by Brandon T. Madden
I’m in a room that looks like my room at home, but it can’t possibly be my room at home because that’s not where I fell asleep last night.
As I was saying, says my grandfather. We should go fishing again soon.
I can’t be having this conversation with you, I say. You died ten years ago. You died from lung cancer.
My body feels light and my stomach rolls, as if I’m in a roller-coaster car plummeting down its tallest peak. I feel myself leaving the scene, but, at the same time, I feel like this is reality. But that’s impossible because my grandfather is dead and I am not on a roller coaster.
I’m walking to class when my phone rings. The shrill ringer catches my attention, snapping me away from a thought. I don’t know what the thought is, but it makes me anxious.
I press the button on the phone and try to answer, but it keeps ringing. I keep pressing the goddamn green key to answer, but it doesn’t click. It just keeps ringing. For some reason I don’t bother to look at who is calling. I already know who is calling—I couldn’t actually tell you their name, but I know who is calling and that is why I’m trying to pick up the phone. But the goddamn green key won’t click over to the call.
So I throw the phone into the river, but I realize that was a mistake because the phone is still ringing and I still have to pick it up. It’s an important call, I have to pick it up, but I don’t want to pick it up. I run into the river to pick up the phone. The ringer is fully audible and it’s easy to find.
I don’t feel the water rushing over my pants, nor do I feel it as I pick up the phone and try to answer it.
But the phone itself is wet and still ringing. How can the phone still be ringing?
I’ve finally woken up. I know I’ve woken up because I spring from my bed, which is definitely my bed because it’s the same blue and white checkered sheets that I have been using since the beginning of college. The room is also baking hot, which is typical for the time of year. The sunlight beams from the window, casting the early morning colors of red and yellow and orange. Although the red and yellow and orange colors might be an indicator that this is a dream, it isn’t. It’s because it’s fall and the leaves on the oak tree outside my window have begun their metamorphosis from green to red and yellow and orange to their eventual change to brown and then to their eventual death by winter.
But I feel invigorated this morning, which is strange because I haven’t felt invigorated for at least two months. Okay, more like one month and twenty seven days, but who’s counting. Anyway, this morning I decide to go running outside, because it’s a beautiful fall morning with autumn colors and the sun is out, which is rare.
What tipped you off that this was a dream? asks Ben. He takes a sip of coffee from his mug as we sit across the cafeteria table.
The fact that the window blinds were open. I never leave my blinds open when I go to sleep. What’s weird is that I haven’t had dreams like that for a long time.
Why do you think you are having dreams like that again? asks Ben. He takes another sip of coffee from his mug. A stream of people crowds the cafeteria, but that’s how it is every day at noon. The faceless herds of people come in and swarm for food like hungry animals: they quickly devour their meals, regroup into their faceless herd, and leave. Ben and I try to keep to a schedule. Every Wednesday afternoon we have coffee, not lunch, coffee. It gives us a chance to talk, which is a rare commodity nowadays.
Did I tell you I’ve been nominated as a Rhodes Scholar? says Ben.
You’re kidding, I reply. That’s amazing. You must be excited for your trip.
I begin running down the same path as I always have for the last few years. Ben and I discovered it in our freshman year. It twists and turns and creates a sense of seclusion the deeper you travel through it. We took a pedometer with us once to calculate how far it was. We stopped after ten miles in, realizing it must keep going for miles and miles more.
But today is different. Today I feel invigorated, which is strange because I haven’t felt invigorated for at least two months. It had to be because of the fall day. The colors are so vibrant, the reds and yellows and oranges. They are vibrant and it’s one of those rare times where the sky is blue and sunny, so I keep running down the path, not getting tired, but getting more anxious. I want to see the end of the path, but I keep going deeper and deeper in. My anxiety increases and my heart races. It beats like a bass drum, thumping in my rib cage, wanting to break out, wanting to break free. But this only causes me to run faster, and I feel trapped, like I’m on a treadmill, not able to run fast enough, sprinting as hard as I can, but the tread keeps spinning faster.
Then I’m in class, but it isn’t a class that I normally take. It’s a Spanish class, which I haven’t taken since sophomore year, when Ben and I said it would make us into real renaissance men, make us viable for graduate school. And this isn’t even the same class, because my philosophy teacher walks in to teach us, and Ben is not sitting next to me, but rather some random girl who asks me for a pencil.
