She did as he asked, but the further she pressed through the forest, the vaster it seemed and she still didn't know who he was. In a curious canter she carried on, slightly disturbing the shrubs and settled rain from branches protruding onto the path she now carved. She was sure of something beyond in the distance, something she could only confide in instinct. Overwhelming curiosity asked her back to this same place again and again, knowing that why ever she was here, where ever she was - it felt safe. Just as she was about to succumb to the idea that perhaps this was a repetitive and endless road to no where, the scene before her altered and only very slightly but big enough to know it was a sign to persist, if only for a few more steps.
The voice disappeared and her eyes were drawn to the ground now and it felt like without moving she appeared before the remains of a severed tree, she was certain this had happened long ago and had simply never grown back. There were no signs of the remains nearby which puzzled her as she felt sure that she was the only other person to walk these tracks. She started to kneel on the soft ground, her hazel eyes catching the sunlight now cutting a path across her face. The rain fell heavy around her but seemed not to touch the object which encouraged her curious mind. Now inches away from the heavy set stump which looked strong and purposeful, yet obviously quite the opposite. Her slender hand hovered over the centre of the stump. Almost scared to touch it, as if a barrier forced itself between the light brown surface and her hand, she lingered with desire of which she knew not what for. Her heart started to race as she drew herself closer catching sight of something which urged her to break the invisible barrier yet still she could not fathom why it intrigued her so. As she did so, the surface felt not as she'd expected, but instead smooth like ice and equally as cold yet to the eye it still looked coarse and agitated. The thick layer of dust floated away with ease, yet rebellious particles seemed to cling to the only visible grooves beneath. Her eyes squinted to make sense of what finally became of the settled dust outlining something etched in the wood. Still as confused, curious as ever and not able to let go of the sense that this was something important, that frustration washed over her once again.
''Abs...''. There she was again, lying in her bed, blue linen kicked aside and draped slightly onto the dark wooden floor, her mum now impatiently calling from the kitchen.
''Yes, I'm up Mum'' she interrupted in a friendly but equally irritated tone.
She tutted as she flung back the rest of the covers, unwillingly got out of bed and frowned her way to the bathroom.
Abigail Walker, 13 and almost done with school for the year – thank god. Her mum had ideas for her which in Abi's mind weren't even worth considering. It was her life she thought, and she can do as she pleased with it. Not in a stroppy teenage kind of way that you'd expect, but more of a tough way that screamed, I don't know what I want to do yet, but what ever I do it'll be me that decides. As much as Abi's mum protested she kind of knew that once her mind was made up there was no reasoning with her – no way. Thoughts of University, a high powered career and all that goes with it just didn't sit with Abi, money, power and 'titles' in the adult world just didn't fit in with her plans, well come to think of it she didn't really have any plans and why should? She was 13 years old.
She fitted in at Spinners Barn Comprehensive School - now that's not saying she was a popular girl but she didn't get the same treatment as Gertie Barnes, and that was definitely something to be grateful for. It was exam week, hassle from school, pressure from mum and it seemed as though the days were impossibly longer than ever.
Running downstairs, she slung her maroon school backpack over her shoulder and headed into the kitchen.
''Sleep well love?''
''Ah, ya know not too bad mum, you?''
She wasn't really listening, instead busying herself with toast and coffee humming to the radio. One of those channels Abi hated the most, 'Golden Oldies' she heard it called one morning, unrecognisable rubbish was a more fitting title she thought.
''What's it today then Abs?'' her mum chirped, now comfortable with her breakfast and propped at the table.
''Maths this morning and then, uh... Science.''
''You'll do fine Abs, you don't need to worry, as long as you've done enough revision and you're calm and don't panic...''
''I'm not worried mu ...'' sensing her mum was probably more nervous than she was about her exams, Abi tried to interrupt and put her mind at ease but her mum carried on all the same.
