where the writers are
The Other Side
The book cover, art by Stanley Cyr, 2009

This is an exerpt of my book, The Other Side, for you to see.  Hope you like it and hope you buy the book.  (:

 

Prologue – The Dreaming

 

The boy huddles in a corner crying. Bandaged wrists hug knobby knees. The white room is empty except for a chair, a bed, and a window made of unbreakable glass. As he looks up, the walls begin to darken, going through various shades of gray, and a young puma appears in front of him. The boy stops crying as the large kitten sniffs at him. “Puk.” He smiles, and reaches for the soft black fur.

Hearing a gasp, the boy scrambles to his feet. His mother is in the doorway, standing behind a man he doesn't recognize. Startled, the boy turns to the puma. “You need to go home,” he yells at the cat, his heart racing. The animal disappears, and the walls of the room become black.

In the blink of an eye, the boy becomes a man. He sits in a comfy chair in an office. The walls are painted ivory and the carpet is a soft gray. A mahogany desk sits against one wall, and a matching bookshelf sits against another. The door opens and the man's doctor enters.

Gary.” The doctor smiles at him. “Good afternoon.”

Nodding, Gary bounces his knees in agitation and clasps his hands in his lap. “Well?”

The doctor holds up a folder and shakes his head. “You're not schizophrenic.”

Gary glares at him. “Your carpet has blue spots and the bookshelf is lime green.” Even as he says it, blue spots form on the floor and the bookshelf changes color. “Want to meet Puk?”

The doctor tosses the folder on his desk. “I'm not saying the medication doesn't help.” He hands Gary a slip of paper. “I'm just saying you're not schizophrenic.”

Taking the paper, Gary stands. As he turns for the door, the room changes. They are back in the black hospital room from his childhood.

The doctor transforms into a man he doesn't know. The stranger flashes a discomfiting smile, a look of hunger in his eyes. In a voice like silk he says, “Men would kill for the gift you suppress.”

Feeling suddenly dirty, Gary frowns at the man. “Who are you?”

The man laughs and in the surreal quality of dream, he grows with his laugh, his grotesque smile encompassing the room. Gary cowers away from it, afraid it may swallow him, and then it is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Home

 

Gary woke, trembling as the vision of the dark monster curled in on itself and faded. He choked back his fear and looked at Sarah lying next to him in bed.

She slept soundly. A lock of black hair lay across her face, shifting with her breath. Reaching out to her, he stopped his hand just above her cheek. Her smooth skin gleamed in the dim light from the clock. For a moment, it felt like their wedding night and his love for her was tempered only by the fear that always followed him. He drew his hand back and glanced at the time.

It was three am. Gary wondered if he should get up and take his meds. Second shift had gone overtime and when he got home, he had fallen into bed without his nighttime dose. Maybe he'd just take a sleeping pill.

The cold floor sent a shiver from his bare feet through his back, and he shuffled out of the room. Making his way to the kitchen, Gary rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He took the bottle from the shelf behind the sink and only checking to see which bottle he grabbed, chased a pill with a swig of cold coffee. After a moment, he headed back to bed.

As he lay back on his pillow, he listened to Sarah breathe. Night, while they slept, was when they got along the best lately. With a sigh, he turned on his side and fell into a fitful sleep.

When Gary opened his eyes again it was six. No dream had awakened him that he could remember, and that was good. The drug still worked through his mind and the grogginess weighed heavy in his limbs. As he closed his eyes again, Sarah shifted beside him.

Don't wake up, he didn't want her to get out of bed yet, to spoil the morning with her routine. Just lay there and let me smell you. Let me remember how we used to be.

They'd been married for two years, but after a year of newlywed bliss, their relationship slowly cooled. Gary sensed a fear in her to echo his own, but there was also a resentment of sorts. He wondered why she had let the subject of kids drop so quickly when he'd said he wasn't ready.

Instead of pressing the issue of kids, she'd hidden behind her laptop. Reminding him that she was a writer, she needed to write the novel she knew was inside her. When he would try to talk to her or cuddle with her, she'd just smile and type.

