Short Stories

Short Story: “A Summer Dream”

I have heard that once, back when the internet was new and technology still scarce, rich or poor, privileged or not, everyone was able to dream.

Why was that right not protected?

A Summer Dream             

He did not feel remorse.

It was neither a psychological condition nor a twisted code of morals. I was familiar with those, and what drew me to him was that he was different. Different from other criminals. Different from other people. Different from myself.

I was drawn to that inexplicable allure of impulsivity, the unpredictable nature of both his character and the life he led. He lived a complicated life in a simple world where sensible humans desired simplicity.

This profession and position exists because it is simple. Being a lawman, after all, is ridiculously simple. There were rules in place in the world and what a lawman did was uphold those rules. Like things should be, there is no grey area. The rules are adhered or they are broken. No bending. No loopholes. My job is to apprehend and punish those who break them.

By the time his case came into my hands, he’d become quite renown. Robin. That’s what he called himself, at least. His government-registered name was equally simple but quite different. Though I hold pride in my mnemonic aptitude, it fails to linger in my memory. If anything, I’d cite the cause to that encounter – my first and last encounter with thief called Robin.

~*~*~

The sun was high and hot.

As I have said, he was not like the other thieves. He didn’t work in the cloak of the night. He didn’t hide his face. He didn’t look even the slightest bit angry or distressed when I cornered him. There on the rooftop, with the light beating down on his distinguished features, he looked past the glinting gun in my hand. With a strange sort of assurance, he looked me straight in the eyes.

“You have nowhere to go,” I said, and nodded towards the silver rod in his hand. “The dream. Return it and the other stolen items immediately. Turn yourself in, and the prosecution will seek a lighter sentence.”

He didn’t falter. “I’ve plenty of places to go, Officer.” His gaze was level, voice steady. He stood calm and unperturbed, nearly expressionless, as if he truly believed his words. “You just need a little imagination.”

I glowered, readjusting my grip. A press of my thumb undid the safety of my weapon. “I will say it one more time. Return the dream. Turn yourself in, and the prosecution will seek a lighter sentence.”

The strangest expression came upon his face then – a knitting of the brow and a small scowl, an almost imperceptible tilt of the head. And his eyes, they changed the shade of their intensity as they flickered down to the silver capsule, then back up to stare at me. “You know what I’m called.”

A statement. Not a question.

I knew his real name back then. Recited it to him, even. But then I said on, “but you call yourself Robin,” and gave a snort of derision. “You think yourself a hero. Robin Hood, is it?” I spat the words, felt the condescension hiss through my teeth. I expected some form of response.

And respond he did. But he then did something I did not expect, something that truly differentiated him from any other criminal I had ever or would ever meet. In that situation, a wanted criminal – a fugitive, if you will – stuck upon a roof opposing an armed lawman, in that situation of all things…

He smiled.

It chills me to this day to think of that smile – so pure and guileless it was almost malicious, perfect in its misplaced-ness. It lit up the man’s face and, for a moment, he seemed almost a child. “Is that how it seemed?” he chuckled – think of it, laughed in the face of a gun! “Well, I suppose it could have been interpreted that way.”

“Seemed? Interpreted?” I scoffed. “You re-enact his tales to the letter and seem to find in them a fitting enough creed: steal from the rich and give to the poor. Exchange ‘gold’ for ‘dreams’ and we have your plot at hand.”

And in half a moment, it was gone.

His expression again grew serious, sobering, his lips pulled taut in a grim line. “And that is where the difference lies.”

A breeze seemed to billow then. It momentarily dispersed the sun’s heat, cooling the skin and then rousing me to my senses… or it should have. I should have struck him then, apprehended him. I should have recovered the stolen capsule, returned it to the league where it belongs. I should restored order to the world right there and then. I should have, I should have, but instead, I ventured further into the chaos.

I took a step towards my own undoing.

“What good are your actions?” The question was out before I thought it. Neither he nor I moved a muscle as the words faded into a memory. “I know of you,” I continued. “You come from a poor family and an impoverished neighborhood. With your level of skill, stealing money should be no challenge, yet you go for such a highly guarded recreational commodity such as… dreams.”

He listened intently to my words, staring into my glare.

“If you recirculated them for a price, I might have understood, but you do not even that. You simply distribute them for free amongst low and middle-class children. Adults too, when you have goods to spare. Your actions make no sense.”

