Friday, January 8, 2010

The Author, Chapter Five: The Nightmare

June 9

Jeff quickly tumbled into drunken oblivion. He slept, face pressed into his pillow, legs propped up on one couch arm, drooling lightly into the upholstery.

The eye that was not pressed tightly into the pillow snapped open and stared, distant and empty. His body jerked once, twice, and then his body relaxed and the eye closed again.
Jeff was dreaming.

He was sitting on a toilet that was in the front yard of the house where he grew up. His neighbors and the children he went to school with walked past, not ignoring him, but clearly not impressed at the sight of a young man taking a shit on the front lawn, porcelain bowl or not.

When Jeff turned to see if his father's old Karman Ghia was in the driveway, he instead saw his father. He was as Jeff liked to remember him, the way he always appeared in dreams, strong, vibrant, smiling. He was walking toward Jeff and Jeff somehow knew his father had exciting news. He tried to move toward him, but realized he was still sitting on the toilet.

Then, for an instant, in the way of dreams, he was two or three years old, sitting on a plastic stand that sat atop the toilet, still on the front lawn. His father and mother both loomed over him, looking impossibly young. As Jeff stared up at his father, it seemed that his eyes focused closer and closer, until Jeff felt that he might tumble into them and then he took a step back—

And then there was nothing but the parchment-thin skin of his father, the spiderwebs of veins beneath it, the slight rolling motions of his eyes under stretched, weak lids. There was the beep and hiss of the ventilator and then Jeff was mowing the lawn. Was he naked? It was possible, but it was such a beautiful day that it didn't matter, not at all.

But suddenly it was cool, cooler than it should be, and he realized why. He had pushed the lawn mower into a great shadow. He looked up to see what was casting the shadow and he saw a massive piece of stone, like the iconic black monolith in 2001. It seemed to be about to topple onto him, but Jeff quickly realized it was an optical illusion, rather the stone was growing, rising, soaring further and further up into the sky.

He blinked and he was standing atop the obelisk instead, looking down at a tiny model train scale world, still able to make out the Micromachine details of cars and trucks, the panorama of the city beneath him stretched out like a game board or the map screen of a video game.

“It's all yours, you know.”

Jeff didn't need to turn to know that it was Victor Stuart. He would look just like he did in the black and white photo on the back of Storm, the latest Alistar Wilcox novel, the one his ex-girlfriend had bought for him in hardback for Valentine's Day. He'd almost thrown it away when he finished it because she had written a small note to him on the flyleaf, but in the end his love for Stuart's books had overpowered his misery with her. He still looked at it sometimes, taking an odd pleasure in the unhappy prickling her soft, round lettering produced in his heart.

Jeff watched dream-Jeff turn to Victor Stuart. Even though there was no wall for him to lean on, the writer was perfectly mimicking his book jacket pose.

“What is all mine?” Jeff in the dream asked, even though dreaming Jeff knew damn well.

Stuart broke the pose and instead of walking towards Jeff he simply vanished and reappeared next to him. The delay in Jeff's perception or perhaps the nature of the dream made it seem as if, for one instant, he was in both places at once. Stuart nodded down to the tiny world at the base of the stone tower on which they stood. “All of that,” Stuart said.

“Oh,” both Jeffs replied.

Then Stuart yawned, closing his eyes and stretching his mouth open in a gaping cave. When the face returned to normal, Jeff saw that it was no longer Stuart, but his creation, the cynical, whip-smart investigator, Alistar Wilcox. In Jeff's mind Wilcox had always looked a little like Stuart, a little like Jeff, and even a bit like Jeff's father. Perhaps with some Ben Affleck thrown in for good measure. The actor had long circled the Wilcox franchise and had begun to subconsciously creep into Jeff's image of the fictional character.

“It's all yours...if you want it,” Wilcox said.

And then, before either of them could say anything, Wilcox was gone and Jeff was hanging from the edge of the stone tower. The monolith's side stretched away beneath him, all the way down to the tiny cars in the distance.

“My feet look enormous,” Jeff said, apropos of absolutely nothing.

“Let go,” he heard a voice tell him and he didn't question it.

The wind whistled in his ears, slowly turning into a piercing scream as Jeff swept toward the ground. In all the other dreams he had where he fell (he didn't dream often and dreamed rarely of falling), he was always scared. This time he was not. He was not resigned either. He was almost excited, as if whatever waited for him was a beginning.

“It's all mine, down there, and I want it,” he said to himself, the words forming comic book balloons and then whipping away from him with the force of the wind. Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes, driven by his momentum, falling into the sky behind him, stopping as soon as they were past his body, forming a tiny chain of diamond-like crystals, leading back the way he had come.

“All mine,” he said again, or tried to, but the words stuck in this throat this time, his jaw unable to open enough to let the word balloon out, and the letters expanded and expanded in his mouth until he thought the top of his head would pop off.

And still the ground was hurtling up toward him and what had seemed nonchalant before now seemed like an emergency. His head was going to explode and he was almost to the ground! If only—

Jeff did not snap awake, as in the manner of movies, but merely moaned in his sleep and rolled over. It took him a moment of unconscious adjustment to get his frame comfortable again on the couch. The sheet that covered him had partially fallen away and revealed the erection that had come upon him in his sleep. His eyes opened, both of them this time, blindly taking in the ceiling above him in a moment of REM-related disorientation. Then they closed and he was back under, the sleep taking him completely, not disturbing him with any more dreams.

When he woke, he would remember nothing.

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