I woke sweating, choking back a scream. It was that damned dream again, about the storm. It was never the same storm, could be summer, winter, spring, but I was always trapped, and I always woke in terror.
My first big move was halfway across the country, to the Midwest, where I found a great apartment in the middle of the city. Not the tallest building, but not nearly the shortest, either, and I was somewhat less than halfway up. But the windows and the view made up for a lot. I could stand on the windowsill and still not touch the ceiling.
I used to spend hours just standing there, gazing out of my windows onto the glory of the city. But a few weeks in, something changed. I’d seen one too many storms building in the distance, and I’d heard one too many anecdotes telling me to head for the hills if i should see colors in the clouds. I started having nightmares.
I had them off and on for years until the day reality smashed me right in the subconscious.
I was headed home, but when I looked off into the distant sky, I saw the telltale signs of bad weather. The clouds were low and dark, and streaked with an ugly shade of doom.
But they weren’t just any clouds; these were the exact clouds of my dreams. I’d seen them dozens of times, in every season. I knew them, knew their movements, knew what was to come.
I broke out in a cold sweat as I began to tremble, nearly losing the shopping bags that I gripped in either hand. I headed straight home. When my feet stopped in the old familiar spot in front of my living room windows, I froze. Yes. This was definitely my dream come to life.
I watched the scene unroll before me, the scene I had witnessed so many times in my sleep. First one landmark, then another obscured by the coming darkness. The panic began to claw at the inside of my chest like a small animal, trapped in a cage, taunted by unruly children.
It broke before me, hammering the windowpane with raindrops and hailstones. I could only stand there, unblinking, waiting for my end to reach me.
But soon enough, it was over, and I swayed where I stood with the emotions coursing through my body. It was over, and I had survived.
I later learned that everyone had survived, that there were no casualties at all from the freak storm.
What else did I have to be thankful for? The reality of the storm had reset my dream machine, and I moved on to other terrors in my sleep, never to witness the storm again.
Anah slammed the fridge. “There’s nothing to eat again! The only half decent thing in here is that pineapple fruit salad, but it smells like it’s gone bad. When’s Mom going shopping again?”
Her brother Zeke crossed his hands behind his head as he tipped his chair back just a bit farther. “Probably about the same time you get all your homework done before it’s due.”
“One day you’re going to fall and scratch up the floor, and then we’ll see who’s a smartass, buddy,” she sneered back at him. “Tell them I’m going out. Be back later!”
Zeke called behind her, “Wear a condom!” as the chair legs thumped to the ground.
Anah sighed and rolled her eyes. It was such a pain having a brother who was a certified genius, although she admitted it probably wouldn’t be so bad if he acted like it once in a while. She paused to straighten her jacket and nodded at herself in the full length mirror by the front door.
She hit the sidewalk with a spring in her step that belied the fact that she was dying to get her license. Sure, her family lived in a large suburb of a large city, with public transportation galore, but that just isn’t cool. Her own car would be cool; even driving one of her parents’ cars would be cooler than nothing.
Anah’s boyfriend, Hugo, lived six houses down. He was sixteen days younger than Anah, so he had neither license nor car. She crossed through his yard, leaping over an abandoned toboggan, making a beeline for his front door.
Hugo’s sister June answered the door and jerked her head toward Hugo’s room. “He’s back there being weird. Don’t bother me.”
Anah smiled sweetly at June as she brushed by. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” The two girls had a long history of treachery towards each other, dating back years before Anah and Hugo got together. June enjoyed being nice to everyone’s face, while spilling the beans about them behind their back. Anah couldn’t stand her, but she put up with her for Hugo.
The door to his room was closed, all the way, which was unusual, since the frame had warped when a tree limb fell on the house last year during the bad wind storm. Anah tapped lightly, then tried to push the door open. It wouldn’t budge. She could hear Hugo in there talking, and it sounded like he wasn’t alone. It sounded like there were three or four other people in there, actually, and Anah beat on the door with her fist and called his name. “Hugo?”
She heard something sliding across the floor, then the door opened so quickly she almost fell into the room. Hugo’s eyes were wild, and his hair was sticking straight up. Anah peered around him, only to see several large cardboard boxes.
“What on earth are you doing, babe?” she asked, taking a step to look inside the first box. It was full of VCR tapes. She picked one up to read the label, only to find that it was some episodes from the third season of Night Court. June’s warning that Hugo was being weird echoed in her head.
“I have to find something,” he answered, checking the hallway to make sure she was alone. “I have to find it tonight.”
“Find what?” Anah leaned over to turn down the volume on whatever video Hugo was watching on his laptop.
“No!” He rushed to stop her. “You pressed the space bar. Dammit!”
“Hugo, I–I don’t know what is going on with you right now, but I really don’t like it. Does your mom know you’re acting like this?”
Hugo wasn’t paying a bit of attention to her; instead, he was readjusting the volume. He turned it up just in time for Anah to hear one line clearly: my advice is to not let the boys in. It was all too much for her.
“Hugo, I came over to see if you wanted to get something to eat, but since you’re busy, I’ll just ask June. See you later.” When Hugo failed to look up, Anah left his room, closing the door behind her.
She was just about to knock on June’s door when she remembered that June didn’t want to be bothered. Anah wavered a moment, then went ahead and knocked anyway. June didn’t answer, so Anah turned and went to see if she was in the kitchen.
June was in the kitchen, chopping up some celery.
“Hey, you weren’t lying when you said Hugo was acting weird. Do you want to go get something to eat with me? I am not up for dealing with whatever brand of crazy he’s on right now,” said Anah.
June adjusted her grip on the knife and looked Anah in the eyes. “You know what? Yeah. Let’s go. I have to tell somebody about what’s been going on today, and it might as well be you.”
Anah was taken aback by June’s abrupt agreement, but rolled with it. “You still like Waffle House?”
“Whatever,” June shrugged.
The Waffle House was only four more blocks away, past an elementary school that Anah and June hadn’t attended since it opened when they were already in high school. The two girls made the trip in near silence, even though Anah was practically bursting at the seams to find out June’s story about Hugo.
“Zeke?” Anah was surprised to see her brother already sitting a booth when they walked in. “You hate Waffle House.”
“What are you talking about, Anah? I love the cheesesteak omelets. You know that,” he answered.
June slid into the booth on Zeke’s side, and he put his arm around her when she was close enough. Anah was really confused now. “When did you two get together?”
June laughed her meanest laugh. “We’ve been together for three years, loser. You just never paid enough attention to anything outside your little world to notice it.” Zeke laughed. He laughed. He and Anah shared normal sibling rivalry, sure, but he had never been outright mean to her.
She didn’t know what to say; she turned and left the restaurant. Her footsteps fell faster and faster until she was back in front of Hugo’s house.
She opened the front door and went to his room, where the same voices were coming through the door. She opened it and smiled at Hugo.
“Hey babe, let’s watch some Night Court, whatever that is.”