Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Com(m)a

by David Falkinburg


Tony opened his eyes. Flickering fluorescent lights revealed worn tile floors and walls painted in institutional eggshell white. A hospital. A corridor in a hospital, he realized. His senses tingled as he observed this bland but vital place where most lives begin -- and end.

He struggled forward, attempting to keep his balance as he ventured past a sign:

ICU

Promontory Hospital

on the wall.

He stumbled forward and tried to focus on a door in an unused section of the dimly lit ward. There, the overhead lights had failed completely, and the emergency lights shone like spotlights through the dark, white circles against a pitch black background. The silence was so perfect that he could hear his own heartbeat.

The room number was within one of the circles of light: 323. Room 323 meant something, something important.

Suddenly his legs seemed to lose their strength and he lost his balance. One of his knees hit the ground as he gasped for air. He stretched his bony hands out searching for the cause of his faintness. Stinging tears clouded his blurred vision and caused his palms to scramble for a grip on the tiled floor. Cringing, lungs contracted, his head slammed against the floor.

A silhouette emerged from the door and stepped towards him. It was the shade, the revenant, the monster from his childhood nightmares! Immobile, Tony stared at the monster while twitching in fear. Tony's vision failed, fixated on the shade as he convulsed and fell into unconsciousness.

Between dreams and reality there is always a pause, a hesitation between the two states of being. It's like a comma in the middle of a sentence, splicing consciousness and unconsciousness.

Tony's eyes burst open as he surged from the sheets. Inhaling more air than his lungs could contain, he gasped. He had stopped breathing, for his mind had made the dream real. A drip of sweat crawled down his skin and through the scruff on his cheek. The only light came from the dull red numbers of his alarm clock which read 3:23. Late, or early, it didn't matter to him.

This dream had been unlike any other he had ever experienced, and as a narcoleptic, he had seen many wonderful and terrible things on the border between waking and sleeping. I've never died before, Tony considered, holding himself up with one hand. He rubbed his face, wiping rivulets of sweat from his forehead, and ran his fingers through his jet black hair.

"It's back," he said. "The revenant is back."

The shade from his childhood nightmares had been an extreme version of the Intruder that appeared to many narcolepsy sufferers during the final transition into sleep. It was fear, anxiety, and unconsciousness incarnate -- a reaction to the lack of control implicit in losing consciousness at unpredictable intervals.The fear of unconsciousness, doctors had told his family, is what gives this apparition its power within the confines of bad dreams.

This is no different, Tony thought. But the night terrors ended years ago... He dismissed the suspicion that the shade's return meant anything beyond a need for more rest, sighing as the air conditioner vent blew cool air over his bed and dried his sweat-filmed face.

Tony's narcolepsy had ruined so many special moments in his life -- graduation, his first kiss, job interviews -- and fear of an attack had tainted even those occasions when he was able to stay wide awake. Medication had helped, along with an awareness of those factors that made an attack more likely: stress, physical fatigue, dehydration, certain foods... The nightmares had subsided, too -- until now.

Tony lay back and closed his eyes.

In a blink, morning was upon him. His alarm clock blared and beckoned him from his restlessness. Along with narcolepsy came a form of insomnia. It's damn ironic, Tony thought. I pass out when I want to be awake, but when I need sleep --.

Tony groaned, quivering with exhaustion as he pulled on some jeans. He slipped his keys, wallet, and phone into his pockets and started downstairs. Within the next twenty minutes he was awake and in his first class.

Tony couldn't remember the specifics of the drive. That was not good. He remembered the medical tests he had undergone to receive his driver’s license. "You can drive Tony, but if your condition worsens you need to come see us right away," the doctor had said. He ignored the thought; somehow he seemed to drive well enough, even if he couldn't remember doing it. He checked his phone for the first time since the night before, noticing there were two text messages from his girlfriend, Lynette. He liked her, but it was more than that. It was the way she looked at him instead of the movie at the drive-in, the way he felt her hand find his when he least expected it, and the way she mentioned their future. On the pier once, she had said, "Sometime, we should bring our dog with us. When we have one, I mean." 'Our dog', 'when we have one' -- simple words, but they meant that she believed their relationship was going somewhere. Somewhere he had never been before.

He knew he had feelings for her but recently he just didn't have the energy to consider their relationship. In fact, he seemed to be indifferent about everything. He couldn't remember when this indifference had started but now it was just day after day of the mundane.

