Coffee, anyone? New Fiction

The Important Questions

by S. Scott Bullock

WAS it obsession? Was it pathological? Was I a stalker for Pete’s sake? Or was it truly and simply, love at first sight. Love, that is, with a liberal tablespoon of lust tossed in. I fully believe that it was the latter, but who knows, I could be nuts. Many have said that I am ‘one pint short of a quart’.

But regardless of pathological obsession or simple love, this woman was beautiful. No. Beautiful does NOT cut it. She was all of the beauty in the world rolled up into a beautiful, woman-shaped package and topped with some beauty sprinkles and tied up in a beautiful, beauty bow. She was… well… you get the idea.

I first saw her on Monday the sixteenth. I was in my usual seat, way in the back of the ‘Your Morning Jolt’ coffee house. I liked it way in the back. Nobody was ever back there at my favorite table because it was right next to the little hallway that led to the restrooms and any time anybody went in or out of the toilets, especially the men’s, the stink would waft by a little. You know that smell. Pee, poop, urinal cakes and Pine Sol. It doesn’t make for an appetizing accompaniment to one’s morning coffee and sweet roll. But I put up with it because I love that table so much. Way back in the back, up against the wall and private. Plus there is an electrical outlet right below it and I could always plug my laptop in and not have to depend on the battery, and plus-plus, the bathrooms weren’t really used all that much so the odoriferous assaults were few and far between.

So, anyway, I first saw her when she came in Monday morning and went to the counter to order. She was juggling three or four books and she almost dropped them when she went into her purse for money. Some clown in a button-down oxford shirt and man bun jumped up to help her with the books, but she declined his aid. I was glad. It showed she had taste. Never accept help from a yuppie-hipster. That way lies madness.

She gathered up her books and her purse and headed to an empty table by the window. She sat down and I saw, for the first time, the true color of her hair. The sun was pouring through the window and it shattered her hair into a thousand facets of color. Red and gold and auburn and rust. Her hair was a crown of roses. And her face was a gift from God. (I don’t believe in God, but after seeing her face I began to question the possibility of his existence). And what shade was her skin? Alabaster? No. Milky? No. Creamy? No. What was that shade of skin? What was it? There wasn’t a word yet. There had not been a word invented that could describe the color of her skin. So I guess I’ll just have to call it pearl-white. Her skin was pearl-white. Iridescent white. I swear to you it looked like it glowed from the inside. I’d never seen anything like it. And then her body. Holy cow. She wasn’t one of those tuning-fork-legged, anorexic pool cues. Oh no. This one was round in all the right places with not a single hard angle to be found. Well… no hard angle on her anyway. But that’s being vulgar, and I may be MANY things, but vulgar is not one of them.

As you can tell I was smitten immediately. And that was even before I had seen her eyes. Because, when I finally saw her emerald green eyes, it was game over for this California transplanted Indiana farm boy. Smitten became ‘where have you been all my life’ and I knew then and there that this angelic creature was going to be with me for the rest of my life. I know it’s kind of girlie, but I swear when I first saw her eyes, I heard wedding bells and started planning the ceremony in my head!

But I’m ahead of myself. Before I saw those eyes, I just sat back at my favorite table and watched. For three days, each morning at 8:15 precisely, I watched her come into the coffee shop and go through the exact same procedure.

She’d go up the counter, place her order (a large Caffè Latte and a glass of water) fumble with the three or four books she was carrying while digging into her oversize purse for her wallet. She’d pull out the wallet, almost drop the books, recover, and then pay the barista. She’d then shuffle over to one of the tables by the window, drop her books on it and put her purse on the chair next to her, then she’d sit down and wait for her order to be called. Every morning. And every morning I became more and more enchanted with this angel on earth.

On the second day, Tuesday, as she went up to the counter to get her finished order, I got up from my seat and casually walked by her table. I acted as if I was looking for something or someone out the windows but I was really spying. I wanted to see what books she was reading and I saw that they were all books about Silent Movies and the Silent Era. When I saw what they were a rush of adrenaline coursed through me and made my head light and swoony for a second. I couldn’t believe my luck. She turned toward her table and me. I must have looked like a real dope, standing there with my mouth hanging open and my hand on my forehead. I regained some composure and pretended I was waving goodbye to someone outside the shop and I walked back to my table as she made her way back to hers.

I sat down feeling unbelievably happy. This was an incredible coincidence. I loved silent movies! I knew everything about them. And this was going to be the perfect way to strike up a conversation. I settled it in my head that, day after tomorrow, Thursday, would be the day that I would finally talk to her. I opened my laptop and began to refresh my memory about all things ‘Silent Movies’. I kept glancing up at her, I couldn’t help myself. She was sipping her coffee and reading her books. She was highlighting parts of them with a yellow highlight marker and making notes on a legal pad with an old fashioned, very fancy, fountain pen. It was hard for me to concentrate with her so near, but I kept at it. Then, she finished her coffee, closed her books, put her notepad and pen back in her purse, rose and left. My heart sank a little when she left. I had the fear that the next morning would come and she wouldn’t show up. But I put my fear aside and went back to my studies.

Wednesday morning was no different. I sat and watched as she came in at 8:15 and did her morning dance. I watched her read and write and highlight as I continued to brush up my knowledge. I watched her finish and leave and I felt that little sadness again. I went back to my laptop and tried not to think too much about the next morning.

Thursday morning came and I got to the coffee shop just before it opened. I waited for the manager to unlock the door and when she did I headed straight for my table. This was a new manager and she didn’t give me the normal greeting I was used to. She just smiled at me and said ‘good morning’. I smiled back as I made my way to my spot. I put my laptop down and went up to the counter. I ordered my double espresso and two chocolate biscotti. I picked up my order at 6:15 and returned to my seat. I opened my laptop and continued my studies. Two hours. I had to wait two hours before she came in.

