Earworm: Part 57 — The Visitor

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 56 — Right Again

William looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. “What was that, Hope?” he said to his reflection, raising one eyebrow and smiling his best James Bond smile, “Why, yes, I can give you the moon and the stars.” Yup, his plans were finally coming together. Hope had asked him out. Granted, it was only to the library, but still, she had asked him out. She wanted to discuss the dreams she’s been having. About who? Why, about moi, yours truly, of course. And should he tell her that, yes, he was the one that brought her to her castle, he was the one that brought back her father, he was the one that could save her from her nightmares? Should he tell her that he could be her knight, her hero? Or, should he keep her guessing? Just the guy of your dreams, I guess, he could say with his best martini-holding smile. And she would say, But you said that in one of my dreams. And he could answer, Did I, though?

No, that wouldn’t do. He had to keep her thinking that it was her own subconscious feelings for William that were causing the dreams. He thought about his last dream with Hope. Her looking him in the eyes and saying, It’s you causing the dreams. He had to convince her that it was her attraction toward William and disgust of Joel that were causing the dreams. What do I think dreams mean? William imagined saying to Hope. Dreams are your subconscious’s way of telling you what you really want in life. And for that, the James Bond smile just wouldn’t do. He looked into the mirror and tried some other smiles on for size.

“Hi, Hope,”—excited, beaming smile.

“Hey, Hope,”—suave, How you doin, smile.

“Hope.”—ecstatic, great to see you, how’s the family, smile.

“Hope, hey, what’s up?”—cool, casual, James Dean scowl.

“Hello, Hope,”—pensive, sensitive, caring smile. That was a good one. The one for the man of her dreams. He then went about his final adjustments, assuring that his appearance was the best he could manage, one final check, making sure there were no zits, blackheads, blemishes, crusty nostrils, dried toothpaste at the mouth’s corners, wax in ears, missed spots shaving, dandruff on shoulders or in hair, or bad odors. Check-check-check. William looked at his watch. He needed to get to the library. He couldn’t be late for his and Hope’s first date. He took a deep breath and shut off the bathroom light, walking, on a cushion of air, into the kitchen. He stopped short.

“William, you have a visitor,” Greta said.

David stood beside the kitchen table.

“Aren’t you going to invite him to sit?” Greta asked William.

“Uh… no, remember, I need to be at the library at seven.”

“Oh the library will still be there after seven o’clock. Don’t be rude, ask him to stay,” Greta said. “Would you like a drink?” she asked David.

“I w-w-w-wasn’t going to st-st-st-stay, an-an-any…”

“Yeah, see, he’s not staying,” William said, leading David toward the front door.

“William, you’re being rude,” Greta said.

“No, r-r-r-real-r-really…”

“No, really. He just needs to tell me something. Can we get going?”

Greta scowled, turning and walking off to her bedroom. “I think he’s being rude,” she said to herself, “but fine, just drive me here. Greta the cabdriver, that’s all I am…”

“What are you doing here?” William said to David. “I’ve got to get going. I’m meeting someone,” he said importantly.

“How d-d-d-d-did you d-d-d-d-do it?”

“Do what? What are you talking about?”

“Dream the sp-sp-space sh-sh-ship?”

“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking…”

“No. I know it w-w-w-w-was you.”

“Look, I gotta get going. I really need…”

“How did you g-get in my dream?” David said as Greta walked into the kitchen.

“Okay, I got my…” Greta’s words dropped dead when David spit out his question. She stared at David. Then she glanced at William. William wasn’t sure what her expression said. It was a little like discountenance, a little like fear, maybe both. As if she found a B.B. gun in William’s closet after the neighbor’s cat was shot.

“Look, David, I need to get going,” William said, opening the front door.

“B-b-b-but…”

“We can talk later,” William said, leading him out the door. “I’ll be in the car,” he called over his shoulder to Greta, hurrying David down the steps and onto the front lawn.

David stopped William and looked into his eyes, “How d-d-d…”

“Look, David, just enjoy whatever dream you’re talking about. And… I’m sorry about the other day, if I hurt your feelings.”

“B-b-b-but…”

“Just leave it be,” William said as Greta stepped out of the house.

David stared into his eyes for a moment and then said, “Well, th-th-thanks.”

“Fine,” William said, turning his back on the boy. “Now, get lost,” he said, walking to the car. As he was about to get in the passenger door, he caught Greta’s say it ain’t so look again. “Bye, David,” William called, getting into the car.

“B-b-b-b-b…” But the boy’s voice was squelched as William shut the door.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 58 — The Meeting

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Earworm: Part 56 — Right Again

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 55 — The Invite 

Things felt right again. Starling was back. It was Memorial Day weekend. The weekend of Glenn’s big fishing trip. And Starling and Emily had the entire weekend together. They spent little time together lately—awake, anyway—thanks to good ole Gordon Webster. Gordon told Glenn he saw Emily with a bunch of guys on Bridge Beach. Now Glenn barely let Emily out of his sight. She was somewhat surprised he didn’t drag her to Maine for his annual trip, probably thinking she was having an affair with Bert, or Ernie maybe… if he only knew.

