Chapter 4 The Dream

illustration by Marlene K. Lee


Harry's bare feet were planted on soft cool earth. The room was gone and a vast plain stretched before him to the horizon. It was dizzily circling his head. Harry blinked to control his vision and slowly the landscape came to a halt.

"Where am I?" He nearly spoke the words out loud, but apprehension stilled his voice. Wherever he was, it was far away from his grandmother's house.

He was wide awake but disbelieving. He'd had dreams before which had seemed so real that he would mention some detail of the dream to his mother the next morning, thinking she'd know all about it, only she wouldn't! She would look at him blankly, not knowing what he was talking about, but this wasn't the same at all. This was real! Something had happened; was happening right now. It occurred to Harry to pinch himself but he didn't need to. All his senses were in perfect working order. "I must look pretty stupid standing out here, in my pajamas." said Harry quietly. It was reassuring to hear himself speak. "At least I'm not in my underpants," he teased himself to further ease his apprehension. There was no response to his voice.

The plain ran for miles ahead and seemed to merge into a long black line of hills. The hills were just a dark line on the horizon. The ground was covered with leafy plants, that reached the boy's knees. Some sported bright pink and yellow, flowers.

So far, Harry's only movement had been the raising of his hands to catch his fall. His arms were still upraised and he suddenly felt conspicuous and foolish standing, like a mugging victim, in the great empty field. He slowly turned his head to see what lay behind.

Several towering palm like trees which stood at the foot of hill with a long gentle slope. The summit of the hill was studded with tall rocky buttes, separated by wide gaps. It seemed safe and Harry lowered his arms.

A gentle zephyr mussed the hair on his neck. It seemed to bring with it the faraway sound of a thousand buzzing flies. He turned back into the breeze and saw the plants lightly jostling each other in patches across the field. Then he noticed that the fragrance of the vegetation seemed to be tainted by a faint stench. The details were all too clear for this to be a dream.

Harry tasted the chocolate candy which was still dissolving between his teeth. The candy! He wouldn't have dreamt that! His tongue probed at the gummy malt which was stuck between the crevices of his molars. Of course he was awake, the candy was his proof.

Harry scanned the field again and noticed a motionless object protruding above the plants some distance away. It wasn't easy to judge the distance, but it looked like it might be about six city blocks away. That would be about half a mile.

Overcoming his fears, and spurred on by curiosity, Harry began walking toward the thing, with its distant buzzing. Plants clung to his pajamas, as he threaded through the field. He stepped cautiously, not sure what his bare feet might alight on, in this unfamiliar environment.

The outlines of the object began to take shape. It seemed to be composed of a series of curving, parallel lines. As the distance between the boy and the object diminished Harry again grew apprehensive. The object resembled something he'd seen in a nature program. It looked like the carcass of some huge animal. The parallel lines might be the exposed bones of a rib cage. Harry slowed down and looked in all directions. He seemed to be alone with the object so he nervously walked closer for a better look. Soon there was no doubt left. He was looking at ribs streaked with shreds of dark red flesh.

Harry stopped again to look and listen. The last thing he wanted to stumble into was a lion. The steady drone told him, that whatever dangers lay ahead, the flies at least weren't worried, so he pressed on.

The ribs were huge and elephantine. They seemed to have been pulled low to the ground, by gravity, as though the carcass was empty with little internal structure left to prop it up. Harry judged that the living beast must have stood two or three times his own height. Even now, lying on its side in death, it was several feet taller than he was. As Harry closed in he found a circle of destruction around the body. Sundered bones and body parts were strewn about; bushes were trampled in every direction. It looked as though there had been a struggle, with the lions surrounding the poor beast tearing at it, killing and eating it. He turned the grizzly thoughts around in his head. If he had any sense he'd get away as quickly as possible, but he was giving in to his curiosity.

As he stepped ahead his foot lit on something slippery and cold. Harry instinctively stepped back and curled his lip in disgust. Lying at his feet, like raw hamburger, was the tip of a severed limb nearly twice his own length. A small swarm of flies buzzed in circles around the boy, impatient at the interruption.

He crouched down for a better look. It was a tail as thick as his own waist. A cracked bone protruded from the torn flesh. Drops of red marrow seeped from it. Harry marveled at a huge semicircle of puncture wounds where the tail had been torn from the body. The skin was a dull yellow and deeply wrinkled. Harry stroked a patch that was still untouched by the carnage. It was surprisingly smooth. How long the tail might have been, in life, Harry had no idea. Some of it was missing. Eaten!

