I don’t know which one of me is writing this, or if I even need to. Maybe one of me wrote it already, or is planning on it. Maybe we all write something like this at some point. I don’t know, but I’m the only one of me around right now, and I have nothing better to do.
When I was little, and all of me were, I used to dream nested things. I’d be in a supermarket, carrying a bag full of jelly beans. Then I’d wake up, a floating eight year old with a bag of jelly beans, daring my bed to float up and meet me. Out the window a few more of me would be playing in the dark. Jump rope, that one. Two playing tag, another four or five swimming in the pool. I understand that these are all me in different dreams I already had, or haven’t yet.
Looking around is okay, but there are words on the walls. Big and red, and I can’t read them. It’s not until I’m older that I start to read in dreams, and at eight years old, the words drop me and I wake up without the jelly beans, under my bed.
I must have fallen through, or else I roll out from under expecting to find another one of me still asleep, and maybe one above him, floating with a bag of jelly beans. But at eight, no. This doesn’t happen until later, when I’m twenty-four.
I’m twenty-four and this isn't a dream.
The floating me isn’t holding jelly beans. He’s got a plane. A flat surface that’s black on both sides. It’s not any particular shape. Not rectangular, or circular like those ACME black holes Wile E. Coyote used to buy in bulk on Saturday mornings, but that same general idea. Anyway, I’m standing there, in my boxers, watching myself floating there, and another one of me asleep in the bed underneath. All of us have sleep erections, but I’m not holding mine like the other two are. I look around to see if there are any more of me, even look out the window to see if maybe some of me are playing frisbee in the dark, but I don’t see any. We’re alone.
I don’t strike myself as particularly awake. I’m probably still sleeping, anyway. I wonder what happens if I take the plane from the floating Clayton, and then I stop wondering so I can do it. He doesn’t want to let go, but it’s slippery and hard to hold with one hand. This, as I will later come to think of it, is the machine. It’s open on both sides, open like a bag. I put my hand in it, and it doesn’t come out the other side. It’s the same when I flip it over, only that side stings. I think about putting my head in, and even though I’m pretty sure I’m still asleep, I don’t do it.
I wake up twice after that, and watching it happen is almost like being dead. The floating Clayton wakes first, rolling over and yawning. He opens his eyes and looks at me, standing next to the bed with the machine in my hands. He is unsurprised. Very likely he also thinks we’re dreaming, I don’t know. I can’t read his thoughts, or see through his eyes. I’m expecting him to fall, to land on the other of us, but this doesn’t happen. He floats toward me.
“What is that thing?” He points at the machine.
“I don’t know,” I say, “You had it when you were sleeping. I took it from you.”
“Oh.” He floats thoughtfully.
The sleeping Clayton groans and pulls the pillow from under his head. He turns onto his stomach and fastens the pillow over his ears.
“Hey,” Floating Clayton and I say.
“I’m having a dream,” he says, “And it’s not the best one I’ve had, but it’s better than being awake. Take what you want, my wallet’s on the bed stand.” Then he’s snoring again.
“You haven’t fallen yet,” I say. Floating Clayton shakes his head.
“Here,” I say, and look around the room. Near the open closet is a copy of The Journey Home, from the English class we failed our senior year. It’s a book I’ve never read. I pick it up and open it to the first page.
“Here,” I say, “Read.” Floating Clayton looks apprehensive, but shrugs. He leans forward.
“Too dark,” he says. “Let me hold the thing again.” I give him the machine and go to turn on the lights. We flinch at the brightness, and all of a sudden I don’t feel asleep anymore. I have to pee. I’m hungry.
“The branches were strewn above them like distorted mosaics of crucifixions, the hawthorn bushes blocking out the few isolated stars to ensnare them within a crooked universe of twigs and briars.” He sits back in the air and smiles at me. “Still up here,” he says.
“We’ve read in dreams before,” I say, “so maybe it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah,” floating me says, “But we’ve never read that book. And if we haven’t read it, that means whatever I just read came from our subconscious. Which means we’re a genius.”
Maybe that’s when I know we won’t wake up again, that we’re as awake as we get. Floating Clayton probably knows too, or wants to believe he knows, because he’s the floating one. I envy him. “I have to pee,” we say. The sleeping Clayton groans again. We ignore him. “You first,” I say, “you’re floating.”
“Okay.” He floats to the bathroom. From beside the bed I can hear him cursing, and imagine I should have gone first. Peeing with an erection is already hard enough, and to couple that with levitation must make for a frustrating game of spurts and wet walls.
I decide to wake me up. “Hey,” I say, “I’m not a robber and I’m not leaving. You’re me and we’re both here. One of us is floating and we’re not asleep.” The methodical rhythmic way in which I say this makes him groan again, but then he is looking at me.
“Why the hell is the light on?”
“I turned it on.”
“I wouldn’t have turned it on. You’re not me. Leave me alone.” He closes his eyes. “Why the fuck would I dream of waking up and wanting to go back to sleep? Stupid.
The floating Clayton comes back. I don’t hear him, because he doesn’t have to walk. He looks embarrassed. “I used the shower,” he says. “I’m sorry about the rest of it, but I can’t get low enough to clean anything. I can’t float up or down.” I feel bad for him.
“Here,” I say, and give him my hand. I pull, but he stays where he is. Pretty soon I’m hanging from his arm, but he doesn’t so much as dip.
“Stop it,” he says, “that hurts like nobody’s business.”
I stop. “Sorry.”
He shrugs. I walk to the bathroom. It’s wet. I try to use the toilet, but I can’t aim it right, so I use the shower too. When I get back, floating Clayton is over the bed, wrestling the pillow from the other one.
“Fuck off, man!” Floating Clayton lets go of the pillow. “Sorry. It’s just…” He pulls back and slaps me, the one in the bed, in the face. “It’s just that I’m NOT a fucking DREAM!”
Maybe that’s how it started. I wasn’t there, not directly. Three of me were. The machine makes everything work differently. I don’t have memories of it, but it’s what comes out whenever I try to write down what happened. So it’s probably true.
Another one of me came out of the machine two hours after that. Maybe that one was me, but probably not. It doesn’t matter. Let’s say it was me.
I’m falling, like in a dream where I had to read something. Only, I fall sideways, out of a hole that another one of me is holding onto, into my room. Three of me are standing there, arguing, and my head is bleeding. One of me is floating, and all of them stop arguing and look at me.
“What the fuck?” we all say, and then, because we all said it, we laugh.
It must have happened just that way. And before you start thinking that the machine was just a me-maker, you should know that before the day was out, it had sent through four copies of my future wife, three pairs of my future children, all at different ages, and a man who says he’s me at seventy. This last was most interesting to us, especially the floating one, because seventy-year-old Clayton also floated.
He did it quietly, in the corner, and watched the rest of us with wet eyes.