Once upon a time, there was a poor little dream girl who, through no fault of her own, became separated from her mother and found herself lost in the real world. It was a terribly dark and lonely place and as she was the sleepy byproduct of ephemeral thoughts, ethereal ideas, and gossamer sensations, she was essential naked. She roamed through the streets lacking the protective emotional outer layers mortals wrapped themselves with in order to survive the harshness of reality.
Added to her misfortune, Dream Girl quickly discovered the longer she remained on this all too physical plane of existence, the more solid, the more human she was becoming. She needed clothing to hide a nakedness that she was not previously aware of, as well as food and shelter if she was to survive, but unfortunately she possessed none of the currency of this world, so she plucked individual dreams from her nacreous cloud hair to barter for what she needed. They were all high quality fantasies and flights of imagination and she offered them at a fraction of their true worth but no one was interested. Another lesson she learned was that once plucked, dreams that were unattached to a dreamer, had a limited lifespan before eventually withering away from neglect.
During the day, even when the sun was at its apex, Dream Girl found reality to be cold and at night it became colder still. It was necessary to find shelter but despite the many doors she knocked on, no one took pity on her plight, so she was forced to hunker down in an alleyway to make her bedding. She plucked more dreams from her head and wove a crude blanket to help keep off the cold. As she slept, street urchins in dirty rags stole her blanket and plucked handfuls of dreams from her hair and when she woke in the early hours her mostly human body was blue from frost and her head nearly bald.
Dream Girl found that she lacked the strength to move from the alley, so she plucked one of the remaining dreams and attempted to turn it into a wish to return home, a trick she had watched her mother do on many occasions, but she was too young and lacked the knowledge and experience to perform the deed properly. Shivering, she hugged her knees to her chest, drawing herself into the tightest ball she could manage, and plucked another dream. And one after that. And another one still, trying in vain to open a doorway back to the place she belonged, back home with her family, until she had only one strand, one single dream remaining.
Dream Girl held the final dream between frozen fingers that had lost all sensation but this time there was no thought of turning it into a wish. She simply let a dream be a dream, and oh how she dreamed. It was the biggest dream she ever dreamt, which was filled with the most beautiful light in existence that washed away the gray of reality and gave off such a warmth as to permeate to her marrow. And in that magnificent light she saw the loving and concerned face of her mother.
“Mother, I am lost and I am dying,” Dream Girl said, breaking down into uncontrollable sobs.
“I am coming for you,” Dream Mother said. She too was crying but her tears were tiny glistening stars that fell upon her daughter, blanketing her in warmth. And as the little one stretched out her arms toward her mother, the dream evaporated.
In the early hours just before dawn, Dream Mother stepped into the gritty, gray alley, past the vermin and refuse and found her daughter, the little dream of her life, huddled in the farthest corner, frozen to death. She knelt and gingerly took the stiff corpse into her loving arms and from her own hair of swirling colorful fantasies, she plucked a special dream and began the gentle process of transmuting it into a wish.
As swiftly as it had arrived, the voice inside her head departed and all Mayra was left with was the sound of breathing, but not just her own. Beside her, Gavin was also sitting up, a bewildered expression playing on his face. “I had the craziest nightmare, babe. There was something going on but not on Earth and somehow Heaven got destroyed.”
But she knew it wasn’t a nightmare, it was a realization. Heaven was gone. And just as she knew it was the truth, she also knew that everyone else in the world knew it, as well. Without a word passing between them, they sat in bed for what seemed like hours in stunned silence, their breathing synchronized in the darkness, experiencing the loss together but separately.
Eventually Gavin succumbed to fatigue and went back to sleep, but that was not an option for Mayra. She was made of questions and speculation so she pulled the tablet out of her messenger bag and padded quietly on the balls of her feet out of the bedroom and into the living room. Settling on the couch, legs folded beneath her, she reached for the remote and turned on the tv. Clicking through the twenty-four-hour news channels and even the syndicated stations that ran local news, she was trying to get confirmation that other people felt the disappearance as well, but there was nothing. Well, almost nothing. She thought she noticed something in the faces of the news anchors, a lack of expression but something else too. It was difficult to work out but she read it as either the absence of hope or the longing for something lost in oblivion. Was she imagining it? Conjuring clues to prove that she and Gavin weren’t alone in this? That she wasn’t as nutty as she felt? Too many strange emotions were at play within her, all happening at once, competing for her attention.
