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When I asked for directions to the Dreamary, I either received one of these: a curious stare, a snort of laughter, an uncertain ahh, or a wild goose chase--final destination being an alleyway surrounded by mangy cats. So, it was with some caution I approached the red-haired woman at that bus shelter. She leaned forward, uncomfortably close, anxiety digging deep lines onto her moon-shaped face.
“Just keep walking down Reverie. You see that hot dog stand at the corner? It should--” She struggled for a second, her arms failing about like a windmill. “Well, make a left there. You can’t miss it...it’s pink. ”
I thanked her and turned away uneasily, my stomach clenching as a blue van hurtled past.
“You better hurry, child. It’s closing soon!” her voice rang behind me.
I strode purposefully, falling into the rhythm of pounding footsteps until I was standing in front of a pink building awash in a soft golden hue. My pulse quickened; I didn’t dare hope.
I shuffled guiltily past the bearded man banging on his guitar and the cup sitting hopefully at his feet.
“Please,” he croaked after me, the single word resounding in the chilly air like the gong of a bell. I shrugged it off, escaping into the whirl of the revolving door. My reflection, blur of ash blonde hair and red coat, danced across the marble floor and skidded to a stop in front of the elevator doors. A jab of the up arrow. And another. Then I was shooting up to the penthouse, a familiar panic seizing me, dragging me by the wrist to the ajar door at the clammy end of the corridor. Curiously, I knew where the door led, knew the rose colour that stained the glass on the walls, the magnificence of the ceilings, bound heavenward and dreaming of a better existence.
The van burst suddenly into view, blue and blazing; an eruption in the silent world. I wished I could clamber into the backseat again, back from a soccer game, catch the smiles of my parents in the rear-view mirror, roll down the window perhaps, feel the wind caress my hair....
I careened in, eyes darting around nervously--eggshell coloured carpet, spotless reception desk, dangling chandeliers--searching for a sign of life.
The room seemed to hold its breath with me, waiting for an answer.
Receiving none, I hurled myself into the labyrinth of steel shelves towering over my head, stacks of dream disks preserved behind plexiglass. I yanked the nearest door open, the icy breath of leftover dreams fogging my black-framed glasses. Dropping to my knees, I began tossing slim, translucent disks aside carelessly. They screamed as they fell, clear faces fracturing, splintering into defeated halves. It didn’t matter to me. I groped around the darkness for mine--the darkest one, the most defined.
“Attention all dreamers,” a cool, mechanical voice flooded the room, “The Dreamary is going to sleep soon. Please bring your items to the sign out desk. ”
“No!” I snapped childishly, slamming one fist on my knee. I regretted it almost instantly, sensing a glare creeping up my back.
“Hello,” said a thin, papery voice behind me, “may I help you?”
I swiveled my head, involuntarily wrinkling my nose. It belonged to a young boy wearing the air of confidence of an older man, like too much cologne. His head was held high, jet-black hair slicked back, chin jutting forward, one penetrating brown eye fixed on me. The other eye was unfocused, an unsettling blue and shuttered with heavy lashes, like those of porcelain doll’s. He adjusted his collar, raising an eyebrow at me sprawled on the floor, glasses askew, surrounded by broken dreams.
“No, thanks,” I mumbled, picking myself off the ground. “I’m okay.”
The boy snorted derisively, tying his hands behind his back. “Are you sure? You seem a little disturbed....you were throwing dream disks off shelves! That’s not a sign of being okay.”
“Look, nobody was at the desk,” I said, bristling at this miniature Polonius. “It would great if I could just talk to the Dreamarian.”
The boy’s smooth brown skin stretched into a smile. “Certainly,” he sneered, dipping into a mock bow, “Olivarez at your service.”
I grimaced slightly while the Dreamarian folded his arms across his chest and watched me gleefully.
“All right, you asked for it,” I sighed, grabbed his bony arm roughly, “my name is Darcy Forbes. I’m looking for a nightmare--”
He wrenched his arm from my grip before I could finish, an incredulous expression replacing his scowl. “why would you want to do that?” he gasped. “Most people come in here to escape. They roam along these aisle, dawdle and poke around for something fluffy and light like cotton candy, maybe an occasional action or fantasy, but not a nightmare. Never nightmare. I don’t think we have an aisle for nightmares.”