He should know, he’s had enough dreams to…

In the distance, a twig snapped. Emily pushed Starling away. She sat up, her eyes flashing to William lying on the far edge of the blanket, asleep in the moonlight. Distant footsteps approached. Slow and tentative, yet heavy and trudging. Like someone trying to announce his arrival. “Hellooo,” Ernie called from the dark. Emily and Starling sat a few feet from one another, arms hugging their knees like chastity belts. Ernie’s face came into view, reflecting the pale blue tinge of the moonlight. He stepped down the rocks and onto the sand. “Hey,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

“What?” Starling snapped.

“Nothing,” Ernie said, regarding the two girls. He shifted his feet and rubbed the back of his neck. Starling glared at him. Emily pretended to attend to her sleeping son. “I just wanted to see if you girls were all right.”

“We’re fine,” Starling said. “We were just talking.”

“Uh, yeah, I know,” Ernie said, as if Starling accused him of voyeurism. “Um… it’s just that, we were up at the parking clearing, and I was talking to Danno…”

“We don’t need to hear your memoirs, Ernie,” Starling said.

“No… No, it’s just, I saw an empty truck parked up there, you know, down the road a bit, just sitting there.” Ernie turned and looked toward the direction of the road. “I mean, it’s gone now, but we were all just… nervous, you know, with you two girls down here alone and…”

“We’re fine,” Starling said. “We can handle ourselves.”

“Okay,” Ernie said, throwing up his hands and turning to go. He then seemed gripped with a sudden epiphany. He turned to face the two girls.

“What now?” Starling said.

“I was just…” Ernie said, looking unsure how to phrase his question, and for a brief moment, Emily thought he was going to inquire about her and Starling’s activities. Emily knew Danno, Bert, and Ernie suspected what was going on between the two girls, but now Emily wasn’t ready to hear the concept put into words. If it was left unspoken, it felt as if it was only… a dream. “I was just wondering,” Ernie continued, “Emily, what kind of truck is it your husband drives?”

“A maroon Ford.”

“Oh, yeah, okay,” Ernie said, as if confirming the name of a one-hit-wonder or obscure film. He turned to walk away.

“Why?” Starling groaned.

“Oh, nothing,” Ernie said. “Just holler if you need anything.”

“Ernie, stop being a dick,” Starling said. “What kind of truck was up there?”

“A maroon Ford,” Ernie said with a shrug.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 57 — The Visitor

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Earworm: Part 55 — The Invite

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 54 — Best Dream Ever 

Hope glanced at the clock. Still a few minutes before the late bell. She wasn’t joking with Joel, she was going to talk to William about her dreams. It came to her last night, lying in bed—her mind racing and spinning—she knew exactly how to approach William and put this all to rest, to ease her over-thinking mind. The answer is so simple, how did I not see it before?

She stopped, recognizing the call of Irrational Hope. Maybe Joel was right. This was stupid. This was crazy. No, it wasn’t, not the way she worked it out in her thoughts. Granted, she realized she was acting a little… silly, but she needed to put that nagging, song-stuck-in-her-head feeling to rest. She turned and looked at William.

He sat in the back of the room with both elbows on his desktop, head held in both hands, eyes closed. He looked like an exhausted family member in a hospital waiting room.

“Hey,” Hope called to William in a friendly tone. She didn’t quite recognize her own voice, and she remembered being a child at the supermarket with her mother, and having the compulsive urge to scream with lung-emptying fervor. Screaming for no other reason than to confront whatever impulse control held her back from doing it. But sanity, conscience, the fear of what the others, especially her mother, would think—all those little character attributes of Rational Hope—stopped her. She wished Rational Hope would stop her now.

But there was no turning back here, she was swimming into the deep end, and she might just swim right into lunacy. They could skip the sleep lab and send her straight to the funny farm. But lunacy or not, she had a bur she couldn’t shake, a deep paranoia telling her William Knight was causing her dreams. And although she realized Rational Hope tended to be right—and most definitely was this time—compulsion was more persistent, and crazy or not, one had to feed compulsion what it wanted, she needed to quell the hunger pains of her psyche. William didn’t respond to Hope’s initial greeting, and she almost took the chance to bail out. Instead, she found herself calling, “William.”

William’s head twitched and then lifted. He looked like a man stranded on a desert island hearing a voice on the wind.

Hope sang, “Will-iam,” waving her hand as if hailing a cab.

“Huh?”

“What’s up?” Hope forced a smile.

“Uh… nothing.”

“Where were you yesterday?”

“Uh… yesterday?”

“Yeah. Weren’t you absent yesterday?”

“Uh, yeah. I… uh… wasn’t feeling well.”

“I think something’s going around.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So are you feeling better?”

“A little. I’m still very tired.”

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way lately too. Why didn’t you stay home today?”

William shrugged. “Too many days out of school usually means a trip to the doctors,” he said. “You know mothers.”

Hope offered a knowing smirk. “Yeah, I know mothers.”

Here we go folks. Hope steps up to the diving platform…

“Hey,” she said, “can I talk to you about something?”

…and she jumps.

William shifted in his seat. “Uh… about what?”

Beads of sweat broke out on the back of Hope’s neck. “This sounds really… dumb, but…” she laughed to illustrate just how dumb it sounded, “I had this really weird dream, and you were in it.”

He shifted in his seat again. “Yeah?” he said.

