TWA #4 – Short Story “This Man” by Danny Brophy

this man by danny brophy

This being is called Karen. She travels on a cathedral of a star ship that cuts through black holes and circles quasars so close her ship should be smashed. I ignore the urge to tell her that her ship, while an astonishing piece of architecture, would never fly. This is her dream and I have no reason to tarnish her imagination.

She is alone on this ship. A wide cockpit looks out onto the void. Nebulas multicolored and complex slice through the main viewport like a crack in a wall. She sits calmly in her chair, reclined ever so slightly, the controls on auto-pilot.

I appear next to her. “You have travelled very far, Karen.”

She nods, although she does not glance toward me. How could she, with a view so magnificent, if apocryphal. “There’s nowhere else to go.”

I step in front of her. “There is always somewhere to go. Figuring out what your destination is, though, becomes what can define oneself, as long as you pick the correct destination.”

She smiles and looks at me. Recognition. Always, these beings look upon me as if they recognize me. “Thanks.”

The ship, the void, the nebula, all evaporate. I fall, briefly, through nothingness. I know not what direction.

This being is called Neal. He sits on a bed, his wrists torn open, though his skin glows healthy and virile. Blood oozes from his wounds. they should spurt in repeating gurgles. A four-legged beast, covered in scales and teeth and murder, lies supine upon the bedroom floor. A window displays a single tree against an orange sky.

The beast shudders. Its head heavily lifts from the carpeted floor. Neal leaps on the bed, blood spraying about. I shift slightly to avoid being hit, and step over the now-dead beast to the bed’s edge.

Neal continues his victorious leaping, a smile on him that would make my lips curl and show my teeth if I wanted them to. “Neal, congratulations.”

“Thanks,” he gasps, and we are in a kitchen, where an older woman yells in incoherent syllables at Neal. He ignores the yelling and says, “I’m still scared, man. I’m still really fucking scared and I don’t…I don’t…” He chokes on something.

I pat the space between his narrow shoulders. “Do you still fear everything because you have not done anything?”

The older woman goes silent, though her mouth continues moving, her face reddened from the exertion. Neal stops choking and turns to hug me. He makes sure to get a look at my face, my dreamface, before embracing me. He clings. I feel wetness blooming on my chest.

And I am falling in every direction again.

I walk through their dreams. How varied they are, those dreams these beings slip into when they sleep. Many creatures sleep; few dream, and not to the complex levels these particular beings do.

Sometimes, it is the most simple of expressions and platitudes and axioms that can turn these beings around. Often, I will sit and converse with one for the entire length of their dream, the background altering, the skies disappearing, the most random of characters and beings and creatures walking about. What I learn through several of these conversations is that some of these beings, these humans, remember these dreams as random bits of pabulum. Some believe these dreams have deep meaning, whereby were they to interpret these dreams, they could find an inner peace they so crave and lack.

Some I visit frequently. Some, I visit once, and they feel better about themselves. When they wake up, they might not consciously feel it, yet, somehow, their day burns a little brighter.

One being, one human, I go to every night. Her name is Ann. She is seven human years old. I enjoy her, because nothing troubles her. She does not inquire about who I am, and why I appear to her almost every night in her dreams. She is happy. The others, the other humans whose dreamscapes I traverse, the humans I speak to sporadically or frequently, the ails that infect their minds, they are not. It is why I, since I have discovered this world and its dominant inhabitants, have done nothing but study their dreams.

I discovered this young human while she ruled from a magnificent castle that floated above a cluster of villages. Stuffed animals, toys of human children, who all believed in their queen, populated these villages. She treated each animal as an equal to her. She saw me sitting beside one animal in the likeness of a bear, as she walked freely through the village’s streets, smiling and nodding at all those who she passed, hugging those who want to be hugged.

“What happened to your hair?” She giggles. She asks the question not to mock, but to know.

I say, “It ran from my head and went to my eyebrows.”

This elicits a burst of such laughter I have not heard a human make.

My appearance is that of a round head, balding on the top, wisps spanning the gulf between tufts of hair on each side. Thick eyebrows blackened and long. The body I use also has no real discernible features. I could change it from dreamer to dreamer, yet the expenditure of energy would render my travels almost impossible.

Since meeting Ann, my outlook on these beings grows from one of mild interest to complete awe. The human capacity for thought, for imagination, for dreams, outweighs any of the capabilities of not only the myriad creatures on their planet, but those of the countless worlds and star systems I have visited and observed. The human child’s mind knows no bounds of these capabilities. The more adult humans, while retaining some of that capacity, have long ago lost their will to freely dream due to the rigors of the lives they set themselves upon.

If only they knew how easy it would be to simply shake those shackles they attach to themselves, the psychic price they pay to just survive in their world.

There is a species, far from this Earth, that exists on a cold, dead planet. This planet long ago lost its home trapped in the gravitational pull of a massive star. I found this planet and observed, interested at the sheer physics and cosmic science that unleashed the planet into the void, and how a planet once teeming with life lost its ability to retain a proper ecosystem, and yet, continue to have life. Those organisms, smaller than an Earth cat, live off the ice encasing all that once was on the planet. They burrow deep to be near the cooling core. They have no language. No schools of complex thought.

