NO! This isn’t real!
Lucas struggled against the darkness, fighting to escape…to live, then, as quick as the firing of a brain synapse, he detected the change in his surroundings. It was still dark, but the panic was gone from his mind. The growing heat was no more, in its stead, the chill of an unheated basement bedroom. The claxon of alarms ringing in his flight helmet gave way to the incessant beeping of his alarm clock.
Lucas opened his tightly squeezed eyes, relief washed over him at the sight of his multi-function stereo casting a glow off the paneled walls of his bedroom, Aerosmith’s, Dream On, played softly from its speakers. Lucas reached up and killed the chirping alarm clock, then lay still for a moment as he sifted through conflicting emotions. A part of him was thrilled to be alive, while another part was troubled at the prospect of what lay ahead of him as a middle class, South Minneapolis teenager. A life that started most every morning with a thirty-minute stroll through his paper route, and continued without any hope of the kind of adventure he just experienced in a rapidly fading dream.
“Damn,” he said, as he threw back the covers.
Fragments of his dream still flit about his head as he pulled his feet from under the covers. Following his feet was a brown and white beagle/dachshund mix. She shook herself from head to tail, then looked up at Lucas. He rewarded Buffy with a brief scratch behind her oversized floppy ears and then she jumped to the floor.
Lucas glanced sidelong at the dimly lit white numbers of his alarm clock and noted the time, 5:01 AM. He groaned and reached down for the jeans he let spill to the floor before climbing into bed over nine hours ago. If not for the two and a half hours he spent devouring a science fiction paperback, he probably would not be so groggy at this early hour. The dim glow if the stereo afforded him enough light to walk across the room and flip the light switch. Both he and Buffy blinked at the overhead fluorescents coming to life. Lucas could not help smiling at the sight of Buffy’s brown eyes blinking against the much brighter light. Not for the first time, he wondered for a moment why of all the other members of the family, it was he the family pet chose to sleep with every night.
Lucas shrugged away the thought and pulled on a clean pair of white tube socks and a Van Halen t-shirt. Upon opening his bedroom door, Buffy bolted through the family room ahead of him and bounded up the stairs. As he groggily followed behind, he combed his mid-ear length hair repeatedly with his fingers, and wondered if it is going to rain.
“I have to start watching the weather,” he mumbled to himself as he climbed the stairs to the back door, “what time is it on, 5:30 – 6:00. I think it might be on just before M.A.SH.” He looked to Buffy who sat looking at him from the kitchen and shrugged.
She tilted her head at him making Lucas chuckle as he turned and sat on the short flight of steps that led up to the kitchen. There he pulled on his tired old tennis shoes. They were last year’s gym shoes, and showed the wear of walking a paper route five days a week in all weather. Upon standing, Lucas peered out the window that took up the top third of the back door. The scratched and discolored Plexiglas was hard to see out of. Lucas shattered the original glass pain just under a year ago pounding on the door after his brother locked him out. To prevent future such mishaps, his step-dad decided something harder to break was a good replacement. Most of what Lucas now saw in the plastic pane was his reflected image. Once again he combed his sleep disheveled hair with his fingers in an futile attempt to settle it down. He gave up on the blonde locks, and instead rubbed his steel blue eyes.
In an attempt to block out the light coming from the kitchen, he cupped his hands around his face and pushed his nose against the plastic. Intently he scanned the sky between the apple tree and the garage looking for faint twinkles of light in the south Minneapolis sky. All he saw was black.
“Sorry Buffy, you can’t come with me this morning,” Lucas said, “looks like it might rain.”
Buffy stood at the sound of her name, and then sat back down, knowing by the tone of Lucas’s voice that what he was saying was not good. Lucas watched her floppy ears droop further with disappointment.
“I can’t help the weather Buffy.”
Lucas grabbed the doorknob and pulled on the door while keeping an eye on his occasional paper route companion. She stood again, tail wagging.
“No,” he said in a stern whisper, and grabbed his newspaper sack from a hook by the door.
Buffy again sat, and looked on with disappointment as Lucas slipped out the door and closed it behind him.
The Savings and Loan where the green truck dropped off his newspapers is only a few blocks away. By the time Lucas was half a block into his walk along East 50th Street, he was on autopilot. This was his second year doing this paper route, and he could do it in his sleep, as he often told his friends…he usually did. A couple more times he scanned the sky in an attempt to better gauge the weather. The clouds were low, the air moist, and the breeze warm. In his mind, there was not doubt rain was imminent.
