The Paradox of Now (If “Now” Truly Exists)

It all seems so straightforward, so matter-of-fact.

We recently witnessed the passing of the torch from 2015 to 2016.  Time to put away the old year and venture forth into the new, complete with resolutions, optimism, goals, and hopes.  The ongoing passage of time, the catalog of days and weeks and months, would appear to be an irrefutable, self-evident, obvious truth,  The clock ticks, we grow older, hopefully wiser, and nothing stands still.

2016

 

But is it really so obvious?  Is it really the kind of thing we can disregard as a fact so unchangeable, so plain, it’s not even worth thinking about or discussing?

Ar first blush, yes.  We can glance at our calendars, our schedules, our itineraries, and know, unequivocally, that we have this time thing figured out.  It is what it is, as they say.

calendar

 

Or maybe not.

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

One of the themes in The Eye-Dancers has to do with the way we perceive reality.  Can dreams and “real life” truly be separated by a hard, Maginot-like line of demarcation?  Or are there, possibly, gaps along the edges, where the two dimensions intersect and become enmeshed?

blurrygaps

 

Is the life we know, here, now, on this earth, really the only life we live?  Or are there alternate versions, parallel worlds, going on beside us, without our even knowing it?

parallelworlds

 

Nearly midway through The Eye-Dancers, Marc Kuslanski, the class science wiz, explains how he understands all of this . . .

“Everything in existence fits together,” he says.  “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.”

subatomicparticles

 

Could it be possible that time works in a similar way?

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

Then again, what is time, exactly?  Is it nothing more than our means of measuring it, slicing it up like so much fruit, into bite-sized pieces?  Can it really be tamed in such a systemized, linear fashion?

timemeasuredclock

 

We hear it often:  “Don’t dwell on the past.  The past is over and done.  Don’t live too much for tomorrow.  Tomorrow may never arrive.  And, even if it does, what you do right now, in this moment, will directly affect what happens in the future anyway.  Therefore, focus only on the now.  Live in the moment, firmly where your feet are planted.”

focusonthenow

 

Sound advice!  But let’s delve a little deeper.

If we ask the question, “What is time?” then it seems to follow we must also ask, “What is ‘now’?”  On the surface, the answer seems so elementary, as a certain Victorian detective might say, the question itself appears almost rhetorical.  Because, of course, “now” is “now”!  It can be nothing else.  Right now, I am keying these words into this post (which, hopefully, you are not regretting reading!).  There.  I just keyed in this sentence.  Now.

holmeshound

 

But wait.  Can’t we slice “now” up even further?  I am keying in this word, this letter, this space . . .  You are reading these words, one at a time.  Which of these is “now”?  Should it be quantified by the minute?  The second?  The millisecond?  The nanosecond?  How precise do we need to be?  This is far from a trivial question.  How we measure “now” greatly affects our perception of it.

nanosecond

 

If we define the now as a minute in time–perhaps we have something to work with.  A minute isn’t long, but long enough to perform many things, think thoughts, dream dreams.  Living in the now, in this case, seems attainable.

oneminute

 

But what if we define “now” as a moment, a breath, a blink of an eye, a beat of the heart, here and gone so fast that by the time it disappears, the next moment arrives, and then the next and the next and the next, one to another merging into a living, continuous, moving thing with no beginning and no end.

abreath

 

If we view “now” like this, time is expanded, and we view it as an eternal, something that cannot really be measured and itemized and saved.  If “now” operates more like a wave than a particle, as it were, more like whitewater rapids than a still, tranquil pond, then what is this term we call time?

whitewaterrapids

 

“The present is the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow,” Frank Lloyd Wright once said.

William Faulkner added, “Clocks slay time . . . time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

Where does that leave us?  Are we, like Martin Sloan in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” “trying to go home again,” listening for “the distant music of a calliope, and hear[ing] the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of [our] past”?

tzonewalkingdistance

 

Maybe time, as we know it, live it, define it, conceive of it, is an illusion. Maybe “now,” as opposed to something we can take hold of and posses, is, in actuality, a wisp, a billow of smoke rising against a blue winter sky, a flickering flame constantly in motion, never resting, never stationary.  Tomorrow’s dreams and hopes are, in an eye-blink, yesterday’s forgotten memories, tucked away in some vaulted corner of the mind.

tomorrowsdreamsend

 

It is, by necessity perhaps, a mystery.

Centuries ago, Augustine may have said it best:  “What then is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain it to him who asks. I do not know.”

timeveryend

 

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

Your Place in This (or Any) World

In chapter 8 of The Eye-Dancers, shortly after arriving in the variant town of Colbyville, Mitchell Brant looks around and takes stock of his new surroundings.  It is, to say the least, an unsettling experience . . .

