Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Nearly everyone got a slow start to the morning. Many seemed to simply go through the motions. Cody left a cold Pop-Tart half-eaten on his plate while Sondra stared at an empty coffee cup.
Cody finally shook his head, trying to clear it. “I’ll make you some coffee,” he said. “I might try a little myself.”
He started the camp stove, on an end table under the living room window, and opened the window a crack for air. He put the kettle on and sat back down. “You had the dream, too.” It wasn’t a question.
Sondra nodded, then gave him a thin smile. “I didn’t know you could throw a shoe that far. Remind me to only piss you off when you’re barefoot.”
He grinned, took her hand, and stared at his Pop-Tart.
As it turned out, everyone in Laurel — perhaps everyone in the world — had the dream. Most of them talked about it through lunch, filling each other in on details one or another had missed, then stumbled back to bed for a nap. Last night’s sleep was anything but restful…
They are all seated in a huge stadium. Other people — thousands, perhaps millions — are there too, all of them talking among themselves.
“I think this is everyone,” Charles says to Johnny. “All of us who didn’t drive away.”
The racket is deafening, but somehow Johnny hears him clearly. “Best watch for the bashers, then.”
“Take care that ye not be deceived!” another voice cries from some rows ahead.
“That sounds familiar,” Tim says to Sara and Cleve, seated on either side of him.
“Yeah…” Cleve begins, but a gigantic screen that nobody noticed before lights up before them. Music begins playing. The hubbub dies down a bit, but not entirely.
It’s fast-paced, like an infomercial, but with black and white imagery and a soundtrack straight out of '50s educational films. It begins with a line of white pickups rolling past the camera; the boos in response are good-natured at first.
“Why walk, when you can ride?” the cheery male voiceover says. “Join our survey crew!”
All over the stadium, the boos take on an edge. A forest of middle fingers sprouts from the crowd, swaying in the still air.
“Your friends, your family —”
“Not my family!” Kelly screams, Charles and Tina on either side of her.
“— are all enjoying the freedom of the open road!”
All the kids hold their guardians tight, crying. Sara pulls Ashley into her lap and buries her face in Tim’s shoulder. “Tim!” she cries. “I can still see it!”
Tim puts his arms around them. “It’s okay,” he says. “They can make us watch, but they can’t make us join.” He closes his eyes, but he too can still see and hear.
The voiceover continues, persistent and inescapable over the roar of opposition: “As a valued member of our team, you will be freed from all physical issues, including eating, sleeping, bathroom breaks…” the video cuts to the inside of a truck, showing a series of vistas through the windshield: freeways, suburbia, cities, lakes, wilderness. “You’ll never get tired, never get uncomfortable, never get bored. Your emotions, your addictions, your urges… you’ll be freed from it all!”
Cody steps into the aisle, kicks off a shoe, and throws. It seems like miles, but his shoe sails all the way across the stadium and bounces off the screen. Cody’s area erupts in cheers as he throws his other shoe. A middle-aged man across the aisle stands, turns his back, and calmly moons the screen. More cheers; the man pulls up his pants then he and Cody high-five before sitting down.
Over the raucous jeers, through the averted and closed eyes, the covered ears, the images and sound persist: “Not only the things you see as part of our team, but the experiences of your entire life — even those you have forgotten — will be preserved… giving you the gift of IMMORTALITY!” The word unfurls across the screen as the narrator speaks it.
A large group begins chanting as one, “NOOOOO! NOOOOO!” Others take it up; the roar is ear-splitting but cannot drown out the soundtrack playing in their minds.
Sondra stands and empties her revolver; the bullets strike the screen but seem to bounce off like Cody’s shoes. The air fills with shoes, pocket knives, and other belongings. The roars of protest are impossibly loud. Many men, and even a few women, moon the screen.
The final image shows a single truck, filling the screen. The cheerful music builds to a crescendo; the driver’s door opens as the voiceover concludes, “So why resist? Climb in! Get on board! We’re waiting for YOU!”
Some of them remember, just before waking up, a voice shouting “Our souls, Beliel! And what of our immortal souls?”
The kids were up later than nearly everyone else that night, their fear of another dream greater than their need for sleep. But what kept Tim awake was not the dream itself. He would leave #214, the two-bedroom unit he shared with Cleve, walk up and down the dark and chilly hallway for a while, then return, sitting on the balcony and opening another can of beer. As he was working on his fifth can, Cleve opened the door between the balcony and his bedroom; he wore a black robe over a grey sweatsuit.
“Trouble sleeping, I guess,” he said to Tim. “You wanna talk?”