8:15 came and 8:15 went. No beautiful angel. My heart not only sank this time, but fell out of my chest rolled across the linoleum floor and banged against the dirty wooden base board at the bottom of the far wall. Or so it felt. It was still in my chest, beating too fast. I can tell you this though, I have not felt such sorrow before or since.

But then the sorrow fell away and a great light, joy replaced it. At 8:23 she walked in the door, juggling her books and her purse and heading to the counter. I wanted to rush up to her, hug her and say ‘You’re Late!’, but I knew that would be weird to say the least. Instead I looked down at my open laptop and waited for her to settle in. After about fifteen minutes she was fully settled, sipping and reading, so I drew in a great breath and stood up.

“Buster Keaton was my favorite.” I said to her, my heart beating out of my chest. She looked up from her book.

“Sorry?” She asked.

“Silent film comedian.” I said. “Buster Keaton was my favorite.”

“You know Silent films?” She asked.

“I love them.” I said. “I’m somewhat of an expert on them too.”

She just stared at me then for what seemed like hours. She didn’t say anything. I was about to turn and walk away, my tail between my defeated and embarrassed legs, when she broke her silence.

“You’re not weird or crazy or an escaped lunatic or anything are you?” She asked me with no sign of a grin or sense of humor at all. I was a bit taken aback, but forged ahead. No turning back now.

“Um.” I stammered. “Um… no… holy cow no! I just really love old…” She cut me off.

“Good.” She said smiling. “Go get your coffee and come sit with me. I’ve been watching you over there watching me. I wondered how long it would take you to come over and say hello.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“You’re cute.” She said smiling. “But more importantly you are the only other person in our generation who even knows that movies were silent once. And that bugs the heck outta me.”

‘Heck’. How perfect that she didn’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’. She was a lady, in the truest sense of the word. I walked over to my table and retrieved my fourth coffee and laptop. I walked back to her table not feeling the floor. My stomach was alive with the biggest swarm of butterflies I had ever felt in my life. My mind was swirling and whirling with imagined possibilities. She moved her books and made room on the table for my stuff.

“So, are you really an expert?” She asked me holding up her ‘Stars Of The Silent Screen’ book.

“Maybe I should say that I’m well read on the subject rather than an expert.” I reached for the book and in the process spilled my coffee all over the table. She grabbed up her books and pad as quickly as she could and jumped up, but coffee still splattered them.

“OH SHIT!” I said. “I’m sorry. I’ll get some napkins. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She said dabbing at her legal pad with her napkin. “No real damage. The books are mine, not the library’s, so you’ve not committed any crime. I’ll get some more napkins.” She walked towards the counter as the barista came over to the table with a bar towel and wiped up the mess I had made. So much coffee from such a little cup. It was everywhere.

“Thank you.” I said to him. “I’m a klutz.”

He winked at me then and said quietly enough for only me to hear.

“Don’t stop now, dude. You’ve almost got her. Whatever the cost. She’s worth it.”

And I knew what he meant. This girl, whose name I didn’t even know yet, this girl was worth any and all of it. She was the grand prize of all grand prizes. Just then she came back with a stack of napkins.

“Oh. It’s all cleaned up.” She said.

“John helped. The barista, John.” I said looking at my hands. “I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

“Oh Please.” She said smiling at me and taking my hand. “It’s no big deal at all.” Then with a great big grin. “I didn’t feel a thing. And even my note pad survived with only a few stains. I’m Katherine by the way.”

“Oh. Yeah. Zack.. I’m Zack.” I reached out my hand to shake hers. She had a hold of my other one and we laughed as she extricated one in order to shake the other.

“Lucky you don’t use a laptop or ipad or something electronic. I would have killed it with a single sweep of my clumsy hand!”

“I’ve got a desktop in my apartment.” She said sitting back down. “I transfer all my notes to it when I get home. I don’t like to study or do my reading there. I like it here. By the windows with a great cup of coffee. I can’t make coffee to save my life so I come here. Don’t you love their coffee? What’s your favorite Keaton silent?”

I was so enthralled by how she was speaking that I didn’t even hear what she was speaking about. I only noticed that all of a sudden she had stopped talking.

“Hello?” She said smiling. “You in there?”

“Oh. Sorry.” I stammered. “What did you ask me? Was it about coffee? I’m sorry I zoned out.” I attempted to cover my absolute enamor-induced brain fart with a stupid verbal dance. I think it worked though.

“Sometimes I talk too fast.” She said pointing at her mouth. “I asked if you loved the coffee here and also what your favorite Buster Keaton silent film is.”

“Oh. Yeah. I love the coffee and the one where the house falls on him.”

“You don’t know the name of it?” She asked. “I thought you were an expert!”

“Not an expert, just very well read, like I said, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning at full capacity today and I can’t remember the darn title.” I was still verbally tap-dancing.

“It’s called Steamboat Bill Jr., and was a 1928 feature-length comedy silent film starring Buster. Released by United Artists, the film is the last product of Keaton’s independent production team and set of gag writers. It was not a box-office success and proved to be the last picture Keaton would make for UA Keaton would end up moving to MGM where he would make one last film with his trademark style. Steamboat Bill Jr. was directed by Charles Reisner. How ’bout that for well read?”

“That,” I said grinning, “is WELL read.”

“It’s part of my Thesis.” She said. “The Continuing Influence Of Silent Cinema And Silent Screen Stars On The Modern Day Filmmaker.”

“Oh.” I managed. “Impressive.”

