Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer of My Dreams

In submission to the Aug 27 Friday Challenge, "What I Did Last Summer."

I bubbled in the last spot on my Scantron, then set my #2 pencil down on the desk and looked around the classroom. The air was quiet with teen concentration, which hung over the room like an oppressive cloud, disturbed only occasionally by sighs and soft scribbles of lead on Scantron cards. I propped my arm on the desk and cupped my chin in my hand and sighed myself.

This was inhumane. Finally done, and still held captive.

I rolled my pencil back and forth between my thumb and my fingers, but the reverberations across the desktop seemed particularly loud in this quiet, so that I became exceedingly conscious of the noise. I worried that Mrs. Fletcher would look up and frown. A frown might mean that freedom would be deferred longer for one last lecture of the year.

I silenced the pencil.

I looked one row over and four rows up at Becky Lou Harrison's blond hair. Cut short, but still long enough to be considered "chin-length," it afforded me no glimpse of her face. But the hair was enough. Like cascades of shimmering sunshine, bobbing slightly as she read over her exam. She looked only halfway done, but that didn't seem right: Becky was head of the class. Oh, she must be checking over her work.

For a brief moment I considered whether I'd do better at my exams if I checked my work, too, then I tossed such a silly idea out the window in favor of continuing to stare at the graceful curve of Becky's neck. But after a couple of minutes my mind began to wander. I yawned.

Folding my arms across my desk, I bent my head down, sinking my nose down into the crook of my elbow so that my eyes were buried in the warm darkness of my arm. I continued to let my mind wander, but remembering my technique I stayed conscious of where it went, keeping it close at hand.

I decided to explore further the cloud of teen concentration. It condensed around me, blotting out the classroom in a dense fog. I wafted through it and realized it was formed by the steam pumping out of everyone's ears. I got up from my desk and walked around in the cloud. Mrs. Fletcher wouldn't be able to see me through the cloud. I walked straight to the front of the classroom and slipped quietly out the door.

The halls were empty. There was nothing to see in the halls. Besides, I needed freedom. I need the sun. I flew down the halls and burst out the double doors. A homeless man gave me a thumbs-up as I passed him, then shouldered his school bag and entered the building. Of course, it was summer, so he'd have a place to stay while school was out, and Mrs. Fletcher might even teach him to read.

I needed to find something unusual to see. The parking lot was no good. I rounded around the building and headed for the portables. I didn't have any classes this semester in the portables, so I never spent any time around them. They seemed more maze-like than I remembered. I frowned and kept going deeper into the portable jungle. I needed to find something unusual to see.

The arts and crafts portable had been turned into a zoo. A giraffe had its head poked out of the window, looking down at me. He licked my ears. I shrugged him off and kept searching. I needed to find something unusual to see, and I felt like it must be at the back portable.

When I got there, I peeked in the window. Just students taking their final exams. Mr. Dunlap pacing at the front of the room. This would not be helpful. I walked up and down the access ramp a couple of times. Then I noticed the kittens.

I did not hear them, of course. But I knew they were there. I hung by my toes over the railing at the end of the ramp and peered into darkness beneath the portable. A panel had come loose and hung lopsided. And just inside lay a stray mother cat and her kittens. The cat looked at me and I knew it growled. I didn't mean it any harm, I was just excited to see something unusual. Then Mama Cat opened her mouth and began ringing.

The door to the portable burst open and all of Mr. Dunlap's students began pouring out. Then their voices and footsteps slowly merged with the sounds of movement back in Mrs. Fletcher's class. I lifted my head and blinked blearily at the brightness of the fluorescent lights. The sound of the schoolbell stopped reaching my ears but kept echoing in my mind.

I yawned and stretched, and slowly stood up, gathering all of my things. Most of the students had moved much faster than me, and a hefty stack of Scantrons was growing on Mrs. Fletcher's desk. She bade everyone a good summer as they passed by.

I set my own Scantron down on the stack. "Later, Mrs. Fletcher."

She smiled almost happily at me. "Have a good summer, Michael."

"Will do, Mrs. Fletcher." I hurried out the door.

In the hall, I found Marvin waiting for me. "Dude, Mikey, that's it! It's summer! We're done!"


"This calls for a celebration! Wanna go see a movie or something?"

"Sure, but there's something I gotta do first."

"Like what?"

"Eh, just come along, it'll only take a second."

