Tag Archives: Comedy

Jerk aliens

“No, no, no, we said if you want the replicator technology you must get rid of three charities of our choosing.” The head alien told the UN negotiator.

“It isn’t a matter of money, it’s a matter of it being funny to us. Now do you want the power to summon food out of thin air or not?” It was a difficult choice, and no mistake. They had tried electing several different UN negotiators to no avail.

First it had been the politically sound choice. A champion diplomat with a half millennia of international negotiation experience. They had asked him which of his family and friends he was willing to personally sacrifice for advanced laser technology, and after five days of going through his family photos, he had quit.

Second had been the academic choice. A team of scientists and professors had been found from the tops of their professions. The aliens had told them that they must fight to the death to win teleportation tech. One scientist had actually picked up the ornate knives they had offered and made for one of his colleagues. He was removed from the team, and shortly thereafter the team was disbanded.

Third had been the religious choice. The pope, the Dalai Lama, and several other heads of religion were sent to obtain food cloning technology. Each of them was asked to denounce their god, and had promptly refused to continue negotiations, but they did offer to pray for the next negotiator, which was nice of them.

Lastly, the world governments had tried one last unorthodox method in a final attempt to extract some useful information.

“And I’m telling you slimy lot of impudents I won’t even talk about any minging piece of miserable alien tech until I’ve had a chance to see it work!” Gordon Ramsey shouted.

“How am I supposed to know this little artificial chef is any good at cooking? The little blighter probably doesn’t know Cheesecake from the holocaust, and would probably put ketchup on both!”

Sometimes evil needs to be fought with another kind of evil.

Video game vision

Level 22 nerd Teddy looked like he had aced the test as usual. I give him a nod and a congratulatory handshake as we walk down the high school halls to lunch, making sure to dodge the level 50 harpy with her dress of +3 shrieking, and her troll boyfriend. She clearly had some buffs casted onto him, and the two were usually trouble.

I wave goodbye to Teddy as I go and sit with my level 5-10 crew of humans. We all had very ordinary stats, a video game move here, a leadership buff there, but we were all pretty normal guys. I liked it that way, no competition. Just some regular old people having some regular old conversation.

I notice that our quarterback is sporting a new special move, but before I can make it out someone sits down across from me. He appears to be just like me and my friends at first, until I see his class and level contain only question marks.

“Hey, did you guys hear about the quarterback’s sweet new fake punt move?” He asks, looking straight at me.

“Uh yeah.” I say.

“How could you know that?” My friend with +2 athleticism asks. “We just practiced that before school?” The mystery man shrugs, without breaking eye contact with me.

“I know things.” His eyes narrow. “Many things.”

“James Franklin Glasgow, let’s go.” The mystery man says.

“Go where?” I look to my friends, but none of them seem to hear.

“You shall see.” He says. I look at my friends. None of them seem to think this is strange, and I need to figure out what the question marks mean.

“Where are we going?” I ask, standing up and following him out of the cafeteria.

“To the afterlife.” He says. I try to dive away from him, but I’m suddenly unable to move.

“Your friends are about to figure out that you’re suffering a lethal allergic reaction to that crabmeat sandwich you’re eating. The mods have decided to pull you before it got too painful, seeing as you’ve been good enough to beta test ‘stat vision’ for us. They’re awaiting your report on the new special ability now.”

A rom com?

“James if you walk out that door, then we’re done. There’s no going back.” Jessica said, tears in her eyes to her now ex-fiancé. James hesitated with his hand on the door. Could he go back? Was this problem fixable? He turned toward Jessica with his answer.

“I’m sorry Jessica. I just can’t do this anymore.” Jessica’s lip trembled, and James left before she burst into tears.

“Phew, man, so glad I dodged that bullet.” James said, as Jessica’s wails become audible through the door. As James reached the car his best friend called.

“James, did you do it?” She asked.

“Yeah, me and Jessica are through.” I reply.

“I’m so sorry James.” She says.

“It had to happen.” I say. “We just weren’t meant for each other.

“Well, if you need to talk about it I’ll be here for you this weekend. Do you want to get coffee?” She asked.

“That’s very thoughtful of you.” I say. “But I’ll have to decline. I’m actually really looking forward to having some alone time.”

“Um, okay.” My best friend replies. “If you change your mind I’m always here for you James.” She says.

“Cool, thanks, I really appreciate having you as a friend.” I reply, and then hang up the phone.

That weekend I have an amazing time in my wood working shop finishing up a beautiful cedar table. I’ve just learned a new carving technique to inlay a chess board in the middle of it. During the final polishing steps Jessica calls me up.

“Hey, James, I’ve thought a lot about what you said, and you’re right, maybe we aren’t right for each other.” She says.

“I’m glad you feel that way.” I say. “Closure is a good thing.”

“I think so, would you feel comfortable coming by later today to do this in person?” She asks.

“Nah, I’m really just fine now. You take care now Jessica.” I say.

“Um, okay.” She says awkwardly.

“Bye.” I say.

James spent the rest of his life being single and pursuing a flourishing handmade carpentry career.

Aliens give humans the silent treatment, talk to whales instead

“So we have determined the aliens are not whales themselves yes?” The president asked the secretary of defense.

“Correct mister president. Several flybys have confirmed they are humanoid in nature.” The president had called all the cabinet members together to solve this problem.

“We have also determined that they are as of yet conducting no hostile action toward the whales, nor to any surrounding aquatic or human life.” The secretary of defense continued.

“Then what in the blue blazes are they doing?” The president asked.

“William Shatner hasn’t gone missing has he?” The secretary of state asked.

“No mister secretary, neither has Leonard Nemoy or any other of the original cast. We’re still pinning down the locations of the reboot stars.” The defense secretary said.

“Are they mating with the whales?” The secretary of education asked.

“Arne get out of here!” The president yelled. “You’re not turning this into another meeting about sex education.” The secret service escorted the secretary of education out.

An aid suddenly burst into the room.

“Mister president, we’ve received a communication from the aliens!”

“What?” Every man in the room said.

“Let’s have it, what did they say?”

The aid excitedly looked at his piece of paper.

“They said, please stop sending those loud jets, they’re interfering with the tenth millennial interspecies symphony. We just got the killer whales to stop eating the pilot whales, and we’d like to get started.”

Winne the pooh, and Loki too

Chapter twenty-one

In which Pooh goes looking for Christopher Robin, and finds some gods

“Begone impudent omnivore!” Thor commandingly shouts to everyone’s favorite bear.

“I’m terribly sorry. Are you a friend of Christopher Robin? He’s gone missing you see, and we’re all terribly worried looking for him. We think the backson has got him.” Pooh was blocking Thor’s path to Alfheimer.

“There’s a battle brewing among the elves and I must be present to preside over the battle.” Pooh scratched his head.

“Are elves anything like bees, because there’s a rumbly in my tummy, and this tree looks like it could have an awful lot honey! Could I come with you to awful helmet to meet these lelves?” Thor threw up his hands and stormed back into Asgaror.

“Where is Loki? Surely the trickster can do something about this bear of miniscule intelligence.” Loki was in fact, observing the traffic jam of deities forming around Yggdrasill. He was greatly amused, but had some tricks to play in Hel, and so allowed himself to be summoned to deal with the situation.

Loki turned himself into a bear, and approached Winnie the Pooh. “Friend bear, what brings you to Yggdrasill? I have lived here for many years and have found no berries.”

“No berries, bother, they go so well with honey. I’m glad to have a friend though. I’m winnie the Pooh, or just Pooh for short, pleased to meet you.” Loki could not help but be taken aback slightly at the word friend, it was a long time since anyone had thought to call him friend.

“Well friend.” Loki said again, using the word somewhat how it should be used, and only partially as a trick. “There are berries and honey a plenty in Asgaror. If you would only come down from this tree I could show you where they are.”

“Would you be so kind?” Pooh said. “I need to find Christopher Robin, but I suppose I could stop for a small smackerel of something sweet to eat.” Pooh smacking his lips together then followed Loki down from the tree. Loki had meant to lead the bear to Hel, and so continue on with his pranks, but found himself enjoying the company of the bear more and more. They talked about bees and reading over lunch, and Pooh made up a hum about himself and Loki.

