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“The Dream”, a sad short story of self discovery

Obligatory camel sign shotI met him on the highway, endless miles of brown, parched sand and sagebrush. The sun beat on me like a heat lamp next to my head. The wind howled, blowing dirt and dust everywhere, sticking it to the grease in my hair.

I walked slowly down the road, looking up only infrequently. I was dreaming. Thinking of the possibilities that had slipped through my fingers. Dreaming of the life that had been so promising, that had turned so bleak.

The terrain only seemed to reinforce this as I gazed around. Putting my head back down, staring once more at the pavement, I trudged along. My throat was parched. I had been walking since early that morning, slowly, for sure, but walking nonetheless. I was on my way to Las Vegas, the city where dreams come true, at least that was what everyone told me, and I desperately needed a dream to come true, so that was where I was going. My car had broken down the night before, about seventy miles from Vegas, which normally wouldn’t have been so bad except that I had taken a back road; there was no traffic. I had spent the night in the car and had been walking all day. I began to think it was a big mistake walking, but what else could I do.

I had four hundred dollars in my pocket, my life savings. I was going to turn it into some really big dough, a really big dream come true, but now my car was busted.  Hell, it would probably take four hundred bucks to get it towed into Vegas. I should have stayed at that piece of shit job just one more week, I thought. But I couldn’t take one more day of the idiot who was my boss. Ha, some boss. The son of a bitch wouldn’t even clean off one table, not one. He thought he was some sort of God; that every one was there simply to do his bidding.

L.A. in the summer is a really shit place to live, especially if your life is like mine. No money, a rotten job, no friends. Hell, I had lived on the streets for a while, wallowing in so much self-pity I had nearly drowned in it. What I was really drowning in was liquor. At least it was the good stuff.

I watched my feet hit the asphalt, dreaming of a cool, clear lake filled with trout just waiting to be caught, and then I- I don’t know, I just felt him there. And looking up, there he was, coming towards me from not fifty yards ahead. Where the hell had he come from? He was all dressed in white. Everything white; his shirt, pants, shoes, even his belt was white. There wasn’t a speck of dirt or dust on him. Not one. The wind didn’t affect his hair, didn’t seem to be blowing the shit into it that was blowing into mine. We drew closer to each other, our eyes meeting across the distance, and I felt it; a strange tingling feeling. It ran all through my body. I stopped about thirty feet from him, but he just kept coming, not glancing around at all, just staring at me, right in the eyes. Man, the tingling really started then. I stood dead still, watching him, wondering if I had finally lost it in the heat. And then he was standing in front of me, smiling, just grinning from ear to ear. I looked him over, the sun reflecting off the starched white clothes, making me squint to keep from going blind. His clean hair was slicked back and he was neatly shaven.

“So, here you are,” he said matter-of-factly, like he had been looking for me.

I didn’t say anything, I mean, what could I say. Here I was in the middle of the desert, my life a fucking wreck, no job, no car, not even a drink of water for my desert of a throat, and four hundred dollars to keep me alive. And then it occurred to me, how the hell was four hundred dollars going to keep me alive in the middle of nowhere, I mean, I still had to be fifty miles from Las Vegas. So I laughed, just kind of a giggle at first, and then it kept building until I was laughing so hard my stomach started to hurt. I gulped for air, slowly coming back to my senses. Running my hand through my greasy hair, I realized I must look terrible. I hadn’t had a shower for nearly a week, and I was wearing the same clothes I had put on when I had left that rat infested dump my landlord called a studio apartment.

“It is kind of funny, isn’t it,” he chuckled.

“What? What’s kind of funny?” I sneered. “You have no fucking idea what I’m laughing at.”

“Sure I do,” he replied, “Sure I do.” And then, out of nowhere, he pulls out this water bottle. Not a big one, but one like those fancy spring waters come in. “Here, have some of this.” He opened the top and handed it to me. “You need it.”

He turned around and started walking. Just like that. Handed me the water and started walking away. I gulped down a couple of swallows, watching him. He never looked back, just kept on walking. I had another swill and staggered off after him.

