The sheets are damp again. And that little tendril of a curl on the right side of my temple that starts to coil when I sweat had started to form. Coffee, I thought. I need to get a cup of coffee and just gather my thoughts.
It was the third night in a row of the dream, the same terrifying dream that I'd had since I'd heard the news that I had been chosen for the space launch. My flight instructor had literally laughed when I told him about it. Chuckled and smiled. I was mesmerized as his chuckle developed into a chortle and then a guffaw until he was practically splitting his sides with laughter, and I could see tiny tears forming in the corners of his eyes.
The dream was that I was driving a car that I had no control over. The car drifted slowly, constantly over the road at a gentle speed while green trees and fields passed by. But inside, I was a basket case. I stretched and pressed my legs, but the brake was too far away, and sweat began to pour from my skin. My breath came in short gasps and I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. Surely at some point the road would curve or I'd have to stop or need to speed up, but nothing happened. I tried to scream but no sound came out. Each time I woke up, with hands quaking, face pale, feeling disoriented and as though I'd just nearly escaped death.
After my flight instructor laughed at the dream, I told no one else. It wouldn't matter, anyway. What would change? Sympathy for my plight, my lack of any control over being chosen to make the journey? I didn't want sympathy. I wanted certainty. I wanted security. But there was none to be given. So I walked down the stairs and poured myself a tiny hot, black espresso, and then, in a moment of indulgence, I steamed a pitcher of hot milk and watched it mix with the dark syrup until clouds formed and foam rose to the top. I swallowed a sip. This was safety.
A practical approach. That was what I had to focus on. My hands were still shaking. I would will them to stop, I thought. And I did.
Against my desires, I pictured my flight instructor again, those tiny tears starting to roll down his cheeks. Was he laughing because he knew how I was suffering? I'd struggled through simulations that made me throw up. He'd never shown an ounce of humanity. "Pull it together, for godssake," he'd say, as I exited the simulator, dizzy and muddled. For months it had lasted, with no home remedy that could assist. I'd tried medications, pressure points, ginger candies and eating nothing. The only thing that ultimately enabled me to withstand the simulator was to close my eyes and concentrate on nothing but darkness. A vacuum, a lack of sound, sight, smells and sensations. I put myself in a virtual cabinet and mentally turned off each sense, then I lost the sense of time. On one occasion, there was a malfunction and the simulator wouldn't stop. I spun and gyrated for close to an hour, but walked out on my own two feet. I suspected that the particular feat had led to my being chosen, since legions of people can barely withstand the simulator. They said being chosen for the journey to outer space was random. I wasn't convinced.
Now, I resorted to similar tactics. I'd have to get strong, physically and mentally. I'd have to save myself if I were to make it. My hands were steady now. I forced down three eggs, scrambled with vegetables and packed a protein bar for later. Then I went out for my run.
* * *
That had been two months ago. Since that time, I had changed. My waist and stomach had become whittled and hard. I'd put on fifteen pounds of muscle. Gone were the eggs and protein bars. I'd taught myself to live from things that no one would eat voluntarily. Insects and grasses, my fear drove me. I had imagined a wasteland in space with only a colony of ants or centipedes about the ship. And I planned to take them with me. I'd gone into my mental cabinet every day, closing my eyes to sight my ears to sound. My mother had called, worried one day, when I hadn't answered my phone for four hours. In truth, I'd lost track of the time, and when I finally come to awareness, I realized that my alarm had been going off for hours.
The terror was what motivated me. Fear. Every night, the same dream, or slight variations. I was on a trip, with no map, no ability to control my fate, and yet, and yet, I seemed to cope and just barely avoid disaster before I woke up again, soaked with sweat. The worst part of it, though, was the faith. My friends, my flight instructor, all told me that they had no doubts. I could do this. The slow-moving car crept into my mind. They didn't know that I was barely getting by.
On the night before my sendoff, there was a party. Everyone was there. Friends, relatives, all of whom held signs and banners, "Congratulations on your flight!" "See you at home soon!" These taunted me. I had no guarantee of returning. I closed my eyes and became a shell. I laughed with them and joked and punched my flight instructor in the gut as though it were all a big joke.
And then it came, the day of liftoff. There had been no avoiding it. I had been placed into the bulky cavern of a suit and simply felt nauseous. I had imagined fighting off the land crew, literally biting and kicking and screaming. But instead, I just complied. The smell of chemical cleanser was almost overpowering. Then I closed my eyes and disappeared.
* * *
The next thing I remember is a hard impact like being in a car accident. My mind had been dark. Now, suddenly, it was jolted awake again. Where was I? There were bright lights in front of my eyes. How long had I been gone?
It was splashdown. I had made it. And when I got back to the land station, I was commended. But it didn't feel like any big deal. "We knew you could do it," my flight instructor had said. "Now, time to get ready for the next big thing." He grinned broadly again.
I smiled. There was the crew, cheering and happy. They were triumphant. I tried my best to beam. But I held a secret. I still felt hollow inside.
That night, I dreamed again about the slow-moving car. It was headed toward a cliff this time. Surely I will die, I thought. I tugged at the wheel. It didn't move. I stretched my legs as hard as I could, but they couldn't reach the brake. I opened my mouth to scream and no sound came out.
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Wow! Amazing story. The descriptions were wonderful. Great job. Would you mind reading my story “The secret of power?”
Thanks for reading! I just read yours and enjoyed it!!
Wonderful story! One of the best I have read for this prompt. The indirect way it approaches the concept is extremely good. The ending, just dark and beautiful. Great descriptions. Oh, I'm ranting again, aren't I? :) Overall, very, very well-written and keep writing!
Thanks, Nandan, just read one of yours, "Inferno," which was fabulous! Looking forward to comparing notes!!
After I finished reading, I couldn't help but think about how "human" this piece feels. Relatable and easily digestible. Well done! And what a great way to handle the prompt, too! I thought it was definitely one of the harder ones...
Thanks, Brian! Looking forward to checking out some of your work!
I’ve been waiting for a new story from you, and wow, you certainly delivered! This is so good! Again, you write so clearly, and your descriptions are brilliant. When you describe making an espresso? I could actually taste it. I also enjoy what you’ve done with the prompt because you’ve put a great spin on it. The ending as well, the way it ties in with the dream in the beginning, is great. And the recurring references to the car accident are very clever. It all feels a little dark and disturbing, which is obviously what you were going for. R...
@Jonathan Blaauw--Thanks so much for your read, your thoughtful words and especially for the little nugget about use of "that." I hadn't even paid attention to it. Now I see how easily (and to what good effect) it is omitted. I love your encouragement! It's so nice to be able to take risks and just put it out for feedback. Very much appreciated! Heading over to read some of your work now!
Amazing job, Amy! 👏👏👏👏👏 Oh, and would you mind checking out my most recent story, “Tales Of Walmart”? If so, thank you so much! —Aerinnnnnnnnn😁
Thanks, Aerin! I'll check it out!