“Two bears should know

How the time does go

How the time does go

On flowing

And everyone knows

That when the time does go

The bears should go

On humming”

And so Pooh taught this hum to Loki, and the two of them spent the day together, doing all the things a bear and a norse trickster god could do, until the day ended, and Pooh said.

“I must be going now.”

“Must you?” Asked Loki.

“I must, but you could come with me. I’m sure Piglet won’t mind you living with us.”

“Is this Piglet like you? Do you think he will like me?” Loki asked, finding the idea of more friends very compelling.

“Oh yes, any friend of mine is a friend of piglet’s and any friend of piglet is a friend of mine. So you shall have to meet all our friends and become acquainted.” Loki felt years of hatred and malice stripped away by the thought of living with this kind and thoughtful bear, amongst his gentle and well meaning friends. And that is how Loki cam to live.

Side note: I read the entire Winnie the pooh series several times, have seen every movie, and watched every episode of both the many adventures of Winnie the pooh, and the new adventures of Winnie the pooh. I never thought I’d combine this knowledge with that of Norse mythology.

Unhooked part two

I immediately realize this is a mistake as my eyes sting from the dirty water. I hadn’t even noticed before and pull my head back sputtering out of the water to Thomas’ laughter. At least when I was being drowned I had the sense to close my eyes. Thomas dives off and Frank, who is chuckling to myself, brings me over to the shore.

“Let’s try and get you situated before you drown yourself.” I can see Jess and Thomas swim off further into the lake where it looks like they can’t touch bottom. It saddened me to know they were out of reach.

“I want to follow them.” I tell Frank.

“You can’t swim.” He says.

“I could learn.” I reply. It didn’t look that hard, you kicked your legs and pushed water behind you with your arms.

“Oh yeah?” Frank says. “You can’t even get your face wet and you think you can swim. Ever heard the phrase walk before you run Ryan?” I was getting a little fed up with all the down talk. First there was the running, then there was the cards, now there was swimming.

“I’m not a baby you know.” I say.

“I know.” Frank responds. “And I’m sure you can swim, but we need to ease you into this. There’s a lot of life out here in the real world and you can’t live it all at once.” He reaches into some grass and pulls out a bag he brought with him.

“Here.” He hands me a curved tube and some strange looking glasses. “This’ll help you get started. These.” He tapped the glasses. “Go on your face, and this.” He tapped the tube. “Goes in your mouth.

I looked at him skeptically. These people were not above playing a joke on me, and this equipment looked ridiculous.

“Why don’t you use it?” I ask.

“Because we can already swim. Now come, let’s get started. You’ll like this.” I still think this might be a joke. If it was Thomas or even Jess I wouldn’t have done it, but this was Frank. He had earned a little trust.

The tube and the glasses clipped together to form some weird kind of mask, it felt awkward, and my breathing now had a rasping sound that reminded of something. Maybe a movie I had seen. We waded back out until we were about chest deep. I appreciated the water much more this time. I didn’t think about any monsters in it, my body had acclimated to the colder temperatures, and there was no Thomas to drag me under.

I had imagined walking through water would feel like walking through thicker air, but this was so much more. It was soft, incredibly soft, softer than anything I felt before. Every time I moved my lake forward it was like silk flowing over my legs. The sensation was enthralling I found myself staring at my leg hairs, the few inches visible through the murky water. They wafted in the current I was generating with my strides like kelp being pushed by on ocean current.

“Now, how this is going to work.” I jumped slightly. I had forgotten Frank and why I was walking out here in the first place. ‘Is you’re going to lower yourself down into the water until you’re submerged, but keep the top of that tube underwater. It’ll let you breathe, and the face mask will keep the water out of your eyes. The mask will also keep the water out of your nose.” I was going to go underwater. I would get to feel that silky smoothness all over my body. I would also have my head under again. I remember thrashing about trying desperately to breathe, thinking that I was being murdered. I remembered how dirty the water had tasted going down my throat, and how much it had hurt coughing back up. There had been a sensation of wrongness about having the water in my lungs. There was something in my body that wasn’t a part of my body, and it had sickened me knowing all the bacteria, parasites, viruses, and maybe even small fish that were inside me.

“If you’re going to swim you’re going to have to do this.” Frank tells me. “I can see you getting a little pale, but trust me, it’ll be fine. You’ll be able to breathe this time. I’m gonna have to hold you under.” I stop breathing for a moment. “But it’s just because you’ll float away if I don’t, as soon as I feel you starting to come up on your own I’ll let you go.” I trusted Frank. He hadn’t done anything to me that I disliked yet.

I nod my head, and slowly begin to crouch. My upper body has been out of the water long enough that the water feels cold again, but not as cold as it did before. It’s a pleasant sensation, and the smoothness of the water as it envelopes me is like being tucked into bed.

The water level reaches my shoulders and I start to breathe a little faster. In just a second that water will be over my face, and without a little piece of plastic I would be cut off from air, but I keep lowering myself.

I feel hands on my shoulders, and my breathing slows knowing that Frank is here. He won’t let anything happen to me. I hold onto that thought. If I wasn’t about to be in a spot where moments before my life felt threatened I probably wouldn’t have trusted him this much, but right now I needed to. I needed to feel safe, and Frank provided that safety. I was taking a leap. As the water hits my chin and comes over the mouth piece I involuntarily hold my breath.

Everything goes brown and black, and I can’t see. The water is also so cold on my face that I feel suffocated. I start taking too many breaths like I did when I tried to run. It’s crushing. It feels like it’s trying to force its way into my mouth. I close my eyes because the water seems like it’s trying to break its way into my facemask. I start to flail my arms to push myself up, and Frank squeezes my shoulders.

Frank is here. Frank won’t let anything bad happen. I take a deep breath and open my eyes. There is a spike of panic when I see the water in front of my mask, but it’s okay. I take another deep breath. The water will stay there. I feel fine.

I close my eyes again, not out of fear, but to concentrate on my other senses. There is a dull rumbling sound in my ears and nothing else. The entire world has been turned to one monotonous string of white noise. There are no human voices, no chirping of bird, just the rumbling of the water, and the rhythmic in and out of my breathing.

Similarly, my sense of touch has been dulled. The water flows forward and back over me like a full body gentle caress. I swish my hands back and forth to feel the water run over them. This causes me to lose a bit of balance, but Frank keeps me rooted in one spot. It was supremely peaceful to have nothing on my mind. My eyes see nothing but dark, my ears hear nothing but white noise, and my skin feels nothing but softness, even the lake mud just conforms to my legs and is pleasantly cool against my skin.

I get so relaxed that at one point I start to fall asleep and my grip loosens on the plastic tube in my mouth. Water seeps in and suddenly that feeling of drowning comes back. The hands holding me down suddenly don’t seem so friendly. I get a mouthful of water, and I only prevent myself from swallowing it by blowing it all into the tube. There it stays, coming in every time I inhale, bringing with it a spike of fear and a flash of recent memory.

Then, I feel embarrassed again. I’m not doing this again. I’m not going to get scared by some basic part of life. I was in three feet of water. I could stand up and be perfectly fine if nothing else, and it wasn’t like I was inhaling the water. No, this was a minor inconvenience at best, and if I was going to live out here in this world then I would not let these things scare me.

I opened my lips and let more water in. I felt the need to stand up, but suppressed it. ‘Stop being a baby’. I told myself. ‘They are swimming out there without masks and without breathing tubes. Man up and deal with it. I take another mouthful of water and have to blow forcefully to clear my breathing tube. A steel feeling I was unfamiliar with began to form in my gut. I was stronger than a little bit of water, and I was going to prove it.

Making sure to keep my eyes closed I pull off the facemask. It is still connected to the facemask so my tube becomes entirely filled with water and some of it goes into my lungs. Water floods past the mask and covers my face, giving me a feeling of cold and helplessness. The air is gone too. I have no access to the surface. It’s happening again, I’m drowning. Water on my face, water down my throat, hands holding me down.

