Become a Fan
Dreaming While You Sleep
By Mark C Bradley
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
A man dies in his sleep, and introduced to his own dream world, which co-exists with ours.
“Jared! C’mon, wake up you lazy thing!” Kim’s voice called out from the kitchen. “I made your favorite for breakfast: blueberry pancakes!” She paused for a moment, waiting to hear a sudden shuffle from the bedroom and see her fiancé scurry to the table half-dressed.
But he didn’t come.
“Jared? Honey?” Kim set the plate of pancakes down on the countertop and walked quickly down the hall toward the bedroom, her maroon robe flapping against her legs. She opened the door slowly, as sometimes Jared would jump out and scare her out of her mind.
Instead, Jared was still in bed, lying in the fetal position that he always slept in. His short black hair was pushed to one side from the pillow, and his cheeks were darkened by the stubble he had yet to shave this morning. She walked to his side of the bed and rubbed his head gently. She whispered in his ear, “Wake up, sleepyhead.”
A wave of worry swept over her. Jared was a light sleeper, so he should be awake by now.
In her training as a lifeguard at the community pool, Kim learned how to check a pulse and give CPR. She felt his wrists, but there was no sign of a pulse. “Oh my god!” she screamed. Her heart pounded in her chest as she picked up the phone on the nightstand. She could hardly hold the phone in her trembling hands.
Fortunately the ambulance dispatch wasn’t far. Within minutes the paramedics had arrived and had already started assessing Jared’s condition. Kim had been pacing around in the living room, tears streaming down her face. She curled up on the new blue couch she and Jared had just bought for their new home, and wiped the tears away with the back of her hand.
Kim could hear the paramedics in the bedroom calling out stats and numbers. Though she didn’t know what any of the numbers meant, she knew things looked grim. She closed her eyes and thought of the happy times in her five year relationship with Jared: the trips they took through the countryside, the parties with friends and family, and last Valentine’s Day, when Jared asked her to marry him. She forced a smile as the head paramedic entered the room.
“I’m riding in the back with Jared,” was all she could say as she rushed to the bedroom to get dressed.
The ride to the hospital seemed to take forever. The medics in the back hooked Jared to a portable oxygen tank and EKG monitor. The IV bag pumped fluids into him quickly.
“What do you think happened?” Kim asked.
“His heart is probably giving out. Has he been under much stress lately?”
Kim thought. “I don’t think so. Everything was going great, he loved his job and we were engaged.” She choked back a sob.
“Dr. Rodriguez will check him out, and let you know.” He smiled, hoping it would calm her a bit. She just looked out the small window until they reached the hospital.
Kim had watched “ER” on television many times, but it was nothing like real life. She expected it to be bustling with cases of diabetes, comas, heart problems, broken bones and assorted gunshot and stab wounds, but it was very slow in the emergency room today.
The medics rushed Jared to an empty bed, and connected him to all sorts of monitors that Kim couldn’t name. She had to wait outside, but watched nervously through the pane of glass that separated her from her fiancé.
“Would you like to sit down?” a petite voice spoke from behind Kim. She turned around to see one of the nurses holding a chair.
“No, thanks. I’ll sit in the waiting room.” She couldn’t bear to watch. Right now the doctors had the defibrillators out and pressed against his chest. As she walked off toward the waiting room, that last thing she could hear was the nurse shout “Clear!”
It was a good thing the waiting room was empty. Kim burst into tears again, leaning her head against the vending machine. Normally when she was upset, she craved chocolate, but even that didn’t seem to appeal to her as she looked at the assortment of candies in the machine. She wanted Dr. Rodriguez to come and tell her that Jared was all right and could go home, not necessarily today – that was too much to hope for – but in a few days at most.
A little after noon, Dr. Rodriguez finally came in. Kim stood up and awaited his prognosis, but she could already tell that something was not right. “Ms. Fields? I’m sorry to tell you this, but Mr. Harris’ heart suddenly stopped beating, and we were unable to start it up again.”
Kim’s already bloodshot eyes were filling up again. She melted into the chair and buried her face into her hands.
“Jared died in his sleep. There is nothing we can do for him now. I’m terribly sorry.”
* * *
Jared felt like he was falling. He opened his blue-gray eyes. Instead of snuggling in his warm bed, surrounded by flannel sheets and a warm comforter, he lay on a bench in the middle of a park, freezing. He sat up and looked around. It was a scene he remembered from a dream he had years ago: a park with topiaries in the shapes of naked women. Each bush was just as he remembered it in the dream. “Ok, Kim. The joke is over. Where are you?”
It had to be some practical joke; there was no other logical explanation. Jared was the sort of person who believed in logic, and this didn’t fit in. He tried to think of anyone who would, or could, do this to him. He hadn’t told anyone except Kim about this dream. But she didn’t show herself.
Jared dreamily arose from his seat. Deep purples stretched across the sky, the clouds and moon a vibrant orange, suspended delicately, like a sunset. How strange, afterall, for it was morning.
