Perchance to Dream: Chapter 1 is
A Note from Your Editor: After several complaints from my collaborator regarding our most recent entries, there will be an important variance in the present Perchance serial, more in approach than in actual content. Indeed, our creative differences have resulted in something of a schism. As a compromise, especially acknowledging his personal investment in the story and sentiments of “dissatisfactory results in previous attempts,” he has compelled me to yield creative control of the revised story Perchance to Dream, which he claims will be more in keeping with proper or necessary reality than our present iteration. Perchance will absolutely continue—this cannot be avoided—though he maintains he will forsake that attempt, leaving them in my care.
He thinks that it is time to take a step further back: me, from the work, and him, in the work.
This present work will be more his than mine. It will thus be written in his name. It should be recognized as primarily his work.
As always, thank you for your readership.
…………….. the exciting first part in a new expansion of the Perchance serial! Joseph Wood moves on with his life, to other ambitions, and a new friend, Rebekah,
and her friend, Abe.
–: : I am not the man I used to be : :–
Joseph Wood was afraid.
Pale lamplight washed over the tarry ground like runoff from an overturned milk truck, flipped and hemorrhaged in a sidelong collision. Echoing footsteps-
mine his, but not alone–clapped against the flawless pavement.
As it so happened, as I Joseph Wood sprinted, very nearly out of breath, into the town square, I he passed the pastel shell of just such a milk truck. Layer upon layer of beveled curves, its otherwise spotless chassis looked like it belonged to the age of McCarthy, Nabokov, and white picket fences. Beyond the truck, the city hall loomed above a small, gloomy green, a park squared in on its remaining sides by a strip of suffocated road and, thereafter, low buildings with shop windows advertising cigarettes, antenna televisions, and neckties. Every building, except for the concrete city hall, stood two stories of ageless carmine brick against the night.
Running to the middle of the green, I Joseph Wood pressed myself himself down around the side of a partially-lit information kiosk, as hidden from the road as I he could make myself himself. I He listened and tried to catch my his breath. I He listened in the direction that I he had just come from, the main road into the square, opposite the town hall. There was silence; there was not the growl of a car in the distance, nor the barking of a dog, nor the whisper of wind through the tree leaves. If there had been the usual discarded foliage, newspapers, or straw wrappers to line the sidewalk gutters, even they would not have whispered in the lifeless air. But there was no such mess anywhere in the town, no evidence of the scraps of a lived-in landscape.
No, there was only silence.
In the corner of
my his eye, a light, barely a pinprick, waned above one of the shops. He thought that it might be an eye, or a firefly, but the glowing point existed motionless in the darkness of an open window, the orange dot twinkling through some unseen haze within. Then, the light fell out of sight.
Friction and a click broke the silence for all of a moment, just as Joseph Wood saw a pair of hands wave out a cloud of smoke, then lower and lock the darkened window. Someone had been smoking just inside: the light had been the smoldering end of a cigarette. Someone was above the shop. Probably an apartment for the shop owner. He leaned in the direction of the apartment. He would make a break for it and get help from whoever was awake inside.
He continued to listen. The night held its peace. He had begun to look up over the side of the information kiosk when, on the opposite end of the square from the apartment, the glow of red and green neon spilled out from between the planks of another boarded-up storefront window. Music, the clicking tune of the Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman,” resonated into the town square from the jukebox inside. It was a restaurant, by the looks of it. Not just a restaurant. A diner: if he read the words properly on the glass, partially slatted from view and doodled around the circumference of an anthropomorphized, grinning clock, the “Time to Diner! Est. 1876.” There was nobody inside.
He thought, then, that he heard the sounds that he had been waiting for—that, at the time, he feared to hear—but it was difficult to make out above the music from the diner.
There they were again, a whistling and the steady clack of boot heels. Together, like some twisted echolocation, their sound needled the whole square for any disturbance and grew into a reverberation from all directions, beating in time with the music. Yet he knew that the source echoed into the square from the road, the clacking clattering off the cold brick from the same direction that he had been running.
