Bini befriended

Following abandonment by his mother, I carried Bini, the newborn calf, to a holding pen across the farm where we could manage his first few weeks.  He needed regular feedings, monitoring, interaction, and most importantly, he needed to bond with his adoptive mother—which would be me—the latter being paramount in order for him to rejoin the herd.

A portrait of Bini, our abandoned calf (20130315_05611)

He enjoyed warm milk four times each day in increasing amounts, but food represented only a fraction of what he needed.  Like all kids, he required play, time to investigate the world, time to lounge away from his hay bed, affection, a sense of safety and belonging, and a plethora of simple needs his mother would usually provide.

Except his mother had abandoned him, rejected him in favor of her second calf, Bini’s twin.  So it fell on me to fulfill his early needs and desires, to be his Mr. Mom as it were.

Though we had four scheduled feedings, I also visited him many other times throughout each day to give him time outside the isolation pen where he slept (and that kept him safe both from the outside world and from potential harm or escape from the holding pen).  We played, we explored, we bonded.

Our abandoned calf Bini with his tongue sticking out (20130315_05623)

Sometimes I would just sit on the ground and let him rest his head in my lap as he slept.  Sometimes I would stand back and let him meander about investigating the world.

Our abandoned calf Bini sniffing straw on the ground (20130315_05637)

And sometimes I would have him follow me around so I could force him to face challenges, obstacles like walking across uneven ground and meeting the horse and donkey through the fence.

Our abandoned calf Bini with our horse and donkey in the background (20130315_05622)

I even had to teach him how to pee and poop.  Human children do these things automatically, but many mammalian young need guidance the first time, help getting the plumbing going if you will.

As children will be children, however, a great deal of our time was spent in play.  Great gamboling gobs of play.

Our abandoned calf Bini running around the holding pen (20130315_05650)
Our abandoned calf Bini running around the holding pen (20130315_05651)
Our abandoned calf Bini running around the holding pen (20130315_05652)

Whether after feeding or play or just spending time together, he eventually would return to his hay bed in the isolation pen, sometimes willingly and sometimes by me carrying him (a progressively difficult task).

Our abandoned calf Bini lying in his hay bed (20130315_05662)

Despite feeling heartbroken at the begging sound of his young bellowing voice as I walked away, I knew I’d return.  And so did he.

In the end, we had bonded solidly and I had become his Mr. Mom, trusted entirely, sought after for food as much as for folly and welfare, loved by a young calf less than two weeks old.

A close-up of our abandoned calf Bini as he looks at me (20130315_05653)

Thus we came to Bini’s most daunting challenge to date—relocation to the main pasture and reintroduction to the herd, including his estranged mother and sibling.

Ten days following his birth and after ten days of me bonding with him, I felt he was ready for Bini’s big adventure.

Not just cows

I told my family a month ago that they were here, that they were in the pasture, that they were holding their ground.

Only I hadn’t seen more than two adults.  Though, admittedly, I knew what they were up to, where they’d be, what they had planned.

And I’d never seen them so early, at least not like this, at least not like before, in June.

This is March, right?  Besides, it was late February when I first spied them.

Yet despite my feeling that it was too early, they proved me wrong.  Very wrong.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) eggs (20130320_05732)

For that’s what I discovered a few weeks ago.  In the pasture.  With the cows.

Nest.  Eggs.  Life forthcoming.

“There are no eggs,” I declared, “because it’s too soon, too early.”

Oh, but I was wrong.

And whose nest is it?

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) on a nest (20130320_05743)

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), of course.

Today I almost stepped on it, at least before I was turned away by abrupt and loud diversions right at my feet.  Trust me: I mean right at my feet.

I was close enough to kick the bird, to step on the eggs.  For I’d forgotten precisely where the nest hid.

But they reminded me.  They always remind me.

So along with calves less than two weeks old, we have a vibrant killdeer nest two months earlier than I’d expect.

Two months earlier than I’ve ever seen.

In Texas.

But no worries.  My family—my father especially—wants to ensure the birds aren’t bothered.  I’m the only one who’d bother them since I’m the only one who understands them.

Still, there’s much excitement here on the farm given this new source of life, this new family, this new pleasure in small things.

So I’m watching them.  And waiting.  Like before.

Because I know how they are.  I know what they plan.  I know what they wish to create.

I’m watching.  And waiting.  Like before.

Because this show is worth patience.

Bini’s beginning

We first saw him standing in the pasture, no more than ten minutes old.

A newborn calf only ten minutes old (20130311_05564)

But he was not alone.  On the contrary, the herd had moved in to protect the little one, guards in vigilant service to protect the least among them.

A newborn calf surrounded by members of the herd (20130311_05563)

Yet we wondered where his mother was.  As each heifer approached the calf, they would sniff each other, and the youngster would try feeding from them.  And in response, each gently pushed him away while remaining nearby to protect him.

A newborn calf touching noses with an adult cow (20130311_05573)

It didn’t take long to find the little guy’s mother.  She’d had twins and had moved some distance away with the second calf.

Cows aren’t very bright in the scheme of things, thus when one gives birth to more than one calf, they often don’t realize the firstborn is also their offspring.  Instead they bond with the last calf born, leaving the first to fend for itself.

A heifer with her newborn calf (20130311_05588)

So in the end, the young bull was abandoned by his mother, left alone in the big bad world, rejected only because he came first and she didn’t realize he was as much her child as the second twin she so carefully groomed and fed and protected.

There he lay, finally giving up on food and affection from the other cows, finally giving up on finding his mother, finally giving up.

A newborn calf lying in the pasture (20130311_05581)

What to do then?

Well, quite obviously we needed to take on the role his mother declined.  Hence I adopted him, became his Mr. Mom, and I’ve been tending to him since.

Today he’s five days old, and boy howdy is he full of personality and energy.

Oh.  I named him Bini.  It’s Latin and means “two at a time.”

