1 – the blue tunnel
Lorenz walks. Effortlessly. Blue. Everything is blue. Soft blue and light blue. Dark and deep blue. Gray blue and deep azure.
He is looking for something. He does not know what it is or why he is looking for it.
Blue. All blue.
2 – a geek at home
Fred sits on his couch in postage-stamp “living room” of his apartment, drinking a beer, knowing he should be used to it by now. His job’s always like this. More often than not it’s two steps forward and one back. Today was more like one forward and two back. One of those days where things go from bad to worse, sliding down a miserable slope. The more he tried to get a foothold, the more he dug himself deeper into confusing muck.
He’d started with trying to solve a simple coding problem. Something he’d added was screwing up something else down the line. Shouldn’t be hard to untangle, but it was never that simple. He solved the immediate problem, but then other stuff didn’t work right. Soon nothing was working. Long, continuous work, that felt more like head-banging than programming and, as the work day ended, he’d struggled back to where he’d started in the morning.
Sure, he knows he’ll get past it, but then there’ll just be another glitch that doesn’t make sense. He loves how people think all computer geeks are socially hopeless geniuses. The “genius” part was eluding him.
Fred he doesn’t like the “socially awkward” part either, but he can’t really deny he’s no social butterfly. He likes people well enough, gets along with most. He’s had plenty of relationships over the years, just nothing’s really stuck. He’s even tried psychotherapy for a good while, but without any dramatic changes. Just because he’s alone didn’t mean he’s a loner. Or does it?
He feels antsy, his mind wandering uselessly. There’s nothing he has to do, but also nothing he wants to do either. Another puzzle? No, he’s done enough puzzles for one day.
He goes online. As usual, no email he cares about. He closes his computer and leafs through the useless local newspaper beside him on the couch. He can barely stand to look at the news of the nation and the world. Too upsetting, too painful. He knows he should try going to sleep, but senses that won’t get him anywhere. He’ll lie there obsessively going over the day, reliving it without getting anywhere.
He’s down to reading the police blotter. Two minor accidents. In both directions the drivers claimed the light was green for them. It strikes him as odd: He can’t remember ever seeing people’s excuses printed in the newspaper.
He starts in on a new puzzle for a while and goes to bed in hope of falling asleep.
3 -disturbing the peace
Fred’s at his desk, still slogging through the mud. Nothing working. Try this, try that. No idea why it doesn’t work. He tells his co-worker, Phillip, of his frustration as they stand by the vending machines in the break room. Phillip’s as frustrated as Fred. Phillip considers Fred lucky: at least he knows what he’s trying to do. Phillip doesn’t quite understand what exactly he’s been tasked with. How’s he supposed to figure your how to get something to work if he doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do?
Fred says: “I saw the strangest thing in the newspaper yesterday.”
“You read the newspaper? Why?”
“Why should I? There’s nothing in it but scary stuff I have no control over.”
“I like the police blotter,” Fred says.
“You want to know about somebody getting arrested for driving with a suspended license? Why? Are you up to something and want to know if the cops are onto you? I had no idea your life of coding, games, and occasional sleep was so exciting.”
“What else I got to do? You know I found something once.”
“Yeh, you told me. The cups the were ‘wrong’ for the specific fast-food place. Pepsi in a Burger King or Coke in a MacDonald’s, right? How can I forget? Your moment of glory. I don’t know, man, I think you need a girlfriend or a hobby — electric trains or something. Yeh, sure, you found something once and, yeh, it might have been useful. You don’t actually know that it was useful, really. Still you pore over the newspaper looking for ‘anomalies.’ You do realize this is pitiful?”
“Yes, actually, I do realize it’s pitiful,” Fred answers. “But this is really interesting, I think”
“Ok, I’m still drinking my soda. Go ahead.”
“The article implied that the street lights might have been green in both directions.”
“Well, it said that both drivers insisted the light was green for them.”
“This fascinates you? That somebody in a fender bender blames the lights? And?”