A moment passed. He looked first to the diner, then to the apartment.
Bursting out from behind the kiosk, he ran. The sound, the constant clicking of heels, kept their same rhythm and pace, but he could tell that those accustomed eyes had seen him and were advancing upon him now. The squeaking, grating whistle became almost a cackle. Frantically, reaching the diner, he shook the handle. The door did not budge. Through the window, then.
………………………………………………………………….reaching the storefront, he knocked his fist against the large window of the wooden door and shouted in desperation. He could see little more than darkness through the glass, and the thin outline of a mannequin illuminated by a sliver of moonlight. He knocked again, harder, not stopping. This would have been his only chance.
Still, no one came.
“I know you’re in there! Let me in!”
He thought then that he saw movement inside, a bulk that interrupted the contour of the mannequin, a mass that was more than shadow. And, even then, no one came to the door.
“Please, let me in! It’s coming! Don’t leave me out here. I don’t want to die alone. Please, I need your help!”
A face emerged through the distortion of the window.
The clicking had reached the opposite sidewalk.
“Please, please, please, I don’t, I don’t want to die alone out here!”
Joseph grabbed the handle and shook it, but the door remained locked. The face inside the shop–it had the wrinkles of an old man’s face–stepped closer to the window and spoke. “Who the hell are you? What’s going on?” The face assumed a pair of glasses, while, in the reflection of the window, Joseph saw that other reflection cross the white lines painted at the perfect middle of the road. The face’s view coming into focus, its eyes looked behind Joseph with an expression of horror. The face had reached towards the door and already unlocked the first lock, but now its hand withdrew. “No. I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Why are you sorry?” Joseph ripped at the door. “No. Just let me in!” But he already knew why the old man was sorry. He knew one of its reasons: the lie. He watched the face’s horror be replaced by a fresh coat of regret. With the reflection fast approaching, the click of his cane shoes making contact with the sidewalk, there was no time for the face to let him in and still lock the door. The face’s hand lowered again to the door. “No! Don’t do this!” He threw a fist against the glass.
…………………………The first lock slid back into place.
And Joseph Wood slammed his fist against the window again, and again. His knuckles grew bloody, but soon enough the glass cracked, shattered inwards. Gashes opened in Joseph’s flesh as his arm flew through. Glass shards sprayed into the face on the other side, and the face covered its eyes with cupped hands. Stunned, it went to step back, though not quickly enough. Joseph’s hand wrapped around its shirt collar, the top button of its shirt ripping away.
“You would do that to me? You would leave me!” Joseph screamed, his eyes bloodshot. The clicking was upon him now, though the pace had noticeably slowed. The whistling had quieted. “No! No!”
Joseph ripped back his arm, jerking the face towards him. It collided with the window, even more shards bursting outwards, like heavy raindrops rebounding on the surface of a tumultuous puddle. The face’s forehead began to bleed. Its mouth hung open, wet and grey. “He killed them all! Not me. Not me,” Joseph hissed.
The face’s body collapsed, and Joseph had no choice but to let go. With his freed hand, he felt for the locks on the other side of the door. Two clicks, and the door swung open.
The face and its body crumpled into the doorway. Half-in, half-out.
Joseph crossed inside, onto the blue sapphire carpet of the emporium.
But Joseph still needed to close the door.
He grabbed the warm body by the armpits.
The clacking shoes stopped at the edge of the sidewalk, and their owner’s head tilted slightly. The whistling stopped. Joseph’s eyes met theirs.
–: : I am not the man I used to be : :–
“We all dream, and, in dreams, we can know things that were and never were, perhaps even that, in a way, are yet to be. Dreams are a testament to the constant workings of our minds, the constant motions and cogitations—intention, will—even when we are not wholly aware that our minds are working! Dreams are a testament to our consciousness, and they are a testament to our unique human ability to envision. To shape our reality.
“Dreams, in general, are very powerful. Very useful.
“And nightmares are more so.