[more of Bini’s adventures and progress in coming posts]

Manuscript, chapter 10

From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the tenth chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel.  (Reformatted for web presentation).  This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.

— — — — — — — — — —

A coin flips into the air, lands, flips again. Cold oozes over me and pools on my bare chest and legs, bleeds through my shorts and presses on my skin. Something brushes against a nearby window.

“No more deferments, Mr. Crichton, for the hour grows late. Time has become too meager for your self-deceptions.”

I keep my eyes closed and think to myself, What in hell is this? Haven’t I already come to terms with this crap? I know your secret name, buried memories, so you’re disarmed. Stop tormenting me with these tedious nightmares.

Chills run up and down my spine. Something scrapes against the window immediately to my left.


The coin flips continuously, deftly, never missed and rhythmically thumped skyward a breath after landing.

The room feels icy, shivers settling over me with frigid intent.

Thump! Something leans heavily against the window at the far end of the room.

“Humans are blind to a thing that is near enough and large enough, Mr. Crichton.”

“The forest for the trees.” I keep my eyes closed.

“Indeed. You however are the Untouched, Mr. Crichton, and you perceive both the forest and the trees while others cannot. We are out of time. You must confront that which is both proximate and substantial. Now, Mr. Crichton.”

Such authority in the voice, his voice, the sound of that formless thing my mind seems to know about without letting me in on the secret. A nameless shape speaks the words, a numinous power that should scare the hell out of any who hear it.

He’s not just unreal, he’s inhuman.

“Quite accurate, Mr. Crichton, but let us not incommode ourselves with inconsequential appellations or misemploy seconds endeavoring to explicate that which disavows elucidation. Open your eyes, Mr. Crichton. NOW!

I rocket into a seated position and my eyes launch open. Gooey blackness drenches the sunroom, sheeting and dripping outside the windows, a wet impenetrable lightless fog billowing and roiling with liquid intensity, carrying with it countless pairs of fiery eyes so crimson they seem bathed in flaming blood.


Along three glass walls shapes of protean abominations too horrible to look at slither and stumble and rasp and stare, each a thing nature could never design, each a horrible incarnation of everything that cannot exist, each fading in and out of the ebony abyss around it, each made of darkness. They emanate a malignant hatred as their eyes bore into my being.

They’re hunters, these things, and I’m the hunted. They would have me for dinner but I would not be a guest.

“Indeed they are hunters, Mr. Crichton, predators of those who dream. Nevertheless you need not experience trepidation. You are the Untouched. They cannot injure you. Though you must comprehend this is their world, thus while you are in attendance you can perceive them. They will utilize that datum against you, attempt to fracture your sometimes tenuous embrace on reality by wielding terror.”

“They’re doing a pretty damn good job of scaring me,” I say with a bit too much childish complaint in my voice.

I’m almost whining. It’s unbecoming.

Those eyes. Those innumerable ruby eyes lit from within. Were I on the screened or open porch, I would have pissed my pants already. This new experience doesn’t compare to the previous dreams. Malice comes from the seething darkness, iciness seeping through the windows. And they hunger, those baleful things out there, those raven grotesqueries trying to take shape and pressing against the windows, those monstrous … those monstrous monsters. They offend me because they offend the universe.

Look at them licking their chops as they size me up. They have me completely trapped within my little glass world. But it’s not my world. No, he—the unnamable he—said this is their world. I’m in their world. And they despise me.

Avoiding the windows as much as possible I ask, “So who are you? What are they? Where is this? If time’s so important, maybe I need some answers.”

“Many of the remedies you seek you already possess, Mr. Crichton.”

Thump! Against the window next to me.

If eyes are windows to the soul, this demon peers into the depths of my being, the darkness’ own Peeping Tom. I do not want to look into those eyes yet cannot look away for fear it will interpret the move as a sign of weakness or an opportunity to act. Despite its nearness, confusion reigns when I try to focus on and comprehend the body that owns the horrible and death-filled flames that glare back at me from the empty nothingness beyond the glass. A terrible shape, a formless monstrosity, a vile and horrible thing.

I look away, I look into the room, and I ask of the coin-flipping voice, “What am I supposed to call you? Give me something to work with here.”

“You may call me Mr. Coin.”


In the corner of the room across from where I sit—nay, not sit, but where I cringe and cower on the couch hoping to wake up soon—in the opposite corner an eldritch form rests against the wall. This does not belong in my sunroom. I glare at it, trying not to notice movement outside, trying not to hear unmentionable things moving against the walls and windows, trying not to wonder what might happen if those dark things break the glass.

That form in the corner. Perhaps a white tee shirt. Definitely short sleeves. Blue pants. Jeans? Possibly. Nondescript shoes, probably sneakers but could be deck shoes. Hell, could be galoshes for what it’s worth. This thing is taking shape, it, him, Mr. Coin if you will.

“We have already established you are a visionary, Mr. Crichton, an imaginer of tales, a servant of words, so tell me what an avatar is.” The form continues solidifying, mist coagulating into fog, into a dense wall of blinding condensation.

Yes, definitely an unembellished white tee shirt. And yes, definitely blue jeans. And three for the score! Sneakers.

“An avatar is a god in bodily form. It’s a physical theophany, that which is without form taking unto itself a form.”

Inside the clothes, a man. He’s young, average looking, maybe twenty or twenty-five, but no older than that. His hair is white as snow, the peroxide look of the 1980s, but he wears it shorn close to the scalp which makes the unnatural color more apparent. Because he has skin the color of caramel. Beautiful, smooth, healthy looking skin. And frighteningly luminous.


And he’s flipping a coin. Repeatedly. Without looking and without missing a catch or a beat.

“Mr. Coin, huh? Banal, but it’s your avatar. Does that mean you’re related to Mr. Hat?”

“I am not your encyclopedia, Mr. Crichton. Let you and I minister to the concerns at hand.”

