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Updated: Jun 19, 2023


Updated: 2/11/2022

The television blared loudly across the small, droll apartment where it fell on Audrey’s near-deaf ears. Her head lolled to the side, mousy gray strands falling lifelessly to her shoulders as she watched mindlessly through bleary gray eyes, rolling the small remote in her wrinkled hand. Maurice, the red tabby-cat who’d wandered into her house one day and never left, snored into her soft powder-blue nightgown. She had already removed her dentures, and her mouth sagged tiredly as she stroked his soft head.

Do you or someone you know have strange dreams or nightmares? Tired of feeling tired? Sick of those nonsensical dreams at night leaving you more tired than if you’d just not slept at all? Introducing REM-Escapes! First of its kind, this is a game changer! With one dose, guaranteed eight hours of uninterrupted REM sleep - conscious! That’s right, you maintain consciousness the whole time! Lucid dreaming is no longer an art for the few. With REM Escapes, you’ll be able to rule your town, fly to the moon, take a vacation! Our safe formula guarantees you complete control of dreams for eight hours. Available at pharmacies everywhere! Where will you escape?”

Audrey cocked her head to the side as the voice listed potential side effects and risks, quickly noting how it was not yet medically approved; anything I want? For a brief minute as it spoke, images swam before her: herself, much younger of course, on a lone planet, an ocean of foreign stars above her. Then she was Queen, chestnut curls cascading over a purple cloak beneath a magnificent golden crown. Her mind raced with the endless possibilities; she wondered what life would have been like if she’d stayed in her hometown, if she’d taken the job she was torn on, if her parents were still alive. Then the handsome smile of Theodore swam to the surface of her eye and suddenly she was on her feet; Maurice looked back at her reproachfully and pranced to the bedroom. Audrey’s feet were carrying her through the cramped living room and over to the narrow hallway where she paced, peering to the kitchen stove - 8:07PM. Usually she was in bed by now, but a fire was raging inside her stomach. Mind made up, she snatched up her keys off the tiny round kitchen table and shoved her feet into slippers. With no regard to the bitter cold on the other side, she flung open the door carelessly and raced to the navy-blue sedan, climbed clumsily into the driver’s seat and strapped herself in, ready to drive miles if she had to.

Audrey is five.

“Hi, I’m new. I’m Feodore, but you can call me Teddy, like the bear!” said the small boy in front of the class, puffing his chest out proudly. Audrey took in the rocket ship on his tee shirt and the muddy jeans on this boy who grinned at the class showing his missing front teeth. Butterflies swirled around her stomach and she was sure she’d soon again taste the scrambled eggs she’d had for breakfast. She smoothed down the bodice of her coral-colored dress and flipped her shiny brown pigtails.

“Hi, Theodore!” the class all said together.

“My sixf birfday is next month, and my dad said I can have a party and invite my whole class. It’ll be so fun!” he yelled before racing to his desk. The grin seemed to be plastered to his face; it didn’t even leave when he tripped on his shoelace and smacked his head loudly on the floor. He took the empty desk next to Audrey, who glanced over at him. He was still smiling, but now directly at her, his hazel eyes shining excitedly. She smiled back, her cheeks turning as pink as her dress.

Every light was red. It was a sick conspiracy to keep her from the OneStop Shop in Mulberry Shopping Center. There was also a bit of traffic, so she’d sat at the same lights for several cycles before it was even her turn to cross the street. She tapped her fingers against the wheel impatiently.

Audrey is sixteen.

“Stop it, Teddy!” Audrey laughed breathlessly. She adjusted the lawn chair on the grassy mountain that they perched on, the city’s lights starting to twinkle in the distance. Dusk was falling, but the sun shone hot pink through all the windows.

“Alright, alright,” he said, putting his hands up in defeat. Theodore took a sip of his half-melted slushy, which had turned his tongue into an electric blue, and shook the sandy blonde hair from his hazel eyes. “When do you have to be home?”

“Midnight,” she replied, flicking an ant off her jeans.

“Cool,” he nodded. “Cinderella license means that’s my curfew, too.”

“Well, aren't you just the bee’s knees,” she teased.

He puffed his chest out and Audrey remembered the toothless boy in kindergarten who’d stolen her heart eleven years ago.

“I mean, you seem to think so,” he said smugly. Audrey blushed. His hand gently touched her jaw and lifted her lips to his.

The car door flew open with the help of the night’s freezing wind when she pushed it. She shoved her hands into her nightgown pockets, her keys jangling noisily through her weak grip. The handicap placard meant she didn’t have a long way to run, but she was still out of breath by the time she stepped through the automatic doors and into the fluorescent lights of OneStop Shop.

“Evening, ma’am,” came the loud cracking voice of a scrawny, pimply teenage boy in a red vest. He spoke slowly. “Did you need assistance or a cart today?” he asked gesturing to the scooters.

“No, thank you!” she replied, much more loudly than she intended due to her lack of hearing. She sauntered across the squeaky linoleum floor. “Where’s your health section?”

