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by Colm Reynor
Coughing hard, Ben woke almost in a panic. He felt physically tired. It must have been a nightmare. As hard as he tried however he could not recall what had disturbed his sleep so violently. Any memory or image that did tumble sporadically back into existence, was quickly lost; slipping from his grasp like sand through his fingers. He coughed once more, a deep throaty rumble, and this time something remained, a fragment of remembrance: water. And that was it. Maybe he had been swimming, but that was no nightmare, in actual fact Ben loved the water; drowning then. Satisfied with this, clearing his throat one final time he readied himself for work.
Dressed in his usual sharp attire; freshly pressed, excessively expensive black suit, flawlessly shined shoes and hair combed until every strand was neatly set in its preferred position, Ben walked to work. This, as might be obvious to one who put such studied effort into his appearance, was a source of great irritation for Ben. The reason he was forced to walk to work (as he saw it) was of little consequence to him now. The woman, a co-worker named Melinda who had been a passenger in Ben’s car when he crashed it and now lay in a coma, was far from his thoughts when faced with the annoyance of his fifteen minute walk to work. Though the crash did sometimes directly affect Ben and he sometimes suffered migraines and more recently troubled sleep.
He had been walking to the bank where he worked for twenty-nine days now (he kept count) and it was on this day that he first noticed the unobtrusive little boutique shop along his path. This was cause for pause. For a man who considers himself intelligent and prides himself on his awareness of all that happens around him, even the most insignificant of things or people, for he regarded this as paramount for a banker to be successful, the sight of this small, seemingly insignificant boutique shop dumbfounded him. Curious he went to go in but discovered it was closed. And so would have to be content with looking in the window. The window display contained mostly picture frames of an old Victorian style, elaborate yet cheap looking and the shelves and everything they held was covered by a layer of dust. What he saw went someway to justifying why he had never noticed the shop before but just as he was about to hurry off he noticed something. It was not the frame that caught his eye but the picture in it; a black and white scene, a drawing perhaps in a dark pencil, of a man atop a high shelf of rock, which ended in a sharp precipice leading to churning waters far below. The man in the picture was dressed in all black and looked to Ben like he was walking, and quite deliberately, toward the precipice.
In work Ben felt compelled to mention the shop, maybe in the hope that nobody would know what he was talking about or where it was, but that was not the case. A woman by the name of Jessica and a friend of Melinda’s mentioned she had been there with Melinda, who it turned out adored the picture frames sold there. According to Jessica she even drew some pictures which she liked to frame in the Victorian style sold in that particular shop. A little perturbed by this, simply for its unexpectedness, Ben chose not to press the matter. And added to this was Jessica’s open air of resentment and hostility toward him. On his walk home from work Ben noticed the shop was open but considered the whole business irrelevant now and kept walking.
The next morning Ben once again woke with a start. But decided not to dwell on what troubled his sleep and set about his morning chores. He was fastidiously combing his hair in the mirror when something occurred to him. He remembered now why he had been drawn to the picture in the frame the day before. The man in black striding along the cliff bore a remarkable similarity to himself. A coincidence of course and he even forced a smile. On his way to work thinking again of the picture in the frame Ben felt the beginnings of headache. He could not relieve his mind of the image of the man on the cliff and decided to stop by the frame shop once again, to satisfy his curiosity if nothing else. The shop was closed again which made him feel a little better for he liked to think he was up and about before most, getting things done, not lying idle in bed. And the fact that he was up and about before the (obviously lazy) keeper of this particular shop pleased him all the more. Leaning against the window Ben spotted the cheap, dusty and altogether ugly bronze frame but again was drawn to the picture set within. At first he assumed he had mistaken the picture and the frame because the picture was somehow different; it had changed he was sure. He looked again closely but there was no mistaking the bronze frame and the drawing of the man atop a cliff. However Ben was certain something about the picture differed from the one he had noticed yesterday. Forgetting the resemblance he bore to the black clad man in the drawing, and the headache thumping at his temples, he struggled to remember what had changed about the drawing. Not coming to any reasonable conclusion he decided the drawing was the same. He was about to continue on to work when a woman, dressed rather like a fortune teller, came up beside him and began unlocking the door. She saw what held Ben’s attention and gave him a curious stare. Feeling a bit flustered Ben realized he could be late for work if he lingered there much longer, and so brushing past the woman without a word, walked on to work.
