The dreamers sat on logs in a circle, around a campfire. Eddie roasted marshmallows as he talked.
He didn't offer any to the dreamers. Rachel didn't mind. She was too nervous to eat anyway.
"The last game is an obstacle course," he said.
"Obstacle course?" Rachel repeated.
"Yes, Rachel." Eddie said slowly as if she were five, hearing-impaired, and a little slow. "Thanks for repeating me."
Rachel tried not to be embarrassed.
Eddie continued. "There will be sixteen fairly easy things to do, and you will be timed."
"What kind of things?" David asked.
"That's a surprise." Eddie grinned. "Now I'll explain the points to you."
Rachel and others waited.
"If you finished the obstacle course in less than three minutes, you win 10 points. I'd say that was pretty much impossible though. If you finish in four to six minutes, you'll get 5 points. Seven to eight minutes will get you 1 point. Nine to ten will get you zero points."
Eddie ate another marshmallow. He tried to talk with his mouth full, but then when they looked at him with utter confusion, he shut up. He finished eating before trying to continue again. "If it takes you eleven to fourteen minutes, you lose a point. Anything over fifteen minutes, will give you -3 points." He pointed to the fire. "And I throw you into there." He laughed. "Just kidding. Well, about the fire part."
"We're going to do fine," David said.
"David, I could care less about this game," Daphne replied. Rachel wondered if she had visited the psychologist yet, and whether she wondered why the dreams hadn't gone away yet.
"Please?" David said.
"Why should I?" Daphne demanded.
"Just to be nice for a change?" David said.
Rachel knew it would be better to use another tactic. "Don't you want to be rich?"
"I'm happy with what I have," Daphne said. "The only thing that would make me happier is not having these stupid dreams anymore."
Eddie ate one more marshmallow. Then burped. "Ready? Daphne, you're first."
"Oh, I'm so excited," Daphne said. She yawned.
"Good." Eddie clapped and a big swimming pool appeared. "This is where you'll start." Rachel noticed the water was yellow.
"That's not--" David said.
"Just lemonade.," Eddie said. "
"I don't like lemonade," Jason said.
"I don't care," Eddie said.
Jason looked hurt.
Eddie sighed. "Sorry. Look, you don't have to drink it."
"I'm ready," Daphne said. "Can we get this over with?"
"After you swim in the lemonade, you take a shower to get the stickiness off. A stickiness detector will determine if you are clean enough. If you pass, you move on to the next assignment."
"Brilliant," Daphne said.
"Thank you," Eddie said. He looked at his watch. "Okay. When I say ‘go’, run to the pool, and swim."
"Go Daphne!" David said, cheering as if they had never had any sort of tension between them.
"Shut up, David!" she said equally cheerfully. "Before I murder you!"
He ignored her hostility and put his hand on her shoulder. "I have faith in you," he said. Rachel didn't know whether to feel jealous or embarrassed by the scene.
Daphne stepped back and slapped David hard across the face. Rachel didn't know whether to be angry at Daphne, feel sorry for David, or be extremely amused. Her emotional state was completely conflicted.
"One," Eddie said. "Two, Three. Go!"
"Go!" David repeated; his face still red from the slap.
Daphne just stood there. Tapping her feet on the ground and singing about something called the Backyardagins.
"Go!" David yelled again.
And Rachel joined in. "Go, Daphne."
Even Jason joined. "Go. Go. Go."
Daphne didn't go. She stopped singing about these Backyardagin things and instead sang about some bunny named Miffy.
"Go already!" David yelled.
Daphne smiled at him. She smiled at all of them. Then slowly, she took one step toward the pool.
Eddie looked at his watch. "You've already wasted forty-three seconds."
"Oh no!" Daphne came to her senses. She ran quickly to the pool.
But then she ran back, laughing. "Hi again!"
David picked her up, carried her to the pool, and threw her in.
Rachel was extremely jealous. She knew about these things. When a guy threw a girl into a pool, it meant he was attracted to her. It was like a third grade boy pulling on his classmates pigtails.
"Swim," David yelled at her.
"Bad! Bad!" Jason yelled out to him. "You shouldn't have done that."
"You tell him, Jason!" Daphne said. To Rachel's dismay, she looked very beautiful when wet. Very sexy.
David walked back over to them. "Don't be angry at me," he said to Jason. "Don't you want to be young again? Don't you want to be able to run? Walk? Breathe without choking?
"Yes," Jason said.
"Well, she's ruining your chance," David said.
And to Rachel's relief, Daphne finally started to swim. Slowly. Then she turned around. "I'll get you!" she yelled.
