Project D - Fourth Segment
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To dream is to accomplish the impossible.
Aiden feels the beads of moisture forming on his forehead right where his wavy blonde hair meets naked skin. But he ignores it, trying to focus on the rugby ball being tossed around by his teammates. The ball is surrounded by bodies, dodging, running, propelling themselves towards him.
He is open, no other body too close to him, but they’re closing in. He is waiting, waiting for them to send the ball his way so he can use his swift skills to earn the try. He is ready, determined, confident he can make it.
The weather is gloomy, heavy dark clouds overshadowing the field. The audience from both sides screams and cheers. Aiden digs the soles of his feet into the ground, waiting to spring forward. He is so focused he doesn’t even notice the fog that starts to creep in like champagne that rises out of a shaken bottle. It fills the field like it’s a coloring book.
Aiden squints, trying to focus on the green and white painted leather. The bodies fade, the faces of his teammates wash away, and the distinguishable bodies morph into ambiguous moving shapes. The audience screams louder. Aiden watches the leather ball soar. A smirk sweeps his lips as he jumps up to catch it. He snatches the ball and begins to run.
Cool air brushes his face as he sprints. He suddenly notices the ball is soft and lumpy, not its usual firm and cold leather.
Aiden’s sprint slows to a trot. He pulls the ball out from under his armpit. It’s getting smaller and smaller. It loses shape. Aiden frowns. Its melting.
He comes to a full stop. He watches the white and leather goo drip down the side of his body. It’s warm.
He whispers, “What the . . .”
And then, BAM!
A squad of shapeless and featureless rugby players tackle him down. Wild screaming drowns away Aiden’s consciousness.
Maya finds herself walking in the downtown district of a large city. It is not LA, her hometown that she knows well. The streets are wide, but they are desolate. There are no people walking and no cars caught in their usual clog of traffic. She looks up and can’t see the tops of the high rise buildings, but she can see the sky in between them, scattered clouds massaging the yellow blinding sun above her. She has to do a double take because she notices that she can look right at it without a problem. Looking away, there are no blurs, no dark marks in her vision.
Maya keeps walking down the sidewalk, but she doesn’t know where she is going. In addition to the lack of people, she realizes it is eerily quiet. She hears absolutely no noise. No wind rustling, no pigeons cooing, no engines running, nothing. She hits her ears with her hands to make sure she hasn’t gone deaf. She hears that and breathes a sigh of relief.
She reaches the end of one block and sees the cross light illuminated with the white “walk” figure. She realizes they are all like that. Even the traffic lights are all green. Endless possibilities? She snickers at the irony.
Aiden wakes up to find himself sitting in the locker room of his school. He rubs his eyes, trying to determine if this is a dream or reality. Greg, his teammate and best friend, enters the room. He hands Aiden a bag of ice.
“For the bump.” Greg points to Aiden’s head.
“Thanks.” Aiden snatches the bag. He puts it on his forehead, but he doesn’t feel the cold.
“What happened out there?”
“Ugh, I dunno...” Aiden mutters, scanning his surroundings.
“Everything is real.”
“What?” Aiden’s eyebrows furrow. He takes a long look at his best friend. Greg stares back. Aiden notices a blankness in his eyes. This is not really Greg. This is a dream, Aiden finally realizes. Man, telling the difference is going to be sooo much harder now.
“You almost cost us the fucking game!” Dream Greg yells, animated all of a sudden. He is way more aggressive than real Greg. Real Greg played sports with Aiden, but was never as competitive as some of the other guys.
“Sorry?” Aiden shrugs, unsure what to say for once in his life.
“Maybe you’re just too weak and slow to be a rugby player. Maybe you’re not meant to play anything. Maybe you’re too stupid to do anything at all really.”
“Woah, woah, woah. Fuck off mate.” A professional rugby player? I never even considered that an option.
“If you’re the best, you will become a rugby player. Do you think what you do or want you want matters?”
Aiden is stumped again. I guess I never thought about what I want. Sure, being a rugby player would be awesome—making money, staying active, being famous… That’s a pretty good package really. But I have other interests too. Like soccer and tv and cars and nature and racing and field hockey and explosions...I don’t want to be limited. Fuck, what is this dream paralysis going to come up with?
“Are you gonna get out there and win this game or are you gonna sit here and look stupid?”
Hmmm, would finishing the game secure me a spot as a rugby player once I turn 18? Would walking away ruin that possibility forever? I know my actions are being monitored, but how do they determine my future?
Lost in thought, Aiden doesn’t notice his surroundings blurring until he hears cheering. He is on the field again. He watches the shapeless players morph into humans again. He recognizes his whole team from school, including Greg, who is eagerly nodding at him. The rival team is wrestling with the ball.
Hey, Aiden wrinkles his forehead, I didn’t decide this. Suddenly, the green and white ball lands in his hands and instinctively he runs, swerving past rivals until he passes the final white line on the field, and the crowd goes wild.
Unknown to Aiden, there’s someone else watching in the crowd. Someone not from the program. Someone who shouldn’t be there.
One of the specks in the sea of dream faces is Drake, expertly disguised as a teenage girl. Hmmm, he thinks to himself. He asks the right questions. He’ll make an excellent Infiltrator. Even reminds me of myself when I was sixteen and didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Aiden’s team members lift him in celebration and Drake vanishes as if he was never there.