At the Savings and Loan, Lucas counted out his papers. While do so, he mused over the fact that nothing could interrupt his counting these days. His first paper route was out of a garage a few blocks the other way from his parents’ house. It was a Star route, and several paperboys collected their papers there every weekday afternoon and early Saturday and Sunday mornings. One of the pranks the seasoned paperboys pulled on the new guy was to throw out random numbers to screw up your count, 8…12…35…64. After just a week or two of that, it did not take long before he could count, no matter what chaos was going on around him. At this location, there was just two Tribune routes, and he never saw the other paperboy. Lucas looked over at the other stack. It was always there when he left with his papers, but long gone before the bank opened.
Lucas lined his paper sack with a large plastic bag the newspaper truck left with the papers, and then stuffed the papers inside it. Being a typical Thursday, the papers were thick with ads, and heavier than the other four days of the week. He dragged the bag towards the curb, counted out a dozen papers, and set them on top of a newspaper box to the left of the savings and loans front door. With resignation showing clearly on his face as he looked over at the heavily laden paper bag. This was not his favorite part of the morning. Begrudgingly, he forced himself to cross the short span of concrete, stepped over the bag, and sat in front of it on the curb. With his left hand, he held the paper bags reflective shoulder strap to his forehead while he fought against the bulk of forty newspapers and stood, hauling the paper bag up with him.
With the bags weight pulling his neck muscles tight, Lucas picked up the papers he set aside, and tromped south along 34th Avenue. He angled across the street to the east side with little concern for traffic at this hour. At the intersection of 34th and 50th, he turned his upper body right, then left, checking for cars along the busier street, the heavy bag limiting his head movement. Seeing no headlights, or taillights, Lucas walked across 50th Street against the traffic light. He dropped a paper at the door of the corner bar, another a few doors down at the barbershop. A couple of doors past the barbershop he paused at Skylane Bowl to look into the bowling alleys arcade. The back of Galaxia partially blocked his view of most of the games. However, he could see Asteroids high scores and took a moment to see if any new initials filled the top spots.
“Nope, same old guys,” he mumbled, and walked on.
His initials were never in the top spots. Hell, he thought, I am never even on the board. His paper route money was for comic books, not so he could see his initials rise to the top of the leader board in Lunar Lander. Oh, he wanted to be there, but knew he could never scrape together enough quarters to make it happen. He watched the big kids come in with rolls of them and marveled at their wealth. Thinking about the space-based video games reminded him of his dream.
What was it? His alarm pulled him from near certain death. His star fighter was dying, with him trapped inside. What he could not recall was how he got there. One of his classmates told him a dream was just an instant, never lasting more than a couple of seconds. How could that be, he wondered. If it was just an instant, why did the braying of his alarm clock coincide with the alarms of a dying spaceship?
“How did I get there,” he asked himself once again.
Having flipped the last newspaper from the stack in his hand, Lucas set the bag on top of a city garbage can, counted out what he needed for the next two blocks, and picked the bag back up with his forehead. It was always a relief when the bag was light enough to carry on his shoulder. He turned the corner, set the stack of papers under his right arm on the top step of the corner house, took one, and slipped it between the storm door and the houses front door. He then scooped up the stack of newspapers, and walked back to the main sidewalk. The next house was a half a block down and most of his customers got cranky if he walked on the lawn.
Back on the sidewalk, his mind wondered back to the dream. While his conscious mind was pondering dreams, and his current station in life, the paperboy side of him was on autopilot. Without giving it a thought, he slipped newspapers in between doors, counted out the next couple of blocks, and continued on. All as other worldly matters occupied his conscious mind.
He tried for several moments to recall more details of the dream, but without much success. It frustrated him because dreams were as close as he was going to get to the worlds he found in his books and the movie Star Wars. Fun and exciting worlds that offered adventures this crappy blue marble never would.
In his books, dragons were real, and flew against a fierce enemy, the Thread. Spice gave a man near god like immortality, allowing him to rule the galaxy. Humans discovered another furry sentient race on a distant planet. Space travel was as common as boarding an airplane to Disney World.
Lucas was sure he was born either on the wrong planet, or in the wrong time, maybe both. Would there be space travel in his lifetime, maybe, but not like the way they zipped about in Star Wars. The lunar spacecraft were tiny, limited ranged and low tech compared to the stuff in his books and that glorious movie. Even if they did achieve that kind of technology, how old would he be? Old, like in his forties or fifties, too old to enjoy any of the benefits of high-speed space travel.
The sound of rain pattering the tallest leaves of the elm trees reached his ears before he felt the first icy drop touch his skin. The prospect of finishing his paper route in the rain soured his mood more so than the lost details of his waking dream.
