Dream Student (Dream Series book 1), page 1
by J.J. DiBenedetto
Also from the author
“Betty & Howard’s Excellent Adventure”
A Box of Dreams: the collected Dream Series (books 1-5)
And available on Audible Audiobooks:
“Betty & Howard’s Excellent Adventure”
All available at:
Text Copyright © 2013 James J. DiBenedetto
All Rights Reserved
This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
I couldn’t have done this without you.
Table of Contents
Prologue: Dream a Little Dream
One: Trading Places
Three: Casual Sex?
Four: Running Scared
Seven: Real Genius
Eight: Close Encounters
Nine: Family Ties
Ten: A Christmas Story
Eleven: Some Kind of Wonderful
Twelve: Back to School
Thirteen: Tales From the Darkside
Fourteen: Legal Eagles
Fifteen: 48 Hours
Sixteen: A View to a Kill
Epilogue: The Sure Thing
“Why us?" he said. "Why is it happening to us?"
"Everything has to happen to someone," said Ginger.
- Victor and Ginger, in “Moving Pictures” by Terry Pratchett
Prologue: Dream a Little Dream
(November 24-25, 1989)
Sara rarely remembers her dreams. She has no idea that she’s had more or less this same dream two or three nights a week since the beginning of the semester. She’s sitting there in the lecture hall, and if she were ever able to remember this dream she’d recognize it as the same seat she actually sits in every Tuesday and Thursday at nine-thirty in the morning. She’d recognize Dr. Wallabeck, too, and in the dream he’s wearing one of those dreadful patterned ties he always wears; he’s peering over his awful wire-rimmed glasses exactly the way he does in real life. Every detail of the lecture hall is captured by Sara’s subconscious with almost perfect accuracy, including her fellow students. Two rows in front of her is the tall redheaded girl whose name she can never recall and who nods off in the middle of almost every class; in her row and six seats to her left is Adam Walker, who lives directly above her in the dorm, with his huge thermos full of almost-but-not-quite-undrinkable dining hall coffee. In the dream Sara looks around and sees them and all the other faces she sees in class twice a week, and they’re all just as puzzled in the dream as they usually are in class.
Sara is the only person in the whole room who’s not. If she could remember the dream, she’d understand why: Dr. Wallabeck isn’t lecturing about angular momentum or torque or any of the other mystifying topics that make up Physics 121. Not now. Instead, the good doctor is talking about amino acids and protein structures, a topic that Sara just last week aced a quiz on in her Introductory Biochemistry course. It doesn’t seem the slightest bit odd to Sara that her physics professor is lecturing about biochemistry instead of physics…
Brian’s never properly met Sara, never actually spoken to her. He’s seen her quite often, though. In the dining hall, walking back from class, in the student union or the bookstore, in any one of a dozen other places on campus. Even, once, at a party, where he’d just about worked up the nerve to approach her before she disappeared for the night. But he doesn’t really know her; he doesn’t know anything about her that isn’t revealed in the student directory.
He’s dreaming about her anyway.
Not only about her; Sara is just one character in this dream. She’s there in a cheerleader outfit a size too tight, watching Brian, admiring him, cheering for him, shouting for him as he stands there on the basketball court about to hit the game-winning shot. Sara’s there, admiring and watching and cheering and shouting right alongside every other woman on campus that Brian is attracted to. All admiring and watching and cheering and shouting.
But for some reason Sara’s outfit is just a little tighter than anyone else’s; her voice is the tiniest bit louder than any of the others…
Sara is still in the lecture hall, still the only student in the whole room who’s not completely lost. She’s so far ahead of what Dr. Wallabeck is talking about now that her eyes and her mind begin to wander.
In the back of the room she sees her roommate, Beth. Sara is not surprised to see her in Physics, even though she knows that Beth isn’t actually taking the class. She’s also not surprised to see that all the students sitting near her are male. Long-legged, blonde-haired, beautiful Beth; of course the boys all look at her, she thinks, rather than plain old Sara.
Sara isn’t terribly bothered by this. First of all, Beth is not only her roommate but her best friend, and has been since halfway through the first semester of freshman year. Second, on a campus with twice as many men as women, Sara doesn’t really have to compete with Beth for male attention. The true competition is between Sara’s interest in male attention and her own generally quiet–verging on shy–nature, not to mention the extremely demanding course schedule that the pre-med program requires of her.
Suddenly, Sara isn’t in the lecture hall anymore. She’s sitting somewhere else, on metal bleachers inside a large gym. The bleachers are mostly filled, and every eye is directed towards a tall, dark-haired young man standing at the free-throw line, preparing to take the game-winning shot.