I walked through their dreams and found a will and desire for what once was, and what will never be. Perhaps the planet will be caught by another star, perhaps the warmth will melt the ice, and these creatures can develop once more. Until that minor possibility occurs, these creatures remain locked in evolutionary ice.

The humans, though, how they dream. How they hope. Ann bursts with hope, with dreams. She talks about how much she loves going to school, how much she wants to grow up to be a scientist, although she knows it’s not good to think on that, and that she should live her life now. She does not put it like that.

With each visit, I feel a bit of me fade into the null. I have noticed this since my arrival to this planet.

One time as I walk, I search her, her kingdom. I cannot find her. I wait. I ignore other dreams, ignore even the ones who perhaps wait for me, for me to tell them that everything will be all right.

I cannot find Ann.

What passes for a day in human time goes by until I discover a woman. She stands in a bare room, white space growing out to infinity. She wears black clothing. Her head hangs. From behind, I see how her shoulders slump. How they tremble. I am about to leave when the trembling halts. She turns and sees me. Long black hair cascades around her face. Through the strands, I see tears. Copious tears she sheds and makes no effort to wipe away.

I have never seen a being, human or otherwise, so sad.

I leave the dream, leave her be. Another day passes. I keep regular visits with Karen, with Neal, with others. I have not found Ann. Has she grown up so fast? All humans dream. A few have told me how they do not remember their dreams. More few say of how they feel like they do not dream anymore.

I find the woman again. She stands in the same spot. Same white infinity. Same black clothing. Same trembling. She hears me, or senses me, and she turns again. Same hair. Same tears. Her eyes widen as she recognizes me. The tears stop. She shoves the hair aside her face.
“I’ve seen you.”

When I am recognized, I tell the humans that I am merely a dream. I could tell them the truth, and their minds could comprehend, even understand it, since it is all a dream. Despite the myriad times I could have, though, as I realize now while this woman looks upon me with such shock, that it never occurred to me to tell of my troubles to them. Say anything about me.

I walk through another’s dream, close by. A man. He runs through a burnt village. The smoke slithers toward an azure sky from crumbled buildings. He’s calling out incoherence. Desperation seeps his every movement. how he goes from building to building, stops his yelling, head darting around inside each building, searching. He enters an intact hut. I hear his calls. He tumbles out of the doorway.

I calmly approach the man. “Can I helpβ€””

“You.” He could do nothing else but stare. “You have to be here because of the drawing.” He rubs his eyes, says into his wrists, “I saw the drawing, that’s whyβ€””

I am falling. The man must have woken up.

The last time I saw Ann, she had led me around her queendom atop a flying tree. The villages and palace were nestled between two mountain ranges. Both ranges bristled with darkness and fire and menace. She pointed at one, and called it Mothramm. The other range was Daddario. Both held beings that had been at war with each other since the beginning of Ann’s reign. She told of how these realms had once been united, and gave each half their land to Ann and her stuffed people. Since then, war. Although, both groups kept vigilance of not involving Ann in their conflict.

A third human day passes. I encounter the woman in the white void again. She waits for me. Her eyes hold no tears. “Do you know where Ann is?”

I do not know what to say.

“It’s you. I’ve seen you. My husband’s seen you. Ann,” and her throat catches a sob, and suppresses it. “We need to know where she is. I have to find my little girl.”

I shake my head.

“She’s been missing three days.” She nears me. Something. “I don’t know what you are. I don’t care. Just, do you have her?”

I shake my head, a way humans say no.

“She knows you, she has pictures of you.” She has come close enough to grab me if she so desires. “All her drawings, you’re there. Every time. Same eyebrows. Same face.”

The concern for Ann outweighs the apparent need to explain to this woman that she has dreamed of me simply because of seeing Ann’s pictures. An explanation I am about to give her anyway, if only to placate her. “I saw you before I saw her pictures,” she says.

I say nothing. I have done too much. It is time for me to move on.

Yet…Ann.

“How could I dream you, and then see you in all these pictures my daughter drew?”

She no longer looks prepared to attack me. Now, she pleads silently.

I must explain.

“I am what you would call an alien. Long ago, my civilization and body disintegrated and mingled with the stardust that binds the universes. I have seen and studied many things beyond even my understanding at times. What you see before you is a construct of a nondescript human. My race did not dream. We did not even feel.”

Ann’s mother looks upon me with so many emotions and feelings that to enumerate them would take eons. Had I not known Ann, this display by her mother would have been convincing enough.

“Your daughter is a wonder of your species. Never have I encountered such a conflagration of the emotion happiness.”

I leave her in her void of white. To find her will take more energy than I am capable of. My travels and explorations, they are tiring, yet to enter into the subconsciousness of a being’s mind fatigues me to where even one such as I require rest. Each dream has its own tactile definition. A tangible element unique to the dreamer.

I search for her sense. Expand my consciousness. I have never attempted something at this magnitude before. I should fear this being the end of my self, possibly. At the least, though, I must find Ann, and make sure she is safe.

