by John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
Dreams are strange.
Some dreams transport dreamers to faraway and exotic places. Some create the world in which the dream is set. Others occur in everyday and familiar surroundings.
A young girl sat on the grass just in front of a suburban townhouse. This home was a middle unit sandwiched in between two very similar town-homes on either side. The building was one of six that made up the fenced-in court, all nearly identical.
The houses had red brick facades with gray asphalt roof shingles. The gutters were white years ago when they were installed, but had long since faded to a grayish brown. The windows of every unit were surrounded by faux shutters, each were painted dark red or blue. Neither of the colors really flowed with the rest, but for some strange reason the townhouses were still cute.
It wasn’t a wealthy neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination, but to the young girl playing quietly on the green grass lawn, it was home.
The girl had long straight golden hair that went exactly halfway down her back to the center of her white shirt. Her olive skin was in deep contrast with the bright white of her long sleeved tee. There was a gray kitten face wearing pearls and a bow decorating the front of her shirt.
A ladybug with four spots was climbing a thick blade of grass. This blade had popped up a day ago, after the lawn care people had done their most recent mowing service. Sierra pondered the bug and the abnormally long piece of grass silently to herself. The air still smelled slightly of clippings. It was a perfect smell for a late summer afternoon.
“Sierra, baby?” a voice called from up the four stone stairs and behind the white half-glass storm door. The girl didn’t move her eyes from the ladybug, let alone acknowledge her mother’s loving but firm communication from inside. “Sweetie, come inside and wash up for dinner.”
Still as a statue, the girl was apparently uninterested in dinner or going inside. She remained in lotus, continuing her concentration and deep observation of the bug crawling up the blade of grass. “What an odd creature,” Sierra thought to herself.
Slowly, she reached out her hand. Her index and middle fingers extended outward. They rested just in front of the red beetle’s head. The ladybug’s antennae wiggled, near-imperceptibly before it climbed onto the girl’s fingers.
The other neighborhood children were playing in the large grass circle just in front of her house. Sierra ignored them, as always. She was never interested in kickball, tag, or whatever game one of the older kids brought home from their school’s playground. Sierra never showed any interest in other kids. It was much of the same with mostly anybody, with the notable exceptions of her father and her mother, the latter of which was currently attempting to rouse her attention.
Sierra smiled slightly, just enough for her dimples to appear on the outside of her lips. She stood up and shifted her gaze in the direction of the impending sunset that would conclude in approximately two hours.
“Sierra!” her mother’s voice called again from inside. This time there was less patience and more force to the command.
The girl’s jeans had grass stains on both knees and the seat. There was a new hole on the left knee. Mother would wash and patch the pants using a scrap piece from a pair she had outgrown or ruined previously.
Sierra didn’t notice the grass stains on her knee, or the hole. She noticed other seemingly insignificant details, like the one long blade of grass on her lawn, or the number of cars that had returned home to the cul-de-sac since she had headed outside (that was fifteen). Her father referred to it as selective attention.
She didn’t need to look to be on alert for her father’s Mazda crossover. She could tell by the sun’s position over the neighborhood’s boundary fence that he was running late. She stood for a moment with her outstretched hand and distant gaze.
A brief moment longer and she clambered up the stairs with her new friend crawling along the tops of her outstretched fingers. She opened the storm door with her other hand before one final glance in the direction from which her father would enter the street. Then she went inside.
Just inside the door, Sierra kicked her sandals off onto the floor mat. Once again, she ignored the adjacent shoe rack. She’d hear about this in a few minutes when Dad arrived, but he never stayed annoyed with her for long. So, her habit was never altered.
Off to the left was the kitchen. A twenty-something woman stood with her back to the foyer where Sierra stood. She stopped her toil at the oven for a moment to listen or sense the young girl. The woman’s hair was the same color as the girls. She had lengthy locks with a bit more wave.
The woman turned toward her daughter, who was standing silently and waiting for some response in regard to her new friend. Her facial features were similar to Sierra’s, especially as they softened from their evident impatience into a smirk at her precocious, but silent, daughter. Sierra’s mother could have been an older version of Sierra, except for a few lines from age and an abject weariness in her eyes.
She too wore jeans and a t-shirt. Her jeans were clean and without the wear of Sierra’s. The t-shirt was short sleeved and was baby blue, with no imagery or branding on it.
The sound of Sierra father’s car pulling into their space out front filled the air of the room. Sierra turned her head to the window to peer out and confirm her recognition. Her dad was home. Sierra’s mom stepped over and looked out also. She stood next to her daughter and softly put a hand on her shoulder.
The two took a moment to watch Dad do his normal car disembarkment shuffle. He reached into the rear and passenger seats and filled his arm with all his accoutrements from the day. There was a jacket, a briefcase, a lunch bag, a thermos, and a shopping bag of some sort. The man finally stepped from the car and closed the door just before stopping in mid-stride. An obvious awareness crossed his face. He had missed something he had meant to bring inside.
