Are dreams a direct path to the unconscious? How do they effect the waking life? What Sebastian remembered that morning when he awoke didn’t seem to mask any latent meanings. Briefly, he dreamed he was part of a posse pursuing some fugitive of justice. The problem, or anomaly, as far as he could tell, was his ride. While the other men rode powerful black horses, Sebastian, or his dream-self, was mounted on a zebra. Not only that, the zebra itself, minus the stripes, resembled a donkey, or more correctly a burro, one of the smaller varieties common to the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas, with prominent ears and a bouncy gait. Needless to say, he could not keep up with the others. The rest of the dream’s particulars escaped him, but he recalled the extremes of his frustration.
And how oddly the rest of that day turned out. Shortly after breakfast Sebastian went for a walk near the cemetery. He found it quiet there, soothing, a refuge from the normal city noise and chaos. Since he disliked music, he didn’t wear headphones or earphones, but took to wearing earplugs around to block the noise. On this day he’d forgotten to wear earplugs so when he passed a sturdy waste container near one of the cemetery gates, he was astonished to hear a voice issuing from its depths.
At first he thought he’d suffered an audio-hallucination. Then he thought someone, some clever hidden bastard, was throwing his or her voice. Then he thought, with a shudder, that perhaps a ghost from the cemetery, having somehow achieved animation, was targeting the first passerby it saw for a good spooking. But when he looked closely at the waste container, much to his chagrin, a pair of brown eyes gazed out from its open push door.
“Buddy, yeah you. I’m talking to you. Right there.”
The voice sounded female at first, that is to say, higher-pitched than most male voices, and yet not a child’s voice. Sebastian didn’t know what to say or do. How do you address someone either trapped or willingly ensconced in a municipal waste container? More often than not he deviated sharply from potential danger or ugliness. He liked living free of conflict and strangeness. And yet, that being said, one is forever confronted by aggressors, and strangeness. Sebastian was starting to believe more and more that the mere trick of being animate, that is to say alive and sentient in a universe composed of inanimate matter and energy, is strangeness enough, and all that follows cannot be but strange, whatever its manifestation.
“You gotta help me, man.”
“What—what are you doing in there?” Sebastian asked, his curiosity burning.
“Long story. What I need you to do—buddy, listen to me—I need you to tell me if you see a guy in a black overcoat lurking around. It’s a matter of life or death.”
Sebastian wanted to tell this person—he had an inkling it was a teenaged boy whose voice had yet to crack—that exaggeration, commonplace as it is, will win you few friends in life. Being truthful also means being accurate.
“Is he around? Tell me, please.”
Sebastian saw no one except for a tiny old woman across the street walking an enormous white dog, in itself somewhat disturbing but not exceptional or suspicious. He saw no one in a black overcoat and reported this to the waste container.
“Can you another thing for me?” the voice asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, uncertain of the person’s motives and angles.
“Will you mail something for me?” the voice said.
Sebastian thought he’d misheard. “Mail something?”
“Yes. An envelope. It already has postage. I just want you to drop it in the nearest mailbox. Can you do that for me? Can you do this one thing for me? I’ll be forever in your debt.”
The whole situation struck him as so bizarre and otherworldly he could not refuse the request for fear of unbalancing its unique reality. Walking away would have been unsportsmanlike, given the circumstances. When Sebastian agreed to mail the envelope, the eyes withdrew from the push door and in their place appeared a manilla envelope, folded in half. He grabbed the end of the envelope and pulled it through the push door.
“Whatever you do,” said the voice, “don’t read the address.”
Sebastian stood there frozen for a moment. The eyes reappeared sternly in the push door.
“I’m going,” he said, “I’m going.”
Why he moved so slowly from the waste container was a puzzle. His legs felt made of iron. He could barely lift them. He struggled to move a few paces. He felt as frustrated as he had during his dream of the little zebra.
“Hurry!” cried the voice. “Hurry!”
But the harder Sebastian tried, the slower he seemed to move. The effort exhausted him; sweat rolled down his face. The red of a mailbox throbbed in the distance and he pointed myself in that direction, dragging his feet like anvils, flailing his arms for added momentum. He started to doubt himself. The whole enterprise seemed doomed to some failure or monstrousness he could not foresee.
After what felt like hours, he finally reached the mailbox—panting, heaving, thighs burning. He leaned against the mailbox to keep from collapsing. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he waited until he breathed normally. He made the mistake at this point, of glancing at the envelope’s address. Before he could decipher the writing on the envelope he heard a voice.
“I fucking told you not to look at it!”
He swung his head around and saw no one except the tiny old woman with the huge white dog stopped by a fire hydrant, neither moving a muscle. He felt dizzy, his temples throbbed. He squeezed his eyelids shut, then popped them open. He glanced up at the blue sky—what do you do with a sky? Then he looked at the mailbox. A pair of eyes stared out from its slot.
By Salvatore Difalco
- Salvatore Difalco’s fiction has appeared in print and online. He
splits time between Toronto and Sicily.