You were never the murderer

Submitted into Contest #113 in response to: Write about two people whose dreams are somehow connected. ... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Friendship

CW substance use

I feel so much love for this man. He is trying to kill us. 

We are a group of about eight, scattered, running up this residential block in the half light before dawn. We dodge around Chevrolet Cavaliers and Ford Escorts parked on the curb. We know he is behind us. 

If I could just reach him, explain to them, this would be over. 

A crash of pots starts me awake and I lie, heart racing, listening to rain out the window and breakfast prep in the kitchen.

I close my eyes, trying to hold onto the dream images. If I could only see his face. I am still suffused with love, flooded with its warmth. The fear has gone. The love remains. 

Who is he? 

I have never studied psychology, but my brain doesn’t know that. My roommate Carla explains ‘anima’ to me over breakfast. The man is me, she says, a part of me that I need to rediscover, that I have been running from. This daylight logic seems very reasonable. 

Maybe I will rediscover myself at my new job.

Exactly, says Carla, toasting me with her mug. New beginnings!


As I step off the bus, I am braced for a wave of nostalgia. I lean into it, explaining in my head, like a tour guide. This library was not connected to that building when I went here. That’s new. Is that an Indigenous art piece? Definitely new. More cars, more parking. Way more international faces than I remember. 

My alma mater has thrived and grown in my 15 year absence. My interview had taken me in and out of the main administrative building only. Today I am traversing campus to get to my office. Memories do not make the frontal assault I expected. They sneak up on me. Coby Tinkas -- a man whose existence I had forgotten until this moment -- whispered to me one Saturday night in first year that this freight elevator is where people had sex in the middle of the night. I hear his voice in my mind.

Naveen and I, stumbling home from a pub crawl, had taken turns peeing in a dark stairwell outside the Admin building, reasoning we were too far from a bathroom to make it. The stairwell smiles at me knowingly. I suspect the campus has more night lighting now.

A curtain flutters high up in a dorm, and a sharp memory emerges of yelling insults down at the football team.

None of these are the memories I expected. I make a note to ask Carla for insights into memory.


My day is a whirl of here is your computer and password meet the project team this is the library research room we use let’s meet with the associate dean of something join us for lunch in the faculty lounge here is your security pass fill out these forms now we are going to meet with a researcher do you need a parking pass?

On the bus, heading home, my mind whirls, processing. My role will be graphical and narrative capture and public relations for a project researching the family that had owned the estate recently purchased by the university. The formal work kicks off in a week. I will spend this week getting acclimatized, getting to know the team, understand the goals. I will also be spending some time researching background.

As the bus winds through the residential streets of the west end, a white porch with glorious golden hanging baskets of flowers makes my heart burst. My dream. If I close my eyes, I feel it again, that love. I can see glimpses of the man. Dark hair. Not overly tall. So familiar but out of focus.


Librarians are not violent, as a rule. 

I wake, sweating, scratching my three day growth. My two year old erupts into the room, hurls himself on my bladder, and, still in the thrall of the dream, I almost pitch him to the floor. Awkwardly, I catch myself in mid-action and set him on the floor, stand and head to the bathroom. He screeches and runs to his mother.

Work has been stressful, sure, it’s the start of the school year and the administration is once again kicking off a new technology project in the midst of it.. My kids are out of control. 

But dreams of chasing people who are clearly afraid of me is a new thing. It’s dark. I don’t much care for it, for this adrenaline. 

The vein in my forehead is pulsing. I look haggard. Great, I am becoming Jack Nicholson. Perfect way to celebrate my 39th birthday. 

A shower calms my blood. I look forward to getting to work, heading into the archives, breathing the calm, controlled atmosphere. 

Willa has made me a lunch. She kisses me compassionately, says happy birthday. You look like shit. 

Roger, my oldest, has a mittful of baseball cards at the table and avidly recites statistics at me. I arrange my features into “listening” mode and think again about the dream. 

Willa, I say, do you think dreams mean anything? 

I always dream of beaches. Wide open beaches, with no one in sight for miles, she replies wistfully. Little Aaron is holding her arm, climbing up her leg.

I hold a still image from my dream, of a woman looking over her shoulder. The compassion in her eyes. 

Roger goes on: Toronto Blue Jays. Ken Giles, pitcher. Throws right. 351 Innings Pitched. 478 Strikeouts.

I kiss Willa and head to work. 


I head to the archives, crossing the quad, dodging selfie-taking groups of young adults. I try to remember if I took pictures in the quad when I was a student. I know I have many print photos of random people at dorm parties. I don’t remember any outdoor pictures. 

