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The things that haunt a man the most, are not usually the choices that he’s made, but rather the choices that he never did make.
I’ve lived through some of the worst hells that you could ever imagine. 9,490 of them to be exact. Every night when I lay down to sleep, I find myself praying for the same thing; sleep, with the absence of dreams.
Every night is exactly the same.
This trend started 26 years ago when I was 10. The first time that the nightmare overtook my dreams, I had come home from the worst day of my life. My dad had taken me to a splash park. It wasn’t much, just a couple water jets that shot up into the air that kids could run around under and cool off from the heat.
We were poor growing up and never could afford to go to any big water parks, but the splash pad was always fun. That is, until that day.
I remember running around under the jets, carefree, enjoying the sweet relief that the cool water brought as it splashed on my red skin. There were a couple of other kids there too but, I didn’t pay them much attention as I was always a bit of a loner even as a child.
“Kyle, come on buddy, it’s time to go.” I heard my dad say from the bench that sat across the way. “Aww, come on Dad, just a little longer.” I pleaded, not noticing the little girl that was making her way toward me from the other side of the pad.
“Five more minutes,” he replied shaking his head and smiling.
As I turned back toward the water jet, happy for the extra time to play, I was met with a little girl standing, not even a foot away from me. My heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest as I noticed her face. It looked decayed, her eyes were sunken back into her skull, they were pure white, and her mouth was wide open.
She stood there gazing at me inches away, mouth hanging open, for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t move, I was frozen at the sight of this hideous girl. After a while of this, I finally regained my ability to speak and said, in a shaky voice, “H..hi, I’m Kyle, what’s your name?” The girl turned her head to the side, like a dog does when he’s trying to understand what you’re saying to him.
“Whhhhhaaaaaaahhh.” she let out a long gasp in response. Her breath hit my face; it smelled like smoke and burnt hair. It wasn’t until I stopped choking that I realized she had burns all over her arms and legs. Long singe marks going up the sides, from foot to waist. The skin was hanging off from several places.
I turned in fear back toward my dad, hoping that he would see the girl and come rescue me, but he was chatting with another kid’s mom on the bench, not even looking in my direction.
As I turned back to face the little girl, she was gone.
I ran hard and fast to where my dad was sitting. “Hey buddy, you finally ready to go?” he said smiling, but his facial expression quickly changed as I got close to him. “What’s wrong? What happened?” he asked, concern now mixed into his tone.
“The girl over by the pad.” I replied through heavy breaths. “She’s hurt, or burned, or I don’t know.”
Looking over my shoulder to the pad, my dad asked, “What girl? I don’t see anyone, Kyle. Let’s go home, I think you’ve just had too much sun today.”
I didn’t argue – maybe I had just imagined it.
We walked back to the car. Dad was talking to me, but I didn’t hear anything he was saying. I was too preoccupied looking over my shoulder, back toward the pad, searching for the little girl. My dad basically had to push me back to keep me from walking straight into the car door as he held it open for me.
“Whoa champ, watch where you’re going. I can’t afford a hospital visit if you bust your noggin open on the car door. We will come back to play another day, I promise.”
The car ride home seemed much longer than usual. My mind was still thinking about the little girl. Where had she come from? Surely her parents would be looking for her to get her wounds patched up.
As my dad and I pulled into the driveway, I could see my mom coming out to greet us. “He’s a little shook up, too much sun I think. Better get him inside and cool him off.” I could hear my dad tell her after their usual welcome home kiss and hug.
After we ate dinner, Mom came up to my room as I was getting ready for bed. She closed the door, which was strange considering she normally came in, picked up my dirty clothes, and gave me a hug and kiss goodnight.
There was something strange about her facial expression, something different about her tone of voice as she said:
“Your dad told me about the splash pad. What did you see?”
A little reluctantly, I recounted the events, not leaving out any detail. Mom just sat on my bed listening, her new expression never changing as I concluded the story.
“There is something you need to know Kyle, but this stays between you and me. I don’t want your father knowing about this.” she said while I looked nervously at her.
My parents were always the perfect couple – even through hard times, they always loved each other. They never fought or had harsh words between them, so the thought of her keeping anything from Dad seemed odd to me, and I didn’t really like the idea of it.
“We come from a long line of mediums,” she stopped as if trying to really think of the right way to explain.
“What you saw was an omen. Not a particularly bad one, since the girl didn’t touch you and she disappeared. Still,you need to be aware of a few things.” Her eyes started to water as she continued.
“These kind of omens are never good. In this case, I believe that the little girl was killed in a fire, and she came to you because you’re like a magnet to the spirits that still walk the earth.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought that ghosts were just make believe, and now she was telling me that I attract them?
Finally, after staring at her for a while in disbelief, I asked, “Are you a medium?”
She laughed, confusing me for a second, before she replied with a big smile. “Oh heavens no baby, I’m not a medium. Do you really think that I could kept that a secret from your father all these years? No, your grandmother, my mom, was a medium.”
“So what does this mean for me?” I asked.
