Tina opened her eyes and blinked several times to shake away what was left of the dream she’d been immersed in.
Where am I?
A light breeze rustled the leaves of the tall maple tree she leaned against. The afternoon sun made her squint, shining straight in her eyes, as if trying to make sure she woke up. Some little birds chirped happily above her head.
Shifting side to side, Tina groaned at the stiffness in her back. Her laptop rested in her lap, its screen black.
She ran her hand through her hair, finding pieces of bark tangled in her ponytail.
I can’t believe I fell asleep in the park while trying to write, she thought. She tapped the keyboard, but the machine didn’t come alive.
Of course the battery is dead by now. I wonder how long I was sleeping.
She stretched her neck gently, then looked around. The place was calm and quiet. Not a soul to be seen.
Still not a good idea to sleep in the most deserted part of the park, all while hugging a laptop.
Tina sighed and shook her head. Although she had gained a certain amount of control over her dream travels, once in a while, she’d find herself in a situation like this one. A situation where she was suddenly pulled into the world of dreams with no warning, and definitely not in the best of circumstances.
She shut the laptop and moved it to the side, then struggled to get to her feet. Her legs were numb, and her vision blurred as she stood. She braced herself against the tree until the dizziness passed. The paper cup with whatever was left of her coffee lay on its side, and fruit flies climbed on the rim of the lid.
“Okay, hope you at least feel better than me now.” She chuckled.
As she was doing some simple stretching exercises to awaken her leaden limbs, Tina’s mind wandered back to the dream she’d just had.
She’d tried to visit Alice and her kids, but no one had been in the house. Tina had kept knocking on the door, she waited on the porch, and she even tried to go ask the neighbors. But there was nobody around.
Although Tina tried not to worry—after all, they couldn’t be at home all the time—she still didn’t like the situation, and a strange feeling churned in her gut. She hadn’t seen Alice for a while now. Her dreams took her in a million other directions, and appearing on the porch of the house with the geraniums wasn’t always easy.
I hope everything is all right, she thought.
She packed away her laptop, folded the picnic blanket she’d been sitting on, and put everything away in her backpack. Hopefully, she had saved her work before drifting off, but there was no way to check until she got home, so she wouldn’t worry about nonexistent problems at the moment.
As she checked to make sure she hadn’t left anything on the grass, her phone buzzed in one of the side pockets of her backpack. Tina took it out, then tossed the backpack over her shoulder. Scrunching her nose, she carefully picked up the coffee cup where the fruit flies had started a party.
She started walking, dumped the cup in the nearby trash can, and swiped the screen of her phone to answer the call.
“Hey, Tina. What’s up? Got a minute?” Kate’s voice was filled with energy.
“Hey, Kate. I’m okay, I guess. A bit sleepy.”
“Sleepy? It’s four in the afternoon, girl. Did you have a rough night?”
“Nah, just one of those days. I was working in the park and somehow passed out on the grass. You know me.” Tina chuckled.
“Yikes. You need to be careful with that. Is it even safe?”
Tina looked around. “No one’s here. But yeah, you’re right, I definitely need to be careful. What’s up?”
“I just wanted to share that one of the local bloggers wrote a really nice article about us. I sent you the link, but you didn’t respond, so I decided to call and check on you.”
“That’s awesome! I’ll look at it when I get home. And thanks for checking on me, Kate. It’s sweet.”
“Are we still going out on Friday, or are you overloaded with work?”
“Absolutely to going out. Can’t wait. Work has calmed down recently, so I was actually writing something of my own.”
“Wow, finally! That’s exciting. Wanna share?”
“Nothing major.” Tina shrugged. “Trying to get back into the habit of journaling. You know, some sort of writing meditation.”
“Oh, now I see. I also always fall asleep when I’m trying to meditate. That’s why I don’t do it in parks.” Kate laughed.
Tina couldn’t help but smile. “It’s just such a nice day, and I wanted to get some fresh air. Didn’t think I’d end up drooling under a tree.”
“Wish I was there. I would’ve taken a pic of you drooling and put it up on our website immediately.”
Tina giggled, and they talked for a few more minutes while Tina made her way to the parking lot. Chatting with Kate lifted Tina’s spirits and took her mind off Alice. She drove away from the park, humming along to her favorite song on the radio.
At home, she plugged in her laptop, took a quick shower, and made herself a cup of coffee. After looking at the article Kate had sent her on her phone, she turned on her laptop to check if it had saved the results of her writing session.
The screen came alive.
Tina took a sip of her coffee and started reading.
