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.
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?”
Steve and I went over to Kems’ place and found it totally dark. Travis had inherited the house from his folks after they were murdered, and a lot of people thought he might have killed them. He claimed a stranger had come in and just killed them both. I never believed he did it. The man had a drug problem, not a violence problem. Travis was a soft spoken and shy young man, barely twenty-one, but he had a lot of issues related to the death of his family, and more demons than most. I had picked him up twice for possession, drugs not demons, but rehab hadn’t helped him at all. He lived alone in a massive two story house that had been built one hundred years ago, when building houses was an art.
We knocked but there was no answer. Then the door swung open just a bit, and we heard a voice.
“Come on in,” Travis said, “I’ve been expecting you.”
Travis lit a candle and it revealed his face, unshaven, gaunt, and yet oddly clean.
“How could you know we were coming?” I asked but Travis said nothing, and instead lit more candles.
“Jesus,” Steve whispered. Covering the walls, from one side of the hallway to the other, extending past where we could see in the light, pencil drawings, life sized pencil drawings of the Peacekeeepers, covered every inch.
“Travis, what did they tell you?” I asked.
“They told me you could choose,” Travis said, “but I don’t think it means what you think it means. I think we’re getting a weak signal, someone or something is trying to tell you, me, us, something, but it has nothing to do with what we think we’re seeing.”
“Tavis, they showed you something, what was it?” I asked.
“The two of you having sex on the sofa, and wine, red wine, and that led you here,” Travis said. He pointed to a drawing of our living room. The detail was disturbing.
“But you know about the Peacekeepers, all these drawings, when did it all start?” Steve asked.
“Right after my parents died, I started smoking a lot of pot, doing mushrooms, and having nightmares, they came to me, and told me they were trying to help, but it kept being horrible, they did things to people, but none of it was real. As long as I was drawing, they stayed away.” Travis lit a joint and passed it to Steve. Steve looked at me and I nodded.
“Imagine if you will, Wanda,” Travis began, “someone one hundred meters away, on a windy day, trying to tell you something, or trying to get you to do something, but they only have ten or fifteen minutes a day to try. If the two of you don’t speak the same language, then maybe that person draws pictures and sends them on paper airplanes. I think that’s what’s happening here. The violence and the gore is so you’ll remember it more clearly; trauma causes focus.”
“But they do speak English,” I insisted. “I’ve spoken to them.”
“I think the vision of them speaks to you so you can interpret the message they are trying to send.” Travis said and he picked up his pencil. “I think they are actually trying to help us.”
“That’s why we need a really smart person,” Steve said.
“What?” Both Travis and I said at the same time.
“According to your original vision, Wanda, all of this started with them telling us an asteroid was going to hit Earth in a year. Now that we know some of the things they’ve shown you is true, we need someone with a telescope and some brain power to try to spot the object they said is heading our way. I was an astronomy major before I went into engineering.”
“That’s part of it, Steve,” Travis said, “but I think at the end of the day, we have to think it’s too late to stop it. Even if we told NASA what was going on, and then they believed us, and the whole world decided to join forces to solve the problem, it would very likely take a hell of a lot longer than a year. By then, the world isn’t going to be wiped out, but if it’s the size they’ve told me it is, there’s going to be a city sized hole somewhere on Earth, maybe bigger. It’s going to mess up the climate for a while, kill a lot of people, but we’ll survive it. What we have to do is have time to prevent it. I think they’re offering us that.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. “How can we get more time?”
“By choosing loss,” Travis said.
I fell backwards. A void opened up and swallowed me.
“Good,” the Peacekeeper said. “You choose now, you can see.”
“Why me?” I asked. “You have to tell me that.”
“I show you already. Your world ruined. Peacekeepers step in to save some, you choose some, but you choose time, we can help. But you lose.” The Peacekeeper said.
“Lose what?” I asked, and I knew I would hate the answer.
“Peacekeeper does not know, just know loss. Now, you know you choose. Many others choose, too. Your loss or lose all. I,” it stopped speaking. “I have no time now. You have less. Permission from you or not. It is now time to choose. Ask Peacekeeper to help. I ache for you, Wanda Louise Alexander Morrison, I wish some other choice. But now, only now.”
