In the dream, and he knew it was a dream, the man was clothed in a long white robe and shod in thin leather sandals. In the dream he was standing on a hot expanse of white sand. In the dream, the blistering sun was behind him, roasting his exposed skin like a chicken forgotten in an oven. He knew it was a dream because he would never wear such clothing, would never go to a place so hot and would never, ever do what he was about to do. He knew it was a dream because he had been through this many, many times and it always ended the same way.
He walked away from the sun toward the high dune on the horizon before him. The man, clothed in foreign clothes, shod in foreign shoes, trudged toward the west, sand slowly finding its way between his toes and into every crevice possible on his corpulent pasty frame. Cresting the dune, he tried in vain to stay erect, but as always, the sand gave way and he slid and tumbled to the dry caked old riverbed on the far side. He rose, painfully, and proceeded across the cracked mud, up and over the far bank, and stood at the bottom of the stairs that led up toward the entrance to the black stone building.
It was a temple. An old temple. An old temple devoted to an old foreign god. He knew this. He entered the temple, brushing aside the thick woven curtain that blocked the doorway. Inside, as usual, he grasped a torch and lit it using one of the two small flaming braziers within the entrance. He moved to the center of the black room, so black that the light from the torch did not light the corners of such that as usual seemed too far away given the apparent size of the exterior of the structure. Within these corners, blackness swirled, and spun, not unlike the dust devils that accompanied him as he walked in the desert. He would move toward them and they would slip to corners left and right, his lack of speed and dexterity preventing their capture. Resigned, and tired of the lack of answers as to “who” brought him here and “what” did they want, he returned to the center of the room and awaited the voice.
The building began to hum, sand vibrating up and off of the every horizontal surface, levitating first into the air then floating toward the dark altar before him. The voice came from within the hum, soft then booming as it repeated his full name, not the name he used among associates, not even the name on his false identification he carried nowadays. His true name. His birth name.
He knew this was when he would awaken. He smiled to himself, a curse upon his lips, knowing he would awake in a cold sweat but alive.
Tonight however, the dream changed.
He began to rise from the floor as the sand took shape above the flat stone. A swirling mass, like a school of fish, moved toward him, fast, sharp, menacing. The man screamed as the sand came into contact with his skin and spun faster and faster, shredding first his robes, then his skin, blood, bone and teeth joining the maelstrom. Then at once, it sliced into his open mouth and continued to spin within his throat and chest, ripping him apart as.
A bell rang and Rob Blankson woke screaming. He leapt to his feet from the rickety chair he had fallen asleep on. He looked around as he dodged left and right, black remnants of his nightmare swirled into non-existence. He told himself it was only a dream, thrice before he looked toward the front door to his bait shop. The bell that hung from the frame was still swinging. He ran to the door, pulled it open and yelled into the raging blizzard beyond “Come back here you goddamn thief!” He looked left and right. No footprints in the deep white snow were to be seen. He swore again and shut the door, turned the OPEN/CLOSED sign and locked it behind him and finally switched off the outside light. Turning, he looked down to see sandy footprints across his bent and worn wooden floors.
“Goddamn thieves don’t even wipe their goddamn feet!” he said to no one in particular, then with a pause, shoved his finger in his mouth. He rubbed it between his gum and cheek, pulled it out and examined the findings. Wiping the few grains of sand he had extricated on the leg of his greasy green work pants, he went about finding his push broom. When he returned, there was nothing to sweep.
The dream, as always, was gone from his memory.
Rob Blankson zipped his parka and locked the door behind him. Annoyed that he had to let his only employee have the night off after a threat from the boy’s father (“It’s Christmas eve for Christ’s sake Rob? Who the hell is going to be buying any more bait or lures this weekend with no ice on the bay?”). He did the end of day work and shut up the store. Two days with no sales, everyone eating turkey and putting up with relatives, nobody fishing. He’d get royally pissed both days and nights and have a better time than all of them. He had a pile of video tapes to watch of hickey games he recorded last year and one of WrestleMania 2. To hell with them all. He swore aloud into the night and the wind that “nobody should ever use Royal Taxi, they never show up when ya need em!”
He muttered. He trudged. He plowed his way through the snow, griping out loud as he took slugs from his flask of rye about the lack of plows on the streets and the lazy city workers “probably all down at the public works yard getting f-ed up on tax dollar paid for liquor”. He looked up at a power line pole and squinted at the street sign. It took a minute or so of snow in the eyes before he made out “Charles Street” and he realized he had been turned around in the storm. He somehow had ended up the opposite direction of his home. Swearing, he took another huge pull on his whisky and turned about, into the wind.