The housework began to suffer. If he didn't do the laundry, they'd both be wearing dirty clothes. Finally, he asked her if she was having an affair. She only laughed.

His eyes still closed, he felt Sarah sit up and get out of bed. Making no sound, she leaned over and lightly kissed his cheek. As the bedroom door closed, he looked at the clock. It was seven.

It was eleven when he finally woke up for the day. His mind felt foggy as the medication wore off. The anger that came after his meds wore off began to churn in his brain. He hated the anger at everything, fueled by the fear of what he might do.

Gary wiped the sleep from his eyes. Sliding out of bed, he leaned hard against the wall on his way to the bathroom. In front of the mirror, he ran tired fingers through uncooperative hair and heard the ticking of the keys of her laptop in the background.

“I love it when you sleep naked,” Sarah's voice sounded from the living room.

What's she trying to pull? A good morning kiss, a compliment? Taking a pair of pants from the hamper, he yawned and pulled them on. His already sour mood darkened as he looked down the hall.

She smiled at him as he came around the corner into the room. Glaring at her, he willed her to know he wasn't ready to talk yet. “Coffee,” he mumbled, “meds.” Heading for the kitchen, he turned away from her.

The silence he passed through only solidified his mood and he leaned on the counter, pouring a full mug of lukewarm coffee. Taking his mug and bottle of pills with him, he went back into the living room and flopped down on the couch.

Sarah sat in the recliner, her laptop on her knees and she glanced at him over the screen. “Can I have a character and problem?” She sounded hesitant. “Please?”

He shook his meds at her.

“You know I wouldn't normally ask,” she turned back to her computer, “but I've used up the prompts with no good ideas. You used to have such good ideas.”

With deliberate slowness, he shook a pill into his hand. “Not anymore, I don't.” He tossed the pill in his mouth and took a long pull on his coffee. “I can't”

“Please?” she said again. Her black hair fell forward over her blue eyes as she pleaded with him. “Just a name?”

He yawned and took another deep swig of his coffee. It didn't feel right, but a name came unbidden. “Hector.” Sinking further down into the couch, he hoped she would leave it alone.

“What kind of name is that?” she scrunched up her face and tossed her hair in that cute gesture he always found disarming. Typing it out anyway, she fell silent.

Gary lay back on the couch, eyes closed, waiting for the meds to kick in. The darkness within him simmered. Part of him knew that his mood swings were affecting their marriage more than him not wanting kids, more than her wanting to write all the time. He was almost asleep again when she coughed.

“Hector needs a problem.” She smiled sheepishly at him.

It was the trigger he had hoped wouldn't come. He threw his arms up, rocking to a sitting position. “A problem? Sarah, no, I can't do it. Not now.”

“Your meds aren't working yet?” She frowned at her screen, turning away from him.

“Working? Of course they aren't working yet.” He was yelling now, but he couldn't stop. This damned medicine worked great when it was working, but in between it made him a monster. Taking his coffee in trembling hands, he swallowed the rest, trying to calm down. Suddenly the idea came from the same dark place he'd gotten the name, and before he could stop himself, he smiled at her.

“What if Hector is the problem?”

He could see her pale as if he'd hit her. “I'm sorry,” she whispered.  “You're right. You need more time.” Setting the laptop aside, she stood, looking away from him. “Let me get you some breakfast.”

“I'm sorry.” Gary slumped back into the couch, worry beginning to play at the edges of his mind. “It's just that you know I don't wake up well, and you've been up since seven. Yes, I felt your little kiss. No, you didn't wake me. But you know I can't give you ideas, at least not until well after the meds have kicked in.”

“I know.” She turned to go to the kitchen. “Still, I usually have breakfast waiting for you and I'm sorry.” After a moment, sounds of pans and plates began to clink and bang in the kitchen.

Gary sat and stared at the kitchen doorway. She was beautiful, and he loved her. One of the things that had drawn him to her was the fact that she had a calming effect on him. Lately though, everything she did seemed hit his last nerve. Fuming, he slammed his empty cup on the end table.

