"Sir? Sir, can you hear me?! SIR! I don't think he can hear me..."
"Aw man, it hurts!" said Dave as he lay in his bed, a searing pain gripping his midsection. "I gotta get up for work, but it hurts so much!"
"Then let me call you in sick," said the man at the foot of his bed. His dark-rimmed glasses, thinning red hair, and goatee made him look so familiar. He held up a small black cell phone and jiggled it back and forth.
"Yeah, do that, I gotta lie here a while longer," Dave grunted.
"Yes, I'd like six extra large pizzas," the man said into the phone. "I want... let's see... can I get some Ding Dongs on it, and extra women?"
"Dude, don't order pizzas, call me in sick!" Dave said as he struggled to sit up. "They're gonna be pissed if you don't!"
"...and some bubble gum," the man said. Then he held his hand over the phone and whispered to Dave. "What do you want on yours?!"
"CALL ME IN SICK!" yelled Dave. "Dammit!"
"OK OK!" the man said, "as soon as I'm done ordering the pizzas!"
"Fine, fine," said Dave. He had to lie back down. The pain was too much.
"I think I'm feeling better now," Dave said as he sat at the edge of the pool, dangling his naked legs in the cool water.
"Good, maybe you can go to work tomorrow," said Bob as he sunned himself on the pink raft.
"Now I know who you look like!" said Dave, snapping his fingers. "That dude from Mythbusters! Jamie. Or is it Adam? Which one wears the beret?"
"I dunno," said Bob. "My name is Bob. Not Jamie or Adam. And I hate berets."
"Yeah, I know, I was saying you looked like the other one," Dave said. "So what has Work said? Anything? I should get dressed."
Bob was busy typing on his laptop. Dave thought computering while on a raft in a pool wasn't a good idea. "Did you know that they just canceled Mr. Belvedere?"
"They cancelled that in 1990," Dave said. "What are you talking about?"
"No, you've missed a bunch of episodes they've produced in secret since then," Bob said. "The last one, where he leaped into Al, that was brilliant. Then the Owens family fired him and hired the Beastie Boys and that's how it ended."
"So weird," Dave said. "I've missed out on so much. I've gotta get dressed and go to work."
"So what are you doing at my house?" Dave asked Bob as that hot teenager girl from next door was servicing him. "Why is Mythbusters at my house?"
"I'm Bob, not the Mythbusters guy!" Bob exclaimed. "For the hundredth time! And I don't know what I'm doing here. It's your dream."
"Yeah, but it's not a dream, though," Dave said. "I mean this is a dream but I don't think I'm dreaming. You know... I really should get to work. I feel fine now."
"I don't think you're fine," Bob said. He pointed down at Dave's crotch. "Look!"
Dave looked down. He was horrified to see that his penis that the neighbor girl was servicing was detached from his body! No wonder he wasn't feeling anything! "Help!" he yelled. "I need this put back on! NOW!"
"It's past Five," Bob said. "They aren't open now. You'll have to wait until tomorrow."
"You know, Bob," said Dave as they sat on the beach, looking out onto the ocean as the sun was nestling into it, "if I am dreaming, I guess I should wake up. Shouldn't I?"
"Maybe," said Bob. The neighbor girl was sitting by them. Bob reached into her mouth and pulled out his black cell phone. "I've been looking ALL OVER for this!" The girl suddenly sank into the sand and out of sight.
"What'd you do that for," Dave said, "that was holding her up!"
"Man, cell phone technology these days," said Bob, looking at the phone, slowly shaking his head.
"I can't wake up, yet," Dave said. He gestured to the far-off waves. "Not until those waves come in."
"Right, nobody can wake up until the waves come in," Bob said. "By the way, your brother said 'Hi.'"
"I don't have a brother," Dave said.
"It's like that episode of Buffy," Bob said. "Now you have one."
"Oh, right," Dave said. He sighed.
"I am so late for work!" Dave whined as him and Bob stood in line to ride the roller coaster. "I shouldn't be here. If I don't go in soon, I might as well not go in at all. They'll be all leaving when I get there, if I leave now."
"So stay and ride!" Bob said. "This is the one where Aerosmith always rides in the front! And if you get close enough to the front, that picture they take of you screaming, Aerosmith might be in it! Your mom, you know, she's been wanting a picture of you and them together!"
"I feel guilty about riding a roller coaster while not being at work," Dave said. "I feel fine now."
"Dude, remember, this is a dream," Bob said. "you're sleeping while not being at work!"
"This isn't exactly sleeping," Dave said.
"But you see my point right?"
