Empire of Dirt
Novel Excerpt by Melissa Triol
A week later, I was startled awake by a knock at the door. It was seven o’clock in the morning. Though the sun was up, I was hardly well rested. With a groan, I rolled over and retreated further under the covers.
A few moments of silence passed before I heard the jangling of keys.
It was Mark.
Giving up my pursuit of sleep, I tossed away the sheets. I rolled out of bed and shuffled out to the kitchen to find my boyfriend helping himself to coffee. He took a sip before turning around. A cheeky smile lit up his face.
“Good morning, Sunshine.”
I love the man dearly, but I never could understand why he insisted on being so damn cheerful in the morning.
I glared at him as I trudged over to the counter to fix my own cup of coffee.
“I see you slept well last night,” he observed, the sarcasm evident in his rich voice.
I felt his eyes on me as I poured coffee into the largest mug I could find. I could just about hear the smile slide off of his face before he spoke again.
“You had another nightmare, didn’t you?”
I nodded, keeping my back to him.
“You know, you don’t have to knock anymore. You could have just used your key to begin with,” I said, throwing him off of the subject.
Mark scoffed, “And risk scaring the shit out of a woman who carries a gun for a living? I think I’ll pass.”
I smiled a little at that, but did not turn to face him. I took a swig from my mug and winced. I forgot to add sugar… again. His boots scuffed against the linoleum as he approached. He placed his hands on my shoulders and pressed a kiss to the side of my head.
“You know,” he rested his chin on my shoulder while his hand drifted a few inches down my arm, “a leave of absence is not the same as losing your job.”
Nodding, I sat my coffee mug on the counter before I finally turned, “I know,” I said softly, “Actually, I’m not as worried about that as I probably should be.”
I leaned up and pecked his lips. He moved his arms to wrap around my waist.
“Come on, Han, you know you can talk to me.”
I nodded and looked up at him before he continued.
“If these nightmares aren’t about the…incident… then what are they about?”
I hesitated. I trusted Mark. I wanted to tell him, but something kept me from doing so. Heaving a sigh, Mark raised his hands to cup my cheeks.
“Please, Hannah,” he said, running his thumbs along my cheekbones, “I hate seeing you like this.”
I gently pulled his hands away, but kept them in my own.
“The nightmares…” I took a deep breath, “the nightmares are about my father.”
Mark backed away a bit. He blinked a couple of times before raising his eyebrows as he uttered a low whistle.
“Wow, you are the last person I expected to have Daddy issues.” He finally said.
I punched him in the arm. Hard.
“Not like that, you ass.”
He winced and massaged the injured area. It served him right. I moved to leave the kitchen when Mark grew serious again and stopped me.
“Hannah, I’m sorry,” he said, his eyes boring into mine, “please, talk to me. You know I want to help you if I can.”
I scoffed lightly, “I’m not sure if it will help, nothing else has.”
I didn’t say anything for a few moments. Mark waited patiently. I took a deep breath before I spoke.
“In the dream, I’m about seven years old. I’m at my grandparents’ house in England…”
“The manor that your uncle inherited?” Mark interrupted.
Nodding, I continued, “I’m sitting on my father’s knee, he whispers something in my ear, but when I turn and look up …” I felt the tears begin to slide down my cheeks. I clamp my eyes shut and try to shake away the image in my mind.
“His face…it’s so awful,” I sob as Mark drew me close. He held me tightly, kissed my forehead, and muttered a few soothing words as he let me cry.
After a few moments, I pulled away, regaining my composure. Mark watched me carefully as his hands travelled up and down the length of my arms.
“So, what do you think it means?” He asked.
I remained silent for several moments, staring at the floor without giving it much notice.
“Avenge me…” I muttered.
Mark heard me, “What was that?”
I looked up, met his eyes briefly before looking away again. I shook my head. “It’s nothing… you’d think I’ve gone barmy.”
“What do you mean?”
“In… in the dreams, my father… he always says the same thing. He always says the same thing. He always tells me to avenge him…”
Mark took a step back. He eyed me warily.
“My father’s death was sudden. He was only fifty-three…”
“Yes, but he had high blood pressure.”
“He had a mild case of hypertension, so mild that the doctor didn’t think medication was necessary. He was fit, he just had to lay off the rich food, and he did. The doctor told him he was improving.”
Mark folded his arms across his chest and exhaled.
“Do you remember my Uncle Percy?” He asked.
My brow furrowed as I nodded.
“One day he was training for a marathon, the next, he was face down in his meatloaf.”
I chuckled, “Maybe it was your aunt’s cooking.”
He stared, the corner of his mouth twitched, “That’s not the point,” he said, “my point, is that a heart attack can happen to anyone.”
“But what if it wasn’t just a heart attack.”
“Okay, stop right there,” he said, raising his hands in a placating gesture, “I know where this is going and I don’t like it.”
“Mark, why else would he be telling me to avenge him?”
“Because, you’re not thinking clearly,” he blurted with a flail of his arms.
So you do think I’m mad.”
“No,” he shook his head, “no, not at all. I do think that you’re still grieving and that you’re sleep deprived. You’re basing these suspicions on a bad dream.”
“A bad dream I’ve had every night since the funeral.”
“Probably because you’ve been running yourself ragged ever since. You just need to get some rest.”
“I can’t!” I shouted, “I’ve tried just about everything I could think of, meditation, herbal remedies, acupuncture, none of it worked. I went to a doctor for some pills but they didn’t work. The alcohol doesn’t work.” I paused and gave a dismal chuckle, “the two sure as hell don’t work together…”
I winced, realizing the implication of my words as soon as they left my mouth. Mark stood frozen for a moment, dread filling his eyes, before he looked away. He scrubbed a hand across his mouth and jaw. He then pinned me in place with his eyes.
“Hannah, please tell me you didn’t.”
I shook my head as I tried to blink back the tears before they began again.
“I wasn’t trying to overdose, I swear I wasn’t.” Mark looked skeptical as I continued, “I just took the recommended dose on top of a little too much wine.”
His skepticism morphed into disappointment. For the first time I felt myself shrink under his gaze.
“I know it was beyond stupid,” I began, “but I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in two months. The thought didn’t even cross my mind…”
“How long ago?” Mark asked, his voice thick.
I thought, “Maybe a day or two after the shooting. I was desperate.” A tear slid down my cheek. Mark stepped toward me, his expression softened as he cupped my cheek. He gently wiped away the tear with his thumb.
“You can’t continue like this, Hannah.” He said.
I nodded in agreement, “I know,” I shrugged, “but what else can I do?”
Mark contemplated for a moment, “Maybe you should get away from Boston for a while.”
“And go where?”
I frowned at this, “No,”
“Why not? You told me that you didn’t stay long after the funeral…”
“Mark, the last time I spoke to my mother was about a week after the funeral and I found out that she had just started dating my uncle.”
“Then maybe this will give you a chance to resolve any hard feelings between you and your family.”
I said nothing as I thought about his words. Mark finally rolled his eyes.
“Besides,” he added, “you’ll never truly be satisfied until you find out the truth, so you might as well go and do the leg work yourself.”
I looked him in the eye, hesitant to believe that he had dared to suggest that.
“Do you mean that?”
“Hannah, if it’s the only way that you might find some peace, then yes.” He forced a smile, but there was a trace of sadness in his eyes.
I offered a small smile in return.
“Okay,” I nodded, “I’ll go.”
Melissa Triol has a Bachelor of Arts in English from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and has previously published a short story in the ESU literary magazine (The Calliope) and an article in the campus newspaper (The Stroud Courier). She currently resides in the Bucks County area.