‘No!’ I shout in my hand. I finish ripping off the mask and put it on the lake bottom beside me. I use the remaining air in my lungs to blow out some of the water from the snorkel. I think it hits Frank in the face because his grip on me loosens. The pathway is just barely clear and I have to draw a slow breath to avoid pulling in water. It’s okay though, there is air now, and if I control my breathing there will be a steady supply.

‘Now to really conquer this’. I say to myself, and pull the breathing tube out of my mouth. I keep my mouth closed to conserve my air, and for the first time that day, actually hold my breath underwater. Frank’s hands fidget a bit, I guess he didn’t think I’d do it. They called themselves unhooked. I think a fitting demonstration of my commitment to this was unhooking myself from air.

The air became harder to hold in, it seemed to push on my mouth, desperate to get out. At the same time my chest muscles seemed to contract slightly on their won, desperate to pull air in. My body was fighting my mind screaming at it ‘Breathe you fool, you’re going to die!’ I ignored it. I coughed out a little air bubble, but I was going to push this until my body couldn’t take anymore.

My chest contracted again and another bubble burst out. ‘Stay down!’ I shouted out myself. You are stronger than this, you can beat this. I almost surface when a flash of memory of arms grabbing me and throwing me under, of air rushing out of my lungs, of feeling helpless. But I’m not helpless. I am stronger than this. This thing will not beat me, and I’ll only surface when I know I’ve taken as much as possible.

Another burst of air from my mouth, this time a small stream of bubbles, and I almost suck in some water, desperate to get anything down into my lungs to stop this sensation of pressure and needing to breathe. The hands on my shoulders suddenly flip from holding me down to pulling me up.

Before I know it I’m halfway out of the water and there’s a rushing sound as my ears transition from being underwater to being in air. I make a sound like the loch ness monster rising from the depths as I first exhale sharply, then take in the world’s deepest breath.

“Are you okay?” Frank asks.

“What did you do that for?” I demand of Frank. As soon as I have some air in my lungs to work with. I bend down to pick up the breathing tube and mask from off the lakebed and hand them back to Frank.

“I was in the middle of something.” I’m kind of angry at him. I think I was close to some kind of mental break through.

“You were in the middle of what exactly? A suicide attempt?” He looks part angry, and part concerned.

“No.” I say, surprised that he would jump to that conclusion. “I was just proving to myself that I didn’t need to be afraid of the water. That it doesn’t get to make me afraid.” He cocked an eyebrow.

“This is your first day unhooked?” He asked me. I nodded. He whistled, and for the first time in his eyes there was something besides concern or some kind of paternal protectiveness. There was respect.

“You know it’s one thing to have mortal peril thrust on you. It’s quite another to freely embrace it. You can’t get that in a dream can you?” He asks me. I shake my head.

“You are never really in danger.” I say. “You try to make yourself feel in danger by dreaming up giant hordes of enemies, or horrific monstrosities, but in the end you know they will bend to your every whim. In the end the good guy always wins.” Frank doesn’t say anything. “Although it’s a little ridiculous to talk about mortal peril out here.” I add on. “I mean Thomas wasn’t really trying to drown me and I could’ve stood up at any moment.”

“It doesn’t matter how much danger there actually is.” Frank tells me. “It matters how much danger you feel.” He glances back towards the shore. “Let’s get some more swimming gear to get you started.” We walk back to shore and Frank produces a flat foam board.

I feel strong as he walks me back. I know I’m still in horrendous physical condition, at least as far as endurance was concerned, but I had shown a bit of mental toughness. I was no longer some little kid they were leading around. I was an adult. A full grown human being, and I was acting like it.

“This is a kickboard.” He tells me. “It’s for working on your leg movements for swimming. Your legs are stronger than your arms, so we’ll work on your kick first, and your pull later. So you hold onto this to keep your upper body afloat, and work on your kick.” As frank instructs me in some basic swimming motions with my legs, I find myself glancing out into the deeper part of the lake where Thomas and Jess are. Thomas and Jess are playing some sort of water version of tag. Several times Frank has to splash me to regain my attention.

“You awake Ryan? The lesson’s here, not out in the middle of the lake. If you want to learn you need to focus.”

“Sorry Frank.” I reply. “Just daydreaming.” There’s a brief stretch of silence before he responds.

“You like her don’t you.” He says. I lose my grip on the kickboard, and briefly submerge.

“What makes you say that?” I come up spluttering and indignant, but also trying to act nonchalant and failing miserably at it.

“Oh come on.” He says. “Me and Thomas saw how you reacted to her hug. Thomas even made a crack about it. Don’t act surprised.” I suddenly find the lake water directly in front of me quite fascinating and examine it closely as the conversation continues.

“I’m not making any judgments one way or the other.” He said in a reassuring voice. “But you are recently unhooked. You have to remember what rejection means out here.”

I look up at him. “Rejection?” I ask. He rolls his eyes.

“Out here in the real world, not only can girls turn you down, but if they do turn you down, you still have to interact with them. I’m not saying you two wouldn’t work out. I am saying that so far we are the only people in the real world you know. Us unhooked people aren’t all that common, so you don’t want to make things weird between us. We’re her brothers, so if it’s weird between you two it’ll be weird between us. I’m not saying that trying to set something up between you two is a bad idea. I’m just saying give it some time and be prepared for rejection because things out here aren’t guaranteed.”

“Why is that?” I asked. “Why are there so few of us?” I was trying to change the subject, thankfully, it worked. I had not yet worked out how I felt about Jess or how to go about pursuing anything, so for now I just wanted to avoid the subject entirely.

“It’s a good question, and we don’t really know the answer ourselves.” Frank said. “Each of us has a different theory. Jess thinks it’s because the world used to be a rough place. People were unhappy all the time. The planet was getting messed up by all the stuff people were doing to it, and people just wanted an escape.”

“But it doesn’t seem like the world is that way now.” I said.

“Yeah, and it could be things are better because most of the world is asleep, but I don’t buy that. Even if people were using it purely to get away from an ugly world, I refuse to believe that people aren’t willing to give this.” He swept his hand out to gesture toward the lake, the forest, the sky, and everything. “A chance.”

“That’s why I think people are under because they want control.” Frank continued. “I think that most people aren’t willing to lose control and experience the fear and the pain that you’ve experienced today. I mean I know that we make light of it, but today was kind of like your birth pangs. What you’ve experienced was becoming accustomed to the whole idea of fear and pain, and not letting yourself succumb to them. I believe most people given the option to escape fear and pain will take that choice.” I thought about my conversations with my friends and family. They had been so quick to get away from real life. Were they just running away from suffering?

“I don’t think people are that cowardly.” I said. “I’m sure some are, and maybe some are under because life really is ugly, but that doesn’t add up to me. I just think people are better than that.” Frank looks out into the deep water at Thomas and Jess who are now playing some game involving dunking the person under water a lot.

“Which is why Thomas thinks they’re being forced under.” Frank told me. “Thomas has a number of theories as to why. Maybe the corporation that makes the pill is super greedy and wants to make most of the world’s money to afford this luxury. I don’t think sleep core is that malicious, but he also thinks sleep core could be an arm of the government that is being used to pacify the people.” I think about all the advertising that sleep core gets, and I remember my parents telling me its crazy fast rise to success. How the pill had been pushed through testing far too quick, and seemingly everyone seemed to demand the pill at once. Could all that really be possible without the help of some very large and very powerful entity?

“Your kick is looking pretty decent, now try taking a couple pulls with your arms. One at a time, make a paddle with your hand, and push the water underneath and behind you.” Now Frank was changing the subject. Why would he do that? This seemed like something that was pretty important, especially for someone who just recently unhooked. I considered probing a bit more, but I was still new to the group, so I let it slide.

“So what are we doing later?” Making the third change of subject this conversation. Frank cocked his head, considering.

“Don’t know, we hadn’t really decided.” He smiled. “One of the beauties of being unhooked is you have a lot of time on your hands. Jess and Thomas only work two hours a day. I pull a three hour shift. “ I stopped kicking and stared at him. They worked two and three hour shifts? The longest shift any of my friends worked was an hour.