"Good Night," and "Wake up, Tony! Have a great day! :)". He could hear her sweet voice in his ears as he read them. She was still a senior in high school, but at eighteen, she knew what she wanted, and miraculously what she wanted included him.

His teacher strolled into the class, pushed up the spectacles on his nose, and began lecture.

Tony thought about his dream from the night before. Why a hospital? he thought. Had he been there before? He couldn't remember -- at least not while trying to copy what his professor wrote on the white board. His pencil scratched against the white paper. Eraser shavings got in the way and smeared his writing. He tried to sweep the shavings away, only to crumple the page. He grew frustrated continuing to write despite the smudged graphite. Then his pencil broke in half and fell out of his hand. It rolled off the desk and to the floor just before he could catch it.

"Damn it," he said under his breath. A few students cast odd looks his way.

He picked up the broken pencil and lost interest in the class. He tuned out, seeing the pixilated lines painted on the screen by the computer projector. The sound of students packing their things just before the end of class brought him out of his hypnotic state. He grabbed his things and was out the door. After his next class he texted Lynette back. The rest of the day was a blur. He monotonously went through the motions and turned off autopilot when he entered the key to the lock on his front door. He was home, finally.

Tony:

Your grandfather, Tony Sr. went to the hospital last night. It would be nice if you went to see him.

-Mom

The note was taped to his door. Tony took it down and walked inside, closing the door to his bedroom. He would get to it when he wasn't busy. Pessimistic thoughts filled his mind all evening as he churned over the pointlessness of this world he lived in. He scanned the internet news. Another earthquake somewhere, the Chilean miners were still trapped, and Hurricane Igor was still heading for Florida. He sighed, snatched his pack of cigarettes and went out the second story window.

Tony sat on a ledge made of wood. It attached to his house between two descending roofs. An aged tree towered over the sanctuary. The oak veiled his thinking spot and provided the refuge with a tree house-like feel. He watched the tiny flame scorch the end of the paper as the spiraling smoke rose upwards into the leaves that jaded the starry night. It always calmed him, being out here, it helped him think through the haze that constantly clouded his mind. As the smoke billowed around him, the fog in his mind cleared.

Loud noises like babies crying and overachievers always violently shook his troubled mind. He hated them. Annoyance was the worst kind of torture along with the unknown. Tony hated being out of the loop. He hated not knowing what was going on. He grunted and mulled over the idea in his mind. This probably came as a result of him tolerating others who treated him differently because of his narcolepsy and exiled him from social gatherings. No one wanted the narcoleptic kid to have an episode on their kitchen floor or in the backseat of their car. He sighed as the smoke fluttered in the air.

Forget it, Tony, just relax, he told himself. The cigarette was almost out. If I ever pass out on this ledge, I'll be in trouble, he thought. It was a sheer drop to some bushes some fifteen feet below. He chuckled at the thought. Laughing felt strange, the muscles of his face moving in unfamiliar ways.

Tired of his own cynicism, he climbed back through the window and crawled into bed. He was groping around for his blanket in the darkness, still on his hands and knees when --

Tony awoke. The restaurant was vast with velvet carpet and golden railings, with subdued lighting that felt intimate in spite of the size of the room. Chandeliers floated above the grand array of tables as waiters in tuxedos passed with white gloves and menus. Entrees were maneuvered in the waiter's hands throughout the aisles of the restaurant, steaming, on fire, and always delicious. The comfortable lull of low conversation filled the banquet as the ding of glass and the clamor of the kitchen could be heard echoing behind the scenes.

Tony was dressed in a black and white tuxedo. His black bowtie matched his jet black hair and the shadow of scruff on his face, giving him a sleek look. Across from him, in a bold red dress that accented her ample curves, was Lynette, more stunning than ever. The curls of her brunette hair folded along her bare shoulders. She delicately held the menu scanning it with her glorious jade eyes. He remembered to breathe and realized that he was staring at her beauty. She eyed him and smiled, flattered by his drifting gaze. The corner of her mouth rose just a bit, revealing the hint of a dimple on her cheek.

Tony grinned, not able to believe that a girl like her could possibly want to be with him. The waiter approached and they ordered their drinks. Lynette caught Tony's eye.

"I can't wait for tonight, after dinner I mean," she said, anticipating their plans.