“Yeah,” Hope giggled. “And this sounds so dumb, but… do you have Mrs. Thompson for psychology?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you know the term paper we have to write?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I thought about writing a paper analyzing a dream about a random person,” Hope said. No response from William. Hope continued, “Anyway, I figured I’d interview the dream’s subject and see how accurate my perceptions were. You know, get the subject of the dream’s thoughts… about…it…” her voice trailed off. This did sound stupid when actually spoken out loud. “They aren’t like sex dreams or anything.”

D’oh! Could she embarrass herself a little more?

“Really,” William stated.

“Yeah,” Hope said, unsure if his response was to her dreaming about him or that they weren’t sexual in nature. “So how about it, think you can help me?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“When would be a good time for you? You know, to meet?”

“Meet?”

“Yeah, you know, to talk?”

“Anytime.”

“Okay,” Hope paused. The late bell rang. “How about tonight at the library?” she said in a hushed voice as Ms. Bradford entered the room.

“Yeah,” William said, “tonight’s good, uh… what time?”

“Seven all right?”

“Uh… okay,” he said, still dumbstruck.

“Great,” Hope smiled her widest smile as Ms. Bradford began taking attendance. “Then I’ll meet you tonight,” she whispered, still hiding behind her bright smile. William responded with a grin and nodded. Hope regarded him, looking him up and down, and then she turned forward in her seat, the smile dropping from her face.

At the end of the day, as the students exited Mr. Grey’s classroom, Hope ducked away from Joel. “Where are you going?” Joel asked her like a parent questioning a child about to do something wrong.

“I have to do something,” Hope said, pulling from his gravitation toward her.

“You’re not… this isn’t…”

“Don’t worry,” Hope said, “I’ll call you later.”

She darted through a gaggle of students and rushed down the halls, hoping she wasn’t too late. She was relieved to find William still rummaging through his locker. She walked up behind him, tapped him on his left shoulder, and then darted to his right. William flinched, turning in a panicky jerk to his left, seeing no one there, and then returning to his locker. “Hey,” Hope laughed, “I’m over here.”

William flinched again as if someone goosed him. He looked up at Hope with eyes deep and vast. But those eyes were also defensive.

“Still want to meet tonight?” Hope said, feeling somehow guilty for the defensiveness in his eyes. She was, after all, a member of the high school elite that treated him like a leper, and she suddenly realized that in a way she was messing with this kid just like the rest of them did. He didn’t know anything about her dreams. He couldn’t be responsible for what her mind was doing. They are your dreams, Mr. Grey had told her. But still, she had started this plan in motion, it was too late to bail out now.

“Uh… yeah,” William said.

“So, then, you’ll be at the library at seven?” Hope said.

“Uh… yeah, sure.”

“Great.” She regarded him, almost studying him.

God, how did her mind so accurately capture and reproduce every nuance of this kid in her dreams?

“Uh… well,” William said, “I gotta catch the bus.”

“Okay. Then, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Yeah,” William smiled.

She’d never seen him smile like that before—in reality, anyway. And her guilt relaxed. She felt almost righteous for bringing that smile to his face. She felt good about making this connection with him. She wasn’t messing with him. She was opening herself to a possible friendship. Maybe her dreams were trying to tell her something. There were deep secrets in the wells of his eyes, maybe she could tap them.

“I’ll see you tonight, My Hope,” William said, and he took off down the hall.

Hope watched, slack jawed, as William burst out the doors and trotted to the row of busses.

Did he just call me My Hope?

Dizziness washed over her as she tried to grasp William’s last words.

I’ll see you later, My Hope.

Could it be a bizarre coincidence that he called her the same term her father bestowed on her so many years ago? Had she even heard him right? It was paranoia to think William was responsible for her dreams. It was compulsion to ask him about them. But now, in the real world, was it possible that a boy in her math class was controlling her thoughts? The floor beneath her felt as though she was balancing on a playground’s seesaw, and she walked shakily down the hall.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 56 — Right Again 

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Earworm: Part 54 — Best Dream Ever

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 53 — Resolution

David McGee heard the whine of jet engines, the thunder of explosions, and the sounding of a warning siren. He held a controller, like that of an airplane’s, and a panel of knobs and flickering lights stretched before him. “Whoa, man, watch out for that fighter,” someone called. David looked to his right and saw William Knight—that high school kid he sometimes ran across in the woods—sitting in the chair beside him, pointing his finger ahead of them. “Look out, man, you’re gonna crash.”

David looked up to see the landscape of a futuristic city and dog fighting space ships. “Whoa,” David said, pulling back on the controls. Two laser blasts darted past them with a flash and rocking motion. The cockpit responded to David’s control, the landscape rolling and teetering congruent to his steering. A sleek, silver ship streaked toward them, lasers flaring on their energy field like bug guts on a windshield. The cockpit shook and jostled.

“Fire,” William said.

David squeezed triggers on his controller and beams of light slammed into the enemy ship, rocking it. David kept firing, and the enemy fighter exploded into a ball of fire—pieces of it streaking by the window. As David brought his ship through the flame, he saw a tower rising out of the clouds, the tower’s gun turrets firing at them. David rolled the ship, banking around the tower, laser blasts streaking by the ship’s belly and over its dorsal wing.

“Yeeeha,” William screamed.

“Yeeeha,” David echoed.

David felt a hand on the nape of his neck. He turned to see two beautiful women behind him. The girls were dressed in sheer silver, their skin a pale blue, their long hair platinum. One girl pouted seductively, “You must save us from the Galactic Overlord.”

