At 10:45 p.m., Nurse Olive came to Conroe’s room and gave her a sleeping pill. “Did you enjoy Solitary?”
“No, ma’am. Eight hours is a long time in that place.”
“That’s the punishment for a first offense. Next time you’ll get three days—like your roommate did.” She nodded to Martha’s empty bed.
Conroe had explained to Nurse Olive that she was not the one who started the fight in the cafeteria—although it wasn’t much of a fight since Tonya never landed a punch. She placed the sleeping pill under her tongue and drank the water.
“Goodnight.” Nurse Olive left.
Conroe went into the bathroom, spit the pill into the toilet, and flushed.
She turned out her lights just before the eleven o’clock Lights Out and lay in bed fully dressed, waiting. She knew it was too soon to make her move. The original plan called for waiting a few days to let things develop naturally. Hasty actions could lead to failure. Conroe understood all of the rational arguments for a slow and steady pace. But any time reason and emotion clashed, Conroe went with her gut.
She slipped out of her room and walked down the long girls’ hallway. In order to get to the boys’ hallway, she would have to get past the glass-walled office where Nurse Olive sat working on a computer. Conroe waited for an opportunity.
Ten minutes had passed when the phone in the office began to ring. Nurse Olive rolled across to the desk behind her and answered it. Her back was to the hallway. Conroe ran to the boys’ hallway, praying she had rounded the corner before Old Cracker turned back around.
Earlier in the day she had studied the room chart on the wall in the office while waiting to be transferred to Solitary. She went to Room 157 and tapped lightly on the door.
There was no immediate response, which was not surprising since nobody would be expecting a visitor after Lights Out.
She tapped again—this time rhythmically.
Crane cracked the door. “What are you doing here?”
“Please let me in.”
He opened the door, and she rushed inside.
“This is crazy,” he said. “You’re gonna get both of us thrown into Solitary for a week.”
With the lights off, her vision aided only by the moonlight, she could barely see him. “Not if we’re quiet. Believe me, I don’t want to go to Solitary any more than you do. I spent eight hours in there today.”
“Because of your fight with that Tonya girl?”
“That was cool—the way you handled her.”
“How did you do that?”
“I’ll explain later. Were you awake when I knocked?”
“Yeah. I don’t sleep much,” he replied.
“Then why don’t you take your sleeping pill?”
“Because I want to be able to wake up—and I don’t think I could if I took one of those pills. If there was a fire, I’d sleep right through it and die.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Apparently, you didn’t take yours either,” he observed.
“I like to be in control. And besides, I have my own method for getting to sleep.”
“Some more of that magic like you used on Tonya?”
“Sort of, yeah—but it takes two,” she said. “I need a partner.”
Even in the soft glow of the moonlight, she could see that he was stunned.
“You’re saying…you want to sleep with me?”
She slapped him gently on the arm. “Not like that. Real sleep.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’ll show you. Put your shoes on.”
“Yeah, I know it sounds funny, but it’s important—you’ll see.”
“Okay.” He sat on the side of the bed and slipped into his shoes.
“Now, lie down, and move over to one side.”
She lay down beside him. “Now hold my hand and close your eyes.” The touch of his hand caused her to tremble briefly.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she answered. “Now close your eyes, and I will describe our dream.”
“That’s right. We’re going to have the same dream. We’re gonna be in the dream together.”
“Ooookay,” he said.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Yes, I do. I mean—I want to believe you.”
“Good enough.” Conroe could sense that Crane liked her very much, and that he would probably bark like a dog if she asked him to. “Just close your eyes and listen.”
“Are you closing your eyes too, or are you staring at me?”
“We both have to close our eyes and let ourselves fall into the dream world together,” she explained.
“So, we have to fall asleep at the exact same time? How can we possibly do that?”
“Just relax, be quiet, and listen.”
“Okay,” he said.
“We’re traveling to a distant land. The first thing we will do is walk over a narrow wooden bridge, and then through a dark tunnel—I call it the Dream Tunnel. It’s long and wide, and it will be a challenge to make it through to the other end. But just keep holding onto my hand, and I will guide you. I’ve done it before.”
“With who?” he asked.
“Don’t talk. Just listen.”
“When we come out of the tunnel, we will see beautiful green hills, a perfectly blue sky, and…” Conroe continued to describe the dream world for several more minutes.
When she became silent, Crane asked, “Conroe?”
“We made it,” she said. “We’re standing on the bridge.”
“I can’t see anything. It’s so foggy.”
“But you can feel my hand—right?” she asked.
“Yeah, but…” He reached over with his other hand and made contact with her chest.
“Hey!” She pushed his hand away.
“I’m sorry. I can’t see you at all. Where are we?”
The fog began to clear in front of them, revealing the wooden pedestrian bridge on which they were standing. It led to a stone pathway and an opening in a massive rock wall. Two torches in the wall illuminated the area, one on each side of the pathway. There was no sky—only a black nothingness hanging low over their heads.