Tony barely heard her. He was distracted by what he was seeing. This must be a dream, he thought. What time period where they in? Tony scanned the room for clues after realizing he didn't have his cell phone.

Then he saw a man with a newspaper.

In boldface, on the front page of the paper, it read: Life After V-J DAY.

October 24th, 1945, the date read. Only two months ago in this dream timeline, America had won World War II in the Pacific.

"Me too," he responded, lying, because for some reason his mind didn't let him foresee what they were doing after this exquisite dinner. Lynette snatched her purse.

"I will be back," she said.

Tony watched her glide through the dinner tables heading for the gold accented hallway that led to the restrooms. Taking a gulp of water, he noticed a small pamphlet on the table. There were two people on the front dressed just as he and Lynette were. He eyed the stars behind the elegantly dressed couple who danced across the front of the picture. He blinked and noticed moisture droplets trickling down Lynette's water glass. She had been gone a while.

A cry of terror sounded from the restroom. An icicle impaled Tony's heart as the scream tore into his body. He bolted across the restaurant as Lynette continued to scream in bursts, as if in a struggle. Her terrified voice grew more distant as Tony raced across the marble floor. He skidded to a stop in front of the restroom door and heard her scream from inside. He flung himself through the door.

The blood was everywhere. Blood oozed from the roof dripping from the lights. Thick red water poured from the faucet into the sink. He came face to face with a shattered version of himself in the broken mirror, sharp glass edges coated in the scarlet substance. A crippling horror overtook him. Succumbing to the blood bath, he fell to the floor with his eyes glued to the red sap smeared across his hands. He crawled back into the hallway gagging. There, he watched Lynette be forced out the emergency exit and into a side alley at the end of the gold trimmed hall. The kidnapper had his arm around her neck and choked her as he dragged her out.

"Lynette!" Tony shouted. With a newfound strength he sprinted for the door. She screamed his name as the door slammed in front of him. He crashed into the door and fell backwards. He stood up in his stained tuxedo and kicked the door with the bottom of his foot. He smashed it again and again.

"Open you bastard!" he cried as he drove the bottom of his foot against the wood. It burst open in shatters with broken hinges. It was raining when he stumbled out into the alleyway.

Tony's breath escaped him.

The revenant, the shade, the nightmare companion that tormented his childhood, fastened its shadowy arm around Lynette's neck.

Tony faced the specter in the veil of rain.

The revenant pressed the muzzle of a black magnum to Lynette's temple.

Tony stood unable to move as raindrops splashed off his tuxedo.

Despite the blood soaked restroom, Lynette seemed unharmed. But she was paralyzed with fear, breathing heavily, as water streamed down her face.

The phantom's seething glare narrowed on Tony.

"Don't make any mistakes or she dies." the revenant told him.

Tony held up his hands in surrender.

The specter only tightened its grip on Lynette

She gasped, clutching the wet sleeve that was fastened around her neck.

"Don't, please, no," Tony said.

The entire restaurant had disappeared behind him. They were in another kind of hallway as the rain fell inside this new building. There was the hospital desk to his left. Across from the desk, behind the monster and Lynette was the door with the white plastic numbers, room 323. The stormy atmosphere blackened the hospital corridor. Churning storm clouds hung where the ceiling should have been, and instead of floor tiles, they stood on hard, black asphalt, as if they were still in the alleyway outside the restaurant.

"You think you deserve to be with her? You think you love her?" The revenant mocked him.

"Yes! Stop. Please," he pleaded with the shadow.

Lynette watched Tony with apprehensive eyes.

"Narcolepsy has you now, Tony. And you don't have the courage to face it." the revenant hissed as he tightened his grip around the trigger.

The shot rang out in the spectral corridor as it merged with Tony's scream. The revenant then turned the gun on Tony and fired a second shot. The impact knocked Tony to the asphalt and he became numb. Lynette's body, decorated by the extraordinary crimson dress, fell like a freed marionette to the floor. The paralysis overwhelmed Tony again as the specter approached him slowly. Tony saw Lynette's lifeless body on the asphalt. Her dead eyes stared back at his. He wept and fell unconscious.

####

Tony shot up in his bed. His eyes opened in the darkness of his bedroom. He felt the damp clothes clutching his skin and tore them away. He leapt out of bed wearing only his shorts, grabbed his cigarettes and climbed out his window in confusion.

