Original Jacket by F. P. Dorchak & Hollopoint Design, Inc.
Additional Jacket design by F. P. Dorchak & Author House
SLEEPWALKERS © 2001 F. P. DORCHAK
A world where desires come true. A world with no hurt, no wrongs...no misery. A world of plenty where no individual infringes upon the next. Where injustice is a nonword, because it's a nonidea. A world without war and poverty and greed, where we all help and understand each other. Where we all learn and teach each other. A world where everyday is today and there is no tomorrow, no yesterday. A world where Man and Woman enjoy each other, the planet and all its creatures, and their lives together. Where magic reigns supreme, because it exists.
A world where dreams come true.
Would he stop that incessant LICKING?
Lord Winston du Lac, four-year-old, pure-bred Labrador Retriever, sat curled up on the couch, intently focused on licking foreign matter from his underbelly.
Why does he do it? Always that same hypnotic...sloppy... grinding and-and...sucking. Drives me frigging nuts. Why can't he leave his body alone for just a few moments? And why does it bother me so damned much? What the hell is his problem?
Daniel Grant watched as his dog ground away under a leg. Tried to make it a nonproblem by trying to blank out his mind and pretend it didn't bother him, but the more he
ignored it, the more the water built up behind the dam.
Why does it bother me that he nips at his skin? Licks and scratches himself? He obviously does it for a reason-not just to piss me off. Did something bite him? Is he allergic? Isn't he just doing what comes naturally? What right do I have to snap at him?
Fuck it, today was different.
"Winston! Think you could come up for air, for crying out loud?"
Winston stopped, licked his chops, and looked at him, panting heavily as if just completing a mild trot.
"Thank you." Daniel repositioned his glasses on his nose and lay back in the recliner, closing his eyes. The headache was still there. Pounding, squeezing. He knew he wasn't mad at Winston because of the headache-his licking and preening always bothered him-but it certainly didn't make it any easier. And the four ibuprofen seemed to be taking their sweet time kicking in. Daniel tried to imagine himself sitting beside a babbling brook, one he'd actually been to up in northwestern Montana, but no sooner had he done this, when Winston casually funneled his nose back under the leg he'd been working, and continued where he'd left off.
"Winston!" In one swift and jarring movement, Daniel sharply jerked forward the recliner he sat in, in a loud, crashing action, jolting Winston out of his reverie, and off the couch. He departed the room at a fast trot.
"What the hell did I do in some other life! All I ask is for some peace and quiet-is that too much to ask?"
Daniel settled back into his La-Z-Boy and sighed, but the guilt wasted no time in borrowing in. "Ah, damn." He leaning forward and took a quick peek behind the recliner to see if Winston was anywhere in view-he wasn't-and decided not to go after him just yet. Regroup. Relax. Kill off this damned headache, first. When he wasn't scolding Winston, the headache reverted back to its dull throb, but both times he erupted, it pounded mightily in his skull. Relax, he told himself, relax....
His gaze fell to his left hand. What the hell? Unsure of what he was looking at, Daniel grudgingly, again, straightened the chair upright, and brought in the hand for closer examination. Shifting in his seat, Daniel switched on the floor lamp, but the soft yellowish glow casting across his features did little to soften the blow of discovery.
"Spots? "Noooo, don't tell me-" Age spots...
He wasn't sure, but swore these hadn't been there yesterday, when he'd washed up in a men's room. Was positive they hadn't been there, and, in fact, remembered looking to his hands, blithely remarking at how young looking and strong they were for a man yet shy of forty. He was also impressed with that little knot of muscle in the crux of the "V" formed between the base of his thumb and the base of his forefinger, something he rarely saw in others. But now....
"Dammit." Daniel rubbed them; turned over his hand. Horrified, he looked to his other one and found...two more.
Three? On his hands, his own personal flesh? Was someone shooting
Age Rays at him?
Immediately, his memory rewound fifteen to twenty years earlier, to when he'd visited his folks, one summer while he had still been in college. He'd been reading a book while sunning out in the back yard, when his well-meaning mother came out and gave him all manner of grief about skin cancer and the evils of the sun. He'd laughed her off, in characteristically youthful fashion, saying he didn't believe in it, that how could the sun be "evil," since it was as much a part of life as anything else-but now, he wondered, where had these evil little spots come from? Was the sun catching up with him-was old age?
His head throbbed.
