I have repeating Dreamscapes. It’s the places where the dreams take place, a certain building or a town, maybe it all exists in real life, like your childhood home, or maybe it feels like home when you’re dreaming, but the setting is alien to you once you awaken.
The factory building is a massive thing, as big as a town, and it’s a hundred feet tall, at least. Inside there are catwalks and ladders, with no hint to what might have been built here at some time in the past. It’s a feline Dreamscape, with multiple levels, multiple ways of getting from one to the other, lots of chains hanging from the ceiling, and on the very bottom floor, it’s a maze of interconnected offices and rooms.
I was here twice before. Once someone was chasing me, and I dropped a bucket of burning gasoline down a ladder as he was coming up. There were several of us, and some people didn’t get out before the whole damn place burned down like the end of the world or something. It was so hot we were standing by the front gate, four hundred meters away, and could feel it.
The last time was vague, with a low speed car chase in the parking lot, with me against someone else, with both of us trying to kill one another. I have no idea who won, but I’m still alive. The parking lot, by the way, is enormous, like a surreal black plains with grass growing out of the cracks.
There’s a group of guys chasing me, but I’ve led them here. I know it by heart, and they are lost and getting more confused by the moment. I get them into the center of the factory, and then I hit the main breaker to kill off all the power. It’s as dark as a cave now, and until sunrise, they’re stuck where they are. (Yes, no one has a cell phone in the dream except me)
I took some videos of them planning to kill me and posted it on FB. They have no idea they’re already famous, but I still have to get away.
I walk out under the stars and it’s an incredible night. At the very edge of the parking lot is a drop off, maybe a couple of hundred feet, and I walk out to the edge. I can see the stars in the sky, billions of them, and out over the valley there are lights from homes twinkling as well. I forget about someone trying to kill me, but I look down, and there’s an abyss, and one more step and I would fall.
In the dream, it occurred to me that this is how people in real life view the concept of Death. They know it’s out there, and in a broad sense, it’s not really that frightening, and there’s a sort of peace to it. But then, on a personal level, when you look down and it’s right there, it’s scary.
I remember seeing Greg at Exit 16 for the first time. An odd sight, for there to be someone I knew, someone I had worked with, someone who I had drank with, and someone who was going to college at some point, living under the overpass of I-75. But there he was, sitting, waiting, and homeless.
There were drugs involved, also stealing, cheating people out of money, lying, and it was the lying that seemed to be the worst part of it. Greg became a living lie, with every word and every sentence based on creating a narrative that would somehow transfer money from someone else to his use. Greg and I had reached the logical conclusion to our friendship when he stole from me. Trust was no longer possible, and no longer feasible. But Greg had run out of friends entirely and run out of second chances with anyone he had ever known.
If there’s any truth in the story, Greg’s family had worked hard to get him into college, get him where no one in their family had ever been, and he lasted one year. Cocaine was Greg’s thing, because it represented a lifestyle he could only bear witness to by watching television. Greg and I both worked at Shoney’s, the one on Ashley Street, and I remember him telling me he wanted to be a cocaine dealer. Greg got into crack instead, and he stole his father’s truck, and then looted his family’s home, and sold everything he could put in the truck at a pawn shop. He did that to his girlfriend’s mother, having a yard sale at her house while she was at work. And he stole stuff from his roommates. They threw his stuff out into the yard, and Greg set his bed up in the yard, close to the street. I drove by when I heard about it, and sure enough, there was Greg lying on his bed, in the open, in the yard. The first big rain ended that, and Greg retreated to Exit 16.
For not the first, and not the last time, I stopped and picked Greg up, took him to get something to eat, and turned down every request he made for money, and that was a nonstop thing with Greg. The year was 1985 or maybe ’86. I moved away in 1992, and didn’t give Greg a second thought until I saw him at Exit 16 again, but this time it was 2004.
