The Dream Bird

2016 Voorheesville SHort Story Contest Runner Up, by Kerry O'Neill

runner-up-BADGEKerry’s story was one of two runner up stories in the 2016 Voorheesville Short Story Contest.

 

I’ve always hated taking naps. That feeling when you wake up that you just missed an hour of your life, in which you could’ve been doing a countless number of productive things. Or so you would think.

It’s not like I would have done anything that would get me anywhere; I would just sit there and dream about all the amazing things I could do while my minutes wasted away to nothing. Dreams tend to fester in your mind as you fail to actually do something to achieve them.

I’m not saying dreams are useless. Sometimes they can actually be a good thing, but only when you’ve got the right mindset. And perhaps when your dreams don’t meld into nightmares. Very intense and terrifying nightmares that bring up memories you’ve been trying to get past your whole life.

Which is exactly what has been happening to me for the past week. This is why, when I was finally able to go to bed after a long day of school and practicing music on my guitar, I procrastinated the restless sleep until I could no longer keep my eyes open. As the darkness began to turn to vivid images created by my mind, I began to toss and turn in my sleep. What I was seeing was the same bird that had been in all my other dreams this week, but this time it was doing something different.

It spread its shining black wings and flew towards me, rather than away from me. I could see its red wings flash by as it flew over my head, dropping a shiny metal key. I picked it up to inspect it, and just as I did I was apparently locked inside a closet, looking out at my father who was deceased but now alive in my dream. He was talking to a dark and blurry figure about a recent story he was working on, as a journalist. He was saying something along the lines of: “We have to tell the public that this is where the money is going to, for the good of our own community. Believe me, this is the only way we can help out ourselves for once. The only way we can actually help our town.”

His words started fading off into the distance along with the image of him, the other person, and the closet. I was now watching myself kneeling at my father’s grave with tears streaming down my face. I remembered what I was saying that day; I had been telling him about what was going on in my life, how my friends were doing, how my music was going, what it was like living without him. I sang a song to him that he had always played with me ever since I became just as interested in music as he was. Halfway through the song, I realized how different and lacking it sounded without the sound of his voice accompanying mine. This brought me to where I was now, crying into my hands and wishing there was some way I could bring him back.

As I was watching this scene, I noticed something else that I wouldn’t have that day. There was a dark figure who had apparently been there to visit the grave as well, watching me by the grave in the distance from where the road meets the field. I found this very unnerving. I didn’t know who this man was, or how he knew my father.

I tried to look closer at myself, to see why I never noticed this man, and I saw that blackbird again sitting on my father’s grave. It noticed I had seen it, and it whistled a few lovely notes which I somehow was able to interpret as it wanting me to follow it. So I followed it as it got closer and closer to the man then flew threw him. I noticed more features of the man now, though he was a bit blurry. He had a full head of white hair and looked to be in his 50’s or 60’s. He seemingly didn’t know I was there, standing in front of him. However, he did notice the bird and watched as it flew off into the distance.

His eyes suddenly flashed onto me, which woke me up abruptly. I was in a tangle of sheets and very unnerved because of the dream. Was this bird some kind of message to me? What was it trying to tell me? Did it have to do with my father’s death?

The clock next to me read 6:00 a.m. Time for another long, boring day of school. I was a pretty normal kid, as other people saw it anyways. I got fairly good grades, dressed in plain t-shirts and jeans, and had a few close friends who understood pretty much everything about me except what it was like to have a parent die. I thought about how my dad used to tell me stories when I was little girl, always with some deeper meaning hidden inside of them. The one I’ve always liked the most I interpreted to be about never giving up on your dreams because if you work hard at them and want them enough, you will succeed. Though it seemed to never actually work out like that for me in life, I still liked the idea of it.

School was a blur, as I was trying to figure out what that dream meant the whole day. Occasionally I would hear my teachers snap at me, “Natalie Faulkner, pay attention!” or my friends talking to me about the usual, but none of that seemed important to me right now.

On my walk back from school, I saw a campaign sign with a face on it that looked familiar. I racked my brain for where I had seen it before. It seemed very similar to the man in my dream the night before, but I hadn’t gotten a very close look at him. I dismissed it quickly as a coincidence.

After going through the usual afternoon stuff, I climbed into bed to write songs before going to sleep. I was currently writing a song about how hard it was to follow your dreams when progression seems impossible. It was about me wanting to be able to share my songs with others along with their meanings, but never being able to because I’m terrified of singing in front of other people. And just to make it worse, the one time I shared one of my songs with someone, he just laughed. He asked what website I’d gotten the hilarious song from, thinking I was joking about the whole thing, that I never really wrote a song. It wasn’t a funny song. I had written it about very personal hopes and values, and it was all just a big joke.

I felt myself slowly falling asleep as I thought about how many things I wanted to be able to achieve in life, and if any of them would ever come to be. I thought about how abruptly my dad’s life had ended, and how many different goals he had set his mind to. Like being one of the top writers for a huge company, exposing the bad people in the world for what they really were, but at the same time still having time to make me a better person and do everything for his family.