David looked out the windshield. “Holy crap,” he yelled, firing at a new platoon of enemy ships, “This is the best dream ever.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 55 — The Invite

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Earworm: Part 53 — Resolution

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

“You look like you’re serious,” Joel said.

“I am serious,” Hope said.

“C’mon, I don’t even want to talk about this stuff.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s nuts,” Joel said in a hushed growl, leaning forward and glancing around the back corner of the town library, where most high school students went on weekday evenings—a place for them to gather without parents nagging them about going out on a weeknight. “That’s why,” Joel said, leaning back in his seat.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Hope said in a voice sounding way too level for this—she actually did sound serious—“But wouldn’t it make sense?”

“Um… no, not really.”

“Look, it sounds ridiculous, but it does makes sense,” Hope said in a dire whisper, sounding like Nancy Drew unraveling some implausible plot.

“No it doesn’t,” Joel mocked her whisper.

“How else do you explain why we’re having these night terrors?”

“What the hell’s a night terror?”

“What we’re having. And how can our dreams have such similarities? And how come they all involve William Knight?”

“Mine didn’t involve William Knight. I dreamt about you, remember?”

“Yeah, the same way I dreamt about you. But in some way, William was in the dreams. In all your nightmares, you know, before you got paralyzed, or in the car crash, or in the locker room, what were you thinking about?”

“I have no idea. What? Am I supposed to remember every detail of a dream?”

“I think you do,” Hope said with the tone of a trial lawyer drilling a witness. “Think about it, what were you thinking about at the beginning of your dream last night?”

“I don’t know,” Joel said. But he did know, he distinctly remembered thinking about whacking William Knight in the face with the volleyball. “I don’t remember,” he lied. He wasn’t going to humor her and say that yeah, he was, in fact, thinking about William at the beginning of his dream. Because if he was following what she was saying, she was suggesting that little Willy Knightmare was causing matching his and her bad dreams.

“In my dreams,” Hope said, “it’s like his name is spoken in my head, and then, for a brief instant, I see him.”

What she said did trigger a flash of recognition. Wasn’t that how it happened? Don’tcha remember picturing him looking up at you with the blood running from under his fingers? No, stop it.

“And,” Hope continued, “it feels like something is filling my head and stealing my memories.”

This, too, struck a chord of recognition. He remembered the sensation of thoughts robbed from him as he looked around his bedroom, and Tom Brady threw southpaw… No, stop.

“And it feels like some animal is loose in my head,” Hope said, her voice full of conviction, yet detached somehow.

Yeah, detached from reality.

“Like I can feel him tiptoeing around up there. And the dreams, they’re so vivid, so lifelike…”

“Okay, enough, stop,” Joel said. “If you think this kid can get into our dreams—that is what you’re telling me, right, that William Knight is knowingly causing our nightmares?” It sounded even stupider when said aloud, and he could tell by the change in Hope’s expression that she thought so too.

“No. Well, yes, I don’t know about knowingly. But how else do you explain it?”

“We had nightmares. Sometimes people have them.”

“But the same type of nightmares? And when mine stop, yours start?”

“Ever hear of coincidence?” Joel said.

But when hers stopped, mine did start… will you cut it out.

And what was it William said in the locker room?

“I don’t know why you can’t see this,” Hope said, as if to herself.

Joel bit his tongue—almost saying: I don’t see it, cause I ain’t crazy.

Sweet dreams, Joel, William said.

Stop it.

“It’s like,” Hope’s tone took on an almost pleading edge, “in my last dream, I dreamt that you were going to burn me at the stake…”

“What?” Joel laughed.

“Wait, hear me out, that’s not the weird part.”

“It’s not?” he chuckled.

“No. In the dream, William shows up to rescue me, and it was like I had this sudden realization that he was somehow behind the dreams. How can you not see this?”

“Guess I haven’t had any sudden realizations. Look, Hope, dreams can seem very real, believe me, I know, but I’m getting uncomfortable talking about this stuff. I mean, you sound like you’ve gone crazy.”

Hope’s expression slid off her face. It was replaced with many different expressions. Starting with confusion, moving on to embarrassment, finishing with anger.

Joel said, “It just sounds stupid. You sound crazy.”

“You don’t have to keep using that word.”

“How about loony? Or whacko? Are those better?” Joel said.

Hope looked down at her homework and started scribbling math problems.

Joel shifted in his seat. “So, uh… then how exactly is William doing it?” he said, his voice saturated with skepticism.

Hope looked up at him, her expression saying: You wanted to drop this.

Joel chuckled under his breath and said, “I mean, do you think he’s like using ESP, or mind altering drugs, or… hey, maybe he’s from Mars and wants to take over the planet by using mind control.” Joel put his index fingers atop his head like antennae, and in a Martian voice said, “I am here to take over Bayview High School. Take me to your hottest babe…” Joel stopped and mocked an expression of deep thought, “You know, being from Mars would explain a lot about him.”

Hope glared at him and then went back to her math problems.

Joel then said in his best Tommy Chong impression, “Maybe he’s slipping us LSD. Cool man.” Then he continued in a snotty tone, “So tell me, how you gonna find out if it’s really him?”

Hope looked up at Joel. “I’m gonna ask him,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, okay.”

