The Wormhole of Our Dreams

“Peering out his bedroom window, his eyes flattened into squinting slits, Mitchell Brant saw her.”

So begins The Eye-Dancers,  but is this episode merely a dream or is it real?  Or is it, in some strange, inexplicable way, straddling the sorcerer’s tightrope between the two worlds, with one foot in each?

tightrope

 

This of course begs the question:  What are dreams, anyway?  And should we even preface references to them with innocuous terms like “merely”?

Marc Kuslanski, for one, would certainly answer with a resounding yes.  Or, knowing Marc, he’d probably say, “affirmative,” but that is neither here nor there.  Logical to the core, unwilling to grapple with the mystical or the unexplained, Marc believes that dreams are nothing more than a biological function, a by-product of sleep.

“We’re beings of electrical current, pure energy,” he explains in chapter four.  “While we’re in our sleeping state, the brain needs something to do.  It gets bored.  So, it manufactures stories, adventures, even nightmares.  It’s like a prisoner in solitary confinement.  Nothing going on.  No outside stimuli.  So you need to create your own entertainment.  That’s all dreams are, you know.  Just the brain–your brain–killing time.”

solitarycell

 

Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, and Ryan Swinton, Marc’s target audience for his mini-dissertation, don’t agree.  They’ve each dreamed of the “ghost girl” three nights in a row (the reason they ask Marc’s opinion on the subject to begin with), and are convinced the dreams have significance.  More than once, over the course of The Eye-Dancers, the characters are struck by the fine line that separates our dreams from our actual lives–to the point that they start to question where the one begins and the other ends.  I suppose that’s a line we’ve all wondered about, at one time or another.

I’ve certainly had my share of dreams that have caused me to take a step back, examine, and delve into the heart of the matter.  And I remember the day–a snowy, frozen January afternoon with the wind slamming into the house, the eaves whining in protest, the world a white snow globe, the flakes swirling, blotting out the yard–when my older brother told me about dying in dreams . . .

snowglobe

 

“You never see yourself die in your own dream,” he said.  “Am I right?  Or am I right?”

I looked at him, shook my head.  He was wrong. There were multiple dreams I’d had, nightmares, where I knew I would die . . .

“But you didn’t see yourself die, did you?” he persisted.  “You didn’t feel your heart stop.  Didn’t feel the fangs gash into your neck.  I bet you woke up right before it happened . . .”

fangs

 

I didn’t answer.  It was as if he were inside my own head.  He had nailed it to a T.  Outside, a stiff gust of wind rattled the windows, invisible fingers seeking entry into the house, an escape from the cold.

“If you actually did see yourself die in your dream,” my brother went on, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.  When you see yourself die in your own dream–and I mean, really see yourself die, not wake up a second before you do–you really will die.  Your heart’ll just stop, right there in your bed.”

“That’s dumb,” I said.  “I mean, how could anyone know that for sure?”

“Ask around,” he said.  “You’ll see.”

I did ask around, and eventually I realized my brother’s theory wasn’t rock-solid unassailable truth.  But it stayed with me anyway, perhaps triggering a lifelong fascination with dreams–a fascination shared by many others.  Dreams have been studied, speculated about, hypothesized, diced, sliced, and spliced for millennia, and surely, a thousand years hence, the field of oneirology will still be going strong.  People want to know, have always wanted to know–what do our dreams mean?  What do they represent?

oneirology

 

Have you ever experienced such an unusual dream–not necessarily even a bad one–that, upon waking, you couldn’t help but ask yourself, “Why in the world would I ever dream that?  Why would I even imagine something so completely bizarre?”

The rapid scene changes.  The helter-skelter quality of the “stories” that unfold.  The themes and dangers and desires that define the world of our dreams.  What should we do with them?  Anything?  Or do we blissfully ignore them, relegating them to some neat, locked box, to be opened only when needed in passing–perhaps to amuse a dinner guest or scare a friend or impress a date–but never to be explored in depth, or grappled with in any meaningful way?

exploreindepth

 

Maybe we tend to push our dreams to the background because, well–how else should we respond?  We can’t let them cripple us or hinder us in our everyday lives.  Perhaps more than that . . . even after all these years, all the scientific advances and data and studies, dreams remain elusive.  No one can say, unequivocally, what they mean and why they occur.  The answers are likely broad and layered anyway, dependent on the individual person and the individual dream in question.

elusive

 

Are dreams moving symbols, manifestations of our fears, needs, desires, memories, goals?  Are they gateways to previous lives or vehicles for predicting the future?  Could it be that they provide us with glimpses into the multiverse, our assorted lives sprinkled throughout alternate realities and dimensions?  That they are, in effect, another version of reality and not actually “dreams” at all?

multiverse

 

“You know what it felt like,” Mitchell Brant says shortly after he and the others have traversed the void and find themselves in the alternate-world town of Colbyville.  “When she was in our dreams, it felt real.”