“Eggs?” She peeked at him around the corner and then ducked back in before he could respond.

In a moment of weakness, the same thought that had given him Hector now wished Sarah away. He opened his mouth to say “Rice Krispies today.”

Instead he said softly, “I wish Hector would take you away.”

The kitchen fell silent, and he hoped she hadn't heard him. He hadn't really meant it. When she didn't reappear, he began to worry. Slowly standing, he hoped she was only crying and he walked to the kitchen. “Sarah?”

The room was empty. “Sarah?” he called out louder, feeling the anger in him shift into panic. Maybe she went downstairs for something in the freezer. “Sarah?” he yelled to the basement.

A scream from outside drew his attention to the window. Feeling the blood drain from his face, he ran to the window. Pulling up the blinds, he held his breath, staring. An unfamiliar landscape stretched before him. “What have I done?”

The backyard was gone. Instead, there was a sprawling countryside, with mountains in the background, and a forest beyond a field that sat at the base of the mountains. There were no other houses, no farms, nothing at all. He saw nothing that could have screamed. Gary closed the blinds, closing his eyes. What kind of world did I create now?

It had been too early to think of ideas. He was on medication to suppress his ideas. Only because of the mind-numbing boredom, he worked second shift at the machinist factory pressing out forms for he knew not what. He looked at the medicine bottle lying on the couch and then at the faint scars on his wrists that ran the length of his forearms.

Gary is twelve again. He stands outside with his cousin Zach.

What are we gonna do?” Zach stares up at the sun, high in the clear sky.

Wanna play aliens?” Gary looks back at the house. Their moms have sent them outside while they make lunch, and if they don't start something soon, they'll have to go back in and eat.

Zach frowns at Gary. “Aliens? That's sissy stuff.”

No,” Gary shakes his head. “Space is cool. I saw this show where the guys went into space to fix a satellite. Don't you ever wish you could do that?” He squints up at the sun. “Like we could be in a rocket, ready to orbit the moon, the stars out in space shining past the windows. The moon comes up in front of us. And then we space walk.” Gary begins to move in big exaggerated movements, space walking. “Look, the satellite we've been sent to repair isn't even sending a signal.”

Zach chokes, floating in nothing.

Gary watches his cousin flounder. “Better put on a spacesuit, Zach. You know there's no air up here.”

A spacesuit begins to appear around Zach, but a shrill voice cuts through the stars and the moon. The satellite fades, and the boys are standing on the sidewalk. Zach crumples to the ground.

What happened?” the shrill voice comes from Gary's aunt as she drops to her knees, cradling Zach in her arms. “Zach, baby, what's wrong?”

But Zach's lips are blue, and he never answers. The official report says asphyxiation, perhaps a sudden allergy to ragweed or something that closed his throat too tightly to breathe. But Gary knows it's his fault. No one can breathe in space without a spacesuit.

Standing in his kitchen again, he looked down at his scars. Wanting answers, needing to bring his cousin back, Gary had tried to follow him. His mother found him hunched on the bathroom floor, leaning against the door.

Forcing her way in, she had tried to stop the bleeding, tying towels around his arms while he cried against her shirt. He tried to confess, to explain how it was his fault. But she only rocked him, crying into his hair. Gary didn't understand why Zach was dead. He only knew that it was because of him, because Gary had played space. He still hadn't fully forgiven himself for Zach.

“Sarah,” he called again, running to the hall. He hadn't seen her come passed him, but maybe she was in the bathroom. He could tell his meds were finally kicking in. The initial anger was gone, and now he was in full panic.

He went back to the living room and took his pills off the couch.  Taking one more, he swallowed it without coffee or water. He needed to be able to think straight. “Why did you ask me for an idea, Sarah?”

When they had met, they were both in the same creative writing class. He had hoped that by channeling his imagination into constructive projects, he wouldn't hurt anyone ever again.

Sarah had been perfect. Her stories evoked such emotion in him. He had to ask her out. The first date had been a minor disaster and it surprised him when she asked him out again. But after a few coffees on campus, he told her why he was in that class.

