A social outcast has become an internet celebrity on DreamBase, a social networking site that connects people using the content of their dreams. When his prescient dreams are suddenly invaded by endless Google imagery he seeks the help of a bumbling psychologist. With the distinction between fantasy and reality crumbling all around them, they must take on vast and corrupt world of corporate dream control.
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Part 1 - DreamBase
Part 2 - Devon Lives
Part 3 - Devon Dies
“Every dream has at least one point at which it is unfathomable; a central point, as it were, connecting it with the unknown.”
It was after dreaming of that gigantic floating Google emblem rotating in a dark void for the 12th night in a row that I decided to erase my profile from DreamBase. I could call it a ‘recurring’ dream, but that’s not quite true, it was never exactly the same. Enough perhaps enough aspects of it were the same to call it recurring though: always that upper case G, an infinity of o’s and all their other lesser friends swirling around in flamboyant excess, in all variety of colors, in every imaginable theme. My perspective in the dream never changed; I was always a static and obedient observer, watching the procession: the bright red capital G roaring towards my head and then twirling away at the last minute before impact. The baby o’s bubbling up in myriad colors beneath me, rising between my legs, bouncing off my crotch, getting caught between my armpits. The tail of the lower case g baiting the ravenous and malnourished chomps of the poor blue e, while lanky l stands to the side, watching the ordeal, bent over in hysterics.
Or the letters would all back away from me and play with Santa in the snow, or shrink to a 500th of the size and rush to take a place right before my retina where they’d perform some sort of comical vaudeville number while trying to find their order in line, or race around me like greyhounds round a rabbit, italicized with speed, poor lanky l of course lagging behind, huffing and puffing, hindered by his immense surface area pressed up against the wind.
These dreams may sound fascinating, fun even, a great way to spend a night, and writing them down at this moment I could almost fool myself to think just that. However, the fact is that every time I had this dream I felt nothing but utter boredom. I couldn’t wait for it to end, the acts performed by the letters seemed so contrived, lacking in conflict. I felt no empathy for the characters. As if the dream was just trying too hard. I’d never had that kind of feeling about a dream until these started.
My dreams had always been the best aspect, the highlight of my life, so you can imagine how distressing this whole ordeal was for me. As I grew older and my aspirations one by one failed to materialize, or materialized and then shattered, my dreams remained the one thing that connected me to my childhood and my creativity, and my hopes. My dark imagination had no end of plot twists and potent images for my consciousness to contemplate the morning after. I had a reason to live through the drudgeries of the day so I could once again frolic in my fantasies at night. Then, suddenly, I had nothing. These Google dreams were about to destroy me. For the first time in my life my dreams had become more boring than the time I spent awake. This was unacceptable, and proved, to me, the nonexistence of God, for how could he allow such a thing to occur?
* * *
So yes, I did the unthinkable and quit DreamBase, and left my countless followers behind, and my years of hard work behind. It was a difficult step to take and my psychiatrist insisted that I start handwriting my dreams in a journal as a way to ease off the addiction slowly. It was odd having the words go down on a piece of paper that I was sure no one would ever look at, and at times I was tempted beyond temptation to log back into DreamBase, but somehow I held out. I held out in hope that the horrid Google dreams would cease. My psychiatrist was convinced that the dreams were a result of my heightened profile on the network. He thought that Google had been subliminally advertising through the website for some time, and using dreams as a sort of marketing vehicle and that the whole experiment had broken down and distorted some important mechanism in my subconscious. The result: I am suddenly left with never-ending, real-time, Google-dreams. He dumped all this on me during my first session with him.
It was after the sixth Google dream in a row that I scheduled an appointment, as I was convinced I’d gone insane. I searched high and low for a psychiatrist who’d see me every day of the week and for two hours at a time. If I was going to give in to the idea that I was going crazy, I wanted to go all out, and no just dabble. So I finally found a someone who’d take me on those terms, Dr. Cambria. I went in to see him three days later, and he told me Google had been advertising in my brain before even introducing himself. He said it was something he’d been investigating for a long time.
“Hold on,” I said, “DreamBase isn’t even related to Google.”
“They use GoogleAds, don’t they? And I think they’re ‘powered by Google’ now. And the board of directors for the two companies are virtually identical. They’ve held off on an official merger, but that’s so they can keep things sufficiently clandestine. Do your research,” he replied calmly.
“Look, I don’t think your secretary briefed you on my problem. These dreams don’t advertise any product. They’re just the Google letters, not advertisements.” I said.
“Google letters, and themes,” he replied.
“Yeah themes, but not product themes. The themes are like Christmas and Singapore and cell phones, and Buddhism—” I was listing out on my fingers.
“Ha! Cellphones?” He interrupted.
“Yeah,” I replied, slightly exasperated, hoping that something other than a vague conspiracy theory would come out of this appointment, “but not a particular brand…just a medley of all different phones, of all shapes, colors, sizes, makes. I don’t see why Google would advertise cellphones in general.”
“So you’ll buy one, probably,” he reasoned.
“I have one!” I said, sitting up abruptly on the ‘relaxation couch’.
“They want you to buy a new one,” he pestered.
“Who is ‘they’?” I pleaded.
“But Google doesn’t make cellphones. Why would they be trying to sell me cellphones in general?”
“Well, it’s obvious isn’t it, because—” he started.
“No,” I demanded, holding out my hand, “No. I don’t care. I don’t care why I’m having Google dreams. I don’t even care if they are advertising Christmas and cellphones in my brain. I just want to have my own dreams again. My dreams are all I have.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with shake of the head, “And I will leave that topic for now, but I think that for me to be able to cure you we must first figure out why you are suffering. We have to locate the source, which is stored deep in your unconscious. But I’ll tell you how we’re going to spend the rest of this session. You just lie back and try not to get excited. Just lie back Josh.”
“Jeff. Just lie back on the relaxation couch and tell me all the dreams you can recall, from the first one you can remember as a young child. Don’t skimp on details.”
Then for the next hour and a half I recited dream after dream in lucid detail. I may have begun to add false details, because I was concentrating on being so overly precise. And as a result, now the memories of those dreams have false details attached to them and I’m not quite able to regain their un-embellished cleanliness in my memory. I had reached about the age of eleven when the session was up.
“See you next week,” prompted Dr. Cambria, tapping his watch with his notebook. I took his cue and rose lugubriously off the brown couch and made my way over the creaky floorboards masked with an unattractive Persian carpet towards the door.
“See you next week,” I mimicked, turning the warm brass handle, moving swiftly through the foyer, and stepping out onto the street. I didn’t know after that first visit whether this was the right guy for my problem, but I decided I would give him another chance.
I went home that night and logged onto DreamBase immediately, as was my routine when I sat down at any computer, no matter where I may be. I went to the statistics page and ran some analyses for my statistics over the entire period of DreamBase’s existence. I’d never done that before. I’d always been more interested in the nightly, or monthly images, and mostly just interested in making sure my own dreams were well-written and building my readership and subscriptions. But this is what I found out:
In the past six years the most common image across the globe was:
hamburger (cited in 31,813,908 dreams)
(Although, before we go further let’s keep in mind that these statistics don’t really represent the unconsciousness of humanity, but merely the unconsciousness of those who have access to DreamBase, and those who are willing and able to record their dreams daily. Africa, a lot of Asia, and parts of South America and the Middle East are totally unrepresented.) To continue, in the past six years:
Most common image in North America:
hamburger (cited in 20,706,042 dreams)
Most common image in Antarctica:
Most common image in Asia:
(Something else to note as you’re looking at these statistics is that many writers often don’t record embarrassing, horrific, or controversial moments in their dreams for fear of social rejection. In a poll about 3 years ago in some respected magazine over 80% of DreamBase users admitted to editing their dreams of nasty or embarrassing stuff. That’s when DreamBase, a few months after the poll, introduced anonymous blogging and encouraged writers to record every detail, so as to make the statistics more accurate. In fact, all bloggers are required to include every detail. It’s even included in the Terms and Conditions when you sign up. But people don’t read those. I did.)
2nd most common image in Asia:
Most common image in British Columbia (my Province):
Most common image in Vancouver (my City):
Most common image on Lord Street (my street):
light bulb (390)
Most common image among African Americans in New York City (just for fun):
Most common image among Caucasians in Zimbabwe:
(I knew at this point I was just postponing the business I had to get to. I took a deep breath and started the real work at hand.)
Number of times Google appeared as an image on Lord Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, past 6 years:
(It’s strange, truly, because I have a dream symbol in common on Lord Street every night. There are 12 DreamBase users on Lord Street, and almost every single night I have a corresponding image with Dorothy Dolores, who lives across the road from me, in number 201. DreamBase linked us up after the program discovered how close we lived to each other and how similar our dreams were. She truly is beautiful. I watch her leaving for work in the morning through my window, and I chat with her nightly on DreamChat. I think I’m in love with her actually. But when I see her on the street, I just bow my head. I’m not good with girls. I really love her. I’d expect her to have dreamt of Google at least once in the past 10 nights, and at least in the past 6 years, considering how closely connected our dreams are. But no, all ten Google images were mine.)
Number of times Google appeared as an image in Vancouver, Canada, past 6 years:
(Wow. No one else in Vancouver has ever dreamt of Google?)
Number of times Google appeared as an image in Canada, past 6 years:
Number of times Google appeared in North America, past 6 years:
(No. I double checked the spelling carefully. Capital G, o, o, g, l, e. Google. Spelt correctly, I ran the searches again. 10, 10, 10. How? 56 million registered users on DreamBase in North America, and no one else has dreamt of Google. Not even once! I felt my vision get blurry. Something must be wrong with the server.)
Number of times Google appeared in World, past 6 years:
(It wasn’t as much as I expected, judging by the cold sweat generating on the nape of my neck, but at least there was someone else out there. I felt a brief glimmer of hope.)
Timeframe: 6 years
May 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th; Jeff Specter (TheCreativeSuite)
May 1st; Devon Cease (TeaAndBiscuits)
(I clicked on Devon’s profile and read his dream for May 1st)
I was in a dark void, slightly gray, and I couldn’t move. Not like I tried and I couldn’t, I just never thought of moving. The letters of the Google trademark were flying all through the void. The letters were at first in order, then they’d bounce out of order. They swapped colors a number of times. The letters never stopped moving and dancing, but I found the whole thing very boring. I didn’t know I was asleep, but if I did I would have woken myself up. Very boring.
This went on for what seemed like forever when eventually all of the letters disappeared except for one of the little o’s. It came very close to my face and began pulsating bright red and beeping loudly. The o morphed into a man’s face. A young man, but with gray hair. He approached closer and closer saying “beep, beep, beep”. Every time he said “beep” his face grew red and then faded back to skin color. When he was so close that it seemed I would fall into his mouth I woke up.
It was my alarm clock making the beeping sound. Of course.
(Strange. I immediately sent a connection request to Devon. I was actually a bit surprised that DreamBase hadn’t linked us up sooner, seeing as we seemed to be the only two people on Earth that had ever dreamt of Google, ever. Anyway, I sent the friend request, checked any new comments and subscriptions on my own page, then went to Dorothy’s profile. She was online. I felt a nervous pulse run through me. It happens every time I see we’re online at the same time.)
DorothyInOz: Hey you! Just finished your dream. Google much! lol.
CreativeSuite: Yeah. It’s strange. I don’t like it. I miss my old dreams.
DorothyInOz: Aw, poor little cutie L Have you read my last night’s? J
CreativeSuite: Was just about to…
DorothyInOz: Tell me what you think.
CreativeSuite: OK. Any good?
CreativeSuite: lol. OK
DorothyInOz: You should read it…
CreativeSuite: I will. I always do.
DorothyInOz: Ur in it…
(I felt a blast of lightning travel up my tail bone and explode in my frontal lobe. I almost passed out, my eyes blurred, and then I began to shiver. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t, for about two minutes, could have been longer, time had warped.)
DorothyInOz: You there L
TheCreativeSuite: Yeah. I just opened it…I’ll read it now.
(Went to Dorothy’s profile. Most recent dream. I was hyperventilating. How would I fit into this beautiful creature’s subconscious? I read the title and almost threw up with anticipation and nervousness.)
Drinking Jeff’s Teeth
I forget the beginning, but after walking through the desert for like, hours, I ended up outside this row of about ten town houses with a pond out front. I knew that I was in Montreal, and thought I was really strong for having walked all the way from Vancouver to Montreal. I was really thirsty but there were a bunch of nasty looking fish in the pond, so I didn’t know if I should drink from it, cause it may have been diseased.
That’s when I looked up at the townhouses and saw that each one had a small balcony. All the balconies were crowded with people and they were all talking really loudly and seemed to be having a good time. People on one of the balconies would yell across to another balcony and laugh. I cupped my mouth and asked ‘Is this water Ok to drink?’ but nobody heard me. I tried a few more times, but still nobody heard me.
Then suddenly Jeff, who is my awake neighbor, comes up behind me. He smiles at me but his teeth are all green and slimy. ‘Sorry’, he said, ‘I had to eat cactus on my way over here, cause I had no water.’ I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t thought of that and became a bit angry and turned away. ‘There is still some juice left on my teeth,’ he said, ‘if you want to have a sip.’ It sounded like a good idea because the fish in the pond now looked dead and rotting, and I was sure the water would be no good to drink, and I was still really thirsty. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘I’ll have a sip.’ So he smiled really wide and I closed my eyes, turned my head, and started sucking his teeth. It was strange because I didn’t get little bits of moisture like I thought I would, but instead it was just like drinking a large glass of water. Like Jeff was made out of water and I was drinking him up. It was very refreshing, and had a slight chlorophyll taste to it.
Once my stomach was full I pulled away and said ‘thanks’. Jeff was still smiling, but all his teeth were gone, only gums left. I screamed and jumped back a bit. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, covering up his crotch with both hands, ‘Is it my penis?’ I said no and then started coughing. I coughed up all his teeth into my hand. I made sure they were all there and then put them into Jeff’s mouth. He closed his lips and then swooshed around a bit and when he smiled again all his teeth were in place, but in the wrong order. I was happy so I hugged him, and felt that he had an erection. He tried to back away, but I pulled his butt in so he had to push his penis harder against me.
We hugged for a long time and then turned to look up at the people sitting on the balconies. They were all shaking their heads at us in disappointment. There must have been about seventy of them all crammed onto a few balconies. Then I woke up.
(I finished reading and realized that I had a huge erection in real life. I didn’t know how to proceed. Minutes passed.)
CreativeSuite: With what?
DorotheyInOz: The dream silly!
CreativeSuite: Oh Yeah. It was Kewl.
DorothyInOz: Did you like it?
CreativeSuite: Yeah. lol.
(I was sweating)
DorothyInOz: That’s good.
DorothyInOz: You wanna meet up tomorrow?
CreativeSuite: Sure! I’ll be online about 8.
DorothyInOz: Silly! I mean do you want to meet up for real? J
(I panicked. I closed down Google Chrome and turned off the computer without shutting down properly. I clicked the power off, superfluously pulled all the plugs out at the wall, took three sleeping pills and in 10 minutes I was out cold. And without even a minute of peace, without even a moment of absolute darkness I was again frozen in place, bored stiff, watching the Google letters dance like desperate thespians in a terrible Shakespeare in the park production.)
* * *
After work the next day I changed out of my uniform and walked straight to my psychiatrist’s office, which I noticed on this second session was just his house with a sign out front. Strange how I hadn’t realized that before. The receptionist-slash-secretary, who I now realized was his wife, was sitting behind a desk in the foyer. I don’t know how or why they squeezed such a large desk into this shoebox of a foyer. What if some of his patients were claustrophobic?
“Please have a seat,” she said in a very formal voice, while lowering her glasses over her nose. I took a seat in one of the two chairs opposite her desk. I literally sat down where I was, in front of the desk, and ended up in one of the chairs. That’s how small the room was. My head was about a foot and half away from hers. I imagined bracing myself against the wall and pushing her desk with my feet as hard as I could until it broke through the wall opposite. I looked around and noticed that there were about 12 pairs of shoes in the foyer as well. No wonder it smelled so weird in there. I looked back up at Mrs. Cambria to see if she noticed me noticing the shoes, but she was fully absorbed in her busywork. She ticked boxes, and scribbled notes, and underlined all over a piece of paper, twiddling the pencil up by her ear in moments of thought, and then matter-of-factly crumpling the piece of paper up and tossing it in the trash before moving on to the next piece. When watching this began to bore me I started looking at the shoes more closely. A red pair of high heels; a child’s pair of soccer cleats with mud and grass still caked between the spikes; a bright clean pair of men’s large, white, brand new tennis shoes; four pairs of Tevas, lined up in a row from biggest to smallest; a pair of velcro Power Rangers shoes; a—
“Mr. Spectre,” droned the nasal twang of the charming Mrs. Cambria, “Dr. Cambria will see you now.”
“Why thank you,” I said in a half-mocking way, but she didn’t seem to register the sarcasm. I went through the living room past what must have been one of their kids playing with a pair of scissors in the hall and continued on into the office.
“Hello there young Jeff,” said Cambria.
“Hey there,” I said. I hadn’t noticed on my last visit how massive the room was compared with the rest of the house. It was about the size of fifteen of those cramped foyers. And while the rest of the house was plastered with a white, sort of yellowish hue, the office was deep brown and, as expected, the walls were lined with tall bookshelves, stuffed to bursting point full of books. I looked over the vast distance at Cambria’s lazy eyes and I was sure he hadn’t read all those books. The only light came from a single lamp on Cambria’s massive desk.
“Come have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the elegantly sloping, leather ‘relaxation couch’. I shrugged and made the awkwardly long journey over to the couch, sat down on the edge and faced the doctor.
“Now, what did you dream of last night?” he asked, like a father asking his six year old son whether he knew anything about the birds and the bees.
“Google,” I answered.
“Fascinating,” he mumbled, writing something down.
“Not really, pretty standard actually,” I replied.
“Indeed,” he gurgled, not hearing what I said.
“So,” continued the Doctor, putting down his pen and taking off his glasses, “any interesting variations this time around. New themes?”
“Have you read my DreamBase entry, it’s all there,” I said, gesturing to the old grey beat up computer in the corner of the room, sitting slightly lopsided on stool that I could swear was quivering. There wasn’t a mouse or a keyboard anywhere in sight.
“I have not,” he admitted.
“Well, you should do your research. I’m paying a lot for this session you know. Anyway,” I continued before he could cut in, “It was pretty much exactly the same as last night, and the night before, excruciatingly long, too much to remember, no real significant moments in the whole thing. You know how most dreams happen in distorted time? Not these dreams. These dreams happen in real time. I try to go to sleep later and wake up sooner just to cut the god damned thing down to a bearable length. How fucking long can one person watch the Google letters dance around?” I was getting worked up.
“Any new themes?” he asked, unfazed.
“Oh God,” I sighed, “cheerleading, football, some carbon-neutral green-energy thing. I try to forget as much as I can.”
“Of course. Why don’t you lie back on the relaxation couch and we’ll continue where we left off. So, we had just finished the dream where you were fighting some sort of futuristic aerial battle in a department store,” he said, reading from the yellow pad of paper in front of him.
“We’re only up to there?” I asked.
“Yes. Please continue.”
Our hour and a half was up in no time and I had reached the age of 18 in my recitations. We stopped at the dream where my grandfather was trying to kill my brother with a samurai sword.
“Any thoughts?” I asked the Doctor.
“Yes, of course. But we’ll wait until next time for the final analysis, after you’ve gone through all your dreams.”
“It’d better be worth it.”
“I’m sure it will be ‘worth it’. I am a Doctor after all.”
“Right,” I said, standing up, “and look, I’m not going through all my dreams I’ve already written in DreamBase. You can log in and read my dreams from there if you want. It would take hours to go through all of those,” I said, standing up from the relaxation couch.
“Leave the details of the process up to me,” replied the Doctor behind a sigh, still scribbling on his yellow pad. I stood there staring at him awhile, trying to figure out if he was legitimate. I was about to ask to see his medical certificate when he must have sensed my thoughts and looked up at me.
“I have another patient in five minutes, Devon.”
“Fine,” I muttered twisting the brass doorknob and walking into the living room. I almost tripped over two kids playing outside the door. They seemed to be annihilating a peaceful village of Lego men with a fire truck. I squeezed between their toys and on into the foyer. The Doctor’s wife peered at me over the brim of her glasses and followed me with her eyes to the door.
“Don’t forget your shoes,” she said.
“They’re not going anywhere,” I responded jovially, lifting my right leg up to bring attention to my sneaker firmly attached to my foot.
“You really should take your shoes off before you go in next time,” she scolded, her brow contracting indignantly.
“Why?” I pondered aloud.
