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Rodford Edmiston

John Palmer Sullivan stepped away from the kiosk and opened his paper, frowning at the picture above the lead story. The words were indistinct, but the photo was clear. It showed a car with its driver slumped over the wheel, blocking traffic at an intersection. There was a small, neat hole in the right side of his head, a large, messy hole in the left side of his head, brains and blood spattered on the side window, and a gun in his right hand. John Palmer wondered why anyone would commit suicide while waiting for a light to change.

Looking up from his paper, John Palmer saw the scene from the news photo laid out before him; the dead man in his car, the traffic light, everything. He was apparently the only one who noticed anything wrong; the drivers behind the dead man's car were honking in irritation. He stared for a long moment, baffled and vaguely uneasy. Then he shrugged, folded his paper and walked away.

He took a long, meandering stroll of indeterminate length. He might have been walking forever, except that he could definitely remember doing other things in the past, if he bothered to think about it. Finally, he turned onto an unfamiliar street, not sure just where he was but somehow certain that he was supposed to be there. Shops and stores bordered the way on either side, but one building in particular caught his eye. It had movie posters in the window, including one with a scene from a Second World War film that John Palmer particularly liked. It was set in southern France, in the Pyrenees mountains. There were other people on this side street; none of them seemed interested in the little shop. John Palmer decided to go in.

As he tried to step through the door, however, something shoved him back. Startled, John Palmer paused and tried to figure out what had pushed him. It had felt like a strong breeze, but from inside?

Determined to enter, John Palmer tried again, leaning into the resistance this time. He didn't loose ground, but neither did he make much progress; the force grew stronger as he moved forward. John Palmer tried harder, and noticed a faint shimmering in the air around the door frame.

Suddenly, unexplainedly angry, he grabbed the frame and heaved himself forward. The shimmer expanded to fill the doorway, then ran down his arms to surround him. The shimmer became a definite glow, clouding his vision as he struggled to go in.

Still John Palmer increased his efforts, moving slowly forward, as the fog increased around him. The cycle continued, John Palmer pushing harder and harder as his anger grew into rage, and the fog resisting him more and more strongly. Everything else was quickly washed away from his awareness by the strain and the glow. He made progress, he knew he did, but more slowly with each inch gained.

Then, suddenly, blackness, and a sickening sensation of falling, accompanied by a ringing noise. He had lost, somehow, distracted from his goal by something outside. Exhausted, surrounded by the mind-numbing dark, he fell.

*                     *                     * John Palmer opened his eyes. The ringing of his old-fashioned alarm clock cut off suddenly as he reached out and fumbled with it. Then, groaning with the effort, he rose, forcing himself upright and away from the sweat-soaked sheets.

He stood for a moment, swaying, then staggered into the bathroom. Shortly, feeling marginally better, he went downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. As he dallied over a second cup of coffee, John Palmer Sullivan considered his plight.

The dreams has been with him for years. Ever since that test with the Rhine cards in eighth grade. He had done impossibly well, getting every star, circle, square and wavy line right. He had also been better than the other students as a sender. That night he had suffered the first of the dreams, a simple nightmare of suffocation and pressure.

The dreams had gone on, year after year, in spite of every drug or psychotherapy he had tried. John Palmer had learned to ignore the induced terror these night visitations brought, but that left him with some very real concerns. The dreams had changed with time, from vague fears of an oppressive but indefinite nature, to wild fantasies, often echoing sequences from favorite novels or pieces of music. In the past couple of years the dreams had become more vivid, even lucid, and had begun including actual scenes, people and events.

One thing had not changed. Every night, he spent his strength in battle with this mysterious enemy, leaving him more and more tired each day. Going to bed earlier had only helped for a while. Eventually, he had reached the point where more sleep only meant more of the dreams.

They were defeating him, and he didn't even know why.

He still hoped; he had another appointment toady, with a new doctor. However, success was unlikely, since the doctors all seemed to feel that the problem was inside him, while he was equally sure that the was cause came from outside. John Palmer had proved to himself that not everything he experienced while asleep was fantasy. His dream diary often included elements that appeared later in the news, bits of fact he couldn't possibly have known ahead of time. He wondered if he would now hear about a man killing himself at a traffic light. There was one thread connecting these fragments of reality, one clue that hinted of what was going on. As far as John Palmer had been able to learn, every person in those sequences he had been able to trace to a real event was associated in some way with research into mental powers.

When he dreamed of these people, they were usually either already dead, or during the dream would die, usually by their own hand. If they had suffered as John Palmer suffered, he could understand why.

Of course, not everything in his dreams had an obvious connection with reality. What, for instance, did a war movie set in the Pyrenees mountains have to do with anything?

John Palmer looked up at the clock and saw that he was going to be late if he didn't hurry. He grabbed his coat and hat and ran out of the house, into the Autumn cold. He made the bus, barely.

At the office building he climbed the stairs in a rush, not willing to wait on the elevator. Still a bit breathless, he left his name with the receptionist, then sat down to read his paper. As he unfolded it, he froze. As he had half expected - half feared, really - there was the scene from his dream, the dead man in the car. According to the caption, he was a US Senator, famous for his backing of research into fringe areas of science.

John Palmer stared at the image, and it wavered. Distantly, he heard someone calling to him. Then the scene from the photo swelled outward, swallowing him.

*                     *                     * John Palmer stepped away from the kiosk, newspaper tucked under his arm. He ignored the crowd gathered around the car and began walking briskly away. He knew where he was going and he took the most direct route. This time, he knew it was a dream, and perhaps that was why he was able to act in such a straightforward way.

The window at the store was boarded over, now, though the door was open, the place having the look and smell of a fire about it. The door frame was warped and bent, yet it still exuded resistance as John Palmer approached. He tried to enter. As expected, it fought his attempt, but it seemed feeble now, spent. As he saw this first sign of weakness in his opponent, John Palmer felt a sudden rush of emotion. Two decades of fear, anger and frustration crystallized into a craving for vengeance, mounted on a framework of hope. Emboldened and determined, John Palmer shoved hard, and was suddenly through.

White surrounded him immediately. He knew that he hadn't destroyed his tormentor; he could still feel its presence, dimly. But John Palmer was triumphant. The game had changed. Now, he was on the offensive, and the enemy forced to protect itself. For now, it was enough.

John Palmer relaxed, and drifted off into a dreamless, restorative sleep.

*                     *                     * Something touched him on the shoulder.

"Wake up, dear. You'll be late for your appointment."


This document is Copyright 2000 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing reprint permission may contact him at: stickmaker@usa.net.