A Requiem of Dreams

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor...

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer’s disease. Notable is the “shrink” that has occurred in Alzheimer’s disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us dream while we sleep. For some, it’s reason to speculate on the possibility of spiritual communication, a type of assisted second sight. Others interpret dreams like tea leaves, hoping to divine the future. Some consider dreaming a process where our brains exercise, while others suppose it’s a cleaning of memories.

For not a few people, dreams can become haunting, troubling, and even terrifying. We’ve all probably witnessed friends, spouses and children twitch and turn, kick and jerk, and occasionally scream out in their sleep. We wonder what they could be seeing, and who – or what – might be visiting them in the night. Perhaps we’ve woken in panic ourselves, screaming as we open our eyes.

Dreams remain a mystery, nightmares the most mysterious. But some think nightmares are no mystery at all.

In research published in 2010 in the Journal of Neurology, nightmares were, in many cases, found to be warning signs. In many ways they are premonitions. The researchers asserted that violent dreams were often a precursor to dementia.

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s don’t necessarily sneak up on a person, but can begin decades before the most obvious symptoms appear. The scientists are convinced that violent nightmares are sometimes the beginnings of brain disorders.

This may itself be an exercise in speculation, but many doctors and researchers have associated dreams with medical conditions.

If this research holds true, some of us are carrying a little future insanity around inside.

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Part 9 – The End

English: Stephen Road - Beacon Road

English: Stephen Road – Beacon Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Berta knew it was because of the letter.

She’d gotten the call at her office no more than an hour after Franklin had left for school. She recognized the panic, and allowed it to rush through her like a wildfire. She couldn’t stop it if she’d wanted to.

It wasn’t unexpected. Franklin had been breaking down for a year now. But the letter… they hadn’t expected the letter.

The steering wheel was hot when she got in the car. It wasn’t even noon and the heat was blistering. She sat there for a long moment and wondered what she would ever do with her life now.

She remembered the night when Stephen had attacked him. She’d rushed to the hospital knowing that this had been her fault. She didn’t know why she’d done it, why she’d lied to Stephen. Was she that petty, that insecure that she feared her husband helping a young, lost girl?

Yes, she knew she was. But she had never wanted this.

Stephen had been hiding in his car when Franklin and Crystal got in. They hadn’t even noticed him until they’d left the parking lot. Franklin had heard a voice from the back seat: “Drive.”

They’d driven down to the river where they’d parked. Stephen had a hold of Crystal’s hair as they drove, the knife pressed into her throat. Stephen told Franklin to get out of the car.

Stephen locked the doors. Franklin watched as he pulled Crystal by the hair over her seat and into the back, with him. She pushed away, cowering with her knees up to her chest.

Stephen looked at Franklin through the glass.

He said he was going to rape her, and Franklin would have to watch. He was going to reclaim what was his.

They say that the memories of war remain real in the mind of the soldier. Those distant dreams become present nightmares. Often Franklin would wake up in the night and hide behind the door, like he was waiting for someone to burst through from the other side. Once she had found him in the bathtub, naked and dry, crying and pulling at his eyes. But those were all just little steps on the way to madness.

Stephen tore at her clothes and pushed himself between his legs. Franklin was frozen, but just for a moment. And then the war came back to him. Not the bullets or the fear, only the rage. He smashed the window with his fists and grabbed Stephen. One hand in his hair, one hand clutching his jacket. And he pulled the boy from the car, through the window, across the shattered glass, tearing his face and neck until the blood covered him and ran down Franklin’s wrists.

Stephen lay dying. Crystal was silent, dreaming in her shock and unable to move. Franklin looked down at what he’d done, this life that was now in his hands. And he’d told her, told Berta, that’s when everything changed.

He held the artery shut. It felt like he was choking the boy, but he stopped the blood. He’d done it for a friend in Afghanistan, a friend he’d saved who died on the transport to the field medic when the truck he was in ran over an IED. Franklin didn’t see Stephen, he saw Manny. And there, in the park, just the two of them in the dark, Franklin saved Stephen’s life.

Berta met them at the hospital. It was chaos.

There were doctors, police, a whirlwind of commotion. She found him, standing in the corner of the room checking his pockets again and again. In the scuffle, Franklin had lost the ring he wore on his little finger. A boy lay dying, his student hysterical, parents of two children asking, no, demanding an explanation, threats of lawsuits, screams, all Franklin could do was look frantically around for his lost ring.

