The Dream Land

Sure, it looks weird, all those twinkling lights, but when you step through it, you can become kings and queens of a whole new land! What could be wrong with that?


A Science-Fiction Trilogy by Stephen Swartz

(ebook and paperback available now)

(See below for sample chapters from each volume.)

How far would you go to save the love of your life? Through a portal to another world?

Sebastian Talbot and Gina Parton, nerdy high school sweethearts, discover an invisible doorway in an abandoned quarry and step through to a world of magical beauty and terrible violence. Gina falls in love with the place and decides to stay while Sebastian, the practical one, fears losing touch with his true home and returns to Earth.

Nevertheless, Sebastian finds himself drawn back to the world of Ghoupallesz time and time again, like an addiction, sometimes for his own nefarious adventures, other times to rescue Gina from her sordid relationships—and in half of those rescues she ends up saving him. Their relationship as soul mates superceeds all lovers and spouses, playfully evolving across hundreds of Ghoupalle years as they move back and forth through various “time zones” on their adopted world, affecting history and bending culture and custom wherever they go.

Now Sebastian, back on Earth and swearing never to return to Ghoupallesz after a few harsh misadventures, unhappily passes his days as a night-shift worker at the local I.R.S. service center, keeping to himself, trying to deal with a life not of his choosing. However, one night he again feels the cosmic pull of Gina in trouble, calling to him. 

It’s been a while, so Sebastian is hesitant to step through that doorway again, his head still full of all the horrors he experienced during previous journeys: a tragic relationship with a Ghoupalle woman and their children and being caught up in a military invasion force as a regimental commander. This time, he enlists the aid of two I.R.S. co-workers who suddenly need a place to escape to--thanks to the “elixir of love” they accidentally drank.

Sebastian must go and save Gina—this time like every time. Perhaps this time, he considers, they can actually remain together, finally be a couple, make a family, be happy. So Sebastian must return through the portal and gather his mercenaries, cross the towering Zet mountains, and sneak into the crafty Zetin warlord’s castle to free Gina.

However, he eventually finds that there are more questions yet to be answered. Is his adventure into another dimension real, or is it just the dream of a psychotic serial killer? That’s what the police want to know when he returns without his co-workers. Is Sebastian Talbot a murderer, a lunatic, a lonely dreamer, or a mighty warrior from an alien world? Only Gina knows for sure and she's not around.

THE DREAM LAND is an eloquently efficient epic of interdimensional intrigue and world domination by a pair of high school sweethearts--filled with twisted humor (think double-helix laugh tracks), significant steampunk pathos, a patina of psychological thriller (imagine a police procedural gone bad), passionate romance (tears will be shed!), graphic violence (inevitable in battles scenes with a cast of millions), and the inevitability of quirky conundrums of time and space. Four out of five quantum physicists agree: The Dream Land is outlandish fun!

First Chapters from each volume of The Dream Land trilogy:

