I had a complicated dream last night. I frequently have intricately detailed ones, and often have even had lucid dreams. But in this one I did not know I was dreaming and was not controlling the plot; I was fully immersed in the action.
I lived in a small town and was single, probably in my 30s or 40s, and was very close to my sister and her family, who lived just outside town. She was married to a local sheriff’s deputy named Harley, who was like a brother to me, and I loved being an aunt to their three elementary-school-aged children.
Early one morning I was having coffee with my sister at her house before she left for work. Her youngest child, five-year-old Pammy, hated riding the school bus to kindergarten and was always asking her parents to drive her instead. Her mother said no, that she was already running late to work and didn’t have time to drive her to school first. Besides, she needed to get used to taking the bus. My sister left, and Pammy put on a charming pout and turned to her father. He also told her no, she had to take the school bus. She ran upstairs to finish getting ready, apparently resigned to her fate. But she took too long (intentionally, I could tell) and then told Harley she’d missed the bus and he would have to drive her.
Her older brothers, who attended a different school, objected, not wanting to be saddled with their baby sister for the short ride. But they were not nearly as good at manipulating events as she was. Their claim that their wasn’t enough room in the car for her to come too was ludicrous. It was a six-seater van. All smiles now, she asked if Auntie could come along. So Harley and I both took the kids to school.
On the ride back to their house, we passed their neighbor Sally, a woman of about 70. She was clearly walking home, so Harley stopped to give her a lift, but told her to come to his house first; my sister had put up some preserves and wanted her to have a jar.
At the house, the three of us got to talking, and then Harley wanted to show us something in the barn, a big old barn on their property that was used only for storage now. When we stepped inside, we all knew instantly that something was wrong. We heard voices. And there were two men who seemed to be involved in some sort of transaction; I guessed a drug deal.
One of the men was unfamiliar to me. The other was Clancy, who had been a bully and a thief when we were in high school together, and who had gotten only worse with age. Harley knew him well, from Clancy’s many run-ins with the law. The other man saw us — or, more precisely, saw Harley’s uniform — and took off running. Clancy pulled out a gun. Harley, who had entered in front of me and Sally, pulled out his own and told me, “Get away, now!”
I heard the two bullets, the reports overlapping. Harley fell, apparently hit in the heart and dead within moments, I thought. I was horrified, but had to push the knowledge away. We would have been dead, too, I was sure, except that Clancy was hit in the hand or arm and dropped the gun. As he scrambled for the gun, he yelled that he would kill us both, but the injury made him slow and awkward, and we ran.
Outside, it was night. I know, it should not have been, but that kind of thing happens in dreams. My first inclination was to run toward the house, but we did not. The house was well lit, and we would have shown up dark against it, presenting an easy target. The dark was our friend. So we ran into the dark fields instead, Sally struggling to keep up as I tried to help her along. We had an open field to cross, but there were trees on the other side, and the land rose into rocky hills where we could hide and regroup. We’d left both our purses in the house, so we had no money, no car keys, and no phones. For some time, we could hear him stumbling around after us, yelling and searching for us in the dark, and occasionally shooting off the gun in random directions. At one point, Sally stopped, breathing heavily, and choked out, “leave me.” I was ashamed to admit to myself that I considered it; I had a much better chance of getting away on my own. But he would find her at first light, if not sooner, and I couldn’t do that. So I spurred her on, and we kept going, into the hills.
We no longer heard signs of pursuit, so we stopped to catch our breath and figure out what to do. Harley’s death was hitting me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of my sister, the boys, and little Pammy, and what it would do to them. Sally pulled me back to the present, reminding me that Clancy’s half-breed cousin was the best tracker in the county. She was sure he’d be with him at dawn, following our trail. We couldn’t stop. We had to find a way to make our trail disappear. We considered going back to Harley’s house, but Clancy was probably watching it, or having it watched. And Sally lived right next door. My house was farther away, in the center of town, but I didn’t have my keys with me; besides, he’d be having that watched too.
So we skirted around the edges of the field, heading to a secluded outbuilding on the border of Harley’s property. Sometimes he worked on his old motorcycle there, and he usually left the key there. The bike was small and under powered, but we had to get away quickly, before Clancy and his cousin came following our trail, and our choices were limited. The sun was up by the time we found the motorcycle. I was exhausted, but Sally looked half dead. I was no expert rider, but Harley had taken me on it before, on the back roads near his farm. Sally was skeptical, but I bullied her into climbing on behind me, and we took off, heading in the direction of a roadside gas station a few miles outside of town. Its hours were irregular and I knew it wouldn’t be open yet, but I knew there was a pay phone there.
We didn’t make it. There just wasn’t much gas in the motorbike. When it sputtered and died, I pushed it into the woods so it couldn’t be seen from the road, coerced Sally, who had immediately sank to the ground, to get up, and forced her to keep walking. Finally, we arrived at the phone, and I called 911 and asked to be connected to the sheriff’s office.
Of course, I knew the sheriff well. When he heard my voice he told me he didn’t have time to chat, that something serious had gone down the night before. He nearly hung up, so I blurted out, “I know who shot Harley!” And he listened while I told him the whole story. He told us to stay hidden until a marked sheriff’s car arrived with a deputy who knew me. And finally, we were rescued and taken to the sheriff’s department.
We made statements, and the sheriff had the paramedics from next door come over to check on Sally’s condition. She was tired and bruised, but not hurt. The sheriff knew Clancy well enough to know, as we did, that he would do everything in his power to follow through on his threats. We couldn’t go home. We had to disappear for a while. Sally told him she had a cousin in a town a few hours away, and was confident that nobody in our town knew the woman. He arranged to have her taken there.
My own family had been too prominent in town; everyone knew who my relatives were. For me, he said he had a Safe House in mind. Of course, a town like ours was too small to have an actual law-enforcement Safe House, or even a hotel you could check into without it being painfully obvious to everyone that you were there. But he happened to have a friend who was police chief in a town an hour away, where there happened to be an apartment above the police station that was sometimes used for this sort of thing. He called his friend and arranged for it to be stocked with groceries and other items so I could stay there until Clancy was in custody. I heard him telling the police chief I needed to be disguised, and asked if he could get a blonde wig. The chief said he had no budget for a wig, and the sheriff told him to have a box of blonde hair dye there instead. I said no, make it dark red hair dye. Blonde on me would be so ridiculous looking that everyone would known it was a wig.
He sent some deputies to check out my house to make sure nobody was there, and to watch the outside long enough to be sure it wasn’t under surveillance. Then he had me driven there so I could pack a bag. I included a stack of books and my laptop, and he warned me not to use social media, that I could be traced through it. I was desperate to be with my sister; I knew she was devastated and must be frantic about what to tell the children. But he wouldn’t let me go there. He drove me to the safe house himself, and let me call my sister from the police station.
I guess I woke up before I went upstairs to the apartment. I don’t remember any more.