Fumbly phone at the ear, as fatigue washes over Eleanor. At first she can’t even register the words on the other end. But finally urgency breaks through and she pushes back with her knees into a sitting position.
“The barn! The barn is on fire. Eleanor, you must get help!” It is the voice of her grandmother, dead for the past twelve years, but Eleanor recognizes it perfectly, and raises a hand to her mouth in alarm.
“Grandma?” she says slowly, hesitantly.
“Eleanor, wake up! WAKE UP! The barn is on FIRE!”
“You have got to get help!”
“Grandma, okay. Okay, I’m coming!” Eleanor sets down the receiver. Tears are sliding down her face. Eleanor is having flashbacks of long summers on the family farm, shelling peas and swimming in the pond with the baby ducklings. Her Grandma has come back. She can’t wait to taste her coconut cream pie again, to wrap her arms around that firm middle in a huge hug. Only she’s taller now. Why, she might be taller than Grandma now! She sinks back into the pillows, thinking of all the delicious memories and all the adult conversations she can have with her Grandma just as soon as she gets to the farm. The farm! The barn! Oh!
Eleanor lurches out of bed, sliding on a pair of sweats. Her hands aren’t working quite right, and she has difficulty finding the legs. At one point she starts to fall over, but then she catches herself on the side of the bed. Grandma. Grandma needs her!
She is trying to walk but her legs are thick and groggy. It feels like it takes an hour just to take a step, but really it’s just a minute. Shuffling, groping the walls, she makes her way toward the kitchen. She’s going to help Grandma in just a minute. But first she must get something to drink. She’s so thirsty. Why is she so thirsty? Blackie, her cat, hisses as she stumbles past, and dashes into the bedroom and under the bed. Odd really. Eleanor can’t remember Blackie ever hissing in the past. Maybe Blackie is hurt or sick. She should go check. Just as soon as she gets a drink.
It takes three tries to wrap her fingers around the fridge door, but she finally gets it open. Blurry eyes peruse the selections, and finally, with great delight, she raises the bottle declaring Heinz to her lips and squeezes. The thick, pureed tomato sauce slides coolly down her throat, soothing her thirst. The fridge feels nice and inviting, and Eleanor wishes she could climb in. Instead, she perches against the edge, squatting down. Wasn’t there some coconut cream pie somewhere? She could smell it. Yes, there must be. Oh, but she was too tired and resting with her back against chilled air felt so divine.
“Eleanor, THE BARN!”
What was wrong with her? She stood up. She had to help with the barn. Wait. Couldn’t she just call 911? Why on earth hadn’t she called 911? Eleanor pushed her feet with great effort, and they finally carried her across the room to the phone. Where could she find the number for 911? She reached for the phone book, knocking over a bottle in the process. Distracted, she grabbed the bottle. Ambien. Ambien? Her eyes widened, as she recalled reading the insert of possible side effects prior to taking the pill for the first time earlier that evening: Abnormal thinking, behavioral changes, complex behaviors: May include "sleep-driving" and hallucinations. Immediately evaluate any new onset behavioral changes.
What was real? What wasn’t? Was the barn really on fire? Eleanor thought she smelled smoke, and it felt like her eyes were burning. She coughed.
“Eleanor, please! GET UP NOW!”
Eleanor had never heard her Grandma yell at her like that before. Alarmed, she shifted. And then felt a pulling, a pulling back to the surface. She opened her eyes and sat up. She was once again in bed, but her shirt was covered in ketchup. She stared with blurry eyes in alarm at the smoke that poured out black clouds from the vents in her old radiator.
Critique on this piece is welcomed. This story was inspired by The Red Dress Club prompt: In the middle of the night, you get an urgent call from a friend you haven’t talked to in years. Something terrible has happened. What is it and why is he/she calling you?"