I’m dead. I used to be a man, a husband, Dad, Grandpa. Now I’m a corpse. Maybe my body is still lying in the hospital bed where I died, maybe it’s at the Funeral Home by now, or it could even be six feet under. I can’t tell how much time has passed since time doesn’t mean anything to a dream.
That’s what I really am, a dream but I’ve got a problem. I used to be a man in a coma dreaming myself into different versions of people’s lives, in the past in other countries, and even in the future on another planet. But then the dreamer dreaming me died so how am I still here? Who is dreaming me?
Whoever it is, I should thank them I suppose. I mean it’s a really nice dream. I like the ocean. I used to live not far from it, maybe seven miles. Today, I’m walking on my own private beach. It’s a bright, sunny summer day and there’s not a soul in sight. No roads, no buildings, nothing show that anyone has been on this beach ever except me.
I can hear the sound of the surf, sea birds overhead, a breeze blowing through tree branches on my left, but no traffic noise, no talking, no airplane or boat motors. It’s like the world was created just for me. Lucky me.
I turn around. It’s her. Raven. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and she isn’t human. She’s the only one I can talk to now that I’m dead.
“Have you had sufficient time to process your circumstances?”
Like I said, beautiful and not human. She must have some idea that I’m feeling something but doesn’t know what it is or how I’m supposed to deal with it. It’s just something that should require a certain amount of time to process.
“What am I supposed to process and why do you care how long it takes?”
“You must resolve the cessation of your former existence and then continue. At some point, you will wake up and then there will be the next dream.”
“Cessation…I died. I watched myself die. I remember myself dying or at least dreaming about it. Everyone I ever loved thinks I’m dead.”
“Jonathan Cypher is alive. It is the man you used to be who has perished.”
“Gee thanks. That makes me feel so much better.”
“You have done much good up until now. You can continue to do good, to be part of bringing order and balance.”
“To what? Dreams?”
“They are dreams for you. For those you encounter, they are as real as your former existence or this beach upon which we now stand.”
I stomp my left foot on the sand. It must be hot and I’m barefoot but up until this moment, it didn’t occur to me that my feet should be burning. All I feel is warm sand.
“Why is this real? What makes it real?”
“It is the same beach you have walked on many times before in your prior existence, however, you are here now roughly one thousand years before that person was born.”
“One thou…? This is the past?”
“You have experienced what you call the past before in your dreams. Why does it surprise you now?”
“You sent me back a thousand years ago so I could process my death.”
“I did not think you wished to be disturbed. The nearest groups of indigenous people are over…”
“Never mind. Wait. If I was dreaming myself before, who is dreaming me now that I’m dead?”
“You are self-sustaining and require no other being for your existence. You are.”
“I think therefore I am?”
“I will accept that as an axiom.”
“What do you want of me!”
“The next dream.” She looked in the opposite direction of the water and there was a doorway suspended in the air a few yards away.
“Where does it lead?”
“You will discover that when you enter.”
“What if I don’t enter?” You can’t make…”
I was running towards her voice through a battlefield. What was a little girl doing in the middle of a war? Explosions bursting all around us bodies and body parts littering the uneven terrain. Burning vehicles, dead horses. She was lying in the dirt with her arms over her head. The whistling of an incoming shell. I grabbed her and the roar of the detonation deafened me.
“Why aren’t I dead?” I could hear the sound of my own voice.
I found myself draped over her. She couldn’t have been more than six. The smoke and dust were clearing. She opened her eyes, saw me and screamed. I almost screamed, too.
“What’s happened to me?” My skin looked like reflective metal, shifting, shimmering, now as if I were a shell for the stars, as if I contained the universe.
I got up onto my knees. She crawled out from under me and started running in terror. I realized were weren’t in a field but on the outskirts of some town or village. She used to live here.
She didn’t. Then we were on the beach again and I had my human body back. Still on my knees, I looked up. Raven was bent over holding the girl who was sobbing into her chest.
“You are safe now, little one. No one will hurt you here.”
I realized Raven was speaking French. The girl spoke it too, but I understood everything.