“I know it sounds like a lot, but you gotta realize, when you’re awake as much as we are, two or three hours really isn’t that much time. We could work half or one hour shifts like everyone else, but we have some pretty expensive toys, and can use the extra money. Maybe you’ll get to try some later.” He winked at me.

“I look forward to it.” I say. “I’m feeling pretty confident now, ready to let me have a go at the deep water.” I push away the kickboard and sloppily take a few strokes around the shallows. Frank studies my movements.

“You look like a sick frog with a broken leg, but you’ll do. Come on, let’s go have some real fun.”

As we join the two further out, where we have to tread water to stay afloat, Thomas celebrates my coming by unceremoniously dunking me under again. I return the favor this time, and we play a water based version of tag.

I tire quickly, and most of the time I’m it. I did get to catch Jess. She looked surprised and impressed when I tag her it.

“How did you learn so fast?” She asks me as I make some distance between me and her so she can start counting to ten.

“Strong arms remember?” She splashes me, I laugh, and the game goes on. Soon the game raps up and we move on, heading back to shore to towel off and head for home.

“Ryan wants to see the toys.” Frank tells the group when we walk through the door. He stops by the kitchen and comes back with some sandwiches and juice which he passes out. “You guys want to see how adventurous a zombie can be?” There are some whoops for joy as they rush downstairs to where the toys are stored. I looked from my sandwhiches to the door. Briefly I wonder why we don’t stop and have a nice long lunch instead of rushing around like this. Then I remember that I promised to not be a wimp about this. I was strong now, and being strong now meant you didn’t just lay down and rest whenever you felt a little run down. I bite into my sandwich, which is a delightful PB&J, and head down to join my friends.

“Welcome to the funhouse.” Thomas greets me at the bottom of the stairs. Wall to wall are clear plastic bins, hangars laden down with gear, and closets laden with untold bounty. There are ropes, shoes, tanks, guns, metal devices of all shapes and sizes, things that look like improved versions of the swimming gear I had just seen. I see tents, sleeping bags, heavy coats, boxes of energy bars and energy drink mix, and that’s just the stuff I could put a name to.

“If there is something crazy or stupid that you can do outside, you can find the gear to make it happen here.” Thomas begins pointing at various pieces of equipment and naming activities as he points. “Rock climbing, skiing, camping, hiking, geocacheing, snorkel, SCUBA, Kayaks are outback, and we even have some wing suits on back order.” He was grinning like a kid in a candy store. We all were.

“This may not be as good as what you can find in a dream.” Jess says picking up a rope and fondly examining it. “But the challenge of it, the adventure, the finding something new or doing something you haven’t done before. The thrill of knowing it can go wrong, and the elation when it goes right. Those you can’t find in a dream either.” I walk around in a mild trance touching each piece of gear, feeling the cold steel, the flexible rubber, the tough rope, and the solid wood. They said you couldn’t find this stuff in a dream, but I had several dreams about just this sort of thing.

“So what’s it going to be Ryan?” Frank asks me. “What do you want to do first?” I could sooner answer which star in the sky was my favorite. There were so many things here, and each one had a different risk and a different promise of reward. I could see the scuff marks, the scratches, the wear and tear on the equipment. I could tell that this stuff had been a lot, and there were so many fond memories. I felt almost as if I was in some kind of temple.

“I really can’t answer that.” I say. “There’s just so much here.” I look at Jess, and see the rope she has picked up. She probably has had a lot of good times with that rope. “What’s that rope for Jess?” I ask.

“This fine 9.8mm 60M dynamic line with a 30% stretch factor? This is for rock cilimbing. As are the 30 meter static line with 10% stretch factor, the locking carabineers, the chalk bags, the fingerless gloves, the ATCs, the gri gris and the endless valley honey and oat energy bars.” She opens a box and pulls out a green energy bar. “These are just right for hanging off the side of a cliff and feeling the wind in your hair, and nothing but open space below you.” Yup, that was clearly her favorite thing to do. I had no experience in these matters, but I think that would be a good way to get to know her and get closer to her. Also, I pictured rock climbing as an upper body workout, and upper body strength was possibly the only way I could keep up with these guys.

“Rock climbing, definitely rock climbing.” I say. I look to Jess for her reaction. She’s smiling at me. For a minute my breathing stops and my heart skips. It’s almost like that feeling of being underwater, but there’s also a warmth to it. It just feels right.

“Alright, rock climbing it is. Let’s get dangerous!” Thomas boisterously shouts.

“We have a rule.” Frank tells me. We are standing at the top of a cliff that appears to be about 70 or 80 feet tall, tall enough that you can see over the trees.

“You never climb on a system that you didn’t help to setup.” There is a cornucopia of ropes, carabineers, webbing, and various metal devices scattered around the cliff top. It looks like a rope bridge collided with a chain link fence and exploded into neatly segregated piles.

“So if you’re going to make it to the bottom of this beast.” He points to the cliff. “You’re going to have to do some of the work yourself.” That made sense, it would give me a sense of ownership over my own fate. “You’re also going to be the first one over the edge.” Frank finished.

“Which means if it doesn’t work you’ll be making the trip home in several buckets.” Thomas cheerfully put in. I swallowed hard. A few hours ago I thought running was an adventure, now I was about to literally jump off a cliff.

“Great, how do we start?” They gave me a brief talk on the capabilities and limitations to the setup we were using. They emphasized the importance of having a completely redundant system. You had two trees you tied the ropes to. You had a double knot to attach the carabineers to, and you had two carabineers in case one broke or opened itself during the climb. The only catch was the rope that went through the carbineers and over the side of the cliff, the rope you actually used to climb on, wasn’t redundant. If that snaps, there’s no fail safe.

It was all very fascinating, and I would’ve felt a lot better about it if we weren’t standing on the cliff as we put the system together. The knots themselves didn’t help either. I looked at the kind of double figure eight knot that secured the ropes to the trees and couldn’t help but think that the rope could very easily just slide out of the knot. I mean, there wasn’t a lock or anything anywhere in the system. Was friction really enough to keep this thing together. What was so different about it from the way I tied my shoe laces together.

I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it if it wasn’t for Jess. She was the one who worked with me to explain the knots. Thomas and Frank took the roles of double checking my knots, preparing the gear for me to build the rock climbing system with, and keeping a running commentary on how far they think I would bounce if the system failed at different points.

She could be very nurturing when she wanted to. After the first system was complete we set up two more, and while Jess worked with me she explained what unhooking for her was like.

“We had a big family.” She tells me. “There were eight of us in total, 4 boys, two girls, and two parents. Thomas was the first unhook. This may surprise you, but he’s a bit of a rebel, and the first time he unhooked it was just to spite our parents. He didn’t actually think he would enjoy the experience. He told me about it the next day, and then Frank overheard, and being the protective type, decided to follow along to make sure we were okay.” I finish tying up the last knot and clip in the carabineers to the top of the system.

“We were pretty boring, just kind of walked around, but like you’ve seen, real life can be addictive. The randomness, the unexpected turns, the consequences, challenges, triumphs, they feel so much more powerful than a fabricated reality ever could.” She looks wistfully at her brothers as they give us the thumbs up and we move on to the last system.

“We stepped out into this new world, and fell in love with it. The only problem with it was that our other siblings told on us.” We kneel down and start tying knots to trees. “Our parents warned us about staying awake. They talked about some urban legends about the things that lurked in the real world, and some propaganda about dreams being better than reality.” She gave the knot she was working on an unnecessarily hard tug. “We tried to tell them it all wasn’t true, but they wouldn’t believe us. Then they kicked us out.” I stopped tying knots.

“Your own parents kicked you out of the house? How old were you guys?” I asked.

“We were all still high school age. Luckily we were all working, and the pay was bad, but we just tripled our shifts and got an apartment together. Nine minimum wage annual incomes isn’t too shabby for a couple of young adults.”

