Haunted Dream
by  Cheryl

It isn't my intent to offend anyone. As for rating, I suppose if it were a movie it might be an R. References to war, sexual allusions, and nudity. So R rating it is.

He was glad that there was enough hot water left for him in the bathhouse. He worked himself past exhaustion in the vain hope of pushing the unbidden memories from his awareness. Leaning his head back he watched the tendrils of steam snaking toward the ceiling. He leaned his head back and regarded the condensation forming on the surface above him. There were cracks starting to traverse a tracery across the ceiling. He should mention that to Jelly, it would need to be repaired soon. He reclined in the tub, wreathed in a fog of steam and awash in hot water to soak away the tension in his muscles; yet not the tension in his mind.

Scott really hadn't been having any more dreams than usual about the war. He would dream about the war for the rest of his life, he accepted that. No, the problem was that his wartime memories were constantly invading his waking life. It was all he could do to keep them in abeyance on the periphery of his day to day existence. There was some respite to be found in working himself just short of the point of sheer collapse, then Scott felt things might be normal, or, at least, some semblance of what might pass for normalcy.

He was overtired - but there was the strange sense of agitation underlying everything. The way Scott might explain it would be like the feeling in the air before a thunderstorm. Portentous. Something yet to be happening, or is approaching, or what? What did he expect? Why couldn't he put the war behind him the way had until. . .

The business trip to San Francisco. Was it only five short weeks ago that Murdoch had sent him and Johnny to work with their attorneys on updating contracts with long-standing suppliers? Scott had been flattered Murdoch had trusted him with such important matters and found him able enough to introduce Johnny to the minutiae of business matters. Johnny had acquitted himself well, in spite of being largely bored. He learned what he needed, paid attention to what was pertinent, and was quite the hard negotiator. Scott had been very satisfied with the trip overall. Still the sense of turbulence in his life annoyed him. He liked things to be tidy. Organized and efficient was his preference. Scott Lancer sometimes felt that life should be like geometry. He believed himself to be not by nature a fanciful man. Logic should be the force behind things.

It had been a perfect October day, golden and glorious. When Scott had lived in Boston he had always loved the autumn. He had noticed what a fine day it had been but he didn't really care. Good weather, bad weather, it was nothing more than just the weather. He really didn't thing such things noteworthy anymore. Maybe somewhere in his happy childhood memories of autumns past there was something on which he might concentrate to fill his mind with more pleasant thoughts.

Scott remembered a crisp fall day in Boston. He was five years old, the sunlight filtered through the still partially leafed branches of the trees. The reds, golds, and oranges of the rustling leaves. Little Scott clutched two fistfuls of fallen leaves, threw his head back, then started to spin around. Spinning faster, and faster with a child's perfect exhilaration of pure movement. He laughed as the blue sky spun past over his head. Falling over from dizziness, the colored leaves breaking his fall, he was still laughing. A little boy's gray blue eyes looking into the blue autumn sky.

It became a graying sky. It was another Scott, only slightly more than a boy, who mounted his horse sick with the knowledge of what his orders required he do. An early morning on a battlefield under a graying, lightening sky. It was still troubled him less than the dawn he had seen this morning. The blood red stain of the sun staining a roseate smudge into the cerulean dome of the sky. It was beautiful and at another time Scott might well have found it so. This morning he couldn't see the beauty. He took his place in formation knowing his orders, knowing that as a junior officer his orders entailed, in all likelihood, ordering men to their deaths. They were hardly more than boys, most soldiers were boys. Scott felt he was a boy and he was terrified. He gripped the reins tightly as his thighs pressed against his horse's sides. His mount shifted nervously under him. Scott could view the enemy. The officers were clad in gray, the men wore various pieces of gray uniforms. None of those in lower ranks he could see had a complete uniform. The were rag-tag, but they were disciplined and determined. Scott respected them, admired their bravery, and knew that he must kill as many of them as he could.

