The broken mirror

In the face of dreams I had
Grimaces of pain
Now I am turning helpless
Callous and alone
Waiting for a storm to brew
To wash my dream of love and sins away

The lyrics (and post title) are from “Blizzard On A Broken Mirror” by Avantasia, and they’ve been stuck in my head all day. Why? Because there’s a storm brewing, and I’d really like this morning’s dream washed away.

Alwan is a medieval-like village housing around 250 people, and it’s one base of operations for my Otherworld series. Karston, by contrast, has a population ta least 20 times that, a century or two more in the tech department, and it belongs to the Hidden Hills novels. They’re two different places. Two different worlds, neither of which is Earth, both of which I would gladly take in exchange for this rock I call home.

In my dream, they were much closer. So close, in fact, that a person could take a short train ride from one to the other. Never mind that neither setting has trains; dreams don’t care about petty things like continuity, after all.

I was in the little village, along with most of my family, and we were getting ready to start what must have been our Christmas party. While I was walking around outside, waiting on the last straggler—my mother, as always—to arrive, I got a call saying that two others were on their way over, coming from said town of Karston via said train. Sure. Merry Christmas to all, and the more, the merrier, right?

One of my cousins has grown very…estranged in the last decade. He became a cop, then almost instantly turned dirty. You know how it is, that arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude shared by everyone with a badge. He got into bodybuilding, had an affair with his trainer, ditched his wife and three kids, and all that was years ago. This morning, the dream version of him wanted to make amends by joining the rest of us in our celebration. And I have no problem with that.

The second unexpected visitor, however, is the one who left me reeling. She texted me, then called me, then showed up, all within the span of a few minutes. One moment, I’m walking around whatever dreamscape building we had set up for the party. The next, I’m going into the dining room to find her standing there. Her greeting came in the form of a punch to my shoulder as she said, “That’s for not talking to me for two months.” Then she hugged me like all was forgiven.

But it isn’t. It can’t be, because forgiveness has to be earned, and I haven’t earned it yet. In the time I have remaining, I don’t believe I will.

Sometimes a dream is a message. This one was read loud and clear, I’ll admit. I would say part of it has to do with the holiday season. I as a strong believer in the idea that December (whether you celebrate Christmas or any other early-winter holiday) is a time to open up, to embrace the positive. Charity, goodwill, even salvation, if you’re so inclined. Those are what this time of year is for, and that transcends the social boundaries we put up. You spend time with your family, with those you love, if for no other reason than because it’s good to remind yourself that they’re there. Yes, you should consider that all the time, but not everybody can, so at least try it now.

Yet some wounds are too deep to heal, some bridges burned beyond repair. We make them that way by our actions or inaction. And that, I feel, is the message meant for me this morning. I’ve been on both sides now. I’ve suffered such a wound, and I’ve caused one. I am, as the Scarecrow said in this post’s theme song, helpless, callous, and alone.

And Acedia, the inner demon I share with this character, puts a line on his lips that rings so true for me. “Love will come in time, but I am always late.”

Novel month 2021 – Day 16

Today’s word count: 2,123
Total word count: 39,250
Daily average: 2,453
Projected total: 73,593

I had a dream this morning. I was at my old high school, a place I haven’t so much as seen in over 20 years. I honestly don’t know if I was there as a student or some kind of teacher, but I was my current age, with my current looks and current gadgets. After the day had ended, I walked outside and called my mother; gas was almost $12/gallon in this dream, probably why I didn’t drive myself. While I was on the phone with her, someone joined me on the sidewalk, someone I haven’t talked to in far too long. She ran up to me, enveloped me in a suffocating hug, kissed me on the cheek. Then, she saw the name on my phone, smiled, and said out loud, “Hi, Mom!”

Some days, you just hate to wake up, you know?

On the writing side of things, Chapter 6 is done. That leaves three more, and I’m averaging a little less than 3 days per chapter, so…yeah, I might be able to take Thanksgiving off this year.

The dream dissolves

(Title is a song by Ayreon with one of the best guitar solos I have ever heard. Seriously, check it out.)

As I’ve written before, I often have some very interesting, very vivid dreams, and a few of those have affected me on the deepest level. Yesterday’s was one such.