“Too few people are taught the history of the concept, too few people know that the term ‘nightmare’ stems from the Old English word ‘mare,’ meaning demon, often gendered female in traditional depictions. These demons would threaten, trouble, and torture their sleepers, sprawling upon their bodies and bringing them to harm, strangling them, removing the very breath from their lungs. A nightmare was viewed as a physical entity, as an embodied thing, not as a mere illusion. It had a tactile quality, a corporeal effect.
“Such notions are, one would assume, fantasy. But, the symbols of our nightmares have important correspondences in our daily life. Our nightmares can offer warnings, worth listening to, commentaries on present situations and dilemmas, the impressions of our most basic and primal fears guiding us towards or away from threats that our conscious mind may not readily recognize: trauma, suspicion, confrontation. There is a reason that we dream about our enemies, or our monsters, as much as there is a reason that we dream about our friends or our family, those whom we love. Even while asleep, our mind continues to digest and arrange their place in our lives. And even if those individuals are not quite the same in dreams as they are in waking life, those distortions are important too, showing perhaps how we truly see those around us.
“The subconscious has much to tell us, and much to keep, much to preserve, much to unlock. There is a whole secret and subjective and connected world within us, with a precise cast of characters, faces taken from strangers and companions, feelings taken from our past. Our dreams have so much to tell us about how we write the story of ourselves.
“This process should not be dismissed as fabrication: though unreal, perhaps those who haunt our dreams are more real and immediate to us than anyone else in waking life, the curated lives of daylight only facades, those events and choices we make in dreams more representative and impactful than any chance intersection of cause and effect in sunshine.
“Do not dismiss dreams! They are as much a part of reality as they are a part of us.”
At the front row of the classroom, a shrill student with slender arms threw up his hand for the third time. “Uh, Professor Wood, will we have to know any of this for the exam?”
Not all that much older than his student, his hair ash blonde, his ruffled shirt in dire need of an ironing, Joseph Wood lowered his own contorted hands, still lifted and wrung in the gushing of his words.
“No, you don’t need to know it for the exam. Really? That’s all you want to know?” Yet without waiting for a response, Joseph made his way back up to the podium. His face looked worn out. “Does anybody else have any questions?” He looked out expectantly, but not a single student raised their hands. Some started, and most resumed, packing their bags. The clock read some six minutes past the time in which he was supposed to have excused his students. Half the seats were already empty. “Alright. Class dismissed.”
The rest of the pupils filtered out through the doors at the back of the classroom, until only two people were left leaning against the far beige wall: a woman in a denim jacket, with short red hair, and a guy in a floral polo.
“You really always have to end every lecture with a speech, Dr. Wood?” Rebekah laughed, her lips quickly forming into a familiar told-you-so smirk.
“You know I’m not a doctor yet, Rebekah! And no,” Joseph answered, flustered. He righted his briefcase and pulled it up off the floor. “But I like to. Who’s this?” He nodded to the man in the polo.
“My friend. Abe. I’ve mentioned him before.”
“I don’t think you have.”
“Really? I feel like I talk about him all the time.”
“No, sorry. I don’t remember. I don’t remember him.”
“That’s fine,” Abe offered with a smile, but Rebekah held up her hand to quietly reassure him.
“From the library! Abe and I met when we both tried to take out the same book at the same time. He’s in my program too. A few of my classes.”
“Oh, of course, of course.” Joseph looked Abe up and down, at the same time snapping the locks of his briefcase shut. “Now, I think I remember you mentioning him.”
“Bekah’s helped me quite a few times, remembering deadlines!” Abe chimed in. “She’s one of the best in the program.”
“Oh, stop i-,” Rebekah began, rolling her eyes at him.
“I know,” Joseph interrupted. “I know Rebekah is the best. One of the smartest people I know.”
And she was one of the smartest people he knew.
He bounded up from the front and threw out his hand. “Good to meet you, Abe.”