“It’s policy,” she snapped, and glared at me until I scampered out the door like a mouse darting away from the piercing eyes of a malnourished feline. It was raining outside. I pulled my shirt over my head like I’d seen people do in the movies when it rained. I realized it was pointless and ineffective, returned my shirt to its proper position on my body, and ran home through the rain.
I crossed from Prince Street onto Lord Street, taking long strides through the rain, feeling like an Olympian, when I heard my name being called from the other side of the road. I slowed down a bit, but didn’t stop running, and I didn’t look straightaway in case it was someone from work, or an old schoolmate, or someone else I didn’t want to interact with. Keeping my steady pace I discreetly whipped my eyes towards the noise for a split second and saw Dorothy standing on her front steps waving at me through the heavy rain. I panicked. I almost tripped. I pretended not to notice her. She screamed louder. “Hey Jeff, over here! Jeff!” My legs liquidized, my heart lost all semblance of rhythm, I think I started to drool. I managed to get to the foot of my stairs without looking at her. I took heavy steps up the stairs to my door—1, 2, 3, 4, 5—At the door. Not long now. “Jeff! Jesus, Jeff, can you hear me?!”
I heard Dorothy’s footsteps pattering across the rain-drenched street towards me just as I managed to slip the key into the keyhole. I turned the lock, twisted the doorknob, pulled the door open a crack, and slipped through, my back to Dorothy the whole time. She must have been on my doorstep by the time I got in. Once I was inside I immediately turned around and peered through the eyehole. Sure enough there she was, right outside, completely soaked. She was wearing a white shirt and I could see her breasts and nipples as clear as day. She wasn’t wearing a bra. An erection began forcing itself relentlessly against the inside of my jeans. I reached down into my pants and began rubbing myself, staring at Dorothy’s soaking nipples. She knocked at the door, screaming “Jeff”, and every time she did her breasts bounced slightly. I had at this point slipped my jeans around my thighs, my erection sticking through the pee-hole of my underwear.
This went on for about twenty seconds when finally Dorothy, her face a painting of disappointment, turned away. “Nooo,” I muttered under my breath. But it must have been over my breath because as soon as I had said it Dorothy turned back around and pressed her eye against the eyehole. All I could see was a gigantic retina. My erection subsided in record time.
“Jeff,” she screamed, “I just heard you. I know you’re right there. Jeff, just let me in, I have something to tell you.” I froze, didn’t twitch a muscle, with my jeans down around my ankles by now, my penis retreating from the grasp of my palm back to its resting place, like the head of a turtle retreating into its shell for the night. “I don’t understand,” she said, her face painted with sorrow, and then turned and walked away. My penis grew again as I saw her butt wiggle down the steps and across the road, but only marginally. I didn’t dare move again until I had seen her go into her house. The slam of her door echoed through the whole street. I sighed, put my penis away, buttoned my underwear, pulled my jeans up and walked up the stairs to my room.
After a warm shower I wrapped myself in a towel and sat down at the computer and logged into DreamBase. I was hoping that Devon had accepted my friend request. I needed something to take my mind off the exciting events of an hour before. I had one important notice from DreamBase.
Unfortunately DreamBase cannot process your request for friendship with Devon Cease, as he is no longer a user.
‘Why?’ I wondered, ‘He was a user one week ago.’ This wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t deal with the Google dreams on my own. I needed Devon. We could support each other through this hard time. I went to Google and Googled his name.
191 hits. I clicked on the first one. It was an article from the Botany Bay Observer, May 7th, last Wednesday.
Police Refuse to Conduct Search for Missing Son
Botany Bay Police Chief, Rodney Gabriel, has refused to use police resources in a search for Devon Cease after he disappeared from his King Street home on May 2nd.
“There is no evidence that his [Devon’s] disappearance is linked to a kidnapping or any other criminal act. Therefore we cannot justify the use of state resources in a search for him,” said Chief Gabriel at an impromptu press conference yesterday afternoon.
Devon, 18, is no longer legally bound to his parents and according to police his absence therefore doesn’t warrant a search, unless there is suspicion of illegal activity linked with his absence.
Mrs. Cease said of the police’s decision, “I just can’t understand where they [the police] are coming from. There is no reason for Devon to have run off without telling anyone. He is not like that at all. There is something very strange going on here and it is the duty of the police to get the bottom of it.”
With the overwhelming support of the members of their suburban community, Mrs. Cease organized a protest rally against the Police Chief’s decision to which the Botany Bay Observer was invited.
A P.A. and sound system were set up outside the local mall where members of the audience were encouraged to express their outrage at the situation. A number of local acts enlivened the event, including Devon’s newly formed ska band that is now missing a saxophonist.
The spirit of the event was summed up with Mrs. Cease’s closing remarks, “I just miss my boy!”
All the other Google hits were similar articles from other local newspapers, and there were a few event notices for Devon’s band Tea and Biscuits playing in some bar. I wondered if Devon was still having dreams about Google, wherever he was. I decided to check just once more.
Number of times Google appeared in World, past 6 years:
Same as last time. I guess technically its 12, but I hadn’t recorded mine from last night. It was the first time I hadn’t recorded a dream in the 6 years of DreamBase’s existence. I just couldn’t care less about sharing my Google dreams anymore, they were such crap.
I automatically started typing Dorothy’s name in the profile finder, but then caught myself halfway between the t and the h. ‘I can’t talk to her,’ I thought, ‘I just ignored her a couple hours ago, and she knows it. She knows I was right behind the door, staring at her. I wonder if she knows if I was masturbating to her wet tits.’ I felt such a great emptiness grow in me with these thoughts. I realized then that Dorothy was the only real friend I had in the world. I’d chatted with her every night for the past two years. My head swirled with memories and regrets: ‘She keeps me sane. She comments on every dream I’ve ever had. That’s over 600 dreams she’s read of mine. She gives my life purpose. How could I have ignored her like that?’ Well, the answer was simple: I was just so nervous. I hadn’t had sex or even touched a girl since I was 18, or younger. It wasn’t my fault, how was I to cope? How could she expect me to cope? And why does she want to talk to me in real life? Why does she accost me without warning in the middle of the street? Why can’t we just keep things virtual?
It was while these thoughts were rushing through my head that I heard the bing of a DreamChat window opening. It was Dorothy.
DorothyInOz: Hey cutie J
(She didn’t care about what happened. Joy! Or was she pretending not to care? Either way it didn’t matter; we were still talking.)
DorothyInOz: You logged off suddenly yesterday.
CreativeSuite: Yeah sorry. I was tired
DorothyInOz: You should say goodbye next time. Where’s your dream?
CreativeSuite: Didn’t write it
CreativeSuite: Boring. Google again. Same as all the others.
DorothyInOz: Awww, poor thing L. Have you read mine yet?
CreativeSuite: Just about to
DorothyInOz: Ur in it again. It’s really dirty
DorothyInOz: Let me know what you think
(I went into her profile and clicked on her latest dream. I read the title, Sex with Jeff, and I felt like I’d just been injected with a million cc’s of caffeine. Each fiber of every muscle was twitching uncontrollably. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I felt like burping and yawning and coughing and sneezing all at once, but I could do nothing. I could barely breathe, so I didn’t dare attempt any of those more complex maneuvers. I spasmodically opened my eyelids and peered through the narrow, quivering slits at the screen.)
Sex with Jeff
This dream is kinda embarrassing, but I can’t help what I dream! This is the first sex dream I’ve ever had! My friend Jeff who lives on my street was walking home in the rain with his shirt pulled over his head like in the movies. I was on my front porch and was yelling at him. He didn’t hear me because the louder I yelled the stronger the rain would go. When I was quiet it was just a sprinkle, but when I was yelling it became a torrential downpour.
Jeff went into his house across the street and closed the door. I needed to tell him something really important, I can’t remember what though. I started to run across the street, and halfway across I realized I was still in my pajamas (white shirt and boxer shorts). I felt embarrassed and wanted to turn around, but what I needed to tell Jeff was so important that I kept going.
I got to his door just as he was closing it. I started knocking but the same thing happened as before. The harder I knocked, the harder the rain got so Jeff couldn’t hear me. I realized I wouldn’t get his attention so I turned around and started to walk back to my house.
But the second I turned around I heard Jeff inside say “Nooo!” I turned back around and Jeff had opened the door. He was standing in the doorway with his jeans around his feet and his penis was sticking through his underwear. I got really excited and forgot what I was going to tell him.
I don’t remember taking my clothes off, but soon we were having sex with me lying in the doorway, and Jeff in the rain. He didn’t even take his underwear off. I asked him if he was cold being in the rain, but he didn’t answer. I woke up before the sex was over.
(I was huffing like an asthmatic running a marathon in Beijing. When did she write this? It’s too close to reality. She’s messing with my head. I checked the time of the entry. 7:47 this morning, before it happened in real life…well a version of it. DreamBase doesn’t lie about time. DreamBase doesn’t lie about anything, so she couldn’t have written it just now. Was she attempting to mimic her dream in reality? In the midst of trying to fathom this madness I was interrupted.)
CreativeSuite: With What!
DorothyInOz: My dream Silly J
(a minute went by)
DorothyInOz: You were really good ;)
CreativeSuite: OK gotta go. talk 2moro. seeya
DorothyInOz: Aren’t you going to say you love me?
I unplugged the computer and monitor from the power point at the wall and threw the cords on the ground. I curled up in a fetal position on the floor and willed myself to go to sleep. I didn’t want to take any more sleeping pills cause I had severe stomach pains at work that day from all the sleeping pills the night before. I prayed to God that there would be a nuclear apocalypse that night so I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow. “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it,” I mumbled to myself, arms wrapped round my knees, compressed into a ball, rocking. “Please God, please,” I stammered. I rocked so violently that I flipped over onto my head and landed on my side, still wrapped in a tight ball. I thumped onto the floor, my head pressed against the rough carpet, my eyes closed. I’d never smelt the carpet at such a close proximity and decided that it needed a clean. “I can’t do it,” I muttered, “I can’t go to work, and I can’t clean the carpet on such short notice.”
Then, when I thought all hope had been lost I opened my eyes and noticed my small desktop calendar lying on the floor, knocked over, undoubtedly, during the frenzy of frantic unplugging and collapsing. It lay open to May, which was just serendipitous, because I’d never actually used the calendar. It would have been open to January, or even the cover page, since the beginning of the year, until that very moment. My eyes crawled towards today’s date, May 11th, and for the first time in my life I full-heartedly believed in God, for it was Friday, and by Heaven that meant tomorrow would be Saturday.
I curled up ever more tightly, took a deep and satisfied whiff of the dirty carpet, and whispered “Thank you God,” towards the Heavens, a quiet and genuine exclamation straight from the soul. I sobbed joyous tears as I slipped into dream, where the members of a multi-colored Google frolicked on in their eternal waltz of monotony.
* * *
“So that’s it? That’s every dream you can recall from birth until now?” asked the indefatigable Doctor.
“Yes, minus the ones already stored on DreamBase,” I reminded him.
“Yes, I’ve looked over those,” he assured me, “and how do you feel?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“After getting all of those dreams off your chest. How do you feel?” he said, laying his pencil purposefully on the yellow pad, “how do you feel?”
“You know,” I started, “when you repeat phrases like that it really undermines your credibility.”
“Are you avoiding the subject?” he countered. I thought about it before retorting. Yes, I decided, I was avoiding the subject. I never like to analyze my own emotions, because it always leads me to realize how depressed I am. I came to that conclusion and decided that I’d do what the Doctor said, laid back on the relaxation couch and tried to figure out how I felt. I closed my eyes and made a genuine attempt at analyzing my feelings. And only in that deep trance of self-reflection did I realize that the Doctor’s office smelt like moth balls. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before, but I found it distracting. How do I feel, how do I feel? Well, it was nice to get those dreams off my chest. Those were the ones that my memory had clung to after 26 years of existence. Why?
“I feel good,” I decided.
“That’s specific,” he replied without masking the sarcasm.
“I feel relieved,” I began again, “I feel relieved that I still have them, those dreams, stored in my memory. I suppose that is why I feel good. It makes me feel real. It makes me feel like I’ve done something with my life, come up with all those worlds, people, situations, landscapes. They are all so real in me. It’s like I can roll up all the memories from my waking life into a one minute exposition, but tell you all my dreams from that same period of time, that took, how long? Almost seven hours straight. If you wrote those seven hours of speech down in a book, it would be a long and pretty interesting book. That’s why I feel good, I feel like my life has some meaning, purpose. Something interesting.”
“That’s good Devon.”
“What the hell!”
“My name is Jeff.”
“Of course, Jeff,” he said, a groan beneath some semblance of professionalism, “now we are going to move on to confront the real problem. These Google dreams of yours.”
True, when I had first come into see him these did seem like a big problem, these Google dreams, but now they had become a fact of life. Something I had to live with until the day I died, like a cleft chin, or a tattoo. But if the Doctor could help me, I’d be happy to cooperate. I looked at him inquisitively, waiting for his professional diagnosis. He just stared back. Eventually I asked him to give me his diagnosis.
“That will have to wait for next time,” he answered.
“No. Look I’ve been here four or five times and I’ve just been talking the whole time. I could have done that by myself. Why does that have to wait? We’ve got half an hour by my watch, and I want answers,” I demanded.
“Your case is a complicated one and I want to make sure I’ve gathered all the details.”
“How many more sessions before I can get my answer.”
“It’s hard to say.”
“I’m not rich, I can’t keep paying for this.”
“You know after five sessions you get the sixth one free?”
“I didn’t know that. What is this, Starbucks?”
“No, it’s a certified psychiatrics practice.”
“So three more and then my next one is free?”
“Fine,” I relented, “what now?”
“I want you to tell me everything you know about Devon Cease.”
I was surprised by the question, but I told him everything I knew.
* * *
After my session I went to a café in the Doctor’s up-market neighborhood and stayed there until nighttime. First of all I was bit shaken up by the Doctor’s mention of Devon Cease and needed a place to calm my nerves, and secondly I was trying to avoid Dorothy. I knew she’d be waiting on the street corner, or hiding behind a lamppost ready to pop out and accost me without warning, explaining in detail my sexual exploits in her detailed dreams. I couldn’t cope with it. She was a very attractive girl, with gigantic breasts, but life is so hard sometimes. I wish I could just meet her in my dreams where things are so easy, but no, all I have waiting for me there is the warm comfort of the letters of Google, bulbous and jolly, bouncing through the void. Great company.
I flopped into a wooden chair in the cafe, and burrowed my forehead into the sticky table in front of me. I sat like that for about 3 hours straight. I bought a coffee to justify my presence and let it cool on the table, untouched. After about an hour a waitress asked me if I was alright. Her voice sounded like soft skin and I got aroused. She leaned over and asked if I was all right; she smelt like cinnamon. My balls began to ache, so I groaned louder and she went away. In this semi-comatose state, forehead attached to the sticky table, eyes gazing unblinking onto the crumb-covered floor, I concentrated on reviewing the events of the past few days. But every time someone entered the café the door would swing back to the closed position with a slam and my thoughts would scatter and dissolve. When I finally could muster enough mental strength to reattach the scattered pieces I’d find that I had lost my place, and had to start over. It was most unproductive.
I heard the staff of the café noisily packing up and I looked at my watch, 11:00 PM. I gently unstuck my forehead from the table and gazed around the room. The soft skin sounding girl didn’t seem to be there, only some angry man throwing things around behind the counter. I stood up and felt the blood rush to one of my legs which had been in a funny position. The pins and needles were intense and I could barely walk, but I needed to get out of that place. I stumbled like an amputee to the door and fell out into the night air, balanced myself against a ledge along the quay and waited until the blood soaked completely through the capillaries of my useless limb. The night was cold and the banks of the quay were strangely empty for a Saturday.
Still fearful that I’d encounter Dorothy on the way home, I took a roundabout route halfway down the other side of town, and eventually on to the street parallel to Lord Street, Seer Street. I found the house that I knew shared a back fence with my own and stealthily maneuvered over the short front gate, avoiding the inevitable creaks and groans of the old metal joints as well as I could. I tiptoed across the grass of the neighbor’s yard and shimmied against the side of their house, around to the back, ducking under the windows as I went. I reached the back of the house and noticed a light shining through one of the windows, illuminating a sleeping pit-bull in the backyard. Fear rushing through my body, I took a muted footstep towards the fence shared with my own backyard, trying not to disturb the resting beast. However, this single noiseless step somehow stirred the dog’s dreams. His eyes opened and gleamed like crystal balls in the moonlight. We both froze for a moment, each assessing the situation, me with my adrenaline soaked heart, he with his saliva soaked canines. At the same instant we both came to our decision. Mine was to sprint for the fence and vault over it in one deft movement. His was to spring at me and tear out my jugular. I for one completely misjudged my own abilities. I envisioned myself leaping about four feet into the air, meeting the height of the fence with my own belly button, then pushing the rest of my body up over the top, turning to snarl at the dog before I leapt triumphantly into my own plot. In reality, I ended up stumbling on my dash to the fence, recovering just enough to reach it, leaped about a foot, slamming my body and face hard against the wood. Somehow I managed to get my fingertips to the top of the fence, and as I hung there the dog sank his teeth deep into the back of my left thigh, tearing straight through the jeans and attaching himself surely into the flesh. I screamed in defeated agony and began to rub my shoes against the fence in an attempt to gain height, while pulling with all the might that my thin and trembling arms could muster. The thrashing of my legs eventually succeeded in detaching the dog from my thigh, along with a wholesome mouthful of flesh and denim. I cringed with pain but was able to wriggle my body upwards, folding myself over the top of the fence, the sharp ledge digging into my lungs. The dog again attacked, sinking his teeth this time into my right ankle. My entire shoe must have been in his mouth, but I persevered in rolling my body over the fence and landing with a full body plant on the ground below. As I opened my eyes, I half expected the dog to still be clinging to my foot, on my side of the fence. Luckily he wasn’t. I spent a few seconds regaining my breath and inspected my foot. The dog had taken my right shoe and left a few bloody teeth wedged into my ankle. I pulled one of the teeth out and saw that it was green and rotting at the root. It was pretty disgusting. The smell of blood, and diseased saliva was thick. The dog was barking ferociously and seemed to be slamming his body against the fence.
I heard the neighbors wake up and rush outside to see what the commotion and barking was all about, so I limped quietly to the side of my house, wedged open a window a crack, and squeezed myself through, half expecting Dorothy to be standing in the living room awaiting my arrival. But she wasn’t.
I lay on the floor in the dark for a few minutes, listening to the neighbors chatting excitedly about the single mangled sneaker and the injured dog, and debating whether or not to call the cops. I laid there for about an hour and a half when I heard a knocking at my door. I let them knock and ring for about fifteen minutes without stirring. I heard footsteps circumnavigating my house, and then eventually the shutting of car doors and the sound of a rumbling motor disappearing into the night.
I waited another half an hour or so and then turned on the light to inspect my wounds. I felt my thigh and realized a large chunk of flesh was missing. The wound stung as I prodded it with my finger. I turned my attention to my ankle and plucked the rest of the teeth out one by one, blood oozing from each small injury. Each tooth smelt disgustingly of rot so I tossed them out my window into the garden, and wondered what messed up disease that dog must have. I limped to the bathroom and filled the bath with warm water and slowly lowered myself in, wincing as my injuries were submerged into the steamy liquid. I lay back, resting my head against the hard ceramic, and within a moment or two I was asleep.
The letters of Google appeared briefly, but then all took a quick bow and swiftly disappeared from view. Immediately after their retreat, one of the o’s lowered back into view and grew two arms from its centre, creating the aspect of clock. Time ticked slowly by and more o’s came into view, each transforming into a clock, all at different times, all moving at different speeds. Lanky l moved through the clocks cautiously, glancing at each one as he passed away into the distance. Capital G eventually swept through and devoured all the clocks, leaving l standing alone in the void, now holding little yipping e on a leash. The l and his barking e slowly disappeared over the nonexistence horizon and left the void empty again.
Then it happened. This was the first time it happened, and it would change my life forever. It was the first time that the face appeared in my dream. It started as a pinpoint in the distance and rushed forward at a steady pace until it occupied my entire field of vision. It was a young face with gray hair, just as Devon had described in his Google dream. The face spoke, or at least the mouth moved, but only gibberish came out, and completely out of sync with the movements of the mouth. The head was steady throughout, but the features of the face bounded about furiously, eyebrows rising and falling ferociously, mouth opening and closing, forming all shapes and sizes, cheeks twitching, eyes widening and narrowing. But it was all babble, quickfire, firm, out of sync, somehow convincing, but still babble. And then, suddenly, the lips matched the voice coming out of the head. The face started saying ‘beep, beep, beep’. It came closer, the lips almost touching my eyes, saying ‘beep, beep, beep’. I shook my head and woke up, staring straight into Dorothy’s hazel eyes.