“Look, I can’t explain this to you right now. It’s very complicated--” I gritted my teeth, pausing, “it’s just that when I dream things, I know this sounds crazy, but they-they happen. ”
Olivarez’s expression didn’t change, except for slight flicker in his functioning eye.
“So,” he said slowly, running his hand along the row of dreams, “you came down to the Dreamary to abort this nightmare you think is going to happen...”
“Yeah!” I breathed in relief, “that’s exactly what I want. Is it possible?”
Olivarez shrugged. “We’ll see, won’t we?”
He began striding down the dark aisle. I took it as a cue to follow him, my pulse quickening and the screeching of tires ringing in my ears. We emerged from the maze a few minute later and Olivarez trotted brusquely past the couch, the whirring projector to the a dumpster parked in the corner. The label on the side blared: discards. I was beckoned with a forefinger, while he immersed his hands in a mesmerizing sea of flashing disks. He requested a description with the a questioning hand gesture. I told him what he wanted, feeling the seams of a secret loosen and rip down my centre, be tossed and into the air; a wavering flag of vulnerability.
“That’s it?” Olivarez drawled, “no distinguishing traits?”
I tugged my earlobes, thinking. “It was all in sepia...” I recalled, “sort of like looking through a brown lens, all muddy and wrong.”
Olivarez's brows puckered in a frown, “Interesting,” he murmured, drawing a gleaming disk, each facet studded with crystals, blinding in its beauty. It seem to sing, the luminous melody of a kept promise vibrating in the Dreamarian’s palm. I reached out to touch, its sharp edge burning the tips of my fingers before Olivarez jerked it back in alarm.
“Are you stupid?!” he snapped, “the edges are deadly!”
“It shouldn’t be allowed to be so-so- b-beautiful.” I stammered, still hypnotized by the million iridescent rainbows bouncing off its surface.
Olivarez regarded me with baleful eyes, as though I had offended him.
“Why not?” he said, cradling the dream like a child, “Can’t you see beauty in the most terrible things? Jesus being crucified for the greater good? The slow motion of a tidal wave as it engulfs entire cities under its deadly palm? You see, Darcy, there is a strange and unfathomable allure about the most awful things....Even our worst nightmares.”
I swayed on the spot, the weight of his words hitting me a sudden headache. Shivering, I slid onto the slippery leather couch, my toes curling over the side as Olivarez placed the slide onto the projector. Shades slid down, obscuring the rose tinted glass and ensconcing us in darkness. Olivarez trotted toward me, a transparent bubble-shaped helmet tucked under his arm.
“For protection,” he explained, strapping it beneath my chin.
Before I had the chance to protest, the frame flickered to life.
A blue van jostles down a bumpy road as the sun settles down for a nap. Pebbles fly beneath the tires. The bearded man with sunken eyes smiles, one hand on the wheel and the other buried in his wife’s red lustrous curls. They sing along to the music, folksy songs of their generation, as their son bounces eagerly in the back seat, craning his neck to see out the window. The mother turns concernedly to her other child, her daughter, with her music pounding in her ears and a book in her lap. ‘Darcy’, she waves, trying to smile as the blue van reaches an intersection. Green light, the van surges forward. ‘Darcy! Darcy!’ The girl thinks her parents look like ridiculous caricatures, with their eyes widening and lips pulling up and down in extremes . Ignoring them, she reaches for--
The frame flickered, but I was a frozen statue, hands clasped in my lap and eyes transfixed. I squinted in the darkness for Olivarez.
“Stop it,” I whispered, barely moving my lips.
--Ignoring them, she reaches for her knapsack--
I glanced around frantically, but the Dreamary was immobile, a sleeping child. Where was Olivarez when you needed him?
--to grab a bottle of water--
My pulse racing, I tore myself off the couch, the bubble-shaped helmet bobbing awkwardly against my shoulder blades as I looked for a button. Any button! Pause would be nice. Pause! I jabbed it twice, nearly crushing my nail.
She was so thirsty. She turns to her--
“Olivarez!” I shrieked.