I request the Finnes family fond, settle down to make notes. Suddenly there is a ruckus from the office behind me. Noisemakers. People singing. I see balloons reflected in the plate glass window. I feel warm knowing that the staff in this place celebrate with each other.

The Finnes family were brewers during the last century, and accumulated enormous wealth. A photo of a sprawling lawn, a large group of smiling youth. The caption says, the twelve children of the patriarch, Amos Finnes. Mentally, I snort. The patriarch, right. I think of being a mother in the 20s and 30s, even a rich one. Practically perpetually pregnant for fifteen years. 

A few folders later, a photo of Elda Finnes, nee Crowther, appears. A formidable woman of 65, who carried on and grew the business when Amos dropped dead suddenly at 59. Her eyes bore into me, her gaze commanding my respect. My sympathy withers in its heat. 

A family tree unfolds like a road map. So many Finnes offspring, now mixed with Coreys and Morgans as well, as Elda’s daughters’ families creep across a corner of the page. 

My head spins with names, dates, relationships.

The family fond includes a reference to the corporate fond, so I request that for tomorrow. 


I bring home a slice of the leftover grocery store poundcake my department gave me, split it between the boys. 

A frozen lasagne goes in the oven and then Willa gets home, giving me time to quickly mow most of the lawn before supper. After supper there are bathtimes, bedtime stories, clean up, an exchange of data with Willa--what do you want for supper tomorrow? Who is picking up the boys? And then it is 10 pm somehow and I am falling asleep.

Willa sends me to bed, staying up to watch Big Brother. I hear the deep voice overs, sense the artificially heightened drama. I toss a few times in the warm room and then fall asleep.

I am hiding in a dark room. The others are scattered through the house, looking for me, but not her. She is standing at a shelf in this room, looking through photo albums. She is also looking for me, but in the past. 

I do not want to hurt her. I just watch, willing her to turn and see me. 

See me.

A hand slides up my chest and I drift to semi consciousness. Willa has come to bed. She runs her hand down now, across my belly and I roll to her, caught between dream and wakefulness. See me. Yes. 


Heading to bed, I realize the stone has fallen out of my garnet ring. It was a relic from my mother, and this saddens me. I will have to retrace my steps tomorrow, though the odds of finding the dark stone are slight. 

Another restless sleep. I dream of libraries, of Finnes children running across perpetual lawns. I dream again of the man, of looking through books trying to find him. I feel him watching me, but I do not turn. I hold my feelings for him like a child, coddled in to warm me. 

Carla says the feelings are what matter. I agree. 


A capital campaign is gearing up and so there are more researchers around, three today, rooting through various family fonds. Leaving things in disarray. My coworker Tim is quietly fuming as he sorts through the boxes. The Finnes fond is normally my pet project, so I take it away from his desk, before his fussing can reach it. 

This one isn’t too bad. I realign a few documents, twitch a few folders into place. One folder has an odd bump in it. I find a dark jewel poking into the kraft cardboard, leaving a protrusion in the papers next to it. 

It feels warm in my hand. Tim, I ask, who had Finnes out? He tells me it was a Jane Cassidy, new researcher with the Prem Institute on campus. Cassidy, I think. Jane Cassidy. Sounds familiar. When you work at a university long enough, all names start to sound familiar. I pocket the stone, make a mental note to head across campus after lunch. 

As I settle back into my current research I hear Tim say Finnes, look up to see him handing the corporate fonds box to someone. Tim is in my way. Dark hair. Familiar.

My dream floats across the back of my mind and I shake my head to clear the cobwebs. I step out to see if this is Jane Cassidy. 


I focus first on the stone, on the flood of relief. I take it, feeling it warm still from his pocket, and as I carefully tuck it deep into my own pocket, I finally focus on the man before me. 

Thank you, I say with warm affection. This was my mother’s. It means a lot. 

He knows my name, and as I stare at his face, the dream feelings flood me. I actually blush, look away. Whoa, psyche, I think. Simmer down. Anima is supposed to be about me. 

It is lunch time, he says, on Wednesdays the faculty lounge has pizza. Want to tell me about your research project over lunch? 


As she walks slightly ahead of me into the faculty lounge, there is no mistaking it. She is the woman in my dream.


Could my unconscious have created an avatar for myself that looks exactly like someone I only just met? At least… I think I only just met him. Graham, he says, Graham Hattie. The name seems to find a slot already fit to that shape in my memory. 

It has to be because of yesterday’s research. Likely in the mix of all the Finnes and others, I also unconsciously noted his name on some staffboard in the library. 

We pick up our pizzas, choose a booth. He eats with a knife and fork. I find myself staring at the knife. 


