John knew he was dreaming, though that didn’t make it any better. He hated the dream, yet knew it the same as he knew his wife, an old lover—someone that he had spent the most important moments of his life with. Because, when John got right to the point, what other moments were there besides those like his dream?
He held the gun in his hand, barrel facing the ground.
He knew what came next, because he was only reliving what had been done years ago. It didn’t matter how many times he dreamt this, it always ended the same. He couldn’t change it and perhaps that’s why everything went so wrong—his inability to change anything.
John watched the seventeen-year-old dream-version of himself lift the gun up, the barrel shaking from both excitement and fear. He had never done this before, despite everything else that had already happened in his seventeen years of life. Somehow, he stayed away from this. Until now.
He stood on the black asphalt, the trees surrounding him hiding the moonlight above. Who was the girl in front of him? He didn’t remember her name, not now anyway.
Is that true, John, or do you just refuse to name her after all this time?
Perhaps the dream version of himself knew, but now, he walked among this past the way a ghost might walk around the world. He wanted to reach out and tell himself to stop, to put the gun down—or at least part of him did. Another part though, wanted to watch it happen.
The girl was crying. Hot, fat tears ran down her face, swelled on her chin, and then fell—disappearing into the dream’s darkness. John looked at her, lips quivering, body shaking from fear instead of the winter night’s bitter cold. Her eyes said she hoped that this would all work out, sparkling in the moonlight, but that she knew it wouldn’t. Hope and knowledge rested in the seventeen-year-old version of John, too. Hope that this would be as good as he dreamed, and a quiet knowledge that it never could.
Still, the gun didn’t stop its ascent, shaking the same as the girl on her knees.
“Please,” she said.
The last word she ever spoke.
John pulled the trigger, momentarily closing his eyes at the gun’s roar. He only closed them for a second though, as everything inside of him wanted—no, needed—to see what happened next.
He watched her forehead balloon outward as the bullet wrecked the skull beneath. Blood spurted from the front of her head, and the bullet smashed through the back, sending brain and bone splattering on the car behind her. Her eyes stood open, but the life inside them was gone. Blood dripped down from the hole in her forehead, over her eyelids, turning the white of her eyes red.
She remained there for a second or so, as if in shock, unable to believe that her head was no longer intact. Then she fell backwards and to the left—her head hitting the car door—before falling to the ground. Her hair trailed behind her head, smearing the already cooling blood.
John watched the younger version of himself stand there, alone in the cold night, with the gun’s report still echoing in his ears.
* * *
John opened his eyes and looked across the dark room, expecting to see nothing but the chest-of-drawers against the opposite wall. Sweat pooled across his skin, causing a chill to run over his entire body despite the blanket draped over him.
He blinked twice, not moving an inch. He wasn’t looking at the chest-of-drawers. He saw someone that he hadn’t seen in a long time, someone that he hoped to never see again.
Harry stood across the room, his hands in his pockets, looking directly at John.
Harry had aged, just as John had, which didn’t make a lot of sense because Harry never aged a day after thirteen. Still, he stood there, looking a bit heavier and a bit older.
Maybe he’ll leave. Maybe this is just the dream’s hangover.
“Hey, John,” Harry said.
John looked to his right, seeing Diane still lying asleep.
“You know she won’t wake,” Harry said and John almost groaned at his voice. John closed his eyes, turning his head so that if he opened them, he would only see the ceiling.
God, please, make this a dream. Please.
“Still doing the praying thing, I see. When did that start? It was most definitely after I left, but I hoped it would pass. Just doesn’t make any sense … ya know, given everything.”
John didn’t open his eyes but he couldn’t shut out Harry’s voice. Harry who shouldn’t be here, who was nearly twenty years dead, but who stood across the room all the same.
The dream. He should have known what the dream meant. That Harry was coming—or he was near, at the very least. Though in this case, Harry had been waiting the moment John woke up.
“Go away,” John said. “I don’t want you here anymore.”
“Come on, we both know that’s not entirely true. If you didn’t want me here at all, then I wouldn’t be here, would I? I’m not the one running the show, John. You are.”
