Can You Believe It?—An Original Short Story
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Can You Believe It?—An Original Short Story

Marty hasn't dreamed in a while, and we need to get back home.

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Can You Believe It?—An Original Short Story
"dream" by Ling on Flickr

Can You Believe It?

-

Marty hasn’t dreamed in a while.

That’s what he tells me this morning as we wait in line for coffee. He’s visibly upset with purple bags under bloodshot eyes and a whole head of greasy, messy hair. It’s nothing short of pathetic, so I reply, “All a part of being human buddy. Welcome to planet Earth!” and reach up to slap him on the back. He, of course, stumbles into the woman stood before him, who shoots him a hilarious, filthy look. Marty fails to notice.

“That’s not fucking funny man,” he mumbles, face scrunched up in distaste. He begins to pick at the skin around his fingers while I laugh at the woman’s back. “My bad. I know you’re a sensitive guy.” I’d always thought that people like Marty needed a friend and who was I, if not a great friend?

“It’s not that. I’m not—sensitive or anything—I’m just…” Marty always does this. He trails off in thought, stutters his words, and creates intense awkward silences with every conversation he has. He doesn’t have the ability to communicate with other human beings whatsoever. “I’m just worried, alright? I haven’t dreamed in a fucking week and then there was the crash last night. Shit, man," he mutters, the woman in front of him huffing exaggeratedly in disgust as she pays for her drink.

Grinning, I quickly mutter, “Marty, I think she just sneezed.”

“God bless you!” Marty splutters immediately, spittle flying as he removes his finger from his mouth. It’s bleeding. As Marty grapples through the pockets of his dingy hoodie for a tissue, the woman glares at him and spits some very unfavorable words, shoving past him toward the door.

“Wow, that was kind of rude,” I remark to Marty’s wide-eyed stare and quickly reddening face. The people closest to us unabashedly stare. “Anyway, you’re next in line.” I kick at the back of Marty’s legs and his lower lip trembles. “I’ll go get us a table and we can talk more about your—uh—issue.”

Today is a great day, I decide as Marty takes his place before the cashier.

-

For some background on Marty, all one needs to know is that he has a very active imagination and a great desire to explore the farthest corners of the universe (even though he’s terribly hesitant to take risks or embrace change). He also keeps a dream journal, which he treasures more than his own life. He told me that he’s always liked the idea of traveling through space once. Unfortunately, he is incapable of maintaining any career in any STEM field in any universe.

Just a few moments later, Marty bumbles over to our table, managing to not knock into any other customers. When he sets his drink down, a dark splash of coffee flies out of the cup and lands on the table.

Immediately, he starts fishing around in his bag again, and pulls out his self-proclaimed dream journal with gnarled, quivering hands. Quite unassuming with its thick hardcover and plain, black coloring, Marty handles it so very carefully. He mutters, “Ah, shit,” just now noticing the coffee spill. Not daring to tarnish his beloved book, he wipes it away with his jacket’s sleeve, before finally setting the journal down.

“So, bro, dude, pal, Marty, my man,” I say, grinning when his head shoots up, all wide-eyed. “What’s up?”

His hands go straight to his mouth again, biting off a hanging piece of skin around the thumb. “Right, sorry.” He looks back down again, sighing and shoving his hands into his dirty hair. “It’s just that…like I told you, man. I haven’t dreamed in a, uh, while. You know?” Then he goes tap, tap, tap against his journal, nubby fingernails shooting down to the book. Once more, he looks positively miserable, anxious, and pathetic; it’s such a stark contrast to the lively coffee shop, with people shouting, talking, laughing, rushing out the door on this fantastic Monday morning. So very exciting.

“Yeah, um, sure. I guess so,” I reply, lips twitching. Marty really is a great friend. “It’s normal for humans to not remember their dreams though; ask anyone and they’ll tell you that.”

The look on his face is devastating, because what I’m saying is true, but I’m still wrong. “No, dude, you just don’t…you don’t get it, alright?” He shoves the heels of his palms into his eyes, moaning his frustration. “I dream every night. I record them all. I have them all. For six months now. God, I already have memory problems, man. Fuck, fuck, fuck.” It turns into a low mutter toward the end, his whole body slumping into the wooden chair. His eyes water.