That was a year ago. Stephen had suffered mild brain damage from the concussion and extensive loss of blood. He would never play football again. He was also charged with attempted rape.

Crystal became withdrawn. She never went to visit Franklin again. She stopped attending rehearsal, and eventually dropped out of school.

Franklin was on the mend – both physically and psychologically – when Stephen committed suicide. Franklin quit going to his therapy group. He would brood about things he should have done, recite all the mistakes he had ever made. Berta had endured it, but she didn’t know why. Perhaps seeing him with another man’s blood on his hands made her realize that he was strong. A man who could protect her. Maybe she felt proud of it. She didn’t quite know.

And then the letter arrived. It was there on the table when she’d gotten home last night. A dirty, thick envelop with a dozen stamps from faraway places. It was addressed to him, but only his first name was written.

She’d asked him about it, and he said he knew it was there. He didn’t want to open it for some reason. He was angry all night.

In the morning when she came down for coffee he was already dressed. He looked nice, like he’d really paid attention to his grooming and attire. He hadn’t look that nice in so long. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, grabbed his briefcase and headed out.

She saw the letter on the table. It had been opened.

She drove out of the parking lot and headed home. There was no need to go to the hospital. She knew he was dead, even if the officer on the phone had only said she needed to hurry. She would go home and see what was left of her life, see if there was anything there or in this world left for her.

The letter had said someone he used to know in Afghanistan, a girl, had been killed.

She knew Franklin was dead, and she knew why.

Because he couldn’t save anybody.

It Ends Tomorrow

I’ve decided. This story which is now eight parts will end tomorrow. I do not know what will happen, I do not know how long it will be. But it will end.

I wonder how many of you have similar writing experiences. I know the old argument between plotters and pansters, but I’m looking for something a little different. No matter how well you plot the story will always take twists and turns you’re not expecting. By the same token, no matter how much you “wing it” eventually the outline of the story, plot turns, and maybe even the ending will appear before you arrive there.

What I’d like to know is if you’ve ever experienced a story write itself. Have you ever written anything with no destination, no forethought, and no idea where it would go?

I’m going to see if this all works tomorrow sometime. It will either wrap itself up nicely, or be a glorious disaster.

Part 8

afghan-girl-beautiful-eyes 3He didn’t know how he’d become her refuge. Perhaps he was the only one she could confide in. Whatever the reason, it had become dangerous.

Franklin had listened to Crystal, how she wanted so much for herself, but had become afraid of the boy who told her he loved her. She’d made the mistake of being more than his friend, and now there was no way out. That was how Crystal described her relationship with Stephen. A mistake. Mistakes were something Franklin understood.

Crystal had found him one night after rehearsal, buried in work that he didn’t enjoy. Technology Applications was an important sounding name for what he’d learned in computer science class no so long ago. Was he really that old? Sometimes he thought the best years of his life were wasted on a battlefield. And the kids he spent his days with couldn’t possibly understand a man who had sacrificed so much and gained so little for it. But Crystal listened, and he thought maybe she was different.

It was dangerous, opening up to her. But as she shared her fears with him, he began to tell her stories. About the man he’d wanted to be, and the man he’d actually become. And when she found him that night, he was thinking about her again, the girl in Kunar, the girl who he’d killed.

Crystal had asked him why he was crying. He didn’t see her come in, she just appeared at his desk, her eyes frightened. He told her that he was sorry for what he’d done. She’d sat and listened to him talk about it – God, he couldn’t even tell Berta. His company was sent to Asmar, a small village north of Asadabad, where they’d patrolled in the day and took fire in the night. They’d been ambushed, and he somehow became separated from his platoon, lost in the mountains. He saw a light down in a pass, and headed there, not knowing if he was walking to rescue or to his death. He was delirious, thirsty, and lost. He woken up in the stables, a frightened girl staring at him with a bucket of chicken feed in her hands, the seeds spilling onto the ground.

Her family had taken him in. They called it Pashtunwali, an honor system that protected strangers, even if they were your enemy. The Army had negotiated his release, but by that time he’d fallen in love with the girl. She came to him at night, and although they’d never spoken, she’d brought him food and milk, and had smiled at him.

