Only in His Dreams


Only in His Dreams - a short story by Robert Burton Robinson
GENRE: Suspense/Fantasy. LENGTH: 4,748 words. SYNOPSIS: From his deathbed, a formerly-successful businessman invokes supernatural powers to take revenge on his four ungrateful sons. But how does a frail old man turn himself into a dangerous sorcerer?

One night I was getting ready for bed when I got a call from a guy named Gregory Jones. I’m not sure why I answered it. When I get a call from somebody I don’t know, I usually let it go to voice mail—especially late at night.

“I’m sorry to bother you at this hour, Mr. Robinson, but my friend asked me to call you. He really needs to talk to you right away. His name is Hubert Himpley.”

“The furniture guy?” I asked. “The one who jumps off the top of a building onto a mattress while he’s yelling, ‘Take the cheap leap?’ That guy?”

“Yes, sir. That’s him. But he hasn’t jumped off any buildings in a long time.”

“So, what’s this about? Can’t it wait until morning?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. He’s dying. He may have only a few hours left. And he desperately wants to talk to you—in person.”

“Look, uh, Gregory, I’m sorry he’s dying, but—”

“He’ll be glad to pay you for your time. Please, Mr. Robinson—it would mean the world to him.”

“Well, you’re quite a salesman, aren’t you, Gregory?”

“Yes, sir, I am. Mr. Himpley’s top salesman for forty years.”

“So you’re a friend and an employee.”

“Just a friend now. I retired eleven years ago. And Mr. Himpley’s furniture store went out of business a few months ago.”

“Hmm, I didn’t realize that.”

“So, would you please come?”

“Right now? Tonight?”

“Yes. The sooner the better because, as I said, he doesn’t have much time left.”

**********

I should have just stayed home and gone to bed, but Gregory had managed to pique my curiosity—which sometimes can prove hazardous to my health.

Mr. Himpley’s place was located outside of town, where the houses are a half-mile apart. Actually, it wasn’t a house—it was a mansion worth over two million dollars from what I’d heard. The gate was open, so I drove in and followed the long driveway up to the house. The entire property was dark except for the light coming from a room upstairs. It sure didn’t look like anybody was expecting company.

Maybe that was because they weren’t. Hubert Himpley hadn’t called me. It was a guy named Gregory Jones, who claimed to be his friend. But I’d driven all the way out there, so I used the flashlight app on my cell phone to find my way to the front door. I peeked in through a sidelight. There was a soft glow of light in the upstairs hallway, and I could see the top of the staircase.

I considered leaving, but then I noticed that the door was ajar. It looked heavy. It was maybe ten feet tall. I pushed it open, and the hinges squeaked. This is not creepy at all, I thought. I flashed my phone light around the foyer.

A woman wearing a nurse’s uniform appeared at the top of the stairs. “Who’s there? What are you doing here?”

“I’m Robert Burton Robinson. Mr. Himpley wants to talk to me.”

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Himpley is in no condition to see anyone.”

“But Mr. Jones called me and told me that Mr. Himpley wanted me to come here tonight.”

“Mr. Jones?”

A tinny-sounding bell began to ring.

“He’s calling me.” She pointed to the front door. “Now leave.”

She hurried away.

I knew I was asking for trouble—and that I might even end up in jail—but I did it anyway. I went up the stairs and followed the light to his room.

He was lying in a hospital bed. The nurse was standing next to a wooden chair that was beside the bed. A small table near the head of the bed had a lamp on it, as well as a pitcher of water, a glass, and a half-dozen pill bottles. A medical bag sat on the floor next to the table.

The nurse turned around. “What are you doing up here? I told you to—”

The old man touched her arm and said something to her that I couldn’t hear. She walked over to me, took a flashlight out of her pocket and said, “You’ve got ten minutes.”

I glanced at her flashlight. “Why don’t you just turn on the lights?”

She sneered and whispered, “Because he won’t allow it.” She turned on her flashlight, walked out to the hallway, and closed the door behind her.

I went over to him.

His voice was weak. “Sorry for the lack of proper lighting. I can’t stand strong lights. Hurts my eyes. And I don’t need any more pain than I’ve already got. I’m Hubert Himpley—but I’m sure you already knew that.”

I found out later that he was in his seventies, but he looked much older. Horrible, in fact—as though he had died three days earlier and woken up five minutes ago. “Thanks for coming, Mr. Robinson. I hope Gregory didn’t wake you up when he called.”