Abe took it. “You too,” he beamed, but his voice broke off as Joseph slightly jolted back his arm, tugging him closer. He reached around behind Abe, bringing him into a tight hug. It was a very tight hug. It might have been just an uncomfortable hug—and Abe wished that that was all it was, for everyone’s sake; besides, he liked hugs—but Joseph’s grip also was firm, unyielding. Painful, even. “You too,” Abe repeated, quieter.
Finally, Joseph let him go.
And Rebekah was one of the smartest people either of them knew. She was smart enough to notice that Joseph was acting differently.
“Would you hurry up?” Rebekah exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting here for a while as it is.”
Joseph scrambled back to the podium to cram the rest of his books into his overcrowded bag. “Sorry!”
“Can we see your office?” She insisted, more of a request than a question.
“Barely an office. No, no, still moving things around. Whole psych department is a fucking mess, especially for grad students. Let’s go to Mort’s instead. I need my caffeine for the day.”
–: : I am not the man I used to be : :–
Abe watched Rebekah and Joseph from the back seat of her Jeep. He did not speak. He did not join in their conversation.
He did not turn away.
Joseph looked at Rebekah and smiled, and, when she had the chance, she would turn to him and smile back.
But Abe did not understand what they were smiling about. It was not spontaneous. These were the kinds of smiles that you practice in a mirror. And if this was a mirror, it seemed to him like Joseph was the original and Rebekah was the reflection, the one mimicking, the one whose smiles were delayed.
“Do you know how long we’ve known each other, Rebekah?” Joseph asked, leaning in closer, playing with her hair.
“Well, let’s see,” she laughed, raising her arm and checking her watch. “I’d say, four years, eight months… seventeen days, nine hours… twelve minutes… and fifty-six seconds.”
“I’m glad that you remember!”
“Of course, I remember! We do this every day.”
“Of course. I know, but I still love it.”
“What do you do?” Abe asked, leaning forward, his eyes passing between them.
Joseph twisted his neck to face him. “We know the time of our first meeting down to the second. Won’t ever forget it: we’re bonded.”
“That’s strange. Kinda cool. How do you remember that though?” Abe asked.
Nobody seemed to hear him.
Joseph turned back to Rebekah and whispered, “And how long have we been together?”
The Jeep came up to a sharp curve in the road, twisting around a hill of boulders that arose between the once straight asphalt and the evergreens.
“About a year-and-a-half,” she said, biting her lip as she swung the steering wheel around to keep up with the bending terrain.
“Come on. You know the deal. How long?” Joseph raised his own watch, a simple plastic thing.
“One sec,” she said, her focus on switching between lanes to pass an upcoming car.
As requested, Joseph waited only about one second. “How long?” he repeated, tapping the watch face expectantly.
“Uh, two years, four months, thirty days, six hours, eight minutes,” she said looking at her watch once, and then a second time, “and thirty-seven seconds.”
“Nine minutes, not eight.”
“Fine, nine minutes. Happy?”
“Yes. Good. Perfect.”
“You are perfect.”
“Oh,” she said,
catching Abe’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“yeah, thank you. I know I am.”
“This moment is perfect.”
“Sure. Joe, is everything okay?” She grabbed his hand, but, in doing so, moved it back to his side of the cabin.
“Joseph. Joseph. I’m fine, as long as you call me by the right name.”
“No, no, I’m sorry.” He rested his hand on her knee, and, for the first time, Abe noticed the scars on Joseph’s arm. “Do you miss home, babe?”
“No. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to think about it, if you don’t want.”
He smiled at her, as though trying to offer her some reassurance.
The blue car freshener–new car smell, all too new, plastic spruce dangling from the mirror–swung between them like some heavy pendulum, counting the fathomless seconds.
She smiled back.
There it was again.
Something was wrong. Abe was sure of it. And they spoke to each other not quite as friends, certainly not as lovers. They spoke like, or rather Joseph spoke to her like, two people who had just met for the first time.
Or who, perhaps, had not met in a long, long time.
In other words, Abe wanted to know what the hell was going on, and what the hell was wrong with this man named Joseph Wood.
–: : Believe me : :–