This post is part of the November Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is to write a drabble: a story exactly 100 words long.

“But it seemed so real…” Ohns said, tears in his eyes.

“That’s how dreams are,” said the dark-haired child. “We make sense of them, fill in the details.”

“What’s going to happen to everyone?” Ohns cried.

“The sleeper must awaken, but nothing will be lost. We will wake up, and be whole once more.”

Ohns nodded hesitantly. “I think I’m ready.”

The sky bloomed with radiance, overwhelming everything—from the twilight city of Eswe to Clen by his lake–and gently washing it away.

In the ICU, Jackie Sullivan awoke, and Ohns’ world vanished into the recesses of his being.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own drabbles:
Bettedra (direct link to the relevant post)
FreshHell (direct link to the relevant post)
CScottMorris (direct link to the relevant post)
AuburnAssassin (direct link to the relevant post)
Aheila (direct link to the relevant post)
Bibbo (direct link to the relevant post)
hilaryjacques (direct link to the relevant post)
Proach (direct link to the relevant post)
jonbon.benjamin (direct link to the relevant post)
rmgil04 (direct link to the relevant post)
PASeasholtz (direct link to the relevant post)
Regypsy (direct link to the relevant post)
Madelein.Erwein (direct link to the relevant post)

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A cigarette flared to life between her fingers. Technically smoking wasn’t allowed anywhere on school grounds, not even on the loading dock. Then again, the rock keeping the battered door to the teachers’ lounge open wasn’t technically kosher either, and it had been placed there by the principal.

Gene lit his own coffin nail after Weatherby proffered her lighter. “Not exactly being a role model for all the kids, are we?” he said.

“You know damn well they’d smoke whether we did or not. It’s all they have to tide them over before dope and meth, after all,” Weatherby sighed.

“I can see that the beginning of a new school year has you nice and uplifted,” Gene countered.

“Seeing the new wave of children come in…all so young, all so beautiful,” said Weatherby. She coughed. “And then looking at myself–never beautiful, no longer young–frankly, I can’t think of anything so depressing. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little grumpy, Mr. Ulrich.”

Gene fiddled with his cigarette, unsure of how to respond. He’d been warned about Weatherby, but he also had to get along with her if he intended to continue smoking out back. “There’s always what you teach,” he said. “Advancing the state of knowledge ought to count for something.”

“You’re an art teacher, Mr. Ulrich,” said Weatherby. “You get to talk to the children about finding their inner voice, expressing themselves, following their dreams. I teach mathematics. I doubt even a Harvard statistician had youthful dreams of solving equations all day.”

“The kids still make mistakes, even in my class,” said Gene. He flicked his ashes into the football helmet-cum-ashtray provided by Hanretty in Phys Ed.

“When your children make mistakes, it’s cute. It may even be modern art. But when my children make mistakes, they’re just mistakes. I get to mark with red ink because no new school of mathematics was ever founded by someone who thought two plus two equals twenty-two.”

All night I’d felt the beginnings of a panic attack…that lightness of head and tightness of chest, that feeling of being closed in no matter how wide-open the space, that sudden spasm of dread for things that shouldn’t be fearful.

Television didn’t help. I trembled too much to write. Pacing only made things worse. On the theory that fresh air might do the trick, I strolled all of five feet outside my front door to watch the cooling remnants of the sunset and watch Venus rise. It didn’t have the intended effect, especially not when one of the neighbors brought their unleashed rat-dog by. Having tiny, ceaselessly aggressive creatures about one’s ankles is only slightly less relaxing than the stoned twentysomething behind it who insists the squealing monster is friendly.

It wasn’t always like that. The last panic attack I could remember was at summer camp when I was fourteen; a violent tornadic storm blew in and I was convinced we were all going to die. We well might have too–a nearby housing development was ravaged by the twister that only brushed us. Compared to that, my house in the PM was a picture of safety and stability.

Maybe that’s what the rising bile in my throat was trying to tell me. It may be that, for the first time in my comfortable life, I felt suffocated by the very atmosphere I’d long sought to cultivate.

The next morning, Kevin couldn’t find it in himself to crawl out of bed for so much as a glass of water. His temples pounded mercilessly in what he might have called an ‘uber-headache’ had he been able to so organize his thoughts. Half-hangover, half-migrane, it made the soft lights and sounds of the waking world outside the bedroom all but unbearable. Despite a parched throat and chapped lips, Kevin was too weak to get the bottle of water at his bedside, much less sip from it. And even then the sunshine streaming through the closed blinds and the rustling of the blankets would have been more unbearable than thirst.

