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George Ferryman - 8

George woke with a racing heart and sprang out of bed. Cold droplets of water on his forehead turned icy in the air conditioned room. Breath caught in his throat like a bear trap. He staggered to the bathroom and wrapped a white terrycloth bathrobe around his body. Shaking hands turned on the faucet to fill a water glass. George drank to steady his nerves.

The clock next to his bed confirmed it was the middle of the night, 3:04. The “witching hour” his grandmother called it. He sat on the edge of the bed, alternating sips of water with deep, full-body breaths. George was no stranger to nightmares, but this particular reoccurring vision had been dormant for years, and he would be lying to say he wasn’t shaken by it.

In the dream, George and his best friend Jake are joyriding in Jake’s family car – a Plymouth station wagon – an 8-cylinder behemoth they affectionately call “The Beast.” They are 14.

The dream always starts the same way: They flip a coin to see who drives (even though neither knows how), and George wins. He gets behind the wheel and pushes an 8-track into the tape deck. Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild plays on repeat:

Get your motor runnin'

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

In whatever comes our way

George peels out of Jake’s driveway and the two are transported to a windy road in upstate New York – sheer rock wall to the left of them, three-hundred-foot drop to the right.

Like a true nature's child

We were born

Born to be wild

In college, George took a class in Eastern Philosophy. His coursebook had a chapter on lucid dreaming that George memorized. Each time he experienced this nightmare, George attempted to employ the methods he’d learned to control his dreams. When that failed, he would try to wake himself up before the final “scene,” but his efforts were always unsuccessful, leading him to relive his nightmare: George’s foot heavy on the gas pedal; a blind curve ahead; an oncoming 18-wheeler crossing the double yellow into George’s lane; The Beast sailing off the side of the cliff with John Kay’s searing vocals filling the air…

We can climb so high

I never wanna die


The nightmare began when George and Jake were sophomores in High School. The two had known each other practically since birth. Jake, the youngest of six children, lived at the opposite end of the elm-lined street they shared, and George joined the neighborhood by moving into his grandmother’s house when he was only three days old – the amount of time it took his mother to decide she didn’t want the role.

A year later, when Jane graduated and moved to NYC to start her career, there was no question that George would stay where he was. All parties agreed he’d be better off without his mother.

The two boys grew up in each other’s houses, with Jake’s siblings treating George like another brother. He went on family vacations with them, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and frequently asked Jake’s older siblings for advice, especially when it came to girls.

But everything changed sophomore year.

A new student, a transfer from Vermont, unknowingly slid between the two boys. Pattie had dirty blond hair and doe-brown eyes. Her teeth were slightly crooked, as though they’d been straightened at one point, but then she stopped wearing her retainer and they slid back into their comfort zone. Pattie’s quiet confidence wrapped her like a cloak. The boys were smitten.

Details from those first few months of school remain fuzzy to George. He only remembers that the competition for Pattie’s affection hammered a wedge between the friends, like the one Jake’s father used to split wood. With each blow of the sledge hammer, the wedge drove deeper, until it finally split the log in pieces. The final blow for George came after they had agreed that neither one of them would ask Pattie to the winter formal.

When George discovered that Jake broke their agreement and was taking Pattie to the dance, he responded in the most savage way he knew how, by telling Jake that they were no longer friends, and would never be friends again. “You’re dead to me,” George had said.

A week later, while watching the evening news with his Grandmother, George was horrified to see “The Beast” upside down on Interstate 95. The newsman reported that there were no survivors – Jake, his parents, and two of his sisters were gone.


George swallowed the last of the water, trying to shake the images. Jake’s death changed George forever; he not only lost his best friend that night, but his family as well. George remembers his grandmother dialing his mother, begging her to get on a train to Connecticut to help support him through the tragedy. But his mother was at a gala, and not only did she not come to his side that night, she didn’t even make it to the funerals.

He looked around for something stronger to drink, but the room was empty. Knowing he would never get back to sleep, George dressed and walked slowly to the beach. The night was quiet save for the rhythmic lapping of waves on the shore. Moonlight illuminated the beach enough to lift some darkness, but he barely noticed, still living in his memories.

He sat in the sand and stared out over the water. George was not one to cry, but something about this night – the nightmare, the waves, the sand – broke him open. So he sat in the moonlight and grieved for his friend, his lost family, and himself — the young boy whose mother never cared about him. He grieved for the loss of his grandmother, the father he never knew, and his broken marriage. George cried until he was empty. Until the sun rose and Marilyn found him.

[Read the next installment here.]


Unknown member
Jul 17, 2023

Another excellent entry!

Jul 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you!

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