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"The Difference Between a Nightmare and a Bad Dream," short story excerpt

Saturday 8/12/23

A nightmare and a bad dream are not the same. I’m careful about their correct classifications. When I wake up unsettled in the morning after one or the other, I ask myself, “What was that?” and then slot the experience into the appropriate category. A bad dream can be equally unsettling as a nightmare and its effects harder to shake. The nightmare is more readily distinguished as false, outlandish, implausible. It is extreme and therefore less believable. The power a nightmare wields is during the interval of its occurrence and the first few moments after waking up. The shock value is greater than the staying value, and shock, like steam, dissipates.

What qualified the bad dream as a bad dream remains, though. It’s thought about. A bad dream is a tale less easily told to others. The experience of the nightmare may be casually relayed given that the outlandish component renders it as anecdotally worth mentioning. There’s novelty without a threat. No one will read too much into it. You are not on the line or the stage. The nightmare itself is. Whereas, the bad dream pertains to you. Often it’s an intimate detail. Evidence of a troubled condition. A compromise in personal fortifications. Cracks in not-so-impenetrable walls. A faulty foundation. You have a problem you don’t know how to solve and are yourself implicated in that absence of a solution on account of what you lack or fail to do correctly or might be incapable of ever doing.

I had a bad dream about a man and his friend who were in my apartment. We had done business in the past and our business was coming to an end. I had a couple of obligations to fulfill. I didn’t have to fulfill them. I could have been done. Walked away and tried not to look back. The man had treated me poorly, but I abided and took the treatment over the duration of what should have just been a working relationship but no working relationship is ever just a working relationship. You tell yourself that you try and rise above, but you’re still allowing someone to do to you what they ought not to. His friend had watched. He wasn’t himself a culprit necessarily, but the kind of man who, even if presented with facts and truths, will still be loyal to the person whose side he was already on.

They had made themselves at home to such a degree that they were reclining on my bed, along with myself. A small bed. A basketball game was on the television and provided the only light in the room. The game kept going and going, with a record-setting number of overtimes. The longest game in history. There was a chance that it would never end. Which was more reason to stay. Less reason to kick someone out. Nothing like this would ever happen again. A person had a right to see it.

The man was a senior citizen but in that way that makes you think maybe the age for being a senior citizen should be changed. He wasn’t that much of a senior citizen. And a senior citizen now isn’t a senior citizen like a senior citizen was thirty years ago, especially with a senior citizen that’s just started out as one.

He made some remarks about my lack of various qualities as he typically did. Not outright remarks. But remarks where you can tell what someone’s up to. You’d respect them more if they just said what they wanted to say, but then it wouldn’t work so well for them because they’re not drawing on reality and when you don’t draw on reality you must come from a side that isn’t really there, rather than a center, which is.

His friend didn’t disagree, and as a result I was outnumbered, which is what a lot of life can feel like even when no one else is around. I couldn’t see him because there wasn’t enough light, but I figured he was nodding. Then one remark became one remark too many as remarks will do. I couldn’t strike this man. He was technically too old. Instead I rose from the bed, picked him up, held him sideways, shook him, and then threw him to the ground. I heard something shatter, but it wasn’t his head, because he could still speak, and he said he’d be getting me for this and I would pay.

He and his friend left while the game was going on. The game had continued for so long that you could tell that just about everyone in the world was watching it. The game had made the news even as it was happening so that people everywhere across the globe had time to tune in. Fifty overtimes, sixty. And so forth. People who never watched games were watching, and the world had come together in what’s probably the only way that it can.

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