Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Full Night Ahead

I wrote this short story for a writing group, with the limit that it couldn't be over 3,000 words. Enjoy.


            Sarah awoke with a start. She took a deep breath and looked around the darkened bedroom to reorient herself. She looked to the book shelves, the bathroom, the open window, and heard the drone of the house fan. She let the breath out and rubbed at her eyes.
            Ben stirred beside her. “You okay?” His voice was heavy with sleep as he turned to face her.
            She nodded and let her hands fall into her lap as her heartbeat slowed.
            “Who did you kill this time?” Ben asked as he began to rub her lower back.
            Sarah groaned in relief. She leaned forward to give him better access. “Two home invaders. I killed one with a bat and a knife. The other one with just the knife. Then I shot them both in the head.”
            Ben chuckled. “Was I useless in this dream, too?”
            “You weren’t there.”
            “I’m glad your subconscious thinks so well of me.” He yawned. “Did you save any kids?”
            “There were two kids this time.”
            Ben yawned and moved his hand to rub her belly. “Well, I’m sure little tadpole and its future sibling are grateful.”
            “It wasn’t our house. I don’t know whose house it was.”
            “It’s just the hormones.” He patted her pillow in invitation. “Come back to bed.”
            “It was vivid, Ben. I can’t just go back to sleep.” She placed both hands on her belly. This was the second killing dream this week. Vivid dreams weren’t infrequent for pregnant women, but this made for ten killings in less than a month. Maybe it’s different for a woman who’s supposed to be infertile.
            Ben drew her down to her pillow. Reluctantly, she let herself be eased into his arms. He kissed the crown of her head. “It’s just the hormones, Babe.”
            She nestled against his chest. “But I’m in my second trimester. My hormones should be settling down.”
            Ben kissed her again. “Will you call the doctor tomorrow?”
            “We have our 20 week ultrasound in two days. I’ll ask about it then.” She felt a flutter in her womb. The baby had woken up. Only at night. Only after the dreams. Sarah knew she wouldn’t sleep with the baby awake. Maybe that was for the best. I don’t want to dream anymore.

~ ~ ~
            Sarah watched the monitor as the tech rolled the ultrasound head over her gelled belly. The tech, a man in his fifties and comfortable working in the darkened room, had been at it for over a half an hour, measuring bones and looking at organs. At least, that’s what he had said—neither Sarah nor Ben could interpret the images. At last he stopped and lifted the ultrasound head. Sarah felt immediate relief as the pressure eased up on her full bladder.
            “So,” Ben said as the tech wiped Sarah’s belly clean and pulled off his gloves. “What do you think? Is the baby healthy?”
            The tech tossed the gloves in the waste bin. “I’m an ultrasound technician. I’m not allowed to offer my opinion. The OB will review my findings and come to her own conclusions.” He turned off the monitor and stood up.
            Ben frowned, and Sarah reached out a soothing hand before he could say something...unproductive. She looked up to the tech. “Can’t you tell us anything?”
            He reached down beside the machine and tore off a long strip of ultrasound prints. He scrolled through them before handing a photo to Ben.
Ben held it up so Sarah could see. The image was of two white oblong shapes positioned like a V. “What’s this?” Ben asked.
“Legs,” the tech said. “Crotch. From below.”
Sarah gasped and looked down to the picture again, only to find it trembling in Ben’s hand. “So…do you know what it is?”
The tech began to roll the machine out. “The baby’s missing a few too many bits to be a boy.” He winked at Sarah. “Dr. Singh’ll be right in.”
“A girl,” Ben breathed. He looked to Sarah, who had to blink away tears. “What do you think about that?”
She hugged him. “I think I need to pee.”
~ ~ ~
            “You’ve got a healthy girl,” Dr. Singh said as she looked through the results of the ultrasound on the computer. She turned to Sarah and Ben. “Her heart’s strong. All the bone length ratios look good. We even got to see her pee.”
