Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
How long, how long will I slide
Separate my side I don’t
I don’t believe it’s bad
Slit’in my throat
It’s all I ever
Otherside –Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Alone, and forsaken.
It was the first time in his life that Tobey Cobb had ever held a gun, and it would be the last time, for he chosen to take his life with it. The revolver was heavy, heavier than he expected, and he was surprised that it had an oily metallic smell. He had paid fifty bucks to a Black Panther for the piece. They probably wanted to get rid of weapon after it had been used in some crime or another. Cobb didn’t care. All he cared about was the fact that if he put a hole in his head, then he would go to sleep and not dream.
He used to love to dream. Even as a kid, he considered dreaming to be like watching free movies. Movies in which he could be the star. But now all of his dreams were nightmares. And the waking hours were no better, just preludes to the nightmares. A lonely time, waiting to go to sleep to come to an even more lonely time.
Once he had been loved by a goddess. A cold icy hearted goddess, the Queen of Air and Darkness herself. No mortal woman would ever match her in exquisiteness of form and spirit. His body ached for her touch. But the capricious fey had abandoned him. He had given up everything for her, his friends, his schooling, even his sanity, everything. And she had abandoned him. Just like he had abandoned them.
His friends, they were all dead, in an asylum or worse. But he would sell them out again just to be with his dark queen one more time. They had truly been his friends; they had been closer than friends, almost family. Omar was the closest thing he had ever had to a brother, and Roxanne and Stacey had been his lovers, physically at least. But the pain that now drove him to his own self destruction was not the guilt he felt over his betrayal, but hole in heart, from losing her favor.
He was barley aware of an ELO song playing on the silver transistor radio on his study table. Outside of his dorm there where people drunkenly celebrating the bicentennial. Tobey laughed, there was something ironic about ending his life on the two-hundredth birthday of The United States. Though what it was that made it ironic he couldn’t say. Not that it mattered anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.
Cobb wasn’t much of a drinker. All that tequila he had drunk to steel his nerves was ripping a hole in his stomach. He had to do this fast, preferably before he threw up again. He held the .38 in his hand and pointed the barrel to his temple.
“Hell of a way to go out, son.” The voice boomed from the middle of the dorm room.
The words so startled Tobey that he nearly pulled the trigger in surprise. He pointed the gun at the stranger. The door as still closed, the man seemed to manifest from the thin air into Cobb’s dorm room. He looked like he was in his mid forties, with a white crew cut, a cheep suit, and though it was a hot New England summer day he wore a brown overcoat. “You a cop?” Tobey demanded to know.
The man shook his head. “A teacher?” Tobey asked. Though the man didn’t look much more like a Harvard Teacher professor, defiantly looked more like the heat..
“Just a representative of a concerned party.” The man replied slowly he showed Tobey the palm of his hand and then reached into his coat and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes, then a lighter, “Want one?” He asked lighting up.
“That stuff will kill you.” Tobey replied,
“You’re one to talk.” The man said exhaling.
“You in the habit of mocking someone holding a gun at your head?”
“Every chance I get, slim.” The man said with a crooked smile. The lighter back in his pocket the cigarette between his lips.
Tobey couldn’t help but laugh at that. He lowered the gun just a bit, but it was all that the stranger needed. The man moved like a mongoose. Before Tobey could blink the intruder closed the distance between them grabbing Tobey’s arm and twisting his wrist, till the revolver fell into the man’s waiting other hand.
“Now this is better, didn’t want the damned thing to go off before we had a chance to chat.” The man said opening the cylinder and letting all six rounds fall on to the dorm’s carpet. Then he tossed the empty gun on to the bed next to Tobey.
“Hey I was going to kill myself with that.” Tobey objected.
“Well you are doing a hell of a job of it. Listen you can blow your brains out as soon as I am done.” The man puffed on his cigarette. “I don’t really care, but the people I represent have sent me to deliver an opportunity to you, if you reject it fine. In fact I will tell you what, since you don’t seem to have the guts to pull the trigger, I will do you a favor and pull it for you bud, but you will damn well listen to their offer first.”
Tobey sat on the bed like a scolded child. “Good.” The man replied to Tobey’s silence. “OK, first of all, they know what you and your friends have been doing?”
“How?” Cobb asked shocked.
“Do you think you invented The Dreaming?” The man scoffed. “Humans have been doing it since before they were walking erect.”
“Then you know…”
“How you screwed over your friends and let them hang out to dry.” The man said no emotion escaping from the tone of his words.. “Bluntly if you had showed up on our radar earlier, I would probably’ve been speaking to that Jordanian kid. He had more talent than you and a hell of a lot more integrity, but it is too late for that now.”
“Then you know the pain…you know of my love…of my goddess.”
