Dress

I followed the moon home the other night, driving along a dark wet road illuminated by dull headlights. I was shrouded in woods, surrounded by life, yet completely alone. The thin cracked street with luminescent yellow paint lining the center was empty at that time of night. On my sides, the woods gave way to short openings of paved tar leading to homes up or downhill, signified by reflective orange circles glued onto the rare mailbox.

The woods slowly began pattering away until there was nothing left, only open naked fields. Ahead was the farm, bolstering twin silver silos behind a stout red farm and connected house. The farm and silos were lit by the full moon, and the house had lights visible through windows.

I drove slowly, taking my time as I always do, approaching the lone farm and field. Though that night it wasn’t alone. A woman stood in the field.

I took my foot from the gas and slowly pushed on the break. My car continued slow, and I flipped the high beams on. She was far from the road, my lights just managing to meet her, standing in a shear white gown out in the cold damp field. The corn had been cut months ago and the muddy ground was slick from the past night’s rain.

I didn’t want to scare her, but she didn’t seem to notice me.

How was she so stagnant on such a cold night? I asked myself. She didn’t move. My windows were up and my heat was on, yet my spine was pierced with a throttling and deep shiver. Her visage was eerie and she frightened me more than I’d like to admit. Is she okay? I didn’t stop the car. I kept driving, following the turn in the road, taking my headlights from her lone figure.

‘The crazies always come out on a full moon, you better be careful,’ my mom would say when I was young. ‘The moon makes people act nutty.’

Was this woman a “nut?” I truly contemplated it. Maybe her gown was a hospital gown. Maybe she escaped from the nearby facility.

There is no nearby facility, I told myself, though the thought still stuck out.

I tried to put my mind back on the road ahead of me, and continued following the moon. That moon, the full moon that called this woman to the field —