“Beep, beep, beep,” she was saying, “time to wake up.” My body felt the urge to go rigid and my mind felt compelled to spasm, but my injuries were too painful, my body far too fatigued. So I just let things happen as they would.
“Hey you,” Dorothy said, stroking my hair.
“Hey,” I grunted through wads of mucous built up in my throat.
“You wanna drink?” she said, handing me a mug.
“I guess.” I said, taking it from her hands, brushing her fingers against mine as I did. I brought the mug to my mouth, it was milky and sugary and not too hot. I drank it in a couple gulps, without speaking in between, or even looking at Dorothy. When I was finished she took the mug from my hand and put it on the kitchen sink.
“You’ve been hurt,” she said, leaning in closer. Her breath smelt like strong earl grey tea.
“How long have you been here?” I asked, feeling a brief but short-lived flutter of anxiety rush through me.
“I was here when you got home,” she said, “why didn’t you come through the front door?”
“I was trying to avoid you,” I admitted.
“Why?” she asked quietly and kindly, stroking my hair.
“I’m not sure. I guess I don’t know how to act. I’m not very good with people.”
“That’s because you’re a genius.”
“What?” I looked up at her with the question, genuinely confused. I thought she might have been being sarcastic.
“You know, your dreams. Only a genius can come up with that kind of stuff.” She said, leaning in over me, cupping the back of my head in her hand.
“They’re just dreams,” I said, “and besides I only dream of Google now.”
“You just have writer’s block.”
“Your dreams, you just have writer’s block.”
“My psychiatrist thinks Google is trying to advertise in my brain. Like GoogleAds, you know, but in my brain, and that’s messed my subconscious up. That’s why I don’t have real dreams anymore.”
“That’s farfetched,” she said, frowning.
“I guess. I don’t know what to think.”
There were a few moments of silence as she stroked my hair. She moved slowly closer until our noses were touching. Then she asked, “Did you read my dream?”
“Which one,” I wondered aloud.
“The one where we have sex?” I got an immediate erection on the word ‘sex’.
“Yeah,” I stuttered, “I read it.”
“What do you think?” she whispered.
“You made it up didn’t you?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, backing off a bit, to have a better view of my face.
“What do you mean?” she demanded.
“You wrote it about real life,” I insisted.
“We never had sex in real life Jeff.”
“Yeah, but all that other stuff before. The rain, and the eyehole, you in that white shirt, and me masturbating and all that. That day you came to my doorstep,” I recalled.
“Wait! You were behind the door masturbating when I was knocking at your door that day!”
“Jeff, that’s really weird.”
“I know,” I said, “I just don’t know how to talk to people.”
“You’re doing a fine job of it now. And besides, I wrote that in the morning, and I came to visit you that afternoon. It’s just coincidence that it was slightly the same. Come on! I’m not trying to manipulate your life, I’m not a weirdo.”
“Then how did you get in here?” I asked, “If you’re so normal how did you get in here.”
“The front door was open,” she said, sounding a bit hurt.
“But that’s not normal, coming into someone’s house like that,” I insisted, a bit too firmly. She pulled her hand out from under the back of my head.
“Do you want me to go?” she asked.
I waited for a moment, looking into her eyes, and then briefly down at her breasts, and then back up at her eyes.
“No,” I decided.
“Can we just agree that we are equally weird? With you masturbating while watching me through an eyehole, and me sneaking into your house. Are we even?”
“OK,” I relinquished, hoping she’d put her hand under my head again. But instead she looked down towards my legs and said:
“You’re hard Jeff. Why is that?” she said, teasing.
“It’s from when you said ‘sex’,” I admitted.
“Are you serious?” she asked with a giggle, “That’s so cute.” I didn’t have the energy to be offended, or whatever I was supposed to be.
We didn’t really talk after that for the rest of the night. She emptied the lukewarm bath water, and then filled it up again with water a bit too hot. She took off her clothes and squeezed herself into the bathtub with me. We touched each other’s bodies thoroughly and kissed a lot.
When we got out of the bath she bandaged up my wounds and dried me off. Then we stumbled, naked, to the bedroom, leaving our clothes in a heap on the bathroom floor. That night was the first time I had sex in about 8 years. It was really quick. We did it three times, and every time was really quick, but Dorothy didn’t care. She just laughed and kissed me.
That night was the best sleep I ever had. All I dreamed of was the floating face spouting badly dubbed gibberish, but I managed to ignore it and was able to feel Dorothy’s soft body beside me, even while I slept. It wasn’t really like sleep at all. I existed both in that horribly repetitive dream and in bed with Dorothy simultaneously. I could hear her breathing, and could smell her hair, and feel her skin under the palm of my hand, all while I watched, and successfully ignored that desperate floating face in my dream.
* * *
The next day was Sunday. Dorothy and I just lay around together most of the day. The police stopped by and asked me if ‘this’ bloody, canine-mangled shoe was mine. I said no and they believed me. I told Dorothy the story of what happened the night before in detail and she laughed at me. We didn’t talk about much of anything at all, except for dreams. I began to tell her all my dreams from childhood to that moment, just as I had done with Cambria. I realized after my sessions with the Doctor that it is the best story I had to tell. I spoke for about three hours and she just listened, touching my stomach softly.
That night we had sex again and it lasted a bit longer. I dreamt of the floating head again, but this time it seemed like his gibberish was slipping in and out of English, but I really didn’t pay much attention. I was too focused on Dorothy beside me. And it was then, as I was stranded between the worlds of waking and dream did I realize that the last two days were the only two days in the past six years that I hadn’t logged on to DreamBase. I smiled in my dream and felt the muscles of my face do the same in reality.
On Monday Dorothy went back across the road to her house and I got ready for work. Then, at 5:30, after work, I stopped by the Doctor’s office. Walking the streets had never been so much fun. All the buildings and people were infused with a sort of vivid presence that I’d never noticed before. Real life was starting to take on the beautiful lucidity of my pre-Google-and-floating-face dreams. Every interaction had meaning; every time I made eye contact I felt a surge of understanding. Colors stood out as distinct entities, when before they’d all been conglomerated into a dull wash of varying shades of gray. Stories unfolded before my eyes, every object was a symbol to be stored and remembered in detail. I wondered if this change in attitude was due to the entrance of Dorothy into my waking life, or because I needed to fulfill an aspect of perception which had before been taken care of in my dreams, but now had to move into reality because my dreams had become so dull.
I skipped my way up the Doctor’s steps and sat in the cramped waiting room, listening to his stern wife breathing heavily over her administrative notebooks. I scanned over the neat rows of shoes once more and was sure that I saw my missing sneaker, the one stolen from the dog. I leaned in closer to see if it was covered in blood and saliva, but with Mrs. Cambria’s “the Doctor will see you now,” I leaped off my chair, narrowly avoided a collision with one of the wild children running around with a cardboard box over his head and opened the heavy door of the Doctor’s office.
“Please take a seat on the relaxation couch—”,
“Jeff,” I corrected before he could make the mistake.
“Indeed,” he said, tapping the eraser of his pencil on the yellow notepad. “Now,” he continued, as I made myself comfortable, settling into the brown aura and the distinct aroma of mothballs, “I have good news and bad news.”
I lay back with hands under my head on the relaxation couch, waiting for whatever nonsense the Doctor may utter.
“Are you ready?” He asked.
“Well, my boy, it turns out my hypothesis was correct and Google has been advertising in your dreams,” he said monotonously.
“Is that the good news or the bad news?” I asked.
“You said there was good news and bad news,” I reminded him.
“Oh,” he groaned, “That is just a thing I say before I tell someone news.”
“Jesus,” I said, rolling my eyes, “You’re stranger than Dorothy and I combined.”
“Who’s Dorothy?” he asked, pulling his glasses down the length of his nose.
“My girlfriend,” I replied.
“I thought you were socially inept,” he said skeptically.
“Yeah, but she likes that kind of thing,” I assured him.
“I see. Are you sure she is real?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think it is quite clear what I’m talking about. I asked you if you are sure she is real.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I mumbled, “are you sure you’re a real psychiatrist?”
“Quite sure. Now, let me rephrase. I have three pieces of news for you, none being particularly good or particularly bad.”
“Alright, let’s hear it.”
“Item one: Google is advertising in your brain,” he repeated.
“Yeah, how do you know? You can’t just speculate.”
“Which brings us to our second piece of news: I assume you’ve read the latest about Devon?”
“I haven’t been online for the past couple days.”
“Yes, I noticed you haven’t been updating your DreamBase account. But still I thought you’d show some interest in the only other human on Earth who seems to share your unique condition.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Of course. And the third piece of news—” he started.
“Hold on. What about Devon?”
“You can do your own research, you are paying for my time and I suggest you use it wisely. The third piece of news is that I have signed a contract to write a book about you.”
We spent the rest of that session talking about the big gibberish-spouting head which had suddenly replaced the dancing of the Google letters in my dreams. It was then that I told him I would erase my DreamBase account, cause I’d found something better in my life.
After my session I stopped by Dorothy’s house on my way home and knocked on her door. There was no answer. The door was unlocked so I went inside. The place was dark and empty. I crossed the street over to my house, gradually shed my work uniform wandering around the house calling for Dorothy. No one was there. I went naked into the bathroom and noticed that the water hadn’t been drained since Saturday night, and still had a light ruddy color from my blood. My clothes and Dorothy’s were still in crumbled heaps on the floor. I picked up my bloodied jeans and shook them once firmly to straighten them out, and as I did a piece of paper fluttered out and landed in the bath water. I quickly snatched it up and dried it on the hand towel. I unfolded the damp paper and read the neatly written note.
Just letting you know that I’ll be going away for a few days. I’m not sure when I’ll be coming back, but I’ll be OK. I had a really great time with you, and I’ll be updating my DreamBase every day, so hopefully we can catch up on there.
I felt tears well up in my eyes as I folded the paper neatly and placed it on the sink counter. I stood staring at myself in the mirror. I looked deep into my own eyes and held an unblinking gaze, letting my face morph into hideous creatures. After about 5 minutes of this I averted my eyes to the soggy bathroom tiles. I sobbed loudly. Suddenly life seemed unlivable again, and I sank down in a naked, sobbing heap onto the bathroom floor. I spent the night there without sleeping, crying mostly.
I didn’t go to work the next day (Tuesday), I just sat there on the cold tiles contemplating killing myself, but didn’t attempt it. I was too sad to even try. I don’t think I even left the bathroom that day. The day after (Wednesday) I managed to go to work, going through the routine in an automatic daze, only to come home, strip off all my clothes and resume my position on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor once again. I stayed there without so much as changing posture and thought about killing myself some more, and this time I tried. I cut my wrists deeply with a spare razor, as I’d seen done in the movies. As my blood leaked out in torrents I crept into the freezing cold, five day old, red tinctured bath water and, convulsing violently, waited to die.
Just as I felt myself drifting off into a deep dream, feeling my spirit finally giving up, the police started knocking. Then they started screaming something about that stupid dog next door and DNA and something else. They didn’t seem happy. Then, when I was sure that the next breath would be my last I heard an explosion of splintering wood as they kicked down the front door.
I woke up later in the hospital, where I spent that night (Thursday) and the day after that (Friday). They kept me there for the weekend as well. There was a young Asian girl on a respirator next to me. Her wrists were bandaged as well. I guessed we were in the suicide room. Time passed slowly, I felt only sorrow, but not as overwhelming as before. Nurses brought me weak warm tea every time I asked and this gave me a reason to live until Sunday, when I tried to kill myself again, by holding my breath. I forced out all the air in my lungs, closed my eyes, pursed my lips and promised myself that I wouldn’t breath. My vision became blurry, I heard thousands of voices having arguments in my skull, I had a brief glimpse of the Google emblem, and then I passed out, only to wake up instantly after. That was when I gave up on the idea of trying to kill myself. I guess I just wasn’t that good at it. I quit violin at a young age for the same reason.
* * *
On the following Monday afternoon I was taken in a white van from the hospital to a countryside estate. I knew instantly it was an asylum. As we were driving through the large stone walls that flanked the gated entrance the driver must have noticed my confused expression and told me that all the gardening is done by the inmates of the asylum themselves. The flowerbeds seemed dilapidated, as if they were growing on cliff faces. The trees were spaced unevenly and random stone shrine-like structures were erected haphazardly around the grounds. I saw a man in a white suit with half his head shaved stabbing a bush with a pitchfork, and ripping off clumps of leaves and fruit as he pulled the fork upwards into the blue sky.
The driver led me through the front doors of the building, and on through a narrow corridor. The receptionist and nurse nodded to me slowly and politely as I walked by, seeming to gage my level of insanity. He led me on to a medium sized room with a single bed, desk, chair and computer. It was completely white and without ornamentation, but had a nice view of the grounds.
“If you want to work in the garden just push this buzzer and we’ll send someone around to pick you up,” said the driver, as he held the door open for me, “supper is in four hours.”
“Thank you,” I said, walking towards the window to see if I could see any crazies wandering around.
“And on a special recommendation from your psychiatrist we’ve provided a personal broadband connection for you,” said the driver, gesturing to the computer from the doorway, “word has it you’re quite the Internet celebrity.” Why was Cambria trying to lure back into DreamBase?
“I guess,” I said trying to open the windows to let in some fresh air. I was sick of hospital smelling places.
“Oh, that doesn’t open,” said the driver inching in a bit closer, but keeping his right foot firmly placed by the door so it wouldn’t close, “By the way, what’s your username.”
“Why?” I said turning around.
“On DreamBase I mean. Your Doctor said you were big on DreamBase, I was just wondering what your username is.” He was starting to whisper, trying to squeeze himself into my room as much as he could without letting the door shut.
“CreativeSuite,” I said with a sigh.
“I knew it!” He got so excited that the door escaped his shoe and began to glide shut, but he turned around and grabbed the handle before it was fully closed. “Sorry, its policy we aren’t allowed to be with patients in the room with the door closed.”
“That’s OK. I’d like to get some sleep anyway,” I said, “are you sure these windows don’t open?”
“Yeah, policy. Alright, I’ll leave you alone then. If you have any questions or want to go outside just press the buzzer. By the way, my username is Dasher,” he said with a smile, moving out of the room, but peeked back in just as the door was about to click shut, “and my real name is Josh. Ok see you around.” He slipped out and the door clicked behind him. I felt confined. Out of instinct I almost sat down at the computer, but I willed myself against it.
The windows were crystal clean, spotless, and I could see a few wandering souls in white clothes, walking back and forth over the green undulating fields. In a panic I leapt to the buzzer and held it down for about a minute until someone arrived at my door: a short, blonde, and attractive nurse.
“You know, you don’t have to hold it down like that, it’s really annoying,” she said in a strange accent. It could have been Russian. “Do you want to go outside?”
“Yes please,” I answered.
“Come with me.”
The nurse took me through a back entrance, handed me a small spade and told me to be back by suppertime. I spent the next three hours walking up and down the gardens, finding nooks between trees to squeeze through, picking blueberries and popping them in my mouth one at a time, greeting the jovial madmen and madwomen as I went. I stopped and watched one particularly insane individual hacking a hedge into an amorphous amoeba-like structure with a set of giant clippers. He smiled widely and laughed wildly as he went about this work. I walked on and saw rows of hedges which must also have been his handiwork, all rounded and bulbous, like fungi of some sort.
A bit past this hedge was a large bed of various flowers blooming brilliantly around a giant oak tree, perhaps the biggest tree on the property. I stopped to admire this skilled piece of gardening, when a young harelip woman appeared from behind the trunk. She was bent over and paid no attention to me as she went about snipping carefully selected flowers away at the base of their stems. She’d then tape one species of flower onto the stem of another species with a role of scotch tape she had around her left forefinger. I watched this carefully considered procedure for a while before she looked up at me. Her harelip went deep into the concavity of her right nostril and her eyes were nothing more than narrow slits, but she smiled deeply and lovingly at me, with a bit of a giggle before she continued around the tree, bent over, inspecting each flower with gentle fingers.
I flipped the spade as I walked along, catching it by the handle, wondering what I should be digging. I wandered around the entire complex about three times. A thick forest hemmed in the entire property and the front gate that we had driven through was now closed and locked. Of course it would have been easy to escape if I had wanted to, but I had no reason to. I had nowhere to go really.
I sat down on a bench with a plaque set into the seatback reading “In the Loving Memory of Xavier Court, who believed all humans share different manifestations of the same beautiful mind”. I sat in the centre of the bench with my back pressed against the cold metal of the plaque and closed my eyes. The warm sun and cool breeze put my body at ease, an ease which crept lovingly up into my brain, but could in no way convince that squishy bunch of matter up there that I was happy, or even content. I could only think of Dorothy, and my heart struggled with every beat. But the sorrow was certainly dissolving; I’m just not sure what it was being replaced with, if anything.
I sat there until a deep and sonorous bell rang out six times, the sound waves traveling with ease into every nook of the property, but not beyond. I could almost see the sound falling in wet bunches to the ground before they crossed the estate boundaries. The many patients, all clothed in white, dropped their work immediately and began to drift like lazy clouds towards the canteen, which stood behind the main dormitory building.
I waited until everyone was inside, then stood and walked over to the canteen myself. I waited at the door, watching the slow routine of lining up and the handing out of food. I observed the many varieties of insanity all clustered around long wooden cafeteria tables and decided I wasn’t quite ready to interact with these people whose minds were far more gone than my own. Although I assumed I’d be able to relate to them better than I could with sane people. I waited until all the patients had been served and then squeezed between the tables, approaching the service counter, trying not to draw too much attention to myself. But everyone seemed fully caught up in eating, or chatting, or being insane. As I arrived at the counter I realized it was the same Russian nurse who had attended to my buzz a few hours before.
“Hey,” I said.
“You would like?” she ignored my greeting.
“Whatever’s going I guess.”
“Mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, turkey and apple pie for desert,” she recited.
“Is it already Thanksgiving?” I joked, lamely.
“I don’t know what that is,” said the nurse tiredly.
“Oh, I guess you’re not from around here,” I said apologetically.
“Yes, I’ll have everything,” I said with a smile. While she was piling the food on my plate I turned around and looked at the patients each going at their meal in a unique way. Each face was so engrossing; the mannerisms of each individual could have occupied my attention indefinitely; these crazies, I realized in an instant were far more interesting than the sane you see every day. To them it was all about the task at hand, the minute details of lunatic gardening, the careful inspection of each pea, the purposeful composition of every spoonful of mashed potatoes, the importance of every interaction with other humans. I didn’t feel at all awkward here, as I do with most people. However, as the nurse dropped my plate on the counter and said, “enjoy”, I decided that I didn’t want to sit with them quite yet. I wasn’t quite ready for that.
“Can I eat in my room?” I said spinning around to face the nurse again, grabbing my plate.
“This is your first night?” she asked underneath a yawn.
“On your first night you can eat in your room.” She gestured for me to follow her and proceeded to lead me down the hallway to my room. She held the door open as I walked in and shut it a bit too noisily before leaving. I sat down at the computer desk and ate slowly, licking the gravy off the plate until every morsel had been devoured. The food may not have been that good, but it tasted delicious to me.
When I finished I left the plate on the table and lay down on the bed with my hands behind my head on the pillow. I felt my back release the pent up tension of the day and I shut my eyes. I felt for a moment that happiness might sweep over me, but it didn’t, just a continued sensation of emptying. After lying there for about ten minutes I heard a hollow knocking at my door.
“Come in,” I said a bit too quietly. The knocking continued.
“Come in!” I said a bit too loudly. The short and attractive blond nurse opened the door a crack and popped her head in. Her eyes were lazy and fluctuating between opened and closed. It seemed she had aged about 16 years in the ten minutes she’d been away.
“You have a visitor,” she said. I immediately thought of Dorothy and sat bolt upright in my bed, fixing my hair, scraping my teeth with my fingernails and clearing any potential eye boogers that may have formed in my pseudo slumber.
“Tell her she can come in,” I said, with a fingernail working at a bit of something I’d found between my teeth.
“It’s a he,” she replied, “Dr. Cambria. Should I still let him in?”
“Oh,” I said, in an instant giving up my posture and replacing any stray food I’d found snuggly back between my teeth, “alright, whatever, let him in.”
I heard the door open wider, some mumbling between the nurse and Cambria, and then the soft patter of the nurse’s padded footsteps echoing dully down the corridor. Just as the sound was starting to fade Cambria’s bespectacled face loomed in through the doorway.
“Hello young man,” he said, standing at the foot of my bed “you’re in a pickle.” It wasn’t like Cambria to be so colloquial. I looked at him quizzically to make sure it was actually he and not someone in a disguise and then grunted in response.
