Chapter 2 – Dante’s Dream
That night, after a painful dinner listening to her brother recount the story he had heard about Dante’s “header with the softball,” Dante sat at her desk in her room and finished her homework. She leaned back in the chair and stretched her arms over her head, and then reached into her backpack to pull out her journal. She needed to write.
Dante had been keeping a journal for as long as she could remember; even before she could really read or write her mother had gotten her in the habit of scrawling drawings with crayons to help her sort out her thoughts and feelings. It started because of her mother’s desperate attempts to do something to help Dante through her nightmares. Well, it was really just the one nightmare because the dream was always the same.
She would find herself in a forest, without quite knowing how she had gotten there. Even though she had no idea where she was and the trees in the forest were strange to her, she wasn’t afraid. She would begin walking, as though she knew where she was going and the right direction to go to get there. Eventually she would always end up at the mouth of a cave with a faint glow coming from inside. Dante would enter the cave and follow the glow to its source. Rounding a corner she would see a pool of water in front of her, and the light would be coming from the water. She would begin walking over to the pool to look into the water, and on her way there would would realize she wasn’t alone.
The hairs would begin to stand up on her arms and the back of her neck, but she would find herself unable to turn around. Although she wanted to run, it was as if she had lost control over her body and could only keep moving slowly forward toward the water, the light dimming as she got closer. When she reached the edge of the pool she would look down. The water was always covered with fog. Unable to move, she would stare into the pool while the fog slowly cleared so she could see her reflection. As the fog continued to clear, she would watch in horror as the reflection from a pair of red eyes appeared in the pool next to her face. As more of the face started to come into view, she would try to scream but no sound would ever come out.
She would try to draw in a breath, but couldn’t. She wouldn’t be able to turn her head from the water, and could feel her heart pounding harder and harder as a sharp beak came into view under the eyes, and a claw would begin reaching toward her shoulder. Nearly frantic with fear at her inability to move or make a sound, Dante would try harder and harder to draw in her breath to scream. Right before the claw grabbed her shoulder, she would wake up with a tremendous gasp for air.
It was almost always exactly the same. Sometimes she would wander through the trees, sometimes she was right at the cave. Sometimes there was a pool of water, sometimes it was a fountain. The one thing that never changed was the red eyes, beak and claw that would slowly materialize while she was looking into the pool. The first time she had the dream she had been very young, and woke up her mother with her screams. The dream remained a vivid memory in the following months, despite her mother’s attempts to drive the images from her mind. As she got older, it began to come more regularly.
After about the third time Dante had the dream, her mother encouraged her to draw pictures of the monster. That was before Dante could read or write properly, so she made childish scrawls of the monster that haunted her sleep. As she got older, her mother encouraged her to write down her thoughts and feelings, to try and clear her mind. Over the years Dante had gotten into the habit of writing in her journal every night before she went to bed. Her mother said that if she got all the scary, unhappy thoughts out of her head before she went to sleep, it made room for all the wonderful dreams awaiting her. Dante wasn’t so sure it really worked, but she faithfully wrote in her journal every night, and it had been a long time since she had had the dream.
That night she was writing some particularly painful thoughts and feelings about Cory. She really liked him, but was sure he thought she was just a stupid girl who couldn’t catch a softball, make conversation, or do anything the popular girls could do. She was just finishing up when her mother came in to say good night.
“Getting all those unhappy thoughts out of the way so you can have some good dreams?” her mother asked, smiling at her. Dante tried to smile back, but she had never really been able to fool her mother. She sat still in her chair as her mother came up behind her and started to pull her hair back over her shoulders and form it into a ponytail. She dropped it, and then began again, this time braiding it casually.
“You know honey,” she said, “I know it’s hard to move to a new place and try to fit in, especially when it seems so easy for Shaun.” Dante didn’t say anything. Her mother let her hair drop, and bent down to kiss Dante’s neck. “Come on,” she said, turning around and pulling back the covers on Dante’s bed, “let’s say good night to this day and try again tomorrow.” Dante got into bed, laid back and let her mother smooth the covers over her. Her mother bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead.
“Good night sweetheart.”
“Good night mom.”
Her mother turned out the light and closed the door. Dante rolled over on her side and turned her thoughts to Cory. She knew he didn’t like her – no one liked her, or at least no one like Cory. He could run faster than anyone in class, and always finished his math test first. Although he always knew the answer when the teacher called on him, he didn’t raise his hand every time. And he seemed to be pretty nice. After all, when the other kids would tease Dante about her journal, or her clothes, or how bad she was at sports, Cory didn’t exactly come to her defense but he didn’t join in either.
Dante could never talk around him, because she always felt kind of funny when he was standing near her. If he smiled at her, she was never sure why; she just figured he was trying not to laugh at her. She sighed and rolled onto her other side. There was no point in thinking about him. She fell asleep happy in the knowledge that the next day was Saturday, and she had two whole days before she had to go back to school and face everyone. She felt herself relaxing into sleep.