''... make sure you've got a good breakfast inside you, drink plenty of water, it keeps your mind alert you know and don't forget to le...''
It worked this time, interrupting once again Abi patiently pleaded
''Mum, I'll be fine honest. Your coffees getting cold and you're gonna be late for work.''
''Oh cripes, right good luck and call me to let me know how you get on – love you''
''see ya mum'' Abi called after her with a smirk.
She had that brilliantly rare relationship with her mum, like best friends they could tell each other anything, she felt safe with her and they looked out for each other. Their roles were reversible, sometimes it felt like Abi was the mum, a thought that crept into her mind this morning as her mum gulped down the rest of her coffee and sped out the front door. Ignoring the advice, Abi set off for school on an empty stomach thinking she'd just grab one of those big cookies from the school canteen before exams. Only minutes away from her house, she got to the school gates just in time.
''Bryn!'' she yelled ''wait up!''
Bryn and Abi's mums were best friends from the land before time, or so it seemed, Abi and Bryn had been brought up together and had been best friends ever since. They always got stick at school for hanging out together, gossip lingered on and off that they had secret crushes on each other and were too scared to admit it. Bryn being that old cliché of tall dark and some other than Abi might say handsome, but Abi brushed it all off thinking the other girls in the school were probably just jealous and didn't even give a second thought to the idea that Bryn would ever have a crush on her. Best mates, that's all they were
''Alright Abigail, all set for the exams?'' Bryn asked whilst delving around in his bag purposefully.
''Yeah, as ready as I can be you?''
''You know what my mums like and her revision schedules; it'll be a miracle if I fail these! So, uh how was last night?''
Giving a confused look towards the ground, she pretended not to hear and sloped off in front a little. Slinking up along side her again, Bryn continued.
''Come on, you know how it works; something happens my mum tells your mum, tells you and you give me stick for it and vice versa! So... how was it?''
''Oh alright! It was REALLY embarrassing if you must know – I mean what can the doctor do anyway? They treat colds and diseases not flammin' dreams! I could kill mum for making me go.''
Laughing sympathetically, Bryn joked
''Abigail, you're not right in the head mate – I think its right you've gone and seen someone about it''
''Come on, I'm just kidding! But seriously, how long's it been happening for now? You've been boring me with it for about a year now aint it?
His sense of humour, ever the same, wasn't sitting well with her today, even so she felt glad she could talk to someone about it without actually feeling like she was going mad.
''Yeah I s'pose it is about a year now – not really keeping tracks on it ya know... same thing last night. I mean, it's not as if I'm having dreams about death or anything depressing like that – so I don't really see what the problem is.''
''Mate, you've been having exactly the same dream every night for a whole year, 12 months, 52 weeks, 36...''
''Wow, someone really has been practising their maths ...'' she sneered.
''All I'm tryna say is, it's not such a bad thing your mum's getting it checked out. Isn't it doing your head in? I mean they've got specialists for sleep disorders and stuff – maybe they can help?''
''Bryn, I'm sleeping alright and the dreams aren't actually that bad, I've told you all this before! Listen, I'm sorry but can we change the subject? You're beginning to sound like my mum and I definitely need a break from her at the moment!''
''Sure '' glancing at the time on his mobile he started off in a hurry '' damn it, catch ya later Abigail, I'm late for my first exam! You better get going too – good luck!''
Abi gazed into the distance as Bryn cooly sprinted off ahead, 'just like my mum' she thought to herself. Bryn and Abi had a firm relationship, they were protective over each other and Bryn definitely took the lead in making sure Abi was ok at school and oddly took to making sure she wasn't late for class. An endearing trait to Abi, much more so than the fact he was seemingly unable to call her nothing but Abigail - something which she simply despised. Calling her it at junior school Bryn playfully used it to wind her up, and over the years it stuck, no amount of Abi's moaning was going to alter Bryn's ways.
