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Snooze & Choose

Photo by Arzu Cengiz on Unsplash

You can buy a pill that lets you decide exactly what you will dream about while you sleep.

I stood at the bathroom sink, tiny cup of water in hand, excited as a kid at Christmas.

I rolled the blue and white capsule between my thumb and index finger, savoring the moment, having manically torn open the foil pack and tossed aside the box and the cover-their-ass warnings about all the theoretical side effects. One lab rat gets a rash, and every drug company lists any possible hiccup that has a million-to-one chance of occurring (including, I bet, hiccups) by printing a pamphlet the size of a Sunday newspaper or CVS receipt. Like anybody takes the time to read it after seeing their dumb commercials: Don’t take Drugpillanyl if you are allergic to Drugpillanyl. Jeez. If something bad really happened I’d have seen it on Twitter.

I did know taking most drugs with alcohol was frowned upon, which gave me a moment’s pause. I’d come from my department supervisor’s retirement party, and you can be damned sure there was alcohol to celebrate that asshole’s departure. But my last rum and coke had been two hours ago. I’d be fine. It’s not like I was washing the pill down with a shot of tequila for god’s sake.

And I sure as hell wasn’t waiting until tomorrow, not after arranging to go in to work two hours late today so I could be at the drugstore when it opened. Even so, I’d been lucky to snag a pack today — the line had been out the door, reminding me of camping out for concert tickets as a teenager. Everyone who could never afford prescription DreamWeaver hyped for the debut of the over-the-counter version, or at least one of the competing off-brands. I had settled for Snooze & Choose a little cheaper than Night Matrix, a couple bucks more than bargain basement Streaming Dreaming.

Everybody at work tomorrow would be talking about which dreams they’d chosen, and I wasn’t going to be left out. I popped the pill into my mouth, but then immediately spit it back out. It bounced off my hand and stuck to the faucet.

I almost forgot my Nexium! I gulped down the purple pill first. That was close. I didn’t need heartburn wasting the Snooze & Choose. If you woke up with heartburn or leg cramps or just to go to the bathroom, chances were your custom dreaming was done for the night. You could take two of the little dream makers, and that would last the night even if you hit the can half a dozen times, went downstairs and ate last night’s leftover chili, and watched an hour of SportsCenter.

Of course, then, if you woke up early, you risked hallucinations. Allegedly, it was “Don’t operate heavy machinery” times a hundred. YouTube was filled with DreamWeaver Fail videos, roommates capturing embarrassing “minor misperceptions of reality” as the drug company called it, but they all looked staged to me.

But while the over-the-counter price drop made DreamWeaver OTC and its knockoffs attainable for the likes of me, at ten bucks a pill I was still going to be a one at a time guy.

To that end, I relieved my bladder of its last few drops, then finally downed the pill, swallowing a paper cup’s worth of non-alcoholic tap water. I stepped over our cat Waffles at the bathroom doorway. The little moron was, despite having a bowl of food five feet away, trying to eat loose carpet strands where they met the bathroom tile. If they ever came up with Feline Snooze & Choose, he’d spend every night gorging on the buffet at Carpet Barn.

I got into bed, careful not to wake Darlene. My wife was anti-pill. She wouldn’t take an aspirin if someone drove a nail in her ear, and she wanted no part of “the dream stuff.”

I breathed deeply and began my mantra: I’m Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder… I’m Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder…

Yeah, most people think it’s one of Tom Cruise’s more forgettable movies, certainly no Top Gun, but I love it. It came out when I was a kid delivering pizzas, and every run with a double pepperoni to a house in the suburbs was my own Daytona 500, every driver next to me at a light was Cary Elwes as that prick Russ Wheeler, getting ready to run me into the wall. I’d get on the freeway for a delivery a mile away, just to try to hit seventy-five in my fourteen-year-old Dodge Charger. Bad ass, right?

But now I could experience 200 miles per hour. At Daytona. Plus make out with 1990 Nicole Kidman. Bonus.

I closed my eyes.

One lap to go. I’d navigated through the smoke-filled accident in front of me, and I was on Russ Wheeler’s ass. Drafting, letting him take the wind resistance, my Exxon Chevy saving energy. We were running one-two, and I had to make a move. I’d lure him high as I faked a pass near the wall, then slip beneath him inside and hopefully outrun him to the line. It all came down to the next few seconds.

But just as I was about to swing up wide, there was a noise from the car. The exhaust? The engine? This couldn’t be good. “C’mon, baby, hang in there — less than a lap to go!”

There it was again — a rough, choking sound. Definitely the engine. Shit, something was plugged or failing and was going to cost me the race.

Someone in the crowd called my name. Cheering for me, I supposed. Probably the whole crowd was cheering for me at this point, the fans loved me. But it was ridiculous to think I could hear them in here. Not over the noise — the thunder, if you will — of the cars. But there it was again.

“George! George! George!”

The engine coughed again, and the car shuddered.

“George, damn it, wake up! Waffles is sick!”

“Whuuu?”

It was Darlene, standing, shaking the bed, calling my name.