Dante looked around at the walls of the cave. They seemed familiar but she wasn’t sure where she had seen them before. There was a glow of light in front of her, and she walked toward it. She rounded a corner and saw a low, round stone wall in front of her encircling a pool of water. The water was completely smooth, and there was faint glow of reflected light. Dante walked slowly to the edge of the pool, and looked down into the water. There was a mist covering the surface but as she gazed in it began to clear. It began to feel like someone was standing behind her, but she realized with horror she couldn’t turn around. As the mist cleared she could see her frightened reflection in the water. And then she saw the eyes.
She tried to scream but no sound came out. In the reflection of the water she could see the monster behind her. It reached out a claw and grabbed Dante’s shoulder. She kept trying and trying to scream, but couldn’t get her breath. As the monster was bending down toward her, Dante tried desperately to take a deep breath and scream with all her might. The monster threw back its head and began to laugh. It was a horrible sound, a high pitched tone that pierced Dante’s ears.
Dante woke up to her alarm clock blaring in her ear. She groaned and reached up to turn it off. Saturday. It was Saturday. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten to turn off her alarm clock before she went to sleep. She fell back on the bed and sighed. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but her heart was still racing from the nightmare and she couldn’t relax. As much as she would have liked to sleep in, she had to admit she was awake and ready for the day to begin. She sighed, and decided to get an early start on her day by getting her chores done so she could have a picnic in the park next to her house.
After breakfast, Dante decided to start by cleaning her room. She also needed to clean the bathroom she shared with Shaun, and change the litter in the cat box. After that she would be free to go. She just needed to get into the bathroom to clean before Shaun got in there to take his shower – not that he would be up this early. But still, maybe she should just start there. Abandoning her room she headed for the bathroom and her morning of chores.
Once her chores were finished she went into the kitchen to make her lunch. She made a tuna fish sandwich, and included a baggie full of potato chips, an apple and a few cookies. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and put the rest of her lunch in a brown bag. Going back up to her room, she dumped her schoolbooks out of her backpack and put her lunch and her journal inside. Realizing that the pile of books on the bed ruined the nice, neat image her morning cleaning had given her room, she pushed them higher up toward the pillows and covered them with stuffed animals. She was ready to go.
She loved the old house her parents had bought, and she especially loved the park right next to it. She had discovered a great hiding place shortly after they moved in by hiking around some rocks on the far end of the park. Lots of the kids wouldn’t go there, saying it was an old burial ground and that the spirits of Native Americans haunted the rocks. There was even a story about a boy who had gone hiking in the rocks and hadn’t come back. Dante half doubted the stories, and half hoped they were true. Ghosts aside, the rocks were a great place to get away by herself, write her thoughts in her journal, and illustrate her feelings in and around the words.
She hiked up over the first of the rocks and, climbing over and between the large boulders, made her way to an outcropping of rock that formed a natural cover. She ducked under the overhang to get out of the sun, and made her way over to a small pool of water in the middle of a large, flat rock. She sat down cross-legged and shrugged off her backpack.
She wasn’t sure where the water came from; there didn’t seem to be any source. She had stuck her hand in it one time, figuring it was just a shallow depression and she’d quickly feel the bottom, but she hadn’t – even when the water reached her shoulder. It was a little creepy but she still liked sitting there reading and working on her journal. Sometimes she would look at her reflection in the still pool, and wonder what it was that others saw when they looked at her.
She pulled the sandwich from her bag and began eating. In between bites, she grabbed her journal out of her backpack. The hard blue covers were filled with drawings and there was a hair band holding it together. Dante removed the band, used it to tie back her hair, and began leafing through the pages. There were pictures of fluffy clouds, her cat Shiraz, and even one picture of Cory that she had folded over so no one could see.
She had also made some entries about things that had happened at school. She felt a little sad as she read them over. Finishing her sandwich, she reached into the bag for the apple. As she started munching, she reread the softball episode from the day before. As she read she could feel the tears stinging her eyes. She put the remains of her apple in the baggie her sandwich had been in, put it in the paper bag with the chips and cookies, and put the bag back into her backpack. She really wasn’t very hungry. She sat for a minute wondering if she should leave, and then remembered the nightmare. It had been a long time since she had drawn a picture of the monster. Maybe that would help.
She zipped up her backpack, shifting to get more comfortable, and then picked up her journal and pen. She bent her head over the book and began to draw the monster from her nightmare. She paused, remembering how it looked in the reflection of the pool, and for a moment she gave a wary glance to the water in front of her. Then she shook her head at her own foolishness and continued her work. She was having trouble getting the image right, and some of the details seemed to tease along the edge of her memory without ever really coming clear. She struggled to get the image right.
A strong breeze began to blow, picking up Dante’s hair and blowing it around in her ponytail. She looked up in surprise, since the wind rarely blew that hard and she never remembered it blowing under the rocks. She looked back down at the drawing, and noticed that the page it was on had begun coming loose from the cracked binding of the book. She looked at it for a moment, getting lost in the pattern of the cracked binding when a sharp wind tore the drawing she had been working on from the journal and blew it into the pool.
“Shoot!” Dante scrambled forward and reached out to capture the drawing before it was ruined. She moved too quickly, and got her leg tangled in the straps of the backpack lying at her feet. For a moment she wavered, but then lost her balance. She realized with a shock that she was going to fall into the pool. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for the inevitable splash and the water to close over her.