She turned the tablet on and just as she had done with the tv, she searched internet news sites and social media and found nothing. She began to doubt herself. Surely if other people felt what she had someone would have posted about it. The thought crossed her mind to post something herself, but she couldn’t find the words to express it properly, so with a sigh, she turned off both tablet and tv and went back to bed.
Gavin was sleeping on his side facing her so she slipped herself beneath the sheet and pressed her back to his chest in the little spoon position and wrapped his arm around her belly. She wanted him to feel it, the life growing within her. She wanted him to know without her having to tell him, the same way he knew about Heaven.
But it was no use, she couldn’t sleep so she spent the morning at the kitchen table staring at her laptop, nibbling her bottom lip and absently stirring a mug of coffee. Gavin shuffled in, rubbing sleep from his eyes and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. He kissed her temple on the way to the coffee pot. “Did you get any sleep?”
“I tried,” Mayra answered. “But my mind won’t shut down.”
He poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip. “I guess your hand won’t either.”
Gavin pointed at her hand raking the spoon in continuous circles in the chipped coffee mug. “If you stir that any more you’re going to drill a hole through the table,”
“Oh,” she let go of the spoon.
He glanced at the empty stovetop, said, “Guess I’m making breakfast?”
“Sorry,” she said, pointing at the laptop. “Distracted.”
“Anything interesting in the news?”
“Absolutely nothing. Just the same old trivial nonsense. No mention of what happened.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. If the media could prove it’s real they’d be on the story quick fast and in a hurry, but this feeling,” Gavin shook his head. “It not newsworthy right now. There’s no proof that what we felt meant anything.”
“I don’t know how but I’m certain everyone felt it, Gavin, even if they’re incapable of understanding it, they felt it. That has to mean something.”
“Come on, I’m not stupid, babe.” Gavin grabbed four eggs and an open pack of bacon from the refrigerator. “Of course, everybody feeling it means something, but how does the media report about a thing like this until something concrete happens? We need signs and even if the sky opened up and a winged angel appeared and made an official proclamation, people would still find some way to debunk it as a Hollywood movie promotional stunt or something. Far easier to shrug it off as a nebulous possibility than deal with the frightening reality.”
Mayra nodded with an audible sigh. “So, what happens next?”
“Nothing good,” he pulled a skillet from the wall mounted pot holder and placed it on the stove over a low flame. “When people come onboard to the fact that Heaven is gone, that there’s no great reward at the end of the journey for living a good life…” he let the sentence trail off as he peeled bacon strips and carefully laid them in rows to sizzle on the hot skillet. “Right now, I think I feel safer with people not believing it happened. The moment that changes is the moment we start running out of options.”
“So, we just pretend the world is the way it’s always been?”
“That’s just it, babe, the world is the same. Even with the absence of Heaven it doesn’t change the fact that we need to live our lives.” Gavin held an egg in his hand, “How do you want ‘em?”
“Scrambled,” she answered but wasn’t really hungry. She also wasn’t the sort of person who was good at pretending things were fine when they weren’t.
Mayra was eager to get to work. She convinced herself she needed a distraction but the truth of the matter was she needed to get out of the house. Although Gavin was being incredibly and unusually adult about the situation, she felt the nagging suspicion that he wasn’t as invested in Heaven’s disappearance as she was, which led her to think, did Gavin actually believe in God or the afterlife? Had she unknowingly been living with a secret atheist? She wasn’t even sure if there was such a thing as secret atheists, but she knew some space needed to be put between the both of them.
She worked as veterinary receptionist at the Calumet Animal Hospital. It was a temporary job, kind of, sort of, loosely related to her field of interest. At least that’s what she told herself to keep her spirits up. She was on a gap year between earning her bachelor’s degree and starting a graduate program. Her goal was to become a marine biologist. The time off from her studies wasn’t so much a mental break as it was a necessity. Her grants didn’t allow her the luxury of living on campus so she and Gavin moved into the cheapest one bedroom they could find to make ends meet. Only Gavin was in between jobs at the moment so the burden fell on her to bring in some income until he got back on his feet. The animal hospital was the best fit as it was within a comfortable walking distance from their apartment and offered a ton of overtime.