It takes her a moment to gather her bearings. Sara has no idea why she’s in a gym watching a basketball game: she has no friends on the team, and she doesn’t even like the sport. She has the oddest feeling that she doesn’t belong here at all, that she’s not supposed to be here. And then she sees herself down there on the court with the rest of the cheerleaders.
As soon as she sees that, she knows: this is not her dream anymore. It has nothing to do with her. The Sara in the cheerleader outfit is a character in someone else’s dream. She doesn’t know how she knows this, but she has no doubt whatsoever that it’s true. It’s crazy and it’s impossible and it’s happening just the same.
Sara doesn’t know what to do; this is so far out of her experience that she doesn’t even know where to begin. All she does know is that she’s in someone else’s mind–or somebody else is in hers. When the young man with the basketball looks up from the court and sees her, locks eyes with her, it’s all too much.
This isn’t supposed to be happening, Sara thinks, but she doesn’t know how to get out of his dream, any more than she knows how she got into it in the first place. And then panic sets in–what if she’s trapped here, what if she can’t ever get out of his mind, or throw him out of hers, whichever it is–and she begins screaming…
One: Trading Places
I’m staring at my clock radio. According to the big green digital numbers, it’s exactly 3:14 AM. I think it might be off by a minute or two, but that’s not really the point. The point is that I’m awake to know it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:14 AM.
This is not by choice. Actually, it sort of is, I guess. I’m awake because I don’t want to fall asleep. And why I don’t want to fall asleep? It’s a fair question. I’d ask, if it were someone else.
The answer sounds stupid, even to me. If I’m honest, I have to admit I’m just being a baby about this. I don’t want to fall asleep because of the dreams I’ve been having. “Nightmares” is a better word. I don’t think even that really gets the point across, though. Is there a word for dreams that are worse than nightmares? There should be.
It’s been the same the last four nights, exactly the same. The people in it are the same, the places are the same, everything happens exactly the same way, in the same order, and the worst part is that it all feels so real. There isn’t any of that weird imagery that people always talk about–talking rabbits or losing your teeth while flying naked behind trains through long dark tunnels or whatever else. Everything that happens in this nightmare could come right out of the news. It could all really happen.
Oh, God. That’s a horrible thought. What if–maybe it is really happening?
No. Absolutely not. It can’t be.
I know, I know. There are lots of people who believe in stuff like that. Bob–my younger brother–is one of them. He’s sixteen years old, and the magazines he hides under his bed, or in the back of his closet or wherever teenage boys usually hide copies of Playboy or Penthouse, include Psychic Times and UFO Monthly.
Personally, I think most of that is nonsense. People don’t really have visions of the future or psychic flashes or any of that. This nightmare is probably just from some stupid slasher movie somebody rented for one of our dorm movie nights. Against my better judgment, I sat through it and even though I was only half watching, not really paying attention, it leaked into my subconscious or something. That makes sense, right? I’m sure that’s all it is. Probably happens all the time. Except that I don’t remember ever sitting through a slasher movie in the first place.
It wouldn’t be so bad, except that the dreams are incredibly disturbing when I’m actually experiencing them, and, of course, in the moment I’m not thinking logically. I’m just reacting to what’s going on, and it’s really getting to me. What makes it even worse is that, up until this last week, I’ve almost never been able to remember my dreams at all. And now, suddenly, I remember them perfectly. That seems like it has to mean something.
It’s not just what I’m seeing, either. It always feels like–and I know this doesn’t make any sense–I’m not in my own head. It’s completely wrong, in a very “not in Kansas anymore” sort of way. I don’t know the words to describe it any better than that. I’m not sure there actually are any better words.
And then once I wake up and the whole stupid horrible thing replays itself in my mind, I can’t fall back asleep even if I wanted to, which at that point obviously I don’t anyway. So then, on top of being freaked out and miserable, I’m a tired mess the whole next day.
To top all that off, I had another dream that I remembered right before the nightmares started. It had that same not-in-my-own-head feeling. But that first dream was different. I was frightened, because it felt so strange, but the dream itself wasn’t creepy or horrible at all. It was - well, “flattering” is the word that comes to mind. I remember waking up screaming, not because of the content of the dream but because I knew–somehow–I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I think that’s it, anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t really trust my own analysis of any of this very much right now.
Now it’s 3:20 AM, give or take. Beth is snuggled up under her blankets in her bed, and she looks all peaceful and happy. Every so often she makes these funny little noises, not quite snores, but almost. I never really noticed she did that before, and we’ve been roommates since freshman year. I suppose it makes sense, though. In the two and a half years we’ve been rooming together, I can probably count on my fingers the times she’s gone to sleep before I did.