“No, really.” She looked and sounded a little too resolute for Joel’s liking.

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.”

“So you’re gonna walk up to this kid and ask if he’s getting into your head?”

“Yup.”

Joel cracked an arrogant smile. “All right,” he said, lifting up his hands.

“You know what, Joel?” Hope said, looking up from her math work—Joel didn’t realize it, but Hope was using her mother’s that’s it tone—“You’ve had a couple of bad dreams, but you haven’t had the worst of it. You haven’t had the good dreams, too. You don’t know what it’s like to have dream after dream, night after night, so lifelike and believable that in real life when you open a door, you aren’t sure if something is going to leap out at you. And you don’t know what

it’s like to have your dead father returned to you and used as a weapon against you.” Her eyes filled with tears, but anger kept them from spilling, and although her voice was heavy, her words were biting, rapid, rabid. “So you know what, Joel, when you’ve had enough of these nightmares, then you can come back and tell me I’m crazy, okay? Till then, just shut up.” And as abruptly as she started her tirade, she ended it, returning to her homework.

Joel shifted in his seat. He tapped his fingers in the silence between them. Someone in the distance laughed and Joel ducked the sound as if it was a line drive at his head. He picked up his pencil and colored between the sky-blue lines of his notebook paper. “Well,” he said, trying not to sound too patronizing, “William wasn’t even in school today, maybe neither of us will have nightmares tonight.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 54 — Best Dream Ever 

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Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

By Monday, Hope had regained the spring in her step as day by day the memories of the nightmares wore off like the fading stench of a skunk’s spray. The memories were still there, but diluted, replaced with an understanding that soon they would pass entirely. She still felt worn, violated somehow, but she could at least now begin her day without feeling as if about to break into tears or jumping after seeing some phantom from the corner of her eye. After all, she slept through the third night in a row without the torment of corpses, Joel, or her father. Maybe she wouldn’t need to be wired in a lab after all. Hope walked into homeroom, spotting Joel sitting in his usual seat. Hope went to him with her new optimism. “Hey,” she said, “Guess what… what’s the matter with you?”

“I think your nightmares are contagious,” Joel said.

“What do you mean?” Hope said, sitting in her seat and turning to face him.

“I had the scariest dream of my life last night. Which is pretty bad, seeing as I had the scariest dreams possible the two nights before that.”

“About what?”

“Well, Friday I dreamt I got paralyzed in a football game. Which didn’t help my playing on Saturday. And then Saturday night I dreamt Guard and I were in a car crash. And last night…” Joel stared at his hands folded on the desk. “I dreamt you were a monster that killed people.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And the worst thing was, when I woke up, it was like I woke into another dream. It was just as if I was in my room, for real.” He looked at Hope, then returned his gaze to his hands, saying, “and then you sprang from out of nowhere and attacked me.” Hope listened to Joel’s story as she looked out the back window at an autumn pewter sky. Then Joel said, “It felt like someone was stealing thoughts right outa my head.”

“What?” Hope returned her attention to Joel.

“Yeah,” Joel said to his folded hands. “It was the weirdest sensation.”

“Was William Knight in your dream?”

It’s you behind the nightmares.

“No,” Joel said. “But, hey, that kid’s name’s been stuck in my head all weekend. I probably have you to thank for that.”

“What?”

“I keep thinking about that kid and his bloody nose, having flashes of him staring up at me, holding his face, wondering why he hates me so much.”

“Are you serious, or are you teasing me?”

“No. I’m dead serious.”

“Isn’t that weird?”

“Which part?”

“How similar our dreams are,” Hope said, looking out at the cloud washed sky.

“It’s called the power of suggestion.” Joel said, stealing a quick look at her and saying, “So what kind of wonderful nightmares did you have last night?”

Hope watched as spurts of rain splashed across the windows. “Haven’t had any for the past three nights,” she said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 53 — Resolution

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Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

What the… Glenn Dey sat up, eyes adjusting to the dark. His perception puzzled together a recognizable landscape, the features of the room losing the distortion caused by the moonlight. Okay, there’s the dresser, the door of the closet, the enormous armoire given to Emily by her grandmother… And there was Emily lying beside him, fragile as an eggshell in the moonlight. Sweet, fragile Emily, like a rescued maiden in a fairytale. But there was something about a dream… Okay, think, what was that dream about? It was about Emily of course. It was about Emily and… He couldn’t remember. It was about Emily and what? Glenn surveyed the bedroom again. He looked like—at the risk of sounding obvious—a man awakened from a dream. But that concept was becoming smeared, the line separating dreams and reality fading. Lately, when he woke from sleep, he needed to focus on objects, landmarks, foot and finger holds, to pull himself to full consciousness. Because lately, his dreams felt more like real memories. So there’s the dresser, the closet, the armoire, and… He jerked as the boiler kicked on in the house’s basement, battling the frigid fingers of a late March cold snap. The boiler grumbling like something organic, the heartbeat of a living being, its blood trickling through the copper piping of the house. Lately the house, all the neighborhood’s houses, seemed like living things to Glenn, a block of sinister, ancient creatures watching people come and go with wise, silent judgment… The girl. That was it. The dream was about Emily and that girl next door. That hippie chick. What’s her name? Robin or something. Egret maybe? It’s a bird, I know that, it’s… Starling. Yeah, Starling, that little stoner bitch. And Gordon said to watch out for her friend, what was the little shit’s name… Kermit or something? Ernie, that’s it. I thought Emily was fooling around with that guy, but it’s really… Emily’s stirring interrupted his thoughts. Beside him, his wife whispered an exhaling coo as her body stretched and reached out of sleep. Would she have to climb out of her dreams using recognizable landmarks as anchor lines too?

