Saturday, July 5, 2008

Project Goodnight puzzle

"What do you dream about?" the doctor asked me with a hint of severity in his tone.
I paused. I wasn't really sure anymore if I had dreams or perhaps it was just the definition of what a dream was had changed for me and no longer fit the common perception. 
"I guess doc, I dream about things that need to be done, to better the real world," I said.
He looked at me through his thick-rimmed glasses and asked, "Are you successful in your attempts?"
I smiled. "I don't know, but I learn from my mistakes, even though I don't make many" I said, pulling back my coat to reveal a set of arsenal that could rival a small fort. As I unsheathed my guns the familiar sounds of their quick brushes with fabric zipped past my ears and my arms were pointed and firing even before the sounds finished their final hiss. He was a quick kill, too quick, no fun in that. I walked over to his body and kicked it a few times. Yep, he was dead. I sat in his lap and lit a cigarette, blowing out pink butterflies that swirled around my head.  
"You know doc, I almost wish you were still here. I'll miss our talks," I told his corpse. It wasn't a lie. I had gotten quite close to him lately. Most people dream of fanciful things, other worlds, indescribable sceneries, things that don't exist anywhere but in dreams. But doc, he dreamed of being shrink, had a classic Freudian mustache and beard, even dreamt up the long traditional shrink couch with warn-in burgundy leather and classic school diploma hanging above it on the wall. I had scoped him out for a while. I was wondering when his weird fantasies would appear. Waiting for him to visit candy-land or alien worlds, dress like a woman, or have sex with strange creatures. I waited for the day he dreamt of being a hero, a zombie-killer or a marine, confrontation of any sort to make my job easier. But he never did anything except go to his office and dole out fake prescriptions and advice to dreamt up strangers, to even me. So I began to visit him there, spoke to him about various things in my life, and tried to pry his secrets as I was told. He always gave a good opinion on my next steps, even when they involved things he did not understand. He never gave much up on himself. Maybe he was a shrink in real life, maybe. Now he was dead. He would not wake up tomorrow, would not dream anymore, would not practice psychoanalysis or water his constantly dying dream fern. Why did he not dream you pre-watered little plant? 
I sat there and contemplated a way to kill without such violence. I had tried this many times before. It was always dangerous in the dream world, you could never let your guard down. The history of the world's most horrible ideas intermingled with the beautiful ones. There were no poisons in this dreamland, no silent deaths. It was always guns or swords or other close contact violence. Of the times where I attempted to explain my missions, or offer help, it always went poorly. Usually the person would counterattack with their own dreamt up weapons or run for their lives, and I would have to hunt for them or wait until they fell asleep again to take them out. Oh well, I guess it's better to have it be quick than to be hunted or die scared. I looked at the doc's fern. Of course it needed water. I figured I could do this last thing for him, so I grabbed his green plastic watering can and poured it into the planter. As I watered the plant I stared at its wilting leaves, written in the tiniest veins were the words Project Goodnight Puzzles. How did he know about this?
I awoke with a jolt. What the hell? The searing pain in my eyes told me I was awake. I saw light for only about 4-5 hours a day now, most of which was spent writing reports for the agency and having one hot meal. The rest of my time was spent sleeping or dreaming. That was my job, to dream. I had been recruited during my doctorate program to do some work for the government, intelligence work they said. As a student, I focused my studies on Carl Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious. My theses agreed that we were really all connected to this world of the collective unconscious, that our history lay there and even more, the possibility of discovering the secrets to the world and everything in it. I theorized that we could learn to control it and explore and gain knowledge from it. But to do this we would need to enter it through that unconscious state and the easiest way was through our dreams. That's when they recruited me and I began the work on Project Goodnight Puzzles.