“And you want to hear an amazing coincidence?” She asked.

“What would that be?”

Steamboat Bill Jr. is playing, this very afternoon, at The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue. You wanna go see it?”

I was gobsmacked. Was she asking me on a date? Could it really be this…

“I need you to stop now, Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly but with compassion. “You’ve gotten way off track.”

Zack stopped talking immediately and shifted his gaze toward the doctor.

“You were doing very well up to the time you walked over to Katherine’s table. Although you fudged a little about knowing anything about silent movies. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack?”

“Why do we have to meet in here?” Zack asked with a tinge of anger. “I hate the florescent lights. They make you look green.”

“It’s the facility’s psych clinic, Zack. It’s my office and it’s where I hold my sessions. Now, please answer my question.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Yes you do. But I’ll ask it again. You don’t really know that much about silent movies, do you Zack.?”

“I know the stuff I looked up on my laptop. After I saw her books. I know that stuff.”

“Okay.” Dr. Warren began. “We’re going to go over it again. We are going to start with the important questions I mentioned earlier. This time, however, I’m going to stop you if you stray from the truth and I’m going to pull you back on course. Okay?”

“Okay.” Zack said, crossing his arms and looking like a freshly scolded little boy.

“Put your arms down at your sides and relax, Zack. I only want to help you though this.”

“Fine.” Zack said flatly.

“First question, Zack. Was it obsession?”

“I don’t think it was ob…”

“Zack.” Dr. Warren interrupted. “Was it obsession?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was obsession.”

“Second question, Zack. Was it pathological?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. It was pathological.”

“Third question, Zack. Were you a stalker?”

“I really think th….”

“Zack. Were you a stalker?”

“Yes. Dr. Warren. Yes. I was a stalker.”

“Good.” Dr. Warren said. “Now. Tell me again what happened between you and the young lady at the coffee shop.

“I saw her come in on Monday. I fell in love at first…”

“Zack.” Dr. Warren said firmly.

“I became obsessed immediately. I found out what she was reading and did some research of my own. I watched her for three days and..”

“Zack.” The doctor repeated.

“I stalked her for three days and on the fourth day I went over to talk to her.”

“Then what happened?” Dr. Warren leaned forward and put his hand on Zack’s knee. “What happened then, Zack?”

“I went up to her table and said the thing about Buster Keaton.”

“And?”

“And she asked me to sit…”
“Zack.” Warren said, cutting him off. “What happened when you said the thing about Buster Keaton?”

“She told me to ‘fuck off’.” Zack said flatly.

“And what happened next, Zack?”

“I turned around and walked back to…”

“Zack.”

“I picked up her fancy fucking pen and I stabbed her in her fancy fucking throat!” Zack shouted.

“How many times, Zack.”

“I stabbed the bitch twenty-three times in her stupid, nasty-mouthed throat!” Tears began streaming down Zack’s cheeks and he wiped at them, swatting them away like annoying flies.

“Zack, I need you to tell me what happened next, but I also need you to calm down. Tell me calmly what happened next, okay?” Dr. Warren put his other hand on Zack’s other knee.

“Then, that stupid barista John came up and pulled me away from her and he said that I was killing her and that whatever she had done to me it wasn’t worth killing her over, and he pulled me away and pushed me down into a chair and took the pen away from me and got some towels and tried to stop her bleeding and the blood was everywhere and there was so much blood everywhere, I couldn’t understand how so much blood could come from such a small woman and then I went and sat down at my favorite table and I watched the police come in and the ambulance guys and other people all staring at me and coming for me and all the blood, and then I was here.” Zack stopped and tried to catch his breath. “I don’t know how I got here. But then I was here.”

“You still don’t remember your arrest?” Dr. Warren asked quietly. “Or your trial?”

“No.” Zack had calmed but tears still flowed from his reddened eyes.

“We’ll, work on all that, Zack.” Dr. Warren patted both Zack’s knees. “Well work on that. But that’s enough for today. You’ve done very well. I’ll call the orderly to take you back to your room. Zack, I’m very proud of you. You’ve truthfully answered the most important questions, now we just need to fill in the rest.

“She’s very beautiful.” Zack said.

“Who?” Dr. Warren asked.

“Your new assistant. She’s very beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about her.” Zack said as the orderly came into the room.

Don’t go to sleep… or you may dream….. New Fiction

Poe Be Damned

By: S. Scott Bullock

Lenore sat up in bed, her sleep shattered by the raging storm. Lightning filled the bedroom with blinding-white, ice-cold light. Thunder exploded simultaneously. The storm was a ravenous animal crouching outside her window. It was roaring and clawing, trying to get inside and devour her. She felt the old familiar terror rising up in her again.

Lenore looked over at her husband and stared, mouth agape. She was once again astounded at what he could sleep through. She leaned in closer to make sure he was actually breathing. Lightning blazed again and the thunderclap was so loud and so immediate that she flinched forward in fear. Sadly at that moment her husband shocked awake and raised up in a jerk. Their heads banged together in a moment worthy of The Three Stooges.

“Owwwww!” Lenore shouted, laughing at the same time. She rubbed her forehead and felt a bump already rising.

“What the hell?” Her husband said, rubbing his own ravaged forehead. “Why did you…”

Lightning again. And exploding thunder.

“Shit!” He said getting out of bed and heading to the window. “What the hell is going on out there?”

“It woke me up.” Lenore said getting up and going to her husband. She hugged him from behind.

“Scared the poop outta me.” She hugged him tighter. “Especially because I was in the middle of one again.”

Eddy, her husband, turned toward her and pulled her against him.

“Again?” He said quietly.

