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I can’t shake the image from my head. I sit up in bed and untangle the lone white sheet that had wound itself around my legs. I look at the binding sheet and feel a chill go through me as I picture the worn out sheet covering my dead face.
There I stand in the middle of a dimly lit street. Buildings jut unnaturally tall on either side of me; dark figures peering out the numerous windows. The air grows colder and I sense movement. Footsteps pound to the beat of my heart, and from behind a parked black Volvo, a child appears. Clutching a teddy bear unlovingly ,the boy turns to face me. His walk was unusual for a child; somewhere between a strut and a march. His almond shaped eyes remained forward-facing and emotionless. A streetlamp flickers to illuminate his shiny hair that was the same black that colored his blank irises. The child was neither breathing nor blinking, but he stayed unmoving in the lamplight, clutching the bear as if it were a porcupine or a cactus, uncomfortable to the touch.
I try to work up the desire to speak to the boy; to ask him where we are. Before I open my mouth he says, “Do not speak.” His voice rings high in my ears. It was that of a child, but colder, and empty of the innocent musical quality one usually encounters when listening to children.
The boy suddenly marches forward, again stepping in sync with my nervous pounding heart. I open my mouth to speak but the boy raises his palm. He calmly closes his eyes as if annoyed with me, whispers, “Do not speak,” and continues toward me. When he is but a foot away from me he drops the teddy bear at my feet. I look down to see that they are bare on the filthy pavement, and I’m wearing a simple blue and white sundress, like a sky speckled with clouds. The bright colors seem unfamiliar and alien next to the boy’s fading black clothes. The bear’s plastic eyes stare up at me. I’m seized with an uncontrollable urge to pick it up off the dirty street, but as I reach down to grab it the boy takes hold of my wrist, and our surroundings blur.
The bear grows smaller as we travel away from it. The boy is running on the rooftops and dragging me with him. The running does not tire him, but my breathing is heavy with effort the keep up. He finally stops in a garden full of neat rows of flowers and vegetables. A little way beyond the garden sits a tiny house with charming simple features unlike the cookie cutter homes in my neighborhood. At the thought of my neighborhood I suddenly feel frighteningly far from home. The boy whispers, “Do not speak,” in his monotone voice, as if he knew I was about to beg to go home. A light goes on in the Charming house, and through the window a child’s room comes to view. The walls were decorated with the same cloud and sky pattern as my dress. The small room holds only a bed with a sleeping child and an empty rocking chair. A woman enters, young and smiling, her almond eyes heavy from lack of sleep, and her long black hair lovely yet untended. She walks toward the bed, her arms tenderly hidden behind her narrow back. She reaches down and pulls back the blanket and whispers, “Baby, my precious child, Mommy made you a present to keep the bad dreams away.” The child in the bed does not move. “Wake up, my son.” When the child does not wake the woman grows frantic for a moment. She lifts up her child and refuses to accept that he has died. She cradles him like an infant and places the bear in his limp arms. She kisses his forehead and gently places him back on the bed, arranging his blanket on top of him with a loving tenderness only mothers possess. The woman backs into the rocking chair and begins to gently rock as she speaks to her dead child. In her melodious sweet voice she says, “My child, I wanted to keep you safe from the nightmares. I made that bear for you so he would fight them away. I want sweet dreams for you, my only son.” She pauses and listens intently as if her son were answering her. “Sweet child, Mommy made it all better. Stop worrying and sleep, and in the morning we’ll tend to our garden.” With one last whispered, “Sleep, my child,” the woman begins humming a lullaby. Her tune carries on, light and melancholy. As she hums her bright almond eyes lose their light and fill with tears, and soon her voice is too choked up to carry the tune.
We stay there and watch from the garden. I want to look away, but cannot, and the sound of crying fills my ears. The pretty young mother stands up, her nightgown just brushing the carpet, and it seems she’s emptied all her tears. She turns out the light as she leaves the room, leaving me to wonder what else goes on in the Charming house. I listen intently, straining to hear beyond the crickets and rustling of leaves in the garden. A piercing scream shoots out from the Charming house, and an eerie silence like I’d never experienced before follows.
The boy peers up at me, and for a moment I can see the woman’s face in his black eyes, but then he grabs hold of my wrist and once again my vision blurs.
I open my eyes but see nothing. I can feel that I’m lying in a bed. Thinking I’m home, relief floods through my veins. “Oh, just a dream,” I sigh as I nestle myself comfortably in my bed.
“I told you not to speak,” calls out a nearby voice. “I told you not to touch the bear.”
In horror I realize I am clutching his bear as if my life depends on it. I scream and let go of it, as if it is cursed or diseased.
“I told you not to speak. I told you not to touch the bear,” he repeats in anger. The darkness prevents me from finding him, but I seek him out with my ears and hear him marching closer.
I relax in bed. I had heard of a bizarre calm before death. The boys says one last word, marked with unimaginable pain that I had not expected. The word pierces to my heart, and for an instant I feel sorry for the boy. “Mommy,’ he cries, and once again I find myself untangling the white sheet from my legs.