“So, it turns out we have always been able to get there. I haven’t worked out how, yet – that’s for others – but I know it’s real, and I can prove it.” Jake was talking to his friend in the bar, the evening after his discovery. We won’t meet his friend again, so I shall leave him nameless. You can call him “Fred” if that would make you happier, but I am not certain that that was his name.
Jake went to sleep that evening, as excited as anyone had ever been to go to sleep. He laid there waiting to sleep, like a child the night before Christmas. He may even have been more excited than that. Maybe as excited as the night before the flight to Disney World. Of course, all he wanted to do was get to sleep, but all he could do was lay there awake, excited about the possibilities.
Eventually, and without being aware of it, Jake finally discovered that he was asleep, and that he was dreaming. Months and months of training had made him aware of lucid dreaming, and he had long been able to identify that he was dreaming, and control what he did there.
But the novelty was to turn away from lucid dreaming, once he was safely there, and to open a door. The doors are always there, but most of us never see them. They’re usually hidden away, disguised as something else, and completely inaccessible to a person’s psyche while it’s trying to contend with people being in the wrong places, and in the wrong groups, and your wife not being your wife.
Jake watched, briefly, a dream about a hill that was too steep, and that everyone agreed was flat, and that was beginning to move in a way that should have made no sense. But he ignored it, as he had learned to do. He imagined some rockets onto his feet, and he propelled himself up into the sky to get a better view. The dream he was supposed to be a part of was enclosed in a giant circular wall that extended around the hill, the people and a great swathe of other terrain that may or may not have been part of his dream had he let it play out. Beyond the wall was an ocean, except rather than being blue, wobbly and deep, it appeared to be flat, greenish and wet.
Out on this green ocean was a house, and in that house was a door. Jake flew towards the door, being careful to remember the rockets on his feet; any momentary lapse of judgement – Jake knew from grim experience – would make this a falling dream, and there would be no way out except that unpleasant landing that you get when you wake.
As the house grew larger, Jake swiped his muscular black arms and made the house itself disintegrate as if hit by a tornado. The house, Jake knew, left the door inaccessible, with walls surrounding it in an impossible MC Escher style. Jake glided down to the door and pulled on the handle. It opened, as you would expect, and Jake landed inside another Jake, from another world.
This Jake had been raised in a similar way. At some point, though, one decision, or perhaps hundreds, thousands, or millions, had separated this Jake’s life from the one that Jake knew in his waking hours. This Jake probably had the same parents – he usually did, and if he didn’t, he found the dream less… Something. So this Jake, it appeared, had the same wife, and lived in the same city. He knew this, because his wife was there, next to him, inside this basket, about 600 feet above the city in which they lived.
The new scenery, and the peace of the situation, was suddenly broken by a loud and tremendous roar. The sound, it turned out, of the hot-air balloon being heated to maintain – or gain, Jake could not tell – altitude.
The tricky thing about going through the door, was that:
A) It is not at all clear how one gets back to your own world; and
B) Jake did not know what the other Jake surely knows about his own life.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” Jake’s wife, Faith, said to him, delight and joy-tears all over her face.
“Absolutely amazing” Jake confirmed. He glanced around at the sunset on the western horizon, at the deepening blue on the eastern horizon, and the wife he knew and loved. He stayed quiet then, to make sure he didn’t say something wrong. “What a lovely day” he might have said, but what if it hadn’t been? What if they had argued only that morning, and the only great thing about the day was the way the sunny portion of it was ending?
Jake did another look all around the basket, ignoring the man standing in the middle checking wind gauges and other equipment. The sunset really was beautiful, and the sky in the north and south was the deepest pale blue Jake had ever seen.
The landscape, now further below than it had been, of the city where they lived, was familiar, although there were slight differences from the home he knew. That church’s spire was a little taller, the fountain in the park was painted a different shade of green. Things that were so minor that, if he wasn’t looking for them, he may not have noticed.
“What a great way to say goodbye.” Faith said, her voice breaking slightly.