“Please go, Harry. Please. I need more time. I need … I can’t do that again.”
Harry didn’t move, kept his hands jammed in his pockets, but his voice wandered as if it were taking a stroll. “Need is a funny word, I think. I’m not sure that need is completely in the equation between the two of us, but I’m not sure it’s out of that equation either.”
John listened to him prattling on, only caring that Harry wasn’t leaving. That Harry was still here, standing in John’s room.
“Look, go back to sleep,” Harry said. “We can discuss this all in the morning. We’re not going to get all of our work done tonight, that’s for sure. There’s a lot to do, John. A whole lot.”
John blinked and when his eyes opened, the chest-of-drawers stood alone, the moonlight from the window behind slicing through the room but showing nothing of Harry.
It was a dream. Just a part of the dream. He wasn’t here … you’re okay …
John thought the words, but he didn’t know if he believed them. When Harry arrived, he arrived. Because for Harry, despite what John wanted, there was plenty of work to be done.
* * *
Alicia hated this time of year. The weeks leading up to it and the weeks after. She couldn’t get away from it, though—because the time of year had nothing to do with the climate. She couldn’t run from it like she could the weather. If she wanted to avoid the cold, she could pack up and go on a vacation; Alicia could escape much in this world, but she couldn’t escape her mother’s death. This time of year would come regardless of where she lived or however else she tried to avoid it.
Alicia walked out of her house and into the chilly morning air. She kissed her husband goodbye before leaving, but her heart hadn’t been in it. She wasn't able to stop thinking about speaking with John, or about their mom. He handled her death worse than anyone else, and this month was always tough on him. On top of that, she’d nearly been derelict in her duty to him—despite her thinking of him more and more as the date grew near, she hadn’t called him in days.
She opened her Toyota’s door and sat down in the car, placing her purse in the passenger seat. She started the car; the clock on the dash read six. He would be on his way to work too. Alicia didn’t always leave at this time, but when she wanted to talk to John, she knew she could get ahold of him now.
Alicia pulled out of the driveway then grabbed her phone from her purse. She found her brother’s number and let the phone ring through her car’s stereo system.
“Hello?” John answered.
“Hey, it’s me. What ya up to?”
“Just driving to work.”
Silence came over the line, feeling like a cold breeze running across her skin. Her brother and her didn’t have awkward silences like this, not on the phone and not in person.
“Have you talked to Dad?” Alicia said, wanting to fill the space with something.
“Oh,” John said. “No, I haven’t … have you?”
“What do you mean, oh?” Alicia said. John sounded surprised, as if the anniversary of their mom’s death wasn’t this next week.
“I just … I haven’t thought about it, I guess.”
Alicia didn’t know what to say, was almost speechless. She stared out the windshield, the car rolling down the mostly empty road. She wasn’t sure she had ever heard her brother say something like that, as if their mom’s death was just a side issue and not a central piece of both their lives.
“Have you talked to him?” John said.
“I called him last night.”
“I’ll probably give him a call today then,” he said.
A few seconds passed and then Alicia said, “Are you okay, John? You sound out of it.”
His answer didn’t come back immediately, but he finally said, “Yeah, I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep well last night. A lot of bad dreams. I’ll call today.”
“You’re sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Yeah, positive. I’m fine, just sleepy.”
“Okay. Call me later?”
“Sure,” John said.
“K. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
The call ended and Alicia sat in silence. She knew John as well as she knew anyone besides perhaps her husband, and she had been with her brother the past decade at this time of year. He never, ever forgot their mother’s death. He never went this long without calling their father, not around this anniversary.
What are you getting at, Alicia? He’s sleepy so he hasn’t been thinking about Mom, and you’re imagining … what exactly?
But she didn’t know. She was just worried. She wanted him to sound like he usually did, and there wasn’t anything wrong with that, was there?
* * *
John’s office door was closed, which was rare. He tried to leave it open as often as possible; he wanted people to feel free to come in as needed. Today though, he closed it when he entered, placing his laptop on his desk mount but not opening it.