“So, you’re insane?” he pushed the subject.
“It would seem so,” I said looking for a glass of water or something to eat, or anything to distract me from this sure to be inane conversation. I settled on picking at my toes. Cambria went silent for a while, having made himself comfortable at my desk chair, and stared at me with an annoying smirk.
“How did you know I was here,” I said, put off by the awkward silence.
“They always call the Doctors first my boy,” he ensured me.
“I wish you’d stop calling yourself a Doctor,” I retorted, trying to pick a fight out of sheer boredom.
“I have a medical degree.”
“Great,” I said, resuming my toe picking. I promised that I would not be the one to break the silence this time around. Minutes passed.
“You know I’m writing a book,” he calmly erupted.
“You said,” I replied in subdued triumph.
“And the subject of my book has suddenly gone missing,” he said in a guttural sort of intellectual-sounding way.
“I assume you’re talking about me,” I said. He nodded affirmatively. “Well,” I said, “I don’t really care about your book.”
“I’ll pay you,” he said without hesitation, “I’ll pay you for every session we have from here on out.” I eyed him with suspicion.
“How much?” I asked.
“The same as you paid me per session,”
“Not worth it.”
“Twice as much.”
“No,” I haggled, “I want as much as I’d get for going to work. Which is about minimum wage.”
“Where do you work?” he asked condescendingly.
“See, that’s why you’re a shit doctor,” I started, “you should have known from the beginning where I work. That is probably the root of my problems, how much I hate my job, and you didn’t pick up on that. You don’t pick up on much of anything: That I love Dorothy, loved Dorothy, god knows where she is now; that when I didn’t show up for that last session at your office that I must have been going off the hook and trying to kill myself; that—”
“Well I did think as much,” he interrupted, “that’s why I—”
“I’m not finished,” I interrupted back, “you were too caught up in mining my mind for the gems of my sleep that you didn’t give a rat’s ass about what was actually wrong with me. That’s why I don’t give a damn about your book. It’s just exploitative bullshit, and I’m not interested in it at all. So you can pay me about $500 a week or you can fuck off.”
“OK,” he said after a brief pause, “I’ll pay you $500 dollars a week, which will include 3 two and a half hour sessions per week. Agreed?”
I liked the way that he didn’t deny not caring about me and being self-obsessed and self-serving. It was very honest of him. But despite this newfound fondness, I still wanted one more thing out of him.
“Alright,” I agreed, “on one condition. I want you to admit that you’re not a real Doctor.”
“I’m sorry I can’t do that,” he said, his face lighting up like a supernova on the verge of explosion.
“Then we don’t have a deal,” I said, lying back in my bed, with my hands familiarly creeping underneath my neck. For a short time I only heard the Doctor’s breathing. He obviously wanted me to think that he had the upper hand, what with him paying me $500 a week and rescuing me from my shit job. He expected me to capitulate in a minute or so. He’d obviously never dealt with a suicidal patient before. He didn’t understand that at that point my life didn’t really matter that much to me. If they kicked me out of the mental home and put me back to work, I’d kill myself. If they remained convinced that I was insane I’d stay in this happy home of soft beds, billowing duvets, lush gardens, happy psychos, beautiful blond nurses and complete and utter freedom of thought. In one situation I’d die, in the other situation I’d live in a stale sort of dumbed down and kind of retarded paradise. I definitely had the upper hand. As those thoughts finished passing through my skull I sat upright in bed and stared straight into the doctor’s eyes. A faint smirk formed at the corners of his lips, for he thought I’d given in.
“Cambria,” I stated.
“Yes, my boy,” he said, like some scientist ready to accept a prestigious prize from his peers.
“On top of all that, I want you to find Dorothy for me.”
“What? Wait, what do you mean, on top of?” It was the first time I’d seen him lose his composure, ever.
“$500 a week, find Dorothy, and admit you’re not a Doctor. The longer you wait the more conditions will come,” I said, lying back in my bed.
“Ok, ok,” he whispered desperately, before my head had hit the pillow, “I’m not a…doc…tor.”
“I’m not a doctor.”
“Do you have a medical degree?”
“That would make you a doctor, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it would,” he said with assurance, wiping imaginary dust off his shirt with pride.
“Then I can’t help you,” I spat.
“OK, I don’t!”
“I don’t have a medical degree,” he whined.
“So you’re not a doctor?”
“So, you’re just a two bit quack with no real skills?”
“You are such a crap psychiatrist, in fact, that you have to resort to paying your patients instead of having them pay you?”
“I asked you a question.”
“Yes,” he said reluctantly.
“I heard you were so crap that once you didn’t even know that one of your regular patients was suicidal, despite all the signals.”
“That is true,” he admitted, “but he didn’t die.”
“That’s of no consequence. Anyway,” I said, getting sick of the game, “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow sometime.”
“Well actually Jeff,” his voice had changed tone, “I’d like to have the first session now.”
“Are you kidding me?” I said, still way up on my high horse, “I just got in here today. We’ll have the session tomorrow sometime.”
“Jeff,” said the doctor, folding his hands in his lap, “this deal is already one-sided enough as it is. There has been something nagging me since the last time you were in, and I drove all the way out here. I’d really like to have a session now.”
I thought it over, and it turns out that I agreed with him on the one-sided thing. As far as I was concerned I was getting paid to talk about my dreams and other nonsense, while he was just wasting money and taking notes. I let him win this little battle.
“OK,” I said with a clap of the hands, “Let’s do this.”
“Ah, wonderful,” he said pushing his glasses up his nose, but they were already as far as they would go and he ended up just wedging the frames into his skin. “Now,” he said, looking around uncomfortably, “where is the relaxation couch?”
“I guess the bed will do.”
“No, no, not at all,” he said, disgusted by the suggestion, “The hospital must have one. Surely it does, it is a psychiatric establishment. What would a psychiatric establishment be without a relaxation couch?” His face was whipping left and right, trying to keep up with his thoughts. I hit the buzzer and asked the nurse if she had a relaxation couch.
“A what?” she said. She sounded like I’d woken her up. It made me wonder what time it was and that’s when I realized for the first time that there was no clock in the room.
“A relaxation couch?” pleaded the doctor despondently from the corner.
“Can’t you use the bed?” she asked.
“Very reasonable,” I interpolated.
“Ha!” scoffed Cambria, “I doubt it.” A few awkward seconds of silence followed until the nurse groaned a definitive “no”, added a lackluster “sorry” and promptly hung up.
“There you have it,” I said, “Shall we begin?” The Doctor sat in uneasy self-reflection, furiously wringing his hands, visibly turning unnecessarily heavy concepts over in his mind until he finally came to a decision.
“No,” he said, “I’ll go for now and come back tomorrow with the relaxation couch.” I thought he would peel the skin off his own hands he was wringing them so hard.
“You’re bringing it here?”
“Doesn’t it weigh a few hundred pounds?”
“Not quite my boy. Don’t fret, I will remedy this unfortunate situation.”
“I’m not fretting.”
“I bid you adieu,” he replied over my response, slowly uncoiled his lanky body from the desk chair and floated out the front door as oddly and awkwardly as he had come.
“See ya,” I called after him. The only response I got was the swift clicking of his footsteps down the hall.
* * *
And that’s how it started. My life for the next 4 months consisted of walks in the garden, communal meals with my psychotic comrades, and my thrice weekly visits from Doctor Cambria. It made me wonder who was paying for all this. My parents, wherever they were; the Government; Cambria; Google. It was a pretty upscale place. Anyway, I didn’t worry all that much about, as I was having a fine time. As long as someone was paying, I didn’t mind mooching, for time had drifted into the height of summer, and I was not completely unhappy.
Upon Cambria’s prompt arrival at 2 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, I’d insist to see any new information he’d found about Dorothy. If I was satisfied we’d begin the session. If not, I’d have him sit down at the computer in my room until he could come up with something, and then we’d begin. This was really just a token gesture on the Doctor’s part, for we both knew that Dorothy had disappeared off the face of the Earth. She was gone. If I had been living by myself in that lonely house with the dirty smelling carpet I probably wouldn’t have been able to cope. But in the nut house, everything was fine. I soaked in the attitude of the place within the first few days. If I wasn’t insane when I got there, I was certainly insane after those first four months were up.
In fact, the only thing that kept me remotely normal-brained was Doctor Cambria’s visits. After about the first month of coming around he started looking pretty disheveled. His face gradually acquired a residue of uneven stubble, his glasses had become lopsided, his shirts were never ironed and often plaid, and his demeanor became less and less riddled with the affectations of an insecure medical professional, and more like that of a struggling author, which was indeed what he was becoming.
The relaxation couch now sat by the window in my room, having been maneuvered in by the Cambria family the day after his first visit, his sweating wife with pursed lips swearing under her breath all the while. His two children fulfilling the role of scampering obstacles under her feet.
When the Doctor came in for his sessions I’d walk mechanically to the couch, stretch out my muscles and lie down with a sigh. The Doctor always seemed to take great joy in watching this process. Once I was settled the Doctor would pull up beside me, tightly cross his legs, perch his yellow note pad on his knee, lay the red pencil vertically across it and ask, “The face again?” to which I’d nod affirmatively. “Carry on,” he’d say, and I’d recite for him detail by unembellished detail what the floating head had told me in my dreams that night. During the first week or two in the asylum the words of the floating head had become very clear, and I was able to remember word for word. I would wake up immediately, write down what had been said in a notebook beside my bed, and read this off to the Doctor when he came around. We’d discuss my feelings a bit, my disappointment in no longer having any dreams of my own, my sorrow at the loss of Dorothy, the slow encroachment of insanity on my thought processes, and then he’d leave.
After about three months I started wondering myself what the analysis would be. I hadn’t cared up until then, for I had never had much faith in Cambria’s thoughts, but his ever-increasing dishevelment and excitement in life changed my mind. I thought that he looked like a guy who might actually have something to offer. So I asked after the 40th session:
“What do you think?”
“What do you mean?” he said, the tip of his pencil posed upon his notepad, mid sentence, mid word, mid letter.
“I want to know what you think. You’re writing a book right? I want to know what you think.”
“What chapter are you interested in?” he asked with a hint of glee.
“Well,” I drawled lethargically from my position on the sun soaked relaxation couch, “do you have a table of contents?”
“Indeed,” he sang, flipping through his notepad, mumbling a bit, digging through his brown leather bag and eventually presenting another, slightly smaller, yellow notepad in front of me, nestled in the palm of both hands.
“How many of those do you have?” I asked, nonchalantly taking the notebook from his upturned palms, trying to break the whole ritualistic attitude he was endowing the situation with.
“Notepads? Oh hundreds,” he said with a wave of the hand.
“Strange,” I said, “I always thought it was the same notepad.”
“Most certainly not,” he said, looking at his watch. “This little deviation will not cut into our session time I hope. The time now is 3:30. I will check the time again when you are finished.”
“Sure,” I mumbled, flipping through the pages of the notepad. The very first page was a draft of the Table of Contents, with chapters crossed out, and arrows hypothetically repositioning phrases, and notes adorning the margins. The next page was similar, but a little cleaner, and the next page more so, and so on. I flipped through about twenty pages until I reached a perfectly clean page without a single stray scratch of graphite. Each letter was crafted with perfect curves and straight lines, all placed in perfect harmony with one another beneath the bold, confident, and underlined “Table of Contents”. Then I closed the notebook back to page one and flipped through all twenty pages at a high speed, like you do with those animation books. I wanted to see chaos slowly dissolve into perfection and clarity, represented by a strong, sturdy, and underlined “Table of Contents”. It worked well, and I smiled as I read.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Jeff in Life
Chapter 2 Jeff in Dreams
Chapter 3 GoogleAds and the Unconscious Mind
Chapter 4 Devon, Dorothy and DreamBase
Chapter 5 Filling the Void
Chapter 6 The Collapse of the Ego
Chapter 7 Talking Heads
“Is this book all about me?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” said the Doctor, with a parental smile. I remember feeling at that moment that I should ask a lot of questions. Why were Dorothy and Devon in the same chapter? What Void are you filling? Are you still insisting that Google has been advertising in my dreams? But, I didn’t ask any of the questions. My curiosity was clouded with an overwhelmingly comfortable indifference. Half of me already knew the answers to the questions I was thinking of asking, but the other half of me didn’t even care enough to probe, not even enough to probe into the half of me that knew, not-to-mention probing into a third party. I took a last glance at the notepad, handed it back to the Doctor and lay back on the sun-soaked relaxation couch and closed my eyes.
“Are you interested in any of the chapters in particular?” he said.
“Have you written all the chapters?” I asked.
“Well, I have finished the main body of the work. I’m still working on the Epilogue, which I suspect will turn into a formidable work unto itself.” he responded with excitement.
“What’s that all about?” I humored him.
“Well not many epilogues are titled, but this one I thought deserved one. I’m calling it ‘The Legality of Neural Manipulation and the Rise of the Internet Corporation as Global Superpower’.”
“Isn’t that a bit long-winded?” I asked. He laughed a bit too whole-heartedly at that, and started shaking his head saying, “Yes, yes”.
“That doesn’t bother you?” I asked.
“No, no, not at all, every word is relevant,” he replied, his giggles subsiding.
“OK,” I said without care.
“Well,” started the Doctor, pushing up his lopsided spectacles with a forefinger up his nose, only to have them slide down again and retain their lopsidedness as he tapped his wristwatch, “The time now is 3:46. I will add 16 minutes to our total session time, meaning we will officially end at 4:46. Agreed?”
I shrugged in a fashion which must have evinced agreement because the Doctor said “good” and gestured for me to continue with my exposition. I don’t remember the particular details from that particular session, for they all seem to blur into one incomprehensible buzz of sunshine and delightful conversation. But I can tell you that my dreams for that night were the same as every dream I’d had since I slept with Dorothy that night long ago. My dreams were, without exception, crowded with the floating face spouting forth a stream of absolute drivel. Every night it was the same: the face would appear, stare at me, a head suspended in the ether of my imagination, and start with “My dream last night…” and go on to tell me. I had become the medium through which this floating face told the world, aka Doctor Cambria, his dreams. I liked it better this way. At times I missed the excitement, adventure and heightened awareness of my own dreams, and once in awhile I even found myself missing the days of the Google letters, but all in all I was happy with this situation. It seemed to confirm my insanity and justify my life in the asylum, which I was enjoying very much.
* * *
As I mentioned, I only lived there for four months, or thereabouts, and I remember my last day vividly. I was in the garden working at the patch of ground I had claimed as my own. Every day, for the entire time I was at the asylum, I worked for about 3 hours digging letters out of my patch of grass, planting red flowers in the soil I uncovered. I didn’t know what I would write with the letters, I just started digging one day. The first letter was a capital ‘D’. I finished cutting up the ‘D’ and planted red tulips in the shape on my first day. The second day I stood staring at the ‘D’, thinking what letter should follow. After a few days worth of deliberation I decided to write a backwards capital ‘D’, with its spine about an inch from the spine of the first ‘D’, facing the opposite way. I planted yellow tulips in this reversed ‘D’.
Over the four months I was there I went through the whole alphabet, cutting the letters into two columns downwards. In the right column were the capital letters facing the correct direction with red tulips planted in them, in the left column the capital letters facing the opposite way, with yellow tulips. The nurses would stop by and congratulate me on my work, and when any of the tulips died other patients would replant them. I’d often catch Kaka (that’s what everyone called him) lying next to the reversed ‘K’ on the ground, gently stroking the petals of one of the yellow tulips with his forefinger.
And, on my last day, I walked out to the garden ready to tend to any letters of the alphabet that may need tending to, not knowing at all that I would be gone in a few hours. It was 10 AM, and sure enough Kaka was lying on the ground gently stroking the yellow, reversed ‘K’.
“Hey Kaka,” I said, looking down at him.
“Hey,” he said in that distinctly retarded voice so common amongst members of an insane asylum. No matter how far I drifted into insanity I always made a conscious effort not to fall into that manner of speaking.
“How are the flowers doing today?” I asked.
“Pretty OK,” he moaned. It sounded like his sinuses were clogged with Elmer’s Glue, and as he answered me he wedged his face deep into the tulips.
“You’re gonna crush the flowers if you do that,” I warned gently.
“I don’t care!” he cried.
“Hey, come on Kaka, don’t do that. What’s wrong with you today? Hey Kaka, look at me,” I said a bit more firmly.
“No!” he cried, squeezing handfuls of grass in his fists and wedging his face deeper into the flowers.
“Hey, Kaka. This is my project. I don’t mind you being here, but don’t ruin the flowers.” He didn’t move, but I could hear him breathing deeply, probably sucking in mouthfuls of wet soil into his lungs.
“Kaka!” I yelled, and he slowly raised his head upwards. His elongated and asymmetrical face was caked with wet dirt, and his eyes were bloodshot and streaming with tears.
“Hey, Kaka, what’s wrong?” I asked kneeling next to him. I tried rubbing his back, but his shirt was drenched through with sweat and I guessed that he didn’t have the best sense of hygiene, so I took my hand away almost as soon as I had touched him and wiped my palm in the grass.
“Kaka,” I repeated, leaning in a bit closer, getting an unexpected whiff of sour smelling sweat, “do you want me to call a nurse?”
“No!” he whined, looking up into my face.
“What’s wrong?” I said quite firmly, wanting him to get the hell out of there.
“I don’t want you to go!” he screamed, standing up. He began to move towards me so I bolted up in an instant, not wanting to be sullied by his touch. He approached me slowly with outstretched arms and I backed away.
“Cut it out Kaka, I’m not going anywhere,” I said, ready to turn and bolt.
“I don’t want you to go!” he repeated, retardedly stumbling towards me.
“Seriously Kaka, I’ll fucking kill you if you touch me!” I said, brandishing my spade like a spear.
“Don’t go!” he cried again. His face was disgusting, mottled with drool, sweat, tears, boogers, dirt, and yellow blotches that could have been from the tulip petals, but were probably some skin disease. His fingers were crooked and seemed to be coated in a thin layer of translucent slime. His white shirt was sweaty and clung tightly to his skin. I could make out the contours of his skinny and sickly body through the soaking wet see-through material. And his breath was horrible.
I felt fear penetrate every portion of my body and I would have slashed at his jugular with that spade in a matter of seconds if the brunch bell hadn’t rung. The loud Dong! Dong! rang out over the gardens and in an instant Kaka’s body went slack. His arms dropped to his side. I could see all thoughts stripped from his turbulent mind and replaced in a flash with the thought of warm food. His eyes were emptied of the bloodshot sorrow and desperation and were replaced with a vacuous calm. These empty eyes stared for a moment at the air above my head and then dropped down to fixate on my pupils.
“Brunch!” he said with a smile, spun around on his heels, and skipped off towards the white-walled canteen in the distance. I closed my eyes and tried to shake the image of the menacing Kaka, wiped the hand I’d patted him with on the grass one more time, sighed deeply and stood up. I stared down at the mutilated reverse ‘K’ and spun the shaft of the spade in my hand. I drifted to where the ‘Z’ and its mirror image met, and stood with my feet facing the two columns of letters. Many patients had been contributing to the upkeep and it was the height of summer, so every letter was in perfect shape, except of course the left column’s ‘K’, which Kaka had just destroyed. I spun the spade in my hand a few more times thinking of what to do. Was this a complete project? I wondered, should I just move onto something else.
As I was contemplating my next move I saw a figure moving towards me from the main building. At first I thought it was Kaka and I braced myself for a potential killing, but I soon noticed the long hair and brisk footsteps and knew it was a nurse. I wondered if she was going to scold me for my treatment of Kaka. It was of course the blond haired Russian beauty whose name I never knew.
“Hello,” she said mid-stride, about 20 meters away, approaching purposefully.
“Hey,” I said, with a suavely perfunctory wave.
“How are you today, Jeff?” she asked, at what she must have considered a safe distance, quite far away.
“I’m OK. Just working on my project.”
“It looks good, Jeff,” she said with a quick glance at the letters, “is it finished?”
“I’m not sure,” I responded honestly.
“Well, you better finish it by this afternoon,” she said.
“That’s when the police are coming.”
“You’re needed at a trial.”
“For who? What trial?”
“I’m not sure, Jeff, I was only given limited information. Doctor Cambria called me, and he’ll be here soon,” she said, “He will know more.”
“OK,” I said.
“I assume you’ll be taking dinner in your room again?”
“Maybe I’ll eat with the others tonight.”
“OK Jeff,” she said, holding my gaze for a moment and then turning away. I watched her wiggling butt disappear into the distance and then looked back down at the two massive columns of letters. I walked to the base of the columns, one foot under each Z, to see how much the mangled ‘K’ changed the whole picture. I was deliberating on what to do next when I heard the rumble of the Doctor’s vintage car pull through the gate. I knew that sound from miles away, and I knew he’d be out to see me in a few minutes, so I threw my spade blade first into the ground and sat at the foot of the columns, looking up at the clouds floating swiftly by.