Maya realizes she is walking in one direction and getting nowhere. The streets look all the same, empty except for tall, never-ending buildings. She shrugs and takes a right, even though it still looks the same. Wish I had my skateboard...
She notices that the temperature rises a few degrees warmer. Suspicious, she becomes very alert, picking up her pace and eyeing the streets thoroughly. She listens carefully in case she hears someone approach.
Suddenly, after walking a few blocks, she hears something in the distance. It’s very distorted, static-like almost. It sounds like it's coming from the north somewhere. Alright Maya, she thinks to herself. You can either go towards the noise or away from it. What’s it gonna be? She pauses. Fuck it, this has been pretty boring so far.
She turns and tries to follow the noise. The temperature rises a few degrees again, but this time she doesn’t notice. The noise is getting louder, but the streets stay the same. She keeps going and begins to hear a melody as the sound becomes louder and more distinct.
It’s music. Heavy drums, distortion, electric guitar... Hey, I think I like this. It starts to sound like an old punk rock song from the 1990s that she used to really like when she first discovered the archaic genre. There is a heavy riff and scratchy vocals, but she can’t understand the words.
It gets warm enough for her to break a sweat in her utility jacket. The music becomes loud enough to sound like it's coming out of one of the identical buildings right next to her. She looks around and sees an alley up ahead.
That is definitely where the music is coming from. She can almost see it—as if there were blaring lights emitting from the alley. She turns into it.
It looks endless, created by tall buildings on both sides. It’s way darker than the streets and she cannot see the sky here. But the music is louder than ever. There’s a large red door a few feet down the alley. It looks like it is pulsing or breathing heavily, like in a cartoon.
Yes! Maya smiles. Is this an underground punk concert? Did I just hit the jackpot?
Maya takes a step into the alley. Then, a large dark figure steps out of the shadows between her and the door. Maya freezes.
The figure slowly turns to face her. It’s a man, very tall and wide, wearing all black, including what looks like a black hoodie with the hood pulled up. The face is very pale, if not completely white, like the fluffy clouds she could see in the sky not too long ago. His nose is crooked and his eyes are a piercing yellow, but somehow empty in the irises. Maya wants to scream, but she can’t. She opens her mouth and no sound comes out. She is frozen in fear as her heart races. The man slowly pulls a gun out of his pocket and aims it at her. Her feet refuse to budge so she begins shaking. He smiles.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he booms. “Go ahead and scream. No one will hear you.” He approaches her slowly, holding the gun with two massive hands. She wants to turn around and run, but her feet are still glued to the ground. She wants to ask him what he wants, but she still can’t find her voice. She can’t do anything but stand and watch.
“You’re coming with me,” he grabs her by the collar of her jacket. Maya thinks her heart is about to jump out of her chest when suddenly the red door in the alley opens and slams shut, a noise so loud it makes both the man and Maya jump, releasing her out of her frozen spell.
They both look, but no one stepped out of the door. The alley remains empty as ever. In the split second that the man is distracted, Maya kicks the gun out of his hand. Somehow, it lands several feet away. Maya and the man exchange glances, both bewildered. He shakes it off and attempts to grab her, but she rolls away and kicks him in the groin, hard. He falls to his knees, making him much closer to her 5’3” frame. She is able to punch him in the face a few times before karate chopping his neck. He gasps for breath and she swiftly slams his head against the brick wall, making him tumble completely over, like a chopped down tree.
“What the fuck!” Maya cries. “I didn’t know I can do that!” In boxing form, she thrusts a few punches and kicks in the air to try out her newfound skills. “I am a boss!”
She looks at the large man lying on the ground and decides to kick him in the head. For good measure. She kicks him so hard, his head goes flying to rest next to the gun. She gasps and jumps back, aghast at what she’s done. She looks down the alley for witnesses, and actually sees an end to it, and another man standing there. She whips her head back to the man she fought and sees that he is gone. His body, his head, his gun, all gone. She realizes the music is fading too. She feels the need to flee, suddenly and very urgently. The man at the end of the alley beckons to her with his hand and disappears around the corner.
Unsure if she should trust him, but feeling pretty good about her newfound fighting powers, she runs down the alley towards where the man disappeared. She exits the alley to be faced with the same cityscape, but there are people walking down the streets now. Lots of people, of all ages, sizes, and styles. Maya sees the man she followed running down the street, seamlessly dodging the pedestrians. She begins running after him, not able to dodge the people as well, bumping into them and shouting apologies over her shoulder.
The man makes a sharp turn down another street and Maya gets closer to him. All of a sudden he stops at an ordinary-looking brown door and enters through it. Maya reaches the door and looks around. No one is paying attention to her. She shrugs and opens it. Before she can take a step, she is pulled inside and the door shuts silently behind her.
Maya is plopped on a wooden seat at a wooden table in a kitchen in what looks like a typical country dwelling. There’s an old stove and lots of overflowing wooden cabinets. The man she followed approaches the table, carrying an old-school tea kettle and two tiny matching tea cups on a tray. He sets it on the table and sits down across from her.
She studies this man. He has the build of someone not that much older than her, but he has wrinkles on his face, and deep sunken eyes filled with knowledge and pain. His hair is a chestnut brown and messy. He has freckles.
He reaches a hand out for a handshake and says in a British accent, “The name’s Drake. Nice to meet you Maya.”