It started when I was five years old. I came home from school and she handed me a tape. “I bought this for you,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said and took the tape in my tiny half decade hands and looked at the cover. I could read and I knew Dolly Parton because my cousin was constantly playing her goddamn music whenever I went over there. My mother had mistakenly assumed that just because my cousin was into Dolly Parton, I was as well. He also liked wearing my grandmother’s dresses, so I wanted to end any suspicions she had that we were the same. “I don’t like Dolly,” I said.
“Just give it a listen,” she said.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
“DON’T MAKE DOLLY CRY SHE LOVES YOU!” she said and put the tape in the player and walked away. I was alone with the chipmunk squeals of a young Dolly Parton. At five years old I was much more interested in kicking a ball and swinging on a clothesline while trying not to break an arm. The tape played through and I didn’t move once. It eventually clicked and stopped and I got up and went to my room.
Three years later I was in a dream. A regular school day. There was a knock on the door and the teacher said, “Come in,” and standing there was Dolly Parton. She walked over to my desk and put her hand on my shoulder. Her nails were long like claws and in the back of my mind I was expecting this dream to become a nightmare. She got down low and blew winter into my ear with her breath. “I’ll be back when you’re older,” she said and she was gone. Everyone in the dream froze and I poked the kid next to me but he just stared at me like he was dead. It was becoming a nightmare. The colour drained from the scene and I was in a black and white horror show of student corpses. Damn you, Dolly Parton.
Another three years passed and I was asleep again. I was walking through a forest and needed to take a shit. This was one of those dreams where things just appeared as you needed them. All indications suggested that this was not a nightmare. Before I could even wrestle with the concept of having to take a shit in a dream, there was a knock on the toilet door. I had just put my arse on the seat and the knock knock sound had really put me off my turtle game. “Who is it?” I said.
“It’s me, darlin’,” said the voice.
“WHO THE HELL IS ME?!” I said and I had reached the point where I knew this shit was not happening. This scene I was in would end with me not taking the dump and leaving with the paranoia that I would get a few minutes down the road and the urge would return. There would be no toilets anywhere near where I would be and I would be forced to return.
“It’s Dolly,” she said and I put my pants on and opened the door. She stood there with a wax statue smile and that fucking bleached hair that sat high on her head like a goddamn motorcycle helmet. I wanted to wake up.
“What do you want?’ I said.
“I want you. I’ll be back when you’re older,” she said and vanished again. A pack of wild dogs appeared and chased me down the road. Damn you, Dolly Parton.
She left me alone for a few more years. I was eighteen the next time she appeared. I sometimes wondered whether she was dead, but every now and then she’d release a new album or show up on the television. I had heard of astral travel. No one took me seriously. There were no known documented cases in the world of Dolly Parton having stalked anyone else in their dreams. So, when I was eighteen years old, I decided I was going to end it once and for all. I decided to turn the tables on the bitch and enter her dreams. She was performing at some dive that she’d stored in her memory bank for dreams like this. I was in the crowd and in between songs I jumped on stage and punched her guitarist into the drummer and then grabbed her by the collar of her white and diamond encrusted blouse. “GET OUT OF MY DREAMS!” I said into her face. Not at her. I said it into her. She did nothing. For a moment I thought I had entered one of my own dreams, but she snapped out of it and said, “That’s a Billy Ocean song. Let me go,” and I released her.
“You have been plaguing my dreams since I was eight years old and it stops tonight,” I said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” she said.
“Don’t play games! Country music devil!”
“You’re talking astral travel?”
“I can’t do that. You’ve got me mixed up with someone else,” she said and started a new song. I was left standing on the stage in the middle of a song and no one could see me anymore. I could have stripped down to nothing and nobody would have even looked my way. I walked up to Dolly who was singing and strumming at her guitar and I punched her in the side of the head with everything I had. If it had been real I would have broken my hand. She simply absorbed it like a champ. Didn’t even flinch. I woke up with a bad taste in my mouth wondering who the fuck had been visiting my dreams all those years.
I found the tape my mother had given to me when I was five and looked at it. Dolly Parton. I’d never checked the other side. I flipped it over. It said Lynn Anderson. Chills ran up my spine like spiders and the room got cold. “I’m coming for you,” said a voice that whispered through the walls. I decided to never go to sleep again.