Arithmetic

Luke laid down on the couch with a sigh. He waited a few seconds then began.

“It all feels like a constant countdown, you know? Like I’m constantly calculating how much time I have before I have to be at work next, or how much time before I should go to sleep so I can get a decent amount of sleep before I have to work. I even calculate the hours I have free or try to guess how long an obligation is going to take. I’m constantly figuring my life into blocks of time. I know it sounds stupid and doesn’t make much sense, but I feel like I do it in an attempt to get the most out of the time I have for myself. In the end though, I feel like it does the opposite. That I set up an expectation about what time I have and try to figure out if I can fit what I want into that time block. If I can’t, I often give up on that task altogether. Even if that task was something dumb like watching a show. If it’s an hour-long show and I only have an hour, sometimes I don’t watch it because I know I’ll have to go do something else before it ends.

I feel anxious all the time about stupid stuff. When I realize I don’t have the time to do what I want to do, even if it’s just sit down and read, I get sad because I feel like I’m not in control of my life. I feel like everything is constantly tugging at me and I can’t shake it off. Between work, helping my parents, my relationship, yard work, hanging out with friends, even talking to you sometimes feels like too much, which is absurd. I talk to you because I do feel better afterwards and things don’t seem so glib, but I’m always trying to figure out what is happening next. What should I be doing besides what I’m doing right now? I’m doing it right now. I’m thinking I should not be laying on this couch talking to you, and that instead I should be cutting the grass or catching up with someone I haven’t hung out with in a while. This all seems crazy. Right?”

He heard a few clicks behind him and waited. A second passed and he felt the need to fill the silence so he continued.

“I mean. That isn’t normal is it? At the same time, I feel like it is. Everyone is constantly trying to fit more in their schedule. They are always connected. Looking at their phones. Checking all the notifications. That’s another thing too. Sometimes I feel like I have to check my social media so I don’t miss anything. I’ll always answer texts as quickly as I can. But that’s another thing. I feel like I don’t hang out with my friends that much anymore. Yeah, we talk sometimes on the phone and text a lot, but we don’t meet up like we used too. I understand the few that have babies now and that takes up a lot of time, but it should be easier, right? I mean, there is only so much you can do with a baby. It just sits there. Why can’t it sit there while we hang out?”

He paused. This time there were three clicks, but still no answer. He sighed again.

“Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old,” he said, “Maybe I feel like I should have accomplished more by now. I know what you’ll say. That I shouldn’t compare my accomplishments to others, but I can’t help it. I have dreams, but I can’t find the time to work on them. Maybe it’s because I don’t really want to. Or that I’m afraid to fail. Or even because it’s simpler to have the dream and think about than to actually do it. And what happens once you achieve that dream? Then you have to come up with another one. Doesn’t that seem weird? Wouldn’t it be easier to just not have one? To just live life with no aspirations and enjoy where you are and in the moment? But that would just be existing, and I can’t just sit there and do nothing. Yeah, TV and video games can help pass the time, but you don’t get any real feeling of accomplishment from those. I’m not going to wake up one day and think ‘Man, I was really good at that one game. I totally nailed that match that I won online against a stranger,’ you know? That stranger could have been a little kid. I’d never know, but I’d think it and then get sad because then I’d believe that I beat a little kid at a video game. Who would feel proud of that?

Sorry. I got a bit off topic there. What were we talking about? I guess it doesn’t really matter,” he sighed, “I just get so stressed out. I know it’s about dumb, small things too, which makes me stress about stressing out. I appreciate you letting me vent. It does make me feel better just to get this stuff off my chest.”

He looked over and into the eyes of a beagle. The dog placed one paw on Luke’s shoulder as he laid on the couch and shuffled, clicking its nails against the hardwood floor. Luke smiled. “Thanks buddy. You want to go for a walk?” The beagle’s tail started wagging. Luke got up and grabbed the leash.

They went outside and walked for an hour. The entire time they were out, he never once thought about anything he’d said on the couch. He simply enjoyed the sun setting on the horizon and the fresh air. He was able to forget about time altogether. He enjoyed the calm and quiet of the twilight hours. He let himself forget about everything, despite knowing it would all be there again tomorrow.

 

Reverse Reflection

She gazed at the pictures along the wall while she waited. When he came back, he saw her staring at the picture of a young man with dirty blond hair and a swimmer’s body. He assumed that she presumed it was a picture of him.

