“I’m only dreaming.” The wind whipped Miranda’s words away as she plummeted to the rocky ground below.
Next to her stood a calm man in a brown suit. He held a calculator and a clipboard. “Unless, of course, in dreaming you open a door to another reality and in that brief moment you steal someone’s life from them.” He looked at Miranda over his glasses. “In which case, you’re probably about to kill someone.”
Miranda bolted up in bed, her chest heaving. She reached over for the glass of water she kept on her nightstand and gulped down the lukewarm liquid. She hated it when her dreams talked back to her. They were the only thing she could call her own anymore.
– – – –
Michael unclenched his jaws, letting a mouthful of oatmeal plop onto his shirt. He smiled at Miranda.
She tightened her lips and wiped as much food off the stained blue t-shirt as she could. Sometimes she hated her job. “Michael, how many times do I have to tell you, keep your food in your mouth! If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.”
Michael closed one eye and continued smiling. He emitted a groan that escalated into a shriek.
“Yes, I know you’re excited. It’s a big day.” Miranda took the leftovers to the kitchen and scooped them into the garbage disposal. “Your sister should be here soon.”
Chava walked into the kitchen. “Who are you – oh. That’s right. You actually talk with him.” She shook her head. “You know it doesn’t matter, right? He can’t process anything you say.”
Miranda shrugged. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. Besides, someone has to treat him like a human. Most of his family doesn’t even treat him like he exists.”
At the table Michael shrieked again.
Chava smirked. “And if you treat someone like him as if they’re human, someone might treat you like you’re human.”
Miranda wrinkled her nose. “No. I’m just hoping that the credit card companies will.”
– – – –
Plasma beams arced from the other side of the cargo bay. Miranda rolled to avoid the hit, but she could still feel the heat. She couldn’t believe the aliens looked like brooms with flippers for feet. She glanced around and noticed the fire suppression system above her. If she could trip it, she might be able to distract them long enough to escape.
A man in a brown suit approached her. Plasma arced through him, but he ignored it. “If you trigger that system, you’ll cause a large amount of damage to the orbital habitat. If you could find another solution, or let the professional take care of the infestation, you would save everyone a lot of trouble.”
She ignored him and fired anyway.
The man tallied a number on his clipboard. “Your dreams are not your own.”
– – – –
She wheeled Michael back to his room and ignored the buzzing on her hip.
As she passed his room, Paul stepped into the hallway. “Um. Mi’Wanda? Your phone is wingin.”
“Thank you, Paul. I’ll get it later.”
“OK.” He shuffled back to sit on his bed and continue looking at old Rolling Stone magazines.
Miranda turned into Michael’s room and set him by the window. “There, Mr. Neumann. Can you see the birdfeeder?”
Michael shrieked an affirmation.
He reached out a palsied hand as best he could and thrust it toward her pocket.
“Yeah, I know. It’s no one important. No one important calls me.”
Once in the hallway again, she checked the caller ID. Yep. Same 800 number. Creditors again.
– – – –
“Reginald, I shouldn’t. Barclay would never understand.” Miranda fluttered her lacey fan to get more air. “It’s not right, Reginald. And my husband has won the swordplay championship five years now. It would be dangerous for you. Please, don’t ask me again.”
“But, dearest, we love each other. Our love is stronger than the steel of Barclay’s blade!” Reginald seized her free hand and kissed it, his mustache tickling her sensitive skin. “It does not matter how often he may stab my chest, my heart will continue to love you, and that love will keep me alive.”
“Oh, Reginald! Yes! Yes, I will run away with you!” What was the point of a dream if not to allow fantasies to become some measure of real? Miranda stood, ready to race after her romantic escort.
“I wouldn’t.” The man with the brown suit stood at the doors leading from the stone balcony. “The woman you’re standing in for desperately loves Barclay. All she’s ever wanted is to be married to him. You run off with him, you’ve ruined her dream for a short fling. It’s a bad investing principle, really.”
