We Are Running

It makes no sense at all

I dream of Alice running through Wonderland, pursued by a Jabberwocky intent on devouring her, bones and all. Something about her seems delicious: Maybe the way she smells, maybe the color of her eyes.

She rushes into a house I’ve never seen before. Inside is good fortune; for some reason, the Jabberwocky finds the living room so comfortable, he decides to lay down and take a nap right there. The moment Alice realizes this, she too stops, almost dropping to the floor. Her eyes close as she clutches the cat she’s been carrying close to her. Her pinafore has changed colors, from blue-and-white to purple-and-black. She is safe, but her body is still shaking. I realize now that Alice has been running for a very long time through a world that terrifies her every instant she spends in it.

My name is Christopher Andrew Klimas. I live in the United States of America. I am 24 years old, and the year is 2003. I have trouble really believing all of these things. It just feels sometimes like everything that’s happening to me is too weird to be real. Like I’m dreaming, and in five minutes, I’ll wake up in a motel room in the Midwest and turn out to be someone else entirely.

In one dream, I am walking through a mall at dusk on a mission to find my mother a birthday present. There’s something peculiar about the halo malls take on right before it turns dark. An excited buzz passes through the air; people are walking faster, going places intently. Buying, not browsing.

As I reach the top floor of the mall, a paranoia seizes me: Someone is watching me. I don’t know who, but I can’t shake the feeling. I keep walking, don’t look behind me. That’s the first thing you should never do when you’re being followed.

People push past me in clumps and bumps, and the light in the skylights is growing darker and darker. I don’t know what time it is. Models glare at me from posters mounted on storefronts. This must be what a bad acid trip feels like. But today is Thursday. Nothing weird should be happening to me today.

None of the stores are where I want to go. I realized that a while ago: The clothes they sell in The Gap or Banana Republic or even Structure wouldn’t fit me. The people who wear these clothes are in a different world from me. My clothes are ugly but I love them. Their clothes are beautiful and they fit their every curve. The feeling of paranoia changes. Now I’m an alien cast down to Earth without a single clue as to how to get home. Now everyone is looking at me.

I pass a closed store named Fire and Ice, with a portcullis blocking its closed door. I pass a pretzel place named Auntie Anne’s — my mother’s name, minus the “e.”

This little girl who has been walking a little bit behind me suddenly takes a few giant steps so that she’s walking beside me. I look over: Not startled, but frightened.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi,” I reply and as quick as that, she disappears into a store.

In another dream, I am driving late at night, and I am prey. This highway is ideal for speed traps. Two lanes northbound with no street lights, and the whole thing is surrounded by woods. Little cutouts for cops to park in and snipe at you with radar guns.

I’m not their ideal prey. I’m a little tired and I am going faster than the law allows. However, I am not a drunk driver. I’m just second prize. I’ve never had a cavity, never cheated on anyone, and have never been pulled over by the police. So I’m terrified of the idea of any of these really happening. Where did I put the vehicle registration? Maybe in the ashtray. That’s where it was in my dad’s car. Or maybe hidden in the driver’s side visor. I think I used to have it there but then got worried that it would fall out. So maybe in that small compartment there.

They always ask how fast you thought you were going. Don’t lie to the police. It’s not like they don’t know. They’re just asking to figure out what kind of a criminal you are, so it’s good to be cooperative. But could it be used against you in court if you say a number higher than what their radar says? I start reciting the alphabet to myself backwards. They ask you to do that too, don’t they? There are some lights flickering through the trees like Christmas lights asphyxiating themselves — the cops, or just traffic coming from the other branch of the highway?

Just keep behind someone else. They’ll react to the speed trap before me. Canary in a coal mine. That kind of thing. Best would be between two cars. Blend in. Black cars attract attention from the police. White cars don’t. Nobody ever said anything about maroon. But you can’t see color in the dark, really? Rods and cones. Truth and lies.

I don’t know how far it is before I can get off this highway. There’s no sense of geography. It’s all just a straight line. They should use minutes instead of miles on the signs.

The exit ramp to home smells at first of pizza straight out of the oven, and then its timbre changes, to cinnamon.

In a third dream, I am opening an envelope in the dark as my sister drives us home, up 83 through a light rain. I’ve been 24 years old for about 2 hours now, and the card is in my hands now. There’s a cat on its front that clutches a rose to its chest — and I peer carefully at what’s written at the top, catching the highway light where I can, but it makes no sense at all.

Eventually, high school physics comes through for me: it’s Greek. Lambda, the letter for wavelength, for distance between two peaks. I open it up and there’s more Greek, but there’s also a handwritten message, too.

“(I couldn’t find an English card I liked),” it begins.

Christopher Andrew Klimas, 42, wakes up just before dawn, judging by the faint blue creeping through the window blinds of his hotel room. He glances over at the end table; the travel alarm won’t go off for another hour. He sits up, pulls his legs up from the blankets. Thinks of calling Michelle, who’s already at the hospital but probably wouldn’t mind a little chitchat as she does morning rounds, but what would he say? What is there to tell about a dream — a story whose ending comes long after you wake up?

He gets up, walks to the window. The year is 2003, a year Christoper Andrew Klimas honestly never thought he would ever see, and the sun is about to rise over Indiana.

Article © 2003 by Chris Klimas