Past Life, and Death

A secluded cabin in the wintry woods

When I was five years old, I started having a recurring dream. I had this dream often until in the sixth grade I finally wrote it down and submitted it as a school project. I remember waking up terrified, crying, and not understanding what it was that I was seeing. At five years old, I don’t know if any child could.

This is not a ghost story, it’s my recollection of a past life.

The dream always began the same way:

A man and a woman are lying on the floor under a fur blanket. There is a fire roaring in the hearth, and I somehow know that the couple are happy. As I look around the room I see that the walls are made of logs and there isn’t much furniture or décor. The kitchen area doesn’t look like my kitchen; it’s just a counter and shelves with a bucket for a sink. There are no appliances or light fixtures, and only one window beside the small wooden door opposite the hearth.

After a short time, the man and woman seem to fall asleep where they lay. I watch them sleep for awhile before the man suddenly sits up looking alarmed. The woman stirs beside him and opens her eyes. She reaches out a hand to touch his arm and he turns to her, telling her that he heard a sound outside.  She listens quietly for a moment and shakes her head, she can’t hear anything unusual.

The man shifts the fur blanket and stands up, walking toward the small dining table and chairs where his pants and overcoat were hung to dry. He moves across the room to the only door where he removes a rifle from a bracket on the wall. He tells the woman not to worry, to go back to sleep, that he will only be a few minutes. He thinks it’s a bear that has been coming around, attracted to the scent of their food. The woman nods and rolls over toward the fire, snuggling back into the blanket.

He opens the door and steps out into a snow-covered clearing surrounded by tall evergreens. I see a tree stump with an axe protruding from the top at an angle, next to a stack of firewood. There are footpaths that have been worn into the snow leading toward the forest and around the little cabin. Now that I am outside, I can see that that is what it is, a one room log cabin. I look up and see smoke billowing from the stone chimney on the other side of the building.

The man pulls something on his rifle and I hear a metallic click. He stands silently, listening for the bear. All I can hear is the silence of a forest in mid-winter. He chooses the footpath that leads around the cabin first and makes his way to the back of the little building. It’s darker back here, but the moon is bright and there are more stars in the sky than I knew existed.

He stops at a couple of spots along the path, listening for any movement before moving forward. When he reaches the front of the cabin he glances back at the front door, but after a brief pause he turns back to the path that leads into the forest and follows it into the darkness of the trees.

 I’m not following him anymore.

I’m back inside the cabin where the woman is still asleep in front of the fire, but something is different. There is smoke on the inside of the cabin now, and I don’t like it. The smoke is gathering around the woman, but she isn’t moving, she hasn’t been woken up by the smell. A spark spits from the fireplace and lands on her fur blanket where I can see a small flame beginning through the cloud of smoke. Within moments, it’s a blaze.

I’m suddenly back with the man, in the forest. I’m crying, watching him, trying to get his attention, but he doesn’t know I’m there. He has walked much farther into the trees than he normally would have because he thinks he’s heard the bear again and wants to shoot it so that it will stop coming to their cabin. He walks and he walks, but then he raises his head and sniffs the air.

He turns on his heel and starts to run back up the path toward the cabin. He is afraid. By the time he bursts into the clearing he can see smoke flowing out of small cracks between the logs and around the window and door. He does not slow down, he keeps running until he is at the door, and he pushes it open with his shoulder. Smoke billows out and he throws his arm up in front of his face, but he pushes in anyway and disappears.

A moment later he rushes back outside, carrying the woman. She is in a long white night dress, and she is still asleep. A flame is rising from her hair, and there are a few on his overcoat. He drops her into the snow and rubs her hair in it to put the fire out, then removes his coat and throws it down, too. He kneels beside the woman and pats her face, calling her name. Elizabeth! Wake up Elizabeth! She does not move.

He lowers his ear to her face, listening, and begins to cry. I am crying, too. He feels so sad that she will not wake up. I want her to wake up. He pulls his coat out of the snow and drapes it across her body, trying to warm her up. He pulls her head into his lap and keeps calling her name, telling her to wake up, and then he cries harder. She won’t even open her eyes. He raises his face to the sky and screams, but a loud cracking sound from inside the cabin startles him and he looks back toward his home.

I can see flames inside now, not just smoke. He releases the woman, leaving her under his coat in the snow, and runs inside. He comes back out with the sink bucket and scoops up snow, then runs inside and tosses it on the flames. He comes back out for more and repeats this until I can’t see flames anymore and the air smells like smoke and wet wood. The smoke begins to thin out.

He comes out the front door panting and drops the bucket in the snow, then drops to his knees. He is still crying. He looks to where he left the woman and crawls through the snow toward her. She is still asleep. When he reaches her, he sits her up in his lap and hugs her, rocking her back and forth just like my mom does when I hurt myself. I watch for her to open her eyes; he is trying to make her better. She doesn’t open her eyes.

He brushes dark smudges off her face and smooths her hair out while he rocks her, while he cries. He gets tired, too, and lays down with her in the snow. I am relieved that they can rest together again, but I’m still crying and scared, too. I don’t understand what is going on, but the fire is out and he is not screaming anymore.

I’m suddenly at the back of the house and the snow is gone. The earth smells like spring has arrived and plants are growing back. It’s daytime, and the sun is shining directly overhead. The man is there, by himself, and he is planting flowers. They are purple and yellow like the ones that pop up in the forest near my favourite. He must have dug up these flowers to bring back to his house, because I can’t see any more of them around us.

He carefully puts the flowers in little holes that he is making in the dirt in front of a big stone that wasn’t there in the winter. I drift closer and see a word carved into the stone. Elizabeth.

My ears start to ring really loudly, and I feel like I am being sucked up into the sky.

At this point I always woke up crying. In the beginning, I’d cry until my mom came to calm me down, but over the years I learned to remember that it was just a dream. It never changed, I never saw any more or less details than I’ve reported here, and the dreams didn’t stop until I wrote them down. That was my mom’s advice. Write it down so your brain doesn’t need to remember it for you anymore.

I’ve had quite a few recurring dreams, most of them scary like this one. After the second or third time, I write them down and they stop.

My name was Elizabeth, and I died in a fire while my husband was out trying to protect us from a bear. He loved me deeply and mourned me for a long time. I died in my sleep, I never felt a thing.

Note: my younger sister is named Elizabeth. For awhile I thought I was dreaming about her and was terrified that something was going to happen to her. It was years before I realized that this dream was about me and that the names were just a coincidence.

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