We headed out the back door of the school, walking against the flow of excitedly liberated teenagers. Marvin had to skip and jump to keep up with me as I wove my way through the crowd.

"Yo, Mike, what are you doing?"

"I just have to see something before I go."

"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure Becky was heading the other way, you know, to summer."

"Uh huh."

The crowd thinned out as we got into the portables area. I walked directly to the farthest one back, Mr. Dunlap's portable. Marvin followed me up the ramp, but chose to simply lean on the rails after I swung over them.

I crouched down to peer underneath the portable. Marvin peered down at me from above. "Got any big plans for the summer?" he asked.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness beneath the portable and I could somewhat make out a furry form. A couple of high-pitched mews struck my ears. I smiled.

"Yeah, I'm going to make Becky Lou Harrison fall in love with me."

Marvin scoffed. "Yeah right, like that's gonna happen. Maybe in your dreams, Mike."

I grinned up at him.


I squinted at the sunlight coming through the window. With a groan, I turned my face into the cool dark of my pillow. Don't wake up yet, I told myself. Remember where you just were. You had walked down the street, it was daytime. The Sanderses were throwing a lawn party for the CIA. You picked up some punch, continued walking, because you had some business to do at the church. Made it down to the church, looked up at the marquee....

I leaped out of bed, tossing the covers aside. Sprinting down the stairs, I burst out the front door. The sidewalk was still cool in the morning sun as I padded down the street. Mrs. Sanders watered her begonias to overflowing as she stared at me running past. I continued running, barely stopping to check for traffic as I crossed the street to the church.

I stopped at the foot of the church sign, my bare chest heaving as I gazed wide-eyed at the reader board with interchangeable letters beneath it.

It read:
9 - 10 AM

For a moment, I wondered if I was still dreaming. The fact that I was standing out on the street in nothing but my boxers and more people were starting to stare (in addition to Mrs. Sanders) did not help me with that. But I could feel the cold and wet of the dew on the berm beneath my feet. I pinched my stomach hard and felt actual pain, not just pressure or knowledge of pain.

I was awake. And the sign had been rearranged.

I raced back home, as much with excitement as with desire to get away from my staring neighbors. I went straight for the phone.

"Hi, Mrs. Peterson. This is Mike Reeves. Is Marvin available?

"Marvin! Meet me at Sam's as soon as you can! I did it!"

Sam's Diner was situated just off the highway at Pleasanton and Main. It had the best ice cream sundaes in town, and Marvin and I often relished them in the far back booth of the diner.

Marvin was sucking the mixture of melted ice cream and syrup out of the bottom of his glass, the straw making loud percolating noises as he regularly caught air. He paused in mid-suck and squunched his eyebrows.

"Are you sure they were in the correct order before?" he asked.

"Listen, Marvin, this isn't something easily confused like with your dinosaur models. I know the sign read correctly yesterday. I wrote down last night that I wanted to reverse it. And this morning--"

"But I thought you couldn't read in dreams." He resumed his sundae woodwind performance.

"You can't. Well, not like when we're awake. But you can see text, and I just had the goal of switching ends back and forth. Cripes, bud, are you finished with that yet?"

Marvin stopped sucking on his straw. "How'd you reach the letters, anyway?"

I shrugged. "I dunno. Flew, or maybe I dreamed up a ladder."

"So what does the book say to try next?"

I pushed the empty glasses aside and wiped clean some space on the table before laying down my heavily dog-eared copy of Malachi Alfred Chaplin Hewett's The Untapped Mind. I opened it up to the section on Astral Projection.

"I'm basically there. The next step is communication with another dreamer."

"So you're gonna do it. You're gonna walk your dream self over to Becky Lou Harrison and tell her that you love her." Marvin looked like he was going to choke.

"Well, not exactly. That won't do much good anyway. Instead, I'm gonna hold her and tell her that she's safe with me."

Marvin squeezed his eyebrows together again. "Don't you think that's a little creepy? Crawling into her bed while she sleeps and brainwashing her to love you?"

I felt my face growing hot. "Well, of course it sounds creepy when you put it that way! Geez Louise, Marvin!"

"That's basically what you're doing, though."

"Not at all! First of all, this is not a sort of mind control; there's an entire other chapter on mind control and none of them are done by dream projections. And second, I'm not going to do anything inappropriate to her! 'Incubism is a perversion of the gift.' " I smacked a hand down on the book as I quoted from it. " 'But one can express deep affection, a closeness which is possible for the dream recipient to reject.' I won't be forcing her to do anything."