            Ben squeezed Sarah’s hand. “Just like old mum.”
            Sarah’s shoulders loosened at the news. She hadn’t been worried, but the clean bill of health was a burden lifted nonetheless. She paid only half a mind to the rest of Dr. Singh’s report, trusting to Ben’s memory as she closed her eyes and rested her hands on her belly.
            “Mrs. Prince,” Dr. Singh said. “Your husband says you’re complaining of nightmares?”
            Sarah glanced at Ben, wondering how long she had dozed. Ben looked at her with a blend of impatience and encouragement. “I don’t know if I’d call them nightmares,” Sarah said. “They’re killing dreams. It’s a home invasion, or a kidnapping, or a rape. But they all end the same.”
            Dr. Singh grimaced. “Those sound like nightmares to me. It isn’t infrequent for expectant mothers to consider their own mortality. For most of human history, giving birth was a good way to die.”
            Sarah shook her head. “No, I’m the one doing the killing. I kill the bad guys.”
            Dr. Singh’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, dear.”
            “It’s probably just the hormones, right?” Ben asked.
            Dr. Singh turned back to her monitor. “Or your Mama Bear instincts.” She scrolled through the medical reports. “By 20 weeks, your hormones will be settling down.” She tapped a finger on her lip. “In vitro, hmm. I didn’t see these notes earlier. Sarah, are you infertile?”
            Ben answered. “I’m sterile, she’s infertile.” He smiled at Sarah. “Well, not so much any more.”
            Dr. Singh nodded. “Donor egg and donor sperm.” She swiveled in her chair to look at the two of them, her face softened with compassion. “That’s a lot of strain on a marriage. How are you two doing?”
            Sarah was caught off guard by the question. She glanced at Ben, who was still smiling at her. “We’re actually doing great. Ben’s making enough on his books to pay for the IVF. And thankfully the first try worked. Saved us another small fortune.”
            Dr. Singh smiled. “I’m glad to hear it. Regarding the hormones, that’s probably it. The injections you received in preparation for the implantation are strong, and there very well might be raised levels in your system.”
            “I told you, honey,” Ben said, looking a trifle too triumphant. “The dreams are nothing.”
            “But,” Dr. Singh said, “dreams like yours are still very disturbing, regardless of their source.” Sarah stuck her tongue out at Ben. The doctor went on, “What I recommend is that you keep a dream journal. I do, and it helps purge them from my mind so I can go back to sleep.”
            “I’ll try that.”
            “Do you know what you’ll name your daughter?”
            Ben answered for her. “Diana.”
~ ~ ~
Sarah turned on her nightstand lamp and fumbled for her notebook and pen. Killed a man lurking in the bushes, who had sprung out to snatch a woman jogging by. She looked to her alarm clock. 2:42 am. She glanced at the rest of her entries. There were far too many of them.
~ ~ ~
            Sarah pressed her palm over the receiver and called out. “Ben, it’s the agency.”
            “Uh huh,” Ben said distractedly from behind the closed den door.
            “Bob says he knows this is your writing time, so he didn’t want to disturb you. He says you’re ignoring his emails. But he needs to know till the manuscript is finished.”
            “He’s still disturbing me.”
            “Do you have an answer?” Sarah’s question was answered by silence. “Honey? An update?”
            “Uh, tell him I’ll email him.”
            Sarah relayed the message to an annoyed Bob and hung up. She walked over to the den door. “Everything okay in there?”
            Silence, then a distracted, “Huh?”
            Sarah opened the door to see Ben sitting at his computer. To her surprise, he was dressed for the day. He usually stayed in his pajamas writing until almost lunch time. She looked to the computer and saw that he was online. She walked in and placed her hands on his shoulders. “I don’t remember you coming to bed last night.” On the screen was the site for KOVR 13 news.
            He didn’t look away from the screen, but one of his hands drifted up to settle on hers. “I didn’t come to bed last night.”