"Well, I can't wake up until I get that picture with Aerosmith," Dave said. "Mom would be so disappointed."
Suddenly, they were on the roller coaster, whipping around, up and down, on the loops. Steven Tyler's hair came off of his head and into Dave's face! He couldn't see as the coaster dipped down an extremely steep hill. Dave felt like his stomach was in his throat and he was being ripped out of his seat!
"No, no, no," Dave said, "I don't think I'm fine. It's not time to wake up yet."
"What are you waiting for?" Bob asked as he shook snow off of the fir tree he'd just cut down. "Christmas?" He smiled at Dave. His cheeks were as rosy as his red coat.
"I'm waiting for permission!" Dave said. A flat, Casio keyboard version of "O Come all Ye Faithful" was playing from a speaker or something somewhere nearby.
"From who?!" Bob yelled, his voice echoing in the nearby snow-capped mountains.
Then Santa Claus, in his usual holiday get-up, came lumbering in from the left side of the scene, behind Bob.
"Santa!" Dave yelled happily. "Whaddya think? Should I wake up now?"
"Eat shit and die, Dave!" Santa said in his signature deep voice, "ho ho ho!" He continued to walk by, not even looking at them.
"I'd take that as a 'No'," Bob said as Santa walked out of sight.
”No, mom, I don’t wanna get up for school!” Dave groaned. He tried hitting the snooze button on his radio alarm clock several times but couldn’t find it. Then he looked at it and realized it was just a cardboard fake radio alarm clock, the kind you see in furniture stores. But yet somehow it was going off.
”Rise and shine!” said Bob, who was grinning and hovering over him. He had makeup on and was dressed like his mother, but was definitely not his mother. In fact, the sight was quite hideous.
”I don’t wanna wake up yet!” yelled Dave. He put his pillow over his head. “I need more rest!”
”You’ve got to get up, Dave, everybody at school is worried about you!” Bob said. His attempt at speaking in a high, female voice was incredibly annoying. “Mrs. Thompson has been asking about you!”
”She was my fifth grade teacher!” Dave mumbled. “I thought I finished fifth grade a looooong time ago!”
Bob yanked the pillow off of his head. He was dressed in jean shorts and a Green Day concert tee shirt now. “Dude, it’s time for classes!”
Dave looked around. It was his old dormitory room from his freshman year of college. Bob was apparently his roommate, even though he was quite sure it should have been a blonde guy named Sam.
”Did you know you’re, like, 14 years late for English lit?” Bob asked. “They’re gonna fail you for sure unless you get your ass moving now!”
”Oh forget it, then!” Dave said. “That’s so late anyway… just let me rest, all right?!”
”All right, fine!” Bob said. “Keep sleeping your life away! I’m gonna go hacky-sack with the suitemates and go to Roger’s and watch Alternative Nation with Kennedy (he taped it off of MTV last night). God Kennedy is so hot! And then we might watch some Real World and see what Puck’s up to!”
Dave put the cover over his head. In the darkness, he saw two bright headlights bearing down on him. A loud, slow, ominous honk rushed towards him as the lights did. Dave tried to yell but he could not. It got caught at the bottom of his throat. Despite his best efforts it would not get unstuck. When they hit him he felt like he was catapulted into the air and he began tumbling head over feet over head; stomach in throat, stomach in crotch, stomach in throat.
When he stopped tumbling he found himself simply floating in the air. It was night and the dark ground below him was filled with lights. It was a small town. Perhaps the small town he grew up in?
”Look, you have to wake up.” Bob said. Suddenly he was “flying” next to Dave. “You are really late for work! They’re all there, and it’s 2AM over at the office, and they’re waiting for you. They cannot go home until you get there!”
”Oh god they must be pissed!” Dave exclaimed. He tried to float down but he couldn’t. The bright orange swimmies on his arms wouldn’t allow it. He was suddenly in the pool, not in the air, and the area of the city where his office was located was at the bottom. “I need to get these damn things off!”
”You can’t swim down that far anyway,” Bob said, who was treading water near him, “those buildings are a hundred feet down. You’ve just got to wake up. It’s the only way. You can’t really get to them this way anyway. Even if you got down there, it’s not real anyway. None of this is.”
”You’re right,” Dave said. He looked at Bob. “I need to wake up. But it’s weird. I can’t. I think I’ve been sleeping for days. Or maybe even weeks. It seems like it anyway. But why? No… all these dreams have to be happening in one night. This lucidity I’m experiencing isn’t all that lucid maybe.”
”I think you have been,” Bob said.
”I haven’t been dreaming enough dreams, or long enough.”
