You go to a town of high walls and rooftop paths, of hidden roads that run through stone. The whole town seems to be one great structure, a labyrinth, a maze. Windmills wind on the horizon. You could get lost here, if you wanted. You could get lost if you tried. The people of this town tell you of an old professor, researching ancient spells that have fallen out of use. He’s working on one that allows you to travel effortlessly between different places you’ve visited. You think of that old game: If you could have any super power, what would it be? Look for the house with purple smoke rising from the chimney. You think of the girl with the headphones hung around her neck, studying birds in the humid South. Flight. Teleportation. In his house, the professor sits beside a massive pot, tossing in ingredients that burst or shrivel in the concoction. You think of the girl with angles in her hair, riding the subway home in her skyscraping city. Super speed. Astral projection. If you could have any super power, any power at all. Agree to help the professor find the final ingredient—a flower that only blooms at night, that gives off a lunar glow. You think of the girl with the stone ring on her finger and wonder where she’ll go when she leaves the city you share in your dreams. You follow the professor to his desk, where a blue and green globe sits. It’s like the map that hovers above your head when you are traversing the continent, but on his globe, every region is illuminated, clear, the whole world spinning before you. He points to a region west of this town where the plant can be found. After he shows you, the professor will go to sleep in his bed. He will toss and turn, but he will not wake up until you return with the plant’s lunar bloom. In the dream, the girl’s apartment complex is a cluttered maze of wire animal sculptures and hollowed-out appliances, only fifteen minutes from your house, and yet you feel farther from her than anyone else you’ve ever loved. Distance is not measured in miles. You know this, because you can walk across a continent in minutes. You know this, because day turns to night in a matter of steps. Walk to the western coast of this continent. Wander in circles until night falls. You will see the brightness unfold, glowing in the gloomy blue of night. You imagine it is a tulip, so dark it looks black, except in the light of the moon it shimmers. In the dream, she lights a cigarette in the dark. In the dream, she disappears in a plume of smoke. You want to follow where she goes. You do not want to follow where she goes. Take the bloom back to the town. It will grow dim in the lightening. The professor will wake up at the smell of it, its sweet wine breath. In the dream, she smells of nettles, of old snow, always of smoke, of vanishing. He will toss the bloom into the mixture, causing an explosion. Purple smoke fills the house, crawls down your throat into your lungs like her fingers down your spine. You want to hold it there, to keep it, to never breathe out. The professor will declare it a success. You feel like you could open a file folder in your mind, see the new spell in a list of spells. Casting it would be as easy as tapping a button. You think of that old game, how the only super powers you wanted would bring you closer to someone who is always just out of reach. You think of the way she bit her lip. Open the file folder of your mind, scroll through all the spells you have learned, spells that heal, that dazzle, that sap, that heal more. Find the one that sends you spiraling around the world. You can go anywhere now, anywhere you’ve been before, in the blink of an eye. In your dreams, it is never this easy. In your dreams, ten miles down the road, a fifteen-minute drive, feels insurmountable. An unseen force is lifting you into the air. You can feel your bones uncoil, your muscles dissolve, something tugs the whole of you away, away, away. Astral projection. Flight. Super speed. Teleportation. Make a wish. Wish to be closer, wish for closure. Return to the place you’ve been before, let there be no loose ends, leave no story incomplete. You are dust on the wind, tiny soaring particles of light. If I were a superhero, my only weakness would be you.
Sam Martone lives in Tempe, Arizona, where he spends his evenings attempting to defeat the final boss of Dragon Quest V. If he had a super power, it would be eidetic memory, or maybe the ability to spontaneously generate ice cream.