“No ‘and’. That’s it. Both drivers insisted the lights were green for them. Lights aren’t supposed to be able to fail that way. They’re supposed to blink yellow one way and red the other when they fail to connect with their controllers. If they lose power or anything, they always blink like that, never green both ways.”
“So now you’re an expert on traffic lights? Other than a particularly lousy way for a traffic light to function, I really can’t imagine what significance this might have to you or me…or anyone really. You’re not going to call the police again are you? They’re gonna lock you up if you keep bugging them.”
“On what charge?”
“Disturbing the peace.”
4 – ask a silly question
Later that afternoon, Fred sits in his cubicle. He’s working on a number puzzle. He solves one piece of the puzzle and puts it down. He browses the internet about traffic lights and sees that, as he’d thought, they’re all built to be “fail-safe.” If they lose connection to the systems that control them, then they’re supposed to blink red in one direction and yellow in the other so cars don’t smash into each other.
After Phillip’s teasing, he hesitates before calling the town’s municipal offices to see if he can find out if anyone knows anything about the lights. Phillip’s right that they must be sick of his calls by now.
The voice of policewoman who answers doesn’t sound familiar to him, so hopefully she’s not going to jump down his throat for wasting police time . “Does anyone there know anything about the traffic lights going screwy the other day? I read in the paper that it was green in both directions.”
“Hold on,” the woman says, “I’ll put you through to Traffic.”
After a few beeps and a long time on hold, a man says “Traffic” in that flat voice TV cops always use. Fred asks about the lights.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’m just curious, I guess. I thought lights weren’t supposed to be able to fail so they’d be green in two directions.”
“Whoa. No one said anything about lights not working. We don’t have any information on whether or not there was a malfunction. People make up all kinds of excuses when they get into accidents. It’s never their own fault. Who the hell are you, anyway?”
This sounds aggressive and Fred has to hold himself back from hanging up immediately thinking they’ll probably trace the call and drag him in for questioning on suspicion of being a public nuisance. He replies meekly: “That’s what they said in the newspaper. I was just curious. Thanks anyway.”
The cop’s aggressive defensiveness makes Fred wonder if the lights really had been seriously messed up.
4 – Another night at home
A couple nights later. and Fred is back in his usual spot on the couch, alone, bored, sick of doing puzzles, nothing to watch. He aimlessly peruses the local newspaper. Nothing about traffic lights. “Why do I keep coming back to this?,” he asks himself. He’s done so many puzzles that he thinks everything is a puzzle.
He sees an ad for group of physicians who are setting up a new practice. One’s a psychologist who works with people who have sleep disorders, specifically “Sleep-walking and Sleep-driving.” Sleep-driving? Really? People drive cars while they’re asleep? Maybe that’s why they’re running into each other thinking the light’s green when it’s red. He’s seen drivers who are so oblivious to what’s going around them it seems like they’re asleep. But they aren’t literally asleep, are they?
“Free consultation,” the ad says. He thinks about how many nights he struggles to fall asleep obsessing over lines of code that don’t work, hassles with people he works with, or a puzzle he can’t figure out. But he’s not ready to sit himself down on a shrink’s couch again. Eventually he dozes off.
5 – on the psychiatric couch
Fred sits, uncomfortably, on the couch across from a shrink in a recliner. He doesn’t like sitting where he’d be if he were her patient. Maybe this isn’t what they meant by free consultation, but he does wonder about this sleep-driving stuff. He’d been honest when he set up the appointment — told the receptionist he was just curious and wanted to know more sleep disorders and wasn’t seeking treatment. She said the shrink would be available to answer his questions, though of course the therapist could not discuss her clients. Her tone was a little funny, he thought, like she didn’t quite believe he didn’t want therapy.
The sleep therapist says she understands his question but wants to know why he’s asking.
Fred feels the hit of in the gut. She’s doing the stereotypical shrink thing of turning his own question back on him.
He says: “Because I’m curious, I guess.” He realizes this isn’t a very good explanation, even to him. He plunges on, “Do people really drive around in their sleep?”
