After two consecutive nights, there wasn’t any doubt in his mind. Peter closed his eyes, confident she would be there this time. Sleep came easily, in spite of his racing thoughts. This time, before the sounds of the cars passing by on the street outside had even faded, she was standing there.
It was difficult to see what she really looked like. Her features were a mystery. They seemed to be distinct, but if he tried to focus on them, they disappeared like darkness pierced by a headlamp. He could see her best when he didn’t look at her at all.
“Come with me,” she beckoned, leading the way.
“Where are you taking me this time?” he asked.
Anne stopped and turned. Her motion wore the grace suggested by her name. “To a place I call the Waiting Room,” she replied softly, studying the doubt on Peter’s face. “It’s where you want to go,” she assured him with a smile. “I can only take you where you want to go.”
Peter trusted Anne. He stepped forward to follow her and like the other dreams, he suddenly found himself on a bridge to nowhere, not over a chasm, or a body of water. They were more like… bridges that spanned moments. He would step across, and before he reached the other side, he would be dreaming.
This bridge, however, didn’t end in a dream. Instead, Peter found himself in the center of a sphere. Little portholes painted the interior surface of the sphere. They fluctuated in size almost the way stars twinkle in the sky.
“Wait here,” Anne said.
Peter gulped. “Wait for what?”
“For the right one,” Anne smiled. “This is the Waiting Room. It’s what you wanted to see.” Her elusive expression grew stern at Peter’s piqued curiosity. “Be patient, Peter. Each moment you choose decides the choices of the next.”
Peter realized he was alone even before Anne finished talking. A bench appeared. It wasn’t really in the center of the sphere. It wasn’t really anywhere. It was just there. It was a bench, and so he sat on it, because that’s what you do with benches, and he waited, because that’s what Anne said to do.
He looked around at the portholes. The fluctuations in size seemed to be caused by his focus, exactly the opposite of what happened when he tried to capture Anne’s seductive allure. When he looked at a porthole, the sphere spun around so that porthole now rested right before him. Through each one, another bridge disappeared into the fog.
Fear gripped him for the first time in three dreams. The portholes were identical and they were infinite. He had no idea which one led back to his bed and the comfort of his normal dreams.
“Shh…” Anne’s voice calmed from nowhere. “It’s always the one behind you.”
Glimpses of moments assailed him from the portholes. Silhouettes of images appeared through the fog on the other sides of the bridges. The sphere raced and the images churned in kaleidoscopic wonder, disorienting and dizzying him. Suddenly, through one was a girl who caused him to jump from the bench to peer into the porthole.
Oh, she was beautiful! A dress of white adorned her slender frame. It had no pattern like anything he’d ever seen. Blonde locks settled in gentle waves about her shoulders, swaying naturally as she strode through the tall yellow grasses of a field. Peter strained for a better look and found himself pulled through the porthole and suspended in the middle of the bridge.
As he watched her, he could feel her thoughts from across the bridge. A man stood waiting for her, and her head was full of love, and anxiety, and of the pinpricks her fingers had sustained as she sewed this dress herself. Enraptured like a curious little boy spying in his sister’s window, Peter listened as they joined each other, and it was as if he was suddenly watching from inside the moment itself…
Cassandra’s heart was so full in her chest it nearly exceeded as she crossed the last steps to take Stephan’s hands. Their greeting was without words, but Peter could feel the angst in both of their hearts. The white dress was her innocence offered in matrimony, and the promise of her dreams that their love was always meant to be. His shame was the knowledge he could never be what she saw in him for the sake of his family, mixed with the guilty knowledge that her love dressed in her own stitching, was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. They turned, and strolled hand-in-hand, walking toward Peter now, oblivious to the bridge and to their audience.
“It is Wednesday today,” she said calmly. Her voice was filled with a promise made for the following Sunday, one Stephan had not yet heard.
“True, and fairer a Wednesday ne’er dawned until the next,” he replied.
Cassandra stopped him. “Oh, Stephan, will you not say it?” She spun in the grass before him, stopping with her arms thrust for approval.
“Tailors lose sleep nights,” he offered, “praying to match the skill of your fingers, Cassandra.”
“But what think you? Have I labored so for the thoughts of another?”
