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Art by Sam Loree

Dinner Dreams

Gabrielle Pelayo

Not even an alien invasion could motivate me to get up.

I’ve been laying in bed for the whole day. It may be 4pm but I feel too miserable to be 

productive. I’ve had terrible non-stop jaw pain for three days straight. Regular ibuprofen doesn’t help me, so my mom had gone out yesterday to pick me up some more muscle relaxers since I had run out. I heard this brand is really strong and I shouldn’t take more than one because of its strength. To test out how well it worked, I took one pill before bed last night and tried to fall asleep. Slept like a baby, if a baby was capable of ignoring the feeling of a knife stabbing their jaw. But I guess it makes sense; it is a muscle relaxer after all. It’s not much different from my previous muscle relaxers, but they’re all better than ibuprofen.

But the relaxation only lasts for so long. Now I’m curled up in bed waiting for the day to 

be over and for the pain to go away. It hurts so bad that I can’t even open my mouth without my jaw bones crunching against one another, so I can’t even eat solid foods. The most I’ve been able to manage is drinks, applesauce, and pretty much anything that doesn’t involve moving my mouth up and down. I also haven’t been able to speak for the past three days for the same reason. School has been giving me grief for not participating in class (even though my doctor sent a note), and I’m pretty sure my grades are slipping. But at least my parents understand; they know how much pain I’m in and they always make sure I open my mouth as minimally as possible.

But I’m not miserable just because of my jaw pain. No, I’m also miserable because of 

dinner tonight.

My parents decided to redo the dining room not too long ago. The walls were really 

chipped and were painted the ugliest green you can imagine. The paint job was so uneven that you could see each individual brushstroke. The square table could only seat four people, yet we only had two chairs because the other two chairs “got lost” during delivery. The chairs we did have were wobbly and creaked under anyone who sat on them and put them at risk for splinters. The table was only sanded on one side, God knows why, so the other side was rough and ugly. We never reapplied the stain coating, so the wood was a very faint auburn and it just looked disgusting. To top it all off, the window was cracked (my little brother Lachlan has “enemies”), so when it got cold outside, the wind would blow into the dining room and turn it into Antarctica.

But the reason why I’m miserable is because I’ll have to actually sit in the new dining 

room with the rest of my family. Not just my parents and Lachlan, but my two uncles, my aunt, and my younger cousin Briar as well. I’m not a people person, and just the thought of being around them—even though they’re family—stresses me out. It’ll be even more awkward since I won’t be able to talk a whole lot tonight because of my jaw pain. Just imagine sitting at your dining room table surrounded by chatty relatives and you’re just sitting at the end of the table awkwardly watching and listening and poking at your dinner. The thought is so unsettling, and it seems worse because the rest of my family is going to be here in an hour.

As I stress over dinner, I hear a knock on my door. Before I can say anything, the door 

opens and I see my mom standing there. She walks into my aqua blue room and stands next to my queen size bed next to me. She looks down at me and says softly, “Merida, you should start getting ready for dinner. The family will be here soon.”

Even though my jaw is pounding, I muster the strength to mumble a few words. “But 

what about my jaw?” I ask. Mumbling makes the pain more bearable.

“I know how much it’s hurting you, so I won’t force you to talk to them.” My 

mom gives me a warm smile and rubs my head, messing up my dirty blonde locks. “But please get ready and come downstairs.”

She gives me a slight, comforting nod before walking out of my room and quietly 

shutting the door. I really don’t wanna go downstairs, but I know that my mom’s right, so I struggle out of bed and stagger sluggishly to my closet. I open it up and look inside, trying to remember which clothes I had already worn and forgot to throw in the laundry and which ones have yet to be worn. I assume I don’t have to be fancy, so I grab a plain, violet, long sleeve shirt and a pair of blue jeans. I throw them on before brushing all the tangles out of my curly hair. Then I head out of my room and into the incredibly blinding white bathroom. Looking into the large circular mirror, I brush my teeth and wash the oils off of my fifteen year old face. I make a quick stop at my room again to grab my phone, but as I’m about to leave, a sharp pain hits my jaw; it’s one of those pangs that I know is gonna be persistent. I massage it while frantically looking around for my muscle relaxer. I find it on one of my nightstands and quickly open the cap and tilt the bottle, allowing one pill to fall into my hand. 