Chapter 1


“I was face up in a vast snowfield, the sun on my face, and all around me were hundreds of half-buried skeletons. The yellow sun was glaring off the snow, blinding me, and the blue sun was winking at me from the horizon, but all I could think of was ‘I’m freezing to death!’ They took my greatcoat, and I didn’t have any boots. In fact, I couldn’t feel my legs below the knees. I wanted to check them, but I was too frozen to move. I wanted to cry out for help but I was afraid of calling the ones who did this to me. I kept thinking ‘It’s all a mistake’ and ‘I don’t belong here.’ Then I looked up at a small branch stretching over me. I followed the branch to its end and there was a single drop of thaw hovering there. It was about to fall. I watched it for a moment—then it fell! Straight down to my legs! It hit my legs—which were frozen solid—and they shattered into a million splinters! There was nothing left there but stumps! And I cried my brains out in pain—but there was no pain because everything was frozen! And I was wondering how the hell I was going to get home without my legs.”
Arctic winds pick up, rushing against him, attacking like a line of mounted lancers, spear points jabbing.
“Is there anything that can be done?” the man asks as desperate tears tumble like ice cubes. “I was captured and tortured, then left for dead. Can’t you do anything, Doc?”
The other man sits up, feeling the wind in his face, too, gray beard brushing against his jacket collar, red necktie rumpled and out of position, wire-rimmed spectacles slipping down his long nose. He reaches up and scratches his cheek, thinking of somewhere else he’d rather be. A scan of his watch tells him twenty minutes remain in the life of this patient. If he were to fail, he would need to fashion a comforting speech to give to the family. He smiles, knowing this unfortunate soul has no family—none, officially, that is. He can be left wherever he drops and no-one would care. Still, as a doctor he has been trained to be compassionate. Over the next minute and a half he decides to follow through with his oath to first do no harm and, second, to try to help the stupid bastard make sense of his twisted life.
 “Doc? You there?” asks the patient.
 “Yes, Mister Talbot.” He reaches for a fresh pad of paper. “Go on.”
The patient lies still, shivering against the cold.
“But...that’s it.”
Six minutes of silence pass, each man counting from competing timepieces. The snow melts, the ice thaws, the winds drop. Outside, hopeful cheers arises from children on the school playground and mix with the rough hum of city traffic on a Monday afternoon. Dinner will soon follow.
“It could mean quite a number of things,” says the bearded man with the note pad. “Most importantly, I will say, this is not an unusual occurrence for someone in your condition—someone who has faced trauma as you have. So I don’t want you to place too much faith in whatever your dream might be referencing.”
“Dream?” The man on the couch clears his throat. “I never said it was a dream.”
“Not a dream? But I thought....”
“Actually, I’m not sure.” A moment passes. “Was it just a dream I had last night, or is it a long-lost memory that keeps intruding on my consciousness?”
“That’s a good question, Mister Talbot.”
They regard each other across the Persian rug in the center of the office as sunbeams stream in through the windows. The patient wears a wrinkled white dress shirt and faded blue jeans. Two pens are clipped inside the shirt pocket. On his feet are leather shoes, worn down into three shades of brown. Yet another client sent to him by law enforcement authorities. He didn’t seem dangerous, just confused.
Perhaps he is only playing games, thinks the doctor.
“You have several key symbols: the snow, the freezing, the ice, the whiteness, and the skeletons. And the sunlight—did you say there were two suns?”
“A large yellow one and a small blue one.”
“I see.” The doctor writes. “And you had the feeling of being abandoned...and fear of violence against you—”
“And freezing to death. Don’t forget that, Doc. And icicles.”
“No, we shan’t forget that.” He writes more. “Tell me, Mister Talbot. What do you think it means?”
The patient yawns theatrically, sits up on the couch, swinging his feet to the floor.
“You tell me. You’re the psychiatrist here. I’m just the deranged mental patient.”
