Story Contest 2018 #1 Results » Highly Commended - Dreamer
“Dreamer” by Mackenzie Langhals, USA, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
Have you ever heard of the term lucid dreaming? A lucid dream is where you feel like you are awake in your dreams, and you know that you are dreaming. Sometimes, you can even control what is happening in your dream. You might think lucid dreaming is rare, but it really isn't. Many people have had a lucid dream, but they just don't remember it.
About three years ago, I had my first lucid dream. I can remember that night vividly; my favorite dog had just passed away, and I felt like I was drowning in grief. I cried myself to sleep with the wish that I could play with her one more time.
When I opened my eyes, I was no longer in my bed. I was sitting on a soft cloud that wasn't any of the colors that I grew up with. The sky was filled with a beautiful array of colors that looked like the quilt on my bed. All around me were tiny pastel-colored dandelions that tickled my bare feet and arms. I couldn't tell if it was night or day, but it didn't bother me. I felt safe and content in that peaceful world.
I heard an excited yip, and I rolled over. Sitting to my left was my dog, only younger and more active. She nuzzled my arm and licked away the tears that I didn’t realize were dripping down my face. I wished that I had something that we could play with, and suddenly, I was holding a red, rubber ball. When my dog was little, we used to play catch all the time, but as she got older, we couldn't play as often.
I threw the ball, and she returned it to me. We continued playing for what felt like a long time, but the sky never changed so I couldn't be sure. I was laughing and crying, and when I woke up, I felt light as a balloon. Ever since that night, I have had a lucid dream every time I fall asleep.
Beep, beep, beep! A shrill noise woke me up from a pleasant dream where I was climbing to the top of a beanstalk. I sighed unhappily and rubbed my eyes. It was Monday, so I felt grumpier than usual. Monday's meant school, and school meant having to interact with people.
After I forced myself out of bed, I threw on a pair of light jeans and a t-shirt with the saying, “Dream on!” written in swirly letters. I pulled on a pair of mismatched socks, not wanting to spend the time looking for a matching set. The door creaked as I pushed it open, and the floorboards squeaked as I padded down the hallway.
As a child, my mom would wake me up by tickling my feet. We then would hurry downstairs and eat whatever she had managed to concoct in the fifteen minutes that she was up. My dad had rushed around trying to get ready for work, but he always found the time to give me a hug and a kiss on the forehead.
I shivered as a chill passed through me. It had already been two years since she died, but the feeling of emptiness never left me. Nowadays, it was unnatural to see my dad out of his room before nine o’clock.
I slid a piece of toast into the toaster, pulled out the butter and a knife, and spread butter on the bread when it popped up. A few crumbs fell to floor, but I ignored them and pulled a water bottle out of the refrigerator. My shoes were waiting for me at the door, and I slid them on.
The walk to school was roughly a mile and a half. There wasn't a bus route that went near my road, so my mom always drove me to school. Now that she has gone, I walked.
The chilly Autumn wind caused me to rub my arms; I left in such a hurry that I forgot my jacket. All the trees around me were picture perfect with their red, orange, and yellow leaves. A few stray leaves blew in the breeze, and a pile of freshly raked leaves were waiting to be jumped in.
I was unimpressed. Sure, the scene was pretty, but I knew that my dream world could have made a much more exquisite display. There could have been a tree with bright red bark with pink and purple leaves in the shapes of hearts. The sky could have been a fiery red with orange streaks. It could have been raining shimmering green droplets that filled you with warmth when they hit your skin.
Here, trees only have dull brown bark and boring red, orange, yellow, and green leaves. Rain drenches your clothes and chills you to the bone. Anything that is strange or overly-bright colors is either sick or dyed with chemicals that were going to end up polluting the environment.
I sped past a small group of kids also walking to school. A few called out hellos to me, but I ignored them and pushed open the heavy glass doors that led into my school. I shoved my way through the crowd of loitering students to get to my locker where I pulled out a couple of books that I needed for class.
Except for me, two boys, a girl, and the teacher, the classroom was empty. No one wanted to be at school, so most other kids spent their time in the hallway chatting with friends. The boys started to laugh about something-or-other, so I sent them a harsh glare as I passed by. I set my things down in a desk as far away from the girl that I can, but she still looked up.
“Hey Elaine!” she called across the classroom. The teacher glanced up, but then returned to his paperwork. I gave her a half-hearted wave, and hoped that she would continue doing whatever she was doing before I walked in. Unfortunately, I’m not that lucky.
She slid into the desk next to me with a large grin spread across her face. “How was your weekend? Did you do anything eventful?” I sighed and forced a smile. I didn’t even know this girl’s name; names were not something I remembered very easily.
“It was nice,” I responded politely. “How was yours?” Her eyes glowed with excitement as she told me all about how her family went to see a new movie that came out. She talked for what seemed like hours. By the time she had finished speaking, I knew everything that happened in the movie down to the smallest detail.
The room filled up with students, and a frizzy, brown haired girl saved me from another long spiel. “Come on Rachel!” she said, pulling her arm. “Let’s go get a good seat.”
