Note to Readers– This is Chapter Three of a continuing Weekly Serial Story freely shared only here for followers of my Writing Blog. If you missed the beginning, you can catch up HERE for the first two chapters.
Twas after midnight, before the dawning.
Before sparrows were stretching and sleepily yawning.
Following what seemed an endless day of ostriches picketing and protesting in front of the cabin and with ear-splitting ostrich chants still ringing in our ears (“No Ostriches – No Stories!”), a welcome and restful night’s sleep was uppermost in our minds. I looked forward to hitting the sack early and pulling the covers up over my head with the same childlike eagerness and anticipation of Christmas Eve.
With a nightly cup of chamomile tea to soothe jangled nerves, I wished Little Red Bear “good night” and off to bed I went. Mentally and physically exhausted, sleep soon followed as peace and quiet had finally returned to Honey Hill, reassuring that even angry ostriches must rest their vocal chords at some point.
It didn’t seem long before a loud clap of thunder woke me from my slumber.
Sheets of rain mixed with small hail beat against the window, and I found myself bouncing up and down on the bed mattress as the floor of the cabin shook from the impact of a lightning strike nearby, followed soon by the creaking and crashing sound of tree limbs.
Then followed the unexplainable but unmistakable, moaning, groaning whisper of my name.
“Jim . . . .”
And again – “Jim . . . . . . .”
I looked around but no one was to be found. Lightning flashes illuminated the room, irregular strobe light bursts at once nearly blinding to the eyes yet revealing nothing save haunting shapes and shadows.
“Jimmm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .”
Was I dreaming, or truly hearing my name being called, as though from both distant and near at the same time?
I rushed to the window, scanning the outside, squinting to focus in the stormy night, searching to see if anyone was in peril and calling my name in distress. The old white oak tree nearby twisted and strained in the howling winds of the storm. But I could see no further thru the driving rains.
“Jiiiimmmmmm . . . . . . . . . . . .”
Louder. Clear now. The whispered call was coming from inside the room!
At once turning back around I found myself inexplicably looking upwards. I saw but did not believe. Surely, I must be dreaming.
This is not possible I thought, as a dark and ominous thundercloud, flickering on and off with flashes of internal red and yellow lightning, hovered above my head inside the room where the ceiling should have been.
Though – there was no ceiling, only the menacing and silent thundercloud with clear skies and distant stars shining behind, all while the unabated storm continued to rage outside the cabin walls.
“It’s odd Little Red Bear has not been woken by all of this,” I said aloud. “Wait until I tell him about this dream in the morning.”
“You are not dreaming,” came a sonorous voice from inside the cloud — resonant, deep, and authoritative in tone.
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes – I am!”
“No – you’re not!”
“Clouds thunder but do not talk. Therefore, it’s a dream. End of discussion. Good night.”
“YOU ARE NOT DREAMING!” thundered the cloud as lightning flashed and winds now rushed about the room, sweeping up clothes and papers, hurling them into the air and whipping them about in tornadic bursts. White hot lightning bolts, one after another, blasted the floorboards, causing me to leap and dance about to avoid them striking my feet.
“Dance, storyteller! Dance!” the thundercloud mocked.
“Okay, okay – not dreaming,” I acquiesced, though still really believing it was a dream while simultaneously wondering if one’s foot were to be burnt in a dream about lightning would it still be burnt upon awakening? Unsure of the answer, I felt it best to play along in my dream.
“Who or what are you? And what do you want of me then?” I inquired.
“Muucchhhh. I am the Ghostly Cloud of Untold Stories Passed.”
“Not ‘past’ – ‘passed’. Well, I suppose in a technical sort of way ‘past’, for it is your past of which I speak this night.”
“O–kay . . .”
“So, more precisely then since you seem inclined to quibble and nitpick – You are being haunted by your past’s passed stories never written or told, and lost forever – The distraught man on the train. The sick child in the hospital bed. The boy pirate who became a mountain man. The lonely grandmother sitting alone on the church steps. The red-nosed circus clown running for Congress. The . . . ”
“Oh, get on with you,” I responded in defiance and losing patience.
“You do not believe in me?”
“Nope, not even a tidily bit.”
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your own senses?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“Why do you doubt your own senses then, storyteller?”
