by Lisa McMann
She gets in the car.
Starts the engine.
Pulls out of the parking space.
Cabel stands there, looking. Arms folded across his chest. His lips are concerned.
She leans over and rolls down the window. “Get in. You’ve missed the bus by now.”
His expression doesn’t change.
He doesn’t move.
She hesitates, one more minute.
He turns and starts walking toward home.
She watches him, sighs exasperatedly, and guns it. Her tires squeal around the corner. Idiot.
October 10, 2005, 4:57 a.m.
On a thin piece of paper in the cave of her own dream, Janie writes:
I keep to myself.
I have to.
Because of what I know about you.
And then she crumples it up, lights a match, and turns it into ash. The charcoaled remains shrivel up and the wind takes them down the street, across the yards. To his house. He steps on them as he saunters to catch the bus. The ash is softer than the crisp Halloween leaves that gather and huddle around the corners of his front step. Under the weight of his footstep, the ash disintegrates. The wind swallows it. Gone.
Janie wakes up, running late for school. She blinks.
She has never had a dream before—not that she can remember.
She only has everyone else’s.
At least she can sleep during hers.
She gives her straight dirty-blond hair a lesson with a wet comb, brushes her teeth at top speed, shoves two dollars in the front pocket of her jeans, and grabs her backpack, searching wildly for her keys. They are on the kitchen table. She grabs them, saying good-bye to her nightgowned mother, who stands at the sink eating a Pop-Tart and looking aimlessly out the window.
“I’m late,” Janie says.
Her mother doesn’t respond.
Janie lets the door slam, but not angrily. Hurriedly. She climbs into the Nova and zooms to Fieldridge High School. She’s ten long strides from her English classroom when the bell rings, just like half the class. Sliding into her desk, the back seat in the row nearest the door, she mouses unnoticed through the class, except for a sleepy grin from Carrie. Janie stealthily finishes her math assignment as the teacher drones about the upcoming weekend senior trip to Stratford.
Cabel’s back is to her. She has an urge to touch his hair. If she could reach him, she might. But then she shakes her head at herself. She is very confused over her feelings about him. It’s more bizarre than flattering to know he dreams about her. Especially when he does it after being that horrid monster-man. She may even admit to being a little afraid of him.
And now she knows where he lives.
Just two blocks from her.
In a tiny house on Waverly Road.
“Your room assignments,” Mr. Purcell drones, waving fluorescent yellow papers like sun rays above his head before tossing handfuls at the first person in each row. “No changes allowed, so don’t even try.”
Janie looks up as titters and groans fill the room. The boy in front of her doesn’t turn around to hand her the paper. He tosses it over his shoulder. It floats, hovers, and slides off the slick laminate desk before Janie can grab it, whooshing and sticking under Cabel Strumheller’s shoe. He kicks it toward her without acknowledgment. His hair swings lightly around his shoulders.
The list places Janie in a room with three rich snobs from the ritzy Hill section of North Fieldridge: Melinda Jeffers, who hates her, Melinda’s friend Shay Wilder, who hates her by default, and the captain of the girls’ soccer team, Savannah Jackson, who pretends Janie doesn’t exist. She sighs inwardly. She’ll have to sleep on the bus on the way.
But she’s curious to know if, after all these years, Melinda still dreams about Carrie with ginormous boobs.
October 14, 2005, 3:30 a.m.
Janie meets Carrie under the black sky in Carrie’s driveway. They offer little greeting besides sleepy grins, and Janie climbs into the passenger seat of Carrie’s Tracer. They drive in silent darkness to school. Janie’s just glad she doesn’t have to drive at this hour.
They pass Cabel Strumheller when they get close to school. He’s walking. Carrie slows and stops, rolls down the window, and asks if he wants a ride, but he waves her off with a grin. “I’m almost there,” he says. Up ahead, the Greyhound bus gleams under the school’s parking lot lights.
Janie looks at Cabel. He catches her eye briefly and looks down. She feels like shit.
Cabel and Janie’s non-fight in the parking lot began a long series of non-fights. Not only do they not fight, they no longer speak.
But Janie sees him, kisses him, in his library dreams.
She also sees him, a raging maniac. A scarred-faced lunatic with knife-fingers, who repetitively stabs, slices, and beheads one middle-aged man, over and over and over again. She feels only slight relief that he doesn’t kill anyone else.
Not yet, anyway.
Not her, so far.
And every time he dreams it, the bell rings before Janie can figure out how to help him. Help him do what? Help him, how?
She has no idea. She has no power. Why do all these people ask her for help? She can’t do it.
But she sure doesn’t get much done in study hall these days.
The oversleepers, latecomers, and don’t-give-a-shitters have either arrived or been written off by the teacher chaperones. Carrie sits with Melinda, near the front.
Janie sits in the last row on the right, next to the window. As far away from everyone as she can get. She stows her overnight bag in the compartment above her seat. She is glad to note that the restroom is at the front of the bus. She twists the overhead TV monitor so its blue glow doesn’t blind her, and puts her seat back. It only goes a little way before it hits the back wall.
