They ran until they reached the far end of the garden. A long open stretch gaped between them and the gate that led to the stairs. That space was filled with rain and darkness and more than one pair of red-eyed shadows.
“You do know what that sign says on the gate, don’t you?” the girl whispered.
“It said ‘No Trespassing,’” Jack said, his own voice hushed.
“That means you’re not supposed to be here.”
“I know what it means! But trespassing is something that’s forgiven, isn’t it? Just like the prayer says.”
“Grandfather is not so forgiving,” the girl said.
Howls cut through the darkness in the garden.
“You have to go before they catch you!”
“Can’t you come with me?”
“No, Jack. No Trespassing. It works both ways; just like you shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be there.”
The girl squeezed Jack’s hand, and she smiled, but it was a sad smile. “I broke the rules, Jack. Grandfather will be upset, but I won’t let him punish you for something I did.”
“I don’t want you to get in trouble because of me,” Jack said.
“I told you, Jack, this isn’t your fault.”
Howls behind them were closer. Jack could hear the crackling and swishing of… something moving in the depths of the overgrown garden.
“You have to go, Jack. Now.”
“But… will I see you again?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Nights like these past few, I can sometimes get away. Grandfather will be watching me more closely now.”
Ragged, gravelly breathing joined with the swishing-snapping from within the garden. The girl looked over her shoulder. “They are getting too close, Jack.”
“What… what happens if they get me?”
“You’ll wake up,” the girl said.
“That’s not so bad, is it?”
“Do you know what happens if you wake up and you’re not in your own dream?” the girl asked.
Jack stared. “I… Um, no.”
“Neither do I. Now go. I’ll distract them. You have to get down those stairs!”
The girl ran from the shelter of the trees, her white dress bright amidst the darkness. Lightning flared, and she seemed to steal all of its glow. She brought her fingers to her lips and whistled, a high, piercing sound, that even cut through the thunder that roared overhead.
Pools of shadows shimmered and shifted, boiling and trembling around points of reddish light. Those points turned towards another of the girl’s piercing whistles, and the shadows surged away from the high metal fence, back towards the garden and the house beyond.
Again, Jack ran….
Jack sat up, breathing heavily, as if he really had run down the hundreds of steps from the top of the cliff to the bottom. He was hot, very hot, and he wiped sweat from his forehead. He’d kicked off the covers and comforter some time during the night. It was still dark outside the ice-glazed windows of his bedroom. He sucked in another deep breath, coughing when it stuck in his throat.
He got up, pulled on his striped robe, still coughing, as he made his way downstairs for a glass of water.
* * * * *
“That is a pretty spooky picture,” Jack’s father said, as he came down the stairs later that morning. “You’re going to use up all of the black crayon on that one if you don’t ease up.”
“I had another dream,” Jack said, not looking up from the page. It was mostly covered with black, but Jack had scratched away some of the wax, revealing long slashes of white paper beneath. Some of the scratches revealed bright red streaks.
“That doesn’t look like any dream I’d want to have,” his father said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Jack shrugged, trading the black crayon for a dark green one, and he started coloring in jumbles of shrubs and vines.
“Was it scary?”
Jack shrugged again. “Sort of.”
“You don’t seem too shaken up over it.”
“I got back in time, so I guess it worked out okay.”
“Got back? You mean you woke up.”
Jack shook his head. “No, back to my own dreams. Then I woke up.”
“Tell you what, Champ. I’m going to make some coffee, and then I want to hear all about this dream that you got back to.”
Jack followed his dad into the kitchen. He climbed up on the stool by the phone. Mom said that was the best place to sit so you wouldn’t get bumped by elbows. Or stepped on.
“Dad, how bad is trespassing?”
“That’s a pretty big word.”
“It means when you go where you’re not supposed to.”
Jack’s father laughed. “Yes, that’s the gist of it.”
“But is it bad?”
Jack’s father blew on his coffee, thinking. “It can depend on what kind of trespassing it is,” he finally said.
“There are different kinds?”
“Sometimes, it can be bad, like if you were to sneak into someplace to take something that wasn’t yours. Most of the time, though, it can be pretty harmless. You’ve trespassed on the neighbor’s property when you go exploring in the woods with your sisters.”
“But Hannah says nobody lives there anymore.”