"You and your flying monkeys," David replied under his breath.
They watched as Daphne swam extremely slow. Then she got out of the pool. She waved cheerfully and then disappeared into the shower.
"I hate her," David said to no one in particular.
"I do too," Eddie said.
"Can't you just disqualify her? Make the game between the three of us. Throw her out."
Eddie thought for a moment, as if actually considering it. But then he said, “No. And remember. Even if you do win...even if you do manage to get enough points, the best you guys can do now is win one wish. Not all of you can win. There's no chance of that."
David didn't say anything. Rachel wondered what he was thinking. She felt very distant from him tonight, partly because of how cold he had been last night. And also because he was so preoccupied with winning. His brother. All that.
"It might not be you who wins," Eddie said. "Don't get your heart set on it."
"I'm not." David said, although Rachel wondered if that were true. "I just don't want us to lose. I don't want any of our nightmares coming true."
Rachel stood up and stretched. David looked at her, maybe for the first time that night. She didn't know what to do, so she just gave a little wave. He didn't wave back. Instead, he came over and sat right next to her. Close enough that their legs touched. She felt things that made her feel less like Rachel and more like Jessica.
They sat there together like that for a long time.
Finally, Daphne appeared.
"That was kind of fun!" She actually sounded cheerful. Rachel had never seen this side of her before.
Eddie looked at his watch. "Twenty-three minutes. That's minus 3 points."
"You're in the win nothing and lose nothing zone," Eddie reminded them.
"Okay." David said. "So, who goes next?"
"You will," Eddie replied. "Are you ready?"
Rachel watched David disappear into the shower. In the short time he was gone, Rachel missed him like crazy. She wondered how she could ever enjoy her dreams again.
He came back five minutes later, looking exhausted, He was not as cheerful as Daphne.
"Good job!" Eddie said. "That's 5 points...37 total. You need only 3 more points for one of you to get your wish."
"Who's next?" David said. Panting.
"Jason," Eddie said and then handed David a water bottle.
"Thanks." David drunk it quickly.
"Hey, you didn't give me one!" Daphne complained.
"Call the better Business Bureau." He looked at Jason. "You ready, Old Man?"
"Go as fast as you can," David urged him. "You can do it."
"I'll try." Jason looked scared, worried, anxious. He was ready to fail....exactly how Rachel felt. She felt a kinship with the man. She tapped his hand.
"What?" he said.
"Good luck," she whispered. She smiled. He didn't return the smile.
"Ready?" Eddie said. "One! Two! Three! Go!"
Rachel, and her fellow dreamers, watched as the man's brittle bones bent in an awkward fashion and somehow moved the man over to the pool. They watched as he plunged into the sticky liquid. But to Rachel's surprise, he didn't swim slowly. He wasn't as fast as David had been, but it was obvious this old man had once been an athlete.
"He's gone," Rachel whispered when Jason was out of sight.
"Pretty fast old man," David said.
"Yeah, but he'll probably drop dead," Daphne said. "I mean he would if this was all real and he was a real person."
"Not a figment of your imagination," David said for her.
"Exactly," Daphne said.
Rachel was curious about something and decided to ask a question. "Daphne?"
"What!" she snapped.
Okay, maybe a bad idea.
"Just ask it," Eddie encouraged.
"Just don't," Daphne said.
"I was just wondering if you had any doubts about this being a dream," Rachel said.
"I said don't ask the question."
"And she decided not to listen to you," David said.
Daphne put her fingers in her ears. "I can't hear you guys! La La la La La."
David shook his head. He rolled his eyes.
Eddie looked at his watch. "He's been gone a minute now."
"Do know what part of the course he's on?"
"No," Eddie said.
Rachel suddenly felt very nervous. She must have also looked very nervous because David asked if she were okay.
"Fine." She decided to be honest. "A little nervous."
"You'll do fine."
"But if I don't, you'll hate me."
He shook his head. "No. I won't hate you. I'll just be really mad at you." He laughed at her stunned expression. "Rachel, I'm joking. Relax."
"I'll try my best."
"How long now?" David asked.
"One minute, twenty-two seconds."
"Good," David said. "I think."
Then the four of them sat their quietly. Rachel thought about the fact that this might be the last night she ever saw David...unless she got her wish. But if she won her wish, David would lose his wish, and she'd live happily ever after with a guy who wasn't so happy. How could that be good?
Eddie fell asleep, or he looked asleep.
He woke up, looked at his watch, and said. "Nine minutes. Thirty seconds. Thirty more seconds and Jason causes you guys to lose a point."
