November 3, 2016

Fiction by Adam Matson: "Sertraline Dreams"

Adam's fiction has appeared internationally in over a dozen magazines including Straylight Literary Magazine, Soundings East, The Bryant Literary Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Morpheus Tales, Infernal Ink Magazine, Crack the Spine, with several forthcoming publications. He has had three previous stories published in The Indiana Voice Journal.

Sertraline Dreams

Patrick arrived at school fifteen minutes late, tired from sleeping through his alarm, again, but energized from the twenty-minute walk. A warm, empty feeling throbbed in his head.
Mechanically he twisted through his locker combination, his brain not yet switched over from Autopilot to Manual. As with many recent mornings, Patrick was thoroughly distracted. Last night, or early this morning, he had dreamed that his closest friends, in cahoots with several more kids he was not very good friends with, in cahoots also with strangers, a few relatives, and random people from his past, had conspired to kidnap Lindsay Burke, for the sole motive, it seemed, of psychologically torturing Patrick.
Patrick took several deep breaths by his locker. He hung up his coat. He collected the books and notebooks for his first two class periods. He closed his locker and just stood there for a long moment. The more urgent matter of coming up with an excuse for being late to Geometry felt like a low boil compared to the spillover anxiety of the kidnapping plot.
It is not real. No one kidnapped Lindsay. Everything is good. You are okay.
He slipped into Geometry with a mumbled apology. Ms. Gennett did not interrupt her demonstration of the proof on the blackboard. Patrick slumped into his desk and quietly opened his notebook.
“Jesus, Pat-Man, who scrambled your eggs this morning?” whispered Jesse from the chair behind him.
Patrick shrugged as Jesse handed him a piece of paper with the current proof on it so Patrick could catch up.
In the dream Jesse had draped an arm over Patrick’s shoulders and calmly told him that Lindsay was being held in a barn somewhere, and would stay there until Patrick “stopped acting like such a dick all the time.”
“Thanks, man,” Patrick said, passing Jesse back the proof.
“Everything okay?”
Patrick stared at the board, shifted his mind into Manual, tried to focus on the proof. Geometry had become awkward for him since about two weeks earlier when he had experienced a prolonged and graphically sexual dream featuring himself and Ms. Gennett and one or two other people, including a boy, whose identities were too embarrassing and shocking to contemplate. It was sort of funny, when he told himself it was just a dream. But it was also sort of not funny. The sex dream had felt more like a memory.
“I’m worried now that my dreams may be bringing latent devious sexual tendencies to light,” he had told his therapist.
“Everyone has inexplicable sexual dreams,” Dr. Caplan replied. “Generally I believe sexual dreams don’t necessarily mean anything. Especially for a seventeen year-old.”
“My dreams have been much more vivid since I started taking Sertraline,” Patrick said.
Dr. Caplan just nodded in that quiet therapist way, like anything in the world might be possible, and not a big deal.
Patrick had begun taking anti-depressants four months ago, just after he’d started seeing Dr. Caplan. He did not know if he “suffered from depression,” as both his parents and the therapist suggested. All he knew was that over the course of sophomore year, for reasons he could not understand or explain, he felt like he was going to kill himself someday. Someday soon. He envisioned throwing himself in front of the commuter train, which ran near his house. Patrick kept these mysterious suicidal ponderings to himself, and dealt with them by sleeping more and more both at night and during the day, until sleeping was basically all he did, prompting action from his parents.
The initial side effects of the Sertraline had included diarrhea, which had made soccer practice unpleasant for about two weeks, and delayed orgasm, which Patrick had cautiously chosen to consider a sort of blessing. If he ever did get a girlfriend, he would be able to last longer during sex.
But the dreams were unanticipated. They felt like movies, with himself as both director and star. They had complicated and twisting plots, and seemed to last for hours, even by the convoluted standards of dream-time.
“I doubt your dreams actually last hours,” was all Dr. Caplan said in the way of reassurance. Patrick’s therapist was more concerned about Patrick’s constantly thinking about suicide.
The suicidal thoughts subsided, leaving him almost entirely, taking with them, seemingly, a series of other feelings, not all of which were bad, such as caring and sympathy, and sometimes his ability to focus.
