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The Halloween Project 2018 Story 5: Dreams in the High Country

First, it was the flat tire, then the dog, and yesterday, the cyclist. Colorado was intended to be the trip of his 10 year old life, but the dream had soured for Randy. He poked at the oatmeal that their Cub Scout leader, Mr. G., as they called him, had prepared for them at the campsite perched high atop a bluff. Randy’s face was wan, lines etched under his eyelids told the story of his lack of sleep. He had actually lost weight on the trip. Their small troop was on the seventh day of a 10 day trip. They traveled in Mr. G.’s brand new Ford Transit Wagon.

“Seats 12, but we’re taking eight boys and all the gear we’ll need for camping,” he exclaimed to parents, convincing them of the worth of the excursion. All the boys were 11, or just about, and next year they would graduate to full–fledged Boy Scouts. Mr. G. thought it would be a wonderful way to treat the oldest boys to some high adventure and break in his new vehicle at the same time.

The distance from Goodland, Kansas heading toward Mesa Verde had covered just over 500 miles, and now they were about to embark on a slow, circuitous route back home over the San Juan Skyway. 230 miles of mountainous road perched above ravines that descended thousands of feet into canyons below. They had or would pass through historic western towns with names like Silverton, Gunnison, and Ouray.

Today’s journey would include the famous Uncompahgre Gorge, a 25 mile stretch of the most beautiful, and challenging, roadway in America. Twisty turns with no shoulder, no guardrails and a highway that crests 10,000 feet several times.

The Cub Scouts, all eight of them, with their Cub Leaders, Mr. G. and Bobby, Mr. G.’s 22 year old son, an ex-scout and newly released from rehab, had enjoyed every minute. All except for Randy.

“Dreams aren’t meant to be like this,” Randy thought, almost out loud. Bobby overheard his muttering.

“What’s the matter, Randy? Not feeling too good today? You have another dream? You know that yesterday was just a freak circumstance, right?” Bobby asked.

“You know,… everyone knows,” Randy replied, nodding around him. The other boys were keeping a respectful distance from Randy. They wolfed down oatmeal, laughed and punched each other, but generally kept to themselves.

“O.K.” Bobby said, “What’s up this time.” Bobby motioned to his father.

Almost a week ago, when the big Ford Transit passed into Colorado and the scouts had bedded down for the night in an easygoing campground with bathrooms and a pool, Randy had his first dream. A simple, barely scary, dream. In his overnight subconscious Randy saw the big Wagon pluck a nail from the bumpy roadbed and end up with a flat tire. The next morning, just out of the campground on the access road to Route 70 the huge tire gasped and gave out. It was a nail. Repairs were quick and the trip was revived.

One day later Randy woke up, sweat-filled t-shirt sticking to his back, sleeping bag a mess and a jumble. He dreamed that the Transit had hit a dog, a very specific dog, a big Black Labrador that had darted into the highway after a rabbit. Randy woke up feeling ill at ease and sleepless and told no one. Later that day the Ford crushed and killed a Black Lab that ran, but never caught, a flashing rabbit. Randy went pale, moved to a back seat in the van and sat quietly. Other Scouts thought he might be sick, tried to be pleasant, but Randy simply stared out the window. Later, Mr. G. sat with him and listened rather than spoke. Randy explained about the two dreams and Mr. G. tried to use his best counseling skills.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m any kind of dream expert, but these things do happen. It’s more like just the strangeness of life. You just can’t predict things and a person certainly can’t predict the future. Especially in a dream.”

Randy nodded, but didn’t believe.

Two nights ago Randy lay awake trying to keep himself from sleep and dreaming, but tiredness overcame him and he nodded off. What seemed like only several minute passed when he bolted upright, breath coming fast, crying. His tent mate, Mike, who liked to collect interesting stones and photographed everything, started yelling, “Mr. G! Mr. G! Come quick!”

“It’s a biker,… wait, not a biker. A man riding a bike,“ he gasped out between breaths, hyperventilating, “a cyclist. We’re going to run over him! We’re going to hit him with the van! He’s hurt! I see it!”

“O.K., O.K., I hear you. Breathe, Randy. Look at me and breathe. I’ll send Bobby to sleep in here with guys tonight. We’ll call your parents in the morning and see what they think. Will that be O.K.?”