With the knife in my hand, the room reels a little. Before I know I am going to do it, I blurt out, I had a dream about you. 

Her eyes widen. 

I am married, I say. Happily. I have two boys. Back peddling. I am not a weirdo, I swear.

But I dreamed you. 

Me too, she says. You were chasing us with a knife. 

I put down the knife.


Are you my anima, I ask. 

This surprises him. He considers. Maybe? But then, are you mine? 

We are connected, this man and I. Am I attracted to him? No, not really. It isn’t that. But part of me recognizes him. I feel like we have been in conversation a long time. 

Well, this is weird, I tell him, and we toast with our coffees. Here’s to weird!


I know in that moment we are going to be friends forever. Maybe we always have been. Part of my mind laughs at the phrase. I do not normally talk like a junior high yearbook.


I call Naveen, out of the blue, after supper. Hey, I say, guess where I work now? She laughs. We reminisce about the downtown nights. Football games. Past boyfriends.

Man, she says, it has been so long. Hey, remember the murder night? 

I am still. 

The what now? 

The game, she says. Of course you don’t remember! Someone spiked your drink at that party. She describes our group at a frat party. I remember the sign on the old house. Sort of remember buying a ticket. A murder mystery party. Right.

I have a flash of memory, not sure if it is from my mind or the dream. Me telling someone, it’s okay, he is safe. Distorted faces, looking fearfully behind.

Was there really someone behind us? I ask Naveen, and she laughs. Oh, you. You thought the walk sign was talking to us.


I am, after all, a librarian. I pull out my university yearbooks. Second year. Third year. There she is. Jane Cassidy. Her hair is shorter, her body rounder. I do not remember her consciously. 

Wandering down memory lane, hon? Willa hands me a beer and starts folding laundry. 

I met a new colleague today, and she kind of looks familiar, I say. Her eyebrows ask a question. 

Yes, dear, she is pretty. Not as hot as my wife, though, especially when she’s folding Underoos. 

She knows me. Laughs. Looks at the picture.

Oh, I know her, she says. When I worked in the counselling office, she came in. Someone put something in her drink. Mushrooms, or acid or something. She was pretty messed up afterward. 

Hm, I think. 


It is 1992. I have been trying to study for an economics final for three hours, but I’ve given up. The frat I live in is abuzz, shrieks and clinks echo up the stairs. I hate frat houses, but this room is cheap.

I wander down, through a room where a group of girls in very short skirts are being dared to do cartwheels. Hey, I hear, it’s Actual Factual, joining us from the penthouse. 


A plastic cup of beer is pressed into my hand. Go on, they say, might as well join us. I toss it down. It tastes funny. They probably pissed in it, or worse. I shudder, gag a little. 

The basement door has a dot matrix-printed sign, “MURDER MYSTERY PARTY”. Oh lord, I think. I head down the stairs.


I whisper to Naveen, the wall is melting. Why aren’t you worried? And Naveen laughs.

People around me keep talking about a murder. I have cards in my hand. Am I playing a game? Or did I dream that?

The edge of the table is dripping like wax. I need to get outside, this place is going down. I abruptly stand up and approach a man by the door. Where is out? I ask. Naveen is calling uh oh behind me. The man’s eyes are huge. That is a hell of a question, he asks. Where IS out? I feel like we are totally on the same page, and this existential conversation has been going on for hours. The ideas of in and out are forming and exploding like a lava lamp in my mind. 

Someone behind me calls out, Hey, Graham, you’re the murderer! And he looks at them, horrified, dazed, frozen, as my friends encircle me and take me outside. He’s not a murderer, I whisper, but we’re running past cars and porches and everyone feels really afraid, I see shadows creeping across all their faces. I see him behind us. I know we are quantumly entangled. I send him all the love in my being so he knows I know he is not a bad person.


In the quad, I see her coming. We are both headed for coffee. Hey, I call out. I think I have the mystery solved.


You were never the murderer, I answer him. I knew that much.

He laughs. Frat houses, right? 

Right, I say. How much do you remember from that night? 

Almost nothing, he says. You, I guess.

Yeah, me either, I reply. But apparently it is still in there, in our subconscious. Maybe it’s time I took a psych course. 

May I suggest Drugs and Behaviour, he laughs. 

Is there a course on dreams, I ponder.

Maybe Parapsychology, he replies sagely.

We head into the cafe, laughing, lifelong friends. 

September 28, 2021 01:48

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Tricia Shulist
01:20 Oct 04, 2021

What a great story! I liked the way the story melded, and the two main characters came together and realized they shared a past. Well written. Thanks for this.


22:49 Oct 06, 2021

Thank you Tricia!


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