“No, I was still up. Good to meet you, sir.” He had not offered his hand, so I didn’t offer mine either. To be honest, I didn’t want to touch him and take a chance on catching whatever he had.

“Have a seat, Mr. Robinson.”

I pulled the chair a little farther away from the bed and sat down.

“I asked you to come because I’m about to die—not that you should care about that—but I’ve made an amazing discovery that I want to share with you. And you can do whatever you like with it after I’m gone. So, not much of a waiting period.” He laughed and coughed.

“Okay. What is this discovery you’ve made?”

“I’ll get to that in a minute,” he said. “First I need to tell you a little story. Forty-five years ago, my dear Carolyn and I bought a little house across town and made the living room into a furniture store. That first year, we nearly went broke. But then things started to pick up, and before you know it, we rented a store space in town. And when our boys got old enough, they started working there with us.”

“How many boys do you have?”

“Four. Hilton’s the oldest. He’s mid-forties. Then there’s Halford, Harvey, and Henry. Henry was a surprise. He’s only in his late twenties. Anyway, we had a fantastic business, and everybody was happy.”

“That’s nice—that all of your kids enjoyed working with you.”

“Yeah. It’s what Carolyn and I had always dreamed of. It was perfect…until she got cancer. She went down so fast.”

“I’m sorry.”

“The boys were supportive through it all—I’ll give them that. But after their mother died, I started dating Patsy, my bookkeeper, and they hated it. They accused me of cheating with Patsy while Carolyn was still alive—which is outrageous! I never would have cheated on Carolyn. I loved that woman with all my heart.

“So, things got miserable at the store. There was a lot of fighting—to the point that Hilton was yelling at me in front of customers. I told him if he couldn’t act in a professional manner, he could just quit and go open his own store.”

“And he did.”

“Yeah. And he took his brothers right along with him. They opened Himpley Brothers Furniture. They blamed it all on Patsy.”

“She must have felt terrible.”

“She did. And then she went into a deep depression. Had to quit working. And I couldn’t keep my mind on the business because I was so worried about her. But I showed up every day and went through the motions. Then one day I came home and found her on the couch with an empty pill bottle in her hand. Must have taken her last breath just before I got there because her body was still warm. I should have been home with her.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Then it was my turn to get depressed. I hired a man to run the store for me, and he did a lousy job. Well, that’s not really fair. He never stood a chance, because the boys siphoned off all our loyal customers to their store. Then I was diagnosed with Stage Four prostate cancer. It was my own fault for being so stubborn all those years, refusing to go to the doctor. I was too busy running the store to worry about my health. In the end, what was it all for? Both of the women I loved are dead, and my sons deserted me. I finally sold the store.

“All I’ve got left is this place, and the boys just can’t wait to get their money-grubbing hands on it. But…it might not be worth quite as much as they think.” An evil grin swept across his face.

Gregory had promised me that I would be paid for my time, but that didn’t seem likely. “Well, Mr. Himpley, I’m sorry. It’s a sad story, but…why am I here?”

He perked up and got a mean look on his face. “Because I want to tell you how I’m getting even with those ungrateful brats.”

“Are you really sure you want to do that? Most people like to make peace at this point in their lives.”

“You mean, before they croak? Yeah, well, to each his own. I want revenge,” he said.

“Well, with all due respect, sir, how are you gonna get revenge? You don’t seem strong enough to go anywhere. Wait. I hope you didn’t think I was going to help you with that.”

“No. I don’t require any help—except for the help that I get from these.” He reached under his sheet and pulled out a black pill bottle.

“Where did you get those?”

“My old friend, Gregory, found them online. Supposed to be a super-strong pain reliever that’ll let you sleep. And it does. It works extremely well. I sleep like a baby.”

“That’s kind of amazing, because I’m sure you must be in a lot of pain.”

“Mr. Robinson, if I wasn’t on strong, strong medication, I’d scream my guts out—until my vocal chords caught fire. The pain is excruciating, but that stuff doesn’t do the trick anymore.” He pointed to the table. “That bottle over there is morphine. Powerful, right? But it’s like taking baby aspirin compared to this stuff.”

“What is it?”

“I have no idea, and I don’t care.”

“Well, that’s great that you’re able to sleep. But I still don’t understand how you’re gonna take revenge on anybody. The pills don’t allow you to get up and go anywhere, do they?”

“No. But I don’t need to physically go anywhere.”

“You don’t need to physically go anywhere? What does that mean?”

He grinned, and it freaked me out. Maybe it was just the odd angle of the light across his face, but it felt like a zombie was smiling at me.