He knew he had to get control over himself or horse would sense his tension and become all but unmanageable. Scott was afraid. He could feel the great cold mass of his fear running back and forth through his guts like ice filled water. It threatened to crystallize into solid ice freezing him into inactivity. Perhaps it might be better when the artillery started and drowned out his thoughts. If God were willing he would be alive and whole to see this evening. They turned and spun around and around in his head. Why was he here? Because he was damn fool enough to volunteer. He didn't have to be here at all. His grandfather was a wealthy man. Even if he had been conscripted, his grandfather could have paid the three hundred dollars for his replacement in the army. It began, Scott's horse surged forward with the line, and all coherent thoughts and memories ceased.

He tried to steady his ragged breathing cursing the past for not staying in the past. The war was over. It had been over for years. Why did something inside him insist in returning to it over and over again? What was wrong with him? He had survived. It was done. The dead were buried and the living moved on - it was as simple as that. Why was it not as simple for him?

He was exhausted. Scott closed his eyes, a feeling of grit behind his eyelids. He wondered if they would wait dinner on him as sleep overtook him. He wished he could melt into the hot water of the bath. Melt into nothingness until he washed clean of all his pain and guilt. Then be reborn as a fresh Scott Lancer. He started sliding down into the tub.

In his dream he walked through a stand of trees, oaks perhaps, to a hidden pool formed by a forest stream. The shifting sunlight glinted off the water and gently drifting golden leaves. The shadows were like flitting ghosts across this idyllic place of dreams. Through the wavering glare Scott discerned a pale figure floating on the pool's surface. It was a strange, nymph-like girl whose dark hair spread in a delicate lacework over the surface of the water. Scott remembered reading that people throwing coins in fountains was just the remnant of ancient practices of giving offerings to the deities, usually goddesses, of springs, lakes, and rivers. A ridiculous thought struck him that this girl might well be the spirit, or deity, of this pool. He'd never met a goddess, or make that a nymph, before. He was impressed, insofar as his baser instincts were concerned. She was a beautiful as a marble nymph. Yet Scott knew that although her lightly sun blushed skin was as smooth and as flawless as the finest marble, and that her body would be marvelously soft, as soft as something infinitely ripened. She floated on the surface of his unconscious as lightly as the leaves danced on the reflective surface of the water. Her exquisitely rounded young limbs drifted by him, never touching the sides of the pool, only sensuously skirting the edges. In the shifting light her face was wonderfully sweet and impossibly lovely.

And Scott wanted her more than he could ever remember wanting anything in his life.

He closed his eyes against the flickering sunlight. The light shifted from rose-gold to dark red against his closed eyelids; she was too beautiful for him. He feared the strange inhumanity of her. Scott felt her looking at him, willing him to open his eyes. He had to look at her. She had an almost childlike face but her eyes troubled him. They were certainly beautiful enough. Wide sherry dark eyes, intoxicating, like famous wine of Jerez could be. Yet the red brown depths held the traces of great age and too many secrets. Clearly here was no girl of not quite twenty, in spite of how her face and body might appear. She was at least as old as these trees. When she opened her small, perfect rosebud mouth, Scott wanted to scream. She had the mouth of a shark, row, upon row, of jagged, lethal teeth.

His head abruptly broke the surface of the bath water. Sputtering and coughing up water, Scott braced himself halfway out of the water, his arms on either side of the tub. Rivulets of water trailed over the tensed muscles of his shoulders, down his chest and abdomen into the water. Water dripped from his arms and hands onto the floor. Scott stepped from the tub and began to vigorously rub is steam reddened skin with a towel. He dressed quickly hoping that he wouldn't be late to dinner, or at most, not too late.

That would be if he could find any appetite at all.

Maybe he could just move the food around on his plate losing himself in the small talk and little things of family life. He hoped to shake off the shadows which shrouded him by listening to Murdoch drone on about business and the running of the ranch, in Teresa's young girl's prattle, and by being thoroughly amazed by the amount of food Johnny could shovel into his mouth. Johnny still ate like a growing boy.

Scott finished dressing, leaving the bathhouse and walked toward the house.




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