“Sure, let’s do that. Let’s start with an explanation for what’s happening.”

I shiver, the chill deep and penetrating. The billowing abhorrence outside transforms me into a piece of food on display.

I’m a lobster sitting in the tank at the entrance of a seafood restaurant awaiting the next customer to identify me as their meal. I’m a desperate animal wanting to live, yet this room offers me up as an unintentional entreaty to eat me.

Eyes … They surround me. They stare as they slowly change positions with each other, a bizarre waltz performed by the voracious dead that contain them. They consume me without being near enough to do so. They scare the hell out of me.

They must be the Dreamdarkers, and damn me for taking her story and filling in the details on my own.

“You are the Untouched, the appointed visionary, he who dreams in the light. The nameless cannot injure you. But you alone are safe from the lightless, Mr. Crichton, and no other.”

“What is the Untouched?”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, you are the Untouched, Mr. Crichton. You are he who stands liberated from Dominion, the sole mortal insusceptible to the gods and the power they wield.”

Nodding toward the glass walls I snidely respond, “Okay, sure. That’s nice. And what are they?”

“They possess no name. You call them Dreamdarkers. That epithet will suffice.”

“But what are they?”

His form looks solid. He leans in the corner against the rough-hewn lightly-stained pine walls. His eyes shine with a penetrating blue of crystal clarity. They contain a depth and wisdom that fail to match his young ordinary looks. When his eyes meet mine, I feel him as much as see him. They contain the same depthless, ancient, otherworldly wisdom I see in Mr. Hat.

Oh, and those are blue Converse high-tops on his feet. All-Stars if I’m not mistaken. How anachronistic. His appearance seems drawn from the 1950s, the punk kid riding around in his ’57 Chevy, flames painted on the sides, pack of cigarettes tucked in one of the rolled short sleeves of his white cotton tee shirt.


Mr. Coin also flips a coin with obsessive frequency and machine precision.

“The nameless are thoughts who dwell in the dreamworld, who see mortals as anathema. They are the lucifugous foes of he who dreams in the light. The Dreamdarkers represent the opening salvo, Mr. Crichton, the advanced guard dispatched to initiate a war.”

“What war?”

“The war against humanity.”

A chilliness knifes through me, this one unrelated to the insufferable cold spilling through the windows from the darkness outside. I shiver. Horripilation explodes along the back of my neck, hair dutifully standing at attention, a primal response from our feral days when our ancestors had to fluff up to look bigger, a way to face a threat, a response we see in animals these days but which evolution translated for us into a primitive warning system that tells us we know danger is afoot.

“As the Untouched you alone can endure what comes, Mr. Crichton. You are the visionary, he who dreams in the light, destined to dip your quill in the substance of the universes and write mortal future on the parchment of time. You alone can see beyond what is too large to see. You alone can bear witness and find within what you see the wisdom to guide mortals to safety. Or to watch them shrivel and die. You alone can face Dominion and remain unmoved by its force.”

“Conundrums don’t clarify.”

My response sounds caustic. I find myself growing pissed and frustrated. It stems from withering fear, for deep inside me in places I have never traveled, places where the shadows remain too deep to penetrate, a burgeoning sense of understanding lights up, a certainty, a revelation. An epiphany.


Occasionally from a murky realm of thought akin to genetic memory, intuition provides innate knowledge no human can contain, a natural understanding of the hidden and the obscured. It contains no information taught but instead burgeons with secret intelligence. From its impenetrable gloom timely illumination shines. This thing, this shapeless being who calls himself Mr. Coin, he comes from beyond—Well, not beyond a place so much as beyond everything. He represents that which we cannot name, that which has no name, that which takes unto itself the form it wishes, an avatar. The power behind the avatar is greater and more mysterious than any we humans have dared imagine.

He scares me. Him and Mr. Hat.

“The war against humanity commences, Mr. Crichton. Will you clash on behalf of your race? Will you pen the future on behalf of mortals? You are the Untouched. The fate of universes now rests in your hands.”

I cry anew, this time not from emotional turmoil related to Beth. These tears come from unmitigated terror, a fear so palpable it freezes me to the couch. The weeping comes from an overwhelming sense of hate for this thing, this Mr. Coin and his lofty proclamations of destiny. They come from lack of doubt in his words.

“I don’t believe in fate. It’s the refuge of the servile unwilling to chart their own course. You’re full of hokum, Mr. Coin.”

My words sound empty. The not-man in the corner flips his coin and simultaneously stares at me and through me. He represents a great and terrible threat. The things outside fear him while they drip with overflowing animosity toward me. The scales over my eyes of remembrance slip away, revealing more truth buried somewhere in the wreckage of my past, buried not by forgetfulness but by force. For I do not forget anything. Ever.


A new sound forces me to look away from Mr. Coin, to look toward the windows. Such a noise has never before reached my ears. Acrid, painful, loud and thunderous, the sound of the universe ripping asunder.

“We no longer enjoy the luxury of moments to squander, Mr. Crichton. This is, as I said, their world. Though I find conversing with you delightful and entertaining, your sometimes-plodding mentation represents a tiresome incongruity. Neither of us can afford such intermittent obtuseness.”

My ears will surely bleed. The assaulting sound has become so grave and intense that I slam my hands over the sides of my head. But the horrible din enters my mind anyway. It comes from this place, it defines this place, it is this place.

At the far end of the room glass bubbles and bends, an obscene image, some giant malformed infant trying to break through the window’s placental walls. It looks almost fluid, melted plastic stretching and bulging. Behind it, pushing against it, trying to pierce it, outside the window an obsidian mass of inexpressible ferocity, a foul fire-eyed fiend made of blackness that defies comprehension with its limitless depth.

