He finished his coffee, set the mug down and left the house.
The front door hissed shut. Outside the weather was beginning of summer warm, humid. He looked up at the azure sky. No clouds. Like in that terribly vivid dream just before he woke.
What he needs is simple but elusive. Where to look first? His neighborhood is quiet as a 1950s suburb. Only one hundred fifty feet away is the parkway, a huge artery for the city. Thousands of cars travel it every day. There's an accident at least once a week within a block of his house.
He is confident though he doesn't know where that confidence comes from. It's sudden and has been hiding from him for months now. A moth to a flame, it draws him down the sidewalk to the edge of the busy street.
To the left is oncoming traffic. Rush hour. Barreling down toward him, their lights blazing. That makes him pause. It's daylight but heading towards evening. The lights are brighter than they should be, and they change colors. This baffled him.
Best not to think too much about it. The more he thought, the more his confidence waned. He closed his eyes.
White noise of rubber on pavement, engines pushing metal and fiberglass faster and faster enveloped him. The sound was punctuated by the occasional thud thud thud of woofers. He felt it in his chest. He moved to the curb, the front of his sandals hung off the edge. The cars passing so fast and so close together buffeted him, caused him to sway in the gale.
A deep breath. Hold it, exhale. Step.
His feet didn't touch the ground. The cars passed harmlessly through him. He tingled all over. He didn't open his eyes. He walked at an easy pace.
A last step up. Solid ground. Grass under his sandals, brushing against the bare skin of his feet. He opened his eyes and smiled.
What he needed was here, in the median. He knew it.
A moment to take in what had happened. Traffic on both sides was bumper to bumper at super speed. All the cars had their lights on. The sun bore down on him from the west. A shadow from a tree bent around him, avoided him.
Everything is surreal. He is unsurprised. A torrent of adrenaline surged through him.
With the sun at his back, he faced the next tree in the median. A poplar, who knew how many years old, probably eight feet tall was unaffected by the rush of air on either side. Its trunk was easily four inches in diameter and it was held straight by plastic chain links and posts on either side. The line of cars extended beyond the horizon. Even though he could see red lights in either direction, the cars did not stop coming. He shrugged.
The bark of the tree was smooth, so maybe it wasn't an elm. Tree identification was not one of his strengths. Maybe he could study the subject when this was over. He could use it in something if he did. It would broaden his knowledge base.
He knelt down, ran his hand over the bark. Now it was rough on his hands and he thought maybe it was an elm. In the end it didn't matter what kind of tree it was.
Cars rushed by, some honking loudly. He didn't pay attention. He never paid attention. His friends would say they'd seen him walking, had honked at him but he never noticed them. It always felt wrong to assume people passing him on the street and honking were trying to get his attention. He always apologized. It was only in the last two years or so that he stopped explaining why he didn't acknowledge them.
He wrapped both hands around the trunk and pulled upward.
Enough rain had fallen over the previous two weeks that it came right out. Like a weed. It shouldn't have, no way should it have come right out. The root ball was two feet in diameter. The man stood with the tree in hand as the plastic chain links stretched and gave way.
Traffic didn't stop. A lot more horns honked, on both sides. Pretty soon all the horns honked as they passed. He watched, bewildered, as they blew by him. More puzzling was the fact that the tree wasn't heavy at all. Not at all.
Reverently, he set the tree down, outside the hole its root ball left behind. The tree slewed over into the median, out of harm's way from the traffic. He patted the root ball.
He saw a triangle of something white at the bottom. He lay down on his belly and reached into the hole. Brushing dirt out of the way, he revealed the entire packet. It was about the size of a 3x5 card and the purest white. Incredibly the dirt left no trace of itself on the packet. He whistled.
The noise of the cars was gone, he noticed. Relief streamed through him the same way the adrenaline had. Gingerly he grabbed one corner of the packet and pulled it up close to his face. The smell of the wet earth comforted him. He was reminded of his childhood, of the days when the he walked around the dirt basement of the house his father built. A worm wriggled to safety on the right.
As an artifact, the packet was plain. Except for the fact that it was pure white and unmarked by the black dirt there was nothing remarkable at all about it. It was about the size of an index card and thin. He set it on the side of the hold and pushed up to sit on his knees.
If he looked up he would have seen the cars and trucks racing on either side of him. Semi tractors pulled their trailers, bumping over the seams in the roadwork. Police cars and fire engines blared their sirens and the blur of passenger vehicles was a steady stream of variable colors. They ignored him as much as he them.
All he saw was the packet. The prize he'd crossed over for.
Inside it was a handful of multi-colored pellets, tiny. Like Chiclets. How many should he take?
One, he decided. Just one.
He picked a green one, held it tenderly between thumb and forefinger. "Here goes nothing," he said and popped it in his mouth.
The cars stopped. No sound, no movement, nothing. Everything around him was a statue. He turned, looking both ways up and down the parkway. It was the same. The dream was true and he'd allowed it to propel him out into the median.
Surreal didn't cover anything any more. An unearthly silence built up, threatening his calm but he stood, chewing the chiclet.
The man stepped in between a Cadillac and a Kia into the parkway. The drivers were both talking on the phone, or would be when they moved again.
Once he'd made it back to his side of the parkway, the man looked back again. Nothing had changed. the tree was still on its side, he held the packet of Chiclets in their improbably white pouch. He spat out the gum.
He was old enough to remember vinyl records and cassette tapes. The sound that came to him was much like a stopped record or a stuck tape running back up to speed. The cars moved again, the drivers gripped the steering wheels.
"What the?" he said out loud. The world turned. Everything resumed as normal.
But it hadn't been normal when he went out. Everything was already sped up. The man shook his head to clear the nagging thoughts.
"Now I'll have the time," he said.
Though it would be limited to what was in the packet. He remembered that much from the dream. Whoever was behind the dream, he knew it was best not to question it. No need to wonder why he was given the vision or the power to act on the dream. It would only drive him mad. He turned and left the parkway, his sidewalk and his driveway to the muggy day.
Inside, he poured another cup of coffee. It was still hot. All the misery of recent months was still fresh and he hadn't done any solid work in that time, either. He was behind.
Now, with the Chiclets, he could get things done. Lots of things. Everything that mattered to him. But where to start?
He wandered into the office.
His laptop was open.