Tag Archives: Rock Climbing

Letters to my father part 2

Making things burn, my daughter was certainly a complicated individual. I reflected. She was protective of my talking to other women, stern with enforcing my faithfulness to my diet, playful in her mastery of time travel. She demonstrated high emotional intelligence in her perceptiveness of me, and very supportive of my successes, and understanding of my failures. Now I could add mildly psychotic to the list.

Make things burn? She was once again being intentionally vague to maximize the affect it had on me. What could that mean? She had been keeping to literal definitions, so I assumed actual flames were going to be involved. I tended to avoid fire. Fire was dangerous. I paid good money in my taxes so that well trained men could come and destroy fires within minutes of pressing a few buttons on a phone. I had a fire extinguisher too, just in case they didn’t get here quick enough.

I would have to wait over a month to find out, which seemed cruel to me. She was intentionally leading me on to mess with my head. Whenever I went out for a walk or job, or even just some light callisthenic work I thought of her. At my job I had formulas and paperwork to fill my one track mind, but out in the open air, my mind was free to wander, and it always wandered to her. Every time I weighed myself, and saw another pound drop, or I added another mile onto my jogging route, I said a quiet thank you to her. It was all easy knowing that somehow, she knew I was doing it. I never saw her, and I still couldn’t know for certain she was personally watching me, but I knew somewhere, some-when, she was proud of me.

Time travel was also a frequent topic of mental discussion. It had occurred to me that it was possible she hadn’t come back by herself at all. I didn’t see her, and while there certainly explanations for that, the most obvious was that she simply wasn’t here. She could have sent back some kind of tiny remote control robots that looked like flies, or perhaps she had come back, planted a number of devices, and then left.

As far as I could tell she hadn’t physically done anything besides writing the letters and putting them in a box in the attic, but she didn’t necessarily have to come back for that. There could be portals or something that just dropped things. Like a tele-porter, but one that worked on times in addition to places. She could’ve used that same tele-porter to plant the bugs that she watched me with. Those bugs could then relay the messages forward in time and she could use the information to write the letters and send those back.

Wait, would she have to send them back multiple times then? Because these letters seemed to know not only what I was going to do, but how the changes would affect me. Did she need to plant the bugs multiple times? Or did the transmission from the bugs change whenever she sent a letter. If so, did she send all of the letters all at once? Or had she sent them one at a time, observed the change, and then written the next letter accordingly? Or could all of this just be total blind luck on her part?

My head was starting to hurt from thinking about the fourth dimension. I resolved my internal argument by going to a hardware store and buying a metal detector. If she was using some devices to watch me, there had to be some in the attic, and they probably had metal.

On June fifteenth I grabbed my new metal detecting toy and ventured into the attic. I took a good look at things as I first entered, making careful not of how everything lay. I tried to form a mental picture, so that if anything changed I would know. Then I realized I lived in the 21st century, and took a couple pictures with my phone.

Shaking my head at myself I then brought out my metal detector and started to go through the attic. There were a lot of nails, so my plan did not work out too well because the detector was basically always beeping. Disappointed at my failed attempt to foil my daughter I switch off the useless hunk of junk and open the chest. I rifle through it and pick out the sixth letter

05/15/2014A

“Lol dad, did you really think I’d let a metal detector spoil my fun?” The little stinker sure was proud of herself. “I’m insulted. It’s futile anyway. The only way you’re going to find me is if you do what’s written in these letters. They’re my trail of be crumbs.” She was right, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying. “I know this isn’t going to be the last time we do this little dance, and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just wanted to let you know I’m going to win :P.” She actually wrote the emoticon. I brush the ink with a finger and smile. I think her playful side is my favorite.

“Alright, enough chit chat, I know you’ve been wondering what my cryptic message from last time meant. It’s pretty straight forward actually. You’re going to learn how to camp, and that means starting fires.” I moaned. Man had invented the mattress for a reason. I hadn’t spent a night outside in my life.

“Now don’t get all whiny on me. You’re a big boy. You can handle a little nature, and you’ve got a little extra money from all that bad food you’re not eating, so you can afford to spend a little money on camping gear.” She wrote a list of equipment that included a sleeping bag, skewers, a tent, a sleeping pad, a backpack, a flint and steel, and hot dogs. She had even included a pricing list with brand names and models, probably just to show off. “Well, what are you waiting for dad? You’re sleeping outside tonight, and you’re not going to use your kitchen. You better leave for the store. Get going! Oh, and youtube how to start a fire.” This was making things burn? I felt kind of gyped. Maybe that second letter had something more to do with making things burn.

I resolved to read the second letter after I had made my dinner. I checked my watch. I had better get moving, I think the sun set in about two hours, and I wanted some daylight to work with. I could camp out in my miniscule backyard, but I didn’t have any flashlights. So I had to move quick.

I did the highly irresponsible thing and watched fire starting videos at redlights and stop signs, then googled tent information as I walked through the outdoors store picking up equipment. The clerk thought I was rather rude for not making eye contact, but I was playing with my daughter. She wasn’t physically there, but just like when I exercised, it felt like she was.

In under an hour I’m sitting my backyard with a bundle of stuff I’ve never used before, and a small pile of twigs and pine needles. I took a few extra minutes to clear a patch of ground and form a ring of stones for a fire pit, and I was ready to go.

Setting up the wood and pine needles was easy. I formed a small teepee of twigs, then a larger teepee around that, and a larger one around that. I had other wood next to my makeshift fire pit that I would throw on when the fire got going. I left an opening in the three teepees so I could put my nest in the middle once I got a little flame going.

Now for the hard part, this was the test. Everything else was trivial. I knew if I just threw wood onto the fire it would be fine, and I was positive I could setup the tent and cook a meal. The trick was I needed either light or heat to do all those things. That meant fire, which meant getting a spark. It suddenly made sense why my daughter said this was about making things burn, once you had fire, the rest wasn’t hard at all.

Sarah had thrown down a gauntlet, and I was going to beat her challenge with flying colors. With a sense of determination I pulled out my flint and steel. It looked like a key chain. Only instead of multiple keys there was just one key, and a stick of metal. I was supposed to scrape the key along the metal rod, and that would make sparks.

It seemed simple enough. I spent the first ten minutes trying different angles, speed, and scraping different parts of the rod until I got my first spark. Great, now I just needed to land that spark on the nest and it would all go up in flames right? Sparks were not as hot as I thought they were, it took another forty minutes until I saw some smoke come out of my little bundle of pine needles and twigs.