Oh how he hated his insignificant place on this backwoods planet. Tatooine had more tech than this dump, Lucas thought. He took stock of his life at this point. He was below average in every sport he attempted, and could not catch a football if a teammate threw it right at him. In two years of baseball, he never managed a base hit. His mood brightened as he recalled the praise he received from his classmates in gym class. It turns out he was an exceptional goalie in floor hockey. Unfortunately, his mom would not foot the bill to let him play ice hockey so he could see if his ability translated from hardwood, to an ice sheet. Lucas surmised that his near fearlessness was what made him as good as he was.
Then there was school, oh how he hated it. He spent more time trying to figure out how to get out of it, than he spent on homework. That might be why his grades are not very good. But school was so terribly boring. Why can’t they teach us something we can use, he thought.
The only thing he was any good at was drawing. It allowed him to create the worlds he would never visit. Fly the spacecraft that would never exist. Brandish weapons never thought of in this mundane world.
However, drawing these things was not a path to greatness, he thought. That is what it is all about, right. He wanted to be a hero. Not a broken down war hero among thousands of war heroes, but a hero like in the Michael Moorcock books, one that was recognized the moment he rode into town. Maybe one who was a legend throughout the galaxy, a Robin Hood-esque character that was a hero to the common man, but a villain in the eyes of the evil empire.
“Where am I going to achieve that here?” Lucas grumbled to himself as he stuffed a newspaper into a paper box.
In his thoughts, he knew that if there were a war with the USSR, it would all be over. No heroes, no sir, just windblown ash, ash that used to be everything he knew and loved. Those that survived the multiple waves of nuclear bombs will have nothing left but a barren nuclear wasteland. Maybe, he thought, there is a chance for someone to rise to the top in that world. He could be Mad Max. Quickly he dismissed the thought knowing that living this close to a major city meant he would never survive the initial blasts.
He shivered at the thought of living in a world post apocalypse. “Who would want to?” He mumbled,
Raindrops dripped from his bangs and into his eyes. He shook his head vigorously in an effort to shed some of the water from his dirty dishwater blonde hair. Dogs aren’t so dumb, he though, and then combed his hair back with splayed fingers. Once again he took stock of his location. He was just a couple of blocks from Minnehaha creek. Once he delivered to the houses that fronted the creek, he was in the home stretch.
Lucas looked up at the sky, wanting to see stars, but all he was afforded was city lights glowing in the low hanging clouds.
“Why can’t you come and get me?” He pleaded with the unseen stars.
On clear mornings, that is where most of his attention focused, the stars. His favorite grouping of stars formed an arrow in the northern sky at this we hour of the morning. He imagined that it was a sign left behind by a superior race or being. Once we achieved interstellar flight, we can follow the direction of the arrow, and find these beings.
Lucas’s problem was he was losing patience. His head is always in the stars, more so than ever before. As far as he was concerned, he was on the short end of the cosmic stick. All it would have taken was just a hiccup in the time space continuum, and he would have been born on a different planet. Quite possibly a space faring race that is at war with their cyborg neighbors, a world where he can become an Ace, and a worldwide hero.
Then another thought occurred to him. In a cruel twist of fate, he could have been born in a far distant galaxy, on a world where fire was new. His species scrounging clothing from the carcasses of furry animals killed by some predator, likely the same predator that had him always looking over his own shoulder.
“Always pooping on your own parade Lucas,” he grumbled to himself, a little amused that no matter how far out into the stars his head was, he always reeled himself in a bit.
Lucas looked right, and noticed he was alongside the creek. The distance between streetlights was much greater here with the creek, park, and grassy area separating the streets that ran on each side of the lazy water. With the low over hanging clouds, and steady drizzle, the creek was like a dark valley in an ocean of diffused light. He dismissed his paper route for the moment and walked across the street and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge.
The creek ran deep and slow because of persistent spring rains. This morning it looked like flowing black ink with so little light reflecting off its surface. Lucas looked upstream to his left, then downstream to his right. The drizzle did not appear to ripple the water’s surface; it was as if the creek just absorbed the precipitation.
He turned his face up into the falling mist. The clouds were black as pitch over the creek, bordered by a grey street light induced haze on each side. He imagined the blackness as the deepest parts of space. Maybe it was a hyperspace chute, allowing battle cruisers to traverse the galaxy at will. The idea excited him, and again his mind reached out to the unseen stars.
“Just come and get me,’ he yelled at the darkness above him, “free me from this boring backwards planet!”
As if on cue, the darkness above the creek began to glow. At first, it was no bigger than a basketball. Then it slowly expanded as it grew in intensity. The clouds roiled before giving way to the increasing intensity of the light, turning to a mist that quickly evaporated. Bright white light broke through the clouds and penetrated the lazy creek before him.
His instincts shouted run, but a part of him knew what was happening, and he was not afraid.