Who knows–maybe we even have it all upside down.  Maybe, just maybe, there is another version of ourselves, somewhere, who, every night, “dreams” our lives here on earth, our days unfurling strand by delicate strand in the mind of our counterpart while they sleep. And maybe, while we are asleep, we, in turn, “dream” their lives for them–the two intersecting, interweaving, forever linked . . .

. . . in the wormhole of our dreams.

intersectworldsend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Of Protons, Neutrons, and Shrodinger’s Cat

How much is enough?  And how much is too much?  These are questions every writer must wrestle with at some point or another.

Let’s say an idea strikes.  It hits you, unannounced, perhaps as you’re walking the dog or lying half-asleep in bed, the sounds and silences of the night enveloping you like a warm, familiar blanket.  Maybe you’re out jogging or playing a tennis match.  Ideas are funny that way.  They often come at the oddest, most unexpected of times.

ideastikes

 

But this particular idea, this hypothetical kernel of excitement, also carries with it a hefty helping of intimidation.  Not so much due to the story itself, or the characters–they’re the aspects that are so exciting, after all.  No.  It’s the research.  The subject matter.  The amount of know-how that must be present to write about the topic intelligently.

research

 

“Write what you know,” is a maxim every writer is familiar with, and to a degree, it’s true.  We can only create from our point of view, from our own unique and perhaps even idiosyncratic vantage point of the world and the people who inhabit it.  But does that mean we can’t write about the past?  Bygone eras?  Or what about the future?

writewhatyouknow

 

What about “ghost girls” with swirling blue eyes who are able to pull four seventh-grade boys into a parallel dimension?

wirlingblue

 

Are these ideas somehow off-limits to us?  Of course not.  This is why the “write-what-you-know” edict can be constraining if applied too literally.  There is nowhere our imagination cannot take us.  No star is too far away.  No date too distant.  No world too remote.

distantstars

 

But what about the details of said world?  What about the nuts and bolts of the journey to that star?  How much actual history do we incorporate into our period-piece novel?  How much science do we put into our science fiction?

Admittedly, genre does play a part.  After all, it’s possible the plot of a historical novel will revolve around an actual event–perhaps the sinking of the Titanic or the First World War, or any of a number of a million other possibilities.  In such a case as this, the historical details are crucial to the flow and outcome of the story.

titanic

 

Even in the realm of science fiction, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Some stories, by their design, their makeup, subject matter, and perhaps even intended audience, will be more technical in nature.  Whether we are dealing with a period-piece romance set in 19th-century France or a futuristic, galaxies-spanning epic, however, no fictional story can afford to get too bogged down in the minutiae of the subject matter.  A novel is not a textbook.

textbooks

 

But how much is too much?  Do we really need to do copious amounts of research?  Does an author need to be a subject-matter expert to be able to write adroitly about a particular topic?

Or can you get away with simply winging it?

As with so many things, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

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

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I realized early on that I had a challenge on my hands.  While there is a significant fantasy aspect to the story, I also intended to incorporate an element of pure science fiction, as well.  I didn’t want every otherworldly twist and turn to be nothing more than a product of the imagination.  After all, parallel-worlds theory is not merely relegated to the fictional.  There were some fundamental quantum-mechanics principles at play here.  The question was:  How to incorporate them into the fabric of the story?  And did I even know enough about quantum physics to attempt this?  I had always enjoyed a fascination with alternate universes, and had long dabbled in scientific literature.  I knew my protons from my neutrons and electrons!  But I was far from an expert.

protonneutron

 

So . . . I decided to read up on quantum physics.  I researched online and read a few books, making sure I at least had some understanding of the basics.  I learned much more on the topic than I would use in the novel–but that was by design.  I was more comfortable trying to pick and choose selectively from a base of knowledge as opposed to blindly groping for random, low-hanging quantum fruit.

lowhangingfruit

 

But I knew the quantum-physics aspect of The Eye-Dancers needed to be judiciously utilized.  The goal was to sprinkle it in and scatter it throughout the story like finely dispersed particles of stardust.  At no point did I want a reader to feel bogged down.  Rather, with hope, the quantum principles would enhance the story, make it more interesting, and attempt to give a (at least somewhat feasible) scientific rationale to a fantastic series of events.

stardust

 

One advantage I had was the character of Marc Kuslanski, the precocious science wiz.  Throughout the novel, it is Marc who gives voice to the quantum-physics possibilities.

