TWA #4 – Short Story “This Man” by CM Stewart

This Man by CM Stewart

Monday, May 19

Today I was invited to participate in an online writing challenge. Two writers, one prompt, and ten days to deliver a short story. The prompt was a website with images of a man which appears in people’s dreams all over the world. When I clicked on the link and saw the images, I immediately recognized “This Man.” I have dreamed about “This Man.” At night, while unconscious, and during the day, in spontaneous and unexpected daydreams. Well, I used to…

I had recurring dreams about this man was when I was eighteen.

In my dreams, I am walking through my neighborhood and I see a man of average build and height standing in a yard between two houses. He stares at me, and I feel compelled to approach him. Now, in my waking life I would never approach a strange man standing in somebody else’s yard, but in my dreams this man is irresistible. I don’t mean he’s gorgeous or even remotely attractive… he just has this unspoken charisma. Kind of creepy, but charismatic. Like he’s a magnet and I’m made of steel. As I approach, he slightly turns away and walks into one of the backyards. I follow, unable to resist his pull, and he turns the door knob of the backdoor to the house. Sometimes it’s the front door. Other times it’s a window. As he opens the door, he looks over his shoulder at me. By now I am close enough that I can clearly see the features of his face. Big eyes, a big grinning mouth, and oddly bushy eyebrows. Pale skin, and thinning black hair. Dark hollows under his eyes. As I follow him into the house, my heart begins to race. I’m afraid of getting caught, of the homeowners being home and calling the police on a couple of intruders.

But nobody else is in the house. The man turns a corner, walks down the hallway, and steps into a room. I follow him, but he has disappeared. So I wander from room to room until I find something I can grab. In my last dream about him, it was a knife from the kitchen.

Other times it’s been a bat or a fireplace poker. Rarely it’s been a gun. A couple times I grabbed a bottle of pills from the bathroom. Once it was a belt. Every dream was like that. Me following this strange man into a house and stealing a weapon, or something what could be used as a weapon. As soon as I grabbed the weapon, I left the house with it tucked under my arm or inside my jacket. Back in my own house, I would go to my room, open my closet door, and remove the wall panel under the bookshelf. That’s where I would stash my stolen weapons collection.

In total, I dreamed about this man at least a few dozen times. I should’ve kept a dream journal to document the dreams. But the reason I didn’t was at the time, these dreams were so real, so vivid, that for years I thought they hadn’t been dreams, but instead were events which happened during my waking life. The thought of me trespassing and stealing were so embarrassing that I didn’t tell anybody. I knew it was the man who made me do these things. But I felt ashamed. Since then, I’ve come to realize these events were so fantastical that they just had to be dreams, and daydreams. And now I see other people have had dreams of this man as well, but with different outcomes. I am not alone. This journal is a documentation of my quest to uncover the meaning of these dreams about “This Man.” I have ten days…

Tuesday, May 20

Today I posted the link to the “This Man” website on G+, just to see if anybody would leave a comment saying they have dreamt of this man too. One of my G+ buddies commented that confirmation bias was responsible for all these people thinking they had dreamed about this man.

Show a sketch of a man to a group of people and ask them whether the guy in the sketch looks familiar… or perhaps if they’ve ever had a dream with the guy in it. Think hard, are you sure? Look at the sketch again. Yes? Maybe? He does look familiar, doesn’t he? Yes, he does.

But this man isn’t generic-looking. His face is memorable. There’s no one, wildly outstanding feature, but rather a combination of odd features which give his face an otherworldliness. Bushy eyebrows. Large eyes. Large mouth. Balding hair. Okay. Typing that just now I realize those features aren’t exactly odd. They’re generic if you just read about them. You’ve got to go see for yourself. Here’s the website: http://www.thisman.org/. When you get there, click on the portraits link, then click on the computer-generated simulation. That is the man of my dreams. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

See what I mean now? His face is eerie. Yet serene. Wise. He looks like he has something important to say. Or do. To everybody reading this journal, if you’ve also dreamed of this man, I’d really appreciate you mentioning that in the comments. Hopefully, in ten days I will have found the answer to this mystery, but reading about other people’s dreams of this man will be reassuring.