“Is that why you said ‘we had’. A family instead of saying ‘we have’ a family?” She tightens the last knot and nods.

“To us, they don’t exist anymore. They exist in the dream to us, and we are in the real world. They might as well be on the surface of Mars. Even if they hadn’t forced us to move out at a young age, we still wouldn’t consider them family.” Thomas and Frank look over the ropes as we clip in the carabineers and throw the climbing rope over the side. They’ve gotten quiet.

“That’s harsh.” I say.

“Really?” she says, a sharp tone entering her voice. “They gave us up. They don’t want us. They spend their time imagining better versions of us because we’re not good enough for them. How would you feel about someone who did that to you?”

“But they would still spend a few waking hours with you right?” I asked, trying to defend myself.

“They would barely tolerate us until they popped their next pill. Haven’t you noticed that your hooked friends and family can’t wait to go to sleep? And even when they do interact with you all you talk about is dreaming? They don’t like you. To them you’re just a pawn in their own little game, and when you won’t move the way want. They cast you aside. You’re expendable to them. Our parents made us expendable. That makes them dead to us.”

“I’m sorry.” I tell her. “I didn’t see it that way.”

“I know.” The edge leaves her voice and she relaxes. “I didn’t mean to snap like that. Here, let’s get you tied in and good to go.” She hands me a harness and explains how to use the knots I’ve learned, to attach myself to the ropes. She then explains how she’s going to use one of the metal pieces, the ATC she calls it, to lower me over the side while she’s attached to the other end of the rope. Once I hit the bottom Thomas will then allow her to descend, and Frank will allow Thomas to descend. We would then all climb back up, and move on to the next system.

“As we told you at the start.” Frank says. “You get to go first, so stand at the edge of the cliff, and just lean back. Jess will catch you. After you hit bottom Thomas and Jess will follow, and then you three will climb back up.”

“Great yeah, just fall back off a cliff, cool.” I say sarcastically.

“And put your feet flat against the cliff.” Thomas puts in. I give him a frown and a thumbs up. I walked to the edge of the cliff and look over the side. It’s not a sheer cliff, there are a few outcroppings that if I fall I will bounce off of and maybe just break every bone in my body instead of splatting on the ground.

“Looking and waiting isn’t going to help.” Jess tells me. “You just have to trust me, turn around, and lean back. I won’t let you fall.” I force myself to do as she says and turn around.

“You always wake up before you hit the ground right?” I ask sheepishly trying to make myself think positive.

“Lean back Ryan.” Jess tells me. “You can trust me.” I decide to do this the same way I let go of my fear of drowning. I carefully slide my heels up the edge of the cliff and close my eyes. I had hoped Jess would tighten the rope I’m attached to so I would feel more secure as I leaned back, but she was intentionally leaving a foot or so of slack to make this extra interesting for me. Well, no point putting it off any longer. I peak briefly at Jess. She’s looking at me, and she now has that respect in her eyes that I had seen in Frank’s after ditching my breathing tube. This one’s for you Jess. I close my eyes, and fall back.

Nothing, for a brief moment there’s nothing. My weight leaves my feet, and I don’t feel my own body weigh resting on anything. I’m falling through air, and unlike the water, it offers no resistance, content to let me feel straight through it as fast as I pleased. Then there’s a feeling of painful awakeness. My body senses something is wrong and fires every single neuron it knows how. Things seem to slow ever so slightly, and my breath catches as my stomach feels like it wants to crawl out my throat. Then the line goes taught, and my feet brace against the side of the cliff as I come to a halt. I didn’t even really fall. I had just sort of laid down, and now was sort of positioned like I was walking up the cliff. My toes were sticking over the top of the cliff, and then everything spend back up.

“Yeah Ryan!” Thomas shouts. I hear whoops of joy from Frank and Jess like when they had been running through the forest. The rush now boomed out into an electric joy, like someone had hooked me up to a car battery and the only way to let the electricity out was to yell, and yell I did. My whoops and shouts join Frank’s, Thomas’, and Jess joins in too. All four of us give in to some basic animal happiness just to have taken a risk and come out on top.

“Alright Jess, drop’em down.” Thomas encourages.

“Take a look around as you drop Ryan.” Jess suggests. I began to then walk backwards down the cliff. I kept my feet flat against the rock as they had instructed, and at about the pace of a slow jog, begin to descend.

I look around at the trees, and think of Thomas swinging around in them when we had first walked back to their house. I hadn’t imagined I would be able to experience that, and this was kind of cheating, but here I was all the same, up in the branches like a monkey.

I hit bottom and call out to Jess as soon as I untie myself from the rope. She drags the rope back up, and a minute later she drops over the side too.

When she hits bottom she’s got this half crazy look like a sprinter at the starting line who just can’t wait to leap forward.

“This is gonna be great!” She says as she unties herself and calls back up to Frank and Thomas.

“Oh man, you are gonna love this climb.” She punches me lightly on the shoulder and bounces up and down on the balls of her feet as she eagerly tells me what her favorite parts are to this climb.

“I bet my family would too.” I say. She stops bouncing.

Unhooked part one

It should be noted a more polished version can be obtained by downloading the free PDF under published works. It also includes a different opening and optimized pacing.

“For Sparta!” A man in the phalanx shouted next to me as the onrushing Persians crashed into our battle line. I suppressed a yawn as I casually swatted aside several Persian soldiers with my shield, and skewered four at once with my lance.

I had dreamed about this before, but a movie about the battle of Thermopylae had been on while I was awake, so I figured I’d recreate some scenes.

“Break ranks.” I say to my fellow soldiers in a conversational tone. The men give great shouts and rush the Persians, scattering them like flies. I decide to use some slow mo and dice up several Persians with my comrades. Then I got tired of using my traditional weapons so I decided to use some good old fashion sith lightning to take them down. Then when that wasn’t enough I tried flying around the battlefield, deflecting arrow volleys with great gusts of wind and calling down meteor strikes on the Persian archers.

Something still didn’t feel right. The enemy was evaporating like water thrown onto lava. My army was singing my praises, and both Spartans and Persians all around the battlefield were kneeling down to worship me as a god. It still didn’t seem right, but thankfully my REM pill was wearing off, and my alarm should be going off any second.

Sure enough, a heavy metal guitar riff sounded in my ears, and I open my eyes. My room is far less extraordinary than the dream I had just come from, and there are no worshippers here. Still, it seems friendlier to me. I like the pictures of my family that I have hung up on the wall. I should probably call my mom. Her four hour wakeful cycle was irregular, so it was hard to get a hold of her. My best bet was to call one of my three siblings that still lived with my parents and leave a message for her.

It was something I’d have to worry about later that night, now I had to get on my laptop and go to work. I, like most of the civilized world, telecommuted. I was IT support for a major company’s website. I logged in, and spent thirty minutes making sure that everything was fine. Everything was fine. I look at the clock and think I still have three and a half hours until I go back to sleep.

My first thought was to go back to sleep, but the current generation REM pill requires four hours of continued consciousness before it can be used again affectively. I start daydreaming about my next lucid dream, and try to plan it out. Trip to Mars? No, I’d founded a martian civilization twice this week already. Recreate some video game battles? That was too similar to what I had just done. Some of those creepy things nobody wanted to admit to doing? I already felt too much shame from last time, and I couldn’t believe I was saying this, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything that I hadn’t already seen and done a dozen times. Nothing new was on the internet or the television. Well, nothing really new, there were reboots, reruns, and adaptations of old ideas, but that wasn’t going to satisfy me today.

Maybe my friends would have some ideas. I call up a couple acquaintances and ask if they want to come over. We’re all on the same wakefulness cycle, so they say sure. Their automated cars would have them over in just a few minutes.

I felt better, friends would surely have some ideas. Within about a thirty second window my two of my friends show up. We all live pretty close and the automated transport is really quite incredible.

“Hey guys, what’s new?” I ask.

All three shrug. “Sandy had a great dream about the great barrier reef.” My friend james tells me. “How’d it go Sandy?”

“I mean anything really new.” I rudely interrupt. “I mean, Sandy I’m sure it was great, but how many times have you been to the great barrier reef?”

