It was dark. Leaves and twigs rattled over the ground. Elsie shivered. Her feet were bare, and the cold stones beneath were sharp. She should go forward. She didn’t want to.
‘Come on, Elsie,’ said a voice, deep and comforting. Elsie looked round but saw only the elm branches waving in the wind. ‘Come to bed, Elsie. Come to rest.’
‘I don’t want to,’ Elsie whispered. ‘I want to stay.’
The wind blew and the leaves swirled all round her, slapping her face and her hands. She covered her face with her arms and crouched down.
Elsie woke. It had only been a dream.
That was what she kept telling herself, through the day. Yet she couldn’t shake off the cold, the feel of stones against her feet. There was nothing wrong, she told herself, as she walked through the classroom door. Just a strange dream, to be forgotten. She focused on listening to the teacher.
After school, she walked home with her friend Rachel. ‘Anything wrong?’ Rachel asked.
‘No,’ said Elsie, ‘why?’
‘You were actually listening to Mr. Thompson,’ said Rachel. ‘Not like you.’
They were just passing the large elm by the cemetery. Elsie felt cold wind and leaves slap her face. She looked down. She was wearing shoes, but her feet still felt bare.
‘Elsie?’ Rachel tugged at her. ‘What’s is it?’
‘I just felt weird,’ said Elsie. ‘Like in a dream.’
Rachel rolled her eyes. ‘Just like you, always dreaming. Come on.’
She didn’t think about the dream again until that night. ‘Come to bed, Elsie,’ her mother told her.
Elsie had been watching television. ‘I want to stay here,’ she said. The couch was warm and soft.
‘You can’t stay there all night, Elsie. Come on.’
I don’t want to go, thought Elsie, but she had always obeyed her parents, so she went and brushed her teeth. The tiles were cold, cold as dark stone on her bare feet. She found the thickest socks she had and put them on. ‘Mum,’ she said, as her mother tucked her in. ‘Dreams aren’t real, are they?’
‘They aren’t, darling,’ her mother said. ‘Sometimes they can be a comfort, though.’
Elsie was going to ask what that meant, but she fell asleep.
The leaves slapped her face. Underneath she felt the roots of an elm, hard and rough under her bare feet. Before her were the cemetery gates.
‘Come to bed, Elsie, come to rest.’ It was her mother’s voice, warm and comforting, but somehow she was not comforted. ‘I want to stay here,’ she said. She did not want to go into the cemetery. She knew her mother was there. ‘Come to bed, Elsie, come to rest.’ The voice was deep and comforting, and she knew her father was there too, but she was not comforted and she did not want to go. She turned and ran, across the twigs and sharp rocks and onto the road home.
She woke as the sunlight came through the blinds. Just a dream, she told herself. Nothing wrong at all.
Yet she could not shake off the cold as she set off for school. Twigs and rocks cut her feet, even through her shoes. She reached the elm at the front of the cemetery and looked inside. There was a group of people there, dressed in black, too far away to make out their faces.
She could have walked past the gates and on to school. She could have stopped thinking about dreams and focused on ordinary things. Instead, she walked into the cemetery, up to the group of people. She knew everyone here. Rachel was here, and so were Elsie’s aunts and uncles and cousins. Her parents were not.
‘Come to bed, Elsie, come to rest.’ It was only a whisper, somewhere behind her. She turned and saw nobody. Then she ran, out of the cemetery and to her home as quickly as she could.
Her parents were not there. Somehow it was nearly dark. Hadn’t she only just woken up? She crawled into bed, curled up and shut her eyes, hoping to wake up in a world where things made sense.
She stood among the burnt ruins of the house. Her home. The wind blew and it was the coldest thing she had ever felt.
She turned. Her parents stood behind her. ‘Come to bed, Elsie, come to rest.’
‘I don’t want to. I want to stay.’
‘Dreams can be a comfort, love, sometimes,’ said her mother. ‘But they cannot last forever. You need to leave this behind.’
She remembered snatches of conversation, half overheard from a lifetime ago. Gas leak, poor family, such a tragic accident. Things were starting to make sense. Her father was reaching out to her.
Slowly, she stepped forward, took his hand, and her mother’s. Together they went back to the cemetery, back to their own graves, to rest.