People used to do this every night for dinner? I hadn’t even started the fire, and I would have to wait another ten or twenty minutes for it to get hot enough to cook with. Finally, after throwing away the fire starter in frustration twice, and having to go and find it in the dark, because the sun was rapidly setting, I was not as good at estimating sun down as I thought it was, I finally got a little flame. Then in my subsequent leap of joy I stamped the fire out and spent another ten minutes getting it going again.

Finally, after almost an hour of striking a metal rod with a key I created a decent fireball that I could hold in my hand. I made sure not to celebrate until I had placed it in the middle of my teepee configuration, and the wood started to catch fire.

Then I leaned my head back and gave a whoop of joy. I had created fire! I was all that was man! I could keep this in the trunk of my car and always be able to cook meat or scare off wild animals or whatever else you did with fire. To start, I was going to cook myself a well-deserved meal. Then I was going to go read the little stinkers next letter and see if I could manage to gloat somehow.

The hotdogs were plain, without buns, and I managed to either burn, or undercook every single one, but they tasted like victory to me.

After wolving down several badly cooked hot dogs I strode inside to get the letter. I took it out of the box and went back outside. I was going to read this letter next to my very own, self-made fire. Next to the crackling flames I opened the seventh letter.

05/15/2014B

Daddy, did you really think your daughter was going to leave you hanging with some old school tech?” It had been underwhelming at first, but the more I had pursued the cave man fire making thing the more I had gotten into it. There really was something about this making something from scratch with your own two hands. I was proud of my little fire. “Don’t get me wrong. I love your little fire.” I glanced up briefly to see if she was watching, but I was beginning to get used to her little tricks, and I quickly returned to her letter. “And I love how you still look when I say things like that, but I had some more….. Interesting options for you.” What followed was a how to guide for making several substances which I was quite sure were illegal. My eyes bulged when I saw that they could all be manufactured with rudimentary household items that basically everyone has access to. “Now the next time you get to start a fire, it’ll be a lot quicker, and a lot more interesting. I’d recommend staying away from the more explosive list.” No kidding, some of this stuff just burned, but some of it looked like it could take down my house with just a pound or two.

How did she know all this? I hoped it was because my little girl was either a chemical engineer, or an avid internet server, and not because she was part of some resistance band that was trying to overthrow our robot overlords with makeshift weapons and bombs.

Don’t worry about how I know all this, but do worry how you’re going to spend the night our here daddy, because until you read my next letter, you’re sleeping outside. K, got to go, love you! PS- No sleeping pad.”

That’s it? No explanation? I was beginning to think there really was no reason for her ridiculousness. Or perhaps fighting our robot overlords really had taken over and I would have to spend a lot of nights outside under the stars.

I fold up the letter, and grab my sleeping pad. It’s just an extra cushion. The sleeping bag should be sufficient for one night on the ground. After returning both to their appropriate places I pitch my tent. It’s not difficult. They have instructions, and I think I’d have to return my master’s degree if I can’t pitch a simple tent. The sun has already set, so I make sure my phone has enough to charge to last another day or two, set an alarm, and coil up in my sleeping bag.

Now in my head, at this point I figured I should be drifting off to sleep. I did not figure what it would feel like to sleep on the ground without a pad. It shouldn’t have been that bad, but it felt sleeping on a tile floor that someone had spilled a bunch of small rocks on. I couldn’t believe how sensitive I was to the things! Every time I closed my eyes I could instantly picture where every single stone was boring into my body. Whether it was the size of a thumbnail, or a whole fist, it all felt horrible. I don’t know how people managed this back in the day. Did they just not have nerves on their backsides?

I lay my head down at about nine, but I don’t fall asleep until closer to 11:30. I just toss and turn, while fantasizing wildly about laying down on a nice smooth, rock free mattress.

When I finally do fall asleep I have dreams about being prodded and tossed about by large rock shape monsters. I’ve never been so relieved to hear an alarm go off in my life. I thank every luck star I have on the drive to work that I’m not sleeping on the ground right now. The fire starting was a cake walk next to sleeping on the ground.

Then a funny thing happened when I got to my cubicle at work. I find myself sitting at my desk, and I find my chair actually comfortable. My desk has some sort of plastic economical chair that came from some discount office warehouse. They were curved in a way that no one who had even heard of basic human anatomy would possibly curve a chair. These kinds of chairs were designed to keep workers like myself uncomfortable so we wouldn’t get sleepy. For all that, it was way softer than hard mother earth, and it didn’t have a single rock in it. I laid back and actually relaxed in the thing. I was pretty sure I could take a nap in it.

“I swear they showed the blind neanderthal that designed these things a sea slug when he asked what a human looked like.” One of my coworkers three cubes down declares. I smile. Yesterday I would’ve agree with him. Yesterday I would’ve been frowning and cursing modern industrial engineering. Yesterday I hadn’t spent a night on the ground. Today I had, and today, instead of griping, I was smiling. I got more work done by lunch time that day than I typically got in an entire day.

When I get home that night I see my camping setup outback. I hadn’t had time to take it down this morning. Before I go on my walk I go out and inspect the tent. I had zipped it up, so no wild animals had gotten inside. I lay down in my sleeping bag to see if it’s as uncomfortable as I remember.

It’s bad. It still feels like some bizarre take on Chinese water torture, but it’s not as bad as last time. I get up and go for a jog.

For the next two weeks between letters I sleep on the ground every night, and make a fire to cook my food. I become a master of lean-tos, scout fires, I even make a fire while it’s raining once. I had to use one of the illegal substances my daughter suggested, but it still counts.

While trying out a new kind of fire configuration that I think will maximize the amount of light I get from the flames, I think about the next letter. So far almost all of the letters have been challenging things. This next one probably will be too. If I get a sneak peak of it, that could give me an edge in completing the next ask. I could do some prep work, buy a few things, research a few things. If this was really about self-improvement then surely knowing what I was going to get into should help the process along.

The problem is of course that she’ll know. Of that I have no doubt. She’s already predicted every step I’m going to take before I take it, but then again I’ve been making it easy on her. I always opened the letters on the day she wanted me too. What if that was part of it. If I opened one too early would that let me get around this temporal sorcery?

I think of the letter she sent me when I almost broke my diet. This should be a girl I trust, and shouldn’t have to look at the letter. Then again, she’s playful and witty too, and I bet she loved matching wits with a worthy opponent. Wouldn’t she be thrilled if I could outsmart her? And wouldn’t she be disappointed if I didn’t try?