After a few more blocks, having finally accepted the lack of traffic and abandoning the sidewalk, more swearing and more complaining, Rob Blankson found his breathing labored. He was not used to any form of exertion. He was not used to walking this far especially half drunk and especially in three feet of snow. The wind blew familiar looking swirling shapes in the roadway beside him. He stopped and watched as one sped off into the night, disappearing as it hit the yellow cone of streetlight that fought its way to the road through the blowing snow. Taking a final sip from his now empty flask, he pocketed it and looked up toward another street sign, his breath and the wind combining to freeze his eyelashes together. Rubbing his face hand to stimulate the blood flow, he squinted and made out “Peterson Avenue” and cursed as he kicked the pole. Again, he had been turned in the storm. He was just as far from his home as when he had retreated twenty minutes earlier. His toes burned, his lungs strained, his finger numb, he re-calibrated his route and turned up Church Street.
A flash of light to his left caught his partly closed eyes. Hoping for a taxi, a cop car or even a city plow, he turned and found himself face to face with a woman standing in silhouette in front of warm firelight. He pondered for a moment asking for shelter if only briefly, if only to stand on her porch, till he saw who it was. He fled up the street into the night, for once, silent.
The woman, olive of complexion, stared hatefully into the night as he disappeared from view. She drew shut her curtains and went back to her work, cursing silently in her native tongue.
Rob Blankson pushed through the snow, knee deep and bitterly cold. He had lost the feeling in both of his feet and his face. He began to recognize buildings and familiar markings and after what seemed hours more than the actual time passed, he dropped to his knees, then his side at the doorway to his shop. Panting like a spent hound, he lay still as snow fell upon his numb face. Sleep knocked at the door of his consciousness, blissful quiet sleep that would take away the suffering his heart and extremities now experienced. Breathing slowed, blackness crept into his mind until through the dark cloud he could hear a tiny dinging of a bell. It rang again as he drifted back and forth between the painless blackness and the real world. It rang a third time, insistently, and a fourth. Rob Blankson muttered the words “Damn bastard thieves.” and pulled himself up to his knees. Dropping his glove to the snow after pulling it off with his teeth, he extracted his keyring from the chest pocket of his parka and with extreme difficulty, managed to inert it into the lock and with two ham hock-like frozen hands, turn it within. He pushed the door open, he fell into the room, kicking it shut against the storm. The man crawled toward the oil stove in the corner of the room, and pulled off his boots. Opening his jacket to let in the heat, he curled in a semi-circle beside the hot metal drum and shivered spasmodically as he allowed himself to fall back into unconsciousness.
The bell did not ring.
In the dream, and Rob Blankson knew it was a dream because of the shadows, it was years earlier. Rob stood in the back room with the pencil neck geek from the city bylaw office who was busy rattling off numbers and fines and threats. He had thought buying round after round of drinks at the City Hotel two nights ago for the geek’s boss would make this all blow over. He tried to call his, acquaintance, for he didn’t really have friends, anymore, but the man actively avoided them. He offered to buy the geek some lunch and a few drinks to talk it over, but the geek said no, he didn’t drink and had already had lunch and didn’t appreciate Rob’s tone. The geek talked. The shadows swirled in the background and in the corners and in the hidden recesses of his memory.
He nodded and made grunts of acceptance. He had to fix the bait holding tank. It was shit. It was chipboard and tarps and bits of piping and a crappy pump. It leaked down through the open floor that it was constructed over and onto the frozen ice below the old dry dock that the previous owner used this room for. The warm pungent waters sloshed and leaked and wetted the ice and the rot began and spread out onto the open harbor skating area. He glanced as the geek indicated. They had put up pylons and tape warning people to stay away. As they watched the geek expressed an overly loud “Oh my god!” and covered his mouth. A small boy learning to skate was holding onto a kitchen chair, skating to beat hell toward the rot. He didn’t know how to stop. At the last second, a man, likely his father, swooped in and lifted the boy off the ground as the chair spun toward its eventual resting place, floating in one of the holes.
“That seals it Mister Blankson. You must empty this tank, after hours, repair the leaks and make it sound. If not, we will close you down.”
The swirling black worms writhed and spun and encircled the geek. They flew back to the corners and congregated as the dream flashed forward.
One year later. Christmas Eve. Rob Blankson was especially down. Sales were miserable, weather was miserably warm but not so warm as to allow for any fishing at all by boat or hole through the ice. It was after dinner hour and he was beginning to think of food as he drank the last of his whisky. He stumbled back to the bait room and yanked at a corroded lever on the side of the tank. Nobody was skating, city pricks were all getting drunk at city hall drinking booze paid for with his tax dollars. The drain plug popped upwards and the wide hole opened, dumping about four hundred gallons of warm water, more than a few dying minnows and a few frogs down through the open floor beneath the tank onto the ice below. The thin crust quickly melted away and broke up under the deluge as a steamy mist reeking of algae and dead fish wafted up into Rob’s nose. As he watched, black shapes fought like salmon against the current back up through the drain hole. He watched them move into the corners of the room and wait.