“Oh, wow,” Crane said. “Are you sure this bridge is safe?”
“We’ll be fine if we’re careful.”
He looked over the railing into the dark abyss below. “I don’t know. Maybe we should go back.” He turned around. There was nothing but thick fog behind him.
“It’s only a dream, Crane—remember? Now hold my hand tight and follow me, stepping exactly where I step.”
“What does that mean? Are some of the boards rotten?”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this. Are you sure this is a dream? It seems awfully real to me.”
“Let’s go.” Conroe placed her foot on the first board of the bridge and it creaked. She skipped the next two boards.
Crane watched her feet and followed in her footsteps.
Halfway across, she stepped on a board and it broke. Her leg went through to the knee. The broken board fell into the chasm.
Crane held tightly to her hand as she pulled her leg up through the gap and repositioned her foot to the next board, which held her weight.
“The broken boards haven’t hit bottom yet,” he said, listening for the sound of impact.
“We don’t have time to worry about that.”
He looked back. “I think the fog is gaining on us.”
“We’ve got to go.” She moved faster than before.
“What’s that sound?”
“The bridge is disintegrating behind us!” Conroe shouted. “Run!”
The bridge began to tilt downward behind them, causing them to run at an ever-increasing uphill angle.
They were nearly to the other side when Crane lost his grip on Conroe’s hand.
She pulled herself up on top of the stone walkway. “Come on, Crane—hurry!”
A board broke beneath his foot, and he nearly fell through. The bridge continued to fall at the back end, turning it into more of a ladder than a bridge.
“Grab my hand,” Conroe said, reaching down with one hand while holding onto the edge of an embedded stone in the walkway with the other.
Crane latched onto her hand just as the bridge broke loose from the side and tumbled down into the chasm. He tried to climb up the jagged rock surface with his feet and one hand. He was reaching for the edge of the walkway when one of his feet slipped, then the other, and then his hand. He dangled against the rock wall. His only means of support: Conroe’s hand.
Her fingertips burned from the strain of supporting all of his weight. Her wrist, elbow, shoulder, back—every part of her body screamed for mercy.
“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m gonna pull you down with me. Just let go of me. It’s only a dream.”
“No!” Conroe’s frantic voice echoed. “You can do it, Crane.”
Conroe’s reaction seemed to frighten Crane and spike his adrenaline.
He grabbed onto a rocky protrusion with his free hand, found a foothold, and then another. Grasping the edge of the stone walkway, he pulled himself up, assisting with his feet.
When Crane was safely on top on the walkway, he and Conroe collapsed together, exhausted.
“This is the scariest, most realistic dream I’ve ever had,” he said.
Conroe put her arms around him. “You did great. I’m so proud of you.”
Her hug seemed to make him quickly forget the horror he had just experienced. “Now what?”
“Into the Dream Tunnel.” They stood up.
“But aren’t we already in the dream?” he asked.
“We’re sort of in limbo until we make it through the Dream Tunnel.” She took his hand and led him through the opening in the rock.
“Why does it have to be so black in here?” His voice echoed. “The air is sticky, and it smells musty. I don’t remember ever smelling anything in a dream before. And how are we supposed to find the other end? Shouldn’t we have brought a couple of flashlights?”
“No, they won’t work in here.”
“Why—because it’s a dream? I wore my shoes. Why couldn’t I have put a flashlight in my pocket?”
“Enough questions,” she said. “We need to get moving. But be careful not to trip—the ground is uneven.”
“How do we know which way to go?”
“There will be some light soon, but we can’t wait for it.”
“You just make up all these rules as you go along, don’t you?” he asked.
“Sort of.” She began walking.
“Not too fast. I’m afraid we’re gonna walk into a wall or something.”
“You’ll be okay as long as you hold onto my hand and do what I say.” She picked up the pace.
“Are you sure?”
“Do you trust me or not?”
“Well, yeah—I trust you.”
“Good.” She began to run.
“Are you kidding me?”
“You’ll be fine. Just hang on and keep running.”
They ran faster and faster. After a minute or two, a dim light appeared in the distance.
“There it is,” he said. “I can see the opening.”
The light grew brighter until they burst out of the tunnel into blinding white light, rolling onto the cool, grassy ground.
When Crane realized he was no longer holding Conroe’s hand, he jumped up. “I can’t see. Where are you?”
“It’s the sun,” she explained. “Your eyes will adjust in a second.”
“Where are we? And where did the tunnel go?”
Conroe got up and went over to him. “It’s not a real tunnel. Remember, this is a dream. But isn’t this place beautiful?”
“Yeah. It’s amazing—just like you described it.” He stood up. “And you made all this happen just by imagining it?”
She smiled at him.
Everything went black.