“Straight in the back and to the right, ma’am,” he said pointing toward the back lazily, his face now in his smartphone. She marched determinedly.

Audrey is twenty-three. The silence of freshly fallen snow surrounded her and Theodore as they walked the city sidewalk hand in hand. At least eight inches had fallen already and showed no sign of letting up any time soon. Fat flakes lodged into their hair and their cheeks could easily be mistaken for tomatoes. Teddy had been withdrawn all day, and Audrey was passed caring about why if he didn’t want to tell her.

“I love snow,” Audrey sighed happily. Teddy grunted in reply. “It’s just so soothing,” she continued.

“Soothing? This is the worst workout I’ve had in years.” Indeed, both had to fully lift their feet for each step to trudge along.

“Yes, but when we get back to my mom’s, we can light the fireplace and have hot chocolate!”

“Oh, gee!”

Audrey dropped his hand, leaned down and picked up a handful of snow, throwing it right into the chest of his black coat.

“Hey!” he yelled, losing his balance and collapsing into the snow. She turned quickly, her long brown hair whipping behind her as she ran awkwardly a few paces away to avoid the retaliatory snowball she knew was coming. She ducked down and covered her head with her arms, but the impact never came. When she opened her eyes and turned back, Teddy was still on the ground, but on a single knee, holding out a tiny black velvet box. A ring sparkled inside.

“Audrey, —”


She trudged back to him as fast as she could, tears welling. He stood and caught her when she jumped into his arms.

“So, it’s really not intended for use in individuals 65 years and up,” the young pharmacist told her abashedly from behind the counter. “Side effects can be —"

“Son,” she said roughly. “I’m 89 years old. Do you really think I give a damn about potential side effects?” She shakily slid a twenty-dollar bill under the window.

He chuckled nervously, his face burning under her gaze. “Well, I — safety reasons, you know — I need to make you aware. It’s a lot stronger the uh… well, older you are, and... eight hours per pill you know… if you take any other medications it’s important to not miss them,” he rambled, avoiding her gaze.

“Just give me the damn bottle.”

He nodded and took the cash, replacing it with the bottle of REM Escapes. “Thank you for shopping at OneStop. Sweet dreams!”

Audrey hobbled back through the store towards the door. The greeter didn’t notice her this time. The doors opened for her again and she rushed back to her car.

Audrey is twenty-six. The old landline on the wall was ringing loudly, echoing across the halls of the small apartment she and Theodore shared. It wasn’t spacious, but it was the first home for the newlyweds, and she loved it all the same.

Who the hell is calling this late? she thought as she rubbed her bleary eyes and walked to the phone.

“Hello?” she answered with a yawn, peering out the window. The blue sedan sat alone in the driveway.

“Hello, is this Mrs. Johnson?”


“My name is Officer Roy.”

Audrey’s stomach dropped and her heart fluttered to her throat. She could not make out the words he was saying.

“Mrs. Johnson? Hello?”

“I’m sorry - what?”

“Your husband Theodore, ma’am. We are at Knoll Hospital. He is in critical condition, an induced coma. We need you to come down immediately, Mrs. Johnson. Please.”

“I’m on my way.”

The drive back to the apartment seemed somehow longer though the traffic had decreased. Maurice was perched delicately in the window, watching her pull in and was at the door when she opened it. She picked him up and carried him with her to the bedroom, kicking her slippers off flippantly along the way, the bottle of REM Escapes shaking enticingly from her pocket with each step. She flipped on the light and the dull yellow glow illuminated the cramped room. The side of the bed furthest from the door was still made, a golden watch ticking softly on top of it, as though the wearer only just took it off for a quick shower. Her eyes were hot with unshed tears as she gazed longingly at the nightstand on her own side where a gold-framed photograph sat next to a half-empty bottle of water. A devilishly handsome young man with sandy blonde curls smiled mischievously at her from the frame. She placed Maurice gently on the bed and picked up the photograph, her thumb delicately tracing the outline of his face. What would his hands have looked like if he hadn’t left her sixty-three years ago? Would they be as wrinkly as her own? Would he have lost his hearing, too, or maybe his vision? She gently replaced the photograph on the nightstand and unearthed the REM Escapes and keys from her pocket. Hands shaking, she let the keys fall to the floor and opened the bottle, pulling the cotton ball from the top.

Directions: Take one pill before bed. Guaranteed eight hours per dose.

She emptied a tiny mountain of blue capsules into her hand; the gel coating clinked quietly against her gold wedding band. Just under three days, she thought, reaching for the bottle of water beside the photograph. With a glance at Maurice’s automatic feeders to make sure he would be set with food and water while she slept, she dumped the handful in her mouth and gulped the water, then climbed into bed. The tears fell quickly now, hot against her cold cheek. Maurice meowed inquisitively at her as he curled next to her head.

“Don’t worry,” she said quietly as she shifted onto her side. “I’ll see you soon.” She shut her eyes. When she opened them, Maurice was gone, but she could hear him lapping water from his bowl. In his place, Teddy was grinning from the side of the bed that had remained empty for decades.

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