Peace and quiet comforted him as he sat on the window ledge. With his cigarette lit, Tony reconciled with his mind. He revisited the dream with caution and crept back into the memory of it. Dinner at the fancy restaurant, Lynette's scream, the blood, and she was gone. The revenant took a terrifyingly active role in this one, he thought, instead of just lurking in the background... a real threat, doing real harm. The phantom had been much more brutal than it had ever been. He couldn't make sense of the dream and decided to relax. The aesthetic of the smoke eased his troubled mind, his eyes following the grey wisps as they spiraled up into the night sky.

He climbed back into his bed after an hour and looked at the clock. It was 3:22 in the morning. He turned over and over...and over. The bed rejected him and the insomnia infected him. Attempting to force himself to sleep usually ended with many sleepless hours. The hospital hall again, he thought, what does it mean? He lay there, still disturbed by the vision of the blood-splashed restroom.

Tony awoke from a dreamless stir the next morning. The alarm clock rang out for minutes before he found that he was awake. He sighed and was on the freeway before he knew he had started his day. Rubbing his bloodshot eyes, he turned off the expressway to get to school.

####

Class ended early and Tony waited to speak to his professor. He waited impatiently as the overachieving rats wasted his professor's time. He leaned against the wall glaring at the students. After moments of excruciating patience, he approached his professor.

"Professor Alan, I wanted to ask you something," he started.

"Sure, what is it Tony?"

"You seem to know a lot about psychology. I was curious as to what you would prescribe for bad dreams..."

"Nightmares?" Professor Alan asked.

"Sure," he replied.

The professor leaned back in his chair.

"Well, Tony, I would write them down and keep a record of them. As with all your dreams, record them, describe them as much as you can remember. Then reflect on them and see if you can make a connection to defeat whatever is causing these nightmares," he said.

Tony took the man's proposal into consideration. He had a feeling that he needed to do something more than just record and eventually understand his dreams, but it was a start.

"Who knows what it might reveal?" his professor added.

"Thanks," Tony said.

His professor wasn't satisfied. "It'll help, trust me. Let me know what happen," he said, eyeing Tony's worn appearance. "See you Thursday."

Hours passed and Tony trekked across campus as the clock tower called out the late hour through the fog. He drove home without thinking of anything.

He shifted into park and opened his car door. Home, he pressed the lock button on his keychain and looked back to see the headlights flash. When he turned back there was a rabbit in the grass of the neighborhood park. The flawless white rabbit looked back at him frightened by the sudden presence. He stopped in his tracks in awe of the tiny creature. Just as soon as he saw it, the rabbit bolted into the park. Tony gave chase.

The park was in the center of Tony's neighborhood. Pine trees and lampposts lined the walkway that swirled through the dewy grass. He could barely see the rabbit as it scurried across the wet grass, but he stayed in pursuit.

The light from the lampposts carved bubbles in the fog as the rabbit trotted across the park. Tony followed it without regard, searching for answers, but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. The fog encased Tony as he turned around not knowing where he was. He took a few steps down the sidewalk and saw a terrible sight.

In the grass sat a hospital bed. The IV stood motionless at its side. Tony turned and spotted the hospital desk, again, to his left. It rest in the park next to a small oak tree. The fog meandered over the desk as if it belonged. Looking back to the bed, he watched as more was added from the hospital setting. He took a step forward and noticed the sidewalk had turned into white hospital tile.

Tony's dream consciousness kicked in. You are in a dream, he told himself. Ahead of him was the black iron gate to the park's public swimming pool. But instead of the gate, Tony saw the pair of doors from the hospital corridor. He peered up to the sky and noticed an operating room light cluster protruding from a tree, like a branch, above him.

Screams rang out in the distance, growing closer like the horn of an oncoming train. Tony panicked and searched his immediate surroundings with frantic eyes. He heard the shrieks of fear coming as they tore across the park. He turned and ran through the park as the scenery merged with the hospital from his dreams. He bolted across the wet grass horrified as branches dropped hospital curtains and the wooden fences of backyards gave way to the fluorescent halls of the hospital. There, ahead of him, was the end of the park. Above it was a massive sign that read: Promontory Hospital. As he read the bold letters he tripped over a root and slammed into the wet grass. The ghost screams disappeared.

A blackbird sang in the foggy midnight. Tony felt the moisture on his face from the dew-soaked grass. His body ached as he tried to lift himself. He opened his eyes and saw the blades rising from the soil. After regaining his footing, he found that he was in the park, only this time, it was reality. I must have lost consciousness at some point -- story of my life, he thought to himself and walked home.

