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by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith

Field Four (for video)-Melissa D. Johnston

Althea awoke one morning to find that she had dreamt of nothing. Not in the sense that she hadn’t had a dream at all or couldn’t remember that she’d had one, but rather that her dreaming self had spent the whole night in a completely dark space, doing nothing, seeing and hearing nothing. She found it a little odd, but thought no more about it until it happened again that night, then the next, then the one after that. At this point she was more frustrated than mystified – aside from anything else, it made for an excruciatingly dull sleeping experience. After it went on for two more weeks, she was at the end of her tether and decided to do something about it.

Three puzzled sleep specialists later, it became apparent that this was not the route to go down. She tried many different things, like watching horror movies and eating cheese before bedtime, but none of them worked. The only thing that did work was staying up all night, but of course this could never be anything more than a temporary solution, and the empty dream always returned the next time she slept. Nevertheless, she treated herself to a sleepless night every few days in the hopes that it would slow down the rate of her mental breakdown. It was on one of those nights that her haphazard internet browsing led her to the Dreamhealer. Recurring nightmares? I can help you. I can make them go away.

Had she chanced upon this website before the empty dreams had started, she would have immediately dismissed the man as a charlatan, much like those who take cash from grieving people in exchange for a faked conversation with their dead loved ones. Desperate times called for desperate measures, however. The man claimed to be able to fix all your dream problems by invoking the ancient spirits, and since modern day spirits didn’t seem to be helping, she decided to give the Dreamhealer a try.

He was different to what she had expected. She had been convinced he would be one of those charmer types, sporting a garish tie and a smile that boasted expensive orthodontistry. Instead she found a man who wouldn’t have looked out of place as the lead character in a gritty Western movie. A lone ranger, for sure. He couldn’t be a happy man, she thought; not with that look in his deep-set eyes. Here was a face that had long ago forgotten how to smile. Perhaps he had dealt with too many of other people’s nightmares over the years. The thought stirred some hope in her – maybe this man really could help her. Maybe he was not a charlatan after all, but a genuine healer of dreams.

The Dreamhealer took Althea’s hands and made her touch her forefingers to his temples. He told her to keep them there and apply a little pressure. He placed his own forefingers under her earlobes, as if he were taking her pulse. He locked eyes with her and she had to work hard to suppress a shiver.

The chant took her by surprise. She couldn’t understand a word of it, and it sounded like no language she had experienced, but she could have listened to it for hours. His voice, which had been gruff when he spoke, was deep, low and beautiful as he sang. It stopped abruptly and she felt something snap inside her. He jumped back from her and doubled over, retching. After that had passed, he stood up straight and gasped.

“Is…is that it? Is it done?” she asked as soon as she could see he’d caught his breath. He nodded, looking exhausted. She picked up her handbag and took out her wallet to pay the fee they’d agreed on. He shook his head and held up his hand.

“This one’s on me,” he said, no louder than a whisper, and walked out of the house without another word. Once she was alone, Althea wondered if she was imagining things, or whether that had been a hint of a smile on his face.

That night, she dreamt of being the guest of honour at the launch of an enormous battleship named Planet, and awoke the next day feeling better than she had felt in ages. Even when the doorbell rang before her first sip of coffee, she answered it with a smile and a spring in her step. She accepted the box from the delivery man and signed her name in the device proffered. It was a very light box. She placed it on the kitchen table and opened it carefully. Inside was a single red rose and a handwritten note.

Thank you, Dreamhealer.

Maria Protopapadaki-SmithMaria Protopapadaki-Smith likes to take herself and her readers to other worlds, or at the very least to the dark edges of this one. Spend some time with her at her blog Mazzz in Leeds, Twitter, or Facebook.

Phantom Sister

by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Marlena comes to me on the cusp of sleep and wakefulness, when the world blurs grey. She soars through yellow-tinted waves, her bald shining skull pushing through water. Although she never speaks, she makes a gurgling sound, high-pitched like the bottle-nosed dolphins at the aquarium. I look but never see her face. When I wake, the bottoms of my feet sting as though I walked over a yard of smoking coals. Those mornings I call in sick and sleep in the boat’s hold. The gentle rocking hugs me.

My twin sister Maria lives halfway around the world in the Catoctin Mountains. She paints and writes poems about trees. We rarely see each other but the internet tethers us. Maria has the same dreams about Marlena – we think of them as visitations — but she feels the ache in her chest, the left side, a sharp pain like someone has plunged in an icy hand and wrested out her heart. Afterwards she also feels an uncommon, exhausting peace. We wonder if this is how we tangled in our mother’s womb: hands to feet to heart.

Thanksgiving Day, I find myself alone on the boat, flipping through scrapbooks, missing my sister. I find an old photo of the two of us, a college road trip to Baltimore. Our smiling faces squeezed together, the Washington monument towers behind us. I scan the picture, push send. The image zips to Maria’s mountaintop. Seconds later, she writes back. “There’s a hole between us.” I look closer at the photograph and my soles burn.

Linda Simoni-Wastila writes from Baltimore, where she also professes, mothers, and gives a damn. Her stories and poem are published or forthcoming at Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Scissors and Spackle, MiCrow, The Sun, The Poet’s Market 2013, Hoot, Connotation Press, Camroc Press Review, Right Hand Pointing, Every Day Fiction, and Nanoism, among others. Senior Fiction Editor at JMWW, she works one word at a time towards her MA in Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins and two novels-in-progress. In between, when she can’t sleep, she blogs at http://linda-leftbrainwrite.blogspot.

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