More disturbing than raven pestilence filled with glowing jewel eyes, more disturbing than hearing that dreadful sound that surely represents that thing trying to tear a hole in reality so it can climb through the fabric of the world into my sunroom, more terrible than listening to Mr. Coin and realizing I must hear him and have faith in him no matter how much I do not want to … More frightening than those things and more disturbing than the overriding impression of dread and hopelessness that threatens to suffocate me, a new sound invades me and freezes my tears to my face with unadulterated horror.

From out there in the darkness, from that writhing mass of abyssal death that takes shape at will, I finally hear them, the bane, the Dreamdarkers. Distant yet real. Children singing. Oh but they do not sing. Chanting perhaps. Oh but they do not chant. The unbearable noise violates me, abuses me, sullies me. It is them, it is the Dreamdarkers, it is the end of the world.

My mind wrestles with voices welling in the background. A chorus of voices. Children’s voices. Yes, definitely children. Definitely chanting and singing a regurgitated horror. Definitely wounding me with words. The dissonance pains and defiles. It cuts and pierces. Their voices vandalize.


Above the growing clamor Mr. Coin says, “The universes resound with the music of existence, Mr. Crichton. It comes from all voices, from all places, from all times. It can sound like all things and like no things. It can sound like flowers blooming in the first warm breath of spring. It can sound like the whisper of a breeze through summer grass. It can sound like a thousand waterfalls rumbling in the distance. It can sound like the promise of change that comes with winter’s end.”

Their voices faint, I hear them without question. Children. The most awful, terrible, frightening children imaginable. Their words fade in and out, sometimes overshadowed by the rending, stretching, trying-to-break-through tearing of the world’s fabric that emanates from the end of the room.

We are pleasure’s anguish
And pain’s desire

Mr. Coin begins fading, as if seen through rime on a window. I don’t want him to go, not now, not when I want this to end. Yet I can’t stop watching the unnatural pushing through taking place at the far end of the room. The glass and wood distend and stretch and ripple, things these materials cannot do together. That thing, that shadow made flesh, that demonic filth has almost forced its way into the room. No more than a few seconds remain before it and its ilk pour through the barrier and fill this space.

We bring death to hope
And end of days

“But when the Dreamdarkers sing it, the melody is the sound of teeth tearing through flesh. They are the vanguard, Mr. Crichton, those sent to pave the way for what follows.”

He continues dwindling, now a vague impression of what was, a reminder that once a man—an avatar—stood in the corner flipping a coin, looking nonchalant, the revenant of James Dean who gives no thought to what presses against the windows. He fades and I can’t say a thing to stop him.

Those voices. That thing coming through—

Oh God, it’s almost inside, the glass stretched beyond imagination, the buttery wood rippling and sizzling, Oh Jesus Christ it’s getting through, it’s tearing through, I’m going to die.

We are the first blow
We are the wedge in the doorway
We are the army of your flesh
We are the crushing fist of the gods
We are legions of hate
And cruel uncare

“Dominion is the volume of that song, Mr. Crichton, and you are its composer.”


Fear paralyzes me. I accept my fate. Not the one Mr. Coin spoke of, but the terrible future I will experience when that thing breaks through. And when the voices reach me, tear me up from the inside out, consume me. I will die here in this nightmare, this nightmare made manifest in the darkest ways, this nightmare bursting with lightless malevolence. I will die at the hands of the Dreamdarkers.

“Reflect upon the future you wish to write, Mr. Crichton.”

His voice remains barely audible. I no longer see him in the corner. I no longer see a hint of what once stood there.

He’s leaving me. Deserting me.

“Consider the song you wish to hear. You are the Untouched. You alone can decide who sings loudest and what words their chorus brings. We will speak again, Mr. Crichton. Soon.”


He’s gone. I’m alone. The noise has grown deafening, the wall and windows now draping the dark beast with silky precision, existence stretched thin over its terrible, horrible, unmentionable self.

Pulled to its limits, the universe rips wide open. And a bloodcurdling scream rends the darkness as it pours over me.


The scream keeps flowing from my mouth when I jerk awake and leap from the couch. In the sunroom. Unscathed. Shaking uncontrollably.

Stippled morning sunlight shines through the windows. I blink repeatedly trying to wipe away the mist of tears, trying to wash away the fog of sleep, trying to comprehend where I am and when I am.

The scream dies on my lips—finally—though my trembling continues unabated. I glance around, but mostly my eyes yank back to the far wall, the windows, the place where some appalling and indescribable thing broke through a moment before.

No, that was a nightmare. Wasn’t it? It’s not real. It wasn’t real. Nothing came through. Nothing ripped into this world from the dark hell on the other side.

Thoughts do not convince my body. Tremors slowly subside until I stand rigid, yet palpable fear courses through every fiber of my being. Nothing—naught in the history of the world—has so terrorized me. In my years of diving deep into creativity to dredge up the next frightful vision, never have I discovered anything so overwhelming, so … so unimaginable.

I wipe sweat from my brow as it drips into my eyes. It drenches me from head to toe, my bare torso sodden and my shorts pasted to skin with the sour musk of terror.

The laptop sits quietly on the table. A half-empty beer bottle rests next to it. An empty pie wrapper gently seesaws on the floor where currents from the ceiling fans blow it to and fro. The world looks precisely as it should appear.

Or is it? Do we know the real world so we can juxtapose that with our perceptions in order to find where our understanding falters?

No eyes surround the house. No gentle, firm, young male voice speaks from the corner where an avatar named Mr. Coin once appeared. No impalpable monstrosity made of shadow digs through the fabric of the cosmos trying to reach me in my sunroom.

Morning light reveals the same world night covered when I passed out on the sofa. And yet I can feel the presences that shared this space with me, I can smell a hint of control, and the tinkling chorus of children’s voices echoes inside my head.

How can such blameless voices embody such wickedness, such malign force? How can children’s voices produce such intolerable anguish, such emotional suffering? How can those voices make me feel so abused and raped and filthy and disgusted?