Before the bus is loaded, Janie is dozing.
She is jarred awake by a splash of water in her face. She’s in a lake, fully clothed. She shivers. A boy named Kyle is yelling as he falls from the sky above her, over and over and over, until he finally lands in the water. But he can’t swim. Janie feels her fingers growing numb, and she kicks out with her feet, trying to stop it, trying to get out.
And then it’s done.
Janie blinks, and sits up, startled. A shadowy face appears above the seat in front of her. “What the fuck?” says Kyle. “Do you mind?”
“Sorry,” Janie whispers. Her heart races. The drowning dreams are the worst. Well, almost.
She hears a whisper in her ear as she struggles to see clearly. “You okay, Hannagan?” Cabel slips his arm around her. He sounds worried. “You’re shivering. Did you just have a seizure or something? You want me to stop the bus?”
Janie looks at him. “Oh, hey.” Her voice is scratchy. “I didn’t know you were there. Um . . . ” She closes her eyes. Tries to think. Holds up a weak finger, letting him know she needs a moment. But she feels the next one coming already. She doesn’t have much time. And she has to prepare him. She doesn’t have a choice.
“Cabel. Do not freak if—when—I do that again, okay? Do NOT stop the bus. Do NOT tell a teacher, oh God, no. No matter what.” She grips the armrests and fights to keep her vision. “Can you trust me? Trust me and just let it happen?”
The pain of concentration is excruciating. She is cringing, holding her head. “Oh, fuckity-fuck!” she yells in a whisper. “This was a stupid, stupid idea for me to come on this trip. Please, Cabel. Help me. Don’t let . . . anyone . . . gah! . . . see me.”
Cabel is gawking at Janie. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. Jesus.”
But she is gone.
The dreams pelt her, from all directions, without ceasing. Janie is on sensory overload. It’s her own physical, mental, emotional, three-hour nightmare.
Janie opens her
eyes. Someone is talking on a microphone.
When the fog fades and she can see again, finally, Cabel is staring at her. His eyes, his hair, are wild. His face is white. He is holding her around the shoulders.
Gripping her, is more like it.
She feels like crying, and she does, a little. She closes her eyes and doesn’t move. Can’t move. The tears leak out. Cabel wipes her cheeks gently with his thumb.
That makes her cry harder.
The bus stops. They are parked in a McDonald’s parking lot. Everyone files off the bus. Everyone except Janie and Cabel.
“Go get some food,” she urges in a tired whisper. Her voice is still not back.
“Seriously. I’ll be okay, now that everyone’s . . . gone.”
“Will you go and get me a breakfast sandwich then?” She’s still breathing hard. “I need to eat. Something. Anything. There’s money in my right-hand coat pocket.” The effort to move her arm seems too difficult.
Cabel looks at her. His eyes are weary. Bleary. He removes his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose, then rubs his eyes. He sighs deeply. “You sure you’ll be okay? I’ll be back in five minutes or less.” He looks unwilling to leave her.
She smiles a tired half smile. “I’ll be fine. Please. I don’t think I can stand up if I don’t get something to eat soon. That was much, much worse than I expected.”
He hesitates, and then removes his arm from behind her shoulders. “I’ll be back.” He sprints off the bus. She watches him out the window. He runs through the empty drive-through lane and taps on the microphone. Janie smiles. What a dork.
He returns with a bag full of breakfast sandwiches, several orders of hash browns, coffee, orange juice, milk, and a chocolate shake. “I wasn’t sure what you’d want,” he says.
Janie struggles a little and sits up. She pours the juice down her throat and swallows until it’s gone. She does the same with the milk.
“Can you chug beer like that?”
She smiles, grateful he isn’t asking questions about her strange behavior. “I’ve never tried it with beer.”
“That’s probably wise.”
“Have you?” She takes a bite of a sandwich.
“I don’t really drink.”
“Not even a little, here and there?”
She looks at him. “I thought you were a partier. Drugs?”
He hesitates a split second. “Nada.”
“Wow. Well, you sure looked like hell for a couple years.”
He is quiet. He smiles politely. “Thank you.” He nods at her sandwich.
He stares at the seat in front of them while she eats. She hands him a sandwich and he takes it, unwraps it, and eats it slowly. They sit in silence.
Janie belches loudly.
He looks at her. Grins. “Jesus, Hannagan. You should enter a contest.”
They share the chocolate shake.
The other students board the bus in twos and threes. Some stand outside, sucking on cigarettes.
The bus begins to move again.
“Now what?” asks Cabel. He has a look of concern around his eyes. He combs his hair with his fingers, and it feathers and falls again.
“If it happens again, don’t worry.” She shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know what to tell you—I promise I’ll explain this all when I can. Where are we, by the way?”
“We’re getting close.”
She rummages around in her pocket and produces a ten-dollar bill. “For breakfast,” she says.
He shakes his head and pushes it away. “Let me think of this as our first date, will you?”
She looks at him for a long moment. Feels her stomach flip. “Okay,” she whispers.
He touches her cheek. “You look exhausted. Can you sleep?”
“Until somebody else does, I suppose.”