“Fair Cassandra, no pattern filt offers drapery as can compare with that of your own hand.” said he.
Her blush grew rose in her cheeks.
“But what think you?!” she demanded.
“That if oe’r this feld greater beauty has tread, eyes before mine ne’er saw it.”
She extended her hand again, awash with pride, but damaged by his obvious refusal. He took her hand and they walked again.
“The Festival of Fire comes this Sunday next,” she said hopefully. “Everyone shall be gathered for the Mummers.”
“You speak as if your intentions were other,” he said.
“Oh, Stephan, do you not see it? Am I not properly fair to be your bride? We can steal away and be wed upon Midsummer’s Eve. It shall be so perfectly romantic!”
Stephan was quiet. She begged him reply. They reached a dirt road and turned away from the village and toward a small wood.
“I see it,” he answered. “A bride so fair would shame a king! Dear Cassandra, I am no king. My heart, you know, has ne’er longed for another, but this can ne’er be. Your father has forbidden it for just cause in my poverty. And who then would dare join us?”
“Why none other than Parson Maynewaring of Fitton’s Parish, who christened me himself, has promised his blessing!”
She was crying now. Peter was smitten in love with her. His own chest ached with the gaping wound Stephan’s words had torn open in hers. They had been betrothed in secrecy many months and no denial by her father could mean a thing to her. But Stephan did not really love her as he had when he made that promise. He was content to accept his caste and let her marry according to her father’s desire. He never got a chance to say so.
Three men jumped out from hiding among the trees as the couple approached. They were quickly surrounded, and the shorter of the three, an oddly-dressed stocky fellow with a scruffy, unkempt beard and a missing front tooth, addressed them. He brandished a knife with a long blade.
“Ous wish iss ‘en,” he demanded. “Less ‘ave yer purse!”
“Good sir,” Stephan replied. “You have erred in your judgment. Is it not plain by my dress, I have no purse to offer?” He produced a small cloth bag from a pocket in his tunic and evidenced its emptiness.
The robber eyed Cassandra up and down and then grinned at one of his cohorts. “We’ll juss ‘ave ‘a ‘ave yer purse ‘en,” he said.
Cassandra screamed. Peter watched in horror as she raced back across the field toward the village with two robbers in pursuit, while the leader caught Stephan in his grasp and pushed him to his knees with the knife at his throat. In short time, the others returned with the struggling girl, one holding her by her hair. Her dress was torn away at the top and she was half exposed. They arrived and Stephan blubbered that he would find a way to get them money.
The robber not holding the girl, spat in his face. “Good sir,” he mocked, grabbing Cassandra’s exposed breast. “Yerv erred in yer judgment!”
The other two laughed and the leader addressed the girl. “Yer’ll be cooperasin’ now, will ya noss?”
“My father will hunt you down and have your heads,” she threatened.
“Will he now?” He drew his blade sharply to Cassandra’s broken-hearted screams. Stephan’s blood erupted forth painting the skirt of her once-beautiful dress in crimson. Stephan’s body slumped to the ground.
“No!” Peter yelled. His emotion pulled him momentarily across the bridge and he stood at their side, face-to-face with the leader, whose face instantly lost all color. Peter reached for the knife, but the man dropped it shaking now in fear.
“Hell bind ye, ghoss!” he screamed, and the three men ran for their lives into the wood.
Cassandra pulled Stephan’s head to her lap, crying pitifully, unaware of the specter that had saved her. She pressed her hand against his wound, futilely trying to hold in his life. Peter found himself back on his bench in the Waiting Room, seated next to Stephan.
“You don’t love her,” Peter said. “You’ve gotta trade me places, man. I’m begging you.”
“You would die in my stead?” Stephan asked, confused by the manner of Peter’s speech.
Stephan looked contemplative. “Your brave proposal is acceptable,” came his reply.
The bridge was a rush as it flew by, and Peter found himself staring up into Cassandra’s beautiful eyes. To feel the pure love she held now for him was the moment of bliss he had lived his life for.
“I will find you,” he gasped with what little breath remained in lungs filling quickly with his blood. The words bubbled not from his lips, but from between Cassandra’s fingers, and he died gazing into the windows of her soul.
I will find you.
© 2012 Anne Schilde