I can’t shrug off the feeling of guilt. I know it makes little sense, but I just can’t help it. It’s been three months since I received Alice’s diary. And I’ve visited Alice a few times too. I know she never asks, and we always talk about something else, but there’s a question I want to ask myself. Why have I still not opened her diary? Why haven’t I read a single word?
If I’m brutally honest with myself—which I should be since it’s my own journal—I’m embarrassed. It’s childish, and I know it, but when Alice left me—when she disappeared—I felt so hurt. I felt abandoned. And I still can’t let go of that pain completely. So, me not opening her diary is some kind of silly statement, I guess. As I’m typing this, I realize more and more how ridiculous my actions are.
Now that I think about it, she must be upset. She’s too wise and too kind to say it, but the fact is that she trusted me with the stories of her life, and I haven’t even bothered to read them. Ungrateful, selfish, Tina.
Tina stared at the screen and let out a heavy sigh. That was the end of the journal entry and probably the moment when Tina closed her eyes and found herself at the familiar porch where nobody was waiting for her with a glass of homemade lemonade.
The familiar feeling of guilt and embarrassment washed over her. She shut the laptop, got up, and marched to the bedroom. Alice’s journal rested peacefully on her nightstand, waiting for Tina to open it and dive into the world of her friend’s adventures.
The leather binding was soft and smooth. Tina held on to it for a bit before hopping on the bed and propping the pillows against the headboard behind her.
She opened the journal and started reading.
I was about to start this with “Dear Diary,” when I realized how corny it sounds.
This isn’t even a diary, after all. It’s a compilation of fragments from my life—of my thoughts, my dreams, and my fascinating adventures. I’m not a writer, nor have I ever wanted to become one. But after finding my old journals in a dusty box hidden away in the attic, I decided that some of these stories deserve to be told.
I don’t know if anyone will ever read this. There’s no one in my life now who would be interested in hearing my crazy tales. Apart from Esmeralda, I guess. But she’s heard them all already, and she can’t read, anyway. That’s an inconvenience of being a cat.
Can I ever be serious?
Well, if life has taught me anything over these seventy-something years, it’s that being too serious doesn’t really lead you anywhere.
So, anyway, here I am, sitting in my garden. Pieces of my life are scattered around me, their old yellow pages smelling of dust, and my green-eyed companion is purring in my lap. My third husband Richard has hopefully found his happiness in one of the beautiful worlds that we both enjoyed exploring without telling each other a word. At least, that’s what I decide to believe.
Since I have nothing to do in the daytime—except waiting for the night, when I can finally set out on the next exciting adventure—I’m spending my time going through these old pages that take me back to my past. Thinking. Reflecting. Looking for clues. Looking for something important I might have missed.
That’s why I decided to put the pieces of this puzzle together. To write down the most amazing things that have happened to me. The most unbelievable adventures. And even the most painful memories.
People write memoirs when they want to tell their story. This is not the case. As I said, I really am not a writer. And my story—I truly hope so—is nowhere near finished. I dare hope that it’s only just beginning.
As I’m rewriting these old journal entries by hand, I think I’ll mention the dates too. They’re not crucial, but it’s easier for me to keep events in a chronological order, more or less.
I’ve left out some notes that I sporadically jotted down before this entry. But this particular dream is still fresh in my memory, even after so many years. Sometimes, I think I remember my dreams better than the events that took place in “real” life.
What is “real” anyway?
Nevertheless, when I came across this dream, I decided it would make the perfect beginning of my revised diary.
Here it goes.
April 1, 1976
I really didn’t want to wake up today. It’s been a month since my husband Frank disappeared. I’ve had all kinds of days—some filled with hope, some filled with despair, and some even full of pure rage. I know I’m depressed, and I’ve had many mornings when I hated the idea of getting out of bed and facing the new day. But this wasn’t one of them.
I just desperately needed to get back to where I was in my dream.
Squeezing my eyes shut so tight that my eyelids became sore, and staring into the darkness in front of me, I hoped to catch something or grasp the thinnest of straws that would take me back.
I failed. A million thoughts filled my busy mind, and every sound disturbed and distracted me, as if the world was against me and using all the means available to stop me from returning to my dream.
After losing the battle with either my mind or some invisible forces, I decided I could at least pin that dream down in my memory.
So, here’s what I was dreaming of last night. Although, even the word “dreaming” sounds wrong here because it all felt so real.
I was at a picnic with a bunch of friends. We were at the seaside. The setting sun had painted a colorful masterpiece in the sky, and we all gathered around the fire. Someone was playing the guitar, and people were singing along.