“We know much more about her than you will ever know.” The man said in a condescending tone. “We know Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to her, Leonardo painted a picture of her, he wouldn’t let anyone else look at. That the Romans built a temple to her under the city and then sacrificed virgins to her. You my friend are just one in a long list of suckers.”
“Don’t talk about her that!” Tobey snapped.
“It’s the truth. What it comes down to sonny is you betrayed you friends over a woman, who has now dumped you. It’s the oldest story in the book. But my organization is welling to take you in, take a chance on you, teach you about The Dreaming, allow you to make something out of yourself, more than the dung heap you have now.”
“Who are they?” Cobb asked meekly.
“Does it really matter?”
“Not really.” Tobey admitted. “My dreams they are…ordinary, I can’t go back.”
“You may never get back to that world on the other side. But you can help us, help others. There are still uses for you, places for you to explore.”
Tobey looked at the empty revolver, he really didn’t want to kill himself he just wanted to have his goddess back. At the very least not be alone. He thought about his life, about life in general, about the few things that gave him any pleasure in this pitiful world. “I am in.” He said in a nearly inaudible tone.
“Good.” The man said, flicking his cigarette on the ground and squashing it with the tip of his shoe. “Get what you want to take, our plane leaves in about an hour.”
Tobey didn’t know where they were going. He really didn’t care as long as it was away form here. “There’s nothing I need physically, that is.” Tobey said as the man opened the dorm room door.
“How very Buddhist of you.” The man said lighting another cigarette as they walked down the hall.
“You know a lot about Buddhism?” Tobey smirked.
“Studied it a little when I was in the Orient, during the war.” The man said puffing on his smoke.
“You were in ‘Nam?” If this guy wasn’t truly a cop, it made sense form his demeanor that he was ex-military.
“Way before that.” The man said. He didn’t say anything else they were outside the dorm, and he pointed out a large black Lincoln, in the parking lot.
“You really think I can be with her again.” Tobey asked opening the car’s passenger door.
The man flicked his half smoked cigarette on to the asphalt. “You got me all wrong kid, I am not offering you a chance to reunite with her, I’m offering you a chance for revenge.”
Jack Mora was disoriented and confused. A pale blue sun burned in the periwinkle sky. The yellow grass at his feet glowed as though made of shining amethyst. His warrior’s instincts screamed to the reptile part of his brain that this lethargic and dazed state was putting him in danger, and he had to snap out if it as soon as he could.
Slowly he remembered that his body was in the isolation tanks, in the lab, on the island. But where was he? The strange an alien environment reminded him of the old Beatle’s song, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Was this what it felt like to be on drugs? Was he on drugs? No, he was dreaming, something the staff and the scientist of the island called The Dreaming. A place, another dimension, a place where his mind could go to and leave his body… He was dreaming.
In front of him the air begin to shimmer like the waves of heat rising form the Khyber Pass. The shimmering air merged in to a solid form. Slowly it became solid. It was a six foot tall copy of the Chinese restaurant papier-mâché cat, he seen in the lab’s vestibule. It’s his goggly eyes going from left to right, and his right arm bobbing in a continual wave. Besides the cat appeared a Japanese tank like the one which stood outside the lab. Though this one was new, clean and freshly polished ready for front line combat.
“I’m impressed.” Came a feminine voice from the top of the tank. “I told Soto that there was not way in tarnation you could make it to this level on your fist try.” Jack heard foot falls on the metal body of the tank. The woman emerged from a crouching position behind the turret. She walked around and with her right hand leaned up against the tank’s cupola. The woman was short and petite but had long curvy legs legs that were accented by five inch healed cowboy boots. She had a pair of skin tight fitting brown leather shorts with two .45’s in a twin gunslinger’s rigs. The only other clothes she was wearing was a black bikini top covered with a black and white vest and a cowboy hat. Her eyes seemed oversized and slightly oval, for some reason she remained Jack of the old Speed Racer cartoons he used to watch as a kid.
“You are the one I am looking for?” Jack said incredulously.
The woman took out one of her Peacemakers, and jabbed at the rim of her hat in a salute. “Arizona Annie.” She said sheathing the revolver then jumped off the tank chassis. Her body seemed to defy gravity as she stretched out her arms and in mid fall began to loop back, eventually landing on her feet.
“Not exactly what I expected you would look like.” Jack replied, his normal stoic attitude, was shattered by a condescending sneer.
“Hey Tex I am not the one running around looking like ZZ Top.” The girl replied.
Jack looked down, his beard came to his chest, he wore tan and brown digital camouflaged pants, a kaki Government Issue T-shirt, and combat boots. It was what he wore in Afghanistan with the Special Forces and the CIA. Even when he was with the army he had cultivated the beard to be more accepted by the locals. “It means I am ready to fight.”
