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The Dreams of Fred MAG
The first time it happened to Fred Perls, the setting was a hot dog stand.
It had been a cold morning, and by half past noon, when Fred left work for his lunch break, it had not gotten much warmer. As he walked along the crowded sidewalk and passed the scent of delicious, smoking hot dogs, there was little doubt in Fred's mind that it was a hot dog kind of day.
The Night Before
Fred slept on his stomach, as always, his left arm draped over the side of the bed. He was fast asleep and a small circle of drool had formed on the sheets under his mouth.
When he woke at 5:30, he sat up and thought about his dreams, but by 5:42, as he walked to the bathroom to brush his teeth, he found them impossible to remember.
Thursday Afternoon Again
Fred's mind was happily empty as he stood in line to get his hot dog. The two large women in front of him wore even larger coats, restricting his view of the hot dog stand to just the metal shelf for ketchup, mustard, and relish.
After a few minutes, the women left, and Fred took a final step toward the hot dog stand. “One hot dog, please,” he said, although he felt strange saying it because this was, after all, a hot dog stand, and there was nothing else to buy.
As the man in the apron began grilling the hot dog, a peculiar smile found its way onto Fred's face. It was a feeling he couldn't explain. It wasn't really that he was happy, but rather that he was amused. Fred could not – not yet, at least – explain why.
Once Fred's Hot Dog Was Done Being Grilled
As Fred took the bills from his wallet and handed them to the man in the apron, the strange feeling took hold of him again and his tongue stopped working in the middle of saying “thank you.” Only when Fred said it, it sounded more like “thu.”
The man in the apron, who was of course unaware of the strange feeling Fred was experiencing, was unsure of what to do. Thankfully, Fred regained his composure, handed over the money, took his hot dog, and hastily turned toward his office building.
What Was Happening in Fred's Mind
What was happening in Fred's mind was the same as when he would hear an old song and struggle to remember the title. Or when, in college, he had studied all night for a French quiz and then could not remember the French word for an English one. It was the nagging, annoying feeling of knowing that you know something but just not knowing it at the moment.
In fact, Fred was trying to remember something. He did his best to ignore it. Instead, he focused on all the reports he had to finish by that evening.
Fred had not finished his reports.
Thursday Afternoon Again
Of course, the exact moment Fred began focusing on something else was the moment he figured it out. When he had woken up at 5:30, Fred remembered, he had just dreamt about a hot dog stand. What's more, the man at the hot dog stand had been the same man as in his dream.
And the more he thought about it, the stranger it became, because he had dreamt about the two fat ladies with their big coats too.
The smile still on his face, Fred walked over to a nearby park bench and sat down. It was, for sure, the strangest and most excited that Fred had ever felt. It wasn't just that he had dreamt about the situation he had been in; he had dreamt of those exact people, their clothes, their fuzzy blue coats. He had dreamt of the ketchup, the mustard, and the relish.
All the details of the dream suddenly flowed into Fred's mind.
He imagined that this is what it would feel like to discover a new country, or to use magic. He got up quickly and walked back to work.
He had not eaten his hot dog.
Early That Night
He was in his long green pajamas. Fred was 30 years old and unmarried, and this was the most excited he had ever been to get into bed. He lay a notebook and pen on the bedside table, took off his socks, and climbed in.
He reached out from under the down covers and moved the alarm back ten minutes. He squeezed his eyes shut and, incredibly, fell asleep within minutes. The only sound was the ticking of the clock down the hall.
Early in the Morning
Immediately after waking, Fred began scribbling furiously in the notebook. He wrote about a box of Chinese food, a river clogged with boats, a giant key, masks, a girl, a shoe, and a bulls-eye. With a snap, he flipped the cover of the notebook back into place and rolled out of bed.
Pleased with himself, Fred began his morning routine. As he dressed, he slipped the notebook of dreams inside his jacket. At 7:15, he walked out the door and wondered if it would happen again.
