By Andrew R. Duckworth
I wish I could say that it was only once. Only once. But life is full of irony, something that makes it beautiful, whimsical, and tragic. The dreamworld doesn’t let one leave lightly. It soon finds ways to draw one back in.
I knew that something was off when, on my way to my therapy appointment, a school of fish flew overhead when I was driving on the interstate. I passed it off at that point as just my mind playing tricks. It could have easily been a flock of birds, flying from one side of the interstate to the next. But I had never seen orange birds with fins and gills before. Either way, I was already hurrying to my appointment so I wouldn’t be late. I had no time to bother myself with fishbirds.
A few moments later, I pulled into the parking lot and made my way to the door of the doctor’s office. Before I could grasp the handle, a voice sounded, one of those automated voices.
“Enter your code for the door to melt!”
I stood there for a moment trying to comprehend the strange request.
“Um… excuse me?”
“Haha! Just kidding, come on in!” that computerized voice boomed.
The door sort of dissolved. Or maybe it disappeared. Either way, it was no longer an obstacle. I stepped into the small waiting room. A receptionist window awaited at the front of the room. Seeing no one waiting, I marched up to the window and said “I’m here for my 9 o’clock with Dr. James Rainier. My name is Alan Wallace.”
“You’ll have to be a bit more shepherd, gobble gobble,” the red headed woman said.
“Um… im sorry, did you just… never mind.” It wasn’t even worth mentioning. I knew what was happening at this point. I, again, found myself in the realm where dreams blended with reality. A receptionist making a turkey call made sense given the situation. “How can I possibly be more specific?”
“There are over seven thousand Drs. James Rainier who marsupial like the desert wind and they exist here.”
“Oh… well, how about Dr. JAMES Rainier”
“Oh, well, in that case!” The receptionist picked up a telephone. “Dr. Rainier! Eight feet of elephants! Now!” She turned her attention back to me. “If you’ll just take an open seat, we will call you back shortly.”
I looked around. All of the waiting seats were open. No one else was in the waiting room. It was just me. Everything was familiar with the exception of the unworldly and ridiculous speech coming from the receptionist… as well as the dissolving door… and the flying fish. This was my eleventh time coming to the office. Usually there was one or two others waiting, but today I was alone.
After I had been seated for maybe a minute, the door to the offices opened and out popped Dr. Rainier, a middle aged man with graying hair, nearly a skeleton of a man. Today, he was wearing a chef’s hat.
“Who asked for the burgers?” He questioned.
“Oh, it was that guy!” The receptionist pointed in my direction.
“Oh! Hey, Alan!” Dr. Rainier was always a cheerful person. “Why don’t you come on back!”
I followed him down the hall which had stretched it seemed. Yes, definitely stretched. No longer were there a few offices, but hundreds of doors it seemed both left and right down the all white hallway. We finally stopped at one with neon lights above which spelled out “Piper knows best.” I’m not sure why.
“Okay, in we get!”
I followed the Rainier into the office. But the office wasn’t the office. It had changed much like the hall had changed. Rather than a neat office with a sofa and a desk, we found ourselves in a pagoda garden.
“Um… have you done some redecorating?” I questioned, knowing full well that half of everything was some sort of construct my mind was creating around me.
“No, no, the grapes were already here.”
“But what can I do for you today? Please take a seat in the pool.”
I wasn’t taking a seat in the pool. Instead, I sat down on the walking path. He took a seat across from me.
“Well, I’m having some issues right now with my anxiety… but I’m also having some issues with… well, okay… right now, for example, your office looks like a pagoda garden. There is no ceiling, and we just came from a hallway that seemed to stretch for miles. And this is not the first time this has happened. I think I might need to… well… is there any way I can get a scan done or something?”
“Scans, scans, good for your head. The more you need them the rest of the fish coat the maps that lead to the spot.”
At that point, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. It seemed as though I wouldn’t be attending a therapy appointment. The dreamworld had different plans for me. But I also remembered that previously there had been clues to help me snap away from this upside-down place.
“‘Scuse me!” Rainier said. “Pay them fish attention, ya hear?”
Flying fish on the drive.
Various, albeit ridiculous, references to fish in his speech.
Koi fish in the pond.
Those words: “pay them fish attention.”
“Feed the fish?”
Rainier’s eyes got wide and he grinned an almost sinister grin, eye brows slanted inward. “Yuh-huh!”