Another of my G+ buddies wrote the man looked like Andy Kaufman. So I posted a link to the computer-generated photo of the man. That’s no Andy Kaufman. After he looked at the photo, he wrote that maybe it was Andy Kaufman’s cousin. Okay, maybe. At least that’s more plausible than the guy being Kaufman.

Maybe I’ll dream about the man tonight, after all these years… I hope.

Wednesday, May 21

I didn’t dream about the man. So instead of starting a dream journal, I got online and visited snopes.com. I read that “This Man” was the invention of Andrea Natella, sociologist and marketing strategist. On KnowYourMeme.com, I read Natella ran an advertising agency called Guerilla Marketing, and “This Man” was an art project hoax the agency produced. There’s even supposed to be a movie coming out about the “This Man” dream hoax. No no no. That can’t be. The hoax claim is the hoax, not the dream phenomena. I know I’ve dreamed of “This Man.” I know I’m not crazy.

Thursday, May 22

Again, I didn’t dream of the man last night. So I read accounts of other dreamers’ dreams on the “This Man” website. They all have one thing in common – the man seems to be helping the dreamers. Inspired, I wrote all of what I could remember about my own dreams of this man, and sent it in an email to the website. Finally writing them down brought all the details flooding back. The images were so clear. Now I’m again starting to believe these weren’t dreams after all.

Tonight, before I fall asleep in bed, I will visualize him, and replay everything I remember from the dreams in my mind. I’ll do this until fall asleep. Hopefully I’ll have another dream…

Friday, May 23

No dreams. I’m getting a bit frustrated. I have to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. So I’m going to call my mother. She still lives in the same house I grew up in. I’ll do it this afternoon, after she’s had her lunch. She is easily excitable, and I don’t want her to be operating on an empty stomach when she finds what I suspect she will find…

So I called my mother and asked her to go into the closet of my old bedroom and remove the wall panel under the bookshelf. I asked her to tell me what was in there, if anything. I waited as she carried her cell phone to the bedroom. After holding my breath for about a minute, I heard a shuffling noise, then a gasp. She said, “Gun… it’s a gun!” She had reached into the hole and pulled out a gun. She started crying. I didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes, she asked me if I had stolen the gun. I said yes. She started crying again. I told her to carefully put the gun back, and that I was sorry. She asked me why I stole a gun. I didn’t tell her I stole more than one gun, along with a bunch of other weapons. Instead, I told her a man made me do it, which is true, in a sense. She asked me what man. I told her it was the man who used to be our next door neighbor to the right, who is conveniently dead now. She calmed down after that. We both remember him as being a bit creepy.

After the call, I did a bit of research on lucid dreaming. Tonight I will try to have a lucid dream about the man. Maybe I can ask him about the weapons.

Saturday, May 24

Last night I dreamt about the man! It wasn’t a lucid dream, but it was definitely about him. We didn’t trespass or steal anything, we just stood face-to-face and stared at each other for a long time. Finally, he raised one of his bushy eyebrows. I took that to mean, ‘What do you want?’ I said, “Who are you?” He looked over my shoulder and I turned around. I saw a large black building with mirrored windows. Above the door was a sign which read, “PIPDR.” (I abbreviated this to protect his privacy.)

I googled the name of the institute, and found its website. Jackpot! Precognition. Remote viewing. Telepathy. Then I found a photo of the man! An actual photo, not a computer simulation. The eyebrows weren’t as bushy, and the mouth wasn’t as creepy-looking, but it was definitely “This Man.” Fingers trembling, I called the institute. I forgot it was a Saturday. No answer, not even a chance to leave a message.

