Muddy Converse

February 7, 2012
Plip plop. Two cold beads of water froze tingling on her cheek before slowly rolling down, caressing her earlobes in their icy clutches. She opened her eyes. Nothing but a ceiling of grey clouds was visible.
Plop! A raindrop fell into her eye. She raised her hand to wipe it away. What was on her hand? She rubbed her fingers together. Was that mud? She felt around with her other hand; she was lying on her back on the grass. How did she get here? She turned over.

Her back was soaked in muddy water. Grass stuck to her arms and bare feet. She picked a few blades off but there were too many. All around her was darkness except for the distant glow of a street lamp which burned dimly through the misty night. She wiped her hands on her sweatpants and brushed her hair out of her eyes. She squinted with no success.
Her parents always had warned her about her sleepwalking problems, but she never had left the house before. How could she have gotten all the way out here? She shivered. More importantly, where was here?

The cold, drizzling rain was cooling the earth. Steam rising from the ground was making it very hard to tell where she was. She began to walk toward the street light.
There were vague outlines visible a few yards away. Some towered menacingly but most were around three feet off the ground. This must be the park just behind her house, she thought. Some friends were playing there yesterday, but she did not join them. She was too old to play on a swing set and to pretend she was Tarzan on the monkey bars.

She stumbled and swore.

There was something hard on the ground. She bent down to rub her toe. Her hand nudged up against the invisible immovable object.

“Concrete?” The surface was smooth, but there was a crack in it. She traced along the rough groove with her fingers. There were more. Must be some kind of design in it.

She wiped her hands on her pants again trying to get a better grip. There was a lump in her pocket. It was her cell phone! She had never been so happy to see it. Not even when she saw it blinking “New message from Josh”. And she was quite happy when the guy who was the most popular senior last year texted her. He had asked her to go with him to a college party on Halloween.
If that had only worked out, she sighed. Then no one would ask her to go to the stupid park. No one would treat her like a little kid.
“What good mother would let her daughter who’s barely seventeen go to a college party with an older guy?” Her mom had stared at her with wonder when she told her parents she was going. So much for turning seventeen. She was still as much a captive as she had been the first sixteen years.
She pressed a button and the phone lit up. She grasped it like a flashlight, bending down and using its light over the concrete. There were letters. Probably words. She could see the dim outline of an S.

There was no point in trying to read more. Her phone was almost out of batteries and the screen had dimmed to a pale glow. She walked toward the street light feeling out each step with her feet so she did not hurt herself again.

“Mom and dad are going to kill me for this.” She shook her head. She just could not imagine how her sleeping form had managed to sneak down the creaky stairs, open the squeaky door, and not get murdered by the lawn gnomes. Her mind went back to Halloween night.

She had been hoping to slip out to the party for just a little while. After all her mother had technically only raised concerns about her going with Josh, not her going in general. She felt like a ninja going down the steps one by one leaning heavily on the railing to take some of the weight off the stairs. She managed to get down with only one or two creaking as her heart beat out a staccato rhythm against her chest.
The door opened slowly and as the cool, fresh air filled her lungs she thought she had made it. She rushed down the sidewalk and cut across the lawn. Suddenly the floppy laces of her converse had caught on something and she face-planted in the garden. Her thump must have been quite loud because the mastiff down the street started howling out his burglar alarm concerto number three.
Her mom had turned on the floodlights and ran outside. She pulled her daughter roughly from the ground yelling, “Just what do you think you are doing, Sara?”

“You’re going to that college party aren’t you?”
“Sara Leah Bryce!” Her mom looked at her with a mix of disgust and confusion. “Don’t you understand? You’re too young to do something that crazy!”
Sara extricated herself from her mother’s grasp and tied her shoe. “Mom, I’m not a…”
“An adult? Yes, I know!”
“I’m not a little kid anymore.” Sara had mumbled.
“Why can’t you just appreciate the age you are right now? Do you really want to be my age already?”
Sara looked down at the smiling white-bearded gnome she had tripped over. She bent down and made a face at it. Sara set the little fellow upside down on his pointed red hat.

“Sara! Are you even listening to me?”

She shook her head yes.

