2 Flight 1344
"That'll be $13.44."
My fingers ache, and my legs are starting to burn as I give the lady her last shot of Gin.
Mrs. Wilson, or Dana as she likes to call herself, comes to the bar around midnight and stays for about an hour. I would like to emphasize our closing time is midnight, and I would very much like to be free - at midnight. Dana, sitting around on a bar stool and doing nothing but stirring her drink with a spoon, is what you would call an obstacle from me getting off work. I'm sure she loves getting drunk just off the smell of lime margaritas and old whiskey, but the time for that has passed.
Gardenia feels like you could fit all of its citizens in this one bar. Tables that have never met a single patron in their life make their home here. The chairs smell of polish, and though the scent may be faded, it's the only scent to describe the furniture. Most of the time, this place only has a few seats filled, which is fine because that means I don't have to wash anything for a while. Dana is the one regular we have other than Burt (the guy who owns this bar). If I were to kick Dana out preemptively, before her desired early morning time, we would lose our minimal source of income, and then I miss my paycheck.
Money isn't the reason I keep Dana around. In fact, that lady is what I call a "Big Dreamer" that loosens up with a couple of drinks. Plus she's a sweetheart. Most women on TV or in magazines, the traditional divas, would probably share rumors or gossip about their husbands and stuff. Dana is different. Dana talks about the dreams she's had, the things she's seen, the stories that her mind lives out whenever it starts waking up after one too many shots. Every time she talks dreams, I know when she'll begin by watching her take a small journal out from her purse.
I swear Dana would have been a writer if she wasn't stuck in Gardenia. All those dreams she has, any single one of them she could pluck out from her journal and put on a book somewhere other than here. The lady's got quite the way with words too, judging by the speeches she gives me quite often. "Dreams," as she would say, "are no different than life." Dreams are Life in a different sense of existence. I've no idea what she means by that, but I figure that's just her way of saying Dreams aren't all that different from reality.
Take, for instance, the story she told me about planes and airports. Summer rolled around as she took her car to the airport in Illinois or Washington, or any airport that her dream could give her. It wasn't like summer in Gardenia, which is just the same as winter but with leaves on trees and the undecisive temperatures of fall. It was true summer, the kind of heat that she says would "leave you sweating on your couch and aching to take a bath."
I'm not sure how airports look like, never bothered to look them up because there's no point, but Dana said that "The floor, paved in gold and covered in cherry lines, weaved like spaghetti through the halls of the whole building. Nothing made sense except for the long lines and a few small signs hanging above us all. There were tiny models, of planes of course, and a few forgotten liners that have been retired, all suspended in varying levels of flight within one of the many atriums of the airport. The steps of travelers, marching beats of men following time, echo throughout the many chambers of this labyrinth."
I've always wanted to have a dream like Dana's, the kind that takes you to some place like that. But speaking as someone who isn't a dreamer, the only thing we can do is listen to those who are.
Before she could tell me what happened as she got on the plane, Dana says to me that it was time for her to go.
"I'm sorry little Bell, but I've gotta go dream again." her voice sounds sad.
"Have a good night Dana." is what I say in reply.
Looking at the time, I see that it is indeed one in the morning. I feel happy to be off work but... at the same time, I want Dana to stick around and finish the story. I could wait the next night, or maybe try and ask her during the day, but I say these things and never make good on them.
Dana leaves. I take her glass, wash it out with water and soap, then slip my sleeping boss a note to tell him I closed shop.
"$13.44," I say to myself. "Flight 1344."
It's two by the time I get back home to the church, and I find my mattress on the floor hasn't been made or cleaned. Typically, Cat isn't around to greet me, despite her saying that ghosts don't need sleep. I kick my mattress to the usual corner, take the blanket and give it a good shake, and finally lay my tired and aching body down.
It isn't long before I fall asleep, waiting for nothing to come in my sleep and nothing to change after.
Morning comes, and the sun shines through some of the cracks in the ceiling and the stained glass window. I brush my hair away from my face; sweat makes some of it stick onto my forehead. A familiar set of pale white hair glows in the little dark that I have left. Two pairs of eyes, burning once more like the sun, peer past my own eyes while looking for signs of life.
"Good morning sleepy head." Cat whispers as she pokes my nose.
"Ugh..." I groan in response, "What do you want?"
The ghost puts a hand on my mouth as she silences my groaning and complaining. Cold, the damn "skin" or ectogoop that makes up her body is cold as fuck. Cat's action is odd when I can feel her hand over my mouth and nose yet still breathe through my nostrils.
"Hey," she says. "Have a nice dream?"
At first I'm confused, then slightly annoyed, and finally curious.
"I don't dream," I say.
"Oh? But you do dream!"
I have no clue what the idiot's talking about, but something seems to have gotten her riled up. Cat may be a bit nosy, a bit of a weirdo, and a complete nutjob of a ghost, but she does say interesting things once in a while. This seems like one of her attempts to get my attention, or maybe it's another prank. I pretend to follow along anyway to see where this ends.
"Well, if you insist that I actually can have dreams, tell me about the one I supposedly just had."
According to the ghost, she tells me that the story starts when I held a golden ticket in my hand and arrived at a dingy old building.
At this point, I've nothing to lose, so I close my eyes and try to imagine what she's about to tell me.
"You're standing there, in the middle of nowhere, before a great big building about this big!"
She stretches her arms wide, and I almost smile at how ridiculous she is.
"You sure it's that big?" I ask her.
"Bigger." says the ghost, ignorant of my attempt to tease her.