His name is Patrick Robotham. Weird name, I know. I’m probably pronouncing it incorrectly in my mind. It’s more likely pronounced ‘Robo–tham,’ with a th sound. But I like pronouncing it ‘Robot-ham.’ And I looked it up on a genealogy website. Robotham is an actual surname. Funny that when I googled his name, it didn’t show up as being connected to the institute. Must be an encryption measure for security.
The institute’s website didn’t give much more information about Robotham, except that they listed him as a “consultant,” and that his wife’s name is “Sissi Brandtstaetter.” That name seemed familiar to me, and sure enough, there’s a “Sissi Brandtstaetter” who has circled me on G+. Her profile is empty. I considered sending her a private message saying I had dreams about her husband, but decided against it. I searched for Robotham on G+, and found a profile, but the photo didn’t look like the same guy. It’s some kid. A little resemblance, maybe. Perhaps it is him, and he’s just using a childhood photo.

I read everything on the institute’s website. Turns out they conduct mass dreaming research. Now we’re getting somewhere.

My mother called. She asked me what I wanted her to do with “the cache of guns and clubs and poison,” (as she called it) in the wall of my old bedroom closet. Crap. I told her to please carefully put it all back and to not touch it again. She started crying again. I told her I hadn’t killed anybody. That seemed to cheer her up.

Tonight I’ll meditate on Robotham and the institute before I fall asleep.

Sunday, May 25

No dreams last night. But at least I know I’m not crazy. He’s real. And I got an auto-reply from the “This Man” website. The email said the phenomena was a hoax, and thanked me for participating. And they posted my email on the website’s archive. Puzzling. I found a number on the website and called. No answer. It’s a Sunday. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get some answers on Monday.

Monday, May 26

I had a few beers Sunday night – I was over at a neighbor’s house celebrating Memorial Day weekend – and forgot to meditate on Robotham before I fell asleep and I overslept this morning. Didn’t get up until after ten. Good thing I work from home. I hate hangovers. It was noon by the time I got around to calling the institute. No answer. Then realized today is Memorial Day. Crap.

Only a few days left to uncover the mystery. So far I know “This Man” is real. I know I’ve dreamt about him. And I’m reasonably sure other people have dreamt about him too. I would be suspicious of those claims, but Robotham’s face isn’t generic-looking. It’s odd. Creepy. A plainer face would lend itself to confirmation bias, but this face isn’t plain. Why would people claim to dream about such a specifically memorable face?

Tuesday, May 27

The first thing I did after I hopped out of bed was call the institute. I asked for Patrick Robotham. At first I said “Robot-ham,” and the receptionist paused. Then I remembered, and said “Robo-tham.” She put me through to his office line. It rang once. I recorded the call and transcribed it:

“This is Patrick Robotham, how may I help you?”

“Hello, my name is CM Stewart, and I’d like to know why you’ve appeared in my dreams.”

Silence.

“Hello? Mr. Robot-ham? I mean, Robo-tham?”

“I’ve appeared in your dreams?”

“Yes, years ago, and more recently. You made me sleepwalk into strangers’ houses and steal their weapons.”

A gasp. “Yes. I figured one of my subjects would eventually track me down.” I heard him take a deep breath. “Years ago, I started an experiment in mass dreaming. I have the ability to make psychic connections with people through their dreams. I’m also a precognate, and a remote viewer. Do you know what those terms mean?”

“Yes, I’ve read everything on your institute’s website.”

“Good. I psychically connected with random people around the world. At first I just wanted to see if it was possible with scientific controls in place, but then I started seeing bits and pieces of future events in the lives of these people. Bad events. Accidents, assaults, even murders. That’s what I saw in your future – murder.”

“You saw me murder someone? I’ve never murdered anyone.”

