The new book, Moving Targets, came out in April of 2011. This is a sequel to 2008's Moving Day, my first book. The cover can be seen on the Home Page!
Here is a review:
This is a new short story which I wrote on Monday. I'm planning on including it in the "True Colors" book.
ONLY A DREAM
It all started with a dream. It didn’t mean much in the long run, just an uncomfortable three or four weeks one summer, but I still think about it sometimes and wonder what – if anything – it all means.
I usually don’t remember my dreams. Oh, sometimes something will pull a snippet out of the back of my brain – like if I’m walking down the street and I see a certain kind of car or house or dog or something – and I’ll have a sense of having seen it before, but it’ll take me a minute to figure out where and when this was.
And then I’ll realize it was something I saw in a dream.
And that’s about as far as it will go, most of the time. Yeah, I dreamed about this dog, or this car, or whatever, but I won’t be able to pull up any of the relevant parts of the dream beyond that. Just a fragment.
This one was different.
In the dream, I’m watching TV. This is strange enough in itself; the few dreams I do remember, I’m always running away from something, a gorilla, maybe, or people with guns. Sometimes I’m in a very tall building, looking out the window, and there’s a plane going down right outside. Or I’m in a tunnel, trying to inch myself through some claustrophobic pathway.
But never watching TV.
Anyway – on the TV, a news anchor is talking about some new astronomical discovery. “Although the object is barely visible, scientists have confirmed that it is heading in the general direction of our solar system. But there’s no need to go hide in the basement just yet. “
Her face is replaced with that of a middle-aged man. He appears Indian, perhaps, or Pakistani. The text on the bottom of the screen identifies him as Head of Cosmological Research for some agency I’ve never heard of.
“The odds of this object striking the Earth, or even approaching closely enough to have any sort of adverse effect on our planet, are incredibly small. First, you have to keep in mind that the object is very very far away, and it is likely that its trajectory will be altered by any number of large gravitational attractors as it continues to move through the universe. Secondly, we’re not even sure what it is at this point. It may be nothing more than a large iceball, which would simply melt due to friction if and when it entered Earth’s atmosphere. The bottom line is that this is not something we should be overly concerned with.”
The dream changes at that point, and I find myself standing in the front yard, looking up into the sky. Many of the neighbors are out, too. For some reason, I note that Beth, a girl I had a huge crush on all through high school is there, as well, although this makes no sense because I have only seen her once since then. She was driving a white limo that time, for some reason.
Beth says, “What do you think it is?” while pointing up at the blurry gray object in the heavens. This is approximately three more words than she ever actually said to me in real life.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “A comet, maybe? I guess they’ll figure it out eventually.”
I notice I’m wearing my usual sleep attire: my favorite red t-shirt and a pair of black boxers. Not that I’d ever go outside dressed like that (this), but, in a dream, those things sometimes slip through the cracks.
The t-shirt has been with me for over ten years, and it has seen better days – there are a few small holes in the armpits, and some worn spots on the back, but it’s comfortable. It’s also a little baggy; I lost some weight a couple years ago and I like the fact that the t-shirt isn’t constraining or restrictive at all when I roll over in the middle of the night. I suppose I could find a more stylish option, but there’s something to be said for comfort, too.
As I look around, I see three scientists standing in the middle of Center Avenue, the street in front of my house. I can tell they’re scientists because they’re wearing white lab coats; this strikes me as a little odd – do scientists actually wear their lab coats in their off-hours? – I don’t know – but here they are, in full regalia, and seeming none too self-conscious about it.
One of them is looking through a telescope and calling out numbers to another, who dutifully writes them down in a small spiral notebook. The third is apparently taking pictures of the mysterious object in the sky, using a kind of camera I’ve never seen before. The camera, if that’s what it is, is round, glows with an eerie yellow luminescence, and emits a faint whining-whistling noise.
Maybe it’s not a camera after all.
The scientist at the telescope looks up, shakes his head. “Definitely not a meteor. The size is all wrong.”
Beth looks at me and says “I wonder if it’s an alien ship. Maybe they’re coming to blow up the Earth.”
“Why would they do that?” I ask.
“Isn’t that what they always do?” she answers.
Then I wake up.
There were no dreams (that I can recall) for several days after that. I went on with my daily routine; and I use the word “routine” in any and all of its possible contexts –
On Friday night, I put on my faithful old red sleep shirt and promptly fell back into this dream.
I should say here that I never have “recurring dreams” or “sequential dreams.” Never. If a gorilla is chasing me in one dream, it will be a year or two before another gorilla chases me in another dream. Probably not even the same gorilla, although it’s kind of hard to tell, but the setting will be completely different, too; so, other than the chasing and the gorillas, there are no ongoing common themes here.
This time, though, it was different.
I’m in a museum, looking at an exhibit featuring a dinosaur skeleton. It’s a pachycephalosaurus, which is fun to say, although no one ever has any idea what you’re talking about when you say it.
