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By Mila Strictzer
Tom Kelly’s job was to track the suspense’s of his boss, who was a tall, blonde woman with long legs, that happened not to be married, run errands for her, prepare her presentations, and even write her speeches from time to time. He had an assistant as well who did all the monotonous secretarial work. His assistant was also a woman, more attractive than his boss, but a few years older. Tom Kelly was as red-blooded as the next man, but he also knew a good thing when he saw it. So Tom spent most of his day making sure his boss was fully prepared. But since he was an excellent organizer and his boss trusted him implicitly, he having never let her down, most of his day was spent talking with his assistant, Sarah.
“I have had nothing but strange dreams all week, Sarah.”
“Really? I have had strange dreams before too.”
“No, I don’t, but now I really want to know.”
“Well, not all the time, but you know…sexual dreams,” she said at a whisper, even though their office door was closed and, as their boss was one of the company’s vice-presidents, it was far away in the corner. She sounded out the key word slowly.
“Now you really have my interest. Go ahead,” Tom said, without thinking twice that she would not recite everything.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going to tell you.”
“Why not? We’re friends.”
“It’s just not the kind of thing you talk about, friends or not.”
“Damn,” Tom said, slightly wounded.
“But tell me about your dreams.”
“It’s different for men. And you said your dreams were only strange.”
“I don’t know which are harder to express, so to speak.”
“The sexual ones.”
“All right, fine. Last night I was dreaming about…well see, my dreams are usually like this kind of steam-flow fantasy that is a story too. They’re kind of cool, really. I mean, I feel like I am reading a story when I go to sleep. I don’t know, I guess everyone’s dreams are like that.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So last night, I was some kind of prisoner and we were constantly being moved around from prison to prison on airplanes. And whenever we arrived at a new location, they tortured us somehow. And I felt the pain in my body from their torturing.”
“I told you.”
“That’s a nightmare.”
“I have gotten so used to nightmares, they are now my dreams. As they get scarier, I only find them more interesting. You know, my uncle is a psychologist. He tells me what different dreams mean. Like when you dream about teeth, that means lost love, according to Freud,” Tom said, matter-of-factly.
“That doesn’t sound right.”
“I don’t think so, either. How can one person explain everyone’s dreams?”
“I don’t think they can, really.”
“Do you ever really know, about dreams, I mean?”
“I think they go a lot deeper than Freud.”
They heard the outside office door open and stopped talking. Their boss, Jamie, walked in after a moment. She looked a little flustered, Tom noticed.
“Good morning,” Jamie said.
They returned the greeting.
“Tom, have you completed my Friday briefing?”
“Yes. It’s ready on the file. You can flip through it, if you like.”
“What were you guys talking about today?”
“Dreams,” Tom answered.
“Why don’t I ever have time to be a part of your interesting conversations?” She asked.
“Because you always have interesting meetings to go to,” Tom answered and saw his boss smile a little. Now her presentation will go well, he thought.
“Would someone mind horribly getting me a muffin?”
“I will, Sarah,” Tom said, as he turned to her, getting up. He walked over to the coat rack and grabbed his blue raincoat. There was a slight chill outside. Jamie walked into her office and the door shut behind her.
Tom walked out of the building to the street. All the people going about their ways. Their heads with hats on or hatless and coats with the collar up. Women. Men. Young and old. Everyone everywhere. Where am I going? Oh yeah, a muffin. What kind does she like? Never have bought her a muffin before. Blueberry should be safe enough. Make the way to the coffee shop two long blocks down and get some coffee too. That’s it.
All everyone does is dream, every night. It is like we are all cocoons of God and He takes us back to his flagship every night, one third of every day, to get some more understanding. Return to the collective cocoon.
There is the coffee shop, thank God. He pushed open the glass door by the metal handle that went from side to side, curving away from the door. It was crowded inside and a line of about five people waited to order coffee and a bagel. He got in line and continued the conversation with his mind.
What if everyone was from another planet? That wasn’t anything but lame science fiction. No, reality was far more terrifying. What did the person in front of do at night, what secrets did he keep kept hidden in his closet, hm? I would like to know. He is middle-aged, short, and losing his hair.
“May I help you?”