The girl placed her hand on her large curvy hip, “My aren’t you the macho one, don’t worry Tex you will get pretty of chance for that.”
“Where exactly are we?” jack asked.
The woman raised an eyebrow beneath the brim of her cowboy hat. “Well this is kind of a way station, a link between the Earth and the realm of dreams. See Jung wasn’t just right about a collective subconscious, there is a communal subconscious, and this is where all of mankind’s hopes, desires and fears go. That is the ones we can’t deal with during the waking hours. A human being ain’t nothing but a transmitter Tex and this…” She said pointing to the landscape “Is the receiver.”
“So it’s full of unfilled adolescent sexual fantasies?” Jack asked.
“Yeah they’re here but not as much as one might suspect.” Annie replied.
Coming from the fetish cowgirl. Jack thought. “So what are we doing here?”
“Guessin’ I am gona show you the ropes.” The girl said “You know all that BS, they use to feed you in the RL that if you can do anything that you wanted too, all you had to do was put your mind to it, well here it’s true.”
“RL?” Jack asked confused.
“Real life, the place that is not here.” The girl replied sounding more to Jack like a smug teeny-bobber than a gunslinger or a dream guru.
“Watch and learn.” The girl said with a sly smile. She hunched down with her hands below her knees and did a back flip over the tanks turret. She popped out from beside the tank with her arms spread eagle. “Ta-dah, OK, Zeke your turn.”
Jack took a few steps and tried to leap over the back of the tanks chassis. His shin hit the driver’s compartment with his shin. Jack went down screaming grabbing his leg.
“Hurts don’t it?” Annie said smugly standing over him.
Still writhing in pain, Jack barked out. “I didn’t think that you were supposed to feel pain in dreams.”
“Cletus you are way beyond normal dreams here. They tell you what happens if you die here.” Annie asked helping him up.
“No. What you die here you die in the real world?” He asked still rubbing his shin.
“Didn’t use to.” The girl said leaning up against the old World War II tank. “Use to be the worst thing that happened was that you might be blocked out from the Dream Lands….” Her expression changed to a look of sorrow. “…then a few weeks ago we lost a couple people with me. We still don’t know how it happened. So yeah try not to die.”
Jack took what she was saying to heart. “A couple of people? When I got here they were loading three coffins onto the C-130.” Jack had asked about it and got some BS about a lab accident.
“Yeah whatever got my team killed someone top side too.” She nodded, “So I am not taking anyone deeper until I know they can handle it. Jump the tank and then we see if you can handle a little heat.”
For a moment anger flushed through Jack. Who was this living cartoon character to tell him what to do? But Jack was a humble man. Those who had known him as the high school jock would never have attributed humility as one of his crowning virtues. But the Army had forced it on him, at least in certain circumstances. If you thought you knew better than those who had gone before you in warzone, if you didn’t humble your self and reel in your ego some, you’d have a life expectancy of zip.
So Mora took a deep breath, sized of the tank and tried again. This time he reached the top of its turret. When he landed the back half of his boots hung over the copula, he had to stretch his arms out to maintain his balance. “It’s your beard, Jethro, its throwing your aerodynamics off.” The girl laughingly mocked.
Jack blushed angrily but forced the emotions back down into his gut. He gingerly jumped off the tank, and tried again to jump over it. It took another three tries off landing on the turret, till he finally cleared the top of the tank. Jack let out a whoop of excited victory yell.
Annie stood their impassionedly stating at him with her oversized eyes. “OK. Now jump it from bow to stern.” She said pointing at the front of the tank to the end.
Jack just shook his head and moved in to position. It took nearly thirty jumps before he could clear the length of the tank. Including one disastrous landing that put the barrel of the tank’s canon right between his legs. As he rolled off the gun on to the tank’s deck, the girl actually fell to the ground laughing.
But eventually he was able to leap it like some kind of poor man’s Superman. This time Annie gave him a congratulatory smile. In college Jack had read that Eisenhower had been like that, he would have people break their asses, just to be reward with one of his smiles. “Now a back flip over the tank.” Jack just nodded; he knew it was possible because he had seen the girl do it when he had first arrived her.
It seemed to make sense now. It was more a matter of will than muscle and gravity. If he could see himself doing it then he could do it. There seemed to be limits to what a person could do here but the laws of physics seemed to be extremely elastic under the alien sky. He was able to do a back flip over tank with in ten minutes, he was learning.
“Not bad for a newbie.” Annie said walking up to him.
“What now, back flip the long way?” Jack asked, his mind already working out how he would do that.
“No were going somewhere else.” Annie said taking his hands.
Shocked that he could feel her touch so vividly, “where?” he asked.
Her smile was more mischievous that congratulatory this time. “Tex, school is in session.”
Everything went black, and the world began to spin, Jack felt like he as falling.