But work wasn’t the distraction Mayra hoped it would be. Just as with the tv news reporters, she saw in the faces of the clinics’ clients the same longing.
During lunch, she picked at the yogurt cups and grapes she brown-bagged from home, still not hungry. When one of her coworkers, Susie, asked, “What’s the deal? You’re usually all energetic and talky.” Mayra brought up what she now referred to as the knowing.
“Maybe you should give tv and the internet a break,” Susie said.
“I just can’t believe there isn’t anything on the fact that Heaven is gone.”
“How do you report on something like that? Without sounding crazy? I mean, maybe, despite all the religious flag waving, most people don’t care because to them it’s something that never existed in the first place. Finding out Heaven’s gone wouldn’t change anything for them.”
This was no use. It was like talking to Gavin. But perhaps they both were on to something. What if it wasn’t a lack of caring, but shock. It was definitely a hard thing to wrap one’s head around especially if people stopped to consider how the world would be affected by the absence of Heaven.
“And maybe people are changing religions,” Susie continued. “With Heaven confirmed, what’s to say other religious or mythical afterlives aren’t real also? Plenty of alternatives to choose from.”
Sighing, Mayra stood, gathered her lunch and dropped it in the trash. Even though her shift was half over, she knew it was going to be a long rest of the day.
Despite the fact she called it an early night and how utterly exhausted Mayra was when she slipped between the sheets, sleep simply would not come. Every time she closed her eyes she saw the digital display of her pregnancy test reading:
It would have been called fitful if she actually managed to fall asleep even for an instant, instead she tossed and turned, trying to force her mind to relax, dreading the effects of a sleepless night on her ability to get through the work day tomorrow, or later today if she was being accurate. Mayra eventually realized she was achieving little more than gnawing away at her sanity, so she closed her eyes, sighed heavily and when she opened them, she found herself in a dream.
One, two, three, shoot! Scissors. One, two, three, shoot! Paper. Mayra’s right hand, balled in a fist, pumped at subliminal speed, slamming into the flattened palm of her left as she shot rock, paper, scissors in a seemingly random order that somehow anticipated her opponents’ throws and eliminated them one by one. That was how she knew this was a dream because all her life she had been absolutely shit at playing roshambo.
She was at a public pool, one she knew very well. It was located in the heart of Claremont Park in The Bronx, a mere fifteen or so long blocks from her childhood home. Her nose was filled with the scent of chlorine which was how everyone knew when the pool had officially opened for the summer because the smell burned nostril hairs and stung eyes from a city block away.
Mayra wore her first ever and favorite floral two-piece swimsuit, the one her mother let her choose by herself which fit perfectly when she was eleven years old but not so much now that she was a full grown, fully developed woman. It still served its purpose by covering up the bits that needed to be covered but she was showing off way more skin that she was comfortable with which made her self-conscious. A quick glance around the pool confirmed that no one was staring at her so her anxiety eased slightly.
It was summer recess and most of Mayra’s friends were here, both from school and her neighborhood. She was an adult but her friends were children which wasn’t bizarre seeing as that was how she remembered them, all except for Bethany, also an adult, who was the only person she managed to stay in touch with throughout the years. Incidentally, Bethany was also wearing a two-piece swim suit and hers fit perfectly which she found unfair to say the least.
Mayra had been a lucid dreamer from the time she remembered her first nightmare and certainly before she knew the ability had a name. And she was quite familiar with this particular dream because she had it many times before. The pool was some sort of anchor point for her, probably because it represented some of the happiest times of her life, when the summer was the best time of the year because it was fresh with the promise of childhood freedom and full of adventurous possibilities.
They were gearing up to play Sharks and Minnows and as Mayra demolished the competition during the selection process, she was the shark. Kicking off her rainbow flip flops, she dove into the water and took a position in the center of the shallow end while her minnow friends formed a line along the lip of one side of the pool.
“Fishies, fishies, cross my ocean!” Mayra challenged.
The minnows jumped into the water, some diving straight in, some cannonballing, and Bethany, who wanted to make the biggest splash, took a running start, jumped high in the air and pulled one leg to her chest, the other one sticking down toward the water as she bent back at a 35-degree angle. The minnows started swimming to the opposite end, giving the shark as wide a berth as they could in the crowded public pool. Mayra remained still until the first minnow was about to swim past.