“That’s what is so special about these pills,” he said. “They allow me to go anywhere I want—while I’m dreaming—to get my revenge.”

“So, you could dream that you go to Hilton, say, and punch him in nose? Something like that?”

“Oh, I won’t let him off that easy.”

“But it’s just a dream. Just makes you feel better.”

“Wrong. Whatever I do in the dream happens in real life.”

“Oh, come on now. Nobody can see what you’re doing while you’re dreaming.”

“Well, you’re right about that. They can’t see me. I’m like a ghost. But I do things. Real things.”

I wasn’t sure how he expected me to react. I wanted to tell him that the drugs were making him delusional.

“You don’t believe me.”

I shrugged.

He said, “How about some proof? I’ve already taken revenge on my two youngest sons, Harvey and Henry.”

“What did you do to them?”

“Last night, in my first dream, I went to Henry’s place. He’s single, and he lives in a small rent house. I poured motor oil all over his porch steps, so that he would slip and fall when he was leaving for work in the morning. Now he’s got a broken arm and several fractured ribs. Poor boy.”

“And you think you caused it?”

“I know I did.”

To me, it seemed more likely that a couple of thoughtless teenagers had pulled what they thought would be a funny prank. Still, I figured I might as well hear the rest of his story. “What did you do to Harvey?”

“I cut his brake lines.”

You cut his brake lines? Were you trying to kill him?”

“He’s fine. He’ll be in the hospital for a few days, but he’ll live.”

“Was anyone else hurt when he wrecked his car?”

“Fortunately, no. I didn’t even consider the possibility of other people getting hurt. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He studied my face.

I didn’t believe a word of what he’d told me. On the other hand, I didn’t want to aggravate him and take a chance of becoming a target—just in case I was wrong. But that was a silly thought. Clearly, the drug was giving him hallucinations. He’d heard about the accidents and then dreamed that he caused them.

He said, “Tonight, I’ll be having more fun. I’ve got a burning desire to get even with Halford.” He picked up a folded piece of paper from the table. “Read this when you get home. And come back tomorrow night around ten.”

I slipped the folded paper into my shirt pocket, said goodnight, and went home. I had no intention of ever going back there.

**********

That night I had a terrifying nightmare. I dreamed I was asleep in bed when I heard Hubert’s voice. I opened my eyes. The lights were on, and he was standing over me, ready to plunge a butcher knife into my chest. I could see through his body. He was like a ghost. But the knife looked solid and very real. In fact, I think it was my own knife from the kitchen.

“Do you believe me now?” he asked.

I tried to speak but nothing came out of my mouth.

He placed the tip of the blade against my chest and shouted, “Do you believe me now?”

I tried to reach for the handle of the knife to stop him, but my arms were like lead pipes, lying at my sides.

“You will believe me when I jam this knife through your heart!”

I screamed and woke up.

I was drenched in sweat.

He was gone.

I examined my chest. I was okay, but my heart was pounding. I ran into the kitchen and found the knife. It was lying on the counter, but it should have been in the drawer. Or had I left it out? I couldn’t remember.

I went into the living room and sat up for the rest of the night, watching old sitcoms.

**********

The next morning, I dragged myself into the bathroom, took a shower and shaved.

Hubert Himpley would be dead soon. No more drug trips. No more nightmares for me. At least not any that starred him.

Then I remembered the slip of paper he’d given me. I found it in the pocket of the shirt I’d worn the night before. It was handwritten and looked like two lines from a poem:

The pleasures of life are so thoughtlessly stolen
From the parents of lying, unscrupulous children.

What did it mean? I didn’t know if Hubert’s sons were unscrupulous liars, but obviously it was how he saw them.

While eating breakfast, I checked the local news on my phone, and there it was: Harvey’s car wreck. However, it had happened the day before, so obviously Hubert read about it and then dreamed that he’d caused it.

He wasn’t hurting anybody. It was just the drug making him think he was.

**********

That night, around ten o’clock, I remembered that Hubert had said he was going to get revenge on his son, Halford. I hadn’t seen anything about it in the morning news, so I checked again.

Halford Himpley had sustained serious burns due to a gas explosion in his house. It had happened at around four-thirty in the morning.

I recalled Hubert’s exact words from the night before: I’ve got a burning desire to get even with Halford.

A burning desire. No. He couldn’t have done it.

My cell phone rang.

“Are you coming tonight?” It sounded like Gregory Jones.

“I—I hadn’t planned to.”

“Mr. Robinson, I urge you to come and hear what Mr. Himpley has to say. He wants to tell you what he’s going to do next.”