That was it, I should take a look at the letters. It’d be fun. As much as she protested me trying to figure her out, I could tell that was part of the fun for her. Let’s see what the little sprite had in store for me this time. I went into the attic and took out the seventh letter

05/23/2014, wait, that wasn’t right. The date on the cover was a week from today. The date in the corner should match.

I’m sure you expected a witty response here, but the truth is I’m disappointed.” So much for a fun little game with my daughter. She can’t be disappointed. I’m the parent. I was the one who was supposed to be disappointed. “Look at yourself dad, haven’t I earned your trust? You’ve lost twenty pounds, gotten into triathlon shape, and started becoming a man’s man. Why did you open this letter?” That wasn’t fair. She didn’t get to ask why. She knew why, didn’t she. “There are many parts of your life I’ve figured out, but why you haven’t trusted me I’ve not looked into, because I don’t want to know. I don’t know what made you break my request and open this early, but I hope it was worth it.”

I crumbled the edges of the letter in my hands, forcibly preventing myself from doing more.“And before you think this is some needless guilt trip, let me tell you it’s not father. Your next letter is going to require a lot of strength to accomplish, and you’re still too heavy and not strong enough for it.” This letter was really laying the hurt on. “I didn’t want you to open it until a week from now because you need one more week of strength and weight loss. I didn’t want to have to call you weak or overweight unless I absolutely had to, and if you had just waited I wouldn’t have had to. More importantly than that, the next letter is going to require a lot of trust, and you breech of that trust just now is going to make it harder. I still love you daddy, you’ll hear from me in another week.”

There are a number of things in life that only take a second or two to do, but the negative repercussions last for days or weeks. As soon as I had read that first sentence I knew that I had made such a mistake. She was right, I shouldn’t have tested her. Now I would spend the next week hoping that I was ready to take the next step. I wasn’t even halfway yet. I couldn’t mess this up now.

To add insult to injury for the next week I have to dodge texts and phone calls from my parents. There are some big events coming up, graduation ceremonies or something, and I had to focus on the tasks at hand. I redoubled my efforts to become who my daughter needed me to be. I redo my diet to make sure it is completely optimized for weight loss and muscle gain. I add distance to my runs, and start doing my calisthenics with weights. I’m not going to disappoint her again.

I climb the steps to the ladder with purpose this time. I will redeem myself this time. I open the chest and extract the eighth letter.

05/30/2014

I want you to know, I don’t blame you for this last week. You’ve had a lot on your mind, and it wasn’t your fault.” What, what was she talking about? I really didn’t want this to be another downer letter. “But that’s not what this letter is about, this letter is about letting go, and also becoming a mountain man.” So back country backpacking? That seemed the next logical step. You needed to be in good shape to do it, and it was basically the next difficulty level above just regular camping.

It’s not back country back packing. That would be cool, and we should totally do that when I grow up! But for right now you’re going to learn something less time consuming, but much more dangerous. Father, you are going to embrace your inner action hero, and go jumping off of a mountain into thin air, with nothing but a solid rope, sturdy knots, and an iron grip to prevent you from falling to your death. Father, you’re going to learn solo rock climbing.” What followed was a highly detailed set of instructions on how to setup a rock climbing system, and rappel down by yourself. With so many of her other letters she had told me to look things up or figure things out, with this letter she spelled everything out herself. She even revealed a hidden compartment in the chest that contained pictures, diagrams, and specifications for the ropes. I felt foolish for scouring this attic for clues, even getting a metal detector, but I hadn’t thought to check the chest for clues. She concluded the letter with the following message.

Dad, up until now you haven’t really had to trust me. You’ve sacrificed for me. I don’t want to belittle that. I know that a lot of what I have asked has been hard, but this is the first time, and I promise the only time, where you’re really going to directly put your own life in my hands. I wrote out exactly what I wanted you to do myself, because I want you to trust me.” Did I not trust her when she was an adult? Was that why she was doing this? Or did I not trust my wife. I shuddered to think what I had done that would require me to break this personality fault in such a drastic way.

I will say it again. I promise never to ask this of you again, but I am going to ask it this one time. I’ve made sure that these instructions will keep you safe. I’ve checked, double checked, and used them myself. They will make sure you don’t get hurt. Just think of me dad, and make a leap of faith.”

I go over the instructions, and then go over the instructions again. Then I go over them a third time, and reread the last time sentence in the letter ‘Just think of me dad, and make a leap of faith’. There would be no going back from this one. I had no experience in with this sort of thing. As far I knew, these could be instructions for very fancy shoe lace tying.

I think of all she’s done for me. Every single step has made me a better, stronger, more confident person. I like who she’s shaping me into, and she has guided my footsteps deftly, knowing every step and miss step I would take. It was time to figure out just how far this could go.

There are no eager and rapid internet searches this time as I purchase the necessary equipment. Looking up more information would betray her trust again. She didn’t need to write it for me to know. I’ve broken her trust once, I would redeem myself.

Once I’ve bought and assembled all the gear, and there is a good bit of it, I start up my nightly camp fire and prepare for bed. There isn’t enough daylight to do what she is asking. So I go to bed that night dreaming of great heights, and great falls.

She wrote me the letter on a Friday, so I have the whole weekend to do what she asks. On one of the extra pieces of paper she had stowed away in the secret compartments she included a map. I had brought all the hidden papers with me, and now consulted the map. I checked the coordinates with the GPS on my phone, and found the location it led to was not far from here, only a few miles drive. Who knew I had rock climbing locations so nearby.

I’m not thinking of time travel or what the next letter contains as I load up my car with my new thrill seeking toys, as well as a bunch of energy bars and water. The system doesn’t look like it will take more than an hour to set up, even with all the knots I was going to have to learn. But I want to take a long time to make sure I was going to get it right.

She wasn’t joking about taking my life in her hands. I didn’t have a second source of information to check her facts against, and I didn’t bring any friends or hire some mountain climbing professional to check my work. I was going to live or die by her hand.

On the drive out I don’t turn on the radio or play an audiobook on my phone. I just watch the terrain. On the walk up to the cliff, as I make my way through the forest, there aren’t any people, which is fine, because right then the silence is fitting. I arrive at the top of the cliff and drop my gear a few dozen feet from the edge. I want to take a look before I start setting up.

The edge of the cliff is a very sharp looking thing. About where I’m standing the dirt and roots of the forest give way to solid rock, and about twenty feet in front of me the ground just stops, like it was cut off with a knife. As I approach it I appreciate how final a cliff edge looks. It feels like an end. I crouch with my toes almost sticking into open air, and peer over the edge.

