see his face in profile and Billy's lips were half open, her eyes registered the blue tinge to his skin and the utter stillness of his chest. It was a vision so horrible it splintered her mind into a thousand pieces.

***

BILLY! she screamed and shot bolt upright in the bed. Her arms were stretched out as she instinctively reached for her child. Tom bounced out of the bed, disorientated and frightened. From the nursery, an urgent shriek joined her cry. April sprang from the bed, her skin drenched in sweat, her heart racing a mile a minute as she ran toward the baby's room. She snatched Billy from the cot, inspecting his screaming pink face but her mind was having difficulty piecing things together.

"You're ok! You're ok!" she said as she rocked him. The vision of Billy- blue and unmoving was still too real, too vivid to be dismissed. She kept looking at him, kept checking him, even though he was making enough noise to wake the dead.

"Jesus Christ! What was all that about?" demanded Tom from the door. April could only cradle her boy as her brain tried to recover from the shock. Tom's fear turned to anger as he threw his hands in the air and stormed from the room.

"You're ok," April told Billy, over and over again, until she finally started to believe it herself.

***

When Billy's cries dwindled to whimpers, she picked his blanket from the crib and wrapped him in it. There was no way she could make herself leave him down so she took him with her to the kitchen. Tom was standing over the sink with a glass of water shaking slightly in his hand.

"You scared the life out of me," he said, no longer mad.

"It was horrible," she said holding the back of Billy's head as she bounced him gently in her arms. 

"What was?"

"I saw him dead in his cot, he was blue!"

"It was only a dream."

"No, I know a dream when I have one. This was something else, it was too real. I could see everything, feel everything. It was real."

He put the glass down and came toward her, taking them both in his arms and hugged them to his chest. "You're exhausted, we both are. Look at him - he's fine." She did look down and Tom was right, Billy was even starting to close his eyes for another sleep. She was too tired to argue, to tired to explain, so she let her own eyes close to enjoy the warmth of Tom's love. She couldn't explain it but she knew - knew- that this was more than a dream. 

***

Two nights later the dream came again and this time it was worse. This time she knew what was coming even as she went through the motions. When she drew back the cover she knew what she would see but if anything the vision of Billy was even more horrible, more realistic. Again she woke the house with her scream and it took her even longer to get a grip on things. This time Tom, was not angry, he was something more worrying. He was frightened, frightened for her. He tried to reassure her, tried to reason with her but she just pushed him away. He didn't believe, he couldn't believe, because he had never seen. April was no fool and she knew there was more to this than a stupid night terror. 

The next morning, after Tom had gone to work, she began researching dreams on the internet. It was mostly rubbish about unresolved childhood issues or daily conflict being lived out in dreams but then she found something called Psychic Premonitions. Dreams of the future or possible future. It made terrifying reading. Story after story of people dreaming their own deaths only to swerve it in real life at the final moment.

She thought about her own dream and her fear grew deeper. Was her premonition unavoidable? She thought about showing Tom the articles when he came home but instead she wiped the history on the computer. He just wouldn't understand.

That night the vision didn't come but she hardly slept with worrying. Tom tried to sooth her off to sleep but it was pointless. If she was honest with herself, she didn't want to sleep, she was afraid of dreaming.

She started the next day groggy and cranky. Breakfast was a sullen affair and Tom had barely said "Good bye," before she had the laptop open, scowering the internet for advice. Eventually she found a chatroom dedicated to psychic phenomenon and decided to log in. She posted a question about premonition dreams and was bombarded by interest. They all agreed on one thing, psychic dreams were real and they were a signposts for the future.

Spiritguide443 gave the most useful advice, she said that you had to figure out what you did in the dream that made the terrible thing happen, then change that in real life.

It made sense to April and all night she tried to figure out what it was in her dream that caused Billy to die. She could only think of one thing. Billy stopped breathing for some reason, she would have known - if she hadn't been asleep. That was it!

That night over dinner she explained her theory to Tom, leaving out the bit about Spiritguide443 and the internet. Tom said it could do no harm to get Billy checked out by their doctor and suggested she get a check up herself.

"There's nothing wrong with me," she snapped.

"Jeez, I'm not saying there is. It's just...well...the dreams and...everything." Each of his words were hand grenades going off in his face, but he failed to see the danger of his actions. The rest of the night passes in sulky silence but eventually she relented and an appointment was made with the doctors office for the morning.

They were sliding into bed, April turned to Tom and asked, "Will you stay up for a bit and watch him while I sleep?"

"April," he said, the sigh in his voice said everything. It said he thought she was being silly, overreacting, irritational.

"Please," she said softly and gave him her biggest doe-eyes.

"Alright, if it will make you feel better," he said sitting up and taking his book from the bedside table. April rolled over and for the first time in days felt secure enough to close her eyes.