“Coffee cup,” stated Sierra’s mother, more matter-of-fact than emotive in any way.
Sierra’s father used one finger to pull the door handle, and then his foot to swing the door open. He leaned into the car, pulling the stack into his chin to brace his pile of things. He grabbed his cup, stood back out, and gently kicked the car door shut. He considered for a moment if he had left anything else. Convinced he hadn’t, he made his way up the stairs and past the front porch.
The ladybug had crawled to the inside of Sierra’s elbow. She had ceased interest in the bug for the moment. Her face did not show it, but she was excited that her dad was home. She always got excited when she had her whole family with her, she just did not communicate it externally in the way most others did.
Sierra was a beautiful girl. She was part of a beautiful young family. Despite her being unusual in relation to other children, her parents loved her tremendously. They did as much as they could to make Sierra’s life comfortable. Most kids her age didn’t realize the sacrifice and effort required to take care of them. Sierra knew.
Despite the amazing and abundant love her parents showered upon her, they did not share similar feelings toward each other. They put on a decent show of loving one another in front of the girl’s sharp eyes, but once she was thought to be asleep, or perceived out of earshot, the arguments ensued.
Her parents bickered over how to parent Sierra, what kind of therapy they would seek out next, and worst of all, how they were going to afford the care they were seeking out for their beloved child.
They already had incurred tens of thousands of dollars of debt for testing for autism, psychoanalysis, as well as attempting holistic methods of development. None of these achieved the ends the parents desired. They just wanted their baby to be able to lead a normal functional life.
But Sierra was anything but normal. She saw things differently than you or I. She was distinctly different from everyone else.
Once Sierra fell and scraped her knee badly. The cut had hurt, but the girl’s deep focus on the dove that flew overhead did not even break for a second as she lay there on the sidewalk craning her neck to watch the bird fly out of sight. Blood was streaming down her leg, staining her white lace-hemmed sock and sneaker. Spots of blood could still be seen on the laces, tongue, and toe-cap.
Sierra was about to turn five. She was of the age when it was expected to enter kindergarten at the neighborhood public elementary, like all the other kids. However, after visiting the school and observing the special needs program, Sierra’s parents knew that there would be no easy solution to such a special girl’s education. Sierra’s mother would have to home school her. Her mom and dad fought a few nights about this as well.
“Janice? Cici? I’m home!”
The two girls turned toward the foyer. Janice stepped out to the door to open it.
“Stephen, I missed you so much.” The two kissed on the lips, quickly and dispassionately.
“You look like a million bucks!” Stephen replied, “And you too, you look like a million and one. What have you got there, pumpkin?”
Sierra took a second and then seemed to come back to her body. She looked down at the ladybug crawling around to the back side of her arm and she smiled. Stephen walked over to her, still standing in the kitchen. He reached a hand down and picked up the bug. His technique was strikingly similar to the one Sierra had used earlier to retrieve the insect from the grass.
Her father lifted the bug up to his face and placed the little fellow on the tip of his nose. He crossed his eyes to look at the bug on the center of his face. The Janice rolled her eyes. She couldn’t help but smirk. Then she turned back into the kitchen to resume her dinner preparations.
Sierra stared at her father with her ladybug friend sitting on his nose for a moment before taking a step closer to him. As she reached towards her father, he bent down at his waist so his face was just at his daughter’s eye level. She reached up and took her bug back, then turned and disappeared deeper into the house.
Stephen watched his daughter for a second and then kept his gaze in place after the girl had disappeared from view. “They’re making more cuts at work. They fired Nairy today, and expecting me to shoulder his load. I’ll end up working later everyday; probably needing to go in on Saturdays as well.”
“Great,” Janice supplied with an air of detachment. “Did you tell them you need more money? Did you tell them we need more money?”
“I’m trying, J. I’m doing everything I can.”
“Well, right now, everything isn’t enough!”
Yelling ensued, followed by some choice words and name calling. Sierra could hear everything from her room upstairs, despite having the door mostly shut. She hated when her parents fought. Again, no one would have been able to read that on her face, but regardless, that hate existed behind her eyes and her stoic countenance. Although she didn’t vocalize it, even at five, she understood all of it.
A moment ago, her father was glad to be home, but the present reality and responsibility of parenting a child as special and unusual as Sierra weighed heavily on Stephen. Likewise, the burden of having to be available to her daughter twenty-four hours a day drained Janice. These pressures always seemed to release in an explosive response towards each other. Eventually, Stephen and Janice would cool down and exchange stories of each of their days. They would connect, thanks to the shared bond of each feeling that they couldn’t connect with their baby girl.
