I’m floating in the stream of reality. It’s cold and uncertain, this river of existence, and it carries me everywhere. Some part of me, present and unphased, knows: I am the apex. Time brushes my skin, tender and warm. It is familiar. Inviting, yet bleak. The colour of life and entropy, swimming between my eyes and through my body; beginning in front of me and inside me, ending nowhere.
Reality falls. The roar is deafening as it crashes, and I know that I should be crushed beneath its weight. And yet…
I am in a house now.
I know this place. The colour of life is gone, but entropy remains, and I can feel its happiness – it is a cancer, and for the first time in my life I wish to take joy away from something. Screams stare at me from the shadows. They look familiar… the voice… its fear, its love…
The house falls away, and I am met with reality’s cold embrace once again. The river shifts and cracks, like a wild storm. Lightning and thunder in the causal abyss. Time is bleeding now. I see red – it is youthful and good, my better in every way. I see a woman who loves me; a man who ruined me. I see friendship and enmity, like snakes entwined. I see lost youth. Found wisdom. They join the storm now, and the lightning lashes out in a chorus, and together they say
Barry, wake up
They tell me I’ve been in a coma for two months.
A student found me on the floor of CCU’s chemistry lab, surrounded by shards of hot glass with a smoldering hole in my lab coat. Apparently there were no clouds in the sky, which is weird, on account of the lightning that struck me – the local news attributed it to some sort of freak “flash storm”; there for long enough to fry me, but gone in time for the clock on the wall to tick past another second. I was taken to the hospital, where the staff spent most of the next eight weeks just… waiting for me to wake up. I recovered from the lightning strike pretty quickly, I guess – there were no burns, no blown eardrums or nerve damage. The only thing wrong with me was that I really liked to sleep.
I have no immediate family – none that can come visit me at the hospital, anyway – so once Iris found out I was being kept there, she got the orderlies to put her down as my emergency contact. When the doctor gave me the okay to leave, she was there to take me home.
“You missed graduation,” she says, eyes fixed on the road. Her hair’s longer. Past her shoulders now. She looks good.
“Damn it,” I say, “Three years of college in the trash. Guess I have to retake it. Ah, but the tuition…”
She takes her eyes off the road to give me a concerned look. “What will you do?”
“Sell my body. It’s the only logical option.”
“God, you’re so right. Tell me how it goes. I could use some extra money.”
We share a grin.
“How was graduation, anyway?” I ask.
“It was good. Pretty long. I think they sent your diploma to your apartment.”
My apartment’s a single room hole in Leawood, on the corner of Kanigher and Carmine. It’s in a squat old building, a little run down, but not enough to raise any red flags – just enough to know that yep, this is where a college graduate who got struck by lightning would live. Iris walks me inside and tries the elevator.
“Out of order? Still?”
“It’s like I was never in a coma.”
The walk up the stairs is slow, but nice. Iris catches me up on the past two months – she finally saved up for that new TV she’s had her eye on; she got offered a job at the newspaper she’d been interning at, the Citizen (“Holy – congrats!”); Wally, her nephew, visited from Blue Valley, and came to see me at the hospital.
“Wally visited me?”
“Of course he did. He loves you and your nerd brain,” she says. “…And he wanted to see if he’d get zapped when he touched you.”
I laugh. He’s a good kid.
My apartment’s the same as I left it. A mess. Iris is right though, they did send me my diploma – it’s on the floor by the door, right next to a late rent notice. Mr. Shipp was nice enough to press pause on fees, I guess, at least until he heard that I woke up.
“Beats a hospital room, huh?” says Iris, making herself comfortable on my sofa.
“Yeah. There’s no place like home.”
She sits up a little straighter.
“Do you remember anything? From when it happened?”
“No, nothing. Just that I was doing cleanup at the lab.” I pause to think, scratching the back of my head. “I had these crazy dreams, though. I remember some of them, I think. Floating on the… the river of reality. Something like that.”
She looks amused. “Man, what kind of drugs were they giving you?”
“Oh, the best kind.”
“I missed you, Barry.”
A comfortable silence settles between us. I join her on the sofa, picking up the TV remote from its resting place between two cushions, exactly where I’d left it. The way I see it, I have two months of television to catch up on, and there’s no better time to start than now. I flick it on, and Iris picks a show. We order pizza later, and before we know it the day’s turned into night.
Iris’ head falls gently onto my shoulder, asleep. She looks peaceful. I notice, not for the first time, how beautiful she is. Electricity tingles through my body.
Eventually, I feel the persuasive tug of sleep. Asleep for two months, and already I’m eager to get back to it. Hah.
I can only fight my eyelids for so long. As I let them close, I think strange thoughts – thoughts of time and blood. Lightning and thunder. Wild storms of life and entropy.
They feed into my dreams.