The wispy tendrils of someone else’s thoughts pulled at the edge of Richard’s thoughts. He could feel someone or something there, just beyond, but he couldn’t quite see them. They were hiding in the shadows, yet beckoning his consciousness to venture forth and join them. It was an ominous feeling, to have such a welcoming presence hiding in the shadows, and Richard recoiled from the inner core of his being at the other’s touch. A sinister, foreboding voice in his mind told him to run farther, but it was matched by a tone of curiosity from his inner child.
Richard reached out with a thought and probed the other’s hiding spot. Gently at first, then more aggressively when the other ignored him. Then it was Richard who was the hostile one, cutting through and pushing through the darkness trying to grasp onto the ghostly lines cast out from the other. A jab in one direction yielded nothing, so he turned his mind and thrust out in the other direction, momentarily finding purchase before faltering. He could almost hear the inhuman laughter of the other as it danced out of his reach.
It laughed, and he lunged again. It continued to laugh, and Richard ran hopelessly in circles. Then it was silent and Richard was alone.
Another voice, this time a real voice, summoned his attention. He became acutely aware of just how groggy he was and his mind drifted from the cool clarity of the other’s game to the cruel reality of another early Monday morning.
Richard Drake rolled over and slapped the ‘snooze’ button before burying his head under a pillow. He kept his eyes closed, hoping not to lose the already fading image of the other’s vapor-like trail. It was still there, though not as strong as before. He reached out tentatively, hoping to coax the other back into the game.
It spoke, “I thought you wanted to get an early start today.”
Richard’s inner self looked around in confusion. It hadn’t said anything; there was another voice.
“Rick, it’s time to get up.”
Suddenly Richards comfortable, darkened world was full of light as his wife, Mary, pulled the pillow off his face.
“Seriously, honey. Don’t make me be the bad guy here.”
Richard groaned and rolled begrudgingly out of bed. He turned his head first to the right, then to the left, cracking his neck multiple times in each direction. Then he stood up and shuffled over to the doorway, making sure to turn the light back off as he reached the switch.
“You just want to get rid of me so you can go back to bed,” he said sarcastically over his shoulder to Mary.
“You know me too well,” she said with a smile, then turned and curled up in the center of the bed. Then, muffled by the heavy comforter she added, “and don’t forget that we’re having the new neighbors over for dinner tonight.”
Richard grunted a weak confirmation before closing the door and stumbling into the bathroom. It was the first Monday the new development project at the office. Things had been slower in the down economy; people were more apt to buy existing buildings than hire an architect to design one from scratch. He understood entirely, but understanding and well-wishing didn’t put food on the table.
He flicked the light switch in the shower and cursed as the bulb blew out. Mary had been right; he did want to get an early start this morning. Might as well take a shower in the dark. Richard walked to the vanity and rubbed over his stubble-laden face before turning on the sink. He splashed some water on his face to wash the memory of his encounter with the other from his mind before pulling out his razor and cream.
Lathering up was routine, as was shaving. In a matter of seconds, Richard realized he was already done with his morning ritual, so he put his things away and pulled a dry erase pen out of the drawer under the sink.
“Replace shower light bulb,” he wrote in the corner of the mirror. He started to put the pen away, but thought better of it. He added a quick, “love you!” and put the pen away.
Richard took his time in the shower. He turned the water on hot and bent his head under the flow. The near-scalding water running down his neck and across his back was as refreshing as it was invigorating. No double shot espresso could stand up to a good shower in the morning. He was awake now, but still not quite through being asleep.
He closed his eyes and let his mind wander back to the dream – that was all it could have been – from earlier. What was the other thing in his mind? Was it a long-forgotten memory working its way to the surface? Could it have been another part of his mind playing tricks after long hours in the office? Was he losing his mind and imagining things?
No, there had been something there, Richard was sure of that much. What that something was would be a matter best addressed after the morning prep meeting. No sense spending more time thinking about a dream – you don’t get paid to daydream, after all.
Richard took a few breaths, cracked his neck again, and turned off the shower. He dried himself off and pulled on a pair of blue jeans instead of his usual khakis. This new project was the crowning jewel on an already stellar month – the month of his promotion to full partner in the firm. As a partner, he could dress more on the “casual” side of business casual, something he’d been looking forward to since starting as an intern more than a decade ago.
He still donned a dress shirt, but left it un-tucked as a declaration of his newfound freedom in fashion. Halfway through a Windsor knot he decided against the traditional tie. Richard was a boss now and could impress with his 15-story resume across the street instead of his appearance. True, people would respect the right tie just like they would the right suit, but in this industry they’d also respect the proven skills of one of the leading designers of the most powerful architecture firm in the country.
