“Are you comfortable?” asked Jacqueline, the technical assistant, as she stooped down to check the placement of the metal discs affixed to Connor’s forehead. She was a tall woman who wore her long hair braided in dreadlocks. Her otherwise beautiful face was disfigured by a large birthmark that covered her right cheek, but she seemed unconscious of this as she walked gracefully among the project’s participants now preparing for bed.
“Yes, no problem at all,” Connor said. He felt a sudden wave of friendliness toward the woman. “How is everything with you today?”
“Oh, it could be better, I suppose. My boyfriend and I had another knockdown argument last night. We probably woke up half the Bronx with our shouting.”
“Sorry to hear.”
“Don’t worry about it. Every relationship has its ups and downs.” Jacqueline gave a short laugh. “Ours just has more than most.”
“I wouldn’t know. It’s been so long since I went out on a date I can’t even remember what it was like.”
Jacqueline tousled Connor’s hair playfully. “You’ve got jokes. I like guys who are funny.” She broke off and twisted her head to look at someone who was standing outside Connor’s angle of view. “I’ll be with you in a moment, Mr. Smithers. You be patient now and soon it will be your turn.”
“Please hurry,” Connor heard a shrill voice complain. “I haven’t got all night.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with that man,” the technician said as she turned back to Connor and checked the two discs attached to the back of his neck. She relaxed then and nodded. “That’s it. You just rest now. And when those bright lights go out, you have yourself some very pleasant dreams.”
“Thanks.” Connor watched Jacqueline as she walked away and noticed how her hips swayed rhythmically beneath her white uniform.
Connor had brought his camera along to help put himself in the right mood for the coming dream. Now he carefully placed it on a small nightstand beside the bed where it wouldn’t fall. That done, he settled his head back on the pillow and waited. When the room went dark, he drifted effortlessly into a sound sleep.
At once Connor found himself standing on the edge of a pond hidden somewhere in the wilderness. Thick woods, their foliage a riot of fall colors, encroached on every side. On the opposite shore he could make out a small shack not much larger than a tool shed. The pond’s waters, undisturbed by any wind, reflected the late afternoon sun. A ripple passed across the surface every few moments as fish rose to the top to feed. It was as tranquil a scene as could be imagined, and Connor felt his cares slide away from him as he breathed the fresh woodland air deeply into his lungs. “I wonder where I am,” he said aloud.
“Walden Pond,” said a voice behind him.
Connor whirled around. The blonde student whom he met on campus a few days earlier was standing directly behind him. Somehow he was not surprised to see her there.
“Isn’t it peaceful here?” Deirdre asked, her rhetorical question an echo of Connor’s own thoughts.
“Is this really Walden Pond?” Connor asked, though he knew in his heart it was.
“Oh, yes. That’s Thoreau’s cabin standing on the other side. Can you believe how small it is?” Deirdre was wearing jeans and a homespun top and had tied around her forehead a bandana imprinted with peace symbols. Her voice was filled with excitement.
“It’s not the original, though, is it? It couldn’t still be intact after all these years.”
“Yes, that’s it. Of course, it’s no longer here in our own time. All that’s here today is a replica that doesn’t really look the same no matter how historically accurate it’s supposed to be. There are only a few stone markers to show where Thoreau first set his up.”
Connor returned his gaze to the far shore. “Has anything else changed?”
“There’s an environmentally friendly parking lot somewhere nearby. The county built it because so many people come here in summer to swim. And there was once an amusement park on the western end of the pond, but it burnt down a long time ago. Mostly, things look pretty much the same as they did in Thoreau’s day.”
“I can understand why he wanted to be here. It’s quiet enough that a man can hear himself think.”
“Did you bring your camera?” asked Deirdre.
Connor looked down at his hand. Though he hadn’t been conscious of its weight, he found he was holding his digital camera by its strap. He brought it up to eye level, twisted the zoom to maximum focal length, and pushed the shutter release as he pointed the lens in the direction of Thoreau’s cabin. As he pressed the playback button, Deirdre came closer to stand beside him and to look over his shoulder at the photo displayed on the LED screen. “That’s a good shot,” she complimented him. “Sharp and in focus.”
“Thanks, but I never was much of a photographer.”
“In dreams, you can be as expert at anything as you want to be. That’s the great thing about them. There are no limits on your talents other than the ones your own imagination imposes. It’s the same as in real life. We go through our whole existence shackled by the chains we put on ourselves. All people need to do is get past the humdrum world they’re trapped in and stop worrying about money and status long enough to dream. There are masterpieces in all of us just waiting to be written down on paper or painted on canvas.”
