Short Story — “Falling . . .”

The Eye-Dancers deals with both dreams and parallel worlds, and in fact, brings the two together in very concrete ways.  It also takes on the concept of what we term “reality,” and openly challenges it.  Or at least it challenges the linear, narrow construct of it.  I have often been a believer that reality is much more layered, much more complex, than we often think.  And The Eye-Dancers is not the only story I’ve written that explores this idea.

I wrote the short story “Falling . . .” just last year, shortly after finishing The Eye-Dancers.  Clearly, parallel worlds were still on my mind!  As were dreams.

This story may hit just a little too close to home for Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski, after dealing with their own “otherworldly” adventure.  But I hope the rest of you will read “Falling . . .” and I also hope you’ll enjoy it. . . .

hirise4

hirise3

“Falling . . . ”

Copyright 2013 by Michael S. Fedison

**************

Alex Tanner fell through the night.  Below him, the city street grew nearer, nearer, the moment of impact mere seconds away.

A car horn honked.  At him?  At another motorist?  The wind slammed into him, his shirt ruffling and billowing like a sail adrift at sea.  He closed his eyes, but then opened them, morbidly needing to look.  The neon letters of the pizza parlor across the street flashed in the window.  People were eating in there, calmly, unwinding after a long, tiring day.  They were just sitting there, oblivious, while he fell.

“No!” he shouted.  “This can’t be happening.”  The sound of his words rose, drifted, before dissolving into the warm, humid night air.

An absurd thought came to him.  Why was the pizza parlor even there?  It wasn’t supposed to be.  It should have been something else . . .

He looked behind him.  The high-rise where he lived was right there, almost close enough to touch.  There had been noise—way too much noise.  But why was he falling?  Had he jumped, or tripped, or . . .?  If he could just torque his body, twist in midflight, grab hold of a window ledge.

It was no use.  He didn’t have the coordination, the skill, to pull off such a stunt.  And he was out of time . . .

A second before impact, he closed his eyes again, tensed his muscles.  He heard someone shout, more horns honked.  And then he screamed, until the moment he collided with the hard, unyielding asphalt.

“Alex, Alex, please, wake up!”

He felt something shaking him, jarring him.  But how could that be?  He had fallen so far and so fast.  His body was a twisted, bloody ruin.  He was dead.

He screamed again.

A light slap to the face, hands grabbing his wrists . . . and then, slowly, the image of a face materialized before him.

“Alex?” she said.  “Are you awake?”

He blinked several times, and the face came into focus.  It was a beautiful face—his wife’s face.

He was breathing rapidly, too rapidly, as though he might hyperventilate.  Sweat beaded his forehead, drenched his shirt and the bedsheets.

I’m dead, was the only thing he could think.  I’m dead.  I hit.  I could feel it.

His wife stopped shaking him, exhaled.  She brushed a few rogue bangs away from her eyes.

“Alex, this is getting scary,” she said.  “You’re freaking me out.  I mean, three nights in a row?”

He swallowed, said nothing.

“And it’s getting worse,” she went on.  “Each time, it’s harder to wake you up.  It’s like you’re not really here or something.”  She shook her head.  “Like I can’t reach you.”

That’s because I died.

He wanted to say something reassuring, for her, for himself.  But there were no words.

“Was it the same thing tonight?” she said.  “Falling again?”

He nodded.  Except for the pizza parlor.  Something about the pizza parlor . . .  “Did I . . . kick again?” he asked.

“Yeah.  You kicked, all right.  You were jerking like a wild man.  Look where the bed is.”

He swore under his breath.  He’d managed to force the bed a good two feet to the left.  What was the matter with him?  Other than the fact that I keep falling to my death every night in my sleep, you mean?  Was he sick?

He had just gone for his physical last month—he hadn’t been examined in several years, so he figured he needed to get checked out, make sure everything was still in proper working order.  The doctor told him he looked great.  “If all my patients were as fit as you, I’d be looking for another job,” he’d said, and laughed.  That had been reassuring, but maybe the doctor had missed something.  Maybe . . .

Stop.  Just quit it.  Besides, even if there was some pernicious disease silently lurking, how would that explain the last three nights?  How would anything?

“I’m almost afraid to try to get back to sleep,” he said.  “This is crazy.”

She leaned in to hold him, and the smell of her, the closeness of her, soothed his frayed nerves.  He buried his head against her shoulder, trying to get lost in the softness of her long, black hair.

“If I didn’t know better,” she said, “I’d think you were running around with someone else behind my back, and maybe your guilt is coming out in your sleep.”  She pulled away, looked at him. Smiled.