Humming thoughtfully, I reach over to pat him on the arm. “Hey, it’s cool, Marty. No worries. Why don’t you tell me about your last dream? The last one you had?”

He looks me in the eye then, a deep frown on his pale, tired face. “Alright,” is all he says, straightening his posture like it’s a chore. On top of his dream journal, he folds his hands, squeezing them tight together until the muscles shake. Then he tells me about his latest extraordinary dream.

“So-so you know—like, I told you about them before. You remember—?”

“Yes, Marty, I remember. Just keep going.”

“Right, okay. Right.” He licks his lips, hands unclenching to rub at the edges of his journal. His speech is slow, every detail tumbling past raw, spittle-covered lips and tongue as he tries to remember. “The last time I dreamed was about a week ago. And what happened was real crazy. I mean, I told you—it’s lucid dreaming. I know what’s going on and everything, but I did research on this shit and I can’t control anything in my dreams, like some people can. I guess I’m not smart enough or something.” He smiles wryly, trembling, and I smile too. “But anyway, my last dream, after thinking about it, I realized that, uh…” He shifts uncomfortably, gripping onto his journal, teeth nibbling on his bottom lip. My brows rise as I grin back at him to continue.

Taking a big breath, he exhales slowly. “Well, I realized what these dreams mean, man.” Another exhale, before he shouts in a whisper, “Aliens are trying to contact me!” It's quite comical how he cups his hands around his mouth, looking quite the fool. Even so, his wide eyes beg me to understand that this isn’t a joke. He isn’t kidding.

“But, fuck, man!” he plows on. “I don’t know why they stopped. What if they got what they wanted and now they're gonna experiment on me? Like, they were testing me with those fucked up dreams and found I’m a prime candidate? Well, that’s what I was thinking at first anyway.” He stops, shoving his blistered finger into his red mouth to chew on red skin. He can’t even look at me. “But then I started wondering if something went wrong. I don’t know.” He rips the finger out of his mouth and rests his head on one arm, while the other combs through greasy hair.

“Well, Marty,” I say gently, lips twitching again. “That’s definitely an idea you have there.”

Muffled by his jacket, he morosely asks, “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?”

“No, I swear. But, can I ask why? Like, specifically? What in your dreams made you realize aliens were contacting you?” He stays quiet, until his head rises and he looks me in the eye again, a clear droop to his features. When he still says nothing, I move to touch his journal, asking, “Can I read what you wrote?”

He immediately grabs onto the journal, shaking his head. “No. I’ll tell you what happened myself.”

I grin. “What? Why can’t I just read it?” Then I laugh, leaning toward him while he shrinks back into his chair, journal clasped to his chest. “You’ve got some sex dreams in that journal, Marty?” I lean in even further, still grinning at him. “Nothing to be ashamed of. All humans love a bit of depravity in their lonely lives.”

“Man, what the fuck? No!” he splutters, clearly insulted. “I don’t have any of that. It’s just…embarrassing, okay? To have someone else read what I wrote. It’s personal. I don’t mind telling you, but it’s—it’s personal for you to read it.”

“Yeah, I get it. It’s alright, Marty. I was just teasing,” I tell him, relaxing back into my chair and folding my arms across my chest. “You tell me what the aliens told you then, if there wasn’t any ‘probing.’”

“Ugh, dude, stop,” he says, grimacing and looking off to the side, most likely at the many customers’ shoes. “I can tell you think this is funny, but I’m serious.” Then he looks down at our table, talking into his neck. “Basically, in all of my dreams, there’s this…garbled—I don’t even know—mess of someone talking, like I’ve told you before. It's monotonous, and there's this—screeching static on top of it too. But recently, I’ve been able to hear—maybe—numbers? I know they’re saying something and whatever I ‘hear,’ I write down in my journal.” For emphasis, he smacks his finger onto said journal, willing me to understand him and the contents of his book. “Of course, each night is different, but now that it’s stopped, I’m so confused.” He pauses, staring into his coffee with bugged, unseeing eyes.