“Why? So I can try to stop him? Look, Gregory, I know you’re just the messenger, but I don’t want any part of this.”

I hung up.

**********

But I drove over there anyway. Yeah, I know. I should have blown it off.

When I got to the house, everything was exactly the same as the night before. No lights out front or in the house, except upstairs. The front door was ajar. I pushed it open and went in.

When I got to the top of the stairs, the nurse was in my face. “What are you doing here?”

“He wants to talk to me again.”

Before she could respond, his bell rang.

“He’s nearly gone,” she said. “I don’t know how he’s held on this long.”

I told her I’d just be a few minutes. She took out her flashlight and turned it on, and I walked into his room and closed the door.

“I knew you’d come, Mr. Robinson.”

“I only came because Gregory called me. Where is he?”

“Probably in the guest bathroom downstairs.”

I sat down in the chair.

He said, “I have very little time left, so I will deal with my eldest son tonight.”

“Did you cause that explosion at Halford’s house?”

He grinned. “It worked out just as I’d planned it. I slipped in at around two a.m., grabbed a few candles from the kitchen and put them in the guest bathroom and lit them. Then I turned on all the burners on the stove—without lighting them, of course.”

“I can’t believe you did that to your own son.”

“It was fun. I sat down and waited for the fireworks. It took a while for the gas to flow into the bathroom, and then BOOM!”

“You could have killed him. And what about his family?”

“He’s divorced, and the kids were at their mother’s. I’m not an animal, Mr. Robinson.”

I shook my head. “You know, I didn’t believe you at first, but now…I don’t know.”

“Why would I lie to you?”

“So, what are you planning for—?”

“—Hilton? He’s the one who destroyed my business—and my family. The other boys would never have left without him. But I’m not going to tell you what I’m planning for him. You might try to interfere.”

“Are you planning to kill him?”

“What difference does it make? Nobody can stop me.”

“I’ll tell the police you did it.”

“So what? I’ll be dead by then. What are they gonna do—throw my corpse into a prison cell?” He laughed. “Oh, and before I forget.” He picked up a folded piece of paper from the table and handed it to me. “Read it tomorrow.”

I put it in my pocket. More silly rhymes, I thought. “Goodnight, Mr. Himpley.” I stood up.

“I’m afraid this is goodbye, Mr. Robinson.”

I wasn’t afraid it was the last time I would see him. I was hoping. “Goodbye, Mr. Himpley.”

**********

On the drive home, I wondered if there was anything I could do to stop Hubert from hurting Hilton. All three of his other attacks had happened during the night—or been set up during the night.

I could camp out in front of Hilton’s house. But what good would that do? I’d never see Hubert. He’d be like a ghost.

But wait, I thought. Have I finally gone off the deep end? Do I now believe in ghosts?

When I got home, it was late, and I was tired of thinking about Hubert Himpley. I fell asleep quickly and made it through the night without any bad dreams.

At nine o’clock in the morning, my eyes popped open. I was suddenly wide-awake. I remembered the folded piece of paper Hubert had given me the night before. I jumped out of bed, retrieved it from my shirt pocket, and read the handwritten lines:

May he wallow in the disrepute of his slimy schemes.
May he gag upon the rotten fruit of his wildest dreams.

Gag upon rotten fruit? What did that mean? Rotten fruit won’t kill you. Did he mean poison? Was he gonna try to kill Hilton with poison?

I looked up the phone number and called it.

A woman answered. “Himpley Brothers Furniture.”

“I need to speak to Hilton Himpley.”

There was a pause. Was he already dead?

“I’m sorry. Mr. Himpley is in a meeting right now. But I can take your name and number, and have him return your call.”

“Tell him not to eat any fruit.”

“What?”

“Keep him away from fruit. It’s a matter of life and death.”

She hung up on me.

Of course. I sounded like a loon.

I threw on some clothes, jumped into my car, and drove down there.

I ran into the store and grabbed the first salesman I saw.

“Where’s Hilton? It’s a matter of life and death.”

“He was still in the conference room when I left.” He pointed.

I sprinted to the conference room, knocking over a floor lamp on my way.

Two men and a women were standing at the far end of the conference table talking.

“Hilton?” I asked.

One of the men said, “He left.”

“Where is he? It’s urgent.”

The woman said, “Probably in his office. Just down the hall—that way.”

I saw a bowl of fresh fruit on the conference table next to half of a tray of pastries. “Don’t eat any of that fruit. It could kill you!”