Richard smugly crumpled his tie and tossed it on a chair. Then he turned on the coffee pot for Mary – she gets to sleep in and still gets fresh coffee? – grabbed his brief case, and made for the door. It was Monday. It was a good Monday. It was the first Monday in the rest of Richard’s budding professional career, and it was going to be the start of a fantastic era in his life.
Richard tripped down the stairs on the way to the front door. The Jacksons were early and dinner wasn’t quite ready yet. He cursed their timing and checked once more over his shoulder to make sure everything was put away. Then he checked the peephole to make sure it really was the Jacksons and not some lost panhandler.
On the other side of the door stood a couple that looked normal enough. They were both wearing business casual attire, and Cari had even brought a fruit basket. John just stared a hole in the door. For a moment, Richard thought John might have actually been staring through the door at him, but that was impossible. Still, his vacant, distant expression was unnerving.
Richard shook off the momentary sense of discomfort and threw the door open with a smile.
“Good evening and welcome! Can I get you anything to drink?”
The next few minutes were filled with typical threshold banter. Can I take your coat? How has your week been going? Oh, yes, we did paint recently, thanks for noticing. Richard envied Mary for her ability to hide in the kitchen and avoid the annoying social ritual. For some strange reason, it took 15 minutes to say hello, hang two coats, and direct his guests upstairs. A 30-second interchange at most, painfully spread over several minutes.
As Cari made it to the top of the stairs, Mary came out from hiding, dutifully dusting her hands on the back of her pants as if she’d been working with flour. Richard new
better; everything had been bought two days before ready-made at the grocery store. All Mary had done was reheat it.
He snickered at the dramatic display and accidentally caught John’s attention.
“Oh, no, nothing. Just … never mind,” Richard responded, shaking his head and smirking even wider.
Gratefully, after seating their guests at the table Richard was able to turn his hostly duties over to his wife. When it came to dining – even though she could cook to save her life – Mary was always in charge. Family gatherings, coffee with friends, dinner with the neighbors, it was always Mary’s universe and she would quickly smite anyone who was so bold as to interfere.
After two courses of the finest Haagen had to offer, everyone at the table seemed to have just about reached their fill. Richard excused himself from the table and went downstairs to the basement, taking the stairs more slowly this time. He had a vase selection of fine wines hidden in a nook behind the laundry room.
Considering how well Mary and Cari had hit it off, he figured this was a growing friendship worth a bottle of ’96 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac. It was one of the more expensive in his collection, but what good is a collection if it only ever gathers dust in a corner? Wine was made to be enjoyed, and Richard always got more enjoyment out of pouring a glass of smooth wine than he did out of staring at a wall of it.
He made his way to the kitchen and uncorked the bottle to let it breathe a little as he took down four stemmed glasses and wiped them out with a towel. The last time he’d served wine was when Mary’s parents were in town almost a year ago. He filled the glassed and brought them into the dining room with a knowing grin more frequently worn by a proud parent than a wine connoisseur.
“Oh, the wine’s ready,” Mary said as she jumped from her chair, almost a little too eagerly.
Richard looked quickly to his guests. John seemed stiff in his table, somewhat on edge. Cari stared nervously down at her plate, fidgeting with her napkin.
“It’s one of my private collection, I hope you like it,” Richard said tentatively as he passed a glass to each of his guests.
John swirled the liquid once and lifted the glass to his nose. Then, much to Richard’s horror, downed the entire glass in one swallow.
“I can always appreciate a nice glass of alcohol,” he said, setting the glass back down.
Richard stared in bewildered terror at the glass that, until a moment ago, had held $70 of his best wine.
John pushed his chair from the table and stood up. “Well it’s been great getting to know the two of you, but we should probably be heading out.” It was the first full sentence Richard had heard him say all night. “Thank you very much for dinner. We’ll have to treat you sometime soon.”
Richard wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Cari flinch as her husband said “treat.”
Cari reluctantly stood up and mumbled a thank you to Mary. She hadn’t even touched her wine.
Richard walked the both of them to the door and helped Cari with her coat. He shook John’s hand and wished them a good night before closing the door. He silently counted to twenty, giving them plenty of time to clear the driveway before turning off the light over the front porch. Then he made his way back upstairs.
“OK, tell me I’m crazy, but that was just weird. And rude! Did you see him inhale that Pauillac? And what happened while I was in the basement, you all seemed a bit rattled.”
“Don’t get me started,” said Mary over a stack of dirty dishes. “He seemed off the whole night, just uncomfortable being here, so I started asking him questions.”