Glenn dreamt about Emily and that girl next door. The images climbed back into his mind, as viable a memory as what he did at work that day. In the dream, Emily told Glenn she loved Starling and that she needed to go. Go where? Why would she leave him? The questions spun frantic in his mind. What was happening to him? He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. In the past few months, he’d dreamt everything from the absurd: being on a hunting trip, except Glenn and his friends were the game, being stalked by a group of inebriated stags dressed in bright orange parkas, walking upright, and drunkenly firing shotguns with hoofed hands. To the utterly realistic: Emily sitting Glenn down in their living room, she leaning forward, taking both his hands in hers, and explaining that she was in love with someone else, a woman, the girl next door, and that she needed to… Utterly realistic? How was that utterly realistic? Things were great between them. They’ve never been happier. They were a family. Not to mention Emily wasn’t a lesbian. Or was she? Of course not. It was a dream—Push it out of your head, will you?

Lately, Glenn recalled a dream he had while in grade school. It was a dream about his neighbor’s dog. Amber was the thing’s name. A harmless cocker spaniel that ran in excited circles. But one night, Glenn dreamt about little Amber mauling him with vicious barks and lunging bites. And that dream was enough trauma to cause Glenn’s despising of that stupid dog. Not an opportunity went by, when Glenn passed Amber in her fenced-in yard, that Glenn didn’t throw—a snowball, a stone, a wad of gum—something at that dog. Of course, by high school, Glenn grew out of this cruelty and he felt guilty about it in retrospect. He even helped Carl Henderson bury the dog after a car hit it. But the fact remained, that dream was enough of a catalyst for Glenn to abuse a poor, helpless, friendly dog. To this day, he never forgot a single detail about that dog. In fact, he could still describe it to a composite artist and create a virtual photograph of the thing. All because of that dream. Sure, in the dream Amber was bigger and fiercer, not even looking like a cocker spaniel at all, but after that dream, the dog achieved a new awareness in Glenn’s mind. That dog was not just something he came across in his day-to-day world. It was something more ingrained, like a chick imprinting its first image of its mother. That dog was somewhere deep in his mind, where dreams go when they’re done. In the receptacle of past memories. But lately, when he tried retrieving memories from that receptacle, the memories didn’t always come cleanly. Images of dreams clung to the images of real life like ticks burrowed into skin. But why dream about his wife having an affair with a woman?

Glenn tended to dispel all that dream analysis junk. To him, shrinks were quacks. What kind of job was it to fix someone’s mind like a mechanic tinkering with a carburetor? But still, Glenn certainly had his share of questions when it came to dreams. Amber a perfect example. And the dreams he’s been having lately warranted plenty of questioning. After all, he’s been having dreams about his wife wanting to leave him for… No-no-no. Will you knock it off?

This was all Gordon Webster’s fault. Gordon saying how he saw Emily hanging around last summer with all those stoners. Gordon drunk, draping his arm over Glenn’s shoulder, saying he wanted to tell Glenn something, even though it was none of Gordo’s business, but Glenn was one of his buds, and buds stick together. “Bros before hoes, man, that’s what I always say,” Gordo said, “But the fact is, I seen Emily last summer down the beach, hanging with a group of guys, and… you know Terrance McAlester? Well his little brother, Ernie, was all doe eyed toward Emily.” It was right there that Gordon planted the seeds of doubt. But Glenn tried to pass it off as nothing. He wasn’t a paranoid type of guy. He and Emily were married for God’s sake. He was sure it was harmless. Emily probably took William to the lake, and that stoner chick from next door strikes up a conversation and… Damn it. That girl from next door.

Emily opened her eyes and looked up at Glenn. A wry smile threatened to steal across her lips as she stretched her arms in a rather content way. “Hi,” she cooed.

“Hi.”

“Were you dreaming?” she said with another ghost of a smile and another stretch of her body.

“Uh-huh.” He studied her, studied the three, tiny moles below her left ear. Three moles gathered in a circular configuration like children playing Ring Around the Rosy. He noticed those moles in his dream. But, unlike the landmarks of reality he used to pull his way out of sleep, these landmarks were in his dream, and how could he get out if…

“About what?” she said.

“Huh?”

“What was the dream about?”

“Don’t know,” Glenn said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 52 — Contagion

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Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

EarwormContinued from:  Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

Joel opened the exterior door and walked into the hallway leading to the locker room. The contrast of plunging from sunlight into the dim corridor momentarily robbing him of his eyesight. He blinked away dark blotches and ran his hand along the wall until the disorientation passed. Joel envisioned the volleyball firing down at William’s face, the memory surfacing in Joel’s mind again. It had been surfacing randomly in his mind since it happened. William’s head snapping back, blood pouring from beneath his fingers. Joel shook off the thought and ducked into the locker room. The room was empty. Joel calling, “Hello?”

No answer.