“Please help us,” I whispered, and a roaring sound took the world away.
I woke up and was in the most familiar place I could have been, but it was as alien as the Peacekeeper’s world. Everything, to the very smallest detail was the same, as I remembered it, had lived it, but it was ten years ago. I was back home in my parents’ home.
“Hey Lazy,” Karen walked into my room, “you smelled like beer last night when you came in.”
“Karen,” I whispered. She was fifteen, still just a kid, and wearing that cast when she fell and broke her wrist.
“You got to see this,” Karen said as she picked the remote up and turned the television on. “The world is ending, or is going to.”
It was a surreal scene on the television. NASA was having a press conference, and the President was there. They had just discovered a large meteorite, a small asteroid, and it was heading for Earth. We had nine point seven three years to find a way to stop it.
“And this has been confirmed by several other countries, but as you know by now, the original sighting was made by a senior at Georgia Tech,” the announcer was saying.
“Steven Morrison,” I breathed. “Oh Steve.”
“Steven Morrison, who used a telescope, he was logged onto remotely of course, in the ISS to see around the planet Jupiter,” the announcer continued.
“We know Steven Morrison?” Karen asked.
“Facebook,” I said, and I knew what I had lost. How many other people’s lives had been changed by this shift in time? How many others had made the same deal? Did Steven remember me? Did he remember us? No, I was betting only those the Peacekeepers spoke to were in on it, and I had just lost my husband. The man I married, loved, planned to have children with, wanted to grow old with, and have my ashes scattered in the same place in the mountains, was gone.
Steven and I had been married for four years. He was against me running for Sheriff, and I regretted it deeply as soon as I put the uniform on. Brooks County was a small, lightly populated, very closed little county. But the people liked me, I liked them, and the retiring Sheriff supported me. I thought the fact I knew the job better than anyone else, I had been a deputy in Thomas County for five years, would mean something. I thought they would accept someone who worked hard and was honest, even a woman.
Was I losing my mind because of the position? Was the job stress killing me? It certainly wasn’t helping my marriage. Now this, me coming and going in some alternative world where aliens were attacking Earth, yes, in fact, I was losing my mind, I had to admit it.
“Steve, I need help, I’m hallucinating, passing out, seeing things, hearing things, and I’m going to have to resign from the county to take better care of myself,” I blurted this out over spaghetti and red wine.
“I have to admit the episodes are a little strange,” Steve said more nonchalantly than I could have under similar conditions. “But don’t bail on your job until a doctor tells you there’s a reason. Or not a reason. But what have you been seeing and hearing?”
“Okay, remember you asked,” I replied, drained my wine glass, refilled it, drank half of it, and told Steve everything. I didn’t leave out a single detail, but the man didn’t interrupt me or flinch.
“Let’s do this,” Steve began, “okay, this sounds insane, but at the same time you have no history of anything like this. Let’s try a simple experiment.”
“Okay, what?” I wondered if he meant an MRI or some sort of scan.
“If none of this is real then there shouldn’t be any connection between the other world and this one. If there is a connection that means you aren’t crazy, which I think might actually be worse.” Steve poured more wine and smiled at me. I felt better.
“What do we do?” I asked.
“Call Harlow, tell him to meet you at the office first thing tomorrow morning. And then do your job given the evidence of a crime, Sheriff.” Steve had a way with words. I picked up my cell and called Harlow.
The next morning, I felt strange and surreal. What I was about to do was going to alter my reality, one way or the other, and neither felt good. Harlow had Ronnie Rogers in the conference room when I arrived. I sat down and hit the record button on the video without so much as a good morning.
“Deputy Rogers, this interview is being recorded, you’ve been read your rights, and at this time, would you like to have a lawyer present?” I asked. Rogers was sitting across from me with Harlow beside him.
“I don’t need no lawyer,” Ronnie snarled, “I ain’t done nothing.”
“Okay, you have waived your right to have a lawyer present. Both Deputies Spells and Clarey have filed complaints about you. They charge you drugged my water bottle in an attempt to discredit my office. At this point you are going to be charged with two felonies, assault upon a peace officer, and possession of an illegal substance with the intent to harm, other charges will follow, I am sure. Do you have anything to say?” I asked and leaned back in the chair.