Now there were mornings like this one: Patrick sat hunched at his desk, trying to focus on math, trying to laugh at something that wasn’t really funny, thinking about both why his friends would want to kidnap Lindsay Burke, and why Ms. Gennett had insisted that Patrick fuck her from behind.
By second period American History he felt a little better, even though in History he sat next to Erik. Erik had been the ring-leader of the kidnapping, smiling his way through a series of disturbingly-specific threats of bodily harm to Lindsay.
“You know why we’re doing this, Pat,” Erik had told him. “Because you’re always such a fucking asshole.”
This from his best friend since the second grade.
“You do the reading last night?” Erik asked him in the lull before the teacher began his lecture.
“Most of it,” Patrick said, which was true, although he couldn’t remember anything. They were studying the Spanish-American War.
“Me neither. Brad said he can get us Adderall before the next test. You want some?”
“God, no.”
“You all right, Pat-Man?”
“Just tired.”
Erik clapped him on the back. “Tomorrow’s Friday.”
Patrick nodded. The kidnapping had come to light during an epic weekend party. Everyone was there. Somehow Patrick had known that it was Brad who slipped something into Lindsay’s drink so they could abduct her.
Fourth period was English, and Patrick had done the homework. He’d read For Whom the Bell Tolls before. It was one of his favorite books. These days he found he looked forward to English, as he looked forward to lots of little things; an unexpected bonus, he assumed, of the drugs.
Except today he watched the door with simmering dread as his classmates filed in and took their seats. The third desk back from the front in the row by the windows was Lindsay Burke’s seat. It was empty.
Fourth period was the first of the school day’s four lunch periods, so sometimes people were a couple minutes late to class, having snuck down to the cafeteria to buy a quick snack. Lindsay Burke often showed up to class with a coffee, which meant that she had a car, which meant that her movements and whereabouts were potentially in constant flux.
Lindsay Burke did not show up to English. Her desk was the only empty seat. Patrick hunched in his chair and tried to scribble notes, but they were nothing but gibberish. He felt the cold fluttering of nerves in his gut.
It was just a fucking dream. And this is just a fucking coincidence.
After class Patrick could remember nothing about For Whom the Bell Tolls. He hurried to his locker to change books and notebooks, hoofed it back across the school and upstairs to the foreign language wing. As he walked his eyes darted through the halls. Other students were smiling and laughing, taking their time at their lockers, lost in a world of infinite leisure and security. A girl smiled at him. Maybe. Maybe it was a tease-smile. Everyone had smiled at Lindsay’s kidnapping-party too, even while telling him what a jerk he was.
You’re not a jerk.
Lindsay Burke was in Patrick’s French class too. That was how they had become friends, stumbling over vowel-heavy pronunciations together, mutually reassured by their shared inability to twist their mouths around French. French was like English spoken in a dream, sinewy and tentative, meanings uncertain.
Lindsay’s desk in French was empty. Mlle. Delong hardly ever took roll-call, and now seemed almost studiously oblivious to Lindsay’s absence, pacing the class with her usual composure, her eyes steely and inscrutable.
Patrick responded incorrectly to a verb-tense question, and Lauren Malcolm teasingly looked at him cross-eyed. This made everything worse. He could not focus for the rest of class.
The next period was Patrick’s lunch period. He stuffed his books in his locker and ran outside to the junior parking lot. Lindsay Burke drove a green Taurus with an old Clinton/Gore bumper sticker left over from when her father had owned the car. She usually parked near her friends’ cars by the baseball diamond. Even in the parking lot seats were unofficially saved. Patrick wondered where he would park, if he had a car.
He circled the parking lot three times, concluding that Lindsay’s car was not there. Could she have parked somewhere else? Unlikely. Juniors got ticketed when they tried to pilfer a Senior or Faculty parking spot.
Glancing up, Patrick saw a kid staring at him out the window of some classroom. He diverted his eyes away from the watcher’s gaze and hurried back into the building.
He checked the library and the cafeteria and the study corrals but did not see Lindsay anywhere. He could not remember what class she had after French, or if she had one, although she must have told him at some point. There was one way he could probably track her down, but it would take an act of stealth. Normally he would not consider such action, because it was crazy, but this whole thing was becoming increasingly more insane. It occurred to him that even though his dream was just a dream and this was his real life, he would only feel better once he proved to himself that wherever Lindsay was she was safe.
