Breakfast that morning was a lumpy, unceremonial affair. The lack of ceremony was expected, but the thick pasty excuse for oatmeal was a bit of a surprise.
"Well," I muttered to myself as I sat down, "I guess that's expected with institutional food." I inspected the top of the bowl's contents with great curiosity: I couldn't help but notice a small indent in the center. It's probably nothing, I tried to think, but for some strange reason all through breakfast that indent just bothered me to no end.
. . . . .
The sky had darkened through the morning, but a cloudy day never dampened my spirits. Even still, something just felt off. I rubbed my arms, as if I was cold, even though I wasn't particularly cold. The thermostat register on the opposite wall caught my eye, so I crossed the room to give it a quick check. 72, typical room temperature. My brows knitted, something about the room temperature didn't feel quite like 72. But the little box said 72, so I figured that the uneasiness must've been a trick of my overactive imagination. Rare for me, but not completely out of the realm of possibility.
I sat on the bed again, stretched out my legs before me, and began inspecting my shoes. I particularly liked these shoes: a low-top canvas sneaker, with the inquisitive white rubber standing out against the navy that was such a shade that gave one the impression that it was deep in thought. They were my EveryMan shoes, I felt comfortable doing just about anything in them.
In a mild fit of curiosity I bent down and untied my left shoe. I studied it intently, tracing my finger over the seams, the profile of the rubber, and the path of the laces multiple times. I folded my legs under me as I examined the sneaker, then I eventually positioned myself so that my legs could lean against the wall, and I could drape upside-down over the edge of the narrow bed. I fingered the laces, appearing to hang upwards in bold defiance of gravity, with great amusement, then I glanced around the now-inverted room. From this perspective I could see the high window speckled with rain, a seemingly upended wooden chair, the door which looked like it was installed incorrectly, and the mildly bewildered alarm clock which, from my position, now read 95:11.
"Eleven fifty-six," I acknowledged, turning my attention back to my left sneaker. "But something about now doesn't feel quite like 56," I confessed to it, caressing the laces with my fingers again. I slipped back into my thoughts for a spell until the door's latch clicked open and Dr. Escobar entered, accompanied by a raincoat and a melancholy umbrella. He looked in slightly better spirits than he had last night, although upon seeing me he looked a touch bewildered.
I gave him a cheerful nod and said, "Mornin' Doc," then continued to examine the shoe's white rubber toe.
"Good morning," he replied hesitantly. He crossed the room until he was standing over me. I tried to suppress the knot in my stomach; I hate having people stare down at me like that, it just makes me feel utterly helpless. Tilting his head, he gave me a quizzical look, then finally asked me what I was doing.
"Thinking, sir," I replied simply.
"With your left shoe in your hand?"
He chewed on this a moment. "But you can think just as well with both shoes on your feet, and sitting upside-right, yes?"
"Sure I can. But I happened to be thinking about my shoes, I got looking at this one, and I just needed to be upside-down to think about it."
"I see." He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, you might want to put that shoe back on; I wanted to talk with you a bit out on the grounds."
I perked up. "Oh! Alright."
"You wouldn't mind the rain, would you?"
"Absolutely not. My jacket's like a duck, repels water like nobody's business." I righted myself slowly, not wanting to aggravate my almost-dissipated headache.
Which reminded me.
He paused his inspection of the back ceiling corner. "Yes Connor?"
"How important are dreams t'all this?" I asked, pausing my shoe-tying for a moment to vaguely wave my hands at the ambiguous "this."
The doctor considered me a moment. "That depends," he replied sagely. "Did you have a dream last night?"
"Boy, did I." I clapped my hands for emphasis as we exited the room. On our way downstairs I relayed my peculiar subconscious tale, making particular note of the curious-smelling headgarb and the frog's attack of my eye, as well as the dizziness and eye pain I felt when I awoke. Occasionally he punctuated my narrative by a nod, a scholarly "hm," or a learned "I see."
"How interesting," he concluded quietly, more to himself than to me, when I finished. He seemed to drift off a moment, but the realization that we were outside and the fact that it was raining snapped him back. He fumbled briefly with the small umbrella, while I pulled my crumpled bucket hat from my pocket and jammed it fondly on my head. I didn't mind standing in the rain, and I didn't want to take up too much space under that umbrella.
"It hasn't affected me much today," I assured him. "The dream, I mean."
"Has anything troubled you so far?"
Well, now that he mentioned it, I couldn't help but bring up the room's temperature. "I checked the register, and it said 72, but something about the room didn't seem, well, seventy-two-ish enough to be 72."
"Really?" he asked with great interest. Doc Esco allowed himself to look a touch bemused before continuing. "Well, all the rooms are set to 72, Connor, so if the register read 72 I assure you it was, indeed, 72."
"Even though it didn't feel it?"
We walked a winding gravel path that had definitely seen better days, but I didn't mind that everything looked a bit forlorn and wanting a bit of tea-el-see. At least it was outside, in the fresh air. I took a deep, grateful breath and stretched my arms out to catch some rain.
"So what about the dream?" I asked.
"As to the dream, I'd say it's just a case of nerves, totally reasonable given your circumstances."
"Jumpy nerves can make one dizzy and have a sore eye?"
Something in his manner twitched ever so slightly, but it recovered before I could identify it properly. "A bit strange, but it's not completely unheard of. It's entirely possible you just sat up too quickly this morning, and happened to poke yourself in the eye last night."
I thought about this a moment. "But that doesn't make sense. Once I'm asleep I'm like a rock and barely move, let alone poke myself in the eye.
"People do odd things when something in their lives is upended suddenly."
Shrugging, I contemplated the puddle just before me. "Well, you are the professional," I murmured, only half-addressing the doctor. "You know how these sorts of things work." I nudged the rippling puddle with my toe, thinking another moment. "But why would it've smelled like that?"
Doc Esco looked at me from under his dripping, grumbling umbrella. "What do you mean?"
"The thing my brother stuck on my head in the dream. I dunno what the smell was exactly, but it reminded me of when I got my wisdom teeth out a few years ago. The dizziness reminded me of that too, mostly of the feeling I had after I came to."
"Did it?" He looked nervous again.
"It did indeed."
I drew my jacket closer, attempting to shroud a shiver. Call me paranoid, but I didn't exactly like the way he said that.