People who have lived on the road for a while, and I’m talking about those with substance abuse problems, have a smell. Not the unwashed smell of someone who has been working all day in the sun, but a sour smell, of chemicals and alcohol seeping out of their bodies. Frequent walking in the sun bakes them, dries them out, fries their already tormented skin, and they begin to look a lot older than they already are. Being homeless is stressful. There’s no telling who or what is going to happen to you. Greg was now missing teeth from fighting with other homeless people, and someone had thrown something out of a car window and hit him, or so he said. Lies, lies, and more lies, Greg had a narrative of his life as someone who just needed a little more help, just a little more, and he would change.
I’d buy Greg food but never give him money, and someone gave Greg a job about the time I found out he was still in this area. He got fired for panhandling during lunch, with his employer telling him not to lie to people about needing work when he was on his lunch break. The man fired Greg after one day.
I went a very long time not hearing from Greg, and not hearing anything about him. I worked two interstate construction projects, and met a guy who knew him, or claimed to, anyway. Finally, about five years ago someone called me to say Greg’s body had been found along I-75 in Florida. He was off the right of way, in a patch of trees and bushes, and died there, apparently. His body had decomposed to the point there was no way to identify it. Because he was considered homeless and not missing, there was no one out there looking for him, so the body was cremated, and that was that. The only way anyone ever knew who he was is they took X-rays of his teeth and that matched dental records when they finally got a match. I’m not sure how all that works. But his former girlfriend saw me one day at the gym and told me. Apparently, the ashes were already gone by the time anyone even knew Greg was dead.
I saw Susan again today, she saw me, but she was with her family and I know she didn’t want to talk about how I once fit into her life. I was a friend of her boyfriend, and I was there when he was working, and people trusted him. We went out and drank beer, shot pool, ate food we can’t eat anymore without gaining weight, and I remember Susan and I talking once time, about how odd it was that each individual in that tiny bar had come from somewhere else, yet we were all there, at that very point on Earth, at that very point in time, and it was all very unlikely, yet we were. Now, she and her husband are meeting the kids for coffee before church, and there are small people who look like grandchildren with them.
Somewhere out there, unlikely people are meeting for the first time, or seeing one another for the last time, and as unlikely as their meeting might be, it still occurred, and there may or they may not be, some memory of it stored in the brain of a person, or maybe ten. Then one day, one of those people might die along the interstate, thousands of people passing as a funeral procession, and no one knows how death came or where it went next. Like an endless stream, people in your life come and go, and then one day, the last person who remembers you will be gone, and the last person who remembers that person will die, too. And nothing you ever remembered will still be with here, at least not from your point of view.
Alcohol is heaven, no, not heaven, maybe haven, somewhere the sound ceases, or at least is muted. The mesh in the sifter is larger, more permeable, so there’s less to appraise, less that has true depth. The vacation to the lizard brain means the lights are dimmed, no white hot glare of the bare desert full of demons and dreams. There’s a reason for bars, and there’s a reason most of those places are dimly lit.
The reptilian brain seeks only feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking, the four F’s, and a bar will allow you any of the four, in any combination you choose, or is chosen for you. Ride the anesthesia of loud music, strangers, and the drug of choice in its various forms. Fun, funny, serious, or sexy names for whatever precent of the drug, or what’s mixed with it, and it will get you from Point A to wherever you decide to stop, or wherever is decided for you.
The morning after. There’s still fog, still haze, and maybe a stranger you regret, or a stranger with promise, and maybe you are the regretted stranger, or a promise of sorts. Time to flee, one or the other of you, numbers exchanged, and hopefully nothing else in the dark, that might need medical attention.
There’s absolutely no difference between this, and a Sunday church service, and your chances of finding someone looking for sex are about the same.
Sooner or later, you have to go back into the desert.
No, really, you don’t. Seriously, you can very easily spend your entire life anywhere else but. Unless, of course, you know you belong there. There’s a blank canvas, or a blank page, or a shapeless lump of clay, or a camera staring at you from inside its bag.
