The pain was gone. The world was gone, replaced by another. My face was pressed against a flat surface. My back ached--an effect of keeping one position for so long. I picked myself up. My neck popped as I turned my head to take in the surroundings.
I was back at work. Sitting in my chair behind the counter.
The shitty gas station at the edge of my town. The humming fluorescent lights. The smell of burnt hot dogs and raccoon piss. The sound of the cold drink machine’s engine kicking into overdrive and struggling to make it through one more night. Krikrikrikrikrik… (That thing is really starting to sound bad!)
Home sweet home.
On the other side of the counter stood Old Bob--one of our regular customers. He was staring at me with a six-pack of light beer and a paper cup of boiled peanuts in his hands.
“You were talking in your sleep,” he mumbled.
“What do you want, Old Bob?”
He put his wares on the counter in front of me, right in the puddle of drool that had accumulated around my face as I slept. I scanned his goods, sent him on his way, then called Jerry and asked if he wouldn’t mind coming in to work a little early.
He showed up about ten minutes later, which told me that he was already awake at four o’clock in the morning. When he came in, he asked why I looked so sick. I told him about the extensive nightmare I’d just had. I told him everything I remembered. How he and my other friends orchestrated a surprise vacation (like that would ever happen). How we got stuck at a place called Bedside Manor. How I kept waking up over and over again until finally I woke up for real.
“And what do you think your subconscious is trying to tell you?” Jerry asked, sitting on a milkcrate behind the counter and eating a stick of jerky he didn’t pay for.
“I don’t know,” I said, truthfully.
He stroked an imaginary beard. “And how did this dream make you feel?”
“Honestly, it made me realize something. I prefer being awake. Not just in a literal sense, either. I’ll always prefer an uncomfortable truth to a comfortable deception.”
Jerry got up and walked around the counter to the coffee station, poured a tall cup of the dark, steamy liquid, then returned and placed it on the counter in front of me. It looked like muddy pond water and smelled like burnt hair, and yet I wanted nothing more than to take it in my hands and have a sip. I had to force myself to look away.
“You know I can’t drink that.” I wanted to, but these were the doctor’s orders. No more coffee. Minimal caffeine until my sleep disorder was under control. I had to quit cold-turkey a couple weeks back. Jerry, in solidarity, gave up cigarettes at the same time. It had not been easy for either of us.
“It’s not for you. It’s for me,” he said, taking a swig and wincing. “Man. That needs a lot of sweetener. Hey, tell me again about how I killed all the sexy vampires; I really think you glossed over that part.”
“Okay, alright, I’ll just let my own imagination fill in the blanks. By the way, do you have your medicine on you?”
“Oh! I fell asleep and forgot to take my medicine! That must be why I’m having such weird dreams!” I grabbed the backpack out from under my chair and dug around until I found the prescription bottle. Before I could get it open, Jerry snatched it out of my hand. “Hey!”
“Thanks, dude.” he said, popping it open one-handed and dumping the entire bottle’s contents into his coffee cup.
“What the hell are you doing?!” I screamed.
He mixed the drugs in using the jerky as a stirring stick, then he took another sip. “Ah, that’s much better.”
“That was supposed to last me all month! Do you know how much I spent on that?!”
“Well, you got ripped off. These are just sugar pills.”
“No they’re not. They’re antipsychotics, and they’re the only things keeping me sane.”
“They’re placebos, Jack. The doctor said there wasn’t anything wrong with you, but you refused to believe it. These pills were supposed to give you some illusion of control. But it’s like you said, you’d prefer the uncomfortable truth to the comfortable lie.”
“How do you know this? Did you try to steal my drugs or something?”
“No dude, of course not. I’d never do anything that crazy.” He took another sip, then added, “I got bored so I stole your medical file from the office.”
“So you’re saying…?”
“Everything is okay. It’s all back to normal. If I were you, I’d try to completely forget about that dream and pretend it never happened. It’s only going to make you upset.”
I looked down, under the counter, where we kept the baseball bat “just in case.” It was still there. I didn’t want to use it, but it was good to know that I could reach it. Especially considering how the person presenting himself as Jerry was currently distracted and unarmed. He would never see it coming.
“Hey Jerry, you remember Lucy, right?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, of course. Why?”
“What kind of pet does she have?”