He’d showed Crystal the ring she’d given him, just a small plastic thing that would only fit on the second knuckle of his little finger. Crystal listened to the story, and when Franklin began to cry, really cry, she’d held him. And then something unexpected happened. She took his face in her hands and kissed him. He didn’t know what to do. He told her that he appreciated her being there for him, but God, what had he done? That was the night that Crystal told him Stephen had said he was going to kill her.

And now, here she was again.

She said that there were fourteen missed calls on her phone, all from Stephen, and all within the last two hours while she and Franklin had been at rehearsal. Franklin gathered his things and asked if she was walking home. It was late, maybe 8 o’clock. Too late to walk home, given the circumstances. He said he’d take her home, just his once, and they left the school and walked to the parking lot, toward Franklin’s car where Stephen hid in the back seat with his knife.

From Whence It Came

I’ve been writing a story without thinking about it. A few of you loyal ones have been keeping up with me from Part 1 to Part 7, and now that we’re this deep together, I thought I probably owed you an explanation about what you are reading.

I have a novel waiting for me on my Mac, and it’s been collecting dust and spider webs for almost a year. I spent most of this past year trying to get industry interest in an earlier novel, so far without luck. I began to wonder if I could write anymore, if I had lost the spark, or if the spark was ever there to begin with.

One day I was sitting with my laptop after reading three miserable short stories, and thought I would try my hand at one. But I made a rule before I started. Actually two. The first was I would write without getting in the way. That meant no plot, no editing, no notions about what I would write. The second was to not interject myself into the story. That, to me, meant writing strictly from my muse, or to say it a more sane way, not to think while I was writing.

After each section I would stop, put the computer away and not think about the story again for a week. At times my mind would come up with ideas. I’d throw them away. I didn’t want to know what came next until I wrote it, and every section so far has been a surprise. Surprisingly, the story continued, week to week, with no effort or planning.

And here it is, well, 2/3rds of it. It’s longer than I thought it would be, and I’ve lost some followers along the way. But I’m going to finish this, because I want to see what happens when I don’t try, don’t think, don’t want anything. It may be good, it may be bad, but it’s writing at its very essence.

If you’ve liked anything along the way, or have read any of the “parts” please leave a message or let me know. I have no idea what you see.

Part 7

A Highschool American Football game

A Highschool American Football game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had taken four months for her love to die. Four months of watching him avoid the girl, four months of his absence while he thought about her, four months of her name in their bed. It became his obsession, this girl who he had to avoid at risk of her safety. This girl who he trained to act out on the stage the confidence and determination she lacked in herself. This girl who began to take her place in his thoughts.

He said it was innocent, it was nothing, it wasn’t what they had. And it wasn’t, not in most ways. But it was something, and innocence was a matter of degree and perspective.

Franklin was staying late. Of course, there were the play rehearsals, and those took time. But what wasn’t explained away was his focus on the girl, how he talked about her as if she was a part of their life, how he expressed his concern for her.

She’d come to school once, to surprise him, but mostly to see if he was really working. She was almost to his office when she heard a girl’s voice. She stopped. Finding a place behind the bend in the hall, she peered to the other side and watched this girl in his arms, laughing, and then their lips met.

He’d said that night they were rehearsing lines, but the love was dead by then.

So Berta decided to make everything stop.

She thought it would be the quickest way to end this, even if the girl would have to suffer. It would be a share of the suffering she herself had been feeling. The neglect, and anger, the loneliness. So she found Stephen after football practice. He was wiping the sweat away from his face, looking at her with concentration, as if he could see her eyes behind the sunglasses she wore. Dark, so he wouldn’t see her lie.

“Can I help you?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I didn’t come here for that.”

“What did you come for, then?”

Her lips tightened. “Now listen here, you tell your little slut of a girlfriend to stay the hell away from my husband.”

She could see his smile fade like the haze of an October morning.

“What are you talking about,” he said, his voice cracking.

“I’m Mrs. Ray, and you know damn well what I’m talking about. If I ever find her lipstick on his shirt, or smell her perfume on his crotch again, I’m going to do what you should have done a long time ago.”

The words dying as they hung in the air, she turned and walked away. She didn’t give him time to respond. She knew he’d have no response anyway.

And so she couldn’t see how Stephen ripped his jersey from his chest, then the pads, and then ran inside the school.