“Hey, wait a minute! Where you going?” I struggled to catch up to him.

“I thought we were going to Las Vegas. Isn’t that where you want to go?”

“Well, yeah, that’s where I was headed. But do you know how far we have to walk? Hell, it must be fifty miles or more,” I said, incredulous.

“But you were going to do it anyway, weren’t you?” he asked, gliding down the road. “Because you have a dream to fulfill there, don’t you?”

I just stared at the guy. Stopped right in the middle of the road and stared at him. He looked like everything I hated in people. Clean-cut, dapper little pansy. “Who the hell are you?” I snarled, as I felt the old familiar anger starting to boil up inside. He thinks he knows so much, that he’s so much better than everyone else. “Just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

He stopped, turned, looked at me and smiled. “Come on,” he said, jerking his head down the road towards Las Vegas. “It’s not as far as you might think.”

He put his hands in his pockets and we both stood there, staring at each other. I lifted the bottle to my mouth again to finish off the water, my eyes never leaving his, and proceeded to pour a bunch right down my chest. The damn thing was full! What the hell was going on here?

“See there,” he gestured down the road. I glanced up, taking a pull on the full bottle, and nearly choked. There were buildings up ahead! Not fifty miles ahead, but right up the road, maybe three or four miles. I turned my head and gaped at him. This was too weird.

“That can’t be Vegas,” I said, my voice cracking. “My car broke down seventy miles from Vegas.”

“But there it is,” he said, pointing.

I swung my gaze from him to the buildings and back. I even did it again. “Okay. Yeah, you’re right, we should get there,” I said, nodding my head. I handed the water bottle back to him, shoved my hands into my filthy jeans, and started walking.

Neither one of us spoke for a while, we just walked; lights began to come on up ahead as twilight approached. I didn’t know what was happening, but who was I to question this. I wasn’t thirsty anymore and Las Vegas was right up the road. Hell, this was better than I could have hoped. Everything else in my life had turned to shit; maybe things were starting to change. I started thinking about winning a ton of money. Not just a few hundred bucks, but a real wad. Boy, I could buy a lot of neat shit with some real dough. A place on a lake. A new car. I could see myself, driving back down this road in a new convertible, passing by that pile of junk I’d been driving for the last fourteen years.

“That’s right, that’s just what you need to be doing,” he quipped softly.

“What is?”

“Dreaming about winning a ‘big wad’. Fishing on a lake. Driving a brand new car.”

“How do you know what I’m dreaming about?”

“Look, there’s no reason to get upset. If you are going to make your dream come true, you need to believe it is true already. That’s why I’m here. To show you how to make dreams come true.”

I stopped and stared at him. He stopped too, that shit-eating grin on his face, and I could feel it build again. The anger, the hurt, the pain.

“I don’t need anyone, buddy,” I whispered. “Ok? So why don’t you just take off. Get the hell out of here and leave me alone.” I started shaking a little bit, and my voice got louder. “Why don’t you take a hike, because I’ve never needed anybody, and I sure as fuck don’t need some jerk like you!” My fists were clenched and I was nearly shouting. I took a deep breath.

Turning away, I saw the city, the buildings were right in front of me now and people started to walk past me. I swung around and there were buildings and lights and people behind me. But he wasn’t there anymore. I jogged back, expecting to see him walking away, crossing the street, doing something, but he wasn’t around. He was gone. Well, I didn’t need him anyway, I thought. He was just like my boss, always thinking he was smarter than everyone, better than everyone. Well, screw him.

I went into the first place I found, The Placer. I’d never been to Las Vegas before, but I’d heard that everything was shiny, that waitresses in skimpy outfits waited on you hand and foot, and most importantly, that the drinks were free.

Right.