“It was a joke, that’s all, listen, I didn’t mean to hurt nobody, I like you, I think it’s great you got the job, I was just playing a trick on you, I swear it,” Ronnie was sweating.
“You’ve been protecting some of the pot farmers, and they paid you to come after me, didn’t they?” I asked.
“I ain’t done that!” Ronnie was scared now, and it showed.
“You know what’s going to happen to you in prison, Ronnie?” Harlow asked. “You got a purty mouth, boy.”
“I ain’t, I ain’t done nothing with no pot farmers, listen, I done wrong by you, I admit that, but I’ll make you a deal; I’ll quit, I’ll quit right now.” Ronnie stood up then sat down again. “I’ll turn in my certification.”
“I want the names of the people who were backing you, Ronnie, and if you don’t give them to me, then you are going prison. But one question, what did you spike my water with?” I tapped my foot on the floor and it seemed very loud.
“That angel dust stuff, just a little, I swear I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Ronnie began sobbing.
“You are under arrest, Mr. Rogers, stand up, put your hands behind your back, please,” Harlow said and he reached over and took Ronnie’s gun and handcuffed Ronnie.
“Harlow, let’s bring Spells and Clarey in, I want to know how deeply involved they were in this,” I said.
“Wait!” Ronnie said, “you mean, they ain’t told you nothing?”
“No, we knew you’d fold up so there was no need,” I said sweetly. “You really ought to study the handbook on interrogation more often.”
Later that day, I was with David, drinking wine, yeah again, to celebrate. Arresting a deputy meant the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would come visit us, but I felt like the case was strong enough I didn’t have to worry.
“There’s a problem,” I said to Steve. “Now that we know.”
“No, there’s only a solution,” Steve replied. We were both naked on the sofa, having not made it to the bedroom.
“If all of this is a drug induced hallucination, then how did I know about the plot?” I asked.
“It’s not just a drug induced hallucination, Baby, it’s all too real,” Steve said. “I thought that from the beginning.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
“Because you were in uniform when we found you on the floor the other day, you had left for work, were gone for a couple of hours, then you were back here. If you hadn’t gone to work then the note I left on your windshield would still be there. I checked. It was gone.” Steve slipped beside me and poured more wine. “Somehow, you went to work, but then you were back home before you left. That’s something that is deeply strange and has to involve something out of this world.”
“You believe there’s aliens who call themselves Peacekeepers and they’re out to destroy the earth, and all you’re doing is pouring me more wine?” I sat up. “Now you’re the crazy one.”
“Wanda, let’s look at what’s happened so far,” Steve said. “You were given a pretty strong drug, one of your prisoners has committed suicide, and you’ve had serious interactions with some sort of force that messes with time and place. Yet given all this, nothing and no one has really been hurt, except for Dernmond hanging himself, that was real. But the school bus incident didn’t happen.”
“I called Mental Health services to go talk to Travis when I realized it wasn’t real,” I said getting up and pacing.
“I think I have an idea that will end this,” Steve said, “but we’re going to have to find someone with some real smarts. But first we’re going to see Travis Kems. He’s a serious drug addict. I’m betting if we get to him quick, we can save the world next.
The next morning, I got up, ate breakfast with Steve, and then stepped out of the door and fell a million miles. I landed in a very strange place.
“You left, District Manager Wanda Louise Alexander Morrison, without choosing, and now you see what has happened?” The Peacekeeper asked. I was standing alone on the island in the table, surrounded by the aliens, or whatever they were. They all looked the same, but some of them were slightly larger, some had different shaped heads, and one of them, instead of the flat black coloring of the face, was slightly brownish. They all made odd hooting noises, as if they were laughing at me.
“I’m not sure you are real,” I replied. “I think I’m dreaming, or going insane.”
“You live in a world where you lock people up, there they die and call this insane?” The peacekeeper nodded vigorously. “Yes, we are both here and not here, both real and not real, both dream and not dream, but you still must choose.”
“What this time?” I asked.
“Here, I show you something we see,” the peacekeeper waved a paw in the air and a screen appeared.