“Coffee and a bagel, no sugar…and a blueberry muffin…and you know what? Make that two coffees, the second with extra milk.”
The waitress moved to get his order. The man Tom had been studying suddenly turned around to stare at him for a second. Tom stared back but tried to not seem agitated in the slightest. The man turned back around. Tom grabbed his brown paper bag from the waitress. He walked out into the street.
What was his dream last night and why was this week, in particular, so full of strange dreams? At one point he had heard something breathing by his side. It had scared him and he woke forcefully and shook slightly as if in a shiver for several minutes. And it had not been breathing from a human being that he had heard. It was the raspy-throated breathing of a monster. But there was no one there. Only darkness. Sometimes, his dreams were so frightening; he would wake and be grateful when he realized the reality was he was just a man with a job he had to get to who held a brown paper bag in his right hand, consisting of two coffees and a blueberry muffin.
He made his way back to the office. Sarah was still on her computer, shopping on ebay, he guessed. He looked at her as he hung up his coat as said, “I got you some coffee too.”
He set the paper bag down in front of her on her desk, took out her coffee cup from the bag, and set it down in front of her. He took his own out too, and walked over to set it on his desk. Then he walked into Jamie’s office. She was staring at her computer screen intently. Women are so predictable if you simply make the most basic of efforts, he thought.
“How’s it look?” He asked her about the slide show.
“Very nice. Thank you, Tom.”
“I got you a blueberry muffin; I wasn’t sure what kind you liked.”
“Blueberry’s my favorite.”
He set it down and walked back out of her office to his desk and chair. He picked up his coffee and took to sipping it, lost in meditation. Then he looked up and saw Sarah was studying him.
“What are you doing tonight?” He asked.
“Would you like to go to dinner?”
“I think so, sure, but can we go a little later?” Sarah said. She had been divorced a year now but she was still not dealing with it all that well and Tom had taken her out a few times. She was a very attractive woman. In a tight dress, her long, red hair reached to the curve in her lower back. They were friends.
“How about I call you around nine?”
“That would be fine.”
They both went back to work, or at least their computers. For lunch, Sarah ordered sandwiches for all three of them, after Jamie had returned from her meeting.
“That went well,” Jamie said as they sat, eating in the office. Jamie was sitting on the tan, leather sofa, with her food on the coffee table in front of her. No one came in the office without first making an appointment with Sarah.
“We’re you able to stay awake?” Tom asked, about her meeting.
Jamie snickered a polite laugh with food still in her mouth and then raised her index finger to speak, still chewing.
“Oh look, she has something to say! Everyone brace yourselves!” Tom joked, and it worked because Jamie nearly choked on her food. They all laughed so hard their sides hurt because she had to spit her bite of food out to the palm of her hand and then carefully ball it up in a napkin.
They all finished their lunch and since it was Friday, Jamie told them to leave an hour early.
Tom stared at his reflection in the mirror for a minute. He reached down, picked up his brush, and combed his wet, black hair. Then he threw his wet towel on the bed and started to put on his clothes that he had laid out on the dresser. He threw on some cologne, looked in the dresser mirror one more time, and walked out of his apartment, locking it behind him.
Tom hailed a cab and crawled in the back seat and took a side-glance at the cabbie. He told him his destination. The ride took about twenty minutes and Tom looked out the window at the New York City lights. Riding a cab around town was always so relaxing. The cab driver stopped in front of the Italian restaurant and Tom got out, paid the driver through the window, and went in the front door. Inside, the atmosphere was warm and pleasant. He and Sarah usually went to Italian restaurants. Since Sarah’s mother was Italian, she enjoyed criticizing the quality of food from different places. The seats in the restaurant were red leather and there was a long bar at one end.
He saw Sarah sitting at a table in the back and checked his watch. It was 9:15. He had kept her waiting fifteen minutes and felt bad already. He walked across the room to the table and pulled his chair out.
“Hello, Tom,” Sarah said in a nice voice. She was wearing a red dress and had on gold earrings that shimmered in the light and she looked very beautiful. Her long, red hair glowed with a soft, silky sheen. It was dark red, almost auburn, but not quite.
“How are you tonight? You look very beautiful,” Tom said.
“Thank you, Tom. You look good yourself,” she replied. She was good at making him feel at ease. He sat down.