“It’s Waffles. He’s sick. He’s thrown up three times in the last half-hour.”

“Hairball,” I muttered, not opening my eyes, hoping that would help me get back to sleep fast and milk what was left from the pill.

“No, it’s worse. We have to get him to the vet!”

I quickly backed our Jeep Cherokee down our drive. Waffles seemed calm enough in his carrier, curled up and quiet, no more hacking, but Darlene was a nervous wreck. We’d hustled out so fast I hadn’t even put jeans on. We were both wearing plaid lounge pants, sweatshirts and sneakers.

“The vet is on Pinecrest, right?” Darlene always took Waffles for his appointments. I hadn’t been there in years.

“Right? Over by — oh shit… it’s midnight — the vet’s not open. The animal hospital then… where’s that?”

“Commerce Road. The intersection of Jenkins.”

Her voice was strained. She sounded like a lifetime two-pack-a-day smoker. Was she crying?

“It’ll be okay,” I said. I turned to her, but she was gone. Instead, Waffles sat there in the passenger seat, looking up at me.

“I hope so,” he said in that same scratchy voice.

“What the…”

I whipped my head around to look into the back seat. Had Darlene and Waffles just changed places? That wouldn’t exactly explain Waffles speaking, but it was all I could think.

No Darlene. The cat carrier was there, and still looked locked. It was too dark to see if it was empty. Not that Darlene would fit. “No offense, honey,” I said to no one.

“Watch out!”

The yell came from my right, in what I already accepted as Waffles’s voice. I felt the bumping and lurched my head back around to see we were drifting onto the gravel berm. I yanked the steering wheel left to get us back on asphalt.

“What are you doing?” yelled Darlene. And it was Darlene. Darlene sitting in the passenger seat, her left hand braced on the dashboard, her right with a death grip on that handle above the side window.

“You… Waffles…”

“Yes, me and Waffles. That’s who you are trying to kill, apparently.”

“Is… is Waffles back there?”

“Of course. Where else would he be?”

I turned onto Barnett Street. We were five minutes from the emergency vet. “It’s just that… a minute ago… I thought I — holy shit!” The car lurched as I jumped in my seat. Waffles was back in the passenger seat, but he was now Darlene’s five-foot-seven and wearing her red and black lounge pants and gray ADULT(ish) sweatshirt.

“Will you calm down?” Waffles said in that raspy voice. “I don’t think I deserve to die because you’re freaking out over me eating some carpet threads. I’ll quit, okay? My bad.”

My brain was shutting down. I could only stare at Waffles with my mouth hanging open.

But then, an epiphany. This was the rum. It was still in my system and had muddled my dream. Waffles had been working up a hairball while I slept, and ol’ Captain Morgan had grabbed that and insinuated it into Days of Thunder. It became the engine noise and things had spiraled from there. Huh, they weren’t kidding about no alcohol.

But… I was still dreaming. I wasn’t getting my full Days of Thunder experience, but on the the other hand, I got to know I was dreaming! No consequences!

I gave the gas pedal some more weight.

“It’s a left here at Billingham. You’ve got to slow — slow down!”

I took the turn doing fifty. I thought for a second we might flip, but the tires — at least two of them — held. Had we not been alone on the streets, there would have been a big-time accident as I crossed three lanes with some wild fishtailing before straightening out. I hit the gas again.

“Whooooooo!”

“George, what the hell is wrong with you?” Darlene cried.

“Oh, you’re back. Glad to see you again,” I said. “Watch this!”

The speedometer climbed — 60… 70… 80… There was a long row of construction barrels ahead I wanted to slalom.

“This isn’t a god damned video game! We can’t get Waffles to the hospital if we’re in the hospital! Or dead!”

“Don’t worry, nobody’s dying in my dream, baby! Hang on!”

“Dream?”

I was grinning like a madman. 85… 90! Had I ever driven ninety miles an hour?

Darlene punched me in the arm. “Are you insane?”

Ow. That was going to leave a bruise. Why would I let her do that when I controlled the dream?

“Wait, are you drunk? Did you drink at the party? You said you wouldn’t.” Then she pinched me, right on the spot she’d punched.

“Ow!” That felt really real. “No, I’m not drunk!”

Then, as the needle passed ninety-five, I had a horrible thought — what if the alcohol had muddled the effect of the pill, just not in the way I imagined? What if it was giving me dream-like hallucinations? What if this was real? Oh my god, had I actually been risking our lives?

As carefully as possible, I brought the car to a dead stop in the middle of the road.

“Well… Jesus Christ, George, can we find a happy medium?”

I looked at her looking at me. She was angry and afraid and bewildered. I said, “You were Waffles. Or Waffles was you. It… threw me.”

She continued to stare.

“Something’s wrong,” I said.

“Yeah, I’d say so. Look, let me drive. Maybe you just need to rest; I shouldn’t have woken you up from your dream so suddenly.” She got out and ran around the car. In the glare of the headlights her red sleep pants looked like they were on fire, and she moved like it too.

