Flash Fiction #21 – Abandoned Barn
I don’t know how old I was when I started having the dreams. I mean, I don’t remember having them as a child, even though I remember seeing the location where they always took place. There was this farm we used to pass every time we visited my grandparents, and as a kid, I was fascinated by it.
I’m not even sure why. The farm was nothing special. Large, pale blue farmhouse (though in my dreams it’s always white) and a huge red barn–the traditional sort you see all over rural Michigan. Dairy cows in the bottom and hay loft on top. In fact, it was so much like the farms of both sets of grandparents, it shouldn’t have even caught my attention, but it always did. I’d stare out the window at it until it was out of sight.
The first time I dreamt about the barn–the first one I remember anyway–was twelve years ago in June. It was twilight, and I stood in the gravel driveway, talking to my brother. He looked at me, gestured toward the open milk house door and said, “He’s waiting.”
I crossed the threshold and made my way into the sloping darkness of the main part of the building. The smell of hay and feed and warm animals wafted over me as I entered, but the barn was empty. Almost spotless. The stalls were empty and swept clean. It looked as though there hadn’t been any livestock in there for years.
Through windows set close to the low hanging ceiling, I could see fireflies blinking in the tall grass that grew around the outside of the structure. A shadow detached from the wall beneath the window and moved toward me. Stomach dropping and hands clenching into fists, I tried to run, but I was frozen in place–incapable of movement.
The shadow took shape, and I realized it was my grandfather–my mom’s dad. Relief bled from me, weakening my entire body, and I nearly collapsed to the cement floor.
He gave me a hug and said, “I’m glad you could make it. I wanted to be sure to tell you goodbye. I have to leave soon.”
“Where are you going?” I asked, unable to quell the dread tightening into a ball behind my sternum.
“Let’s go have a cup of tea and talk in the house.”
We took two steps toward the door before there was a roaring in my ears and I woke up in my bed, gasping and drenched with sweat.
I had the dream again in August. My grandpa was waiting for me in the barn carrying his old metal lunchbox and a thermos full of tea. “I’m going to stay on for a bit,” he said, pouring the hot liquid into the red plastic lid and handing it to me. “Some other people are in line to go first.” He pointed out the door, and I saw my Uncle John, wandering around the driveway.
I walked to my uncle and handed him the tea. He took the cup from me and glanced down. I followed his gaze. “Haven’t we had this conversation?” I asked.
Grinning, he wiggled his toes at me.
“Socks and sandals are never okay,” I muttered as I woke.
The next day, my mom told me that my uncle had just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I told her about the dream, but I didn’t think anything of it until a few weeks later.
I dreamt I was in the barn again. As usual, it was twilight, but instead of fireflies, leaves blew across the windows and swirled in eddies of wind over the damp gravel in the driveway. There was a woman there, waiting for me. I didn’t recognize her–she was older than me, taller with dark hair.
When I entered the main part of the barn, she glanced up and smiled. “I haven’t seen you since you were tiny.”
Frantically flipping through my memories, I tried to place her.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“It’s okay. I’m your dad’s cousin, Vi. I was just leaving, but I wanted to say goodbye.”
Before I could ask where she was going, I was back on the couch where I’d dozed off that afternoon, and the phone was ringing. It was my stepmom calling to tell me that my dad’s cousin Violet had been killed in a car accident that morning.
The farmhouse dreams started to make a terrible kind of sense, and there were nights I dreaded falling asleep. That fall, it felt like I had the dream more often than not. I met my paternal grandmother there. She gave me a bouquet of out of season hollyhocks. I wasn’t at all surprised to get a phone call from my stepmom the following morning, telling me my grandmother had passed during the night.
A few days after Christmas, I dreamt of the farmhouse, again, but the barn was empty. I peered out the window to see my uncle carrying a mug of tea and walking up a hill away from me wearing white athletic socks with his Birkenstocks. I knew before the phone rang that afternoon that he was gone.
I’d begun thinking of the farm as the Farmhouse of Death. And in January, when I dreamt of the barn again, I expected to see my grandfather, but instead, I saw a man that at first I didn’t recognize. He wandered in circled, tugging at his hair, almost as if he were in a drunken stupor.
He lifted his head and looked at me. “I’m not supposed to be here, you know?”
“Where are you supposed to be?”
He lurched toward me, gripping my shoulders hard and shaking me. “This is all wrong. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not.” His bleary blue eyes were bloodshot and glazed. He shook me again, and his identity finally slotted into place in my head.
It was my mom’s former brother in law–not quite my uncle and not quite not.
“I need you to show me the way out. You got in here, you have to show how to get out.”
I led him toward the door to the driveway where he stumbled in circles looking more lost and panicky than he had before, and it was a relief when I woke in my own bed. I couldn’t muster up any real surprise when I found out later that he’d taken his own life.
The following month, when I ended up at the dream farm once more, I knew that my grandpa was gone before the phone call that woke me.
It’s been twelve long, peaceful years since I visited the Farmhouse of Death, but tonight, I’m back. I’m afraid to see who’s waiting for me here. To be honest, I don’t want to know. Having this weird knowledge is no help at all. It’s more like the world’s worst party trick.
As much as I don’t want to know, I peer around in the twilit gloom of the place. A hard rain pelts the glass, and despite having made several circuits of the room, I don’t see anyone.
“Hello?” I call out, trying to force my voice not to waver.
The milk house door slams shut, and I catch sight of movement from the corner of my eye. I force myself to turn and look toward where something had moved. But the only thing I see is my own reflection in the rain-spattered window.
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