“Yes, I guess that’s true,” Connor acknowledged after a moment’s thought. “I suppose in a dream I could create a great work of art every time I picked up a brush and palette. Or I could write a novel or play without any difficulty whatsoever. I’d just sit back and let the work that’s already inside me come pouring out.”
Deirdre was no longer listening. “It’s a shame Thoreau himself isn’t here today.” She turned toward Connor. “Where would you like to go next to take photos?”
“Can we go anywhere? Even to places I’ve never been or seen?” Connor’s tone betrayed his disbelief. “I can’t understand how that’s possible if I have no idea how those locations really looked in their own time.”
“Sure. Why not?” asked Deirdre as she saw Connor regarding her dubiously. “After all, you were never at Walden Pond before, were you? And now here you are. It’s actually very easy. Just think of where you’d like to be, and we can be there before you know it.”
Connor smiled. “If that’s true, then there’s a place in England we’ve got to go see.”
“Just close your eyes.”
“Whatever you say.” Connor gripped Deirdre’s hand and shut his eyes tightly.
In the next instant, Connor found himself standing on a damp wet sidewalk in a rundown industrial neighborhood. Deirdre was once again at his side. “Is this where you wanted to be?” she asked as she took in her surroundings. Her voice was so uncertain that it was immediately obvious to Connor that she’d had no idea beforehand where he had intended to travel in his dream.
“You bet it is,” Connor almost shouted in his enthusiasm. “I can’t believe I’m really here.” He wanted to pinch himself as he looked in wonder at the rundown brick warehouse in front of him. A huge crowd had gathered outside. Most were in their late teens or early twenties, men in frumpy suits smoking cigarettes and women wearing knee length skirts and primping their beehive hairdos.
“It doesn’t look like anything much. And what’s with that smell of rotten fruit?” Deirdre put her hand over her nose. “Ewww, that’s disgusting.”
“Ignore it. It’s not important,” said Connor impatiently. “Downstairs is where it’s all happening.” Connor pointed to a sign hanging in front that read “The Cavern.”
Deirdre caught on then and clapped her hands in glee. “Oh, Donny, you still love rock & roll, don’t you?”
Connor laughed. “You’re so excited that you can’t even remember my name.”
Deirdre blushed prettily. “Oh, that was a slip, wasn’t it? Forget I said it.”
Connor let it pass. He moved forward with Deirdre at his side and made his way through the crowd without any interference from either those waiting to get in or the bouncers holding back the line. No one asked them to pay for admittance. On a wall he saw a tattered calendar pulled back to August 1963. The 3rd was circled in red.
Inside, the place was packed. Some patrons were sitting at tables but most were standing and yelling at the top of their lungs. At one end of the room was a small stage with a rounded arch extending over the proscenium.
“I can’t wait to see this,” said Connor to a laughing Deirdre.
Four young guys incongruously dressed in suits and ties suddenly appeared onstage and the entire room went berserk. There was no other word to describe it. Over the deafening shouts, the Beatles launched into their first song. For well over an hour, they played a frenetic rock & roll set that could barely be heard over the screams of the audience. Chuck Berry and Little Richard covers were interspersed among the band’s own original lyrics. It made no difference. The audience loved them all.
“Wow,” said Deirdre when it was all over and she and Connor were making their exit. They moved along the sidewalk beside teenagers who would now be old men and women in the twenty-first century. “That was too much. It’s the first time I ever saw them play live.”
“I should think it would be. The band had already broken up by the time I was born. Their recordings were already oldies the first time I heard them. But tonight when they played ‘She Loves You,’ it was still a new song. Lennon and McCartney only wrote it last month.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Deirdre out of tune. She grinned at Connor. “Are you having fun?”
“Hey, this is the best dream I’ve ever had. That’s all I know.”
“I’m so glad.” Deirdre leaned forward and kissed Connor on the cheek. “It’s very important to me that you enjoy yourself.”
“Why?” he couldn’t help asking.
“Because you’re dear to me, silly. That’s why.” She squeezed his hand.
Hours later, when Connor awoke in the laboratory to see the sun shining through the windows, he felt marvelously refreshed and caught himself humming old Beatles tunes while he showered. When he returned to pick up his things, he found his camera lying on the table beside the bed where he’d left it. “Damn,” he said to himself, “I didn’t think to take any photos the whole time we were in Liverpool. I didn’t even take any shots of Deirdre.” He chuckled. “What a shame. She looked so pretty.”