He smiled back.  She did know better.  That was why they could smile about it.

“You really need to try to relax, honey,” she said.  “If you don’t, you’ll be shot at work tomorrow.”

He couldn’t argue with that.  But he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax.  He’d probably spend the rest of the night just lying there, staring up at the ceiling.  Something was wrong.  He tried to reason it out, think it through, tell himself it was nothing to concern himself with.  So he’d had a nightmare, plummeting to his death—three nights in a row.  So what.  That happened to people sometimes, didn’t it?  A string of nightmares, for no good reason.  Harmless.  The dreams would pass.

Perhaps.  But he couldn’t shake the feeling he had.  The sense of loss, as if he really had died—tonight, and last night, and the night before that.  He’d had bad dreams before.  But they had never been like this.

“Hey, Alex?”

“Hmm?”

She gave a half-smile.  She looked nervous, uneasy.  He hated seeing that.  He had made her feel that way—him and his kicking and his screaming and his dreams of death and falling.

She asked him if he would help her push the bed back in place.  Once that was accomplished, she went to flick off the light.

“Wait,” he said.

“Why?”

“I . . .”  But what could he say?  That he wanted to look at her, at the swarthy, olive complexion of her skin that he’d always admired?  Hoping her beauty could distract him enough, and help him to forget?

“Nothing,” he said.

“Go to sleep, Alex.  I’m sure there won’t be any more dreams.”

Yeah, he thought.

Sure.

“So, what’s up?” Eckert wanted to know.

Alex sat across from him.  They were in a small diner downtown, away from the office, and, hopefully, from interruptions.  Eckert wasn’t a close friend—just someone Alex got together with on occasion.  But considering his fascination with dreams, the paranormal, and the “multiple layers of reality,” as he put it, Eckert was the only person he could think of who might have some answers to what was going on.  He’d sent Eckert an email as soon as he arrived at the office—“Doing anything for lunch later?  Need to talk about something.”  Eckert had responded immediately, suggesting the diner.

But now, sitting at a corner table, looking out the window at the congestion of downtown traffic, Alex wasn’t sure where to begin.  He’d done some research online.  The most interesting item he discovered was something called Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, a condition some people suffered while sleeping, characterized by violent kicking and thrashing episodes.  But he didn’t think that really fit.  He didn’t have a limb disorder.  He fell to his death while he slept.  What did they call that?  Other than insane.

Eckert prodded again, urging him to speak up, while at the same time ogling the redheaded waitress who rushed about from table to table like a waterbug.

Alex took a deep breath, and told him about his dreams, or his memories, or whatever they were.

“Well, it’s good you sent me that email,” Eckert said, just as the waitress arrived at their table.  Eckert had ordered two egg salad sandwiches and a side order of fries.  Alex just wanted a garden salad—his stomach wasn’t up for anything hearty.

Once the waitress left, and Eckert eyed her retreating figure, he said, “I’m just the guy to help you out.”  He took a huge bite of his sandwich, then spoke with his mouth full.  “You said this happened three nights in a row, right?”

Alex nodded.  “My brother used to say you can’t die in your dreams.  If you did, you’d really die.  You’d never wake up.  Guess he was wrong about that.”

But I did die.  I did.

“But you did die.”

“Huh?”

“Who said you didn’t die?  You said it yourself.  Your dreams didn’t feel like dreams.  They felt real.  Correct?”

In his mind’s eye, he could see the street as he fell, ready to collide, and then he felt nauseous when he recalled the moment of impact, his body slamming into the asphalt.

He nodded.  “Nothing in my life ever felt more real.”

Eckert nodded back, stuffed three fries in his mouth.

“But what’s it mean?  I mean, yeah, it feels like I died.  But I couldn’t have.  I’m still here.  And three nights in a row?”  He laughed.  “What am I, a cat?  Do I get nine lives or something?”

“Nine?  Try a thousand.  A million.  A hundred million.  There’s no end.”

Alex just stared back at him, not comprehending.

Eckert finished the first of his sandwiches.  On the sidewalk outside, someone yelled, then laughed.  That’s what Alex felt like doing.

“Maybe the last three nights have been more specific for you,” Eckert said.  “But c’mon, man, think about it.  Haven’t you ever had feelings like this before?  Say you’re taking a walk, and you just feel a chill for no reason.  Maybe you’re sitting at your desk and you get a sense that something just happened—maybe a feeling of déjà vu, or maybe just an awareness that something is different than it was a second ago—for no reason you can see.  An unexplained feeling of dread, a bout of panic when there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Haven’t any of those things ever happened to you?”