“Yeah.” She said and lightning filled the room with a painful flare. “Man! That is one heck of a…”

The thunder was so loud and so immediate that both she and Eddy jumped away from the window and fell backwards on the bed, laughing.

“Holy sheet!” Eddy said laughing.

“You can say that again!” Lenore countered.

“HO-LEEEEEEEE SHEEEET!” Eddy shouted. He rose from the bed and went to the light switch on the wall. He flicked it up. Nothing. Then up and down. Nothing again.

“Power’s out.” He said and lightning flashed across the bedroom. Both he and Lenore clinched their whole bodies in anticipation of the thunderclap. It didn’t come right away.

“It must be further a….” Lenore began and BOOM, another earth shattering crash.

“Sounds like the whole damn world is coming to an end.” Eddy said. “There’s no way we’re going back to sleep. I’ll go get our camping lantern.” He walked out of the bedroom and headed to the basement.

“I fear it is coming to an end, my love.” Lenore said to the empty room. “I fear it is.”

The storm battered on for more than eight hours. Lenore and Eddy huddled in bed. She spoke of her dream to him in those sleepless hours of the raging storm. Her recurring nightmare.

“How long has this been going on now?” Eddy asked her. Rain battered the window, shifting directions with the wind.

“Like I’ve told you a million times they started when I was ten. But they have been on and off my whole life.” She lay her head on Eddy’s chest and inhaled the smell of him. Peppermint soap. Night sweat. Musk and watermelon. She, nor he, could ever understand or explain how he could smell like freshly sliced watermelon. But he did and she adored it. She adored him. Every single thing about him. He was her savior, her knight in shining armor. He was her everything.

“But just lately, like the past month or so, the are constant and relentless and are driving me insane.”

“Short trip.” He said poking her side. He brushed her curly, jet black hair off her shoulder.

“Not funny, Edgar.” She said pushing his hand away.

“And they’re always the same?” He asked, gently rubbing her arm.

“Same theme, different circumstances.” She said rolling off of his chest. She sat up. “This rain is crazy. I wonder if our basement will flood again.”

“You’re changing the subject.” Eddy said sitting up.

“Because it scares me, Melon Man.” She said softly, like a frightened child. “It scares me so bad. She’s trying to kill us. She’s been trying to kill me my whole life and now she wants you too.”

“But it’s just a dream.” Eddy said, feeling woefully inadequate.

“But it’s not.” Lenore stood up and walked toward the bathroom. She reflexively reached for the light switch and flipped it impotently upward. “Shit.” She said softly. “I need to light the candle in here.”

She walked into the bathroom. Eddy heard a drawer open and then the unmistakeable sound of someone rustling through the cast off necessities that occupy every junk drawer in the world. He heard the sound of a match being struck and watched as the flickering warm light of a candle flame illuminated the bathroom. The candle light cast Lenore’s shadow against the open bathroom door, it undulated with the flicker of the flame, and Eddy felt a sudden stab of unfamiliar fear.

“Why?” He began. “Why isn’t it just a dream?”

“I gotta pee.” She said and closed the bathroom door.

“You want some tea?” Eddy shouted toward the door, picking up the lantern.

“Yes, please.” She shouted back from inside the bathroom. “With honey, Honey.”

When Eddy came back with the tea, balancing a tray and the Coleman lantern, Lenore was back in bed and propped up with pillows. She helped him with the tray and they both crawled back under the covers. The thunderstorm was a little quieter but the rain was torrential and sounded at times like handfuls of gravel being thrown on their roof and at their windows.

“The basement’s gonna flood.” Lenore said sipping her tea. “Oh, the tea’s perfect.”

“Just like me.” Eddy said grinning.

“Yep. Like you, Melon Man.”

“So.” Eddy said dropping the grin. “Why isn’t it just a dream?”

“Shit.” She said and put her mug on the night stand. “You’re not going to let this one go, are you?”

“No.” He said

“They are too real to just be dreams. I know that sounds crazier than batshit, but that’s the only way I can say it. Too real. I wake up from one of them and it’s just as if it had happened in real life. I wake up from them and stare at the ceiling or at the nightstand or at you and I think, wait… is this real or was that real or…” She trailed off and looked down at her hands. “Am I even real?”

Eddy put down his mug and pulled her to him.

“You’re real.” He said moving a strand of hair from her face. “Would you like me to show you right now how real you are?” He moved his hand to her breast and caressed it softly.

Lenore pushed it away gently.

“I can’t right now, Melon Man. I’m sorry, but right now I just can’t.”

Eddy lay back and pulled her toward him.

“Then just stay here against me and tell me about this last one.”

“She was in the closet when I opened it to get my coat. She stepped out and I started walking backward away from her and she held out her hand and it was full of pills. She kept saying, ‘take these, take these and you’ll go away. Take these and you’ll go away forever. Take these and by tomorrow night you’ll be dead and gone and forgotten’.”

“And then?” Eddy asked. “I mean, yeah that’s spooky, but not really terrifying?”

“That’s why I don’t like to talk about it, Eddy. You can’t possibly understand. Unless you feel the absolute terror that I feel in these dreams, you can’t understand.”

“I’m sorry.” He pulled her a little closer to him. “Has it always been the same woman. All these years, in all these dreams?”

“Yes.”

“What does she look like?”

“What does that matter, Eddy.”

“I don’t know. Maybe she represents something to you. Maybe she… oh crap, I don’t know. Just, what does she look like?”

“She’s tall. And has very long, very straight red hair.”

“That’s it?” He said puzzled. “Tall and ginger?”

