The Ring by Stephen Horenstein

At 5 a.m. I heard the phone ring. It must have been the ring’s tail, because as soon as I heard it, it stopped. My first thought — a mistake. I returned to deep sleep snoring like a koala bear, hibernating. And as my body slowly sagged into to la-la land, I tried to revisit my dream, but alas, it was gone!

Awake! But that damn ring! It had sounded abruptly, cutting the silence like a fresh blade on ice. Panic. Like a gazelle dazed by blaring lights of an oncoming car, I froze, then leaped, straining both thigh muscles. The house’s silence became all too deafening. My thoughts then turned to her. Her latest depression had been weighing heavy, dangerously approaching red. Who else would call at this ungodly hour? I gasped, fumbled and then scurried down the dark hall to my studio.

As I entered the room, I noticed a strange light entering the window, a sort of half night, half morning. I sat down. The cold computer keys lashed out at my hands. An email? I frantically searched for a clue. Outside, a light grey mist began to congeal, but with no wind, no birds. My stomach ached with emptiness; anticipation and fear were curdled up into one gigantic wax lemon.

Suddenly, like magic, my forgotten dream returned in Technicolor:

I had been chased, robbed, hidden, and accosted by four thieves.

Posing as inspectors, they first wanted to see my studio with 100’s of musical instruments, some more precious than others. As they approached I noticed a black scar on the leader’s arm. This aroused my suspicions. Without thinking, I instinctively leaped up and started to run. Like a beast in retreat, I needed to hide. Luckily I found a remote cellar, reeking with wild animals, oil, dust and charcoal. The whir of the furnaces filled the room, when suddenly from a distance I heard their voices, and then random squawks—they had broken into my studio, playing the instruments like natives in a jungle—thumping and honking randomly. Decades of my most precious possessions were up in smoke. I felt violated. I tried to stay quiet, but the cramping in my legs was unbearable. Their voices became louder. They circled the building. I stopped breathing, I thought I could feel their breath on my arm’s skin, the taste of oil everywhere, no escape…I felt the stony ground beneath me begin to crumble, and soon…

Then, suddenly, I was jarred from my sleep. The memory of the ring oozed throughout my brain like ink in a puddle.

The grotesque dream only added to what I imagined to be real—the thought that my daughter was in real trouble. My imagination grew. The dream and ring, now became even more ominous, colliding like two giant spheres of a superstorm.

I screamed silently.

As morning’s light finally emerged, I began to function, though the empty feelings in my stomach lingered. I conducted an email search…and then, lo and behold, I found it! Four words: “Hi, tried to call.”

She never explained why she called. I tried to go about my business, feeling drained and half asleep. For the rest of the day, the dryness in my mouth and a dull headache merged, twisting my muscles like stale salt-water taffies.

I finally turned to less apocalyptical thoughts — and like an archeologist reeling from a long night’s binge, continued to piece together my morning dream, the innermost corners of my mind.