He felt uneasy, out of place. He thought it was China; it might have been Burma. But he was there, wherever it was. He was standing on the sun deck of a multi-level wood home that jutted precariously from a rich, deep, green, tropical hillside.
Near him were several Asians about whom he knew little. One of them was a pretty young woman with shiny black hair falling magnificently from under her inverted funnel hat and halfway down her back.
He and the others were watching the far horizon. Carefully. Waiting for something. What that something was, was not clear. For a long time he panned the distant hills and forests. Waiting. Watching. For what? For something, he was sure. All the while nothing was said. Nothing heard. It was as if the world was mute or he was deaf. Then came the dread.
He knew something terrible was about to happen. It was what he had been looking for. Something awful was going to happen there – at the horizon, at the edge of the green forest below and beyond them. He felt nauseous and things began slowing down. The people near him stirred slightly, gradually. There was still no sound.
Then came a flash of light. Not as bright as he would have expected. But he knew it was what he’d been waiting for. He knew he’d known all along. Far off it rose. Boiling, spinning, climbing in an expanding column. A vast structure of wind, heat, and cloud. It billowed up in the distance, nearly assuming its final, awesome shape before the first wind rustled through the trees.
Almost at the horizon, at the base of the fully developed cloud, there was a subtle, swaying in the trees. It was like the inner ripple in a circle of water created by a stone tossed into a pond or still creek. It was slowly moving towards him and the others. All of them stood motionless, stunned by the overwhelming spectacle.
He thought of his family and friends, of old girlfriends, of those beside him, and he felt a kind of hopeless resignation. A kind of emotionless emotion or perhaps an emotion denied its outpouring by the obvious futility of its expression. He knew there was nothing he could do about anything. You couldn’t even wish to do anything about anything because nothing could be done. It was all over.
He felt the wind in stages. Lightly at first, then stronger. Then the heat. And the deck began to shake and sway. It pitched to the side and broke from its foundations. Oddly, he made no effort to move even when the floor fell out from beneath and he and the others fell towards the lush jungle floor below. As they dropped there was a last, furious wave of heat and wind and he noted how inevitable it all was – how self-fulfilling, so outside the control of anyone or anything. And then it was really over.
He couldn’t believe it, but the shaking began anew. Persistent, annoying. He found he could move again. He found his voice.
“What?” he cried out, fighting to open his eyes. “What?”
“Hey,” a voice called to him, “hey, wake up.”
“Huh,” he said.
“I said, wake up.”
He rolled over on his back and looked up.
“Jesus Christ,” Strader said, hovering over him, “you were groaning like mad. Wake up.”
“I’m awake now,” he said, rubbing his eyes. Strader walked across the room and sat down on his bed.
“Jeez,” he said, sitting up, “I must have been dreaming.”
“Must have been a hell of a dream,” Strader commented.
“I guess so,” he said.
“You remember it?” Strader asked.
“No, just vague stuff. Something weird with green country and Chinese or something.”
“Green Chinese?” Strader laughed.
“No,” he said.
“It was a joke,” Strader said, pulling on his boots.
“Must have been a hell of a dream,” Strader repeated.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You were sure groanin’ like crazy,” Strader said.
“I think I’ve had it before. I have a feeling I have.”
“I’ll pass on it myself,” Strader said, standing up. “I’ll let you have it.” They both laughed.
“Thanks,” he said.
“No sweat,” Strader laughed. “Green Chinese.”
“I’m sure I’ve had it before,” he said.
“Probably have,” Strader said. “A lot of people have the same dream a lot. The same one over and over.”
“That’s probably it, whatever it was,” he nodded. “It seems familiar even though I can’t remember the details. You know what I mean?”
“Sure, but it’s over now. You might as well forget it. Dreams aren’t real.”
“They sure seem like it sometimes.”
“It’s a game your mind plays.”
“I guess so.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Well, I’m awake now. That’s the reality.”
“What’s so great about reality?” Strader joked
“It’s better than that dream,” he suggested.
“At least you stopped groaning,” Strader said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Hmmm,” he grunted.
“You goin’ to chow?” Strader asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Better hurry or all the good stuff’ll be gone,” Strader kidded.
“Right,” he said dully, “whatever.”
“Whatever,” Strader echoed.
When Strader was gone, he finished putting on his uniform and boots, locked up his closet, and headed to the chow hall. Outside, he was surprised to see how late in the day it was.
I hate swing shifts, he told himself, looking at the distant mountains beyond the site. The terrain looked nothing like that in the dream. That was a good thing, but the feel of the dream was hard to shake. You never have any free time on swings, he griped to himself, you’re always tired.
That’s probably why I had that damn dream, he thought, feeling profoundly alone as he entered the semi-crowded chow hall. Lots of people probably have dreams like that, especially when they are tired. And swings really made you tired. Tired and lonely feeling. Susceptible to dumb dreams. And feeling lonely.
He stood in the serving line until he realized they were dishing out roast beef. The last time they’d served the thin-sliced meat he had gingerly turned it over with his fork and found a rainbow sheen on the underside. Replacing his tray, he decided he’d eat something else, someplace else. That roast beef was unacceptable.
With his head still in the cloud of his late afternoon nap dream, he walked back out of the chow hall – not seeing Strader’s arm-flailing attempt to get his attention – and headed toward the gig, the work compound.
“I hate swing shifts,” he muttered as he walked along, half-expecting his dream to suddenly manifest itself in reality.
The sun, setting behind the mountains far in the distance to his left, lit the buildings and roads around him in a weak, yellowish light. Sighing deeply, he lowered his head and, concentrating on the shiny tops of his boots, tramped on to work.
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