Richard collected the wine glasses, finishing off Cari’s untouched class of liquid gold.
“What did you ask him? You didn’t get into politics again, did you?”
“No, nothing like that. I asked about his work … once he started talking about it, Cari shut down.”
“I thought he was a doctor. Why would she shut down like that?”
“I don’t know, something about why they moved. I mean, he’s a doctor, so they must be loaded. But they don’t act it, and she seemed really uncomfortable with him talking about it. Maybe there was a malpractice suit involved.”
Richard thought about that for a minute. It did seem a bit odd. A new couple move into town, he’s a doctor she’s … Richard didn’t actually know what she did.
“What does Cari do for a living?”
“No idea. She didn’t even answer when I asked her that. That’s about the time you came in,” she gestured to the empty wine bottle on the table.
Richard helped Mary finish loading the dishwasher and then wiped the table down for her. Their new neighbors’ strange behavior still weighed on his mind, but it was only a passing curiosity. Other peoples’ business was their business. That was that.
Unfortunately, their strangeness seemed to be Mary’s business after all. He tried to coax her into bed early with a backrub, but she didn’t seem interested. When she pushed him away for the third time he finally broke.
“OK, what’s wrong?”
“I’m just concerned. I’ve never seen a woman shut down like that when her husband’s talking. Not when things are going well, anyway.”
“So what do we do about it?” Richard was always the pragmatist. It wasn’t their problem, and he held to a belief in not interfering in another couple’s life.
“I don’t know. I just …” Mary looked at Richard with defeat in her eyes. Deep down she knew he was right. A weird feeling wasn’t anything special, and she had no reason to suspect either Cari or John of anything. Still, the weird feeling wouldn’t go away.
She curled closer to Richard on the couch and snuck the remote out from under his thigh. He fought a little, but gave in when Mary began to put. Now that she was the one in control a whole different set of thoughts came to the front of her mind. She grinned knowingly and turned the volume up on the TV so their “weird” new neighbors wouldn’t hear what was going on.
A few minutes later – several, if anyone were to ask Richard’s opinion – they were both very comfortably intertwined under the covers of their bed. Mary pleased because she could manipulate her husband so easily away from a football game. Richard for more physical reasons. After a long day with its confusing rollercoaster ending, the two drifted blissfully off to sleep.
Richard was flying. No, more like floating. No, that’s still not the right description. He thought about turning his head to the left and was already looking in that direction. He glanced downwards and saw nothing. Not his body, not the floor, not the ground, nothing.
His mind screamed in panic but was silenced by a tiny voice, it’s OK, you’re dreaming.
Suddenly everything made sense. With a thought, Richard brought his dream world into being. He was in the office earlier that day, just before the meeting with the new interns. But rather than reliving the meeting, he was watching himself speak.
Wow, this is a new perspective, he thought to himself. I do say “um” a lot, don’t I?
Another thought brought him home to watch as Mary finished micro-baking the lasagna for dinner. He watched himself come in the door, sweep her away with a hug, and deposit his briefcase in its home in the closet. Then the doorbell rang, midway through his and Mary’s second “honey, I’m home” moment.
Richard surveyed the rerun of the day’s events, commenting, I didn’t like this part the first time.
Suddenly he was in the living room. The football game was blaring, but he didn’t see anyone on the couch.
Oh, right. If
Richard could have smiled in his dream, he would have. With a thought he slowed things down so he could enjoy his favorite part of the day again. And again.
Richard stopped and turned away. Who’s there, he demanded. It felt as if someone, other than him of course, were watching. Wait, this is a dream, no one’s here.
Then it came again; vapor-like probes reaching into his dream world, beckoning him to come away somewhere. This time, he latched on to the pieces of thought he could feel and followed them. The drifted through the walls of his dream-house and over the yard. Then they went down, through the essence of his slumber-reality and drifted beyond the darkness to which he had awoken.
The trail was stronger here, less vapor-like and more like a ray of light, cutting through the darkness from somewhere beyond. Richard picked up speed – if there was such a thing in this place – and broke through the thin veil of darkness into what can only be described as a lighter darkness.
It was still dark, but the dark had depth. Not the infinite dark of a deep cave, or the too-close dark of closed eyes at night. This darkness had a weight to it, a sense of direction. Richard took a moment to acclimate to the strange dark-that-wasn’t-dark. There was a sense of down here, and he followed it until he could follow no more.
In the infinite nothingness that is a dream, Richard found the floor.
He turned to the right. Yes, turned, as he now had a sense of dimension in the dark. There was a faint beam leading forward from where he was standing. He looked in that direction, but for all his effort, he couldn’t see any farther than a few feet ahead.
