A Patch of Heather

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

After a hard day at work, exhausted by the bitterness and anger that ruled her life, Jocelyn smiled in her sleep. A smile from Jocelyn was a rare thing indeed, and she only did it now because she recognized the song; her mother used to sing it to her when she was small. But Jocelyn was alone in the quiet loft apartment. In fact, she had been living on her own for years now. The song were merely a memory, brought up to lure her from safer dreams.

Jocelyn, in this unsafe dream, was a little girl again. She was on the tire-swing in their old backyard. She did not question that someone was inging in the background. In dreams, such things are not unusual.

Want a push, sweetie? asked her father laughingly. Jocelyn was about to reply that no, she was fine, when she realized that she couldn't move. Well, not that she couldn't move exactly, but that she couldn't move her legs in the right way for her to be able to swing properly. Something wasn't right, and a strange noise was coming from somewhere.

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme...

Daddy, what is that? she asked.

Everything is fine, said her father, his voice sugary and overly cheerful. But when Jocelyn looked around she saw everything crumble into sand and dust. She fell through the air and when she landed she was twenty-four again, and she was alone.

When she looked around all she could see for miles was desert, as if she were in California or Nevada. Then suddenly it was a strange sort of night, like the darkest part that comes shortly before the dawn -- but in his night, Jocelyn could see all the planets up close. It reminded her of a Lassen painting, only here it was the desert and not the ocean, and there were no dolphins or whales.

Tell her to find me an acre of land...

That strange sound was still there too, ringing in her ears. It was ancient, and it was almost like wolves howling. No... this was wilder, stranger, more frightening because it was less controlled. Laughing and cackling went the sound of ancient wind over sand, rock, and dust.

And then she knew.

It was coyotes. And something else, too. Jocelyn's eyes had gotten adjusted to the dark and now she could see and feel all around her the shadow of something watching her. There was something familiar about it... but something was wrong. Something screamed in the distance and that set Jocelyn running. She ran through the desert, the wind howling and keening like a banshee at her heels. And finally she stopped, because she found that she could run no more.

Perhaps I've lost it, she thought nervously.

But when Jocelyn turned around she came face to face with a pair of amber eyes, not so very different from her own.

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme...

Jocelyn wanted very much to run again, but found that she could not. It wasn't that she was transfixed by fear, it was simply that her feet refused to move, as if they knew something that Jocelyn did not, and so she stayed. For awhile the creature looked at her, staring (it seemed to Jocelyn) into her very being. And then it ever-so-quietly stepped into the light, with an almost-maniacal grin on its wolfish face.

Between salt water and the sea-strand...

Coyotes were cunning things; they lived almost everywhere in North America. They played tricks, they messed with you until they had you cornered, and then they killed you. Brother Coyote brought fire and food to humans, but he also brought death.

Then she'll be a true love of mine.

You need to face your shadows, it cackled at her, laughing with its sinister, smiling face, and its bright, fiery eyes. And then it attacked her. Its cackling howl filling the air, it clawed at her face and the arms she raised to protect herself. Wailing and screaming it lept over and over, and Jocelyn was sure that it was going to kill her.

And, just as suddenly as the attack had begun, it stopped. Jocelyn l ay there on the sand, looking up at the crazy planets in the strange night, and she didn't even feel any pain. Surprised, she reached up and touched her face, which should have been scoured with scratches and blood. Smooth as stone and soft as cashmere. Jocelyn hauled herself up and as she did the coyote came over and licked her face like the big, friendly, slobbery dog her neighbour owned. Jocelyn raised a sarcastic eyebrow, wondering whether or not this creature was quite safe. The coyote gave a sound that was halfway bewteen a bark and a laugh.

Of course not, it said with a grin, But I am good.

Oh, lovely; now it was making allusions to C.S. Lewis. Confused, Jocelyn looked around and wondered what she was supposed to do next, for clearly someone had something in mind for her. She wiped the dirt from her hands, and started walking.

Jocelyn needn't have worried about what to do, for lying in wait for her was the shadow-thing. It began to skulk a little more obviously, trying to get the girl's attention. This, Jocelyn understood now, was what she had actually been afraid of all along, although she had not thought to fear it in the dream until now.