I’m about to put it in my mouth when a thought hits me. This is the worst pain I’ve ever  

experienced; is one measly pill really gonna help? Maybe I should take two just in case, I think, but should I risk it? I think it over. Ah, to hell with it. I put another pill in the palm of my hand and down them both with water. As I swallow, I hurry downstairs.

 

Well, here we are. Dinner with the family. We’re all sitting around the new oak table on the new oak chairs surrounded by new ocean blue walls. There’s no unnecessary breeze blowing through any cracks and the paint job doesn’t make me want to vomit. There are eight of us: me, Lachlan, my mom and dad, my two uncles, my aunt, and my cousin Briar. We’re all gathered around the table eating Mom’s speciality: lasagna.

Lord knows how sick and tired I am of lasagna.

There’s so much conversation happening; I can’t pay attention to all of it. I can only hear snippets every so often:

“So Briar, are you enjoying your winter break so far?” I hear my dad ask my cousin (lucky; she gets winter break and I don’t get off till next week).

“Susan, how’s the business?” I hear my mom ask my aunt (my aunt owns a small store that sells clothes and make up. Lame. Now if it was a store that sold, I dunno, moon rocks? I’d pay attention to that).

“Uncle Thomas, when can I come over again to see Jax?” I hear Lachlan ask one of my uncles (this is the uncle who can’t score a date so he rescued a stray dog a few years ago and named it Jax. They’re the best of friends).

Everyone's talking and I can’t hear myself think anymore. I’m mindlessly poking at my dinner with my fork, destroying the pasta holding the saucy, cheesy layers together. I can imagine it begging for mercy as I squish its little arms and legs under my fork (that is, if lasagna had little arms and legs). I sigh in boredom and look out the window into the sky, eyeing the sun hovering over the horizon, the blue sky becoming darker, and the clouds turning pink and orange. “Please let this end,” I mutter to myself, throwing down my fork and massaging my jaw once more. “I would rather be abducted by aliens than sit here.”

And I guess some higher being heard my complaint. Almost immediately I sense something off, and the pain in my jaw disappears. Although I’m grateful for my medicine finally working (it feels like it kicked in a little late), it still seems odd. I glance out the window again and notice the strangest thing: a tiny shadow covering part of the sun. I squint, wanting to see more details. It raises both arms into the air and waves them, as if trying to grab my attention. Well, it’s got my attention all right, but what does it want?

I get the strange sense that someone is behind me. I mentally take note of who’s at the table. Everyone is there; the chairs are all filled. Confused, I slowly spin around in my chair. My eyes widen as a short figure rounds the corner and stands at attention in the doorway. It has a round head and a very skinny body, its skin the color of a fox, and it has big round green eyes. How did it get in the house?!

I'm feeling scared and amazed at the same time; I’ve heard of alien invasions, but I had no idea they were actually real. I never believed people when they claimed that the government was hiding all the aliens, but it seems like they were right! If it takes a real alien encounter to convince a skeptic, then damn, have I been convinced!

I take one more look at the alien and notice the thing it’s holding in its long-fingered grasp. It’s some type of weapon or something, and it resembles a water blaster. What’s so captivating about it is how familiar it looks to me. Not because it looks like a water blaster that I probably had when I was younger, but for some other strange reason. I can’t explain it; maybe I saw it in a dream once… 

I’m kind of tempted to make contact, but do I dare? It’s armed, but maybe it’s harmless. I decide to be bold, but my stuttering words give away my fear. “H-hey there, little g-guy,” I say hesitantly, standing up out of my chair and cautiously approaching the alien. “What do you have there?”

“Dr-EAM 19,” it replies in a monotonous tone, holding the blaster up.

That name: it sounds so familiar but I can’t place where in the freaking world I’ve heard it before. “What does it do?” I ask curiously.

