Welcome back, Dear Reader! If you’ve read the first six excerpts, feel free to skip this preamble to the meat a few paragraphs down. If you haven’t, well, thanks for joining me!
These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019. It’s still in the first draft, but I thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe. Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.
The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way. Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?
Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story. But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.
At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – another excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels. We’re returning to a scene featured in Excerpt 5, where Joe finally saw her–the woman whose eyes he’s been seeing through as he dreams–for the first time. Enjoy!
For one of the only times in his fifteen years of service with Great West Media, Joe Riley called in sick. After the vision of her abruptly ended, Joe’s clock told him it was only quarter of two in the morning. While he initially fought to return to sleep – if not for the salubrious properties of slumber, and more in the unadmitted hope of seeing her again – his nervous system was far too jacked up to fall away again.
He couldn’t get her out of his head.
Even though he had been in her head.
You know what I mean, he thought to himself.
She had been a vision. Years later, Joe couldn’t have said what made that first, ever-brief glance so extraordinary – a woman wrapped in towels and fresh from the shower, barely glimpsed through the mist on the mirror. In his on-again-off-again dating exploits following his fallout from Rachel, Joe hadn’t exactly sought substance in his partners, and wasn’t exactly secretive or shameful about his superficiality. But something about her – devoid of makeup, or heels, or fancy dress – caught his heart in his throat immediately. The striking, light green eyes, which almost seemed to glow with a translucence he’d seen only in the far-removed-from-man glacial lakes he’d encounter on his hikes. Her dark hair – which he’d glimpsed only briefly as she pulled the towel away from her head – that cascaded over her shoulders as she shook it out from the towel. The contrast between the lightness of her irises and deep brown of her hair only accentuated those eyes even more. Eyes which seemed to hypnotize him in that fleeting moment, before he was violently – and for no discernible reason – yanked from sleep.
At least there hadn’t been vomiting, or near-heart palpitations this time, he thought. If his nervous system had been piqued, it had been by his urgency in trying to get back, in that desperate (and usually futile) desire to continue a vision from the subconscious.
This is no dream though. No invented spectre of my unconscious mind. I’m sure of it.
You’re losing it.
Sleep failed to greet him the remainder of those long, early morning hours where a minute always feels like three, and an hour a short lifetime. By five, he had ceased fighting; arose and went to his rarely used television, knowing he was too foggy and distracted to try reading. By six, he had emailed Dawson to say he felt under the weather and would work from home. Though he never availed himself of the option, one of the perks of being in the Island of Misfits IT Department was he could work from home if necessary. He had always viewed that as an excuse (when his coworkers staked that dubious claim) to throw 5 minutes of work in per hour – a couple emails sent, a report or two updated – to maintain the appearance of productivity, whilst catching up on episodes of The Price is Right and other daytime drivel. Though today, Joe didn’t know if he was going to be much different.
This had to be an anomaly. It had only been three dreams – yes, in less than a week – but three does not a condition make. The best minds of the world had sought (but never been completely able) to fully understand the subconscious; it was downright weird at times, and that’s all there was to it. Joe was likely exasperating the issue by paying too much heed, yet when a lifetime of sleeping visions had rarely yielded more than fishing expeditions with his lunch buddy from Grade 2 – or similarly bizarre mosaics of memory – he found it impossible to shake what was happening from this thoughts.
The worse you make it the worse you’re gonna make it, he thought, trying to force his mind into not thinking about the thing it refused to stop thinking about. Look. Stay awake today, go for a hard, impossible-to-be-distracted-from workout early afternoon, lay off the caffeine, and hit the hay when it gets dark. You’re so exhausted you’ll probably be out instantly, and sleep the night through, too deep to dream. And as dreams go, I’m sure you’ll never see her again.
But I want to see her again.
Enough!, he thought. Joe had little patience for people around him who indulged whatever feelings – emotional or physical – they were experiencing, to the extent of permitting their days and commitments to be affected. And yet, here he was on a Wednesday morning, watching Bob Barker whilst in his pyjamas. Feeling as though his eyes had been pulled back in their sockets. Watching his thoughts drift undirected, half formed, or on a maddening loop. The outer edges of his brain felt like they were padded by the exhaustion, dulled from forming complete thoughts. Yet one thought prevailed.
William from the bookstore had remained mostly mum on the topic of Joe’s dreams, despite their marathon conversation the day before. Joe could sense throughout what seemed like amused intrigue on William’s part, watching this young man – who clearly preferred order, and sense, and linear and binary thinking – struggle with an experience that (at least for now) defied explanation. William had mostly listened to Joe’s recounting of the two dreams to that point – the physiological reactions, the vivid feelings, the sense of paralysis and yet tuned-in sensation – offering occasional “hmm”s and “that’s interesting”s.
But there had to be an explanation somewhere, didn’t there? William had been holding out on him, he was sure of it. Perhaps all the time immersed in those old books and surrounded by elements had tampered his medical mind, but surely he knew of dream-related conditions, and their capacity to affect a heightened emotional and physical response? Hell, every teenage boy knew about that.
Surely there were others who had dreamt in the body and mind of a different, invented, human being? This must be some kind of manifestation of one of his baser levels of consciousness. But then, all at once the implications of such weren’t something Joe was keen to pay much mind to – what did this say about him? Did he want to be a woman? He’d never, in the entirety of his life, considered this before – had never dressed in drag even as a party joke, let alone with any regularity, or a longing to live in another skin altogether. He had always thought – at least until now – that he was perfectly comfortable in his own.
Or what of the accent? British/English – something along those lines, he was sure of it. What did that mean? Joe had never known any Brits directly; a very occasional interaction through his job, but most of their vendors and supports had either been from the U.S. or Southeast Asia.
What of what she had said? Just take this a day at a time. What did that refer to? Was she an addict? Was it a message? If this was just a bizarre conjuring of Joe’s subconscious, what was he trying to tell himself? A day at a time for what?
These looping questions were maddening, and by 8:30 he found daylight attempting to stream its way through the blinds. With exhausted eyes it was too bright, having the effect of making Joe feel like a stranger to the day; the light somehow foreign and straining. He finally abandoned the couch to try his bed once more, but without the background television commentary his thoughts of her were even more deafening. The memory of the sight of her. Even now, disengaged from whatever world these dreams were putting him into, the image of her face remained vivid – and every time it came to mind it arrested his heart and knotted his stomach. You really are losing it, he kept saying to himself, as if the reinforcement of that idea would cancel recurrent thoughts of her, the dreams, the exhaustion, the tormented thoughts.
An hour later, divorced of any hope of sleep, or of breaking the freight train of his thoughts, he dressed for the gym; second to the mountains it was a veritable cure-all. But even once there, he went through the motions listlessly, losing track of reps and sets. More often than not he found himself staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows, that – while mostly obscured by surrounding high-rises – offered glimpses of the mountains beyond. He could feel them calling, as John Muir once said, and he wanted to go. He wasn’t about to suffer the indignity of shirking work even a day longer, however, and plunked down the 45 dumbbells and made his way to the treadmill. Joe loathed running, but in lieu of the snow-capped peaks and heart-pounding elevation ascents, this struck him as the next best thing. He found the speed that forced him above a jog, and tried to outrun the visions of the night, getting nowhere.
Thanks again for stopping by, Dear Reader! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.