Rachel couldn't move.
She lay on the ground, paralyzed, listening to a ticking noise. Oh yeah, and spiders crawled up her leg.
There were three spiders; a purple one, a red one, and a yellow one.
"Are you having fun?" the raspy voice asked. He didn't wait for Rachel to reply. "The spiders are in a biting race. The first one to reach your neck gets to bite you. The one who wins will determine how many points you earn."
"Points?" Rachel meant to say this aloud, but her voice didn't cooperate.
"The purple's bite is totally painless. You won't even feel it. And he'll earn you 3 points."
Rachel watched the spiders. The purple one was not in the lead. Not that it mattered much.
"If the yellow bites you, that will feel like a needle prick. A little ouch."
The yellow one was a little bit ahead of the purple.
"The red spider's bite will be as painful as the worst pain you ever felt in your life. You will feel that pain for thirty seconds. And you will lose 3 points."
Rachel looked at the spiders without worry.
"I'll explain the rules all of the rules after the spider game."
This was just a dream. Dreams were caused by her brain and she knew her brain wasn't that self-destructive.
"Rachel," the voice said. "I would take this game seriously if I were you."
If Rachel wasn't paralyzed and voiceless, she might laugh at the voice.
She watched the spiders. The yellow spider reached her lower abdomen which wasn't flat or firm enough to her liking. She needed to work on those stomach crunches. But wasn't it weird to notice such things in a dream? Could this be an early symptom of an eating disorder... obsession with body image leaking into dreams?
The purple spider lingered on her foot. It seemed to enjoy slipping and sliding on her toenails...her ugly toenails. Maybe her mom was right. Maybe she should get a pedicure once in awhile.
The red spider crawled up her thigh.
None of it mattered.
Who was going to win?
The tickling annoyed her though, as tickling usually did.
Oh, and the other annoying thing? David! Where was he? Rachel had gotten the impression the other night, that David was going to become a regular in her dream. She had simply taken that for granted.
And now she felt disappointed with spiders crawling on her.
The red and yellow were even now, both on her chest. The red was on her left side, and the yellow on her right. Rachel had a nightgown on, but she still felt a bit exposed. She felt as if the spiders crawled on her bare skin.
They soon both reached her neck. She tried to remember which color was supposed to be more painful. Yellow or red?
"Do you know what the worst pain you've ever felt is?" The voice asked.
Rachel tried to think of the answer. Maybe that time she got stung by four wasps? Or the time she had that really hard time getting a Band-Aid off her arm? Or....
"Ow!" Rachel's voice returned so she could vocally acknowledge the pin prick.
"You're lucky," the voice said. "Now look behind you and see how your luck compared with the other dreamers."
Rachel sat up, relieved to be free from paralysis. She looked to her right and saw the old man. Jason. He sucked his thumb like a toddler, tearfully rocking back and forth. To Rachel's left sat the Asian statue. Although now she wasn't quite a statue anymore. She looked at Rachel with a smirk. "So, how did you do?"
"I got the pin prick," Rachel answered. She had an urge to ask the women why she had been a statue in yesterday's dream, but decided against it. Dreams rarely made sense. People and things ended up in the weirdest places. Once Rachel dreamed that Bart Simpson was her son and the father was Anakin Skywalker. Rachel guessed that perhaps in tomorrow's dream, the Asian lady would appear in a new form. Perhaps male?
Dreams were so unpredictable.
"What are you thinking about?" the woman asked. "Dumb question. You're just another side of me. I should know what you're thinking."
"What am I thinking?" Rachel decided to challenge her.
The lady ignored the question. "You met David yesterday. I saw you."
"You were a statue," Rachel.
"And you just ignored me. Didn't even try to help me."
"Well, I'm just another side of you," Rachel said, somewhat annoyed. "So if I didn't help you, it's your fault."
The woman glared.
Jason interrupted the going-nowhere conversation. "Excuse me, Miss?"
"Yes?" Rachel said.
"Do you know the way back home? I'm lost."
"You're not lost," the Asian woman said. "You're in my dream."
"Please stop teasing me," Jason said.
"Oh give me a break," the Asian woman said.
"The hoarse voice interrupted them. "It's time for you to watch David." The three of them stood mesmerized as a glass box with David inside appeared. When Rachel saw the agony on David's face, she wanted to run and rescue him. It was quite obvious that he had been bitten by the bad spider. He screamed and withered in pain.
"Stop!" Rachel screamed. "Stop it!"
"Shut up," the Asian woman said, her voice calm. "This is just a dream. That is not David Tirlson. It's just an illusion."
"No!" And Rachel now understood that this wasn't a dream. She couldn't believe it before, but the pain in David's face proved the reality. She could feel the pain in her heart. It wasn't just a physical pain. It was mental. Emotional. Pure anguish. "This isn't a dream!" she shouted. "It's real."