What do you want from me? asked Jocelyn quietly.

The shadow said nothing and skulked a little more.

Come out, said Jocelyn.

So be it, hissed the shadow.

Have her reap it in a sickle of leather...

Then the thing pounced upon the girl, hacking and slashing and sucking the life away from her. In this way the thing went about its work of destroying Jocelyn with fear. Finally, she managed to become aware of ancient, wild, manaiacal howling all around her, and she noticed a strange object lying beside her. Jocelyn reached out and grabbed it as a last hope. She brought it to the light and when she saw that it was a sickle, which appeared to be made of leather, Jocelyn laughed at the absurdity and cried because she knew she was going to lose. But she hit the thing withe the sickle anyway, and to her surprise it wailed in pain. Jocelyn cornered the thing, and leaning in towards the creature, she spoke.

Take off your mask, she hissed.

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme...

No, croaked the thing.

Then I'll do it for you, she said quietly, and when she took off the mask the thing had the face of her father.

What are you? Jocelyn demanded, incredulous.

I am what you hate and what you fear, it replied, I am also your past -- what you will become if you do not face me. Look at yourself, it is already beginning. You are bitter and you are angry. Soon the lies will begin; soon you will learn the art of deception and treachery.

No, whispered Jocelyn.

The thing laughed at her and continued, stronger now, knowing the effect its words were having on the girl.

Oh yes, it whispered back, confident, Everyone will leave you, just like your father. It chuckled maliciously. And then the truth will come out: you don't really deserve anything but lonliness. You exist only to be abandoned by those you love. Face it, dear. You will never feel the sun on your face, it finished.


It was Jocelyn who had spoken then. Her voice was clear and strong; by now she was beginning to realize that this was absurd. She brought her foot down firmly and squashed the thing. Gone. It was dead and gone. Poof, just like that. Actually, she was a little surprised that it had been that easy. Of course, it was always easier than you thought it was going to be, wasn't it?

And gather it all in a patch of heather...

Jocelyn looked down at what had been the shadow-thing, and saw now that it was a little patch of heather. She gave the quiet laugh of one who is exhausted and who has been messed with quite a bit in the last little while. She shook her head a little, picked up the flowers, and handed them to the coyote, who had, of course, been right beside her all along. The creature took the flowers in its mouth and promptly ate them when a wide, crooked grin.

Jocelyn woke up lazily, smiling as she let the sunlight stream onto her face through the large apartment windows. She remembered her dream, and she remembered that her father had in reality been gone for a good many years now, having left her mother for another woman when Jocelyn was very small. With a strange feeling of relief and peace, Jocelyn looked at her clock, which read 11:00 am. Mm, Saturday rocks, she thought to herself with a smile.

Just then, there was a knock at her door, which was odd, since anyone who wanted to get at her apartment would have had to ring the buzzer first, unless whoever it was also lived in the building. Perplexed, Jocelyn hauled herself from the comfortable array of sheets and duvets that made up her bed and walked to the door. When she opened it, there was no one there.

Oh well, she thought to herself. I guess I imagined the knocking. Jocelyn was just about to turn and go back inside when she heard a small 'yip.' She looked down towards the source of the sound and saw a small puppy, which looked to be something along the lines of a husky. It had a purple ribbon tied into a bow around its neck, attached to which was a note that read simply, 'Happy Birthday, Jocelyn. Her name is Heather.'

Smiling, Jocelyn picked up the puppy and brought her inside. The dog followed her back to her bed and settled herself on Jocelyn's lap as if she had always been there. And when Jocelyn looked at the puppy's eyes, she saw that they were bright amber, not so very different from her own.

Then she'll be a true love of mine.


© copyright

February 20, 2005

[NOTE: This story was written for my English class (handed in on February 21, 2005) as an assignment to go along with the novel that I read for my independant study, Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King. It had to have two elements in common, so I chose theme and conflict. It was written during the period of time in which I was reading about vision quests, so I decided to base the story on that -- mostly it was an excuse to write whatever the hell I wanted without it having to make sense to normal people.]