WHEREVER I WAS AT, I could not see much, just a gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath my blankets when I hid from thunderstorms. But I was not beneath my blankets; the grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and I floated and rolled and swam in it, which made me certain I was dreaming.
There was nothing to look at, only my hands and arms and the rest of my body below my head, though they were almost invisible in the grayness. I wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt like the kind I wore as pajamas. I also had a pair of white ankle socks on my feet that floated in and out of sight in the grayness.
I swam in the grayness, rested when I tired, and floated alone. Happiness and contentment filled me. And I never once thought about my past or where I was at. Not right away. This was a dream, and we all know we cannot control our dreams.
So, I frolicked about and rested. When I rested, I sat on a plush seat—a sofa by its size and shape when I stretched out my arms on either side. When I reclined, the sofa reclined too and made a comfortable bed.
There was no sense of time here—no alarm to awaken me to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Dave’s baseball games and Amy’s piano recitals. Being their sister didn’t mean I had to be at every one of their events.
It was the first time I thought about my siblings. It soured my mood, so I swam from the sofa and pretended I was underwater in a colorful world of coral reefs and tropical fish. But my imagination soon tired me. My sofa, which seemed to follow me and was always at arm’s reach when I needed it, rescued me from my exhaustion. We floated together, going nowhere. Whatever the gray darkness around us was, I understood I could not stay in it forever. Time passed here and I would age with it. I would need to eat and drink if I were to live.
But how? There was nothing here but a pinpoint of white light far above me, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.
An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed me. Whatever was there was life. Here, there was only death.
I don’t know why I thought that, but I didn’t want this dream to become one of my nightmares.
“Hurry. Go,” I said to my sofa, which floated and ignored my requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there now.” I stood atop my seat, found my balance and crouched, ready to launch myself and swim to the light.
“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the sofa’s seat to my right.
“Daddy?” I squealed with delight to hear his voice.
“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape reclined in the seat next to me. He caught me in an embrace when I leapt at him. His long arms held me close, and his Aqua Velva cologne made me grin wide as I snuggled against him.
Sudden white light bathed us as though someone had flicked on a light switch. I fell from Daddy’s side as the three sections of the white sofa separated and became overstuffed armchairs that reclined. I fell in place with my chair that floated with the other two chairs in the vast whiteness.
I crossed my legs at the ankles and wriggled my stockinged feet from the footrest, the way I had done many times while sitting in Daddy’s recliner in the family room. My long T-shirt that went to my shins was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas that I often wore as pajamas. And Daddy in his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas made me look for a tree and decorations in the infinite white space around us.
There were none. No Christmas carols playing in the background. No background noise at all.
I rubbed the top of one foot with the sole of the other foot and patted my hands on the chair’s armrests to break the silence.
Someone coughed. It was a quick, soft cough, but one loud enough that it sent my attention to the third chair that floated in lazy circles around us.
The girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.
She looked just like me.
“You look just like me,” I said.
The doppelganger smiled at me, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of slim fit, skinny leg blue jeans—my favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore my oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her long blonde hair was pulled tight from her face, probably fastened in the back in either a bun or ponytail. My hair was loose and draped around my neck and shoulders.
“I am you,” the doppelganger said. “Though you probably don’t recognize me because I’m not the reversed image you’re used to seeing in mirrors.”
Her chair spun in slow, lazy, counterclockwise circles, which made me dizzy to watch, so I looked away and focused on the vast whiteness around us.
“This is such a weird dream,” I said to my father, whose chair drifted into my peripheral. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one like this before.”
“’Tis no dream, girly-o,” the other Vree said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.
“Death?” I said. “I thought there would be life here in the light.”
“What is life without death?” the other me said.
“Hush,” Daddy said to her as his chair circled behind hers. To me, he said, “No, Vree, honey, you’re not dead.”
“She thinks she’s dreaming,” the other me said. “She’s so out of touch with reality.” She laughed.
I bristled at that. “Stop mocking me.”
The laughter stopped. “Then pay attention and listen.”
Really? She was going to get bossy?
“Don’t tell me what to do.” I folded my arms across my chest and glared at my other self who smirked like a mischievous twin. “I wish you’d go away,” I told her. “I don’t think I like you much.”
