The Orchard of Dreams, by Holley Cornetto

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This week’s free flash fiction – July 7th 2023

The Orchard of Dreams

Holley Cornetto

Crystaline spheres glimmer against beams of the late-evening sun. Tree branches bend low beneath the weight of this fruit; the weight of dreams.

This is my third time in the orchard. I walk slowly among the rows, reaching to touch a blossom, or caress a branch. I study the trees, examining the bark and roots for signs of health or decay. Each time I wonder if this will be the tree that bears my dream.

Only after I’ve inspected the rough bark do I dare slide my fingers over the polished-glass surface of the weighty spheres. Each orb holds a dream. Some reveal hospitals and stethoscopes. Some reflect splotches of paint or charcoal smudges. Others, the insides of classrooms or museums. The rows of trees seem endless.

The first time I peered inside an orb, clouds of pink slippers and rose petals parted, and I saw myself pirouette and arabesque with the practiced skill of a professional. The vision of me, weightless and lost in the rhythm of movement, was breathtaking. I was better than good; I’d never seen anyone dance the way I danced inside that dream. My heart was light. Convinced this was my dream, I reached forth my hand, but I caught glimpse of a shadow on the opposite side of the sphere. I ran a finger over the shadowy place, revealing an image of me pushing away a dinner plate, nursing broken toes, and punishing my body until my breakdown was complete.

My hand trembled. Despite the tears slipping down my cheeks, I almost plucked that dream from the branch. We all must sacrifice, and there would be hardships as there always were in life. But something about that broken, haunted girl inside the orb stayed my hand. I hesitated, then left the dream hanging on the tree.

That first time was the hardest. Temptation crept in, and even as I turned my back on it, my heart ached, despairing over what-ifs and could-have-beens.

I mourned that first dream, but, eventually, I was ready to try again.

By my second visit to the orchard, I had settled into an easy life with Nicholas. He was smart, handsome, ambitious, and he adored me. He never forgot to hold open a door, and knew stargazer lilies were my favorite flower. He understood me as completely as another could.

I entered the orchard with renewed hope and optimism. This time, I would find my dream. After all, I had already begun to live it. The afternoon sun shone high overhead, illuminating a dream that sparkled like red glitter and stardust.

Inside the dream I saw myself, married to Nicholas, throwing dinner parties for his clients, being the object of his adoration. I watched longer than I intended, and while watching, red glitter from the corner of the orb blackened and began to spread. Arguments. Resentment. My dream-self lived and walked only in my husband’s shadow.

My heart sank, and I left that dream behind as well.

Older now, and wiser, I know that if I cannot find my dream soon, the orchard will shrivel and fade. The orbs will begin to crack and decay. All will lose its luster.

Patience guides my hand as I walk the rows. Some trees I pass easily – I know enough to recognize the dreams I do not want.  I wonder how long I will walk these rows, searching. The sun is setting, and I’m not sure if I will be able to navigate this place in the darkness of night.

On the very last row, there is a smaller tree. The dreams hanging from it are filled with smoke and fog. I peer inside, waiting for the dream to show itself to me, but the smoke doesn’t fade. I meticulously search each part of its surface, but I can see nothing inside. Tenderly, I pluck this, the dream I cannot yet see, and cradle it against my chest. In time, the fog will clear, and my dream will reveal itself to me.

Until then, I will care for it the best I can.

Holley Cornetto is a writer, librarian, professor, book reviewer, and transplanted southerner who now calls New Jersey home. Her debut novella, We Haunt These Woods, is available from Bleeding Edge Books. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Daily Science Fiction, Flame Tree Press Newsletter, Dark Recesses Press, and several anthologies.In addition to writing The Horror Tree’s weekly newsletter, she regularly reviews for Publisher’s Weekly, Ginger Nuts of Horror, and The Horror Tree. She teaches creative writing in the online MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. Find her on Twitter @HLCornetto.

more stories here

Also look out for:

Kit Campbell’s Coming Home, about the passage of time and the call of the stars
Y.M. Resnik’s Magic is Like a Box of Chocolates, all about how tough life is for trainee magical heroes and the difficult choices they have to make
Robert Bagnall’s I Was Just Doing What You Asked, a salutary tale about being all wiffly waffly when there are robots around.

Or over a hundred other free flash fiction stories.

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