Reflection

August 8, 2008

I’m on an island. It’s tropical. Palm trees. Clean, sandy beach. I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight than the ocean from where I’m standing right now. I’m not alone. I know these people, but I don’t. We’ve been here a while, but I can’t remember how long.

All of the sudden, I’m on a ship. There’s another, about the same size heading towards the island. It’s going to pick up the other people. We were stranded or marooned or something, I guess. The ship I’m on… I don’t know what we’re doing, where we’re going. Something about getting help?

There’s something wrong on the other ship. The fuel’s out or they’ve lost control? I can’t tell. I’m standing on their bridge, but at the same time, I haven’t the vessel. None of the crew can see me. They’re going to run aground on the island. There’s a radio nearby. I can hear the distress call.

Our ship’s out in the open sea now. A storm’s come in and the rest of the rescue fleet was caught in it. Huge waves crashed over them. All of them. It’s impossible anyone survived.

Except that when we reach their position, the other boats and their crews are suspended in midair. The boats pouring water back into the ocean, the men frozen, arms posed as if struggling for the surface, faces contorted, desperate for air.

I can’t even process what I’m witnessing before the men and ships begin… rewinding would be the best way to describe it. I squint and I can see salt water spewing from their mouths, forced from their lungs. The ships right themselves and when those are steady and secure, the crew returned to them.

I should be happy. These people came to rescue us. To help us. They don’t deserve to die. But I’m terrified.

Because of him.

In a flash, I’m home. I’ve stepped out of the shower and I’m toweling off. My hair is still wet and hanging in my face so I push it back, catching my reflection in the mirror.

But it’s not my face that I see staring back.

The face is older, maybe twenty years older, angry and bald. I scramble to dress and then I run. I bolt out the door, looking back, knowing I shouldn’t.

I can’t see anyone behind me and I pause for a moment.

Through a window, I catch him moving. I don’t know how he got there, but I know I have to run.

I vault over the fence, sprinting through the neighbor’s yard and over the next fence.

It doesn’t matter.

He’s right behind me.

I can feel him.

And he’s taunting me. His voice is in my head.

I’m scared.

I can’t fight him.

He’s going to catch me.

His fingers aren’t even an inch from my throat…

…I wake with a start, gasping for breath and afraid of my reflection for a few moments.

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Looking Glass

January 27, 2006

I awoke with a start. This was two, three days ago. Maybe more. Maybe less. The details are starting to fade. I was in a strange room. A warehouse, I thought. I stood up and walked around, my head feeling stuffed with cotton. Had I had that much to drink? How did I get here? I walked around, trying to find an exit. I came to a railing, metal and rusted. A factory, not a warehouse. I found a flight of stairs and then an exit. It’s dark. There’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground. Jesus. It was nearly sixty the night before. I trudged through the snow, hoping to find my car. Nowhere. Fuck. I started walking, trying to get a sign or some landmark to find out where the hell I was. There was a sign. College and… No. No. That’s the intersection by my house. But how? I turned, looking in the direction I’d come from. The factory. The factory was right where my house should be.

About that time I noticed something. No cars. No people. Nothing. The moon. What’s wrong with the moon? It… It wasn’t there.

I started walking again. I had to find someone. Anyone. Nothing. I walked for hours without a single sign of life. I came across a subway station I’d never seen before. The thick grey clouds overhead decided to empty and I sought shelter underground. There was light. I was blinded momentarily. I rubbed my eyes, trying to force the spots away. When my vision returned, I saw them. A dozen people surrounding me. The youngest was maybe twelve, the oldest couldn’t be more than twenty seven. A near even split; seven female, five male. One stepped forward and spoke.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“What? I– Who am I? Who are you?”

“Not in the mood for games. You came from above ground, yeah? How the fuck are you still alive?”

She was tall, slim and raven haired. Same shade as mine, actually. Her eyes were purple. No contacts. At least, none that I could see. Her clothes were dark as well. Tight too. I couldn’t help but stare. That’s when she stepped in, a knife in her right hand and at my throat. Her face was an inch from mine. She smelled of jasmine.

“Christ! Put it away!” My arm shot up and twisted the knife free. I held it for a moment before I realized I had eleven more on me. I flipped it around, catching the blade and handed it back.

“You want to know who I am? My name’s Greg. Who are you? What the hell happened here?”

A murmur went through the group. I couldn’t make out much of it. Not enough to make sense of it, anyway. Jasmine told everyone to shut up then looked at me.

