Project REM

The crystal-like tinkle of a young child’s laugh broke Miles from his reverie. He’d slept badly the night before, his dreams filled with terrors he was unable to recall upon waking, slipping through his fingers like grains of sand. He’d gone for a walk in the woods that ringed the park down the street from his house, hoping the jaunt outside in the fresh air would grant him better slumber tonight; he spent too much time cooped up inside his house.

He heard the giggling again, faint and off in the distance. He was instantly curious; there were no children who lived in the area, and these paths were seldom walked by anyone which was why he’d chosen them. His feet took off in the direction from which the sound had come, almost without his conscious will. He could not resist the mystery of the laughter; he had to know if the child was real or if his perceptions were in error. The laughter grew louder while he walked as if in a trance, wending his way along the path through the trees, ending at last at the opening to a small clearing in the thicket.

He was astonished to find that what he’d heard was indeed a little girl, sitting upon a large flat rock. She was positioned so Miles saw only her profile, and he couldn’t tell her age, though he judged that she couldn’t be more than ten years old. Her long flaxen ringlets burned like fire as the light from above struck them. Her dress was the green of a shamrock, made of the softest silk; the neck, wrists and hem were trimmed with intricately woven white lace. Her legs were clad in white hose, and she swung them lazily in the air before her, her small green shoes not quite reaching the ground.

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“You have to quit smoking, John.”

Quit smoking; how many times had he been offered that bit of advice? If he stopped to think about it, which didn’t happen very frequently, he’d realize he’d lost count. He knew what it was doing to his health, and he didn’t particularly care. He’d long ago accepted that he was mortal; living an abstemious life wouldn’t grant him immortality—his only gain would be a few extra years—and those he was none too keen on living through anyway. He’d watched his grandparents wither and die, and none could be said to have met the end with dignity. His paternal grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of sixty-seven and had spent the last five years in dementia. He’d only visited her at the home once in that span; the encounter had been so distressing for him that his parents could not make him go back no matter what they tried to offer as a sop.

If you asked him, John would tell you cheerily that he’d lived a good life. He’d never been married, but he’d courted his share of women. He’d never been what he would consider rich, but he’d never really struggled either. He took a vacation every winter to some remote island paradise where there were no words for snow, and a new car graced his driveway bi-annually. His life could be said to be quite comfortable materially, and he fared just as well socially; his friends had been many throughout his years and travels. He was genial and upbeat, even when life was unkind to him, and life being what it is that was often the case. He didn’t mind; you needed the lows to appreciate the highs, and he’d tallied far more of the latter in the near half century that had elapsed since he’d drawn his first breath.

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