“You’re not a deranged mental patient,” says the doctor. “You have experienced a trauma and I have been appointed to assist you in returning to a functioning role in society.”
“A functioning role in society?” The patient laughs, but to the doctor it seems quite an artificial thing, perhaps intended to be mocking. “You mean, like my night-shift job at the IRS service center? A silent clerk digging through stacks of papers at the desk in the corner? Is that supposed to be my functioning role in society? A convenient cog in the system? Is that the hole I’m supposed to crawl into and just accept? Pull a rock over myself when I go to sleep?”
The doctor releases a long exhale, trying to restrain audibility so as not to irritate the patient. Not that it matters now. He is easily aroused to anger, it seems. Of course, there is good reason, what with all the events happening, the questions, and the constant surveillance. He is lucky to have any job, and the fact that the job he holds is somewhat off the main avenue of society should be something beneficial to his recovery. The doctor makes notes of his thoughts, as required; an evaluation report will be due some day.
“I’m not crazy, Doc.”
“You need not consider yourself that way.”
Before the patient can respond further, the doctor retrieves a thick hardcover book from a nearby shelf and searches through it. He stops at several pages, takes mental notes, continues. Finally, he closes the book and sets it on the desk.
“According to the key symbols we’ve identified, you are likely to suffer unforeseen troubles. Or you believe that you will. The ice thawing indicates a fear that you will be cheated by friends....” The doctor pauses, dares to smile. “Ah! I see now why you are so concerned. It’s beginning to add up, all these wintry symbols in your dream, especially here in June. You see, many aspects of your dream relate to loss: friends, loved ones, even legs and knees, perhaps also the suggestion of peace that you are seeking. It’s very common after what you’ve been through. You have experienced loss, and here it is June once more. The anniversary of your wife’s murder.”
Fourteen minutes of deep regret fills the room.
“Does that still bother you?” asks the bearded one from his throne.
“And I felt such a comforting peace flowing through me the whole time,” says the patient, the wine turned to vinegar. “Even as my legs were shattering. Breaking off at the knees. Like I was glad to be rid of my legs. That’s got to mean something. Right, Doc?”
Thirty-two seconds of silent bliss. A timer produces a soft ding.
“It seems our time is ended for today,” says the doctor, thank goodness.
Standing with as practiced a manner as any ballet dancer, the patient adjusts his clothing, flattens a wrinkle in his shirt, adjusts a pen in the pocket, and grabs his green, canvas jacket.
“The air-conditioning can get rather cold by the end of the shift,” he says.
“Until next time, then,” intones the doctor, standing.
“About that....” The patient turns to the doctor, half way between his chair and the door. “I’m beginning to believe that I could probably fix myself, Doctor Liebowitz. Well enough, at least, to be a functioning carcass of society—oh! I mean cog, not carcass. Sorry. Yes, if I read the right books and think deeply, profound answers are bound to come. I’ll have light bulbs bursting over my head and everything will be all right.”
The doctor sets his note pad on the desk and faces the patient, hands on his hips.
“As your court-appointed counselor, I wouldn’t advise that. We are making progress.”
“It’s not like I’m required to be here.” The patient shakes his head. “I’m not crazy. You agree with me on that. And interpreting my silly dreams is easily enough done with a few cheap books. I hate to take your valuable time, Doc.”
“Mister Talbot, there are other things to consider.”
“Everything is fine. When I’m awake.” The patient chuckles, a sound that grows sinister after two seconds. “At night, it’s different, of course. I can’t let myself sleep. That’s when the dreams come. So I never sleep.”
“You see how you continue having difficulty adjusting to your new life? That shows up in your dreams. Your fears, your desires. It’s common. However, let’s work on that, Sebastian. That’s the reason you were referred to me. We should meet as usual next week.”
Sebastian Talbot, the patient, nods two and a quarter degrees.
“We’ll see if I’m available.”