The fourth time they met, they walked along the river that ran beside the campus, holding hands. She smiled at him. “You have beautiful green eyes,” she whispered as the sun set behind them.

“You have a beautiful mind.” He smiled back at her. “Watch.” Looking out over the river, he began to tell her a story. “The couple walks across a field, the green grass undulating in the light breeze, the purple flowers giving off their sweet scent of spring. Hills in the distance rise along the horizon and the couple makes their way toward them. The trees in the woods on the hills are full of red and yellow flowers and as the couple pass beneath them, he picks a red flower and gives it her.”

He handed her a red flower, and it was at that moment she noticed the landscape around them, the pale white sun sitting low on the horizon.

“Oh, wow!” she laughed, turning all around, taking it all in. “Is this for real?”

For a moment, he felt her joy. Then Zach came to his mind and he fell to his knees. He explained everything at that moment. What he could do, call worlds into reality. He looked at the hills. “Puk,” he called out.

A large black puma came bounding over the farthest hill, running for them. Sarah backed away with fear in her eyes, but Gary caught her wrist, his sleeve sliding up his arm enough to reveal his scars. The cat stopped in front of him and pushed its head against Gary's chest.

The next time they'd gone out, they were talking about the future. Possibly their future together. When she suggested a wedding only he could make happen, he shook his head. “Puk,” he'd called. He had needed the cat's comforting presence.

That's when he'd told her about his cousin. He stroked the cat's fur for strength. “Afterward, they put me in the hospital. Puk was the only friend I had.” He gave the puma a tight hug. After a moment, he nodded at the cat. “It's okay, Puk. Go on home.” The puma stood and turned. As it ran, it disappeared.

“Please, don't ever ask me to do this again,” Gary was watching after the animal. “I was stupid to do it now.” Turning to her, he put a hand on her pale cheek. “I could have hurt you, and I can't let something like that happen again.”

She had nodded, promising that she wouldn't. It had been Sarah to ask him out again, despite his freakish ability. He had fallen in love hard and fast, and they got married within the year.

Now he might have lost the best thing that had happened to him, and he flung the pill bottle across the room with a scream.

Hector had her. The thought materialized out of the same thought that had brought Hector into existence in the first place. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself up and went to her computer. All it said was “Hector is the problem...”

“Sarah,” he screamed at the computer, hoping that he was wrong, knowing she really was gone. If he was going to get her back, he needed to stop panicking, get his things together, and go find her.

Turning back to the hall, he went to their bedroom. The medicine was working fully now. He could finally think and despite the panic, he organized his plan.

Pulling on clean clothes, he wore jeans, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, socks, and his trainers.  He took a backpack out of the closet and pulled his wallet out of the desk drawer.  Not sure what money was in use in this new world, he took the hundred dollars he had and tucked it into a pocket in the backpack.  He also took some of the less valuable jewelry he had in case he needed to barter. 

Pulling his drawers open, he took out underwear and stuffed it in his pack, socks, a couple of t-shirts, and another pair of jeans. Usually, he folded everything and put the drawers right, but now, his only thought was to get Sarah. As he left the room, he grabbed a light blanket and stuffed it in on top of the clothes.

Gary then went to the kitchen.  Taking the junk drawer from the cabinet, he emptied the contents onto the table. It had been a pet peeve that Sarah kept tossing everything in there with no rhyme or reason, but he had never gotten around to organizing it. As he sifted the pile, his lock blade knife surfaced and he put it in his bag. A pen and a small tool kit went into his bag. From the shelf over the oven, he took her notebook.

It had been a self imposed rule that he never kept a journal, now he thought that might be the only way to keep this journey real. He put the notebook into the bag and turned to find his meds. They had landed in the corner by the kitchen and picking them up, he wondered if he should take them. He set them on the counter with a frown. Somehow he knew this would be a journey unlike any he had taken before, and he might need his imagination to get through it.  Despite the meds, just to see if he could, he tried to wish her home.

Sarah, I need you.  Come home and make breakfast like you always do.

After a few minutes, he sagged into the chair at the table.  Sarah was not back.