Ben’s headache had relaxed during working hours but now as he headed home and thoughts of the boutique shop and the drawing once again began to play on his mind, the headache grew distinctly worse. He was admittedly becoming more distressed by the situation. His troubled sleep or at least what he believed to be troubled sleep, his headache’s, the strange drawing and his apparent resemblance to the man in it, and the discomforting thought that the drawing had somehow changed yet not being able to tell how; all this was beginning to disturb Ben and he was not sure how to react to it all. The only solution he could conceive was to ignore the whole affair and take a different route to work. No, he was being ridiculous; he would go in to the shop and ask the woman if she had changed the picture in the frame and if not he had simply been mistaken and it was all a coincidence.
And so without hesitation he entered the boutique shop and inquired about the drawing. To his surprise the woman became upset when he mentioned that particular drawing. She reached in behind the glass to get it, staring at it for a long moment before telling Ben a good friend of hers had drawn the picture but was now terminally ill in hospital, therefore the shopkeeper had decided to put it in one of the frames she had for sale, and display it in the window as a kind of dedication to her sick friend. Ben was becoming bored with this and interrupted her to ask if she had changed the drawing recently or the frame. She answered no straight away and handing over the picture and frame to Ben, as if to strike home the fact it was that drawing she was referring to, proclaimed the drawing had been in the window and frame for nearly a month now. Being handed the drawing Ben stared at it and again was struck by the feeling it had been altered somehow. He wryly accepted the fact that the man on the cliff top did resemble himself; a similar black suit, neat dark hair and pointed features…Then it struck him like a blow, his hands griped the frame so tightly his finger tips turned white. Yesterday the man in the picture had been walking toward the precipice now he was at the precipice standing still above the churning waters.
Ben’s Headache had become almost unbearable. He ate a light super and was wearily preparing for bed when (and he had deliberated over the matter since arriving home) he decided to retrieve the drawing from his coat pocket. Maybe it would relieve his headache to look at it. It did after all seem to be the source of his recent distress. The situation with the drawing would have to be resolved and resolved soon. He soon realized how completely absurd he was being, ‘the situation with the drawing,’ he laughed out loud at this and went and got the drawing. He stared at it for a long while. Why did he think the man had been walking the day before? He was becoming paranoid he told himself it must be the headaches maybe he returned to work to early after the crash. Then something occurred to Ben. Something Jessica had said. He turned the drawing over and in the bottom corner was some script. It read: A View from a Dream by Melinda S.
The next morning Ben’s headache had not subsided. His chest was also sore and his mouth unusually dry. He was sure he had had a nightmare for he had obviously been perspiring. Trying to think of what it might be Ben realized he could not gather his thoughts at all. His mind shifted between the nightmare, or what he assumed should have been a nightmare, the drawing and Melinda; all confused with the strangeness of the last couple of days. He became more and more agitated and paranoid, not willing to trust himself or his own thoughts. Always rational, coldly calculated and in control, Ben was beginning to panic, his mental state becoming unstable. Clinging on to normality he remembered he was probably late for work. Climbing from his bed, headache persisting, he noticed he had the drawing crumpled tightly in his fist. With more then a hint of trepidation he opened it up smoothing it out in his palm. His breath became short as he stared in utter disbelief. The drawing had changed once more. The man on the cliff was no longer there; he was now falling toward the dark water below. One thing that did manage to remain stuck in Ben’s turbulent mind was the calmness with which the man was falling. No flailing arms or legs. Ben had the distinct feeling this is exactly what the man on the cliff had wanted.
Forgetting all about work Ben, by now completely engulfed by the mystery of the drawing, set off to visit Melinda in hospital. His thoughts were so confused his mind so distressed he was not even sure why he felt the need to visit her. He had been walking for almost an hour when he came to a wooded area. This would provide a short-cut, but when Ben thought about this he realized he was unsure of why he needed a short-cut or even where he was trying to get to. His head was thumping relentlessly and he let out a long groan. Clutching his head in his hands he stumbled onwards.
Finally he came to an open area he recognized but was unsure why. He walked slowly on and came to the edge of a cliff. This most certainly reminded him of something, a dream maybe and he felt an unusually strong urge to keep going as if something very important depended on it. His headache began to wane, his mind cleared and finally, with the utmost relief, he knew what to do or at least what was going to happen and welcoming the thought he threw himself from the cliff.
The following day Melinda awoke from her coma.
COPYRIGHT Colm Reynor