The little alien guy motions for me to step aside. I do so, and as soon as I do, it rapidly blasts everyone sitting at the table with a purple beam of light. My family doesn’t seem to take notice. Shortly after, they melt away into puddles of purple ooze, splashing off the chairs and onto the floor. I let out a yelp, wondering if I’m next. That crazy blaster is the most advanced piece of weaponry I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and the most dangerous, seeing as my family just turned into slimy mush in the blink of an eye. I know I’ve gotta get that blaster away from it, and it doesn’t seem willing to let it go. But I need to take it before the little guy goes off on a blasting spree. I could care less about people, but do I really wanna be the last human on earth? I’m not taking any chances.

Just as I’m about to reach for the blaster, the alien leaps up onto the table, the lasagna sinking underneath its oversized feet. With the high ground, it points the blaster at my face, as if it wants me to surrender and accept death. I reach my hand into my pocket, hoping to stealthily make an emergency call to the authorities. But the alien notices my slight movements and pulls the blaster trigger. A purple beam of light makes a beeline towards my face, and out of defense, I turn my head away and hold my hands out, swinging my phone in the shot’s direct path. It melts in my hand almost immediately, the goop dripping through my fingertips. As I turn back and wipe my hand clean on my shirt, feeling relieved that I somehow managed to save myself, the alien prepares to fire again. I leap up onto the table and lunge for the weapon, but I’m a second too late. The alien jumps out of my reach and runs out of the dining room, seemingly deciding on its Plan B.

At this point I’m irritated, yet full of energy, so I chase after it. “Hey! Stop! Come back!” I shout.

The alien isn’t breaking a sweat and seems to be enjoying destroying my house. It blasts 

everything it sees, leaving me to trudge through puddles of purple slime. Occasionally I slip and slide into stuff, accidentally knocking it over, but I could care less and I continue my pursuit. A little bruise isn’t gonna stop me from capturing a real life alien! After a while, it blasts the door  and heads outside, and without hesitation, I follow it.

The alien canters down the street, blasting people and buildings alike as it goes. No one 

seems to notice the chase nor the fact that they’re turning into slime. “Hey! Watch out! Get inside! This thing is dangerous!” I call out to them, but they don’t seem to hear me. If anything, they turn and stare like I’m crazy! Strange, I think to myself. What’s going on? Why isn’t anybody concerned that a strange creature’s running around killing everyone? Is it just me?

I feel like I’ve been chasing this weird little dude for hours around the neighborhood, but I’m not intending on stopping for a break anytime soon. I can’t risk it destroying our civilizations with that toy of theirs. I don’t understand why no one else is seeing this, and it’s making me suspect that this is actually all just a prank. No, wait, it can’t be; it would take some serious special effects skills to pull off a slimy death like that. I’ll just have to keep up the pursuit until I get some answers.

We run into the nearby forest next to the park, and the alien disappears into the shrubbery. 

I continue searching for it for a while, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere, so I decide to head home. Suddenly, I feel myself being pulled back by some invisible force. I turn to see the little alien holding out another gun, probably what’s responsible for the strange sensation. This blaster also resembles a water blaster, but it’s a mix of a bunch of different colors that I can’t even identify. The Dr-EAM 19 was a purple blaster; this one is a swirl of extraterrestrial rainbow with the colors moving in a dizzying manner.

I struggle to free myself, but before I can, I notice another alien similar to the one I had 

been chasing appear behind him through a cloud of smoke, holding the purple blaster. I take my gaze off of it for a minute and focus on where he had come from. The smoke clears out rather quickly, and the sight makes my eyes widen and my jaw drop.

Hidden behind the murky cloud is a large, disc-like object. It’s silver with multi-colored 

lights on the outer edge that are blinking rapidly. Part of the disc is under the dirt, and as I inspect its general area I notice the trail it left behind. It must have crashed and slid across the dirt for a bit before the soil could stop it. Next to the disc are uprooted trees and bushes that were no match for the forceful impact. From these clues, I immediately know what I’m looking at:

It’s a real flying saucer!

