Alex Reynard's Online Books
Dream I: Waking Up
Heard about a place today
Where nothing ever hurts again
-David Bowie, "Underground"
...Alone among millions...
That thought had been floating through his consciousness for hours now. Days? Like a lyric from a stuck song. Like a quiet car driving repeatedly past his window at night.
Alone among millions.
His eyes were open. Beyond that, he didn't know much else. But his eyes were open. Therefore, he had eyes.
It was a start.
His body... Maybe he had one, maybe he didn't. Maybe he was a pair of plastic eyes set into a stuffed toy adrift on the ocean. It was possible. Anything was.
He did not feel pain. Although there was, sometimes, the ghost of pain. It slid throughout his being, penetrating from the surface to deep down inside. But it was only... background noise. Nothing real enough to concern him.
The sun was above, enormous and unrelenting. It wrung sweat from his pores like a fist squeezes a sponge. Trickles of salty water wound their way through the fur of the body he was not sure he owned.
Therefore, the sun existed too.
Time certainly didn't.
There was no linear progression. It was all just... soup. A blurred 'now' without beginning or end. He did nothing. Nothing was done to him. He did not even blink. Nothing existed to distinguish one moment from the next.
That was fine.
He felt hot.
Maybe that meant he had a body to feel temperature with. Or not. Maybe he felt lumps from whatever he was lying on. Rumpled fabric, a belt buckle. Or maybe these were dreams of feeling. Mirages. Phantom limb sensations.
Having no body meant he didn't know his species, or age. He only nebulously knew he was a 'he' from familiarity. A default setting. Everything else was gone.
He did not sleep. There was no reason to. Instead, he drifted. Floated like a leaf on the waterline between slumber and sentience. It seemed like there was maybe even something keeping him away from sleep. He couldn't be sure. But something had to be holding him up, keeping him from sinking below.
He didn't care why. Sleep or wake, it was all equally purposeless.
And that was fine.
Or maybe it wasn't. Sometimes he felt like he was sick. Like he needed someone to come and take care of him. He didn't understand why that 'someone' never showed up.
Sometimes he was confused. Or dimly uneasy. Though most of the time he couldn't build up the effort for concern of any kind.
There was no reason to be concerned. Something inside told him so.
None of these thoughts so much as resembled coherency. They were intuitions without attached words or images. Slippery little fish that stumbled by mistake into his half-awake awareness. They were gone again before they could be fully examined.
That was fine too. Understanding took effort.
It was easier to keep on lying there. Motionless. Thoughtless. Selfless.
There was no reason to think. Or for his lungs to draw in air. Or for his eyelids to close. Or for his heart to keep beating. No reason at all.
There was a smell though. Something deeply wrong, but far from unnatural. It pervaded him. It was in the air. All around. But he turned his senses away until it no longer registered.
The sun overhead shone down into his eyes. Discs of pink, green, and blue danced in his vision around the great white dot. Pretty.
He felt... empty.
A set of unworn clothes. A costume with no one to make it dance. An inside-out sock on the laundry room floor. A candy wrapper in the trash.
Nothing left inside. That was fine.
Was that fine?
With nothing to think about, and nothing to think with, he could keep on doing nothing like this forever. Just lie here and doze on the edge of dreaming. The dimmest, barest awareness of sensation. Like lying on a towel at the beach, listening to the waves roll in. Except there were no waves.
He was on an ocean though.
He didn't know why or how he knew that, yet where no other memory stood on his bare shelves, that small tidbit of knowledge remained.
Something inside warned him from poking too closely at it.
It was all he knew, yet he did not want to know more.
All it would take to see his surroundings... Just a simple turn of the head. Gravity would do half the work. Then he'd know where he was, and that might lead to other clues.
Yet he knew he must not. There was something all wrong here.
Why else, in this slow-baking heat, would he feel cold sometimes? Like a wind was passing through his nonexistent bones. A memory of his bones, from another time.
He had to have been something before he was this
The question was asked by the furthest edges of his rudimentary consciousness. It was less a thought than an impulse. Basic programming trying to return to functioning. The other 90% of his awareness was devoted to staring into the sun and watching the colors change as he went blind.
Yet the question was like a microorganism swimming along, fighting to emerge and evolve. Logic dictated that he hadn't just sprung into existence like this. He had not been born here in the hot sun on the ocean.
Something had come before. But there were no clues as to what it had been. (Or if clues existed, something inside him would not allow them to be found.)
If anything spurred this proto-thought on, it was the one thing that had not been scoured from his identity: ache. Not just the physical soreness that sometimes traveled down his phantom body like light passing over a subway train. But an inner pain.
