Photo: Abi Lewis, Splasher
Aww what a mesmerizing sight, I heard myself saying in a voice that wasn’t my own. All the hues of red and brown and Crimson right before my eyes – again that was not my voice.
And this feeling, how can we be flying like this and not feel the autumn chill? I remember thinking that.
We were gliding over a red barn surrounded by trees.
I was not alone. I could feel my companion’s presence though I couldn’t see her face. In a weird way, I knew I didn’t need to look; I already knew it was Valerie Moore.
I heard footsteps and felt the floor move. They were not a part of my dream. I opened my eyes slightly and saw the silhouette figure of my mother moving in the dark.
“Risa, I told you that rain was predicted for tonight and asked you to lock the windows. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep without having to be bothered by things that I specifically ask you girls to do. One of these nights someone is going to come through that window and take you away quietly.”
Humph, as if, I thought to myself still half asleep.
My mother continued: “Spare yourselves and me the worry of such an awful ordeal or I’ll buy a lock and those windows will stay closed forever.”
Mom said all that in one go. That was just like her. Always saying things the grownup way. Only she would have the stamina for such a discourse in the middle of the night. Mom was talking to Risa but Risa didn’t budge.
Feeling exhilarated from the dream I was just dreaming I tried not to listen to her words for fear of losing the feeling I was trying to hold on to in my autumn dream.
Valerie Moore was my childhood penpal. We started corresponding before the end of the school year in Third Grade. This particular evening I had received a letter from her.
Valerie lived in Wisconsin. Her family owned a cherry orchard and she had a pony she called Cubby. She and I were 8 years old and both of us had birthdays in September.
Every letter she wrote to me was riddled with eraser holes and consisted of ugly pages carelessly torn out from big writing pads. But that didn’t matter to me. She told me about learning to milk their cows, about driving a tractor and about picking cherries.
I have never been cherry-picking and much less never milked a cow in my life.
This time she told me about fall coming and described a foliage scene behind her farm. The image stayed in my mind all evening only to resurface in my dream that damp rainy night. In fact, the words I had uttered in my dream had come directly from Valerie’s letter.
The stairs leading up to the attic were dark, narrow and cold. They were enclosed in a small upward-going tunnel and they swerved round so that you couldn’t see if someone was coming down or going up until you were right smack in front of them. It was void of day light, lacked a light switch and a light bulb.
Risa and I shared a room up there but I had had no say in the matter. My mother, suspecting my teenage sister to be up to something, used me as a bargaining condition.
“…only if you agree to share the space with your sister,” mother bargained assured that Risa would soon give up the idea. When Risa said ok without a moment’s hesitation, mother couldn’t go back on her word. And so it was that I ended sleeping in the attic.
Risa chose the attic because of the way it felt so disconnected from the rest of the house. Perhaps it was because the stairs were completely encapsulated, but once upstairs one could not hear anything going on downstairs. And vice versa. I didn’t like being upstairs but once upstairs I dreaded going down those stairs. I always got the distinct feeling that I was about to bump into a ghost.
We had two beds. Mine was closest to the stairs and Risa’s was next to the windows. Mom let me have a small table next to my bed and on it I kept a small glow-in-the-dark lamp. But the lamp hardly got any real light from outside or from the one dim light bulb that illuminated the room. In order to get any use of the glow, I had to wait for Risa to be in the room for a few minutes before going upstairs. Once under my covers, Risa would turn off the light and then I would get my glow. Good thing was that I fell asleep right away even before the lamp lost its glow.
There were no partitions between our beds so Risa spent her allowance on thick silk ribbons. I mean lots and lots of ribbons. She thumbtacked the ribbons to the ceiling boards. She made it so that from the top of the stairs, one couldn’t see her bed and also from my bed I couldn’t see hers.
The ribbons were of all different colors and they cascaded from the low ceiling all the way to the floor. During the day I loved looking at the ribbons swaying with the wind, but at night the ribbons grazing against my face or any part of my body, sent shivers down my spine. They scared me.
That night, the rains came strong. There was thunder and there was lightening. The old house moaned and groaned. Shrrrrrrooweeee shrrrrrooweeeee rushed in the wind through small openings on the window frame. The blinds rattled uncontrollably. Oh that howling; how angry that wind sounded.
Realizing that I had lost my dream, I thought of following after Mother but I was afraid to descend the stairs. I called out to Risa but she paid me no mind. Closer and closer to her bed I went until I was right above her.
She laid on her side – still as a corpse. I could see the shape of her body and even her hair but her face lay hidden under the blanket.
“Can I sleep with you,” I whispered in a groggy voice, “I’m sssc – scared,” I moaned. I touched her shoulder to shake her but there was no shoulder where a shoulder was supposed to have been. I ran my hand over her body. There was no body there either.
Scary as that was, I snatched off the light blanket only to find that two cushions lay where Risa was supposed to have laid.
At that revelation, my eyes got forced open. These didn’t feel like my eyes. The area around them felt tight. They were being held wide open by cold fingers. My eyeballs felt cold. I couldn’t manage a blink. My mouth flew open as if the ligaments in my neck had been wound too tightly. I screamed but the scream was only coming from inside my head. My voice had deserted me.
Without thinking I scurried over to the stairs and stomped down the dark stairs as if the ON button had just been turned-on inside me.
No time for knocking. I flung the door open. I got to mother’s side of the bed and yanked the covers off of her. I still couldn’t get my eyes to blink or my neck to release the pull it had on my open mouth. I started slapping mother. This woke my father too. He jumped out of bed and turned on the big light in the room.
As if this was the cue that I had been waiting for, a loud insistent wailing bubbled from within me. I started to shake uncontrollably and burning tears splattered from my eyes all at once. My voice was incoherent and husky so with exaggerated hand gestures I tried telling them about Risa. But my parents couldn’t understand.
I dragged them to the stairs and pushed them toward the attic. Mom got to the top first.
“Risa,” called my mother in that voice she used to let us know that we were in trouble. “Risa get out here this minute. Risaaaaa!
But there was no Risa…