Chapter 14:

One of Those Dreams

A large bell resounded in the stalk forest, shaking the fleshy stem Tour Guide clung to. He had almost reached the top, a narrowed tip from which projected a curled leaf and on which sat the tree rat, its tail braided with the stalk. Just a little farther and he would be able to see over the other stalks for an exit. As he lifted his leg to create another foothold, another "dong" reverberated through the forest, and his stalk trembled. Tour Guide fought to retain his grip, but the stem jiggled like gelled jilafi fat, shaking loose his fingers. He fell backwards through the air, staring at the tree rat until it became a dark dot, blending into the stalk. Wind spiked his comb-over and whipped at his pajamas, filling his night shirt like it would the sail on a ship, or a parachute. That would be nice right now, a parachute to slow his descent. Or one of those large inflatable cushions used in the traveling circuses to break his fall.


He didn't want to look down, to see how long he had left. It had taken him an eternity to reach the top of the stalk, but he doubted it would take that long to reach the bottom. If he knew the gravitational constant on this planet, whatever planet this happened to be, and the height of the stalk and the speed with which he was falling...

No, he didn't want to know. It was bad enough knowing it would end like this. And that stupid bell welcoming him to his death. It reminded him of something, the bell. It sounded just like the chime his wife had chosen for the alarm.


Oh, holy easel, no. He didn't want to go back. Not to work, not his house. Let him die there, an impacted puddle on the forest floor.


Tour Guide groaned. He flung his arm over the side of the bed and punched the noisy box with the cup of his fist.

"I was about to shut it off myself."

He rolled over and eyed his wife. Her hair was creased from the same sleep that had set the wrinkles around her eyes farther into her beige skin.

"Sorry," he muttered, throwing the covers back and lowering his feet onto the floor.

"Do you ever have one of those dreams you don't want to wake up from?" she asked, snuggling back into bed. "I mean the kind that's so wonderful you wish it were real."

Tour Guide stopped at the door, looking at her over his shoulder. "Every night," he said, opening the door. "And then I wake up."