The day passed slowly as expected, ground hog day would have been an appropriate description for Abi's days at the moment - non stop exams, endless questions from her mum and the same dreams replaying every night. As much as she tried to brush it off to Bryn, it was getting to her. The dream itself was fine, peaceful and comforting in a strange way in fact, it was more a question of why she was having them. When the dreams first started, and for the following months she thought nothing of it, passing comment to her mum one day her mum did the same almost as if she didn't believe she was actually having them. A couple of months further down the line and an appointment's booked with Dr Burrows, for what Abi could only assume, was to see if she was going insane or not.
''Now, as a GP Mrs Walker'' Dr Burrows scolded, ''I must say it's not particularly my area of expertise, sleep disorders and such like are a very complicated and specialised matter.''
''I understand Doctor'' Mrs Walker sympathised looking intently at Dr Burrows as if still awaiting the answers to the questions she posed.
Casting a suspicious eye over Abi, Dr Burrows re positioned himself in his seat and pulled his grey suit jacket around his midriff, now crossing his feet slightly at the ankles, he continued.
''I can research this further, when the surgery isn't so busy, in the meantime here are a few leaflets on sleep disorders – if what you're daughter is saying is true then I suspect there will be a logical...''
The incredulous tone in which he chose to attempt an explanation, of which Abi was not expecting at all anyway, was suddenly interrupted by a rather baffled sounding Mrs Walker.
''Uh, excuse me DR Burrows - if what my daughters saying is true?'' she sat forward in her chair, picked her brown leather bag up from the floor, and thrust the leaflets into Abi's hands without so much as a glance in her direction.
''Let me tell you, we have not come to you today to be judged, or for our honesty to be put into question, we have come here to try to get to the bottom of something which of course does not seem logical! It is painfully clear that this is not within your sparse area of expertise as a GP but we expect to be taken seriously and if you're not able to deal with us professionally then you should find someone that will!''
Abi's cheeks flushed pink - she grabbed her rucksack and scuttled out of the tiny office behind her mum now mumbling to herself angrily down the long hall way leading to the waiting room. Bypassing the receptionist, she pushed open the heavy doors and squeezed Abi's shoulders affectionately.
''Mum... that was brilliant!'' gushed Abi strengthening the squeeze by clutching her mums hands with her own.
Embarrassed as she was, Abi was also just a bit impressed by her mum. In many ways they were so similar, especially to the eye. Standing tall, her mums long ginger hair framing her beautiful delicate features, the only difference seemed to be the obvious, age. Abi would often protest otherwise when confronted with this, as often as she was by friends and strangers alike. She admired her mum for her femininity which shined through but didn't hamper her strength of character as one might expect of such a striking woman. At times, Abi certainly felt second rate but at the same time was confident of her quirky character.
''I'll be home in a couple of hours mum'' she shouted ignoring the possibility of a response altogether and closing the front door behind her.
Bryn's house was a 5 minute walk up the main road, just like the doctors, just like school and just like the supermarket. She sometimes felt as though she lived in a perfect square, never passing a certain point in any direction. But it was all she knew having lived in Fulham all her life, in the same house and having an invariable amount of friends around for as long as she can remember – boring to some but reassuringly consistent for Abi. Most nights after school, Abi and Bryn would hang out so tonight's visit wasn't out of the blue for Bryn's mum.
''Right, I've done some research'' Abi announced entering Bryn's typically boyishly blue room.
''Yeah?'' Bryn looked up attentively at Abi taking a break from practising the strokes on his guitar.
''these leaflets that Dr gave me, I was bored ya know, so I started to have a look on the net about sleep disorders and all that''
''And...'' Bryn tried to sound interested
''Well, none of it applies to me'' the declaration still supported by a flicker of hope on Abi's face
''Great, so you're none the wiser!'' Bryn mocked
''Not quite... when I was having a look at some of the sites, I came across one which was actually nothing to do with what I was looking for but got me thinking. Ever heard of Lucid dreaming?''
