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I have watched enough crime shows to have heard the adage that everyone screams when they fall. More than one mystery has started with a detective puzzled by the lack of a scream from an apparent jumper. According to the cinema detectives, even a jumper will show a moment of remorse and scream in terror as they plummet. I had never questioned this wisdom until I began having the dream.
The first few nights I barely noticed it. I went to bed at the usual time. Just as I was drifting off I had a sensation of weightlessness, followed by me flailing my arms in an attempt to regain a grasp on gravity. I awoke gasping but was able to quickly settle in for a regular night’s sleep.
I noticed, after a few weeks, that the time I spent having the sensation was increasing each night. It had started out as no more than a mere few seconds, but by now it was at nearly a minute. One night, I was able to begin dreaming without waking with a start. For a few brief seconds I thanked the universe.
A dark, still night enveloped me. As my eyes adjusted I was eventually able to make out a sparse skyline. Massive skyscrapers rose like islands from out of a void. If any of them were firmly planted on solid ground, I could not see their origin. The most that squinting would allow me to make out was the outline of humanoid figures on their individual rooftops.
One of the distant figures suddenly jumped off the building it had been standing on. Helplessly, I watched as it fell until I could no longer distinguish the figure from the surrounding blackness. When I bent my neck in a vain attempt to find some salvation for the figure I suddenly saw the rooftop ledge that I was standing on. My foot slid off the ledge with a knowing curiosity. And I woke up, having been dreaming for exactly one minute.
No therapist, sleep study, or prescription was able to change how my night went for the next two months. Each night it was always the same dream. And, each night I explored the endless, rushing chasm for exactly one more minute.
While experts had failed me, I could almost have lived with things as they were. After all, how long is one minute in cosmic terms? What foolish optimism I had. When I awoke on the night when the dream lasted for two hours, instead of the expected sixty-one minutes, I finally began to understand. My existential crisis was apparently somehow also vaguely exponential. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours. My mind shuddered at the mathematical implications.
I tried not sleeping. My blood coursed with everything from caffeine to prescription stimulants and still I blacked out every night. The morning I awoke with an aching jaw on my tiled kitchen floor, surrounded by a cold coffee puddle and mug shards, I decided it just seemed safer to make sure I was in bed when the dream began.
I am no longer sure of how long the dream lasts. The last few times I awoke it was in a hospital surrounded by medical staff and relatives. The salted beard my father wore was a bittersweet clue. I am an uncle now. How big will the rascal be when I see him next? How many more times will I be greeted by my father?
If I am to enjoy this day of freedom I don't want to spend my brief pardon writing this message. Even if I were to spend all my daylight hours writing, there isn’t time enough to relay all my emotions and thoughts. My thoughts are my only cellmates during the constant plunge. And, in a sense, I am always surrounded. I pray, I remember, I reflect. Anything is better than asking myself questions.
Why is this happening? Is this entire experience real or just a prolonged nightmare? Am I in a semi-lucid coma? Am I a jumper whose mind is battling between protecting me from the truth and facing the consequences of my actions? If I am falling, why can’t I see the ground? If I am dreaming, why can’t I wake up? If I am awake, why can’t I scream?