“You really don’t know?”

I shook my head.

“I’m Libby. I’ll introduce you to the rest later. How’d you get here?”

I told her. It didn’t take long. What was I supposed to say other than “I woke up in some factory where my house should have been and walked for six and a half hours”? I asked what was going on when I finished.

“You don’t remember? The silos on the moon? The war?”

When I shook my head, she explained. Congress approved missile silos on the moon. There were protests, Libby said, but that didn’t stop anything. Within six months, there was an accident. Or sabotage. No one was sure. The explosions ripped apart the planetoid, showering Earth with debris. Fourteen million people died in the first minute alone. By the end of the first day, there was maybe twenty million people left on the planet. That was five years ago.

“This doesn’t make any sense. What does that have to do with living underground?”

On cue, the ground shuddered and sent everyone sprawling.

“That’s why. Moon fragments still rain down on the Earth. Most of the population lives underground.”

I didn’t remember any of this and I told her that.

“Yeah, well,” Libby said, “You can talk to the professor when we get home. Maybe he’ll know what’s going on.”

We trekked down the subway line for about fifteen minutes. I asked what they were doing in the station, if no one went to the surface.

“Checking the perimeter. Need to keep everything secure.”

I decided to stop asking questions. Libby came to a keypad and quickly entered a thirteen digit code. A door opened and one by one, we filed through.

I can’t describe the city. The closet I can come is a bizarre cross between Star Trek and Fraggle Rock. Libby grabbed my arm and led me to a building near the center. She knocked on the door, calling out to “the professor.” I won’t bore you with the details of my introduction to him. He was in his mid-forties, salt and pepper hair, trimmed short. Average height and medium build. He didn’t waste anytime hooking me up to a half dozen different devices and studying the readouts on as many monitors. After a minute, he made a noise. He jiggled a wire that was hooked to my temple and then smacked a screen. Nothing changed.

“You’re not from this Earth.”

“Oh, that makes perfect sense.” Good to know my sarcasm hadn’t been affected by my completely weird goddamn day.

“You see this?” he asked, gesturing to a monitor. “That’s your vibrational rate and frequency.” He pointed to another screen. “That’s what every other thing on this planet’s is.”

“So, Earth-1 or Earth-2?” My nerdery was showing.

“What?”

“Nothing. How do I get home?”

The professor started disconnecting me from his machines. “I have no idea. I don’t even know how you got here.”

It was stupid, and I shouldn’t have done it– not that that’s ever stopped me– but I stormed out. I ignored the professor and Libby’s cries and left. Walked right out of the city and went back towards the surface. I was on another Earth. A different goddamn dimension. Or universe. Whatever. I started walking. Nowhere in particular, seeing as how I knew next to nothing about this place.

Then I saw her. Maybe a quarter mile from the subway. She was laying on the ground next to an overturned Volkswagen. I hadn’t seen her for months, but I knew it was her. Her clothes were shredded and blood was streaked across her face. I crouched and looked over her corpse. It was her. Their version of her, anyway. The tattoo she’d got when I’d got my third wasn’t there. The scar on her right shoulder was missing. For a moment, I felt sorry for her. Dying alone like this. Then I felt the anger return. I punched the VW’s window, showering the body with glass and walked away. It was stupid, it was petty and it had ripped my hand in several places. I didn’t care and continued walking, leaving a trail of blood in the fresh white snow. I climbed the fire escape of a six story building and crouched on the edge of the roof and looked out over the desolate and scarred landscape.

That’s where Libby found me.

“Was wondering when you’d find me.”

“Yeah, well, thanks for the trail. Very stealthy.”

“I want to go home. Obviously your Earth is more advanced than mine. Or at least, it was. I have the feeling that breaching dimensional barriers is still a bit out of your league.”

“The professor thinks he can figure something out. Maybe something to strengthen your vibrations or whatever. That should send you home.”

“Oh boy, exposition.” I still hadn’t turned to look at her. The wind picked up, blowing my hair over my face. I’m sure I looked really cool.

“You’re a very strange person, you know that?”

“It’s been noted a time or three.”

“You coming back?”

“Do I have a choice?” I finally looked back at her.

Libby shrugged. “You want to stay out here and get crushed by a great burning space rock, suit yourself.”

“Not on my top five list of things to do.” I stood and hopped off my perch. “So, back to the city?”

“Back to the city.”

“More tests?” I was dreading her response.