--brother to ask him if he wants any. Seeing that his lips were pulled down, she yanks off her headphones and a resounding--
The projector lay shattered on the ground, in a pool of disconnected wires and pieces of crystal. I sank down, my hands shaking uncontrollably as the shades rose once again, illuminating the dark shadows beneath my eyes.
“Darcy, I couldn’t control it.” Olivarez’s voice, surprisingly gentle, hovered near my shoulder. I nodded, picking up two shards of glass in each hand and bringing their jagged edges together.
“You couldn’t control it,” I repeated his words hollowly, each syllable tasting metallic on my tongue. “You couldn’t control it because it wasn’t a dream.”
The bubble burst.
“Too terrible, too lovely,” Olivarez sighed in an almost wistful manner.
The blood beneath my skin boiling was I leapt up and grabbed him by the shoulders. “My parents died in that crash, my brother--” I took a deep breath, letting Olivarez fall limply, “hasn’t woken up since.”
I turned away, cracks appearing across my shield.
“So, you finally admit it.”
Tears crumbled down my face like rubble, scraping my skin as they slid by. My throat stung with a silent scream.
“Did I stop it, Olivarez?” I asked hoarsely. “Please tell me I did.”
“You can’t stop reality, Darcy, you can simply escape it. That’s all. It’s useless, really, being in this dream world. ”
I could feel him shrug behind me, his penetrating gaze making the hairs of my neck rise.
“Well, I’m not going back,” I said fiercely, my dark eyes narrowing in determination. “Never. I’ll be like you, sitting here and mocking others’ fantasies, their dreams, and their lives. You know what, I’m sick of the real world! What is it, but pure monotony? Simply counting down the minutes? I’d much rather sleep.”
A cold fury swept Olivarez's face, his eye rolled back. “Do you know something, Darcy Forbes?” he asked just as fiercely, “I have never dreamed. Not once. I might live in a dream world, but it is worse than what’s out there. All this--” he gestured around the surreal stillness, “will eventually rot and fade, disintegrate beneath your very fingertips, while you bid good night to your real dreams, the ones that make you want to wake up!”
He grabbed my wrist, yanking me toward the rose coloured glass.
“Tell me what you see,” he demanded roughly.
I described the sleek buildings scraping the twilight sky. The billboard featuring wholesome teenagers in fashionable clothing. The spotless streets, with an occasional car or two whizzing by. The bearded man serenading the curly haired woman.
Olivarez ripped my glasses off, pushing me against the glass again. “Now?”
I gasped, blinking as I absorbed sheets of rain slapping the concrete roads choked with cars, fumes spiraling upward. The buildings around us were decrepit and grimy; cracked windows, and peeling paint. The billboard boasted a young girl, caked with makeup and nothing else. With a stab of grief, I realised my father and mother were gone.
“Do you see now?” asked Olivarez, his hot breath tickling my elbow. “This is what I’m faced with day after day and I, like you, like almost everyone else, can’t escape. It’s like being in a library and not being able to read!”
I imagined never being able to escape, not even for a little while, to never crack open a good book in anticipation, to feel the thrill of another world seep into my veins and felt tug of sympathy for Olivarez. His sleep was so barren and lifeless like a desert, he found some comfort in this dreamer’s purgatory, this land straddling wakefulness and sleep. The illusion I witnessed scorched my retinas again, a trick--a dream. I tugged my earlobes absently, glancing wordlessly at the vast emptiness. Trying to picture it rotting like eggs, stinking up the best told lie, the one even the liar believes. Change seemed impossible here; our subconscious selves were so conveniently frozen, without an expiry date, that time itself seemed to stop. I thought of my brother, eyes shuttered in a sleep not of his choosing stranded in a world with a future. And then I, who had hit the snooze button far too many times, stranded in world without one.
All the while, my creation watched me curiously, pretending to adjust his collar when I matched his gaze.
“Will you be awake?” I asked him bluntly.
He shrugged his classic shrug, palms facing upward and lip curling.
“I won’t be back anytime soon, then.” I turned away, striding across the Dreamary floor, toward the open door.
“Goodnight, Darcy!” He called behind me, his voice luminous and jarring, lovely and terrible, an echo of a long ago and nearby dream.