Continued from: Earworm: Part 8 — The Castle
Hope dreamt she was at a carnival. It was night. She heard, saw, felt people around her, faces whirring by on rides that changed in shape and function. Roller coasters became Ferris Wheels. Tilt-a-whirls became Round-ups. There was an overly tall, overly thin man leading an elephant with spindly, equine legs. The man turned, his face long and chiseled like a statue from Easter Island, and he set a blank, stony glare onto Hope.
he said, his voice booming, seeming to speak inside of her head.
“What?” Hope said to the man. She followed him, walking beside the spindle legs of the elephant. But the elephant was gone, the man ducking behind a large carousel. Hope stood beside the carousel, watching children spinning past her, clapping, hollering, riding atop real horses. The spinning slowed, a child leaned from a horse, reaching to her, saying,
in the same, loud, booming voice, amplified as if through a megaphone. The dream was falling apart. The rides blurring into other shapes. Where was the man? Where was the elephant? The horses? The children? Shapes fell away as suddenly as they appeared, all becoming smoke, a black addled fog, through which, droned the voice,
“What are you telling me?”
“William Knight,” the voice trumpeted through the hazy fog of her dream.
Immediately, her memory conjured William Knight, her new classmate. The one that had marched up to her, introduced himself, and then vanished into a sea of students. But why was his name ringing in her dream, the way it rang in her head all that day? As her mind grasped the questions turning in her dreaming thoughts, she felt a sensation as if someone opened the top of her head and filled her skull with water. And then Hope was in Ms. Bradford’s math class, the dungeon of blinding, fluorescent lighting and shiny desktops. No one else was in the room. She looked down at herself, noticing the plaid boxer shorts and the gray Dutch Horse T-shirt she wore to bed. Then it struck her, she was in the famous gotta take a test in my pajamas dream. But it didn’t look or feel like a dream. There were no shifting images or Dali-esque abstractions. Instead, there was an actual sense of gravity and time. The clock in the classroom buzzed. The stale stench of boredom and chalk dust tickled her nose. She felt the cool, gritty hardness of the graying tile floor beneath her bare feet. And she felt a presence, someone nearby, watching. “Hello, Hope,” a voice said from behind her. Hope jerked from the chair, standing and turning with a start. William Knight stood in the back of the room.
“You,” was all Hope could say. William stood still for what seemed a long time, perhaps waiting for more of Hope’s statement, but when nothing followed, he spread his arms in an unenthusiastic ta-da gesture. He somehow looked different than he did in the waking day, a little more vibrant, a little more real. Hope reminded herself that this was only a dream, but she was beyond observing herself through the hazy wash of her subconscious evident in most dreams. She looked down at herself again. Five fingers. Five toes. Still wearing her sleeping attire. Was it possible she had sleepwalked to school and William just happened to be there? But it was daylight. The sun streamed through the classroom’s windows, dust floating on the streaked, white bands like tiny organisms skating on planes of light. The buzzing clock read 7:15, the time of Ms. Bradford’s math class. “Am I dreaming?” Hope asked William.
William said, “Well, yeah.”
“Why are you in my dream?”
“Shouldn’t you ask yourself that?” the boy said.
Hope didn’t really have an answer for that.
The boy regarded her gaping expression, and said, “All right, look, do you wanna see something really cool?”
The last time Hope heard these words, a drunken Bobby Bailey dug to retrieve something from his open fly. Since then, she wasn’t too eager to see the prospects those words might bring. “What is it?” she said.
“You’ll see.” William grinned. “Do you want to see it or not?”
“I don’t know.” Distrust betrayed her voice. “It depends on what it is.”
“Well, I can’t really tell you. I kind of need to show you.”
“Look, forget it,” William said, turning as if to walk away.
“No.” Hope noticed an underlying desire in her voice. “I do want to see it.”
William smiled. “Okay. Good,” he said.
The walls of the classroom vanished. Hope and William stood in a field. Hope could smell the bouquet of grass and she felt the blades beneath her bare feet. Above them, billowing clouds crept across a cerulean sky. Sunlight warmed her face. A breeze kissed her lips and cheeks, brushing the hair from her forehead.
“Give me your hand.” William reached toward her.
Hope paused, distrust again betraying her expression.
“C’mon, trust me, you’re gonna love this,” William said, shaking his hand in emphasis.
Hope gave him her hand. She felt a slight electric charge, her heart dropping, or leaping, she wasn’t quite sure which.
“Ready?” William said, and when Hope nodded, they shot into the air, climbing into the sky with dizzying speed.
Hope looked down to see the grass field thousands of feet below them. And still, they climbed, breaking through billowing clouds. Hope closing her eyes, feeling a moment of soft mist upon her face, and when she opened them, she saw a massive cloudbank stretching beneath them like a field of snow. The sky deepened to purple, unmasking countless stars around them, and William gestured for Hope to look behind them. The full moon rested on the cloudbank’s distant edge like a dreamer’s head upon a pillow. Hope looked again into William’s face, and he had a look of… complete panic. With a pleading voice, he said, “Oh no, not now.”
Hope fell. She no longer felt William’s hand in her own. The wind again thundered in her ears, and as she broke through the clouds, she saw the grass field approaching thousands of feet below her. William was gone, and she reached to her sides as if to brace her fall, but there was only the wind for her to grasp. She sat up in her bed, drinking the familiar landscape of her dark bedroom with heaving quaffs of breath.
The clock beside her bed read ten after two in the morning. She lay down again, her heart beating steady and hard, and she tried recalling the dream, the classroom, William Knight, their flight, but as she recalled the images, they twisted and hazed, lifting her gently off to sleep again. She took a deep, sighing breath, and caught the ghostly bouquet of fresh grass.
“William. William. Wake up, William, wake up.”
William Knight woke with a start. He was on the couch. The light of the television flickered on the walls of the dark living room, and Greta Knight’s glowing, blue-white face loomed over him like a radioactive thunderhead.
“Wha… what?” he said, stretching and reaching out of sleep.
“William, it’s after two in the morning. You fell asleep watching television. I heard voices and thought someone had broken in, and then I come down, my heart racing, and there you are, sleeping on the couch, and it was the television the whole time, and…”
“Aw, Greta, why’d you have to wake meeaaw?” the end of his question stretched into a violent yawn.
“You need to sleep in your own bed, William, otherwise, you’ll end up with a spine all bent outa whack. They don’t check boys your age for scoliosis for nothing. And besides, you shouldn’t sleep in front of the television. Being bombarded with all those particles like that. You want cancer? You want those electromagnetic pulses to scramble your brain waves? Now come on, you need to sleep in your bed.”
“I mean it.” She clapped her hands twice, “Chop-chop, let’s go.”
William sat up, rubbing his face and yawning again.
“Let’s go, now,” Greta said. She trudged off toward her bedroom, mumbling to herself, “We’ll see who was right when he’s sitting hairless from the chemotherapy, we’ll see who was right when…”
William stood, wobbly, disoriented by the flickering apparitions of light dancing across the walls. He grabbed the remote control off the coffee table and snapped off the dancing phantoms and bombarding photons. In the stillness of the living room, his voice cut the dark, “I had her.”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 10 — A Little Advice