The Crack of Dawn, short story by Sheila Henry at

The Crack of Dawn

The Crack of Dawn

written by: Sheila Henry


April Sandiford had been having frequent scary dreams lately. But who hasn’t! It seems having bad dreams has been the case for many since the calendar year turned 2020. It’s been mostly bad news rotating on a 24-hour news spin on television. People are concerned—they are living in fear of losing their jobs, fear of getting a virus surrounded by conspiracies, fear of people dying, fear of the future and so forth—enveloped in these fears as they continue to absorb the negative information. It’s no wonder the stress of it all is believed to be the cause of an increase in bad dreams.

April’s scariest dream was when she dreamt the grim reaper. The vision of the legion was vivid and the scariest—an ominous hooded form without face. Its appearance in the dream seemed real to her. The figure got up close to her face and quickly vanished. She observed that under the hood, was a skeletal skull. It was just a hooded form. She knew too that seeing it was not a good sign. It was known to be an omen of death. April was never as fearful in her life—awake or asleep—as she had been in this terrifying dream. She saw herself open mouthed making a blood curdling scream which woke her out of the nightmare terrified.   

Waking up out of the dream, April was a relieved. Dripping in sweat, she took several deep breaths. She looked around her bedroom to make sure what she had just witnessed was not real. She was happy to be out of the grips of the worst dream she ever had. She wondered, though, did her screams bleed into her reality and could her neighbors have heard.

Later that day, April shared details of her dream on the family’s text thread. Her children are all adults now with their own families. She loves this means of communication. It gives her a chance to be in touch with them more often. She likes that she could send them well wishes everyday. Prior to creating the thread, they made excuses of being too busy to call. They also seem to like this mode of sharing via the text thread. The family chat mostly about politics, local news from their communities and what’s going on in their lives. This family has a way of making light of every subject. So there are lots of LOL’s and smiley faces included on their chats. Sharing political stories was more a political satire. April decided to share her dream about the grim reaper not realizing it would exhume some old, painful memories which had been buried and forgotten long ago.

“Oh yeah, that’s the same dream I had back in the day.” Her middle son, Rainer, chimed in. April knew exactly what he was talking about, how could she forget that time of her life. It was the Summer of 1989 when everything around her was in a topsy turvy mode, nothing positive was coming her way, and she could see no relief as one challenging situation piled unto the other. She was exhausted from it all. She had a heavy workload at her job. Since the last staff reduction, she acquired more responsibilities. She had been under tremendous pressure as a result. In between everything else going on, her mother passed away. She was hanging on to a failing marriage, so there was no support from her spouse. She was really experiencing the worst time of her life. Sometimes she felt like she was close to the bottom of an abyss.

It was two in the morning. April was awakened by a crashing sound coming from Rainer’s bedroom startling her awake. It took a few seconds to remove the cobweb from her eyes, but she did not stop to get the sleep completely out of her head. She quickly got out of bed, donned her robe and walked briskly towards her son’s room concerned for what she might see when she got there. His room was the last room on the right located on the second floor of their home. She met Rainer as he was stepping out of the room. The sight that greeted her in the hallway will forever be imprinted in her mind. She gasped out loud “Oh my God, what happened to you?” Rainer was wearing white shorts, and was shirtless. There was blood dripping off the four knuckles of his right hand, dripping unto his abdomen, as the ruby red fluid dripped further down unto his shorts. Not a pretty picture as little red and white patterns appeared wherever the blood landed. A few drops also made it onto the carpet.

 “What happened, are you okay?” April asked alarmed at the sight. “A demon was struggling with me and it tried to pin me down. I had to fight it off.” He offered. She walked past him and entered his room.

Based on the raucous she heard, she wanted to see what damage resulted if any. There was a large indentation about five inches in diameter in the wall where he had punched. Taking in this surreal scene, April’s head was spinning. She stood unmoving for a minute not knowing what to say or do. She gave Rainer a hug. “Try to get some sleep.” She said. “You’ve had a horrible nightmare.” She went back to bed, but that was the end of any sleep for her the remainder of the night. She wrestled under the covers until it was time to get up. It was a work day. She got out of bed around 6:00 a.m. to ready for work. She had no idea what was in store for her that would add to her already stressed out life. No idea at all!

Rainer must have sensed that April was up. He approached her room saying “I am going to fight Mike Tyson.” Repeating this comment a few times. It quickly dawned on April that something was terribly wrong here. It was not a joke. But having this realization made her feel helpless. This was not her son talking. He was 21 years old. He was not a boxer. He had never sparred in a gym. But here he was, in all seriousness, professing to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. Nothing in her experience prepared her to handle this situation. It was shocking. And it was way above her head. She felt like she was sinking under water and did not know how to swim. Instinctively, she thought it a good idea to draw on her inner sensibility for guidance. She remained silent.

Rainer walked away, but returned to April’s room about 30 minutes later. “Ma, call the Whitehouse, I just found out I am the President.” He said. “Oh boy” April had to think fast, she knew she had to pretend this was normal. “Just play along. Be careful what you say.” She told herself. She turned to Rainer and said “Don’t you think it’s too early to call the Whitehouse?” “It’s only 7:00 a.m.” Not pleased with her answer, Rainer stormed away mumbling “I’ll do it my damn self.” He left her room, went downstairs and picked up the house phone. April had no idea who Rainer called, but she could hear him mumbling. She stood transfixed where he had left her trembling in her shoes.