“Here! Take the bones of plants!”
Dr. Rainier handed me some peanuts.
“Peanuts? Do fish even eat these?”
“Rub them on a snotty nose!”
“Oh my gosh, Brian! Are you high? No! Rub them on a snotty nose!”
“Are you insane right now, Brian? Are you freakin’ insane? A snotty nose is the way to the waterfall!”
Waterfall? Maybe another clue. But ‘snotty nose,’ on the other hand, was not getting me anywhere.
“Just do it!”
“Yeah, okay, peanuts and a snotty damn nose!” I was irritated. “What am I supposed to do with that, huh?”
“Feed it to the Tacos!”
“What? The fish?”
“Yes, Brian! That’s what I meant! Would you give some technology?”
I was fed up. I took the peanuts and threw them into the koi pond. When I looked back at Dr. Rainier he was clapping and smiling that wicked grin, almost too pleased with himself to be real. He was now fitted with a pair of pink, plastic fairy wings that one might find on a girl’s Halloween costume.
“Now, look in the water, Spilly McNum-nuts!” Rainier said in the thickest Texan accent I have ever heard.
I looked back at the pond. Bubbles started rushing to the surface, massive bubbles, making a loud sound as they burst at the water’s surface. Below the bubbles, something rose up from deep underwater. And soon after, the head of a massive koi fish as big as a great white shark popped above the surface.
“Hello, Brian!” The koi fish spoke in a rather regal way.
“It’s Alan,” I found myself having to correct everyone.
“My sincerest apologies, Brian!” The koi fish said. “I am the Koi King, summoned forth by your grand offering of tuna salad sandwiches.”
“Yeah, so, it was peanuts and-”
“You seem to be lost in between the realm of dreams and what you might call gobble gobble gobble reality,” the Koi King said. “There are a few steps back in the table, but perhaps some nice liquids. For this, my citizen, is a dreamening.”
“Liquids… waterfall… fish… what am I supposed to take from all of this?”
“That is indeed the marketplace of ideas!” The Koi King said. “Thanks for a well thought out flight! If it’s waterfalls ye be after, look no further than the water dispenser! Arrrrg!”
I remembered that there was a tank in the front lobby where you could fill up a cup and have a drink while you waited. It was the only guess I could conceive of at the time.
“The front lobby?”
“Aye! That be the one!” The Koi King whispered for some reason. “O-ho! Look at the cheerful ole matey! Seems to be sprouting cheerios!”
“Okay, well, the water tank then,” I said. “I’ll just be headed in that direction.”
“Into the hall of wonder and wander ya go, lad!” the Koi King said before sinking back down into the water.
“Who said a bally wagger? Get going!” Dr. Rainier was now a massive bagel shape. Dream logic. I turned back from where we came. There was a curtain and a large neon sign above it that said, “Water be this direction… Arrrrg!” I followed, exiting through the curtain and into a very small dark hallway. Shiny tile for floor, lockers on each side. It seemed like a school. What would normally be lit exit signs had the word, “water.”
“Well, well, well! If it ain’t Alan!” The booming voice of the receptionist rang out over an intercom. “Keep walking! You’re almost in the quill!”
I picked up my pace.
“Don’t worry about the papers. They’ll stop in a minute.”
Before I could even ask what papers she was talking about, thousands of loose pages began pouring from the ceiling and gliding towards the floor. I continued my quick pace, attempting to dodge the onslaught of papers.
“Keep walkin’ and you’ll be the golden trophy!”
Finally, I reached the end of the hall. A set of metal double doors led out. To what? I hoped the waiting room, but experience told me to expect perhaps a room full of clowns or a room with a massive face or something equally ridiculous. Perhaps they would be clownfish.
I opened the door to a bright light. The waiting room. Excellent. Before me, the reception window and, next to it, the tank of water. I nearly tripped over my own feet lunging for it. I grabbed one of the paper cups and put it under the tap. After I filled it up, I paused.
I looked over at the receptionist now appearing as a catfish with a head of red hair. “Spill it into that big mouth!”
“Got it!” I said before downing it.
After I emptied the cup I looked around. I felt different. Things began to morph into focus. The receptionist changed from a fish back to her normal self. The double doors that I had come from shifted back into the entrance.
“Sir?” the receptionist said. “You have an appointment don’t you? Mr. Wallace?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I answered. “9 o’clock with Dr. Rainier.”