Heartlands: Picking Up the Tracks

by Mark Figueroa | Featured Art by A Forgotten Pen at @theforgottenpen

Walter Schreren Jr.’s (or Junior as his family calls him) screams wakes his parents. Another evening of consoling him before sunrise.

For the past 2 years, every 3 days he’s had the same dream at 4 am sharp. At first, there was no rhyme, reason or pattern to it. Junior was just a kid having a nightmare, or so they thought. Six months later, his dreams have been the source of police calls, rubbernecking neighbors, and Dr. Walter Sr. and Marianne’s (his parents) constant concern. When Junior was born, he was different.

The Schrerens, no experts in the field of child psychology, were a family of six: Mother, Father, two boys and two girls. Then, one drunken speaking convention later, came Junior, number seven, born from the fiery loins of pre-menopausal passion between his geriatric parents. With what the Schrerens learned and have observed throughout their adult lives, the moment that most children turn four, their eyes light up with a sense of being, a sense of awakening. Junior had always been that way: speaking and walking too soon, the gleam in his infant eyes stoic, grounded and well-adjusted. It was as if he could say something profound at any moment.

At the age of four Junior said something that shook his father to his core. They had been visiting New York City and were meandering through Grand Central Station, when Junior muttered, “The platform,” and began wailing. His uncontrollable sobs drove the Schrerens from their casual exploration back into their hotel room. When Walter Sr. pried later that evening, Junior simply said, “The man. He brought he me here. He took me away from my wife and my daughter. My life. My family. Everything. He took them and brought me here from the train station.”

Today, at the age of nine, Junior walks between his parents, holding both of their hands as they trudge through Thatcher Township’s never-ending snow. The family enters the “Ferdinand Mendoza, PhD, and Associates, Child Psychology and Psychiatry Clinic” on 12th and Halstead. They sit on the firm, blue, leather seats in the lobby. Junior observes the other children playing with fake food or sliding wooden balls on metal rails, then he reaches for a magazine. Walter Sr. scoffs at a featured article and says, “You can’t vaccinate against something that we still don’t understand.” Marianne nudges him, letting the scowl on her face do all the talking for her. 

“Walter Schreren,” a young woman calls out. She waves them over to a door beside the receptionist’s desk and says, “I hope you’re all doing well today. Doctor Mendoza is ready for you.”

“Thanks, Kathy,” Marianne responds, pushing her son forward. “Tell your parents we said hi and that we’re opening our hot tub for the summer. They’re more than welcome to come by.”

“I’ll let them know, Mrs. Schreren, thanks.” Kathy guides them to a room with a round table, toys, bookshelves and large glass windows. “Mr. and Mrs. Shcreren, if you please, follow me to the observation room. Junior will wait here for the doctor.”

Junior sits at the table, enjoying his own company. He relaxes like a man who just got home after a stressful day at the office. Aware of the fact that he’s being observed, he gets up and thumbs through the book spines arranged by color. “Wayne-Wright,” he utters, gazing at a book titled, Past Lives: Fact or Fiction. The Science of False Memories in Children. He slowly pulls the book from the shelf, but pushes it back into the shelf when the door creaks open.  

“Junior, welcome. Good to see you again,” says Dr. Mendoza announces, shutting the door behind him. “Anything specific you want to talk about?” he asks, taking a seat and clasping his hands together. He smiles at Junior. “Your parents say that you had another nightmare. IS that true?”

Junior sighs. “You know it is, Dr. Mendoza. Every 3 days for the past two years. Exactly at 4 in the morning,” he declares, rubbing his elbow. Junior squirms over to the table and sits across from the doctor. He looks up. “This time, I remembered his name. That man. Mr. Francis E. Wayne-Wright IV. I try my best to remember what he looks like, but his face looks like a smudge in my mind. I can’t do it.” Dr. Mendoza nods and pats Junior’s hand. They spend the rest of the session talking about some Junior’s other dreams, school and his family. The doctor escorts the family out when the session is over. He pulls Walter Sr. aside.

“Your son, Walter,” he says, serious. He waves at Marianne and Junior as they get in the car.

“What about him?” Walter Sr. responds, reaching for a cigarette. He lights the stick and takes a puff. Then passes the smoke to Ferdinand. “Did he say something I should be aware of?”

Dr. Mendoza puts a hand on Walter Sr.’s shoulder and passes the cigarette back. “Mr. Francis E. Wayne-Wright IV.” The two men stare at each other and nod, concerned. Dr. Mendoza walks back into his practice. Walter scrapes the cigarette out on the snow and goes to his car. The family drives home and life resumes as usual.

Three days later, Junior screams awake from another nightmare. A voice echoes in the darkness:

“Does one say good night to a dream? Does one say goodbye to a fantasy? I should think not, lest they wish to be cradled by the illusion.”

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