It always begins the same way. I'll be sitting in a coffee shop with my back to the window. After taking a sip of my drink and setting it down someone hands me a paper. Their face is a blur. I've read you can't dream faces you've never seen, probably not true, but my subconscious is obviously convinced. Most of the faces are fuzzy. Even my own as I catch a reflection trailing the stranger out the door.
The paper is called the Herald, or occasionally the Times. There, in bold print, is my name, accompanied by an image of the coffee shop. Or rather, the corner. Most of the time it's blackened rubble, sometimes a towering inferno. There is no explanation before I am ripped out of my skin and suddenly lay immobilized in a warm pool, feeling my heart stop beating.
But that isn't the worst part; the worst part is waiting. Waiting to fall asleep. Knowing what awaits you. It's like the hiccups, only I'm dead ... and it happens every night. You might think, hey you get used to it. You don't. Whatever part of my brain knows it isn't real doesn't know that as I watch people collapsing with the building around me.
So sleeping has become hard. I toss a lot, sometimes I write. Lately though, the dream has begun spilling into reality. The pieces of the dream have begun elucidating. The coffee shop is now almost always one near my office. I frequent it dispite this fact, since no other coffee will get me through the day now that I function without sleep. The Newspaper bears an uncanny resemblance to the free offering that usually litters the place.
And the person? Everything but that face now. A man with long arms and a short torso. He is always short looking, and when he hands me the paper, his shirtsleeves ride up. Right, the suit. He wears a suit. Grey, and fancy, but ill fitting. It sets him apart from everyone else I can see. They are dressed casually, in bright colours.
Nowadays I can't help but wonder if maybe he is prophetic. If this is a warning of some kind. I have never believed in spirits or angels, but when you can't find another answer, you begin to re-consider. There hasn't been any violence in my neighbourhood. Perhaps 'terrorism', or some jilted ex-con. But here? It's a tiny town with very few people. Nothing out of the ordinary takes place around here. Maybe that's it. Maybe my brain just wants something to happen. So it harasses me incessantly from sundown to sunrise.
Here we are again. Face down in a pile of blankets wrapped feverishly about my limbs. To the casual observer it would surely seem as though I was in the process of erotic suicide. My eyes dry, itchy, blink achingly at the darkness. There comes a point where my reserves are depleted, and hellish dreams dull in compare to a waking nightmare.
Letting go, I am enveloped by the perky, bittersweet aroma of java. It is complimented by light chatter. The warmth of sunshine on my back and the cold surface of a chair underneath me. I can't remember how long I've been here. Remembering the outcome, I grasp hard to this moment. The calm. I hear a mother soothing her baby. That soft re-assuring cadence only a mother can intone.
"It's okay... shhhhh... it's alright, there you go..."
If only. My grip loosens and the dream speeds up. I'm slammed into my chair, with the focus and volume being adjusted all at once. My eyes hurt from the bright light and someone bumps into my leg. Hard. I shout at them, but my assailant says nothing,
That was new. I've never been bumped before. My imagination ignites at the prospect, as all the furniture in the cafe begins floating off the ground. I try to focus the scene back into place, but the harder I try, the more things fall apart.
Instead I try to relax. Deep breaths. Eventually the murmur of patrons disperses the fog, and everything is crystal clear once more. I look down at the paper, and see the date. It's today? Of course it's today, what other paper would it be? I get an uneasy shiver down my spine. things feel so real.
Shifting my weight, I become aware of a tightness around my waist. It is cumbersome, with metallic clasps, and in the back a massive burden. A ... bomb. bomb? BOMB? I sit up straight, looking as casual as doomsday in slacks. I begin to pull back my suit jacket, following the wires back to see if I can...
I look up to see the man in the suit is handing me something. It's a flyer for dry cleaning. Makes sense, I'm wearing a suit, which is to conceal the bomb. Leading us back to the begging question. Why the bomb? Is this a warning? A foreshadowing. An omen?
I hadn't realized how calm i was. Here I am, strapped to my fate, more collected than I've ever been. But it's a dream, right? Normalcy had stepped out for a moment. Still my palms broke into sweat.
Too many questions, my head was swirling. I picked up the glass of water on the table and had a sip. Real or not, it was my drink now. A young lady across the shop smiled at me, and an older lady scowled at us both. I could feel the sweat soaking through the waistband near the explosive.
I still wasn't sure whether or not to care. If this was a dream, just had to wait till the end. But the end was always with a bang. How long could one wait for that. If I was now the catalyst, should I play my part and finish it myself. I was getting ready to panic.
"Don't do anything stupid."
Someone half whispered as they sat down across the table.
"You'll only accelerate the process." He was a small man, with a neat comb over which he was replacing having removed his hat and gloves.
"Who are you?" I waste no time, the fabric of the belt searing tighter into my flesh with each new revelation.
"I", he begins. Pausing, and grunting, he reaches into an attaché and pulls out a folder.
"Am your handler. I'm here to keep you on track."
What? The fog was creeping in again, just as things were getting interesting!
"You are part of the ongoing incitement of terror in the developed world." My mouth was agape. I would do no such thing. He opened the folder to produce a contract that clearly bore my signature.
I would never. I'm a normal person, I'm a teacher, I go to work, I pay taxes. I have a dog and I volunteer. I could not muster anything.
"I'm sorry Mr. Felding, but you would, and you did. For the past six weeks you have been conditioned into a stupor through creative manipulation of your very perception of reality."
I started to figure that if that didn't wake me, nothing would. My heart was pounding into my neck but I still lacked focus on the room.
You've taken the final dose. In the water when you awoke. that also means our time together is complete. I am merely here as a formality, and to inform you that we have honoured our end, and she is recovering quite successfully.
"Who?" I ask.
"Your daughter," he replies. A bemused smile parts his lips.
"It's normal not to remember. You wanted help from us, and we got you in return."
"Who are you people?
"Makes no difference to you now." He places the files back in the bag, and his hat atop his brow.
I tried to watch where he went, but my head remained glued to my chest, every muscle tingling with relaxant. I managed to stand, which must have been frightening to witness, I stumbled to the counter to warn them. I could hear a beeping, slow at first, but growing more rapid with each second.
I pushed as hard as I could. Fighting every inclination to collapse and be done with it. But something told me this was it, and that all I had to do now was make it the last few feet. Fall forward on the counter as someone behind me screams. Kaboom.
I lie motionless for a few seconds. Wondering if I've crossed into the next life. I can't believe how real it all seemed. The room comes into focus. I close my eyes again and scream softly to myself as the slot opens in the door and my food slides in.