For example, shortly after the boys arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, Marc, after a brief reference to Shrodinger’s Cat,  a quantum-mechanics thought paradox, explains the concept of parallel worlds . . .

“‘Everything in existence fits together,’ he said.  ‘The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”‘

parallelworlds

 

His logic-oriented views of the universe may not always be right.  But they serve as a counterpoint to, as well as a conceptual explanation of, the paranormal events he and the other protagonists endure.  In this way, Marc discusses the rational behind the irrational, the theoretical behind the random, the science behind the fantastic.  Some of his hypotheses, rigid as they are, unwilling to account for those phenomena beyond the purview of science, may not always be true.  But hopefully they provide an additional layer, an interesting nugget, to the plot.

nuggets

 

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

“A little learning is a dangerous thing,” British poet Alexander Pope once wrote.  And that may be the case, much of the time.  But for novelists, “a little learning” can be the difference between a believable story and one that doesn’t quite ring true.

Or, put another way:  There is always room for Erwin Schrodinger’s theoretical feline.

shrodingerscat

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Worlds without End

Have you ever been somewhere, just some random place on a normal, nondescript day, when, all of a sudden, it hits you?  You blink, once, twice, three times, trying to reorient your senses.  You look more closely at your surroundings, inspecting every detail, hoping to prove–or disprove–your suspicions.  But no matter what you do, or where you look, or how you try to rationalize, the conclusion is inescapable.

catsdejavu

You know you’ve lived this moment before.

Deja vu is a phenomenon that science has never been able to explain with certainty.  It has tried, of course.  Many theories exist.  Perhaps memory itself is the root of the feeling.  Maybe, in moments of deja vu, we are remembering something similar, something partial–unable to make the necessary links to complete the picture.  Maybe there is a rational, scientific, perfectly logical explanation to all cases of deja vu.

memory

Or maybe the answers are not so cut-and-dried.  Certainly, to anyone who has felt a strong sense of “having been there before” when they, in actuality, never have, an explanation of faulty memory or a perception that somehow has gone momentarily haywire might not satisfy.

I know it has never satisfied me.  I have experienced deja vu several times, but there was one episode in particular that stands out from the rest.

I was in a store I had never visited.  I knew this to be true because I had never even been to the town in which this store was located.  It was an old-fashioned country store, in the hills of southern Vermont, the kind of place you might expect to see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with hardwood floors, exposed ceiling beams, and an antique cash register, behind which stood a bespectacled woman with snow-white hair and a welcoming smile.

countrystore

Immediately, upon entering, the feeling hit me, an almost out-of-body sensation.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself–months ago, years ago?–walking down the aisles, browsing the merchandise, the dull thud of my shoes echoing against the sturdy wooden planks on the floor.  And when the woman behind the register waved, said, “Nice day, thanks for comin’ in,” I knew, knew, she had said those exact words to me before.

hardwoodfloor

I took a deep breath, my head swirling.  I nearly walked out, then and there.  It was too strange, too uncanny.  I paused, thought . . . was I mistaken?  After all, I had been to several country stores throughout Vermont.  Maybe I’d forgotten.  Maybe I had visited this town, this store.  But no.  I was sure of it.  This was the first time.

vermontmap

I walked down one of the aisles, knowing what I would see before I saw it.  I turned into the next aisle, still feeling as if I were somehow hovering above, unseen, a film projector in hand, recording the past, yet playing it simultaneously, the very fabric of time wrapping in and around itself, with me stranded in its spinning, whirling center.  How could this be?  How could my memory of an event that had never transpired be so specific, so actual?

timewrapping

I purchased a small item, checked out.  When the clerk rang me up, I knew what she was going to say.  “Come back and see us again soon.”  I nodded, thanked her, and quickly left.  I have never been back.

Or, perhaps, without knowing it, I have. . . .