At the start (at least of the portion I remember), I was sitting in the living room of my grandparents’ old trailer. My brother was in the adjacent kitchen, and I seem to recall that he was looking for something to cook—dreams being dreams, his actions were less important and less distinct than the center of focus.

That focus was my son, a boy just shy of his second birthday. His mother and I were estranged, and she lived in East Ridge, a town about 20 miles away, so I didn’t get to see him often. In fact, this was apparently the first chance in months I’d had to spend more than a few minutes with him.

After a little talking—he had just reached the age where he could start to speak more than a word or two at a time, and he’d recently learned the magic word to get adults to make a lot of mouth noises, “why?”—we went out. I can precisely date the dream’s setting to November 5, 2024, because I was going to vote, I wanted to take him with me, and I spent the ride to the polls (in my truck, another rarity in my dreams) rambling about the rampant, blatant fraud of the last presidential election.

We never got there, because I woke up sometime during a ride that seemed to go nowhere. But the memory stuck with me, and I think I know why: it’s a vision of a future close to what I wanted—the only major exception being the parental separation—one I now realize is out of my reach.

The timing just works. We’re 36 months away from Election Day 2024, Take away 9 months for a typical pregnancy, 21 for the boy’s age, and that leaves about half a year. So it’s theoretically possible that I could have a son at the appropriate age at the appropriate time.

It’s just everything else that’s the problem. I’m getting older, and I’m not even sure I’m physically capable of fathering a child. The only woman I’ve ever loved enough to want to try lives a lot more than 20 miles away; her biological clock is also ticking, assuming the mRNA shots haven’t left it flashing 12:00. The idea that we’d have a fair election in 2024 is laughable on its face. Whether I’d be alive to see it is something I’m starting to think even less likely.

But that’s why we have dreams. Like stories, they’re an escape, a chance to get a glimpse of another world. Where fantasy often shows us worlds that will never be, a dream can instead let us look at a world that could have been, if only things had turned out differently. They are, in some sense, roads not taken. Roads we never knew were there, whose signs we never saw. Paths we wanted to tread, but circumstance forced us to turn away.

Or I’m just searching for meaning where there is none. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Passage of time

Late last night, I was trying to go back to sleep and having a lot of trouble getting there. So I listened to music, an activity I can do at any hour of any day, in any mood.

For this particular mood, I was listening to some old favorites. The song that struck me was “Sign On The Door” by Edwin McCain, because something about it gave me one of the most intense feelings of déjà vu I’ve ever had. As I listened, I reflected, and I found that I had indeed been there before.

I could recall with crystal clarity a night fifteen years ago where I was in the exact same spot (lying in my bed) listening to the exact same song, and…I don’t know. Something about that hit me hard.

Yes, some things have changed. My headphones were attached to a smartphone, not the Rio Karma MP3 player that was already obsolete back then. I have a different computer, different TV, even different lights. So it wasn’t exactly the same room, if you think about it like that.

I’ve changed, too. I’m 37 instead of 22, of course, with all that entails. I’m about 30 pounds heavier, unfortunately. I’ve lost my grandparents, my uncle, and two close cousins. I’ve been to depths I couldn’t even imagine in 2006, and I have the scars to prove it.

But it hasn’t all been bad. I’m employed for the moment. I have a partner who loves me. I’m smarter, wiser, and more certain of myself than I was then. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been to the bottom, but I feel things are looking up.

Still, it’s strange. I truly felt that I had somehow completed a circle, that I had ended up back where I started. And I briefly wondered what I would do if, by some miraculous means, I’d been sent back to that other night, but with the memories and knowledge and experiences I’ve gathered in the past decade and a half. What would I change? How would I live my life differently, knowing what might come?

Or is this river of time actually more like a whirlpool? Would I think I was doing it better the second time around, only to find myself lying in bed fifteen years later, thinking the exact same thing?

No fear in a dream

I’m a dreamer. I don’t just mean in the figurative sense of being someone who daydreams, who possesses a vivid imagination. No, I have dreams when I sleep, and some of them are very intense, moving, and even profound. Some inspire me. Some change me. While I’m in my continued imprisonment due to the overwrought fears of a belligerent media, I’d like to consider a few of those that have made the most impact on my mind, my outlook, and my life.

