I awoke the other morning with a frown already dragging the skin off my face. I know waking up in a glum mood isn’t exactly any sort of phenomenon – that’s something my boss and almost any manager out there would call the product of a ‘healthy work-life balance’ – emphasis on the “healthy”. But my frown wasn’t because of work or anything close to it. In fact, I’d been doing well at my job – doing well at lots of things. I had a few hobbies, some new breathing exercises to alleviate my anxiety, a decent friend group, and every now and then I’d go on the odd date with varying degrees of success.
The real reason for my frown was because something was over – not because something was to happen: I’d met my dream girl. But how do I describe it? The top definition I found on Urban Dictionary was the following, verbatim:
“A dream girl is the girl you wanna spend the rest of your life with. She’s super beautiful and sweet. Whenever you’re around her you get butterflies and wanna hold her so close to you and just listen to her heart beat sync with yours. This girl you will grow to love almost instantly.”
I thought this was sweet, no matter the half-witted teenage prose. But it doesn’t come close to capturing what I have with Kenzie Martins – my dream girl. Kenzie is indeed a girl that gives me “butterflies” and makes me “wanna hold her so close”, but the key difference is the fact that I cannot hold her close – not because she is long-distance, but because she isn’t real. She’s quite literally “a dream”.
Nonetheless, I can’t stop thinking about her. When I awoke that morning, I dragged myself out of bed, made my coffee, listened to the incessant bleating of that moving truck backing into the driveway across the street – how much shit did that guy have to move in anyway? I miss the old lady who used to live there. I didn’t know her well, but at least she wasn’t hiring moving trucks for 6am six days in a row. But even over all that commotion, I found myself dazing off back into a waking dream state, thinking about her. Her dark flowing hair, glistening like a crow’s feathers. Her emerald green eyes sparkling with a sort of enthusiasm I’d only before seen in a golden retriever. And when she saw me she smiled nearly as cheerfully as I did. She was the one – the one I’d always pictured in my head, but the one I could never find. Until now.
I gasped as my coffee cup shattered against the kitchen’s red unglazed tile floor. I brought a hand to my chest as I caught my breath, then cleaned up the mess. Even while I picked those pieces of broken ceramic off the ground, even when I rode the subway, and went to work, and stared at a computer for nine hours – the whole time I was thinking of her. And I feared all day, that I’d never see her again. It wasn’t often I had a recurring dream – in fact I don’t think it’d ever happened to me before…until Tuesday night.
I came down the stairs and immediately noticed they didn’t creak like they used to – certainly odd. I could smell bacon and hear it sizzling on the stove top downstairs. “Good morning, Joseph,” I heard from a voice that rode the air as smoothly as an open country road. “I made us some eggs and bacon. How’d you sleep, my love?”
A grin shone on my face that I could feel in my stomach – those butterflies that Urban Dictionary entry had spoken of. There she was – back again. “Good morning, Kenz,” I chimed. Then I looked just beyond Kenzie – out the kitchen window over the sink. I blinked a few times, trying to make sense of what I saw. The old woman wasn’t living in that house across the street, but that new guy wasn’t there either. Actually, there was no house at all. In its place was an ominous grainy glow of gray hues clashing into each other like digital snow. “Kenzie? What is that?”
She followed my finger out the window and sighed as if it took her breath away. Isn’t it just…”
I shot awake. “Damn it,” I muttered. But wait, I thought, I saw her again. My frown quickly evaporated and I heaved a half laugh. I saw her again. It wasn’t just a one-off dream – I could go back and visit her – I could be with her as long as I was asleep. I looked to my alarm clock with a childlike giddiness. There were fifteen more minutes until the alarm was set to go off. I pulled the covers back up to my chin and shut my eyes tight, eager to fall back asleep.
There she was again. This time we were seated side-by-side, hand-in-hand as our tacky boat shaped like a swan made its way down the glowing pink canal. I recognized the canal, but I couldn’t remember from where. But that memory wasn’t the first thing on my mind – it was Kenzie. I was with her again. She leaned her head on my shoulder. I could feel her hair fall over my body and even a few strands get in my mouth which I puffed out as discreetly as possible. This was it – the girl I’d always wanted. “Remember our first date?” Kenzie sensually whispered. I nodded, trying to recall the specifics of that day. But what day was it? Wasn’t it the day that moving van started showing up? But why? Did she work for the company? Suddenly, I couldn’t remember much of anything. I knew Kenzie was the girl I always wanted and I knew I loved her, but I can’t even remember our first date, never mind a single meal with this woman. She adjusted her head on my shoulder, awaiting my response. Her green eyes batted up at me and I looked back at her, as if suddenly a stranger was rested on my arm. Where are we? I thought. Who is this woman? I stared into her beautiful eyes. She blinked and when her eyes reopened, it wasn’t only her irises that were green – it was the entire eyeball. It was a lighter green now and there were no features at all, or at least not the ones you’d expect. In the place of those gorgeous irises, pupils sclerae, and the whole deal I saw 1s and 0s, scrolling by down her eyes like lines of code. She opened her mouth, but this time there was the deafening roar of a siren in place of her sweet voice – something akin to a backup alarm you’d hear from a truck. Her skin went deadly pale like she was rotting right before me. I even felt her go cold.