It’s a hard scrabble, cracked white gypsum desert. Flat and devoid of even so much as a tough weed, the sun is always directly overhead and perpetually oven hot, without the slightest trace of a breeze. Moisture is sucked out of your skin faster than you can think of water, and there’s no relief from the blast of radiation from the sun. An environment not meant for the weak, meek, or those who retreat.
There’s nothing here. Not a single sound or sight or smell or sensation that doesn’t drive you to leave. You can go into the kitchen and get a snack, or a glass of wine. There’s new social media on your phone. Stay and you have to create something, made of nothing and of sweat, pain, suffering, and time. It’s tedious and repetitive. Your vision blurs and boredom with the process can distract. Crafting with words in this climate is putting melting ice beads on a hot metal string without gloves. The wind in the desert is deafening. Nothing else can be heard, nothing else can be felt, and nothing else exists.
The work done here is parsimonious. It’s panning for pieces of metal whose worth cannot be gauged until the end. There is no surety in hard work except nothing else will produce worth. Second seem like hours, yet when a vein is struck the hours seems like moments that pass without time. It’s trying to mount an invisible steed made of sentences and discomfort.
Words become sentences, which have to be woven into paragraphs, and the thread is wane, weak, sticky, and ethereal. The fiber from which they are created comes from one thing, then another, memories, books, oh my dog, more books, and books, then moments with people long gone, in one way or another, or people who just appeared, and for some reason, there’s a push, a lift, some sort of peculiar catalyst that requires nothing but a thought, or a question, or a presence.
Suddenly, you step away. What have you to show for this time in the desert? What is it, and what will you do with it, what can you do with it, and more importantly, will anyone else give a fuck?
It doesn’t matter, does it?
You save it, don’t save it, put it away to edit later, or not, none of this matter, because regardless of what it is, or how good it might be, you know you’ll go back, and do it again. It’s not the product, but the process. It’s being there, within, deep inside, feeling the heat, embracing the nothingness and daring to bring forth anything at all, and not hoping for the best, but working for it.
She was an angry woman, someone who had been wronged, and clearly, she was one of those people who rather be anywhere else than where she was, no matter who she was with. I didn’t want to do the bar thing, so I signed up on Match and started trying to shed a divorce that had begun to stick to me like a second skin. We were like two in that, she and I. Neither of us knew it at the time, but what we had in common was invisible, and both of us, once we realized it, had to part forever.
We met at Books-a-Million, and from the first few minutes, I thought she was about to get up and walk out. But we had read enough books to find comfort in trying to figure out what else there might be. She wrote poetry, but rarely, and I wrote too much fiction. There was a movie we both wanted to see, so we sat in the dark and in silence, which is what movies are good for, in the final truth. After a while, we held hands and watched the credits roll.
“I hear there’s a good Mexican place in Quitman,” she said, and I offered to buy her dinner there. She followed me to the restaurant, and we drank Margaritas and listened to a couple sing slightly off key.
We said our goodbyes at her car, and she told me it had been a great time but it was the wrong man at the wrong time, and if it was okay, we needed to part ways. I had just paid a lot of money to be shut of a woman so I knew it was a gift to be able to simply walk away.
I pulled into my driveway and she pulled in behind me. “Let not talk about it, okay?” and we didn’t. We smoked a little pot she had, drank Scotch that I had, and very slowly, but most certainly, she allowed me to ease her into my bedroom.
About three in the morning, she got up and dressed by the light in the bathroom, and I propped up on one elbow and watched.
“Left at the driveway, right at the light in town, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Don’t call me, please,” she said.
“I’m married,” she said and neither of us spoke again as she left.
It was another couple of months, and I was still adrift in the sea of unhappy people looking for other unhappy people on computer screens, and a text popped up. She showed up at my house an hour or so later, and she looked happier, somewhat, but we still didn’t want to talk about it.
“I got divorced,” she said, “but I’m not looking for anything right now.”
“Why are you here?” I asked. I had almost fallen asleep.