So I tell myself it’s a dream, and when I realize it’s a dream I realize that it is a lucid dream, that I have the ability to do whatever I want in this dream. It’s as if all I have to do is press a button and will whatever I want to happen and it will happen. And this makes me sad, and I scream out in fear because I don’t want that power. I can feel my body shaking, like literally shaking. Which is impossible because it’s a dream, but it’s a lucid dream so I can will whatever I want in it. But I tell myself to wake up.
Why would you tell yourself to wake up? asks Ben. He sips his coffee as we sit in our usual spot in the cafeteria. It’s Wednesday, which is a huge relief because Ben and I rarely get time to talk anymore.
I told you, I say. Something about having that kind of power scared the living shit out of me. You have no idea, I could feel my body shaking.
You know, I was reading about this neurological study where they captured images from when people slept, he says.
You’re kidding me.
Not at all. They would show a clip over and over again to a person, like a ball bouncing across the ground, and then when they wired the people up when they slept, they were able to record the image from their brain patterns. And for all of them there was a shadowy blob that bounced up and down. They say that if this is successful, in the future they’ll be able to play dreams back.
I’d hate to have people look at my dreams.
You’d finally get answers to them.
I’d rather not.
I’m with this girl. I can feel myself going up and down on her. Her skin is soft, softer than anything I’ve ever felt and so smooth with our sweat. It feels incredible; every sensation is at its maximum—the touch of her warm breast, the taste of sweat rolling down her body, the smell of sex—everything heightened like some big acid trip. It’s sweet and exhilarating. I look at her face. I don’t even recognize her face, but I don’t care. I just want every piece of her. I feel alive. I want to slowly sink into her, because for some reason I know if I sink into her I’ll find peace and calmness. If I sink into her I’ll find an escape and still feel alive.
Then I actually start sinking into her, as if my dream came true, but that’s impossible. But I continue to sink into her because I want this dream to come true and then I realize it is a dream and I get scared because it’s a lucid dream and I don’t want that kind of control. I try to convince myself to use this to get answers to why. And I wake up.
You’re kidding me, says Ben as he sips his coffee. The herds of people filter in for lunch. Wednesdays at noon, the worst possible time for coffee, but this is the only time we have to discuss.
Nope, I literally realized it was a dream and forced myself awake.
That’s crazy, absolutely nuts. I wonder what these dreams all mean. He takes another sip of coffee.
Why do we drink coffee at noon? I asked.
I drink coffee. You’re mainly here to talk.
After I drive to Chicago for my Rhodes Scholar trip, we should go running.
I wake up in my bed, which is definitely my bed because it’s the same blue and white checkered sheets that I have been using since the beginning of college. I open up the blinds, letting in the morning rays as they cast their autumn colors of red and yellow and orange. I gather my items for class and walk outside. I walk to class and my phone begins to ring. It’s a shrill ring, which makes me realize that I haven’t actually set proper ringtones for numbers. I try pressing the goddamn green button to answer, but I broke it when I accidentally dropped it on a run with Ben a few weeks back. The phone clicks. My body feels light and my stomach rolls, like when you are accelerating up a roller coaster slope after going down its tallest one. So I start running towards the path that Ben and I discovered our freshman year. The path twists and turns and creates a sense of seclusion the deeper you travel through it and because of the fall day, the colors are so vibrant, the reds and yellows and oranges and it is a rare time where the sky is blue and sunny, so I keep running down the path, not getting tired, but getting more anxious. I tell myself it’s a dream. And this makes me sad and I scream out. I tell myself to wake up.
Why do you think you keep having dreams like this? says Ben. He takes another sip of coffee from his mug. A stream of people crowds the cafeteria, but that’s how it is every day at noon. The faceless herds of people come in and swarm for food like hungry animals: they quickly devour their meals, regroup into their faceless herd, and leave.
The windows filter in the beautiful hues of the autumn colors. The reds and yellows and oranges make the cafeteria look like a mosaic. The aromas of the cafeteria are strong; Ben’s dark roasted coffee is the most prominent. Ben and I try to keep to a schedule. Every Wednesday afternoon we have coffee, not lunch, coffee. It gives us a chance to talk, which is a rare commodity nowadays.
I just look at Ben and stare as my eyes well up.
What tipped you off that this is a dream?
Because you died one month and twenty-seven days ago. On your trip.
I know. I was wondering if you knew.
Brandon T. Madden is a life-long Michigander and a recent graduate at Michigan State University. He has recently been published in various undergraduate, graduate, and professional journals including The Red Cedar Review, The Offbeat, Outrageous Fortunes, S/tick, and the River and South Review. In 2011, he published his first novel, V.S.A. His hopes are that one day he will be competent at writing. Please feel free connect with him through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/brandon-t-madden/6b/489/595