A Short Story
By S. Roy Stevenson
For most of my life, all twelve years of it, I have been unable to sleep through the night because my dreams wake me. Sometimes they’re scary and I wake up with my heart racing. And sometimes they’re just weird. So when I woke up yesterday in the middle of the night the only surprising thing was the dream itself. It was a funny dream and it made me feel great. In fact, I woke up laughing.
It started out with me and my neighbor Albert waiting for the school bus. Just like any other day, only it was bitterly cold and all the trees were coated with ice. The sun was rising in a blood red sky and the trees sparkled and danced when the wind blew. Under our feet the grass was hard as nails. It crunched as we walked on it.
You never knew for sure when the bus was going to get to our stop, and Albert had a theory that the driver, Mr. Harmon, did it on purpose. Mr. Harmon was a miserable man who obviously hated driving a school bus as much as he hated kids. He was always yelling at us for making too much noise or for sitting with our feet in the aisle. And if anyone tried to change seats while the bus was moving he would hit the brakes hard and the kid would go flying. His first name was Frank and the kids called him Cranky Franky behind his back. But in the dream the bus arrived right on time and Cranky Franky greeted us warmly.
“Good morning, boys.”
Albert and I were speechless.
Normally Cranky Franky looked like he slept in his clothes, only in the dream he had shaved his gray whiskers and he was wearing a white shirt and tie. He smiled as if he was genuinely glad to see us and instead of stepping on the gas pedal as he usually did before we could sit down, he waited patiently for us to be seated.
Another thing that was totally different was the smell of the bus. On most days the bus smelled like the driver, which is to say it reeked of body odor. But in the dream it smelled fresh and clean and there was a faint scent of a woman’s perfume hanging in the air.
Most of the kids on the bus were carrying on as usual, talking loudly, throwing things; basically doing everything in their power to make Cranky Franky explode. But in the dream he was whistling! No matter what anyone did he just smiled and whistled.
It was really weird. At every stop Cranky Franky would smile and say good morning to a new set of kids, wait for them to be seated, and then start driving and whistling like he had just won the lottery or something.
The bus traveled through town on its regular route and I remember pointing out to Albert that the clock outside the bank said it was eleven minutes after nine. That too was weird because it was actually seven-fifteen. I remember thinking in the dream that the clock must have frozen with all the ice and cold and then I started to worry that we were late for school.
This is when on most nights a dream would wake me. I was getting anxious and I could feel myself breathing deeply in my sleep. But before I woke up the bus turned into the driveway of our middle school and there was a huge banner stretched across the double doors at the entrance.
SCHOOL CLOSED it read in bold black letters.
All the kids cheered and I woke up laughing.
It was one in the morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I really wanted to. For the first time ever I wanted to go back into my dream and see what happened next. But my brain wouldn’t let me. It kept chattering on about Cranky Franky and the smell on the bus and the fact that school was closed. It was weird and wonderful at the same time.
So after a while I got up and went to the window. Albert’s house is across the street and it is exactly the same as my house, just reversed. His garage is on the right and ours is on the left; kind of like a mirror image. And his room is upstairs like mine, right at the center over the front door.
Anyway, the night sky was tar black and a crescent moon hung over Albert’s house like a dagger. It was cold and when the wind blew I could feel the frigid air press against the window. And just like the dream, the trees were coated with ice.
It took awhile before I realized that I was being watched. I mean I sensed it before I actually saw him, but there was Albert looking at me from his room across the street. What was he doing up at one in the morning? He waved and I waved back. I guessed he couldn’t sleep either.
At the bus stop the next morning I asked him about it.
“I was having the weirdest dream,” he told me. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Try me,” I said, knowing that if anyone had a weird dream it was me.
“We were waiting for the bus,” he said “and the trees were coated with ice the way they are now.”
I looked at the sky just then and noted to myself how much it looked like the sunrise in my dream.
“And then the bus came,” Albert went on excitedly, “on time no less. You believe that?’
I smiled awkwardly.
“Go on,” I said.
Albert’s breath was turning to smoke in the cold air and as his words came out his glasses started fogging over.
“So the bus comes on time,” he said, “and get this, Cranky Franky was smiling and said good morning!”
Albert laughed and shook his head.
“I’m telling you,” he went on, “this dream was the best.”
I felt a tingling at the back of my neck. This was getting stranger by the minute. But I didn’t dare tell Albert what I was thinking, that he was describing the very same dream that I had. No, that was impossible. I let him continue, certain he would tell me something different.
But he didn’t.
“And the bus smelled like perfume,” he said, “not the usual funky Franky smell. Oh, and he waited for us to sit down. Imagine that?”
Yes, I thought, I did imagine that.
“And here’s the best part,” Albert was practically singing with joy, “When the bus got to school….”
“It was closed,” I said, finishing the sentence for him. “There was a huge banner across the front doors right?”
Albert stared at me and he must have stopped breathing because the smoke stopped coming out of his mouth.
“And you forgot about the clock,” I reminded him.
Albert swallowed and took off his glasses.
“Wait a minute,” he said hesitantly, "How do you know about school being closed or the banner or the clock?"
“It was eleven past nine,” I said. "Right?"
"But...," Albert stammered. "How do you know what happened in my dream?"
"Because I had the same dream."
“No way. I don’t believe it,” he mumbled. “This isn’t possible. How could you have the same dream as me?”
We both stood silently for a minute or two trying to figure things out.
Finally, Albert said, “Are you a mind reader?”
“Are you kidding? I said. “You’ve been in English class with me. I can’t even read a book.”
We both laughed and then strangest thing happened.
The bus arrived right on time.
I know this is hard to believe but almost everything that happened in the dream happened for real yesterday. Cranky Franky was wearing a tie and white shirt when he pulled up and he smiled and greeted us warmly. He waited for us to sit down and there was an incredible scent in the air. The whole ride matched the dream perfectly; Franky ignored the screaming kids, said good morning to everyone, drove safely not once slamming the brakes, and when we passed the bank, sure enough, the time on the clock read eleven after nine.
As we neared the school I saw Albert cross his fingers.
“Please God,” he prayed out loud, “let it be closed.”
I closed my eyes and prayed a little myself. I waited to hear the sound of the kids erupting with excitement.
But nothing happened. I could feel the bus bounce its way down the driveway and heard the brakes squeal as it pulled up to the double doors at the entrance.
Albert let out a long sigh.
“Crud,” he said. “It would have been perfect.”
But as it turned out, it was just a regular day in school, though I felt like a sleep walker moving through the halls, waiting for something to happen. Only it never did; no power failures, no frozen pipes, no sewer backups, no catastrophic weather events; nothing that might interrupt school and force a closing.
That night it took me a long time to fall asleep. I kept trying to figure out how it was possible for Albert and I to have the same dream at the same time. It bothered me and as I lay in bed I couldn’t shake the feeling off. It was too weird. But I guess what bothered me the most was the fact that the best part of the dream hadn’t come true. School was open and it was just a regular day.
I guess I was depressed and when I finally did fall asleep I made it through the entire night, which as you may remember, is pretty unusual for me.
But when my alarm went off at six-thirty I immediately sensed that something had occurred. Something had changed. I went over to my window and looked out and there was Albert looking back at me. Even from across the street I could see on his face a smile as wide as a snow shovel.
There must have been a good four feet of snow already covering the entire street and the snow was continuing to come down. Nothing was moving anywhere and nothing was going to move for hours.
Maybe the dream came true after all, because the phone rang and then my mother yelled up to me from the kitchen.
“Go back to sleep,” she said. “School’s closed.”