“No. That’s not it. She has blue eyes, a small nose, very full lips. Her legs are long and slender, she has a tiny waist and big boobs. She has slender hips and a round ass. She has creamy white skin, freckles on her nose and a beauty mark on her right cheek. Her teeth are a tiny bit bucked and glistening white. When she smiles, two deep dimples appear at the sides of her mouth. She walks like a trained dancer and talks like she studied at Bryn Mawr. She smells of ‘Joy’ perfume. She has a french manicure that she changes the color of occasionally but never to anything bright or gaudy. She has a small birthmark on the inside of her left wrist, I think it’s called a wine stain. She always wears tailored clothes and usually in shades of lavender or purple. When she is angry her eyes squint and her brow furrows and when she shouts it sounds like a smoke alarm. She’s thirty-five right now and she always carries a giant handbag that never matches her clothes or her shoes.” Lenore stopped and inhaled deeply.

“Could you be a little more specific?” Eddy said grinning.

“Yeah. I can. She wants to kill us.” She said without humor or hint of smile. “Dead.”

“Any idea why? Does she ever talk to you or tell you why?”

“Sometimes she just stares. Sometimes she talks a blue streak, repeating things like, ‘You MUST go away! You must leave me alone! You CAN’T have that. You MUST die!’”

The wind made a radical shift in direction and rain ravaged the bedroom window. The sound was beyond angry and made both Eddy and Lenore stop speaking and stare at the deluge. At that moment Lenore began to weep. Softly at first, trying to hide it from Eddy. But then all her control left her and loud, pounding sobs racked her body. Tears poured from her eyes and her raging sorrow matched the raging storm.

“Oh my god, sweetheart. What? What?” Eddy sat up and faced Lenore. “It’s just rain. We’re safe. We’re okay.”

Lenore couldn’t speak through the tears. She shook her head and sobbed. Trying to catch her breath, she looked up into Eddy’s eyes. She felt him then. Truly felt his strength and his love for her. It poured from his eyes like the tears did from her own and like the rain did from the sky at that very moment.

“We’re safe.” He repeated.

“Not. The. Storm.” She managed, gulping air between each word.

“What then? The woman? Your dreams?”

“Yes.” She managed. “Yes. She… She… She….” She stopped herself. Clamped her mouth shut tight and willed herself calm. She slammed her balled fist down on her thigh and shoved the terror back down into the slimy black cave it had crawled up from. She pulled away from Eddy and sat up straight on the bed.

“I won’t do this.” She said in a voice filled with fury. “I will NOT let her win this.”

Thunder rumbled impotently off in the distance.

“Storms far away now.” She said quietly. “Rain’s not. But the storm is.”

“Nice metaphor.” Eddy said taking her hand.

The light from outside the window began to change from pitch black to dark gray as the sun began its rise. The rain continued, but now it was a steady fall, not the flailing wild waves from earlier.

“It’s morning.” Lenore said. “And by tonight, we’ll be dead.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Eddy pulled her to him and they began to make love.

Annabel stepped into the elevator the same way she had every week for the past year. She stepped in, turned toward the front, pressed the ’15’ button and stared up at the numbers as they changed with each floor passed. She shifted her oversize tote from her left to her right shoulder and adjusted her snug, knee length skirt. The beautiful lavender color of her outfit reflected off the polished chrome walls of the elevator. She loved purple in all its permutations. The elevator dinged and stopped at floor ’12’. An overweight woman wearing a beaded caftan stepped in pressed the ’14’ button.

“I’d take the stairs.” The woman said. “But I’m too damn fat to make it the two floors. I’d drop dead of a coronary on the landing of the fourteenth floor and mummify in the stairwell.”

Annabel just looked at the numbers. Not sure of how to respond.

“You sure smell pretty, sweetheart, what’s that perfume?” The woman said pulling the beaded caftan away from her belly.

“It’s ‘Joy’.” Annabel said to the numbers above the door.

“Well it sure does make you stink pretty.” The woman said smiling.

The elevator dinged and the doors snaked open.

“This is me. Have a great day, darlin’” The woman said and clomped out of the car like a rhino in a rush.

The doors closed and then opened again on the fifteenth floor. Annabel stepped out, turned right and headed for the double doors at the very end of the long carpeted hallway. She passed by door after door with engraved name plaques glued to them. The names, Cyrus Bandary, DMD’, ‘Roz Friedman, Ph.D’, ‘Frederick O’Brien, MD, Pediatrics’ flashed by her peripherally as she made her way to her destination.

Annabel stood in front of the double doors at the end of the hall and glanced at the nameplate.

Eugenie Lalande, MD, Ph.D

She stood for a moment staring at the plaque and hoping with all her might that this was to be the beginning of the end. She opened the door and walked into the office.

The receptionist slash secretary looked up and over her glasses.

“Hi Annabel.” She said pushing her arm mounted monitor to the side. “She’s on a call and running about 5 minutes behind. I’ll let her know you’re here. Your hair looks GORGEOUS today. What am I saying? It ALWAYS looks gorgeous. You can’t get that color red out of a bottle, that’s for darn sure. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

“Thanks.” Was all Annabel could muster.

The inner office door opened and Dr. Lalande stepped into the reception area and up to her secretary’s desk. She didn’t acknowledge Annabel.

“Email, Julius Rodman and tell him that I’m sending him a possible MPD. His name is Arthur Gordon Pym. That’s P – Y – M . He’ll be calling him for an appointment.”

The secretary motioned toward Annabel. Dr. Lalande turned toward her.

“Oh. It’s that time already. Hello Annabel. Come on in my office.” Dr. Lalande led the way.

“Right away, Madeline, okay?” She said over her shoulder. She let Annabel pass by and closed the door behind them.

“Sit.” She said and moved to her desk.

“You don’t want me on the couch?” Annabel asked.