His expression did not change so much as the light in his eyes. It was subtle, but there – a change from a watchful, observing gaze to… something. It was something unfamiliar, something I could not place. “There’s another reason I’m no Robin Hood, Officer,” he said, answering none of my questions. And then he took a step forward. I had every reason to shoot.

I didn’t.

“The sheriff that hunts me down is neither corrupt nor my enemy.”

It was then that I registered that look in his eyes, and I could feel my blood burn through my veins. My knuckles drained white at the grip of my gun, my finger tensing dangerously against the trigger. “What is that look?” The words came out low, threatening. Tenser than I’d wanted.

“What look?”

“That look that says you pity me.”

“I don’t pity you,” he said, still approaching. “It’s just that you’re the same.”

“As what?”

“As the rest of us.” Us, he said. Same as the rest of ‘us’. Who was he including? The middle-class? The poor? The children? But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he said that I was the same. The same as him.

And there was the strangest prickling sensation in the pit of my stomach at those words.

“Police don’t get paid too much, do they?” he said, and he stood just a step before me. The gun hovered just half a hairsbreadth from his heart. I didn’t respond and only narrowed my eyes. He met my glare head-on with that same unwavering stare. Not harsh. Not cutting. Merely a look. And it seemed to penetrate to the soul. “So you’re the same as the rest of us.”

He then, again, did something I did not expect. He raised his hand so gently, with such grace and ease, it almost seemed a beat to some unheard music. I wonder to this day if he heard something then that I could not. But of course, he was no conductor. Instead, he brought his hand down on the gun, pressing against the barrel, lowering my hand. I didn’t expect that.

So I let him.

And then something hard pressed to my chest and I tensed, thinking myself a fool, thinking I had left him an opening, thinking of the pain that would surely come… but the pain did not come. Instead, reaching up, I felt my fingers wrap around a smooth metal canister. The hold of its previous carrier was imprinted upon it in warmth.

“I’ll give this one to you,” he said, brushing past me. I could only stand there, mute, gazing at the dream capsule in my hand. “Not back to the authorities, not back to the wealthy, but to you.” A beat. “Use it well.”

A strange thing happened then.

For you see, I had always been a simple person desiring a simple life in a simple world. The world was ridiculously simple. Time, even more so. It was constant, it was steady, it was a routine that did not change. Yet, for the first time, then, I felt time seem to shift.

A moment became a minute.

A minute became a day.

I realize now that back then, I must have been thinking – truly thinking for the first time, not just reciting recycled orders, secondhand facts, and hand-me-down ideologies – lost in thought as my simple mind twisted in on itself, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible meaning of his even simpler action. All the while, I heard him drift away.

No, we were on the rooftop. There was nowhere to go. The only door was locked from the inside and would not open until my signal. Even so, his footsteps seemed to fade, and it was a jolting sensation, the realization. In that moment, he was ephemeral, and I knew that if he disappeared, I would never meet him again.

I turned so fast I dropped my gun.

It clattered loud against the concrete, and he stopped.

“Why do you do this?” The hardness had left my voice, leaving the meaning of the words soft and unprotected. “Why would you spread these around? Why give children, people,” me, “these things out of their reach?” There was a silence as he stood, turned away, a still-life portrait of transience.

I continued. “What will they do when you’re gone? Pine for something they cannot possess? Dreams are for the wealthy – those who can afford to dream – those who can achieve them when they do. What good are dreams when they bring fruitless desires?”

The words came faster and faster, and they came back to me then, the questions I had asked as a child – why it mattered if dreams were in color or not – why the privileged at the academy could speak as if that’s all that mattered – why they never even bothered to ask why they could dream and I could not – what it felt like to dream, colored or colorless or otherwise.

And I only realized then that this interrogation, the rambling words that escaped me in a rant, was an echo of what I had been told all my life, distorted by desperation. I was desperate for answers. “What good are dreams to the poor, who will never be able to attain the aspirations you so inspire?!”

The heat had gotten to me. That was what I told myself.  That was why it was so hot, why my face was flushed, why my breath ripped through me, reckless and ragged. But in truth, I knew it was not the heat of the sun, but the penetrating warmth of the case in my hand that had overwhelmed me.

And he knew it as well.

I could see it in his face when he turned around, and again looked me in the eyes. “You’ve never dreamed before,” he said, and I realized that he had been honest. That hadn’t been pity in his eyes before, but empathy. “So, unlike the wealthy, you understand. You know how it feels, how hard it is to tell one day from the next – if you were asleep or merely blinking. You know how it feels to drift every day, living as life dictates rather than dictating life. You know what I do.”