He checked his phone. 3:23, it read. It had been a few hours. As Tony found his house key, a white rabbit darted behind him and across his front lawn, into a burrow -- and out of his sight.

Once Tony was in his room he couldn't sleep. He crawled out of bed and got on his computer. He checked the news headlines reading about suicides in Japan, Seattle, and Canada. An abnormal number of people had recently thrown themselves off the roofs of their homes and had fallen to their death.

Tony finished the article and remembered the advice his professor had given him about recording dreams. He took out a paper and began to write down his recent happenings. First, he described the hospital corridor, where he had collapsed. Second, the dream in the restaurant with Lynette, and then the dream with the white rabbit in the park that, like the alley behind the restaurant, had partially transformed into the hospital corridor. He added some detail and description to each numbered dream. The hospital, he thought. It always comes back to the hospital... His eyes drifted shut, and a moment later, his head slumped to the keyboard.

The alarm sounded as the sun's beams cast a morning light through the shutters. Tony awoke in fright at the urgent sound. He jolted his head from the keyboard.

"I'm awake, I'm awake!" he shouted, slamming the alarm. He saw the time as he pressed the button.

"Shit," he exclaimed seeing as he was an hour late for class. There was no point in going now. Tony stood up and crunched a paper on the carpet. It was the note from his mother about his grandfather. Tony picked it up and read it again. Might as well, he thought.

####

Tony pulled up to the hospital and parked. It was odd that whenever he was at the hospital he never heard sirens. He headed for the entrance with his hands in his pockets. Tony gazed up at the faded white building.

In bold letters at the top of the massive structure was the name of the hospital: Promontory Hospital. Tony froze. He searched his back pocket for the paper he had used to write down his dreams. Under dreams one and three, he saw the name in all capitals. PROMONTORY HOSPITAL. This was it. He hurried inside.

Tony asked the receptionist where his grandfather's room was as he passed the desk. She told him to go to the third floor.

"Room 323, Intensive Care Unit," she said.

Tony looked back at her in astonishment.

"It's on the third floor..." she trailed off.

He blinked after realizing he had been staring at her. "Thanks," he said and made for the elevator. Once inside, he repeatedly tapped the third floor button wanting it to move faster.

He was in the right place. 323, the dream record read. The answers were here.

He stepped out of the elevator and was petrified by the shock of déjà vu. The elevator doors inched closed behind Tony as he witnessed the setting from his dream. The hospital desk was to his left and the double doors down the corridor. Every detail matched his dream, except for the lighting, a mixture of over-bright fluorescents and reflected sunlight from windows near the elevator.

Tony breathed a sigh of awe. He reached the door of room 323 and clutched the doorknob he had been unable to open in his dreams and pushed forward.

What the door guarded wasn't anything special. His grandfather, Tony Senior, lay on an ordinary hospital bed. The midday light gleamed through the window. The room was mostly white and there was an uneaten tray of food next to the old man. Tony stepped inside and waited for the climax. Nothing happened.

"Tony," his grandfather coughed, "I'm glad you're here, finally." Tony ignored his grandfather searching for some kind of sign. The white rabbit, another clue, something.

"Are you going to say hello? Or just look around?" he grandfather said with a sarcastic tone. There was nothing here, Tony thought.

"Hello, Pa," he finally said sitting in a chair next to the bed.

"Were you expecting something more? It's just me," the old man said.

"Oh no, it's nothing." Tony said.

His grandfather raised an eyebrow and coughed again.

Tony freed himself from his unrelenting anxiety and decided he should have a genuine conversation with his grandfather. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

The old man stared up at the ceiling. "Fine. It's about the same as it's always been. I'm glad you've finally overcome it. Damn disease." Tony Sr. let out a hoarse laugh.

The sting of familiarity twinged across Tony's memory. Tony Sr. was talking about his -- their narcoleptic genes.

"When you were diagnosed, your father and I were so frustrated after dealing with it our whole lives. But you've proven you can beat this disability." The man hacked and covered his mouth with his IV injected hand.

"Yeah, well, there is no cure." Tony shrugged.

"Bull. You can beat this thing Tony, I don't give a damn what these elitist, prescription writing bastards say. It's a monster and it's all in your head. We all have some kind of demon in these little brains of ours. It just takes different forms. It's how we deal with our personal demon that defines who we are."