Sure enough, within a few minutes, the Doctor had rushed out the front entrance of the white building and was jogging towards me across the grass. I’d never seen him running, or involved in any strenuous action of any sort. Even when the Cambria family members were moving that relaxation couch into my room, he just stood to the side offering tips and directions while Mrs. Cambria and one of the less attractive nurses struggled through narrow hallways and around tight bends. He was rushing towards me now, obviously trying to keep his body under control, but to no avail. His limbs flew like wet spaghetti in front of a fan, and his left leg seemed to be doing all the work.
I remember mentally preparing myself for whatever the Doctor had to say—as it was obviously going to be he who would break the details about the trial. As I watched that lanky mess of physiology rushing towards me a million possible scenarios played through my head, but one was superimposed over all the rest. It was Dorothy’s dead body, floating face down in the river with a knife through her back. And I was to stand witness. I heard the judge asking me, “How did you know Dorothy?” “We were best friends your honor.” “Funny that you weren’t mentioned in the suicide note.” “Suicide!” “Am I not enunciating” (general laughter from the audience) “No, your honor, it’s just that…how could she stab herself in her own back?” “Insolence! I have reason to suspect—”
My musings were cut short by the abrupt arrival of Cambria.
“My boy!” he cried, his spaghetti arms whipping down onto his knees, his serpentine backbone rising and falling like a wary snake unsure of whether to leap at an oversized piece of potentially confrontational prey, “My boy! I have good news and bad news.”
“Do you actually,” I said, “or do you just have news in general?”
“Ah, right, yes, news in general. Only bad news actually.” he admitted with an awkward tilt of the head and accompanying facial expression.
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“Well,” he said in between breaths, still struggling for air, “Why didn’t you tell me you attacked your neighbor’s dog?”
I was about to deny ever having touched my neighbor’s dog, but then it all slowly came back to me: the slinking through the dark back alleys of the city, the long and circumspect trudge back to my house, the attempt at a clandestine entrance into my backyard that went horribly wrong. It seemed like another lifetime, or just another dream.
“That all seems like a dream,” I said.
“If it was a dream you would have told me about it,” the Doctor countered.
“Yes, but it wasn’t a dream. I remember it. It just seems like a dream. That was the night I had sex with Dorothy.”
“You didn’t tell me about that!”
“That was a couple days before I committed suicide.”
“Yeah. I had other things to worry about.”
I’d had those days stored up inside me until that moment. The only thing I’d really clung onto from that period between my night with Dorothy and my attempted suicide was Dorothy’s face in bed. Whenever I thought of Dorothy this is what I imagined. But now that Cambria had brought up the dog incident I began to run through the details vividly. I remembered every piece of Dorothy’s body, every kiss, I remembered the day after, cruising down the street, elated, seeing life in the lucid detail of dream. And then I recalled the crushing defeat, humiliation, failure, loss when I saw Dorothy’s crumpled up clothes on my bathroom floor. That damn note. That red, stagnant bathwater. I wondered if it had even been emptied since I’d been at the asylum. Probably not. I fell to my knees as I remembered the pain of the razor sinking into my arteries, and the nervous voice of the frightened policeman. It felt like a dream. I checked the scars on my wrist and they were still there. Not a dream.
“Are you alright?” asked the Doctor, touching my shoulder hesitantly, “it really isn’t a big deal. It’s just assault, and against an animal, so probably not that big a deal. Oh, and trespassing too, most likely, but I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. Are you alright my boy?”
I looked up at the two columns of a mirror-imaged alphabet. Red on the right, yellow on the left.
“Wow,” said Cambria, following my eyes, “I hadn’t seen that. How strange. Did one of the patients do that?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“What a bunch of weirdos. Quite beautiful, but still this place gives me the creeps. That’s why I opened up my own practice instead of working in a place like this,” he said, still looking at the tulip letters. “Well,” he continued, “I’m going to go pack up your stuff. I’ll put it in my car. You can come stay at my house until the trial’s over.”
“Your office?” I asked.
“Well, yes, you’d probably have to sleep in my office.”
“How are we going to move the relaxation couch?” I asked, genuinely concerned about not having it in the office.
“Good question,” he said, tapping his chin, “I suppose we’ll just have to recruit some nurses to help us.”
“Can I just wait here?” I asked helplessly, “I want a minute to say goodbye to the place.”
“That’s fine, of course, I’ll take care of everything,” he said. I watched him walk across the grass and back to the white building. I looked back down at my project, and was at a loss for what it needed. First I had an urge to dig up all the letters except for those needed in ‘Dorothy’ on the right and ‘Jeff’ on the left. Then I decided just to stab the yellow ‘K’ with my spade. I knelt by the letter and twisted the tool in deeply, pretending it was Kaka’s diseased chest. I felt elated thinking about how Kaka would react when he saw his mangled friend lying on the ground. He might kill himself. I wished he would. One less freak.
By the time I’d finished torturing the reverse ‘K’, the Doctor had arrived back at my side and informed me it was time to go. I accompanied him into the vintage bug, fully loaded with my luggage and weighted to breaking point with a relaxation couch strapped to the roof.
No one saw us off. No one came out to say goodbye. The nurses and patients were like ghosts. They floated in and out unnoticed, with nothing but a slight chill in the air to signal their presence. I paused for a moment before slamming the car door closed, contemplated going to say goodbye to the attractive short blonde nurse. But I decided not to. I didn’t even know her name.
* * *
I spent the next 5 months of my life living in Dr. Cambria’s consultation room, sleeping on the relaxation couch. He cancelled all his other patients to focus on me and the completion of his book. When I wasn’t relating the ramblings of the floating head, verbatim, to Cambria I was in and out of court for four different trials.
“Is this your shoe, Mr. Thomas?” asked the prosecutor.
“Say no,” Cambria whispered in my ear.
“Yes,” I replied. That set things straight between Cambria and I, and the Courts of British Columbia. I had to pay $10,000 in damages, which is more than I’d gotten from Cambria in the past four months.
First as a defendant, charged with trespassing, destruction of property, and obstructing the course of justice. The main piece of evidence was a bloody shoe, the blood of which matched positively with my DNA. The trial lasted half a day. I pleaded guilty, was fined $10,000 and sentenced to a month in jail by a jury of 12. But most of that time I didn’t spend in jail, but in the courtroom for another trial.
In this one I was the plaintiff bringing a case against Google in Suite v. Google. I was represented by Doctor Cambria, who also happens to be a lawyer. I never saw his certificate, but I took his word for it. I didn’t really care, Cambria was the one who instigated the whole thing. I was just along for the money he promised. Over the course of a month and a half, with more witnesses than I could count—psychologists, computer programmers, Google Insiders—the Courts of British Columbia ordered Google to pay me $27 million in mental damages for intentional manipulation of neural activity in an attempt to perfect software which they’d one day use to sell products of high-profile advertisers. There wasn’t really a law against it, but there is now. It’s a landmark case, but no one has really heard about it outside of Canada, and Google is more or less unaffected by the whole thing. Cambria took about a fourth of the winnings, and I took the rest.
It seemed to me that the trial was more than anything else a highly organized press-conference for Cambria’s book, which he ingeniously released at the end of the hearings. You’ll be surprised to know that I wasn’t in the least surprised by any of the outcomes. No matter how absurd or outlandish the whole deal got, it never seemed to register. It was as if my time at the insane house had wrapped me in a blanket of social indifference and a complete lack of interest for anything but surreal gardening.
In the third trial I was again a defendant, charged with one count of attempted suicide (although I tried twice), so I think I got off easy. I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years back at the asylum. So that’s where I am now.
Devon is still missing and the case has touched the world stage. The last trace of him was a pile of his crumbled clothes on an empty rowboat floating down the Vancouver river. I saw a picture of him in the Vancouver Times, and sure enough, his face is the face I see every night in my dreams. I had guessed as much. As I mentioned before, when I was in the asylum the gibberish spoken by Devon had morphed into totally coherent English, and night after night he tells me in great detail the dreams he had had during his short life. As he relates these to me I re-dream them. Not in a conventional dreamy sort of way, but more like the images you create in your mind when reading a well written novel, not at all lucid, but enough to keep one’s interest. I hand write all his dreams down in notebooks upon awakening, and sometimes write them while I’m still asleep—the difference between the two states has become negligible. It has been 392 days now that I have been dreaming of Devon’s face, and every one of those dreams I have related to Cambria in unembellished detail, thinking he’d need it all for his book, and because I like talking, it passes the days.
As you may have guessed The Dream of Life is a big seller (in psychiatric circles) and I think Cambria is now pretty well off. I’m guessing that’s why he doesn’t visit at the hospital anymore. Oh, he did visit once to drop off a signed copy of his book. And by the way, Kaka did kill himself, as I had planned. Here in the asylum it seems I can manipulate events to my whims. For instance, the Kaka thing: I wanted him to die, so I stabbed his favorite tulip letter with a spade, and he, just as I envisioned, ran it straight through the frail ribs of his chest into his half-human heart. And another time when I was picking up my food from the blond Russian I handed her $7,000 dollars. She came to my room and we slept in the same bed and I pretended she was Dorothy. See, I can manipulate things.
So that is what’s up with me now.
Are you wondering about The Dream of Life? I’ll run you through it shall I? You see, the reason I was such a hit on DreamBase, before any of this Google stuff happened, is because (and I hope this DreamJargon won’t go over your head), my top 10 monthly personal dream images corresponded for six years (without fail) to the top 10 monthly dream images taken from the entire population of DreamBase, more or less. In short, my dreams were a representation of the world’s collective conscious. At first people thought I was cheating, but of course there is no way I could have been, as the monthly dream images are posted only at the end of the month. The only way I could have possibly known the image beforehand is if I was a DreamBase employee, or a hacker, and I’m neither. That’s why I was a hero, and so popular, because my dreams were the dreams of humanity. I thought maybe this fact would have helped to pull me out of my shit-hole of a life, maybe get me a worthwhile job of some description. But it never did. You’ll find all that in Chapters 1 and 2.
In Chapter 3 Cambria suggests in his book that this is why Google chose me as their guinea pig on which to test their experimental subliminal software. They wanted to plug a few products into my subconscious so one of my top 10 monthly images would be a product produced by a high-profile customer of Google. Of course they could have just called me and said ‘Hey we’ll give you 3 million dollars to pretend that one of your monthly dream images was such and such a product’ and of course I would have. But that wasn’t their entire agenda. They wanted to develop this software for all sorts of purposes. They wanted to breach the final frontier—the human unconscious—and they wanted to do it from behind a desktop.
And, like any experiment, they wanted a ‘control’ along with their main subject of interest, and so they infiltrated Devon’s mind with the software (all virtually) at the same moment as they did mine. He was just an unfortunate young boy from Australia who had just signed up to DreamBase. Randomly chosen, just a control. Devon’s mind couldn’t handle what Google did to it and he went mad. Well, I went mad too, but I mean he really flipped out. It’s amazing that the software went so horribly wrong. Or maybe it’s not so amazing.
He ended up as a stowaway on a Thai refugee fishing boat that had been refused safe-haven in Botany Bay by the Australian government. A Canadian NGO, getting wind of the news organized a campaign to pressure the Canadian government to accept the boat instead. At long last, after massive street protests, Ottawa finally agreed to harbor the boat in Vancouver; and so the Australians supplied provisions and fuel to the sea-bound vagabonds, and the overloaded, undersupplied boat made its way for Vancouver, with a crazy young Devon onboard. How Devon’s clothes ended up floating down the Vancouver River nobody knows, but he is presumed quite dead.
Dorothy was a Google agent, planted in my neighborhood when plans to manipulate my subconscious began, about 5 years ago. Her sexual affair with me came about because Google realized something had gone seriously wrong once all my dreams had turned Google. And admittedly, it was a pretty embarrassing glitch that they would have been interested in cleaning up as soon as possible. Somehow they managed to take the vast vocabulary of my dreams (which in fact is the vocabulary of my life) and replace it with five multicolored letters and some childish motifs. I’d be keen to clean that mess up as well.
Dorothy used physical brain manipulation (the details of which were never exposed in the court case) to erase the Google dreams. In affect they erased the very workings of my subconscious. They wiped out the only dream vocabulary I had left, scanty as it was. All that stuff is in Chapter 4. Although none of this came directly from Dorothy, as she never showed up in court. No one could find here. She was, and is, well and truly gone. All that evidence about her being a secret agent and so on was just well-reasoned conjecture on Cambria’s part. He convinced the jury, the judge, the press, the police, and everyone else, but I still have my doubts. I like to think that what was between Dorothy and I was genuine. And since I’m technically insane, I can think whatever I want.
In Chapter 5 he explains that the similarity of my dreams to the world collective unconscious was not coincidence but was due to my mind’s ability to tap (without effort) into the mental unconscious of every other human on earth. Because my unconscious mind was erased, the first mental pattern I attached to was Devon’s crazed brain, floating somewhere out in the Pacific, because we are the only two to exist in an empty unconscious void. That’s why I’m plagued by his floating face every night, and will be for the rest of my life.
In Chapter 6 he explains my suicide attempts and subsequent indifference to life as such: without a properly functioning unconscious, the ego fails to exist as we know it. That is why I stopped caring about life, I didn’t having an unconscious to give it meaning, to find the archetypes, to organize and pattern my dull experience into mythic feats and superhuman experiences.
In Chapter 7 he hypothesizes on the various outcomes of Devon’s existence in relation to my own. He starts with the premise that in fact Devon is not dead, but a mad wandering recluse somewhere in North America, and that our lives, both physically and mentally are tightly intertwined. From here he predicts two possible scenarios: in one scenario, with Devon’s eventual death my unconscious would again be open equally to the minds of the world and my old dreams would come flooding back. In another scenario his death would mean my death. In yet a third scenario, with Devon’s death I would lose all semblance of an unconscious and therefore lose any semblance of self I still have.
Personally I don’t agree with any of these possibilities. I think Devon is already dead and that his life’s memories (both from waking life and dream) will play out in my sleep until they are exhausted. Or perhaps for eternity, for how can we judge a person’s life temporally? Every miniscule thought you have every moment of every day has infinite minute variations. How can one of these variations be described with words, not to mention eighteen years worth of infinite variations? Even if I lived forever, Devon would never be able to satisfy his need to tell the story of his life. How could he? How could anyone?
I don’t really think of myself as a human being anymore, but more of a vessel, for this dead 18 year old kid, who’s desperately trying to get something off his chest.
And I really miss Dorothy. Although I don’t have an ego as such anymore, I still love Dorothy. I love her so much that I cry at night. I cry for hours straight in this white walled asylum.
I love Dorothy too much. When I’m out of here I will find her. I don’t care if she’s a Google secret agent. I don’t care if I’m half a man. She will love me for who I am now because I’m rich, and have the latent power of a god.
I will find Dorothy and we will be together. If she doesn’t like me, then I will think about punishing Google. Until then I suppose I can just keep slipping that Russian nurse wads of money when I’m feeling lonely.
* * *
When we arrived at Cambria’s house it was about eight at night, and his wife was still sitting behind that grey desk in the cramped foyer. The distinct smell produced by the rows of shoes wafted through the air.
“Hey Mrs. Cambria,” I said.
“Very well. How can I help you?” She asked, eyes wide, head tilted, mouth pursed into a mass of lipstick-encrusted wrinkles. I looked at Cambria, not really knowing how to reply, but he had already wandered into his office. I contemplated calling after him but I couldn't find the energy.
“Well,” I started, forcing a polite laugh over the misunderstanding, “You must only remember me as a patient, but I was actually invited by Dr. Cambria this time. I think I’m going to be staying for a while.”
“Very good,” she said, making some marks on a piece of paper without shifting her eyes off me, “that will be fifty dollars a night, and can I supply you with breakfast in the morning.”
“Fifty dollars? I think I’m just going to be hanging out on the relaxation couch.”
“That’s what I suspected, and that is the going rate. Anything for breakfast?”
“Fine. I’ll have coffee and eggs and bacon for breakfast.” I said. She glared at me for a moment.
“We’re a vegetarian household. You’ll have toast and a smoothie. Now how are you paying, cash or credit?” She asked. Her voice slowly started to become British. I suppose this happens to Brits in times of stress.
“I don’t know, why don’t you just deduct the cost out of Cambria’s fees?”
“I’m sorry, our business ventures are completely separate. In fact I don’t condone anything that the sly irresponsible bastard conceives.” She was now 100% Northern England, “Especially the writing of that horrendous, blasphemous book.” I know I should have felt embarrassed, or guilty, for being the subject of the said book, but my indifference just grew and the emptiness in me had reached a climax. Her diatribe had shoved any iota of substance left in my soul out into the stench of the shoe-saturated foyer.
“OK,” I said and turned to walk into the house.
“Shoes off,” she said in a jovial Canadian accent.
“You want orange juice my boy?” came Cambria’s voice from what I guessed to be the kitchen, which was placed to the left of the high wooden double doors of his consultation room. I glanced at the wife to gage her reaction to this offer, but her head was already buried deep into some paperwork. Too deep. Her head was hidden behind the ridge elevated at the edge of the desk and I think I heard a gentle sobbing.
I quietly slipped my black sneakers off, trying not to disturb her, and noticed among the piled clutter of shoes (which on my last visit had been lined in neat rows on the boundary between foyer and the rest of the house) a single recognizable white shoelace twisting up through the mass or Velcro, cotton, polyester and leather. I peeked over at Mrs. Cambria and she was still occupied by her sorrow, so I bent down and pulled the shoelace. It snaked between a high heel, a soggy reef shoe, a moccasin and a sole-less, soiled business shoe, and just as I was about to dislodge the shoe from the mass I heard Cambria asking if I wanted orange juice or not.
“Coming,” I said and gave the shoelace a yank, pulling it through the mountain of various forms of footwear. The shoes avalanched around the foyer on all sides as I inspected the white sneaker, letting it rotate slowly on the end of the white shoelace. I guess I had made a bit of a commotion because when I looked over Mrs. Cambria was looking up, eyes full of tears. She said “why do you keep tormenting me” and slammed her head back on the desk. I didn’t have an answer so I walked to the kitchen with the shoe still dangling by its white shoelace.
“Where did you get this?” I asked the Doctor.
“Not sure,” he said handing me an orange juice filled to the brim in a dirty cup, “we have lots of shoes.” At that moment one of his kids came running in and attached themselves to my thigh. I remember thinking that he was at least ten and shouldn’t be behaving like that. He smelt bad and his polo shirt was ripped at the nipple. Both his knees were bleeding and lodged with dirt.
“See Dad,” he squealed, “I told you that shoe doesn’t belong to anyone. Can I have it now?”
“No, it’s important. I must keep it.” Cambria said before swallowing his mouthful of orange juice.
“Why is it important?” I asked.
“No reason,” he said.
“Then it can’t be important,” I reasoned.
“I guess not,” he admitted, taking a huge sip of orange juice. When he took the glass away from his mouth I saw a cloud of thick ruddy liquid spreading through it. Cambria smiled at me and the gums above his first row of teeth were bleeding profusely. I didn’t mention it.
“So I can have the shoe dad? Please! Abel stole all the other toys,” he begged.
“You live in the same room with him,” Cambria sputtered, the blood running down his lower lip now, apparently unbeknownst to the doctor, “How could he steal the toys?”
“He took them with him when he went dad,” the kid whined, clasping ever more tightly to my thigh, digging his nails in.
“He didn’t go anywhere Seth, and I don’t want to hear another word of it,” the doctor screamed, spraying a mist of blood all over the kid’s face. “Now go upstairs and play with your brother!”
“He’s gone!” bellowed Abel back at his dad. The doctor slipped his glasses off with one hand and slowly pulled his other hand over his face with the same slow and concentrated volition that Atlas must have practiced when he first hoisted the Earth up onto his shoulders. When his eyes were again exposed he looked fifty years older. He returned his spectacles lopsidedly onto his face. I had the sudden sensation that I saw the melancholy exposed for the first time to the world by the confident doctor. In a single gesture he pulled off the mask of his professionalism that had been spread like a layer of wax over his desperation; and then following at the heels of this unmasking, the way an avalanche follows a single delicate rupture in the innocuous snow, came down the newer and thinner mask of his revived youth and joyousness he’d donned once he decided to become an author. Both masks evaporated, never to be seen again. So, I handed the sneaker to Abel and he ran off down the hall, swinging it around like a lasso.