“Perfect” Jake agreed, feeling quite out of his depth.
The man operating the equipment saved Jake from exposing himself as an imposter: “It looks like we’ll be landing exactly where predicted,” he said, in a gruff, countryside accent “around a mile north of here in a farm which we usually aim for when the wind is southerly.”
“Lovely” Jake replied, “and we’ll be picked up there?”
“Yeah” the man said “I’ll radio him to confirm exactly when we’ll be landing, and where, as we get closer. I think I told you – he likes to race us once I’ve given him my best guess.”
“Does he ever fail to get there first?” Jake asked.
“Almost never.” The man’s voice rose at the end, making the ‘ver’ sound very short. “So long as I give him enough warning… Only time he fails is if there’s a long and windy road to the destination.” he continued, his gruff voice carrying country-authority.
“Well, I half wish this would never end” Faith said, he gentle voice prodding at Jake for a response.
“The worst thing about great experiences is that they end, and then they’re only memories.” Jake said, trying to be loving, thoughtful and kind, but without commenting on what kind of goodbye they could be saying. Were they saying goodbye to each other? Was one going on a trip? Was one dying? Were they both saying goodbye to the city? To the country? To a loved one? So many traps to fall into, so much harm to do to this Jake’s life.
Faith turned away from Jake. Jake could not tell if this was a good turning away, or a bad one, for him. Should he console her, or let her grieve?
A car, in the city below, beeped its horn and almost in reply, the church tower which was too tall started peeling its bells. A train, leaving the city and heading for the tunnel that went through the hills, sounded its loud horn in warning to anyone silly enough to be walking through the tunnel. Just as suddenly as it had become noisy, there was peace in the basket again. The sun was inching its way towards the people far to the west of here, and it was getting darker. The pilot light in the hot air balloon’s burner was becoming more obvious as the darkness became more pervasive, invading the bottom of the basket like a rising tide of oil.
Jake walked over to Faith, and pretended this was his Faith, wrapping his arms around her slender midriff, and cutely putting his head on her shoulder. She reacted well – Jake was pleased to note – leaning her head towards his and stroking him with her ear.
“What are you thinking?” Jake asked, hoping it was a sufficiently broad question.
“That I wish we didn’t have to go, and also pleased that we are…” she said.
“Some people are scared of change, and don’t let it happen… And others are scared of change, and do it anyway” Jake said, reassuringly.
“When you’re right, you’re right, Jake” she said. Jake felt her physically relax in his arms.
“Do we have plans tonight?” Jake asked, forgetting himself.
“I think we should just try to finish the last things up, and then watch a movie on your laptop, what do you think?” she said.
“Plan” Jake said.
As he said these words, he felt a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something. “Ah, I’m not really moving tomorrow” he said to himself, as he remembered he was dreaming. Or at least I’m not moving – this Jake and this Faith are moving, but not me.
The balloon ride continued, without incident. Jake enjoyed every moment of it – the view, the company, the weird sensation of flying, silently, and without glass between him and oblivion. After a while, Jake noticed that the ground was getting closer. Then he noticed that there was a field with a white countryside-suitable car in it, and then he noticed a man standing in the increasingly dark twilight, waving a torch in his hand enthusiastically.
“This is exciting” Jake said to the man and Faith, generally.
“Now remember what we taught you in the briefing” the gruff voice said. “Failure to follow those instructions could lead to serious injury.”
“Crap” Jake thought, and then held onto the basket, and bent his knees slightly, hoping this was the right response in case of a hard landing.
As the basket fell lower and lower, it became increasingly clear how fast the balloon was travelling relative to the ground. The bottom of the basket suddenly touched the ground, and the basket fell forward throwing Jake up, out of the basket, and onto the ground. As his neck broke, Jake woke with a start, in his bed… in his bed.
Jake gasped audibly, and Faith rolled towards him, half asleep “You alright darling?” she asked, as caring as her sleepy self could manage. “Just a bad dream” Jake mumbled, “go back to sleep.” he said, knowing he could not.
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