"Great," David said.
"Twenty more seconds,"
"Hurry!" David yelled into the air.
And then they saw him coming.
"Come on!" David stood up and yelled. "Go Jason!"
Jason ran to them, out of breath, face red, and he collapsed onto the ground.
"Thank you," David said.
"Are you okay?" Rachel asked him.
The old man was too tired to speak.
David's look of gratitude soon turned to a look of concern. "Jason? You okay?"
Even Daphne looked worried. No, no. That was just Rachel's imagination. But then she did order Eddie to give him some water. She took the water and held it up to Jason's lips. He drank it as the others stared at Daphne. She looked back at them. "What's your problem?" she demanded.
"Nothing," David, Eddie, and Rachel said in unison. They all looked at each other, bewildered.
Once Jason seemed somewhat recovered, Eddie told Rachel it was her turn.
"Are you ready?"
"You can do it," David said to her.
"I'm sorry if I make us lose," she said to him.
"You need a more positive attitude," Eddie said. "You'll never win if you always expect to lose."
Rachel didn't know if that was true or not. It sounded like something Jessica would say.
"You need to finish in less than six minutes in order for one of you to get your wish."
Six minutes. Impossible. David had finished in barely six minutes. For Pete's Sake. He was a guy! I mean not that she believed in gender stereotypes and all that. Okay, well maybe she did. There was no way!
"Oh, just go as fast as you can," Eddie said.
"Fine." Rachel suddenly felt the urge to cry. And David looked like he was going to cry.
"On your mark, get set, go!"
Rachel ran as fast as she could and tripped before falling into the pool. Daphne laughed loudly. Rachel ignored her and made sure not to look at the expression David might have on his face. She jumped into the pool and swam as fast as she could...which was actually kind of fast.
She got out of the pool and ran into the shower. She washed quickly and jumped out. A robot that looked like C3PO, but purple instead of gold, inspected her. Then he pushed her back into the shower. "Still sticky!" he said. "Use soap."
Of course. Soap. Rachel washed again, and redid the inspection.
"Good job," the robot said. "Thirty-five seconds."
That was pretty good.
She looked up at the robot for approval. He didn't provide it, but he did point to where Rachel was supposed to go next.
She ran and stopped at the foot of a baby. It was a real baby. Well, at least it looked like one.
“Change my diaper,” it said. A full sentence coming out of an infant’s mouth was kind of creepy.
But changing a diaper? Easy!
How hard could it be?
Uh.... next to impossible.
It took Rachel four times to get it right.
"Forty-eight seconds," the baby said. Then the baby disappeared, and a bell appeared.
"Ring me," the bell said.
Rachel picked up the bell and shook it a bit. An elevator appeared.
Rachel stepped inside and stared at all the buttons. Which one should she press?"
"Guess?" The elevator read her mind.
Guess? There were a hundred different floors. She looked at the numbers. Maybe it was a special number....Something that meant something.
"Oh, just press any number," the voice said.
Rachel pressed 5. The elevator went up. The door paused for a second and then opened.
Rachel stepped out. It seemed like she was in the exact same place she had been before.
"One minute and a half." A tennis racket appeared and flew into Rachel's hand. She held it, stunned. Then a ball came flying at her. It hit her on the nose.
"Hit the ball!" the racket instructed.
She hit the next ball that flew toward her.
"Two minutes," The ball cried from far away.
Next came a calculator. It said, "What's 210 times 315?"
Rachel quickly plugged the numbers into the machine. As soon as she did, the calculator transformed into a glass of water.
"Drink me," it said with a gurgle.
Rachel drank it, wondering if she'd shrink? Grow?
She stayed the same.
A gumball machine appeared. Rachel found a quarter in her hand. She put it in and turned the little crank. A gumball came out. She chewed it and the gum spoke from her mouth. "Do a somersault."
Rachel hadn't done gymnastics in years. She reminded herself she hadn't been able to see the dreamers when they did their obstacle course. So they wouldn't be able to see her.
"Two minutes, Forty-five seconds."
And then everything was dark.
It wasn't the type of dark where you could still see your hands if you held them up near your face. This was complete pitch darkness.
Rachel wanted to scream...not that she feared the dark. But in her state of high adrenaline and high anxiety, the dark was not exactly welcomed.
It became light again and Rachel was on top of a water slide.
She sat down on the provided raft and slid quickly through a cave.
She fell into water, not lemonade. She was about to swim out of the pool, but it evaporated. She found herself on dry land standing in front of a present.
Rachel unwrapped it. It was just a box.