Chapter 2

White Collar Workers in Blue Jeans

Despite alarm clocks, automotive engines, and shouting children, Sebastian Talbot often slept, and he frequently awoke. But he knew there would be a last time for each of these and he could never predict when that might be. So he waited, usually with the lights on. But the waiting would make him drowsy, and he would drift off to the wasteland of his memories. No matter what he did, no matter how long he stayed awake, no matter what drugs he pretended to take, psyching himself into believing he was high—always, always, always he slept: dragged down to a world where laughter sparked ambivalence and heroism was passé. The shadowy demons waited for him. Sometimes they would let him make the first move, usually not. They often cheated.
“Hey, Perfesser, what’re ya gonna dream about tonight?” It was Michael Fenning, the office playboy, calling to him in the parking lot of the IRS service center.
The third shift was over and everyone was heading home. It was becoming a comedy routine, following the script whenever they were leaving. The fact that he was called ‘Professor’ seemed at first derogatory, yet he accepted it. After all, he had been a teacher in a previous life. When he’d asked his co-worker about the odd moniker, he learned that Michael thought he seemed like the professor character in the TV show Gilligan’s Island. Nobody knew anything about him, Sebastian Talbot considered, yet here was an idiot calling him smart. So he let it go on.
“Don’t know,” the Professor casually replied to Michael across the cars between them. “Have to wait until my head hits the pillow.”
It didn’t matter to him whether or not any of his co-workers asserted that, for him (the strange, lonely man who never participated in all the fun and craziness of the department), the line between fantasy and reality was irreparably blurred.
In the sprawling IRS service center, his desk was stuck in the corner, facing the wall, his back to the world. He preferred it that way. He could get his work done quickly and accurately. The other advantage was that he could weep without drawing any attention. But he seldom did that now. Still, they all knew he was crazy—or on drugs. Once or twice he was suspected of such, but they found only aspirin in his desk and cold tablets in his locker. He swore he’d never taken anything else, but still they watched him.
Actually, it was a lie. There was a time long ago when he went around boasting of all the hallucinogens he had survived. He insisted that he was only trying to blend in with the bedheads and deadheads around him through the effervescent nights of indiscriminate youth. He had managed to become high nevertheless, simply breathing the air in the room. That caused him to withdraw deeper within his aura, leaving him to peer out through the steel turret windows of his head at the fools rolling on the floor, beating their heads against the wall, making love on the cat-peed couch. All the while he’d sat there on the cat-soiled carpet, work-stiffened back against the dartboard door, taking it all in, with his tired feet crossed, weary arms crossed, burning eyes crossed, and a cross look on his haggard face, staring hard across the room at the wooden cross tacked on the wall, noticing that Jesus was cross-eyed, too.
So very long ago, he sighed. He noticed a mechanical pencil in his hand and tax forms on the desk before him. He remembered where he was, did not wish to be there, yet the clock was ticking.

Out of the mists she appeared, like a ghost condensing into view, there above the gray, red-tufted grasses at the crest of the rusty knoll, the sky black and stormy behind her, emerald lightning crackling soundlessly against the dark horizon. The beast she rode was piebald: a grayish three-toed hoofed carrier, with splashes of black across its rump and a mane of dreadlocked cream and charcoal whipped wildly against the tawny dewlap by the storm-draft. And the young girl, her own mane long enough to cover her unclothed body, rose up on the back of the beast, scanning the landscape for her lover.
Instead, she saw him, the refugee from the tax center.
With no surprise on her blood-painted face, she parted the thick bundle of red-streaked hair tumbling from her head. Her bare flesh was tarnished gold in the subdued light. Framed between her scarlet locks, her blood-red breasts mocked him, challenged him. She seemed to believe he was the one sent to take her as wife. He knew to keep his distance: this was a Zetin girl..............................

Chapter One

Self-Contained Mutation

Tuesday afternoon. I’m just beginning to see. Now I’m on my way.

—The Moody Blues, “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)”

The sun was beginning to warm the room: the misty, frayed globe now high enough that he knew dawn was clearly coming to an end. Outside his wide, curving window, which showed him the relentless progress of the heavens from dawn until dusk, he could hear and smell the sea: the rich, rhythmic riffling of waves against the rocky beach, the odor of sea life washed up and dying. He remembered that he used to loathe the sea, fearing its endless depths, the image of sinking into the void always driving him back. But he feared the sea no longer. He still would not swim in it, nor would he easily board a small water craft to cross the great ocean, but he knew there was more to a sea than endless depths and a dark void. He had crossed the void of the universe several times, he mused as he stretched in his easy chair, and what was a sea of water to that?

He pushed himself reluctantly away from his writing table, yawning as another night was finished. Setting down his pen, he fixed his gaze upon the morning light shimmering across the olive drab waters and concentrated on the ship approaching. The sight did not immediately alarm him, though no-one was expected or due or even wished for, and he could not speculate who might want to board his hermit isle. He had time to become excited later, the craft yet an hour from shore, he estimated from his perch atop the cliffs.

The bare crags rising up over his tiny island blocked the suns for a while and he realized that the beginning of a day was a precious time for him, one not to be disturbed by contact with mere mortals—though he had long ago given up the idea that he was special or superior to others. His friends had always reminded him of his mortality, but he had left them behind, his head still spinning from the wars, pounding with the constant shifting of cosmic tangents. Sometimes his head felt like gravity was working in opposite directions. On his private island of self-exile, he did not care for anyone, but he knew that were he to rejoin society, there would be rules to follow, etiquette to demonstrate, and he would have to give in and smile occasionally, say something nice, be polite, and probably give a damn. In the meanwhile....