That scream, primitive and brutal, a man disemboweled, a man dismembered, a man in the throes of his own murder. Remembering it sends a shudder through me.

That sound came from me. From me …

I keep expecting to hear the coin flip through the air, the slap as it alights on skin, the sharp hint of a fingernail sending it heavenward one more time.

It was a dream. A dream. Just a dream.

My thoughts give no salve. William Dement once wrote in Newsweek, “Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.” He has no idea.

My dreams—No, my nightmares do not feel safe. Does this constitute losing one’s mind? These experiences more than discomfort me.

Having come to a clear understanding of the previous dreams, my uneasiness with the third one greatly exacerbates the apprehension I laid to rest. Orders of magnitude worse than the previous two, its severity took on a life of its own. It came flying in from left field with no warning and smacked me upside the head with unbelievable potency.

Some part of me continues feeling the pain of the voices. They cut me, wounded me with their soulless stabbing.

Hannibal the Cannibal whispering until I swallow my tongue would sound like Gregorian chanting in comparison. Those children were worse, more painful, more threatening. More vandalizing. More real.

How completely out of touch with reality it left me, how threatened in the relative security of my own sunroom on a perfectly normal day.

Our assumed ontologies have changed. No, more fundamental than that. While our theories of existence indeed suffered cataclysmic alteration such that it leaves us reeling, the change comes at the behest of reality itself, which pulled away the veil to show its true face, a terrifying, beautifully insidious visage hiding behind the perceived safety of its disarming smile.

Perhaps the sleeping sickness does start this way. That would explain why investigators have discovered no predictive symptoms. No one would report the insanity that clutches the mind. No one would report the tangible sense of an artificial world ripped away to reveal the horrible truth hiding beneath. No one would admit how violated and adulterated they feel afterword, how soiled the soul and how mangled the mind seem in the aftermath.

The collective experience leaves me transformed. By dreams, by nightmares. The old ersatz world passed away while I slept. I now stand cognizant of, if still unfamiliar with, a whole new world a hell of a lot meaner and nastier than the old one, a place where nature is not indifferent and unrelenting but instead is a vicious mean-spirited bitch with a painful backhand she dishes out unstintingly. And she very much dislikes us. That vile truth explains the terrible thing I now begin to understand, the essence of this new reality which represents the real reality illuminated.

Okay, let’s put it on the line. This is real. This is happening. If I’m not coming down with SACSS, if this isn’t how the illness starts, then the pieces slowly fall into place and they indicate the shit’s about to hit the fan. Dreamdarkers. Mr. Coin. The Untouched. Visionary. A war against humanity.

And what about Mr. Hat? Coincidence or no? At this point, I vote against coincidence. Those for signal with aye. Good. Those opposed signal with nay. Nay! And the nays carry it. Not a coincidence.

Contemplation cannot deter horror. Something terribly wrong has unhidden itself. Maybe they are nightmares, but they represent more than that. Something in those sleepy places has as much reality as the floor upholding my drenched body. The sleeping sickness fails to explain it because one clue exists in the real world—Mr. Hat. He clearly demonstrates out here that the things in dreams can be the same as the things in the physical realm.

“‘All men do not dream equally, Mr. Crichton,’ he said. No, definitely not a coincidence. So what else did he say? Come on, David Allen Crichton, think!”

I scratch my scalp absently in thought, my hand coming away soaked with heavy sweat. At least the shaking stopped.

“Things aren’t always what they seem.”

Carrying on a vocal conversation with myself bothers me not one iota. In fact, it helps in some small way, perhaps giving me a chance to regain authority over the mayhem of head and heart while distracting me from the severity of what happened.

“Yes, he said that. ‘Things are not always what they seem,’ he said. But what does that mean? That sometimes a dream is more than a dream? Sure, that makes sense. He was warning me not to take for granted what might once have been regarded as a bad nightmare. Or did he mean that what seems like more than a dream is just a dream, perchance a nightmare, but nothing more than that? Crap on a cracker!

“No, wait a minute. He said a visionary dreams in the light—Mr. Coin said the same thing—a visionary dreams in the light whereas most people dream in the dark, and the dark can’t be fought with the dark. ‘And darkness cannot stand against darkness.’ Right, okay, that’s what he said. And something about those who dream by day—in the light like a visionary—wield strength. Potent strength.

“This is totally screwed up!”

I shake my head, drops of perspiration flying. No interpretation can deny Mr. Hat’s involvement. The world does not conform to the idea we hold and peril lurks right around the corner. Mr. Coin implied time has run out. “No more deferments,” he said.

“Oh, and no problem on self-deception, you vaporous tease! We’re on the same page now.

“A war against humanity …”

There’s something else. Those voices, the singing, the children’s chorus straight from the Village of the Damned. The Dreamdarkers, they said something. What was it?

“Christ on a crutch.” The words roll out breathless and weak.

“Mr. Coin said a war against humanity. They said, ‘We are the first blow.’ The vanguard of an assault? The first wave. The opening salvo. Mr. Coin called the Dreamdarkers that.

“They’re starting a war. A war against humanity. But starting a war for whom? Come on, memory, shake off fatigue and fear and give me all you got—”

My eyes grow wide and a spike of terror pierces me. My breath catches, my heart skips a beat and I begin shaking. “Oh no … ‘We are the crushing fist of the gods.'”

— — — — — — — — — —

Note that this is the last part of the novel to be posted—at least for now.  This represents a sixth of the novel and half of its first part.  I decided to share this much because it demonstrates the novel as a whole while also ending with identifying the challenge faced in the novel and the series it starts.

Manuscript, chapter 9

From the unedited manuscript, herein lies the ninth chapter from The Breaking of Worlds I: The Wedge in the Doorway, my first novel.  (Reformatted for web presentation).  This is posted as much for your review as it is for your comment—good or bad.