"Three minutes, forty seconds."
The next step was an airplane with joystick controls. Rachel felt like she was playing a video game as she flew the plane through a forest.
It would have been fun if she wasn't so nervous about winning or losing...oh, and the fact she knew this was probably the last time she'd ever see David. Well, besides watching him in movies. But could she even do that anymore? She doubted it. Too depressing.
Then she wondered when the airplane part would end. Was she supposed to land the plane?
It turns out landing the plane was not part of the story. Of course not. She had to crash the plane.
But unlike the whole wasp experience, pain was not part of it.
It was like being there, but not quite being there.
Four minutes and fifty seconds," the burning plane said as Rachel walked away from the debris.
And then an almost empty ketchup bottle appeared.
"Get the rest of the ketchup out," the bottle said.
"Impossible," Rachel complained. And how long was this damn game going to go on?
"Just try," the bottle said.
She picked it up and shook it. She hit it. Drops of ketchup fell out.
"Five minutes. Twenty seconds."
Rachel kept shaking.
"Okay. Good enough." The bottle said. Then yelled. "Go!"
Rachel ran and felt something disgusting oozing down her forehead. She looked at the ground and saw remnants of a cracked egg.
"Crack me," it said.
"But you're already cracked."
"Well, then I guess I saved you a job," it said.
The egg disappeared and three toilets appeared.
"Flush us," the toilets said.
Rachel flushed and then started to run.
"Come back," the toilets said. "You can't leave until we're quiet again.
"Five minutes and twenty seconds."
There was no way. No hope. They weren't going to get any wish.
Rachel told herself that was okay.
“Herself” did not listen. She found tears welling up in her eyes. They fell. She wiped them away. The toilets stopped running.
"You can go now," they said.
She ran even though she knew it was hopeless.
She saw the other dreamers. They all looked anxious. Well, not Daphne. She looked bored.
"Three seconds," Eddie called out to her. Rachel knew she'd never make it.
She slowed down a bit. Her heart was about to explode and anyway, what was the point?
"One second!" She wished Eddie would just shut up.
And she wished David didn't look so disappointed.
“I'm sorry," she said as she got closer. And she didn't even keep running. She walked now.
"A half a second," Eddie yelled. "Hurry! You might make it."
Rachel was so confused. She froze."
"Go!" Eddie yelled.
Rachel willed her body to move again.
"A fourth of a second!" Eddie said. "Hurry."
Rachel ran, then tripped and fell flat on her face.
"Are you okay?" Eddie said.
David ran over to her and pulled her up. She was so humiliated.
"Sorry," she said.
"You did fine," David said.
"I'm giving you the points," Eddie said.
Rachel couldn't believe it.
"How touching," Daphne said. She wiped away fake tears.
"Thank you," Rachel said and realized Eddie was not the villain of their story. He was weird, creepy, and sometimes cruel. But he wasn't evil. That was Daphne's role.
Eddie took a hat from out of the air. "In this hat are four papers with different numbers. Each one of you will pick a paper and see what number you get."
"What is this for?" Daphne demanded.
"To see which of you gets their wish."
Rachel prayed it would be David. She didn't want to win. Not that she didn't want her wish to come true, but she didn't want to see David lose.
Eddie handed the hat to David.
"Pick a paper, look at the number, but don't tell me what it is," he said.
Rachel picked the next number. Five.
"This is so dumb," Daphne said, but she dutifully picked a number.
Jason picked his number.
"The winner is number three." Eddie said.
Rachel looked at David hopefully. She knew right away he hadn't won. Her heart ached for him. "I'm sorry," she said.
"That's okay," he said. "Did you win?" He seemed hopeful to her. That was nice.
She shook her head. She sighed. "Well, it will be nice for Jason to be young again."
"I didn't win," Jason said.
"What?" David said. He looked at Rachel and then the two of them turned to Daphne.
"I didn't even look at my number." Daphne laughed. "Don't tell me I won."
"You did," Eddie said without enthusiasm. "Congratulations."
Daphne threw her head back and laughed wickedly. “Ah! The irony."
"Ha ha ha" David said.
"You'll get your money," Eddie said.
"It's not fair," Rachel complained.
Eddie ignored her. He snapped his fingers and Daphne disappeared.
They all stood there quietly.
"Maybe now she'll believe," Rachel muttered.
Jason disappeared next. "What will happen to him?" David asked.
"Oh," Eddie said. "He died."
"What?" David said. "That's not fair."
"It's very fair," Eddie said. "Life was the nightmare for Jason. He was withering away painfully in an uncaring nursing home. What could be worse than that?" Eddie sighed. "He's at peace now."