"Anyways, you walked into the building, and inside was a room lit with candles, and most of the light bulbs were dead. Sort of like how our lights are almost all dead. I think they all looked the same too. There were tables, made of really nice wood and always polished, with cute wooden chairs that look like no one's ever sat in them. There was a counter, with a bunch of bottles and glasses of all sorts, with you behind it. On the wall next to those taps and stuff were pictures, lots of tacky things on shelves like snowglobes and bobbleheads, and I think I saw a fish on a shelf."
I would ask how I suddenly got to my bar and why I would ever dream of that place, but a story is a story.
She continues, "An old man with his head covered in darkness is snoring away at the end of the counter. A woman with grey hair, an old lady, walks into the bar and bothers you. She was bothering you, right?"
"That's Dana, right? Does she have a weird sweater on and these big round glasses?"
"Don't know about the sweater but she did have glasses."
"Meh," I say. "Sounds like her."
"Stop interrupting me! I'm trying to tell you an important story."
Cat pouts as she floats above the mattress and towards the lights hanging from the ceiling.
"Sorry. I'll be quiet." I smile at her as I say that.
"You're handing the old woman a small cup, with yellow liquid in it. I think you called it 'Shin?' Anyhow, the old gal thanks you and slurps the stuff down, then for some reason, she pulls out a diary and reads stuff to you. This part ain't exciting, so I'll say the good stuff."
Cat whisks and turns wildly in the air, like a plane or a bird. As she does her body catches the light and turns foggy, her hair takes on the gold of the sun and begins to act a bit frizzy.
Without telling me, she flies straight towards my stomach while I'm sitting upright. I began to feel the cold sensation that I had with her hands but amplified twenty times over. The muscles cramp up; I have a stomach ache more sharp and painful than how I imagine childbirth. My eyes flick up into my head, and all I see is red and black.
I jerk my head backward and bend my spine in ways it shouldn't turn. My vision finally leaves the building and in comes the things I want poor Bell to see.
I show lovely little Bell something unusual. Possession is just the easiest way to do this, so don't go thinking I'm doing anything terrible. Sure it hurts like a truck in the first few seconds, but so does life. At least I bothered to put her back to sleep for this. I'm about to present my very special "Half-Dreaming Cinema," and I need to be extra sure that she's in the right state for that.
The floor was gold, and everywhere you looked there was never a clear path. The cherry lines that ran across its surface were about as useful as breadcrumbs. Bell, wandering through the crowds, looked up desperately at the signs she could barely read. Her golden ticket had numbers, and she was attempting to find the signs that matched them. The path she made through this place brought her into a circle that always brought her back to the atrium. Planes hung on invisible threads, with no roof in site and pilots still visible in their cockpits. Frozen, corpselike almost, men and women with faces obscured by hats and masks. Accompanying these objects, stuck in their moments for all eternity, is the orchestra of turbine noises and wind shuttled behind. Everything is distorted, trapped between beginning, happening, and ending.
Ah, how cute she was to try and ask strangers. They all kept walking, never stopping even to pay attention, and Bell was always left behind without any dust to show for it. All these travelers, and not a single one willing to help out a young lady. The dream I show her isn't the same, but I like to take liberties to entertain myself. A plane from the very top of the atrium, one of those Boeing triple sevens, descends from the heavens and stops just in front of Bell. The numbers on the side match the ones on her ticket, 1344. Hoping maybe that it would be a way out from this dream, she takes her ticket and-
The plane in front of me is full of everyone I ever knew. I can see them, peeking through the windows, waiting to see me get on. Dana stands at attention, her eyes looking right at me from where she rises above all else. The steps are right there, my ticket is in my hands, and I could have gotten on. That plane was ready for me to leave on it, to go somewhere else.
For some reason I can't fully explain, I don't take the ride.
This goddamn prank from Cat has gone too far. I thought it would be interesting to go along with it, but for her to fucking possess me and even narrate everything I do in my mind. I take 1344, the golden ticket she placed into this story, and rip it in half. As I do, the plane in front of me breaks, along with the rest of this goldenly obnoxious floor.
I jump into the cracks.
I wake up, shaking and gagging as Cat pulls herself out of my mouth and releases me. Gasping, trying to catch my breath, it takes a moment before I grab her by the leg and pull her down as she tries to run away. For some reason, she can't seem to break free. My other hand reaches up and grabs Cat by the neck of her sheet dress. I want nothing more than to punch her, slap her, or do anything to let her know how wrong that experience was.
I let go of her leg, pull her closer with the hand holding her clothes, and throw a punch. It goes through her face, right on target but without feedback. I throw another, and it disappears through her hair as she turns. I feel my fingers slipping on her dress, the fabric escaping through my fingers and fading away.
She stands there, on the ground in front of me, looking away and down at the floor.
I imagine she shuffled her feet nervously before asking, "Didn't you want a dream?"
"Yes," I said back to her after a moment to think. "But that wasn't a dream. It wasn't my dream."
"But it was. That's your dream, right?"
"No. No, it fucking isn't Cat. I don't dream. That was not my dream; it was something you made up."
Her eyes look down at me as I lay back down, suddenly exhausted. I wait for her to say something so I can yell at her again. Her face, I don't care to look at it anymore so I couldn't tell what she was thinking.
"How would you know?"
I imagine Dana, waking up in a cold sweat from a dream. Her excitement isn't born from joy. I see Burt, his eyes staring at the ceiling and a glass of whiskey next to his bed.
"How would you know?" the nuisance in my life asks again.
I can't see myself, waking up from a dream.