''Eh?'' his face said it all
''I take it that's a no. Well I was reading up on it and basically you can control your dreams through this Lucid dreaming – it means you're aware of the fact you're dreaming and kinda control it.''
''Control your dreams? Really? Why would you wanna do that and how's that got anything to do with what's happening to you?'' He posed a good question.
One thing Abi admired about Bryn was the fact that he never judged her, not really. It was true to say the jokes were endless but he accepted Abi wholly and supported her even in seemingly stupid situations like this.
''That's what I thought. But think about it... I mean, I don't believe in all the mumbo jumbo spiritual stuff, but I'm having this dream and it must be for a reason or at least mean something. It starts in the same place and ends at the same point every night. Every night.'' Abi had this annoying tendency to reiterate parts of her already uttered sentences that she felt maybe hadn't been taken seriously enough. ''
''So you think if you can control your dreams you can do what exactly?'' Bryn's interest seemed to have heightened a smidge as he put aside his guitar on his bed.
''If I can learn this Lucid dreaming, then I can control my dream and make it move somewhere – maybe I can go back to the beginning of the dream or get past that stupid tree stump!''
''Well, I'm not gonna lie, I think you're mad. There it is.'' Bryn had a smirk on his face as he got up to switch some music on.
''If you were in my position you'd give it a go too, I guarantee it! It's this or go back to the doctors again with mum and get told there's nothing they can do – although that was pretty funny the way she spoke to him!'' Abi chuckled as she made herself comfortable on the floor.
''Abigail do you honestly think this is gonna work? I mean what exactly do you have to do?''
''I've gotta do something Bryn, I know it sounds bonkers but there's loads websites on this stuff, so someone must have done it! It's really complicated but there are like, these steps you have to take to prepare yourself. I reckon I've probably done most of them anyway, it's like remembering the details of your dream and being more aware and stuff like that... I might have to um, meditate...'' she rummaged in her bag for something she wasn't looking for as she said it.
''Whoa, hang on there a minute... you mean like sit crossed legs, eyes shut, humming kinda stuff?'' he was struggling to control the laughter now breaking through into his question.
''Shut it! I dunno, I need to look into it more but I think, yeah, maybe I will have to do that. And don't tell any of your idiot friends either!''
''that's too good to...''
''I mean it Bryn!'' Abi interrupted sternly looking into his brown eyes now filling with tears from the laughter
''I'm sorry Abigail, it's just the thought of YOU on the floor meditating! Scouts honour – I won't say a word – but can you maybe just set a camera up so I can see how it goes? You know you'll need someone to check you're doing it right anyway'' Bryn was almost uncontrollably laughing now
''Right that's it – I'm going. I'm not setting a bloody camera up and you never even went to scouts! You can be such an annoying... Argh! I don't know!'' allowing a slight smile confirmed to Bryn that she found the thought of her having to do this just as funny.
The walk home was just as tedious as the walk there, thankfully unburdened by length. Their houses were separated merely by a short strip of woods running on either side of the road that lead to Bryn's house. Making the tip in the winter months sometimes brought about a slight feeling of unease, even at 7 in the evening – but as close as it was to summer this feeling disappeared altogether and Abi strolled home quite contently. Abi's mind often had a way of wandering off, there seemed to be no reason for this. Nothing was on her mind – or so Bryn often joked that nothing could possibly be going through that tiny brain of hers. She didn't really have any worries – unless you call a bit of gossip at school and some very mundane school work contenders for that! There just seemed to be something else, something missing or something she couldn't quite figure out. This more often than not lead her onto pondering about her dad. For as long as Abi could remember it seemed to be just her and her mum and that was fine – after all she knew no different. She shrugged her thoughts off as simply feeling like she was missing out not having her dad around – and this didn't matter much to her, not really.