Joel walked to his locker, his cleats clacking on the concrete floor, echoing in breath-like drumbeats. Where was everyone? They did all leave practice together, didn’t they? Joel couldn’t remember. Like the forgotten punch line of a joke lost mid-delivery, any recollection of practice seemed to be escaping him. Joel took a deep breath, stopping at his locker. Still no memory of practice. He tried his locker’s door. It wouldn’t open, the handle rattling uselessly in his hand.

“What the hell?” Joel said to his stuck locker door. But his locker door was the least of his problems. Back to why he didn’t remember practice. Did he get hit too hard? Did the coach send him to the showers early? Joel didn’t think so. He remembered an uneasy dream about being paralyzed the other night, but he had no memory of taking a hit in practice. In fact, he didn’t remember being at practice at all. Was he turning into Hope, unable to tell the difference between real life and a dream? Joel stopped fighting the locker’s handle for a moment and placed his forehead against the locker’s door. He closed his eyes, searching for any memory of the past few hours. Nothing came. “Okay,” he whispered, “this is getting scary.” He rattled the locker’s handle again. The latch still jiggling uselessly in his fingers. He wiggled it so hard the entire locker’s door shook. Still nothing. Joel smacked the locker with the heel of his palm, the collision of flesh and metal reverberating throughout the room. Still, the locker didn’t open. But Guard’s locker, beside his, did swing open. Joel glanced into it.

Guard was crammed into the locker, his body twisted, arms at awkward angles—as if he’d been forced into the locker with a hydraulic press—his throat a bloody, ragged mess—as if someone jammed an explosive into his esophagus. Joel staggered back, almost toppling over one of the wooden benches running parallel to the lockers. This couldn’t be real. But it seemed as lifelike as anything he’d ever witnessed. And as his brain grasped for reality, all the lockers swung open, including Joel’s. Each member of Joel’s team was jammed into a locker, each boy’s eyes open and staring, each boy’s throat torn out. Every locker was filled, except for one. Joel’s locker was a coffin awaiting a patron.

“Oh God, Joel,” Hope screamed, running into the room. She jumped into his arms, burying her face in his chest.

“Hope,” Joel said, “What the hell happened?”

“It was horrible,” Hope sobbed, her voice muffled by Joel’s jersey.

“But what happened?” Joel said to Hope, “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” she said, looking up at him. Her pupils glowed a green phosphorescence—the eyes of a nocturnal animal caught in a spotlight—her face a slick, oozing mass like melting wax. She grinned, revealing teeth shaped like tiny spades.

“Jesus.” Joel thrashed away from her, almost tripping over the bench again.

A soft groan came from Guard’s locker. Joel looked over to see Guard’s eyes darting around in panicky, spastic movements. “Joel,” Guard wheezed, “Help me.”

Hope—or rather the creature Hope had become—followed Joel’s terrified gaze to Guard. She smiled—sneered—with her blade teeth. “Whoops, I didn’t finish the job,” she said sheepishly. She bounded to Guard, grabbed his arms and yanked him from the locker. Guard screamed with high shrieks as Hope dug her shovel teeth into his throat, tearing at his flesh like a buzzard at a carcass. Tendrils of dark, red tissue hung from her mouth and she slurped them up as if finishing off spaghetti. Her dimpled grin washed across her face—her teeth stained red—and she dropped Guard to the floor. Her stare fixed onto Joel, her eyes glowing green. “How about a kiss, handsome?” she said, bounding toward him.

Joel sat up in his bed, breath laboring, stomach turning in disgusted knots. “Oh God,” he gagged. He turned on his light and looked around his room, feeling dizzy, as if his brains had liquefied and were pouring out of his ears. The world seemed askew—more than the intimidation of night daring him to go back to sleep, it seemed the whole world was out of place. He glanced around his bedroom. He saw clothes scattered across the floor, he saw his dresser, his desk, the shelves cluttered with trophies, and his posters of athletes on the walls. Including his prized poster of Tom Brady, the poster his father got signed by the QB at a charity auction. Brady was frozen mid-throw, his left arm cocked to unleash a fifty-yarder… Something wasn’t right. Brady wasn’t a southpaw. And with a siren-like screech, Hope leapt from the end of Joel’s bed. She pinned him down, her eyes glowing, her spade teeth bared to remove his throat.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 51 — Ring Around the Rosy

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Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

Bands of late afternoon light fell in blotched shapes on the carpeted floor. Neither Hope nor Joel—sitting in a booth in The Whale’s Tale—touched the food set in front of them. Joel stared at the table with the concentration of a chess master pondering a move. Hope watched him in much the same way. “You okay?” she said to him.

“Huh?” Joel looked up at her.

“You look a little dazed and confused,” Hope said, using an expression her stepfather sometimes dropped—she suspected it had something to do with an old rock song, but she was unsure what the name of it was.

“Uh… no, just thinking.”

“About?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Hope grinned, but Joel’s deadpan expression told her the joke skimmed over his head. She changed her expression to one more serious. “You want to talk about it? Everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, picking up a fry from his plate and poking at the rest of his food.

“I don’t know, meaning yes?” Hope said. She tried to keep an inviting expression on her face, but she realized that Joel had probably had it with her recent neurosis. And now that she has had no bad dreams for two nights, and her nightmares were hidden beyond the horizon of her rearview mirror, she saw in hindsight just how strange she’d been acting. Joel had every right to say, You know what? You’re a nutcase, and I’m moving on. Hope fought the urge to blurt out the phrase Joel often uttered during uncomfortable silences, Are you gonna dump me?