Up ahead, he noticed a man limping toward him. As the man neared him, Jared could see that he was seriously hurt, bandaged around the head and chest. “Look at what you did to me!” he growled.
The gritty, monotonic voice was unmistakable. It belonged to Chris, one of his co-workers, whom he had gotten into an argument with at work a while ago, about what he couldn’t remember now. But he knew he had made up with him since. Of course, he had had a dream later in which he beat Chris to a pulp with a metal pipe. This was getting too strange, almost scary. Why were things from his dreams reoccurring all of a sudden? Maybe he was still dreaming.
Chris sneered at Jared and began a litany of sincere, well-chosen expletives.
“I’m sorry…” Jared couldn’t finish. One quick blow to the head from what looked like a lead pipe knocked him to the ground.
Jared didn’t know how long he was out, but when he regained consciousness he knew he was still in the park and not in his bed. He reached up and felt the bruise on his scalp. It still hurt. “Man, I mustn’t be dreaming after all.”
“Actually, you are, Jared.” A voice with a Jamaican accent came out of nowhere.
“Excuse me?” Jared looked around.
“You are still dreaming. The only reason why you can feel pain is that you are a permanent resident here.” Leaning against a tree was a black man with a thick Afro, dressed in a Baltimore Ravens t-shirt, khaki shorts and wearing sunglasses.
“Where the hell am I?”
“You’re in your dream world.
“Dream world?” Jared’s head was still reeling. “What is this? Who are you?”
“You don’t know who I am? I’m the king of lullaby. I’m Sandman.” Sandman adjusted his glasses and walked over to Jared. “Your heart stopped beating, and you died in your sleep. Your soul remains here. Things will not be exactly as you remember them, but how you dreamed them to be. You can remember your dream about Chris?”
“In the real world when you wake up, the dream is over. And in time you forget about it in the waking world. But here, everything continues on, and things you have done have not changed. Chris remembers what you did to him, and that’s why he attacked you. You’ll meet others like him, and they’ll know what you did and said to them, and won’t forget it.”
This was too much for Jared to handle. “I don’t believe this crap!” He started running, not caring where he was going. Was he really dead and still dreaming? The question burned in his mind. Jared finally stopped running, in front of the Eiffel Tower with a pair of his boxer shorts flying from it.
None other than Kim’s sister, Carrie, was lying on a bench underneath.
“Hi, cutie! Come over here and sit with me!”
Jared walked over and sat next to her. She was beautiful, but in this “dream world” she was even more gorgeous than he remembered. She was dressed in a way that he found irresistible: a long pink angora sweater and black leather mini-skirt. “I’m glad you found me here.” She started touching his face playfully.
“But what about Kim?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said, turning his face toward her. “I’m going to tell Kim about our little tryst. You do remember, don’t you?” Carrie put Jared’s hand on her lap.
He couldn’t remember ever making a move on Carrie. In fact, it was Carrie that had introduced Kim to him, at an office party before Carrie was transferred to another location. Even though he started dating Kim, he and Carrie had always remained close, but he would never hit on her. In a dream of his, however, he had taken advantage of Carrie, and, strangely enough, she was wearing the same outfit she wore now.
“Yes, I remember.”
“I wonder what Kim would say…” Carrie stood up, and in a flash she was gone.
A large clap of thunder boomed in the distance. Jared looked off in the direction from where the sound came and saw a giant black cloud that swirled and churned like a tornado. Instead of rain pouring from the cloud, bolts of red lightning struck the ground, creating something that Jared couldn’t see. All he could say was “cool…”
“You wouldn’t think it was so cool if you knew what that cloud was.” It was Sandman again. Jared turned around. “That’s a nightmare storm. It creates your bad dreams with each bolt of lightning.” Sandman pointed at the cloud. Another bolt of red lightning hit, and at the spot of the strike stood a huge German shepherd. The dog’s gaping jaws dripped with saliva, and the image reminded Jared of the time he was attacked by a German shepherd when he was a child, which haunted his dreams even in his adult years. He shivered without realizing it.
“I think we should get going,” Jared suggested as he walked off, not looking back at the cloud. The garden, the Eiffel Tower, Chris, Carrie, and the German shepherd were all from his dreams. Was what Sandman said true ? It was hard to believe, but Jared was now starting to believe it. And now he found himself in another scene from a dream. He was in a dark alley of a ghetto neighborhood. The sky was filled with a thick, yellow tinted fog, probably the smoke from cigarettes pouring out of the windows.
In the waking world, Jared could never interpret the meaning behind the neighborhood in this dream. He remembered getting lost, though, and having to climb fences and jump through yards to find his way home. Jared looked around at the people closing in on him; they were drug addicts, winos, criminals, and the worst scum of any neighborhood in the real world. Their eerie gaze pierced him, and he could hear approaching thunder in the distance. He started running as fast as he could.
If this was a dream, Jared could have just shaken himself awake. He was pretty good at that. Instead, he closed his eyes and whispered “Sandman” over and over.
“Don’t like what you see? You just think you’ll wake up and all this will be over, don’t you?”