“Shark attack!” Mayra yelled and began swimming at a frantic pace. The school of minnows shrieked, laughed and paddled as fast as they could trying to reach the other end of the pool, the safe base, without getting tagged. But the shark knew which minnow she was after, the one who lagged behind all the rest and Mayra caught up with Bethany easily but didn’t tag her immediately. The shark swam past her best friend and placed herself directly in the minnow’s path.
The minnow crashed into the shark and before she could back away Mayra lifted an index finger out of the water and booped Bethany’s nose, smiling, “Tag. Guess who’s shark chow?”
“That’s so unfair,” Bethany slapped the surface of the water. “You always pick on me cause I’m the slowest!”
“I pick you because you always do that stupid can opener dive to try and splash-blind me. Don’t hate me just cause I’m a water baby.”
“Oh yeah? Well, have some water, baby!” Bethany’s hands flew to the top of Mayra’s head and dunked her underwater.
Oh, am I going to make her pay, Mayra thought as she play-struggled beneath Bethany’s hands but wasn’t worried. Luckily, she managed to hold her breath in time and the water was shallow, that is, it was shallow until the pool bottom dropped away quickly and water began rushing past her and she realized she was plunging straight down like an anchor.
And then the water wasn’t water. It was more like mud. Mud that stopped her descent and left her floating for a moment before propelling her back up the way she came but when she resurfaced, she was no longer in the park pool. It was suddenly twilight but not eigengrau, the dark grey color seen by the eyes in perfect darkness, this was an inky darkness so pitch she couldn’t tell where mud-water met sky or whether she was facing a swimming pool edge, a shore or some other land mass or simply more water. She was completely adrift, disoriented and had no means of navigation, not even the faint light of night stars. Her world was now liquid and gas black in every direction. A strange and illogical thought hit her, Was I in the deep end of the pool? followed by, How long was I underwater?
“Okay, Bethy, joke’s over!” Mayra’s head was on a swivel for a sign of somebody, anybody else in the water but there was nothing. “Bethany, this isn’t funny!”
“Polo,” a voice called out but she couldn’t tell if it was Bethany or one of her other friends because it was so distant.
“Bethy? Is that you?”
“Polo,” the voice said again still far away but Mayra knew the direction it came from this time.
“Marco!” Mayra shouted and when she heard Polo confirm the location, she began swimming toward it. She paced herself because she had no idea how far out she was or how long she needed to keep up her strength. She occasionally called out “Marco” and listened for the “Polo” reply to make sure she was swimming in a straight line in the dark.
Then her swimming became labored, something was pulling her in the opposite direction. She was caught in a rip current! She forced herself not to panic because it took a clear head to escape. She knew, despite the sensation, that the rip current wouldn’t drag her underwater, it would only pull her straight out to sea. She was a decent swimmer so she wasn’t in immediate danger of drowning unless she exhausted herself by trying to fight the current that was stronger than she was. Normally, she would have either swum in the direction of the nearest breaking waves, which marked the current’s edge, or parallel to the shore to escape the current, but as she couldn’t see the shoreline in all the blackness, Mayra swam perpendicular to the current and prayed for the best. With any luck, the current she was in was an average one, less than thirty feet wide, and not a larger one that could have reached up to two hundred feet.
After a while she began getting tired so she floated on her back to conserve energy. This was usually when she would have woken herself up, during a lull in events, but this time it wasn’t working. Mayra remained inside the dream, staying afloat and attempting to relax until she drifted past the breaking waves. She felt the rip current becoming weaker. When she felt confident that she was ready to give it another try, she rolled over in order to begin swimming diagonally away from the current. Her face was momentarily beneath the water’s surface as she turned over but when it emerged she saw that it was no longer dark. The sky was unusually clear and the deepest blue she had ever seen in my life. The water was no longer dark, in fact, it wasn’t blue or green or clear or any color she had ever seen water be. It was a pearlescent white whose texture was liquid silk soft against her skin. Off in the distance she could see what looked like a shoreline but she couldn’t be sure as it reflected an intense white light even though there was no sun in the sky.