There were twelve minutes left in his lunch period. He had not eaten, and wondered vaguely if he should get food. The administrative office was located right next to the cafeteria, so he walked through the caf and slipped into the office. He lingered by the empty receptionist’s desk as if he needed to ask for a hall pass or an excused absence form. Across the office two administrators were chatting behind the dwarfed ramparts of half-cubicles. Nobody was specifically watching him.
He checked two desks before he found one where the screen saver had not yet activated, indicating the user had left the desk quite recently. The chair radiated human posterior warmth as he sat down. Quickly Patrick scanned the desktop, and after clicking through several files he found the database of student class schedules.
Somewhere a door opened and closed. One of the women across the office laughed.
Patrick hunched forward, staring at Lindsay’s schedule. Currently she had sixth period study hall, followed by seventh and eighth period Chemistry plus Chem Lab. Room 414E. Science wing.
Patrick closed the file and snuck away from the desk. He had six minutes left to eat lunch. He ducked out of the office and into the cafeteria, bought a heat-lamp-dried slice of pepperoni pizza and a carton of 1% milk.
About fifteen minutes later Patrick cut gym class and crept up to the Science Wing. He leaned as casually as he could against the door of room 414E and peeked through the window into the classroom. The desks faced away from him, but he knew most of the kids in the class pretty well, and thought he could pick out Lindsay’s brunette ponytail, if she was present in Chemistry. She was not.
The evidence pointed pretty conclusively to Lindsay Burke being absent from school. There were only two class periods left in the day. Having skipped gym, Patrick saw no real reason to stick around for Economics, since they were just going to be going over yesterday’s test, on which he had earned a pleasantly anonymous low B. He now felt certain that the only way to salvage this weird day, psychologically, was to know exactly where Lindsay was and what she was doing.
Patrick left school and strode purposefully down Parker Street toward Minuteman Drive, where Lindsay lived. He had been to her house once before to study for a French test. It was only half a mile from the school. His shoes scraped along the fallen orange leaves on the sidewalk. This is stupid, he thought. Crazy and stupid.
When he reached her house he saw her green Taurus in the driveway. Okay, so that was good. Probably. Maybe she was home sick. Or maybe not. There were no other cars at the house. He walked up to the front door and rang the bell.
Nobody answered so he rang again. Knocked several times. Nothing. It would be stupid to give up now. He still had to walk all the way home, and he knew if he didn’t find her he would not be able to concentrate for the rest of the day.
Around the back of the house Patrick climbed the wooden steps to the porch. Through the sliding glass doors he could see the living room and part of the kitchen. There were no lights on. No television. He leaned against the glass for a better look, knocked firmly with his knuckles.
Tentatively he tried pulling the door, and it slid open. His stomach tightened.
You should not be doing this.
He took a step into the house.
For a moment he stood in the living room, listening. Then he closed the porch door behind him. “Lyndsay? It’s Pat.”
He walked from room to room, clutching the straps of his backpack, ears tuned for movement or voices. The house smelled of recently-vacuumed carpet and something canine.
You should get out of here.
His feet made no sound on the carpeted stairs as he climbed to the second floor. He stopped on the landing, glanced left and right. Took a step left and peered into what looked like the master bedroom. He felt a weird, warm stirring in his gut.
He turned around and walked down the hallway to her room. The door was open a crack and he pushed it wide, revealing the perfumed chamber within. Lyndsay’s room was clean and relatively neat for a high school girl. There were stacks of books and DVDs on the floor by her television. Her wall was covered with photos of her friends. There was no clothing anywhere.
Patrick went into her room and sat down on her bed. He set his backpack on the floor. He wanted to cry. This did not look like the bedroom of a girl who had disappeared under nefarious circumstances. It just seemed like she wasn’t home. And what the hell was he doing in her room? He felt so tired, not just in his body but in his mind. His eye sockets tingled, and his sinus burned, the way they did when he felt an anxiety attack coming on.
Just get yourself together and then go home, he told himself as he lay down on the bed.