Now that I think about it, I didn’t know these people. They weren’t any of my friends in my real life. But the feelings that enveloped me by that campfire were strong—peace, calmness, harmony. I knew I was surrounded by people I love, people I trust, and people whose company I most definitely enjoy.
One of the guys passed me a drink, then someone whose face I couldn’t see wrapped a blanket around my shoulders. I smiled and sang along to one of my favorite songs.
The wind started growing stronger.
At first, we paid little attention to it and just admired the frantic dance of the flames. Then I looked at the sky. The crimson and violet shades of the clouds had turned dark gray, some borderline black. I shivered and held on tight to the blanket I was wrapped in. My friends kept laughing and singing.
The wind grew even stronger. The sun was gone, and the dancing flames in front of us were the only source of light.
One of my friends—I can still see her beautiful face with gentle features and a bright, infectious smile—leaned forward to stir the fire with a twig.
She laughed. “Okay, guys, someone needs to play Prometheus tonight if we don’t want to sit in the dark.”
The twinkle of flames reflecting in her green eyes was the last thing I saw before a strong gust of wind hit her. She crumbled to dust, which was immediately picked up by a mini hurricane and carried toward the waves crashing against the shore.
One by one, my friends’ faces and bodies disintegrated and turned to ash.
Through all that, I sat there, paralyzed, tears streaming down my cheeks. They fell on the blanket I was wrapped in, mixed with the gray particles of dust—all that remained of the happy, vigorous young people that sat there a minute ago.
After a couple of terrifying minutes that froze the blood in my veins, I was left alone on the beach next to the dying fire. I wanted to reach for a twig and stir the fire to bring it to life, but I couldn’t move.
Darkness surrounded me.
I closed my eyes, preparing to follow my friends and turn into ash that would be scattered across the shore.
But suddenly, the wind changed. Instead of the menacing, wild force that destroyed everything that was dear to me, it lifted me off the ground gently, as if it was trying to protect me.
The blanket slid off my shoulders, and I opened my eyes in time to glimpse it falling to the sand near the smoldering embers while I floated several feet above the ground, still cross-legged and clutching my knees.
The wind carried me away from the shore into the nearby forest, where it gently lowered me onto the grass. And then the wind was gone.
I sprang to my feet, enjoying the regained ability to move, and looked around. It was still dark, but the path in front of me glowed slightly. I took a few steps. The path was moving. Something that looked like thousands of fireflies covered the surface, emitting the light. I turned to gaze at the shore, but all I could see behind me was darkness. I had no choice but to keep moving forward.
A motion up ahead attracted my attention. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first, but after a closer look, I saw a rabbit. The light provided by the fireflies reflected off its fur, and it looked almost blue. Its ears pricked, and it made a few leaps away from me. Somehow, I knew I had to follow.
I’m not sure how long I was walking on the shimmering path. From time to time, my little companion would stop for a beat and turn around, as if to check whether I was still following. I was so focused on the path, taking one step after another, that I stopped thinking about what happened on the beach. Instead, the silence of the night forest brought me peace.
The rabbit led me to a gigantic tree. Fireflies covered its bark and illuminated its contours, and a big hollow in the trunk stretched tall and wide enough for a person to walk into. I was stunned by the tree’s enormous size. It looked so magical and inviting; I had to step inside.
I glanced around for the rabbit, but it was nowhere to be seen.
Reaching out, I ran my fingers along the edges of the cavity. The bark was smooth, almost polished.
As I touched its surface, the fireflies that illuminated the contours of the entrance—by that moment, I was absolutely sure it was an entrance to something—fluttered around my hands.
The beauty of the vision before me entranced me. The feelings of fear and grief had dissipated, and I made my first step into the welcoming darkness of the hollow.
A bright light hit my eyes immediately.
I had to squint and cover my face with my hands. After blinking a few times underneath my palms, waiting for the temporary blindness to pass, I removed my hands and opened my eyes.
I stood in the middle of a garden. The aroma of the abundant rose bushes made my head spin. A path paved with multicolored stones cut through the lush green lawn, leading to an arch overgrown with several sorts of ivy.
The lawn continued behind the arch, and part of a house was visible in the distance. I knew I had never been there before. And at the same time, I knew that was exactly where I needed to be. I belonged there. As if I’d come home from a long journey. My heart filled with joy and warmth.
“Welcome, Alice,” said a friendly voice behind me.
The second I turned around to see who was speaking, I woke up in my bed.