Billy was having the same dream for the fourth time.
The first time started with him in a valley. Up on the ridge the peaks were lit green against an impossibly blue sky, but the valley he was in was midnight dark. He could just make out the wheel at his feet, a stone disk about three feet across, pale in the moonlight. He sensed he was supposed to get it up the valley side, but he couldn’t focus on the wheel or the job. All around him, the forrest was filled with the skittering of little feet. He wished he had night vision goggles, so he could see the heat registers of the bodies around him. He felt certain there were others ranged along the valley floor that had the same job to do, but he could not hear them. He knew all of this the same way all those in dreams know. Some intuition told him what he was supposed to do. He looked at the wheel for a bit then wandered down the valley, following the sound of what seemed like elk calls.
When he woke, he looked out his bedroom window to see his father’s Dodge pulling out of the driveway. He knew there would be a list of chores on the cork board beside the back door. That vacation break he had to clean the gutters on their house. Eventually he got a job at the hardware store moving wood pellets and unloading trucks.
The second time he had the dream was in May of the next year. The valley was back; the wheel was back, but the darkness seemed less intense. He examined the wheel. It was heavy and felt like sandstone. He searched the valley floor for a stick to serve as a lever. That took forever, but he managed to find one, lever up the stone and begin to roll it. When he lifted his eyes, the ridge stretched upward and then the light winked out up there. He woke in darkness.
One day that Fall his friends at school got into a discussion about how living life in a military environment never really went away. One of them claimed he woke to the sound of reveille. All of them complained about not being able to sleep late anymore. Their bodies had learned to expect to be fed by 0700, so they got fed by 0700. It wore off some over the course of the summer. Winter breaks were different.
The third time Billy had the dream, that December, he was back in the valley, and the ridge was lit. He was sitting on his big stone wheel, but the darkness had become a gray twilight. Down the valley he could see his friends from school. One of the boys was wearing camouflage and a huge pack was strapped to his shoulders. Billy could see from the outline the pack had a big stone wheel in it. To his right one of the girls had her wheel balanced on her head, and was slowly ascending, using various outcrops as a type of staircase to the top. Billy looked again for his lever and managed to begin his climb. The wheel resisted him. He kept trying, but he got winded halfway up the slope. He was afraid to lift his eyes, but he could not resist. Up there, where he meant to be, where he wanted to be, the light began to fade. He shoved as hard as he could at the stone, but no go. His father was calling from down the hall.
Billy had gutters to clean.
The next May, the month following his Sophomore year at military school, when the dream came back, Billy was ready. He ignored the undergrowth and the skittering sounds of animals in the underbrush. He ignored the other climbers and their burdens and triumphs. He did not even search for a stick to use as a lever. He gripped the stone, heaved it onto its rim and began to roll. He recognized his dream, a dream of Sisyphus, when someone was doomed to push a stone but never get it up the hill. All the students had spent parts of the last two years at school studying old stories and myths. He knew about Sisyphus from junior high, but when they reviewed the old tales, it came back to him, and he recognized how the story and his dream were the same thing. Billy might be doomed to dream this strange dream forever.
Screw that! thought Billy. I’m ending this.
As he rolled the stone up the hill, he knew it would get heavier, and it did, for a time, but then the stone began to change. He felt the edge soften, and he felt the stone begin to shrink. When it was only a foot across, he simply lifted it into his hands. Smaller and smaller, it split into two halves, each only three inces across. It began to warm, and it smelled like melted butter, and from the ridge came the smell of bacon. Finally, he got the courage to lift his eyes, and the ridge was no longer high above him. He merely took one step to be standing on the edge of the great blue plate of the sky. The sun was orange and ribbons shot from it. The clouds floated a melting white. The grass along the ridge flew up as it was mown and roasted in the heat of the sun.
“Bill,” his father called. “Bill, I have some breakfast for you.”
Billy found his father in the kitchen. He had cooked for them. “I made up my own sandwiches like they do at the fast food places. I like mine better because I fry the egg instead of scrambling it.”
That morning when the mail arrived there was a letter from his school. Billy was now part of the Junior class.