Far, it looks far, but my science oriented brain won’t be happy with such an in exact measurement. I pick up a rock and gently toss it over the side. One one thousand, two one thousand, thunk. It only takes two seconds to hit the bottom. That might not have sounded too bad if I didn’t know that meant the cliff was a little over 60 feet high. A fall from this height was a one way trip.

This isn’t helping, I’m only going to psyche myself out if I stay here, so I remove the Sarah’s instructions from my pocket and get to work. It’s slow going at first, there are only a couple of knots you need to know, but each requires several tries to get write, and there’s a lot of measuring and re-measuring. I have to untie and retie one specific knot 5 times before the system looks right. It’s not a terribly elegant looking thing, but it works. I tugged on every single knot and rope several times as hard as I could to make sure it works. As far as I could tell this thing was going to support my body weight.                 Then again, when I was thirty feet down the cliff I would be applying a lot more torque due to the distance and stretch factor in the rope, not to mention the possibility of falling a few feet and generating any more force. I wish I had some tools form the lab to test the strength of this rope.

I take a few paces back and look at the system, hoping its appearance will somehow make what I’m about do easier. I’m going to tie myself into the system, take a piece of the rope in my hand, along with a small little metal device that looks like it could open bottles, and jump.

Nope, looking at it from a few feet away didn’t help one iota. I’m going to need some help with this one. I really wish Sarah was here now. I didn’t know why she was insisting on keeping this distance between us. Couldn’t she say what she needed to say in person? If she checked over the ropes herself it would make what I was doing easier, and it would still be trusting her.

Unfortunately, not amount of wishing would conjure up my daughter. I take out the support she did give, me the most recent letter she had wrote, and read it again, focusing once more on that last line. ‘Just think of me dad, and take a leap of faith’.

I regret that I don’t have a picture of her to think of her with, or even a picture of her mom to try and guess what she looks like I mean she’s in the future so if I was just thinking of someone who wasn’t around I might as well just think of a generic sonogram or somebody’s grandmother. Those would probably be as accurate.

I push that unhelpful thought of my mind. Think of her, think of the good. Think of her support, think of her words. I already hear a voice in my head when I read her words. I don’t know if there’s any way it could possibly be hers, but I think of it anyway. I look at the letter in my hand and think of her words. I can hear her voice clearly say ‘think of me dad, and take a leap of faith’.

I focus on those words as I tie myself in. I make it a montra. I force all thought from my head except those ten words. ‘think of me dad, and take a leap of faith’. I walk to the edge of the cliff, now mouthing the words to myself. ‘think of me dad, and take a leap of faith’. I grip the rope firmly in my hand, and jump.

I fall for about a quarter of a second, and then I grab the rope hard, stopping myself after only a few feet of free fall. A few feet is enough though. ‘Think of me dad and take a leap of faith’, I say without thinking about it. I say it again to comfort myself. I did it! Hear I am, sixty feet of the ground, and only a firm grip is keeping from me giving the ground a bear hug at nearly highway speeds.

I no longer feel an ounce of guilt for opening that letter early. “I love you sarah!” I shout, hoping somewhere nearby she hears me. A few jovial moments later I reach the bottom and look up to the top of the cliff. I punch the sky in elation. Best father daughter bonding experience ever.

I start doing a ridiculous rhythm less dance at the bottom of the cliff when I think back on the first letter with today’s date on it.

Hang on a minute, she said the reason she didn’t want me to do this is because it required strength, and while the gear wasn’t pleasant to haul out all this way it certainly wasn’t anything I couldn’t have managed a week ago, and while rapelling was fine, I don’t think I could manage climbing back up by myself. She hadn’t explained how to do that and I certainly couldn’t fathom how it was done.

“Are you going to climb that route friend?” A male voice behind me asks. I turn around and see another mountain climber with the same gear I have standing behind me. “My crew is going to be here in an hour but I’d love to climb with you if you’re up for it.” Sarah thought of everything.

The next week passes quickly and well. I’m beginning to revel in this life my daughter has set up for me. I have a couple hobbies, a healthy body, and I’m starting to make friends to do outdoors trips on. It’s a good time, and while I miss my daughter, I feel good about our odd relationship, and when I take out her next letter it is with a sense of hope.

06/05/2014

Hey dad, thank you for this last week. It’s been good. You’ve done a lot of difficult things, and will still do a lot of difficult things, so I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for a good week.” It was like she had experienced it with me. “This next request is going to be a little interesting. You’ve got some great hobbies, and a healthy lifestyle, now we need to learn you a basic skill of courtship, ballroom dancing.” Alright! I had always wanted to learn ballroom dancing. This would be an easy one. As much as I appreciated what she did for me in hindsight, a nice easy slow pitch that I could knock out of the park would not go amiss right now.

There’s a catch.” Of course there was. “You’re going to have to teach your younger sister how to dance.” Grace? That wouldn’t be so bad. Grace was a good girl. “I know you haven’t figure out why this is difficult, so I’ll just let that sink in a second. Go on, put the letter down, think it through dad.” She’s got me trained well, I put the letter down without hesitating or questioning it.

Grace is a nice girl. She’s doing alright in school, got some friends, is always friendly when I come over. She’s still in high schools so we haven’t talked in a while. Didn’t she graduate recently?…..Oh, right.

Yup, that’s right dad. You’re neglecting your family. I’m your family too dad, are you going to neglect me?” Of course not, how could she possibly think I would neglect her. I would and have jumped off a cliff for this girl. “I know you’re dedicated to me dad, but you need to start showing the dedication to your family with the family members you have right now. I’m not always going to be a mature inter-time mastermind of personal growth that I am today. You made me who I am dad, and you need to start making your siblings the best that they can be. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to go take lessons from a local dance instructor. The number is written on the bottom of this letter. Normally I’d let you figure it out for yourself, but I want you to go to one particular dance instructor. These things require a special touch, and I want you to learn from someone that I’ve personally vetted.” Personally vetted huh? Good to know I was going to be in expert ‘daughter approved’ hands. “One more thing, there are a few words for you on the back of this letter. Don’t look at them until the time is right.”

When eventually she’s all grown up and writing time letters through ancient annals of history we are going to have a talk about not talking mysteriously and saying what you mean. I dutifully fold the letter and stick it in my back pocket after I dial in the number to my phone. Let’s see who this dance instructor was who so impressed my daughter.

“Hello this is Sarah at dance works, how can I help you?”

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Unhooked part three

“Your family.” She says, her voice entirely dead pan.