“Marco!” she called out and waited for a Polo that never came, so Mayra swam toward the shore hoping it wasn’t some sort of water mirage. Turned out it wasn’t. The water began getting shallower and when it was chest-deep, she planted her feet and walked to shore. The ground beneath her feet wasn’t soil, sand, gravel, pebbles, cobbles, rock, or shells, it was soft, almost as if she was walking on air—no, not quite that—like the fluffiest cotton as to make her feel nearly weightless. Just then, the silliest thought crossed her mind, The reason there are no clouds in the sky is because I’m standing on top of them.
Suddenly, with what should have been a start, Mayra realized she wasn’t alone on the shore. There was someone else standing directly behind her. Normally, she would have recoiled but she somehow sensed she wasn’t in any danger. She turned face to face with a being bright enough to cut the eye. Their face was in a constant state of flux, shifting from the familiar faces of people whose names she couldn’t recall, to images of other things that existed beyond her understanding and therefore defied description. From their body (their because the being standing before her was neither male nor female so she automatic used the nonconforming gender pronouns, they, their and them) which was pure light, a series of wings protruded at odd angles. She counted at least thirty before giving up but there could easily have been a hundred or more. The wings were emerald green, covered with saffron hairs, and appeared to be liquid by the way they reflected the light and by the faint brush strokes they made in the air as they gently flapped. On each wing were different faces of various hues and genders with unblinking eyes full of intelligence and understanding that spoke innumerous languages, none of which she understood but found beautiful nonetheless. She could have stood there motionless for the rest of her life, staring at the marvel she knew to be an angel, enveloped in wave after wave of peacefulness and contentment and acceptance and unconditional love.
Without warning, Mayra was slammed in the back by some sort of wave of vibration that knocked her off her feet and pressed her into the soft ground as if it had its own physical weight. She thought it might have been an explosion but there was no thundering boom. But she felt a vibration in her chest, shaking her so hard it made her teeth rattle.
She looked up stunned and glanced around and saw a crack appear in the distance of the silky milk white waters. An impossible crack that became longer and longer, stretching and slicing through the waves, traveling toward the shore. She watched as it divided the waters and the cotton soft shore, branching off along the way like ground lightning. Anything that got in its way became cracked as well as it went on through and kept going. Although it was impossible to tell how, she knew it was alive, sentient, angry and on a mission.
Unable to move, pinned to the spot in fear, Mayra watched as it snaked slowly in her direction for a moment then shot out rapidly! She squeezed her eyes shut and screamed. Then she felt something grab hold of her wrist and pull her along. Opening her eyes she discovered she was no longer on the ground but flying. No, not flying, being dragged through the sky by the angel, a pale thin hand emerged from the white light body and secured itself around her wrist. Her body whipped up and down and left and right like a flag in a gale storm but she felt no pain as if divorced from the stress of the physical demands on her ragdoll body. Perhaps it had something to do with being within the angel’s aura. She ventured a look behind and saw with astonished terror that the crack had leapt from the shore and was forking its way through the air itself. As the angel flew faster, the crack not only matched speed but it was slowly gaining on them, plotting an ominous path toward her flapping feet. She tried to call to the angel but found it hard to breath with the wind whipping in her face.
Mayra turned her head back to the crack that was now only mere inches away. The angel began flying in an evasive pattern and she quickly lost sight of the crack. She twisted her head desperately, this way and that, but was unable to see where it went. It wouldn’t remain a mystery for long. The crack had zigged and zagged until it was above and behind the angel and herself. It plummeted toward them. Then Mayra felt a sharp pain in her left heel and heard the horrifying sound of flesh tearing. She let out a blood curdling scream and shot a glance down to her leg and her mind froze. The crack was cutting through her flesh, muscle and bone and traveling up her ankle, calf, thigh…
The angel stopped, hovering in midair and pulled Mayra up by the shoulders. The mouths on their shifting faces opened and closed, speaking to her but she couldn’t hear anything over her own screams as the crack separated her crotch, her torso, her breasts, her neck and finally her head.
Mayra sat bolt upright in bed, shivering. Her nightshirt, drenched in sweat, was now see-through. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stop the shaking. She immediately became aware of a voice that struck like a shaft of light through the fog clouds existing between her dreaming and consciousness state, illuminating a series of images which flashed at an ultraliminal speed. The voice, not her own though it came from within her, translated these images into a thought, a single phrase that repeated itself. As it rose in intensity and severed the last tether of sleep, she parted her lips and whispered, “Heaven is dead.”