People came and went downstairs all day–it was impossible to miss the nuclear detonations that accompanied each footfall, door slam, and idling motor in the driveway. No one could be bothered to check in on poor old Kevin, but in many ways that was a blessing in disguise. A conversation–or, heaven forbid, a hospital visit–would have reaped more in agony than it sowed in goodwill.

Let’s face it, you’re still scared of the dark. It’s hard-coded by our species’ relative lack of night vision, and reinforced by a thousand hours of pop culture.

As you wander through the darkened hallways, catching a glimpse of the city lit up at night, you reflect on how many films have shown someone in the same situation meeting a grisly death at the hands of mass murderers, monsters, and other fun chaps. The emergency lights give the place an eerie sheen like the best Hollywood mood lighting, and the fact that, in your mind’s eye, the place bustles with attentive life makes its still, cold silence all the more difficult to bear.

Even with the weight of years upon your brow, you can’t help but believe in some heart of hearts that Murgmagh the Eyeball Plucker is lurking out there, and that unless you turn back now, he will have his meal.

“You’re a miracle worker, Peg,” McClellan said, reaching for the cup. “I’m bloody parched.”

Peg yanked the cup back. “Parched enough to pay in advance?”

“Parched enough to break your arm and take all I want straight from the faucet!” McClellan laughed.

Peg snickered. “Go ahead! No one knows how to work the thing but me.” She stroked one of the pipes, gently swirling McClellan’s beer as she did so. “I built it. It’s my baby. You can barely find your own stick in the cockpit.”

McClellan raised an eyebrow. “It’s called a yoke.”

“Or you could take your business elsewhere,” Peg continued. “I do believe you can get some beer in our home port, if you go down the right back alley, but that’d be quite the wait. Why, it’d be weeks and weeks before you got some mead in you.”

McClellan licked his lips, and slapped a handful of worn company pay slips onto the bar. “You play dirty. Beer me. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned bartender talk? Maybe the occasional ‘I’m sure it’ll work out, Mr. McClellan,’ or ‘I sure do value your business, Mr. McClellan.'”

Peg ran a rag over the metal plate that served as a bar. “I’m not a bartender,” she said. “I happen to be a highly trained United Nations Transport Service communications officer. Important people have my voice in their ear when things get done. I just moonlight as a bartender when there’s nobody important to talk to.”

“There’s never anybody important to talk to out here,” McClellan snorted back. “This Theta Proxima milk run is the ass-end of space.”

Gather around, everyone, for I’d like to tell you a story.

Now, this was a very long time ago, when children stayed children until they were forced to grow up and anything was possible as long as you did it before lunchtime. A little boy lived in a little house on a hill under a great oak tree with his family. And, every night when his chores were done, he would sit under that tree and look up at the stars until it came to be bedtime. It was a very long way to anywhere, and anyone, else from that little house, and the boy often felt like the stars and the great fuzzy belt of the Milky Way were closer than anything, and anyone, else. He used to dream about what, and who, might be looking up at his little star from far-off cosmic hills under far-off cosmic trees.

Of course, there was no way for him to be sure–or so you might think! As it happens, the boy’s house had a very well-stocked library, and he would often take a book to read when the moonlight was at its brightest on hot summer nights. One of the books talked about a lonely castaway on a desert island lost in the seven seas, who had sat under a palm tree on an island hill and wondered the same wonders as the boy. The castaway had written a message and put it into a bottle, which he’d hurled into the vast ocean–not looking for rescue, since he’d come to love his little island, but rather looking for a friend. The bottle had returned bearing a message from a prince in the far-off orient, with the castaway and his new friend exchanging many such bottles in the pages to come.

The boy was enchanted by this idea, and one day he wrote a letter of his own, sealed it up tight in a bottle, and flung it into the sky with a little help from his slingshot.

It was many days later that he found his bottle under the great old oak, warm to the touch and bearing a message back. It was unsigned, but spoke of another child on another hill impossibly far away, sitting under the same sky and wondering the same wonders as the boy. That was the first of many bottles which came and went into the great starry expanse from beneath that old oak on hot summer nights, as the boy and his new friend wrote each other about their shared questions, hopes, and even dreams.

Then, it so happened that the boy’s last bottle went unanswered for a very long time–much longer than usual. When a bottle finally appeared, it looked as if it had been through a fire.

The message inside was brief. It read, simply, “help me.”