"Do you know the way home?" Jason asked, seeming very oblivious to the emotional tone of the room.
"No," the Asian woman said.
"What's your name?" he asked her.
"Nice to meet you, Daphne."
Jason smiled, seeming to not notice her rudeness. "Did I ever tell you my niece has the same name? Beautiful little girl. Blond curls just like her mother. One time, Daphne fell off--”
"Oh shut up!" Daphne said.
Rachel watched as Jason’s face turned red. With shame maybe? Or anger?
"Why did you do that?" Rachel demanded. "There was no need to be so mean.”
"David," the hoarse voice interrupted. You can come out now. David slipped out of the glass, like a ghost walking through a wall. He looked scared. Traumatized. But besides that, okay. A survivor.
He walked over and stood near Rachel. She beamed with joy. He could have stood next to Daphne or Jason....or just stood off by himself. But he had chosen to stand near her
"That was really awful?" David whispered. He was so close to her, she could feel his breath on her cheek.
"How was your experience?"
Rachel blushed. It was impossible for her to speak to David. He was too incredible.
"You can talk to me. I don't bite."
Rachel tried to say something. Anything. But what if she opened her mouth and somehow let him know that she wasn't some innocent young adult; that she was obsessed with him. What if he found out she had a picture of him under her pillow? What if he found out that she knew his favorite movies, his favorite songs, his favorite flavor of ice-cream, and his favorite breakfast place in New York?
"Are you afraid to talk to me?"
"Yes." She blurted out the truth.
"Well, don't be. This is just a dream. And I'm not a monster."
"I know," Rachel said. Wow. Two words in a row!
"I'm human." David said. "You can talk to me."
"Thanks," Rachel whispered. She was grateful for permission to talk to him, but then she couldn't manage to say anything more.
"Dreams are just electrical impulses in your brain." Daphne told them. Nothing to get all worked up about.
"I don't think this is a dream," Rachel told them. Of course, it wasn't a dream. Why would she be so shy? So starstruck in a dream?
"It's definitely a dream," David said. "But it's a lucid dream. Do you know what that is?"
"I think so," Rachel said. Three words in a row!
"It's when you're aware that you're dreaming. And sometimes you can have dream control. You can fly, visit places you've always wanted to go."
"Meet celebrities." Daphne added.
"Bingo," David said.
"Well, I have frequent lucid dreams,” Daphne said. “But obviously I haven't perfected the control part. Because if I did have control, I definitely wouldn't be dreaming about you. You would not be my chosen celebrity."
"Very interesting." Daphne, Jason, Rachel, and David looked up at the man who appeared suddenly before him. He was a tall skinny man with a rather small head. Handsome...maybe....well, in a really weird Indie film kind of way.
"Have a seat," the man said.
They all sat; Daphne next to Jason, Jason next to Rachel, and Rachel next to David. So close, but not touching. Rachel didn't think she could handle it if he touched her
" I'm in control of your dreams," he began. "My name is Eddie. You four are my chosen ones. Each of you possesses something that has brought you here in these dreams."
"What's that?" David asked.
And Rachel immediately knew. "The black stone."
"What stone?" Jason asked.
"The one you swallowed instead of your vitamin." Eddie said.
"I need my vitamin," Jason mumbled.
Eddie ignored him. "Daphne, do you recall where you got your stone?"
"Does it matter? Rocks don't cause dreams."
Eddie ignored Daphne and continued his introduction. "Now let me tell you about the dream games. Listen carefully because the outcome of these fun little obstacles can mean the difference between life and death." He chuckled.
"That's an old wives tale," Daphne said. "People don't die in real life if they die in their dreams. I've died many times before, and believe me I'm very much alive each time I awake."
"Good for you." Eddie took a breath-a raspy breath. "Okay, the life and death thing might be a bit of an exaggeration. Well, sort of."
"This is so stupid. Why am I doing this to myself?" Daphne asked. "Is it something I ate?"
"Hush," Eddie said, losing his temper. "I don't care if you believe in these dreams or not. You will listen quietly without interruption. If I had known how annoying you four were, than I would have given the rocks to more civilized subjects. Eddie smiled. But since my act of giving you the rocks is irreversible, I will have to deal with you amphibian brains."
"Can you please help me find my way home?" Jason asked.
"No." Eddie said and then added in a slightly kinder tone. "Sorry." Then back to the harsh tough tone: "You will play my games and you will be silent." He took out a gun. Rachel reminded herself this was just a dream, but then remembered she had decided it wasn't a dream. She decided it would be best to go back to believing it was just a dream. But that didn't help. She still winced.
And she was not alone. Daphne shuddered.
"Why are you wincing?" Eddie taunted her. "This is just a dream. Right?"
"Of course! My action was involuntary. It's like when someone says boo. You jump even if you're not afraid." Silence. Eddie had pulled the trigger and before Rachel could register what was happening, a clay-like substance came out and hit Daphne's mouth. It clamped it shut.
