“Hey, Andy, hey, buddy.” Jesse’s voice was soothing. “Maddie’s right. Don’t sweat it.” He gave Andrew back his red-marked pages and then turned to the rest of the group. “But man, do I have a great idea. Check it out. We should compete . . . ” He did his usual pause for dramatic effect. “. . . to see who can have the worst nightmare.”
The gleam in his eyes disturbed me, and I know I should have said something, should have stopped it then. But I admit the idea intrigued me.
“That sounds cool. I’m in,” Ros said without hesitation. “Maddie?”
Maddie shook her head. “I’ve got writing to do. I don’t want to mess that up.”
“My dreams are the most boring of anyone, so I’m probably out,” said Walter. “Besides, you can’t make yourself have nightmares. They just happen.”
“I don’t know,” replied Ros. “Sometimes when I eat Mexican and have too many jalapenos, my dreams are really freaky. Or how about watching scary movies? That makes everyone have nightmares, doesn’t it?”
“Scary movies, definitely.” Jesse nodded in agreement, and Ros smiled.
“Drinking too much coffee does it for me,” I said. I watched Maddie’s gaze flicker between Jesse and me. She still had her hand on Andrew’s shoulder, and she seemed bewildered that we’d forgotten him.
“So that’s a yes?” Jesse asked me.
“I’m . . . not sure.”
Andrew swiped a wrist across his nose, then his wet eyes. “I’d rather not do it, is that okay?” He drew in a shuddering breath, trying to compose himself. “I don’t think I could do it.”
“No problem, partner,” Jesse said, and he flashed Andrew a grin. He looked at Maddie. “Last chance? Change your mind?”
“I’ll pass.” Her tone was controlled. “I’m having enough trouble sleeping these days as it is.”
Jesse held her eyes longer than I thought was necessary. I felt this clutching sensation in my chest, like my heart was being balled up in a slowly closing fist.
“I’m in,” I said.
A smile spread across Jesse’s face. “Bring it on,” he said, chuckling.
The rules were simple. We were to try to have the worst nightmare we could anytime during the week, and tell it to the group at our meeting. The group would then vote on what they thought was the scariest. We’d be on the honor system, since there was no way we could prove a nightmare was genuine. The only ones playing were Jesse, Roslyn, and I, but everyone could vote if they wanted.
I decided to not sleep for a night, drinking cups of coffee until my hands shook and my head buzzed, and see what would happen. My dreams the second night were jerky, disjointed. I remembered snatches of me yelling at my students in class, driving a strange flying car through heavy air traffic, and of course, running into my old pal the giant, ravenous rat.
None of this I felt would be enough to win. The next evening, I ate spicy food, drank a six-pack of beer, and watched The Shining. Bored and wishing the movie was as good as the book, I fell asleep halfway through and didn’t remember dreaming at all when I woke up.