The Night of the Last Dreams

by Donna L. Greenwood

They were talking about God when the first owl appeared. She asked her lover whether he believed in God. He smiled and said that God was a fairy tale told to the feeble-minded to make them feel better about their shit lives. They were camping in the woods and, after these words, they heard a rustling in the trees above them. It was sitting on a branch—white-feathered and moon-eyed. Expectant. Listening. The first owl. That night, as they made love, she felt its feathers on her face. She watched her lover’s eyes grow hard and round. His teeth drew blood.

They began to dream of owls. In the mornings they would share their dreams, open-mouthed and smiling at the similarities. They kissed and believed their love was so strong that their minds had melded. Beneath the morning rays, there were fears—unspoken because they were unspeakable.

As swift as madness, the owls descended until each branch bowed with their weight. Their dark silhouettes carved feathered scars into the black sky. They sat motionless in the fumy mists that were wrapped around trees and homes.

People closed their curtains during the day. The owls stared at them through the glass and made them think of murder. Old men screamed in their beds. Some said it was because they were closer to death; some said it was because they understood more than their rational minds could handle. Their screams were maddening. She watched her lover’s knuckles grow white; she watched his eyes darken.

On the night of the last dreams, the children disappeared. Their mothers clung onto empty playsuits, curling their fists around vapours, trying to rebuild their children from air. When she heard them curse God for taking their babies, she looked at the owls and whispered, Don’t. Don’t speak about God.

Without sleep, people wandered in the night. They mumbled prayers and curses and spells. The owls watched in silence as tempers frayed, hot and bloody. Bodies, beaten to a pulp, were left in the streets to atrophy.

Before he vanished, her lover told her that his dead mother had kissed him on the mouth. He said she visited him often, ever since the owls had appeared. Later, she awoke alone, holding onto a lock of his hair and the memory of sex, and she knew that it was not the owls who had taken him. She knew that it had never been about the owls. The owls acted only as a portent.

One by one the lights blinked out and they stared at one another in the darkness. Sleep never came. As they sat alone in hidden corners, a terrible understanding iced its way through their brains. The good people burned their bibles, their korans, their grimoires; the bad people slaughtered other bad people. Priests hanged themselves in sycamore trees. Old women ate their cats.

It was said that you would hear them before they came for you. The noise was supposed to be loud, like a roaring engine, and then, it was said, you would see a bright, dazzling light. The owls were the first clue. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for eternal emptiness.

There were three owls perched outside her window. Three; her time had come. She waited for the inevitable roar. With her lover’s hair cast between her fingers, she knitted herself a prayer. The White would descend soon. It took them all in the end. This was the only certainty now.

When they came for her, she knew them. She had always known them. As they reached for her, a white, planetary light fingered her body. She uttered the name of the only one who could save her from them.

‘Oh God, help us.’

A long, grey body stood before her, and, although she could see no mouth nor find no face, she heard its words in her mind:

‘We are God.’

And she knew that all hope was lost.

Donna L. Greenwood lives in Lancashire, England. She writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry and you can find examples of her work in Splonk, Gravel and STORGY magazines, amongst others. 
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