I opened my eyes and found myself covered in dirt. With dust in my nose and eyes, the fetid stench of death was ever palpable. Gunfire and the cries of men surrounded me, my consciousness restoring with every mortar blast.
I felt a hand grab at my collar and then I was being dragged. I glanced up to see a burly man dressed in military greens shouting orders.
“You’re okay, son, you were just knocked off your feet.” He dropped me off against an earthen wall and crouched beside me.
Where was I?
It didn’t really matter where I was apart from the obvious which was that we were at war. And judging by my saviour’s uniform, it looked like 1969, Vietnam.
I was suddenly gripped with cold-strangling fear, as the impossible flashed before me with every ground-shattering explosion and bullet that whipped past us.
Panicking, I looked up at the man who had clearly risked his own skin to save mine. I wanted to say something – anything – but nothing came out.
“Calm down, mate!” He patted my shoulder; the weight of his hand felt unusually heavy but I sensed a wave of familiarity then, and felt somewhat at ease.
“My name’s A…” I croaked, before a whistling brushed past my ear and ended in a thud. I felt warm spray hit the side of my face before realising that my Samaritan was dead. I didn’t want to look down but the gaping hole on his forehead had other plans. His ruined helmet lay beside him; I never even knew his name.
I convulsed in fear again, before the feeling of lift and then a bright light engulfed me.
I came back to my fifteen-year-old sweat-soaked female body abruptly. The moon shone through my window, bathing me in a sheet of white light.
The man was always there and it always felt real. He always perished in the same way: a head trauma. He looked so familiar but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. In the end, I was left with a morose sense of foreboding and an almost reminder of what was to be.
I buried my head in my pillow but sleep did not come.
I had just turned 30 and was holidaying in the south of England with my boyfriend. It was late July and the sun was riding high in the sky. I was laughing at some nonsensical thing and indulging in the warmth that blew across my cheek through the open window. My mobile phone chimed and I checked it to find a message from my brother in Australia.
‘Dad’s acting weird. He keeps forgetting stuff all the time.’
I shoved my phone back in my pocket, annoyed at my brother’s mood-busting bad timing. Nothing was going to bring me down today!
A couple of weeks later and another vague text from my brother brought me back down to Earth. This time dad was remarking at how long it had been since he’d spoken to me. I had rung him but a day ago. Huh?
Twenty-four hours later, my father was in hospital with a brain tumour no one knew he had. It was so advanced that it was literally crushing his brain, specifically the part that dealt with memory. Day by day he forgot each of us, plus lost another bodily function. I was fortunate enough to speak with him one last time, but even then he confused me with mum.
He died five days later, aware, but trapped inside the shell of an unresponsive body.
He was the man I saw each time in my dreams. The dreams I always wished I’d never had. Dreams I have to this day… unwanted and unmistakably accurate.