It was the breakroom at the office. Three of my deputies, Ronnie Rogers, David Spells, and Ben Clarey were there.
“I’m telling you, the Cunt has lost her mind, passed right out from what Harlow said, hit the floor, then started talking nonsense, it’s time we ended this,” Ronnie said.
“Ronnie, you don’t even know if she’s going to run again, it’s just two more years, and then we can run you and it will be a breeze,” David spoke as he got up for more coffee.
“Putting that dope in her water bottle was a bad idea, Ron, and you know it,” Ben shook his head. “I never agreed to be a part of anything like that.”
“I ain’t done it,” Ronnie snapped. “I just said I might and I ain’t.”
“Well, you let this play out and I’ll help, but I ain’t putting up with you hurting nobody just so you can get to be Sheriff. Just be cool. Nobody likes her being behind the desk, and the commissioners ain’t gonna back her.” Ben said.
“She done busted too many pot farms and that’s gonna get somebody hurt,” Ronnie growled.
“We need to shut up about this while we’re here,” David warned. “Just shut up, Ronnie.”
The screen disappeared.
“You see, I show you what happens in back of you,” the peacekeeper said, “and you can choose.” The other peacekeepers hooted loudly.
“That’s no reason to have them killed,” I replied. “I could fire them, or not fire them, but spiking my water and protecting dope dealers isn’t an execution offense.” I stared at the black space in the air, willing the screen to reappear. I knew the men hated me, but had it gotten that bad?
“But it makes choice easy for you?” the peacekeeper asked.
“Why bother making me choose?” I replied. “Why go through all of this at all? We can’t stop you from doing whatever you want. Why the dog and pony show? Why not just take what you want, kill who you want, and not put me through this? Do you get some sort of entertainment value out of watching us suffer?” I knew better than to mouth off at them, but I was angry, and I was hurt.
“We watch you suffer without us, yes?” the peacekeeper said and he nodded, “And without us you suffer and you choose. Now we come and we tell you to choose and that makes you suffer more? I am asking. I already know, but you do not.”
“Okay, it makes it worse when you make us choose, even if we have already fucked things up for ourselves, is that what you wanted to hear?” I was trying not to cry but I felt myself losing control. What was happening to me? Was this a nightmare, some drug induced hallucination, or was I truly going insane?
“Here, I show you,” the peacekeeper said.
There was smoke everywhere, thick, acrid, and black. The office was on fire and the emergency lights weren’t working.
“Sheriff!” I could hear Harlow screaming so I tried to move towards the sound. The hallway was filled with debris and I stepped on a body. I grabbed an arm and pulled the body with me as I headed towards the front door.
“Fuck!” said the man I was dragging said and I realized it was Ben.
“Sheriff!” Harlow said as he met me in the hallway, “we gotta get out of the building.”
“What’s happening?” I asked. “Get Ben out of here.”
“They’re attacking,” Harlow’s face was covered in soot. “They’re taking out all the city and county buildings. They’re hitting the squad cars with some sort of projectiles. We’re trying to fight back but bullets aren’t helping. I got reports they’re herding people into some sort of black hole that’s on Washington Street. Whadda we do?”
“Use tear gas, push them away from people or push the people away from them, either way it works.” I saw a flash of light in the sky that looked like some sort of plane, or aircraft. “If bullets aren’t working then stop shooting at them. Try to block them with trucks if you can find any. But we have to get people away from them as fast as we can, then try to fight them if we can. Go.”
“Yes ma’am!” and Harlow was gone.
“You know, Sis, you’re under a hell of a lot of stress,” Karen said as she came out of the building.
“Karen?” I couldn’t believe she was there.
“What’s for dinner?” Karen asked. “Do you smell smoke?”
“Shit!” I had turned the oven on too high. Steve liked his garlic bread dark and I had left it on too long.
There was a thin line of smoke rising from the oven. But the house was the same as it had always been.
“You drive through downtown?” I asked. I was wearing my uniform which was neat and clean.
“Yeah, why?” Karen asked. “Are you okay?”
“I think I need a brain scan, or an MRI,” I replied. “I might be losing my mind.”