At first it was innocent. We experimented with drugs to extend our hours of sleep. We worked with coma patients, attempting to delve into their minds through the dream state, but dreaming and sleeping are not the same thing. It seemed sleep was easy to come by, but dreams, dreams were unique. It is important to understand that the unconcious was not where dreams lay but is an active world of its own. It's a "reservoir of the experiences of our species." The library of the history of mankind's imagination and spirituality and possibly beyond those realms of understanding. Just like any book you had to read the scenery and develop an understanding of the dream world. It took 4 years. Eventually we made contact with our first coma patient, a middle aged man, a father. I spoke to him about his family who waited by his bedside for the day he would wake up. We spoke quite a bit about random things at first. He believed I was part of his dream. I told him he had been in a coma for 5 years and told him his family was doing well. I would deliver messages back and forth from the real world to the dream state. One day he realized I was speaking the truth. That was when the project turned. The man tried again and again to awaken from the coma to no avail.  Eventually, he attacked me, telling me I had caused all of his strife and worry and that he no longer had happy thoughts or dreams. He came at me with a knife, slashed at my face and arms. I attacked him back. The battle ensued and eventually I was the only one who walked away. When I woke up I was the only one who knew what had transpired. The man, the father, he never woke up from his coma, never woke up again. 
After the coma patients we figured we could manipulate anyone in the dream state, and we do. I work strictly on intelligence gathering and follow their orders on everything else. So the story continues, and I've managed to become a mercenary of sorts. It started with bad guys who were clearly bad guys. And now, after the doc, I am not sure who are the bad guys are, or why I continue to believe I am doing some sort of greater good. But now the questions plague me, doc, how did you know about the project, and who else knows? My job just got a lot harder. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I think it's odd to have a crying routine. To set yourself up to cry. My mom cries while doing simple mindless household chores, things like laundry, ironing or cooking. My best friend picks out a movie, or novel, some sort of heart-wrenching saga you can't help but wallow with tears in.  I've heard people cry in the shower, the rain cleansing their tears, diluting whatever pain they might be in. My husband always cries at home in his study after pouring himself a good glass of whiskey and opening his newspaper to hide his face behind. He never cries in front of anyone. I could hear him sobbing in his room as I rocked in my rocking chair. I contemplated walking over to him and comforting him but it was a useless thought since I knew he wanted to cry and had taken so much effort and care in making himself ready that I did not want to steal his moment. So I rocked. 
About an hour later his room grew quiet and I knew he would be looking for me. He stood in the doorway of the room. He did not like this room, my room. I could tell a fight would begin if I did not leave it and attend to whatever his need was, but I wanted to fight so I rocked more. He looked very handsome in the low light. His bone structure had become more defined from the recent weight loss and the light grazed his new cheekbones and architectural jawline. He began his speech, apologizing at first and then demanding I move out of the chair. By the time he used my full name, he was exhausted and could do no more than pantomime indescribable directions to me. I win. It was nice winning.
  I stared at him for a bit and then got up to follow him to the kitchen. As I stood I watched the room spin before I realized I was falling. To my surprise he caught me. He held me for a long time in his arms saying nothing. I did not dare moved. He had not touched me in months. As he held me, I could not tell who was frailer. I could feel my ribs pressed up against his, his shoulder no more than a hard shelf I leaned on.We were the ideal. Big house, nice cars, successful good-looking couple, and we remain the ideal with all of those material things in place but filled with unhappiness. I finally gained the courage to look at him directly. His grasp tightened around me and I felt him lift me from the ground. Amazed he had the strength to carry me, I watched as he passed the open dark rooms and carried me to my bath. As he sat me on the counter I peered into the mirrored walls. I had not used this bathroom for quite some time because of them and because of the tub. He turned on the faucet and began to fill the tub while he unbuttoned my nightgown. As he took my clothes off I remembered decorating this room, pondering hours over the perfect fixtures and the perfect tub. Perfection has a price and I spared nothing to get it to look this way. I could picture it on the cover of a magazine, all but us. We did not belong in the picture. Naked, he picked me up once again and swung me into our vintage tub, the clawed feet looking ominous in the soft lighting. I slid into the warm water. 
