I wrote a short story this week! I’m rather proud of myself, since short stories are typically difficult for me. This one was inspired by an exercise from the book Take Ten for Writers, which I highly recommend you get if you want creative prompts for your writing. I’m not usually a fan of writing prompt lists, because most of them bore me, but this book has awesome ideas in it that you can really take wherever you want to. So, without further ado, I present to you Dreamscape.
The room was the most vibrant orange I have ever seen, and sensations bounced off its walls like baseballs. Bam! I reeled backward from the impact between my eyes. Whack! Another one drilled into the back of my head. Raising my arms like a shield, I collapsed on the floor, which sent a chill seeping into my body. The invisible sensations continued to pelt me, feeling oddly familiar. Maybe that’s just because I’d been feeling them for the past – how long had I been there? An hour? Two? I couldn’t remember the start of the barrage. I couldn’t even recall entering the room. Whatever was going on was far beyond my control.
The room stilled. Blinking, I raised an arm and glanced out. Nothing. No bruising bounces. No surprise savior. Just the glaringly-bright room. I uncurled slowly, moving carefully in case it started again. Every muscle, ever nerve was alert. Yet nothing happened as I first crouched then stood. Just a stillness that filled my ears to bursting.
Something was wrong with the walls, though. I squinted. They were shimmering, no, melting. From the corners inward, the room around me dripped away to reveal… utter blackness. It swallowed me immediately. My lungs squeezed, and, though I opened my mouth, I could suck nothing in. Where was the precious air I needed in order to survive? Shouldn’t I have passed out? Yet there was no blissful sleep. Only pain and the feeling of my insides shriveling up. How long could I possibly stand this?
Time didn’t matter; space didn’t exist. If there was a floor underneath me, I couldn’t feel it. I’m not even sure whether I stood or lay down. It didn’t matter. I only knew one thing: I was being suffocated, but I didn’t die. And my mind screamed to be released from these dual realities. I don’t remember it ending. There was no specific moment of release. I was unable to even gasp for breath, and then I was curled on the suddenly-solid floor, sobbing. When a chill like a winter day penetrated my body, the tears ceased.
Looking up, I found myself surrounded by mirrors, each portraying me a little differently. In one, I wore glasses, an exaggerated image of the ones I wore at school. Staring at the reflection, I brushed a hand across my face. Though I felt nothing, the glasses remained. Frowning, I moved to another mirror, suddenly remembering an English assignment from ninth grade. The next mirror showed me dancing; friends’ laughter coursed through my head. One mirror depicted me as taller than I was; another made me too short. Aunt Ruth’s disapproving glare came to mind as I spotted my grotesquely tear-streaked face; I imagined Dad’s rare smile when I came across myself holding a book about Law.
Ever so slowly, the mirrors started spinning around me. They picked up speed as I walked until all I saw was my blurred face flashing at me. My head ached until I came to one mirror that stood still. Fighting the glare of a hundred sheets of glass, I studied the image of myself. There was my scar from a childhood mishap. There was the mole and pimple, side-by-side against my nose. I wore my softball gear, as I had been since the beginning of this whole thing. None of the other mirrors had shown that. And none but this one had depicted my green eyes shining. Then a church bell pealed, and every other mirror shattered. Glinting pieces of glass flew through the air, but when they hit me, they turned into harmless drops of water cascading down my skin. And I raised my face to catch them like rain.
The picture in the mirror changed, brightening and filling in the edges with flowers. My uniform became a long, white dress, and a man whose face I couldn’t see wrapped his arms around me. Warmth spread through my body. A baby cooed.
And someone’s voice penetrated. “Lexie, are you all right? Can you hear me?”
The mirror disappeared and I slowly recognized things around me: the chain-link fence behind the catcher, the sandy dirt beneath my hands, the single cloud dotting a pure blue sky, my teammates and coach surrounding me, and my best friend, Susan, kneeling at my side.
Her gaze softened. “Lexie, you’re awake!”
A ripple of relief went through the other girls.
Blinking, I touched my forehead, which felt wet. “What about the mirror?” My fingertips came away red and my eyes widened. “Why am I bleeding?”
That was a dream?
Our school nurse, Mrs. Bradbury, bustled through the group, motioning the girls backward. “Come on, let’s give Alexa some space.”
Susan squeezed my hand. “You got whacked by a softball.” She grimaced. “You were out cold for ten minutes.”
Ten minutes? I stared at her.
As I was informed and eventually came to mostly remember, we had been at softball practice. Our pitcher threw too high, and I was unprepared for the ball to hit me smack between my eyes. I was treated for a mild concussion and didn’t play softball for the rest of the season.
Yet my experience never faded.
That was my sophomore year of high school, and I didn’t understand the dream, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, until right before graduation, when I walked into a church and everything clicked.
The dream was my life, particularly the most traumatic experience of it: the murder of my mother when I was thirteen. The bizarre sequence of events was my brain’s way of processing what my emotions could not, even two years after the event. The orange room was the intensity of my initial pain; I suspect the sensations felt like balls because of the event that rendered me unconscious. The dual realities of the blackness brought to life the deepest part of my grief: suffocating but never dying. The release of exhaustion came after six months of hard grieving.
The mirrors blurred experience and what hadn’t yet happened, which is why I hesitate to call it a dream. Together, they represented my identity crisis throughout high school. I was studious for my teacher and a party girl for my friends. My Aunt Ruth, Dad’s sister, felt I was too emotional, and Dad was only happy when I thought about pursuing a Law degree. I lost sight of my real self until I entered that church and learned how God saw me.
I’ve been a teen grief counselor for twenty years now, and I often share my dream with deeply hurting kids. When they ask me what the white dress and the faceless man mean, I tell them that I take it in two ways. One, I am the bride of Christ, and only with that perspective can I see myself correctly. And, two, God was giving me hope for my future, which would include my husband, Jake, and our daughter, Clarissa. I tell these kids that, even though I didn’t realize it then, that experience showed me that my life mattered. It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone.
The strangest dream of my life taught me that God always has a plan.