He rested against the back of his chair another hour, watching the mysterious vessel sliding across the now emerald-hued sea, content with what he had written during the night, as he wrote every night—the long, silent hours always melted into a single heartbeat in the darkness and he could work without fatigue.

The ship had the bright markings of an official boat, something sent off by a government on diplomatic missions. Powder-blue stripes along its hull, crimson and canary-yellow striped flag flying from its masthead suggested a ship from Sekuate, flying the flag of their tiny protectorate, the Kingdom of Aivana, won during the war years—and his eyes never failed him in this new, refreshing atmosphere. Smoke billowed from the stacks in three shades of gray as the vessel slowed, drifting to shore. He watched a helmsman throw a rope over the post at the end of the pier, others making ready a ramp to lay down over the railing. Ambassadors in their finest garb stood patiently on the foredeck.

Rubbing his eyes, he decided he would go ahead and meet whomever had taken the trouble to come out and see him. He left his writing table and began to dress in clothing suitable for public display: time to get out of the ragged nightshirt he lived in. He often felt it was a useless gesture since he was, as he wished he could forget, a retired king, the old Mexas of Aivana.

They hailed him, bowing low and allowing their long, waxed, pointed beards to touch the hardwood floor of his abode. Behind the three ambassadors several porters carried various sizes of treasure boxes—the standard ritual for buying their way into an audience with nobility, though he always refused it. “Just stack it in the corner over there, boys,” he laughed, remembering a previous visit. Yes, anyone making the journey to his desolate isle must have a truly serious problem. They must think he was the only one who could possibly provide a remedy. Therefore, any visitor who reached his isle had to be on an important mission. And knowing from their ship’s design, their costumes and manner that they were sent from Aivana, he was ready to be taxed into service once more—but he listened to their practiced beatitudes none the less. If he waved them off, they would be offended. So he just smiled, politely.
“The Queen’s request is that we humbly bring thee to far-away Aivana, with great payment in advance for your audience,” the first official, wearing the stiff ruffled collar of a chamberlain spoke in formal Ghoupallêan speech. “Her Highness begs thee to keep it in exchange for thy brief attention today, if Your Majesty so wishes, and no heavy heart shall be felt against thee among Her Highness’s court. However, we do humbly beg thee”—and he dropped to his knee—“in the name of our good, beloved Queen, Tammy Sue Aronstein, to indulge the court with a brief audience wherein Her Highness shall invite Your Majesty upon a wonderful and lavish adventure which shall further illuminate Your Majesty’s fame, and compel the world to sing praises unto thee.”

“Why doesn’t she send the request with you?” he asked, then figured that the chamberlain did not know the answer. Then he turned away from his guests, muttering, “Wonder what she wants this time. That’s why I left in the first place.”

He began pacing the wide open room reserved for meeting strangers, separated by seven locked doors from his private chambers, wishing he still retained the dozen servants that he’d sent away in anger a year before. Someone should get these tired guests a cup of coffee, he thought. He shuffled around the kitchen, looking for cups, and his guests were embarrassed that their ex-king was going to serve them. Two of their assistants were nudged forward to help him.

Seeing the steam rise from the boiling water, he saw the desperate, frosty breaths of his men, his cavalry regiment, lost in the winter of 1533. ‘The days when I was a fool,’ he called it. He had survived the Great Northern Campaign through Tebbicousimankalê, fighting both Tebbi regulars and the Zetin mercenaries on their disastrous retreat across the vast continent. He hated it, wished he were there again! Then, with his unexpected return from the wars as the top story of the singing arilor, he was appointed Mexas—King of Aivana, a rich desert land whose reigning matron, Tammy Sue, was one of those two co-workers he had reluctantly brought to this world, saving them from disgrace back home. He called his new world Dreamland, for he had once seen it in a dream, though in its cruelty and beauty it now seemed to him more real than his planet of origin. The natives called the planet Ghoupallesz.
He noticed the stiff-collared official staring at his compatriots, not understanding what this crazy ex-king was rambling on about in his foreign tongue, realizing that he had begun mumbling aloud again.