“I thought you’d get a kick out what happened when I left here last time. I went home. I had been gone most of the day, most of the night, and when I walked into the house my husband was sitting in his chair playing some video game with three of his friends, just like they were when I left. None of them had so much as changed positions. I don’t think he realized I had been gone. I sat and watched them play, knowing they would be there, endless hours followed by endless hours. I propped my feet up on the arm of his chair and cleaned my nails by scraping them against my teeth. There were tiny pieces of your skin under my nails. I held each piece in my mouth, just letting it sit there a bit, then I swallowed them. Pieces of someone else inside of me, in more ways than one, and me just a couple of feet away from a man who wasn’t aware who I was anymore,” she said.
“That’s fucked up,” I said, fully awake now.
“That’s marriage,” she said, and I never saw her again.
One day the Yappy Dog espied a stranger walking along the sidewalk that bordered the wooden picket fence. The fence separated the rest of the world from the property where the Yappy Dog lived. So the Yappy Dog ran to fence and began to yap at the stranger, and leaped up and snapped and snarled at the stranger. The stranger walked on, as the Yappy Dog got louder and louder, with spittle flying and his voice getting shriller and shriller.
Suddenly, both the stranger and the Yappy Dog came to where the gate was, and instead of it being closed and locked, it was swung wide open, and there was nothing separating the Yappy Dog from the stranger at all.
The Yappy Dog, having lived with the protection of the fence, and the gate, was confused. After all, the property upon which he stood was his, and he was entitled to defend it, but without the gate, he had to deal with the stranger on terms he had never considered before.
The Yappy Dog ran away, suddenly terrified, for this event had never occurred to him, and he feared now that he was no longer protected, the stranger might deal with him, with the same threats the Yappy Dog had issued for so very long.
The water spread out from the bottom of the dishwater like the blood of a murder victim, slowly, but horribly, a bladed weapon used in some third rate pulp fiction novel, and this the night before Thanksgiving. Once upon a time, dishes piled up in the sink, an accusation, or a monument to the Gods of Procrastination, before the time of dishwashers. Those Old Gods, like all before them, and all of those who would come, are replaced, in this case by the dishes left for three days in the washer, the Gods of Out of Sight Out of Mind, rise boldly.
Yet there is no despair here. I have an extended warranty, good for three years past the date when the manufacturer’s warranty dies, which was less than three months ago. I feel smarter for buying it, but at the same time, the idea that an appliance can bleed out in less than eighteen months is disconcerting. There is little to be done about it. Calling on Thanksgiving Day will not be useless for it can always be used as a good example of wasted time. The mountain of dishes is dealt with in orderly fashion, dried and put away, just like it was done for many years before the invention of a metal box used mostly to forget the dishes are clean.
Friday morning, I arm myself. I have the model number, the serial number, DNA from the inventor, a vial of Holy Water, a talisman from a drunken witch, a full cup of coffee, and playlist that will take me into the next decade. The assault will occur on multiple fronts; a call the store, interaction with a chat box, calls to three different numbers who will play wretched music far too loudly, but eventually, I’ll get to some random human being who will either toss me over to another, drop the connection, or actually help.
“Hello, this is Droma in New Mexico, how can I help you today?”
Droma has a thick accent from New York and by the sound of her voice, this is a person who has just about had it with human beings with dying appliances, and extended warranties.
“Hi Droma, this is Mike from Georgia, you have an interesting name, before we begin, let me start out by saying this isn’t your fault, and I don’t expect you to be able to get anyone out here today, and I’m not going to curse the name of Whirlpool just because I have a dead dishwasher.”
There is a pause, the intake of breath, and a sigh.
“How may I help you today?” Droma asks, and she’s not buying into the idea this isn’t going to turn out poorly.
“My dishwasher is leaking from the bottom of the device, and I’d like to schedule a repair,” I tell her. “Some day next week will be okay.” And I say that because, in reality, that’s likely when it’s going to happen.
Droma reads me my rights, those things that she has to read me, to tell me if I’ve taken a hammer and assaulted the machine, the warranty doesn’t cover that, and doesn’t cover me washing a dinosaur fossil in it, either, and by the tone of her voice, this is someone wounded by her assignment in dealing with the public. I can hear it. I can feel it through the line.