Well, of course they had.  Didn’t they happen to everyone, at one time or another?  “I don’t see what that has to do with my dreams,” Alex said.

Eckert wolfed down a handful of fries, took a long drink of his water.  “It has everything to do with your dreams.  Because what we label as dreams are often anything but.  Just like ‘random’ feelings of panic aren’t random.”

“Then what are they?”

“How is everything?” the waitress said.  She had zipped over to their table so fast, Alex hadn’t even noticed.

“Delicious!” Eckert said, and winked.  The waitress smiled, but rolled her eyes, and walked away.

“Anyway, like I said, there’s no end to the number of lives you have,” Eckert said.  “Nine?  That’s nothing.  And forget about just one.  That’s archaic.  Quantum physics is the way, man, not the old Newtonian stuff.  Reality isn’t as cut-and-dried as we like to think.  You think you’re the only Alex Tanner?  There’s an Alex Tanner in every universe in existence.  And there’s no end to the number of those.”

He’d already known Eckert was a believer in parallel worlds.  But he didn’t see the connection.

“The connection?”  Eckert finished his second sandwich.  “The connection is elementary, my dear Watson.  If you live in an endless string of worlds, it makes sense that you die in some of them, right?  When you get that feeling of unexplained dread, it’s because something must have happened to you in another world.  You don’t know exactly what, but since it’s you, or another version of you, you feel it.  Now, with the nightmares you’ve been having, I believe they’re more specific for a reason.”

“Look,” Alex said.  This had gone far enough.  “Maybe we should just get out of here, huh?  We should get back to the office.”

Eckert held up a hand.  “Alex.  Those weren’t just dreams you had.  That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.  They were portals.  You didn’t just dream that you fell to your death.  You did.  In another universe.  In your sleep here, you were able to tap into that other reality, and you witnessed your own death.”

He shook his head.  “But why me?  I mean, you just said there are countless versions of myself, right?  Well, if one of those versions died somewhere else, going splat on the pavement, why should I be the one to dream about it?  Why not some other versions of me, in other worlds?”

“They probably did, too,” Eckert said.  “Well, at least the ones who . . .”

“The ones who what?”

Eckert took another drink of water.  “Since we each have an infinity of selves, there’s bound to be some overlap.  Your life here may be identical to your life somewhere else—except for maybe one detail.  Maybe you live in a different apartment, or on a different floor.  Maybe you have a different wife—a blonde, or a redhead.”  He eyed the waitress again.  “But in other universes, your life would be very different.  And the dreams you just had here wouldn’t necessarily be relevant.”

Relevant?  What was that supposed to mean?

“The dream might be a warning,” Eckert said.  “In a world similar to this one, you fell to your death.  That might mean . . .”

“What?  That I’m gonna go skydiving here, too?  C’mon, Eckert, get real.”  But then, wasn’t his heart beating a little faster now?  Wasn’t that fear he felt?

“Look, it’s just a theory.  But watch your step, Alex.  Be careful.  There’s a reason you’re seeing these things.  It’s suggestive.”

“I can’t believe this.  What do you want me to do?  Never climb the stairs?  Never use an elevator?  Always stay on ground floors?  That’s gonna be hard.  I live in a high-rise, remember?”

Eckert shrugged.  “I’m just saying . . .”

“And another thing.  Why should I dream this three nights in a row?  If I died somewhere else, wouldn’t one night be enough to watch my own funeral?”

“You’re still not thinking of it in the right way,” Eckert said.  “Each night you had your dream, you were seeing your death somewhere else, in some other layer of reality.  There were no reruns.  Each time was different, each fall, each death, was different.  Think about it.  In the dreams you had, were the details always identical, in every way?  I bet they weren’t.”

That’s when it occurred to him.  The pizza parlor—that was why it felt out of place.  The night before, it had been a Chinese restaurant, the night before that a barbershop.  But the conclusions Eckert were drawing—that he had seen himself die in three separate universes, on three consecutive nights—couldn’t be true.  He didn’t even really believe in this parallel worlds gibberish to begin with.

“Just be careful,” Eckert said again as they got up, ready to leave.  “Don’t just brush it off, Alex.”

He couldn’t eat that evening.  He just pushed his food around the plate.

“Alex, this has got to stop,” his wife said.  “You’re a nervous wreck.”

He considered telling her what Eckert had said that afternoon at the diner, but thought the better of it.  It was all a bunch of nonsense.

Then why can’t you stop thinking about it?

“Sorry, honey, I guess I’m just not hungry,” he said.

She frowned, her black hair matching the dark shadows and concern in her eyes.