“Do you?” she asks.
This is too much for Fred. He wants desperately to get up and leave. He wants some information, not to have have psyche analyzed. He wants to say, “No, thank you very much, I do not drive around in my sleep. That’s not why I’m here. Screw you!” but he regains his composure and responds, “No. It’s like I said that on the phone, I just want to ask a couple questions.”
“I just want to know whether this is for real, this sleep-driving. Do people really drive in their sleep? Or is this just something people make up as an excuse? It’s so hard for me to imagine.”
“OK,” she says. “I’ll answer that. Yes, it’s real. You know people walk in their sleep, yes? They get up in their sleep, walk outside and then go back to their bed without waking. It’s not uncommon and very well documented.”
“I’ve seen it in movies,” Fred say. “But driving? That sounds impossible. How could a person be asleep and still drive a car without crashing into things? I could imagine it if the person were in some kind of a trance, maybe. But asleep?”
“Yes, it happens. There are instances like what you said…people being more in a trance than fully asleep. And there are instances where the driver runs into something. And, yes, there are certainly cases where people are outright lying to cover something they’ve done. But there are many carefully documented cases where people drive, more or less ‘successfully,’ while they’re asleep. If a person can walk down a flight of stairs, unlock their front door and go out for a walk around the block in their pajamas and then come back to bed without waking up, then they can drive a car in their sleep. And I can assure you from my practice that that’s exactly what they do.”
As Fred takes this in, she asks, “Was that really all you came to ask?”
This is too much for Fred. Of course she thinks I’m a nut and my questions are just a ruse.
Fred rises, anxious to put an end to this, “Thank you,” he says, extending his arm. “Yes,. Thank you for your time and expertise.”
He dares not mention up his weird thought that the sleep-driving’s somehow connected to the lights acting strange. She’d be calling the men with white coats to put him away.
6- call it sleep
As Fred tries to fall asleep, he wonders why he constantly comes back to connecting the sleep-driving and traffic lights. He feels like one of those detectives in a murder story staring at a board with pictures, lines, and arrows, hoping to suddenly put two unrelated facts together and solve the mystery. He rumbles through the shreds of info he has: From the newspaper, the accidents were at 5:30 PM. People coming home from work? But sleep-drivers always start out in the beds, right? That’s the way you always saw sleep-walking: It’s not like you were walking around and then fell asleep and keep walking. Maybe he could ask the shrink if it ever happened. Like maybe it was like narcolepsy where you fall asleep without any control over it? Eventually, exhausted with his mind running in useless circles, he falls asleep.
7- at the bar
Fred sits fidgeting with the drink in his hand. Barely more than half an ice-cube left in the glass. He doubts she’ll come. She agreed to meet him here after she’d seen her last patient, but that doesn’t fit his image of how therapists usually act, so she was probably just putting him off.
Nevertheless, he now sees her walking toward the booth he’s in. She looks different outside the confines of her waiting room and office. Less formidable, more attractive, more like a normal person.
““Thanks for coming. I wasn’t sure you would. Like a cup of coffee or a drink?”
“Ok,” she says and orders a scotch. “I only have a few minutes. What is it you want to ask that you couldn’t ask me in my office?”
“I apologize. I’ve been to shrinks, uh, therapists, before. Saw one for quite a while. I’ll admit it helped a little — at least I think it did — but I’m not looking to turn myself inside out right now. It makes me uncomfortable to sit on the couch again. I’m just curious about some things I saw in the newspaper, doctor.”
“I can understand that,” she says, “Therapy isn’t always a bowl of cherries. You can drop the ‘doctor’ and call me by my name, Linda, if that makes you feel more at ease.”
“Thanks,” Fred says, “I appreciate that. So here’s my question: Do sleep-drivers always start off in bed? Does it ever happen that they’re wide awake and driving and then fall asleep or is it always the other way around?”
Something about this question bothers her in a way he hadn’t at all expected.
She picks her words carefully, “It is theoretically possible.”