That... that actually seemed to spark something.
He was missing.
Was he missing? Or was...?
There was a large black circle in the middle of his vision now. The sunlight blazed hotter around its scalding edges. An eclipse of his sight.
Was he missing something?
Had something been taken from him?
This was regrettably as far as the question could go. It had reached the end of the line. No matter how much farther it searched, there was no more information to draw speculation from.
The proto-thought gradually faded away, back into the static it had come from.
He felt hot.
He was lying on something that bulged beneath his legs and shoulders.
He was empty. A potato chip bag, upended, and shaken till all the crumbs were gone. Cleaned out.
Blind now, he continued to feel the sun's rays on the exposed surface of his corneas. He could even smell them cooking.
No more eyes. No more body.
There was nothing in all the world to prove he existed at all.
That was fine.
So while his foggy mind wandered around inside the empty cage of his skull, the proto-thought kept returning, and dying, and returning again. Cyclic. Struggling to be born, then dissipating before it could reach its goal. Forgotten every time.
Who am I?
Dead end. No conclusions.
What was I before I was here?
Echoes for answers, nothing more.
Why am I crying all the time if I have no eyes and no one to miss?
Reply uncertain. Please try again.
There were... He could almost grasp it. Every time a memory of color, touch, or sound came close, it would dart away as soon as he approached. Squirrels scurrying up the tree whenever he crouched to pet them. The memories would seem so close at first. If he could only anchor them to something, he was sure he...
Wasted effort. Chasing soap bubbles. Trying to catch the patterns in a kaleidoscope before they became something else.
Names. That's what he lacked. He needed words to express the concepts swimming around in his dormant brain, but something had taken them all away. So now his thoughts were like loose balloons. He had no strings to tie them down. All he could do was watch them float.
But somewhere below, on some basement level, a part of him still remembered that he had lost something precious. Something worth more to him than even his own life. A loss so profound it had caused his collapse into this half-awake, inert shadow. His heart had been scooped out. Taken away. There was no reason to go on without it...
His tears boiled in the overbearing sunlight until they burned two thin streaks into his parched and cracking skin. Two little lines, traveling down between his temples and his cheeks. Like someone had drawn them on in pink crayon.
He was aware of none of this. He was an inverted iceberg. A small, struggling chunk of dim activity beneath, a heavy bulk of white static above. Weighing it down. Suffocating it.
He had felt hot for so long that he no longer felt it. The constant heat became imperceptible through acclimation. As his lips and extremities dried up and shriveled, he lost the ability to perceive temperature entirely. Just as he no longer touched, or smelled, or saw. His senses went dark one by one, like a janitor shutting down the lights as he prepares to leave for home. Soon there was nothing left but the little swimming fishies going round and round inside his desiccated brain. Colorful.
Memory had receded. Time had receded. Sensation had receded.
Eventually, even his feeble attempts to unravel his situation receded. The cycle of the emerging question 'who am I?' (being born, seeking answers, finding none, and dying), was repeated again and again with diminishing progress. The fishbowl was steadily shrinking.
Until the thought could no longer move at all. Until there was nothing left but a space so cramped, nothing could be done but stare forever at the plain blank wall of the box it was sealed within.
Now, he was truly gone.
A blank sheet. A pure innerspace. Clean and tidy. Not a speck of dust.
He remained alive and awake, but only at the most minimal standards of those definitions.
There were no insects to decompose his body. No bacteria to break him down.
And so he continued to lie there, thinking and dreaming nothing. Perfectly unaware of his resting place. Unaware of his own flesh, even as it lay splayed across the unmoving limbs and torsos of the corpses surrounding him.
There were many.
A landfill of bodies. A desert of bodies. An ocean of bodies.
Men and women. Children. Babies. Every species. Some of them with their eyes and mouths fallen open. Some of them curled around one another in knots. Some of them buried fathoms deep. All of them dressed in whatever clothes they had been wearing at their time of their departure. None showed signs of cause, however. There were no bullet wounds, no cuts, no bloated stomachs. Not a single drop of blood anywhere to be seen. It was all very clean. Very clean. The corpses never decomposed, the pile simply grew. A sea whose tide only rose.
Somewhere in the midst of this infinite graveless graveyard lay a little white mouse who did not know he was alive. He reclined on his back atop the corpses of a policeman, a housewife, a toddler, and a homeless soldier. He was unaware of them. They might as well have been his new family for all the time they had already spent together. And the time they would be spending yet to come.
The sun poured down its light like a waterfall into his eyes. Eyes that could no longer see.
He was the only living thing for hundreds of miles in any direction. Hundreds of miles.