by Sky Sprayberry

I am in a dream again, or that’s what I’m hoping. Otherwise, God really is dead and my brother is alive instead.

I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve been in here with him, or how many days he’s been out here with me.

Jimmy died in front of me. He went in a car crash, straight into the pole as I was following him to his friend’s house. It was quick and painless—for him. For me, it’s an open wound that I refuse to let scab over.

My mother said me seeing the accident happen was a blessing in disguise, her Southern accent an artificial sweetener as I tried to swallow those words. She said because I watched him go, because I saw his dead body, I wouldn’t be haunted by dreams of him.

She’s dreamt of him since, but he’s still himself for her. She says when she sees him, he’s usually just faked his death and has been in hiding. Mom refused to have an open casket, and she’s convinced that’s what kept him so alive in her mind. It’s some psychological phenomenon, one that I’m sure someone who didn’t drop out of Psych 101 could explain.

I never used to have dreams of him. Not until my car crashed.

We crashed in the same spot. That’s weird, isn’t it? The chances of one pole having two single-person car crashes seem low. But I always did follow Jimmy.

When we were kids, I followed him around the house begging him to play soldier with me in the front yard when I couldn’t make friends. At school I trailed behind him, making him my de facto protector on the playground. I even picked the same college, unable to let go of my security blanket in the form of a grown man.

After the crash, the dreams started. It began small, with me opening a door and Jimmy standing behind it, surprising me back to the woken world. But then he started popping up regularly in the background, in such a natural way I barely noticed. He was just there, lurking in corners and behind furniture, his once hot chocolate eyes now iced coffee, cold and unblinking.

Soon he spilled out into my daydreams, then I’d swear I could see him in the corner of my eye. Like if I just turned fast enough, he’d be standing next to me, staring.

I couldn’t make him speak. He’d only ever stare.

Just stare.

So I started staring back, silence stretching out between us like a canyon with no way to cross.

That’s what we’re doing now, just staring as we stand on either side of an empty bed. I’m sure this is a dream since I have no reason to be in a hospital.

Now he’s moving his mouth, but I can’t hear anything.

“Finally talking to me?” I joke, hoping it’ll pull my brother from this gray shell.

“Rob,” he says softly, his voice like a crinkled can, metallic and wrong. “It’s time to go now.” He walks towards the army green door that’s formed behind him, one I didn’t notice until now, and opens it slowly. It creaks as it swings, in a way I don’t think magically appearing doors are supposed to.

My heart should be beating like a drum solo from one of those hair metal bands Jimmy and I used to listen to. Instead, it’s slowing down.

“Well?” he asks, taking a step into the doorframe. I stare into the dark, wondering if he’ll turn on the light as he walks through. “Don’t tell me you’re stopping now, little brother,” Jimmy said and his voice finally sounds right. I snap my head up to see him smiling, his skin pink and alive.

So I do what I always have—I follow Jimmy.

Sky Sprayberry is a DC-based fiction writer. Yes, that’s her real name, and yes, she’s actually the plucky heroine with a catchy moniker. Move over, Lois Lane.
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