“No tests. The prof’s going over the data from before, cobbling gadgets and devices and whatnot. Give him a day or three.”

“Wonderful. Lead the way.”

We walked back underground in silence. Libby showed me to a room, bandaged my hand and told me to get some rest before leaving me alone. The room, by no means huge, was still comfortable. A decent sized bed, a couch and a small kitchen. A bathroom was off to the side, with a shower stall, toilet and sink, all brushed steel. Nice look, I thought. I thought I should try to sleep, like Libby suggested. After all, I needed my rest for the battery of tests and false hope I was sure to receive in the morning. I was more exhausted than I realized. I barely made it to the bed, collapsing on top of the covers.

I awoke with a start again. The ground was cold. Concrete. There was a water heater four feet from my face.

“Not again.”

I found my way out of the basement. Someone’s house. I silently made my way upstairs and snuck out the door. It was still dark. The snow was gone. I felt a brief surge of disbelief and looked to the sky. The moon. Bright and whole. I looked around, tried to get my bearings. I was in an upscale housing development eight miles from my house. I was home. I think. I thought maybe, just maybe I should quit drinking. I looked at my left hand. It was bandaged and stained with the rust color of dried blood. Christ.


Deprivation I-IV

March 25, 2005

-I-

“Any major stress in your life?” The question comes from a middle aged doctor, balding slightly and grey at his temples. He’s wearing a long white coat, stethoscope draped around his neck.

“No.” My response. I can almost predict his next question.

“Depression?”

“No.” Another mark in the folder that contains my medical history. I’ve always wondered what’s in there? Does it mention the time when I was four and broke my jaw?

“Change in diet or lifestyle?”

“No.” His pen scratches another mark on what I assume is some sort of checklist.

Doctor Banton looks up, staring directly into my black ringed eyes. I probably look like I got the crap beaten out of me.

“Are you taking any drugs?” He’s completely serious.

“No.” Another checkmark. Hmm. Doesn’t seem to believe me.

“How long since you last slept?”

I think for a moment. I count the days mentally. It’s slightly difficult. When you don’t sleep, days blend together, your mind doesn’t seem to want to work properly.

“Four days.”

“Four days? No fatigue? Exhaustion?”

“No, not at all. Just… annoyed, I guess, that I stopped sleeping.”

“What about hallucinations?”

“Hallucinations? No, why?” That got my attention. I wasn’t expecting that question.

“After three days without R.E.M. sleep, your brain will basically ‘force’ you to dream, whether you’re asleep or not.”

“Geez. No, nothing.”

“Be careful. You probably shouldn’t drive until you’ve slept.”

I nod, mildly disturbed by what I’ve just been told. Then the barrage resumes.

“Was it a sudden stoppage?”

I shake my head and answer.

“At first, I just had trouble falling asleep. Nothing new, I’ve never gotten to sleep well. Then, I started waking up earlier and earlier
each day. It’s been weeks since I got more than an hour or two of sleep.”

Banton nods, making a few notes.

“I can prescribe something.” Here comes the ‘but.’ “But, that’s temporary. Eventually, you’ll build up a tolerance and need a stronger dose. It’ll continue until you’re completely dependant on the pills.”

Great. No sleep or I’m addicted to sleeping pills. Some choice.

“What do you recommend?”

“I’ll prescribe a light dosage of a sleeping aid. We’ll try to establish a pattern for your body, train it. Also, cut back on caffeine; coffee, soda. That’s not helping.”

No coffee? I’m in Hell. I nod, take the illegible prescription he’s scribbled for me and walk out into the parking lot.

-II-

The pills didn’t work. Twelve days. I haven’t slept in twelve days. I’m sitting in my apartment, in the dark. I don’t need light, I can make out almost the tiniest details. I have pretty good eyesight. Maybe I’m some sort of mutant and the lack of sleep is a side effect of some as yet unseen super power. Oh my God. I’ve been reading too many comics. I flip on the computer, knowing full well I’ll be bored of it inside fifteen minutes. I think I’ve seen all there is to see on-line. Most of it anyway. The Internet’s a creepy place. I don’t think I ever want to see porn again. Not after seeing some of the crap that’s on there. I’ll be lucky if I can have sex again before I die. It’s the same with TV. Do you know what’s on TV after one a.m.? Infomercials (for those Girls Gone Wild videos… Jesus, you need more than fifteen seconds to sell tapes of naked girls?) and really bad movies. I’ve watched my entire DVD collection. Including the commentray tracks and all of the special features. I spent two nights searching for Easter Eggs. I’m bored out of my skull and I’m still not tired. I haven’t had coffee since I went to the doctor. I would kill for a cup right now. No. No caffeine. Maybe I should take another pill. I walk into the cramped bathroom and pick up the bottle. The label says not to exceed two per day. This would be my third in four hours. I’m desperate. I just want something other than this. I’m not tired. I’m just bored. I roll the bottle of pills in my hand. Toss it in the air and catch it before it hits the floor and spills everywhere. Back into the medecine cabinet. In the morning. Maybe I can get a stronger dose.