"I guess," David said.
Eddie stood up. "Look, I'm not into long good-byes. It was nice meeting you two. I hope you had fun. I'm sorry if I've offended you in anyway." He suddenly looked really sad. "I was just trying to have a little fun."
Rachel felt very confused by the whole thing. She opened her mouth to say good-bye, but before she could, Eddie disappeared.
Rachel and David were left alone.
"Sorry," Rachel said after an awkward moment.
"Oh, it's probably for the best. The dead should stay dead." He paused. "I think."
"Well--" Rachel said, not sure what should happen next.
"I'm sorry about your wish," David said. "I mean that it won't come true."
But it could come true, Rachel suddenly realized that. It wasn't like bringing something back from the dead. Love could happen. It could.
Well, probably not to her.
And it didn't matter unless it was David who loved her.
He didn't seem to care.
"So, what happens next?" She asked.
"I guess we say goodbye, and go our separate ways," he said.
She felt a lump forming in her throat. "Maybe we can talk on the phone sometimes." Please don't cry in front of him.
"I don't think that's a good idea," he said.
She started to cry.
Embarrassed, she buried her face in her hands and turned away from him.
"Rachel?" he said quietly. "Please don't cry."
"Sorry," she said.
"No, I'm sorry." He said. Then he walked away. Rachel couldn't believe it. This is how it would end?
She sat there, sobbing. She cried harder than she had ever cried in her life.
She cried and cried and cried.
Then she got really mad.
She was not going to let it end like this. She didn't deserve this.
She was going to demand an explanation out of David. No, they didn't have to get married and live happily ever after. But he didn't have to just walk away like that. She wouldn't let him be such a jerk.
She ran through the dream world, through woods, the beach, through a building, through a library, through fields of tall itchy grass.
David was nowhere. He must have woken up.
Rachel sighed, gave up, and waited to wake up. Maybe she'd call him on the phone and harass him in real life.
She hated that idea though. It made her feel like a psycho stalker.
And then she saw him. He stood alone by a tree.
She ran to him.
"You found me," he said.
"Were you hiding?" she demanded. He seemed shocked by her tone.
"Maybe," he said.
"Well, I found you."
"Yes, you did," He laughed. Maybe a nervous laugh. She didn't laugh with him.
"Don't Rachel me," she snapped.
"Okay," he said. They both stood there silently for awhile. Then David sat down. Rachel sat down next to him.
He looked her straight in the eye. "You want to know what scares me the most."
"What?" She felt kind of like Daphne right now...full of rage and hostility.
"Do you know about me and Cassandra?"
"You're dating her.”
Rachel wasn't too surprised by this revelation.
"But I was once madly in love with her."
Rachel waited for him to continue.
"And now I feel nothing."
Rachel didn't understand why he was telling her this. "You've never been in a relationship before," he said. "Right?"
She said nothing.
"Well, they all start out great. And then they turn to shit. You end up in hell, and wonder how you got there."
"It doesn't always turn out that way," Rachel said, but she doubted her words. Maybe he was right. What did she know?
"Rachel," he said quietly, sadly. "I don't know what to do."
"About what?" she said.
"I don't want this to end. But it has to."
"I hurt Cassandra. I don't want to hurt you too." She looked at him, sort of confused. Okay, maybe a lot confused.
"So you just disappear and we never see each other again."
"Yes," David said. "And I know that sounds bad. But we'll both have this really great memory. I mean how many people experience what we did. It was magical."
Rachel had to agree with that.
"Why ruin it? Why bring it to the real world?"
Rachel didn't answer. And then she realized something...knew something with absolutely no doubt. She blurted it out without thinking twice. "You love me."
"I do," he said.
"Well, then--" she said hopefully.
"But that doesn't matter," he said.
"How can you say that?"
"Trust me, Rachel," he said. "We have to end this. Now." He stood up.
She stood up too.
He started to walk away.
"No," She said loudly. She chased after him and grabbed him. He turned around, and faced her. He looked so wounded...so scared. Good! He deserved it.
"Don't run away from me!" she said.
"This is what I have always wanted. You being in love with me. And it's true now. You love me. But now you just want to disappear?"
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
"It's the wrong thing to do," she said.
"Please come back," she pleaded.
But he didn't.
Chapter Twenty-Seven > Chapter Twenty-Eight > Chapter Twenty Nine > Chapter Thirty > Chapter Thirty-One > Chapter Thirty-Two > Chapter Thirty-Three > Chapter Thirty-Four >