Writer's group monthly flash fiction contest and magazine

The Stuff Of Dreams

February: volume 1 issue: 1

The Stuff Of Dreams

It happened first early on a Tuesday morning. Juan woke from the strange dream and stared at the ceiling, where the low sun streaming through the blinds painted lines like bars.

He didn’t normally remember dreams, but this one was different. In it, a man was shouting into Juan’s face the words “Cat’s eyes!” at the top of his lungs, repeating it over and over. The bearded man had no eyes himself. And he was soaked in water from head to foot.

Juan went on-line to find an answer from the many sites that claimed to provide reliable analysis of dreams.

He found a reference to actual cat’s eyes, and how they might mean that you were being observed by someone who was amorously interested in you. Juan liked this take.

Another site suggested that the eyes could belong to the cat of an evil figure like a witch, and a sighting of the eyes meant that something bad was about to befall you. As Juan didn’t believe in any kind of spirits, he discounted this idea.

But he also found a reference to ‘cat’s eyes’ – the reflective road studs that mark the middle and edges of roads. The interpretation was that the dream meant you were heading in the right direction in life, and shouldn’t waver on your path.

Juan locked onto this last interpretation and felt nicely reassured since it seemed to relate specifically to his immediate future; he was set to join his first ship, the SS Buena Fortuna on March 20th – exactly one week’s time.

His family had tried to steer him away from the merchant navy; his father was a lawyer and wanted him to follow in his footsteps, while his mother was simply going to miss him during his long absences. But the dream – with the road-stud interpretation – seemed to support his choice.

Every night until he set sail, Juan had the same dream, the tone of the bearded man increasingly vehement. When Juan woke, he was a little bemused by this; after all, his sub-conscious should have been calmed by the interpretation of the dream that he’d decided to embrace.

But eventually, the day came to report to the ship. Juan said goodbye to his parents with hugs, kisses and not a few tears from all. And he took the train to Cádiz, where the SS Buena Fortuna was docked.

He hesitated at the point where the gangplank touched the dock, gazing up at the looming red hull, with its patches of rust here and there. He had butterflies in his stomach; his dream – and not those he’d been having in the last week – was about to come true.

Once on board, he introduced himself to the first person he met – a huge Senegalese – who directed him to the captain’s quarters.

Juan knocked on the door of the cabin and entered upon the gruff “come in!”.

The captain was at his desk, poring over a chart. Lying on South Africa, staring at Juan, was a black cat. Juan swallowed.

The captain looked up and smiled; he had kind eyes and a bushy beard.

“You must be Hernández. Welcome!”

He extended his hand, which Juan took; the captain had a hand-shake like a vice.

“Good morning, sir,” Juan replied. “Reporting for duty!”

“We don’t need all that formality, Hernández. I run a tight ship, but we’re family, too. You’ll get to know the drill.”

Juan nodded and stared down at the cat, which hissed at him.

“Ah, let me introduce you to Paco,” the captain laughed. “Finest ship-cat in the merchant navy. Not a single rat anywhere on this vessel!”

The cat continued to hiss.

“Don’t worry.” The captain stroked Paco on the back. “His hiss is worse than his bite.”

He laughed again and slapped Juan on the shoulder.

“Now, let’s see about your bunk.”

The captain led the way through a tight corridor, sectioned off halfway down with a barred gate.

“Security,” the captain explained as he unlocked it. “The special storage area is up there at the end. We’ll be carrying some valuable cargo this voyage, and some of the places we have to dock at … well. Let’s just say we’ll be needing plenty of locks!”

Juan found that he’d be bunking with Serge, the Senegalese he’d already met. Over the subsequent days, Serge would be invaluable as a guide – to the ship and to the captain’s routines. But they weren’t always together; their duties and watches meant that while one slept, the other often worked, and vice-versa.

Juan worked hard but enjoyed it. It was everything he’d expected: the work itself, the camaraderie with the crew, the vastness of the ocean, the whales and dolphins that accompanied them sometimes, the exotic ports they stopped off at and the nights spent there.

The dreams he’d had at home did not return. That is, not until one night exactly a month since the first time, as the ship was rounding the Cape.

Juan had swapped with Serge, who was now on deck. Juan had been working ropes all day and was exhausted. He tumbled into his bunk and he was soon asleep, lulled by the swaying of the ship – rather more pronounced than normal.

The dream hit him hard, the bearded man once again roaring in his face, but now much more intensely than ever before. Then Juan was out of his bunk, lying in several inches of water, with the lights flickering on and off … beside him. He was on the ceiling of the cabin.

He pulled himself to his feet and shook his head to get rid of all vestiges of sleep. The door of the cabin was open with water sloshing in. As Juan splashed through it, he spotted something black floating at his feet: Paco, dead.

Juan resisted the panic bubbling in his chest and stumbled along the corridor through the rising water. He reached the gate. It was locked. He rushed with difficulty back to the cabin; his things had been thrown about and the key was nowhere to be seen.

Back at the gate, he pushed, pulled and shook it with all his strength but it was built to stop thieves, and it was stopping Juan.

He saw a figure splashing towards him along the corridor, almost in slow-motion from the strobe effect of the flickering lights: the captain, his clothes sodden.

“Capsize!” he shouted, grabbing hold of the bars and trying to force them open.

Juan released the bars and stood there, the blood running cold through his veins.

“Come on, help me!” The captain was screaming now. “Capsize! Capsize!”

But Juan knew that it was no good. He shook his head and smiled thinly at the captain, who gave the gate one more violent shake before turning and wading away.

Once the captain was out of sight, Juan dropped to his knees and crossed himself, while the level of the water climbed steadily, relentlessly up his body.



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