-III-

I’ve actually been laying in bed a lot. Usually after I take the medication. It’s supposed to help me relax. Usually I just stare at the ceiling, thinking things you usually only come up with after having way too much to drink.

“Hi.”

“What the–? Jesus!” I scramble a bit and hit the light, standing on the balls of my feet, ready to run. I see the thirtyish man on the other side of my bed. He’s close to six feet tall, slim, and in a dark blue suit. I feel calm slightly, I just get this vibe, I guess. He seems avuncular. Don’t know what it means? Go look it up, I’ll wait. Not going to do it? Oh, later. You’re not going to understand it until then, the line won’t make sense. Fine, I’ll tell you. It means ‘uncle-like.’ Lord.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“How did–?”

“You’re Kyle, right? I’m Ray, nice to meet you.” He extends his hand. I grasp it in mine. It’s warm.

“Umm… hi.”

“Hey.”

“Not to be rude or anything…”

“Yeah?”

“But how the fuck did you get into my house?!”

Ray smirks, maybe I’m not getting the joke.

“Easy, kid. Take it down a notch.”

“‘Easy?'”

“To answer: I didn’t break in or anything. You can check, if you’d like.”

For some reason, I believe him. I sprint around my apartment anyway, checking the door and windows. All locked and in one piece.

“So, how’d you get in?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not here here,” Ray gestures to the room “I’m here.” His hand reaches out again and a fingertip taps my forehead.

“I’m dreaming…?” I don’t know why I say it. Have you ever said that in a dream?

“‘Fraid no, kiddo.”

“Hallucinations aren’t listed on the side effects…” My voice trails off as my mind tries to make sense of the situation.

“The pills didn’t bring me here. You did.

-IV-

“Wait. Hold on. I brought you here?”

Ray nods.

“How?”

“You should probably sit down.”

“I’ll stand.”

Ray, with a smirk on his face, shrugs.

“Suit yourself. Do you know what happens when you sleep? More specifically, when you dream?”

“My guess is whatever I think, it’s wrong.”

“Pretty much. Dreams aren’t just things your sleeping mind makes up.”

“What are they?”

“Another world.”

I laugh. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Cliff’s Notes version? When you sleep, your mind, your consciousness, goes to the ‘Dreamworld.’ From there, you go about your business until you wake up and come back here.”

For some reason, I believe him. I just accept what he’s saying and it makes sense.

“So wait… that dream I had about Angelina Jolie and the vat of pudding actually happened?”

“Heh. Yeah.”

“Cool.”

“Of course, by the same note, that dream Eminem had about you and that gerbil–”

“Okay, stop right there.”

It’s Ray’s turn to laugh now.

“What about when people die or get hurt in dreams? What happens to their…” I can’t think of the word. “…Dreamself?”

“Depends on the person.”

“What do you mean?”

“Depends on the person’s willpower, self esteem, state of mind, etc. A strong mind can survive and regenerate from nothing.”

I pause for a moment, dozens of questions running through my brain.

“And if you’re not that strong?”

“You stop dreaming, if you’re lucky. If not… basically, you go to Hell. Nothing but nightmares until your physical body dies.”

“Jesus.”

I have to ask.

“Ray, where’s your body?”

“I don’t have one.”

His hand comes up, cutting me off.

“It’s a long story, maybe later.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because, human beings aren’t the only ones who travel to the Dreamworld. And that’s where you fit in.”

I’m confused beyond belief at this point.

“You’ve heard of people who can affect their dreams? Not just watch them?”

“Yeah, lucid dreaming.”

“Exactly. There’s always at least one of these dreamers who can actually control and manipulate the Dreamworld.”

I think I see where this is going. Why do I get the feeling he’s going to pull out a red pill and a blue one?

“That’s why you’ve stopped sleeping. Your mind isn’t ready to handle it. At least, subconsciously, it believes so. I know, on the other hand, that you’re ready.”