   My eyes closed. I was frightened of being in the water, frightened of the way it made me feel, the way it made me remember. He grabbed the loofah and began to rub it down my back, across my shoulders. He massaged them for a bit, his grasp continuing to tighten. The massage was painful. His bony fingers dug into my thin malnourished skin. I dare not asked him to stop though, I was too tired now to fight. I winced once, right before he pushed my shoulders into the water. He held me below the surface and I sucked in the water quickly, gasping a bit at the shock but well aware that it was coming. I relax and stopped struggling, holding on to what little bit of air was in my lungs. Eventually my body would actually fight to keep me alive, fight against the drowning. But for now I let it happen. 
    I stared at him from below, the water swirling his face. This is what I must've looked like to it, to our baby, as I held it below the water. I'm not even sure it could see much, its eyes so young. I remember when the nurse put it in my arms at the hospital. I was sure it was a mistake. Its arms were so tiny, eyes just slits, head disproportionate to the body and hair covering its whole body. I told them to take it away and bring me my baby, the real baby. The confusion spread through the room. I begged them again bring me my baby. I did not give birth to a horrible little deformed monster and the joke they were playing was a mean one. As the nurses stared back at me in disgust I realized this creature was my child. I argued with them, explaining that I had a sonogram, I had the blood work done, I was checked for problems. It couldn't be. I refused to hold it, to go near it. For three days they tried to get me to feed it, I refused. 
  We left the hospital, taking the beast home with us. I forbid my friends to come by or visit. They could not see the thing I had named the gremlin, for that is what it looked like. We hired a nanny for I would not touch it. On the tenth day I sent the nanny to the store to do some shopping. I assured her I could handle it. It screamed and screamed. It refused to take a bottle from me. I was still lactating so I attempted to feed it. As it sat there it sucked away at my breast and I cried. This was not a normal child. It would never grow-up successful or be charming. It would never bring home trophies or become famous. The baby soiled itself so I gave it a bath. As it sat in the water, it began to cry. I stared at it for a long time. It did not fit in my life. My life was perfect. 
   I held it down, under the water. It did not take long. Its little lungs could not hold much water. It was only natural I do this, its the mother's responsibility to make sure only the strongest children survive. As it floated to the surface, lifeless, I could only breathe a sigh of relief before the nanny walked in the door. She attempted to save it to no avail. She hit me, slapped me in the face, while crying and hugging the baby, my baby. I sat on the bathroom floor, tracing the lines of the carved tub feet with my finger. The surface was so smooth and polished. Eventually, my husband came home and the police were called in. He stared at me with such hatred. Everyone did. The cops that took me away, my parents, the judge at the court hearing, they all judged me. I was not charged for the crime. I got off with a plea of temporary insanity brought on by postpartum depression. It wasn't wholly true. I knew what I was doing. I would never let that thing live in my perfect life. 
   My husband let go of my shoulders and I jumped to the side of the tub gasping for air. He grabbed me and hugged me. Im sorry he just kept saying, Im so sorry and how sorry he was, repeating it with increasing intensity without raising his voice. Something in his voice was thanking me though. Thanking me for ridding us of a problem that would have ruined our perfect life. I held him tight. Im sorry, I told him. Sorry that I love him so much that I had to be the strong one. He pulled me from the tub and cradled his head in my drenched lap. He cried and I pet his soggy hair, pushing away his tears. I love you so much, I told him. At that he picked up his head and stared at me telling me he loved me too. 
   With a jerk he stood up racing down the hallway to my room. He flicked on the lights. The nursery was in clear view now. My rocking chair in the middle of the room. I could see all the hand-painted pastel animal shapes on the wall, the elephant with the one eye that was just a little crooked. He was crazed, he opened the window and began shoving stuffed animals out of it. I could see them fall into the pool below. He picked up larger objects, the basinet, and smashed it through the window, the glass shattering as it found its way to freedom. I began to help, throwing the packages of diapers, wipes, blankets and onezies into the pool. We picked up the car seat, still in its box and shoved it out the window along with the dresser and armoire full of little mini hangers. The room was nearly empty until we saw the high chair. The last great piece in the room. We grabbed it together and tossed it to its watery grave. We watched it as it sank to the bottom of the pool, drowning with the last memories of it all. We made love that night, confirming that there would be a tomorrow for us. A cleaner, perfect, shared tomorrow.