“Nope. Not today.” Dr. Lalande said reaching into a file drawer and pulling out a folder. “So, I spoke with Dr. Usher and he agrees that while your case, your situation, isn’t unheard of, it is very rare.”

“And?” Annabel said setting her tote bag on the ground beside her chair.

“And, it’s going to take some aggressive pharmaceutical intervention on top of the therapy we’ve been at for the past year.”

“You’re going to drug me?”

“Not exactly.” Dr. Lalande leaned back in her chair and put her index fingers into a steeple shape. “Recurring dreams are not at all unusual. Recurring characters in all your dreams is a little more unusual, but a recurring character that has been in your dreams all of your life and has grown in age in tandem with yourself is very unusual.”

“I’m a freak?” Annabel asked without expression.

“Hardly.” the doctor said smiling. “But you are one for the books.”

“Those are books I’d rather not read.” Annabel said looking down at her hands.

“In our year together we’ve discovered why you dream of her. We’ve discovered what the particular dreams at the particular times and passages in your life mean. And why you have them. When you were ten years old and you wanted that bike so badly and your mother and father got you books, you first dreamed of her.”

“Yeah. And SHE got the bike.” Annabel said feeling the old familiar jealousy claw at her heart.

“And in school, she got the best friends and in college she got the quarterback boyfriend.

And she got the great job you wanted and the car you wanted and the house you wanted. She got everything you every wanted but couldn’t have and she got to do all the things you wanted to do that you never got to do.” Dr. Lalande paused.

“Why is it so bad now?” Annabel asked knowing the answer, but asking anyway.

“Don’t play me, Annabel. You know why.”

“I do?”

“Tell me why Annabel.” Dr. Lalande leaned forward and put her hands on her desk.

“Because the bitch has a husband and I don’t and her husband loves her the way I’m never going to be loved and…” Annabel’s voice trailed off.

“And?” Dr. Lalande asked pulling her glasses from her face.

Annabel sat. Silent.

“Okay. I’ll say it out loud then. Because she’s about to get pregnant. After that storm and all that conversation, Eddy started making love to Lenore in your last dream and she is going to get pregnant and you can’t. You can never get pregnant.”

Annabel began to softly weep and Dr. Lalande handed her a tissue.

“You’ve created a counter part who gets all of your deepest desires. You’ve given her everything you’ve ever wanted but you begrudge her every gift. She comes in your sleep, and has come in your sleep for 25 years because your subconscious was trying to give YOU those things. But your brain betrayed you, Annabel. Over those years your brain habituated and wired itself to dream these dreams as an outlet. But your conscious mind hates the woman that your subconscious created. Hence the turmoil and unrest in your life.”

“How can I stop it?” Annabel said wiping the tears from her cheeks.

“With this.” Dr. Lalande pulled a small paper from the folder and handed it to Annabel.

“What is this.” She said looking at the paper.

“It’s a prescription for the pills we talked about last week. I consulted with Dr. Usher and he agreed that you would be perfect for the trial of this medication.

“What does it do again?”

“It blocks your dreams. It’s like a reverse melatonin.”

“What’s mela…? Annabel started.

“Melatonin is a sleep aid that, in many people, causes vivid dreams. This pill, the pill that Dr. Usher is head of the trial for, does the exact opposite. It effects the area of the brain that creates dreams. It dampens it. Shuts it down.”

“So I’m never going to dream anything again?”

“Not for a period of about six months. After that we wean you off the medication. People have to dream. It’s vital for mental health, but if Usher’s studies prove true, you can last nearly a year without dream activity and still be healthy. And six months is more than enough time to rewire your brain. To un-habituate it. You take that pill and as of tonight, Lenore and Eddy and all the other inhabitants of your dream world will be dead and gone. I promise.”

Annabel smiled for the first time in ages. A genuine feeling of hopefulness swept through her. “I hope so. I hope SO much so.” She said still smiling and looking down at the prescription.

“Go see Dr. Usher and he’ll fill that and come see me next week at our regular time.” Dr. Lalande stood up from behind her desk. She walked with Annabel into the reception area.

“Next week, same time for Ms. Leigh, Madeline.”

“Holy cow!” Madeline shouted. “I’ve been seeing you here for what, like a year now, and I just realized you name is Annabel Leigh!!! Annabel Leigh, just like Edgar Allen Poe!”

“My father was a Poe fanatic.” Annabel said. “We’re supposed to be distant relatives. And he thought it would honor Poe to name me that. But quite frankly it has been the butt of too many jokes in my life for me to find it honorable.”

“Oh but I LOVE Poe.” Madeline said grinning a snaggle-toothed grin. “My favorite quote in the whole wide world is from him.”

“And what quote would that be Madeline?” Dr. Lalande asked.

“Well.. I can’t remember which of his poems it’s from, but it goes:

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

“Oh.” Dr. Lalande said turning to Annabel. “After tonight, they’ll be gone. Next week then Annabel. ”

“Yes.” Annabel said opening the outer office door. “Next week.”

If you love dogs as much as I do, I think you might just like my story….FICTION

A Real Dog Lover

By: S. Scott Bullock

“Jonesy.” The old man said smiling. “You’re the best dog in the whole wide world. Did you know that boy? Did you know that?” The old man patted Jonesy on his jet black head and scratched behind his ear. Jonesy raised his head and partially opened his beautiful chestnut-brown eyes. He looked up at the old man, his lids at half-mast.

“You drowsy, boy?” The old man said rubbing Jonesy’s head. “That’s the medicine I gave you a little while ago. Like I been tellin’ you, you got to heal up, boy. So you can’t be runnin’ round crazy.”