“Yeah, I got a younger brother who dreams about this stuff all the time. I’m sure he’d love to come along for this.” She doesn’t respond. I can tell it’s rubbed her the wrong way. Thomas joins us and high fives me, tries to high five Jess, then stops when she just stares at him with her arms at her sides.

“What is it sis?” Thomas asks. “Did he throw something smelly at you?”

“He wants to bring his family.” She says. I can tell she’s upset, but I can’t read her emotions. Is she mad?

“Alright man!” Thomas exclaims, turning to high five me again. “Are they unhooked too? You should have told us sooner we could’ve brought’em all out.”

“Are they unhooked Ryan?” Jess asks. Her tone still as unreadable as a martian bible.

“No, they’re not. Not yet anyway, but when they hear about how wonderful life out here is they won’t be able to resist coming out.” Jess bites her lip and turn away. Thomas actually takes a second to think and scratches his head.

“Yeah, that’s great. Sure.” Thomas says. Jess turns back.

“How old are your parents Ryan?” She demands, I can hear some anger in her voice now, but that’s not the only emotion.

“They’re in their late forties.” I reply hesitantly. I wish Frank was here all of the sudden. Jess was getting wired up, and Thomas had decided to thoroughly examine the rope we had just descended.

“So they were alive when the pill was introduced.” She said.

“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to..”

“They took it willingly Ryan.” She said. “They saw the life they had, and they decided they’d rather imagine a new life than live in the one they were handed.” Her eyes are reddening. I can see now the other emotion is pain. The same thing happened to her parents, and now I had brought that up again.

“They took their own dreams over the people that cared about them.” She choked and had to brush something out of her eyes.

“But maybe the world is different now. Maybe they’ll be happy with it, or least my siblings will. They were never really offered a choice by my parents. If I tell them what it’s like out here and that they can come out whenever they want then I think they’ll take that opportunity.” Jess bit her lip, and just turned and walked off into the forest. I picked this activity to get closer to her, and now I’ve chased her off. I may not be childishly afraid anymore, but it looks like I am really dumb.

“Sorry about that.” Thomas says. “It was hardest on her. Me and Frank knew our family would never go for it. Me being rebellious it didn’t really bother me, and Frank just knew our parent’s well enough to know they wouldn’t go for it. Jess wasn’t like that. She honestly believed they would come with us into the real world. If it wasn’t for her we probably wouldn’t have even talked to our parents about it before leaving.” He looked into the woods where Jess had left.

“So when we had the conversation, and they opted to stay, she took it super hard. It was her who started the whole ‘dead to us’ thing.”

“Oh.” I say. “I just stuck my foot so far in my mouth that I’ll need a doctor to extract it.”

“Pretty much.” He agrees. “Besides that it’s just not going to work.” He tells me.

“How can you know that?” I say. “You guys seem to assume it’s a foregone conclusion that people just want to stay hooked. What if they just need a little encouragement to free themselves? I mean if you guys had found me earlier I would’ve done this a long time ago.” Thomas is squirming. He really does not do well with serious conversations and this one is clearly paining him.

“Look Ryan. I know how it feels. You’ve found something great and you want everyone else to experience it too. I get it, but I’m telling you, and I know Frank and Jess would say the same thing. They’re not gonna listen. Jess will tell you it’s because they think the world is worse than it is. Frank will tell you it’s because they they’re scared of a world with consequences, and I think it’s because there’s something in the pills that makes them want to stay under, but all of us will agree, they’re gone man. They aren’t gonna come back because you ask them to.”

I shake my head. “Even if that’s true. I have to try. They’re my family, and I have to believe they’ll give it a shot.” Thomas shrugs.

“I think it’s going to cause a lot of unnecessary hurt, but if you really need to hear them they no in order to move on, then I’ll go with you.” Thomas says.

“Thanks Thomas.” I glance off into the woods. “Is there anything we can do about Jess?” I ask.

“I’m afraid not.” Thomas says. “At least there’s nothing you can do. Frank has a way of calming her down. Here, let’s go back up and tell him what went wrong. He can go comfort Jess, and we can go see your family. It’ll all be over in an hour or two and we can move on.” This plan sounds good. I wish it was me comforting Jess. I brought this up. I should have to clean it up, but Frank does know her better, and if I really want to help her I’ll let Frank do it.

“Okay.” I agree. “That sounds good. Let’s get started.” Thomas rubs his hands together.

“Right, there’s a path back up to the top a little ways down. We like to climb places that have routes up and down besides just rope.” Thomas leads the way up.

We find Frank leaning against a tree and breathing deep at the top.

“Hey slow pokes. What’s the matter. Did Ryan get cold feet halfway up?” He jeers. It’s a sign of how unpleasant things are that Frank has become the one talking smack.

“Not exactly Frank.” Thomas says. “Ryan wants to convince his family to unhook, and Jess took that pretty hard, brought up those old memories.” Frank stands up in a hurry and rushes to hook himself into the rope system.

“She’s at the bottom right?” He asks. “Which way did she go?” Thomas points. “Okay, you take care of Ryan. I’ll go calm Jess down.”

“Okay, we’re going to go see his family. We will meet you back at the house.” Thomas says.

“Right, meet you at the house.” Without another word he hops over the side and rappels down to the bottom.

“It’s got to be nice to have such a caring brother.” I say.

“Yeah, he can be a real pain sometimes, but you know you can always count on him to be there for you. Let’s go Ryan. The sooner you get this over with the better.” I tell Thomas where my house can be found, and we start off.

For about half a mile neither of us says anything. Thomas is probably thinking about Jess and if she’s going to be okay. I find myself thinking about my parents and the stories I’m going to tell them. I’m sure they’ll love to hear there is a pretty girl in my new group of friends, and how we’ve been learning to swim and climb rocks. Not to mention getting into shape. Parents were usually concerned about health I’m sure they’d love that.

The walk begins to get uncomfortable, and I need to find a conversation topic to break the silence.

“So why do you think that there’s something in the pills keeping people addicted?” I ask Thomas.

“A couple reasons.” He says. “First, this has happened before. The cigarettes of old had addictive substances added to them to keep customers hooked.”

“But those weren’t medical pills were they?” I counter. “The REM pills were originally designed to treat sleeping disorders, it wasn’t until after they’d already passed clinical trials that people began to use them to dream all the time.”

“You’re right, or at least based on the evidence you’ve been given you’re right.” Thomas says.

“What do you mean the information I’ve been given? Have you been given different information?” I ask.