His eyes turn weary again. “What does that mean, Janie?” He puts his arm around her shoulders. She rests her head against him and doesn’t answer. In minutes, she is sleeping gently. He takes her hand with his free hand and strings his fingers in hers. Looks at her hands, and lays his cheek against her hair. After a while, he is asleep too.
Janie is outside, in the dark. She looks behind her, and the shed is there. She walks around the shed this time, to see him coming.
He looks normal—not a monster—standing at the back door of a house, looking in. Then he slams the door and marches through the dry, yellow grass. The middle-aged man bursts out the door after him, yelling, standing on the step. He carries a rectangular can in one hand, a beer and a cigarette in the other. He screams at Cabel. Cabel turns to face him. The man charges, and Cabel stands there, frozen. Waiting for the man to approach him.
The man punches Cabel in the face and he goes down. He squirms on his back like a scared crab, trying to get away. The man points and squeezes the rectangular can, and liquid hits Cabel’s shorts and shirt.
The man flicks his cigarette at Cabel.
Flops around on the ground in flames.
Screaming, like a poor, tortured baby bunny.
And then Cabel transforms. He becomes a monster, and the fire is gone. His fingers grow knives. His body grows like the Hulk.
Janie watches all this from around the corner of the shed. She doesn’t want to see it. No more of it. Feeling so sick, so horrible for witnessing it. She turns around abruptly.
Standing behind her, watching her in horror, is Cabel.
Janie waits an eternity for her sight to clear. For the feeling to come back. She sits up, frantic. She reaches for him.
Cabel is leaning over, his head in his hands.
He is shaking.
He turns to her, his face enraged.
His voice is raspy. “What the fuck is wrong with you!?”
Janie doesn’t know what to say.
His silent anger shakes the seats.
Cabel doesn’t speak until they arrive in Stratford. And then all he says is a harsh “good luck.” He gets off the bus and heads for his hotel room.
Janie watches him go.
She closes her eyes, then opens them again, and follows the cheerleaders in the other direction to their room.
Once inside, they don’t acknowledge one another.
Janie’s quite good with that.
The students meet in the lobby. Camelot starts in thirty minutes. Janie boards the bus, exhausted, and sits in the back row again.
Cabel doesn’t show up.
The play begins. Janie excuses herself from her orchestra seat and finds a spot in the near-empty balcony. She sleeps soundly up there for three hours, awaking in the closing scene. She slips back down to the orchestra seats and follows the others back to the bus.
The bus stops at Pizza Hut. They have one hour to eat before going back to the evening play.
Janie grabs a Personal Pan to go, eats it on the bus, and sleeps. Sleeps right through the play, in her backseat spot. Nobody seems to notice she didn’t get off the bus.
The bus arrives, most kids exhausted, back at the hotel. Janie falls into bed. She is numb, but not from anyone’s dream. Not this time. She thinks about Cabel. Cries silently in her pillow in the dark room. The heat register hums loudly. Savannah, the captain of the women’s soccer team, collapses on the covers next to her. They don’t speak. They hover at the edges of their bed.
October 15, 2005, 1:04 a.m.–6:48 a.m.
Janie jumps from one dream to another.
Savannah dreams about making the U.S. women’s soccer team, and meeting the legendary Mia Hamm, even though she’s retired. Big
surprise—this dream could totally be an episode of Lizzie McGuire. Just when Janie wonders if Savannah has even the slightest bit of depth to her, Savannah’s dream turns to Kyle, who sat in front of Janie on the bus. Interesting combo, there. Janie’s intrigued.
Until the switch to Melinda.
Melinda, no surprise, has a three-way sex party going on with Shay Wilder, who is in bed next to her, and with Carrie. The sex is normal at first, then unbelievably tacky, in Janie’s opinion. The bodies of Carrie and Shay are, to use a crass phrase, blown out of proportion. Janie manages for the first time in someone else’s dream to turn away.
Janie counts it as a major victory.
And then there’s Shay.
Shay dreams about Cabel Strumheller.
And in a lot of different ways.
By morning, Janie hates Shay with all her heart. And she has very dark circles under her eyes.
Shay, Melinda, and Savannah head down to breakfast. The matinee is at 10:00.
“See you on the bus,” Janie says, even though she is starving. The other girls don’t bother to answer. Janie rolls her eyes.
She takes a shower, wraps a towel around her head, and falls back into the bed. She sets the alarm for noon. The bus will be back for the luggage, and the students who didn’t elect to take in a third play, at 1 p.m.
Janie dreams for the second time in her life. She dreams that she is alone, drowning in a dark lake, and Cabel is on the shore with a rope, but he won’t throw it to her. She waves frantically to him, and he can’t see her. She slips under the water slowly. Under the water, she sees others like her. Babies, children, teens, adults. All of them floating just under the surface of the water, no one able to help.
It’s because they’re all dead.
Their eyes bulge.
She is screaming when the alarm goes off. Her towel has fallen off her head, and her hair is in tangles. She can’t see beyond it.
There is an urgent knock on the door.
And it’s him.
He’s holding a bag of food.