“It’s okay, little girl. I won’t hurt you.”
I was standing now holding out my arms. She took a quick look back, hid and then looked at me again, still crying but not as hard. Maybe she thought she was going crazy.
“What happened? How did we get back here?”
“You brought her and wisely so. She would never have survived with the German army advancing.”
She was speaking English to me now so the girl wouldn’t understand.
“World War Two?”
“One. What was once called The Great War.”
I remembered some of the vehicles looked like vintage World War One tanks. No wonder there had been so many horses.
“What are we going to do with her?”
“Please, please take me back to Mama. Papa and my brothers were out in the field. I don’t know what happened to them. Mama was running away with me and I got lost.”
“They’re dead. Her entire community did not survive.”
“Thanks to you.”
“Why her? Does she grow up to do something important?”
“Do not think of how you help others as necessarily affecting significant events along a perceived time stream. Her life is valuable as it is, not because her future actions will have profound consequences.”
“Please. Who are you? Do you know where my Mama is?”
“No, little one. But this man will take you someplace safe.”
The girl looked away from Raven and noticed the beach for the first time. She’d probably never seen an ocean before. “How did we get here?” She looked all around. “Where is my village, the war, where did it go?”
I walked toward her. She trembled but didn’t run away.
“How did you do that?”
“Become so…strange…like not a man?”
“I did what I had to. You would have been killed otherwise. Will you come with me?”
She looked back at Raven who nodded her head and smiled. I don’t remember ever seeing her smile before.
“Where will you take me?”
I realized I hadn’t any idea but looked back toward the doorway. “Through there.”
“How can this door be here without a house?”
She was dirty, probably hungry, but her fear was beginning to fade as the curious strangeness of her surroundings continued to be impressed upon her.
“Take my hand and I’ll show you.”
She recoiled at first. I smiled. I hoped I looked friendly and safe, maybe like an Uncle because I knew I didn’t appear old enough to be a Grandpa.
She took my open hand and we walked toward the door together. Then we were on the other side but although I was still there, she couldn’t feel or see me. “Monsieur? Monsieur?”
It was a refuge camp. Maybe run by the Red Cross. A nurse saw her and walked up speaking in French. “Where did you come from? Are you hurt? Is anyone with you?”
The nurse knelt down and quickly looked the child over.
“There was a man. He saved me from the Germans and took me to a woman. He brought me here but he’s gone now.”
“Come with me. I will take care of you. We’ll have a doctor examine you to make sure you are well.”
The scene around me faded and I was on the beach again back in my solid human body.
“What will happen to her?”
“You may never know.”
“Then what’s the point? I mean, I grab her off of a battlefield where she was seconds from being blown to bits, bring her here, and then take her back to her native place and time where she can be cared for. Why?”
“You saved her life. Isn’t that enough?”
I stopped at that one. Wasn’t it enough to save even a single human life? Do police officers or firefighters always know how a life they’ve saved turns out. I didn’t even know her name.
“What happened to me. When the shell was about to hit, I changed.”
“There is what you might think of as a barrier or energy between one world and the next. You have the ability to take that energy with you and wear it like a shroud.”
“It was like I was made out of whatever it was.”
“In that form, you are all but invulnerable and possess what you might consider great strength or power. It provides you with abilities you lack as a corporeal human being or a hologram.”
“It just happens to me?”
“In time, you will learn more control.”
I looked back in the direction of the doorway but it was gone and so was something else. My self-pity. When I saw the girl and what was happening to her, I forgot about everything else. I had to help her. Was that the reason Raven made the door appear, to find my purpose by saving someone?
“You’ll meet her again.”
I turned back to her. “When? Why?”
“You’ll know the ‘why’ when it happens. As for the when…”
And then I woke up.
I wrote this for no reason in particular except that some people have said they like the series. I “killed” the man who would become Jonathan Cypher in I Can Never Dream About Home and needed to figure out what happened to him next. This is only a short sample. If he is a dream or at least his experiences are dreams, who is doing the dreaming?