“Okay, ‘theoretically possible,’ but have you ever heard of what you’d call a documented case?”
After a long hesitation, she says, “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have come. I can’t help you any further…Sorry.” She stands up and leaves her drink on the table.
Fred swallows it down along with the rest of his own drink.
Saturday afternoon, Fred lies on his couch. He knows he’s building castles-in-the-air. But why did Linda react so strongly when he asked about whether sleep-drivers always start out in bed?
He jots some things down on a piece of paper, plays around with some maps of the town he pulls down from the internet, and tries to figure what kind of route would cross both intersections that had the accidents. The two places are about five blocks apart along the same road. He’s not sure where that gets him.
9 – back in blue
Lorenz is in the tunnel again. He knows he has been here before but does not know when. It does not seem to matter. He walks smoothly, nearly gliding. Though he does not feel his feet beneath himself, he is unperturbed. Everything surrounding him — above, below, and to either side — is blue, varying only in saturation from an almost milky whitish blue to deepest indigo.
10 – a call in the night
It’s early in the evening, but Fred has fallen asleep on the couch when the phone rings. It’s Linda, the psychologist.
“I’m sorry,” she begins, “did I wake you?”
“Yeh, I guess so. It’s okay.”
“I wanted to apologize for the other night…the way I ran out.”
“Okay. Why did you run out?”
“Your question hit too close to home. I couldn’t see how I could answer your question without giving you confidential patient information.”
“But the situation’s changed. I’ve terminated treatment with the patient and, in our last session, he asked to meet you.”
“Who, the patient?”
“Yes, the sleep-driver.”
“Huh? Meet my? Why?”
“Like you were asking, he falls into a dream right while he’s driving. He leaves work, has no memory of driving home, remembers only fragments of the dream he’s had when he wakes up to his alarm in the morning.”
“So why does he want to meet me?”
“He wants someone to be in the car with him ”
“Really? But how can you be telling me this? I thought this stuff was all confidential.”
“Well, it’s like this: I told him I can’t work with him any longer. And he said what he really wanted was someone who would ride in the car with him and see what happens. I told him I knew someone who was very curious about the phenomenon of sleep-driving and might be willing to ride with him. So he asked me to ask you.”
“Can I ask why you had to stop treating him?”
“Because I’m having the same dream as he has. I’m not driving around, but, like him, I’m gliding along in a blue tunnel.”
11 – dream-driver
Fred is back in the same booth at a bar, but now he is talking to the sleep-driver. “You told your shrink that you wanted to talk to me?”
“I told her I needed help. I’m scared,” the man — Lorenz — says.
“Isn’t that why you talk to her? I’m a computer geek, not a shrink.”
Lorenz does not appear to have heard Fred. “I’m scared,” he repeats. “It’s happening almost every evening now. I’m driving home and the next thing I know I’m in my bed waking up from a dream that’s like no dream I’ve ever had before.”
“Look,” Fred says. “I wanted to meet you because I was curious about this whole business of sleep-driving and Linda asked me if I’d agree to talk with you, but I don’t see how I could possibly help you. To be honest, I was surprised she connected you up with me. I didn’t think a shrink would do that.”
“Well…you see…I asked her if there was someone else, besides her, that I could talk to. I don’t think I’m crazy or anything. My life isn’t much, not much excitement, but I don’t feel like I’m losing it or anything.
“At first, she tried to be comforting, told me it’s not that abnormal to drive while you’re asleep. I asked her that isn’t it strange that I’m driving along and suddenly I’m asleep and the next thing I know I’m in my own bed in my apartment? And you know what she says?”
“She says, ‘Yes, that is strange.’ What kind of shrink tells you straight out that what you’re telling them is strange.”
“An honest one?”
“Yeh…ok…honest…anyway, I tell her I’m scared. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. I wake up and I know I just had a vivid dream in which everything is blue.
