I think someone drove a nail through my shoulder. Maybe they poured some drain cleaner down my throat and glued my eyes shut.
I struggle to sit up, and force my eyes open, expecting to find blood and gore smeared on the pillow. There’s nothing there except a faint outline of my head. When I roll my shoulders, though, pain shoots down my right arm. That’s not a dream.
I maneuver my body sideways and lower my legs to the floor. My toenails are bright green. I stare at them and try to remember how they got in that state, but it’s no good. I don’t remember anything about last night after I walked out of my office into the rain. I’m not even sure what day it is.
I glance at my watch. It reads 7:04. From the pale light streaming through the window, I assume it is morning, and I struggle to my feet. Oh dear, what did I do last night? I wander to the bathroom to perform the necessities than drag myself toward the kitchen. I stop in the living room and stare out into the backyard.
I have lost my mind.
A young woman with auburn curls and dressed in a short purple tunic is brushing a white horse with some kind of horn coming out its head. She sports diaphanous wings. I trip over the low round ottoman and fall on my face.
I hear the door open, but don’t look up.
“Stanley,” a soft voice says. “Are you all right?”
“What has happened to me,” I say into the carpet.
She pats much shoulder as if I were a frightened woodland creature. “Why don’t you sit up? You’ll feel so much better.”
I push myself up, but I do not feel better, even though she smells like jasmine and vanilla and fresh grass after the rain. I try not to gape.
“How do you know me?” I ask.
“You don’t remember,” her voice is a little sad. “Last night just before you left work, you said, ‘Oh please, just let something happen. I need an adventure or I’ll go mad.’ I heard you, Stanley. We had an adventure.”
“But why don’t I remember?”
“You’re coming back to your world. In a few hours you won’t remember anything. I’ll be a dream, if that.”
“A dream?” I shake my head. Oh no, not a dream. That would mean I’d be heading back to the gray world of Williams, Clark and Winston. I’m already running late, but I don’t move. “But I don’t want to forget. I want to remember.”
She smiles. “Oh, Stanley. Don’t you see? You’re not ready. Not yet. When you want to remember, you will.” She leans forward and kisses my forehead, and I get a fleeting impression of eyes the color of jade, rimmed with purple.
The alarm rings.
I sit up, my right shoulder throbbing like a toothache. I’ve been dreaming . . . something, and now I have to rush. No time for breakfast. Just a shower and shave, and I grab a coffee before I board the train.
Weak sunlight filters through the soft gray clouds, and I catch the whiff of something familiar. Vanilla, mixed with some kind of flower. It reminds me of something. It doesn’t matter. I’m late.
I exit the train and hurry topside making my way to the tall, gray glass skyscraper that houses Williams, Clark and Winston, wave my ID and run to the elevator. I’m behind my desk with one minute to spare.
Mrs. Durnham has left a large mug of black coffee on my desk. I breathe in the aroma and think for a moment I smell vanilla. But then it’s gone.
What a strange morning.
Rain begins to fall, running down the sides of the windows like soft tears. I lean back in my chair to take watch before I turn to the pile of folders in my inbox. They smell of ink and paper and urgency. I grab the top folder and begin to read. I need to concentrate.
There is important work to be done.