Benny snored. Green beer bottles which had once contained an imported pale ale littered the floor around Benny's bed. Bill stared at the ceiling and watched the headlights of cars on the interstate outside the window flash by as parallel beams of light. He tried not to move. The room around him spun. Bill had shared a few shots of Wild Turkey with Benny that turned into a game of caps that turned into a wreck of the big man crying about Gloria while Bill grew weepy talking about how his own wife was destined to cheat on him, how his kids would grow up into monsters.
"Nothing's set in stone," Benny had said before passing out. "Pray with me, man."
Bill allowed it, but Benny passed out before getting past a sobbing wet request for God to forgive him his sins of adultery. Benny released a cacophony of snores while Bill found himself praying alone.
"Give me something, God. Something, anything. A sign. Thanks for bringing Benny into my life. Yeah, he's a bit of a wreck but pretty okay. Thanks for Gloria's comfort. Help me help the little kids before any more get hurt. Help me help my family, if it be your will. I know it's probably wrong I left. Maybe. I really don't know. Just please let Benny be right: Let things not be set in stone. Amen."
And sleep descended upon him.
Children played in a large green field of rolling hills dotted by rainbows of flowers. The perimeter of the field was made up of a dark forest where shadows crawled. Eyes shone from between branches. Hidden things shook the visible leafy boughs. Shrieks and cries emanated from the darkness and carried across the field, but the laughter of children was not enough to drown out the sounds of the depraved.
Bill stood in the center of the field. The children played around him. Some were toddlers taking wobbly steps. There were older children playing with the younger children, shepherding them, rounding them up to the safety in the middle of the field, keeping a length of empty green field between where children played and the shadows fell down from the surrounding forest.
Bill realized the children were growing closer together. They crowded together, the older boys and girls staying to the outside to surround the little ones. Bill felt them press against him and smelled sweat and piss and swollen diapers.
"No." Bill shook his head. "No."
He saw fresh shoots come out of the grass on the perimeter. New trees grew up where it had once been a grassy field. The forest encroached upon the safety of the open spaces. The screeches of the things in the trees grew louder. The children stopped giggling. They stopped playing.
A sudden silence erupted around Bill. It was broken by the occasional cry from the direction of the forest.
A voice cried out from that dark and dank wilderness: "God bless the beasts and the children."
Bill saw monkeys in the trees. They swung from tails to hands to feet from branch to branch. They wore business suits and ties. One of them sat on a branch with its hands down its pants. The crotch of the black silk slacks pounced up and down up and down up and down. Bill looked away just in time to see another monkey fling poo at its neighbor. They cried out and howled and laughed. A small monkey sat and stroked the fur beneath its chin while taking the occasional drag from a cigar that was held tight in its prehensile tail.
The voice calling from the darkness grew louder. "Jesus said we should come to him as little children. With the faith of children. We should be innocent and pure and trusting."
Bill bent down and wrapped his arms around the children closest to him. He wanted to hold them all, to cover their ears, to protect them.
The older children on the outside looked in towards Bill. Their eyes grew dull and lost all trace of luster. Their young faces no longer resembled children. They grayed and aged.
It grew quiet again. Even the monkeys in suits sat still. No shrieks, no cries, nothing.
Then the forest erupted. Trees shot up everywhere and shadows drowned out the light of the sun. Bill lost the children surrounding him in the young greenery, new vines, new trees, and fresh forest. The shadows darkened as the canopy of leaves overhead solidified till it blocked all light.
Bill thrashed in the darkness, found himself tangled in vines, and cried out to God, a God he knew to be very different from that one the voice in the darkness prayed to, a God who chooses to love and not persecute, a God who wants only to forgive and be loved in return.
Bill woke up sweating. The sheets clung to his body. He pushed them off, sat up, and tried to alternately shake the dream from his mind while analyzing it. The monkeys in business suits were easy enough to decipher. Some of the lonely business men occupying these lonely hotel rooms acted like caged monkeys. That made sense in its own way, but he wondered about the voice in the darkness? It was familiar somehow. Perhaps a radio preacher? Maybe someone on television? It was a deep voice, recognizable, familiar, almost comforting despite the dread he experienced in the dream.
Bill sighed, reached over to the night table and pulled out a cheap sheet of stationary and a pen that was almost out of ink. He scribbled some notes, just a vague outline, and a word that he thought might even be a name of some significance: Green. He wrote until the pen completely ran out of ink and then tossed the pen into the garbage can. It clattered against the metal sides of the can and Benny stirred and even stopped snoring for a brief moment before resuming his nasal vibrato symphony.
Visions of lonely businessmen once again infiltrated Bill's head through his exposed skin touching the bed. He stood up and walked to a small, uncomfortable chair next to a cheap round table. He curled up into a fetal position in that chair and leaned himself at an angle against the back and an arm rest. He knew he would have a crick in his neck in the morning but did not care. Visions of business men typing up spreadsheets while eating cheap take-out meals might just be dull enough to help him find a dreamless sleep.
He stretched out his neck and cursed his own skin.