“Because the slightest thing can set them off. An upset stomach. A headache. An over-toasted piece of bread. A moldy bit of cheese. An over-ripe and fermented apple. I’m tired. There’s more pain-in-the-butt than painful memory about you, whatever you are. Hogwash and horsefeathers, I say! Now let me get back to sleep.”
The thundercloud began to darken, rumbling inside and turning an unnerving purple. The very room about me took on an oppressively heavy and cold feel to the point where I could see my breath.
“Someone just picked the wrong mushrooms for the soup last night and I’m hallucinating again. That’s what you are – an apparition. An illusion. A figment of my overly stimulated imagination. A colorful sensory overload of psychedelic mushrooms. I’ve told Little Red Bear to be careful about that. I don’t do mushrooms well for some reason.”
“I am not a mushroom!” the cloud thundered.
“There are mushroom clouds,” I countered. “Dreadful, devastating things not to be taken lightly.”
“Do not take me lightly, storyteller!” the cloud raged. “I am the Ghostly Cloud of Your Untold Stories Passed. Do you believe in me, or not?!?!?”
“Look, you can be the Easter Bunny if you want, for all I care. Just let me get back to sleep.”
“I am salvation!”
“No time. I have a lot going on right now. I’m dealing with a work stoppage on my next book, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“I am here for your salvation. And for the sake of stories yet untold.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need to be salvated. I just need to get back to sleep.”
“Untold stories smolder within you, eventually igniting and burning, stoked by the fuels of neglect and indifference, searing and scorching from the inside out until they are released and told.”
“Yeah, that’s nice. Good night.”
“Mark my words, storyteller! You will be consumed by the burning fires of your own imagination. Flames licking at your very soul. But salvation can be yours!”
“Maybe another time. I’m too tired to be salvated tonight. I just want to go back to sleep.”
I pulled down the covers to slip back into bed, wondering that if you go to sleep in a dream, would you then have a dream within a dream, or just start a new one entirely? Hoping for a new one.
“You will be visited by three Ostriches!” the cloud announced authoritatively, it’s prophetic words echoing around the room.
That perked my interest and got my attention. Back up out of bed.
“Come again . . . .”
“Ostriches three, will visit thee!”
“Well, that sounds a little Old Testament. What are you, the ghost of some old street corner oracle, Biblical poet or something?”
“Yes. We had better writing and greater use of dramatic flair back then.”
“Eh, to each his own, I suppose.”
“Enough about me. You will be visited by Ostriches three. Their stories to tell, will your job be.”
“Three ostriches. Really? Is that the message? The big chance and salvation you were referring to? That’s why you woke me up?”
“Uh-huh. Right then. Goodnight.”
“You still doubt me storyteller. Why do you continue to doubt your senses?”
“Well, because, it would be ‘non-sense’ to believe I am talking to a cloud? There’s one.”
Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled throughout the room.
“You might want to be a little more careful tossing those lightning bolts about so indiscriminately. Not that you care being a rain cloud full of water, but this is a log cabin comprised almost entirely of combustible wood, you know.”
“Rain cloud?!?!? I am a Thundercloud!”
A bolt of lightning struck the floorboards between my feet. The room’s walls shook as though in an earthquake from the thunderous blast.
“Yeah, uh, go on. I’m listening,” I responded, brushing burning splinters from my bare feet and staring down at the smoking burnt spot on the floor, thankful the cloud’s aim had been precise and not a little higher.
I tried to take a further step away only to put my left foot down atop a hot ember and found myself backed up against a wall. The smell of wood smoke filled the room. With maybe a touch of third degree foot burns.
Mind racing, I nervously searched the twinkling stars in the skies beyond the thundercloud for a happier thought. “Third star past morning or something or other?” I wondered aloud, trying to remember and find any escape, or to switch the dream channel, wishing I had taken that Interdisciplinary Dream Studies Course instead of Advanced Cost Accounting years ago. Do you feel pain in a dream?
Rubbing my seared and painfully burned foot I turned my gaze back to the charred spot on the floor and the burning ember upon which I had stepped, sparks still glowing at the edges and smoke wafting into the room. Was that pieces of me burning or just the floor?
“Look at me!” the thundercloud demanded. “I bear your salvation!”