            Sarah nearly jumped. His hand was so cold. “Honey, is everything okay?”
            Ben spun around to face her. His skin was pale and his jaw was covered in a day’s worth of stubble. His hair stood up as it did after a long day of rubbing his fingers along his scalp to chase away writer’s block. “Sarah,” he said, his tone earnest. “The entries you write in your dream journal. You record the date and times accurately?”
            A small knot formed in Sarah’s stomach. Ben looked haunted, his eyes bleary and exhausted. “I write the time when I wake up. What’s this all about?”
            He took her hands in his. “Two nights ago, you wrote that you had killed a rapist in the bushes, right?”
            She nodded. “He was going to rape, but I stopped him.” She tried a smile. “No kids this time. I saved a jogger instead.”
            He let out a slow breath. “How did you kill him?”
            “With a knife. Stabbed him in the chest.”
            Ben managed to go paler. “You said he was in the bushes. Do you remember anything else about where you were?”
            “Ben, what’s going on?”
            “Please, just tell me.”
            “Well, it was a greenbelt or a jogging path. You know, it was paved, with landscaping all around it. It didn’t look familiar.”
            Ben swiveled in his chair again, clicked a link on the news website, and began streaming a video. A reporter faced the camera, with the display in the corner showing the station logo and “live on scene.” He was bundled up in a coat and scarf, and it looked to be an early morning report, for the sky was a dark gray. Once the video had buffered, it played.
            The reporter stood on an asphalt path, though little around him could be distinguished in the light of the camera’s beam. But as he spoke, the camera panned out, and the yellow tape of a crime scene came into view. Dark shapes, most likely police and CSI techs, moved within the perimeter. Sarah caught little of what the reporter said, for her eyes were drawn to the shape of a supine man draped in a white cloth. From there, her eyes darted to the bushes nearby, to the asphalt path, and to the nearby wooden fence of someone’s backyard. Her stomach clenched.
            Ben looked over his shoulder to her as the video came to a stop. “Did you hear what he said?”
            Sarah shook her head. She hadn’t heard a thing.
            “He said the police responded to a call from a woman who claimed to have been rescued from an assailant while jogging at night. The assailant was stabbed, Sarah. Stabbed in the chest. The woman couldn’t identify the other party, since she seemed to have run off. She, Sarah. A woman saved her.”
            Sarah listened in disbelief. “So?” she finally managed. “So what? I’m glad she was saved.”
            Ben shook his head. “Honey. You know how this sounds like your dream. And it happened just when you wrote your dream down.” He picked up her dream journal from his desk. It was covered in his notes, mostly dates and names and websites.
            Sarah shook her head. “It was a dream, Ben. Remember? Hormones?”
            Ben let out a steadying breath. “Then why do you look as scared as I do?” When she didn’t respond, he said, “Did anything look familiar in that footage?”
            Sarah’s shake turned into a nod as tears that welled up in her eyes. “Everything looks familiar,” she whispered.
            Ben let out a haunted chuckle. He set the dream journal down and began flickering through at least a dozen tabs in his web browser, each one to a different news site. “Every one of your dreams, Sarah, I can track down to an actual reported event. Every one.” He turned back to look at her. “I’ve looked into all of them. That’s what I was doing all night. I saw a news report last night after you went to bed, like the one I just showed you. It sounded just like the dream you described, so I took your journal and began poking around.”
            “Ben, listen to yourself. Do you hear what you’re saying? You’re saying that my dreams are real. That’s insane. You need some sleep. Get some sleep, then email Bob.”
            But before she could turn away, Ben grabbed her by the elbow. “Look, Sarah.”
            She watched as he showed her the articles. He had accounted for every one of her dreams. The details were unmistakably alike. There could be no coincidence. All spoke of foiled kidnappings, slain home invaders and rapists, and two more reports included eye witnesses having seen a woman on the scene.
            “They range from Fairfield to El Dorado Hills, and Rio Vista to Yuba City,” Ben said, referring to the notes he had scribbled in her journal. “All within an hour’s radius of us.”