This place was a dive. It was dimly lit and full of smoke. There was a table near the door where a guy in a black wrinkled shirt was dealing black jack. It looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and his hair looked as greasy as mine felt. There were cigarette burn holes in the dirty green felt covering the table and tears in the black nogahide roll that went around the edge. It was the only table in there. No one was playing the twenty or so slot machines, in fact, besides me, only one other person was there. She was playing black jack and she had definitely been around the block a few times. She must have been sixty, but she was trying to look thirty. Her hair was piled up on top of her head and had obviously been bleached some time ago, the dark roots showing through. Her makeup was thick, the eye shadow a dark bluish green. It didn’t cover the lines in her face or neck, nor did it cover up the years of hardship she had obviously endured. It occurred to me that had I been a woman, I’d be looking like that in a few years. She had a big ring on her right hand that had to be glass, and the glass in her left hand had to be scotch. I took the stool to her left and pulled out a hundred dollar bill.

“How’s he been treating you,” I asked, gesturing at the slimy dealer with my head while he counted out my chips.

“So-so,” she answered, and I could tell from her breath it was cheap scotch.

“Yeah, well that’s about to change.” The dealer raised his eyes to mine and a sneer crossed his lips.

“Good luck,” he muttered as he pushed my chips at me.

I started getting this bad feeling about the dealer in the first five hands; I lost every one. At twenty bucks a shot, my hundred was gone in less than three minutes. The room seemed to close in around me, and I started to gag on the smoke coming from the thin brown cigarette the old bag next to me was smoking.

“How does a guy get a drink around this joint,” I snarled.

The dealer grinned at me as he raised a clicker in his hand and snapped it a few times. “You still playing?”

I really wanted to punch this guy as I reached for another hundred, but I’ve punched enough guys to know that it wouldn’t be a good idea. There was a big bouncer at the door, and I do mean big. He looked like an ex-football player. A pro-football player. “Yeah, I’m playing as soon as my drink gets here.” As I finished speaking, the waitress appeared at my elbow smelling of cheap perfume and beer. Her outfit wasn’t skimpy, and even if it had been I wouldn’t have been interested. The space between her front teeth and her wandering eye were enough to ward me off.

“What’ll ya have?” It wasn’t really a question, just the same sentence over and over to each of her customers, devoid of any meaning to her.

“Scotch, straight. And none of the low rent stuff, make it Dewer’s.”

“Sure,” she said, “Dewer’s,” and as she turned to leave I heard her snort, “Right.”

The dealer was looking at me in that expectant way, the one that says, “Either put up the money or get out.” I handed over the hundred and got my chips, but declined to play until my drink got there. I had to stand up, move around a little. The place was so dark and smoky that I couldn’t see the bar less than fifty feet away. Boy, this was sure the place for me. Here I was, in glittery, shiny, fancy Las Vegas, in a run down joint, playing black  jack with a reptilian dealer, an ugly waitress, and an old lady loser.

And sure enough the dealer busted the next eight hands. That pissed me off. Why couldn’t I get a few winning hands? Why did everything seem to pass me by? Why was my life so shitty? I sat back down and put twenty bucks in the little square even though I thought I might die of thirst. I watched as I got two kings and the dealer turned over an ace.

“Insurance,” he murmured, another of those automatic words spoken without meaning to the spokesman. I looked at the old lady. She shook her head no. She had twenty also. Now I don’t know how I knew it, but I did; the asshole had black jack. I have heard that you never, ever, buy insurance, so….. He turned over the queen of diamonds and raked our money into his tray. Needless to say the next four hands went nearly as quick. My second hundred dollar bill was now resting in the form of chips in the asshole’s little tray.

I got up from the table and glanced around. The place was still empty except for the old lady and me. I didn’t even see the waitress who was holding my drink hostage. The bouncer sat on his stool, staring at me. I had two hundred dollars left and was just about to go spend it somewhere else when the waitress appeared.

“That’s two-fifty.”

“You have to be kidding! I thought drinks were free. Hell, this thing just cost me two hundred dollars,” I bellowed.

“You got the wrong place, pal, it’s two-fifty. You want it or not?” Man, she was a surly bitch. Must be the dealer’s sister.

I threw my third hundred on her tray and grabbed the drink. Smelling it, I said, “I ordered Dewer’s, not sewer’s.” I saw that I was talking to the back of her head; she just kept walking.