“Again — wooden building — please do be careful.”
“Salvation from your passed story torments!”
“Yeah, yeah – salvation. Got that part.”
A second lightning bolt shattered an oil lamp on the nightstand, instantly bursting into flames and setting the curtains ablaze, and then just as quickly extinguished by a following gust of wind.
“Yes, yes. Please, do go on. Continue. I’m all ears. Hanging on every word. Waiting to be salvated. You were saying . . .”
“Very well then, storyteller. You will be visited by three ostriches.”
“Yep, ostriches. Three of ‘em. Got it.”
“Expect the first ostrich tonight, when the bell strikes one.”
“Ummm . . . ugh . . . gosh. We don’t have a bell. I truly hope that’s not a problem. The mantle clock broke last year and we haven’t gotten it fixed yet. So dreadfully sorry. No bells. But we do have a cuckoo clock. It cuckoos. Might that work for you?”
“Whatever. Expect the first ostrich then, at the sounding of the first cuckoo.”
“Uh-huh . . . .”
“Look for the second ostrich with the second cuckoo.”
“And expect the third ostrich at the third cuckoo, I suppose.”
“No. That would be too predictable and unimaginative. Are you sure you are a storyteller, storyteller?”
“You’re sounding kind of cuckoo now yourself, cloud, to be honest. But perfectly fitting for the goofy ostriches. So please, go ahead. The last cuckoo ostrich, as you were saying . . .”
“Yes, yes . . . . The third ostrich, more mercurial, will appear in his own good time.”
“Yeah, you’re right. That is better. But, well, here’s the thing, cloud – I got news for ya. The ostriches are already here. They all three arrived together, all at once, two days ago, were upset by an off-paw comment made by Little Red Bear, and then picketed and protested all day long yesterday in front of the cabin. For a prophetic spectral warning cloud, you’re a little late, by two or three days.”
“Weather conditions over Montana unavoidably delayed my arrival.”
“My personal Spectral Early Warning System is subject to the whims of the atmosphere and weather delays? Perfect. That explains a lot in my life, actually.”
“We do what we can.”
“You have been warned, storyteller. Receive these ostriches well and mend your ways. Release and tell the stories inside and those that come to you, or you will continue to be haunted by the shadows and specters of untold stories passed. The ostriches have their stories waiting to be told. Tell them — or you will be consumed by your own internal creative fires!”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Got it. I’m tired and now my foot hurts, thanks to you. Anything else or is that about it?”
“Now, look to see me no more.”
The thundercloud rumbled as it faded into the now starless and once again stormy sky above.
“Good. Nice chatting with you,” I muttered to myself, foot burning and limping back towards the bed. “A late warning is a wasted warning, you know. Might as well not even bother. Stupid ostriches already here and you show up three days too late to tell me about it. A lot of bloody good that did.”
Instantly a lightning bolt flashed, striking the old white oak tree just outside the window, mere feet from the cabin. Thunder rattled and shook the cottage to its foundations, repeatedly tossing me against the wall and thrown down crashing upon the floor only to be hurled thru the air and slammed against the walls yet again.
“Sorry,” I offered desperately, finally picking myself up and waving my hands in surrender while gazing upwards to the cabin’s ceiling, now returned to form. “Everybody’s so touchy and easily offended these days. I do appreciate the concern, if ill-timed. We’ll both try to do better the next time. Forgive and forget, yeah?”
The room convulsed and upheaved once again, and back to the floor I went.
“Characters . . . stories . . . untold . . . consumed . . .” – the final whispered reply, fading into the distance.
I awoke what seemed only moments later, but who of us truly senses the passage of time when sleeping, finding myself feeling cold, shivering and huddled in a corner on the floor. Struggling to rise, I used the chair as a prop to lift myself back up.
The first, welcome and comforting early rays of sunrise beamed thru the window curtains, not singed or scarred upon inspection. I was also relieved to find the nightstand lamp undamaged, nor any burn marks on the floor.
Convinced then that it all had been merely a stress-induced nightmare precipitated by the ostriches, I sighed in relief. Tired and feeling beat up and battered, after dressing and then slowly and gently slipping an unexplained aching left foot into my boot, I headed downstairs following a fitful and frightful night of storms and dreams.
