This story is by Tracy Woodfield and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Dreams are free. Sitting in her internal office and looking across at the blind covered windows behind, she wondered if this was all there was going to be to life. When had she become boring; when had she shied away from life. When had she started to dream and made dreams her master. In her mind she lived a full life – forever young, forever pretty – such a world away from her reality. In her fantasies, she would be forever twenty-five, full of life with the world ahead of her. Brave and daring; carefree and happy – they were all emotions she remembered having then. True, older people laugh at her. “Not old at thirty-three,” they would scoff. “Why when I was your age…”
When they were her age, the world was different. Dreams were different. People appeared to be happier with a lot less because that was all they had known. But now she wanted something different. And not getting in reality, she created her own fantasy.
To the outside world she was Maria O’Brian, a thirty-three year Accountant who was overweight with a bad limp – due to a netball injury when she was twenty-eight. Curly brown hair framed a youthful face with soft brown eyes. She was not very tall and rather quiet. Her Boss liked her because she caused no problems and was hard working and pleasant to deal with. Not someone who would set the world alight with her brilliance but capable nonetheless.
She had had several boyfriends but currently was single. Not that she minded being single but to find someone to share her life would be nice. It wasn’t essential. She wasn’t hanging out for a husband or anything archaic like that but a true friend, like she’d read about in her childhood books.
So she created her own fantasy world. And in her world, she was sometimes a princess, beloved of a prince; sometimes a heroine riding to save the day; sometimes a young girl with the world at her feet and sometimes a pirate or even a buccaneer. Anything she could imagine she could be in her fantasy.
“If you can dream and not make dreams your master.” The words from the old poem whispered insidiously through her mind at odd times during this particular Tuesday morning.
Maria ignored them and bent her mind to the work at hand. Six more hours and then she would be free to return to the flat she shared with her school friend, Beth Hart. Maria thanked her lucky stars for Beth. A glamourous blonde who worked as BA cabin crew on international flights and often away across Europe or Dubai or even America, leaving Maria alone in the flat. It was ideal for both of them.
Debits and credits, financial statements paid the bills and gave Maria the freedom to indulge her whimsies. Her often absent flatmate had failed to notice that Maria hadn’t really gone out for a very long time. She went to the odd works party as it was expected as part of her job but she left early and never brought a partner with her.
Maria sighed and blinked. The figures on the page were blurring a little. She was tired. It had been hard few weeks with urgent job springing up out of the woodwork and deadlines looming. Long hours had been worked by all in her office including the boss. Coming to the end of the hard slog she was looking forward to a return to her normality – which wasn’t really normal at all.
The day dragged on. “If you can dream and not make dreams your master….” The words whispered softly. “If you can think and not make thoughts your aim…”
No danger of that, Maria thought with a wry twist of her lips.
“Ah, Maria. Just the person I wanted to see.”
Her Boss, Marvin Canton stood at her desk, looking at her over the top of his glasses. “I want you to meet a Client this afternoon at 3pm. He’s coming to us as a favour to Charles.”
Maria met his knowing gaze and nodded. Charles Canton was always sending very unsuitable client to his younger brother in a misguided effort to assist his brother. Marvin Canton would roll his eyes and accept Charles’s interference with good grace.
“What does he do?” Maria put her work down resigned.
“He’s a writer apparently.” The file was dropped on her desk. “There you go – that’s all I know about him.”
“I’ll deal with it.”
“Knew you would. Now how is the Riceman Report coming along?”
“Good, good.” Marvin Canton walked away with a quick smile.
Maria put the file to one side and made a mental note to read it around 2.50pm then went back to her Report. She was unaware of time passing until the phone rang, absently picking it up. “Yes?”
“Your 3pm is here, Maria.”
“What? Oh, thanks. Be there in a minute.” Flustered now, Maria fumbled for the file and flicked through the pages of it. Luckily there wasn’t much there other than a name and a brief note that he was a relatively successful author of travel books who had come into an inheritance and needed an accountant to review some accounts as a result
Feeling a bit on the back foot, Maria straightened her shouldered and tucked her hair behind her ears as she reached for her glasses. With a pad in hand she headed out to the interview room.
The man had his back to her and was staring out the window. He turned at her entrance and smiled. The first thing she noticed was his very green eyes. The second was his shock of almost grey-white hair on a man obviously only his twenties.
“Yes, and you are…”
“Damian Clearwell,” He slotted his name into space before she could finish her sentence and smiled again.
“Damian,” Maria shook his hand firmly. “Please sit down.”
“Thank you. I suppose you have been told why I’m here?”
“I believe it is to do with an inheritance.” Maria consulted her file then looked. He was smiling at her again, brightly.
“Yes, an…. inheritance.” He paused over the word with a thoughtful look. “Charles recommended you – and I thought you seemed perfectly suited to my needs.”
“What exactly do you want us to do? I understand it’s an inheritance but I have no details.” Maria scanned the one page in the file again. She looked back up and found Damian to be watching her with a curious look in his eyes. A sense of unease filled her and she pushed her chair back a little away from the man, she was starting to believe wasn’t quite all there.
“Now, that’s the rub, you see.” He tilted his head, looked at her assessingly.
“You may be…or you may not be. That I don’t know.” Damian’s smile was friendly. “I don’t know everything and that’s what makes life so much fun.”
Maria started to get to her feet unnerved by the weird turn of the conversation. She was going to leave this new client to someone else. He was quite…well odd. But his hand flashed out and caught herby the wrist. The grip unexpectedly powerful and tight.
“The choice is yours, Maria Josephine O’Brian, aged thirty-three. I can offer you something better than your dreams. I can make your dreams a reality. But there is a price to be paid for such a gift. Will you pay it?”
Maria blinked. She twisted her wrist trying to free herself but his grip didn’t budge. “I don’t think we can help you. Let me go or I’ll call security.’
“No, you won’t.” Damian sounded very confident of that. His gaze caught and held hers. “You have dreamed and made dreams your master.” His eyes were wide and intent and Maria couldn’t tear her gaze away from the brilliance of green. She felt like she was falling and could do nothing to prevent. She opened her mouth to call for help; to cry out; anything but nothing came out. “I am your master.”
Damian rose, his grip was still tight. “You are my inheritance my new dreamer and you dream such wonderful dreams. Come let me make them a reality.” He tugged her towards the centre of the room
And Maria could only follow. The door appeared out of nowhere and beyond she could see a green meadow with trees along one side and waving corn in the field beyond. Long grass was bending in a breeze, she couldn’t feel and sun was high a blue cloudless sky. With a merry laugh Damian led her through the door. “Come dream for me…” his voice whispered in her mind, drowning out anything else.
The door closed without a sound and vanished as if it had never been there.
The mysterious disappearance of Damian Clearwell and Maria O’Brian was never solved.