I took a drink of the vinegar they had the audacity to call scotch- Dewer’s, no less- and looked back at the table. While I had been consistently losing, the old lady had been holding her own. I saw now that during my conversation with the waitress the old bag had actually won a few more. The small pile of five-dollar chips in front of her had grown some. For two-fifty, I was going to drink every bit of the swill in the dirty, fingerprinted glass, so I might as well play a few more hands.

I sat down, got change, and pushed twenty dollars into the little square. And it seemed like I left my body or something. I was sitting there, and I knew it, but I didn’t see the old lady anymore. And the guy dealing the cards wasn’t there anymore. I was fishing; fishing of all things. From a small raft. It was my favorite place. The place I always went to get away from things. It was up in the mountains. No one else seemed to know about it. It was my place.

The lake was still and I could see the trout surfacing. Yeah, they were trout all right, and they were coming to get my fly. I pulled it up out of the water and cast it back out. It sat on the water, just floating, sitting there just like a little bug. The sky was blue, I mean really blue. The trees grew up out of the lake, right up the bank. It was a beautiful place. The kind of place I’ve always felt the best.

Then I saw him. He was standing on the bank, and there was a beaver sitting next to him. I mean right next to him, not afraid, not moving, not doing anything except looking around. The beaver looked up and stared me right in the eyes, and then the guy looked up and stared me right in the eyes. And I thought about the black jack game for a second, and I raised my head to look at the dealer, but it was just the sky. Just the sky being the brightest blue I’ve ever seen it.

“Hey,” the guy called. “Over here, the fish are right here.

I was really screwed up. I knew I was sitting at a black jack table, and I knew there was an old lady sitting next to me trying to look young, and I knew the dealer had bad breath, a wrinkled shirt, and BO; but I also knew the guy standing at the edge of lake was there too. He was waving at me now. Flagging me over. Like I really gave a rat’s ass about going over to him. I sat in the middle of the lake for a minute and decided what the hell. I reeled in my line and started to paddle over.

“The fish are right here,” he called out. “You don’t need to be way out there.

“What the hell do you know about fishing?”

“I know enough that fishing in the wrong place always gets you nothing.”

“Fuck off,” I called. The bank was getting nearer, and I could see that the guy was spotless. No dirt, no mud; and it was muddy. He reached down and pulled up a stringer full of fish. They were some great fish, too, 14 to 16 inchers. Pan size.  Just the kind I liked. He held them up as I paddled closer to the shore, and they wriggled. I mean they thrashed themselves around and around.

“You really try too hard for the things you want,” he shouted. The lake was shimmering and the beaver was still staring at me.

“Yeah, and what the hell is that supposed to mean.”

“Only that you try too hard for things you really want. You are the one who creates your reality, you know. You are the one who made that casino the way it was. You are the reason the job you had was so horrible.”

He was talking about the busboy/dishwashing job. The piece of shit I had just walked out on. The one that paid the rent; that got me the beer money I spent every Friday night; that put gas in the car. How did he know it was so horrible?

“That job sucked,” I yelled.

“But it gave you the things you needed, didn’t it.”

“Who the hell are you?” I screamed, my voice echoing in the stillness. The bank was getting closer; the trees a bright green-spruce, that’s what they were-and the lake was the clear green-blue that I remembered.

“The fish are right here,” he called again, “Just look at them.” He was right. They were all around him. I could see the sun flashing off their rainbow colored skin. I was home.

“I’ll be right there.” So I paddled harder, faster, doing what I thought it took to get there. I really wanted those fish. I mean, they were the best.

“Hey, slow down. The fish aren’t going to leave. They’ll be here until you catch them.” They were beautiful fish too. Wow, I thought. What great fish……… what a great lake…..what a cool place. Life was right here. I thought about living on a lake like this, with the woods all around, the animals, the fish, a small log cabin. Maybe I could even find a woman who could put up with me. A woman who understood me. Someone who would share experiences with me instead of expect them from me.

I was pulling up to the bank when I heard, “Hey bucko, you want a hit or not.” Shit, it was the dealer. And now the lake was gone; and the fish were gone, and the thoughts about the cabin were gone. And my life, a moment ago a beautiful, peaceful, right existence, was now the wretched thing it had been. Here I was, in the slum of a casino, with two hundred left, no job, no car, no home, no companion.