“Oh. My. God,” I exclaim slowly, still taking it all in. “That must be it. That must be why 

they’re here. Those sightings I saw on TV were real all along!” I turn my attention to the two aliens holding me captive. “I can’t believe you found us,” I say to them in amazement. “You finally found us! We never believed you were real, but sure enough, you are! You must want to know about our human culture.”

They show a sequence of strange hand signs; an acknowledgment, maybe. “Nice! Well, 

I’d be happy to teach you about my kind. Just turn off that force gun, let me go, and we can get started right away!”

Again the two aliens exchange glances, then the one with the purple blaster quickly 

approaches me. With a blank face, it holds the blaster right up to my temple and positions its finger over the trigger. The smile on my face dissipates immediately and I start sweating. “Dr-EAM 19,” it says, then it pulls the trigger.

With one last scream of terror, I become engulfed in purple light, then the world goes 

dark around me…

 

I wake up in my bed, gasping for breath and covered in sweat. My parents and Lachlan 

are there, worryingly watching me. I look down at myself and notice I’m covered in multiple bruises and leftover lasagna, and I feel pain all over my body. I slowly glance over at my clock sitting on the nightstand: it reads 9 p.m., four hours after dinner started. I gradually sit up and rub my head, then shortly after I massage my jaw, realizing that the pain came back. I look next to my clock to find my medicine bottle. I raise an eyebrow; I hadn’t put it there earlier. It was on my other nightstand, the one with my lamp on it. Last I remember it being there next to my clock was… last night, before I went to bed.

“Merida, are you alright, honey?” my mom asks me worryingly. “You look even worse 

than last time.”

I tilt my head in confusion. “Last time?” I ask.

“You were going crazy!” Lachlan exclaims before my mom can answer. “You kept 

rambling about some new dining room and how Briar, Aunt Susan, Uncle Thomas, and Uncle Roger were coming over for dinner.”

“But they were! And we got the dining room fixed, remember?”

“Merida, what are you talking about?” my dad asks, just as confused as I am. “We never 

got the dining room fixed and the rest of the family hasn’t been over in months! Your outbursts drove them away!”

“My outbursts?” I scratch my head.

“Tonight at dinner you completely lost it!” my mom continues. “You kept screaming 

‘Dream 19’ and you leapt on top of the table and started knocking everything over. This time you ran out of the house and we almost didn’t find you! Luckily you were yelling at all the neighbors about something being dangerous and it led us right to you.”

“You got as far as the forest!” my dad adds, a shocked tone laced in his voice. “What 

were you doing out there?”

“Confronting the aliens that had invaded!” I cry, annoyed that my family doesn’t know 

what I’m talking about. “You know those sightings we keep seeing on TV? Well I saw the aliens in person! They were holding me captive!”

“I have no idea what aliens you’re talking about,” says Lachlan, “but you were screaming 

at us when we tried taking you home. You were saying something about wanting to teach human culture or something weird like that.”

I’m still not understanding what in the world is going on. I’m just sitting like an idiot 

with some stupid expression on my face wondering what my family’s rambling about, but underneath the confusion is gratefulness; my family isn’t dead after all!

My parents can tell that I don’t know what’s happening, so they wish me good night and 

leave the room, ushering Lachlan out with them. As they shut the door, I hear my dad say something:

“Lucille, we need to get Merida off that medicine. That was the worst one yet. She’s 

taken so many pills that her hallucinations are out of control!”

“I agree. I never knew that muscle relaxer was that strong. But she’s been on it for 

months now and she still doesn’t know that she’s hallucinating! I mean this is the tenth time she’s mentioned the dining room being renovated.” 

“Ocean blue? She’s clearly lost it.”

 I hear my mother sigh and ask slowly, “Why can’t we just tell her?”

“It’s too late now. She’s in too deep. She’s living in another world now…”

Gabrielle Pelayo is an emerging author from Hoffman Estates, IL. Her short fiction and poetry has been featured in a handful of literary magazines, including Querencia Press, Solstice Literary Magazine, and with the Heartland Society of Women Writers. She is currently an undergraduate student at Columbia College Chicago, where she is pursuing a degree in creative writing with a minor in voiceover.

 

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