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

The Eye-Dancers, among other things, explores the concept of parallel worlds, of a layered reality, where universes lie, side by side, without any knowledge of each other.  And in these parallel worlds, we have other selves, other versions who go about their days and their lives, just as we do, running errands, picking up the mail, going to the dentist on rainy November mornings–most likely convinced that their universe is unique, the only one in all creation.

novemberrain

In The Eye-Dancers, after journeying through the void and while exploring the variant town of Colbyville, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski are confronted with these issues head-on.  And while discussing their plight, Marc offers this explanation, from chapter 12 . . .

“Everything in existence fits together. . . . The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”

whale

Such an idea is difficult for the other boys to grasp, and Marc does admit:  “Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.”  But, given their situation, it is something they think about often.

In chapter 13, in a quiet moment, Joe Marma ponders it all.  The text reads:

“He thought about what Kuslanski had said earlier–worlds upon worlds, onward through infinity.  Each of us scattered throughout the various realities like fallen leaves from the same tree.”

treeleaves

Indeed, might this be the real reason behind deja vu?  Could it be when we feel a strong sensation of having done something we haven’t done, seen something we haven’t seen . . . could it be that some small, hidden aspect of our subconscious mind is remembering an event one of our alternate selves experienced?

subconsciousmind

Marc Kuslanski considers just this in chapter 18 . . .

“It made him wonder.  What we call the subconscious–how much of it is derived from other worlds, other selves, spread out through time and space?  How much of who we are, what we know, is but a small piece, interlocking with an ever-expanding, layered puzzle of an infinity of existences?”

interlockingpuzzles

Far-fetched?  Outlandish?  Perhaps.  But impossible?  Nothing is impossible.  So, you see, maybe I had in fact visited that Rockwell-esque country store before, after all.  And maybe I have again since . . .

. . . in a world far, far away, beyond the sign posts of our reality.  And yet, so close, close enough to almost remember, to almost touch and see.

Close enough that, if we listen, really listen, we can occasionally hear its echoes speaking to us, like soft whispers in the dark.

wormhole

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Mirror Image

Stand in front of a mirror.  It can be any kind of a mirror, really–a simple bathroom mirror or an ornate affair in the ball room of some luxury seaside hotel.

mirror

 

Pause for a moment, and look at your reflection.  What do you see?  Maybe you’re looking great, refreshed, ready to take on the world.  Maybe you’re tired, with weary, sleepy eyes and a dour expression.  Either way, surely you just intend to see yourself in the mirror.  No one else.

catinmirror

 

But for Millicent Barnes, the protagonist of a first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “Mirror Image,” things aren’t quite that simple.

When we meet her, Millicent is sitting on a bench in an Ithaca, New York,  bus depot.

millicenttroubled

 

It is stormy, raining, after midnight, and the bus depot is near-deserted.  Impatiently, after checking the wall clock, she gets up and approaches the baggage clerk, a gruff older man with glasses and a perpetual scowl, and asks him when her bus will arrive.

“It’ll be in when it’ll be in,” he grouses, and says all the complaining in the world won’t make it arrive any sooner.  He tells her to stop coming up and asking him about it every ten minutes.

She is taken aback.  She tells him this is the first time she’s asked him.  But he looks at her, as if she’s speaking in an alien tongue, and shakes his head.  She’s already asked him several times, he asserts.

Dazed, Millicent approaches her bench and sits back down.

Rod Serling’s voice-over breaks in as we see a close-up of the woman’s face . . .

“Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night.  Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes, not given to undue anxiety or fears, or, for that matter, even the most temporal flights of fancy. . . . [But] circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block.  Millicent Barnes, who, in one minute, will wonder if she’s going mad.”

Indeed.  Because strange things continue to happen.  She notices her bag on the floor behind the clerk’s desk.  How did it get there?  She is sure she never checked her bag in with him.  The clerk, gruffer than ever, informs her that of course she did. . . .

goingtoladiesroom

 

Even more confused now, Millicent heads to the Ladies Room, where a cleaning woman is finishing up her shift.  The cleaning woman asks her if she’s okay–she was just in here a few minutes ago, and didn’t look so well.  Angry now, Millicent tells the woman this is the first time she’s been in the Ladies Room.  What is going on?  Are the employees in this nondescript, nearly empty bus depot all setting out to trick her, play a practical joke on her?