“Ready? Ready to what?”

“Save us.”


Sketchy At Best (Excerpt)

January 16, 2005

Panel-
Establishing Shot-
Wide on the exterior of a small coffee shop.

Panel-
Wide shot. Interior of said shop. (Use the Crave for reference) It’s not too crowded, maybe a half dozen people. In the corner, we can see MIKE and LYNN.

MIKE-
You’re kidding.

LYNN-
Nope.

Panel-
Tight on the date. There’s a huge cup of coffee in front of MIKE. LYNN’s got a glass of soda or tea or something.

MIKE-
You’re the first non-geek (no offense) I’ve EVER met that’s read Sandman. How’d you get into it?

LYNN-
Well, I’m a HUGE Tori Amos fan…

PANEL-
Close on LYNN.

LYNN-
…so it came from that, I guess. I heard he based Delirium on her, yeah?

PANEL-
Back to the pair.

MIKE-
That’s the story. Are you into any other comics?

PANEL-
Close on MIKE, an expression of shock and horror on his face.

LYNN (O.S.)-
Yeah, I love FATHOM.


Sketchy At Best (Excerpt)

December 22, 2004

JOEL-
So, wait. Let me make sure I heard that. You hate her, right?

MIKE-
Yeah.

JOEL-
You spent the last, what, two and a half years–?

MIKE-
Just about.

JOEL-
–Two and a half years with her miserable, yes?

MIKE-
Yes.

JOEL-
And you STILL miss her?

MIKE-
Correct.

JOEL-
There’s a word for people like you: In-fucking-sane.

MIKE-
I’m fully aware of this.

JOEL-
Why?

MIKE-
It’s… okay, it’s like this; I’m used to it.

JOEL-
Used to it? And that’s a reason to take the slut back?

MIKE-
No, but it makes sense. She’s human, I’m human, people make mistakes.

JOEL-
But you hate her.

MIKE-
This is true. It’s like crack, see?

JOEL-
So, now you’re a drug addict?

MIKE-
Shut up and listen. You know it’s not healthy, but you do it anyway. You can’t help it.

JOEL-
You’ve thought about this way too much.

MIKE-
Hey, how do you know I don’t want her back just to fuck with her mind?

JOEL-
‘Cause I know you.

MIKE-
Bastard.

JOEL-
Like you can talk.

MIKE-
Point.


A Change In Plans

December 16, 2004

“This is insane.  You see that, don’t you?  I mean, how could you not?  This isn’t smart.  We shouldn’t be here.  I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this.  Christ, this is stupid.  We’re going to regret this.  Anyone in their right mind would turn around and go back home.  Why aren’t we doing that?  Huh?  Hey, wait for me!”


Sketchy At Best (Excerpt)

December 5, 2004

Two guys playing pool in a sorta smoky bar. Throughout the story, they’re taking shots, drinks, and maybe puffing the occasional cigarette.

MIKE-
Goddammit.

JOEL-
What?

MIKE is pointing.

MIKE-
By the DJ.

JOEL-
Yeah, she’s cute, what’s your point?

MIKE-
Look at the guy she’s dry humping.

MIKE’S right. The guy’s fairly unattractive.

JOEL-
…yeah?

MIKE-
C’mon. I know I’m not the best looking guy on the planet, but I know that I’m more attractive than that motherfucker.

JOEL-
Then go talk to her.

MIKE-
I left my crowbar at home.

JOEL-
Jesus Christ. What about her?

MIKE-
Where?

JOEL-
By the cigarette machine.

An attractive redhead is standing alone by the cancer-dispensing machine.

MIKE-
You know I’m too shy to actually talk to her.

JOEL-
Bullshit. You’re too shy to actually start the conversation. C’mon, you know once you get started, you’ll be fine.

MIKE-
Yeah, well, I don’t want to come off as some creep who’s been watching her half the night from across the bar. I’ll be lucky if I don’t get a faceful of pepper spray.

JOEL-
You want me to bring her over here?

MIKE-
Like that’s any better. “Hey, I’m so pathetic my friend has to actually initiate the conversation.” Oh, yeah, she’ll be all over me with that one.

JOEL-
Great, I’ll go get her.

MIKE throws his pool cue onto the table and grabs JOEL’S arm.

MIKE-
NO! Fine. I’ll go talk to her. Happy?

JOEL-
As long as it shuts you the hell up.

MIKE is walking off, towards the redhead.

MIKE-
I hate you.