I haven’t told her about the nightmares yet. Partly it’s because I have this feeling–and, yes, I know it’s a naïve, childish thought–that if I don’t talk about them, maybe eventually they’ll just go away. But mostly it’s because I know what she’d say. First, she’d pretend to analyze them, probably throwing in something from one of her advanced Psychology classes to make it sound better. And then she’d get just slightly more serious and tell me that the nightmares are my subconscious trying to get me to let my hair down, have some more fun, don’t take everything so seriously. Basically, live a little.
After which I would say that I do have fun, I do let my hair down and I do live a little, after all my studying is done. “Like the Halloween party,” I’d say. “I went to that, didn’t I?”
She’d scoff and say that, yes, I went, but only after she harassed me for over an hour to come downstairs to the party. And she’d point out that my “costume” was a lab coat with a plastic nametag reading “Dr. Feelgood” that my brother bought for me as a bad joke when I came home for Christmas my freshman year. Which I only had because Beth grabbed it out of my bedroom when she came to visit me last summer. She waited four whole months for just the right moment to embarrass me with it. She’s got good timing; I have to give her that.
Then she’d remind me that what “going to the party” actually entailed was me spending an hour standing off in a corner. And it included highlights like not dancing even though several people from our dorm tried to drag me over. Oh, and completely ignoring a tall, cute guy from another dorm who–according to Beth; I didn’t notice him–kept looking hopefully over at me the whole time. And then to top it all off, taking exactly three sips of punch (even Beth can’t really blame me for that–it was a mix of the vile forty proof fake vodka they sell in the little grocery store just off campus, combined with generic orange soda. No thank you!), before I snuck away to revise a lab write-up for Advanced Organic Chemistry that I was already going to get 105% on.
But she probably wouldn’t mention how lucky she was that I left early and sober and that when she stumbled back to our room at four o’clock in the morning I made her drink a big glass of water, take two aspirin and got her safely to bed. Actually, I take that back. She would mention that. She did mention it the next morning, when she woke up without a hangover, in a clean bed, with her smelly, nasty costume in the laundry bag. She was very grateful.
Anyway, like I said, I haven’t told her about the nightmares for what seem like very good reasons to me. Looking at her there, it’s as though she doesn’t have a care in the world. I wonder what she’s dreaming about…
…Sara is in the back of the ambulance, rattling off items on her checklist and somewhere between excited and frightened out of her wits. She’s been over this and over this a thousand times, but that was all practice, all fake, and this is real and it’s her first time and…
“Nice and easy, Sara,” comes Tom’s voice from up front. “We haven’t lost a volunteer yet, and I promise you won’t be the first.”
She manages a laugh. “It’s not myself I’m worried about losing.”
Sara expects Tom to say something, but the radio crackles to life and cuts off any reply he might have made. It doesn’t matter anyway, because now they have a call. Her very first call.
“One minute!” The ambulance speeds through the night towards the scene of the accident. The car wreck, Sara hears that much from the radio. The rest of the call goes right past her and then, more quickly than she expects, they’re there. Sara opens the doors, steps out. At first she can’t see anything; it takes her eyes a couple of seconds to adjust to the darkn
The scene is a mess: a compact car–Sara thinks it might be a Toyota but it’s impossible to tell for sure now–had a run-in with a big Jeep and it had lost, badly. Her feet crunch glass as she makes her way towards what had once probably been a very nice car, and is now so much scrap metal.
The car isn’t anything compared to its driver; he’s lying on the ground and to Sara it looks like more of his blood is on the street and all over the remains of the car than inside him. Her first thought is to wonder how the man could still be alive, and her second is that if she doesn’t do something, and fast, he won’t be for long.
But what to do? She hears a voice, one of the policemen at the scene, running down the man’s condition. Somewhere in the back of Sara’s mind, as she listens to the litany of injuries–major blood loss, a broken leg, several cracked ribs, almost certainly internal bleeding and all that just for starters–she wonders if the policeman has any idea that she’s seventeen years old and a volunteer on her very first ever ambulance run and utterly clueless. No, Sara decides, he probably doesn’t know all that. He probably expects Sara to actually do something for the man. But where to start with someone this messed up?
The absence of a pulse gives Sara the answer. CPR, that’s easy, she can do it in her sleep. Except the patient’s ribs aren’t supposed to give way like that when she puts pressure on them.
Still, it works; the man’s eyes blink open. They focus on Sara and even though he can’t speak, she sees the question there. What can she possibly tell him? He has to know how bad it is, doesn’t he? She owes it to him not to lie, not if it will be the last answer he ever gets. She holds his stare and shakes her head. And then she reaches down and takes his hand, squeezes it. It’s only a few seconds after that; Sara knows the exact instant when he’s gone…