But I had a dream.

I was going to take this guy for everything he had. Every fucking cent. He had a four showing and I had twelve. Every nerve in my body was tingling. Really tingling.

“No, you take the bust card.” And he dealt himself a seven. Lucky seven. Twenty-one. A winner.

“Tough luck,” he murmured as he took my twenty. I proceeded to lose two more hands.

“It’s just not there pal,” the dealer intoned. It’s just not there.

“I’ll tell you when I’m finished,” I said, as though I had a bunch of money in my pocket to give to the son-of-a-bitch. “You think I’m just one of your regular jerks don’t you?” I asked.

“You’re just like the rest of them,” he said nonchalantly. He hissed when he said any word with an “s” in it. “You think you can hit it big, catch the big one, you know. And you think you’re going to make your dreams come true in Las Vegas. But it ain’t going to happen, you poor bastard. It just ain’t going to happen.” He was staring me in the eyes. Like he knew me or something. Like he could see right into my head.

“Yeah,” I said, “Yeah, well fuck off. I’m playing the rest of my dough right now. And you’re going to pay me, you asshole.” He didn’t. He took my money. My forty bucks. On a really stupid hand, too. I hit a 14 and broke. It didn’t matter what he had because I was gone. I was history.

But he busted and the old lady won.

And then the waitress showed up with my change. My $97.50. The last cash I had in the world. The last hope. I wondered where the hell I was going to sleep. Where I was going to live, what the fuck I was going to do. And you know what, I didn’t have a clue. Needless to say, I didn’t give the waitress a tip.

“You’re going to fish, that’s what. You’re going fishing.” It was him. He was standing between me and the old lady, looking at me. Smiling. Like he was my savior. Like he was my boss. “You really don’t know, do you”,he asked. “You don’t have any idea.” He said it as if I couldn’t hear him, like he was talking to himself. “What are you going to do, bet it all?”

He was a sly bastard. “I might.” I thought I’d show this asshole. “I just might.”

“That would be stupid.”

“Well maybe,” I said, “Maybe. But if I win, you’re wrong aren’t you? You’re not the smart guy you think you are.”

“And why do you think you are so smart?”

What a jerk! What a real jerk. I could hardly take it. I stood up, aware of the bouncer over the guy’s shoulder. “Just leave me alone will you? Get the fuck out of here, Ok?”

“But we’re not done yet,” he said. “We have a dream to fulfill. Just because you think you aren’t the person you want to be, doesn’t mean you can’t be that person. You have to want to change.”

“Yeah, well that dream of myself went up in smoke when I lost the last bet. I got nothing, you understand, I got nothing.” He acted like he didn’t even hear me. “It just doesn’t matter anymore!” I nearly screamed.

“Ah, but it does,” he said almost instantly. “It matters a lot. In fact, it—-IT, means everything. You just don’t understand that yet.”

“And I suppose you’re going to make me understand that, right?”

“Watch,” he said, “Just watch.” He pushed all the money I had left in the world into the little beaten up square. The dealer lifted his head, his bloodshot eyes glaring into mine.

“Yeah, all of it,” I responded. Like who the hell cared if I was without a cent. It really didn’t matter to anyone. It really didn’t matter to me.

And there it was. The first black jack I hit all night. Like a dream. Like a dream come true. Ninety-seven fifty times one-and-a-half. The jerk dealing had a hard time figuring it out, but it came to $146.25; and it was true. He paid me.

“Put it back out there,” the guy in white said. “Put it all back out there.”

Was this guy nuts or what! I’d been betting twenty bucks all night and now he wanted me to put $240 and something on the line!

I did, though the dealer made me pull off the seventy-five cents. And I hit another black jack; and played it all and hit another.
“See how easy it is.”

“No, I don’t,” I sneered. “No I fucking don’t”

“Well it’s easier than you think,” he grinned. “Come on, let’s leave.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I’m on a roll, right? I should do this again.” The dealer shuffled the cards.

“Does it feel like you should do it again?” he asked.