“Put your father’s gnome back.”
They had gone into the house and her mom had wakened her dad. She got another lecture about how she should be more respectful to his gnomes.
Then she had received the death penalty- no phone, computer, or TV for a month. She stumbled and awoke from her thoughts. There was no way her parents would believe her when she went back and told them she had been sleepwalking.
When were her parents going to stop treating her like a little kid? She tripped again and fell against an upright stone. It knocked the wind out of her and it took a few minutes until she sat back up.
There’s that weird concrete again, she thought as her fingers ran over the stone. It was flat on the sides and rounded on the top. Kind of an odd shape. What was it doing sitting straight up in the park?
She leaned against it. Where could she be? How did she get here? Her mind was as foggy as the air. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Everything could be so much better if she had gone to that party. She would have been dating the hottest guy in town. All her immature friends would have been so jealous and would have treated her better.
She must have been sitting there thinking for a long time for when she opened her eyes the fog had cleared and a rosy dawn was peeking from behind the dark mess of tangled trees. It was still dark but she could clearly see she was not in the park. There were too many trees and snarled brush in front of her. The park was a clear open field with a few swings and park benches.
Her back was sore and she turned around to look at what she was leaning against. It was a white stone sticking straight out of the ground. It couldn’t be. She looked around again the dawn slowly revealing the landscape to her. She was in the middle of a vast graveyard.
She shuddered. She had sleepwalked into the middle of a graveyard? That certainly wasn’t possible. She did not remember any graveyards in the area, and she would have known one if it was this large. She checked her phone. There was one bar of coverage.
If that would only allow her to call her mom… She pressed the speed dial number and the phone started ringing.
“Hello?” Sara heard her mother’s voice and the tension that had been building flushed away.
“Mom! It’s Sara.”
“Sara?” Her mom sounded far away.
“Yeah, Mom, it’s me.”
“Sara?!?” There was a scurry in the background. Sara could hear her parents heatedly discussing something. Then her mom got back on the line. “Sara?”
“Where are you dear?”
“I was trying to tell you. I must have been sleepwalking cause all I remember is waking up in this weird graveyard.” There was a little scream on the other end. “Mom?”
Her dad got on the phone, his usually soft voice gruff with anger. “I don’t know who this is but you better not call back here or I’ll call the cops.”
“Why?” There was a catch in his throat. “Why would you do something like this?”
The line went dead.
Sara stared at her phone in disbelief. What was that about?
The sun rested on the tops of the trees now illuminating rows and rows of bleached white stones with slightly different shapes and sizes. She had never been around so much death before. It was really creepy knowing there were bodies just below her.
She moved to the other side of the headstone and tried to read the name. It was washed out from over the years, but she could make out “Sara”.
She gulped. A dead person with her name was lying just below her. She stood up and walked to the nearest headstone. “Sara Leah Bryce” it read.
She did a double take. It still read “Sara Leah Bryce”. No matter how she squinted her eyes she could not make it read anything else. Anything more sane.
A dead person with her full name was lying in eternal rest below her. She shuddered and moved on. She picked up the pace trying desperately to see a way out of the endless maze of headstones. There was no end.
Another grave caught her eye. The dirt in front of it was freshly dug up and the gravestone was shiny and easily read. “Sara Leah Bryce.”

Sara swore. Just what was going on here? She knelt down and read the smaller engraving: “died October 31st”. Was this some kind of sick joke? An epitaph was under that. “This blossom was plucked in the height of its bloom to adorn the King’s table.”

Unbelievable. Had she really died on Halloween night? Sara pinched herself. She sure felt like she was still alive. As the epitaph said she had always expected to go to heaven if she died.
What if they, whoever they were, had not accepted her through the pearly gates? What if she had been turned away? She had always believed God was just someone you ask forgiveness for when you did something wrong.
Ever since the fog lifted the air had grown steadily colder. She wrapped her arms around her as she walked on. She would not believe that she was dead. Ghosts or spirits could not be so real as to feel the cold. But what if her mother was right? What if He only accepted people who had a personal relationship with him?
Something even weirder was going on though. As Sara moved past row after row of headstones she noticed they all had the same name – her name - and the same date - the night of the party.
As the empty loneliness washed over her, she fell to her knees. If she was really dead, what had happened at that party? She had not even gone. She had tripped on her shoelace and her mother had kept her from leaving. Her mother. Was that what had happened on the phone? They thought she was dead.
She started running down the rows of graves. White headstones bearing her name surrounded her. If only she could get to the end of this maze. Tears made a cold dash down her cheeks. Her head started getting fuzzy. There was no way out. There was no way out. There was no way out.
She tripped and fell. But she fell too far. The ground was only a few inches away but she kept falling and falling.
She jerked as her head met something surprisingly soft. Glow in the dark stars, the ones she told her mother were childish, shone down comforting her. She was in bed. She was safe.
On the floor, her muddy converse lay. It couldn’t have just been a dream. She reached down the side of her pillow. Her hand found the sock monkey she had from childhood and she held it in her arms. She was home. She was safe.
A rosy dawn began to peek through the cracks of her curtains. A new day was dawning.

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