Laughter By D.I. Jolly
At five years old, Johnny was the oldest person he knew. Unlike most people, whose brains stopped recording when they went to sleep, his continued like normal. Every time he slept, he lived whole lifetimes in the dream world. His parents believed their special boy was just a bit airy and would settle as he got older. However, when he had realised that he was the only one who lived like that, he’d also decided not to burden anyone with the knowledge.
To him, the real world seemed a temporary place, where time passed very quickly and moments were exactly that. It was uncomfortable, crowded and chaotic. The dream world he lived in made much more sense, it was ordered and since he was particularly smart, it was also vast.
At age five he felt like he’d lived a thousand years, and pretending to be a child for 16 hours out of every few years was difficult. But he managed, mostly. He came across as a distant, sleepy child who didn’t interact with other children much and, if caught off guard, spoke like a man his mental age, which frightened adults and confused children. All things considered, his parents couldn’t be blamed for what they did, they weren’t to know that sending him to his friend Josh’s house for his first sleepover would have the effect it had.
Johnny, although mentally old, still suffered from a very limited set of life experiences. As much as the dream world affected who he was in the real world, the real world could affect the entire dream world. So, during his first sleepover, when Josh’s elder brother put an aged 18 horror movie on, the first 30 minutes were all Johnny’s mind needed to change him forever. That night, the dream world was no longer safe and when he stopped to listen, he could hear the faint sound of laughter coming from somewhere. As time dragged on and the oppressive feeling grew, so did the laughter and his fear of it. Until finally, he came face to face with a man who stared down at him and whispered,
“Don’t play with me child. I will reach inside your mind and introduce you to my nightmares. And then! And then! You will truly understand the meaning of fear.”
And then he laughed that terrifying, haunting laughter that came from everywhere.
When Josh’s parents woke up, they were surprised to find their son’s little friend sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and looking old. Johnny had lost all inclination to play young. In his time asleep, he’d learnt just how little he really knew about the world and encountered horrors that the real world couldn’t possibly recreate. His dream world had become a nightmare-filled hellscape that he knew he was destined to spend millennia in, fighting and suffering, save for his blessed moments of relief in the real.
“Good morning, I hope I didn’t wake you; I was trying to be as quiet as possible. You don’t mind that I helped myself, do you?”
He lifted up the coffee cup.
“Wonderful stuff this, I’m new to it but can already feel we’re becoming friends.”
A sad but genuine smile spread across his face as a few tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I’m just so happy to be here, with you wonderful people. Being awake, being alive, it’s so unbelievably beautiful here. Everything is just so …”
He let out a long sigh and then finished his cup with a few quick swallows. He then refilled it from the pot while Josh’s parents stared on in surprise.
“You know, you two really are lucky to have each other and the children. But you better keep an eye on them because let me tell you. One day you’ll blink, and they’ll be moving out to start their own families. Life is just so fleeting that way. But I suppose that’s what makes it all so precious.”
A soft laugh slipped out as he finished another cup.
“Well, I should probably get going. Can’t spend all my time sitting here drinking coffee and waxing lyrical. The world is out there, waiting to be experienced. God… I just can’t get over how beautiful everything is, don’t you think?”
He looked at the two stunned faces of people who had, until that point, always considered Johnny to be a bit slow. But he laughed again, jumped off his chair and left, set to walk himself home, hoping to take in as much of the real world as he could, before having to return to the hell of his own making.