It felt right. It was the right thing to do. So I did. It was a winner. I left the money on the table.

“We got a two thousand dollar limit on this table,” the feeble dealer said.

“Well, do something about it.” So he called the bouncer over, Beano, he called him, and they whispered at each other. Then Beano left and the dealer said, “You can bet what ever you want.” Then he murmured under his breath, “You loser.”

So I bet the wad. All of it. Three thousand and thirty seven bucks, less the fifty cents.

Twenty-one. An ace and a king of diamonds. The most beautiful king of diamonds I’ve ever seen. The dealer pushed $4555.50 at me. “Good hit,” he said. “Don’t push your luck.”

“You’ll know when I’m done.” I looked at the guy in white and he just smiled.

“You’re hot.”

“Yeah, I’m hot.”

“You’ve hit more than the odds say you should. You know that don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“But what really matters, what really makes the difference is, how do you feel? Is this the right thing to do?” He looked into my mind; my heart. “Not the moral thing, but the correct thing?”

I thought for second. No, not thought, felt. And it felt right. It felt good.

“It feels like the thing to do.”

“Then do it,” he said smiling at me. “Then do it.”

So I did. I bet $7,592.00 on the hand. Just kind of pushed it out there. A bunch of pink chips.

The fact that I won didn’t faze me. That I hit another black jack did.

“It’s time to go now.” He grabbed my arm and the old lady stared, the dealer glared up at me, and the bouncer stood up, but we walked out of that joint with almost $20,000.00 dollars. And I was in heaven. All I needed was the fish. The trout. And the lake.

It was there. I was there and he was standing beside me. We were at the edge of the lake, the edge of the trees; their needles curling softly under my feet in the moist soil. I could see the trout swimming through the water. The clear green water.

“You have to realize that the things you really want, I mean the things you truly want, you’ll get,” he said softly. “You won’t have to try for them. You won’t have to work for them. You won’t even have to think about getting them.” His gaze was fixed on something I couldn’t see. And I felt the tingling feeling again. “If you would just let all the things you think you need come to you, you would do a lot less work, expend a lot less energy, and feel a lot less grief. Life can truly be a joyful thing. It’s just you that makes it hard.”

I watched the perfect fish, the perfect trout, come up to the surface of the lake right in front of me. Three feet from the bank. Feeding on a fly. Just like the one in my fishing vest. I reached for the top left pocket, the one where I kept the flies, and…

We were on the street. Reality seemed to slip sideways a little. I was really in a quandary here.

The lights seemed to flash a little too quick.

The people walked by us a little too quick.

It was like I was in two places at once.

The world seemed to spin around me; not that I was feeling drunk, or fucked up in any way. I was just off a little. As I looked over at the guy in white, I saw that he was walking and smiling. Not looking at anything in particular, just walking. Just absorbing. That’s the best word I have for it; absorbing the experience. As we walked, he just smiled; grinning at life. It was just him and me. People parted, moving around us.

The weird thing is that the people going by us acted as though they could feel him, or feel something from him. Several slowed as we passed, turned and just kind of smiled.  I wasn’t smiling though. I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

So I stopped and looked at him. I started getting goose bumps. Little shivers. And I gaped at the guy, who by now had stopped and was looking at me, his eyes encompassing me, seeing me, seeing through me. He could feel, see, and think everything that was happening in my mind. Maybe even more.

And he seemed to glow. A soft, silvery, glow. Not real bright, but there. “Just who the hell are you, man?” I was serious.

“Surely you know by now.” More people streamed around us, oblivious now.

“I’m really sick of your talking around every single question I ask you.” I was starting to get upset. I knew what that felt like. It happened to me all the time.

“But you have all the answers. You don’t see that do you? Not me, yourself. I’m just reflecting the answers you already know. But you know that.” He turned from me, the strangers flowing around us. The sidewalk was crowded. I was paralyzed. I stood and tried to remember where the hell I was, and what the hell was going on. I was in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was without a home, without a car, without a job, without a companion.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy in white was great, but he had only been there for the last few hours. I had lived a life of hell. I had been searching all my life. Searching for something. I don’t know what, but there was something out there. I think.

