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Coming of Age Kids Bedtime

Salt-ridden winds came in like curtains from the coast, layering every surface touched in a sheet of translucent stone.

The roads were undrivable, the air was unbreathable, the townspeople of Seafarer were trapped as salt accreted over their sea-side homes.

News stations covered the story, broadcasting juxtaposed images of a once vibrant destination, flooded with sun-kissed teenagers and elderly with skin like Tuscan leather, to a now barren landscape where white blankets of salt and rain profusely swept over.

It was unknown if any survivors remained.

Thankfully we know of one family, the Saldon’s, made up of Peter, a Botanist and his wife Lily, a horticulturist. They met in university and fell in love, shortly after, having two children, Maxwell and Daisy, two-years apart.

Peter is a lanky man with an airy disposition, who walked as if each of his legs were pogo-sticks. Lilly grounded him. She was much like an old oak stump that refused to move.

They put their minds together, converting their home into a living and breathing ecosystem, with foliage blossoming from every corner, the floor covered in a thin film of primordial water, vines crawled along the walls and thick twine dangled from room to room, along the ropes traveled all sorts of animals: Iguanas, Chameleons, Tarantulas, everyone was welcomed to play their part.

Unfortunately Maxwell and Daisy were left to their own devices as their parents spent every waking hour busily maintaining their home, life could not be sustained without it.

Daisy grew incredibly bored of being trapped indoors. One day, she decided to fall into a dream and not wake up. She slept enveloped in silk with a soft and pleasant smile, for who knows what wonders she dreamt.

Maxwell was left all alone, often spending the days looking out through his bedroom window, watching as salt storms rolled in from the sea. Eventually, even that pleasure came to an end as each layer of salt turned the translucent stone opaque.

Maxwell had nothing to look forward to left but the night, in hopes that he would finally dream a dream as pleasant as Daisy's.

For an unknown reason, Maxwell was unable to dream of anything other than the mundane world he lived in. In his dreams he would reenact precisely what had happened the previous day.

Despite reading everything from his parents library, which had now been taken over by a new species of moths, he was unable to sustain the phantasmagoric dream he wished for. His dreams would begin vividly, with scenes pulled directly from the book he read as he fell asleep, but slowly those spectacular images would dissipate and reveal his uneventful life.

Somehow, in Maxwell's preoccupation with dreams, he made a discovery. As he laid in bed staring at the glowing stars against his ceiling, he felt the heaviness of sleep, yet rather than being lulled into it, he fought the sensation, and rather than waking up, he kept his eyes shut. In this limbo betwixt sleeping and dreaming, he had entered a dream between dreams. A lucid dream in which he had full control.

In Maxwell’s lucid dream, life was the same, of course. Daisy slept peacefully and unbothered. His parents nervously ran around fending off critters and clipping overgrown ferns. Maxwell saw there was nothing left to do but leave.

Yet wasn't as easy as Maxwell thought. Because the dream was unforgivably realistic, he had to carve his way out with a silver spoon. And because his parents had their own minds in the lucid world, they would sometimes notice him carving the stone and ground him, sending Maxwell to his room. It’s not as if the grounding would be forgotten in the following dream, no, things would carry over. There came a point where Maxwell's waking life and lucid dreams converged, making it so that one was virtually indistinguishable from the other.

Eventually, after some time, Maxwell had reached the end. He squeezed himself through a narrow opening and couldn’t believe what he saw. Everything was covered as if a spider came and wrapped the entire town of Seafarer in its silken web.

With salt and rain blowing from every direction, Maxwell walked along a towering crystalized salt wall where the sea-side shops used to be.

As Maxwell roamed through the town, something peculiar caught his attention, there was an old man seated on a wooden bench, facing the grey ocean as storms brewed and rolled onto the shore.

The old man had a large porous nose and wore a twine colored jacket along with a golfers-green walrus cap.

“Hey you!” he shouted in a hoarse voice. “What are you doing here!”

Maxwell was startled and hid with his back against the cold salt wall.

“Get out of there, kid!”

Maxwell came out from behind the wall about to run back home but before he could the old man said,

“Hey, don’t run! Come over here and take a seat. Don’t worry, I don't bite.”

The old man schootched over as Maxwell sat on the far end of the wooden bench.

They both faced the roaring ocean.

“You see that?” The old man said as he pointed at the broad sea. “That’s the enemy.”

“What do you mean?” Maxwell asked, unsure of what he was pointing at.

“That! The great ocean. That’s the enemy!” The old man exclaimed again.

“I don’t understand what you mean, mister.”

The old man paused and then asked,

“You go to school, kid?”

“Yeah. Well, I used to, before the storm.”

“Hmm, you do look familiar…” he said as he scratched his grey beard.

“Listen, If I were you, kid, I would forget everything you’ve ever learned. You see, school doesn’t teach a thing. That ocean,” pointing once again at the vast open sea “that’s where you learn your lessons.”

“The ocean?”

“Bingo! Yes, that's her name. That tumultuous beast. The ocean will teach you everything you’ll ever need. Life, death, love, and hatred, it’s all in there. If you stare long enough, like me, she’ll eventually gaze back.”

“Why are you here?” Maxwell abruptly asked.