The days passed, more exams failed – or so Abi had convinced herself – and still the dreams continued. She was too embarrassed to practice the meditation for fear of Bryn telling all his stupid mates. Deep down she knew he wouldn't but the idea of it was just too much. Last day of school, 25th of June and who cares about the exams! They didn't really mean anything anyway – last one done – Abi was out of there! Plans were made for the summer, stay at home as usual. Mrs Walker worked full time as a secretary at a local Solicitors firm and so getting time off was a bit of a hassle. Paid ok but she always came home complaining of how the partners were all stuck up so and so's.
''Lucky sods'' she'd protest. ''All that money and they're sat around on their backsides all day drinking tea, and making everyone else wait!''
The groans came too often and it wasn't something Abi particularly understood, sat down drinking tea and making people wait kinda sounded ok to her!
Tonight was no different – much to Abi's disappointment – but she had her get out clause prepared. Tonight she wasn't going to listen to the groans that could sometimes last right through dinner.
''I tell you Abs – one more summons to that Mr Sandlewood's office to tell me I haven't made his tea strong enough and I'm leaving! I'm not paid to make cups of tea, he can flaming well do it himself next time ! I was that close Abs – that clo...''
''Uh, mum...'' Abi butted in.
''Oh sorry love how was your day, exams go ok? The relief of being interrupted was clear in Mrs Walkers voice.
''Yeah yeah, it was good, well ya know – same old! Last day and all that.''
''Oh yes – now you must tell me how your last exam went – I'm just gonna pour myself a glass of wine and I'll be right with you'' the evening ritual of a glass of wine and some tacky TV show that Abi so hated was about to begin.
''Actually mum, Bryn's invited me over to stay tonight. We were just gonna get a movie out and celebrate the beginning of summer like we usually do – that alright?'' she wasn't lying.
Her and Bryn had done it since they first started school – they don't remember how it happened or why, but at the end of each school year they'd get a cheesy film out, stock up on teeth rotting foods and camp out on the bedroom floor doing their best to make it through the night without falling asleep.
''Jeez, I'd forget my own name if you didn't keep reminding! Course it is – you go have fun and I'll give you a text in the morning.''
''Well mate, it's another year over – got the summer to look forward to now eh!'' Bryn was obviously delighted but his eyes never shifted in Abi's direction
''Mmm guess so... You know me, nothing ever really happens over summer, just end up getting dragged into doing more housework for mum!''
''Come on Abigail – you got me!'' this time breaking his gaze in the opposite direction he jabbed Abi in the side a couple of times with his elbow and grinned sarcastically. '' Your birthday on Tuesday too – what ya gonna do?''
It was Friday, and in 4 days time Abi was turning 14 – a much better age if she did say so herself.
''What am I gonna do? What are you gonna do – it's your birthday too!'' A fact Bryn had seemed to have forgotten.
''Ah yeah well you know me, never one to make a fuss – probably just hang out with some mates during the day – go to the skate park or something. Mum's got this big meal planned in the evening...''
Abi interrupted with disbelief...
''Hang on how'd you'd know about that?''
''Ha, Abigail – in my short time on this planet I have learnt two things; 1) The Big Mac was sent by god to make this world a happy place, and 2) Women are uncontrollable, inconspicuous and UNBEARABLE gossips!''
A strong statement, one of which needed further explanation in Abi's opinion.
''What the hell are you on about?''
''I've heard your mum and my mum going on for weeks about it – and you...'' smirking through a pitiful tone Bryn began to walk over to the DVD player to put on Zombie Killers 13.
''Me?'' Abi tried to maintain her innocence in apprehension of what was about to be said.
''Bloody hell Abigail, you're the worst! You think I aint been able to hear you downstairs talking to my mum every time you go? Ha, you two whisper louder than Jenny Aitkens shouts when she wants everyone to know who her next victim is!''
''I've heard that's you aint it!'' Abi retorted in a very immature but perfectly fitting manner since she had just been outed and ruined Bryn's birthday surprise.
