Vagneur: Not just a dream
Impending darkness, like the fog of an early-morning storm, was rapidly encircling me, a 16-year-old kid. But just around the corner of Woody Creek Road, at the eastern end of our ranch I could see the familiar lights of home about a mile away. My horse was moving easily under me, eager to reach his pasture and a bucket of oats. My throat burned with the dry of a long day, but as I felt for my canteen in the dark, it wasn’t in its usual place and there was something odd about the saddle bags, but what the hell, I’d be home soon and sort it all out then.
The clip-clop of the horse’s hooves would surely alert the household of my arrival, but no one opened the door to hail my presence, nor could I see anyone through the kitchen window as I rode by, even though the light burned brightly within. Maybe they didn’t hear me coming.
The ache for water was insistent, and in my rush to get a drink, I tied my horse to a cottonwood out front and walked toward the house with the unsteady manner of one who has been in the saddle all day. A barking dog met me at the gate, but he knows me I thought, and continued down the walk, wondering what there was about the situation that kept the dog snarling and showing his teeth, wanting to get a piece of me.
Glad to be entering civilization, I opened the kitchen door, thirst primary on my mind, and as I stepped into the light, found myself staring at a stranger standing in the middle of our kitchen.
“Hang on, I gotta get a drink,” I said as I walked past him, fumbled for a glass near the sink and filled it with water. Damn strange it seemed, as I chugged the water down, its taste familiar, that someone I didn’t know would be in our house. No big deal, my mom and dad will be able to explain the situation.
The man tried to stop me from leaving the kitchen but I pushed him aside and went into the living room, looking for my parents. Although the room was familiar, there was something about it that made me uneasy. The furniture seemed odd and not in its usual place, although I did recognize the couch. But the woman sitting on it was unknown to me and I began to feel light-headed and weak in the knees.
About then the man grabbed my arm and with a vacant look in his eyes, insisted I leave. “We’ve been hospitable — let you have some water — but you are not welcome in our home. We don’t know who you are.”
“But this can’t be, this is my house. Where’s my dad? I’ve been riding the range all day and don’t know what’s gone on around here, but this isn’t right.”
“Gotta get out of here,” I thought, and went outside to turn my horse loose. It was pitch black now, and I fumbled for the light in the tack room, couldn’t find it and just threw my saddle on the floor, giving up. Maybe in the morning things will make sense.
I eased myself back into the house, now dark, and worked my way toward the stairs, being as quiet as possible. Somewhere, a night light was glowing as I reached the top landing and in my peripheral vision I could see an apparition of the strange man from earlier, standing quietly and intently staring my way.
“Let him try to stop me,” I thought, and went directly to my room at the end of the hall and without looking, turned the skeleton key in the lock. Safety, at last, and not even trying for the light switch, worked my way over to the bed and carefully let myself down, onto a strange little cot that had no pillow. Oh God, please let this day end and let me face the strangeness of it all with a clear head. I’ll find my parents tomorrow.
And when tomorrow comes, we awake from our dreams and find we’re in our own beds safe and sound, and the reality of life goes on. As in the above dream, which visited me when I was 18, my parents are now dead, and this is no longer the Elkhorn Ranch, but 50-some years after I left, thinking it was for good, I once again put my horses away in the pasture out back after a long day in the saddle and head to the kitchen for a cool drink of water. And when morning comes, I wake up in the same room, in the same house that I grew up in, and on an incomprehensible level, I find that truly remarkable.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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