Little Red Bear was sitting at the table, already reading the morning’s edition of “Squirrelly World” and appearing much chipper than the day before.
“How did you sleep last night, Red? Storms keep you awake all night, too?”
“I slept fine. And what storms? It was quiet and dry all night. The rain stopped well before dinner last night. Remember? The whip-poor-wills sang all night behind the cabin. Best night’s rest I’ve had in a month. You have trouble sleepin’, Jim?”
“Yeah, some. I suppose it had to be the mushroom soup at dinner then. You know mushrooms can cause problems for me.”
“What are you talking about? I made the spaghetti for us, and you made the salads and garlic bread to go with it for dinner last night. You feelin’ all right this morning, Jim? Why are you limping? You got a sore foot or something? Are those ostriches gettin’ to ya? You look like you already been down a rough stretch of road for someone who just got out of bed. There’s bumps and bruises all over ya. You didn’t go out and try to fight one of those ostriches after I went to bed last night, did you?”
“No, no. It was just a long night. ”
“Well, you look awful. Maybe you should go back to bed for a while.”
“Not a chance. But how about you? Any bad dreams or nightmares?”
“None that I recall. I started to have one dream that was a bit strange though, about a cloud talking to me.”
“Oh, yeah? Tell me about it.”
“Well, this cloud seemed to wake me up with thunder in the room and started mumbling something or other about ‘Adventures Untold’.”
Little Red Bear now had my full attention. “Really? Tell me everything. What happened?”
“Nuthin’. I reminded the cloud that it’s considered unwise to wake sleeping bears, dogs and babies. It replied, ‘Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot’, and then just disappeared. ‘Poof’ – it was gone. That was the only dream I had. Other than the usual dream about finding a giant ten foot beehive and honey, of course.”
“Oh, how nice,” I responded, recalling my own nightmares and wondering why only bears, dogs and babies seemed to enjoy the “don’t wake” protections afforded them. Well, babies I do understand of course, being the father of four kids. Yeah, never wake a sleeping baby. Doting grandparents dropping in for a visit seem to forget that one now and then. Dogs and bears are on their own as far as I’m concerned.
But, getting back to the story, I had come downstairs this morning half-thinking and half-hoping the ostriches might have called off their unreasonable picketing and protest, having no results to show for all their work and having moved on elsewhere. No such luck. Their voices carried thru the open windows.
Ostriches ready to challenge and put up a fight!
We’re back in the battle and going to rev up tonight!
Gingerly stepping out onto the front porch, there they were, all three of the ostriches energetically picketing and chanting across the front entrance to the cabin, exactly as they had the previous day. Determined birds, these.
The largest ostrich was carrying a new sign – “OSTRICHES HAVE STORIES TO TELL, TOO!”
And the chanting. The endless chanting, chanting, chanting . . . . .
Flap your wings and stamp your feet!
We’re picketing to the groove of the Ostrich beat!
Flap your wings and stamp your feet!
We’re makin’ new friends and gonna turn up the heat!
The crowd of spectators is continuing to grow larger and wondering why that is. Not overly concerned about it though, providing peaceful spectators do not become belligerent participants, of course.
Hey, hey! Whattaya know?
That writer guys movin’ pretty slow!
Hey, hey! He’s all limpy!
That old man’s lookin’ really gimpy!
Having already heard and seen enough, I turned to go back inside the cabin to begin making breakfast.
To the side, mere feet from my bedroom window, I caught sight of the old white oak tree, smoldering and split in two lengthwise from top to bottom, somehow mysteriously burning and being consumed from the inside out while still standing, flames licking at the edges. Smoke rose from the growing pile of ashes at its feet, forming grey and black clouds before the breeze took them off and away into the air.
“Now, that’s interesting,” I muttered to myself, limping back inside with a still clouded mind.
“Are you sure you didn’t hear any storms last night, Red?”
To be continued . . . . . . . .
Thanks as always for visiting with us! This story part was prepared with a little tongue-in-cheek fun from the inspiration of Charles Dickens. Hope he didn’t mind. Be sure to check in next week as events continue to unfold in the “Ozarks Ostrich Crisis”, a continuing weekly serialized free story available only here on the Writing Blog. See ya then.
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