Jonathan wandered through the ruins, awkwardly stepping over stone debris in what was left of a large city. It looked like Los Angeles but he wasn’t sure. The city was old. It reminded him of when he was a kid, but he didn’t know why.
“What am I doing here? Where is everybody?”
The air was full of dust or soot. It gave everything a yellowish or brownish tinge, like an old sepia tone photo. Jonathan, at least he thought that was his name, came to a part of the sidewalk that was mostly flat covered with gravel rather than stone blocks. He was near an intersection.
Then he saw someone else. Jonathan almost called out but then stopped. Something about the other man made him feel scared. The man had his back to him. He was wearing a brown fedora and tan rain coat, even though it was absolutely dry. Then the man turned around.
He had no face.
Well, maybe he had a face but it was wrapped in gauze and there were dark goggles over his eyes. The man didn’t say anything and Jonathan stood mute and transfixed. Then the man took his gloved hands out of his overcoat pockets and reached up.
He was going to take off the bandages. Jonathan was terrified of what he was about to see.
Then he woke up.
It was dark. Reflexively, he swung his legs out of bed and stood. He was still groggy but could just make out the shadow on the opposite wall that was the doorway into the bathroom. Bare feet moved forward across thick carpet. It was warm which was good since he was only wearing sweatpants.
Jonathan found the light switch just inside the doorway, closed his eyes, and flipped it on. He blinked several times until his eyes adjusted. Then he looked up in the mirror.
“Oh my God!” His face was so old, wrinkles carved in his flesh like an ancient river delta. What little hair he had on his head was the color of shale. “But I’m only thirty-five years old.” He looked up at the ceiling. “What did you do to me?”
Then he woke up.
He looked down and there was a little girl in front of him about eight or nine years old. She had dark red hair and was wearing a white dress with horizontal maroon stripes. What was that noise?
“Mister, please help me. Everyone else is asleep and won’t wake up.”
He was bewildered. What was that noise? Then he realized he was on an airplane, a commercial jet. He and the girl were standing in the aisle. Everyone else, adults, children, were collapsed in their seats or on the floor. The emergency oxygen masks were hanging impotently from the ceiling above each person. No, they weren’t asleep.
“Why are you alive?”
She was looking up at him crying. “Mister, the drivers won’t wake up. We’re going to crash.”
He turned. The door to the cockpit was wide open. He stepped inside. There were flashing red lights and buzzing noises but he didn’t know what they meant. The aircraft was about to pass over a river. There was something like a giant ferris wheel ahead. He recognized London and it was getting closer.
He felt a strong tug on his sweater. “Please, you have to do something.”
“But I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, still staring outside, watching as their rapid descent took them ever closer to their imminent demise.
“Please! Help me! Help me! We’re going to crash!”
It was too late.
Then he woke up.
Where was he? A woman sitting up in bed with a baby sleeping beside her. She was on the phone. She had a shotgun.
“They’re getting closer. What can I do? Do I have to shoot them?”
He could just hear the voice on the other end. Another woman. “Ma’am, I can’t advise you on that. We’ve dispatched a police unit. They’ll be at your location in less than five minutes.”
“It’ll be too late. I can hear them. They’re coming down the hall. They’re almost here.”
A man’s voice from the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Just give us his drugs and there won’t be trouble.”
“Yeah,” another man. He was giggling. “Sure, no trouble.” He thought it was funny. They were going to kill her. Jonathan knew it. They were going to rape the woman and then murder them both.
He wheeled back to the woman. “Lady, you’ve got a shotgun. They’re going to kill you and your baby. You’ve got to stop them.”
She was crying, still talking to the 911 dispatcher.
“What’s the matter with you? Can’t you hear me?” He tried to put his hand on the foot of the bed as he bent closer to her but it went right through.
“Please. Tell me what to do.”
“Ma’am, all I can advise is for you to do whatever you feel is necessary to protect your baby and yourself.”
The door creaked open. “We’re here.” His voice was lyrical and terrifying at the same time.
“I’ve got a shotgun. Don’t come in. I’m telling you.”
The baby stirred and whimpered.