“I was the Mexas,” he spoke hesitantly but firmly in their language, “but I grew tired of being a king. The years sitting in judgment of others, choosing the direction of their lives, satisfying all of their grievances, promoting their virtues, celebrating minor efforts and punishing transgressions—it all bored me. I mean, gimme a break! I’ve only been here four years. Haven’t finished my book—or fixed the back porch, you know. It’s a little wobbly. Better watch your step. It’s a long drop.”

“Will you return with us, Your Majesty?” asked the tall man carrying a peaked cap of bright green plumage which he had removed upon entering the house.

“She’s in trouble again, isn’t she?”

“Your Majesty, we cannot say which matter causes her distress. Her Highness shall explain everything to Your Majesty when we return. It is only that Her Highness begs us to return thee, the great Set-d’Elous, to her court. Wilt thou consent to return with us?”

“Well, now that you’ve called me by real name,” he said, then laughed as he recognized the line from an old spaghetti Western, “instead of all that ‘your majesty’ crap-ola....”

He thought for a moment, wondering when he would be able to return to his writing and finish his extensive tome on the history of the planet Ghoupallesz, now in its seventh volume. He was rewriting history, telling it the way he thought it should be. If anyone insisted on objectivity, he challenged them to live through it, as he had. Perhaps someday, he pondered, he could re-right history. That was, if he did not dare the gods to trick him once more. It almost proved fatal the last time.

“Yes, I’ll go, dammit!” And he went for his bag, fuming in a language his visitors did not comprehend. “If not me, then who? Who could do it? Who would do it? I know she’ll want me to go back there. Who would want to return there? To that grimy, unjust world? To that land of vanity and insanity, that dimension of decay and whirlpool of—”

He spun around to face them with English on his lips and his K-Mart duffel bag in his hand, clothing still falling out where the seams were torn.

“I’m ready.”

Chapter 1

He felt the sand scratching his face before he opened his eyes. A faint dream hovered wallflower-like at the edge of his dance card, afraid to let itself go and twirl about the floor no matter who might be watching. Letting the image sail away on a strong breeze, he pushed out his legs, stretched his arms up, bent his neck—and in every movement felt the pain shoot through his body like lightning and fire and ice. He stopped, grimacing against Fate once more, like some old habit his mother had scolded him for. When his eyes opened he saw what he had expected to see, yet the sight of the desert landscape, red and brown below the emerald sky, seemed to amaze him, seemed to catch him by surprise.

He sat up then, in one swift motion, crossing his legs, bracing his torso with his outstretched arms, nodding his head to the left, right, left, up, down, around in semicircles back and forth, testing his range of motion and feeling satisfied. Then he looked for the twin suns to confirm his suspicions: that he was, somehow, unbelievably, home again.

Behind him, nearly a quarter mile (almost one radit, as they called the measurement on that world), stood the sleek stone ramparts of the interdimensional portal (what he and his colleagues referred to as a tangent, one of many such points scattered across the universe). He could still see the tops of the columns from where he sat on the sand, the grayish-brown soapflake-like chips. It had not stood there in his memory, and he had never imagined that anyone would venture so deep into the desert to build it. And yet, the sight of the simple structure—a gray stone platform with four stone columns, roofless, a central stone pedestal appearing to be used for unknown rituals—struck his heart like a warm glove on a cold winter’s day (winter being called Trist, even in this place without snow). It was a temple, he decided and smiled. He could begin again, even as he could not recall what had come first, previous, or just a moment before his dream snuck away to hide in the folds of the curtain, sniffling in silence and wanting to forget the monumental past.