— — — — — — — — — —

After THE END lands in the document, a quick read-through and cleanup identifies a few mistakes here and there. Some details change along the way, a few tidbits succumb to deletion and a few tidbits appear in strategic locations, minor grammatical oversights get remedied, and residual artifacts from stream-of-consciousness outpouring vanish into the digital bit bucket. Compassion in Annihilation’s Caress hovers on the laptop’s hard drive in as complete a form as I can make it while getting it to Brody a day late.

I’m nothing if not consistent.

The document weighs in at a hefty 1,350 pages. While not my longest novel, it certainly counts as a hefty book by any measure. Copyediting and conversion ratios notwithstanding, the final tome should measure in at about 1,000 pages. That seems appropriate given the content’s depth.

Final versions of the document save to the laptop and to Carr Beholden’s digital library. Always keep backups. Another lesson Beth taught me.

I close the portable computer and set it aside. Still in the corner of the sunroom, I drink the last bit of ice water. The half-empty bottle of ale rests on the nearby table.

Ignoring considerations of the hour because the time does not matter, I nestle back on the couch to enjoy the blanketing night. Moonlight reflects clearly on the surface of the lake. Its glassy sheet of water offers little motion in the stillness. No wind blows and no cloud mars the sky.

Further manhandling the manuscript threatens to engage me; no one finishes a poem or a novel, but rather they abandon them lest they spend the rest of their days tinkering with something they can never complete. So I divert my thoughts as much to avoid that as to avoid facing the fact that I completed another book without Beth’s arms to embrace me afterward. Though not overwhelming, that thought nevertheless strikes a lonely chord.

The accomplishment pleases me as much as I felt pleased when finishing Are You Taking Desperation’s Call? mere months after she died, but it had grown halfway to adulthood before that fateful day. Afterward, however, it took almost twelve months of Herculean effort to finish Twilight Insurrection, my thirteenth novel and the first one entirely written after becoming a widower.

It’s too gloomy, I thought at the time. I pride myself in writing dark, unpredictable, twisted narratives that keep the reader guessing until the end, often discovering the last page reveals few answers, yet Twilight represented a completely different animal, something dredged up from the bottomless pit of my aching soul, a fictional work based on real pain. It came from me as catharsis in its inherent loneliness. I had expected the book to fail, perhaps because it seemed darker than my other works or maybe because it seemed too different. Imagine my surprise when it sold better than any of my previous works. And now riding its coattails comes Compassion in Annihilation’s Caress, a compromise between the spirits of what I wrote before Beth died and what I write now.

While writing Twilight Insurrection and Compassion, I feared dragging the stories through repressed despair and thereby shooting my career in the hand—shooting a writer in the foot is inconsequential unless his hands are already crippled. To my surprise, the quality of my novels remained high—remains high—and they do not drip melodrama bleeding through from personal life.

My creative works forever delve into lightless places where demons reign and the powerful use people as pawns on cosmic chess boards, places where sometimes only the bad survive since they wield greater power and sharper intellects than the good.

Because, damn it, the good don’t always win. Look at real life if you want proof.

These stories represent places where the worst can happen since in real life bad things do happen. Compassion and the thirteen books before it do not use gratuitous ickiness or farcical horror. They yank readers into the darker side of life, taking commonly accepted ideas and beating them profusely with sinister realities in which human understandings prove meaningless.

So following a traumatic loss and a major upending of life, part of me feels pangs of guilt for continued success. Maybe I stumbled insomuch as it took me longer to complete Twilight Insurrection than it normally would have taken. Otherwise, though, life goes on; Beth’s death freed me to move on, freed within me nothing more noisome or destructive than fitful sadness, a touch of lonesomeness from time to time, a tolerable and expected hint of melancholy if memories surface at the wrong moment.

However, that horrible loss has not driven my work to greater heights in the marketplace by awakening abyssal parts of my soul; it has not smothered my tempo or abilities either.

How can anyone feel at ease knowing their spouse died so horribly without causing major upset to the one left behind, that day by day time marched on and life moved forward and the deprivation became history?

Success included, I take comfort in the new me, the post-Beth me. The me of our marriage did not discompose me and neither did the me prior to meeting her. I miss her, sure, miss what we had and what we shared and what we became together, but I am not a glum loser, not a rundown miserable slacker who cries every night and most of every day. Life must move on, this I believe, for time takes everything and we can either wallow in that misery wasting our days or we can step forward to live.

But survivor’s guilt can be a bitch. If you’re not sulky a lot and if you smile more readily than you frown, it feels almost as if you didn’t learn something important from death.

“Holy cow!” I yell while sitting upright on the couch. Shock glows from the face reflected by nearby windows, mouth hanging open and eyes wide.

Thinking of her in an attempt not to think of her gave rise to a memory impossibly forgotten until now, another memory I should have already remembered, another inexplicably lost historical fact in a mind that forgets naught and enjoys full-text-indexed-database access to everything ever recorded.

My heart races and my breathing increases dramatically as imagery floods into my conscious mind.

Where is this stuff hiding? And why?


Beth rested next to me with her head on my chest as she read from a vintage copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. We often snuggled in bed, each with a book, spending hours reading before finally succumbing to lust or fatigue, or both in that order.

Glancing over her chestnut hair straight down the line of her nose, the book propped open on her flat tummy caught my eye. I looked at a random section of the page.

O trumpeter, methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest,
Thou melt’st my heart, my brain—thou movest, drawest, changest
     them at will;
And now thy sullen notes send darkness through me,
Thou takest away all cheering light, all hope,
I see the enslaved, the overthrown, the hurt, the opprest of the
     whole earth,
I feel the measureless shame and humiliation of my race, it
     becomes all mine,
Mine too the revenges of humanity, the wrongs of ages, baffled
     feuds and hatreds,
Utter defeat upon me weighs—all lost—the foe victorious,
(Yet ‘mid the ruins Pride colossal stands unshaken to the last,
Endurance, resolution to the last.)