In a moment, there was a frantic knocking at the window. “George! George, come on!”

It wasn’t Darlene. Or Waffles. It was Tom Cruise. Or Cole Trickle. They look a lot alike.

“Dude, it’s the last lap, we can still win this — let me take it from here!”

That was probably a good idea. I started to open the door. But wait… if I wanted Tom Cruise to win the race, I could watch him do it on TV. This was my dream, my race to win. He was right, there had been less than a lap to go when things had gone wonky.

“Sorry, Tom. Eat my rubber. Gonna burn some dust!”

But Tom Cruise was no longer there, having been replaced by Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation. “You know damned well that’s my line,” he said.

I shrugged. “Later, dude.” I jammed on the gas.

It all came down to this. It was Days of Thunder again. On the residential streets of tiny Beechmont, Ohio instead of the track at Daytona, but there was Wheeler’s #18 Hardees car right in front of me. I surged on the outside, near the wall… well, where the wall would have been in the movie. Now there was no barrier. Not being pushed into a wall sounds like a good thing, but while scraping along a bunch of cement would slow me down and ruin my car’s paint job, it would also keep me from hurtling out of control and smashing through someone’s living room here on Grant Street. I glanced at Russ Wheeler behind the wheel, wondering if he would still slam into me without a wall to bump me into.

But, of course, Russ Wheeler was no more. Cary Elwes was still there, but as Westly from The Princess Bride in his Man in Black phase, sporting a puffy black shirt and black mask. He was mouthing something at me. I first assumed it was “as you wish,” a line he had repeated about a hundred and forty-six times in the movie, but then I realized it was “passed you, bitch.” Which was pretty un-Westly-like of him, being a beloved hero and all.

From the back seat, in that same Marlboro-ravaged voice, Waffles — who I had completely forgotten about — said, “Are you going to take that from somebody named Westly?”

I was not.

I feinted outside, and as he moved to bump me, I dipped underneath and floored it. I surged. Then the engine coughed. Twice. Three times.

Not again.

There were only a couple hundred yards to go. I stomped on the accelerator. Go big or go home. I would have to do both, it turned out, as the finish line had materialized directly in front of my house. My foot — now bare, hey how ‘bout that? — slammed to the floorboard and felt filled with power. It also felt wet. Warmth and wetness enveloping my foot and oozing between my toes, as though I’d stepped in mud or the gas pedal was melting.

Elwes/Wheeler/Westley and I were dead even, both flying full out. I kept my foot firmly to the floor despite the disgusting slimy moistness surrounding it. My mind offered the image of my right foot in the guts of a dead skunk, wearing it as a slipper. Thanks, mind.

Focus! The finish line was just seconds away! The flagman had raised the checkered flag! Weirdly, he was calling, “Watch out! Watch out!” and laughing. I thought I might force my foot right through the floorboard. I yelled, “Come oooooooooonnnnn — “

I woke up.

Really woke up.

I was halfway across the bedroom, standing with my right foot in a soup of hairball and regurgitated Friskies and cat saliva. Darlene was laughing. Hard. Between snorts she said, “George… I swear… I tried… I tried to warn you, but you kept going straight for it! You were on a mission!”

Then she was stroking Waffles’s back, murmuring, “Ooooh, does ooh fee-ooh bettuh getting that nasty stuff out?”

I stared at my foot, coated in that nasty stuff. Probably ought to move.

“I thought you were doing Days of Thunder, not Blunder,” Darlene said, and began giggling all over again.

I stared at my foot.

“Actually, it looked more like Godzilla. You stomped on that hairball like it was downtown Tokyo.”

I could only mumble, “Gas pedal.” Or maybe “Guz pubble.” Then, my head clearing a bit, I offered, “Stupid off-brand drug.”

“Oh, hey, you didn’t take your heartburn meds, did you? I heard they don’t interact well at all with the dream stuff. They warned about side effects, didn’t they?”

I chose not to answer on behalf of the pamphlet. Instead, I made a show of regarding my befouled foot. I could feel a piece of soggy kibble securely lodged between my third and fourth toes, and I feared this would be my lasting memory of the night. The dream had been crazy, but it was already fading. It shouldn’t, but… yeah, yeah, I’ll read the pamphlet next time. I lifted my foot from the mess. The hairball clung to it like Velcro, carpet fibers encircling my little toe.

“Grab the carpet cleaner and paper towels — you really mushed that.”

“Mm-hmm.”

I was thinking.

The clock read 2:53.

I ran some numbers.

7 — hours without a drink.

4 — hours metabolizing heartburn medication.

4 — remaining hours to sleep.

2 — pills in a pack of Snooze & Choose.

I hopped on my left foot toward the bathroom and the paper towels. And the remaining pill. Quietly, I sang, “Hiiighwaaay toooo… the danger zone…”

Mike Range spends most of his time writing nonsense on Medium to make people laugh. If you agree to read some more of his stories he might stop bothering his wife with it every five minutes.

For Reedsy’s curated feed of writing prompts and the chance to enter our prompts-inspired Short Story Contest, head to blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts

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