He was walking down Parker Street again, kicking orange leaves, watching the foliage in the trees.
What the hell? Didn’t I just do this?
He felt no sensation of the cold air. Passing cars made oceanic whooshing sounds.
Oh, shit, I’m asleep.
But the details of Parker Street were crystal clear. He knew that he had been at school that day, and he remembered the dream about Lyndsay being kidnapped, and he remembered walking to her house. But he wasn’t at the house yet. And Parker Street seemed unusually long.
He felt the panther before he saw it, knew instinctively somehow that it was stalking him through the neighborhood. Rounding the corner onto Minuteman Drive he saw the enormous cat slinking along in the bushes
. Shit!
Now he was on the roof, and it was his own roof. Lyndsay Burke’s house was nowhere in sight. And it was summer. Patrick crouched on the edge of the roof and peered across the lawn at the toolshed in Mr. Griswold’s yard. Somehow he knew that if he reached the toolshed he would be safe. There were weapons there. The panther watched him from a neighboring roof, its tail flickering a warning.
Patrick jumped off the roof and sprinted for the shed. The cat sprang off its roof, running toward him, then running behind him, then it leapt and knocked him to the ground. Its jaws bore downward, tearing out his throat-

He sat up on Lyndsay’s bed, his heart pounding. He knew somehow that he had heard a door close. He climbed off the bed.
What the fuck am I doing here?
His backpack rested on the floor and he reached down and grabbed it, his head dizzy and light.
Patrick stood stark still, staring at Lyndsay in her bedroom doorway.
“Oh my god, Lyndsay.”
She was half-smiling, surprised but not alarmed. “What’s up…?”
No excuse immediately came to mind, and one of the positive things Patrick had learned through therapy was that telling the truth always trumped lies, evasions, or misdirection. Telling the truth purged the soul.
“This is going to sound fuckin’ nuts,” Patrick said. “But last night I had this dream….”
He told her the details, how her absence from school had ultimately led him here, how he was happy to see her, and sorry for intruding into her room. He told her even more, about his therapist and the Sertraline, how the drugs made him feel generally better, except at night, when all his buried worries and fears seemed to come clawing after him.
“I think I’m going crazy,” Patrick said.
Lyndsay took a tentative step into the room. “I went to look at colleges with my mom today. That’s why I wasn’t in school.”
She walked over to him, saw that he was shaking. “So how much was the ransom?” she asked.
They both sort of laughed.
“My sister was on anti-depressants for a while,” she said. “She did some wacky shit. Sometimes it takes a while to get the dosage right.”
“I know I shouldn’t be here,” Patrick said. “I’m just so glad you’re okay.”
He thought he might cry and she put a hand on his arm. “I’m okay,” she whispered. “Everything’s okay.”
“Lyndsay?” Lyndsay’s mom called from down the hall. “Who are you talking to?”
“Pat’s here.”
“Who?” Lyndsay’s mom appeared in the doorway, arms crossed and regarding Patrick with a look somewhere between scrutiny and suspicion.
“Patrick, from my French class,” Lyndsay said. “He just came by to give me the homework I missed today. He saw my car in the driveway.”
“Actually, no,” Patrick said to Lyndsay’s mother. “I just had a bit of a freak-out. I had this weird dream last night and woke up thinking that something bad had happened to Lyndsay. I guess I had to prove to myself that she was okay.”
“Everything okay now?” asked Lyndsay’s mother.
“Yeah, we’re good,” Lyndsay said.
“You guys aren’t in some kind of trouble, are you?”
Patrick vigorously shook his head.
“It was just one of those weird things,” Lyndsay said.
“Patrick, honey, you look like you’re still half-asleep,” said Lyndsay’s mom. “Would you like some coffee, or something?”
“Thank you,” Patrick said. “I would.”

Walking home he felt energized by the caffeine. He and Lyndsay and Lyndsay’s mom had sat at the kitchen table drinking hazelnut roast and telling war stories from the trenches of prescription drugs. Then Lyndsay had offered him a ride home. He had refused. Needed to clear his head, he told them. Get some fresh air.
The November air did feel good, cool and cleansing as he breathed it in. He was still trying to laugh about all this. It would be funny, he thought, if it was happening to somebody else.
On the way home Patrick crossed the railroad tracks, and he glanced up at them with genuine ambivalence. He no longer really thought about jumping in front of a train, and when he did, it was only to wonder what had made him think of doing that in the first place.
When he came to his own street it was almost dark. He had slept most of the afternoon away in Lyndsay’s room. Something moved on the roof of his neighbor’s house and he stopped, the hair on his arms suddenly electric with anxious current.
There was nothing on the roof. It might have been a squirrel. Or a bird. Or a cat. But nothing now.
It is not a fucking panther.
But the street felt as real as it had in the dream. Patrick turned a full circle, reassuring himself that his neighborhood was not being haunted by an animal that was not even remotely indigenous to this area. And yet he felt like he was being watched.
He ran the last few hundred yards to his house.
There is no fucking panther, and everything’s okay. There is no fucking panther, and everything’s okay.
There is no fucking panther. And everything’s okay.

~Adam Matson

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