She opens the restroom door, about to storm out, but then turns around to say something else to cleaning woman.  In doing so, she looks into the mirror, and, with the door open, sees the depot’s main waiting area reflected there–the clock on the wall ticking, second by second; the slate-gray floor; the hard-backed bench upon which she had been sitting.

She gasps.  She is sitting on the bench.  She is right there.  But how could that be?  How could she be in the Ladies Room and, simultaneously, on the bench in the waiting area?  The woman she sees on the bench looks exactly like her, dressed in the same outfit.  It’s impossible.

mirrorimagedouble

 

She closes the door.  “I must be overtired,” she says.  A moment later she dares to fling it open again.  This time, the bench is empty.  Her doppleganger, or imposter, or the illusion she saw is no longer there.

Returning to the bench, Millicent wonders what’s wrong with herself.  “I must be sick,” she thinks.  “But I don’t have a fever, no fever at all . . .”

A young man comes in out of the cold, wet night, and joins her on the bench, introducing himself as Paul Grinstead.  He is waiting for the same bus she is–to Cortland.  From there he will go on to Binghamton; Millicent to Buffalo, about to start a new job.

paul!

 

Sensing she can trust this kind stranger, Millicent tells him about the odd things that have been happening to her tonight.

“Delusions,” he says.

paulandmillicent

 

She is quick to agree, but then says she hasn’t ever experienced anything like this before.  She is not prone to imagining things that aren’t there.  Besides, “why did that man and that woman say they’ve seen me before?  They haven’t!”

Paul doesn’t have an answer.  “This one’s tough to figure out,” he admits.

The bus arrives.  They head outside together, but just as she is about to board, Millicent sees herself already seated on the bus.  This “other” Millicent smirks at her, a glint in her eye, and she screams and races back into the depot.

bus

 

Paul follows her in and tells the driver to go on along without them, they’ll catch the next one.  The next bus, however, doesn’t arrive until seven.  They will have to while away the night at the depot.  The baggage clerk turns down the lights.  Shadows crawl and gather along the floor and on the walls.  It is quiet. “Like a tomb,” the clerk tells them.

Millicent, now lying on the bench, recovering from the shock, begins to recount something she read once, a long time ago.  Something about different planes of existence, parallel worlds that exist side by side.  And each of us has a counterpart in this other world.  When, through some freak occurrence, the two worlds converge, the counterpart comes into our world, and in order to survive, it has to take over–replace us, move us out, so that it can live.

“That’s a little metaphysical for me,” Paul tells her.

Millicent is beyond hearing him.  “Each of us has a twin in this other world.  An identical twin.  Maybe that woman I saw . . .”

Paul breaks in, “Millicent, there’s another explanation.  There has to be.  One that comes with . . . more reason.”

She doesn’t listen, won’t be comforted.  She is convinced the woman she saw on the bus is her doppleganger, her counterpart, here to take over her life and identity.  The more Paul tries to calm her, the more wide-eyed and unresponsive she becomes.

wide-eyed

 

Finally, he tells her he has a friend nearby.  He’ll call him.  Maybe he can stop by and lend them his car, or even drive them part of the way.

But as Paul tells the baggage clerk, who has eavesdropped on the entire conversation, he has no friend nearby with a car who will drive them anywhere.  He is calling the police.

“She needs help,” he says.  “Medical help.”

The police arrive minutes later and take Millicent away to the hospital, for observation.  Meanwhile Paul decides to settle in for the night, maybe sleep on the bench.  But as he takes a drink from a fountain, he notices a man stealing his suitcase and running out the door with it.

“Hey!” he yells after him, giving chase.  And that’s when he realizes it’s not just any man he is pursuing.  It is his double.  Himself–looking back at him as he runs away, a twisted grin on his face.

paulstwin

 

“Hey!” Paul keeps shouting, over and over, into the cold November night.  “Where are you?”

“Obscure metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon,” Rod Serling announces as the scene fades.  “Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained.  Call it parallel planes or just insanity.  Whatever it is, you’ll find it in the Twilight Zone.”

infinitymirror

 

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

Mitchell Brant, surely, would not call it insanity.  He would go for the parallel-planes explanation.  Unlike Millicent Barnes, however, Mitchell does not limit himself to just one “other self.”  Literally, there is no end, no limit.

endless

 

In chapter 12 of The Eye-Dancers, as he is about to fall asleep, Mitchell ponders this.