“I hope you sleep well tonight, Alex,” she said.  “You look so tired.”  She smiled.  “And if you kick and thrash around again, I may have to exile you to the couch.”

He smiled back.  It was good to smile, even if he didn’t mean it.

The noise was intolerable.  How was anyone supposed to sleep?

He sat up in bed.  Beside him, his wife stirred.

“Alex?”

“What are they doing down there?”  No doubt the people who lived directly below them.  They sometimes hosted loud, wild parties.  But never like this.  The yells and laughter, the music and conversation sounded much too close—they must have been outside, on the balcony.

He stormed to his feet.  He wasn’t going to put up with it.

“Alex, where are you going?”

He didn’t answer.  He just headed for their own balcony.  All of the stress and strain of the last few days boiled over, heating his blood, scalding his nerves.

When he opened the French doors, the doors his wife had fallen in love with when they had first seen this place four years earlier, he stepped outside.  The noise rising up from the balcony below was cacophonous, an erupting volcano in his ears.  He rushed headlong for the railing, eager to tell the people to shut up, go inside the apartment at least, didn’t they have any consideration?

That was when he tripped over something—what?  He didn’t have a chance to look.  He lost his balance, falling toward the railing, over the railing . . .

It happened so fast.  One second he was on solid ground, the next, the force of his momentum had thrust him out into the night.  He heard a scream above him.  His wife, no doubt.  Below him car horns honked, the city lights flickered, the dark surface of the street grew closer, closer.

He thought of Eckert’s warning.  Why didn’t I listen?  Why wasn’t I more careful?

“No!” he screamed into the night.  “This can’t be happening.”

“Alex!  Alex, wake up, please!”

He felt hands shaking him, and then a face appeared before him.  A beautiful face—his wife’s face.

“Thank God,” she said.  “You’re getting harder and harder to wake up.  This is so crazy!  What is going on, Alex?  Four nights in a row . . . ”

He felt his forehead.  It was soaked with sweat.  A dream, just a dream.  But it had felt so real.

“I know,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

He looked at her, and she came to him, hugged him.  He nestled his head on her shoulder, porcelain-white—he’d always admired the fair complexion of her skin—wanting so much to lose himself in her softness, her fragrance, her nearness.

In the luxurious golden fall of her light-blonde hair.

****************

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ramblingsofabipolarwoman
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 21:23:36

    Wow, I liked this a lot!!! It would make for a good novel. 🙂

    Reply

  2. Tarl
    Jan 24, 2013 @ 01:43:40

    Interesting story. If you choose to expand it into a novella or further, I would recommend incorporating mirrors. You can add some unique visuals to stream-of-consciousness paranoia as the partially-memoried world changes around him.

    Reply

  3. Christy Birmingham
    Jan 24, 2013 @ 03:32:29

    What a neat story. I have had dreams of falling but not of being in other worlds… that I remember…

    Reply

  4. mcwoman
    Jan 24, 2013 @ 12:30:38

    WOW! Thoroughly enjoyed your story!

    Reply

  5. 24/7 in France
    Jan 24, 2013 @ 13:50:44

    Great story – congratulations. My newly released short story, Solitary Desire, is about living a dream – check out the book trailer video at http://twentyfourseveninfrance.com/2013/01/19/book-trailer-video-solitary-desire/

    Reply

  6. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 06:25:32

    Brilliant story! Superb writing! Black hair, blonde hair, pizza parlor, and all. Ah . . . regarding that pizza parlor, would that be a metaphor for having a “pizza dream?” Seriously, your story is captivating–a “cliffhanger” in every regard. It reminds me of the TV series “Fringe.”

    I don’t know much about quantum physics or the possibility of parallel universes, but I do take dreams seriously (Job 33: 14-16) and keep paper and pen by the bedside. Also, I believe in another dimension (as described in Peretti’s novel “This Present Darkness”). I’ve had glimpses of it.

    Reply

  7. Karen's Nature Art
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 22:47:24

    Great story…does remind me of the Twilight Zone episodes! Fortunately I’ve never died in any of my falling dreams…yet. Thanks for visiting my blog-how did you find it? Just curious…

    Reply

  8. blueangelwolf
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 21:27:34

    Thank you for following my poetry blog. 🙂 Great story Mike! Keep up the great work.

    Reply

  9. Morbid Insanity
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 19:14:11

    Amazing! I enjoyed reading your story so much!
    I think it could turn out to be an interesting book/movie… 🙂

    Reply

  10. The Eye-Dancers
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 20:22:12

    Thanks so much to everyone who read this story! Your feedback and comments mean a lot! Thanks as always for reading!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: