The Lichen Story by Cameron Kobes

I don’t get a name in this story. Hell, why would I? I’m not the one having the dream. The one having the dream, he has a name. I’m just a freak his subconscious cooked up. How do you like that? I don’t even get an identity, I’m just made of pieces his mind put together. You ask me, that’s not right. You ask me, I drew the short stick in a bad way. But who asks me? I’m not even a character. The dreamer’s the character. He probably thinks this whole thing is about him. He can think what he wants, I don’t care.

It’s a desert, this place. Flat, red, dry. There’s an asphalt road going off into the distance both ways. Is it east and west? Is it north and south? Hard to say. This is dream country. There are no directions. Looking at a blue sky overhead, no clouds. He doesn’t dream about clouds, I guess. He does dream about gas stations though, that’s where I am. If you have a road in the middle of the desert, you need a gas station. I suppose that makes sense.

But, this gas station, dig it! The gas pump here, looks like that rust on it’s a hundred years old. And this building, what kind of gas station has a building like that? Two-story-tall gas station, how do you like that? Up on stilts, with a set of stairs going up to it. Here I am, sitting on the stairs, just a character in somebody else’s dream. What’s this on me, on the building? I’m coated with this stuff, what is it?

Oh, lord. Lichens. This whole building is covered in these glowing-green dried-up lichens. And as far as I can tell, I’m part of the building. My ass is stuck down on this step, and these lichens are coating every inch of my body. Am I even wearing clothes? I can’t tell. The lichens are on everything. Except my eyes, seems like they aren’t covered up.

Shit. I can’t blink. The jerk didn’t think to dream me up some eyelids. What an asshole.

Hey, here’s something. I can see really well. Staring across the desert, I can see for miles, and miles, and miles…

But it’s all in his head though, so this isn’t much of a skill. Anyway, seeing doesn’t do me any good if I can’t move.

Damn. These lichens are starting to itch.

Oh, hey, I think I found our dreamer. Looks to me like he’s in a town way down the road, outside the desert. Can’t see much of the town though, that’s all pretty indistinct. I can only make out the building he’s in. Looks like a cheap fast-food restaurant, people sitting at plastic tables eating burgers, everything is red and yellow, they’re giving cash to cashiers…

That’s a lot of cash though. And there, under that golden arch, that’s a vault. What kind of restaurant has a vault?

Oh, I get it. He’s dreaming about a combined bank and restaurant. Weird thing to dream about, you ask me. But what do I know?

Here’s our guy. He’s at a table laughing, with a bunch of people staring at him like he’s a lunatic. No shoes, no pants, just a t-shirt and his undies. Can’t hear him, but I can read his lips. He’s talking to the people around him, saying to them: “What are you all staring at? This is how I normally dress.”

That’s the dreamer. This jerk, dreaming me up so I can have lichens growing out of my skin with their stringy little roots going down into my pores and under my fingernails and up my nostrils and into my ears. Goddamn, this itches.

They’re watching him like he’s crazy, and he laughs it all off. He still thinks this is about him. The more I watch him, the more I hate him. Who are they to him? Who am I to him? We’re the thoughts he doesn’t want, he doesn’t need, he doesn’t care about. We’re nothing. We’re shit.

He’s getting up, he’s on the road, he’s driving a car my direction. It’ll take him a while to get out here. If only he wouldn’t come here at all. I wish he wouldn’t, I wish he’d leave me alone. But he’s the one calling the shots. It’s his dream, not mine.

Okay, here he is. Car pulls up by the pump, he gets out, still in his underwear. He’s looking at me, right over at me. He’s coming to the bottom of the stairs, he stops, he looks up. He looks at me, sitting here with my ass stuck on the stairs because he put me here. This prick, this dreaming asshole, this fucker has the nerve to stick me here with no existence or identity of my own, and stare at me like he doesn’t fucking know me? Who the fuck does he think he is?

He looks at me, and he’s scared. It’s all over his face, all over the way he moves. He’s tentative; his palms are sweaty, he’s afraid to speak. When he does speak, he’s got a weak quiver in his voice.

“Can…can I buy food here?” he asks.

Can you buy food? Can I have my own life? I don’t get what I want, why should you get what you want? None of us get what we want. But I can’t answer. I can’t move, except my eyes. All I can do is sit, lichens growing out of my skin, and stare at this prick. He tries to stare back, but he can’t. He averts his eyes and shudders. He’s terrified of me. He turns away. He doesn’t dare me in the face. That’s right, you fucker. Be afraid. Be afraid of what’s in your head, you son-of-a-bitch.

How hideous I am to him! But how hideous can I be, when he’s the one who made me? Did I ask to be made monstrous? Is any of this my doing? No, it’s this loathsome dreamer who’s done it! Damn this dreamer, damn him to hell! I hope he dreams of hell later, a brave new nightmare. One can only hope.

He’s getting back in the car. There he goes, he’s driving away. But I’m looking down the road that way, as far as I can see, and all I see is desert. Just the desert in his mind, going on for miles. He’ll wake up before he comes to the end of the road. And when he wakes up, that’s the end of me. No more existence for this poor soul with lichens on his body. I’m here for his night, and then I’m gone. Bet he won’t even remember me.

But hey, that’s okay. I’m not bitter. The dreamer maketh and the dreamer unmaketh. Sweet dreams unto the dreamer. I’m just gonna sit here, itching, and hope that he wakes up soon.

*My name is Cameron Kobes, and I’m currently a senior at Pacific Lutheran University, expecting to graduate in May 2015. I am majoring in English with an emphasis in fiction writing, and I am double-minoring in Religion and Philosophy. The majority of the fiction I’ve written has been fantasy, but I am beginning to explore other styles, including surrealism and magic realism. I am originally from Toppenish, WA, but I have been living in Tacoma since 2011.