“Linda says my ‘situation,’ as she calls it, is different from anything she’s ever heard of. Sleep-walkers and sleep-drivers always start out in bed, she says. They aren’t wide awake one moment and dreaming the next. She says she feels a bit ‘out of her depth.’ First, she tells me she’d ‘like to understand what’s happening before she goes much further’ and then she says she can’t continue to see me for ‘personal reasons’ and refers me to a schlump of a psychiatrist who’s like a comic strip shrink who does nothing but ask me questions like ‘why do you feel this way?’
“And me, I want to have some idea what’s going on. I mean, it’s like I’m not there, you know…Must be a bit like when a drunk blacks out and can’t remember what he did. I know this is going to sound weird, but I wondered if, since you’re so curious, if you’d ride in the car with me and tell me what happens.”
“Yeh, Linda, your shrink, told me you want me to ride in the car while you drive home.”
“Yes. That’s what I want.”
“You said you were scared. What are you scared of? Afraid you’ll run into something? What happens to me if you do? I said I’d talk with you but I’m not at all sure this is such a good idea.”
“I’m not scared of having an accident. Somehow, it seems I drive ok in my sleep. I’m scared because think I’m being followed.”
“If you’re asleep, how could you know if anyone’s following you. I don’t want to try to psychoanalyze you, but maybe you’re being paranoid.”
“I don’t think so. I think it’s real. I don’t know why I feel there’s somebody behind me, but I do. So I asked the doc if she knew anyone who might be able to ride in my car with me. See what’s happening when I fall asleep. Maybe see if anyone’s still following me.”
“Why don’t you call the police?”
“I can’t very well tell them that I’m driving in my sleep. They’d take my license away pretty damn quick. It’s about a twenty minute drive from my job to my house. Everything’s been okay so far.”
“That’s comforting,” Fred says flatly. “And you don’t have any buddies at work or a girlfriend or something who’d ride with you?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend and I’m not comfortable telling anyone at work. You’re a stranger and you’re curious about sleep-driving. Here’s your chance to see it happen. Are you willing to try?”
Fred’s curiosity once again gets the best of him: He agrees.
12 – riding shotgun
Fred, sitting next in the passenger seat next to Lorenz, thinks he should try to make conversation as they drove along, but he quickly runs out of anything to say. He doesn’t find too many people who want to hear about how he solved some number puzzle or his frustrations doing computer work.
He isn’t sure what to expect. Maybe Lorenz won’t fall asleep if there’s someone else in the vehicle with him. Maybe he will fall asleep and they’ll crash into something. Could someone’s mind really be so split that he can dream and drive a car simultaneously?
This part of town’s a grid of parallel and intersecting roads with stop signs on the smaller streets and traffic lights when the come to larger roads. Looks to be pretty much the same section of town of the accidents he saw in the police blotter.
Maybe Lorenz has just been lucky up to now. Maybe he, Fred, is going to pay a high price for his curiosity of Lorenz crashes into something or someone.
At present, though, Lorenz is fully awake. “I usually go right on this corner if the light’s red up ahead,” he says, “otherwise I go straight.”
Lorenz drives on, makes a couple more turns.
“Look behind us,” Lorenz says, “I’ve seen that car before.”
Fred looks. A nondescript sedan, grayish blue. Must be a million like it on the road. The car continues to follow them through each turn Lorenz makes. Maybe Lorenz isn’t being paranoid.
“If he’s following you,” Fred says, “he doesn’t seem to be trying to hide it.”
“I know. Somehow that scares me all the more.”
They pass by a small neighborhood park with a grove of trees, turn another corner and the gray-blue car isn’t there anymore. A few more blocks and Lorenz pulls up in front of his house. Fred calls a cab and goes home.
The next night they meet in the bar again. “I don’t know when I’m going to do it again,” Lorenz says, apologetically. “Maybe it won’t happen again. Maybe it won’t happen while you’re in the car. We might be wasting our time.”