“Did you order?” He asked.
“I didn’t order yet. I wouldn’t order without you anyway,” she replied and shot him a look from the corner of her eye, as she canted her head to one side. It was a perfect look. Damn, Tom thought, and had to pause for a moment, but reminded himself it was all for a show, that he was more or less just a substitute. Still, he liked her a lot and he was not about to ruin anything for her, fantasy or otherwise.
“Well. I would like anything Italian,” Tom said, as he adjusted himself in the seat, and reached for his napkin. Sarah smiled back at him. He felt a little uncomfortable because they worked together but it seemed obvious between the two of them that they were only here to have a nice evening and enjoy each other’s company. So he relaxed somewhat.
“You can have anything you want, so long as you can pronounce it,” Sarah said. It was almost as if she were there to reassure his every move, or lack thereof. He glanced at the menu for a moment.
“Fettuccini Alfredo, with some shrimp, is what I will have, then,” he said, “and red wine.”
She quickly looked down, into her opened menu. He eyes flickered downward.
“I will have the eggplant parmesan…and share your red wine,” she said after a moment, from behind the menu, without looking up. The waiter came over as soon as they had placed their menus down. They ordered their food and drink and the waiter left.
“So tell me more about your dreams,” she said, leaning forward slightly and speaking in a soft voice.
“My dreams,” Tom slowly began in a normal tone, “…the dream I told you about today, I actually woke up at the end because I had this evil music playing in my head. I am not talking about just some tune you can’t get out of your head. I mean a song playing loud in my mind. Do you think I am strange?” Tom asked and his voice wavered slightly at the end.
“No, Tom, I don’t think you are strange.”
“How can you not think that I am strange? I think I am strange and I am a very good judge of character.”
“Because we’re all strange, Tom. Your strangeness just floats to the surface. Maybe it’s better that way.”
Tom looked at her for a moment and did not say anything. She seemed to be in tune with him. He took a deep breath and sighed. Normally, Tom Kelly was cool as ice, but something about her brought it out of him.
“But tell me more.”
“All right. There is this other dream, or, recurring nightmare. I am running from a pack of wolves in the forest but the wolves are having no problem catching me. There is a big wolf out in front with large, white teeth and blood drools from his mouth. And they get closer each time I have that dream. I guess when they arrive at my heels, I will die,” Tom said and sat back in his seat and stared intently at Sarah. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Sarah, I don’t want to ruin your evening.”
“I would rather you feel better after our dinner than sit here and fake it,” she replied.
“I feel better,” he said, lying to her, but justifying his lie by believing that he needed to start acting like a man.
The waiter brought red wine and they drank from their glasses. The taste lingered in Tom’s mouth for a second. It tasted like a strong sense of foreboding, planted amidst a field of poppies. He wondered why he should not feel like they had just held some kind of marathon meeting together. Instead, all he felt was relaxed and calm. Sarah was looking around the room.
“This is a nice restaurant,” she said.
“Very classy. We’ll see about the food though.”
“Yes, very good.”
“It was a very good year, 1995,” Tom said.
“My personal best.”
“Yes, I remember well.”
“I had only just returned from the nude beach in Australia,” she said, without blinking an eye. He had to lean forward a little in his chair from laughing. She managed to stare back with only a slight smirk directly at him and shining eyes. He wanted to continue but he could not, not matter how hard he tried. She kept the thing going anyway.
“That was the year it all died,” she said.
“I remember…from…the war,” he said, his head nearly touching the table now.
“Yes, the war. Ah, the war. What a horrible thing that was,” she kept on, unrelenting.
“Okay, okay. Stop. Stop, now,” Tom finally said and reached down to grab his napkin to wipe his tears. He sat back up straight and looked around to see if anyone was watching and he could tell a few people had taken notice. But he did not care and knew she did not, either.
They talked about their boss and the city and anything else as they got hungry, waiting for the food to arrive. Finally, the waiter came over, carrying a folding table and a tray of food. He set the table down, spread it open, and put the large tray on top. He picked up their plates and set them down. Then he asked if there would be anything else and went back to the kitchen.
They ate in silence for several minutes. Then Sarah wiped her mouth, as Tom was putting one last bite into his mouth, and said, “This is very good.”
