s Bobby searched his drab surroundings, he felt a tear slide down his cheek. But Bobby wasn’t crying. Not this time. He touched his hand to the wetness and another droplet hit his face. They weren’t tears. They were rain. The boy looked up and saw more drops dripping from above. The droplets fell harder and faster and grew larger and more numerous. Bobby hunched his shoulders against the wet and searched with his eyes for cover but found none.
The rain came down in sheets and blankets and bedspreads, washing the muck from Bobby’s torn pajamas, soaking them through and through, setting off a new bout of shoulder-shivering and tooth-chattering in the boy. But it wasn’t all bad, oh, no. As the rain fell, it melted the fog, and before long Bobby thought he could make out the faint shadow of trees all lined up at attention a short distance away. The forest was back and Bobby headed toward it. The Salation Armyman can’t be far. Bobby could find him if only he wanted to.
And Bobby did want to. Oh, so very much he wanted to end this nightmare. But only Mommy can make nightmares go away. The Salation Armyman had helped Bobby the last time he had lost Mommy. Perhaps he could do the same this time around.
The trees no longer whispered. They uttered not a peep and stood instead tall and silent and wet, watching the boy. Rain water filtered through their leaves above, running down creases in their bark and pooling on the ground below. The fog slowly retreated back the way it came, slipping behind the forest of trunks and out of sight.
In the middle of it all was Bobby, listening to the rain drumming on the leaves far above, still sopping wet, hair and clothes plastered to his skin, wringing his shirt front between his hands. Once within the semi-shelter of the trees he had relaxed a bit. It was dryer here and somehow he felt that he was closer to wherever he was going. Now he stood, attempting to shake the wetness from his clothes and doing his best to want to find the Salatation Armyman. To want to find Mommy. That’s how you find something in a dream, he had been informed. This wasn’t a terribly difficult task for the boy, but he wasn’t sure exactly how he was to want in order to find. He had been wanting to find Mommy all nightmare long but hadn’t yet. Perhaps he was doing it wrong. Bobby concentrated, thinking of all the ways he wanted to find Mommy. He wanted to find her smiling. Find her laughing. Find her warm arms and soft voice. He wanted to find her saying ‘It’s just a dream, my darling angel’. Just a dream…
Perhaps that did it: Behind the pounding rain, Bobby heard a faint sound. He tensed, listening as hard as he could. There it was again, a slow, steady clanging. It didn’t sound at all like the Bandernatch, so Bobby relaxed. No, it sounded like a bell. The bell clanged and Bobby listened, trying to discover the source.
Bobby took one timid step in the direction from which he thought the clanging came. And then another. With each step he was surer that this was the way he wanted to go. The ground began to slope upwards. Ever-so-slightly at first and then steeper and steeper until the boy was practically on hands and knees, clawing at roots and rocks for purchase. Rain ran in rivulets through the mud, past the boy, down the hill.
With each scrambling step the sound of the bell grew louder. Louder and louder until Bobby came to level ground once again. He was atop the hill and he knew that what he wanted to find was just ahead. He stood upright, filthy again, and started through the trees, winding his way passed soaked shrubs and pooling puddles of rainwater.
He could hear the bell clearly now and it clearly came from just ahead. Peering around one last trunk, Bobby saw that there was an opening in the trees, this one untouched by the swamp and the falling sky. The ground ahead was high and dry; a smattering of wild flowers grew cautiously in the dappled morning sunlight that filtered through the parted branches overhead. Sunlight. The first Bobby had seen since… since… since falling asleep. There, in the middle of it all, stood the Salation Armyman.
The Armyman wore a navy blue uniform trimmed in red. The uniform was many sizes too small and so left his pale forearms and lanky calves bare. He stood in the center of the clearing beside a red pot hanging from a tripod sadly, slowly, softly ringing a hand bell.
Taken aback by the sudden change in scenery, Bobby froze. The Armyman stopped ringing his bell and doffed his visored cap in greeting. The Armyman was tall and thin as before. Even stooping, his head brushed the branches above. There was no face on that head. It was smooth and empty. The small boy and the large man took each other in. Bobby felt that if this strange, slow-moving giant had had a face, that face would be a sad one.
Bobby stepped out of the showering rain and into the sunshine. “I los’ Mommy,” he blurted. The Armyman can help. He knew this nightmare must nearly be over. Nearly ended. Near Mommy.
The Armyman would have smiled kindly had he a face with which to smile. In one enormous step he stood before Bobby and patted the boy gently on the head. Taking Bobby by the hand the giant led the boy to the red pot.
Releasing the boy, the Armyman held up one spindly finger as if to say ‘half a moment, I have just the thing.’ The giant reached into his pot. A bit of rummaging and he gingerly withdrew a small door, no bigger than the palm of his charitable hand. Mommy’s door. Bobby saw on it the scratches, the claw marks, just like before. The boy watched as the Armyman took the door to the far end of the clearing where he bent at the waist and placed it firmly on the ground. It stood upright, waiting.
The Armyman returned to Bobby. He knelt beside the boy and pointed to the door, smiling facelessly, eyes-that-aren’t beaming encouragement.
“But it’s lockt,” Bobby protested.