By the third night, Fred is wondering how long he’ll keep this up. Maybe Lorenz is right — maybe it’ll only happen when Lorenz is alone. It feels more and more like a wild goose chase. He keeps seeing the gray-blue sedan behind them until they get to the park, even though Lorenz changes his route every time. Fred almost wishes he were a cop or a private investigator. He pictures the way tough guy private eyes stop and force the tail to explain why he’s following them. Probably not a good idea. Meanwhile, this is like watching the grass grow. Maybe he should give it up and go back to his puzzles.
13 – Fourth night
The next evening, Lorenz, at the wheel, complaining about his job, falls asleep mid-sentence. His eyes are open, his breathing is deep. Fred’s heart is racing. As they approach a red light, Lorenz’s face shows no recognition, his foot does not move toward the brake. The light changes to green just as the pickup reaches the corner. The gray sedan follows them a block or so behind them.
Corner, after corner, Lorenz glides through the town. Sometimes he slows down to a stop. Sometimes, he turns left or right in his zigzagging path, every light he comes to is green.
Fred dares not speak. He’s heard that it’s dangerous to wake up a sleep walker. Though he’s not sure what the danger’s supposed to be, he’s not chancing it. Lorenz is silent except for an occasional small gasp. He must be dreaming. Of what, his blue tunnel? Fred wonders.
As before, Lorenz parks the car in his apartment house garage. Without a word to Fred, still apparently dreaming, locks the car and goes up to his apartment.
14 – after the dream
When Lorenz comes into the bar, Fred is two drinks ahead. His face is blank, but he is shaken by the night before. Lorenz is calm. “I fell asleep, eh?” Lorenz asked.
“You don’t know?”
“Well, I guess by now I do. When I wake up in the morning and I don’t exactly remember how I got there, then I think it’s a fair assumption I fell asleep.”
“So you don’t remember anything?”
“Oh, just a fragment of that same dream of walking in the blue tunnel. Was I followed again?”
“I think so. Frankly I was paying ore attention to your driving. The lights sometimes seemed to change from red to green just as you got to them.”
“Willing to try it again tonight?” Lorenz asks.
“Ok,” Fred says, worrying about how his boredom and curiosity have led him to be riding around with a man who’s asleep while he’s driving.
15- voices and light
Blue. All blue. Light blue and dark blue. Blue as saturated as a deep lagoon, blue nearly as white as a cloud. There is sound, too, all around Lorenz. It is very faint, yet close. Voices? Yes, voices. Words?. It is music. But it is unlike any he has ever heard. It is simultaneously cacophony and harmony, a single voice and a great many, a single instrument or an unfathomably large orchestra.
Fred, sitting beside Lorenz, sees the traffic lights ahead flicker from red to green. All green.
A neighborhood park is just ahead on the left. Lorenz swerves to the left and drives across an improvised softball diamond and into the park itself. The gray-blue car follows.
Fred knows Lorenz must be in his blue tunnel, but Fred is also somewhere else. The park is no longer the small playground it was. He does not walk through diaphanous blue corridors, but glides slowly through a world of verdant green…trees…tall trees full with leaves. Some he recognizes — eucalyptus, maple, fir, and pine — and some he does not think he has never seen in his life. Branches all reach upward and upward and he sees that they do reach not just toward the sky, but to other trees, trees that are impossibly far away and yet clear to him, Leaves that reach out to each other across an seemingly infinite divide.
And now he hears what Lorenz hears. The sound grows, for both Fred and Lorenz, from the faintest whisper to a roar loader than Niagara Falls. Voices, calling voices. Lorenz hears them as though they were bouncing from cloud to cloud; Fred hears them as passing from the trees that are near and those that are far away. They are thousands of voices and they are one voice. They are at once only music and only words.
They are not sounds Lorenz or Fred has ever heard, not music anyone on earth has ever heard. They are not words anyone has ever heard before either. Yet the sounds contain all the emotions of the human spectrum. There is pain. There is need. There is love and there is fear. From a great emptiness they reach out with hope, with urgency. But most of all there is the sense of contact: We are here and you are here. We reach to you and you hear us. Our world to your world, one world.
Linda hears them too.
Those who ride in blue-gray car following them hear them.
Soon everyone will hear them.