“Right. So there isn’t really anybody to get upset over it.”
“But it’s bad?”
“I think in that case, it’s a bit of a gray area. What does this have to do with your dream?”
“That girl trespassed in my dreams,” Jack said.
“Did she try to hurt you?”
Jack shook his head. “No! We played some in the sand. I made a sand castle. She made a sand tower.”
“Did you ask her to leave?”
“We were having fun! Why would I want her to go away?”
“That sounds more like a visit, then, than trespassing,” Jack’s father said. “Like how sometimes one of Hannah’s friends comes over to play.”
“That’s what I tried to do, but she called it trespassing. There was a sign and everything.” Jack sniffed. “She thinks I’m bad, doesn’t she?”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play with a friend, but…” Jack’s father took a sip of coffee.
“Champ, maybe you need to find some friends to play with here when you’re awake.”
Jack sighed, swallowed his tears, and went back to the dinner table to work on his picture.
* * * * *
“Am I in trouble?”
Jack’s mother swept his hair from his eyes, then put her arm around his shoulders. “I’m sure you aren’t,” she said. “Mrs. Lombard just wants to talk about your homework assignment.”
“I did what she said!”
“I know you did, Jack. Come on, let’s go see what the principal and Mrs. Lombard want to talk about.”
The secretary showed them in, and Jack and his mom took seats by the principal’s desk. Mrs. Lombard sat in the third seat.
“Mrs. Jacobs, John, thank you for joining us.” The principal was a rather large man, with a fringe of gray hair and a mustache that made him look like a walrus. It didn’t help that his name was Mr. Walarus. Hannah and Charlotte often discussed whether he dressed the part of his name, or if it was just a coincidence.
“You have seen Jack’s weekend homework assignment?” he asked.
Jack’s mother nodded. “Of course.”
“And… you didn’t help him with it?”
“I already said she didn’t!”
“Jack?” Mrs. Lombard said. “It’s not your turn to talk yet.”
“You didn’t help him write this? Then you haven’t read it?” Mr. Walarus turned the drawing over. Neat, even penciled letters marched across the back of the page.
“Jack said he didn’t need our help.” Jack’s mother glanced over at her son, then slid the page closer, reading.
“Maybe one of his sisters helped with it?”
Jack’s mother looked over at Jack, but he shook his head.
“Apparently not,” she said
“How would you explain it, then?”
“I don’t understand. How would I explain what?”
“Mrs. Jacobs, everything is going all right at home?”
“As well as can be expected with a girl just starting middle school.”
The corners of Mr. Walarus’ mustaches quivered.
“So, you have nothing to say about this assignment, then?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. It’s very beautiful. Sort of sad. Jack should be getting a certificate of achievement for this, not be read a riot act.” She stood up, taking Jack’s homework in one hand, and Jack’s hand in her other.
* * * * *
Jack’s father sat back, fork still in his hand.
“Jack, and not Charlotte?”
Jack’s mother nodded. “Hard as that is to believe, yes.”
Charlotte glared across the table.
Jack poked at his mashed potatoes, dragging his fork through them, but he just didn’t feel like making train noises.
“I did my homework, just like she said,” he muttered.
“We know you did, sweetie,” his mother said. “Eat some peas, you’ll feel better.”
“I don’t like peas.”
“Then consider that your punishment for being called in to the principal’s office.”
“I didn’t do anything bad. Even she said so.”
“Mrs. Lombard seems to think that you had help with this,” Jack’s father said, tapping the drawing that sat beside his plate.
“I didn’t mean Mrs. Lombard, I meant… her. The girl. She said her grampa was mad at her, not me. She said that I was trespassing, just like the sign on the gate said.”
“I could barely scribble my name when I was his age, and here he is using big words,” Jack’s father said. “This is your fault,” he said to his wife. “The brains came from your side of the family.”
“So you didn’t have your sisters help you with this?” he asked Jack.
Jack shook his head, as did Hannah and Charlotte.
“And this says she didn’t come back? You mean you didn’t dream about her last night?”
Jack shook his head again, sniffling. “I got her in trouble, no matter what she says.”
“Give it a couple more nights, Champ. She might drop by again.”
“And if… or when you do see her,” his mother said, “for pity’s sake ask her her name!”