“Droma, let’s agree that we’re both human beings, that machines break down, and instant fixes are the purest fantasy, okay?” I say. “I’m not going to be one of those people.”
“You know, that’s the best thing I’ve heard today,” and her voice breaks, “this man calls me and his dishwasher has stopped working, it won’t drain, water is everywhere and he tells me he had thirty guests over, I tell him it’s illegal to have that many people over, and he goes off on me, and tells me he wants to speak to someone in America. I tell him New Mexico is in America, and he’s mad at me because he doesn’t know New Mexico is a state. My people are from Puerto Rico, but I was born in New York, I’m an American, I’ve lived here all my life, and the people in New Mexico make fun of my accent,” and Droma stops. “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to do that.”
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “I rather deal with a human being with human problems than a chat bot. People make fun of my accent, too.”
“I think you sound wonderful,” Droma says. “I like the way people in the south talk.
We talk accents and dishwashers, and I tell her the Yappy Dog story, and Droma laughs.
We hang up, and I wait for the automatic review of my experience with customer service. Droma gets the highest evaluation I can leave.
My dishwasher is still dead. It likely will be for a few more days. Who knows when or by who the problem will be solved, but I’m sure it will be. Machines die, they are fixed and come back to life. Life goes on either with them, or without them, just like the Old Gods.
I have lived another day without being the Yappy Dog.
You can, too.
It had to be this day. It wasn’t enough to simple prevent it, the killer had to be found, and punished. But what if the date was different? The thought gripped me as I walked across the porch. I knocked on the door and wondered if it was going to make anything better. This was the only way to find out if anything was going to make sense now. I had followed the same path I had taken before, become a deputy, and now I was standing at the front door of the Kems’ residence, in uniform, wondering if I could change the future any more than I had. It had been five years, and the first engines were anchored to the rock, forcing it to change direction, albeit slowly, it was working.
“Yes?” Mrs Kems said, smiling and I nearly wept. I had arrived on time.
“Mrs. Kems, you don’t know me, but my name is Wanda Alexander, I’m a deputy in Thomas County, may I speak with Travis?” I said in a rush.
“Oh my, has he done something?” Mrs. Kems said as she opened the door.
“No, nothing like that, I assure you,” I said and watched as Travis came down the hallway and saw me.
“I know you,” he said, “don’t I? It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
“Maybe, but I have a present for you, here,” and I gave him a thick book of drawing paper, and a pencil set. “Your teachers say you have a talent, an amazing talent for art, I need someone to do police composites,” I was lying, really lying, but it was going to be worth it. “Want to give it a try?”
“I’m not that good,” Travis said, but his face was alit with the idea someone might like his work. “But you’re the lady, from the dreams, aren’t you?”
“ Dreams are very strange things, Travis, but my plan for your art; it’s a long range plan,” I told him, “here’s the card of a woman I know in Quitman, she’s a retired art teacher, she said she’d love to help.”
“I really like to draw,” Travis stared at the pencil set. “Thank you.”
“Is there someone with you?” Mr. Kems came to the door and looked out behind me. A strange car pulled in, and then pulled out again.
“No, I have no idea who that was, but let me call in the car, and get an ID,” I said and I stepped back out. “Brooks Dispatch,” I said into my shoulder mic, “this is Thomas County, I need a stop of a white Toyota, 2005 driver unknown may be armed. Pauline Church Road, heading north.”
“Roger, Thomas County, we have someone close,” Deputy Sheffield was out there waiting. He had no idea why I wanted him on that road, but he agreed to it.
“I’ll go see who it was,” I said. “Travis, keep in touch, okay?”
“Yes ma’am,” and he smiled.
By the time I got there, Sheffield had the man down, cuffed, and stood over him.
“Damn, Wanda, look at this!” There was handcuffs in the truck of the car, a gun, and rubber gloves. And a bloody sheet wrapped around what looked like a body. “I think this one is up to no good at all,” Sheffield looked at me hard, “how’d you know?”