Reginald reached for the saber at his side. “Sir! You besmirch my honor!”
The man in the brown suit raised a single eyebrow at him. “I’m trying to save Sylvia’s honor. Or is that less important than yours?” He refocused on Miranda. “Your dreams are not your own.”
This man was getting annoying.
Miranda opened her eyes to stare at the blazing red numbers of her clock. Well, that was one way to get rid of a wet blanket.
– – – –
“Paul! Time to get up!” Miranda flipped the light switch in the room and moved to the kitchen to start breakfast.
After a few minutes, Paul shuffled out rubbing his eyes. “Monin’, Mi’Wanda.” He plopped onto one of the chairs at the simple dining room table. He stared at the stained wooden surface and asked, “Why do we dweam?”
Miranda buttered Paul’s toast and considered. “Because sometimes it’s the only way for us to get away.”
“I don’ wanna get away. I like you!” Paul’s mouth stretched to a dopey grin.
“Sometimes life is hard. That’s just the way it is. And dreams let us get away from that for a little bit. And no one can take them away.” Miranda handed Paul his plate of toast and rubbed her eyes. “What do you dream, Paul?”
“Oh. I don’ dweam. Uh-uh. It was scawy. Da man in da bwown suit chased me.” He bit into his toast and started humming.
Miranda looked at him for a while and shook her head. No way. Must be coincidence.
– – – –
The man in the brown suit stood alone with her in the darkness. “Dreams are valuable. They’re an incredible asset. They’re also very dangerous in the wrong hands.”
Miranda stood in a cemetery. Every stone appeared pale blue. The man in the brown suit pointed at one. “Do you know what happens to the people you kill in your dreams? Sometimes they end up here.”
Then she stood in front of the group home that employed her. “Sometimes they end up here. Your dreams are not your own, Mi’Wanda.”
– – – –
She carried the soiled linens to the washer, their stench wafting up to her. Yes, some parts of her job she could do without. A quick hand-washing and back to Michael’s bedroom.
Chava poked her head in as Miranda sprayed some air freshener. “Nice. Hey, don’t forget the staff meeting today. Apparently we’re going to find out some more about Michael’s injuries. I guess some of them are flaring up.”
“What? No one told me!” Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She absently hit ‘ignore.’
“Heh. Get this. Did you know where Michael was before he came here?”
“No. I deal with everyone now, I usually don’t find out where they came from.” Miranda struggled to get a new fitted sheet on the queen-size bed.
Chava leaned on the doorpost. “He was actually normal once. I guess he loved skydiving and phased out during free-fall once. Pulled the line too late.” She cocked her head. “Imagine that. From daredevil to… well, someone who makes a mess of the bed.” She shook her head and turned to leave.
Paul shuffled in to take her place. “Um. Mi’wanda. Yo dweams ah not yo own.”
– – – –
“You should really answer your phone.” The man in the brown suit made a mark on his clipboard.
Miranda had had enough. She grabbed him by the lapels. “Who the hell are you? You can’t come in here and – but then Michael – and Paul – and what’s going on?”
The man suddenly stood several paces away and brushed himself off. “Your dreams are not your own. We’ve been trying to tell you for a while, but you never answer your phone.”
The phone on Miranda’s hip buzzed.
“Why am I even dreaming that the creditors finding me?” Miranda wailed. “Dreams are the only place I can get away!”
The man huffed. “You can’t get away from what you owe, even in dreams. And you’ve racked up quite a debt. Now, get up and answer your phone.”
Miranda opened her eyes. Her cell buzzed on the nightstand. She reached over and opened it.
A familiar voice spoke on the other side. It sounded as if it belonged to a man who would wear a brown suit. “Good morning, Miranda. I represent your creditors. They have sold us your debt. You’ve been a bad investment for the credit card and student loan companies, but we intend to see that money back. To that end, we have taken possession of your dreams and will be leasing them out. That may also happen while you’re awake. If it does, just sit back and enjoy.
“Most of the time there’s no bad effect.”