Chapter 1: Mrs. Corum
I hope you enjoy this story. In it we are introduced to Mrs. Corum, a lovely person, albeit a tired person. I haven’t decided on a title for this project yet, so for now we’ll just go with the Chapter titles. This is part 1 of 30. Happy NaNoWriMo!
Mrs. Corum opened her eyes and yawned. She barely remembered the previous night, no doubt one punctuated by grading papers and planning lessons. One wouldn’t think that 6th grade could be as hectic as the 2nd graders she’d left a few years back, but it surely was. At least the kids were a little less rambunctious, on most days. Nights felt like they were sent from God in heaven – a time away from the noise and activity. She could rest in her bed, away from the job and the world, for a blissful 8 (or more commonly, 5) hours.
At age 58, Mrs. Corum had the weathered appearance of a veteran of the teaching ranks. Red pens littered her desks at home and at school, and decades of home made (or rather, school made) thank you cards from students were carefully pinned up on the walls in her makeshift office at home. She smiled to herself when she thought of her students, who in just a few years would be embarrassed to even associate with her. Tweens, as they were called today, could still, on occasion, find her ‘cool enough’ to associate with. But they rarely came back after they made the transition to middle school. They had full lives ahead of them, and they were busily planning how to fill them with new experiences, new activities, and new trends. They had little time for their old teachers, even teachers who may have had them for multiple years, as she did with some of her 6th graders. She remembered them as young 2nd grade students learning their spelling words and perfecting their reading, and remembered them as 6th graders, more and more worldly by the day. She spent those first few minutes that morning thinking of former and current students, sad that she would never get to know them as college students or adults, and then mentally prepared herself for the day.
“What day is it?”, she asked aloud to no one. She lived alone, had never married, and had a nasty habit of talking to herself. She used to explain it away as simply talking to her cat, Randolph, until he passed away a few years earlier. Now she spoke to herself whenever the need arose. And on this morning, with it’s intruding brightness in her window, she felt so out of touch that she definitely needed someone, anyone, to speak to.
In reflecting on the mental calendar in her head, while searching to find her glasses (which she would realize, amazingly, were already on her face), she found herself thinking it was sometime in mid-May, and while summer approached, it would not be here soon enough. Her 6th graders were just as anxious to graduate as she was to see them off. She didn’t exactly dislike this class, but after 36 years, she had entertained the thought of retirement on more than one occasion. This last month had been pretty taxing, and she wondered if it might be time to notify her principal that she wouldn’t be returning in the fall. She loved her work and her students, but she was tired, and the promise of retirement was as attractive as ever. Time marched on, perhaps it was time for her to do something different in life than she had before. Maybe like her students before her, she was ready to ‘grow up’ and never look back.
“Oh dear, I’ve been muddling my thoughts again”, she said, out loud once again. ‘Muddling thoughts’ had been a favorite expression of her mother, for when one lets one’s mind wander here and there, everywhere and nowhere, all at once. Mrs. Corum had done that all her life, since she was a little girl. Her parents found it amusing. She did not share their view. It was a problem that kept her from focusing, and she mentally chastised herself for it.
Determined to actually get up and get ready for work, she found she had already absentmindedly stood up and gotten dressed. She wore an outfit straight out of the stereotypical teacher handbook. A white blouse plenty opaque enough to prevent the more developed male students from seeing the plain white bra underneath. A gray knee-length skirt, and a light yellow sweater, faded from years of use. Long straight hair held into a tight bun. Socks and sensible shoes rounded out the ensemble. She hoped today wasn’t a Friday, when she usually dressed more casually. She reflected on how she must have been super muddled to not have noticed herself dressing. But it wasn’t the first time it happened, and likely wouldn’t be the last. She took mental stock of her situation: She was dressed, she had no need to visit the bathroom for seemingly any function, and she wasn’t particularly hungry. The last part also wasn’t particularly unusual – she was no stranger to skipping meals. Blessed by a metabolism that kept her going despite her bad habits, she hadn’t ever suffered by her lack of regular food. It wasn’t uncommon for her to go a day or so without more than a piece of hard candy from the bowl on her desk, and a cup or two of coffee. So the fact that she wasn’t hungry didn’t bother her. What did bother her, however, was what she noticed next.
Mrs. Corum, standing there fully dressed, stared out into the world around her, quite aware, for the first time, that she wasn’t in her house. In fact, she wasn’t anywhere that she’d ever seen before.
