by Troy Blackford
It’s not a paradox when I say that, although different from the beginning, the dream began as a normal dream. I was back in the fifth grade, at a school assembly. Then, the normal dream gave way to a good one: I found that my chair had the ability to slide from place to place. I could, with slight effort of will, ride my dull-grey metal folding chair around the polished wooden floor of the gymnasium like a go-kart.
This was a major development. Students and teachers reacted with instant shock. Adults called for me to be apprehended.
I wouldn’t have that. The powers that be would clearly dissect anyone demonstrating the ability to drive a simple folding chair around at will—even if the individual in question were a ten year-old. Eyeing my escape, I rocketed out of the gymnasium through doors more than twenty years in my past; flying down the picture-perfect hallways, replete with decorative, cut-out facts about everything from owls to astronomy glue-sticked onto vibrant construction paper and taped to the walls above the lockers. A picture perfect recreation of my one-time school.
Racing my chair gracefully up a handicapped ramp with mounting speed, I artfully avoided a small set of stairs. I knew exactly what I was doing. The smoothness of my control was matched only by the intensity of my velocity.
Then, the scenery around me began to change. The tile walls mildewed before my eyes, covering over with something that looked like paper-mâché that had been stained a dark brown. As my folding chair sped further along the hallway, the texture of the rough material spreading across the walls began to harden. The initially artificial appearance rapidly vanished, replaced by rockier and rockier facades.
Though the lockers were now totally obscured by the spreading crust, the glass of the classroom doors remained visible. After rushing by a few more rooms, however, the thickening layer of rock began to swallow up the panes of glass. I picked up speed.
A pale, throbbing light issued from the fissures in the stone where the windows had been — a sick light that gleamed through the mist-stained glass in violet shades. The glow poured through the scantly visible patches of smothered doorways that still peaked out from the spreading mineral surface. The plastic-capped feet of my chair clattered along on the uneven surface as rock slipped away beneath me, and I was propelled ever deeper into the tunnel. Even at this point, I was not yet afraid: merely curious.
Instinctively, I began to scream. The way someone who accidentally slices off their fingers in a meat slicer screams.
Soon, I noted, the purple light no longer came from classroom doors, but instead billowed from luminous, tuberous growths embedded in the stone. I had been transfixed by my changing surroundings, and suddenly noticed that my speed had gotten out of hand. Trying vainly to slow my strange transportation, I was upset to find that my power over the chair had weakened. I could still pivot from side to side, but I couldn’t slow down.
Worst of all, I couldn’t reverse. I was a slave to the machinations of the chair, and it was taking me to a destination not of my own choosing. By this point, the hallway’s transformation had finished, revealing its actual form: a dank, cave-like tunnel. It no longer kept up any pretense of being my elementary-school.
Somehow, with eyes other than my own, I could see into the depths of the stone fissure. Far ahead, I saw that the tunnel opened out onto an expansive space — larger than any aircraft hangar — in which leaning parapets of stone loomed like great mushrooms out of a massive pool of deep, dark green water. These towers of rock reared high above the water’s surface, nearly scraping the rough, arched ceiling of the caves.
There was something achingly familiar about those caves. Something I didn’t want to remember. Something that a part of me, buried deep inside, already knew.
Instinctively, I began to scream. The way someone who accidentally slices off their fingers in a meat slicer screams. But, inside the dream, what came out of my mouth wasn’t an inchoate cry. Instead, I called for it. That’s when I first remember hearing its name, out of my own mouth.
“Seritz!” I cried. “Seritz!”
The anguished cry stretched out, echoing down the narrow tube of stone. With my elevated senses, I could hear the reverberations of that scream bouncing around the mushroom-towers of the open space ahead like a pinball, skipping across those deep green waters like a stone. Echoing in the chambers where the thing I had named dwelled: the lair of the Seritz.
Where therein the Seritz resided, whether deep in the water, or high atop the trees of stone — clinging like a limpet to the bottom of the verdant, noisome sea, or perched like a fat toad on the flat seats of rock high above — I do not know. But I do know that I never, never want to find out. I never want to see it.
I began screaming again, just outside the dream, on a second level of my mind. There, I urge my lips to form the shapes that create the sound of my wife’s name. To call out to something in the real world, some kind of lifeline that could lift me out of those caves.
My voice — the sound of my sleeping body’s real, human voice — leaked into the dream: thick, slow, and deliberate. A voice stuffed with cotton balls, mumbling into a pillow.
But it was there. The sound of my moaning voice was real. And, most importantly, it was outside the caves.
I needed to get out of there. I couldn’t wait for ordinary consciousness to be restored on anything resembling its own schedule. I needed immediate intervention. I muttered again, the sounds growing more distinct. The sound of my wife’s name grew clearer in my ears. My eyes snapped open.
I was in the world, the real world. No purple lights. No caves. No Seritz.
But no wife, either. As I stared at the only light — the alarm clock’s jagged red numbers proclaiming it to be two thirty seven AM — I began to weep: my wife had died thirteen years before, and for the space of three desperate, mumbled gasps, I had managed to forget it.