“‘Good night, Mitchell,’  he whispered, to himself, to all of his selves, in all of the worlds in existence.  His last thought before sleep finally took him away was of a line of Mitchell Brants.  They stood, single file, one in front of the other.  He started to count them in his mind’s eye, but the line went on and on, forever.  He was infinite, endless.

“When he counted the two hundred sixty-third Mitchell Brant, the line began to melt away, disintegrating into the netherworld of his dreams.”

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

So the next time you stand in front of a mirror, look deeply.  Look closely.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it is not just your reflection, and your reflection alone, staring back at you.

mirrormaze

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Fact or Fiction?

It’s a question I get asked often:  “Are your stories autobiographical?  How much from your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”

truestory

 

The answer to this question, at least for me, has always been–no, the stories I write are not autobiographical per se.  But yes, absolutely, I do include many experiences from my own life in the fiction I write.  I always urge people not to read too deeply between the lines, trying to “decode” the author behind the words.  Just because Joe Marma or Ryan Swinton react a certain way to a problem doesn’t mean I would react the same way.

On the other hand, there are fragments of me scattered throughout my stories like road maps.  If you were to gather up all of these fragments, they would begin to form a picture.  For instance, in The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant‘s love of The Fantastic Four mirrors my own.  His overly imaginative mind is also a reflection of me.  His shyness and awkwardness around girls very much relates to the way I felt when I was in middle school.

Marc Kuslanksi‘s thick tortoiseshell glasses, and the way he continually pushes them up the bridge of his nose?  I did that myself, thousands of times, growing up.  (I now wear contact lenses.)  His feelings of loneliness and alienation from kids his own age?  I went through spells just like that.  Most children do, I think, at one time or another.

And of course there are the themes.  I genuinely care about the stories I write and the characters who reside within them.  The themes and ideas presented in The Eye-Dancers are themes and ideas that resonate for me:  childhood; growing up; the struggles, joys, friendships, and bonds formed during adolescence; quantum physics; comic books; camaraderie; dreams; parallel worlds; 1950s-style settings; and examining the very concept of the term “reality.”

images

 

This takes me back to the question that began this post.  “How much of your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”  The question, of course, by its very nature, assumes that one’s own life is “real” and the fiction he or she creates is, well, fiction.  But is this entirely true?  What makes something “real”?  And what makes something “fiction”?

The textbook answer here is simple.  If something actually happens, it’s real.  If it’s made up, it’s fiction.  But let’s look deeper.  This morning, I laughed at a good joke.  It was funny, and I enjoyed it.  This is reality, correct?  But then let’s say I tell the same joke in a story I’m writing, through the mouth of someone like Ryan Swinton, and you as the reader laugh at the joke.  What’s the difference?  Does it matter that I laughed at a joke told by a “real” person, and that you laughed at a joke told by a “fictional” character?

When we read stories that engage, when we become captivated, riveted by the words on the page, the characters in the story start to seem real.  We care about them, worry about them, love them, hate them, cry with them, and laugh with them.  We experience the same emotions we would in our “real” everyday lives.  And this begs the question.  Is “reality” determined by facts, actual physical events?  Or is it determined by our feelings, the way something moves us or touches us?

I can read a bland news article on tort reform, and not care.  Or I can read a short story that touches me deeply and makes me look at the world in a new and different way.  Which is more “real” in this case?  The tort reform, or the characters in the work of “fiction” that speak to me in such a personal way?

writing

 

In The Eye-Dancers, the four main characters’ understanding of reality is brought into question in more ways than one.  How could some mysterious “ghost girl” haunt each of their dreams, three nights in a row?  And are they just dreams, or something more?  When they travel through a blue, infinite void, are they dreaming it, or actually experiencing it?  And is there a difference?  When they arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, where is it?  How did they get there?  Where is the ghost girl, whose swirling blue eyes drew them in and through the void?  So many questions, so many riddles.

At one juncture, in chapter 12, convinced they are marooned in a parallel universe, science wiz Marc Kuslanski explains his theory on alternate worlds, on the layers upon layers of reality . . .

“It is a challenging concept. . . . Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.  What I do is, I try to visualize one universe overlapping another, sort of like an invisible shadow.  And these shadows go on in every direction.  They keep overlapping and they never end, and most of the time, people within one of the shadows never know about the people in any of the other ones.”

parallelworlds

 

And what The Eye-Dancers does is ask, What if?  What if Marc’s multi-verse hypothesis is correct?  What if parallel-worlds theory is true?  And what if someone out there, say, a little girl with haunting blue eyes and powers she doesn’t even understand, has the ability to pierce through the dimensional gap?  What if “reality” is actually a multi-layered thing that cannot truly be defined by Webster or Wikipedia?

