A rare moment when Seth shows a bit of introspection
The dream always starts the same way, with the day I almost died. I’m riding a bicycle. It is an old 10-speed, with the U-shaped handle bars and a narrow seat. I am on the sidewalk going down a steep hill towards a busy intersection. I know I should slow down, but my momentum coupled with the wind in my face is too exhilarating.
As I near the intersection, I grasp the hand brakes a moment before I would jump off the curb and into the street. Only the brakes don’t catch the way they are supposed to. Oh, how I hated to change the tires on my bike. I was never very good at reattaching the brakes. I had the hardest time getting the brake pads into the proper position.
This is where the dream differs from the actual events of that day. Instead of swerving into a hard right turn and falling to the ground inches from the street, the bike leapt off the curb into the path of an oncoming bus. I hear the blare of the bus horn right as I impact with the front of the bus. There is no impact.
I find myself standing on the bus next to the driver. He is calmly looking forward. His eyes never leave the road. I look down the aisle and see dozens of people sitting calmly in their seats. I make my way down the aisle to find a seat. As I pass each row of seats, I notice that something isn’t right. The people on the bus are wrong in some way that should be obvious, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.
I’m halfway down the aisle, trying to keep my balance, as the bus sways with the motion of the road. I look down at a person sitting alone on the right side of the bus. He is wearing a dirty brown coat and a strange hat. The hat draws my attention. It is brown and dirty like his coat and it is also tattered and worn through in a couple of places. The hat looks as though it has seen many miles.
Then the man in the hat looks up at me. He has piercing blue eyes that look wild with madness. His face is covered in unkempt facial hair. He opens his mouth and my blood turns to ice for fear of what he will say. “Tick,” he declares. I try to look away. I must get further down the aisle. “Tock,” he commands. I’m pulling myself along by grabbing the seat backs.
I find an empty seat at the second to the last row on the buses left side. I throw my ass into the seat and slide against the window. I look at where the man in the hat sits. I’m relieved he is not looking at me. Then I hear it. Faint, but unmistakable. “Tick.” I’m filled with dread, knowing what comes next. “Tock.”
That’s when it dawns on me. I realize what is wrong with the people on the bus. They are all dead. Each and everyone is a corpse. No one is talking, or reading, listening to music, looking out the window. Nothing. Not a single sign of life in any of them. Just that one man, if he is really a man. “Tick,” much louder now. I know I have to get off this bus. “Tock!” I must find a way out.
I’m looking out the window and I see up ahead. I see myself riding my 10-speed down that steep hill. I see the impending collision as it is about to occur. I see myself grasp the brakes and swerve just as the bus should have hit me. I see this other me escape death by less than an inch. Had I been able to reach my arm out the window I could have touched myself as the bus went by. I watch as my other self shrinks in the distance. I hear my own maniacal laughter from far away.
Why am I on this bus when I know I was never hit by it. If I’m on the bus, who is in my body. Why are they laughing. “Tick,” is whispered directly into my ear. I cringe as I turn toward the voice. The man in the hat is standing in the aisle, crouched down with his arms spread, elbows resting on the seat backs. The smell of body odor, dirt and something like rotting meat emanates from him like waves of radiation. I feel like I’m dying from exposure to him. “Tock.”
I want to lash out at him, to kick and punch, but I can’t bare the thought of actually touching him. He leans in close to me and I squeeze against the wall. He opens his mouth. I hear a sound like the buzzing of flies and maggots squirming. I expect to hear him utter that mantra of madness. “Time catches everyone, eventually.” He moved in closer. “Tick.”
Without fail, I wake up screaming from this dream, as I have every time I’ve had it over the last 13 years. I had the dream every night for several weeks after that day I almost got creamed by that bus. My parents, David and June, took me to see a psychiatrist when they noticed I stopped sleeping. Things got better for a time. Then, even the therapy and the drugs couldn’t keep the dream away. The dream didn’t return as repetitious as those first few weeks. I have it maybe once every couple weeks, but it hasn’t left me completely.
I think about that day. I think it may have been my last day of real happiness. Of course, I think of the dream often, also. I wonder if I’m somehow different than I was before that day, if maybe I lost something vital as that bus nearly ended my life. I wonder if maybe it was my soul that didn’t escape the path of that bus.