At the age of nine, I would wake up at night, having dreams of deathly flames licking my toes and legs. The ever-changing streaks of orange, yellow, and reds would climb my walls, and barricade my door. I couldn't breathe, not even to scream.
And when I'd wake up, the dream would still cling to my consciousness; I could feel the heat, taste the smoke, and smell the stench of burning wood. I'd cough into my garbage can, half expecting black spit to come out.
"It's okay, Elisa," my mom told me one night. "Why are you so scared about this? We have smoke detectors. We're okay."
"I'm scared of burning to death. And even if I don't die in a fire here, maybe I'll be stuck in one after I die. I'm just scared that I'm not going to Heaven."
She hugged me. "Of course you'll go to Heaven."
The point was, I've been up to the altar about fifty-million times asking God to save my fire-hating soul. And I'm sure He might, but my own family gets sick of me--does God really want me in the "Land of the Good," for eternity?! We'll see....
So, the next night, I had the same dream. Fire scorched everything, and blocked my door.... The ceiling hung low, beating with heat-pulsing flames, and flecks of ash floated down toward my face--
When I woke up, I didn't call for my mom this time because I already knew her best lines. This wasn't her battle to fight--I needed to work through this on my own. That's when I discovered something amazing.
I bit my little lip and closed my eyes, not wanting to picture fire again, but I needed to picture something I could conquer. The only other really scary thing my nine-year-old brain could imagine was crocodiles. And, it's embarrassing to say, but when I've been scared as an adult, this story STILL makes me feel better.
The Crocodile and His Lake of Tears
Disclaimer: As I've gotten older this story has evolved...and will probably continue evolving until the day I die.
I'm walking barefoot. The jagged sand cuts at my arched feet. I long to wade in the murky lake at my side, but stories of death and heartache surround those waters. The old women of the village say, we should never go near the shore. I can't help it though, I'm curious. And now that I'm there, my skin is hot and dry. My body aches for the rest only water can offer. My soul longs for adventure. After a time, I'm closer to the water. The lake eats at my toes, then my feet. My legs descend ever so gently, and I wonder momentarily what may be swimming inconspicuously beneath the surface.
I'm standing there, minding my own business, when a crocodile the size of a dragon bobs to the surface. Water rolls from his ancient, scaly back, and his side-winding eyes blink sardonically.
"Oh, child." His black tail flicks derisively, a weapon humans wish they could still hone for war. "You aren't very smart. Didn't those old hags in the village tell you to never come to this lake?"
My mind whirrs like a clock being wound backwards. "Maybe they did tell me. But...maybe they didn't. It wouldn't change the fact that I wanted to meet you."He's as big as a sarcosuchus, yet his body moves faster than seconds split in half. He studies me, his reptilian pupils, chilling my soul. "You're a strange little girl," he says.
"And you're an odd crocodile. You're the biggest thing I've ever seen."
He laughs, this gravely sound like he was a smoker in a past life, and his mouth is so big the noise echoes inside before finally escaping--probably the only thing to ever escape THAT mouth. "Why did you want to meet me, child?"
"Because everyone is afraid of you, even me. But I don't want to be scared anymore."
"Wish granted." Then his gaping maw widens like the entrance to Hell. He lunges, and my legs are suddenly trapped by his jaws. Pulled down to a drop-off, mere feet into the lake, he spins me down into the water, throws me sideways, then clamps me around the waist.
Water fully envelopes us as we descend deep to the bottom of the lake. I almost scream, but know that losing any breath at all, would cause my doom.
I push at his face, to no avail. And as we move farther down, I realize he's holding me almost gently, and the way we're spinning forces my soaking hair to drift past my face as if I'm a mermaid. Although I'm deathly scared, for a split moment, I feel free.
My heart continues racing, especially when I realize we're descending toward a massive cottage at the bottom of the lake.
How did a cottage sink down there? My thoughts are panicked, sporadic, wondering how I'll breathe, and if he'll eat me in one bite, or two? But then we swim through a rocky tunnel before crawling underneath the house. When we pop up through a hole in the floor, I gasp, because the cottage is perfectly sealed, filled with air, instead of water.
"Sarco" (as I've called him when telling this story to my children) sets me down on a rock floor. My hip hurts from the impact, and I shake like fallen prey. He lumbers through the hole in the floor and every time he steps, the cottage shakes, making lake-water drip from my clothes and hair, and china on the nearby shelves, clatter in the aftermath.
Peering around, different ideas flood my mind: Would he have me "over" for lunch or just "have" me for lunch? Did he prefer live meals, or dead ones? Was he truly as terrible as he looked, or is primal instinct ever really evil?
Then Sarco crawls across the floor, and sits at a huge mahogany table. His tail slides a tiny chair next to him. "Over here, child! It's time for tea."
So I do the first thing I think of--I wring out my hair, flatten my sopping clothes, and sit beside the monstrosity. He pours me tea, his clawed, gnarled fore-foot, daintily holding the gorgeous China teakettle, and that's when things really got interesting.
To be continued tomorrow....