“No, I saw you being murdered. But I couldn’t establish a psychic connection with the perpetrator. The inter-brain connections didn’t make sense. And I couldn’t get a good look at the face. The guy was wearing a ski cap. All I saw was a figure stepping out of a house, walking a few blocks, then breaking into your house. The weapon was hidden under the guy’s shirt. Then I saw the guy standing over you as you lay dying.”

I let out a long breath.

“And I wanted to help you, but I couldn’t see the number on the guy’s house. I couldn’t see the guy’s face, but the would-be murderer wasn’t very big. Could have been a child, even.”

“Matthew Orville.” I bit my lip.

“What?”

“A kid I used to babysit for. He was around twelve or thirteen at the time, and pure evil. Satan’s spawn. His mother had to keep all the kitchen knives locked up. After I left home to go to college, I heard he set his house on fire, burned it to the ground. They put him in an institution for the psychologically disturbed. I bet that’s who you saw.” I swallowed hard and cleared my throat. “So that’s why you made me steal all those weapons? So Matthew wouldn’t have anything to kill me with?”

“Yes. I didn’t know where the guy lived, just that he lived in your neighborhood. So I focused on the doors of the houses in your neighborhood, and I was able to see which houses were unlocked at any given time. I was also able to see whether the people living there were gone or had stepped out.”

“Thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”

“You’re welcome.”

“But what about the ‘This Man’ website? They claim all this is a hoax.”

“They are legally required to do so.”

“What about Andrea Natella and Guerilla Marketing?”

“Decoys.”

“You sure like to keep secrets. Why not just let everybody know the truth?”

“Because then I wouldn’t have a moment of privacy. Everybody would want a piece of me and my precognitive abilities. I imagine the government would lock me in a cage and force me to perform for them. I’d rather not be a tool for the military.”

I paused. “So why are you telling me the truth? You’re not worried this information could get out?”

“What information? The ‘This Man’ phenomenon is officially a hoax. Nobody would believe you.”

“Okay. May I ask one more question?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you have such an unusual appearance?”

“What about my appearance do you find unusual?”

“Ah, um… big mouth… bushy eyebrows… no offense.”

“None taken. I’m Irish-Italian.”

“And your eyes… they’re huge. And you just look… well, some people have said you look creepy. But I haven’t. Not out loud. Umm… are you still able to read my mind?”

“Yes. Any more questions?”

I cringed. “Ah… ha-ha. I think all kinds of crazy things, don’t I? Well, I think that answers everything. Thank you for your time. Ah – wait. Did you know your wife circled me on G+?”

“Good-bye, Ms. Stewart.”

And he hung up.

I spent the rest of the day googling Matthew Orville and feeling very lucky to be alive. Turns out Orville is still in the institution. He tried to kill one of the nurses with a hand-made knife a few years ago, so he’s not getting out anytime soon, if ever. The nurse survived, but spent several days in intensive care. I remember Matthew was fixated on knives. He drew picture after picture of people with knives and blood and gore, and was constantly trying to unlock the knife drawer. Damn. I came so close to being filleted, just like that nurse. Now I’m trying to get the image of me all slashed and bloody out of my mind. Time for a beer.

Wednesday, May 28th

So I uncovered the mystery of the “This Man” phenomenon. Now I really know I’m not crazy. I have just one favor to ask of anybody reading this – let’s agree that this is a fiction story, okay? If it were real, I wouldn’t want Robotham to be harassed by a bunch of people wanting free fortune-telling. And I certainly wouldn’t want him to be abducted by shady government agents. After all, he saved my life.

So I hope you enjoyed my fiction story. Sweet dreams.

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7 Comments

  1. How perfectly meta. Such an awesome story, CM. Thanks for this! I’ll be sure to leave Mr. Robot-ham alone.

  2. Very interesting and unique. I really felt I was reading from someone’s journal. Easy to follow and kept me interested.

