Entry 13.0 "Beyond the Call"
Every so often I dream of flying. I’m not talking about the kind of daydream that seeped through my 5th grade window. Those were commonplace. I mean the kind of nighttime dream that grasped my core and shook. My problem with dreams is that the conscious mind, the one that I trust each day to govern every thought and action, takes an unpaid sabbatical at night and surrenders the reins to its less-than-sane relation, the subconscious. This natural process is not ideal for me, because my subconscious is more than a little weird and not one that I would readily relinquish control to. Why would it put me through watching my teeth fall out in the bathroom mirror? Why would it place me squarely on the cafeteria table wholly unclothed? More importantly, why, in my long-awaited transcendent moment in flight, would I always fall?
Do I dream in space? Yes, I dream a lot of being home. I dream of the way my front lawn was brittle, yellow, and seemingly barren, until the first warm rains of spring when it would grow so green and thick that it begged to be cut twice a week. I dream of the way the tiny airport by my house lit up the runway at night with miniature earthborn stars flashing primary colors and how, in my earliest memories, my heart skipped a beat when we drove right under a descending spacecraft. I even dream about how my life would’ve changed had I made different choices with past loves who still manage to haunt me - sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
The brat that it is, my subconscious continually reminds me that I’m just another victim of human nature; it makes me feel like I want what I can’t have and crave what’s out of reach. Unexplainably, when my body lays in bed on Earth with every comfort that can be provided, I dream of launching headfirst into the vacuum of space and skipping galaxies. Now that I’m here, now that I’ve proven that I can coexist among these strange and marvelous constellations, I dream of a small blue and green planet, third from the sun.
As I mentioned before, dreams manifest my irrational fears – like the teeth falling out, or the nude incidences, but they also give fair screentime to quite rational fears as well.
Ironically, the time set aside for rest often finds my subconscious working overtime, drilling me for every nightmare scenario that could possibly play out on our voyage. Loss of oxygen: valid concern, critical system failure: valid concern, space zombies: unlikely, but terrifying concern. And then there was the furry Tribble infestation, which seemed valid at the time, but pretty hilarious after I told the dream out loud.
Since becoming the leader of this expedition and shouldering more responsibility than I’d like to fully realize, I actually began to place less blame on my subconscious for running me through those scenarios like a subliminal bootcamp. In my embarrassingly limited understanding, I imagined it was giving me the most challenging feats to overcome in sleep, so that I could be pleasantly surprised with how I handled stressful situations when I was awake.
Every time I picked my head up from the pillow after a full night’s work, I had to remember that, in truth, a lot can go wrong out here at any time. However, our ride so far had been nothing but smooth, and my oddball crew members were having the time of their lives; Kiye was having the time of her life, and so was I. In fact, right around halfway to our next sojourn, we received a major morale boost in the form of a holo communication from Thane Kellar, who’s generosity during our last stop on Agricolia apparently hadn’t diminished yet.
In spite of the enormous cost, Thane offered to sponsor a personal communication back to Earth for all twelve of us on the Wanderment! Since direct communication through The Link was impossible, our messages would be transmitted to the space station, Precipice, and then sent via carrier drone through The Link and finally received by Earthside satellites. To be more concise, we got to phone home.
The excitement caused by the news was electric as everyone scattered to record their messages. It wasn’t long before I found myself staring blankly out of the porthole in my quarters wondering exactly what I would say, and who I would say it to. Though I felt immense gratitude for Thane’s grand gesture, I also admit to feeling a little caught off guard! I had mentally prepared myself to be out of communication with home for the better part of two years, so now the pressure was definitely on. Whatever I had to say, I knew it would have to be perfect.
I’d been known to do some of my best thinking laying on my face, so I was fully prepared for a flash of brilliance when I assumed the position. But the welcoming shade, provided liberally by the back of my eyelids, led straight to dreamland.
A hazy sky, both green and golden, presented itself unabashed, leaving my equilibrium at a disadvantage. Even after steadying myself, I hadn’t the slightest recollection of where I was, or how I had gotten there. The one place I could easily rule out was Earth. This was because it was claiming way too much of the sky above me as I dizzyingly identified familiar continents through twisted clouds.
The rest of my surroundings kind of looked like a green-skied Kansas complete with amber waves of grain. A path that was more than a path presented itself to me. I say it was more than a path because, judging from my surroundings, it should’ve been dirt, but instead exhibited the kind of masonry reserved for a walkway in suburbia. I remember feeling an inexplicable wave of recognition from the pattern and color of the stones, but the feeling soon escaped me.
What should one do with a path in a dream? One should clearly follow it. And so, I did.
It led me to wade a good distance through high fields that greedily gathered mist, but I’d found that distance in dreams can be negotiable. In keeping with that finding, once I spotted the wires in the sky suspended by what could only be identified as ancient telephone poles, I closed the distance in all but a sustained blink.