“Bye Elaine!” Rachel called over her shoulder. My forced smile immediately dropped from my face, and I glared at the wall to pass the time. Finally, the bell rang, signifying the start of class. A few stragglers rushed into the classroom, and a tall girl with large, square glasses plopped downed in the desk beside me. She gave me a small smile which I didn’t return.
My day passed in a blur, and before I know it, I’m on my way home. Rachel spotted me through the window of the bus as I walked by, and she waved wildly. “Bye!” she yelled out the window. She turned back around to talk with her other friends, and I was left staring at the bus.
“Bye,” I echoed.
The walk home seemed to take a lot longer than it normally does, and I was extremely tired when I got home. My dad was laying on the couch with his eyes fixed on the television, and he didn’t respond when I stepped inside. “It’s nice to see you too,” I mumbled under my breath. I stomped up the stairs and started doing my homework. Half-way through my Algebra worksheet, I laid my head down on my desk and shut my drooping eyelids.
When I open them, I was sitting on something that resembled the beach. The sand was a pale blue, and when I picked up a handful, it slid through my hand like the beads that I used to make necklaces with. The water was a frothy white and smelled like vanilla. Trees made of feathers swayed in a soft breeze. A little baby turtle made of jewels slowly made its way towards the vanilla ocean. It stopped for a moment and raised a little flipper in my direction, and I giggled in delight.
I stretched out on my back and stared up at the sky. This world was my little secret. My little haven away from the cruelties of the outside world! It would be whatever I needed it to be. Today, when I needed a relaxing distraction, it provided me with a soothing scene.
This is what life should be like, I decided. No worries, no stress, no uncaring dads. Just relaxation day after day…! Calmness overcame me, and I smiled lazily at nothing in particular.
My beautiful dream ended as my alarm blared. Just like yesterday, I rushed to school and arrived earlier that most of the students. Rachel chatted with me and then socialized with her friends. As I headed off to lunch, Rachel called my name. “Hi Elaine!” I waved at her, and she took that as an invitation to sit at my lunch table. “So I’m having a sleepover on Friday,” she started. “It would be super cool if you could make it!”
I gaped at her. She hardly knew me! Why should she invite me to her house? “I can’t,” I responded. I don't know how sleepovers got their name; no one ever sleeps. If I don't sleep, I can’t visit my dream world. “I have a family party,” I lied quickly. She nodded in understanding then turned the conversation to her cat.
That night, as I got ready for bed, I felt guilty. I lied to Rachel, and she was being so nice to me. She attempted to include me in conversation, which is more than anyone else has done. She sat with me instead of her close friends at lunch, and I lied to her.
I still felt unsettled when I entered my dream world. This time, I was on a tiny sailboat that was speeding through the ocean. It was a bright red boat with a yellow and orange sail that seemed to be as thin as paper. The ocean was a strange purple, and when a large wave hit, I snatched a drop out of the air. It hardened in my hand, and when I placed it in my mouth, it dissolved, leaving the taste of grape. There was nothing for miles in every direction.
For the first time, I realized how lonely it was.
The next morning, the guilt was still on my mind. I felt like I should tell Rachel the truth but I wanted my dream world to be my special place. I wanted it to be mine, and mine only.
I was deep in thought when I rushed downstairs, so I didn’t see my dad standing in the hallway. I ran him scaring us both. “What are you doing up so early?” he asked me with tired, squinty eyes.
“I have school,” I answered him. I try to edge past him to get into kitchen, but he blocks my path with his arm. He may be half-asleep, but he is still very strong.
“You don't have school today,” he insisted. “It's June Elaine! You don't have school in June.” Ever since my mom died, my dad has been stuck in the month June. He used to call that his favorite month because that was the month that I was born and the month they got married in. Now it is just another reminder for him that she is gone.
“You’re right, it’s June. Silly me,” I said. Disagreeing with him won’t get me anywhere soon. “I'm just going to get a drink of water.” He let me go past him, and I rushed out the door, blinking away the hot tears that threatened to overflow. My dad hasn't gone outside in a long time, so it’s natural that he doesn't know the correct date. Still, it hurts.
I reach school in record timing and plop down in my chair. I had made a decision on the way to school, and I was ready when Rachel sat down beside me. “Hey Rachel, I can actually go to your party on Friday,” I said.
Her eyes light up. “Really? That’s so cool!” She told me the information that I needed to know, and then smiled at me. “I'm really glad that you can come!” I smiled at her, and this time, it was real.
I was tired of pushing people away. I wanted to be a part of something again, and Rachel presented me with the perfect opportunity. She was there to help me appreciate the real world. My home life may not be perfect, things like that can be fixed over time. I truly believe that my dad will be able to come back from losing my mom.
I glanced over at Rachel. As if she sensed my gaze, she turned around and offered me a smile. I smiled back. I realized something that didn’t understand when I was blinded the wonder of my dream world. This world is more beautiful than any world that I can dream about.