A box. The dreamer examined the small dark space. Her fingers pressed on the wall in front of her, testing to see if it would give way or open. Standing, there couldn’t have been more than a foot of space in front or behind her, less than that above her. Despite the solid ground under her feet, it was clear she didn’t know where she was. Neither did Claire.
“Hello?” Claire said, even though she knew she would not be heard.
The woman continued to examine the space around her, unaware Claire was even there. Although people dream up weird things all the time, this had never happened before. In all her years hopping through their minds, Claire Martin had never landed herself in a box.
Are we buried? she wondered.
Claire quieted her own thoughts, a skill that had taken years to hone. Concentrating now, the emotions of the dreamer began to weave their way into Claire’s system. This person seemed sad, as if they already knew finding a way out of the box was not possible. Claire felt her dreamer’s emotions physically; this sadness came in the form of a dense weight holding her in place. As if the powers that be were saying, No matter what you do, you are never leaving here. Her hand lifted and rubbed the chocolate brown wood paneling with curiosity.
Claire admired the woman’s delicate hands with oval nails covered in sleek, smooth polish. A simple silver band on her left ring finger caught Claire’s eye. It was flat, but an ornate pattern carved into the silver reminded Claire of cherry tree branches. As her hand turned in exploration, the ring caught a gleam of non-existent light, flashing brilliantly against the darkness. With it, Claire felt a flush of warmth. There was love here, buried somewhere within the dark, beyond this sadness.
She’s looking for a way out; good! Claire cheered silently.
With the dreamer looking all around for a means of escape, Claire got a good view of the person’s body. Not having control of what dreams she landed in, or from what point of view she saw the dreams, Claire didn’t always get that chance. Her only shot of identifying who she was with was to catch a reflection in a mirrored surface. Even then, she was limited to what they dreamed themselves to be. Still, she did her best to have a gander if she found opportunity.
“You’re a girl; good. I like girls. Or I like being a girl. Oh, never mind. You can’t even hear me,” Claire rambled on to her hostess.
The box offered no useful clues. No reflective surfaces to get a glimpse of the woman’s face, and no door as of yet. No up, no down, no in, no out. It would be interesting to see where they went from here.
The gentle smell of lilacs filled the air. It wasn’t unheard of for Claire to be able to smell something in a dream. Most of the time it was real life bleeding into the sleeper’s world. She could not count the amount of times she had been thrown out of a dream as the smell of coffee or bacon wafted in. It also could be what Claire identified as an associated smell, something the dreamer was thinking of. Associated smells were rarer in her findings, but she had enough experience with it to be able to tell the difference. These were scents tied to memories.
The smell of this pie takes me to my childhood. I imagine the warm, smooth glaze slipping down my throat. Cinnamon tickles my nose and makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I remember warm pies cooling on my grandmother’s kitchen counter and how their fresh out-of-the-oven aroma filled the air. This pie is the simple contentment of a six year old me, swinging my feet under my chair at her kitchen table on a crisp fall day.
The lilacs seemed to be a mixture of real and associated. The idea was there; it felt gentle and breezy on her skin. Yet, it was so constant Claire would bet money the dreamer might have the actual scent in the room. Perhaps the woman was a florist who smelled of lilacs because she worked with hundreds of them for a wedding. Perhaps there were so many, she dreamed she was trapped by them in this silly box.
Perhaps, Claire pondered.
There was no sound as the curious dreamer fisted her hand, knocking on the wooden wall. Claire hoped for both of them somebody would hear it. She had no desire for herself or the dreamer to be here any longer than they needed to be. Experience had her anticipating it wouldn’t be long. This dream was in real time, not too slow and not too fast. The surroundings were in color, and the woman had a strong grasp of detail. Calculating dream factors Claire knew to be true, she was a vivid dreamer who was safe in a bed across town.
She was a person who falls asleep moments after she hits the pillow, giving her lots of REM to dream in. Claire loved people like this, there was no work to be done. Fast dreams that come in a flash just before one wakes up made her dizzy. Black and white dreams made her queasy. Dreams that send people from one place to another without warning gave her a headache. Regular dreams where she could exist in real time, in one place, were as close to a vacation as Claire ever got to have.
A tickle began the slow climb from the base of her stomach into her lungs.
Panic. She’s starting to panic, Claire thought. This poor soul must be dreaming she’s buried alive.
The jittery feeling Claire associated with panic began replacing the weight of sadness. It rolled into her like the thunder of a storm hitting in the middle of the night.
“Annnnnnnnd this is a nightmare, ladies and gentlemen,” Claire sarcastically informed her audience of no one.
A noise caught the dreamer’s attention and she closed in, pressing her ear to the wall. Somebody was on the other side, finally, and they were talking. Mumbles. She could hear the mumbles. Claire couldn’t make it out, but whoever it was, they were saying one word over and over again. She could hear a faint pounding sound in the distance.
Thud, thud, thud.