What I found at the path’s end was so unexpected that it etched itself, every last detail, artfully into my mind, so much so that the dream could, upon reflection, later be confused with a genuine memory. Centered in a clearing, set perfectly between a row of twentieth century red cedar telephone poles, was a magnificent tower. If my grandfather’s museum had boasted lofty enough ceilings to accommodate it, many would have called it art and stood puzzled, hand-to-chin. The magical thing about art is the multiplicity of explanations it sparks. Though in the end almost all interpretations are wrong, the satisfaction is more often found in the imaginative journey rather than the destination.
If the tower had indeed been displayed behind a velvet rope, it would certainly have garnered opinions. Taking the structure at face value, a mother might question (just loud enough to be heard by her children) the motivations of the artist and why he chose to build a multistory tower of enormous antique phones. Her bored teenager would circle his finger around his ear in the universal gesture of insanity, much to his mother’s chagrin. An intellectual, caught in the rapture of thought, would be delighted to presuppose that the artist clearly shared his repudiation of how the art of conversation had devolved over centuries. An environmentalist might be offended by the resources it took to construct the useless thing, and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis of the artist would make them all blush.
All that said, I knew right when I saw it that the tower of phones, tall on the alien field, was no sculpture, and its purpose needed very little speculation on my part. I knew immediately why it was there.
The two-story-high foundational piece was a finely crafted wooden wall phone from the early 1900’s, the kind with the two shiny brass bells. It stood so resolute that the world seemed to have been formed around it. Ivy crept generously up the walnut face and around the side-hanging receiver, which was shaped like a toy rocket – a hallmark of the little-known Novalectric Company.
Atop the “roof” of the wooden phone rested a giant, moss green, push-button telephone like the ones manufactured by Western Electric in the groovy 1960’s and 70’s. It looked like a model that would be right at home with orange and brown geometric wallpaper, resting in a suspended brume of cigarette smoke.
Finally, forming the apex of the tower, stood three colossal cellular mobile phones, two low and one high. They were all thick as bricks, but represented the cutting-edge technology of the 1970’s and 80’s – only ten hours to a full charge! Their lengthy antennas extended into the phantom-shaped clouds like the spires of a bizarre cathedral.
Please don’t be too impressed with my knowledge of three-hundred-year-old antique phones. Although I have to admit to having a lot of trivial nerd-tech bouncing around the back of my head, I’m only familiar with those models because I saw their (much smaller) doppelgängers almost every day from behind the glass at my grandfather’s museum.
Continuing on, I found myself standing near the end of the stone path, and felt compelled to walk closer to the tower. The moment I moved though, something stirring beneath the walkway near the base of the tower’s foundation gave me pause. Slowly, out of the ground, with the sound of stone to metal, rose a sky-blue and aluminum-framed enclosure that could only be one thing. It settled in at ground level and attached itself to the base of the wall with a series of clanks and other inexplicable sounds. Once the racket stopped, a stream of yellow light burst effortlessly through an acrylic veneer and lit up the blue letters at the top of the frame that simply read, “Phone.”
The phonebooth was an integral part of everyday life for the better part of the 20th century. Before their demise, thanks to cell phones, they gave folks a place to jump in out of the weather and call home to let loved ones know they were safe, or tell a friend they were running a few minutes late. Sure, I’ve heard they kind of smelled bad a lot and there was always the guy who’d talk for a half hour right before your turn; but, as far as I’m concerned, they more than made up for that by giving Clark Kent the proper place to change into Superman.
I said before that I knew the purpose of the tower when I saw it. I didn’t have to guess; it was just placed inside my soul the way a heart knows to beat. As I walked toward the glowing phonebooth, I once again felt a profound confirmation… I was getting one last chance to talk to my grandfather.
Before he passed, he told me in his deep voice that this life wasn’t the end, that some of the bonds we form on Earth are stronger than the space between distances, or death. And if there was a way for our paths to cross again, or even if he could find a way to just look in on me for a bit, he would find it.
My dream did me the favor of extending the path a bit to give me time to think about what I’d say, and that’s when I gained a little lucidity. Wasn’t I really, at that very moment, laying on my face on a rocket somewhere in the middle of space? Wasn’t the purpose of my rest to think of what to say in a brief communication to the folks at home?
Now, in the face of something so monumental as finding the words to say to a loved one from beyond, all of that other stuff seemed so simple and trivial.
I smiled and gave my subconscious some rare praise as I finally closed the distance to the phonebooth. Before I entered the booth, I looked back at the path I had taken to get there. It finally came to me why it seemed so familiar. It was the same stone my grandfather had laid by hand from the street to his front door: The stones that were lit by a bright procession of luminarias on Christmas Eve, the stones that passed the waving flag of the country he cherished, the stones that led me somewhere I felt safe, and loved.
As I stepped into the booth, I was warmly welcomed by a ring. What should one do when a phone rings in a dream? One should clearly answer it.
And so, I did.