And then I was gone. I was back on that lake. The trout were surfacing. Thirty or forty right in front of me, the ripples from their feeding flowing past my raft. My fly was just laying out there waiting, patiently waiting. And I knew I was going to catch a fish. I knew just like I knew I was going to go to the bathroom again. It was that certain. As I sat there realizing I knew this, I enjoyed it. It was the way life was supposed to be. I had a dream; to catch a trout. A big trout. It was going to be at least two pounds. It would be colored like only a rainbow trout can be colored.

And I would let him go.

I’d never done that before.

The sun was shining, the water was glistening, and no sound intruded. It was heaven, it was just like being in heaven.

And then it happened. A huge hit on the fly, the fish coming straight up out of the greenish water, the sun flashing off his skin, his wriggling in midair standing out against the forest background. Like a dream. Like my dream. It was the best place I had ever been.

Then I was gone. And he was beside me again. The tingling feeling was sliding up through my arms, my body, my soul. We were back in the desert, on the lonely stretch of highway. I could see my car up ahead, wallowing in the desert, alone, broken down, falling apart. Just like me. I turned to the guy and he was smiling at me.

“Did you get any of that?” he asked. “Did you understand any of what you just experienced?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered, truly befuddled.

“You will soon, if you don’t now.”

Sure. “Ok, but won’t you please tell me who you are and what the hell is going on?”

“Let’s get in the car.”

“But the fucking car is busted. The car isn’t going anywhere.”

“Ah, but it is. Just try it.” So we got in and I tried it. I nearly freaked out when the thing fired up. The horrible rattling noise that usually began right after I started it up was gone. It was purring just like a cat on your lap.

“This car was broke,” I whispered.

“So were you just a couple of hours ago. You didn’t think this car was going anywhere and you didn’t think you were going anywhere. With your life, I mean. But the car is going and so are you. The car will go wherever you want it to, and so will your life. You just need to know where it is you want to go. If you want that really big trout, you can get him. If you really and truly want him, deep inside, in the core of your being, you will get him.

“Enough of the mumbo jumbo buddy. Tell me who you are and why you came to me out of the middle of the desert.”

“My gosh, don’t you see?” He looked at me, slowly starting to grin. He knew I’d see it.

And then I saw it. The guy looked just like me. A spitting image. Except he was clean, and washed, and eloquent, and smart, and all the things I wasn’t. “But that’s where you’re wrong,” he said, grinning. “You just don’t want to express those attributes. I am you.  If you would just let me in, let me into the shell of yourself that you call reality, we can make your dream come true together.”

“Get out the car, man. Get out of the fucking car right now!” The tingling was really intense, starting to scare me. He just smiled at me and opened the door.

“If that’s what you’re sure you want, I’ll leave.” Calm. Just like I hadn’t screamed at him. As if I had asked him if he wanted a cup of tea. I could see the sun beginning to rise over his shoulder as he stepped from the car.

“I’m sure. Just leave me alone.”

“Then that’s what I’ll do.” He let out a huge sigh as he looked at me.

“Fine, I’ll see ya.” I sneered as he shut the door. He turned and started walking away from the car. I watched him go maybe a hundred yards and then he just kind of melted into the desert. I reached for the radio knob. The radio that hadn’t worked for over three years. I turned it on and heard his voice.

“That’s right. You will see me. You’ll see me every night in your dreams. You’ll see me every day when you think about having something that you won’t let yourself have. And I’ll be there. I’ll be there when you most desperately need me. You’ll see.”

Then the radio quit.

And the car died.

I turned the key, but it was gone. Broken down.

I slammed the steering wheel with my fist and got out. I didn’t relish the prospect of walking back to Las Vegas, but what could I do. At least I had some money. I put my hands in my pockets as I started walking and then stopped suddenly as I felt around for the dough.

It was gone. All except a few bills. I pulled them out. Four hundreds. Four stinking hundred dollars. And my car was broken down again. I had no job, and nowhere to go.

And somehow I knew it would be a long time before I got to that lake again. The one in my dream.

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