Richard started walking forward, then laughed out loud, “why am I walking? I was flying just a second ago.” He shook the idea of having a corporeal body from his mind and rocketed forward as he had before, covering what could be several miles in the breadth of a thought.
The darkness was lighter here, illuminated from seemingly every direction. Richard paused and took a moment to look around himself. The beam he’d been following was still here, but it had been joined by ten, no, fifteen, no, twenty-two, no, several hundred others. They were shooting in every direction, but had a feeling of one-ness to them. Like the rays of light dancing off a light post in the mist.
Richard closed his eyes.
Wait, my eyes? I didn’t have eyes a second ago. Richard looked down at his hands – he had hands. Then he didn’t. With a thought, Richard conjured a body for himself. With another thought he dismissed it.
I wonder …
Suddenly Richard was standing in a field. It ran off in every direction, covering millions of acres. The beam he had been following was a ray of light shooting between him and building in the middle of the field. The building, standing alone in the field, was illuminated not by the sun (this place had no such thing) but by the million other rays of light pouring in from the corners of the infinite field.
Richard started walking towards the building, wondering why his mind had chosen such grandiose Roman architecture for the structure. Clearly it did not need marble pillars or a grand staircase, such frivolous design aspects were used to impress the masses, he was the only one here.
The voice of a young boy came from somewhere behind him. Richard turned to see who else was here, while still not understanding how someone else could be here.
“Hey mister! Where are we? Who are you? What’s that,” the boy asked, pointing at the building beyond. He looked to be about eight years old, and despite his frazzled demeanor, seemed relatively well kept.
“I don’t … I have no idea,” Richard responded.
“Well it’s the only thing here, maybe they have pizza!”
The boy grabbed Richard’s hand and started pulling him towards the building, but Richard didn’t move. He was staring at the beam of light shooting from the boy to the building – or was it shooting from the building to the boy? It looked stronger than the beam he had followed, almost rope-like in its strength.
“Come on, I always think better when I have pizza! You can help me come up with a name for my new puppy. I get him tomorrow, and I’m really excited. But Mom says I have to be responsible and give him a name before she’ll let me keep him.”
There was a sudden burst of light from the building in the middle of the field. The boy’s rope-like beam intensified and the boy lit up like a flashlight himself.
“That’s it! I’ll call him Trapper! Wow, I would have never thought of…”
Before the boy could finish his sentence, he was gone. Not really in a poof, he was just there one second and gone the next. His rope-like beam of light was still there, but it now stretched on to infinity.
Richard couldn’t be sure, but it looked a little dimmer than it had before.
“What the …”
There was another burst of light from the building and Richard’s own beam burst alive. His mind was on fire! In a split second, he knew everything there was to know about Peter and his dog, Trapper. He knew where Peter was born, where he went to school, where he met his wife, Jill, when his daughter was born, and how he died in a fire after 30 years of saving lives with the FDNY.
Then it was gone.
Richard fell to his knees in the field. He could remember Peter’s name and few details, but mostly he could remember how much he had suddenly just forgotten. A lifetime of knowledge and experience had coursed through his mind in not even a moment.
He looked up accusingly at the strange building in the middle of the field. He also noticed his beam, still shining brightly towards the building, albeit slightly less brilliantly than before.
Richard looked with wonder at the million other rays and suddenly knew not just where he was, but what he was looking at. More than that, he remembered being here before.
“Well I’ll be …” he said as he, too, disappeared inexplicably from the middle of the field in mid-sentence.
Richard stared at the ceiling in his house. He grinned as he turned and kissed Mary on the forehead. She wriggled a bit and snuggled closer. He let out a low sigh and closed his eyes, hoping again for a waking dream.
Ricky had the flu. He’d have to stay home from school, not because he wanted to, but because his mom said so. He’d dreamt of the day he could stay home. All the playing, the unguarded TV remote, the legos to play with. But today, the first day he got to stay home, and he was too sick to get out of bed.
He’d tried once. When his Garfield clock went off, he tried to jump out of bed. Not from excitement for the new day, but because he had to get to the bathroom. Unfortunately for his carpet, his legs buckled underneath him and then his stomach buckled on top. He spewed everywhere. That was that, no school.
That, and a fever of 102 degrees.
His mom called in to the school and got him excused for the day. Then she called in to work to take the day off. Had Ricky been feeling good, the emergency meetings his mom had to attend would have been a Godsend. He’d have had the house to himself. Considering he couldn’t physically move from his bed, though, having his mom home or at work made no difference.
She scribbled her pager number on a sheet of paper and stretched the phone cord into his room.