“Oh My”, she uttered. “Where the hell am I?”
The momentary lapse of her ‘school appropriate’ vocabulary highlighted just how amazingly bizarre the situation was. She stood looking out into a world she’d never seen before.
The first question was one most would find obvious to answer: Was she dreaming? After all, she had just been asleep, perhaps she remained so. She had heard of some dreams that include bits of waking consciousness, and so it might not be all that strange to be aware of oneself in one’s dream. A student had done a report a few years back on ‘lucid dreaming’, a new-age quack method of controlling one’s own dreams. Perhaps she’d figured out how to do this, which would explain why she chose to spend the first few minutes of her dream thinking of food, retirement, and other daily thoughts.
Quickly she scanned her memory for the information the student had presented. She recalled that he had said that individuals who lucid dream are able to control their dreams. She thought of a friend of hers, Lucy, and mentally tried to summon her into her dream. When she opened her eyes, however, Lucy did not appear. This was disappointing – it would have been nice to have someone to talk to.
“Perhaps I can fly”, she said, recalling that was another element of the report. The student had shown a video that mentioned that flying was a frequent desire during a lucid dream. She attempted to flap her arms, as if she were swimming. Her arms worked well enough, but she went nowhere, and immediately thought of how stupid she must look. She tried once more, jumping forward into the sky hoping to take off like Superman, but sadly she simply fell back to earth. At least jumping worked the same here, she thought, after landing on her feet.
“Well, the old standby”, she sighed as she began to pinch her arms. And while she felt the pinches, no awake state occurred for her. In fact, the pinching didn’t even seem to hurt. She reflected on this for a moment – perhaps one can’t truly pinch themselves, just as it is nearly impossible to tickle oneself. Perhaps she needed someone else in the dream to pinch her. What if there was no one else? She thought back to previous dreams, and realized she’d never had one where she was completely alone. This made her feel a little better. Someone would show up eventually, even if that someone wasn’t a friend like Lucy. Right now she’d take her high school boyfriend (the one who had dumped her before Prom), or her least favorite student, or Godzilla, or anyone who wanted to make an appearance.
“I guess I’ll just wait”, she said, forcing a small laugh after it. What a ludicrous situation – waiting to wake up. The most boring dream ever. ‘What did you dream about last night’, Lucy might ask at work the next day. ‘Nothing – it was the most boring dream I’ve ever had’, would be her reply. It would certainly brighten up the conversation during their free period the next day. At least she thought she’d have a free period the next day – she still couldn’t remember exactly what day it was.
Time passed, At least Mrs. Corum thought it had passed. Funny thing about dreams – there aren’t any clocks apparently in them. Mrs. Corum walked around the dream for awhile, amazed at the space she found herself in.
In previous dreams, she had always been in places she knew. Her home, her classroom, her high school gymnasium, wherever. Even if it wasn’t a location well known to her, it was a location that made sense. In a home, or in a store, or out in a field. But this place – this place was unlike any she’d seen.
First off, she wasn’t sure if she was inside or outside. There appeared to be a light source somewhere, but it was a throughly cloudy day. The overcast sort of day she was used to growing up around and living in. She’d grown up in the northeast, where on some winter weeks, the sun made no direct appearance. If the sun was out, it was impossible to see where it might be. A light breeze ruffled through the air every so often, and the temperature seemed comfortable, almost controlled. Those were the elements that made one think they were outside. However other things pointed to a different situation. The ground was mostly even, and covered in a cushioned material, a bit like carpet. It was also grey, but slightly darker than the sky. She laid down upon it for a few moments, and found it was cool, but not cold. And while walking on it was easy and firm, laying on it seemed as if it had more give. From time to time it would seem to creak as she walked, almost as if it was moving with her in the opposite direction. The same location wouldn’t creak moments later.
Then there was the matter of the walls, or lack thereof. While she could sense that she was walking away from a given spot, she had no way to gauge how far she’d gotten. There were no boundaries, wall or otherwise, to reference off of, and while the ground was a uniform color, she somehow could sense when she’d moved far away from her previous location. Then, as she looked back on it, it would be just out of sight. How she knew it was just out of sight was a mystery, since everything ran together. Nonetheless, as she walked around in large circles, she always seemed to know when she’d returned back to the starting point, despite the size of the circle.
Throughout the entire dream, she saw no evidence of other people or even of herself leaving footprints on the ground. She heard nothing other than the sound of her own movements. It was almost as if her sense had been muted to anything other than her own actions.
