Nobody told her the circus was in town.
She enters the red-and-white-striped tent and sits down among the empty rows to watch the acts. There are the tightrope walkers, performing a precarious balancing act, trapped in the liminal space between safety and death. There are the jugglers, their entire lives suspended above them in a catch and release program. There are the unicyclists, trying to stay steady; the trapeze artists, with their ever vigilant feud against the tightrope walkers; the acrobats and the hoopers; and the lion tamer, chair in one hand, whip in the other, pretending to fight against a man in a lion suit.
And there is the magician. He is wearing his tophat and brandishing his cane and he is smiling. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he says. "Tonight, we bring you the very best in magical entertainment. Tonight, we present...the Cabinet of Dreams!" He claps his hands together as if expecting applause, but there is none. Only she watches as he uncovers the Cabinet, a large wooden box with a small slit in the front door. "For this display of marvel and wonder, we need a volunteer!" He looks around at the empty seats until his eyes stop at her. "You, young lady."
She stands up. She does not want to go, but she has no choice. She walks over to the magician and she can see his face clearly now, his greasy pointed beard, his beady eyes. He takes her hand and she wants to shiver, but cannot. "Thank you, young lady." He turns back to the audience and now it is full, it is full of everyone she ever met, ever loved. Her entire family and friends are in the audience and they are watching in rapt attention. "Now," the magician says, "the Cabinet of Dreams is very dangerous. If you stay in there too long, well, you'll never wake up again." He smiles at her, his teeth a sickening shade of yellow. "But now, let's go on with it. A mind bend for the common folk." He opens the Cabinet and motions to usher her in. "Follow the straight line." She walks forward and enters the Cabinet, enters the darkness...
"Ellen. Ellen, wake up." She opens her eyes and sees the face in front of her: a young man, her coworker, her friend. "Are you okay?" he asks.
"I'm fine, Jeremy," she says. "Just not getting that much sleep these days."
"Maybe you should see Doctor Cloud?" Jeremy says. "Have you had your physical yet?"
"No," she says. "Not yet. I'll go, I promise."
"Okay," he says.
She wants to tell him about her dream. She wants to tell him about the circus and the magician, about the Cabinet of Dreams, about everything. But she remembers the silent darkness of the Cabinet and she can't say a word.
She pops another caffeine pill and remembers the magician's words: "If you stay in there too long, well, you'll never wake up again."