“Call me if you need anything, honey. Your dad will be home from the office in an hour or so, and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
She refilled the tall glass of water by his bed and rinsed out his vomit pail. He hadn’t been able to eat anything all day, so this was a relatively simple task. Ricky didn’t even hear when his mom left, he had already slipped back into a very uncomfortable, sticky sleep.
ms are some of the most lucid, colorful, and confusing dreams of all. Particularly for a 12-year old. Ricky was transported by his mind from his weak body to a world of color, motion, and imagination. He felt on top of the world, even though he was dreaming yet again about school.
He was on the playground during recess. They were throwing a football over the swing set where the girls were playing. A few of them whined that they should go somewhere else, but Ricky didn’t care. He caught the ball, reset his grip, then lobbed it once again to his friend.
Who caught the ball, he wondered. He looked across the playground, but didn’t recognize anyone. He looked at the girls on the swings, but their faces were completely blank. They were anyone and no one at the same time.
The football came sailing across the playground and caught an unaware Ricky square in the face.
“Ow, that hurt,” he shouted, pulling himself up off the bark dust. “Stupid football, I wanna play soccer.”
As if the ball heard his thoughts, it twisted into a soccer ball before his eyes. He wasn’t standing on the playground any more, he was in the middle of a soccer stadium, lined up for a free kick towards the goal. Without realizing it, Ricky started to run at the ball and prepared to kick past the goalie.
The goalie who had no face. Just like his football partner had no face. Just like the girls had no faces.
Ricky stopped in the middle of the field and the ball kicked itself into the goal. Suddenly, Ricky’s faceless team surrounded him with cheers and lifted him to their shoulders.
He looked around, wondering at the commotion. Apparently, his non-kick had just scored the winning goal. In the playoff game he had lost last summer.
But I sprained my ankle and missed the shot. Ricky was confused. He remembered being sick and didn’t want to be on the soccer field any more.
As if all reality had heard his wish, Ricky was alone. No soccer field, no soccer ball, no faceless soccer team. He was alone on the beach, comforted only by the seemingly infinite ocean. He paused for a second, staring into the waves.
“I’m dreaming. I must be.”
“Yes, you are,” said a faint voice from across the surf.
“Who said that,” Ricky asked, looking around at the empty beach. “Where are you?”
“In the lighthouse.”
A few hundred feet in front of Ricky was a lighthouse so large its shadow blocked the light of the sun.
That wasn’t there a second ago, he thought to himself.
Yes it was, you just didn’t know to see it, the voice responded … inside his head.
“Don’t be afraid, Ricky, now come out of the storm.”
Just as with the lighthouse, Ricky was suddenly aware that it was raining. Not raining, pouring! He ran for the open door of the lighthouse and ducked inside, slipping a little as his wet sneakers hit the dry concrete.
“Where are you,” he asked, after brushing water out of his hair.
Ricky began climbing the stairs. They seemed to go on forever. One hundred three. One hundred four. One hundred five. He stopped counting after the first three hundred stairs.
“How tall is this thing?”
“So long as you’re trying to reach the top, you’ll never get there. You’ll always have one more step to go. Why not just open the door at the top?”
“I don’t …” began Ricky as he paused on a stair.
Then he there were no more stairs, he had reached the door at the top.
“Don’t ask questions to which the answers make no sense. There’s no sense asking about what cannot be known. Come in.”
Ricky opened the door and stepped into a meadow. There was a building at its center, built like an old fashioned bank, or the courthouse where his dad worked. Radiating from the building were beams of light, continuing forever in every direction. There was even a beam shooting directly at him, like a spotlight.
He stepped to the right, and the light followed. Left, and the light followed again. He jumped up, ducked, and rolled quickly to the right. Again, the light followed. It was a thick light, almost threadlike in its density. Ricky reached out to touch it.
“Welcome, Ricky,” he heard from behind him.
Ricky turned to look at the woman who’d been guiding him.
“Who are you,” he asked with boyish curiosity in his eyes.
“What did I tell you about asking questions?”
Then she was gone and Ricky was alone in his bedroom. His fever had broken and he felt like he was on top of the world.
He shut his eyes hard and tried to recall the field and the mysterious woman. It was a woman, right? Could it have been a man? Who was it?
“Ricky?” his dad shouted from the open door. “Hey, I’m back from work. Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah, Dad. I guess I wasn’t as sick as Mom thought.”
Dad dropped his briefcase by the door and walked into the room.
“Your mom said you had a fever,” he said, placing the back of his hand to Ricky’s forehead. “Don’t tell me you faked it just to skip school.”