I flew down the hallway to his office and barged in.

“Don’t eat any fruit!”

He stared at me. “Who are you?”

“Your father is trying to poison you.”

His speech was slurred. “What are you talking about? The old man’s half dead. He can’t even get out of bed.” His eyes were shifting wildly from one direction to another.

I noticed a cup of coffee on his desk. “Don’t drink that coffee.”

“I’ve had three or four cups already this morning. Look, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care, but if you don’t…leave…right now…”

His face turned pale.

“Are you okay?”

He doubled over and barfed all over the floor.

I called 9-1-1.

**********

Yes, Hilton had been poisoned. We found out later that someone had put antifreeze in his bottle of peppermint mocha coffee creamer—the personal bottle he kept in his office refrigerator. But, because of me, the paramedics got there soon enough to save him.

A police detective came to the scene, and I told him about Hubert. I could see in his eyes that he thought I was a nut case. He asked me to ride over to Hubert’s house with him. I felt that I had no choice, even though I wondered if he might be planning to take me to jail instead.

On the way over, I said, “You know, I hope you don’t think I really believe what Hubert told me about turning himself into a ghost so he could go around attacking his sons.”

“So, who do you think did it?” he asked.

“Well, detective, I’m just a civilian, so—”

“—But you’re a writer, aren’t you? Mysteries and suspense novels and all that stuff? Surely you’ve got a few theories.”

“Just one,” I said. “Maybe it was Gregory Jones—Hubert’s old friend and former salesman. He’s the one who called—twice—and told me Hubert wanted me to come to his house.”

“So, you think this Gregory Jones may have carried out the attacks for his friend, Mr. Himpley?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” I said.

**********

When we pulled up to the house, they were carrying Hubert’s body out. We got out of the car. A nurse walked out—the one who’d been with him both times I visited.

The detective waved her over, introduced himself, and began questioning her. “Did Mr. Himpley ever get out of his bed—within the past few days?”

“No. Not for many weeks. He could barely move.”

“Okay. And how often did Gregory Jones come to visit him?”

“I don’t know who that is, detective. The only person who came to see him was Mr. Robinson.”

“No,” I said. “That’s not true. Gregory Jones was in the house when I was here last night. Hubert told me he was in the downstairs bathroom.”

She gave me a condescending smile. “Half the time, Mr. Himpley didn’t even know what he was saying.”

“I see. And what about the special pills he was taking—the ones in the black bottle?”

“What black bottle?”

“He showed it to me,” I said.

She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I thought, maybe she found them in his bed when they carried him out and decided to keep them for herself.

The detective thanked her, and she left.

He said, “Wait here,” and started talking on his walkie-talkie and went into the house.

I watched the ambulance drive away with Hubert’s body, and then just stood around waiting for the detective to come out of the house.

A few minutes later, he came out and said, “We tracked down Gregory Jones.”

“Where was he?”

“In the ground. He died two weeks ago—in a nursing home.”

“I don’t know what to say.” I had just lost my only hope of making sense of it all. If Gregory died two weeks ago, then who had called me? Someone pretending to be him? Hubert?

“I’ll take you back to your car at the furniture store so you can go home and get some rest. Seems like you could use some, Mr. Robinson. We’ll talk again when you’ve got a clear head. Give me a call tomorrow.” He dropped his card into my shirt pocket.

The detective was right. My brain was mush. Maybe it would all make sense in the morning.

**********

I was getting undressed to take a shower when I noticed that there was something in my shirt pocket. Then I remembered: it was the detective’s card. But when I pulled it out, a piece of paper fell on the floor—like the ones Hubert had given me with his weird poetry written on them. Had I absentmindedly put one of them back in my pocket that morning?

I picked it up and read it…in disbelief.

I had been set up from the very beginning. Hubert had taken me into his confidence knowing that after he died I would have to tell the police all about his claims of drug-induced paranormal revenge—whether I believed him or not.

And he had to know that once the story leaked to the public, it would spread like wildfire, and before long, his former home would become known as a haunted house. And nobody wants to live in a haunted house.

I could hear him in my head, reading the poem aloud:

While eyeing the finest banquet of all,
They waited for him to fall.
The vultures would scrape each succulent bone,
Take everything that he owned.

Dark magic gave him the power to fly:
A raven in phantom guise.
He hovered above them, out of their sight,
Attacked them in dead of night.

A paltry endowment’s left for the boys,
The worth of the house, destroyed
By tales of a vengeful, monstrous ghost
Conveyed by the one who knows.

THE END