Then he said it again.

“You’re the same.”

It sent a tingling down my spine, those words, but they gave me no satisfaction. There was no real truth in them, no solution, no answer. It didn’t quench the painful thirst that seared my psyche, the heat that had begun to consume me. I shook my head, slowly. “Why do you give us dreams?” I repeated. “Why, when we cannot achieve them? Why this form of cruelty?”

He stiffened at the last word, ‘cruelty’. His serious demeanor faltered, his eyes growing wide and round like an unprepared child asked a bout of arithmetic. His lips parted then closed, and I almost smiled. The feeling of falling expectations almost tickled on the way down. But then he closed his eyes and closed his mouth and pressed his lips together. When he opened his eyes, he did it again.

He showed that same guileless smile.

And then, for the first and last time, he gave me an answer. “Because this way,” he said slowly, deliberately, “they’ll at least try.”

It was so simple. Such a simple answer. It was so simple that I found myself laughing, for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. It was unpracticed and quiet, but he heard. I know he heard.

“I’ll have you know, Officer,” he then said, starting to turn away once more. “I’ve never once thought myself as Robin Hood. I’d appreciate it if after you let me go, you amend that misinformation.”

That startled me, almost back to my right mind. The laughter stopped as suddenly as it began. I straightened, steadied my gaze. “Let you go?” I demanded.

But as I have said, those earlier smiling words were the first and last answer he ever gave me. “It’s Robin Goodfellow, good Officer,” he said with that smile, and then he continued to walk away. “Not ‘Hood’, but ‘Goodfellow’.”

As he walked, I merely watched. A shift of the foot brought a scraping noise, reminding me of the gun at my feet. For some reason, it didn’t feel right to take it. Instead, after he was a few more steps away, I told him, “You have nowhere to go.”

He stopped at those words, just at the edge of the rooftop. He stood there with hands in his pockets, and looked up to the clear blue sky. White clouds were lifted in from the distance, and had I more imagination, I might have seen shapes in them. I am certain that he saw shapes in them. The breeze tugged at his clothes and blew his hair across as he stood there, relishing it.

“You know, Officer,” he then said, and again, I didn’t expect what came next.

He spun on his heel, turned back to me, and said with a smaller smile: “I often dream of falling.”

And then he fell.

~*~*~

“If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding than a dream.”

– William Shakespeare

~*~*~

I am almost certain he survived.

We never did find a body after all, and a worrisome number of dreams continued to be reported missing from the wealthier upper-class. However, some people say that the mantle had been taken on by a different ambitious group, that Robin had himself more than just one successor.

Hah. ‘Not Hood’ indeed when he has himself his own band of merry men.

But I know he spoke truth when he said he thought himself otherwise. Robin Goodfellow, is it? He was quite well read for a thief, I will admit.

I turned over the case of the dream thief to a subordinate and had nothing to do with it ever again. Two years have passed now, and the repercussions of that encounter are now long-past. There are other cases, more predictable, simpler, more sensible cases, to attend to – cases with criminals more familiar to a lawman like me…

 “Give me your hands if we be friends.
And Robin shall restore amends.”

… and not criminals that make foolish, impossible promises.

But for now, the moon is peering through the skyscrapers, and sleep presses at my eyes. I’ve no time to think on the past. So I set aside the ancient book of ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and get myself to bed. Something silver catches the light of my desk lamp on my bedside table, and as I settle in, I take the capsule and set it beneath my pillow.

I kept the thing. Not as evidence. Not a keepsake. I simply never felt a true need to return it to where it belongs. The wealthy have enough.

But I’ve never used it either. It simply lies against my mattress when I rest, closed, with an unseen dream kept locked within, and I still spend every night wondering if I am sleeping or blinking. If it so happens that I do meet him again, I’ll give the capsule to him, and tell him I have no need of it.

I’ll tell him that I stand by what I said, that giving such a chance is cruel. That it is better not to dream than to dream of the impossible. And I know that as I say so, he would meet the glower with a welcome stare and see straight through the façade.

Now, before I drift into dreamless sleep, I shall take it upon myself to make a small confession, within my mind so no man nor mouse nor anyone will hear. I think it now before I sleep so that, come morning, I will have forgotten it.

The words I will say when I meet him again would be lies. And how I know that is the same reason why I do not need this capsule.

Even without this capsule, I have tasted a dream, and I cannot bring myself to regret it.

I agree.

Everyone should have the right to dream.

And bless those with the courage to protect it.

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