"Help me," Jason said. "Please?"
Eddie aimed the gun at Jason and shot. Rachel waited for her turn to be victim. It happened soon enough. She didn't like the sensation and reminded herself to breath through her nose.
She wondered how foolish she looked and hoped David wouldn't turn to see her. She was curious what he looked like. Probably still perfect. He could have suffered from acne, or worse, and still have been beautiful. But she didn't look at him. If she looked toward him, he might look at her. And she knew she wasn't beautiful with clay covering her mouth. She doubted she was beautiful with clay not covering her mouth.
"Okay," Eddie said. "These are the rules. In the dreams, you will be rewarded and penalized with points. Understand?"
Rachel felt sort of relieved that she couldn't talk. There was no pressure not to be shy or tongue-tied.
"There will be many opportunities for you to earn or lose points. You people will participate in relays, trivia games, etc." Eddie picked up the gun that now lay in his lap, and shot each one of the dreamers. The clay thing disappeared from their mouths.
David spoke first. "We play against each other?"
"No," Eddie said. "You are all on the same team."
"We're playing against you," David said.
"No." Eddie paused for a moment. "Think of me as your game show host."
"This is so stupid," Daphne said. She stood up, walked away, but then Eddie stopped her. He clapped and she froze back into her statue form.
"A beauty," Eddie said about the statue. "Too bad Daphne is so resistant to team cooperation."
Rachel waited as Eddie stared at the statue. She looked up briefly at David. Oh what a sight. What a gift. And he was right next to her.
"There will be five nights of dream games," Eddie said. "But they may not all be in a row. Sometimes you may be in this dream, but we will not play any games. However, you may still win or lose points in other ways."
"Like what?" Rachel asked this not because she cared about the answer. She wanted to make some attempt to sound intelligent--capable of higher inquisitive thought.
"You shall see," Eddie replied. "Now let me tell you about the prizes. Would you like that?"
Daphne could not, did not, and probably would not (if capable) nod her head. The other three did.
"Above 70 points will earn the four of you the granting of your favorite wish."
65-70 points will give all but one of you your favorite wish.
55-60 points will give two of you your favorite wish.
40-54 points will give one of you your favorite wish."
"Do we tell you the wish?" David asked. "How do you know what our wish is?"
Eddie laughed. "You won't have to write it down, Mr. Movie Star. Trust me. If you win, I will grant you your true wish. You will be satisfied."
"I don't even know what my wish is," David said.
"You will get a glimpse of your biggest wish tomorrow night." Eddie then continued. "39-30 equals nothing. You shall neither lose nor win. Between 29-15 will make one of your worse nightmares come true. Between 14 and zero points will grant two of you your worst nightmare. -1 to -5 points will result in three of you getting your worse nightmare. And less than negative 7 points-all four of you will all get your worst nightmare."
"Too much math," Rachel blurted out before she knew what she was doing. Oh, why did she have to say something that made her sound so dumb?
But to her pleasant surprise David laughed, as if he actually found her funny...in a good way. Rachel looked at him, but not for long. She feared looking at him too long.
"The wish receiver or nightmare receiver will be chosen randomly" Eddie informed them. "Okay?"
"How many points did we earn with the spiders?" Rachel inquired. Nine words. Holy cow. She was getting good! An articulate human being.
"Zero," Eddie said. "Daphne gained 3 and David canceled that out by losing 3. You and Jason got the yellow which made you neither lose nor gain points."
"Okay," David said. He turned to Rachel. They made eye contact. Eye contact! He smiled his priceless smile. "I hear my alarm clock. I guess I have to go." David waved good-bye and disappeared.
Rachel woke up and found herself in bed. Amazed by what had happened. She had been with David Tirlson. For real. With David Tirlson! And he talked to her. He had even laughed at her little joke! Her mundane existence was over. She was part of an incredible experience. Like Alice in Wonderland. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Bella Swan and her vampires! Pete and his dragon, Elliot. Now she knew truly what Harry Potter felt like when he found out about Hogwarts.
Rachel was in pure euphoria...happy enough to spark a desire to get dressed. She even blew dry her hair. She put on make-up!
She looked in the mirror. Not stunning, but she was okay.
Rachel came downstairs to breakfast. She sang as she popped some instant oatmeal into the microwave.
"Why are you so happy?" her mom demanded.
And at that moment, the delusion burst.
What the hell had she been thinking?
Dreams being real?
How completely foolish.
How completely silly.
This was real life. Not a fantasy.
She was not in some kind of adventure. She was just plain boring Rachel,the girl who loved a magazine photograph.
As Rachel ate her oatmeal, she sank deeper and deeper into depression. She tried to cheer herself up by praising her vivid imagination. But that didn't help her feel any better.