Chapter 6 - I'm Only Sleeping
I sit bolt upright in bed.
I don't know if it's day or night.
I hear the tinny, muffled sound of music drifting upward from my pillow. It's the Beatles, but I can't make out the song.
The curtains billow toward me, the bottom flips upward, a puff of cool breeze, a hint of burning leaves. My lungs expand. I lift the covers and touch my feet to the floor.
I stand and turn to the window across the room by Scott's empty bed. I can hear him outside. Talking to the trees, maybe playing with a truck, or preparing for takeoff in his pedal car. Another burst of autumn hits me from the side. My toes wiggle as I close my eyes and inhale. My feet leave the ground, and I float forward a few inches before they touch down softly onto the worn wooden floor.
I turn and walk through the door, down the hall, toward the stairway. I pause at the top, step forward, wiggle my toes, walk downward. It seems natural. It's exhilarating. I reach the bottom without touching a step. My toes briefly graze the tips of the rainbow shag of the bottom landing. I wiggle my toes faster and float to the ceiling. Into the front room. My sisters are there. My parents are there. Absorbed in homework, newspapers, television. They don't see me. I'm over their heads. Sailing by. Just passing through.
I keep forgetting I can do this.
But it comes back to me now. Like picking up a book that you don't remember having read. And my heart sheds 20 pounds as I pass through the dining room, into the kitchen, out the back door, up over the garage, toes waggling as the screen door swishes shut behind them. The air is like a cool, clean bed sheet. It wraps me up and pulls me forward.
I see Scott down below playing with trucks in the dirt. He looks farther away than he should. More like the view from a mountaintop than from just above the garage. I watch him. He stops, looks upward, and waves excitedly as I pass overhead. The trucks are forgotten as he runs to his car - a sleek fiberglass bullet with peddles, a steering wheel, and two seats.
He looks both ways at the end of the driveway, and his back wheels skid on the gravel as he follows me away down the street, a tall orange flag bowing and whipping in his wake.
I land on the damp green grass of the football field. I'm wearing my uniform of rubber and plastic and leather. Wrapped in it from my head to my teeth to my toes, but it doesn't stop the cool autumn breeze. My forehead's dry. My throat is not. My stomach doesn't ache with anxious dread.
There's a flurry of action around me. Blurred streaks of white and blue and gold. The occasional brief outline of a smiling blue devil. A leg cuts the air beside me. Shoe meets ball. The sharp thunk of leather on leather. The blurs chase the flying brown smudge, leaving me behind to wonder where I'm meant to go and what I'm meant to do there
A whistle trills. The coach circles his arm over his head. He spits. His lip bulges with shredded tobacco.
"TAKE A LAP!" he shouts. He moves in slow motion, but the words bite my ears with the urgency of a tornado siren.
The blurs coalesce into a single ball of motion around the sidelines, and I take my place behind them, the distance between us increasing with each plodding step. As I round the first corner, Scott skids to a stop at the opposite sideline.
I stop running and begin to walk. Probably moving just as fast, I think, as the siren wails, "MOVE IT!" from an impossible distance away. He spits and waits for us, standing guard over water that sparkles like bottles of rare diamonds in the afternoon sun.
My toe wiggles. The air pushes me forward. I begin to pick up speed as my legs pump ever faster, and my cleats brush the tips of the grass, and the blur shifts to slow motion while I move like young Clark Kent through a golden Kansas cornfield.
Another wiggle of the toes and I overtake them. I circle past them like they're frozen in quicksand and jet onward toward the opposite end zone. The glittering water bottles draw ever closer, but they hold no power over me now. I'm sailing more than running, my toes just above the ground as I close in on our coach like a guided missile. Through the corner of my eye I see Scott pull away. His orange flag waves behind him, his legs pump like pistons, I fly toward Coach Bard and reach upward, soaring into the sky inches from his swollen, tobacco-stained lip. Leather and plastic and rubber peel away, I emerge like a Monarch from my grass-stained armor, and the briefest glimpse of Coach Bard's awestruck face imprints on my mind as I sail away to follow Scott's lead westward.
I pass back over our house. It's early evening now. I can see the glow of the TV in the front window. I don't know where Scott has gone, but I continue westward, past the tiny park, past the gas station with the magical chocolate Nehi pop machine. I'll find him.
I turn left down main street and circle above a downtown that consists of a grocery store, two gas stations, two bars, a hardware store, a post office, a barber shop, and a bank.
There's a funeral home too, but I tend to ignore that. Bad juju.
I glide south, toward the railroad crossing, but stop before entering the "other side of the tracks." The "other side of the tracks" is like another world. I don't like the "other side of the tracks."
I turn back to face north, and I see him. His car is parked on the sidewalk by the grocery store. He's standing beside it. There's someone with him. She's lit by the final glare of the setting sun peeking out from between the post office and the barber shop across the street. They seem to be talking.