            “So you think I’m sneaking out of the house and playing crime fighter?”
            Ben shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I know you’ve been in bed with me the whole time. It’s the dreams.”
            Sarah slumped down to her knees beside Ben, suddenly feeling weak. “What do you mean, ‘it’s the dreams?’”
            Ben brought her in for an embrace. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
            They remained in silence for some time, when Sarah felt a sharp, shooting pain in her abdomen. She cried out and bent over. Ben steadied her as she reeled from a sudden wave of vertigo into blackness.
~ ~ ~
            “She’ll be fine, Mr. Prince,” the doctor said as he glanced at his clipboard. “Her vitals are normal, and the bleeding has stopped.”
            Sarah held Ben’s hand as the ER doctor tried to soothe him. Ben said, “And the baby?”
            The doctor, an old man with a receding hairline, put up a placating hand. “The baby is fine, too. Good heartbeat. We did a non-stress test, and both Mom and baby are doing well.”
            Sarah could feel Ben relax, and she relaxed as well. The past couple of hours had been nothing but a scare, and that was all. Just a lot of poking, prodding, and examining.
            “Now, that being said,” the doctor went on. “Your wife might have a weak cervix. As the baby grows, that’ll become a problem.” The doctor looked to Sarah. “I recommend bed rest. At least for the next few weeks, to make sure there’s no more bleeding. We’ll do additional tests at your next check up. But until then, stay in bed as much as possible.” He placed a hand on her gowned shoulder. “And get as much sleep as you can.” He looked to Ben. “Can Dad help Mom with this?”
            Ben looked to Sarah. “I can. Do you sell any sort of Mom-proof restraints? She’ll be hard to keep down.” He offered the doctor a weak smile. Sarah could have kissed him for the attempt at levity.
            The doctor smiled. “I’m afraid not. But promises of chocolate and foot rubs might work.”
            The ride home consisted of talk about baby Diana and bed rest and the doctor’s comb over. But it soon became apparent that they were doing everything they could to speak of anything but the dreams.
            Ben held her hand all the way through the front door and into the living room, where he set her up on the sofa with a blanket and a bowl of rocky road ice cream. He grabbed the remote control and turned the TV on while he positioned himself to give what he promised to be the best foot massage of her life.
            The ten o’clock news had just started. The lead story, as delivered by the usual set of talking heads, was of the press conference held earlier in the day. They cut to a clip of the Sacramento County sheriff standing at a lectern and speaking in to the microphones. “Our investigation into the recent slayings are far from over, though the public can rest assured that we are coordinating our efforts with all local law enforcement agencies. Our gang task force has reported an increase in gang violence, coinciding with the increased presence of new gangs in the area.”
            Ben and Sarah turned to look at one another. “Slayings?” Ben said.
            The sheriff went on. “These slayings must be seen within the context of what has been an alarming swell in the number of violent crimes in the area. Several of the … victims … have been linked to earlier robberies and rapes. Violent crime has nearly tripled in the past month, though how the killing of these suspects will impact future crimes is unknown. Why or how these crimes have been thwarted during the commission isn’t known either. We ask for the public’s vigilance in the upcoming months. We expect still more violent crime.”
            The sheriff went on to give the usual advice on how citizens might protect themselves. Ben muted the television as the talking heads turned to sports, and he and Sarah turned to stare at one another. “Lots of bed rest and sleep, huh?” Ben said.
            “More dreams,” Sarah said. “Sounds like the area could use it.” She didn’t know what she was saying, but Ben didn’t protest.
            “Finish up,” Ben said, indicating the ice cream. “You and little Diana Prince might have a full night ahead.”


Note: Diana Prince is Wonder Woman's name.

This is my second attempt at a short story. I'm not at all comfortable with the pacing and confines of a short story, but I think it's a useful exercise, if for no other reason than to increase one's humility.

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