And I’m looking at this skeleton, thinking about this guy walking around someplace maybe eighty million years ago, doing whatever it was they did back then, and how the prevailing theory is that something went SMACK on the Earth sixty-five million years ago, and wiped them all out, and then there were no more pachycephalosauruses around, and the only way we would ever know they existed is if someone dug up one of these big skeletons and found a way to assemble all the bones….
And I wonder how do they know they got the bones all arranged right….?
It’s not like they came with an instruction book, an owner’s manual, a schematic….
And I look around again, and now I’m on a hill somewhere, a hill I’ve never seen before, and Beth is there again. She holds out a piece of paper and says, “You really should look at this.”
I ask “Why?” but I take the paper anyway. I want to ask her what she’s doing here, but something tells me not to raise the issue.
The paper says, “Rogue Planet Headed For Earth” in huge letters. It looks like a newspaper headline, but there’s nothing else on the paper, no more text, no pictures, just five words in big letters.
“What is this?” I ask her.
“It’s the end. It’s the end of everything.”
I wake up.
I was disturbed by this imagery for the next few days. Nights were rough; I wasn’t looking forward to going to sleep, and I’d toss and turn for hours before I would doze off.
By the fifth day, things had settled more or less back to normal and I was my usual self again.
Still, it was another week before the dream continued.
This time, I’m in a barn. At night. Very strange; I’ve never been in a barn in my life.
I walk through the barn; there was an aisle through the middle, with rows of stalls on either side. As I peek into the stalls, I see various animals – a horse, a cow, a pig, a porcupine, a monkey, a squid (it didn’t strike me as odd that the squid was just lying there on the floor) – in the last stall, there is a very small pachycephalosaurus, only this one isn’t a skeleton. This one is alive. Not really doing anything, just sort of standing there, looking around. I think he might be shivering, but that could just be my imagination.
I walk out of the barn and there’s a crowd of people looking up into the night sky again. The object is much closer now. It’s blue, and round. And very very big.
“It’s a planet,” a guy who looks very much like Babe Ruth says to me.
“A planet? How?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “One guy said a star fizzled out and all of its planets just shot into space once the star’s gravity wasn’t there to keep them in orbit. This one’s gonna hit us.”
I’m thinking “What are the odds?”
Beth walks up, grabs my hand. I’m stunned but not at all displeased. If I’m gonna get squooshed by this planet, might as well spend some quality time with an old crush. Crush, heh.
“They’re going to fix this, right?” she says.
“Fix it how?”
“I don’t know. One of the TV people said they might launch a nuclear weapon at it, blow it up so the pieces scatter and don’t hit us.”
Babe Ruth says, “They don’t want to do that, though, because there’s no guarantee that the chunks wouldn’t hit us anyway. I mean, some of them probably would. Plus, they’re saying that planet might be inhabited.”
“Inhabited?” This puzzles me. “How could they live once they’ve been cut off from their sun?”
Babe shrugs. “Maybe they found a way to generate their own heat without a sun. Who knows?”
I can practically see the big blue orb getting larger, closer, right before my eyes.
Beth says, “We should go. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
I say, “OK,” and then I wake up.
I never did find out what it was she wanted to talk to me about.
The next part was only a quick snippet, because there was a thunderstorm that woke me up just when things were getting interesting.
I’m standing in my back yard, looking up into the night sky, and now the blue sphere is bigger than ever.
And I’m staring at it and staring at it, when suddenly I realize that I can see shapes on it.
And one of the shapes looks exactly like the outline of Africa.
The last part of the dream (so far) –
I’m standing at my bedroom window, wearing my red sleep shirt and my black boxers, and the planet that’s going to hit us is so big it fills the whole sky.
And it’s like in slow motion, but sped up really fast, if that makes any sense (it doesn’t, but that’s what it’s like), and I’m looking and looking and I see trees and buildings and streets and cars moving towards me….
And I see something I know, something – a house; no, my house, my own house, the back of my own house, where my bedroom window is, where….
And I’m there, in the window, I’m watching me watching me watching me watching me forever and I realize that this IS Earth that’s about to hit Earth, and I’m seeing it from an infinite number of different angles because I’m moving and the other me is moving and we are (I am) seeing through each other’s eyes and it’s like a boomerang and there will be no more Beth, no more pachycephalosauruses, no more Babe Ruths, and then….
When he (me) is close enough to see me see him (me), I see that he’s wearing a blue sleep shirt, just like mine, only blue….
There is no crunch, just something that sounds like water, a billion decibels of water slamming into a wall.
When I woke up the next morning, I had a massive headache. Went to the bathroom, pulled the Tylenol bottle out of the medicine cabinet, and swallowed five of them.
The last part of the dream had been a little too intense for me, that’s all.
Maybe, now that the planets finally collided in the dream, I won’t have this dream anymore.
I was comforted by the fact that, when I looked in the bathroom mirror, I was still soothingly ensconced in my trusty blue sleep shirt.