And what if what we term “fiction,” with its ability to reach deep into the secret, precious corners of the heart, is in fact just another, and perhaps more profound, version of “reality”?

So, yes, when it’s put that way, the fictional stories I create are truer and more personal than any diary entry I could ever write.

Fact or fiction?

factfiction

 

Is there really a difference?

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Sound of Thunder

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In his classic short story “A Sound of Thunder,” first published in 1952, Ray Bradbury explores the concept of connectivity–the way things, even things that seem so small, or so far away, are intricately interrelated.  In the story, which takes place in the year 2055, a company called Time Safari, Inc., has the ability to transport big-game hunters into the distant past via a time machine, where they can hunt dinosaurs.  But everything is very carefully calibrated and forecast.  In the world of sixty million years ago, company engineers have constructed a path, which cuts through the ancient landscape six inches above the earth.  Nowhere does the path touch the ground.  Company guides continually instruct the hunters who take the trip into the past never to leave the path (which is spelled with a capital “P” in the story to give it emphasis).  Not one step.  Not one speck of the ground on your shoes.

One hunter on the tour, Eckels, asks why.  What’s the big deal if they crush a blade of grass, step on an ant or a mouse?  The guide answers, in sum, that the ramifications of that might be catastrophic.  Assuming a mouse is stepped on by a man sixty million years before his proper time, “what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive?” the tour guide replies.  “For want of ten mice, a fox dies.  For want of ten foxes, a lion starves.  For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction.  Eventually it all boils down to this:  fifty-nine million years later, a caveman . . . goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food.  But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region.  By stepping on one single mouse.  So the caveman starves.   And the caveman . . . is not just any expendable man, no!  He is an entire future nation. . . . Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. . . . The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. . . . Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity.”

Time Safari, Inc. has even scouted out which dinosaurs will be killed naturally–perhaps by a falling tree or the attack of another dinosaur.  And they send advance guides into the past to spray-paint a red blotch on the soon-to-be-killed creatures.  Then, when the tour arrives, the machine is calibrated to arrive only minutes before the targeted, spray-painted dinosaurs were to be killed.  In this way, the balance is not disturbed.  Any dinosaurs shot by hunters on the tour were about to die anyway.

Eckels has signed up to hunt the tyrannosaurus rex, the thunder lizard.  He wants a chance to hunt the fiercest predator ever to walk the earth.

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trexhead

 

But when the moment arrives, Eckels panics, overcome with fear in the face of the thunder lizard.  In his panic, he momentarily steps off the path, accidentally crushing a butterfly.

When the time machine returns to the present day, Eckels is astonished to note that it’s not the same world he left behind when he ventured back into the past via the time machine.  There is a different president, the language is slightly off.  It’s like a different, alien world.  All from one butterfly, sixty million years in the past, which he inadvertently killed in his moment of confusion and chaos.

“No, it can’t be!” he cries. . . .  “Not a little thing like that. . . . Not a little thing like that!  Not a butterfly!”

The Eye-Dancers deals with the idea of connection, too.  In fact, one of the major themes of the novel might be summed up like this–What if two people, two complete strangers, are connected in such a way that when one of them is in desperate need of help, she is able to communicate with the other through the vehicle of dreams?  It doesn’t matter that they are separated by the gulf of a universe, that they exist in different layers of what we term reality.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other.  The connection exists anyway, in ways no one can fully understand.

And so it is for Mitchell Brant and the “ghost girl” who comes to him in his dreams.  As Mitchell himself realizes at novel’s end:  “It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.”

Maybe, just maybe, the universe, or the multiverse–if you buy into parallel-worlds theory–while infinite, and so vast it boggles and overwhelms the mind, is also small enough where everything affects everything else.

Just like with Ray Bradbury’s short story about the butterfly and the great thunder lizard from sixty million years ago.

So right now, even if it’s calm and sunny, or cold and snowy, or crisp and serene with the stars shimmering in the night sky like precious jewels where you are–somewhere, at this very moment, there is a storm, and Mother Nature is displaying her power and strength.  You can’t see it.  It’s miles away.  Maybe continents away.  But listen.  Closely.  Closely.  Can you hear it?

thunder

A sound of thunder . . .

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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. . . .

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“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

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