Tony was taken aback by his grandfather's sudden boldness.

"Narcolepsy doesn't have a hold on you, Tony. You have the courage to face it and come out victorious," he stated with resolve. Then he smiled, the smile Tony remembered from birthday hugs and handshakes.

"But you all ready know that, don't you?" Tony Sr. said.

Tony didn't know how to respond. "I guess so," he said at last.

"Don't worry," his grandfather said, tilting his head down to meet Tony's eyes. "I have faith in you. You should go. I think it's time for me to go through another round of tests."

"Okay. Thanks for the encouragement, really," Tony said, "it really helped. I'll see you tomorrow." He wished he was telling the truth.

"Good luck now," Tony Sr. said, smiling.

Tony left the room and waited in the elevator lobby, pondering his grandfather's words. "I have the courage, huh. At least one of us believes it." After the ride, he passed through the lobby. Nurses and doctors rushed past him as he walked. Someone needed help. He watched them run down to hall exchanging medical rhetoric.

He reached his car and reviewed his dream record. He scanned over it stopping at dream two. Revenant, it said. Tony attempted to recall the conversation he had had with the monster.

Narcolepsy has a hold on you now, Tony. And you don't have the courage to face it.

"He said it. Almost exactly." Tony turned on his heels and sprinted for the hospital. But he was too late. He burst into the lobby and rushed to the elevator. The same receptionist rushed to stop him as the elevator doors opened.

"I am terribly sorry sir, but Tony Senior has gone into critical condition. You cannot visit him at this time."

"You don't understand. I need to see him, now!" Tony brushed past her and into the elevator. He felt a tug on his shoulder and as he turned a security guard gestured for him to come out. The man's grip securely fastened on Tony's shoulder.

####

Tony drove. He found himself on the pier at the beach as the sun set. The beach was abandoned. The waves crashed onto the picturesque shore but tranquility was far from Tony's state of mind. He clenched his fists until they were red. Why did he say that? And why was it so eerily similar? Any confidence he had received from his grandfather had vanished. I need answers, he thought.

Could he defeat his narcolepsy? It was a condition, not some kind of mental disorder. What an idiot, he thought of his grandfather. Tony felt guilty for being angry at an old man who was no doubt fighting for his life. He cleared his throat, holding back the creeping tears, and decided to go home.

It was midnight when he reached the expressway. He rolled down the window and let the cool air calm him. As he did, the record of dreams whipped in the wind in front of his eyes. Just as he saw it, the paper soared out of the car carried by a gust of wind.

"Damn it," Tony shouted, beating the stirring wheel with his palm. He slammed on the brakes and pulled off to the shoulder of the expressway watching the paper flutter in his rearview mirror. Taking his keys out of the ignition, he exited the car and glanced down the abandoned highway. He spotted the white paper on the black asphalt. There wasn't a car in sight. He jogged towards the memento but as he reached out to snatch it, he doubled over and everything went black.

Tony awoke, in a dream, standing on the abandoned freeway. He cursed himself for going unconscious in the middle of the expressway. But the dream quickly captured his attention and drew his mind from the urgency of the real world. A solitary car drove towards him as he watched from the shoulder of the freeway. It was his car.

The dream changed point of view. Tony now drove the car. He felt one hand secure on the stirring wheel. Gaining his bearings, he felt his left hand on the stirring wheel and his right holding something warm and gentle. A hand was interlocked with his.

Lynette brushed her thumb against Tony's, caressing his skin. She wore the same stunning scarlet dress that she had in the restaurant. Her hair fell curled the exact same way and cascaded across her bare shoulders. Lynette's lush red lips were accented by an ardent lipstick. It was the way she opened her eyes when turning to look at him. When those jade orbs locked on his, it opened a window to another world of hope and reverie. Tony's consciousness captured the moment in the gentle night under the street lights.

"Tony, I want to tell you something," she said, her voice quivering. She bit her lip.

"What is it, Lynette?" he gazed at her nervous figure as she clasped her other hand around their entangled fingers. Lynette's eyes glistened with vulnerability. She found Tony's eyes and opened her heart.