“We’ve lost our son,” said Cambria, “So please excuse my wife’s callousness upon your arrival. My hope, you see, was that bringing a young boy like yourself into our house would provide her with a subject upon which to construct a neurosis whereby she could project the possible outcome for young Seth’s future, and therefore not suffer as much (at least consciously).” I could actually hear the parenthesis in his voice.
“Surely that’s not healthy,” I suggested. “And besides, who would want their son to grow up like me? I have achieved nothing, except for in my dreams.”
“You realize so little,” said Cambria, “You exist within the phenomenon. Indeed you are the very epicenter, so of course you can’t see it.” His smile was beaming now, his front teeth absolutely soaked in blood.
“You’re bleeding,” I said. It seemed to me at that moment like he was retreating into a vast distance behind him, blasting backwards through time and space.
“You are my patient,” he said stolidly, forming the words without exposing his bloody gums and canines, “Therefore we shouldn’t be discussing my personal situation. Why don’t you bring in your things through the back door and you can settle into my office.” I immediately thought of mothballs and missed the asylum. Nonetheless, I nodded and went off to grab my stuff.
Once I had noiselessly carried the last load through the kitchen and into the consultation room, I happened to catch a glimpse of Abel under the spiral staircase talking to his brother in pantomime tones, my old sneaker filling in for a phone. “Come back and bring my red power ranger.” For how many generations will kids be playing with power rangers? How many times can a Japanese show be resurrected before people get sick of it?
We then had a session. Cambria no longer sat behind his desk during the consultations. He moved his chair up beside the relaxation couch, his mustache bristling with excitement. I suppose no matter what happened in his life he could rely on these sessions of ours to revivify his soul.
“What did you dream last night?”
“We still aren’t sure that you are seeing Devon.”
“Of course we are. I’ve seen his picture.”
“It’s irrelevant nonetheless, who it is.”
“How could you say that?”
“What’s important is what you are dreaming.”
“Look, Doctor. Let’s digress here for a moment. You can pause the time if that's what you want. But let’s be honest with ourselves. I’m sorry about your son, and your wife. I don’t know the details and I’m sorry you don’t want to talk about it. Maybe you could go to the asylum for a few days. That really helped me out. And you’d fit in too. There are so many people there. More than in all of Vancouver. I know that doesn’t make sense to you right now, but if you stayed there you’d understand. I know you were there a lot and even ate with us once, but you just came to see me, and when you looked at the others I saw your eyes. You saw them through that filter that the nurses use and the drivers use, and the doctors and visitors use. It was the filter of crazy. We were all crazy to you. Did you ever sit on that bench by the gate at the far end of the property?”
“No, Jeff,” he wavered, trying to avoid what was coming.
“Nevermind then. Have you ever thought why some people are obese? I mean there are some seriously obese people. Even in the asylum, where they try to control that kind of thing. Since all the minds are an amalgamation of uninhibited madness they have to control some things. So they try to make everyone’s body uniform. But insanity and an untraditional phenotype seem to go hand in hand.” I was drifting, I knew it, and I was sure the doctor would stop me at any minute, but on the other hand it seemed that he was so weakened by the circumstances of his life that a brigade of Nazi’s could have marched into his house and recited to him the unabridged Mein Kempf without intermission and he would have dealt with it in an interested, insouciant calm.
So I continued, “What I’m saying is the world needs fat people. What if there is a famine? What if China nukes us and we don’t have access to food until a subsidiary civilization is established on Greenland or the Yukon after global warming kicks in? How long would it take to get farms started on that newly exposed land? Who could wait that long? Obese people are the only ones with enough stored away. They’re the only ones who would survive the ordeal. Do you see what I mean? Humanity needs obese people.
“Midgets, the blind, harelips, identical twins, Siamese twins. We need them. I don’t know why, but I know that we need them. Otherwise why would they be here? They are just waiting for their moment to shine. Just like the obese will show their worth in times of famine, these others will have their time to shine in the near future, you will see. It’s impossible to foresee a future where Siamese twins would be better adapted than a normal-bodied man, but I think it’s coming. I think that’s what all Siamese twins are waiting for, unconsciously.
“And people aren’t their exterior, but their brains. And I know you can’t distinguish the two sometimes. For how could Abraham Lincoln have been as confident as he was if not so tall, or Napoleon so fiery if not so short. Surely your outward appearance influences your mental drift, but whatever the cause of the mind’s development, this is what we become. This then is what we are. This is our soul and there is no distinction.
“That’s what I mean when I say there are more people in the Xavier Court Greenwood Asylum than there are in all of Vancouver, or Montreal or New York, or Shanghai, or the world. My friend Eli was blind. He lived in the room across from me. His right arm originated in another lifeform, amputated from that lifeform and attached to him at the age of seven, with the apparent and in fact undeniable purpose of writing the entire bible backwards, each word, each letter, the entire thing from Revelations to Genesis. And he’s doing it. I shake his right hand and hold a conversation on the subject of proper nutrition with his highly respectable face, all mottled with sores and uninterpretable smiles, while his right hand works furiously and unobserved, unmonitored, upon his everlasting work. We need Eli. I remember you met him once, the only time you ate dinner with us in the cafeteria. Why you agreed I don’t know, you obviously had no interest in associating with my friends. You sat across from Eli. You spoke of the historical neuroses of fantastical characters in Shakespeare while he penned the psalms of David in mid-air, in cursive across your chest. You thought yourself so god dammed urbane to be successfully making chat with this freakish man, but you saw nothing, you looked right through his letters while I saw them painted in fire upon the very air.
“There was Diane, a true lunatic in the traditional sense. On every full moon she’d be released into the gardens. We wouldn’t see her for about three days. She’s been there for seventeen years, you know, but when she first arrived the doctors refused to let her out into the cold light of a full moon, fearing she’d be hurt. Then, one night, on advice from a visiting doctor they allowed her out on a giant leash attached to the house with an armed patrol. She bit through the leash and evaded the armed patrol, slipping deep into the woods. When she returned, after her three days in the wild, her body was torn to shreds, for she’d made love with many a tree. But for the days between the full moons she flourished. Sanely as well as insanely, she flourished. She danced her once famous ballet, she spoke to enthralled audiences on the inseparability of magic and science. When the moon was fully eclipsed by the Earth’s merciful shadow, a doctor at the asylum, her lover, would spend the night with her and button up his white coat in the morning.
“Kaka spoke in tongues, his body was thin strong, diseased, askew. His face looked like it had been through an Olympian pin-ball machine. He spoke…Spoke!...to a few inanimate flowers on the lawn. He spoke to them Cambria!
“Cheryl is 18. She is also Bob, 45, Captain Africa, 8, an inarticulate platypus concerned about its classification in the animal kingdom, age unknown, and of course Charlotte, 73, a bag woman.
“Jebidaiah collects and converses with bones, while Carlos Williams hears what should be seen and sees what most can only feel. To him the feeling of anger is as palpable as a brick wall and the skin of that blond Russian doctor, who we shared affections for, sounds to him like a sugar cube dropping into a cup of coffee.
“Sarah can only walk backwards and thinks she is a bear, mauling and roaring accordingly when forced to turn and trudge from heel to toe. Barret thinks he is a grenade about to go off at any minute and Don the Shaman prays to outdated gods. Courtly is in the trenches of world war one, and dies again and again every day, suffering from wounds in his chest and head. Every night he sings his heroic dirge for himself and drifts off to the long-awaited eternity, which never comes.
“And then look at me, I’m just some vessel that this most probably dead 18 year old kid uses to get things off his chest.
“And I can see from the look in your face that you feel sorry for them, for us. But to me each of their lives is a myth and the Court Asylum is but a well-illustrated hardback-cover storybook for them to live out their days. I don’t pity them like you do, like everyone does. They are immortal. It is the people on the outside I pity. Like your wife. And that cute girl at the café. The people on the street. They will die thinking they know it all, never having once spoken to the spirit occupied by some rabbit femur.
“Hey Cambria,” I prodded. He only nodded in reply, mesmerized by whatever I had just said. “I don’t understand something. I had dreams before. I was important on DreamBase, as you know, because of my dreams. I embodied the consciousness of the entire world with my dreams, so they say. So you say. Right?” he nodded in reply, it’s something we’d talked about before, “But now I just dream of this head. Let’s assume dreams are just wish-fulfillments, as you’ve told me again and again. Now I never argued this point, but now I’m gonna take you up on it. If my dreams before this whole Google-Devon thing happened were the wish-fulfillments of the entire human race, what are they now? I mean, how is Devon’s floating head talking about the boring details of his unimaginative life any kind of wish-fulfillment on my part. Am I not even myself anymore? If I don’t have any wishes than am I human? Do I exist? Am I merely fulfilling Devon’s wishes? In short, it’s been 5 months, and I realize that you are paying me now and so I don’t feel as much obligation to get a straight answer, but in the name of my insanity I’m asking please: Tell me what the fuck is wrong with me!
“Well Devon—”, he started (and it seemed like it was quite an effort on his part to get started) and I interrupted.
“Just to clear things up: I don’t want to sound like some inflated ego here, but I think I’ve been full of sang-froid about this whole thing up until now, and I want my dreams back not just for me, but because the world needs them. Do you understand me? Even if I was working at a shit job and had no social life, I was the embodiment of the world’s unconsciousness, the world’s collective goddammed unconscious was collected in me. And now I’ve got a floating head talking about bullshit all night!
“I still don’t think I’ve got across every point that I was trying to make,” I lamented, lying back in the relaxation couch, feeling its familiar leather grooves creeping in between the notches of my spine. I felt myself begin to fill up. Talking about the asylum-dwellers, praising them, their muddied brains that were the indispensable “aspects of the same beautiful mind”, I began to fill again with the liquid nothingness that had flown from my joints while I was in the asylum. I was growing again, the light began to pour in from every corner of the room, despite its mothball gloominess, and straight into my soul.
“Ha!” I said to the doctor, “I’m sucking the life out of you.” I stood up on the relaxation couch. “What are you gonna do about it?” I jested. He seemed to know exactly what I was talking about, but didn’t know how to respond. I placed bets with myself on what his response would be. I lost on every count, so luckily I came out even in the end.
“You have a trial tomorrow, you better get some rest,” he said, and as I was in a state of stunned shock by his unexpected feint he extended, “but could you please tell me your—”
“Devon’s dream from last night.” So I did. It was unimpressive. Something to do with staring into a grain of sand for seven hours, obsessed with the sparkling of its six flat edges against the sunshine. I can’t remember exactly. I try to forget. Ask Cambria if you want the full details.
* * *
That night, after our session, I went out into the hallway to use the bathroom. The walls of the house were settled with an inkling of doom. The moonlight, starlight and streetlights crisscrossed in discombobulating geometric patterns at the corners of the room, dispersed like a mist through rounded glass vases, shattering against the spiral staircase. A single naked bulb hung from a wire in the only bathroom. It didn’t switch on, so I fumbled with the toilet seat and aimed carefully into the darkness. I heard the rumbling of a passing car and halted the stream of piss when the vehicle’s glacial blue LED headlights blasted my silhouette against the floral paisley of the bathroom wall. It was like a deaf man’s lightning blast—I expected the thunder to sound, but it never did, and it never will. How did that light get in to the bathroom? Didn’t I close the door? I was at a guest’s house, of course I must have closed the door. I zipped up my unfinished business trying not to drip on the toilet seat, and turned around to shut the door, which must have swung open on its own accord. And standing there, in the bright isosceles created by the soft globe of blue moonlight falling lazily through the sunroof intersected by the sharp parallelogram of white streetlight surging through the corner of the kitchen window, stood young Abel, radiating like a prophet.
“This is dead,” he said, pulling his hand out from behind his back. My old white sneaker lay in a mutilated heap in his small palm. “I was talking to Seth on it and he made me mad, so now I cut it up,” he said, brandishing a kitchen knife. “I think Seth was alive before, but now I’m sure he’s dead. Cause if I can’t hear him or see him, then he must be dead. He shouldn’t have made me mad, but he did, so I killed him.” He looked down at my crotch for a brief minute, the knife reflecting the horrific frozen blue faces of eternity, or so it occurred to me at the time.
“You pissed yourself?” he asked. I looked down at my crotch, and indeed there had been leakage.
“I gotta go to sleep now,” I said.
“OK, I will take a piss,” he said.
“Sure,” I said, “Do you want me to take that knife?”
“No, I need it,” he assured me, hustling his way by me towards the toilet seat, like a fed-up miniature business man squeezing into an already crowded subway car. “Can you please close the door?”
I walked back out into the amorphous perplexity of the Cambria household and made my way to the front door so I could pee in the entryway bushes. When I’d shaken every lost drop out, I re-entered the house and heard guttural sobs emanating from the bathroom, like that of a baboon or orangutan, bemoaning their captivity in the London Zoo. I contemplated going upstairs and warning Cambria that he had a depressed and repressed child locked in a bathroom with a sharp kitchen knife that can cut tomatoes in half like butter. But I decided against it as it was none of my business and made my way back to the comfort of the relaxation couch.
When I fell asleep Devon did something that he never did before. He asked me a question.
* * *
“How does the defendant plea?”
“Guilty to trespassing. Not guilty to the assault of a domesticated animal,” replied Cambria.
“You pulled his fucking teeth out you sadistic freak,” screamed my neighbor, the dog owner.
“Order!” cut in the judge.
“I can’t believe you are my lawyer,” I admitted to Cambria, ignoring the neighbor.
“It’s for your own good,” said Cambria. He was still wearing plaid, that can’t have been correct protocol, “You can’t trust anyone else.”
“Have you even passed the bar?”
“Of course I passed the bar!”
“I’m not going to pay you, you know that right?”
“Order, Order, Order!”
“As I said, I’m doing this for you. You can’t trust anyone else at this time. Nobody else knows what I know.”
“I am going to dismiss both of you if you don’t stop that babble!” thundered the judge. Both Cambria and I turned sheepishly towards the judge. We were arguing right into the microphone, and I have to admit, the whole thing was pretty embarrassing. “Can you both conduct yourselves?”
“Yes, your honor,” we both sang out in unison.
“Good, thank you.”
Anyway, the trial went as expected. They showed some pictures of the ‘mangled’ dog, which was just that ugly diseased pit bull with a few missing teeth. They brought in the DNA guy who waved my bloodied shoe around like it was a murder weapon and pointed at me ferociously and snarled every time he mentioned ‘the defendant’. I don’t know why he was so into it. He was just some lab technician.
I was fined $10,000 dollars for trespassing and unintentional destruction of property (AKA the dog’s teeth). I didn’t have to pay the dogs veterinary-dentist bills because, as Cambria (to his credit) proved via someone who knew what they were talking about, the dog’s teeth were indeed rotten to begin with. I still had samples of the teeth at my place to show. Of course I didn’t go to the house myself, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the specters of my past. Cambria went for me.
“How did I do boy?” he asked.
“Well, I’m down ten thousand,” I offered the reality of the situation.
“Well, you shouldn’t have kicked a dog in the face.”
“I didn’t kick a—“
“Let’s go home, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
During that trial he had regained a modicum of that carefree nerdish love of life that he carried with him daily into my quarters at the asylum. Once again, and for the last time, he was in charge of something, creating something, helping someone. I can see now that that 5-hour trial helped him for a moment to forget that he had lost a son. During the ride home I looked over at his elongated frame crammed into his VW bug like a length of bamboo stuffed into a train station locker, and saw melancholy slip once again over his continence. His shoulders tightened, his eyes drooped, his lips quivered. This was the end of it, of any façade he had left in him. He was exposed thoroughly.
“Do you mind if I call you Devon from now on?” he asked as we clambered over the crap that piled ever higher in his neglected squat of a house. I was taken aback by the question but didn’t mind conceding, as I was pretty much open to anything those days.
“OK,” I said.
“Thank God!” replied Cambria. He got up out of his chair and lay next to me on the relaxation couch. “Do you mind shifting over,” he asked, “I need some relaxation.” he squeezed himself next to me on the couch and I suddenly felt like Phaedrus and Socrates lying under that immortalized tree outside the walls of Athens. Then I realized neither of us were anything like either of them.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” he said. I didn’t reply, he continued. “The bad news is you still have another trial.” I wasn’t that surprised. “The good news is you’re going to see Dorothy.” I thought he was lying. “The bad news is that I don’t really think she loves you.” I started to think he could be telling the truth.
“What’s the trial?” I asked.
“Well, you’re the plaintiff bringing a lawsuit against Google for illegal neural manipulation.”
“Is that a crime?”
“Well, that is what we’re going to set out to prove.”
“Don’t you need my permission to sue a company in my name?”
“Yes,” he said after a bit of an intermission, “Can I have your permission?”
“Sure,” I said, “as long as I get to see Dorothy.”
“Thank you Devon. But I warn you, I don’t think you will be seeing her under the circumstances that you imagined or hoped for.”
“I understand,” I said. And I did. “Hey, Cambria?”
“Yes my son?”
“Why do you want to call me Devon?”
“Because I think Devon has things to tell us, and I think he knows more than he lets on in the gibberish of his nocturnal confab, and I want to access him at the trial. I think it’s important that Devon has his say. And I have my personal reasons.”
“Every time you call me Devon I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself. Maybe it’s just a mental thing but—”
“Everything’s a mental thing.”
“But, I’m just wondering. Are you planning on getting rid of me forever, and bringing out Devon?”
“Would you mind?” he asked, turning to me solemnly.
“Why? You tell me yourself all the time that your life has become a void. You do nothing but complain. If you are so fed up with life then why not hand it over to someone who’d appreciate it? I’m sure Tea and Biscuits would be happy to have Devon back.” I thought about this for awhile. It did make sense in a way. I truly did have nothing. I, in essence, was Devon for fifty percent of my life. Why not just give him the whole damn thing.
“Would I be able to keep any aspect of myself?” I asked the Doctor.
“I don’t know how these things work,” he said.
“Yes, my boy?”
“Devon asked me a question last night.” Cambria sprang up to his feet and in the same motion spun around and sat in the chair across from the couch.
“What did he ask?”
* * *
Cambria must have been planning the trial for months without me knowing, and getting my permission was the very last step he needed to take. Apparently it was the biggest news in Vancouver for many months, and I’d completely missed it. No newspapers in the crazy house.
So on the morning of the first day of the trial, I left Cambria’s house dressed in a black cotton suit (the first I’d ever worn) that I’d bought for the occasion, and you wouldn’t believe the fanfare. We turned the corner onto Liberty Road and like a tidal wave the flashes and bodies and questions came flooding over us. I felt like I was an American soldier riding in a humvy through the streets of some country that doesn’t really want my liberation and is taking a no-holds-barred approach to expressing their incense. Neither I nor Cambria spoke. We parked down the road as if everything were normal. We exited the car as if everything were normal. We pressed through three thousand red screaming faces as if we were walking to the supermarket.
Policemen encircled us like elephants protecting an injured baby elephant from jackals while it slept, and we shuffled onwards towards the courthouse in this manner. I asked Cambria a question over the pandemonium but of course he didn’t hear. In the circle of policemen around us I noticed the face of the policeman who broke into my bathroom door and rescued me so many months ago. Rescued me from killing myself. That’s not what he came for, but that’s what he did. I’m surprised that I could recognize him, but I did.
“Hey,” I called as loud as I could. It was too loud: all the policemen and the inner circle of keen journalists, slowed down and looked at me. I made a ‘no, not intended for you’ gesture and pointed at the man I wanted to talk to. Although I could see his face as clearly as day then, I would always remember his features as a hazy mush due to the limited ocular capabilities that come hand in hand with severe blood loss and the slow encroachment of death. He didn’t recognize me at first. I held up my mutilated wrists and smiled. His eyes widened and they seemed to absorb a quantity of blueness from the sky, of which there was an abundance. He didn’t smile back, but continued on for a moment, then covered his face and ducked out of the way into the crowd. The policemen on either side of him filled in the gap and the circle tightened a bit. Now I was really uncomfortable.
* * *
“How was my speech?” Cambria asked after I’d watched his spindly limbs cavort around the courtroom for the better part of half an hour.
“Circumambulatory,” I replied.
“Thanks,” he said with a smile.
The rest of the trial is a haze, looking back, and was a haze at the time, if I remember correctly, which is looking back, remembering. Faces and words were arguing over me, pointing at me through a thick fog which had settled in the courtroom. DreamBase was logged onto, projected on a large screen in the courtroom, people clicked through my entries, reading aloud. The day ended. I left and slept. The day began again similarly and ended similarly. And so on and so forth and so on and so forth.
The haze in the courtroom thickened with every passing day. My vision narrowed. The walls no longer seemed to exist. And then, in the emptiness of waking life, among the questions and answers, the ‘objection’, ‘sustained’, ‘overruled’, and cracks of the hammer, Devon, for the first time ever, came to life right before me. I was in a field, sitting in a chair in the place where the courtroom used to be. The walls had fallen over and a few lazy clouds were passing in front of my face. And the clouds passed. Slowly. First appeared a golden tenor saxophone wrapped in the fingers of a teenage boy. The clouds moved across his chest, but still obscured his face. The rest of his body was exposed and I saw he was holding hands with a child.