As much as the dreamer was leaning up against the wall, straining to hear the sound, so was Claire. With a tight fist, the dreamer pounded on the wall in front of her. She turned around and pounded on the wall behind her. Unlike what was happening on the other side, there was no sound as her hand hit the wall. As in all dreams, Claire couldn’t feel the weight of her fist coming down. She could just imagine this girl’s feeling of hitting the wall as hard as she could.
As the seconds ticked away, Claire became more jittery and antsy.
The dreamer more panicked. “Find me. Help me.” The words floated out into the air. It would be the only words her dreamer spoke aloud.
Knowing the voice was one she’d never heard before, Claire still identified with it in her own weird way. As she stood within this woman’s mind, within this woman’s body, this was her own voice, if only for a minute.
Nothing changed. The voice on the other side remained muffled, still repeating itself over and over. The pounding stopped, and Claire tried to make out the words but they were too far away. The wall in front of the dreamer remained whole and she remained trapped. Just as Claire began to roll her eyes at the monotony she was trapped in, something finally changed. The air seemed weird now, which could mean any number of things. It was a dream, so general laws of physics never applied and often were tossed out the window. Especially if the dreamer happened to have a late night snack before they went to bed. For some, food before bed seemed to be the gateway drug into a psychedelic dream world.
The dreamer stopped trying to get attention from the other side of the unyielding wall. Her attention turned to her hands as she wiggled her fingers to examine a new element she would face. The air moved, becoming wavy with the motion of her fingers breaking it into a dance. It reminded Claire of the space just above a hot grill, the way heat would rise and make the air look wavy. Just as she didn’t feel the weight of her hand hit the wall, she didn’t feel this either but the idea came into her mind loud and clear.
Claire’s jitters and the dreamer’s panic multiplied to the brink of insanity. Claire disliked nightmares, more than most. It was like being stuck in a horror movie and experiencing all the feelings of the characters within it. Not ideal. She knew the dreamer would wake, and be fine, but she felt it every bit as much as they did. She would wake up from this, still jittery and shaky. It was her nightmare just as much as it was theirs.
Claire shot up out of bed, gasping for air. Sweat was slick on her chest under her thin sleeveless black nightgown. Her long brown hair was clinging to her neck. She took a calming breath, pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her own shaking hands around them.
“What a doozy,” her voice rang out in her quiet bedroom.
She hoped for the poor dreamer trapped in the box that she had been thrown from the dream because the woman woke up, safe in her bed somewhere across town. She lifted her left hand and studied it. Her subtle golden skin was such a contrast from the creamy white of the dreamer’s delicate complexion. Her nails were short and unpolished, very different from the sweet peach polish of the mystery woman. Because she spent most of her days on the computer, her nails never got the chance to grow. Even if they did, she soon bit them short again, a bad habit. She traced her finger over the line where the pretty silver band rested on the dreamer’s hand. Her marriage must be important to her, so few people dream of the smaller details such as jewelry. She identified it as part of who she was. Or perhaps, she’s been married so long she can’t even imagine herself without it. Claire always tried to pick up on the good that came from the dreams which were not her own. It was a way to make the best out of what she considered to be the worst situation in the world.
Tilney pulled himself from his own sleep, and trotted over to her. Managing to get his wobbly puppy legs working enough to hop up onto the bed, he began licking her face all over. He took it upon himself to assess the situation. He was her little sweet champion of the night. His dark charcoal gray fur moved like a shadow within darkness, but his bright blue eyes shined up at her with youthful innocence.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she whispered, “I’m fine love, I’m fine.”
She hugged him before she gave him a loving shove back off the bed. Claire knew there would be no sharing space with him in six months when the Great Dane was as big as or bigger than she was. Best not to start bad habits in his babyhood.
He circled around the room a bit, settling on the floor next to Claire in the queen sized bed. They were working on boundaries. His little puppy mind had a hard time remembering them all the time.
Claire had purchased him a gigantic dog bed to grow into and put it in the corner of her bedroom, hoping just being in the room would be enough. Most nights it was, but there were some nights even that would not do. Still, her consistency was beginning to pay off. He plopped down on the floor at her first command without having to be shoved back off the bed for a second, third, or fourth time. She thought about insisting he go back to his own bed, but she found he was just picking up on her emotions. On the bad nights, she found him right under her feet as soon as she woke up. On the good nights, he slept like a baby in his own bed, snoring like a little fool. How could she punish him for loving her? Better settled, she lay back down and closed her eyes to get back to sleep.
She could only pray for dreamless sleep on nights like this. Dreamers to her were like the infant to a new mother. They were unpredictable at best, offering her full rest one night and nothing but a bleary-eyed party the next. Before sleep took her to the next dream, her thoughts turned back to the girl in the box. She thought of the dreamer and the crushing defeat the box seemed to offer.
“Just a dream,” she said to the dreamer who was out there…somewhere, “it was just a dream.”