"I--" As he anticipated her words, his eyelids fell. The void returned and he fell unconscious at the wheel. Tony's hand dropped, still gripping the wheel, and caused the car to careen to the left. Tony, the eyewitness, returned as he watched the car from his first vantage point. The sudden change in direction and forward momentum rotated the car on its side. In a slowed state, he watched as the glass shattered and shot in all directions. A familiar melody played in the turbulent air as the revolving vehicle barreled down the highway and crushed the outer frame of the car with each impact. The overturned vehicle finally came to a stop in a heap of twisted metal and shattered glass. It was utterly silent on the highway as Tony stared, awestruck by the magnificent crash. Then he noticed the splattered blood dripping from the jagged edge of the broken window of the passenger seat like the blood from the broken mirror in the restaurant bathroom.

Tony awoke. He saw the stars twinkle in the early morning sky. The smell of burned rubber and smoke carried over from his dream as he pulled himself off the freeway asphalt. He was intact and his car was parked right where he left it. He scanned up and down the expressway surprised that he had made it after lying unconscious, for minutes, on the freeway.

"You're a lucky bastard, Tony," he said aloud. Well, he thought, I wasn't so lucky in that dream. He got up, clutching the crumpled paper. Once he closed the door to his car and started the engine, a song filled the interior of the vehicle. It was his and Lynette's song. He hadn't listened to it in days, weeks even. He glanced to the tuner curious as to the source of the evocative melody. But the radio was off. Just as he realized this the song was gone and he wondered if he was unconsciously playing it in his head.

####

Tony shut the door to his room and leaned against it with his fist secure on the doorknob. A drop of sweat slithered down his face. He scoured the dim room with his beady eyes. He searched for answers. The pain and emotion of these events was getting to him. Lynette, his grandfather, the blood, the white rabbit, he needed answers. He knew he was close. It must be connected. This narcolepsy was starting to become dangerous. It was his enemy. He had to destroy this mystery. He slammed the record on his desk and wrote out the last dream and its connections. He tried to remember word for word what the kidnapper and his grandfather had told him. But all he could do was stare at the page with lost memory.

"Shit!" Tony shouted and flung the pen into the drywall. He tore the record of dreams apart and threw the tattered page into the air. He snatched his cigarettes and was out the window.

The night air was harsh and revolting. It hardly welcomed Tony as he sat lighting his cigarette. Something was wrong, within him, and around him. His obsession with these dreams was consuming his life. If it wasn't for the dreams he would have completely forgotten about Lynette in reality and everything else for that matter. His phone sat waiting for him to respond to her multitude of unread text messages and missed calls. Tony took in a plume of smoke and blew it out. Did he even care about his life anymore? Why was it worth it? He began to question himself and inhaled smoke. These dreams are connected, with my narcolepsy, with Lynette. He pounded the wooden window ledge with his fist.

There was an abnormal silence. It crept over him like a thief in the night. The scorching cigarette fell from his lips. He couldn't control it. It toppled down to the bushes below. He lost all feeling and control of his body. But this time, there was no comma between dream and reality. The dream just was. The dream was reality.

You think you deserve to be with her? You think you love her? a voice menaced Tony.

He turned to see the empty roof tiles to his left. Where did that voice come from? he asked himself. He stood up on the window ledge.

Don't make any mistakes or she dies, the malevolent whisper beckoned Tony.

He reached the roof and climbed the incline to where it peaked.

There was a silhouette waiting for him. It stood rigid a few yards away on the pinnacle of the roof.

Narcolepsy has you now, Tony. And you don't have the courage to face it, the revenant taunted him with a whispering snarl.

Tony confronted the specter. He could see the extent of it now. It was hooded just as before. An abysmal fog wisped off the silhouette of the specter as it hissed at Tony. He knew the phantom well from the nightmares and shadows of his unconscious life. It was the accumulation of his fear.

"It's time to end this," Tony said harnessing his will to overcome this terror.

"Good luck now." His grandfather's words echoed in his mind.

The revenant charged him.

Tony flinched with only moments to react. He dove to the side, scraping his palms on the rough roof tiles. He tumbled down the incline of the roof. He broke a panel with his weight and clasped the chimney with his bleeding hands.

The revenant accounted for Tony's maneuver and stepped towards him.

"You are so weak. Face me." The revenant laughed with hideous intentions.

Tony eyed the monster and used the chimney to get to his feet.

"Who are you?" Tony demanded of the specter.

The revenant chuckled. "I am guilt, regret, suffering, unconsciousness. But you all ready know that." It charged him again with its death grip extended towards Tony.