He swallows thickly. “I don’t miss the static though…the static just invades your brain, man,” he murmurs and moves his bruted hands to cradle the air around his skull. He clears his throat again.

“But anyway, I got to thinking and I think they’re—or they need…” Marty’s face tightens into a magnificent frown as he gazes down into his coffee. His chewed-up, stubby fingernails rub the ends of the dream journal, and so I relax my own arms onto the table.

“Need what?” I coax, when Marty fails to continue.

He winces and raises his head. The insult of his bloodshot eyes and raw, red lips is unavoidable. “I think they need help,” he finished miserably.

I can’t help it. I grin awfully wide. “The aliens do, huh?”

“Please don’t laugh, man. I’m really serious. What with last night and everything, you can’t—”

“I know, I know,” I say soothingly, placating him with hands raised from the table. “It’s just a bit of friendly teasing. I want to help you out. I mean…” I gesture to the dream journal, the left corner of my mouth rising. “…I want to help. I really do, Marty. What else are friends for?”

His head nods slowly as his eyes wander to the journal. He appears dumbfounded. “Right, friends,” he whispers and nods again. Then, he bites his lip and I suddenly wonder how often the bursts of blood come from reopened scabs instead of newly-busted flesh.

His eyes flicker, trying but failing to connect with mine as he grips more tightly onto the journal. He hunches his shoulders. “If we, um—if we go to my house, we can, like. You can check out my journal. I guess. And I’ll tell you the stuff that here I—I can’t.” From head to head, his gaze jumps around the coffee shop.

“Oh?” I ask, smiling at the dirty, disheveled Marty. His hands shake while I laugh—very good-humoredly. “I suppose we should get going then. Not sure why we came here honestly,” I muse and laugh again. I point to his coffee cup. “It’s lukewarm by now. What a waste of money.”

Blood slithering down to his chin, Marty’s bottom lip trembles. “Aw, man,” he mutters, tongue licking up the blood in one quick sweep.

I rise from my seat, beginning to push the chair back. Grinning, I remark, “So, you’re a living embodiment of an alien SETI signal, huh? Wow! That’s hilarious.” Marty immediately jerks back as, presumably, his body struggles to coordinate with his brain. Regardless, he manages to emphatically nod in response.

“Well, let’s get going then,” I say, hand gesturing toward the door, past the crowd of exciting people. Marty’s eyes can’t decide where to land as he sputters, grappling to put the dream journal into his bag. In the single, simple movement of his body, he knocks the coffee cup over. “Careful,” I murmur, ever-present grin so full, it hurts.

Marty makes an odd noise, staring at the coffee dripping to the floor and then my shoes as I slowly take one step backward toward the door. “No worries. They’ll clean up your mess. It’s what their paid to do.” I laugh at him, his face crumpling into a familiar pathetic expression. After one last full-body shudder, he throws a wad of napkins onto the spill, snatches his bag, and stands up straight and tall. He soon falls next to me, shoulders hunched and gaze enamored with the ground.

I give him a friendly shove forward, his consequential stumble bringing him before the shop’s crowd. “Let’s get going, buddy,” I say, hand still pushing him forward, past the woman blowing cool air onto her steaming drink, the man juggling coffee and a dessert, a couple laughing at their table, and the many others before the exit. There, I open the door, and Marty filters outside, the blast of cold air hitting him in the face.

“Hey,” he says suddenly, skirting to the edges of the sidewalk as we pass a throng of passersby. “How long have we been, um—how long have we known each other?” He looks to me, and I glance at him from the corner of my eye.

“Is our friendship so unimportant, Marty, that you’ve forgotten?” I ask loftily and with amusement.

“No! No, it’s not—I’m sorry,” Marty splutters, bumping into a group of teenagers, who he also profusely apologizes to.

I laugh again. “Well, officially—about six months. You know,” I muse, reaching up to pat him on the back. “Time moves by so fast. It's crazy how quickly things change.” He looks to me, the view of his cracked, raw lips and bloodshot eyes blocking the sun. I grin at him, eyes squinting. “Friends for six whole months already. Can you believe it?”