He picked himself up from where his body had crumpled against the flaky sands, a portion of his knee and foot pushed down into the material, as though he had fallen hard from a great height. With both hands, he brushed himself off, front and back. Then he took time to notice how he was dressed. His khaki jacket had crimson trim and powder-blue epaulets, a uniform of some kind, though his legs were covered in ragged blue jeans, a large hole at one knee. In a hip pocket remained a wallet, he felt. He dug it out and flipped it open to see who he was. A driver’s license from Missouri and a couple of credit cards told him his name was Sebastian Talbot. It did not sound familiar to him; Am I wearing someone else’s clothes? 

He pulled out a few pictures of people who could only lounge at the edges of his mind and glare back at him, begging for attention. He found a spare key to something, probably the door to a house. There was also a membership card to some gentlemen’s club, a ticket stub to a play he could not remember, a proof of automobile insurance card, a folded index card upon which was written several names and codes he could not immediately decipher—What does mean? He contemplated it. Then he counted the money: a hundred and thirty-six American dollars. 

He sighed, not quite sure of the reason for the audible exhalation, then reached into his jacket’s side pocket. Inside he found a folded slip of paper—indeed, a crisp beige parchment rather than slick white paper. It was scribbled with what appeared to be a list of names and dates in a strange alphabet. No, not dates, not names; it was an agenda, a list of events and their starting times. He laughed quickly, understanding the irony of the situation.

Glancing around, he checked that nobody was there to ponder his amusement.
“Who could be watching me?” he muttered, carefully placing the pile of things that had settled into his lap back into the wallet, and the wallet back into his pocket.

He looked up, regarded the blue sun on the horizon, and had a vague sense of where he was and where he should go. He admitted to himself, however, that he had no idea when he was, or when he wished to go.

And so, because it was a fairly nice day for a walk, he turned himself away from the distant structure and pushed himself over the slight rise in the flaky sand and there saw a set of footprints heading off to the horizon. Despite a brown leather boot on his right foot and a rubber-soled white-and-red sneaker on his left foot, it seemed like a good thing to follow the footprints. He went at a leisurely stroll at first, then swung into a quicker pace, feeling alive and energetic once more, ready for a new day to begin.

The footprints led him to a trail across firmer ground: a flat, reddish plain that stretched further on to three horizons. The trail took him to a roadway cut into the hard soil by the hooves of large animals and the rolling wheels of carts. He followed it and soon saw signs of civilization. He decided to be cautious, still not certain where he was or where he was going. Not too sure who I am, either, he thought. So he left the road and made his way to a low ridge from which he could survey the town. He lay on the ground, peering over the slope, counting the buildings, watching the brown-robed people going to and fro: men with staves, women with baskets, children pulling reptilian pets, carts parked or rolling through narrow streets. A village, he concluded.

He waited until nightfall and walked around the village, continuing on the road. By dawn he was in sight of a larger settlement.

Sebastian Talbot? he contemplated. He did not feel the name suited him.

Another day passed and he skirted two more settlements. He felt by then that he must have lost weight, given that he had not eaten for such a long time. And yet he did not feel hungry nor too thirsty. He had urinated only a couple of times, minimal output, and had not defecated even once. Time seemed askew, as though his journey was actually only a few hours rather than the few days he seemed to be passing through. He had counted three sunrises since he awoke, using the yellow sun for that marker—noting also that he had not slept during his journey.

Unless my journey is all sleep and no wakefulness!

He continued walking along the road until he saw a city spreading out wide at the base of a low mountain range, somehow knowing the route even as he had a puzzling sense of misdirection. Perhaps he was not on the same road but only one that appeared similar. Perhaps the yellow and blue light of the two different suns tricked him. Or perhaps he was not truly walking across a flat, rocky desert but was journeying through his consciousness, back to the place where his soul was born, to the cell of first thought, the atom of origin.
Perhaps my footsteps are just metaphors.

He shook his head slowly, breathing deeply, smelling staleness. Scratching his backside, he paused, gazing at the gleaming lights in the distance as dusk descended around him. This one was the right place, he sensed.

He stood watching the city through the night and when dawn crept across the horizon, he moved on into the city. It was a place of mixed cultures so no-one particularly stared at him. Or, it could merely have been his sleep-deprived psyche swimming gradually to the surface of his consciousness. Either way, he had a task to do, something which demanded his attention and he could not turn away or disobey. He had been under a spell of some kind and now he was free—free to do what he had to do, not what his alter ego had chosen for him.