“You ain’t gonna do nothin’ to us.” The door opened. He was grinning, a large knife in his right hand. “Oh my, ain’t you a pretty thing. We’re gonna have us some fun first, ain’t we, Willard?”
“Yeah,” he giggled standing just behind the other man. “Fun.”
Jonathan took three steps and swung his fist as hard as he could but it went harmlessly through the man’s face.
“Damnit, I can save her life! Let me help her!”
He heard an explosion and the man’s chest was ripped apart into crimson chunks as he was launched backward, dead as he knocked the other man onto the hallway floor.
Then he woke up.
She was the most beautiful woman in the world. Jonathan couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She had long, dark auburn hair, deep brown eyes, and skin the color of mocha. Her face looked vaguely Asian or Middle Eastern. Her lips were painted pink.
Her dress was long and it shimmered between white and pale lavender. It extended to the ground and flowed with the breeze, except the air was perfectly still. He looked down. As the dress pooled around her feet and flowed forward toward him, it stopped being cloth and became water.
They were standing facing each other, maybe three meters apart. Rolling hills, a grassy countryside, very few trees but a large one stood behind and to the right of him.
“Who are you?”
“My name is merely Raven, but I speak for one more important than I, someone who you have never met and have been all your life. He has never existed and will always exist. He walks the shadowed pathways between dreams and nightmares, inside of reality and at the edge of fantasy. He is called Jonathan David Cypher but some whisper another name…The Never Man.”
Then he woke up but he was still dreaming. He dreamed his name was Jonathan and that he was an illusion, the man who never was, whose very existence was impossible. Each time he woke up he was in another dream. If only he could remember what he was supposed to do next.
“I can save her life, Raven. I can save all their lives. Please let me. Please let me help.”
Her voice was carried on a wind that wasn’t there. “You will, Jonathan. When you wake up, you will save someone’s life but please be careful whose life you save.”
Then he woke up. There was about to be an explosion. He could only save one of them.
I wrote this for the Sunday Writing Prompt #234 “It’s All In The Title” hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use one or more of the ten titles listed as the inspiration for crafting a poem or other creative work. I chose “I is an Illusion.”
In terms of day-to-day reality, I’m quite content to believe that I have a cohesive and enduring identity across time, and those who need to consider the deeper ramifications of said-identity may be overthinking the matter a bit too much. Perhaps they need a hobby.
Of all the titles offered for the challenge (and I could have chosen two or several as “The Bag Lady” did), I found “I is an Illusion” the most compelling but didn’t know immediately how to respond. Then I considered someone whose identity shifted from one life to the next. That made me think of the concept of Dreamtime, which according to Wikipedia:
…is a term devised by early anthropologists to refer to a religio-cultural worldview attributed to Australian Aboriginal beliefs…The Dreaming is used to represent many Aboriginal concepts of “time out of time,” or “everywhen,” when the land was inhabited by ancestral figures, often of heroic proportions or with supernatural abilities.
You can learn more about Dreamtime at the Aboriginal Art and Culture website.
I didn’t really leverage the “Dreamtime” concept as it exists among aboriginal peoples and instead applied two characters and a context I have long nursed in my imagination but have only once before given expression to. In this case, I used a dream I had decades ago, the one about the Invisible Man along with a scene from the 2017 finale episode “The Final Problem” for the television series Sherlock which I watched last night.
The situation with the young mother and the house invasion is based on a news story I read a few years back about a recently widowed woman whose home was broken into by drug addicts. Her late husband had died of cancer and they supposed she still had his narcotic medications. She was on the phone to 911 with police on their way when the men burst in. She shot and killed one and the other ran. Fortunately this happened in Texas so the woman was not charged, but the accomplice was since he was in the process of committing a felony that resulted in a death.
The other sequences are straight out of my imagination. I’m trying to find a “hook” to extend the entire “Never Man” concept forward as a larger work of fiction, but since it’s particularly near and dear to my heart, I want to be cautious. Given my wee tale above, what do you think?
Oh, click on the link above for ‘Sunday Writing Prompt #234 “It’s All In The Title”’ to find other stories based on the prompt.
The next Jonathan Cypher story is My Semi-Controlled Nightmare.