Obviously, dreams are subjective to start, and the details aren’t exactly fixed. Here, I try to recall as much as I can; all the dreams I describe in this post are important enough to me that I remembered as much as I could.

The last battle

First is one that, to put it simply, became a book. I had this dream in 2017 (I think), and I didn’t remember much of it. What I could recall, however, stuck with me.

In the dream, I watched as a young woman picked her way through a blasted wasteland. A battlefield, littered with corpses, strewn with the wreckage of artillery. She walked along, looking into the dead eyes of men she might have known, men who could have been her friends, relatives, elders. What she was looking for, I knew immediately: a way to stop this carnage from ever happening again.

The scene she saw was the “last” battle. Not an apocalyptic showdown at the end of the world, but certainly the end of the world she knew. Or possibly the one her parents had known, a world whose death gave her life.

This dream was cinematic in the extreme, and I felt like I had watched the trailer for an epic movie or TV series. I hadn’t, though. This was all in my own head. But it wanted to come out, and so I kept it in the back of my mind for months, until I had the chance to write Shadows Before the Sun, a novel I’m still holding back in hopes of finding a “real” publisher.

The book (the first in what I’m calling the Occupation Trilogy) mostly centers on Lia Maratte, a 20-year-old woman living in a backwater village in a conquered nation. Her late father fought on the losing side a generation ago; her half-brother is of mixed blood. And her people, subjugated by their conquerors, are ripe for revolution.

All that from a single scene that couldn’t have lasted longer than a minute of real time.

The sacrifice

As anyone who has read my writing knows, my cousin passed away in 2014, at the age of 35. He died of complications from the flu, probably the main reason I feared for my life far more in December (when I had the flu) than during the current panic.

While my dreams of him after he was gone were intensely emotional, and they greatly aided me through the grieving process, the one I had the night before seems more appropriate.

Something was destroying civilization as we know it. Meteors, asteroids, or some sort of threat from outer space; I don’t remember the specifics. People were forced to shelter, to hide in bunkers—for a real reason, unlike certain lockdowns. But we found the key. My family, specifically myself, my brother, and two of my cousins…including the one who died the next day. We found a way to stop the threat.

A secret lunar base, built by who knows who, held a weapon capable of ending the calamity. Problem was, nobody knew how to make it work. So, with myself as the lead, we studied it until we could. But it wouldn’t be enough.

Or so we thought.

My cousin stepped in front of the barrel of this weapon, and I watched in horror as he was sucked inside. But then the thing activated destroying whatever it was that had threatened the world. I had to go back to Earth to help lead the recovery, another case where my dreams make me out to be more than I am, while my brother continued to study the weapon. I woke up soon after. Twelve hours later, we got that terrible call. He didn’t die sacrificing himself for the good of humanity, but to a virus we’re now being told is, compared to the one of today, mostly harmless .

Into the unknown

I’ve made no secret that I consider myself an agnostic humanist. Thus, my opinion on the afterlife is that I don’t have an opinion. I’d like to believe that there’s something waiting after the end, especially in times like these, where the end feels so much nearer. But I can’t prove it, and my rational mind wants proof before committing to anything.

Rationality doesn’t exactly exist in dreams. And you know that old saying? “If you die in a dream, you die in real life.” Uh-uh. I’m living proof. (Unless I’m already dead. That might explain why I sometimes feel like I’m trapped in an unending cycle of pain and punishment.)

The first time I died in a dream was…years ago. I can’t be more specific than that. I think it was after 2006. And it was not only a profound experience, but an utterly frightening one.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances of my dream death. They weren’t important in this one, because the focus was on what happened next. I had what can best be described as an out-of-body experience, watching my physical form recede as I rose. Up I went, into the sky, beyond the atmosphere, through space. I looked out as I ascended, and I saw two things: the moon and a space station.

With the certainty of a dream, I knew what would happen. If I could get to that station, the scientists there could put my mind (or spirit or soul or whatever) into a new body, and I’d live again. If I went to the moon instead…well, I didn’t know what waited for me there, just that it was whatever fate awaited anyone who died.