“I would say better than the last place we went to…” Tom replied, trying to postpone the conversation, so that he could get back to eating.
“The last place was not nearly as good,” she kept on, agreeing with him. He ignored her but not on purpose, and started eating again. She shot him a glance and when she saw he was not going to reply, she went back to eating as well.
Tom was feeling slightly tipsy and guessed she was too. He put down his last, large sip of wine as they finished their food and looked across the table at her. Her long hair shimmered and her eyes shined. Her face was so pretty. She seemed to be smiling at him, even though all she was doing was reaching for her own last drink. They talked some minutes more and then he signaled the waiter to come over. Tom reached into his back pocked, took out money for dinner, motioned, and got up, halfway out of his chair. She looked up at him. He said abruptly, “Maybe it’s time to go?”
“I think it’s time to go to sleep,” she said. What she reading his mind?
“Don’t you think you should catch a cab home?” he asked as delicately as he could manage.
“Can I ride with you?” she seemed to insist, with the same look that she had given him at the start of the evening.
“Let’s go get a cab,” Tom said, after a moment of shock. He was trying desperately to keep his composure. They both got up and walked out to the street. Outside, it was chilly and they shivered a little as they waited for a yellow cab to pass by. Finally, one did, and they both reached out their arms to hail it and it slowly pulled to stop next to the street corner near them. Tom opened the back door and they climbed in and settled into the back seat, close together. It felt comfortable. They rode in the taxi and watched the city lights shinning. The city lights never lost their luster.
Sarah’s red hair fell over Tom, spread out like a shield, as she slept soundly on his chest. Their breathing was in tune and they were sound asleep.
Tom saw himself became conscious still inside of his dream; in the middle-world. He wanted to wake up, but still felt a pull down to the unknown. He was inside of a many-roomed mansion that did not have any furniture. Sheets covered the tall windows but the place was full of indoor light, even though there were no lights. The walls and ceilings were white and all of the wood in the mansion was dark oak. All of the doors were open. He floated through the large, open rooms of the mansion, somehow a part of it. From the outside, going in, all of the doors started to gently close. And like a diminishing labyrinth, he was forced to move more and more toward the center of the mansion, until he saw himself in one room with four open doors. Going counter-clockwise, the four doors closed, but when he watched the last door, it moved across the wooden floor slightly slower than the other three doors had until it finally shut gently closed.
That was when he entered the dream world. She stirred and ran her hand across his chest. His head jerked suddenly back but not more than a few inches and then he did not move but she adjusted.
Some distance off, a little to his right and rising above, was a plateau of black rock like dark slate. The ground was cut in places, as if from a recent earthquake, and deep chasms reached down into darkness. Occasionally, a fireball would rise from the deep chasms. There was a low, stone wall, broken in places, there, at the edge of the universe. The sky above was like a dark blanket but flashes of lightning cut through without making any noise. Above, the black sky was full of very bright stars but they did not look like normal stars because they were too bright, as if he were too close to them.
He saw two dark riders, their horses fixed at the edge of the plateau, but moving their heads violently up and down and jerking them forward and back suddenly and randomly. The dark riders wore purple cloaks that fell over their steeds spotted with large, blurry, white dots. The horses breathed gray mist through their nostrils. Graves were everywhere there. Then the right, dark rider started speaking to him, although he could not see either of the rider’s faces, and the right rider’s voice sounded like a hissing gargle, ‘There is a pit dripping down into the abyss. It falls forever down, down, all the while knowing of no one well. Yet He sees them all. Nameless and voidless, it will go down, down, all the way down to hell.’
The riders still did not move or speak. For what seemed an eternity, he watched them on their horses and then the left rider moved his dark reigns over and his horse moved off, away from his companion, back down the far side of the plateau and disappeared. The right rider still did not move or speak and then, to his horror, the left rider came from around from the side of the plateau, his horse slowly clik-claking as it walked directly toward him. The left rider was now on his plane and about twenty meters off. The left rider’s horse kept advancing forward and he could not move and now it was almost upon him. He was trying hard to move but still could not. Then the left rider stopped, only a short distance away. He could barely see the left rider’s eyes inside of his cloak but they were two solid, black orbs. His black horse neighed and jerked his head violently. The left rider leaned forward slightly on his horse and spoke, but his voice was different than the right riders’. It was raspy and deep. He said, ‘This is your soul. Can you feel it? We will come to take it away soon.’