“I’m doing what you’re doing, kid, dreaming. You know us old folk still dream too, well, some of us.”

“As Yeats once said,” The old man licked and smacked his lips,

"But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

So don’t you tread on my dreams! They’re all I’ve got left.”

The old man cocked his head back looking at the grey clouds above.

“Do you know when the storm will end?” Maxwell asked.

The old man continued to look up “Hmmm” he thought. “Well, the storm never does end, does it? It just keeps rolling in. It’ll never stop. And if you think it stopped, just know, there’s an even bigger storm somewhere far away, getting larger and larger, and when you thought everything was all good and sunshine, there it will be, ready to wash over everything you love.”

“So the storm will never end?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. By the way, what’s your name kid?”

“Maxwell.”

“Well Max, call me Charles. You know you ask a lot of questions. That’s good, real good. But don’t expect everyone you ask questions to have the answers.”

Maxwell and Charles watched as massive clouds formed along the horizon, slowly making their way to the shore.

“Do you have a plan?” Maxwell said, breaking the silence.

“A plan?”, Charles cackled. “Forget plans Max, plans don’t get you anywhere. Understand? Plans just get in the way. I used to have a plan, me and my wife, a splendid plan but guess what? Life’s got a plan of her own, and if yours don’t match hers, they're as good as toilet paper.”

“Does your wife join your dreams?”

“She used to." Charles paused. "She and I would share all our dreams. We took our dreams as guides through the world, to hell with plans. Now she’s in a dream of her own, and I’ll surely be joining soon.”

“My sister is in a dream of her own too.”

“Is that so?” Charles asked, turning in Maxwell's direction for the first time since they began speaking.

“Yeah, she dreams all day. I wish I could join because she’s always smiling when she’s dreaming, I don’t remember her smiling that much before, so whatever she’s dreaming about must be nice.”

The old man smiled and laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Everything’s funny! Life’s one big long joke and we’re all just waiting for the punchline.”

The distant sea became less clear and Maxwell rubbed his eyes.

“So what should I do if the storm never ends?” Maxwell asked.

“That’s a good question!”, Charles said and then continued.  

“Well, it can stop, in a sense.”

“I thought you said it never stops?”

“I say a lot of things, doesn’t mean I’m right. But it all depends on what you’re looking at. If you look for rain, rain will look for you. If you spend your life just trying to float by then the storm does indeed never end.”

“You know, I don’t remember a day of bad weather when me and Missy were together. Even if it was pouring cats and dogs, all I ever saw was her.”

“What do you mean?” Maxwell was beginning to doze off, struggling to listen as Charles talked.

“Well, when you love something or someone, that’s all you see. You see? The storm still does its thing but it doesn’t matter, what you love matters.”

Maxwell imagined the things he loved: playing with his friends, snow cones during winter, afternoons on the boat.

“That’s not love, Max! Those are things you like. See, you don’t always love what you like, and you don't always like what you love. You can only love one thing at a time, no exceptions to the rule.”

The old man continued.

“When you love something, everything else disappears. Even the idea of love. The man in love is as good as blind, he doesn’t know up from down, he doesn’t know a thing. In the same way he doesn’t even realize there’s a storm. See what I mean?”

“I think so.” Maxwell said as the old man began to fade away.

Maxwell could feel himself slipping from the lucid dream, his eyelids peeled back and revealed the stars plastered against his bedroom ceiling. 

A ray of light shined against Maxwell's face and he turned to see the storm had vanished. He saw clearly through his window. A sunny day, things were back to the way they were before. 

His home was no longer filled with plants and creatures. 

Daisy was well awake and seated at the breakfast table with their mother and father.

“Rise and shine sleepy head!” Lily said with an endearing smile, serving him a big plate of pancakes.

“Eat up, the bus will be here at any time.”

Maxwell quickly ate and rushed outside. 

Seafarer was bright and lively. The sky was cloudless, the ocean was rolled in with soft waves. He walked along to the bus stop

and a sharp yellow bus pulled up beside the curb.

The bus doors folded and as Maxwell walked up the steps he was greeted by a familiar rusty voice.

“Hello Max! Ready for school?”

Maxwell looked up amazed to see the old man in the same golf-green walrus cap.

July 23, 2021 14:44

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3 comments

Sarah Bird
12:51 Jul 30, 2021

Very interesting idea! I really love the idea of a salt-encrusted landscape and what that means. Is it just the coast, or further inland? And is it just this particular stertch of coast? I really would love to see more of what this means and what led to this disaster! I also enjoyed the dreaming element. It felt deliberately as if some things were kept from the reader to leave to our imagination, but if you ever made it longer then it would be nice to hear a little more about how people can choose to fall into such a sleep (and how they are...

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Jeremiah Benson
14:42 Jul 30, 2021

Hey thank you for the critique!

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Alison Clayton
12:46 Jul 29, 2021

I liked the first paragraph setting. I thought the town and the idea of the salt ridden landscape novel and intriguing. I would have liked more of that to imagine this strange place. I liked the concept of trying to reach into a new other world whilst being half asleep/awake but again would have liked more exploration of that. I didn’t see the relevance of the parent’s choice of career to the story or why his sister was dreaming all the time. I didn’t follow all the conversation between Max and the old man and wasn’t sure if Max was supp...

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