I now walk through all their dreams.

Every human dreaming this day. They dream of vistas. Of lovers. Of fights. Of losses. Of the unknown. Of those that came before them. Of worlds beyond their ken. They dream and dream.

I appear in all their dreams. To some, I stand before them, arms outstretched. Others see a simple man in a crowd, observing nothing, yet searching everywhere.

I am beside a murky pond. Daylight fights through thick leaves and branches. A sharp incline rises above the pond. A thin trail through the brush leads from the top of that incline to the edge of the pond. Along the edge of the pond is Ann.

She rests against a rotted tree stump, eyes fluttering, her lips mouthing mumbles. I am by her side.

I hear her mother, a scream across the expanse. “Where are you?” The scream reverberates in the dreams of all.

Ann coughs. Her body flickers and twinkles like a distant star. “I fell.” She opens her eyes, recognizes me. One arm reaches for me. The other sits against her stomach, bent at an angle human arms do not bend at. “My head hurts,” she says, and cries.

I try picking her up. She flitters between asleep and awake. This in-between is not a dream, and not her reality. She is gone from the world. I can do nothing there.

“I want Mommie.”

“I can save you.”

I can.

She sniffles. “Can you take me with you?”

I tell her I can. “You will still be able to see your Mommie, although, not in how you have seen her up to now. I can make you like me. You will be a thought, a memory, a dream, and you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are no bounds to where you can go. You can come with me, and then, you can go off on your own, and discover whatever you want.”

She manages a smile. Her body has nearly evaporated. The trees around us melt. The ground fades. The sunlight darkens. “I’ll come with you.”

I hold out my hand to her. “You have to try. Take my hand. Try to do it.”

She grunts and groans. Her arm strains as it reaches for mine.

It clasps around mine.

We fall in every direction. I feel everything that was me, everything that I have seen, seep through my hand and into hers. I fade. I fade and watch her become more. As I fade, and see her be alive again, and feel her mother’s dream fade and see in the world, that blue world Earth, Mom and Dad hugging Ann, and Ann, so young and full of dreams and imagination, who will have the whole universe to experience when she is ready, as I fade, I experience a human emotion, one that is alien to my dead race.

I am happy.

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15 Comments

  1. Beautiful. I vote for this piece.

  2. Compelling and beautiful.

  3. I vote for this one.

  4. Woah. That was perfect. And amazing. And totally not what I expected from this prompt. Good work man. It’s been a while since a story made me feel like that. It was just beautiful.

  5. Beautifully written. My favorite part is that which captures the much too frequent calamity of adulthood; the enthusiasm and spirit so strong in childhood being slowly diminished…

  6. I feel bad for CM this week as, Danny, you have pretty much nailed a perfect short story. That’s not easy to do in a ten day time-frame and now we’ll all be expecting nothing but awesomeness out of you so no pressure.
    Seriously though this story just flowed from the get-go. I was transported to this dream world instantly with no qualms or distractions. The opening bits where the adults are struggling and trying so hard struck me on some very deep levels. The introduction of Ann, just a bit at first, then more and more time spent with her as the story goes on was very well done. I knew she was a main character just from our narrator’s reaction, yet she didn’t come plowing into the story and knock everything else away. We were allowed to learn about her at a natural pace.
    From there on out I basically wavered between wanting to stop reading (kids in trouble is not a subject I handle well) and NEEDING to keep reading because I was so worried about Ann.
    This was touching, complex, smart, covered a huge range for a short story and, something I think should be the goal of all art, it was beautiful.

    Well done. My vote is for this story.

  7. Don’t feel bad, Mr. Devon. πŸ™‚ I’m thrilled that I got such positive feedback on a story which was obviously out of the norm for TWE! As always, I had no expectations but to challenge the status quo. I ‘d say I was successful. πŸ™‚

    Congratulations on a universal and poetic story, Mr. Brophy.

  8. First things first, I’m voting for this one.

    I thought it was a fascinating concept, following this godlike creature, the last remnant of a lost civilization as he walked through people’s dreams. I especially liked the fact that “this man” wasn’t a malevolent entity in this story. I’ve been to thisman.org and it creeped me right out, so to see an approach that isn’t based in horror surprised me.
    The theme of loneliness and loss ran through the story very consistently from beginning to end and the concept of traveling into all these incredibly weird and disparate dreams really drew me in.
    My only criticism would have to be that the story didn’t push as hard or cut as deep as I would have liked. It never quite made me FEEL what it must be like to be alone in this being’s universe, the pain of being able to touch the deepest lives of others every night and yet never making a true connection with any of them. Put that in, and you elevate this story from good to great.
    Overall, great work.

  9. Pingback: TWA #4 – This Man – JUDGEMENT DAY!! - The Writer's Arena

  10. Can I be memorialized as the only contestant to get zero votes (so far)? I’d like to be remembered for something… πŸ˜‰

    • In the annals of our history, we might remember this fact. Like a fight announcer talking about an obscure record of the days of old. I think it has more to do with getting people up to vote. Well over triple digit per story reads and only a few comments cropped up. We need to get the crowd participation angle a little more established πŸ™‚

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