“Hey Jeff,” said the boy, making a dash for me, but he was jerked back. He looked up at the face of the teenage boy and at that moment the last wisp of cloud floated away from over his face, like the tail of comet disappearing over the horizon.
It was Devon. He was smiling and walking in slow confident footsteps towards me. The child was tugging at his hand in a vehement attempt to break free, but Devon didn’t take notice.
“Is this your dream?” he asked me. I looked around. There was nothing but meadow flowers, low bulbous clouds, clouds that belonged high in the stratosphere, but instead were lingering at a tenth their size on ground level, sweeping between us. Palm trees grew sparsely across the meadow and the walls of the courtroom which had fallen over around us on all sides had now begun to rot. I’d never dreamt anything like that before.
“No,” I said.
“Then why are you here?” he asked. I didn’t answer.
“Hey mister,” the kid beside him said, “Have you seen my brother?”
“Have you seen Seth’s brother?” asked Devon, squeezing the boy’s hand tighter, until he started to scream. I saw the small tips of his fingers turn red and heard the crushing of bones. Seth’s mouth was open wide in a spirited screech of pain, but not a sound came out. He let go of Seth’s hand and the boy fell in a heap to the ground, weeping, his body almost fully shielded by the high grass of the meadow.
“When I’m you, I’m gonna fuck her brains out,” said Devon. When I looked up again there was Dorothy sitting up above Devon’s left shoulder, perched on a wooden chair, clouds seeping from behind her, covering her body. I tried to catch her attention but her eyes were focused on a shifting point of air somewhere behind Devon’s body.
“Hey, Hey, Dorothy, Hey! Dorothy!” I yelled
Devon had come up beside me and started nudging my rips with his elbow. He was like some annoying kid that you try to be nice to once and then they follow you around like a maggot following a nice decaying piece of steak, always sticking their maggoty little fingers into it.
“Screw off Devon,” I said, shoving him off to the side. “Seriously, get out of here,” I gave him a big push. “Dorothy. Hey! It’s me, Devon, I mean Jeff, Dammit. Hey Dorothy.” Her eyes glanced up at me for a split second as she said, “Yes, that is him,” and then she turned her attention back to the moving point of air between us.
“Ha! Dorothy, you looked at me. I saw that. Come on, look at me. Dorothy In Oz! Dorothy. Lovely Dorothy, you’ve finally come back.” I started walking towards her, first kicking Devon in the shin to keep him at bay. I walked towards her, arms outstretched, like a young veteran returning from years of bloodshed somewhere in the Middle East. She looked at me. I was in the midst of forgiving her for all the pain she caused me, straightening my collar and tightening the crease where my shirt was tucked in preparing for my innocent boyish smile when I was slammed to the ground from the right as if by a freight train.
“Devon I will kill you,” I struggled with the words. The wind had been knocked out of me. The cumulonimbi began to expand to their normal size and as they did they rose towards the heavens, the fallen walls of the courthouse proceeded backwards through time, the termites replacing small mouthfuls of rotting wood snuggly into place, and the walls shot up and made a booming sound as all four corners connected and the roof materialized.
The audience was up in a tumult, the judge smashing his hammer against his desk, a policeman pinioning my hands behind my back. I glanced over at the defendant’s corner and saw Cambria in a fit resembling an albatross in mating season. Not that I’ve ever seen that, but it’s just what I thought of.
“OK, OK,” I whispered to the policeman, letting him know I was no longer delirious, hoping this would scheme him into loosening his grip. I glanced up at Dorothy. She wasn’t smiling but her cheeks were as soft as I remember. Long brown hair drooped over her left shoulder, her eyes were shimmering green. And I could make out the shape of her upturned breasts under the thin t-shirt. She didn’t even wear a bra to court. She was still as beautiful as I remember.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, “I love you Dorothy!” She just dropped her head to the floor and the policeman led me back to my desk. Everything seemed so clear now. The fog was completely gone and the features of each and every jury member stood out distinctly as if they were each representing a different alien race. I felt as if I could zoom into each one of their faces and make my leisurely way around the contours of their nose and inspect the flaps of skin under each eye. I twisted my head over my shoulder as the policeman handcuffed me to my own chair, and then I swept my eyes over the hundred or so shocked heads in the audience, each pair of eyes on me. I smiled.
“Your honor. Please allow me to—ouch!—hey buddy easy with that!”
“Sorry, he was just, I was just talking to the police guy. No, I’m saying, what was it, yeah, please allow me to express the sentiment that is the pervading attitude of this room which is that my behavior was beyond the shadow of a doubt uncalled for. And I Love you Dorothy, let’s get out of this place and run away.”
“Order! Attorney Cambria, if you can’t keep your client under control I’ll be forced to postpone the proceedings until tomorrow by which time we’ll have devised a means with which to deal with him.” I had never seen people before then. The judge’s eyes were wrinkled and kind, he was desperate to avoid any undue amount of toil or exhaustion at any cost. I wanted to do everything I could to help. Cambria stood and addressed the judge.
“Your honor, I appreciate your concern, however I’m confident my client will be well behaved from now on. Usually these episodes can be controlled, and I’m afraid on this occasion it arose due to lack vigilance on my own part. However, I must take this chance to reiterate that this is the type of thing that Google’s intentional neural manipulation has caused.”
“Sustained. Mr. Cambria, thank you for your pledge to keep the young man under control, and I am sure that if there has been any foul play on the part of Google, it will all come out in due course. Now please, can we continue with the witness?”
I looked over at Cambria and he was still overwhelmed with that palpable melancholy. I thought that perhaps our fun time in court together would have taken a bit of the edge off, but something was seriously wrong. I wondered why he got us into this mess in the first place. I glanced at some of the notes and documents on his desk. Nothing there seemed very substantial.
I turned with a big smile to Dorothy, but her head was down. I had one of those moments then that started coming to me after I moved into the asylum. I started to judge myself at every move, wondering whether this or that was an act of insanity. Of course at the asylum, I didn’t really mind if it was an act of insanity, because that’s what I was there for. The whole process was more just an internal hobby that I played on the slow days. So here, as I turned to Dorothy, a Chester Cat smile flowing over the sides of my face, I suddenly realized that I was acting insane. And for the first time since I’d left the asylum and entered the world of normality, it bothered me.
“Now Mr. Cambria, if you’d like to continue with your questioning.”
“Yes thank you, your honor.” Cambria then covered the microphone and said to me, solemnly, “please don’t be shocked by what you hear. This is the bad news I was talking about.” No emotion.
“Mrs. Oswald, do you recognize this man.”
“Could you tell the court his name?”
“And what was your relationship to him.”
“We were friends, and neighbors.”
“Where did you meet?”
“We were linked by DreamBase.”
“I see. On what grounds were you linked.”
“Proximity and similar dream images.”
“Have you ever been under the employment of Google?”
“In a way.”
“Were you ever involved in any way in the manipulation of this man’s neural activity?”
She paused, glancing over at the defendant’s table and then back at Cambria. “Yes.”
“Can you please elaborate on your relationship with this man, and your connection with him in regards to accepting payment for assisting in the manipulation of his neural activities.”
“Objection,” said the GoogleLawyer, uncommitted.
“Overruled,” said the Judge, mirroring the sentiment.
“Well I’d seen Jeff around the neighborhood now and then, but didn’t think much of him. We were living on the same street for six years. Lord Street. He always was really shy and I waved now and then as he trudged off to work in his red uniform, but he never waved back. Anyway, I never connected him with his DreamBase profile—”
“Was, he’s erased it now. It was CreativeSuite. But I was one of CreativeSuite’s biggest fans right from the beginning. I think I’m certainly the only one to have read every single one of his dreams, because I took the time to dig back into the archives and read what he was dreaming before he became a celebrity. His first dream is still my favorite.
“I was his biggest fan without a doubt. I started the secret CreativeSuite fan club (which Jeff never knew about, to my credit), and rose awareness about the phenomenon for people who by some slim chance may not have heard the news.”
“Now this court has heard about the ‘phenomenon’, as you call it, a whole lot these past few days, but I’m going to need you to augment that point.”
“Sure. How detailed?”
“Well, basically the collated world dream images for each month—”
“Are you serious?” she glanced around the room, and I had a peek at them with her. Everyone surely did seem serious.
“Which are the most prominent symbols to be found in the dreams of the world population.”
“Well CreativeSuite went unnoticed for awhile because the most popular correlation to search for was a dreamer’s personal dream images against the actual world dream images per month and measure off each other.”
Dorothy had completely come out of her little sulk now. Even the tinge of fear I sensed at first had washed away. This happens when you get DreamBase junkies talking about DreamBase. “OK, for instance, if out of the entire world population to use DreamBase in the month of March of this year, the most common symbols were: feather, chair, I don’t know, wig, hammer, hand, etcetera, right? Some soothsayer type people were trying to find someone whose personal dream symbols for that month corresponded with the world’s dream symbols.”
“And that was Jeff.”
“CreativeSuite? No! That’s why Jeff wasn’t discovered for so long. Because, what we have to understand is that DreamBase isn’t representative of the world’s population. Sure, a lot of Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Europeans, you know rich people are on it, but places like Africa are almost completely underrepresented. But luckily,” Dorothy stood up and made her way down the stairs to floor.
“Please go back and sit in your chair,” asked the Judge under a long sigh and added, “what is wrong with you people?” Dorothy went back to her seat and continued.
“Sorry. But luckily, DreamBase allows you to break down the search for dream symbols by continent, city, even road. I remember how excited I was when I first discovered CreativeSuite’s genius. I searched for the most potent dream symbol for the month of, what was it, January, 2006, that’s it, in each of the most populated centers on earth, one by one. I think first was Tokyo, then Mexico City, Beijing, New York was up there. Basically I was searching for urban centers with preference to population, not just representation on DreamBase. So even though Nairobi, or Bangkok has a small representation on DreamBase, and doesn’t make a dent in the statistics, it still represents a large portion of the human population in general. By focusing on urban centers which have large populations in reality, but small populations on DreamBase I could extract the actual dream images for a region, and not those of the Dreambase population. And so I could discover the top dream images of the world population, not just the DreamBase population.
“Once I had the top dream images for that month I searched for anyone whose most potent personal dream symbols corresponded. And I found CreativeSuite. A perfect match, ten for ten. I tried twenty and it was a perfect match. Same with thirty. Exact match. Only when I plugged in all forty did one symbol image differ.
“You have to understand my excitement when I found him. I spread the word as quickly as possible and at the same time pretended to have just ‘stumbled’ upon one of Jeff’s dreams, which no one had really been too interested in at that point. That’s how we first made contact. We quickly became friends and we always read each other’s dreams. In the meantime I was making sure that everyone knew about this man. But of course DreamBase keeps your details secret from anyone, unless you choose to divulge.
“A lot people thought it was a fraud at first, and I was even wondering if maybe Jeff was a DreamBase insider or a hacker who could collect the dream symbol charts before they were released and fabricate dreams based on the information. But it is actually impossible to fake, because his dreams were appearing in real-time, every night, before the collective images had been collated. And when DreamBase offered to connect us CreativeSuite agreed. I never knew why he agreed, I was the only one he ever agreed to communicate with.
“And I’ll tell you I did a great job of trying to pull him out into the open. I scheduled interviews with Time, a slot on Opera, lectures at Universities, you name it. CreativeSuite refused them all, and behind all that refusal was that guy who walked slovenly to work every day in his red uniform. I couldn’t believe it.” Dorothy said. Gloom spread quickly over her face again as she finished speaking.
“She’s straying off subject,” interjected GoogleLawyer.
“Finish up this line of questioning,” said the Judge, with a light unnecessary tap of his hammer.
“Thank you for that explanation Mrs. Oswald. But could you please explain how you came to be involved with the illegal activities of Google.”
“Sustained. Mr. Cambria, I’m about to call an end to your time with this witness.”
“Sorry, let me rephrase. Could you please expound on the nature of your discussions with whoever it was that influenced you to manipulate the neural activities of this man.”
“Yeah. I had a big crush on CreativeSuite. And the fact that I knew that behind the man was this cute, socially inept guy, I would have done anything to get my hands on him. I was horny for him.
“So one day I was on the internet and this ad popped up and read ‘are you having trouble with Google dreams?’ flashing in all those Google colors. And I know that Jeff was having trouble. He had dreamt of Google letters doing all sorts of strange things in epically long dreams for the past eleven nights or something. And I mean long! Pages of ‘blue l was walking his dog, and a bunch of little o’s started getting gobbled up by capital G, while little g was slingshotting some into safety over the horizon, but it was no good because those two would just fling around the globe and end up in capital G’s mouth anyway.’ Not that exactly, but stuff like that for pages and pages and pages.
“And he was concerned about the dreams as well. He told me he was sick of them on DreamChat. I thought it was just a passing phase, but after the eleventh night I got worried too. I was really worried. I even had a dream with him in it for the first time during those days. We were in a desert in Montreal by this pond, oh nevermind. Anyways, I remember we were chatting and he suddenly logged off cause I think he was embarrassed about my dream, and at that moment this GoogleAd popped up. ‘are you having trouble with GoogleDreams?’ and it was one of those ads that you could interact with. All these Google letters bouncing around the place and I had to annihilate them with a click of my mouse and then it let me in.
“So I paid the five bucks or whatever it was to get the remedy for the GoogleDreams, and I thought at first that I had been scammed. It was this longwinded guideline about squeezing the head in a certain place at a certain pressure, and then saying a few words and then squeezing the head again. Part of me thought it was a scam, but part of me got excited and memorized the whole thing. I didn’t really think it was going to work but I thought it could be an in with me for Jeff. You know, showing that I cared. So that night I had this sexual dream with him in it and the next day I ran across the street to tell him about my GoogleDream remedy and he freaked out and ran inside. I was pretty sad, but what could I do?
“Anyway, the next night is when everything happened. I was determined to meet with Jeff, because I knew he would love me if only I could get a chance to talk to him one on one. So I called my brother who is a locksmith and got him to come over but it was completely unnecessary because CretiveSuite’s door was unlocked anyway. So my brother came into the house with me just to make sure I was safe, we searched the whole place, and he asked if I was sure I could trust Jeff, and I said yes, he’s harmless. So my brother left, and that’s when…” She paused and looked up at me, tears starting to form in her eyes.
“Are you OK, Mrs. Oswald?” asked Cambria
“I’m fine,” she said, staring at me. “I’m sorry,” she said across the courtroom, directly at me. “I’m so sorry Devon.” At that moment I could actually feel the head, Devon’s head rise out of the pit in my stomach and surge into my skull. I felt my vision become blurry, the walls started to fall again. In most situations I really wouldn’t have tried to fight it, but Dorothy was there and I was losing sight of her. I couldn’t allow Devon to hog the vision all for himself, so I made a sort of groaning sound in an attempt to preserve my own voice and I blinked ferociously in order to preserve my own sight.
“What the hell is going on in my court?” the judged harmonized with the bashing of his hammer. I let every hammer fall act as a battering ram into the side of Devon’s head. It was no good. I remember the moment exactly when he finally took over. It was a wonderful feeling down my spine. Like when Dorothy rubbed her hands all the way from the base of my spine up to the base of my head: like all the energy is forced through my body and blasts like a rocket in my skull. The feeling is miraculous, and that's what it felt like: a blast in the skull. And then in an instant I was Devon. Jeff was still in there somewhere, observing like a fly on the corner of a boxing ring, observing the action and feeling the reaction of it, but in no way in control of it. The whole system was controlled by Devon.
My hands moved differently, fingers always held out straight. I felt the muscles of my mouth form a smile that had never been formed in quite that manner before. I raised one eyebrow at the judge, which I certainly never had the ability to do, and then gave Dorothy a little kiss trough the air. She returned it and I began screaming at Devon from within myself, telling him to stay the hell away. He didn’t listen, nobody heard me.
“Somebody tell me what the hell is going on here?” lamented the judge, “why is that boy acting so strangely.”
“I’m sure he’s fine now your honor,” said Cambria turning around to look at me, his face the painting of sorrow and regret.
“He looks different Cambria. He doesn’t look like the boy who was sitting there one minute ago. And please tell him to stop making lewd gestures at the witness. Young boy?”
“What is it?” returned Devon.
“What’s come over you? You’re acting different, and I can’t help but feel that you are deliberately making a mockery of this court, and for the second time today!”
“Second time? I just got here. And I how dare you lecture me on manners when I’m greeted into this house of law, handcuffed to a chair.”
“Cambria, I’m postponing the proceedings of this trial until tomorrow. You get that boy into shape and straighten out his tongue or I am going to have you disbarred.”
“Wait, your honor, please.” The doctor finally seemed to figure out what was going on. “I know what this is, this is the side effect of the GoogleDream progam. I—”
“Mr. Cambria, I don’t know if it is your lack of quality witnesses, the inherent madness of this case, or your complete disorganization, but over the past three days I have not made head or tail about what you are driving at. Now what are you saying?”
“My client has two personalities. As I mentioned in my opening statement--”
“How could anyone have possibly kept track of that opening statement? Are you trying to tell me that you were actually attempting to make sense? I thought it was some technique in confusion that would eventually pan out into revelation as the course of the trial went on. That has failed to happen Cambria.”
“Yes, but in my opening statement you must remember that I mentioned a young boy named Devon. Surely you have read about his mysterious disappearance from Australia and his clothes washing up in a boat on the Vancouver River.”
“I don’t recall.”
“Oh, really? That’s surprising because it’s really big news. Nevermind, it’s immaterial—”
“It certainly is.”
“What I’m saying is.”
“What are you saying Cambria?”
“This boy, my client, is now infiltrated with the personality used as the control in Google’s neural manipulation experiments. I know it sounds farfetched, but I’m writing a book, I’ll bring in the manuscript and you can look at the whole thing. You can’t stop this trial now, there have been ill deeds, and these large corporations can’t keep getting away with this stuff. They took my son Seth from me and I think they’ve been messing with the head of my other son. I’m not letting him leave the house anymore. I’m a hero as far as I can see your honor. I’m desperate to see that order and fairness is upheld in our city. This trial must continue! A lot of people’s lives are on the line. This isn’t one isolated incident and in fact it’s all leading up to a world-wide conspiracy that is going to turn our last realm of self-hood, our last bastion of privacy into a public forum. What kind of world are we in when our unconscious is no longer our own your honor? Please, Canada is looked at by the world as a beacon of freedom, consistency, fair-mindedness. You cannot allow this to happen in our country. Give me just two more days to wrap up the defense. I will be more organized, I promise. Please!”
Cambria was on his knees at this point.
“This is the most unprofessional display I’ve ever seen in any courtroom. Cambria, I still could not make head or tail of what you were trying to tell me, but it certainly did sound serious. Now I’m not going to dismiss the words of a medical doctor and lawyer flat out, and I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that there really is something going on here.
“I am however calling a close to this session as I think we could all do with a little rest and recuperation. You boy,” he said pointing at Devon, “You better clean up your attitude,” and you, he pointed at Dorothy, “You’ll start on the stand the next morning and in the name of Jesus could you please keep your answers a bit more concise. We all are interested in your life story, I’m sure, but we’ve got a backlog of cases to get through.”
“Yes your honor,” said Dorothy.
I found myself in love with Dorothy even as a bug stuck in the corner of somebody else’s consciousness.
“Dismissed!” came the judge’s cry and the fall of the hammer. People started to pack up their things and filed out of the auditorium. Devon stood up still attached with handcuffs to the chair. I heard (hearing now was a feat of sheer will rather than a natural and unconscious side-effect of noise, and to sift through Devon’s thoughts, variegated, abundant, and haphazard, and I had to focus all my energy, like listening to a conversation at the other end of a crowded train station) the policeman’s footsteps rushing up behind Devon and unlocking the handcuffs. I wasn’t too surprised to find that I didn’t feel any bodily sensations as Devon. These were the first aspects of my ‘self’ to go.
“Actually,” I heard Cambria say, “You better leave those on.” The policeman reattached the handcuffs after a minor scuffle and then the main door of the courtroom approached Devon’s vision. I wished that Devon would turn around and take one last glance at Dorothy. Despite being the microscopic egg of consciousness that I was (or imagined myself to be) I still felt overwhelmed with nerves just thinking of Dorothy. My non-existent throat swelled up with anticipation at the next time I might see her.