A dream, a memory, he was lucid but not able to make change to what was about to happen. He moved back to his usual spot, the sound of the water pouring down bringing about a calming mood in his frantic mind. He sat back down in his chair. He swung his (thinner, more agile) legs back up onto the counter. He picked up his now re-filled whisky bottle and drew from it as he stared upwards at the ceiling.
The bell dinged.
The door opened.
The children, the brown foreign children, the brown foreign children not dressed in proper coats for the season being too new to Canada and unaware of winter’s wrath. They walked to the small freezer, fridge to find milk. Rob stood. Rob’s voice boomed.
“You thieving little gypsies! Get the hell out of my store!” and he walked to the front door to block their way. “What do you have in your hands? What have you taken you little shits?!” He moved toward them.
They fled, black shaped darting back and forth between him and them.
Rob said silently “No, don’t go back there. No, don’t. I know you didn’t steal anything.”
Rob move menacingly toward them, cornering them in the bait room. “Come here you little pricks! Thieving little black…”
The children ran to the far side of the tank. They ran expecting to hide but only found algae and mold slick floorboards and slid into a space between the tank and the floor, it giving way, and they falling down into the open water below.
Rob screamed to himself “No! No! Jesus no!”
But what came out was only “Where did you go you little shits?”
He cornered the tank and heard the splashing below. Looking down he saw them go under one, the sister, then two, the boy. He swore to himself. He remembered prison. He remembered the geek. He pulled the second drain lever at the other end of the tank and washed the children down under the ice.
By morning, the ice had frozen over. It had dropped ten degrees overnight and ice was thick and firm. It was nineteen seventy nine. People just assumed the cute little brown children had been kidnapped.
Rob drank for three days.
When Rob woke from the dream he was not alone. The black shapes were in the oil stove. He could see them, behind the thick mostly transparent mica. He jumped back and scrabbled across the floor of his bait shop, knocking down a tripod of wood that held a few dozen fishing poles he had been trying to offload for two years. He slammed his back against a stool that the old timers sat at while they drank his crappy coffee and griped about the government before and after fishing in the warmer months. Twisting in pain, he kept his eyes upon the stove that sat beside the only exit glancing at the door briefly to confirm that the storm was as it sounded, worse than before.
He stood. He grabbed a fish billy from behind the counter. He yelled “You friggers ain’t gonna get me! It weren’t my fault! I know who sent you and she can…”
A gust of wind blew open the door.
As wind and snow rushed in, the bell dinged once as the door slammed firmly against the wall, and again after it shut behind the aged woman who stood before him.
Ron Blankson opened his mouth to speak, to curse, to fill the air with his sour smelling expletives, but as he did, the small round key to the stove door turned with a loud creak. A black wormy shape shot forth and slammed into his face, wriggling like an eel caught in a smelt net as it slid into his overstretched gob and down into his stomach. He gripped at it and found only handfuls of hot air. He tried to cough to choke it up and he dropped to his knees and found all he was able to do was bring up a few mouthfuls of sand.
A second black shape, then a third and a final fourth shot out and found their ways into him as he flopped about trying to escape. The woman reached down and turned up the oil stove heat controls to its highest setting as he tried to stand and stumble. At once, he lost control, and the shaped gained such, walking him like a fleshy golem toward the bait room. He climbed over the wall of the tank and lay down inside, his muffled choking sounds and moans the only evidence that he was not in full control of his actions.
He could hear exertion from the woman in the other room, then a large thud, then, seconds later, a dinging of the bell.
One by one the shapes flowed out of Rob as he lay unconscious in the slick plastic lined bait tank. The old wooden building took very little time to become an inferno, old wood burning very well when fanned by wind.
As the floorboards burned away, Rob dreamt a dream of the desert. He was flat on his back, unable to move, thirsty beyond any thirsty he had ever had. His lungs were raw, his naked form cooking in the hot sun. He gasped, cried, begged and pleaded. His skin sloughed off as his hair melted away. The desert claimed him.
As if heard by the gods and forgiven, a blissful icy cold enveloped his form as he slid down into blackness.
And as the building collapsed, as the floor gave way and he slid out of the tank and under the ice, the bell clanged once more as it dropped onto the wood below.
The storm raged on.
The storm filled footprints.
The mother returned to her home as the sound of sirens filled the air behind her.