“No.” Thomas says. “I read the same information and was taught the same things as you growing up, but that information was provided to you by a government that has most of its citizenry sneaking. Have you ever heard of information about a drug being withheld for the public? It’s not uncommon for a company to release a drug they know has negative side affects, but won’t say anything for years, or until people start dying. You don’t think they could hide that these things were unnaturally addictive?” He has a point. I had heard that before all the world’s scientists had started taking REM pills and abandoned their research that exactly the sort of thing Thomas was describing happened all the time.

“Still, you don’t think the government would just shut it down after a time? These people’s take away people’s productivity, wouldn’t the government shut it down after a while? Our medical monitoring was excellent. I’m sure the CDC or WHO would catch it before it spread as far as it has.” This conversation smelled of conspiracy theories.

“Why would they? The first generation pills only put people under for eight hours. The fact that they had lucid dreams was medically insignificant, and their approval for over the counter use made it so that law enforcement couldn’t arrest people for using them too much. If agriculture had shut down maybe the government would have stepped in, but people who spend their time out in the fields growing things were very resistant to the idea of sleeping all the time, and by that time transportation had become fully automated. The people were getting fed and shuffled around, and there were enough other people who stayed unhooked to keep things running, but really, all the world going to sleep did was halt scientific progress, and if people didn’t want more progress because things worked, would the government really have a problem? He just threw a whopper at me. There was a lot to that. I considered his points line by line. It was true that there was no problem the pill’s caused, and laziness was not a crime, so really, what could the government do?

“Something still doesn’t make sense. Who stands to gain from this. The whole world is asleep, in a way, most of the world has died, who stands to gain from that?” I ask Thomas.

“Politicians and the corporation who makes the pill, which is why they’ve worked together.” Thomas replies. His argument is approaching its final climactic conclusion. “The current people in the current government haven’t been challenged since the pill come along. The party that was in power became wildly popular once the pill hit the market. The opposition had misread the signs and had thought opposing the pill would bring them the value voters. They were mistaken. Everyone wanted the pill, and we basically became a one party country after the opposition was annihilated in the next election. Since they’ve done nothing but cycle through members when someone dies. Did you know all term limits have been removed so a politician can stay in power as long as they want. They funded the pill to make us happy and sedate us. Now they’ve got a docile populace who not only doesn’t want to revolt, but can’t. The zombie voting block is so large that they carry every election effortlessly.”

It makes sense. I would check the term limits, but I knew he was right. Ever since the pill government had become unchallenged. There were no wars, because there weren’t any soldiers to threaten and topple governments, and there were no revolts because the parties in power were supported by the vast majority of the population. It was a perfectly balanced system.

“But wouldn’t they get bored?” I ask. “What’s a government without a citizenry to govern? I mean surely once they realized they couldn’t do anything wouldn’t they outlaw the pill and wake people back up. Surely an unhappy populace is better than one that’s practically dead.”

“They still govern.” Thomas tells me. “Not like they used to sure, but I’m sure you can appreciate that your expectations change to fit your circumstances. Earlier today you were panicking from some shortness of breath from a run. Now you’re whooping for joy as you repel off cliffs. They still pass laws about international commerece, and there are trade wars now. Nobody fires a shot, but all the major countries are making deals, blackmailing each other, and placing bans on various products. It’s never enough to concern the voters or cause interest, but it makes them feel important. There is still a great international competition. Only instead of chess where any move could start a war or cause a country’s downfall. It’s become a mutant version of monopoly where no one runs out of money.” I had to admit. I was coming around to his way of thinking.

“That’s pretty shocking.” I say.

“As shocking as 98% of the population being asleep 20 hours a day, and the ones that are awake are on their own isolated farms minding their own business without a care in the world? It wasn’t too long ago where men killing each other, and getting diseases from out were the leading cause of death. Now it’s heart disease and aneurisms from the REM pills. We used to die with our boots on fighting to make a better world. Now we die quietly in our beds, dreaming about a different world than our ancestors fought for because we think we’re too good for it.” Thomas spits to the side of the path, and I am tempted to join him.

“We’re almost there.” I tell him.

My parents live in a townhouse, much the same as everyone else. I ring the doorbell and wait with Thomas. It’s a ominous. Maybe because of the conversation me and Thomas just had, or maybe because of Jess’ reaction to my suggestion, but I can’t help but feel something is wrong. I have to ring three times before my dad finally answers the door.

“Hey Ryan, haven’t seen you in a while, come one in, have a seat. We were just starting our next REM cycle, but we can spare a few minutes.” He calls up the stairs to my mom. “Hey Brianna come and join us, it’s Ryan.” We walk into the kitchen and have a seat around the table.

“So Ryan, whose your friend?” My father asks as my mom starts down the stairs.

“Oh, this is Thomas.” I say.

“Hello Mr. Ryan’s dad.” Thomas says, managing to regain a portion of his normal jovialness he shakes my father’s hand. “And Mrs. Ryan’s mom.” He shakes her hand as well.

“So Ryan, what brings you back?” My father asks.

“It’s actually got something to do with Thomas actually.” Thomas gives me a fearful glance. “You see, he’s shown me a new world. There’s beautifully detailed trees, wonderfully cool and refreshing lakes, and exhilarating cliffs to climb on.” My parents look like they can’t wait to hear the next words that will come out of my mouth, Thomas is gripping his chair tightly and periodically glancing towards the door as if to reassure himself of a way of escape.

“There’s even this wonderful girl there. She’s funny and energetic and she knows all this cool stuff.” My parents exchange a meaningful glance, and my dad puts his arm around my mom.

“That’s great Ryan.” My mom says.

“Yeah, where did you hear about this place. You’ll have to tell us more so we can dream about it too.” My mom pulls away slightly from my dad. “Except for the girl of course.” My father adds quickly, and my mother settles back in.

“That’s just it.” I say. “It’s not an imaginary place. It’s real. And I want you and my brothers and sisters to come with me. We can work slightly longer shifts to afford the gear, and we can all spend much more time together.”

“But Ryan sweetie, we already spend so much time together.” My mother says.

“Yes son, we incorporate you into most of our dreams. We were actually having a family dinner in our dream before you woke us up. But if you want us to dream about this place we can certainly do that for you.” My father says.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant.” I say. Thomas is now studying the table in front of him very carefully.

“I want you guys to come with me in the real world, outside of the dream.” They look confused.

“Why would we do that? Can’t you just bring pictures or something?” My mother asks.

“No.” It’s like explaining a word problem to a five year old. “I don’t want you to dream about it. I want you to actually go there. Like where you can touch and see things, not just dream about them.”