“She’s your subconscious,” Daddy said to me. “She’s the only one who can get you started on the path of your new life.”
My subconscious? I glanced at Daddy. “What are you talking about?”
“Your subconscious needs to be a part of you, Vree, not floating around you. As long as you stay separated from her, your mind will remain here. You need to pull her in so you can begin recovering.” Daddy gestured an open palm at the other Vree. “The two of you need to be one again.”
“She’s in denial,” the other Vree called out. “She thinks she’s dreaming when she knows she’s not. She’s not ready to wake up.”
I glared again at my twin. “First you tell me I’m not dreaming. And now you’re telling me to wake up. Make up your mind.”
The other Vree glared back. “We’re telling you to wake up because you … and I … we’re in a coma. Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, unconscious.”
I gripped my chair’s armrests and sat up. The nightmares would soon follow.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. “I refuse to believe you.”
“You’re in denial, girly-o. But that doesn’t change the facts. Lightning struck us, lightning burned down our home. And Mom visits us at the hospital every day. She told us what happened. I know you heard her. You need to wake from this coma.”
Lightning? Coma? Our house burning down?
“Lies. Daddy’s not dead. He’s sitting right here with us. This is just a dream that’s trying to go bad.” I turned and searched Daddy’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”
Daddy met my gaze. “I only have a short time to visit you like this, so I need you to listen,” he said, plummeting my spirits. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to stop these chairs and embrace your subconscious again.”
I shook my head. I would swim from here; go somewhere else where I would awaken from this nonsense.
“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Daddy continued. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You can stop these chairs by putting your mind to it.”
“Do you mean by thinking it?” I asked.
“As simple as that?”
“Because this is a dream and I can control it with my mind.”
“Then where am I?”
“A place between life and death.”
Before I could react to this, the other Vree said, “She doesn’t have it in her to stop these chairs. She’ll keep them spinning until we’re all dead. She can’t do anything right.”
Her words stung, and so did my eyes. She sounded like my brother who disliked my clumsiness and lack of interest in sports. It’s true I wasn’t a poster child for physical fitness. But I wasn’t a wimp. I was going to be a lawyer like Daddy, which meant I spent a lot of time reading case books and watching lawyer shows on TV. I knew a thing or two about playing the devil’s advocate.
I focused my thoughts on Daddy’s chair and it stopped spinning. Then I maneuvered my chair until it faced Daddy’s. The third chair spun and orbited us at a fast speed.
“Concentrate,” Daddy said. “You can do anything as long as you focus your mind on it. Slow the other chair down and bring it to a stop next to you.”
I moaned as I shook my head. “I don’t like her. She’s like Dave and Amy, talking down to me. I just wish she’d go away.” I scowled at her as she whizzed by.
“Hey-hey, girly-o,” she called out from her dizzying orbit, “where’s the love?”
“I don’t love you!”
“She is you, after all,” Daddy said. “Without her, you cannot live.”
There it was again: Live.
I said to Daddy, “If all this is true, then you’re dead. I don’t wanna live without you.”
“Hush. You need to continue. You need to do important things where you’re going. I won’t listen to anymore bemoaning, young lady.”
I slumped my shoulders and sighed. Even in my dream Daddy was difficult to argue with.
“Sit up straight, chin out,” he said. “Bring your subconscious to you.”
I straightened my posture, then held my arms out to the other me who circled around us.
The chair’s orbit slowed. After five revolutions, each one slower than the first, the chair stopped next to my right.
“Accept her and she will come,” Daddy said. “Just let it happen.”
“What do you mean?” I looked at him, frowning. “Do I say it out loud, or what?”
“Just think it and she will come to you.”
A white light glowed from the other me’s body.
“Is she supposed to do that?” I asked.
“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go,” Daddy said. His form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush my interruption. “You can do this.”
The light from my so-called subconscious enveloped me, hurting my eyes.
“Breathe,” my other self said, her voice coming from all directions.
“I am breathing,” I said to the surrounding whiteness. I sucked in a breath. “See?”
“Say your name.”
“Just say it and stop fighting me.”
“Your full name.”
“Verawenda Renee Erickson.”
“Breathe for me again,” my other self said. “I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”
The light vanished. So did the place and the chairs.