His previous adventures include:
- I is an Illusion
- My Semi-Controlled Nightmare
- Saving One
- The Kepler Tomb
- I Can Never Dream About Home
Jonathan’s and Raven’s next adventure is Tikkun Olam.
11 thoughts on “Dead Man’s Life”
I can suggest an answer to your question about who is doing the dreaming, from the Jewish notion that the human body is a vessel to contain a soul, a “neshamah”. If the vessel is likened to a clay pot or vase that can shatter, releasing that soul, then the soul returns to HaShem. However, that soul is not bound within the time-stream any longer, and it may be summoned to return to the time-stream in a very different “location” from the one it left (e.g., just in time for one of two resurrections: one coinciding with a “rapture” and the beginnings of battles to establish a messianic kingdom, and the other for severe judgment). In this view, all souls originated at the beginning of creation, and were then distributed across the time-scape into their “vessels”. Now, the notion of a “vessel” is rather an under-estimation, because the soul’s control of a body may be likened more to riding a powerful horse, or to operating a sophisticated machine. Nonetheless, when that biological machine can no longer support life, the soul still continues to perceive.
Using a model of this sort, your Jonathan Cipher character would now be dreaming his dreams and conducting his interactions with objects and people as a disembodied soul that has been empowered to employ matter and energy in new ways to accomplish what might be deemed effectively “angelic” assignments. His previous bodily vessel was apparently severely injured and comatose, and even before it died altogether his neshamah was already being assigned “rescue mission” exercises in a form he perceived as like dreaming. Thus his post-separation existence apart from his no-longer-functioning body merely continued the same dreamlike perceptual pattern, whereby he appears to be receiving doses of a kind of education about himself and his views about the universe/multiverse. One may wonder how many such lessons he will be given to absorb before he may be summoned to more ultimate tasks.
Interesting. For a moment, I thought you were going to say that HaShem is dreaming Jonathan. You make an intriguing suggestion but then, in this paradigm, who is Raven?
That’s a very good question, James, but *you’re* the author who invented her. You’ve previously hinted that she is some sort of alien, and that there are others like her, but the model I’ve invoked doesn’t have a specific niche for their kind. In some ways, they too seem to fulfill an angelic role; but they seem a bit too much outside the loop to have been assigned specific missions by HaShem, even to coordinate missions for Jonathan. Even the “Q” of StarTrek seem to know more about operations in the universe among various species. Raven and her people seem more like a newly “ascended” race in the pattern of the Stargate universe, still trying to figure out the rules of that sort of existence — including how to interact with and study other races. The problem with including such an element in the universe model or its cosmology is that HaShem becomes a very remote figure, if He is deemed to exist at all — contrary to the Jewish cosmology wherein His Presence is inescapable once one is outside the comfortably insulating confines of human corporeal existence.
Interesting. I recall that one of the theories about how Sam got his “assignments” in the Quantum Leap TV show was that they came from HaShem. But then again, in a created universe, how could elements in the timestream go wrong and require human intervention to set them right?
Simple — A created universe is not the same as a deterministic one. The notion of “Free Will” for its denizens opens the door to all sorts of things going “wrong”. The whole notion of redemption is one of setting right something that went wrong due to undesirable or mistaken exercises of human freedom of action. The interesting question is about how to recognize right, wrong, better, worse, etc., in order to make informed decisions about how one might take action to improve matters. This is where revealed standards and principles from the Creator come into play. And instead of a great big grandparent-in-the-sky stepping in to clean up all the messes humans have made for themselves, the humans are taught to mature as they follow such principles to clean up their own messes. And maybe sometimes they get a bit of help from someone else “above their pay grade”.
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I just read an article about Jacob, Purim, and reincarnation at Aish.com that might (sort of) apply.
I’m not sanguine about the notion of reincarnation, because it has no support in the Tanach, as distinct from resurrection, which does. The difference is teleological, which implies a long-term plan, as distinct from cyclical, which is just more of the same with no guarantee of progress.
Well, remember I am writing fiction so not everything that appears in my stories has to be absolutely factual.
This is exceptionally well written. Thank you for sharing it.
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Thank you for your kind comments, Cara.