Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2015 by Parker Sheaffer
Spots of green light played across his eyelids as Lucas slowly regained consciousness. He felt very groggy and weak but was relieved to see that he was still lying under the trees where he had gone to sleep. Things didn't look the same, though. Where was his lean-to? Why were the pine boughs he had gathered for a bed now dry and dead?
He wanted to laugh at the insane dream he had just been having, but it had been so realistic that he began to cry instead. He wept tears of relief that he wasn't in Hell after all. He was still alive and whole, but he didn't feel like getting up for a while. He felt weak, somehow drained, and needed to collect himself and get calmed down again. Much of the panic and fear that he should have felt before now came rushing back, flooding his mind in an overwhelming torrent of terror and he broke down into a sudden fit of almost hysterical crying.
As he sobbed he repeated out loud, "It was only a dream. It was only a dream. Thank the Lord, it was only a dream."
Soon he convinced himself that it truly had not been real and he berated himself for being foolish and weak. It was funny though that his arm hurt right where that demon had rubbed it.
Lucas got to his feet, his only thought now was to get home. He reached for his rifle and saw flecks of rust on the barrel. Pa would kill him for not cleaning it. That would have to wait. He picked it up and headed home. Lucas somehow sensed the right direction now and wondered how he could ever have not known the way. Within minutes he came across some familiar territory and an hour later he laughed with relief as he saw the cabin and his mother out feeding the chickens. Running up he called out to her.
She dropped the pan of grain and looked shocked for a moment but then swept him up in her tight embrace. She kept repeating his name as if she couldn't believe he was in her arms. Finally she let go of him and with tears in her eyes she shook him hard and angrily asked where he had been.
"Sorry, Ma. I got chased by a bear and got sorta lost. I had to stay the night in a lean-to but I was all right this morning'. I'm kinda hungry though," he said, hoping that there was still some biscuits and ham left from breakfast.
"What do you mean 'stay the night ?' Where you been all this time?"
Lucas was confused. "All what time? One night ain't that long."
"One night? What are you talkin' about, boy. You been gone almost a month. We done give up on you, son. Thought you was dead. We had a funeral and everything. Why did you run off like that and make your poor ole mama worry so?" she demanded again, sobbing and holding her baby tighter.
It was too much to comprehend and Lucas stared at her in disbelief.
"Ma, I swear I was just gone the one night. You're scarin' me."
His sister, Beth, came out of the house and squealed out his name. He found himself smothering in her hugs and kisses even though they were not usually that fond of each other. They were all three crying and went inside to sit down at the table. While Lucas ate some grits and biscuits they told him about how everyone looked and looked for him but after a couple of weeks they gave up and figured he was dead somewhere. He felt dizzy and thought he was going to pass out.
The reception Lucas received from his mother and sister was a lot better than what he got from his brothers and father. After they got past their shock they looked at him suspiciously as if he wasn't real or was maybe an imposter. When he told his story about being gone only one night they thought he had been bewitched or something.
His brother, James, said that he had, "heard tell of a man what went to sleep in the mountains and dreamt he was playin' with a bunch of little men and he slept for twenty years."
The way they acted it seemed as if they were actually scared of him.
His Pa said, "Right about the time you went missing folks was saying that they was weird fires up on the mountain. You see any fires? Anything strange?"
Pa had always been a superstitious man. It was something he learned from his Ma who was rumored to do a bit of witchin' now and then, but Pa had found the Lord and didn't want anything to do with witch stuff now. His father's cautious, distrusting attitude made Lucas feel uncomfortable around him and his brothers.
"No, Pa. I didn't see nothing' strange," Lucas lied.
His return was a ninety-day wonder in the neighborhood. People came from miles away to get a look at him and to hear him tell his story. They all shook their heads and wouldn't get too close and there was a lot of talk about witches and such and that made Lucas mad.
Les had cried and told him how sick he felt when they had a funeral for him. It took a while before he seemed happy to be around him again.
It was a very frustrating time and Lucas didn't dare tell anyone the whole truth about the terrible demons he had seen that still haunted him in his dreams. Folks would sure hang him for a witch if they knew that.
When he was alone with Les one afternoon Lucas wanted to kiss him, but Les told him that he couldn't do that anymore. When he said that it was a sin, Lucas remembered his own panicked promises to the Lord and he wondered if those promises counted since it hadn't been real after all. Still, he felt a great loneliness come over him. His family and neighbors had begun to reject him and it hurt a lot, but without Les to comfort him he felt truly lost. Things were never the same between them again.
After a year or so everyone finally seemed to forget about the incident and, except for Les, life resumed as it had been before, with days filled with work and his thoughts taken up with the daily struggle to survive in a harsh and often cruel land. People still looked at him askance but he got used to that, yet he still felt sad and lonely.
To prove to everyone that he was not witched and to find out if his secret encounter with the demons had damned him or not, Lucas had begun to go to church every Sunday, although he had never been a regular visitor before.
He prayed fervently each time that God not send his soul to hell and promised to always walk in the light from then on, but somehow he didn't feel reassured by the efforts. He expected to feel God's presence in his heart like everyone talked about, but instead there was only an uneasy, doubt filled silence there.
Still, he continued to attend every week and prayed as loud as anyone so that eventually he eased back into his normal life and seemed to be accepted again by the community.
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