A tinge of confusion twists his face and he no longer meets my eyes, but he doesn’t step far away. And as the wintry chill blows past us, I watch Marty’s matted curls follow the breeze. He licks his bloodied lips. “Yeah, it’s crazy,” he says, and cradles his bag to his chest, fist curled tight around the handle. His eyes waver and in the shadows of his face, I see the Marty he used to be.

I rest my hand on his bicep and smile. “Let's get you dreaming again, Marty.”

-

At the front door of home, Marty struggles to find the correct key while the cold whistles through his hair. When he finally opens it, there is no gush of warmth filtering from the bare walls inside. Marty shoves his keys back into his bag as I lead him up the staircase. Smirking, I remark, “Parents aren’t home, Marty?” once we reach the upstairs hallway.

“Ah, no,” he mutters, flippantly waving his hand. “They’re, you know—work. Or something.”

“I see,” I reply, turning the knob to his bedroom door open. Marty immediately travels to his bed, where he sits on the edge and covers his face with his hands. There’s a computer, an unopened trunk of trinkets on the floor, and a garbage can with crumbled up papers near the bed.

I sit next to Marty and his body slumps forward as I do. His one hand travels into his bag and he pulls out the dream journal, fingers idly drawing invisible patterns on the cover. “I suppose I should let you look now, huh?” he asks, other hand cupping his chin.

“I can’t help you if you don’t show me,” I point out, grin ever-present.

“Yeah, I know,” he mutters, frowning and drumming his fingers on the hard cover of the dream journal. Then he looks at me, and says, “You know, before, you talking about us being, um, friends reminded me—um.” He begins to pick at the cuticles of his left thumb, digging into the thin skin above the nail.

“What?” I ask, slowly letting my chin fall into the palm of my hand too.

“Man, I dunno. I was just thinking about time, I guess.” He bites his bottom lip, face tensing with scrunched up eyes. “It’s weird, because my dreams, well—they started around the time I met you,” he blurts and curls his hands around the dream journal, but aborts any movement to open the pages.

“Huh,” I hum, leaning in toward him, but he shies away. “What do you make of that, Marty?”

“Oh, uh,” he stammers, his spine curling him forward and over the journal. “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything bad. I just—” Suddenly, he groans in frustration, head turning to the white ceiling, where he frowns. “My memory’s shit, dude; you know that. But I can’t, like, remember anything beyond the past six months. It makes me wonder what the…the aliens are doing to me.”

Then he struggles to smile, mouth wobbling as he cradles his chin with his hands. “Maybe you’re my good luck charm, if I can remember you,” he jokes, before frowning and looking at the journal. After a brief pause, he speaks slowly. “And I know we’re friends, but everything in here just feels so…private. I don’t know. Sorry.” He apologizes and turns himself to the window, where the midday sunshine washes itself onto his greasy hair and dirty clothes.

“So cruel, Marty,” I say. “I just want to help you with your dreams. And your memory too. Friends carry each other’s burdens, you know.”

“I know, but—nevermind.” He stops, a curl of sadness coloring his face. He turns directly to me, the light of the sun highlighting the fantastic shadows in his face, from the raw, red, dry, bleeding lips and eyes to the skin and flesh. His mouth tries to curve as he dangles the dream journal in loose hands between us. “If you’d be so willing as to carry my burden,” he says and I gladly take the journal from his warped hands.

Immediately, he lies back onto his bed and a loud, drawn out sigh bursts through the air. “I’m so tired, dude,” Marty mumbles, while I open the first few pages of the dream journal. I skim them briefly, flipping to the next. Scribbles of mediocre alien drawings appear every once in a while, amidst Marty’s 2AM ramblings: My ears are ringing, My eyes are burning, They’re trying to tell me something. I think they need help, he writes. Everything is so garbled and full of static, but I think they’re speaking in numbers.

“I like your drawings,” I murmur, flipping to the latest entries.