There was a massive lightning flash and then he floated, floated in a tiny sailboat. He sailed over a sea of calmness. His mind was drifting deep, deeper and he was at peace. His tiny boat appeared as only a small dot from above, within the huge body of water. He tried hard to paddle to the shore but could not find the shore and then he was scared. But, he thought, within his dream, that if he could just drift, then it might not be all that bad. So he did and it seemed to last forever and ever.
And she woke from her half-sleep and rubbed against him, back and forth a couple of times.
He saw himself back in Germany. He had been stationed in a small town there in the army and used to patrol with his platoon and they spent so much time there that he had come to know it well. He knew the people, he had gone out with some women there, he knew the park and the subway stop, he knew the bakery and the meat store, and he knew the way home too. But the place had a surreal feel to it in the dream because he rose from riding a train up a deep valley like rising pond scum. The train ride was like traveling through time and he had left to catch his ride from some warehouse buildings where he wandered around for a while until he found an old, concrete room in one of the warehouses and there he had been transported somehow. But it was like a flash of lightning because he went so fast his head hurt and he was traveling backwards through time and there was an old Asian woman holding his hand for the ride and talking out of the window and the strange, tiny space ship slowed and he disembarked and the Asian woman left somewhere and he got out and slowly walked out from the train stop. Leaving the nearly vacant station, he could see that it was fall, but it was a kind of beautiful fall weather outside and there were not many leaves, but just enough to create a peaceful European setting, and he had wanted very much to get up and look at his old town because it had been so long since he had been there and then he finally got outside and looked around and it felt so good because the memories were so strong and as he studied the scene he saw the street corners that he knew and remembered well from the small German town. The leaves were blowing across the streets and he could see the town was now vacant for some reason but the trees were still green, although some had golden leaves. So he wandered into the town to where he knew the park was and walked through the metal gate that was its entrance and it was a normal park but because it was in this dream-state it seemed incredible. And he saw the pond he remembered well and then he was sloshing through the water up to his knees but as he walked through the calm water he did not sink because there were sunken walls of stone ruins a foot or two below the surface of the water, varying in depth as the top of the wall was no longer evenly hewn. As in many dark places in Germany, the ancient stone walls were covered in moss. So he walked along the sunken walls of the large pond, following the maze wall across the body of water and it led him to the other side and there he saw some young people laughing in a group and he strained his mind and saw that he might recognize them so he went over to them, although he did not want to, and was a little embarrassed. But one of the group recognized him right away and they talked together for a moment and then he realized that they should know of each other from similar experiences and that that is what separated them. And from talking they bridged the gap between them and now they now had a link together in a long chain reaching back through time and this young man said that he should remember this other person and the man pointed the stranger out, who was a little older and standing further away and the stranger did not recognize him at first but when he walked with his companion up to the stranger, his facial features became clear like twisting a kinescope into focus and rearranging the complexly arranged colors into a pattern you feel comfortable with and he saw that he knew him well and then the stranger said something about the most minor of details that referenced something between the two of them, that only they would know of, and damn, if he did not remember that, and it seemed so long ago, like centuries, and then he had been scared because he felt like he was talking with someone who had died long, long ago and that maybe this was a group of Roman soldiers and not his army buddies from Germany at all. And that this was not his small town that he knew well but some other place. And that his whole dream was wrong and he had been transported to the wrong place. But the ship suddenly left again, only this time he was able to expect the ride, although it was intense and he had to hold on like a twisting roller coaster ride and when it was over he was glad but the entire right side of his brain hurt like someone had taken a very thin sheet of rough steel and wiped his entire right brain with it but then poured iodine over it so the wound felt like ice. And he did not remember anything for a while more and rested soundly and his body felt relaxed.
“Tom,” The soft voice came.
He did not want to answer it.
“Tom,” again the same, soft voice called him and still, he did not want to answer it.
“Tom,” and now he opened his eyes slowly and saw Sarah staring at him, the sheets falling off her.
“I have to go home,” she said.