“26 Ryan.” She looked a little terse that I had cut her off. Sandy would go on for hours about the reef if you let her. It was her favorite place to dream.

“Look Ryan.” James said. “If we’re not going to talk about dreaming we might as well go.”

“What?” I said rather shocked that my friends would depart so quickly. “But you just got here.” They looked bored at my indignation.

“Well yeah.” Sandy said. “But Ryan just got these new REM pills that you can take for a one hour dream even if you just woke up from your dream cycle.”

“That sounds unhealthy.” I commented.

“And you sound lame.” Sandy shot back. They all stood up.

“If you want to be a party pooper we best be on our way.” James tells me, and they start making for the door. I can’t believe this. They’ve been here two minutes tops, and they’re already leaving. This wasn’t how I had thought this would go.

“But don’t you guys want to talk? Can’t we think of something to do?” James actually laughed at that.

“Ryan we’ll talk to you in the dream, and find something way more interesting to do there.”

“But it won’t be me!” I shouted after them. They didn’t hear me. They had already shut the door.

I just stared at the door for a minute. I couldn’t believe they had dismissed me like that. We normally got on pretty well. We also normally just talked about dreaming, but I had thought our friendship meant more than that.

“I’ll call my family.” I tell myself. Putting word to action I pick up my phone again and call my younger brother Joseph.

“Hey Joseph , this is Ryan, are mom or dad up?” I ask.

“Ryan? What are you doing calling at this hour, we’re all still asleep.” He responds in a groggy voice. “I was having this great dream about a dragon and some flying cars.”

“Sorry Joseph, I know it’s early.” I look out the window and see the sun is high in the sky. “But I was looking for a bit of company, is it alright if I come over and hang out?”

“Why?” He asks.

“I don’t know.” I say. “I just thought it would be fun. I mean people hang out and have parties.”

“Ryan, that’s only in the movies. Normal people just hang out in dreams. Matter of fact, tell you what, I’ll have a nice long adventure with you as soon as I’m back asleep.”

“But it’s not me.” I try and tell him, but he’s hung up. I didn’t even get to ask him to leave a message for mom and dad.

Family wanted to dream, friends wanted to dream, work was already done, and still over three hours left to kill. I get up and start pacing the room. There’s got to be something I could do. There were some online chat rooms I could try. They’re all full of dull people who just want to talk about their last dream, but at least they want to talk.

I sigh and give in, picking up my laptop again and typing in the address in my browser. I’m sitting through an ad by sleep core, manufacturer of the REM pill, when I hear my doorbell ring. At first I don’t recognize it as my doorbell, I haven’t heard it in years, but then it goes off again, and realization strikes me. There’s someone at my door, and they probably want to talk. They probably want to talk about religion, or something they’re selling , but I’ll take anything at this point.

“Coming.” I say, and with a renewed spring in my step I put my laptop and glide to the door. I open and see that there’s no one at the door. That’s strange. I know I heard somebody ring my bell.

I glance around just in time to see some kid dashing around a house in my cul-de-sac. Kids, they must be probably playing some prank. I start to close my door, when I notice that it’s actually pretty nice out. It’s not as nice as a dream would be, but for real world weather this was kind of refreshing.

“Well, there’s nothing to do for another three hours anyway, might as well go for a walk.” And with that I set off down a random sidewalk, taking turns at will. It’s pretty boring at first too. You’ve seen one townhouse you’ve seen them all. No one else is out walking, and there isn’t so much as a dog for company.

I’m about to turn around and head back, when the houses begin to give way to forest. I catch glimpses between the long rows of white monotonous homes, and then more are more, until I see a path going through. I walk to the start of a path, and marvel at one of the trees. I stare at it’s bark, and how it’s truly random. There’s no pre-thought pattern emblazoned on every inch. I pick a crack and follow it all the way up until it gives way to branches, and then leaves. The leaves practically take my breath away.

If I spent an entire dream crafting one tree this finely detailed in my mind I wouldn’t find one half so good. Every single leaf was so subtly different. There was no mental copy pasting that produced the background for elven adventures while I was asleep. Every leaf was a different shape, had different veins, and was connected to a different part of the branch. I counted the veins in one leaf, and tried to found another that matched it. Some were close, but no two were the same. Even if they had the same number, when I reached up and plucked two to compare more closely, the cells were lined up differently.

They felt different too, there was a leathery softness to it, like skin, but rougher and more coarse. I rubbed it between my fingers. This wasn’t how I had imagined they’d feel. I thought they be boring, like paper, but they are beauties. I put the leaves in one of my pockets.

I thought I heard a snickering sound. I turn around quickly, but see nothing. After scanning my surroundings for a moment I brush it off. It was probably the wind blowing through the trees. Besides, I had a whole forest to look at, and I still had about three hours left! Man, the next time I went under, I was going to try and make a forest this beautiful.

I wander around looking at the different trees, trying to guess which are the same species, and how thick they are. If I chopped them up for firewood would they burn? Did you make firewood out of just any tree? I tried to think about climbing them, which would support my weight. How would I get up? I needed to do this more often. Waking research like this made for excellent dreams.

A whispering sound courses through the forest. This time it really is the wind. I stop and close my eyes. The sensation of countless individual little green wings fluttering all around, was breath taking. I literally stopped breathing until the wind passed so I could hear it better. It was as if every single tree was telling me to relax, it would be alright. For several moments afterwards I just stood there taking deep breaths and imagining the sound I had just heard passing through again.

Instead of hearing a blissful gust of wind through the leaves I heard in the distance, but rapidly getting closer, some voices singing. I opened my eyes and saw running through the woods towards me, two men and one woman, all about my age, and sprinting towards me. I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet in anticipation of meeting some people to talk to. I thought it was a bit weird that they were running through the forest, and not on the path. The leaping they did over the logs seemed like an awful lot of work for people not dreaming.

“Haloo!” One of the men shouted at me as he got closer. “Haloo!” The other two shouted to me. They didn’t sound even slightly out of breath. As they got closer I could see they weren’t even sweating.

Taken aback by their exuberance I raised a hand timidly in greeting.

As the lead man rushed passed me he hit me on the shoulder. I stumbled back a step.

“Tag.” He said over his shoulder playfully, without slowing his pace.

I looked at him with a frown. That had been unfriendly of him. I felt another strike to my shoulder and I flailed my arms and took another two steps back.

“Tag.” The second man said as he ran by. I anticipated the girl’s action and as she got close I turned quickly, and almost fell right over. She stopped running, put both of her hands on her knees and laughed. She laughed loud, and for several moments. The other two stopped and jogged back to see what the fuss was about.

“What’s up Jess?” The second man to strike me asked. I felt like I should speak up, as they had all said something to me at least once, and I had remained quiet, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I still felt rather foolish for almost falling over several times.

“This zombie can’t have been unhooked for more than a few days.” She says, wiping away tears of mirth.

“What?” I finally manage to ask. I wanted to ask, what are you people doing? Why did you hit me? How are you all not passed out from exhaustion? What’s unhooked mean? And several other things, but all that came out was ‘what’.

“Don’t worry about it friend.” The leader said. “Jess is just playing with you, how long have you been unhooked?” Jess puts her hands on her hips and winks at me.

“Unhooked?” I asked, not having enough of my mental faculties about me to form longer sentences like ‘what does unhooked mean and why does she think I’ve been unhooked’?

“Oh man Frank he must be fresh. I don’t think he’s run into a pack of free people before.” The man next to the leader says.

“Is that true?” Franks asks me. “Have you ever seen people like us before?” I shake my head. The man whose name I did not yet know gave a whistle.

“Welcome to the club brother.” He says, and stick out his hand. Still very much confused about what’s going on I shake his head, and somewhere in the introductions that followed I discover the as of yet unidentified man is named Thomas, the three of them are all siblings, and I manage to scrape my wits together.

“I still don’t understand what’ going on.” I tell them. “You guys keep using words I don’t understand. What’s unhooked? What are free people? Why did you call me a zombie? Do I smell or something.