The light shining off of the moon and into my room faded away to sleep, which soon thereafter led into another dream. I was in a weird setting; it was as if I was half in the musty field from the previous dream and half in the street I had walked down to get home today. This time, I was not watching myself but rather I was in first person view of the world around me. The man with the white hair was back but still he didn’t acknowledge that I was there. I watched as he angrily ripped the sign that I had seen earlier that day down. He threw it my way and I slid to the side to avoid being hit by it. As the man strutted away I picked up the sign and gasped in surprise. The blackbird had flown out from under it, nearly smashing into my face as it went by.

The name at the top of the sign was Darius Montez. I now recognized the face to be of the man who keeps showing up in my dreams; I had gotten a better look at him this time. The heading of the sign was, “This man uses your money for personal gain!” I continued down to the paragraph at the bottom,  “Thousands of dollars supposedly went to local charities to help our communities’ poor and allow them to get better education, jobs, and life. In reality, this highly profiled governor is using it to bribe various members of the community involved with these charitable places to lie about his support and make him look good to the public. He was trying to keep under cover the fact that he has also been using this money on personal luxuries, such as his lavish mansion, two grand pianos, several luxurious cars, and many more unnecessarily expensive items. His so-called ‘mission to lift our community up to a new level, starting with those who need it the most’ has all been a ruse.” The sign concluded with “Support the fight against Montez’ corruption!”, and a very familiar name.

It was my father’s scribbly signature written at the bottom, John Faulkner. I believed one hundred percent of what was written after seeing the signature. Whatever my father had said must’ve been true. He was an extremely honest man, as far as I knew. I felt a certain pang of sadness at the reminder that he’d probably never be able to let the public know about what he had found out about this man. But maybe I could.

I looked down at the sign again, planning to take it with me to find out more about it, but the ink started strangely trailing off of the sign in globs. Then bigger globs, then large streams, then waves of ink rushed off the page, drenching me in blackness. I screamed and dropped the sign as the waves of ink turned to hundreds of blackbirds, all making an angry chuckling sound. The impact of it had thrown me to the ground, my arms protecting my head.

Suddenly, I seemed to be sinking into the ground, the pavement melding around my body and swallowing me up. I flailed around trying in an attempt to escape the gooey prison, but to no avail. It swallowed me whole and I seemed to fall through the bottom into the room I had been looking into through the keyhole in the previous dream. Somehow I was standing, perfectly alright and in order. My dad was walking towards me, trying to tell me something. I tried to talk to him, to tell him I missed him, but it was like I didn’t have the ability to talk anymore. Dad!!! I thought. Dad, why can’t you hear me?!!! Finally he got two words out, his eyes pleading; “Darius Montez.”

I tried to ask him what it meant, what all of this meant, but as I did I felt a hard lump lodged in my throat. I coughed and coughed until a thin, slimy blackbird forced its way out of my throat. It kept flying through my father, ripping him to shreds. Blood oozed out of him where the bird flew through, increasing in size until he exploded in a bloody mess. On his hands and knees, weeping in the remnants was Darius Montez. The bird flew straight through him, then everything disappeared in that instant.

My eyes snapped open, and I was gasping for sweet air. The pieces were all coming together. The blackbird was trying to tell me something about my father’s death, and something about this Darius Montez. The sign, the keyhole conversation, and the horrifying exhibition at the end of the previous dream all added up to one meaning; Darius had murdered my father. I was certain now, what else could this mean? I had this crazy thought in my head that my father was sending me this message, so I could get justice for him. I had to act on this knowledge, now.

I rushed into my mom’s bedroom and started rattling off what had been happening the past couple of weeks after waking her up. I explained everything up to now, until she stopped me and said, “Sweetie, calm down, I know it’s been extremely difficult losing your father but your dreams are just bad dreams. I’m sorry, but I think you’re just still very fragile from what happened and it’s giving you this crazy idea. You need to try and focus in the now and maybe that’ll help you sleep better.”

I knew she was completely wrong. I knew this was real. And if she didn’t believe me, (I knew I could never call the cops now, they’d just think I was crazy too), then I would prove it to her. I would find out exactly what happened to my father.

I angrily went back into my room and looked up where Darius lived. I was going to get the information I needed out of him, whether it killed me or not. I would discretely record our conversation on my phone by pretending to read a message when really I was recording everything that was said. I grabbed the pepper spray carefully from the cabinet, just in case things got rough. As I threw on my jacket and was about the open the door, my mom asked, “Where do you think you’re going Natalie?” But I just brushed her off and walked quickly away from the house.

It didn’t take all that long to get to Darius’ house, only about 20 minutes or so. As I walked up his drive, I took a good look at his mansion. It was very comfortable and pleasant looking in a weird way, given that it was so huge. It had an old wooden cabin feel to it. Birds were chirping around the pond, ducks quacked, and everything seemed peaceful and inviting. I continued on through the stone pathway and up to his door, hesitating slightly but in the end making up my mind that I was going through with this. I had already gotten this far. This man could be at direct fault of my father’s death.