I awoke with a scream. “What the fuck,” I said aloud. I panted as I tried to catch my breath. I fanned my stomach with my sweat-soaked shirt and shook my head. It was only a dream, I thought. And despite how creepy that whole thing was, I still wanted to see her again. Love is blindness, I suppose. Practice your breathing exercises, I told myself. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose – was that…it couldn’t be. I breathed in through my nose again, this time to take a confirmatory whiff off the air. It was…bacon. But I live alone. Don’t I? Unless I’d slept like Rip Van Winkle and over that 40-year slumber I’d somehow gained a roommate – ridiculous, I know, but I still thought of the possibility. I cautiously headed downstairs, basically tiptoeing all the way. “Hello?” I meekly called out.
“Good morning!” a feminine voice answered. I gasped. Of course I didn’t see it, but I could feel my face go pale with fear. It couldn’t be. I patted myself up and down. I was real. “Kenzie?” I said, starting to crane my neck down the staircase to get a view of the kitchen. She spun around, her hair waving like a skirt that’d caught the wind. Her incredible eyes glimmered back at me. “I made us some eggs and bacon. How’d you sleep, my love?” Behind Kenzie I tried to catch a glimpse out the window, wondering what I’d see. But whatever was beyond that pane was distorted by the heavy smoke rising off the pan.
I blinked a few times, but Kenzie was still there. I scoffed with disbelief.
“Is everything alright?” she asked. “Bad dream?”
I shook my head. “N-no,” I stammered. “At least I don’t think so.”
She flipped the eggs over on themselves, crafting the perfectly folded omelet. She fanned the air with her free hand, trying to wave the smoke away. “What happened in your dream? Tell me all about it, my love.”
“Well – see, I was in a boat. We were in a boat. It was one of those swan ones, you know? Those love river things. It was super tacky, but –” I trailed off, looking out the kitchen window. As the smoke dissipated I saw my previous glance out that window wasn’t distorted at all. There it was again – that mixture of horrifying grays in the place of my old neighbor. “What the fuck is that?” I croaked.
“It’s just beautiful isn’t it? It’s just beautiful isn’t it? It’s just beautiful isn’t it?” She repeated this over and over and over again in robotic monotone.
“Kenzie?” I asked. “Kenzie!”
She didn’t respond – not directly. She continued to stare out that window and repeat herself until her voice crackled and glitched in and out and…
I gasped and shot up to the sound of my alarm. What kind of Inception shit was that? A dream within a dream? A shiver climbed up my spine. I recalled my breathing exercises. I had to calm down before I started getting ready. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose…the smell of bacon again. I pulled the covers up to my chin and that shivering that afflicted my spine now covered my whole body. “Good morning, Joseph,” I heard from below. A lump in my throat began to strangle me. She was no dream girl. She wasn’t the woman I loved – not even a woman I knew. I opened my mouth wide and let out a scream that shook the very foundation of that house – the very foundation of whatever was left of my life.
Dr. Martins shook his head as he watched the jittering lines on his computer screen. A wall of typewriter-style text printed on his second monitor, describing in excruciating and rather sad detail, another case of the same madness unfolding that he’d seen too many times before. There was a knock at the door.
“Another loop error?” Franklin said.
Dr. Martins rubbed at his temples and sighed. “Yep.”
Franklin shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Pity,” he said. “I really thought it was going to work this time. Get your things. We’re leaving in ten.”
Dr. Martins nodded, but said nothing. After Franklin left the room, he watched the text continue to print on the screen in what seemed like an endless loop, but he wasn’t going to wait around and find out how it ended or if it ever did. As the subject’s awareness grew more acute, so did his madness. How many more times? How many more times would it take? Dr. Martins knew he wasn’t supposed to get too close to the subjects, or even acknowledge their humanity, but as he glanced across the street at that bedroom, he wondered what happened to the subjects after they…
The doctor jumped to the sound of a moving truck backing into the driveway. He shut his laptop, tucked it under his arm, and left the house for good.