"Great." Daniel got to his feet, scraping at his skin with a thumbnail. He left the living room, and passed through the kitchen and hallway for the bathroom, where the lighting was better, and, somehow, the ability to inspect also much improved (it was a bathroom thing). These couldn't be age spots, or liver spots, at least not what he was aware age or liver spots were supposed to be-no, these were nearly nonexistent in that he wouldn't even have noticed them if he hadn't been
for them. They were about the size of liver spots, but were only slightly off-color from his skin, and only very slightly raised. He examined them closely, poking at them with a pair of tweezers. "No way. This is a dream." They actually looked closer to a bunch of skin "cells" coming together...fused...a circling of the wagons, maybe. Run em round, boys! Gotta fight off the demon sun!
Dejected, Daniel tossed the tweezers back into the cabinet and plunked down on the toilet seat.
"It's just one more thing, ain't it?" First the hair grays, then the skin muddles-what's next? Failing eyesight? Senility?
For those bits of gray that gained in number, he used to say he'd had them since his twenties-true enough-however not in the quantity that gathered this year.
Guess I can count myself lucky, after all, most of my high school friends already had receding hairlines ten years ago. Better the change in color, than the loss of ground. It was bound to happen, old chum, get used to it-
It's just that I pictured myself in a far different place by the time I got them, is all....
Daniel got up and switched off the light. Out in the hallway lay Winston, once again curled up, but quiet, eyes casually tracking his every movement. Daniel reached down and stroked him. There was a healing quality to the feel of a dog that defied all explanation, like they were meant to be touched. Winston lifted his head and licked him. "I love you, boy, I just don't know what gets into me sometimes." Daniel returned to the living room, and his recliner, Winston getting up and faithfully trotting behind as if nothing'd happened. Before Daniel again sat down, he reached into his pocket and removed the small, balled-up slip of pink paper, crumpled and worn from repeated contact and anger. With his name on it. Yep, first came the gray hair, then the pink slips. Ain't life wunnerful? No spots-spots; one day you're employed, and the next....
Daniel undid the balled-up paper, and again read it. His name was still there, there was no mistake about that. No joke. Today's date, too; not a dream. The only thing missing was why. Why had he been let go? Had his work really been that bad? His appearance that careless? He'd never told an off-color, politically-incorrect joke in his life-well, maybe once-ok twice-so why'd he been canned? Why was it that every time he seemed to get something good, it got ripped out from under him? One step forward, two steps back, swing your partner, do-see-do. It began with that Team Lead position, only to have it turn into a "title-only promotion," no increase in pay or grade, and no clout. Next was the supervisor position-which he only got because the first choice had gotten a better offer elsewhere-and it actually turned out to be more of an administrative figureheadship. And now, once he thought he'd actually made inroads into the upper ranks-
Who was he kidding? He knew. He was middle management. A pawn on the financial board game of life. That was all he needed to know. Why should he have expected anything more? It was the era of corporate downsizing and restructuring. It was nothing personal, his manager had told him, at nine-oh-seven this morning, you needn't take it personal, Dan, it's just the way things are-
Not take it personal?
-it's got nothing to do with your performance, one way or the other. It's just what happens today. Corporate America, you know, changing paradigms-
Oh, sure. What you're really telling me is the company can't keep our profit margins where they used to, so they had to cut back on personnel to maintain their margin-oh, and sorry, pal, but thanks for all the effort...
-we'll give you excellent references, even enroll you in a job placement program on our dime-
Yeah, place this. Job placement. Gives the Big Boys a warm-fuzzy by "trying" to do some
good for shit-canned employees as we get our final boot out the door. Oh, and by the way, don't let it hit you on the way out.
So, how many employees actually found placement commensurate with their abilities, their previous standings? How many actually found jobs? No, he was out on his rear, and without a blanket between it and the asphalt. Sure, a token separation package, but what'd that amount to after six months? A year? Linda still had her job, but that wasn't the point. What would he do? What would Daniel Grant do for gainful, meaningful, life-defining employment? Sure jobs were opening, but there was next to nothing in middle management-and why?-could it be that there were others, like him, also being called into their bosses' offices at nine-oh-seven in the morning, also finding the stamp of a size-ten on their backsides? He'd seen the 60 Minutes exposé, he knew he was screwed, and without dinner, or a kiss.
Age spots at thirty-eight. Gray hairs. Pink slips. What'd happened to Young and Invincible Forever? To retiring with a company you'd been loyal to for sixteen years? Companies that stressed loyalty, yet when it came right down to it, how much loyalty did a company have for an employee when it came to profit margins and the bottom line? Do your timecard-hey, no cheating! What's an extra hour or two, Dan, m'boy, you can use the dough! You wanna make manager, don't you, buddy? C'mon, Company Man, Danny, Company Man....