“Why?” My father asks. “We can touch things in dreams. Really Ryan, why would we do this. Don’t you know all the diseases you can catch going out into the real world? I mean there’s wild animals and hot and cold. It just seems like an awful lot of work for no reason.” I expected this. I knew it would take some convincing.

“I know. There are risks, but that’s part of what makes it fun. You see, in dreams we can’t be wrong because we control out. It takes the fun out of it. If you know you’re always going to lose at something then there’s no tension, there’s no mystery, and there’s no fun. The real world is also so vibrant.” I remember looking at the leaves on trees earlier. “Every single tree is unique. Water feels like this magical, soft, flowing, fabric. When you go running there’s a pain and a thrill to it that makes you feel so alive.” My parents’ expressions are still encouraging.

“Honey, we’re happy that you’ve found this place.” My mother says.

“But if all that’s there are trees and lakes and cliffs it sounds pretty boring.” My father says.

“It’s not though.” I say. They’re not getting it. “It’s alive like dreams can never be.”

“We appreciate the you feel that way son.” My father adds. “But it’s not for us. In our dreams there are worlds made of diamond, flying fire breathing dinosaurs, we have dozens of children.” Dad says.

“And all of them are doctors, Nobel Prize winning scientists, famous lawyers, or world renowned artists.” My mom adds enthusiastically. “And you’re there too Ryan.” She adds almost as an afterthought.

It feels like a smack on the face. They dream about other children, better children. Children they feel more strongly for than me. Fake children, they have several real loving offspring. I’ve even put faith in them that they would know to come after me. I’ve offered them a way into my world, and I find out they’ve replaced me with the children they wanted to have in their own. I know now why Jess said her parents are dead to her. My parents have just as good as killed me in their own world. They replaced me with the children they wanted to have, so they’ve killed me.

“I gotta go.” I say. Thomas stands up and puts an arm around my shoulder as we walk out.

“Well thanks for stopping by sweetie.” My mom says, as if nothing has happened.

“And don’t forget to bring us some pictures of this new place so we can dream about it too.” My dad adds. I promise myself to never bring them to these new places. Even if I wanted them around they’d just poison it with thoughts of these replacement kids.

“Ryan?” A younger male voice asks me. “What are you doing here?” It’s my youngest brother Teddy.

“Teddy.” I stand up straighter, maybe Teddy will come. He looks up to me, and he’s the one who dreams about rock climbing.

“Hey Teddy, this is my friend Thomas. We are going rock climbing you want to come?” Teddy nods vigorously.

“Of course Ryan, where are you dreaming of climbing.” The word dream stings. I remember when we I first met the unhooked siblings. Jess and Thomas had looked insulted that they would have any dreams at all. I understood why now.

“No Teddy, we’re not dreaming of it. We are actually going to climb it. We are leaving to go do some more soon. Do you want to come?” Teddy glances into the kitchen at mom and dad.

“I’m sure they’ll be okay with it. Teddy come on, it’s rock climbing. Don’t you want to join us?” Teddy considers this for a moment.

“How tall are the cliffs?” Teddy asks. Good, he’s expressing interest. I can still convince him.

“They’re real tall Teddy. Taller than our house, taller than the trees, they’re so tall that if you kick a rock off it’ll probably take a couple seconds to reach the bottom.” Teddy’s eyes look up. He’s imagining it, trying to picture climbing something that big. I bite my tongue, not wanting to say anything to disrupt his imagination.

“Nah.” He says finally. “I was climbing Olympus Mons on Mars earlier and it’s way bigger than that. You should dream about it too.” He adds. I give up. I’m done. This is why they’re called hooked, because they are completely drawn in by the dream. I remembered watching a fishing show once. It seemed like the fish would have to fight with all their might to tear themselves free, and my family wasn’t willing to fight an ounce.

“Yeah Teddy.” I say. “Maybe I will sometime.”

“Great, it was nice to see you Ryan. I’ll catch you later.” And he walks into the kitchen to join my parents.

When we get outside Thomas says. “I’m sorry. There’s a reason we don’t try and unhook people anymore. You have to let people unhook themselves. It’s like trying to force a deaf person to hear what you’re saying. You are speaking a language that’s foreign to them. Their sense are numb to how strong experiences in real life can be. All they know is the dream, so they can’t imagine life without it.” I don’t have the heart to respond. Thomas wisely shuts up, and we start walking to the sibling’s house.

I had really thought they’d come with me, if not for their own sake than for the sake of the family. Parents are supposed to care about their kids and want more than anything else to be around their kids. I guess my parent’s did, just not their real kids. I punch a tree hard enough that I bloody my knuckles. Thomas doesn’t react, and we keep walking.

Teddy had almost hurt more than my parents. I had thought of coming back because of him. Teddy loved rock climbing. Maybe if we just found some taller cliffs he’d want to come? No, there wasn’t a mountain on earth that could compete with extraterrestrial rock climbing. No matter how amazing real life was, I couldn’t convince them to just step outside of their dreams and actually live.

I was an orphan now. I knew I couldn’t go back to my parents who would rather spend their time with imaginary offspring, or younger siblings who would reject my offerings of wild adventures for their own fake past times. Jess was right, I never should’ve come back. I never should’ve had faith in my family to join me.

Jess, the girl I had been trying to get close to, and I had pushed her away by doing this. I had to make it up to her. I felt that these new friends were the closest thing to family I had, and I needed to make them happy.

“Thomas.” I say. “Thank you for coming with me. You knew how this was going to end, and you came anyway. Thank you.”

“Hey man, don’t sweat it. It’s the least I could do. There aren’t a lot of us unhooked, so we gotta look out for each other.” He playfully punches my shoulder. “We got your back man.”

“Thanks.” I say again. I’ll be sure to thank Frank when I get back too. They’ve really gone out of their way to help me. We arrive at the sibling’s house to find Jess and Frank anxiously waiting on the couch.

“Hey Ryan.” Frank says, standing up immediately. He sees my face and knows it didn’t go well. “I’m so sorry Ryan. We tried to warn you.” Jess gets up and runs toward me. I take a step back and flinch as she gets close, expecting to get slapped, but she instead wraps me up in a tight hug.

“I’m so sorry.” She whispers in my ear. “They replaced you didn’t they.”

“Yes.” I tell her, and she squeezes me tighter. I look at Frank giving me a sympathetic look, at Thomas, awkwardly not knowing what to do, but supportive, and Jess bear hugging me to make sure I’m okay. These are my family now.