It seemed like hours that she circled and paced, thinking of all of the things that this dream might represent. She recalled her college psychology course, and the crazy theories on dream interpretation her professor had spoke of. Certainly this dream broke any theory Freud or others may have had. At least the dream explained why she hadn’t needed to use the bathroom or eat anything – try as she might, she couldn’t remember any other dream that included a bathroom break or snack. But as the time grew on, she began to become more and more impatient. While she knew that if she was dreaming, then she was sleeping and therefore getting rest for the next day, she felt as though she were wasting time. She was frustrated by her inability to snap out of the dream, to get back to reality. And further frustrated by her inability to control the dream – this certainly wasn’t what lucid dreams were according to the report she’d heard by her student. This was perhaps a lucid nightmare. The same thing, over and over.
Somewhat later that day, or night, or something, the sky around her began to get a bit dimmer. Not dark, and not exactly twilight, but dim. Almost as if a light covering had been pulled down over the world around her. She had no idea what this could signify, but she was ecstatic that it was happening. It was the first sign of change since she’d realized she was dreaming. She hoped that this meant that the dream would soon be over. She mentally prepared herself to wake up. She’d have to remember this dream for sure – perhaps write it down so she could tell everyone the details. Boy would her students get a kick out of this when she told them about it tomorrow.
But alas, the dream ending never came. Another eternity later, the sky seemed to undim itself gradually. It was at that point that Mrs. Corum began to worry that it wasn’t really a dream.
But if it wasn’t a dream, what was it? She quickly scanned her mind for options. Perhaps she was abducted by aliens? Or maybe she’d gone insane? Or maybe she was abducted by insane aliens? She spent what she supposed were hours thinking them through. She kept coming back to the same troubling facts that couldn’t be explained by anything she thought up.
First was the basic human functioning problem. She hadn’t eaten or drank anything since arriving here. She didn’t need to use the bathroom, and she also didn’t seem to be getting tired in any way. It was as if her functions were simply on hold. She also had done a bit of testing since arriving here that had worrisome results – apparently she didn’t really need to breathe. She would hold her breath for as long as she could, and get bored before she would start to feel any effects of it. However at one point, as she held her breath, she stumbled and hit the ground. She felt pressure on her neck and chest as she fell, and whatever wind had been in her was knocked out. No pain, but it certainly felt as though it could have been just as life threatening here as it would have been anywhere else.
Aside from the human functioning problem, she also found it rather strange that such an environment could exist as the world she was in. How can a world be devoid of any difference in form and function, yet still have areas which seem distant and near? How could she find the same spot with only a strong internal compass indicating she was right. Finally after experiencing this a number of times, she decided to test it out.
She stood at a spot and took off her shoes, leaving them behind while she ran at full speed away. She then took a series of zig-zags and sprints, before she felt throughly removed from her previous location. Finally she stopped, realizing that she was not out of breath despite quite a bit of physical activity (another oddity), and focused on her location. She turned about 30 degrees and began walking. Within about 20 minutes, something was visible on the ground on the horizon. Sure enough, she found her shoes waiting there, right where she seemingly left them. It was at this point that she sat on the ground and cried until it became dim again.
This was enough to drive someone insane, she concluded, if she weren’t insane already.
“I can’t take this”, she said as she stood up. The sky had brightened again, and Mrs. Corum had decided that she was going to figure this crazy world out. If this was a dream, there had to be a way to jolt herself awake. So she set about looking for that way.
For several hours, maybe, she found herself running and jumping into the air, crashing down to the ground. Each time she felt the pressure of the fall, but no pain. After awhile, she gave up on that method.
Realizing that all of the running and jumping had given her internal compass a bit more information on the world around her, she decided to test it’s boundaries. So she walked and walked, hoping to find an end. While she certainly got farther and farther away from where she had been, no edge could be found. From time to time something differed – the ground might slope ever so slightly upward, or the sky may seem dimmer or lighter in spots, or the breeze may be more or less intense, but that was the extent of it. However with each passing moment, she became more resolved to find out where she could possibly be. If she were crazy, than she might as well be throughly crazy. If she were dreaming, then she might as well have the dream to end all dreams. And if the aliens were watching, than she might as well put on a show.
It was as she was crossing from a small valley to a subtle hill that she encountered something she had given up all hope of ever seeing again.
“Hello”, the woman’s voice said.