‘Ah, nearly forgot,’ the Armyman's body seemed to say. He reached into his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a strange key. A skelltin key – that’s what unlocks special doors. Bobby took the proffered key and the Armyman gestured with both hands: go on. Bobby did, starting towards the tiny door that the giant had set at the edge of the clearing. It wasn’t so much that the door was small but that it was far away. With each step it grew larger until, as the boy stood before it, the door was Bobby-sized. Above, dark clouds gathered ominously, blacking out the sky once more, but the boy barely noticed: almost home. Almost to Mommy.
It wasn’t until Bobby reached the door that he realized the knob was still missing. He turned back to the Armym…
IS THIS WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, BOBBY? The voice asked. There, behind the Salation Armyman, in the rainy shadows at the edge of the trees, lay the Bandersnatch. Between its forepaws was the doorknob. The boy stretched his hand out toward the knob. SILLY BOY, the Bandersnatch snarled before opening its mouth and swallowing the doorknob whole. ALL GONE, BOBBY, the wolf opened his mouth to show the boy, like baby Bobby showing his mother he’d finished a bite of creamed peas. All gone. NO MORE. NO MORE DOORKNOB. NO MORE MOMMY. NOW YOU’RE MINE.
The wolf stood and started into the clearing. At this the Armyman extended himself, standing tall and rustling the leaves above with his cap. Rage filled his faceless visage. In one stride he was beside the Bandersnatch. He grabbed the cur by the scruff of its neck and lifted it. The beast snarled and clawed, trying to injure its assailant. No use. The Armyman flung the bloodstained wolf across the clearing. With a yelp, the flying beast struck a tree and fell to the ground, crushing flowers, browning grasses, spreading decay. YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE, it snarled, regaining its footing. Ears back, crouching low, it circled the Armyman.
Bobby cowered by the door, not knowing what to do, where to go.
With a throaty bark the Bandersnatch leapt at the Armyman, striking the gentle-giant in the chest. THE BOY IS MINE! With one swipe of his oversized hand the Armyman wiped the Bandersnatch away. Like a fly. Like a gnat. Like an insect the dog fell to the ground where it twisted violently to its feet.
The Bandersnatch bit at the Armyman’s exposed leg, latching on with razor sharp teeth. Facelessly the Armyman screamed, turning his head up and clenching both fists. He pummeled the wolf, striking again and again until it relented. Bobby stood mesmerized as the two oneiric entities circled one another. Searching for openings, searching for weakness and finding none.
The Armyman’s blood ran brightly red down his pale calf. He seemed smaller to Bobby now and the Bandersnatch seemed larger as the fresh blood wetted its lips. The wolf charged, leaping high to strike at the Armyman’s neck. The giant was too slow and the Bandersnatch’s bared fangs found their mark. There it clung, its teeth firmly embedded in the giant’s throat. The Armyman tore at the beast, assailing it with his pale fists, pain and horror on his featureless face. The giant wrenched and turned and tried to fling the beast away, but it held fast. In desperation and with both hands the giant pried the wolf’s jaws apart and flung it to the ground.
Rolling quickly to its feet, the Bandersnatch growled deeply. The Armyman clutched at his gored neck. I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE HERE, the voice uttered. The beast seemed bigger than ever now. I TOLD YOU NEVER TO COME BACK. Still holding his neck, frantically trying to stem the flow of blood, the Armyman fell to his knees. The wolf had grown much larger now, larger than the Armyman, almost tall enough to touch the branches above.
Snarling, the Bandersnatch leapt once more at the failing giant. The force of the bounding beast knocked the Armyman to the ground. Bobby watched as the prostrate giant had his throat torn out, his faceless face dismembered, his uniform soiled. Bobby watched in terror as the Armyman fell.
NOW WHAT, BOBBY? The voice taunted as the Bandersnatch turned toward the boy. WHERE IS YOUR SAVIOR NOW? It grinned wolfishly, bloody spittle dripping from bared fangs, approaching Bobby with ears back. NOW WHAT WILL YOU DO?
Clutching the key tightly in one hand, Bobby cowered, sinking to the ground and hugging his knees tightly to his chest. It’s just a dream, my darling angel. Mommy’s soothing words did little to calm the boy as the beast approached. “Wake up,” Bobby shrieked at himself. “Please, please wake up!”
THAT’S RIGHT, BOBBY. COWER. QUIVER AND QUAKE BEFORE THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE. The wolf loomed over Bobby – much bigger now; much closer now – mouth spilling fresh blood onto the boy’s already soiled pajamas.
“Yer only a dream,” the boy sobbed meekly in protest. He could smell the Bandersnatch’s hot, stinking breath. Like death it smelled. Like cigar-scented Cookie, laying in a pool of her own blood. Like Oscar, laughingly pleading for mercy. Like Daddy, in a white bed beside the respilator – that helps Daddy breathe.
“I don’t believe in you!” Bobby looked straight into the Bandersnatch’s eyes as he said this and for a moment, he nearly thought the words to be true. Like a big boy. But the moment was soon lost.
YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN ME? The voice chuckled; the wolf grinned toothily. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IN ME, BOBBY. The wolf opened its now-enormous mouth wide and lunged at the boy. Bobby closed his eyes tightly, trying as he might to not believe in this dream. Trying as hard as he could to wake up. The stench of the Bandersnatch’s breath enveloped Bobby as the wolf closed its mouth around the boy, swallowing him up.
Copyright © 2003