“I’m so lucky to have found you guys.” I say looking from Thomas to Frank, and down to Jess who is still hugging me for all she’s worth. “You guys are real friends. Frank, you helped me conquer my fear of drowning when you could’ve been out swimming with your siblings.” Frank shrugged.

“Least I could do.” He says.

“And Thomas, you came with me to my parents when you knew that conversation was going to be nothing but ugly.” Thomas sheepishly grins.

“Hey man, you’d have done the same for me.”

“And you Jess. I brought you so much pain by bringing up some bad memories, and you’ve so quickly looked past that to support me.” Jess squeezes me extra tight for a moment.

“You guys are like my family.” I say. “Family puts family first, and you guys have done that for me. I wish I could repay the favor.”

“We’re just glad you’ve unhooked and we’ve been able to help you through that.” Franks tells me. I look down at Jess again, and realize there’s a way I can make them my family for real. It’s a little sudden, but this has been a day of taking risks. I risked drowning. I risked jumping off a cliff. I risked my family rejecting me. It was time to take one more big risk.

“Jess.” I say, pushing her away for a moment. I get down on one knee. “Will you marry me.” Thomas splutters, Frank’s jaw drops, and Jess looks like I hit her.

“What? No Ryan I’m not going to marry you.” Nobody says anything else. Ryan looks like he’s seen a ghost, and Frank looks he he’s thinking about beating me unconscious. “Uh, gear.” Jess says, and heads downstairs.

“Yeah, gear.” Thomas says and follows her, leaving me alone with Frank. He stares knives at me, and I decide I’ve just ruined my welcome.

“I should go.” I say. Frank doesn’t respond, and I let myself out.

No follows me as I leave and start back home.

I had found a new world, learned to swim, rock climb, and just unhook from my false reality. Now I had thrown it away. The only people I know who could join me in this new world now hated me. It would have been impressive that I had ended so many friendships so quickly if it wasn’t so pathetic.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to be all suave, and she was supposed to say yes. There would be cheering and crying and hugging. We would all make plans and become a family. That’s how I saw it going down, now I had just thrown a wrench in everything.

My home isn’t far, and as I go inside I slam the door hard enough to break a few of the panes of glass. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’ve lost pretty much everything today.

I lost my own world because I got bored with it and went outside to try and find a new world. Then I lost my family when I tried to bring them into this world. Now I’d lost my new family when I’d just got desperate and carried away. Now here I was at the end of the day, in the same spot I had started it. No real family, even though I didn’t know it yet. They were still gone, I guess they never really were my family to start with, no world, no friends. I can’t even stand to walk outside and breath the clean air again because it reminds me of what I’ve lost.

I crash on my couch and see the pills laying on the table. Those stupid pills they’re what started this whole thing. Without the pills there wouldn’t be a need for days like today, people would have normal friends, family, and I heard that most jobs used to require regularly working with other people. It must be so nice to be a part of a society where you feel like a human being, not some machine put on standby and only occasionally woken up to do some basic shop keeping for the other machines.

Thomas was right, only an evil corporation backed by a corrupt government could make these pills. Their factories should be burned to the ground. I pick up the bottle of pills and hurl it against the wall. It’s plastic so it unclimactically just bounces off the wall and spins back to me. Great, I can’t even break a small bottle of pills.

I start to laugh. It’s a laugh of despair, of defeat. The world has become so crazy that I can’t help but laugh. The laughter brings me no joy. It is devoid of mirth. I can’t do anything right. I wish they had just left me hooked. I would be numb and emotionless, sleeping my life away, but at least I wouldn’t have to know defeat like this. If today had never happened, if I had just walked outside, and promptly come back in everything would be alright.

Then a line my parents say surfaces to the front of my brain. ‘You’ll have to tell us more so we can dream about it too’. They were talking about joining me in my adventures through a dream. I realize that there is a place I can go to make everything right. A place where I’m in shape, the siblings don’t hate me, and my family hasn’t replaced me with other children and hobbies.

I look at the bottle of pills again. In the dream, all of this can go away. In the dream I can fix everything and make it right.

I recoil and stand up to walk into a room where the pills aren’t lying about. What am I thinking? I have worked so hard today to unhook and experience real life. I think about conquering my fear of drowning in the lake. I think of learning to accept defeat by playing cards, and appreciating what a true challenge is. I remember how surreal water felt running through my fingers, or wind running through my hair. I think of how highly detailed real life was. Dreams couldn’t compare to it.

I especially remember letting go and leaning back off of the mountain top, the thrill of trusting someone else so directly with your life. I remember feeling so free and exhilarated as I had stepped off that mountain and just trusted Jess to catch me.

Then I think of Jess. Jess who was so funny, nurturing, smart, and driven. Jess who was so full of alive when I had first seen her darting through the woods. Jess who I had hurt by talking about family. Jess who had forgiven me and had so quickly hugged me to comfort me after I had lost my family. Jess whose trust I had betrayed in a stupid, childish, and utterly foolish act of rampant irresponsibility. Jess who hated me now. Jess who I would never see again.

I walk back into the room and pick up the pills. Except there is a way I can see Jess again. There’s a place she still exists. She’s not beyond reach. None of them are beyond reach. I can see my family, and they will actually enjoy spending time with me. I can go talk to the siblings, and me and Jess can be together. Yes, it won’t be so bad. It’ll all be fine as soon as I go under.

I walk into my bed and lay down, making sure I’m prepared for what I’m about to do. I open the bottle and put a pill in my hand. These pills act fast. I’ll be out in a matter of seconds, only a few more seconds.

I cap the bottle and put it on the night stand, staring at the pill in my hand. Holding it makes things more final. I’m just one quick motion away from throwing it all away, from hooking myself.

I raise my hand to my mouth, and then I stop. I put my hand back down and stare at the pill in my hand. One last thought stands in my way. If I do this, then there’s no going back. I remember the disgust on Jess and Thomas’ face from the mere mention of dreaming. If I do this, to them I’ll be dead. To them zombies are people who have given up on life and returned to their own little private worlds.

If I swallow this pill, any hope of reconciliation is gone. They’ll never talk to me again. I probably won’t even see them again. I could spend most of the rest of my life in this house, by myself, alone.

I almost put the pill down, almost. Then I remember the look of horror on Jess’ face when I ask her to marry me. It doesn’t matter. I’ll never see her again anyway. I put the pill in my mouth and swallow. I lay down and pull the covers up. It’s okay now. In just a few moments I’ll see them again, and it’ll be okay.