The sharp sound of the bell of an old style rotary dial phone shattered the calm. The old man pushed himself up from the brown and tan Lazy Boy recliner with a grunt and a sigh. Jonesy raised his head and cocked it toward the phone.

“Lay still, boy.” The old man said walking over to the old style telephone table. He sat down on the Early American chair and picked up the receiver of the ancient black phone.

“Hellooooo.” He said in a sing-song.

“Hi Gumpy.” A woman’s voice said.

“Is this my favorite granddaughter?!” The old man said grinning with joy.

“I’m your only granddaughter, Gumpy!” She said laughing.

“You’re still my favorite!

“Guess what, Gumpy.” The woman said.

“The patent is off of Post Toasties?” He said, still grinning.

“No. Gumpy.” She said solemnly. Then with great excitement. “You’re gonna be a Great Gumpy!”

“Oh my land! Oh my land!” The old man shouted.

Jonesy lifted his head, held it for a moment and then dropped it back onto the floor.

“And.” The woman said. “We’re coming down to see you!”

“Oh my land. I am so happy for you, my sweet girl. I am so happy.” He shifted the heavy receiver to his other hand. “When are you coming, sweet girl?”

“Three weeks, if that’s okay.”

“Better than okay. Wonderful. I can’t wait to hug you and Carl. It’s been way too long. Way too long, sweet girl.”

“Five years, Gumpy.”

“Too long.” The old man wiped at the moisture gathering around his eyes. “You’ll be able to meet Jonesy!” He said, excited.

“Who, Gumpy?”

“My new boy! Jonesy!”

“Oh, Gumpy.” She chided. “Not ANOTHER dog! Where’d you find this one?”

“He found me.” The old man said looking over at the sleeping Jonesy. “Actually we met under some pretty bad circumstances.”

“What circumstances, Gumpy?”

“I accidentally hit the poor boy with my truck!”

“Oh my God!”

“He was runnin’ along side the road and I didn’t see him. I swerved to miss a squirrel and banged right into the poor fella.”

“Is he okay?”

“I brought him home and fixed him up. It broke both his hind legs so I put em both in casts.”

“You still have the office at home, Gumpy?”

“Of course. Old veterinarians never retire, we just wait till it’s our time to be put to sleep.” He said and laughed her favorite ‘Gumpy laugh’. “Besides, lots of folks around here still need my help once in awhile. Sick horses, dry cows, and what not.”

“How’s he doing now? What’s his name again?”

“Jonesy, and he’s doing great. I have to keep meds in him so he won’t hurt himself worse. Makes him drowsy and silly as all heck, but it keeps him calm and still. I can control him that way. He’s only been with me five weeks, but I feel like I’ve known him and loved him forever.”

“You’re a precious, special man, Gumpy.”

“Still got you fooled, huh princess?”

“I thought you were done with dogs after Sally Lynn passed.”

“Men like me are never done with dogs, sweet girl. They’re in our blood and our souls. I tried to be done, but it didn’t work. Jonesy showed me that I wasn’t done.”

“Oops. Gumpy, I’ve got a call waiting and it may be Carl, can I call you back?”

“You go talk to your man, sweet girl. You don’t need to call me back. Tell him I said ‘hello’ and just be sure to call when you’re coming down. I have to de-stink the guest room.” He said and laughed. “I love you, sweet girl.”

“I love you too, Gumpy. Bye.”

The old man hung up the phone and walked back to his recliner. He sat with a loud thump and another grunt. He picked the TV remote up off the Early American double level side table and punched the on button. An old Sony, twenty-five inch CRT set crackled into life.

“Time for ‘The Price Is Right’, Jonesy.” He said. “This new fella’s okay, but he’s no Bob Barker, I’ll tell ya that much.”

Jonesy twitched on the floor next to the old man’s chair.

The evening news was finishing up on the TV and a beautiful blonde woman was saying something about mass murder and a missing teen. The old man punched the mute button.

“Nope.” He said to the TV. “No bad news. Got no room in my head for bad news.”

He waited for the opening credits of ‘The Price Is Right’ before unmuting the TV. As the show began, the old man pulled a pipe off the standing ashtray next to his chair. He picked up a tobacco pouch and filled the bowl of the pipe with Cherry Stone tobacco. Soon the smell of cedar from the paneling and years of hardwood burned in the fireplace would be joined by the homey smell of cherry tobacco smoke. He lit his pipe and curls of smoke twirled up and away from his face. He sat back into his recliner and pulled the lever that raised his feet. As Drew Carey asked for bids on the first item, the old man began a walk down his own personal memory lane.

“You don’t know this, Jonesy.” He said. “But I was a big hero in the Korean War.” He pronounced Korean with the accent on ‘Ko’. “I was a medic. Saved a lot of fellas. But more important I saved lots of dogs. Halfway through my stint we were on R&R in this tiny village called Sung Houang. Me and my buddy, Dougie Babajian, Dougie was an Armenian fella, anyway, we were havin’ lunch at this little place in the middle of the village.”

The old man leaned forward, relighted his pipe, and sat back again.

