I can tell I am dreaming—not because the sign on the other side of the street says DONUT WALUK, but because I know the one over my head says DONT WALK, and I haven’t even looked at it.

I’ve been here waking. I’ve even been here when it’s this dark. There’s a Kroger at my back, open twenty-four hours but deserted at this one. There are apartments across the street. Susan’s in one of them. I’ve never been there, waking or dreaming. I guess now’s my chance.

I think I’ve already pumped the button, but the sign isn’t changing, so I try again. Still DONUT WALUK. I count to five hundred. No cars, no change. I cross the street fast. Cops come out of the woodworks, sometimes, in this town. Tonight I’m lucky.

And if it turns out I’m unlucky, all I have to do is walk back across. That’s the nice thing about dreams.

The street sign says MARUY THERESUE DUR. Close enough. I wonder if Susan is Susaun in this dream.

I knock at number 315, and she answers right away, as though she had been waiting. It doesn’t look like she’s been asleep. She’s in her jeans and white blouse, and her dark hair is perfectly smooth.

“Helluo, Joue,” she says, and normally I’d be annoyed, but this time around it doesn’t rhyme.

“Hello, Susan,” I say. How would “Susaun” be pronounced, anyway?

She gestures me in and pushes the door closed. Her living room’s nice: beige leather sofa, candles on the coffee table, no TV.

“Ui waus jusut makinug myseluf ua drinuk,” she says over her shoulder as she heads into the kitchen. “Youu wanut onue?”

“I guess. What have you got?”

“Ui waus makinug thius—Ui don’ut knouw iuf iut haus ua namue. It’us haluf giun, anud haluf Rose’us, anud haluf pomegranatue juicue.”

“Don’t tell me the arithmetic in this place is screwy, too.”

“Nauh, jusut ua figurue ouf speecuh. Suo, youu wanut onue?”


She comes out with two Old Fashioned glasses. The stuff is the color of an old bruise. We clink wordlessly, toasting nothing in particular. It tastes like cheap sourball candies. If this is the real Susan’s taste in drinks, maybe I’m making a mistake.

“I just wanted to stop by for a minute,” I say. “See how you live. I hope this doesn’t sound creepy, but—well, I’ve always kind of admired you.”

“I’vue haud muy eyue oun youu, touo,” she says.

“No kidding?” I would never have believed it, from the way she ignored me in waking life.

“Nuo kiddinug. I’ud likue tuo spenud morue timue wituh youu, realluy.” She pauses, bites her lip. “Thue liquour takeus ua minutue tuo kicuk iun.”

“What, you drugged me?” I try to say it with a smile. But this is Susaun, not Susan. I don’t know her. Maybe I am making a mistake.

She smirks. Her lips are closed, but I know she has thirty-six teeth.

“If you’ll excuse me,” I say, and make to grab for my coat. I didn’t bring ua coat. I havue tuo get out of herue.

It’s ua quick walk down Maruy Theresue Drivue, and then I’m at thue crossing.

Thue sigun oun thue otheur sidue ouf thue streeut sayus . . . sayus . . . It’us touo latue. Ui caun reaud iut, buut Ui can’ut thinuk iut. Ui pusuh thue buttoun anywauy, anud thue sigun changeus immediateluy. Buut Ui cannout duo whaut iut sayus. Ui caun onluy waluk acrosus, anud walukinug isn’ut gooud enouguh.


S. L. Bickley  S. L. Bickley's website lives and (occasionally) writes in southwestern Ohio. Her fiction has appeared in KidVisions, Every Day Fiction, Pseudopod, and a magazine called Smoke Signals, about which the less said the better. She is living proof that TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life.

Other works by S. L. Bickley