"I Can Wake Up If I Want To"
"I Can Wake Up If I Want To"
Rory hated sleep. Even after long hours of learning nine times eight, throwing sticks for Gus the dog, and playing kickball with Mickey next door, Rory hated sleep. He had a good reason, too. At least once a week, when Rory slept, he met someone terrible.
In the daytime, nothing frightened Rory. Falling on gravel didn’t bother him. Taking tests didn’t upset him. Visiting the dentist didn’t worry him. Scary movies just made him laugh. Nothing frightened Rory while his eyes stayed open.
But when Rory slept, he dreamed. And when he dreamed, things happened. Ogres jumped at him from bushes. Toys exploded in his face. Meteors lit his hair on fire. Skeletons chased him off cliffs. He could never find a hiding place, or he didn’t fit, or the door was glued shut. His legs felt stiff as wood.
“I hate sleep,” Rory told Mickey one day. “My dreams scare me. I’m planning to quit sleeping. Instead I’ll watch TV, play games against myself, eat cheese sandwiches with pickles, read books, then get dressed and go to school or watch cartoons.”
Mickey kicked the kickball. “Why do you let those ogres in?” he asked Rory.
“What do you mean, let them in?” Rory argued. “I don’t invite them. They just show up.”
“Well,” suggested Mickey, “you could kick them out.”
Rory frowned. “How?”
“When you have a nightmare,” explained Mickey, “do what I do. Look the ogre in the eyes and yell, ‘I can wake up if I want to!’”
Rory shook his head. “Sure, Mickey. I shout, ‘I can wake up if I want to,’ and he cries and runs away. Sure.”
“Okay, it doesn’t always work,” admitted Mickey. “Sometimes I forget to say it, or my mouth won’t move. Sometimes the monster attacks me. But sometimes he disappears. Try it.”
That night, Rory dreamed an ogre peeked in his window. The ogre’s long nose pressed against the glass. He had sunken silver eyes, a stubbly beard, and mean lips. Rory screamed, but no sound came out. The ogre crashed through the window and pounced on Rory’s chest.
Wriggling and fighting, Rory gasped for breath. His lungs hurt. He couldn’t beat the ogre. Finally he gasped and hollered, “I can wake up if I want to!”
Suddenly Rory sat up in his bed, alone. Sweat drizzled down his face. Gus’s furry body slumbered on the floor. “Gus,” whispered Rory, “you sleep in my bed.” With Gus curled next to him, Rory pulled aside his window curtain. The window was not broken.
A week later, Rory dreamed his friend Carlisle wanted to talk about math. “Sixteen is four groups of four,” said Rory to Carlisle.
“Well, three plus three plus THREE plus THREE!” shrieked Carlisle, as his eyes bulged on metal stalks. His ears melted into strings, and his arm became a concrete block. “Aaaagghhh!” screeched Carlisle, swinging his concrete arm at Rory’s head.
Rory’s feet stuck to the ground. NO! he thought silently. You’re not Carlisle! You’re a monster!
Then Rory found his voice. Facing Carlisle, he screamed, “I can wake up if I want to!”
“No, you can’t!” yelled Carlisle. But Rory threw off his blankets, hopped out of bed and switched on his light. Carlisle was gone. Pulling his class picture from a shelf, Rory stared at Carlisle. Two soft blue eyes smiled. Rory and Carlisle had been friends since preschool.
Five nights later, Rory had another nightmare. This time he sat by himself on a floor, in an empty gray room without windows or doors. Very slowly, the walls to his right and left began moving toward him. They scratched loudly across the floor. The room grew narrower as the walls slid closer to each other. Rory shivered in the middle. He knew if the walls kept moving, they’d ram together and flatten him.
Now they stood inches from his shoulders. A moment more and he’d be squashed. Rory lifted his head and shouted at the room. “I can wake up if I want to!”
The walls vanished. Rory lay on his bed, hugging Gus. Moonlight gleamed through the curtains. His walls looked normal. Nothing moved except Gus, breathing gently, and Rory, panting hard.
“I’ve been trying your trick,” Rory told Mickey on the school bus. “When I have a nightmare, I say, ‘I can wake up if I want to.’”
“Really?” asked Mickey. “And what happens?”
“I wake up,” said Rory.
Mickey nodded. “Good.”
“The dreams still scare me,” Rory added.
Mickey shrugged. “I know. Mine scare me, too. They just end quicker now.”
The next night, Rory dreamed an ogre crouched beneath the basement stairs. The ogre oozed out and grabbed Rory’s legs. Rory tripped and landed in a pile of ropes. Tying Rory to a post, the ogre grabbed both of Rory’s arms and snarled, “Dinner.”
“I can wake up if I want to!” Rory announced.
“WHAT?” demanded the ogre. “You can WHAT?”
“I CAN WAKE UP IF I WANT TO!” Rory bellowed.
Squeezing its only eye, the ogre oozed away beneath the stairs. The basement filled with kids playing kickball. Rory tossed the ropes away and joined the game. Soon the kickball changed into a coconut. Rory cracked it open and ate it till the sunlight woke him up.
“Hey, Mickey,” Rory declared after school, “last night I told an ogre, ‘I can wake up if I want to,’ but I didn’t wake up.”
“You didn’t?” Mickey looked surprised. “Did it smush you?”
“No. The bad dream turned into a good dream, so I stayed asleep.” Rory paused. “I figured out why dream monsters are so mean.”
“Why?” asked Mickey.
“Because they know they’re fake,” said Rory. “They know you’ll wake up and they’ll disappear, and that makes them mad.”
"So they try to scare you,” Mickey agreed.
“But the joke’s on them,” Rory smiled, “because when you say ‘I can wake up if I want to,’ you win.”
© Suzanne Werkema