The Dream Rider by Ernest Dempsey

I lived in the same area my whole life, just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The locale was replete with activities like kayaking, hiking, climbing, camping, live music, great restaurants, with only a fraction of the traffic of our neighbors to the south found in Atlanta. The city had risen from the ashes of the industrial age and been transformed through a decade-long renaissance. It had once been described as one of America’s dirtiest cities in the 1980s, a fact that angered some of the local power players.

The city’s leader’s set to work on creating a different kind of town, getting rid of the old factories that polluted the air and water, constructing new buildings and restoring old ones. The Tennessee Aquarium created a new hub for tourism in the city and the area near the river transformed from a seedy place to a regular hang out for tourists and citizens.

I loved the area. The city wasn’t the problem in my life. I was the problem. I’m not one of those people who wallows in self-pity, although I have been that guy at one point. I just know my strengths and weaknesses. And I’m not too stupid to realize I have way more of the latter. I played trumpet in the high school band but was always one of the last chairs. In sports, I was pretty good, even made some outstanding plays in all of them:  basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer. But I was nothing special. In fact, a few hours before my nightmare-filled slumber, I’d had an intramural flag football game. With less than thirty seconds left, the quarterback threw me the ball. I was wide open in the end zone. Dream scenario. Except when the ball hit my hands, I bobbled it and watched in horror as it fell to the grass at my feet. We ended up losing the game by four points. I had six catches that game. But they didn’t matter. It was the end that mattered. I always had trouble making the big play when it counted most.

My grades were average, too, always around the range of Cs to Bs. At one point, one of my professors said to me, “Finn, you could be such a good student. If you would only apply yourself.”  I can still hear his odd Portuguese accent now. I always nodded when he and others said things like that to me. It was a line I’d gotten used to hearing over the years. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were wrong. A perfect example is that I spent several hours studying for his mid-term and ended up getting a 79 on it.

I’m not a defeatist. I just know my limits. And I also know how much effort I am willing to put in. Some might say I’m lazy. I don’t know if that’s it. Maybe it’s a little apathy. I guess I feel like I’m going to end up just getting average results, so why bother putting in a lot of effort?

Girls had never really paid me much attention. There were a few in high school that had been interested, but I didn’t care much for them. I figured I had to have some standards, at least. Since arriving to college, I had met some cool girls, and we hung out pretty often. Again, my semi-defeatist mindset kept me from pursuing them. I figured they wouldn’t be into me. Maybe I was missing the signals. It was safer just to assume they weren’t into me.

My life had been one big Sunday drive through the countryside, completing every task half-heartedly. I didn’t push to do anything special so I never accomplished anything special.

I stepped into the shower as my thoughts returned to the present and the terrifying nightmare I’d just experienced. The, soothing, steamy water washed over my light brown skin and dark hair. It did wonders to ease my mind. I couldn’t remember ever having a nightmare where I was killed. Despite the hot water, chills went through my body at the recollection. It had seemed so real. I’d had bad dreams before filled with snakes, spiders, rabid dogs, and any number of other terrible fears and phobias. This one, however, was different than anything I’d ever experienced.

I hopped out of the shower and threw on some clothes, my usual jeans and t-shirt. Since it was cold out, I put on a jacket then sat back down at the computer. When I looked at the screen, though, I realized something wasn’t right. The background picture and all the other desktop images were gone, replaced by a black void. I pressed the power button, thinking I may have accidentally turned the machine off, but nothing happened. I looked under my desk to make sure I hadn’t kicked a plug or knocked something off the night before. Everything looked normal, though. I wondered what was wrong with the stupid thing.


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Genre –  Science Fiction

Rating – PG13

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