”Dave, you’re forgetting about all of those dreams that were too bizarre to remember or even contemplate. Remember the one about the curling penguins? And the mail that wouldn’t shoot? And what about the one where you were counting the vestibules? And the guy who did that thing?”
”Oh, those,” Dave said.
”You’ve been having tons of dreams!” said Bob. “If you just think about it you’ll realize it.
“Look, get out of the pool. I wanna show you something.”
Dave did as he was told and swam to the concrete edge and climbed out. Water dripped from him as he waited for Bob. He shook off like a dog would, then motioned for Dave to follow him. He looked around for a towel but there wasn’t one around. As Bob impatiently motioned again for Dave to follow, he realized that the hot afternoon sun was quickly drying him off anyway. He shrugged and followed Bob. His wet feet slapped on the concrete patio as he strode over to the gated alley between the back of his house and his neighbor’s house where Bob was waiting for him.
Bob, who was crouched to the side of the alley, quickly grabbed Dave and pulled him to the side as well. He peeked around – Dave did so as well – and pointed to a large man at the end of the alley at the gate. He stood there like a guard, staring straight ahead, not noticing them. Bob whispered “He’s the Gakekeeper. If you want to wake up, you have to get past him.”
”He looks like that guy from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and ER,” whispered Dave, “what’s his name… uh, Abraham… something.”
”Yeah, who cares?” Bob said impatiently. “Look, just casually go down the alley towards the gate. Just act natural. You should be able to get past him if you move fast when you get close to the gate. He’ll go after you, but, once you’re through the gate, whether he catches you or not shouldn’t matter, ‘cuz you’ll wake up as soon as you get by him. You got it?”
”This would never work in real life,” Dave said. “It’s a really stupid plan.”
”Well, good thing for you that it isn’t,” Bob said. “Now, get going!”
Dave did as was suggested and ran for the gate. The Gatekeeper didn’t notice that Dave was trying to escape until he was fiddling with the latch, trying to get it to open. The Gatekeeper hilariously said “Hey” just like that dumb guard in that one scene of that funny British movie.
”Time to wake up!” Dave yelled as he managed to open the gate, just as he felt a hand grab his back collar (funny that somehow he was suddenly wearing a shirt).
Nothing felt right. He was lying down. The cover draped over his knees which was just so wrong. His head felt like it wasn’t ready yet, too.
Somehow the Gatekeeper’s hand was still pulling on him. Dave let him pull him back through the gate as somebody somewhere yelled something.
Crestfallen, Dave watched the ball streak by the second baseman and the shortstop for a base hit. The crowd collectively moaned. Dave pulled his hat down over his face. It was the bottom of the ninth and, with only one out left, the no-hitter chance was dashed.
Bob, in full catcher’s gear, trotted up to the mound to talk to Dave. He pulled his mask up.
”Tough break,” he said. “That really sucks, dude.”
”Dammit, why couldn’t I save my progress?!” Dave exclaimed.
”You know how these games work. You can’t save your progress in the middle of a game. Only after and before them. And then only when you’re in season mode.”
”Well they should make it so you can!” Dave said. “Now I’m going to have to do this all over again! I was one out away! Who knows when the next time I’ll set up a potential No-Hitter like this?! I mean, so much progress towards something, and then something happens, and you’re back to square one!”
Dave watched, for what seemed like the hundredth time, a ball he’d just pitched elude the defense behind him and become a hit. This time it was only his second pitch of the game.
”Dammit!” he yelled. He tossed his glove towards third base and hung his head. The crowd started fiercely booing. Bob came trotting out to the mound.
”Hey, man, if you ever want to pitch a no-hitter again ya gotta keep your cool,” he whispered to Dave. It was difficult to hear him through the negative crowd noise.
”Oh, I’m NEVER gonna almost pitch a no-hitter again!” groaned Dave. “The closest I’ve come in the last fifty outings or so is the fourth inning. I’m NEVER gonna wake up!” Then it hit him. Dave looked up. He looked at home plate. He looked further up at the fans in the stands. “Oh yeah. These are dreams.”
”Yeah, being up here, in the Majors, on this mound of dirt, it’s what so many kids dream about,” Bob said.
”No, I mean, I forgot, I’m dreaming!” Dave said. “And I have been for a long time. Oh yeah! The Gatekeeper! I need to get past the Gatekeeper! Not pitch a no-hitter! I wish I’d have realized it sooner!”
Dave reached down and hit the power button on his Xbox 360. He was suddenly in his den. It was quiet. The rowdy baseball crowd was gone. He could only hear the ticking of the clock on the near wall. He tossed the wireless paddle and got up from the beanbag chair.