I pushed. I pushed and pushed with my mind, trying with every ounce of mental might to change my trajectory, to aim for the station. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t move an inch from the path I was on. It’s rare that I wake in a cold sweat, but this was one of those times.

Home is where the heart is

I wrote this one down with a date: December 17, 2019. Three months ago, give or take, and much of the memory remains fresh.

Again, I died. This time, I seem to have taken much of the world with me. Awfully selfish of me, I know, but it wasn’t like I was in control. (I’ve never, to my knowledge, had a lucid dream. The best I can do is noticing when I’m dreaming and jumping out.)

The last scenes played out like a movie, much as in “The Last Battle” above. This time, however, it was a better production. I had an orchestral score that waxed and waned following the mood. There was a narrator: me. And the whole thing moved me so much that even recalling it for this post almost brings me to tears.

A woman—possibly Lia, but probably not—walks along a beach that’s slowly drowning under a rising tide. Every few steps, she finds a note from me, like a journal I’ve left one paragraph at a time. She reads them silently, and I read them aloud. I say goodbye to my family. I apologize to all I’ve hurt. In the last, most bizarre, note, I recount receiving a letter from Donald Trump. He told me he was resigning as President, because “it’s all over now anyway.”

After that, the woman walks a little more, now skipping from sandbar to sandbar, because that’s all that left. The music rises to a crescendo of mournful strings, the waves lap at the last remnants of the shore, and I speak this heartbreaking narration:

I lived my life a week at a time, each passing in a blink. Everything around me faded away. My family, my friends, the woman I forgot how to love. My home. All my memories taken like land by rising waters…

I am home. Home is where the heart is.

The last two sentences echo, slowly fading as the scene does. Then comes a fast montage, as if my life flashed before my eyes, but in reverse. And I find myself in some kind of bar or club, jerking awake at a table. A couple of seconds later, I do the same thing in real life, but in my bed instead.

Together forever

I’ve made no secret that I’m in love with a woman. And she’s probably reading this. What never fails to surprise me is that the feeling is mutual, that she loves me in return. When I’m down, I don’t believe I’m worthy of it, or her. When I’m up, I curse the circumstances that keep us physically separated.

I’ve only rarely had dreams of her. I can’t say why; you would think, given how much of a positive influence she has had on my life, she would be more prominent in my subconscious. But apparently not. Still, there are quite a few oblique references I can recall. “The woman I forgot how to love” is one: that dream came at a time when I thought we’d broken up. And I treasure the few cases where we meet in the realm of slumber, none more so than a case from last week.

We got together, to put it simply. We met, hit it off, and realized that we were made for each other. (I’ve felt that way for months already, so that’s no big shock.) Then, the passage of time accelerates. We’re married, we have children, we live together—all the goals I feel coronavirus is taking away from me even as we speak. At some point in the distant future, she dies, and I spend a few years mourning. Ending my time in this world alone, the same as how I began. And then I die.

I don’t subscribe to the fanciful notion of heaven so popular in literature. The whole “we live on clouds and play harps all day” thing just doesn’t resonate with me. And that’s not what I got here. Instead, I was told my soul would be going to “the end of the universe.” A very nebulous term, to be sure, but that’s what happened. My soul appeared to my mind’s eye as a ball of light, glowing, pulsating. When I arrived at this place beyond places, I saw others just like that. Thousands of them. Some I knew, most I’d never met before.

And then I found her.

I intuitively knew it was my love, despite our lack of physical form. I went to her, and the lights that represented us merged. At that moment, I felt a surge of emotion, of pure love, unlike anything I’ve ever known. We had become one, in a way impossible on this mortal coil, and we would stay that way forever. It was beautiful, it was glorious, and it was…comforting. I described it to her as a spiritual experience, and I simply can’t think of a better term.

It didn’t give me faith in the divine. It didn’t restore my faith in humanity, which has taken a beating in the past month. But this dream did let me believe that, if I don’t give up, we can make it. As I write this, it’s one of the only things keeping me going. I want to make this dream come true more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.

I just wish the world would give me the chance.