But not in the way you would expect Scott to talk. If I didn't know better, I'd think they were old friends catching up. That they were having a real conversation.
That Scott was actually speaking.
He looks up, he sees me, he smiles. The two of them turn and walk into the grocery store. As the door closes behind them, the last of the sun dips below the horizon, and the glare winks out, and the street lights begin to sputter on and off over the empty sidewalks.
A hint of dusky gloom descends over main street, and I begin to lose altitude. I wiggle my toes, and it propels me slowly forward, but I continue to descend gently onto the abandoned street. My feet touch down onto the warm asphalt, and I walk slowly toward the grocery store.
I enter to the familiar blast of air conditioning and the smell of vegetables, meats, frozen TV dinners. The candy display greets me, and as always, I stop to see if they have Pop Rocks. I covet Pop Rocks, though I've never actually had them. Pop Rocks are my Holy Grail. They don't sell Pop Rocks here. Pop Rocks will make your stomach explode. It's a well-known fact.
I see Scott turn down an aisle. I can't tell if he's alone. I follow, but each time I enter an aisle he's disappearing into the next, or another shopper passes between us. I move more quickly to catch up, but it doesn't seem to help
I finally round the corner to where the vegetables live. The fruits. The cheeses. I can see them both now. They're rounding the corner toward the checkouts. They pause with their backs to me. They've stopped to look at something. Beside the magazine display. On a metal rack. The comic books.
One more waggle of the toes propels me slowly forward. My feet only millimeters from the floor. I can see that Scott holds a comic. That both of them are looking at it. They turn toward me. She smiles. It's her.
It's the woman from my paper route.
She laughs when she sees my reaction. Without the halo of burning light around her, she looks familiar, somehow. Something about the nose, I think. Or the eyes, maybe. Her laugh is contagious. Scott laughs too. I start laugh, though I don't know why.
Scott hands the opened comic to her as I continue to float toward them. She folds down the corner of one page, replaces the comic in the bottom of the rack, Scott makes a motion with his hand - his sign for "bird" - and he laughs again. A sound of pure joy. They turn toward the door, begin to move away, and vanish in a flash of blinding light.
I land where they were standing just a moment before. I stare after them, wondering where I'm meant to go. What I'm meant to do.
I smell smoke.
When I look, all the comics have burst into flames. All of them. Except one. The one in the bottom rack. The one with the dogeared page. I reach for it quickly before the flames can spread. I don't have the 50 cents, but I think maybe the fire will be enough of a distraction. As I look around the store, though, no one else seems to be concerned about it. I tuck the comic quickly up my pant leg while pretending to tie my shoe. No one sees me. I'm sure of it.
I'm rounding the corner by the magical pop machine when the heat slowly building on my leg becomes too much. I look down, and my pant leg is smoking. I duck and roll onto the grass of the park. A graceful move during which I not only manage to remove the smoldering comic from its hiding place, but also to bury my smoking leg in the sand of the sandbox.
The comic in the grass is not so lucky, though.
Smoldering becomes smoke, and smoke becomes flame. It's nearly engulfed before I can think to cover it with sand and save it from oblivion.
As it burns, I briefly see two figures on the cover. One familiar, one not. One with golden hair and red bow tie. One with white hair in a white space suit.
Then the flames take it all, and in a flash of yellow light, it's gone.
I sit bolt upright in bed.
I don't know if it's day or night.
I'm sweating and panting like I've just run a marathon. I swat at my leg repeatedly before I realize it's not on fire. My heart is pounding through the roof of my mouth.
It's night time.
The house is asleep.
My breathing slows. It was only a dream. It was all just a dream. I lay back down, trembling. The Thing, the time travel, Grandma Kroll's blue house. All a dream, I think. Just a dream.
The thought calms me instantly. I'm breathing normally. The Beatles calm me further from beneath my pillow.
"Please don't wake me. No, don't shake me."
I smile. "Such old music," I think. "way ahead of their time."
The trembling subsides.
I need to use the bathroom.
I swing my legs from beneath the covers. My foot touches something cool on the floor. My comics. The stack of neglected Richie Rich is strewn on the floor by my bed. Scott has been looking at them, no doubt. He likes to look at the pictures.
I lift my foot and bend over to pick the nearest one up. The cover hits me like a brick between the eyes.
There's Richie with his red bow tie and multiple sacks of money. Someone else with white hair and a spacesuit flies across the page.
"Richie Rich Meets Timmy Time," it says. "Out of TOMORROW and YESTERDAY and into TODAY!"
I drop it to the floor. It opens to a dogeared page, the corner carefully folded to point at a single line of text. I don't want to see it. I squint down at it anyway:
"A strange visitor from the year 2019!"
Warmth spreads on the mattress beneath me and runs down my leg to the floor. I ignore it.
My heart pounds through the top of my head.
It wasn't a dream.
The Thing is real.
I have to go back.
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