”Help!” he heard Bob’s voice exclaim. Dave looked around. Bob was no where to be seen.
”Where are you?” Dave asked.
”Dude, you left me in the Xbox!” Bob said. “Boy, these fans are P.O.-ed that you turned off the game, man! Holy shit, they’re starting to riot!”
Dave inspected the Xbox. Bob’s voice was definitely coming from within it… somehow. “How do I get you out?”
”Turn it back on and pitch that no-hitter!”
”NO!” Dave yelled. “Screw that. Screw you! I’m gonna try to go out that gate again!”
Once again, Dave was staring down the alley at Larry Kubiac. “All right,” Dave said. “It’s time. I’m sick of this. I need to wake up and get back to my life. If my alarm isn’t going to do the job, I am going to wake me up. I am not going to let you make me late for work, Mr. Gatekeeper!”
Dave began running down the alley. He ran and he ran… but he didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the gate. It was like the more he ran, the longer the alley became.
”Holy poop on a stick!” he heard Mr. Garrison’s voice yell from somewhere. Dave pressed on. It seemed like he was almost making a little progress.
The other guy from Mythbusters, the dude with the beret and the moustache, was suddenly running up next to Dave. He was grinning. Through pants for breath, he said “You know, Bob and I, we had butt sex last night!”
Dave pushed him away and caused him to fall down. Maybe if he ran faster it’d help. So he began to run faster. And faster. The gate was still so far away, but he was gaining on it a little bit…
BAM! Dave ran right into the gate. He fell backwards onto his rump. The metal bars of the gate began to hum. “That was sort of like that scene in that Holy Grail movie, but not quite,” said the Gatekeeper.
Dave stood up. He growled. He was determined to go through the gate this time. And no matter what happened, he was not coming back in.
”Are you going to try go through that?” the Gatekeeper asked. “Because if you are, I’ve been instructed to…”
Dave grabbed the latch, opened the door, and lurched through. Something grabbed his collar.
Dave had never experienced such trouble just trying to arouse from sleep. What the hell?!? It was as if his body was a costume that was too small and he was trying to fit into it, struggling to gain access to and control of it. And when he tried to make a noise it felt like it did in dreams; it was a major ordeal just to get a sound to come out of it, much less a recognizable word. He coughed and started to move around in slight, jerky motions. He realized it was real life he was finally hearing and seeing. But his body was still reacting as if he was still in a dream.
Where was he? There were tubes attached to his body all over. The bed felt wrong. It was a hospital bed! He was in a hospital!
”He’s awake again!”
Dave looked across the room at the door. There stood a shocked-looking middle-aged nurse. He tried to say “Where am I?” but it came out more like “WhuurrMmmm EH!”
”Doctor!” The nurse ran out.
It would be much easier to let the Gatekeeper drag him back through the gate. This was more of a nightmare than that! But, no! Not this time!
What’s this about a Gatekeeper anyway? he thought.
Something was wrong with his legs. The sheet was draping down over his knees. That was wrong!
”Mr. Chevelle, I’m Dr. Craig,” said a young man who had just entered the room. “Can you hear me?”
Dave looked at the doctor. He began to calm down. Moving became easier. He was finally totally awake. “Yes,” he said. “What happened?”
Dave was in that coma for six months. In addition to his legs and his girlfriend, six months of his life was taken from him by that trucker who’d fallen asleep at the wheel. He spent six months of his life in endless dreams, most of which he couldn’t remember.
Something about a gate and Mythbusters? And a pool?
Dave shook his head as he tried to think about them again, as if it would shake loose the memories. The spring birds chirped up in the oak tree at the edge of the courtyard of the rehabilitation center. It was a sunny, warm day with a slight breeze. It would be perfect if he wasn’t in a wheelchair, missing both of his legs below the knees, and if he was at home. Sadly, he missed his legs more than his girlfriend. She was great in the sack but he wasn’t in love with her. She was nice, though.
Dave sighed as he typed “sleep paralysis” into his laptop computer, into the Google search field. As it turns out, the weirdness he had experienced when trying to wake up was his body still paralyzed as if he was still asleep.
He was trying to make the most of it and trying to enjoy what he could, like this quiet moment outside in the gorgeous weather. A few hours ago his ex wife and son had visited and had been as noisy and hectic as it usually was. Now it was time to just relax and surf the web.
Another patient was outside, across the courtyard, with a small radio, listening to a baseball game. Dave could make out the announcer saying “…and Chris Carpenter is two outs away from a no-hitter!”
”No hitter,” mumbled Dave to himself. “Hmm. I think I dreamed about that.