“Ah, yeah,” Marty laughs lightly, sounding drowsy. “I should’ve shown them to you sooner. They’re terrible.” He sighs. “But six whole months, man; that’s crazy.” Gently, he taps his leg with my own. “Thanks for ‘carrying my burden,’ like you said. I’ll carry yours too, man.”

“You’re fantastic, Marty.” I grin, staring at the last entry, dated from last Saturday. I think I understand what they’re saying. The numbers are coordinates.

“Right where the meteor landed?” I say, fingers still stuck to the pen markings.

“Oh, shit, yeah. I forgot. The meteor or whatever last night.” Marty’s response is quick and I feel the bed shift as he rises to a sitting position. I turn to face him and worry fills his face. “Do you think the aliens…” He licks his raw lips. “…landed here?”

“Aw, Marty,” I laugh, while shaking my head. “The government on this planet is asinine, but no—unfortunately, it was just a rare, wayward space rock.” I sigh, smiling. “Humans are so stupid though; I’m surprised they haven’t been invaded already.”

A swath of confusion cuts across his face, the same as when we’d left the coffee shop. “What?” he asks. Then he squints his eyes and frowns, licking chapped lips. “I guess so,” he says awkwardly, and I pat him on the leg. The muscles jerk, but Marty stays right where he is.

“No worries, Marty. I mean…” I stop for a light, friendly laugh and pat him again. “You said the aliens needed help, right? They’ll contact you again then. You’re their personal SETI signal.”

Marty’s eyes skirt to the side and he sighs, bringing his thumb to his mouth. He bites at the already impossibly-short nail. “I don’t know,” he mumbles. “I can’t even dream anymore.”

“Don’t be like that, Marty. It’s only been a week,” I tell him, reaching over to plant my forefinger right in the middle of his forehead, dream journal tucked away in my lap. I watch his irises travel upward, a trail of saliva following his thumb as it leaves his mouth. “You’ve got an entire journal full of alien messages. If they need help, they’ll contact you again.” I tap my finger one, two, three times, Marty flinching with each one.

“I guess so,” Marty mutters, shaking his greasy hair when I lean back. Then he smiles, a blister threatening to split his bottom lip. “Thanks for, you know—” he idly waves his hand. “—believing me. I mean, I haven’t seen you in, like, a week, but you’ve bothered to listen anyway.”

“No problem, buddy.” I grin. “You’re my best friend.” Then I smile softly, as Marty bashfully shakes his head, matted, dirty curls swinging. “Why don’t you try sleeping now? You never know.”

“Yeah, okay,” Marty says, warped hand briefly encircling my wrist, squeezing. Then he lies back onto the bed, the very same hand cradled to his chest. “Keep the journal close by, for when I wake up,” he murmurs, while I rise from the bed.

“And seriously, man, I appreciate your friendship too.”

-

All one needs to know about Marty—or, #164595—is that he has a very active imagination and a great desire to explore the farthest corners of the universe (even though he’s terribly hesitant to take risks or embrace change). He also keeps a dream journal, which he treasures more than his own life. He told me that he’s always liked the idea of traveling through space once. Unfortunately, he is incapable of maintaining any career in any STEM field in any universe.

So, I told him that I too had a great desire to explore the farthest corners of the universe. Marty could join my team as a retainer of information. After all, his journals always showed an astonishing talent for drawing and an immaculate ability to record details. And I liked Marty, a friend who was so deliciously kind to me.

It was after yet another superior’s rejection that I took Marty for his friendship and expertise and a ship for travel. A voyage through space was as grand as I’d always imagined, even while Marty begged to go back. Still, it was grand until we crashed with no way to return. Marty’s friendship and expertise was damaged and the ship was destroyed, but humans were luckily dumber than any entity I’d ever encountered.

“Thanks for carrying my burden too, buddy,” I murmur, staring at Marty’s fluttering eyelids. “You’re a great friend,” I continue, the static and garbled noises of irreparable hardware filling the room. The illusion of a bare bedroom flickers, and I see Marty, free from the disgusting human form. When the static crescendos into a screech, I wait for silence and only in the silence do I repeat the very same numbers I have been for the past six months. “This is #134340, requesting assistance. Coordinates are as follows…”

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