“I don’t know, meaning I don’t know,” Joel said. He ate the fry and picked out another one to continue his food poking. “You’ve been kind of…” he shrugged, not looking at her when he spoke, “I don’t know.” He finished off the fry in his hand and picked up a new one.

“A bitch?” Hope said.

“No,” he said, as if the thought never entered his mind, but Hope knew better.

“Look,” she said, “I know I’ve been acting a bit off lately. I’ve just been feeling… weird with all these dreams. I haven’t been feeling well. I haven’t been sleeping well. But the last couple of nights, I haven’t had bad dreams. It felt good to finally sleep. I just wanted to get some rest. That’s why I didn’t go out the last couple of nights. It had nothing to do with you.”

“Maybe it’s because I haven’t been around that you haven’t had bad dreams,” Joel said. He tossed down his fry and took a sip of his Coke.

“No, it has nothing to do with you,” Hope said in a definite tone. Although, that thought did cross her mind a few times. After all, she hadn’t seen Joel for two days, and those two nights did happen to be nightmare-free.

“Yeah, well,” Joel said, shrugging again, “just because you’re having bad dreams, it doesn’t have to affect your life.”

“I know it sounds stupid,” Hope said, “but… You just can’t understand how real my dreams have been.” Joel, sitting in silence and staring at his food, raised his eyebrows in an, if you say so, expression. Hope said, “They really affected me. I mean, just the memories of them popped up at the weirdest times.”

Joel picked up another fry. “Well, you didn’t have to take it out on me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, I mean, I was trying to be all supportive and everything, and you start telling me you’re having nightmares about me.”

“But I was having nightmares about you.”

“Yeah, but… I don’t know, it just made me feel bad.”

“Sorry,” Hope said. “You asked me what was wrong, and… What did you want me to do, lie to you?”

“No, I just… I don’t know.”

“Next time I just won’t tell you.”

“Next time?”

“I can’t control my dreams, Joel,” Hope said. Joel didn’t respond. The quiet hung almost tangible between them. Hope, watching a waitress take another table’s order, said, “Is there something else the matter?”

Joel tossed the fry onto his plate and reached for his soda. “Just tired,” he said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

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Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 47 — Ballooning

Joel grasped from the vague crypt of sleep for his surroundings. Water sprinkled on his face. Rain. Had he passed out? He was aware of something else. Not quite sure what it was, something at the end of his running current of perception, but the knowledge of where he was, and why he was there, remained out of reach. The rain patted on him. He wanted to wipe it from his face.

Just lie still.

Did someone just tell him to lie still? He wasn’t sure. There was the sound of many voices, stern tones like parents discussing something horrible in front of a child too young to grasp the meaning. He heard another garbled voice. It sounded like an alien robot speaking with hissing, static whistles. Blurs of light danced on the backs of Joel’s closed eyelids, a kaleidoscope of blinking, rhythmic flashes in his head like lightning illuminating a dark room. The alien voice spoke again. Joel thought it sounded familiar, Joel trying to turn his head, thinking, Just let me get this wetness off my face.

“Just lie still.”

Someone did say it. Joel reentered his body with the slow feeling one experiences when waking from a deep sleep, becoming aware of the lights and the voices, and the heavy idles of diesel engines…

An icy stake plunged into his heart—complete awareness of an unfathomable horror. The idling engine belonged to a fire truck. The blinking across his eyelids were emergency lights. The robotic voice, calling into the night with solemn urgency, was a police radio.

“Lie still.”

Joel opened his eyes. Strobe flashes of red and blue refracted off glistening, rain soaked metal and glass—the twisted, shattered remains of what was once an automobile. Joel’s eyes becoming accustomed to the lights and the rain, a thick, protective mental fog lifting, allowing more of the carnage to slip into his cognition. Joel saw Guard’s face looming before him. Guard’s eyes staring, mouth opened, the look of a person taking the initial plunge on a roller coaster. “Guard?” Joel said.

“Just hold on,” someone said. But Joel was unable to turn and see who said it.

“Guard?” Joel asked his still and staring friend.

Guard didn’t respond. Joel looked at the twisted mess that was his best friend’s body. A bent steering wheel wrapped against his friend’s chest, the dashboard seemingly part of Guard’s body. In some places, discerning flesh from car was impossible.

“Guard,” Joel yelled.

“Hold still,” someone said. There came the sound of a chainsaw starting—more like a table saw—the speeding rotisserie of a metal blade. “We’ll have you out of there in a minute. Just stay calm and hold still,” someone hollered over the saw’s whine. Then the banshee screech of metal murdering metal burrowed into Joel’s ears. Sparks combining with strobe lights into a terrifying fireworks display.

Joel ran—where?—hitting something. Something else toppling over in the darkness. He stood, unmoving in the black silence. He felt his heartbeat, his breathing, he held his hands out to his sides, steadying himself. “Okay,” he whispered. Feeling his desk with his hand, his eyes adjusting to the night. He picked out shapes and depths scattered about the familiar universe of his bedroom. He felt the wall beside him and slid down its surface to sit on the floor. Then Joel did something he hadn’t allowed himself to do in a very long time. He sobbed in heaving, silent gasps.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

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