“No you don’t smell.” Frank tells me. Thomas and Jess exchange doubtful looks with each other.

“Okay you don’t smell much, but anyway. We called you a zombie because you’re recently unhooked, and we’re all free people because we’ve been unhooked.” I shake my head again.

“Unhooked, that’s the crux of it. What does it mean?” Thomas cracks a sideways grin.

“Isn’t it obvious?” He asks me. “Do you notice how we’ve been running through the woods and we’re not even slightly out of breath? Do you see how there’s no one else about, and you’ve managed to run into not one, but three of us. I know you don’t have a mirror, but do you see how we’re laughing, and smiling, and singing, and everyone else you know just wants to sleep?”

“So you guys spend your wakeful cycle being active, so what? I spend a lot of my dream time running around too.” I retort.

“That’s just it.” Jess says. “Ryan, we don’t dream.” I look at her like she had three noses and had just declared herself the first human mouse.

“Everybody dreams, it’s a natural part of sleep.” Thomas snickers when I use the word natural.

“There’s nothing natural about the way you sleep.” Thomas tells me. I feel a need to punch Thomas. For the first time that day I wish I was asleep so I could cause him some suffering.

“Ryan.” Frank tells me, much more gently than Thomas. “We don’t sleep like you do. We do dream, despite what Jess says.” Jess and Thomas are now narrowing their eyes at Frank. “It’s still a dream guys, just not like what they do.” They backed off a bit, but the comment had offended them. These people were insulted by dreaming. These guys just kept getting weirder. I waited for Frank to continue his thought.

“When we sleep we don’t take any pills. We just lay down, close our eyes, and in about eight hours or so we get up and get on with life. If we dream.” He glanced at Thomas and Jess as if to challenge them. “We don’t control it, it controls us, and when we wake up we quickly forget it.”

“Eight hours!” I exclaimed, my jaw dropping. “How do you guys stay so active? I sleep twenty and I don’t have a fraction of the energy that you have!”

“It’s true.” Frank said. “Stay with us a while and you’ll see. Come one, we’re heading back home, you can follow along.” I didn’t have time to consider his offer as he punched me in the shoulder again.

“Tag.” He said, and the three of them darted away as quickly as they had come.

“You’re supposed to catch us!” Jess called back to me.

How? They were running way too fast for any normal human to catch up. They were almost around the bend in the trail and if I didn’t move quickly they’d be gone. I considered going back home and forgetting this whole ridiculous incedent, but just then the girl looked over her shoulder at me, and something about her pulled me after them.

I started to move towards them, slowly at first. This running they were doing looked dangerous and I didn’t want to leap into it. I increased my pace, and my forward momentum began to allow me to take longer and longer strides. It took more effort than walking, I had to think about constantly pushing myself forward. I was moving quicker, but I was still losing them.

I began to feel warm when I really began to hit my stride. It was almost like small jumps forward. It came naturally to me and I began to hear blood pumping in my ear. It was an exhilarating feeling. I was generating my own breeze now, and it felt just like the one that had swept through before the trio had arrived, only instead of peace this one brought energy. I pumped my arms and began to feel like a warrior. I had been a warrior before, a general, a sniper, a legionnaire, a marine, a Spartan, a jedi, and even a god, but now I really felt like it.

Then I started to have trouble breathing. My breaths had been quickening, and now it seemed like I couldn’t get enough air. I stumbled nearly fell flat on my face as I stopped running and leaned over to combat the sudden onset of my shortness of breath. I took deep breaths, and I had to almost spit the sweat out as it ran down my face. The deep breaths weren’t working. They just weren’t working. Short breaths, that was it, just get air in and out quickly, in and out quickly.

“He’s hyperventilating!” I heard the girl call. They must’ve been on the way back, but I couldn’t look up, my vision was starting to do something funny. “You shouldn’t have tried playing tag right away Frank he can’t take it.” Her voice was close, and I felt a hand on the back of my head, and something was placed in front of my mouth.

“Just keep breathing.” She said in a low encouraging voice, like a mother telling her child that it was going to be okay. “That’s it.” I heard a crinkling sound, and as my vision began to clear I saw a brown paper bag in front of my face. As had happened so many times today I once again was utterly at a loss as to what had happened.

My breathing slowed and I felt like I was getting enough air again. I stood up and took a deep breath again.

“There.” Jess told me. “That’s better.” She pats me on the back. “You just got a little too excited from the run, that’s all.”

“Does that happen every time you run?” I thought it was a stupid question, but Thomas and Frank didn’t say anything sarcastic to me.

“No, not usually.” Jess tells me. “It only typically happens when you haven’t been working out in a while, which, I’m guessing you haven’t.” I didn’t know if I had ever done a workout. I shook my head.

“There you see.” Jess turned to Frank and Thomas. “He hasn’t done anything like this before, so we got to ease him into it. How about we just try keeping you awake for a regular 16 hour rotation first?” the question was directed at me. I had forgotten that they claimed to only sleep eight hours a night, and not control their dreams at all.

“I don’t know how you expect me to recover from being tired by being up for so long. I was planning on going to sleep as soon as I got back to my house.” Jess shook her head at me.

“Nope, wrong answer, you sir are going to come with us and enjoy yourself with some good old fashioned hanging out.” Hanging out, that word comforted me, and I let her take me by the arm and start walking up the path. I had started this day wanting to hang out, and in a very indirect roundabout way it was happening. It was happening with strangers, and odd ones at that, but it was still happening. I guess you got to be careful what you wish for.

On the walk back I noticed that my legs seemed weaker than they had before. I had to limp periodically. I wondered if I had broken something. Maybe they should take me to a hospital.

“That’s normal.” Frank said from beside me. He was watching me walk, and had noticed my limp. “The first time you workout a muscle it typically hurts a lot afterwards. It normally doesn’t take place so quickly, but people don’t normally get as out of shape as you do.” I tried to think quickly to respond that insult, but Jess spoke first.

“Don’t worry, it’ll get better quick. You’ll be running through the forest in no time.” Jess encouraged me.

“I can’t stand all this walking!” Thomas exclaimed.

“No one’s making you.” Frank informed him.

“Good.” Thomas shot back. He bolted forward and to my continued amazement, jumped into the low hanging branches of a nearby tree and swung himself around several branches without even using his legs.

“His arms must be as strong as his legs.” I said.

“Not quite.” Jess told me. “There’s a technique to climbing. Trust me, it looks more difficult than it actually is.”

I found that hard to believe. He flipped out of the tree and I almost swallowed my tongue.

“Do you people do anything normal?” I asked.

“By your definition?” Thomas asked. “Probably not.” Great, I was once again tempted to head back home, but I wasn’t sure I could make it all the way back.

“Here we are.” Jess said. “Home sweet home.” The three of them lived in a town house. That was a pleasant bit of normality. I half expected them to live inside a giant turtle or something with how this day had been going.

Several rushed minutes later they had me sitting around a table with funny little cardboard cutouts that had numbers and symbols on them.

“It’s called hearts.” Frank told me, and the rules seemed about as foreign as everything else had this day, but were easy enough to master. I quickly cleaned up the first few matches, with my opponents only seeming like a round or two from failure.

Then, just as they had with my walk, and my experiment in running, things changed. I started losing, badly. Every single hand they seemed to know what was in my hand. This wasn’t right. I was amazing at card games.

“I play all the time with my friends, and in my dreams, and I always win.” I told them. “Are you guys looking at my hand?”

“No we’re not cheating Ryan.” Thomas told me as he made me take a whopping sixteen points in one hand. I didn’t even have a shot at shooting the moon because Jess had taken a heart on the second trick.

“Your friends are just bad at cards, and you’re bad at imagining what actual strategy is.” I took another three points. I bit my lip

“Give it a minute Ryan.” Frank encouraged. The next hand I also lost badly, taking nearly all the points once again, and Jess decided to comment.

“You know you’ve done the same thing the last three hands. You’re used to getting rid of one suit to try and dump the queen on somebody. You also like hoarding hearts to throw on people’s hands. So when you throw down a club on the first turn we know you’ve ditched your diamonds and probably have lots of club and hearts with one or two spades to cover your queen.”