  3. Wish I could add more than the previous comments say, but that was exactly how i feel about this. Well done.

  4. Reading this was an utterly weird experience. The tack of writing a fictional story about being this person in this contest with this prompt was so…meta I guess that I was utterly befuddled for a bit while reading this. But in a good way. I mean at first I thought I was just going to be reading ten days of journaling where the This Man site was described in detail. Basically I took the bait so hard that I didn’t even notice I had swallowed a hook.
    Real quick I also want to commend (I think?) you for the moment where you actually put the This Man website INTO your own story. You asked me to go check it out. That was one of the more surreal moments I’ve had reading fiction. I mean I text people website all the time. I email them. I tell them to google things or look up phrases on YouTube. But to come across that very normal action in a short story was interesting. Frankly it makes perfect sense to have a present-day narrator do something like that and I liked that little extremely meta detail.
    The story itself, as it unfolded, was gripping and the mystery seemed real to me. I wanted to know what in the hell was going on here. My only real complaint would be that the climax, the big reveal, seemed to tame to me. There was so much potential to be had, but it came down to Mister Robot-ham (I enjoyed that little detail) just telling the narrator what had happened years ago. It needed more urgency or immediacy. Maybe if the kid had been released recently or something?
    But really this was a great read. Well done and good job with this prompt!

  5. I really liked the direction this story went. I wouldn’t have believed the “story about writing a story” approach would have worked, but it turned out really well. The mystery of the sleep walking was well executed, and I found myself wanting to know more about what was going on
    However I did feel the story faltered somewhat in it’s conclusion. Things were tied up too neatly for my tastes, and the conversation with the psychic was very “on the nose”. Dialogue can be used to deliver exposition, but you shouldn’t lose the sense that the character delivering the dialogue is a real person living his own story.
    I also would have liked to see some sort of twist at the end, perhaps a hint that perhaps the main character is really the delusional and dangerous one, or something to that effect.
    And while we’re talking missed opportunities, giving the psychic the power to control people when their sleeping seems like an incredibly important thing to just gloss over. From the protagonists perspective this is a huge invasion of privacy, and I would expect a bigger sense of outrage that she’d been manipulated, even if it was for positive reasons. From the psychic’s perspective, it seems like this guy is wielding and incredible amount of power, and it would have been cool to see that explored a bit more deeply. How many people has he done this to? Does he have a God complex? Could he make the president sleep-walk into killing someone?
    But I digress. The story was well-written and kept my interest through to the end, despite some missed opportunities. And most important of all, it got me thinking.
    Well done, Ms. Stewart.

  6. Writing a comment while treadmilling is not a strong suit. Sorry. So, I liked most the epistolary approach. Not an easy thing to make interesting. And how putting yourself in the Sorry counter balances the very idea of This Man and how it’s a real thing. ‘I’m Irish-Italian’ made me damn laugh, too. I read this twice, and must say, I’m rather envious at the dialogue, how natural it all was. Again, a wonderful story, CM.

  7. I won’t re-tread the previous comments. I think they are spot-on and astute observations on this very novel approach to story writing. I really enjoyed the ride this story took me on, by the sheer fact that at almost every point it was quite unexpected.

    I will add 2 notes that I especially enjoyed:

    1.) Telling the mother that Ms. Stewart hadn’t killed anybody seemed to cheer her up. I dug that. Thinking maybe I should start using that to cheer my own mom up when she’s feeling down. “Hey, cheer up, Mom. I haven’t killed anybody.”

    2.) The whole side noted of being circled on G+ by the wife, Sissi was a really clever touch, especially in the fact that having mentioned it prompted the abrupt end of the conversation with Robotham. You didn’t spotlight the incident or make it stand out unduly. You left the reader with exactly the same sense that Ms. Stewart probably has about it, which helps in a subtle way to empathize even more. We are left only to speculate upon the significance of this relationship – perhaps that it is intended as a covert means to keep tabs on those who had been unwitting subjects of this mysterious project. It was a subtle side note, but I thought quite effective.

    Nicely done.

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