He opened up the door, smiling, until he looked down and saw who it was. He gave me a look of understanding and remorse. “Hello, what do you need?”, he asked politely.

“I just had some unanswered questions. You know, about my dad and all. I remember you two were business associates?”

He grimaced at the question, which I took to be because he had a grudge against my father for writing those things about him… a deadly grudge. “I’m sorry about what happened to him. Of course I’ll answer your questions. Come in.”

I forced myself to follow him inside and took a seat at the kitchen table with him. Quickly, I began recording with my phone in my pocket. I started off, trying to keeping it under cover that I was really trying to expose him as my father’s murderer.

“How exactly do you know my father?” I asked.

“Well, way back when I had first started out in politics, I met your father, a journalist. We were a team in helping people, me being the political office holder with a voice on permanent issues, your father a persuasive journalist who promoted me and my ideas.”

“Sounds like you two were a great team.” I said, with a hint of suspicion.

“Yes, yes, we were, at least until we began disagreeing on certain issues. See, your father had started a family, and his goals became more family oriented than his original dreams of helping society as a whole. He began to think that too much money was being taken for tax from the middle class people, him being one himself. He didn’t like that this money was going to poor families in need, because he considered his own family in need of that money. He believed many were poverty stricken because they had put themselves there for lack of work, which isn’t true. In reality, they go through great lengths to pick themselves up out of their situation, and many work tirelessly. Your father…” He had trailed off after seeming to have noticed himself to be getting very heated.

“My father what?” I asked impatiently.

“Your father was a great man. He had good intentions, in his minds, but somewhere in his big heart and spectacular mind he made a mistake. He decided his family needed money more than all those strangers. It was getting harder each day to pay the bills. He wrote a story about me, in the past year, that wasn’t true. He was trying to get me fired, or at least turn people against me so I could no longer spend thousands on giving people who really need opportunities a change.”

I swallowed the angry lump in my throat. What he was saying couldn’t be true. My father would never do something like this, he was the most honest man I knew. I spoke before I could get myself any more worked up about it, and expose what I was trying to do. “What do you know about my father’s death?”

“What do I know about it? Just that… he died of a heart attack at a young age. I’m very sorry. I wish we could have been friends again, like old times, before he died. He was a very aspirational man, had many dreams of helping others, and despite his many mistakes, he was a good man.”

“You still think someone who would do something like that to you was a good person?” I was confused in many ways. Though I didn’t say it, I was also reconsidering my hastily made judgement that he had killed my father. This man was obviously a wise and caring man. He could be telling the truth.

“Yes, of course I do. People make mistakes, it’s what makes them human. People pass the wrong judgements. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. I take it he was a great father?”

I answered quickly, “Yes, most definitely. I miss him every day.” Somehow saying this made me get a sharp, hardened pain on the right side of my head. I almost broke into tears, thinking about what had happened to my father, my head pounding. The throbbing kept coming, until it reached the point where I could hear it thundering inside my head. I fell to the ground, hands caressing my exploding head.

“What’s wrong? Are you alright?!” Darius came over to me, looking very concerned.

I was in so much pain I was unable to respond. Then everything turned to darkness. A few seconds later, a room started coming into view. I saw Darius, kneeling above me, yet looking very distant from my current perspective. Everything I saw was through a hazy mist. Then the blackbird appeared, flying around my head in circles, screeching, “It was him. It was him. It was him.” The bird wooshed by me, almost taking my head off, then circled the frozen-in-place, concerned Darius. “Kill him. Kill him. Kill him.” He got louder and louder, to the point where my ear streamed a liquid. It was blood.

The blackbird was making me crazy. I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t think straight, and was once again certain that Darius had killed my father. And that made me blood boiling angry. Now thousands of more blackbirds joined the first, vicious red wings spread  whilst they circled above. They made a chorus of rasping, “it was him” and “kill him”.

All I saw was red. A knife found its way into my hand, and I thrusted it forward with all the insanity inside me. I stabbed and stabbed to the rhythm of the birds’ words. Finally I looked down at Darius. Except he wasn’t Darius. He was my father, lying underneath me, murdered in cold blood. A single blackbird sat on his stomach, who said, “You did it. You did it. You did it.”  I screamed, and having come back to my senses a bit, the scene started to fade away. My head was still throbbing, but I was back in Darius’ house.

I was laying down still, but no longer saw Darius above me. I felt as if I had been out in the rain for some reason. Looking around, I gasped in horror at the scene before me. Darius was laying dead on the ground, hideous slashes covering his body. Blood was all over my body and my hands, and on the ground next to me was a knife. I screamed in pure horror and broke down into panic.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blackbird fly off into the distance, its blood red wings flapping maliciously.

About Kerry O'Neill 207 Articles

Kerry O’Neill is a junior at Clayton A. Bouton High School. She has contributed to the BBR frequently over the last two years, her most recent contribution being the cover art for the Fall 2015 print edition.