“Long story,” I said. “You get the capture; it’s your county.”
“I’ll call the state boys, they’ll want to look at this one. I think we just got a serial killer here.” The past was undone, it hurt me that it was undone for me, but for Travis and the rest of the world, it was a better place.
Two years went by, and Travis was turning into an incredible artist. I was thinking about not running for Sheriff. Steven Morrison was famous, worked with NASA, but now that the danger was growing less by the day, had slipped into obscurity again. I stopped trying to keep up with him. It made things worse, not better.
One of those electric cars cruised past me doing seventy in a fifty-five zone so I lit him up. The car was a rental, and when I walked up to the window the man smiled at me, “Sorry, deputy, but I’m not used to this thing yet.”
“License, please.” I said.
“Yes ma’am, hey I’m not going to argue with you; I was speeding. You’re right to give me a ticket.”
“Mr. Morrison, of NASA fame?” I asked, trying not to grab him. It was Steven. He was staring at me.
“Yeah, but, hey, you look familiar, we’ve met, haven’t we?” Steve asked.
“It’s possible,” I said. “You in Thomas County for long?” I asked.
“I’m actually looking for a job, either in Valdosta or Thomasville, I always wanted to teach high school, engineering, I kinda fell into the NASA thing, got lucky looking in the right place at the right time, it was a miracle, actually.” Steve said. “Are you local? Maybe you could show me around?”
“You like Jazz?” I asked my heart pounding. “There’s a great little place in Valdosta that has live Jazz music on Thursdays. Good food. Good wine.”
“You, uh, married or anything?” Steve asked, just like he did the first time we had met.
“No, I’m single,” I said, “I’m Wanda, Wanda Alexander. Here, I’ll give you my number,” and my hands were shaking hard.
“I love Jazz,” Steve said. “Are you sure we haven’t met? Never mind, I’m positive I would remember you”
“Some people,” I said, trying not to lose my composure, “are just meant to meet one another, don’t you think so, Steve?”
“Yeah, hey, it’s Thursday, let’s go to listen to Jazz tonight, is that too soon?” Steve said, and he gave me his best and most charming smile. Oh my god he still had it.
“Sure, why not,” I laughed. “Seven sounds good, okay?”
“I know a great little Italian place, they’ll even overcook your garlic bread if you like it that way,” I walked away, knowing Steve was watching me, and it had begun, again.
“So you are telling me that we were married before, you were Sheriff before, and we saved the world from an alien invasion with the help of your friend Travis?” Steve took a hit off the joint and held it. A moment passed and he released a cloud of smoke then said, “Travis does grow some really great pot, doesn’t he?”
“It’s legal now, so why not?” I sighed. I knew we would have this conversation one day. I knew he would believe me, but he didn’t not quite yet.
“And how come you and Travis remember this? He doesn’t remember the things you do, does he?” Steve put his hand on my thigh and I hoped I could convince him before he totally distracted us both.
“I’m not sure, but he went back from an adult to a kid, that might be it, and he got his folks back, too. They likely influenced him to think it was a dream, if I was him I would have run with it.” I said.
“So he’s teaching art in New York now? Or is he still in Canada?” Steve asked.
“Canada, his job in the city start next month,” I stood up with great reluctance, “here, I have you show you something, Travis drew this,” and I got the drawing out.
“What the hell?” Steve wasn’t amused. “This is us having sex on a sofa? I mean it’s good, wait, how old is this?”
“Travis drew it for me right after he and I reconnected, before you and I met again, Steve,” I said and smiled. “The date is at the bottom.”
“It is real, this did happen,” Steve whispered.
“You and I are remarried, sweetie,” I laughed at the look on his face. “I’m both your first and second wife!”
“How long were we married the first time?”
“Four years, about half the time we’ve been married so far,” I replied.
“Where do you think they are, these Peacekeepers?” Steve asked.
“Somewhere out there, looking out for us,” I laughed. “But don’t we have better things to do now?”