“A red vehicle drove past, its chrome fenders sparkling in the sunshine.  Just like the cars he’d seen in the parking lot, this one looked odd, old-fashioned.  All of the cars did–parked along the roadside, tight against the curb.  And there was something about the town itself, too.  The flowing, curvy shape of the street lamps, the fancy script lettering on the store fronts, the phone booth across the street . . . Everything just looked dated, off, as if the axis of the universe had shifted a quarter-inch to the left.”

booth

 

It is ironic that Mitchell finds himself in such a situation, feeling like the proverbial stranger in a strange land, because that’s the same way he all-too-often feels at home.  About to enter the seventh grade, Mitchell has always envied the popular kids in his class.  He’s never been one of them.  But his feelings of isolation and awkwardness do not occur only on school property.  Even his own mother seems to think he’s a little strange.  In chapter 1, when his mom eyes him a certain way, the text reads  . . .

“Mitchell knew that look well.  It was the one that made him feel like a Martian, or a Venusian, who had crash-landed onto Earth.  Come to think of it, a lot of things made him feel that way.”

mars

 

Mitchell isn’t the only one in the story who harbors such feelings.  Joe Marma is self-conscious because he’s the shortest boy in his class.  On top of that, he has the perfect older brother, and he can never measure up, no matter how hard he tries.  He has an ever-present chip on his shoulder.

Ryan Swinton struggles with always wanting to please the people around him.  He has a hard time making decisions.  What if he chooses a course of action that others don’t want to pursue?  He compensates by making jokes, always feeling pressure to make people laugh.

From chapter 3 . . .

“There was nothing worse than delivering a punch line and having no one laugh.  But the flip side was also true.  Few things could match the high he felt when he told a joke and people cracked up.  It was the greatest.  Winning their approval.  Winning their favor.  It sometimes felt scary, how important that was to him.”

And Marc Kuslanski feels like a social outcast–he has no real friends, is an only child, and sometimes wonders if he ever really had a childhood to begin with.  He sees other kids his age playing ball and having fun, but he always seems to be left out, perpetually on the sidelines.

This is the character backdrop of The Eye-Dancers, and when these four boys eventually find themselves in a new and different world, their sense of alienation only increases.  They continually come across strange things–antique-looking cars, expressions and words they’ve never heard of, a lack of PCs and cell phones, just to name a few.  As if they didn’t already struggle enough to fit in on Earth, now they have to deal with this. 

placeinworld

 

I believe that the struggles of Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc mirror our own.  We all, at one point or another, have wanted to fit in–somewhere.  Almost everyone has experienced moments of feeling like a social outcast.  I know I have.

I still remember my first day of junior high.  New school.  Lockers.  Lots of new students from other area grade schools all coming together under one roof.  In an offer of support, one of my older brothers walked me in that day, taking me to my locker.  I had never used a locker in grade school.  It intimidated me.  It seemed a cold, alien thing, metallic, gray, impersonal.  For a moment, I thought I sensed it grinning at me, as if it knew a secret I wasn’t privy to.   “You’re gonna hate it here,” I imagined it saying.

My brother, then a college student, looked around at his old stomping grounds, smiling.  A teacher stopped, said hello, remembering him.  My brother introduced me.  I shook the teacher’s hand, wishing a hole would open up right there in the hallway.  I would jump in, feet first, hoping to escape into the basement, hiding behind the old pipes and furnace and whatever else lurked, unseen, in the corners.  Anyplace else would be better than where I was.

The thing is–as time went on, I adjusted to junior high, and it pushed me to become a better student.  I met new friends, learned new lessons.  I began to grow up.  When you’re twelve or thirteen, you are searching for your place in this world.  So many options exist, just beyond the horizon.  After junior high, there is high school, then perhaps college, a career.  It is an exciting yet overwhelming time.

Back then. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life.  For a while, I wanted to be a marine biologist.  Then a private detective.  Then a teacher.  In the end, my love of writing won out, and I decided to pursue a career in the written word.  That, I eventually came to believe, was my place in this world.

For Mitchell Brant and Joe Marma and Ryan Swinton and Marc Kuslanski, they must also find their place in this world.  But before they can do that, they must first find their place, and themselves, in another, far-off world, a world where the axis of the universe may indeed seem shifted a quarter-inch to the left, but where, also, they will be forced to confront and overcome their insecurities and inner demons.

findyourself

 

The Eye-Dancers, at its core, is a story about growing up, discovery, and keeping the faith even in the midst of adversity.  While it tackles concepts of quantum physics and journeys to an alternate reality, it is, I hope, a story everyone can relate to.

After all, we all experienced that first day of junior high.  And if that wasn’t a trip to an alternate reality, I’m not sure what is . . .

universetilt

 

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

lightning

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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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?

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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

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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.

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Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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