Inside the city, he made his way as if by a hundred trials through a maze to the station of the vehicles called KOHax, an acronym meaning a vehicle that traveled on a single rail via electric pulsations. Essentially, an electric train. His usual path would have had him board the KOHax and travel far to the north, passing first through the larger city of Lyas where he seemed to have some history, and on through the huge metropolis of Seas, the capitol city of something where he once lived or did not live, and on to his final destination: the culturally sophisticated city and seaport of Selauê, a kind of home away from home, his headquarters whenever he visited the planet of Ghoupallesz.

Could it be so simple? he asked himself, waiting in line at the ticket office. In his head, he felt maps and compasses working. In his gut, he was certain he did not know where he was going. He glanced around the square, focusing on the people who went by, their clothing and mannerisms, their complexions and gaits, the baskets they carried or carts they drove, trying to match what he was seeing with other, previously stored images in his head—

Ashê,” spoke the man at the window, “apoforen.”

He grinned, momentarily embarrassed by his lack of understanding.

The ticket agent waved him forward, up to the window.

U’le’he’a?” the man in the window asked in a lowered voice.

It seemed the man was speaking a different language, guessing that this customer did not understand the first language. But it made no difference.

He dug into his pockets and found nothing, no money, and he felt foolish.

“I’m sorry,” he dared speak in English, trusting that his sincere tone of voice would carry the message even though his words would not be understood, “really I am. You see, I’ve been wandering across the desert for about five days, with no food or water, and now—I seem to have only American dollars, which”—he pulled out the bills, began flipping through them—“is probably not a currency you take here. I really don’t know where I am, or how I got here.” He glanced around at the people gathered around the ticket office, waiting for him to conclude his business and move on. “You’re all probably wondering what this madman is doing, what he is saying, what foolish language he is speaking in—hah! only a fool would understand what I’m saying. That leaves out all of you.” He began stepping back, moving slowly away from the ticket window, keeping his eyes on the people encircling him. 

“Everything’s going to be all right...all right...all right everybody, take it easy and I’ll...I’ll be moving on...on my way...on my way home, cuz I’m homeward bound... bound for home.”
The ticket agent, eyes narrowing in suspicion, spoke to him further but he still could not reply, had no words to offer.

He saw them staring at him. He knew they were thinking he was a madman. He knew they hated him, and he erupted in wild getsures, shouting: “I know you’re all fake, you’re not real, you’re part of some strange game, a puzzle for me to figure out, or a dream! That’s it! You’re all just flickering puffs of smoke in my dream and when I awaken you will, none of you will be here, wherever here is.”

The ticket agent turned quickly to a colleague inside the office.

Before he could think of how to extricate himself from the situation, two uniformed men had come out of the office and stood closely beside him. One held his arm and the other began shaking him gently, checking his jacket pockets, and soon found a slip of paper and stood back, unfolding it. Only then did he put any significance to his wardrobe: a military uniform jacket, worn blue jeans probably from K-Mart, and mismatched footwear. The slip of paper only added to his extraordinary presence.

“Give me my slip of paper!” he demanded and the one man held him tighter.

The other man, holding the paper, glanced at him and spoke something.

“What?” he grunted. “I don’t know what you’re saying. Speak English!”

The man with the paper folded it again and put it away in his own pocket and he tried to grab for it. The man holding him pulled him back roughly.

“No, stop it! Leave me alone! You’re not real, none of you are!”

Suddenly he felt light-headed and stumbled backwards. He tried to catch himself by grabbing the person behind him, a middle-aged woman, knocking her to the ground. Looking up, he saw the two men from the ticket office staring down at him with ugly, twisted faces.

“Let me wake up,” he cried out, seeing one of them make a fist and—“I know it’s all a dream, a bad dream!”—thrust it downward at him.

The world went quickly black.

(C) Copyright 2010-2015 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog.

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