SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 20: In Which Our Subconscious Gets The Better Of Us.

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
My eyes snapped open with a sudden jolt. I didn’t know where I was, or when I was, or why I was, or what I was, or how I was.
And then it all swam into a not so focused blur.
And I screamed.
I jerked upright, my breath in short gasps, and I kept telling myself it wasn’t real.
But it was.
Miss Carol T. Cat looked up from the corner of the bed, her bright green eyes the only light in the dim, dusty room. “You have disturbed my pre-dawn rest period,” she grunted, in a voice that might remind the uninitiated of that last rumble your car makes before it stalls halfway up a hill and you start rolling backward. “Whatever your explanation for this inappropriate behavior, I am certain that it is inadequate. Please leave the room at once and spend the rest of the night huddled  on the bathroom floor.”
“That cinches it,” I muttered to myself. “I really am awake. Well, that’s an improvement over that dream.”
“Hew-mon dreams are merely the manifestation of a poorly-controlled subconscious,” replied Miss Carol. “The felid mind makes far better use of its regeneration period. Our dreams are devoted to careful planning for the future. When your yelp of despair interrupted my slumber, I was immersed in a detailed dream involving the stalking and elimination of a large invasive rodent that had attempted to annex portions of my personal space. Be assured that when this rodent appears – as it one day must, given your slipshod repairs to the basement wall – it will be dispatched with extreme prejudice. Thus reassured, you may now resume your slumber.”
She coiled into her usual sleeping position, but I wasn’t ready to follow suit. My dream shook me, and when I get shook I stay shaken. “It was awful,” I blurted, as she cocked a disapproving eye in my direction. “It started out OK, but…”
“It is obvious that there will be no further rest for either of us until you have unloaded your mental burden,” sighed Miss Carol. She sat up and glared at me thru the darkness. “Very well then. Relate your dream.”
“There was this baseball game going on,” I began, “in a vacant lot on the street where I grew up.”
“You have been traumatized by the discontinuation of professional sports due to the pandemic,” interrupted my counselor. “This matter is of trifling significance. Refocus your mind. Now, good evening. I must return to my own rest.”
“That ain’t all of it,” I continued, as in a marked manner, Miss Carol rolled over on her side. “One of the Strand Kids was pitching. But instead of a ball, she was holding a paper soda cup full of popcorn. And when she threw it, the corn sort of fanned out in a big ball. It looked all pointy and spiky like them pictures you see of the coronavirus. And then it just sorta dispersed in the air.”
Miss Carol sat up. “An effective visualization of the ‘community transmission’ phase of the pandemic. But you may rest assured that this threshold has not been reached in our community. And indeed, due to effective implementation of precautionary measures, it is increasingly unlikely that it shall do so.”
“And then all of a sudden I was in the Strand,” I went on. “Only it was completely dark inside. Now, I been in the Strand by myself a lot – and it’s never completely dark inside, not ever. There’s always light comin’ from the Exit signs an’ the emergency lights, an’ comin’ thru the windows from the street outside. It’s never absolutely pitch dark, not ever. But in this dream, it was. I couldn’t see my hand in front o’ my face. An’ I was stumblin’ around tryin’ to find a light switch, tryin’ to find a flashlight or somethin’, but no matter what I did an’ no matter where I turned, it was still dark, an’ I started to panic. An’ then I heard voices – it was the Strand Kids, all of them, goin’ back to the beginning. And they were trapped in the dark too, but I couldn’t find them an’ they couldn’t find me, an’ none of us could find a light.  And then I could feel somethin’ landin’ on me, somethin’ settlin’ out of the air. I couldn’t see it – but I could feel it. It was pieces of popcorn. An’ then I woke up.”
“You have devised an effective scenario for a low-budget television horror film,” said Miss Carol. “Make immediate arrangements for its production and transmission over one of the major streaming services. An eager public awaits the disturbing and fear-inducing product of your fractured subconscious. Stephen King shall look to his laurels.”
“Yeah, right,” I replied. “But what does it mean?”
Miss Carol resumed her sleeping position. “The significance of this dream is obvious,” she said, without bothering to open her eyes. “You are frightened. You dislike the uncertainty surrounding your personal future, and you are languishing after the loss of your normal routine. And you miss the young persons with whom you regularly associate, as the mental stimulation they provide prevents your mind from ossifying into senescence.”
“Is that all?” I responded. “I was afraid I was goin’ crazy.”
“It is entirely normal to feel fear and uncertainty in these times, even for an emotionally-friable hew-mon such as yourself. Even I, a member of a superior species, have experienced moments of uncertainty in recent weeks. Be assured that these emotions shall pass as we move, each day, one step closer to the ultimate resumption of normal conditions.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“I might also advise,” she continued, “that in future you forego the consumption of an Italian sausage sandwich with cheese and tomato sauce immediately before retiring. A person of your advanced years will find a small bowl of tepid gruel a more appropriate evening snack. Should you require a beverage, a warm cup of Postum will suffice.”
“Just how old do you think I am?” I protested, but Miss Carol had already fallen back to sleep.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I murmured as I did likewise.
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