“Ah, ‘The Mystic Trumpeter.’ Always a delight,” I remarked. Before she could respond, a hint of her citrus shampoo drifted into my nose, so I leaned my face into her hair, took a deep breath, kissed her head and added, “You’re always a delight, too.”

She tilted her head back and rolled her eyes. “I’m pleased I rate as well as a Walt Whitman poem,” she replied with a delicious smile.

“I bet he was nowhere near as good in bed as you are, so there you definitely rate better than the dearly departed Mr. Whitman.”

She gently elbowed my ribs before turning back to her book.

With my legs propped up, a copy of The Divine Comedy rested on my abs, leaned back against the sheet pulled up to my waist. I held the book expertly with my right hand so my eyes could fall upon it with ease and my left arm could stay wrapped around Beth’s midriff.

Although I had read the masterpiece three times previously starting in junior high school, development of my third novel, Sing Larentia’s Song, required intellectual and emotional familiarity with the work. Larentia, the main character, faced a spiritual battle unfolding on planes mirroring Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. If I had any hope of the novel progressing the way it should, it needed precise correlations. Readers familiar with the roles of Virgil and Beatrice would benefit most, but they would also spot even minute fallacies in Larentia’s world should they fail to darkly mirror Dante’s work. Those unfamiliar with The Divine Comedy would not find fault, yet they might stumble upon an obscure reference that seemed alien or out of place if the centuries-old epic imprecisely supplemented my book.

Though my first reading had recorded it indelibly in my mind, memorization—photographic memorization—does not equal feeling the tale as comes from a good reading. A fourth time enjoying Dante’s writ served both as entertainment and as a rekindling of its emotive fires.

Upon reaching the purgatory cantica I slipped my bookmark into the text, closed it and set it on the nightstand. Then I leaned against Beth for a second time.

“Did you enjoy the trip?” I asked.

“You mean to your parents’ yesterday?”


“Sure I did.” Her eyes never left the book held in front of her.

“You want to talk about the storm?”

Her body went rigid. “No.”

“Come on, Beth, you haven’t lost yesterday’s tension.”

“It’s not important.”

“Yes it is, honey.”

“No, it’s not.”

During our visit a thunderstorm developed west of the farm and rapidly moved toward us. We stood outside the house with my parents as it approached. A roomy chunk of sky filled with sinister tumultuous clouds scudding in as though Hell had unleashed its vengeance upon Earth. Weather fascinates me. Anything not mundane piques my interest and begs for monitoring. When television news warned of an impending storm, one capable of turning severe without notice, I stepped outside to watch. Beth and my parents joined me.

As it approached, she leaned against me. When the wind picked up, her grip on my hand became the bite of a great white shark. Lightning and thunder flared up to enliven the show; as they did, she released my hand and wrapped her arms around me.

Throughout nature’s presentation she repeatedly held tighter and closer. She seemed intent on crawling inside me. At one point I remarked that she neared breaking my ribs. Those words did not quell her angst. Inexplicable fear trembled in her eyes and quivered in her embrace.

We had known each other for almost four years by then. I had seen her reactions to the wild weather Texas threw our way. From tornadoes to hail storms to ice storms to droughts, none of it engendered such a reaction. She felt something real and different about that particular storm or that particular time. The event uncovered something important in her.

Wrapping my other arm around her, my face rested easily against her head, the scent of her hair once more filling my senses. I sniffed heartily before kissing her brunette crown a second time.

I knew there was more to the experience than she was saying, and I also knew she was not going to abstain from talking about it. I would not let the matter drop. After a brief pause I continued, “We can talk about it now or we can talk about it later, but we’re going to talk about it. You realize that, don’t you?”

Finally her book closed. She did not move otherwise, yet obviously something bothered her and she needed to talk about it. As her fingers played over the edges of the pages, her breathing became more deliberate, less relaxed.

She said, “I was having a bad day. Something about that storm at that time in that place … I don’t know what it was, Vey. It just bothered me.”

“I could sense that.” My grip on her tightened in a sign of support. “So let’s have a chat. Why not tell me about it?”

She drew in a deep breath, set her book on the nightstand, rolled on her side and laid one of her arms over my torso as the other one nestled between us against my leg. As that one began rubbing my thigh, the other one hugged me closely—gripped me firmly. Turning her head so her lips rested on my chest, she kissed me next to the nipple.

Beth loved touching and kissing me from head to toe. She often claimed great joy and fascination in how my skin felt and looked and tasted. I took the latter as a compliment meaning she appreciated clean skin more than filthy skin.

Her lips felt warm and moist. The heat pressed against my flesh enticed me. I imagined easily slipping into tranquil lust. As her naked breasts rested touching me and her erect nipples fueled my hunger for her, my excitement began to swell.

My wife embodied a constant source of sexual tension and enjoyment, a form so beautiful that her mere presence incited quivering. The slightest wisp of her breath or the simplest stroke from her ignited heated fervor. I could never resist her. And yet I had to suppress my own avidity for pleasure so I could focus on what bothered her the day before.

She paused long enough to make the kiss both passionate and heartfelt. It also held clear unease translated through the restless exhale. Her head dangled there for a few seconds as she collected her thoughts. I rubbed my hand up and down her back; she rubbed her hands on my thigh and torso. The whiff of her shampoo continued to fill my nostrils. And I waited.

With an unassertive voice disturbing for its lack of certainty, she said without lifting her face, “The storm bothered me. It’s hard to explain. In fact, you’ll think I’m weird. It’s about Irene. I told you about the Dreamdarkers. She said they were coming for us. When I’d ask if that meant they were coming for people, she’d cackle in that dismissive way that said I’d completely misunderstood her. Then she’d say they were coming for all us dreamers.”

I startled at the catch in her voice when she said “all us dreamers.” Beth had no superstitions. Disregard for her grandmother’s strange teachings ensured such drivel met with derision. We both supposed the various anecdotes and warnings resulted from one crazy old woman’s mental degradation.