“When we finished eatin’ I asked the Ko-rean fella what it was we just ate and he told me it was dog.” The old man looked down at Jonesy. “Sorry boy, but I didn’t know. Well, I grabbed a hold of that fella and I backed him against the wall. I pulled my gun out of my holster and I held it to that fella’s head and told him to pray to God or Buddha or whoever he believed in because I was gonna take the top of his head off with my side arm. Well, he starts sayin’ all this Ko-rean stuff and cryin’ and wailin’ somethin’ fierce. His wife comes runnin’ out and falls right to her knees in front of me, beggin’ me not to hurt her husband. Well, I’ll tell ya, Jonesy, that really got to me. That poor lady in front of me, beggin’ at me that way. So I pushed that fella down into a chair and I sat down real close next to him, pointing my side arm at him the whole time. I told him that if I ever got wind of him killing a dog again, I’d shoot him sure as sunrise. I said it to his wife too, who was still kneelin’ and beggin’. And you know what, Jonesy? He swore he wouldn’t, and his wife swore on it too. I told him that I was friends with every other American service man and if any one of them came by and saw dog on the menu or a dog tied up or even a pile of dog poop anywhere near his place, I’d come back and take the top of his head off. I was lyin’ about knowing every other grunt, but he didn’t know it. And from what I heard from the fellas I knew who R&R’d in that village later, he never served up dog again. I’m damn proud of that Jonesy. Damn proud.”

The motion sensor light in the backyard went on and there was a small clatter of metal hitting metal. Jonesy stirred and raised his head slightly.

“You hear that too, boy? What the heck.” The old man got up from his chair, grunting and sighing, and headed for his back door. He opened it and looked around. “I don’t see anything.” He said. “Hello?” He called out to the night. “Somebody there?” He turned around and stepped back inside.

“Racoons.” He said walking back into his den. “I’ll be there in a minute Jonsey, I need to get my dinner. I’ll feed you when those meds wear off before you’re next dose.”

The old man pulled a pot out of an under-sink cupboard and a knock came from the front door.

“Who?” The old man said heading to the door. He opened it.

“Hank!” He said to a uniformed state trooper. “What a nice surprise. Come on in.”

“It’s not a visit, Sam. It’s official.” The trooper said.

“Well. Oh my. Okay, what can I do for you?”

The trooper pulled out a four by five photo of a handsome young African-American man.

“Have you seen this guy?” The trooper asked. “Anywhere around here?”

The old man took the photo and considered it for a long time. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pair of close-up half glasses. He put them on and considered the picture further.

“Nice looking young fella.” He said. “But not familiar at all. Who is he?”

“Missing kid.” The trooper said.

“Come in for a cup of coffee, Hank.”

“I can’t, Sam. Wish I could. Gotta go check out some other folks. Thanks though.” The trooper took the picture back from the old man, shook his hand and walked away.

“Good luck, Hank.” The old man said and closed the door. He walked back into the den to check on Jonesy who was still sleeping and twitching on the floor. “Good boy.” He said and returned to the kitchen.

Sitting back down in his recliner with a TV tray in front of him, he finished off a bowl of chili and beans and drank the last of his Bud-Lite Lime. He put the bottle on the tray and got out his pipe and tobacco. He loaded up the bowl and lit the pipe. He punched the remote and the TV crackled to life. The local news was beginning and he quickly muted the sound.

“Nope.” He said to the TV. “No room in my head for bad news.”

The sound he had heard earlier in the backyard happened again.

“Racoons. I sure hope they find something to eat.”

Jonesy began to moan and move around a little. The old man looked down at him.

“Are you wakin’ up boy?” He said and patted his head. “Are you hurtin’. I’m gonna go get your meds and some food for you. How about that, boy? Lemme turn up the sound for you.” He said and unmuted the TV.

The old man walked out of the den. A pretty, African-American news anchor was speaking on the TV.

“The eighteen-year-old is still missing. More on that story in a moment, but now here’s Mika with the weather. An overly coiffed, middle-aged man with an orange tan came on the screen and began pointing at things on a map. When he was finished, a commercial for Tide laundry soap came on and the old man walked back into the den. He carried a dish of wet dog food and a syringe.

“You hungry my good boy?” He said and went to Jonesy. He knelt down with great effort and several grunts and groans. The news came back on and the pretty African-American anchor continued the story from earlier in the program.

“Police found evidence of a struggle and blood on the north side of Rural Route 58 yesterday morning after a routine traffic stop of a drunk driver. The blood type matches that of the missing youth. Unseasonably warm weather and lack of typical rainfall left the evidence intact. It could have been there for the five weeks since the youth’s disappearance.

The old man pulled the duct tape off Jonesy’s mouth.

“The youth, Duane Denzel Jones, was reported missing last June and his disappearance follows a pattern of teen-youth disappearances in this area that have occurred annually for the past five years. No direct correlation has been officially speculated but this disappearance is eerily reminiscent of last year’s disappearance of Sally Lynn Wilcox.

“Please untie my wrists” Duane said to the old man, barely able to speak. “They hurt me so bad.”

“Don’t you start yippin’ now Jonesy.” The old man said patting the jet black head of Duane Jones and scratching behind his ear. “I’m gonna feed you and give you your calmin’ down medicine.”

“My legs.” He cried out. “They hurt me. I can’t move em.

“Five weeks now.” The old man said. “Five weeks now and you ask me the same questions every time your medicine wears off. Five weeks, Jonesy.”

“I’m in a cast? Why are my legs in a cast?”

The old man spooned a glob of wet dog food from the bowl and held it to Duane’s mouth.

“Here you go boy.” The old man said. “Eat your food.”

“Please.” Duane said. “Please untie me.”

“Can’t do that Jonesy. But I will tell you this, and I think it’ll make you happy.” The old man put the spoon back into the dog dish and set it on the table. He picked up the syringe and gently pushed the needle into Duane’s arm. He pushed the plunger down.

“You’ll be asleep again in no time.” The old man said. “And next week your casts can come off. And while your under for that, we can kill two birds with one stone. Because, just like Bob Barker says… Always spay and neuter your pets.”

Duane slowly fell back into a drugged stupor. The old man patted his head and turned the channel to Gilligan’s Island.

“I love you, boy.” He said.