''Mmm she wishes'' never one to bite, Bryn coolly brushed aside the comment and slumped against the black bean bag next to his bed.
''God you're infuriating, mums gonna flip if she finds out, they think they're flaming excellent for organising this and still managing to keep it secret.''
Bryn shuffled in his place looking rather chuffed with himself whilst eyeing the room to see where the remote control was.
''Right, you better act surprised! Press play will ya!'' Abi's annoyance was far from real – maybe more of a mild frustration that she could get one over on Bryn.
''Abigail...'' Bryn whispered gently from across the other side of the room so as not disturb despite the exact intention to do so.
Murmuring to herself quietly Abi didn't wake as Bryn had hoped. She was curled tight in a ball, frowning hard as she slept. She looked in a deep sleep one where she couldn't have been woken – not by a mere whisper at least.
The events replayed once again for her just like before, the shrubs, the rain and that damn stump. But again, something was different. Each night a little glimmer of hope was being introduced to what seemed like an eternal echo. Monday night she could see further into her peripheral – of what she did not know it was more of a blur I guess but it was definitely different. Tuesday, she was able to walk a little quicker through the scenery – she could see herself and she wasn't controlling it – it was almost like something was controlling her to help things along. Wednesday she sensed something different, like she wasn't alone or even that maybe the shrubs to in the distance had moved slightly as if someone had agitated them by accident. Thursday was the weirdest, Thursday was the night things changed. The weather had changed. The warm feeling that Abi could feel for the last year was instead replaced by a damp and overcast outlook. It felt different, eerie almost. She couldn't quite put her finger on it – all she knew was that the curiosity was growing now more than ever.
''I saw something Bryn'' Abi woke with an exited start.
''What, great, yeah... eurgh'' eyes tightly shut Bryn turned his back on Abi and curled back up to try and continue his slumber.
''BRYN! I SAW SOMETHING!'' there was no going back to sleep, nope, Abi was certain and was prepared to shout.
''Sssh for gods sake Abi!'' Bryn reached for his mobile. ''It's only, oh god it's only bloody 7 am'' he fell back down on to their makeshift bed on the floor with a thud, exasperated by Abi's hyperactivity at such an early hour on a Saturday morning.
''It was different Bryn, I saw someone!''
Abby started gathering her stuff together and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. The attempted conversation with Bryn didn't go well, in fact it didn't go at all, sleep was definitely the priority on this occasion. To be honest, Abby was thinking she sounded a bit mad anyway. She slipped out the back door, because it made less noise and she didn't want to wake Mrs... The breeze caught her hair forcing her fringe away from her forehead. as she turned down the alley towards the only route home. She dawdled as she came to the point at which she needed to make her decision. She didn't realise there was a decision to be made at first however her focus shifted now from nothing by her feet to the woods that cradled the street directly across from her. Most of it was in darkness or shadowed by it's own content, but a slight shimmer intrigued Abby's mood and convinced her to venture across the road. She paused as she entered through the trees. If Abby was going in it was to find something. It was early and although it was summer, the air was still uncomfortably chilly and with just a t-shirt on Abby knew she was likely to get cold under the ceiling of the tree tops.
"Hmm" she sighed to herself.
Hunching her shoulders up and wrapping her arms around herself she turned her head to walk away.
"Psst" a noise came from beside her.
She stopped but didn't turn around. Her face suggested a hint of annoyance. Perhaps it was at herself for knowing she was unable to walk away. Again she moved, this time her feet made the turn – a sure fire sign that the decision was made and she was going home.
"Pssssst" again, but perhaps a little more prolonged as if willing Abby to stay.
In a few seconds Abby had run through the possibilities in her head of what the sound could be. A twig breaking? The wind catching against something? Someone inside trying to get her attention? The last notion was of course preposterous but did help her to make the decision to investigate further