“I’d tell you that’s not actually me in that picture. You may think me a liar, but more than likely you would ask…” He paused, letting her.

“Then who is it? If not you?”

“It’s actually my twin brother, John.”

“You don’t have a twin brother.”

“I did.”

“Oh…”

“He died…in a car accident.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was driving. We had gone out to a bar for a friend’s birthday and he had too much to drink so I took the keys from him. I was being responsible, but someone else that night wasn’t. We were hit head on.”


 

John woke to the calling of his name. He sat up and stretched before climbing out of bed. He came down the stairs and saw a young woman looking at pictures in the hallway.

“I’d tell you that’s not actually me in that picture. You may think me a liar, but more than likely you would ask…” He paused, letting her.

“Then who is it? If not you?”

“It’s actually my twin brother, Jared.”

“You don’t have a twin brother.”

“I did.”

“Oh…”

“He’s still alive.”

“That’s…. good?”

He smiled. “Yeah. It’s good. When the paramedics showed up they went to him first. I guess we were both on the same time limit. He got to stay behind.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Of course.”

“Do you ever wish he were here?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” John said, “It’s too late now, but he’ll find his own way.”


 

“We were pretty close,” Jared said, “practically best friends. We did everything together.”

“Do you miss him?”

“All the time.”

“Come on, I’d like to show you something,” Clara said and walked out the door.

He followed her out to the car and got in. They drove in silence for a while.

“Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Okay,” he didn’t argue. He looked out the window at the newly formed leaves still wet with the morning drizzle. They drove for nearly a half an hour. Neither of them talked until she pulled onto a narrow road out into the countryside. He refrained from asking her his question since he figured he would only get the same answer.

The car rumbled to a halt. “Here we are,” she said.

He got out and looked at the small house. “And this would be?”

“The surprise, silly.”


 

“So where are we going today?” John asked.

“There is a place I would like you to see.”

“And where would that be? I can’t be bothered going out to the city again.”

“It’s actually in the other direction.”

“You said we weren’t supposed to go out there.”

“It’ll be okay,” she smiled. He followed her outside. They walked along the dusted landscape away from the city. He was thankful for the change, but found himself nervous which surprised him.

“Are we able to die here?”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“Well,” he paused, “I’m already dead.”

“You look alright to me.”

“But you know I died.”

“That’s the only way to leave that other place,” she said matter-of-factually. “Come on.” She waved him to continue.

“Are there ways to leave this place?”

She stopped at this and smiled, “This isn’t the last stop, silly. Let’s go.”


 

“What is this place?” Jared stood looking at the small cottage.

“It’s an intermediary of sorts.”

“An intermediary for what?”

“Today? For you.”

He gave her a quizzical look, but she ignored him and skipped out onto the grass beside the little house.

“Aren’t we going inside?”

“That’s not where it is.”

“Where what is?” He called after her.

“The intermediary. Don’t you listen?”

He sighed, trying to calm his nerves before they fired up. She was becoming extremely trying, but he followed her out onto the grass and into the sun. He instantly felt its heat beat down on him. He hated sweating, but he couldn’t leave her now. She had the keys. Jared briefly looked back at the small house and the car before turning back to see Clara disappear into a small grove of trees. He heard thunder boom in the distance.


 

They had been walking for hours. John didn’t know who to thank for the clouds blocking the sun so he thanked the clouds themselves.

“Are we almost there?” he called.

“Yes, yes. So impatient.”

“How?”

“Do you have somewhere else to be?”

He tried to think of somewhere else he would like to be, or could go, but nothing came to mind. He still wasn’t exactly sure where he was.

“Ah, here we are,” Clara said.

John looked around at the dirt road and vacant landscape. “This is it?”

“Of course not. This is our turn.” She stepped off the compacted dirt road and onto the dead grass and walked off in a straight line. “Come on lazy bones,” she yelled without looking at him.

He sighed a heavy sigh, but stepped off the dirt road and followed her. She was beginning to get annoying.


 

“This is it,” she said, popping her head out from behind a tree. Jared walked around to find a stone well.

“A well?”

“No, it’s the intermediary.”

“The well is the intermediary?”

“Just look,” she pulled him to the edge of the stone circle. He looked down and saw nothing.

“There’s nothing in it?”

She looked inside then checked the watch on her wrist.

“Hmm, we must be a bit early. I guess we’ll just have to wait,” she said and sat down on the grass. She pulled up a few blades and began braiding them.

“What are we doing here?” Jared asked.

