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Prompt No. 13

A man has a terrifying dream in which he is being sawn in half. He wakes to find himself in the Indian Ocean, naked and clinging to a door; a hotel keycard is clenched in his teeth. Write what happens next.

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Let’s not get into the whys and wherefores of disintegrating relationships; let’s instead consider the dream from which Pete has just awoken.

Sawn in half by a maniacal clown, he was. Pinned down in a tiny box, in front of an audience interestingly made up of all of his relatives, Alfred Hitchcock, Tallulah Bankhead, and Loving Heart, his Thai mail-order bride.

He thinks, It’s official: dreams don’t mean shit.

Pete’s clothes are on Loving Heart and she’s at the bottom of the Indian Ocean along with all but one door from his small yacht (ironically christened Forever by one hopeful, middle-aged, middle-management American).

He had a moment of choice after she scuttled Forever with the fire ax they had stolen from the honeymoon hotel (not ironically called Passing Fancy by a realistic hotelier). The choice was: What do I take? What, from this four-day-long failed marriage, do I salvage on my makeshift raft?

The options were as follows:

  • Food in the form of an unwrapped coconut muffin
  • Drink in the form of one 200-milliliter bottle of Isotonic Performance Enhancement Juice
  • Shelter in the form of one queen-size royal-purple silk sheet
  • Entertainment in the form of Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Communication in the form of a wireless e-mail device

Loving Heart was excluded from the list of possibles because she was holding the fire ax and shouting “Farang keenohk!” (which means “birdshit foreigner”), and the fire ax was excluded for being held by Loving Heart.

Why, then, did Pete reach for the hotel keycard? Why did he hold it with his left hand while grasping onto the metallic handle of his door/raft with his right? And this is a left-handed man: more likely to go insane, become an artist, and make off-the-wall life decisions. Or death decisions. For where is there to go with the keycard? No slot, literal or metaphorical, is awaiting his entry anymore. Loving Heart has seen to that. And so the dream and the choice of final possession mean nothing. He kisses the keycard, rips it in two, and puts one of the halves, held in the palm of his hand, into the sea. It takes him an hour to get up the courage to let it go. When he does, it floats away, and nothing changes.

Sun sun sun sun sun.

It doesn’t take long for Pete to be as roasted as a peanut. There’s pain, and fear, and thirst. He chews the remaining half of the keycard, but it does nothing to alleviate any of his three problems.

But he is not alone.

His door is the one object in a 300-mile radius throwing a shadow on the surface of the ocean, and even the sea creatures are feeling the heat today. They collect in the wake of his raft, like a long dark tail on a stranded kite: surgeon fish, angel fish, lemon butterfly fish, glassy sweepers, dolphins, barracudas, eels, and one hammerhead that has half a keycard stuck in its teeth and the head of Loving Heart in its stomach. If Pete had the energy to raise his fried head and look behind him, he would know he’s not alone. His past follows him.

The maniacal clown, now Pete thinks about it, the maniacal clown said something as he lowered his saw to Pete’s midriff and the teeth made their first exploratory scrape across his belly button: the maniacal clown said You were foolish to tell her you’re not really a millionaire, and, yes, the clown was undeniably right. But should he really pay with pain and death and excessively bad dreams? This doesn’t seem fair. And so Pete sits up. He looks around. He sees the living tail that follows his raft: hawk fish, lion fish, lunar-tail groupers, snappers, rays, morays, and that one hammerhead with the keycard in its teeth.

He thinks, Maybe dreams do mean shit, and, brimming with the madness of sunstroke and the confidence of a limited imagination, he forms a plan:

  • Hold keycard half in left hand
  • Jump onto back of hammerhead
  • Hold fin with right hand
  • Prod hammerhead with sharp end of keycard
  • Make hammerhead swim to dry land

He acts.

Stages one and two of the plan go surprisingly well. The rest, not so well. It’s probably best to draw a close to this story here.

Remember, Farang keenohks, dreams don’t mean shit. And just because somebody has a Loving Heart in their body, it doesn’t make them less of a shark.