“It means that things are going to start happening around you. Lights flickering, shadows in your room moving at night, waking up to voices talking to you, premonitions, and dreams.”
There it was; dreams, the very thing that would plague me every night for the next 26 years. I never did see any ghosts or any of the other weird things that my mom spoke of. Just the dreams.
After our talk, mom left my room, leaving me scared and confused about all of the new information she had just off-loaded onto me. I laid down and turned out my lamp. I lay awake for a long time, spooked, rapidly looking around my room, searching for anything out of the ordinary when sleep finally took me.
The first thing I saw was a building on fire. It was a large two story house at the end of a cul de sac. The mailbox read 322 James St. There were fire trucks with ladders and firefighters pointing hoses toward the inferno, trying to extinguish the flame. I became a little disoriented from all the lights of the sirens. It was dark outside, and besides the fire that engulfed the house, the only lights were from the emergency vehicles, and they were blinding.
I stumbled a little, and as I looked down toward the ground to regain my bearings, I realized that I was wearing firefighting equipment. I reached my hand up and felt the helmet on my head.
I could hear someone shouting something from behind me. I turned back around to see who it was, nearly hitting another firefighter with the axe I had in my hand. I hadn’t even realized I was carrying it until that moment.
A man standing by a red SUV with the words ‘Fire Chief’ on the side was looking right at me.
“Kyle, Go!” he shouted pointing at the blazing house. I didn’t know what I was doing, but at the same time it felt like I had done this before, a hundred times over.
I turned back to the house, running full speed toward the flames. Even with my protective gear on, I could feel the extreme heat radiating from the blaze. I then heard someone’s voice come over the radio.
“Parents say there is a little girl trapped in the second story bathroom.” Without hesitation, I responded “10-4 I’m making entry now, keep on my six and stay sharp, watch for falling debris. This kid is not dying on my watch.”
Me and two other firefighters made our way into the house. The black smoke that billowed in front of me almost blacked out the hallway we were travelling down; I could hardly see ten feet ahead. We pushed forward with the hose slung over our shoulders.
“There’s the stairs!” I yelled, pointing to my right as we continued down the hallway.
The stairs were not yet on fire, save for a few burning embers that had fallen from the top floor. I made my way up, tapping on each step with my Halligan bar to make sure they were stable. The climb was slow and the hose was heavy.
Once we got to the top landing, I could see flames engulfing the sides of the walls and roof going down the second story hallway. The heat was almost too much to bear. We made our way to the first door on the right, touching it to feel for heat. If there was fire on the other side of the door and we opened it, it could cause an explosion, potentially killing us all.
After determining that there was no fire on the other side, I began to scream, “Holly! Holly, are you here!?” No answer. I don’t know how I knew what name to call, it just came to me.
I tried the knob and it was locked. “If you’re in here, stand away from the door, I’m going to break it down.” I yelled before swinging my axe at the door. It took three swings before it opened. As I stepped into the bathroom, I heard a loud crash from behind me; it shook the entire house. Looking back, I could see that part of the roof had caved in, blocking the hallway to the stairs.
Frantically, I searched for the girl. She was sitting in the tub, unconscious.
Another crash, this time causing an explosion in the hallway, blowing out the window at the end. I could hear the glass shatter and feel the pressure from the blast.
“Get the girl, we have to get out of here!” I could hear someone say on my radio.
I reached down, picking her up and cradling her against my chest. As I turned back to leave, the other two firefighters were using the hose to put out the fire from the fallen beam so that we would have a safe path to leave from. Slowly, testing every step, we made our way back down the hallway, the flames becoming more violent, and the heat growing more intense with each passing moment.
Just as I made it to the stairs, one of the other firefighters pushed past, almost knocking me off my feet as he ran by, flying down the stairs in fear.
“Fuck!” I cursed as I slammed into the wall, flinging the legs of the little girl into the fire. I could hear her skin sizzle in the flames. As I began to regain my balance, I saw why the other man had fled. The main beam in the roof was falling right toward me. With a loud crash it pinned me to the ground, causing me to drop the little girl. She was still unconscious, lying directly in the flames to my right.
My head spinning, I tried to push the beam off of me, but it was no use, It was too heavy. After a few minutes of pushing, I gave up, feeling the flames burning my skin. The fire was beyond control. I was stuck with no hope. My heart was pounding with the thought of the little girl burning to death, as well as my own fiery doom.
I laid there in agony, feeling the flames licking the skin on my hands. I watched as the rest of the burning roof collapsed onto me.
I awoke drenched in sweat, screaming. My mother rushed into my room, fear on her face.
After calming down, I recounted the dream. Her hands covered her mouth and tears streamed down her face as I spoke. She didn’t say anything, she just sat there holding me.
It’s been 26 years to the day since that first dream and every night has been the same since. The same house, same girl, same death.
As I’m sitting here writing this, I can hear the alarm sounding, and a voice just came over the Intercom. Now, I have a hard choice to make.
“10-70 Structure fire, all units respond. 322 James St.”
CREDIT: Allan Loe
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