Fred's Lunch Break
Unfortunately, it was cold again. Fred walked in the opposite direction from the day before, toward the restaurant district and the shopping malls. Fred and his coworkers did not usually head this way because it was quite a ways to walk and their lunch break was short. But work, and the pile of reports left on his desk, were not on Fred's list of priorities.
Later That Day
The reports were still not done.
Back to Fred's Lunch Break
In the restaurant section of town, delicious smells once again found their way to Fred's nostrils. He smelled garlic chicken.
There's the Chinese food, he thought.
Like the day before, Fred followed his nose. He opened the door of Oriental Panda. Sitting at a small table to the left, with a menu obscuring most of her face, was Carla Hall.
Carla Hall worked in a cubicle next to Fred and, like Fred, rarely finished her reports on time. She collected quarters. She often wore green, and brought orange juice to work in a coffee mug. And if Fred were ever going to be married, he wanted it to be to Carla Hall.
With a smile and a confident stride unlike those that belonged to the usual Fred, Fred made his way over to Carla and asked to join her.
What he said was, “Hi Carla, mind if I join you?”
And Carla said yes.
Even Fred could not have dreamt this would happen.
Once They Were Finished Eating
It had been decided over lunch, which had gone very well, that neither Fred nor Carla felt like returning to work for the rest of the day, even though two adjacent empty cubicles would be very noticeable, a point Fred had brought up.
They left the restaurant and began walking away from their drab office building, east along the river.
The river and the boats, thought Fred.
“I need to step into that bank,” Carla said suddenly, letting go of his hand and jogging across the street. She turned and yelled, “Wait there!”
Fred turned toward the water and thought about how strange the last two days had been. He reached into his jacket and took out the notebook, and judging by the rest of what he had written, decided that this day could only get stranger.
Fred turned back toward the street, leaning against the chains that kept people from falling into the water. He looked into the windows of the bank and saw a man in a mask pulling down a shade.
There's the mask, thought Fred.
At this point, Fred realized that the bank was being robbed and that the love of his life was inside.
Shoving the notebook into his jacket again, Fred walked toward the bank with a confident stride. It was the stride of someone who thinks he is much braver than he is, someone who is probably about to do something very stupid.
He walked right up to the front door and peered through a crack in the blinds. A man in a mask, a different man who was much taller and fatter than the other one, pulled back the blinds and shoved a gun in Fred's face, thus confirming Fred's suspicion that the bank was being robbed.
Fred backed away, his stride much quicker now. On the one hand, he wanted to get as far away from the bank as possible, because he had almost died. On the other hand, Carla was in the bank.
And so Fred neither walked away from the bank nor toward it. Instead, he walked around it, and at the back of the building, he found a fire escape. Fred did not call the police, a decision he would later ponder. What he did was take a step back, get a running start, and jump onto the bottom rung.
On the Roof of the Bank
He looked around, trying to think of a plan. There were some metal boxes, a flagpole, and right in the middle of the roof, a metal hatch. Fred scrambled over and tugged with desperation on the massive iron lock.
Although he was discouraged, he knew it couldn't end here. His dreams told him it couldn't. He felt along the sides of the hatch, trying to find something to tug on. There was nothing on the right, but his left hand grazed something small.
There's the key, thought Fred.
Ecstatically, he ripped off the tape that held the key, jammed it into the keyhole, and twisted. The lock popped open.
Fred paused for a moment to consider what he was doing. Fred was no superhero, nor had he worked out since his trial gym membership had expired the year ago. Also, his fighting experience was limited to two years of karate in elementary school.
A Moment Later
Fred dangled his feet over the open hatch and found the first metal step. He began climbing down, aware how loud his breathing sounded in the narrow space. Every 30 seconds or so, he passed a landing that led to another floor. After a while, he lost count of how many he had passed. After what seemed like hours, a typical feeling for someone doing something they shouldn't, his feet finally touched the linoleum floor of a storage closet.