Tony ducked to the side as the revenant's claw tore a hole in the chimney.

With its other shadowy arm it seized his neck and shoved him against the wall, raising him from the roof shambles.

Tony's legs flailed as the revenant stole his breath.

"I am you, Tony. You allowed me to return that night. The night you slipped into the void. I dominate your consciousness now. Your fear, guilt, your pathetic depression, all fuel my power. Challenging me was foolish. Now, I will kill you like I should have done that night." The revenant tightened its grip, hissing at Tony, as Tony began to lose consciousness.

"Wake up, Tony!" Lynette's voice replayed in his head from the morning the phenomena had started. Sound faded from Tony's dimension as his senses failed. The foreboding silence was soon replaced by Lynette and Tony's song. As his eyes shut the melodious tune filled the atmosphere. It resonated throughout the roof and soon was the only sound that could be heard. The melody suffocated the revenant's hiss and fueled Tony's fire to live.

Tony's leg found the revenant's gut. It released him falling backwards from the impact. He drove his fist across its shadowy face. He seized the manifestation of his unconsciousness and dragged it across the roof with a renewed confidence. He reached the precipice of the roof as the specter cowered in Tony's resolve. Below raged a blazing fire, ignited by the fallen cigarette.

"I will wake up," Tony commanded as he cast his unconsciousness, the revenant, into the cleansing fire.

####

Tony awoke. He could see the backs of his eyelids as a conversation took place in the vicinity around him. He opened his eyes...

A gasp reverberated from the doorway as a woman let a clipboard fall to the floor in shock.

Tony immediately recognized her eyes as the ones he had stared into when he had visited his grandfather. Her name was Hazel, Tony noticed on her name badge. Nurse, ICU, Promontory Hospital. She immediately left the doorway and shouted down the hospital corridor.

He heard the beep of the monitor next to his bed and felt the cloth of the hospital bed between his fingers. The door to his room was open and Tony's eyes widened as he spotted the all too familiar numbers marking the door. Room 323. Through the doorway he saw the hospital corridor with the hospital desk across the hall. Lynette's song played over the radio as he lay overwhelmed at the clarity of his senses.

Good luck now. The voice of Tony's grandfather echoed within him. He recalled the wrinkles of Tony Sr.'s face along with the color of the man's hair. Once the suspicion took hold in his mind he scanned the room. It was the same room, the same bed, the same window. The old man was the harbinger of his future had his unconscious won. He exhaled at the thought of a life in the void.

"Bring her!" Hazel's voice echoed down the corridor. Tony noticed small pamphlet on the bed side table that read: 2010 Homecoming Theme: The 1940's

He blinked, staring at the paper that had two tickets peeking out of the top of it. A flood of memories was released from where they had been held deep within his unconscious. The memories poured into his mind and like the feel of fresh rain, it renewed his consciousness

The illustrious night came back to him. The restaurant, driving to homecoming, the accident.

The doctors had achieved control over his narcolepsy for years until that fateful day when he passed out while driving Lynette to what was supposed to be the most wonderful night of his life. The horrendous crash he had witnessed on the expressway in his dream...Oh my god, he thought.

"Lynette." Tony's eyes moistened.

"No," he gasped, the first words Tony had spoken in months escaped his mouth in fear. At that moment, the receptionist wheeled a hospital bed in front of his doorway.

There she was, alive. Cuts and bruises that had healed with time were still visible on her face and body, but did nothing to scar her beauty. With all her strength she lifted her hand and bent her fingers in a gentle wave. Tony broke down in tears watching her, feeling the guilt, regret, and suffering that had embodied the unconscious revenant from his nightmare.

Tears streamed down her face as well, but in joy, that her man had returned from the darkness. Lynette formed her mouth to say three words she meant to say that night in the car just before the accident.

He read the words with ease because it defined his feeling for her.

Tony had drifted down the rabbit hole. But now, he had overcome the comma, or awakened from the coma.

THE END


© 2011 David Falkinburg

Bio: David Falkinburg is a fiction writer who lives in Southern California. Working towards his MFA in Creative Writing at Cal State San Bernadino, Falkinburg writes short stories, screenplays, novels, and flash fiction in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. He is a fiction editor for Creepy Gnome, a literary magazine based out of Mt San Antonio Community College. Falkinburg takes his inspiration from his hero, Michael Crichton, and hopes to accomplish what he has.

E-mail: David Falkinburg

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