It might have been minutes or hours before she woke, thankfully a waking that wasn't accompanied by manic screaming. She rolled over and saw Tom snoring! She sprang from the bed and raced into the nursery waking Tom in the process. She didn't even have to go inside the door to hear Billy breathing and as if knowing she was there, he farted. Little rascal. She went back in to their bedroom leaving both doors wide open. Tom was rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"You promised," she said glaring at him.

"I must have nodded off, what's the big deal. I would have heard him if he cried," said Tom fluffing his pillow. April got back into bed but sat rigidly against the headboard with her arms crossed.

"Come on, get some sleep," he said trying to draw her lower in the bed. She shrugged off his hand and huffed. "Suit yourself," he said and turned away from her. She sat there in the dark, furious with Tom, listening to Billy breath. Slowly the hours passed and the sky outside the window began to lighten. Her eyes closed a few times but before sleep took her properly she jerked awake.

The next morning she drove to the doctor's office like a woman on drugs. After a fidgetfilled hour in the waiting room they were called into the doctor's office. He gave Billy a good going over but declared him as healthy as a horse.

"You on the other hand look like you would benefit from a few days holiday," the doctor said seriously.

"I've not been sleeping so well," she said and decided to bite the bullet and tell him about the dreams. To his credit he didn't ridicule her, but he was far from reassuring.

"Vivid dreams and anxiety are not uncommon in your circumstances but the worst thing you can do is to bottle this up. You need to talk with someone who can help you." He was making it sound like she was loosing her mind, and she was starting to feel that way. He questioned her further and each probe made it sound like she was depressed or not coping. She just kept nodding and agreeing until she could get the hell out of his office.

That night Tom asked about the doctor. She lied and said the doctor thought it was a good idea to keep an extra vigilant eye on Billy as sudden infant death was not as uncommon as people made out. Tom looked shocked and asked, "Really?" She knew the look in his eye, he was working at the idea because it wasn't sitting right with him but was concerned enough to follow her lead. That night she pretended to sleep until she knew Tom had nodded of, then she slipped out of the bed and spent the night on the floor beside Billy's cot.

Tom found her in the morning and went mad. Before she could stop him he was on to the doctor demanding to know what was wrong with Billy. He listened in silence, his ears glowing red and when he hung up the phone he turned and this time it was he that glared.

"The doctor said Billy is fine! Why did you lie to me?" She started to cry and tried to explain herself but it all sounded so mad when she said it out loud. Tom said she was round-the-bend, and he was going to make sure she saw someone about it before things went too far. She begged but Tom was not for changing his mind. Tom stormed out of the house, slamming the door which startled Billy into crying. April knew she had to do something, she need help but not the type Tom intended.

That night she again pretend to sleep and had to fight her mind to stop it shutting-down for real. She was so tired she was having difficulty concentrating and remembering things. Tom had let her down, he had abandoned her when she needed him most. Now there was only one person she could turn to, her mother.

When she felt Tom's weight settle fully in the bed, she slipped out and stuffed a bag with essentials before going to Billy. She picked him up, being careful not to wake him, then slipped out of the house. She strapped Billy into his baby-seat and sat it beside her on the passenger seat. She had to steady herself as a wave of dizziness washed over her. It was only twenty minutes to her mothers and she would believe her and help protect Billy. Twenty minutes and she would be safe.

She scraped against a garbage can as she backed out and knocked it over. She knew Tom would have woken and she knew he would try and maker her stay. She put her foot on the gas and peeled away from her own home. How had it all come to this?

She managed four turns before headlights appeared in her rear-view mirror and she knew in her gut it was Tom coming after her. She pressed harder on the accelerator and felt the car shimmy. Up ahead a bend loomed and her wheel pumped across the white line as she fought for control of the car. She was starting to see double as her mind struggled to stay alert. She wrenched the car back across the white line but it was all too much for her exhausted body. Her mind wobbled and her vision spun. She blinked her eyes closed and no matter how much she tried she could not open them again. Her world went black.

***
Her eyes fluttered reluctantly as sunlight warmed her face. Was it morning already? When had she fallen asleep? She stretched and heard the whisper of crisp linen as the sheets pulled away from her body. She moved her leg to let it drop over the edge of the bed but it collided with something solid.  The room was blindingly bright and made her squint. She looked around and recognized nothing, she wasn't at home, this wasn't her bedroom. She moved her hand to the side and felt the restraining bar and she heard the rhythmic beeping of some sort of machine. She looked to her left and saw Tom slumped in a chair, his hair a mess and a few days growth of beard on his chin. She tried to get up but she was so sore she winced. The sound woke Tom and he shot out of the chair and came to her side.

"Where am I?" she crooked.

"The hospital, you went off the road," he said taking her hand.

"Where's Billy?" she asked looking around the room. She saw something terrible in Tom's face, a pain so deep, so crushing, she knew the answer to her own question. As the first tears flowed over Tom's face she closed her eyes, searching for darkness and she hoped she would never come back from it. 
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