I hope the farmer locked his doors

— and froze that woman in place, staring off into the distant woods. I arrived home shortly after, but my mind remained on that almost empty corn field lit by the moon.

~~~

I visited the field in my dreams. My naked feet crunched along the tilled earth, frozen and white with frost far off into the distance. The white earth was broken up by a bunched up white dress dropped amongst the frost. Where is she?

To my right, the farm was closed up. The house was dark and lonely. The silos stood tall and menacing. The mostly barren sky was lit by a white sun, cold as it was bright. It was a blindingly white winter day with no snow. Just bitterly crunching frost.

I moved towards the dress, and just before I could pick it up, a harsh whistling wind plucked it and pushed the light garment far off into the field. It was headed towards the woods. It danced in the air, shimmying and collapsing, rising and falling.

I picked up my pace. I was cold, but not nearly as cold as I should have been. It was the kind of cold that you feel when kicking off the sheets in the middle of a winter night. My legs hastened into a jog, and the dress began moving faster than I could keep up with. It met the periphery of the woods in no time. Wind pushed against my back as I ran to meet it.

The dress was gone when I entered the woods. They were thick and hard to navigate without getting lost. In my waking life, I had never ventured into any of the nearby woods, even though they were more frequent than neighborhoods and lived-on streets. I continued forward, though. I recognized the dreamscape that I was wading through, and decided against being careful. There was no need for caution.

The trees were uniform and dark, and the ground was firm. The frost ended by the edge of the woods, and the wind broke off. It was warmer inside.

Up ahead, I noticed something white breaking through the monotone brown. It was her, standing with her back to me and her right hand resting on the bark of a tree. I didn’t want to scare her, so I called out to her.

“Hey!” I called, amplifying my words with cupped hands around my mouth. “Are you okay? Why are you out here?”

She didn’t hear me. Or she didn’t care for my calls. Either way, she continued looking ahead. I was jogging toward her, hurrying now. I didn’t want to wake up. I figured she may be able to answer my curiosities.

I was a few feet from her, almost able to touch her shoulder, to ask her who she was and why she had brought me here, when she walked behind the tree she was touching. I rushed over, putting my hand on the bark where she was, inadvertently tracing her motions, and following where she walked off to. She wasn’t behind the tree. I frantically looked around, left, right, even up the tree. She wasn’t there.

“Where’d you go?” I shouted, when suddenly I caught the whisking of a white dress falling down into the opening where I stood. I looked up to where it had fallen from, but saw no trace of the woman. I turned my attention back to the dress and picked it up.

I grimaced as I noticed the bloody laceration on the front of the dress. And the side of the dress. And the back. There were bloody holes scattered around the scant gown, and it was more blotched red than it was white. It wasn’t like this before. It used to be a clean white dress. I dropped it, noticing blood begin to run off onto my palms. It was warm and sticky. Fresh. It hit the ground with a light thud, heavier than before with wet blood.

I was suddenly dizzy. It all felt real and I wasn’t nearly as courageous as I had been before. I braced myself against a tree, and rubbed my eyes with the backs of my hands. The blood on my palms felt like thin drying paint, and I tried rubbing the darkness onto a tree.

I remembered chasing the dress in the frosty field, and how it seemed to lead me into the dark woods. She must have led me here on purpose. I finished scrapping the blood from my hands, and looked around. A plume of smoke rose in the distance. I thought of waking myself up, of leaving this nightmare, but I pushed this trepidation to the back of my mind in favor of finding out what happened and set out for the smoke.

I squinted into the distance to make out a blurry glow between trees. It was getting warmer in this section of the woods, even though the sun barely broke through the overhead flora. Were it not for the radiating glow of the flames, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through, let alone see my surroundings.

The flames looked contained, though the air was thick with the smell of burnt logs and something unmistakably foul. Closer now, I saw a figure throwing what looked like logs into the blaze. It was surrounded by rocks, and gave forth a gush of burning embers every time they threw a new log on the pit. I could hear it crackling and popping with intensity.

It was a man, dressed in work boots, blue jeans, a thick brown belt, and a partially tucked in red and black flannel button up shirt. His head was matted with wet hair, and his sleeves were rolled up. In his hand was the dress, bloodied and cut. He brought it to his nose, and then placed it on the ground beside him. In the fire was what I could only assume to be the woman. At least, parts of her. I hesitated to get a better look, as I didn’t know whether he could see me. I picked up a rock, a possible weapon, and called to him, with unsourced courage. He continued tossing things into the fire. He couldn’t hear or see me. I dropped the rock and walked up to the fire, hoping to be wrong about the woman. But I was right.

Splintery blackened bones poked through the flames, and I glimpsed bubbling flesh melting from a freshly tossed arm. He hadn’t been throwing logs into the fire. I turned away and was sick all over a nearby tree. My stomach turned inside out and my eyes began running with hot tears.

He picked up the bloody dress and peered into it with a look of dread. He wanted to keep it. His other hand picked up a bloodied wood handled knife and he wrapped it with the dress before tossing them into the fire.

My dizziness came back, and my head became light as a feather. I tried bracing against a tree again, but slowly fell backwards into blackness.

I woke suddenly, drenched in sweat, and with my sheets pushed to the very end of the bed. The moon peered through my window and my bedside clock read 3:50 AM. I didn’t manage to fall back asleep.

~~~

The next afternoon, I rode back to the farm. I parked by a path on the side of the road which connected to the woods by the field. I walked the periphery of the field, toward the woods that I entered in my dream. I could remember the dream vividly, and it was exactly as the field looked now, though I had never been on this land before. The same can be said of the woods, dark and deep as they were in my sleep.

For a moment, I paused. I was crazy. I was chasing a dream, trying to get answers for a nightmare and a visage of a woman. She was probably the farmers daughter, taking a night walk on the field. It wasn’t too cold out that night, surely she had the right to be taking a walk? I shooed those thoughts from my mind and continued on. If I didn’t check on this, I wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night.

I retraced my steps, recalling the woman disappearing behind the tree, followed by the fallen bloody dress, and finally the plume of smoke. The landmarks were all there, at least, the dark thick trees were. Not the woman, her dress, nor the smoke reappeared for me. I hoped I could remember where the blaze had taken place, as I stumbled into a rocky circle with black ash and charcoal in the hole.

Oh, fuck.

I picked up a branch and pushed through the blackened mess. Among the remains were charred logs, blackened bones, and the metal of a knife.

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