Randy had no choice. He nodded his head. In 10 minutes time Bobby appeared, sleeping bag in hand. Mike had already fallen back asleep.

“Hey, Randy. Sorry this is all kind of messed up. How about I roll this thing out at the bottom by your guy’s feet. That be O.K.?” Bobby asked, not sure what to do, sleeping with some 10 year olds.

Randy nodded his assent.

As the quiet returned Bobby started to speak, almost talking to himself.

“You know, Randy, when I was in the,” he hesitated, then chose honesty, “in the rehab. You maybe know I had a problem with stuff. There were guys who had all kinds of crazy dreams. Sometimes they blamed it on the drugs or alcohol or whatever they were trying to get clean from. It’s not easy, that road. Just like this road for you. It’s not easy. I blame it on the stuff they were taken. I blame myself for my problems. But those dreams…they were crazy. So I kind of know, just a little bit, how you feel. Now those dreams of your came true, which is totally weird, but I think we’re O.K. for now. O.K.?

But he was wrong.

Randy’s parents were concerned, but at Mr. G.’s suggestion agreed that the Scouts should continue to drive home directly. They spoke with Randy, but there was no way to retrieve him faster than Mr. G. could get them all home.

The next day as they pursued the winding, narrow road of the San Juan Sky Way, Marshall Townshend, a 40 year old ultra-marathon cyclist, traveling with a pack of twenty riders, suffered a massive heart attack just after cresting into Red Mountain Pass at an altitude of 11,018 feet. Later, an autopsy would show that Townshend was in serious need of bypass surgery, but due to his extensive training and overall good health, his symptoms were masked. He appeared to be hit with a brick as his bike slammed down left into the roadway just as the Cub Scout van accelerated to make the last effort to clear the Pass. His crumpled bike and body were quickly surrounded by his bike team, and in several minutes, unneeded paramedics and police. All asserted that he had either made a mistake or collapsed and the van was moving at a reasonable speed, staying in its lane with absolutely no responsibility for the terrible accident. All the boys stayed in the van. Randy cringed, balled up in a fetal position in the last row.

When they were finally allowed to move again, accompanied by a police escort, they stopped at the very nearest campsite, seven miles down the road. Mr. G. eased Bobby from the van and said nothing.

Randy collapsed into a tent. Just after 3 A.M. he awoke, screaming. His wails echoed through the closely aligned tents. Scouts jumping, peering through parted tent flaps. Mike pulled the sleeping bag over his head and screamed along with Randy. Mr. G. and Bobby both crashed from their tent, moving quickly.

“We can’t drive tomorrow! We can’t drive! We can’t! We’ll crash! There’s screaming! Boys are screaming! Everyone is screaming! And crashing! And screaming!”

Mr. G. held him and kept chanting, “Randy! Randy! Randy!”

Dawn came late in the mountains. The Skyway beckoned, another dozen miles or so and then a descent into lower terrain. They all piled on the Transit, quietly, geared stowed, two adults, eight Scouts. Randy came, ushered by Bobby. Ten winding minutes into the ride Mr. G. pulled over into a scenic overlook.

“Boys, we’re going to take a minute and watch this glorious sunrise. Despite the…problems. This has been a great trip,” Mr. G. announced. With that he stepped from the van and marched to the low wall, facing East.

The boys were slow to rise. They looked at each other and glanced out at their leader standing, strong, hand on hips, taking deep breaths of early morning mountain air. Bobby watched his father and looked back at the boys, many still with seat belts attached.

Emergency brake not set, a slight slippage, and the van started forward, a silent, two ton mechanical weight. At first the motion was hardly discernible, there was no sound, just the sense of movement. A boy in the second row screamed. Another chorused in quickly. Bobby turned and noticed his father. Mr. G., finally sensing the screams that careened from the van’s half open window, turned and snapped his arms forward in a futile, instinctual gesture. Screaming amplified. The van picked up speed, just enough, and thrust forward, hitting the Scoutmaster square; arms, chest, head, sending him careening over the edge. The truck bumped against the low stone wall, crunched and stopped.

The screaming did not stop.

Randy never screamed.

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