I wanted nothing more than to berate the Doctor and question him on the way home, but Devon didn’t speak, he just looked out the window. I was trying to ignore his thoughts because I was sure that becoming lost in that muddied pool of consciousness wouldn’t be a wise choice, I might never find my way back out again. So I concentrated with all my might on observing as if they were my eyes, hearing with my ears, and so forth. I found smell to be the easiest sense to keep any tentative hold of.
When we arrived back at the house Doctor Cambria pulled Devon out of the car and dragged him by the chain of the handcuffs into the house.
“Abel,” he called once and sharply as he walked in, without taking off his shoes, dragging young stumbling Devon through the foyer and through the large wooden doors of his consultation room. He threw him onto the relaxation couch. I suddenly felt as if my territory had been violated.
“So, you’ve finally taken over?” questioned the disheveled Doctor.
“Guess so,” replied my mouth in a nasally Australian twang, and coupled with the teenage angst this was almost unbearable.
“You are not as important as Jeff.”
“Who’s to say?”
“Me. The rest of the world. Anyone who knows the full story. Jeff has a special mind. You are just an unfortunate feckless brat from some rotten suburb in Botany Bay. I don’t like you, and I want you to leave Jeff’s brain.”
“Do you think I had a choice?”
“Where is your body Devon?”
“Sleeping somewhere. Probably dead by now.”
“This is dangerous and immature Devon.”
“Hey! Do you think I chose this? I was the lead saxophonist in Tea and Biscuits. Heard of us?”
“Well if you were from Botany Bay you would have heard of us. We were big, playing paid gigs and everything. We were about to go to Sydney and get famous, we already had a record deal lined up. Now this! My mom is probably worried sick about me.”
“She is. It’s been in the newspapers.”
“So why don’t you go home Devon! Get out of my client’s head! Abel, it’s OK, push the door all the way open, come on in. Is this the guy you see in your dreams?” he pointed at me, Devon.
“Yes,” said Abel.
“Give me my son back you little shit, or I’m calling the police.”
“What could you possibly say?”
“Why are you doing all this Devon?” Uh-oh, Cambria had started to lose it. Any sense of control that he may have established in the beginning had just melted away like ice-cream in a fry pan.
“Or how about I tell you my plan: first I’m going to finish this trial and make you look like a fool, acting like whoever it is whose body I’m in.”
“Jeff,” whinnied the Doctor.
“Whatever. I’m going to put on my best Canadian accent. ‘Hey, I’m Jeff.’ How was that? And then I’m going to find that girl Dorothy and screw her and maybe get her pregnant, and then I’ll take this body and go where I want. And do what I want. Because none of this is my fault and life in this world means survival of the fittest. Understood?”
“Give me my brother,” screamed Abel, leaping at Devon’s throat. Have you ever been stuck like a ball in someone’s consciousness when suddenly their veins are filled with adrenaline and the thoughts surge at twice the speed, bumping against the walls of the brain, smashing into one another, amplifying each other, nullifying each other, getting lost, stuck, distressed in the intricate neural webs that pop up here and withdraw swiftly there. Have you ever? No, neither had I. But the sensation was instantly and recognizably akin to the feeling I had only a month or so ago while flipping through Cambria’s yellow notebook, his table of contents shifting through time and space from absolute chaos into absolute order, harmony. As were Devon’s thoughts in that brief instant. Pure reason reacting in one way, pure instinct rushing in the other, meeting each other, negotiating and then charging full speed, unified and indivisible, at the issue. Like a bunch of Arab Sunnis with an obvious penchant for terrorism rushing into a fancy-dress British nobility dinner party declaring that aliens were attacking the earth and they must band together to face off the threat: how can we combine our resources? How can we make this work? And next thing you know there’s a sharp-looking Jihadi hanging out the window of a dark limousine blasting round after round from his anti-helicopter rocket launcher, reloaded from the cab by a tea-sipping gentile.
This is how everyone reacts to danger, except we never observe it from the inside. Even if you are one of those people who are overly in touch with their feelings and says to themselves, “Oh, I’m getting angry now, why is this happening?” and goes on to analyze the cause and measure the intricate physical reactions occurring in conjunction with the emotion. Not even these types of people can understand what I’m talking about. I was, free of metaphor, ‘literally’ if you will, being jostled back and forth in my own brain by the crowded kafuffle of Devon’s unrestricted flow of thought and instinct, like a chihuahua stuck in a stampede of rhinos.
And as the Arabs banded together with their fundamental enemies to destroy the aliens, as the rhinos coalesced from individuals spread across the savanna to form a single unstoppable mass, so did Devon’s thoughts, instincts, and emotions make a single united decision as Cambria’s eldest son, Abel held a kitchen knife poised above my heart, yearning to impale Devon. And the choice Devon made, consciously and unconsciously, was to retreat. Out the back of my head. Have you ever fantasized about sticking a gun in your mouth and firing the bullet through the back of your head? I’ve imagined what it must feel like many times, and as Devon exited my body, that is exactly what it felt like.
The little ball of consciousness which before had been crowded somewhere between an obscure and molding axon and its partner synapse, like a bird watcher cramped into a hide built into the side of Olympus, expanded like a balloon. The bullet that was Devon blasted out the back of my head and suddenly an unclaimed expanse opened up before me and I melted familiarly into every nook and cranny of my consciousness, taking back the territory, fulfilling my manifest destiny.
Once my consciousness had saturated my eyeballs and flowed like warm milk into my receptive fingertips I was greeted by the shimmering tip of a knife poised in all its stainless steel glory above my head. As Devon’s consciousness had moved out, mine moved forward, rushed to the front of my face and spread like adrenaline into my toes.
“Abel, no please. It’s me. It’s Jeff!”
“Where’s Seth?” he growled and raised the knife to its zenith and was about to plunge it into the contentedly empty sheath which was my life, when Cambria snatched him around the waist and pulled him upwards; and as the knife came down at me, the boy went up, and the tip just grazed my abdomen. Cambria then wrested the knife out the tempestuous child’s hands and tossed it to the ground. I made an attempt at getting up but I forgot that I still had handcuffs on. I almost broke my wrist trying to pull out of them and then gave up. I was enjoying struggling with something, my captivity, as that seemed to be the theme of the moment, what with Cambria holding the child under the armpits at the vast distance that was Cambria’s arm’s length, uttering calming obscenities. Meanwhile little Abel continued to thrash about in the long-fingered grasp. So, I naturally was caught up in the mood and feigned violent indignity at the handcuffs, when in fact I was elated to finally be a tenant once again in my own body.
Then Mrs. Cambria walked in. She had entered into the room and less than a heartbeat later the Cambria father and son ceased their quarrel and were standing at silent attention. I, however, like a dog engaged in a grapple to the death with a tennis ball shoved into a sock, continued doing what I was doing. Until Cambria nudged me with his foot. My eyes met Mrs. Cambria’s and I too sat bolt upright on the relaxation couch, smiling that innocent smile which had proved useful in alleviating these kinds of situations in the past.
“I’m free!” I cried out to Mrs. Cambria, unable to contain myself.
“Not in my house,” she said. I demonstrated obedience to her will with a nod and a downward glance. I kicked an imaginary stone on the ground.
“You said you’d have Seth by today,” she said to the Doctor, “You said the trial would be finished today and that the authorities would be on their way to rescue Seth now.”
“It was more complicated than I expected honey. But the trial is going well, we are bringing out the truth, and soon Google won’t be able to deny—”
“Why am I supposed to believe all of this? This madness! Why shouldn’t I assume that your debtors have just come and kidnapped him so you’ll pay off the cost of this ridiculous consultation room,” she said, gesturing around the room. “Why shouldn’t I assume that once they heard that you had quit your practice and were writing a book that they would take our only real son, to coerce the money out of you. Our only son!”
“What about Abel?”
“Abel is adopted.”
“What?” cried Abel.
“Yes, Abel, adopted, we should have told you earlier.” I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Abel ran at full speed out of the room, squeezing past the stout body of Mrs. Cambria eclipsing the doorway. She didn’t try to stop him.
“You,” she glared at me, “You are the cause of this family’s ruination.” Then she looked down at the large kitchen knife standing out against the dark floral designs of the Persian carpet. She bent down and picked it up. She became somber and quiet. “Can’t anyone put anything away in this house?” And then she walked back, closing the door quietly behind her. I heard her calling “Abel, Abel!” as she plodded off towards the kitchen.
“Debtors kidnapped your son?” I asked.
“No, not debtors,” he said, the melancholy that had been developing over the past few days set deeply into every wrinkle on his forehead now.
“It’s not debtors, I know that. I called the police. They know, they have all the details. But I know its Google. And they’ve put him somewhere impossible to get to. Almost impossible. It all happened right after I published my epilogue. That’s when he was taken.”
“I thought you were saving that for the book.”
“I was, but after we spoke about it I decided that indeed it was a bit too long-winded and that maybe it would serve as a good teaser for the book.”
“Where was it published?”
“A magazine. Psychology Weekly. Psychology Weekly. Psychology Weekly.” He repeated desperately. “Why did they take him?” he asked himself. He’d forgotten I was there.
“I understand that you think it goes deeper than a simple kidnapping, and that the coincidence of you publishing that article coincided with Seth going missing seems too convenient, but I think I have to agree with your wife on this one. Everything that happens to you, you blame on Google.”
“If you knew the theory, you would understand.”
“No, it’s not fully developed yet.”
“This whole goddamn theory is what you’re basing this court case on, isn’t it.”
“And you don’t even know what it is? You don’t even know that actual theory?”
“No, not completely. There is still something missing, something that goes too deep. It seems to go deeper and deeper, as if there is no end. I thought the court case would expose the truth, help me to figure out the last bit.”
“How much is this all costing you?”
“So much,” he sobbed, “so much.”
“I don’t understand how they even let you continue on with the case. Aren’t there preliminary hearings for this kind of thing? Why wasn’t it shot down right at the beginning? You don’t even have a case!”
“I have friends who pushed it through.”
“I know people who’d like to see Google go down. That judge in particular is sympathetic to individuals filing grievances against large corporations. My arguments at the preliminary hearings were more concise. I had an idea of what was going on back then. It was farfetched, but at least it was grounded.”
“Well what happened!”
“Seth disappeared, Goddamnit. I’ve forgotten everything, I can’t think straight. I want my child.”
“Where did you find Dorothy?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I want to see her now.”
Cambria paused. He looked up at me, then back down at the floor.
“I don’t know where she is,” he said, “witness protection.”
“Why did you act so normal when you came to pick me up at the asylum, when you had a son missing?”
“I thought everything would turn out fine.”
“I think you’re neurotic.”
“I think you’re right.”
“Why did Dorothy say ‘I’m sorry Devon’ to me in court today? Why did she say that?”
“Wouldn’t you be sorry too if you trapped the consciousness of an innocent 18 year old kid in the unconsciousness of random stranger?”
“How did she do that?”
“I guess she’ll tell us tomorrow,” said Cambria. He stood up, straightened out his clothes and looked around as if he had lost something. Maybe it was his mind.
* * *
Dorothy was sitting with a white summer dress, sprayed with bright floral patterns, her hair tied back in a bun. I found it hard to concentrate on what she was saying, I was so absorbed in staring at her. “So, as I was saying yesterday, I snuck into Jeff’s house and was waiting for him in the dark. I was really excited and I felt a bit naughty and I kept playing out scenarios for when he came in. I tried to dress sexy, you know, I really wanted Jeff.
“So I was in the dark, just sitting there, and my mind started playing games with me. Shadows looked like people peeking out from behind corners, and it was getting really late. I was about to give up. I started feeling jealous, imagining that maybe Jeff had gone to some other girl’s house so I felt sorry for myself. I think I started to cry a little. Then I stood up to leave, and when I turned around there was standing a naked young boy. I jumped back and screamed. I was getting ready to use all that stuff I’d been taught in self-defense class, but my body was shaking and I couldn’t remember any of it.
“ ‘Do you know where I am?’ he asked in an Australian accent.
“ ‘No’ I said, ‘please go away.’
“ ‘Are you scared?’ he asked, approaching closer. He was skinny and tall. I could see all the ribs and muscles in his stomach. His hair was short and spiked, blondish. His eyes were small and dark. He was completely naked and the way he was standing accentuated his genitals. His legs were strong and not that hairy. I was attracted to him, probably because I’d been working myself up for Jeff’s arrival.
“ ‘I know what you’re going to do, and I’m asking you politely not to. I’ve been through enough as it is.’ He walked towards me, but I was paralyzed with fear. I noticed for the first time how bright his skin was, but the room was so dark, there is no way he could have been reflecting light. His skin was producing the light. He continued walking towards me and I could see through the small slits in his eyes a darkness. The eyes were normal, you know, just white and blue, then black in the middle. They were normal eyes, but they were glowing like the rest of the body and I could see right through them. He put his hand under my arm and lifted me up. I felt myself getting excited, almost against my will, you know, sexually excited. But I was still scared. He lifted me up and stared at me. He kissed me on the cheek and I liked it. I didn’t move. And then kissed me on the mouth. I was trembling and I closed my eyes to calm my nerves. We kissed for a long time and then when I opened my eyes again he was gone, and I saw a dark figure climbing through the window. I hid in a corner of the room and let my eyes adjust. It was Jeff.
“I watched as he lay on the ground and started pulling things out of his heel. There was blood everywhere. I could smell it first all through the room and then I made it out in the dark. He pulled these things out and then went to the bathroom. I heard the tub fill up and Jeff get in. I waited for awhile by the side of the bathroom door and turned in, wanting to scare Jeff, but he was already sleeping. The light was on in the bathroom and it hurt my eyes. I looked at him for a long time, as he was sleeping there and remembered wondering why such a reasonably good-looking guy had become a voluntary social outcast. I touched his forehead and then went through the GoogleDream remedy.”
“Can you take us through that Miss Oswald,” said Cambria.
“Well I’m not sure if I remember exactly.”
“Try your best,” he said.
“OK, well first I grabbed the back of his head like this,” she demonstrated with her hands as she spoke.
“No, Miss Oswald, could you please demonstrate on my client?” asked Cambria. Dorothy looked up the judge and he gave her a nod of affirmation. The audience in the courtroom began to murmur and the judge gave the table a single thud with his hammer and whispered, “order”. A silence like I’d never heard in that courtroom over the past week prevailed as I stood up and walked over to the centre of the courtroom. Dorothy came to meet me in the centre. We met and I held her fingertips between my thumb and fingers.
“Why did you leave?” I asked.
“I was afraid of you,” she said. It wasn’t said in a scathing way, just matter-of-factly.
“I tried to kill myself. You know that?”
“Yes, I heard about it. I called you at the asylum a lot to ask the nurses if you were OK.”
“But you never thought of talking to me, or coming to visit?”
“Jeff, I got involved with something too big for my little life. I didn’t want any of this weird shit. That’s not what I need in my life. I like you Jeff, but,” and she whispered this last part in my ear, “I’ve been threatened. And I’m scared. I was scared.”
“Excuse me,” said the judge over our whispers, “This isn’t a reunion, could you please demonstrate to the court exactly what happened.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen if I do this Jeff?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said. “But that’s okay. I’ll just think about that night we spent together. I’ll hold onto that.” I could see that she tried to smile, but she just didn’t have the resolve.
Dorothy then motioned for me to lie down on the ground. I could see the audience arc their necks over the people in front of them to get a better view. I stared at the ceiling, noticing for the first time that it was painted with a hundred billowing clouds. I closed my eyes.
Dorothy put one hand, her right, under my neck and lifted my head. She ran her other hand down my forehead and pressed her two fingers into my eyes. Then with the hand under my neck she squeezed hard on pressure points right beneath my skull. She pushed a bit harder into my eyes and murmured a few words. She didn’t do it in an incantatory way, just speaking a few unintelligible words. They reminded me of the words Devon had first spoken, the day he first popped into my head.
It happened suddenly, my consciousness just flittered out the top of my head, and in an instant dissipated.
* * *
I woke up everywhere at once, if you can understand such a thing. Everywhere and in every moment. I noticed myself swimming first through the thought patterns of a Google employee sitting at a desk, nervously wringing his hands, watching my body in the court room on a small television screen. He was worried sick, wondering whether this spindly lawyer would pull his act together and manage to indict Google for screwing with people’s brains. He’d designed and developed the software that was used to steal my conscious mind. He was told it was just hypothetical, but now he’s afraid he could spend time in jail. He’s just a guy who loves developing software, nervously eating Cheetos. He was worried that Google would find out that he developed the GoogleDream cure to right his wrong. He was worried that someone might find the hidden camera in the courtroom.
I understood the indifference in the man who stared at a spectrograph produced by the activity of Devon’s mind kept in a test tube. I understood the spark of surprise when that mind disappeared.
I felt Seth’s fear as he was shut into that dark room for the last time. I understood the desperation of the man who shut him in.
I felt Cambria’s insufficient intellect tear apart his insides. I felt his insides try to scream. I felt his idiosyncrasies all point to one indubitable purpose. I wrapped my fingers around the pen of his imagination while he composed the final line in his book, The Nightmare of Life. I sank with the sorrow at losing his only friend to an enigma, that his oldest son had disappeared, that his youngest was murderous, that his wife nursed a hatred for him. I was the glimmer in the first tear that slipped out of his eye.
I understood and hadn’t the capability to judge when Mrs. Cambria poured a year’s supply worth of pills in her hand and reclined onto the relaxation couch with a sigh, repeating her son’s name and again and again through her teeth.
I look at Abel look at Abel in the mirror. With my help he convinced himself to stay staring at the slow undulations of his face. With my help he convinced himself to go out and look for his uncle. With my help he convinced himself to leave the kitchen knife at home and walk across town without checking on his mother, believing her to be at ease forever on the relaxation couch, to the courthouse where he knew his father was.
In Dorothy I admired Devon, yearning to spend my life with him and bear his child. I watched with Devon the shy curling of Dorothy’s lips and the way she stuck the lower one between her teeth. Devon and I watched her look down at the ground coyly, taking a tiny step towards us. We felt her kiss us and we remembered that night. We felt our spirits surge and fly out our body. Mine actually did leave.
It went to all other lover’s finding each other in each other’s eyes on the earth. I swept through the cities of this world and settled on those moments. I sat on those moments like a butterfly sits on a flower, on millions at once, and then on one. And as one flower withers between two humans, the blooming flower of single moment of elation spreads like a gust of wind through humanity, and I end up on another flower.
Until love turned to sorrow and settled here instead. I was the sorrow of loneliness on a street corner in Bombay, I was the sorrow of a broken business and a family dispersed in southern Chile, I was the sorrow of love on a rooftop on Hainin, I was the sorrow of a man with the a future of slavery in Seattle, I was the sorrow of a snowed in house in Kristiansand, I was the sorrow of feeling that I was but one of many in a box up thirty-seven stories in Tokyo, I was the sorrow of defeat in Johannesburg when I was sure that success was so near, for I had touched her hand, I was the sorrow of a baby bleeding in a gutter, her first and only emotion. And again my wearied butterfly leapt and spread again like a benign nuclear blast across the earth and settled upon the emotions of mankind.
I settled on the power of mounting Mount Cook in a snow storm peering over the cloud covered earth, I was the joy of an unexpected gathering in celebration of my existence in a stuffy apartment in Moscow, I was relief in the temple of a thousand lights connecting at last with the sublime after years of wondering whether I could, if only for an immeasurable second, I was wonder and awe floating down the sun-drenched canal in Panama, I was the full-hearted bellow emanating from the fearless captain, declaring his vows from the bow of a sailboat into the dark tempest off the Cape of Good hope, I reached transcendence in Tibet, opened up my eyes and smiled, I was the hero, that gorged matador, I was a worshipped celebrity washed in cascades of silver.
I was my mother, absorbing the well-wishes and expecting only the worse. I was my father, weeping on a street corner of Montreal, wishing he could muster up the strength to visit the mental institution his son is in. I was every father and every mother in every moment of motherhood and fatherhood. I was every brother and sister, playing together in a trash heap in India, playing together in a castle in California, and the love was the same.
I was washed by the turmoil in the minds of lunatics and spat between them. I felt myself concentrated into a singularity in the mind of Kaka and expand and expand to the limits of the universe in the mind of everyone, for at least once in their lives.
I dashed over the Earth as if I were the million lines of thread that compose the material of the wind. I dashed through the hearts of humankind. I was at once nowhere and everywhere, and I dreamt. And my dreams were those of humanity and humanity made my dreams. And I have no body, and I will always be here. I am in you reading this now, and I know how you feel, because I feel it too.
Am I soul? What a silly question. How am I to know? I only know what I’m experiencing. And I’ll tell you what. It all balances. The countless tragedies and the cherished explosions of euphoria, they are all one thing.
So dream, this is how we can talk. This is the only thing we share, even if we never speak. This is where we can meet face to face, and I look forward to it. This dream of life.