At this point, April had no idea what to do. She continued readying herself for work. She would deal with this unusual situation later, she rationalized. But it didn’t take long for her to figure that this was the beginning of a real life nightmare. She could sense it.

In the days that followed, April watched on helplessly as her son’s behavior deteriorated. He was acting totally out of character. He was belligerent shouting at his brothers and even at April. He was unrecognizable—not at all the child she raised from birth, her quiet son, the thinker, as she thought of him. He was a very respectful young man and always very thoughtful. Standing six foot three inches tall, he was the tallest of the five boys. You could say he was tall, dark and handsome, that description fitted him. He liked being on his own. It was normal that he did not interact much with the rest of the family and spent a lot of time in his room. But he got a pass, because the family accepted his behavior as being a trait of the Scorpion which was his birth sign. All Scorpios they knew kept to themselves.

Things began to turn up rather quickly as Rainer shared that he was being followed by the FBI and other agents. It was then April piled all the facts together, and figured her son might be a crack cocaine user. She had heard on the news of this behavior in users. But this was never confirmed. She never addressed these concerns with Rainer.

Despite his behavior, Rainer did not miss a day’s work. He got out of bed every day, got dressed and went to work. April was concerned for him. She didn’t know how he would show up at work, and if he would take actions that would cause his coworkers to hurt him or vice versa. But there were no incidents she was aware of.

April had already been going through a difficult time before this situation with Rainer surfaced. A lot was going on at work. She was working with a reduced staff and had a heavier than usual workload. Her marriage was falling apart. Her mother had recently passed away. She was also learning there was a possibility they might lose their beautiful home. The home they built from the foundation up and had only lived in for ten years. She was under tremendous stress and suffering alone. She did not share her challenges with her friends or family. She was too embarrassed, but she also did not want to burden anyone with her problems.

April knew she had to do something about Rainer, though what, she did not know. She needed help. She decided to make a few calls. Perhaps to get some advice on how others would handle this type of situation. She called the hospital, the local parish priest, as well as the police department looking for answers. The only advice she got was “He is an adult. He would have to either hurt himself or someone else before anything can be done.” It was disappointing to not receive the help she so desperately needed, but she refused to see this as a roadblock. It did not deter her. She was determined to find help. She could not leave her son in this state.

Still in search of finding answers, April made an appointment to have a session with a psychologist. She was hoping to discuss any options available that would help Rainer. She found Dr. Malcolm Jones in the “Yellow Pages” a paper telephone directory prior to online searches. It was the 1980’s. She scheduled a 30 minute session with Dr. Jones. When she arrived at his office, she sat in the chair he pointed out directly across from him. It was a small, cozy office tastily decorated. The brown leather chair for her use was quite comfortable. “So tell me Mrs. Sandiford, why are you here, how can I help you?” He asked in the kindest voice. But before April could utter one word, the unexpected tears came pouring out of her non stop flowing uncontrollably. She may have used the entire box of tissues Dr. Jones passed to her.

April spent the entire 30 minute session crying. So when Dr. Jones announced that the session was over, she could not believe it. She had not discussed the situation that warranted the visit. She could tell that Dr. Jones felt compassion for her. But he wished her well and suggested that she seek help for herself. She would have loved to have other sessions with Dr. Jones. She liked his kind, fatherly demeanor. But unfortunately this session would be the only one with him. As she learned, this was Dr. Jones last professional session. He was retiring and moving away. April left his office feeling somewhat confused. Not sure if she felt worse off than when she arrived, but she didn’t feel hopeless anymore. She realized that though this visit was to secure answers to aid her son, that she too needed some serious help because she was sinking.

The following week, April made another appointment this time with a psychiatrist, Dr. Larry Levin. After listening to the teary account of her plight, Dr. Levin suggested that she was headed to a breakdown in health if she did not get away from her situation. He said anyone of the circumstances she related could cause a tremendous amount of stress. And she was dealing with several. He concluded there were too many negative things happening at once, and she needed to take action by removing herself from that environment. Before she left his office, Dr. Levin suggested she take a mild sedative that he was about to prescribe for her, but she declined. She did not want to use prescription drugs as a crutch in handling her problems. She did not have a plan, and felt like she had reached rock bottom. She knew she had to do something to save herself. But leave her environment? That was a monumental thought.

That evening when April was driving home in a heavy downpour, her heart felt overburdened. Despair engulfing her. She was not far away from home, when the emotions came rushing through her. She felt an ache in her heart. She felt as if she had lost total control of herself. With tears streaming down her cheeks impairing her vision as she drove, she cried out “Lord please take this problem away from me, I can’t handle it any more.” “Please help me.” She cried out! When she arrived home, she sat in her car in the driveway for a long while just sobbing and thinking.

It was immediate. Her help came immediately. April saw a difference in Rainer’s behavior when she saw him the next day. And day by day after that, he grew less intense. The hallucinations were no longer mentioned. He grew calmer and was having normal conversations with the family. Ultimately, Rainer corrected himself and turned his life around. It was a joy to get him back.
April also noticed a change in herself. Thinking of the powerful resolve she had with her situation with Rainer after voicing that simple prayer strengthened her faith and gave her renewed courage. She was ready to face the other challenges in her life going forward. Prior to this, April believed in faith as a theory. It hadn’t played such an important and obvious role in her life until that Summer. She got to witness the power of prayer in action. She had decisions to make and she now had the confidence to make them. She felt hopeful about her future. Most importantly, she had gotten her son back.

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