Not much response to my short story last week. Let’s see if I have any better reaction to this one.
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The light of day snatched me out of my dark dream. I am not a prophet. I don’t see into the future. Nonetheless, the same dream three nights in succession bothered me in a vague, ill-formed way.
Lying there with the dawning day stretching before me, my mind struggled to recreate the reverie. But it had no form or function. Merely the impression of a dark place. An alley perhaps. With dim lights overhead. And a dark—masked?—figure disappearing around a corner. Nothing really frightening about it. Nonetheless, the recollection sent a shiver through my body and propelled me out of bed and into my daily routine.
My breakfast, oatmeal—lightly sugared—with dry toast and a single piece of bacon washed down with black coffee, occupied the physical me while I considered the day’s schedule. Simple enough. Drafting work at my employer's architectural firm followed by a date with Wendy, my airline hostess girlfriend, who was here one day and in Hong Kong or wherever the next. But tonight, she would be here for a cozy evening of nuzzling and cooing.
I made it through the day thanks to an interesting office high rise one of our younger partners designed. The project required some innovative drafting, so it held my interest until quitting time. That’s when the telephone ruined what was left of my day.
“Hi, hon.” Wendy’s sugary, sexy voice lifted me up before slamming me down. “Sorry to tell you this, but we’re held up at O’Hare International. Weather. I won’t make it home tonight.”
With my stomach somewhere down around my knees, I assured her that was all right. Everything we planned to do tonight could be put off until tomorrow. I hoped my voice didn’t mirror my real thoughts. Why don’t you quit that freaking job?
My evening destroyed, I wandered two blocks down the street to Murphy’s Irish Bar. With nary a single drop of Celtic blood, I usually enjoyed the atmosphere—even when the bartender addressed me as a bloody Brit. A table of other youngbloods from my firm beckoned, and the company lifted my spirits until they began to peel off one by one—this one going home to his wife and kids, that one heading out to meet his fiancée, another to hook up with his boyfriend—until I was alone at the table with no one to go meet.
Pissed off and out of sorts, I did the logical thing and switched to the hard stuff to put my problems behind me. I didn’t get stinking drunk, but my blood alcohol chemistry likely legally qualified for that condition—without the modifier. Before reaching the stinking point, I had the presence of mind to quit, only to confront a difficult, complex problem: Take a taxi home or walk two blocks to my car and drive the mile to my apartment building? Dawdling to puzzle over that dilemma provoked my waitress into asking if I was all right. That innocent, caring act prompted me to put aside my quandary. The walk back to the car would clear my head enough to safely drive myself home. My decision made, I stopped by the men’s room and then left the bar by the more convenient rear exit.
The portal no sooner closed behind me than I halted and backed against the cold, metal exterior. Goosebumps ran down my back. My breath came in ragged gasps. This was my dream! Black night. A dark alley with only a weak light over the doorway behind me with a tad more spilling out of a window two floors up. I held my breath and listened to the silence. Nothing. Not even traffic. A bug buzzing around the dim bulb right over my head, that was all. I wanted to go back, but the latch wouldn’t open from the outside. I was stuck. Stuck in my dream.
My lungs ached, making me realize I was still holding my breath. A gasp brought the rancid odor of rotting food from the dumpster halfway down the alley. The taste of my last bourbon and water rose in my throat to curl my tongue. I pushed my palms against the door to propel me forward. Get out of here. Fast.
No more than half a dozen steps down the alley, the sound of the door opening froze me in mid-step. I whirled to see a broad man—one of my fellow patrons no doubt—exit in a swift, sure stride. I tried to yell for him to hold the door, but my voice box refused to work. The heavy door slammed closed once again, the click of the latch clearly audible.
“’Scuse me,” the man said as he breezed by, apparently unaffected by any recurring dreams. I picked up my pace and followed him down the alley, preferring company to solitude.
As he came abreast of the dumpster—with me three paces behind him—he stopped and grunted. “What the hell you want?”
Was he talking to me?
Then I heard a rough voice. “Hand over your money.”
The big man lunged forward. “Get outa my way, you little bastard!”
Still uncertain about what was happening, I heard a loud pop. And then a second. The big man grunted again—a different sound this time--and staggered a couple of steps before flopping onto his belly. When he went down, he revealed a dark figure standing there. Although I couldn’t see his face, his body language expressed as much surprise at me as I was in terror of him. He held out his hand, making what it held gleam in the uncertain light from the upstairs window. A gun.
“Lousy luck, guy You seen too much.”
The thing in his hand spit fire, and something slammed me in the chest so hard I banged against the dumpster, making more noise than his pistol had. Shocked from the blow of the projectile, the surprise of what occurred, and the horror of my dream, I clung to the side of that reeking metal container as the dark man disappeared around the corner. Had he been masked? Who cared?
Slipping soundlessly to the ground, I struggled for breath as the blackness of my dream—this dream, this nightmare—washed over me.
I’d be interested in your reaction to the story at dontravis email@example.com.
As always, thanks for being readers. There wouldn’t be writers without them.
Next post: 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.