He knew the phone call with Alicia hadn’t gone well, but he honestly hadn’t been expecting it. The anniversary of their mother’s death was right around the corner, and until this morning, he’d been thinking plenty about it. This morning, though, he only thought of Harry. Even when he and Alicia hung up, his mind didn’t go to her and her questions. It went back to Harry.
John didn’t see him this morning, not at breakfast with Diane and not in either the front or backseat of his car. If someone put a gun to John’s head, he couldn’t have adequately described the relief he felt at either of those things. What he saw last night could have been just an extension of the dream—
And when do you have that dream, John? Do you have it just randomly?
He reached down to his bag, opening the flap and pulling out a worn Bible. He laid it on his desk, not glancing up to see if anyone was at his glass door possibly needing him. He didn’t care one way or another if someone saw him reading his Bible, and if someone asked, he wouldn’t feel a need to defend it either.
He went to God often, as much as he possibly could—not just when things got bad. There had been bad times over the past five years, everyone had their ups and downs, but certainly nothing turned dark. Even in the bad times, light pervaded, letting John see everything around him. The dream, though—and Harry—those two meant that life could grow dark again, and John would need God more than ever if it happened.
He can get you out of this. If nothing else can, He can.
All you need is the faith of a mustard seed.
John flipped the Bible open, tossing the thin pages to the left as he searched for the passage he wanted.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor debt, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John could keep Harry at bay if he kept those words in mind. Harry was something of the past and John didn’t ever need to go back there. God forgave him his transgressions and all he had to do was follow the old saying, ‘let go and let God’.
* * *
A whole day without Harry.
John couldn’t say those two words enough. He went through all his meetings without a single glimpse of Harry or what was left of the aging apparition’s body. He kept looking all day, up from his computer screen or over the person’s shoulder in front of him, constantly checking to see if Harry was standing there, assessing the situation, ready to start talking about the work to be done.
The day went without a hitch and now John was on the way home, driving his car and wanting to thank God for letting him pull through this. Five years since his last episode. The people in his meetings, they called it acting out, and John supposed that phrase could work too. Regardless, five years was a long, long time, and he really feared “acting out” again after last night. Yet here he was, alone in his car and ready to head home to his wife—without Harry.
John grabbed his phone and shot a text to Diane.
Need to stop at the Church for a few minutes. Be home soon.
He put the phone back in his pocket and took a right off the expressway a couple of miles later. He didn’t plan on talking to Father Charles today; he only wanted to be alone in Christ’s refuge.
John tried not to judge other Christians, or anyone else for that matter, too harshly, but when he really thought about it, a lot of people missed the point of Christianity. God delivered him today, and one shouldn’t simply take that for granted, as if deliverance was a right.
It took him ten minutes to make it to the church. John hopped out of the car and went inside, almost walking on air. Had he ever beaten Harry before? He didn’t think so. Every time Harry came, it meant things were growing dark, and yet John now stood inside his church without a single glimpse of the man all damn day.
John made his way to the front, and sat down in the first pew to the right. The church was well lit, and Jesus hung in the front as he did in nearly all Catholic sanctums across the world. John bowed his head, keeping his eyes open, preparing for how to thank God.
He felt something like Moses must have when he finally saw the Promised Land. How many years had he run from Harry? How many times had Harry controlled him? Forcing him to do things he didn’t want to … evil things …
John closed his eyes.
He paused, tears coming to his eyes. He couldn’t put this happiness into words. He couldn’t … he had never been able to resist Harry’s temptation, and here he was, praying in gratefulness.
Thank you so much, John said. As always, your will, not mine, but thank you. I don’t want to go back there, God. Ever. I want to live in your grace and through that grace, find love and happiness in this world.
John opened his eyes and a tear escaped, falling to the carpeted floor.
He could do this, with God’s help. He didn’t have to see Harry anymore. He didn’t have to go back to the dark times.
John felt he had found a new life and in that life, freedom from the chains he carried.