“You have been looking at my cards.” I threw down my cards and stood up. “Do you guys make a habit out of cheating at games with strangers you’ve just met?” I asked.

“It’s not cheating.” Thomas said flatly. “It’s called pattern recognition. People who are hooked either play with themselves in their own world, or play with friends who wish they were in their own world. Either way, they use the same tricks and never learn because they don’t care. They’re zombies. Pick up your cards man.” These people had a habit of pricking my nerves, and then the next moment calming them. I felt a bit like a baby who yells at the slightest change in temperature because he hasn’t learned to take the pain. I take my seat and shuffle my cards, embarrassed by my outburst, and embarrassed that he was right. I did use the same strategy, I never had a reason to change until now.

Luckily my cards had landed face down and we can continue without a re-deal. I examine my hand closely and make my move, getting rid of all of my diamonds. I take 9 points, but Jess takes 15, for the first time since we started playing, I wasn’t losing the worst.

“What now Thomas!” I shout.

“Two points.” Thomas says, holding up the two hearts he had taken during the game.

“Well, yeah, but Jess has 15!” I exclaim.

“You didn’t even change your strategy.” Thomas says exasperated.

“No, but I didn’t have to, all of you were expecting me to change, that’s what let me dump the queen on Jess!” Thomas didn’t have anything to say to that. I felt a rush. They had laid down a challenge and I had won! When was the last time that had happened? All of dream challenges I knew I could win, and I had never taken on something in real life I couldn’t win.

“Deal faster.” I encourage Thomas. “I am totally gonna own you guys this round.”

“Let’s see you put your money where your moth is big guy.” Jess taunts.

Three hours later I begin to feel drowsy.

“It’s been great guys, but I gotta head back home. It’s past my bedtime.” There’s a moment of silence.

“You really gonna hook man?” Thomas asks me.

“Well yeah, how else are you gonna sleep?” I ask him back.

“By waiting twelve more hours.” Franks tells me. “Come on, we’ve seen this before, when Thomas unhooked it was the same thing. You need to get a regular sleep cycle going, and you can’t do that with the pill. Besides.” He lifts the cards. “In your dreams, this isn’t a game, and can you honestly tell me that you get this excited about cards? Come one, when was the last time you did anything this normal in a dream?” He had me there.

“I don’t know.” I say reluctantly.

“Tell you what.” Thomas says. “I’ve got a spare REM pill sitting around here for just such an occasion. Let’s make a bet. I’ll arm wrestle you. If you win, we give you the pill and take you home, no questions asked. I win, we take you somewhere that’ll really wake you up.” Thomas puts the pill on the table.

I could just go home and take my own pill. It was sort of a bad bet, and I think I could find this place again tomorrow. I had found some friends who be willing to hangout whenever. I didn’t need to stay up.

“You know Ryan.” Frank tells me. “Another big difference between dreams and here. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, things don’t always go according to plan. If you’re going to be awake you’re going to have to take chances.”

I place my arm on the table. Thomas grins and locks my hand in a grip while Frank counts backwards from three. It’s no contest, Thomas pins my arm in a heartbeat.

“Hah!” He exclaims. “Don’t you remember me swinging from the trees? I’ve got arm strength for days.” I smirk, grab his hand again, and pull him across the table. Frank and Jess are so shocked they don’t move.

“I lift free weights while I work on my laptop and watch TV.” I tell him. “I may not run fast but I can lift weights plenty well.” Frank is silently laughing and Thomas looks like he had heard his own mother swear profusely.

“Now where’s this place where you really wake me up?”

“It’s a lake.” Thomas tells me. “People swim in it.” He adds patronizingly.

“I know that.” I say. “I’ve just never been in one before.”

“First time for everything.” Frank says, and runs into the water, taking a dive when he’s a few feet out. Thomas and Jess rush out too.

“Come on chicken the water’s fine.” I put one foot in the water and discover it most certainly is not fine. I shiver as my foot feels possibly the coldest it has ever felt. How on earth did they stand it?

“You can’t just put one foot in.” Frank tells me playfully, now treading water several yards out. “You gotta rush in all at once or you’ll take all day.” My foot begins to feel warm again, so I put another in and discover the water is still just as cold. Frank, Thomas, and Jess all shout a mixture of encouragement and jeers as I slowly wade out, taking a minute to pause when it reaches my waste. It takes me three whole minutes to get chest deep. During those three minutes I keep staring at the dark muddy water in front of me.

Anything at all could be in the water. I could barely see six inches. A shark could swim by and take out my leg before I saw anything. Or more mundanely there could be broken glass, or some kind of flesh eating bacteria. I reasoned to myself that my three friends were here, so it couldn’t be that bad, but my imagination kept painting pictures of tentacles shooting out of the water and triangular fins racing towards. This wasn’t a dream anymore.

Something large and strong grabbed me and forced me under the water. I didn’t have time to take a breath and I hit the water screaming. I hoped my friends had heard me. I didn’t know if it was some strange water monster or a serial killer, but I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe. I was dying. You couldn’t live long without breathing. I had to get air. I was on my back and flailed my arms in the water trying to push myself up, but the grip stayed strong.

I kicked my legs, trying to find some purchase on the lake floor, and still nothing. My legs must’ve been too tired from before. I was still screaming, and almost out of air now. I started to cough and inhale water. There was water in my lungs and it hurt. It stung and made me cough more, which made me inhale even more water. I was almost out of air, and tried one last swing with my arm, this time aimed at my attacked. It worked, the grip released and I shot to the surface gasping for air and coughing out water.

I felt like I had inhaled half the lake, and I couldn’t seem to breathe properly. Every time I inhaled it made the water in my lungs hurt, so I coughed some out, but then I needed to breathe again. It was brutal process.

“Are you okay Ryan?” Thomas asked from behind me. Then it clicked, eyes red from being underwater, clutching at my chest and drying desperately to breathe I rounded on my attacker.

“You.” I coughed out, and then had to take several breaths to get some more water out of my lungs. “You, why did you.” I coughed violently again. Frank and Jess were by my side. Why weren’t they saying something to Thomas. Why hadn’t they helped me. I must’ve been under for two minutes. He almost killed me.

“Are you okay?” I coughed some more, my lungs were almost clear.

“I’ve been punched, mocked, humiliated, torn up my leg muscles, almost passed out trying to run, kept awake past my bedtime, and now almost drowned in some dark dirty lake, and you ask me if I’m okay?” I get the last bit of water out of my lungs, and I take my first breath that doesn’t hurt. It feels so good I take another and another. I minute ago the only thing I wanted in the whole world was to breathe, and now I could. Nobody could stop me greedily sucking in as much air as I could. I just wanted to stand here and breath for at least ten minutes.

“Yes.” I tell Ryan. “I’m okay.” I return to my breathing, and Frank puts a hand on my shoulder.

“Why are you okay Ryan? You almost drowned just now.” This felt rehearsed but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that no strange lake monster was holding me under, and the air flowed cleanly in and out of my lungs.

“Because a few hours ago I was a Spartan god of lightning mowing down thousands of Persians with ease, and it was the dullest thing I’ve ever done. Now, I’m just breathing and having the time of my life.”

Frank patted me on the back. “Welcome to the real world Ryan. You can die here, but it’s the only place you can really live.”

“Welcome aboard.” Thomas high fives me. I still feel like killing him, but that can wait a minute. Jess gives me a hug.

“You’re off the hook.” She tells me, but I barely hear. When she touches me it’s like an electric shock goes through me. I can’t move, and I am suddenly intensely aware of the fact that she’s a girl. She doesn’t seem to notice, but Frank and Thomas do. Thomas mouths ‘should we’ at Frank, and Frank holds up a hand as if to say ‘wait a moment’.

Jess lets go and dives off into some nearby reeds. Frank and Thomas follow, I move to join them and while Jess’ head is under water Thomas asks. “Get a new hook did you Ryan? Doesn’t feel like that in a dream does it?” I suddenly find the courage to bury my head under the water.