Fred stayed far from the door, afraid of accidentally opening it and falling into the safe room where the men in masks would put a gun to his head and kill him, right then and there. Instead, he tried to think of something to do with the mops, brooms, paper towels, and shelving around him.
And then, because he had seen it in movies, Fred thought about crawling through the ceiling. The shelves would probably hold his weight, and then it was just a matter of pushing aside one of the tiles and hoisting himself up there.
This procedure took quite some time, and he made so much noise that, had the storage closet actually opened into the safe room where the robbers were, he would have been shot before his hand even touched the ceiling. Lucky for Fred, but not so lucky for the robbers, the storage closet was situated between the men's and women's bathrooms.
After Fred Managed to Pull Himself into the Ceiling of the Bank
Fred knew that he had done a pretty good job so far, at least in terms of his athletic feats, but he still had no idea what he was going to do about the bank robbers. He didn't know how many there were (there were two), if they all had guns (they did), if they were holding hostages (they were), or how he was going to get out of this ceiling (by accident).
Fred did the only thing he could think of, which was to crawl forward. He passed over the women's bathroom, a hallway, and then the tellers' booths.
To move past this point, Fred realized he would have to trust his weight to a thin beam. With his shirt already soaked in sweat, he gingerly placed his hands, then a knee, and then the other knee on the beam. It creaked and then snapped, and Fred began his descent into the lobby of the bank.
Ten Minutes Before the Beam Broke
The two masked robbers, after forcing a teller at gunpoint to open the safe, had stuffed as many bills into two black duffel bags as they could. One, Jeremy, had stood outside the safe with the hostages while the other, Stan, had done the actual stuffing.
Once the bags were full, Stan stepped out of the safe and threw one of the bags at Jeremy's feet. “Let's go,” he said to his partner in crime.
Jeremy was bending over to pick up the bag of money when Fred fell from the ceiling.
Back to Fred's Fall
The beam, which was pretty heavy, fell on Jeremy's head and knocked him over, while Fred collided with the floor.
With pieces of ceiling falling everywhere, Jeremy, Stan, Fred, Carla, and everyone else in the bank were blinded and confused for a moment. As Jeremy stumbled to his feet and started to run, Fred reached out and grabbed his shoe. Jeremy tripped, hit the floor with a thud, and fell unconscious.
There's the shoe, thought Fred.
Jeremy's gun skittered to the edge of the room, and Fred followed it on his hands and knees.
The debris from the ceiling had basically settled, and Stan had figured out what was happening. He raised his gun.
As Stan Turned Off the Safety on His Gun
Fred grabbed Jeremy's gun. He had never fired a gun before and had no idea how it worked. On the other hand, Fred had dreamt all of this the night before. And as he slid around to face Stan, the memory of his dream clicked into focus as it had the day before as he sat on the park bench thinking about the hot dog man. Fred's fingers found the safety, clicked it off, found the trigger, and shot Stan square in the chest.
Bull's-eye, thought Fred.
Both guns clattered to the floor.
The lobby was silent now, as everyone (other than Stan and Jeremy) tried to figure out whether it was safe to move. Fred was the first to stand, and then the rest joined him. Slowly, the realization formed that the two robbers were either dead or at least not going to be doing anything for a while, and the lobby of the bank erupted into applause. Even Fred began to clap after he spotted Carla.
The police had been alerted to the robbery (Jeremy had not done a very good job), and at this point they arrived, crashing through the door, and were surprised to see that, apart from two men on the floor and a heap of ceiling tiles, there didn't seem to be much out of place.
The Next Morning
Fred rolled out of bed, briefly reflected on his dreams from that night, and went to brush his teeth.
At 6 o'clock, he went into the kitchen and put two slices of bread into the toaster. He poured a glass of orange juice and walked out to get the mail.
On the front page of that day's newspaper was a small picture of Fred and a short description of the failed robbery. As Fred sat down with the newspaper, the toast popped up. It was a pleasant light brown color.
Carla came out of the bedroom, picked up the glass of orange juice, kissed Fred, and sat down to eat.
And there's the girl, thought Fred.