"Okay, Mike, if you say so."

That night I wrote down in my dream journal that I was going to the Harrisons' backyard to sleep in the hammock. When we had first started school last year, Mrs. Fletcher had made us all write essays about summer and read them aloud to the class, and Becky's had mentioned that she often liked to sleep out on the hammock on warm summer nights. I knew I had no ill intent, but Marvin's words had gotten to me, anyway, so I figured dreaming together on the hammock was less offensive than appearing at her bed.

I made it out to the hammock, but there were only stuffed teddy bears there. It began raining, and I wrapped a tree around myself to shelter from the rain. A cockroach danced about in the hollow of the tree, and then we all drained down together into the sewers.

The next night I could not remember my dream, but I knew I had been unable to reach the hammock.

But the third night I stood over Becky Lou Harrison as she slept in the hammock in her backyard. Her angelic blond hair was tangled and tossed over her eyes, but her cute little nose shone pale in the moonlight. She had a coverlet tossed over herself.

I slipped in from underneath. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and we had spent the evening talking. The netting of the hammock felt tight along my back and legs, but the night air was pleasant and the pillow soft. Becky laid her head on my chest for her pillow, her eyes closed happily and her breathing soft and steady. She had accepted my presence. I had one arm wrapped at her side and the other hand over her hand on my chest. As I lay on my back, looking at the stars that appeared through the cracks in the leaves above, I realized that this was the happiest dream of my life. I never wanted to wake up again.

I dipped my head, letting my cheek touch that golden hair, and listened for her dream thoughts. I listened, and then I heard evil.

Evil was in the house. I floated up through Becky and the coverlet and appeared at the back porch. Something was not right. I entered the house and wandered through the dark rooms, looking for the source of the wrong. In the bedroom, Becky's bedroom, a man with a dark face and gloves -- a burglar!

I had to stop him. What if he left through the back and found Becky? I had to protect Becky!

The burglar was looking through her dresser drawers. "Hurry," I told him. "Rip out the drawers as fast as you can, there is not much time."

He began a more frenzied search of valuables. Jewelry? Drawers opening, shutting. How could I stop him? Maybe I should try to wake Mr. Harrison.

"Check the wardrobe," I advised the burglar. It was tall and dark and made of very heavy wood. I squeezed into the less than an inch of space between the wall and wardrobe. It was very cramped. The burglar was pawing through the other side. I squirmed up toward the top of the wardrobe and pushed, toppling the wardrobe over on top of the burglar with a tremendous crash. Then I ran out of the room to get the police.

I woke up in a cold sweat. At first I wanted to call 911, but then I figured the operator would laugh at me when I told her I had seen a burglar at the Harrisons' in my dream. So I went downstairs and got a glass of milk and sat at the kitchen table until dawn.

That evening, Dad looked over at Mom during dinner. "Did you hear?" he said. "The Harrisons' had a burglar break into their house last night."

Mom gasped. "Oh no, that's terrible! Is everyone all right?"

"Oh, yeah, and they caught the guy," Dad said. "Apparently he's a klutz, and knocked a wardrobe over on himself as he was looking for stuff to steal."


"I can't believe summer is over already," Marvin whined, then tossed another potato chip into his mouth.

I hardly heard him. I crunched my empty brown bag up into a little ball.

"I mean, geez," Marvin continued, "Mr. Sura gave us homework already. The first day! What's with that, man? Who wants to write about what they did all summer?"

I kept gazing across the room.

"What are you gonna write about, anyway, Mike? It's not like you can write about all your dream adventures."

"I dunno," I said, "Maybe I could write some of them up and pass it off as fiction. Surely an English teacher would have to appreciate my creativity."

"Psshhh," Marvin scoffed. "No way. Teachers take points off when you don't follow the assignment to the letter. You'll get failed for not saying what you really did this summer."

"I'll write something boring then. Mowed lawns, read books, slept in, that sort of thing. Might as well let Mr. Sura know early I'm a slacker, for all the time I'll probably be sleeping in class."

Across the room, Becky Lou Harrison got up from her table. I bolted up from my seat.

"Huh? You going somewhere?" Marvin asked.

"Yeah," I said. "Dreams are fine, but one of the things I did this summer was grow up. It's about time for me to start making my dreams a reality."

Then, still awake, I went to hold a conversation with Becky Lou Harrison.