“Waiting now. You’ll see. Just be patient.”

He could feel his shoulders tighten as she said the words. He knew he wouldn’t like the answer, but he asked it anyway. “And what are we waiting for?”

“For the intermediary, silly.”

He sighed.


 

“Here we are,” she said.

John caught up to her and looked at the stone circle. “This is it?”

She hit him. “Don’t be silly. It’s inside.”

He looked down into the well and saw nothing.

“There’s nothing in there.”

She looked at her watch. “Hmm? Keep looking. We only have a little time left.”

“A little time left for what? We haven’t done anything but walk all day and now we are standing at a dry well. I know there isn’t much going on here, but I can think of better things to do.”

“Oh hush. Just keep looking.”

He sighed but kept looking into the well. He only glanced over at her when she sat down on the dead grass and began ripping blades up. She tossed them into the air but there was no wind to catch them.

“Keep looking.”

“I am.”


 

Jared kept looking down in the well as she instructed. Nothing happened for a while and he was growing more and more irritated. Then he noticed there was water coming toward him. The well was filling up.

“Somethings happening,” he said.

At first, he thought it might not be water, but he soon realized that it was simply clear and he was seeing the darkness behind it. It rose to the brim and stopped. He kept looking down into it but only saw his own reflection.

“Now,” Clara said, popping up off the ground, “we are finally here, and with only minutes to spare.”

“For what?”

“Your choice.”

“What choice?”

“You can bring your brother back.”

“What?” He finally looked up from the well. Her face was all seriousness.

“At the cost of your own life of course.”

He stared at her in disbelief. “But…”


 

“All you have to do is jump in,” she told John.

“Who would ever do that? I mean, it’d be nice to be alive again, but not at that cost.” He stopped looking in the well and focused on her. “No one would make that choice.”

“Some do. But that doesn’t matter. What matters right now is that you only have a few minutes left to make your decision.”

“No,” he said, “That’s my decision. Consider it made.”

“Okay,” she said, “but I do have to warn you. Your brother was given the same choice.”

“What?”

“He has the same choice, but vice-versa. He can jump in the well and trade his life for yours. You may see him briefly depending on what he chooses.”

“That’s insane.” He ran back and looked inside. His reflection stared back, as if it had never left the water.


 

“So, if I jump in he comes back?”

“Yep. You may even see him briefly.”

Jared looked at his reflection in the water. “He’ll come out of this well as if nothing happened to him?”

“Yep. All in one piece. Healed. Presto. Alive again. That’s the intermediary for you, but time’s running out. Gotta choose soon.”

He stared down into the water. It was an obvious decision, and his brother deserved it. He reached one hand in and watched it disappear into the blackness behind the surface. A few seconds later, a hand emerged from the water next to where his had entered. Its palm opened toward him. On it, written in ash, was the word Don’t. He stared at it. Then the hand turned and shifted until its middle finger was raised at him.

Jared smiled. “You’d hate me for it, wouldn’t you? Dick.”


 

“That should do it. Now, when will this be over?” John said.

Both of the girls named Clara said in unison, “It already is.”

John looked over to see both of them. “What the…”

“Congratulations.”

He shook his head. “Can you stop doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Talking at the same time.”

“Sure,” one Clara said. “It’s time for you to move on,” said the other.

“This was a test?”

“Yes.” “You passed.”

“So it wasn’t real?”

“Of course it was real.” “Now it’s time to go.”

“Where are we going?”

“You are going on to the next place.” “And we are staying here.”

“What about Jared?”

“He will live his life.” “Until he moves on to his next place.”

“This place?”

“Whichever place is next for him.” “With your decision, he will likely skip this phase.”

John smirked. “Good. He wouldn’t last two days here.”

Hypnagogia

In the late hours, while lying in bed, motivation creeps in like spiders and apparitions of a different life appear. The walls between conscious and subconscious blur from opaque to translucent just before the dream projector begins its reel. This is where possibility lives. My eyelids become stone gates. I see determination; to improve myself, help others, make this world better with…but the idea is burned into my retina and can never been seen directly. I become the urge to create but do not know what needs to be built. I am too late. My eyes have closed and dreams begun. Dreams erased in morning light. I will forget even the ghost that propelled them. My eyes will open clean and unbound as drawings in the sand are washed away by cold morning waves. I wake to a familiar reality but I do not remember building it quite like this. Tonight, I must remember to hang a dream catcher.