What Stephen and Janice Stewart didn’t know was that their efforts did reach their daughter. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel. On the contrary, she just didn’t know how to, or didn’t want to, show her emotions. Sierra was smarter than other kids her age. She was reading fourth and fifth grade level books on her own. She just lacked social intelligence.
Sierra never spoke. She didn’t make any sounds as a baby. She didn’t cry when she was wet, hungry, or tired. She kind of just was.
Sierra had decided to stay in her bedroom instead of doing as her mother requested and going to the bathroom to wash up. She gently placed the bug on her windowsill and watched it in deep concentration, trying to ignore the argument below, despite hearing and understanding everything her parents said.
She lay down in her bed, continuing to stare at the ladybug. With her head on the pillow she had a ninety degree inverted viewpoint of her new friend. She watched the ladybug for a few minutes. Her eyes blinked once, slowly. A few seconds later they did again. The next time her eyelids closed they stayed shut. Sierra had fallen asleep.
In the dream Sierra glided forward. Her hem dragged against the ground, hiding her feet. Her dress was white. It shined more than the white of her real world t-shirt. There was some blue and pink within the tone of the dress’s color, which gave it the subtle effect of shimmering.
Sierra’s hair was longer in the dream. It was more like her mothers, but instead of waves, she had large ringlet curls. Her hands were longer as well, more like that of an adult. In fact, Sierra was taller; a stretched out version of the girl who had just exited the real world and entered this strange land of dream.
Around her, trees of the same white with blue and pink as her dress stood and waved. They didn’t wave like aspens in the wind, instead they swayed like a mirage on a desert horizon. The path on the ground was white as well. Only the exposed skin of her hands and face had any color resembling that from the real world.
Sierra glided briskly further down the path. Rolling hills approached on either side. Some of the hills were topped with groves of trees, some were covered with balds of grass in the same unusual white color. The soft road she was traveling on began to climb into a hill. The hill she was on was flanked by similar hills on either side. Her visibility was limited above and behind the path she was traversing.
She crested the hill. Just past the top stood a figure that was new, yet eerily familiar. It was a six foot tall ladybug-man standing on its hindmost legs. Both front and middle legs were crossed in front of the red bug’s abdomen, as if it were trying to convey a defensive or closed-off body language.
Despite standing like, and being the size of a man, the ladybug maintained all its features of being a bug. The ladybug noticed the girl in white climbing the hill. It regarded Sierra silently with both eyes. The insect-man tilted its head slightly to the left side. It repeated this movement switching to the right side.
A normal person would have been freaking out. The unusual nature of this dream might have shook the most fearless person’s foundation, but not Sierra. Unusual dreams were commonplace for her. Sierra’s dreams were a bit more unusual than a man-sized ladybug. Somehow, Sierra could affect reality outside of her dreams from within. She didn’t know how, or even understand where this ability came from, but it happened often.
The emotions Sierra brought into her sleep typically dictated the nature of her powers’ manifestations. Occasionally, she would fall asleep with pleasant thoughts and feelings.
Once, she dreamed of beautiful flowers sprouting from her arms, legs, stomach, and chest. When she awoke the following morning and gazed out her kitchen window, the lawn had been covered by a blanket of wild flowers in many different colors and varieties. Some may not have even been recognizable to the keen eye of a trained botanist.
This dream she was having now was more typical. She carried with her the emotional unrest brought on from the sounds of her parents yelling and fighting with one another. These dreams brought on dark consequences.
The ladybug leaned out of its defensive posture. It crouched as if preparing to pounce, or flee. The large beetle-man sensed mortal threat from the woman-sized child.
The bug tilted its head at the girl one final time and started toward her, using all six of its legs. It approached Sierra and opened its mouth to reveal sharp black teeth and a midnight black tongue.
Sierra tiled her head now. She did not blink. She did not flinch. She stood her ground and stared at the huge insect.
Then Sierra opened her mouth, a little at first. She widened her lips and opened her mouth wider, as if to yell. Her faced turned red. It gave off the look of a person screaming, but no sound came out.
The bug tried to push through whatever was psychically, or psionically, happening. But the girl’s strength was just too much. The ladybug leaned backwards onto one hind leg. It placed both its front and middle legs across its midsection, and then it fell over to one side. The bug, round as it was, rolled over onto its back and kicked its hind legs twice, before laying still.
“Sierra! Sierra, wake up, honey. It’s time for dinner.” A voice yelled from downstairs. She pushed herself up to sitting position and looked at the ladybug on the windowsill. The bug was on its back, dead.
Sierra reflected from her seat at the edge of the bed. Sadness filled her heart, yet it couldn’t be seen on her face. She was aware instinctively of the connection between her dream and her ladybug’s death.
Despite her youth, Sierra knew she must gain a greater understanding of what was happening between her mind and the real world while she slept. If she did not, she would end up hurting others, especially those she cared for.
She wanted more for herself, so she resolved to learn about what she could do. She just didn’t know how yet.