The animal was at least as large as an elephant, but something was wrong. Elephants had hardly any tail at all, not much more than a short thin rope. Whatever this was, it wasn't an elephant. Harry rolled his eyes at a preposterous thought. It must be a dinosaur. "Yeah sure," Harry muttered sarcastically, "and I'm Jamm Jetpack."

He slowly stood up to inspect the carcass. From where he stood, he couldn't see the animal's head. He would have to walk around it to get a good look.

As the boy looked for the clearest path to the head, a frantic movement caught his eye. He ducked down behind the carcass and peered around it at several shapes speeding towards him in the distance.

Three figures were weaving back and forth, heading toward the carcass at an excited pace. Harry looked back to the hill, to see if he was clear from behind. He was! He began backing away, all the while keeping his eyes trained on the approaching figures. The distance between the creatures and the carcass was shrinking rapidly. By the time the racing figures had covered half the ground to the carcass, Harry had only backed up half a block. Although he could not yet see what the creatures were, he felt their menace.

Harry turned toward the trees and broke into a mad, crouching run. He ran for about a block then dived into the bushes. His only hope now was to reach one of the trees which were still several blocks away.

Harry pressed his mouth into the crook of his elbow to muffle his panting breaths. He lay quietly, surrounded by vegetation, and tried to listen. He heard a frenzied, sickening sound which came from the direction of the carcass. It told him all he needed to know. Something - three somethings - were busy shredding and devouring the meaty remains.

Harry's eyes fixed on a leaf ahead of him. A small, soft bodied bug, was writhing in mad agony, while a larger, unfamiliar insect gripped it with huge, hairy pincers. Harry watched the small struggle. The small bug's movements were slowing to predictable, rhythmic, convulsions. Harry could see a hydraulic movement in the transparent thorax of the larger predator, as it sucked the juices from its prey. The larva was folding up like an accordion. Harry took hold of his thoughts again. Frenzied, unquenched sounds reverberated in his head.

The cold dread of discovery drained the blood from his face. He felt faint. The sweet stench, which Harry had almost forgotten in his curiosity, began to overpower him. It was the smell of death.

Harry hoped that he was well hidden by the meadow plants but he couldn't be sure. He wondered whether he had left a visible trail of flattened plants which the creatures might follow. He didn't dare get back into a crouch and he was too afraid to look back. He didn't want to do anything which might attract attention.

Slowly and stealthily, he began crawling on his belly, like a soldier in a field of barb wire. He brushed past the butchery on the leaf beside him as sated pincers released a small, shriveled husk. Harry crept two feet, then two feet more. Each time Harry paused, and listened for footsteps. All he heard was feasting. This would take forever but he had no choice. It seemed impossible that he could get away.

For five minutes Harry crawled. Time crawled too. In his mind, an hour passed. Harry stopped for the last time and listened. He heard nothing. Had the creatures stopped gorging themselves? Had they left? Had they seen the bushes rustle as he crept along? Harry kept still. Suddenly a funny thought crossed his mind, Where was a tyrannosaurus rex when you really needed one? Harry smiled, his anxiety momentarily relieved.

Bushes rustled behind Harry and shadows passed over his body. He turned, involuntarily, to look at his tormentors.

Three, awful beaks stood above him, a mere four feet off the ground. The first beak trained two steady, indifferent eyes at Harry. The creature leaned back casually. A foot, with a crescent claw, more terrible than anything Harry had ever seen before, slashed down across the boy's chest. Pink lungs and blood red guts, spilled across his field of vision.

Harry reared up from the waist, clutching his riven chest, and in wide eyed terror, smashed his head into the bedside lamp. A cascade, of malted milk balls, rushed over the edge of the table, and fell noisily upon the floor, rolling, in every direction. Harry's heart pounded so furiously, he thought it would fall out of the gaping wound.

His bedroom door swung open, banging the wall. Two figures rushed in to save the screaming boy.

"What in God's name is going on Harry?" cried a frightened voice.

It was followed by a gentler voice whose concern was betrayed by just the faintest trace of amusement. "Harry! Did you have a bad dream?"

Dazed, Harry looked up at his mother and grandmother. "No Grandma, I didn't!"