Irene told my wife her first period meant she had committed an unforgivable sin, burying a chicken’s foot in the garden cured a wide variety of ailments, and crows perched on a rooftop foretold impending death. Calling the witch insane insulted crazy people—and witches. It troubled me Beth felt discomfited by a simple storm based on one of her elder guardian’s many ludicrous cautions. The story must be more complicated than I already knew.

Beth continued, “It’s silly, but she often said they would come with the storms. I was frightened of storms when I was young. I grew out of it, you know, but back then I would hide under my bed for fear of thunder and lightning. Seeing dark clouds approach sometimes turned me into a mouse locked in a room with ten cats—I’d run. If Irene found me under the bed, she’d upbraid me—sometimes she’d add a slap to the scolding—and she’d tell me to pray the Dreamdarkers hadn’t found me.”

She took a deep breath and laid her cheek on my chest, resting her head fully on me. I stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head once more.

In a voice quieter and more respectful she added, “I’ll be honest with you, Vey. It scared the hell out of me. I don’t know if I was more scared of her mocking me and punishing me, or if my fear stemmed from the storms I thought were bringing the Dreamdarkers. Either way, I was terrified sometimes. That’s why the storm yesterday bothered me. Call it a flashback. Seeing those dark clouds rolling over the hills toward us threw me back decades. There I was again, that scared little girl, a weak, pathetic, frightened child huddling under the bed after the first crack of thunder. I could see Irene kneeling in front of me swinging her old wrinkled hands trying to beat the scare right out of me. I don’t know if it was the idea of the Dreamdarkers coming with the storm or the idea of my grandmother making fun of me and punishing me for childhood phobias, but something struck me hard and sharply as we stood outside yesterday. It’s silly, isn’t it?”

“No, babe, it’s not silly. It’s normal. Doesn’t everyone carry repressed memories that pop up unsolicited in adulthood?”

“You don’t, you and your damn photographic mind.”

“In general, for most people. Stuff gets repressed, pushed back, forgotten so it doesn’t bother us anymore. And sometimes that stuff pops up unexpectedly. Don’t you think?”

“But it’s more than that. For the first time I can remember, I was convinced something was coming in that storm. It makes me sound crazy—”

“No more than normal,” I interjected.

She slapped my chest despite her giggles. Then she resumed, “Fine, smartass, I get the point. But seriously, hon, I stood there watching that dark patch of sky stretch toward us and I knew the Dreamdarkers had found me. It was so primitive. The feeling exploded within me, a sudden confirmation of the twaddle she’d fed me while growing up. It’s hard to explain.”

“I repeat myself—I bet it’s normal. Call it an off day or a memory leak, but it’s not out of the ordinary. Listen, your grandmother was unpleasant. She didn’t exactly treat you with compassion, and she damn sure tried her hardest to fill your head with foolishness. Why wouldn’t it surface from time to time when something catches your attention? I bet psychologists have a word for it.”

“Uh-huh. It’s called crazy.”

“Beth, that’s not what I mean.”

“But that’s how I feel.”

“Don’t,” I said with sincere love as I hugged her close. “It’s one of those things that happens. You were scared of storms, your grandmother made it worse with stories about boogeymen, she practically abused you physically and clearly abused you mentally and emotionally, and you remembered some of that when the right stimuli came together. You’re not any more crazy now than you were yesterday.”

She repeated the slap to my chest, but she did so with playful fervency. At the same time she leaned over and bit my nipple, gripping the piercing between her teeth and giving it a tug. Finally she looked at me with a wicked smile across her face. She added, “You better watch it, mister, or else I’ll have to hurt you.”

“Promises … promises …” I leaned down and kissed her full on the lips.


“Dreamdarkers,” I mumble. That name should have meant more the first time I remembered it. I chastise myself for burying so much under mountains of mental detritus. Drugs and drink and drift. I never stopped seeing the three doctors. That excuse helps explain away these memory lapses.

I should have remembered.

Dreamdarkers came from Beth on multiple occasions. It should have rang more bells than it did. Yet it did nothing of the sort. I initially remembered she said it; I had not remembered everything she said.

Sitting on the couch and staring ahead toward the blackness of the windows, my reflection floats superimposed on the shadows of trees and brush idle in the night beyond. The most witless observer would recognize the look of shock deploying unobstructed across my face.

“A ghostly encounter,” I offer to the visage staring back at me.

Why had I not thought of that before? Dreamdarkers. My dreams come from Beth, from remembering things she said that somehow I pushed out of my conscious mind. No wonder it disorients so. The answers stare me in the face and I look by them. Maybe my memory fails even at thirty-five years old, age combined with drink and drugs and drift. I would not be the first person in human history who stopped remembering things as easily once they reached puberty.

A hearty yet nervous laugh pours into the sunroom as relief ushers in a new understanding of my nightmares. Perhaps the three doctors have carried me toward insanity sooner than expected. More likely, perhaps my emotional state after Beth died prompted a bit more burying of the past as opposed to letting it slip away.

This no longer snowballs into a disastrous avalanche inside a pretty white room with padded walls. I can comprehend to some degree the provenance of my bizarre dreams. In fact, they echo her hallucinations of darkness with eyes and the feeling of being prey. Afterimages of my wife create them, attempts by the most primitive side of me to remember her by digging up misplaced moments. If that means scouring my deepest memories for the most obscure morsels and cooking them into visions, then so be it, or so my mind thinks.

I lie back on the couch. The world no longer seems so anarchic. Life appears a little clearer and a little less unbridled. I wonder if understanding a dream—or a nightmare—stops it from recurring.

An ease drapes me that has eluded me throughout the day. Unexplained and frightening delusions of my dead wife telling me about things she told me many years prior have lost their terror. Perhaps I can sleep restfully knowing I solved the mystery. Yes, perhaps.