Jared looked up, and noticed he was seated in an armchair in a large room. An elegant crystal chandelier hung over his head, and the walls were painted a deep maroon color. The faint smell of freesia incense seemed to linger in the air.
Sandman sat across from him in a chair similar to his, stroking his chin. “It doesn’t work that way now, Jared. Things in this world are as real as what you remember from your former life.”
“Then why am I here, and not still in that horrible neighborhood? I wasn’t able to change that.”
“That’s because I’m the Sandman. This is my realm, and I can change whatever I please.” Sandman flicked his wrist, and suddenly the surroundings began to swirl and fade, morphing into an office room. The armchairs were now swivel chairs, and a large desk stood between Jared and Sandman. A laser printer in one of the corners of the room started humming and beeping. “Look familiar, Jared?”
“This is my office at work.” Jared stood and walked around the office. Everything was out of order. A calendar of strange impressionistic artwork hung over the wastebasket by the door, and picture frames containing distorted photos of Kim and his family sat on his desk.
Jared plopped back into the swivel chair behind the desk and sighed, closing his eyes. Suddenly, a loud clap of thunder boomed around him. Jared jumped and opened his eyes and saw a flash of red. A bolt of lightning had struck his computer.
“What the hell?” The computer was unharmed, but on the screen, there was a message that said an e-mail message had come in. “It’s from Kim. She’s being attacked!” He leaped from his seat and bolted out the door, not paying attention to the fact that his office was now in the middle of an open field.
It was too late. He saw Kim’s body fall into a bed of humongous cattails. He tried to run to her, but it felt like he was running in slow motion. By the time Jared reached her, Kim was mutilated beyond recognition. Jared loomed over her body, bawling. “Sandman, I want to see Kim again! Please! The real Kim.” There was no answer. “I beg of you, one last time to see her is all I ask.”
Sandman finally appeared, and for the first time Jared saw a look of concern on his face instead of the expressionless demeanor he had shown up to this point. “Really, I’m not supposed to do this, but I can permit you to see your lover one last time, by visiting her in her dreams, but there is one condition.”
“Yes, anything…” Jared wiped the tears from his eyes.
“You must not make physical contact with her in any way, or there will be a serious consequence.”
“I can’t say, but it could cause her great harm if you don’t follow that one condition.” Sandman adjusted his glasses.
Jared nodded and composed himself. “I understand. Now, please let me see Kim.”
Sandman placed his hand against Jared’s forehead. Jared closed his eyes, and could see Kim getting into bed. Normally she looked beautiful, but as Jared looked upon her he saw that she was still traumatized by his death. Her auburn hair was a mess, and her face was flushed as if she had been crying. She slipped under the covers, and drifted off to sleep. Jared felt himself being drawn into her dream.
They were on a tropical island beach and everything around them was perfect: the water was blue like sapphire and the sun’s warmth comforted them. Kim lay on a blanket, wearing a skimpy two-piece. Jared noticed that he was naked. I never knew she dreamt about me like this, he thought, chuckling to himself.
But it was so good to see her again. He wished that she could stay with him in the dream world, but he knew that was impossible.
“So, honey, what do you want to do?” Kim ran her hands down her sides teasingly.
“I just want to look on you, my love,” he replied. He wanted to touch her, but Sandman’s reminder kept ringing in his ear.
“Oh, come on, I know what it is that you want,” she purred, getting up from the blanket and dancing around him in the sand. She looked so beautiful now, and the temptation to reach out and grab her was overcoming his common sense. What could possibly happen if he just kissed her? Maybe Sandman just meant no sexual contact.
Jared embraced Kim like he never had before, holding her close in his arms and placing a kiss on her soft lips.
“Oh, Jared…” Kim’s voice seemed to weaken. For a moment she stood motionless, and then she fell to her knees. Jared scooped her up, and stroked her hair as she started breathing again. “Jared, I missed you so much. Where have you been?” Kim looked around. “Where am I? I thought I was at home in bed.”
* * *
Carrie Fields knocked on the front door to her sister’s home. “Okay, Kim, where are you? We were supposed to go to the cemetery today,” she said to herself. She stood around a few moments before using the spare key from behind the mailbox to let herself in.
“Kim?” Carrie walked all through the house, and almost fainted when she looked in her sister’s bedroom. Kim was in bed, but her face was ashen, and she wasn’t breathing.
While the paramedics rushed Kim off to the hospital, Carrie found a black leather-bound notebook on the bed, where Jared used to sleep. She picked up the book and sat down on the bed, thumbing through it. The last few pages had spots where the ink ran due to teardrops that had been shed onto the paper. Carrie read the last entry in the book:
There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about Jared. I haven’t really gotten over his death, and I don’t think I could ever love another the way I love him. Though there is this cute guy that hangs out at the pool that has been rather nice to me lately. I wish I could just see Jared one last time so I could tell him I love him.
The entry ended there. Carrie closed the book and tossed it into the nightstand drawer. The paramedics had assessed Kim’s death as heart failure, but she knew that wasn’t the case. Her sister died of a broken heart.
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