"Company Man, my ass." He'd read about a multi-billion-dollar corporation that fired several top executives because they weren't turning the profits their CEO felt they should have been turning. He remembered thinking:
how much money does a sixteen-billion-dollar-a-year corporation need?
There was one thing Daniel felt he had over most of those fired execs on
60 Minutes: time. As many gray hairs as were moving in, he was still younger than most of the others out there, and, luckily for his wife's income, he and Linda could both weather the drastic cut in pay that now existed.
As long as she kept her job.
And he had other skills, however rusty. He'd been a technical writer, and had engineering and management degrees, which oughtta amount for something, however low paying the position to begin with. But look on the bright side, he was a lot better off. Did he want to stay with an organization that fired loyalty in a blink of an eye? Maybe this was just what the doctor ordered, a swift kick in the keister. Maybe he should look into smaller offerings-with his experience he could easily tackle smaller structures-and doing so for less wouldn't be a problem. All he needed was the work, because...
Because without work
he was nuthin.
Daniel lay back in the La-Z-Boy, headache finally gone, and had lost track of how long he'd been there. It wasn't like it mattered, since he now had all the time in the world. He'd taken to tracking a sunny patch of afternoon light that slowly crawled across a section of wall opposite him. Thought of how he'd normally be at work now (it didn't matter what time it was-the sun was still up, wasn't it?). About how that happy little piece of afternoon light had been doing this forever, and he never knew it. It was content with itself, didn't have to look for a new job. It had all it needed right there, a window to shine through, a wall to warm. And when he was gone, long gone, that little patch of sunny delight would continue its travels across that wall until the house was torn down-and even then it would continue to travel the earth. Building or no, this little ray of happiness making its cheerful journey for time immemorial-until the sun novaed, of course. Daniel removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing shut his eyes. He had to admit, this was the most relaxed he'd been in, well, a long time. At work, he'd be stressed out by now, probably be on his second or third pot of coffee. Have to reprimand
an errant employee for telling some off-color joke, or amend an incorrectly filled-out timecard-or, worse yet, attend yet another meeting that again put him through lunch. After all the lecturing, when he'd been a mere peon, that it was important to take breaks, once he made supervisor there were no such admonishments. In fact, unofficially, he was required to put in so much extra overtime without compensation, and once he hit the magical quota (ten hours per week), then and only then could he charge his efforts to the company. Of course, there were others out there, in other companies, who were all too quick to point out that he should be glad he got to earn any overtime. And once he made manager, well, there was no such thing as overtime, in any compensatory manner.
Is this what he'd be missing? Is this what had defined his existence? A sense of hurry up and wait? A sense of giving up the body for the company? For high blood pressure, overwork, and bullshit? He'd never considered any other ways of spending his days, that there were other life-and-work probabilities out there....
Daniel soaked up every ounce of relaxation. He didn't know how long he'd have before he might begin to go crazy from lack of
work, or when Linda'd be home, and he hadn't looked at the time in...oh, who cared. He wasn't complaining. This relaxation thing was strangely comforting, something he'd forgotten. He found he could easily fall asleep...and actually began to, beginning to drift...
...felt light and airy, as if floating. Were there really other ways to spend your days, other lives, and, if so...how could he find one? How could he change his life...for the better...
As if buoyed by a feathery hand, his mind elongated and expanded. It was the softest, most tranquil, of sensations....
What if...what if he lived on another planet-or in another time? A different him, in a different place...what would he be doing? Would his life be any better? Or would he still be complaining, but about the problems of that time, instead? What if...
(a cabin, trees, and water...)
Daniel felt the oddest sensation, a vibrating of his body from side to side, but on the inside. He shot out his hands to steady himself, when the phone rang.
Blinking, he reluctantly readjusted to his surroundings. The phone continued to ring. Groggy, he jumped to his feet, half-stumbling into the kitchen. It was surprisingly difficult to walk, his body not quite willing to respond to movement just yet. Daniel stopped short of the phone and answering machine. "I don't have to answer it, do I?" Not today, anyway. Reaching down, he turned up the machine's volume and waited for the incoming call to register.
The phone quit ringing, and the internal click-click of the answering machine kicked in. Daniel folded his arms. Whoever was calling was most likely at work. The machine's outgoing message came to life, and Daniel smiled at his wife's voice. She loved making these things. It was one of life's little pleasures to see her enjoy herself when she recorded them.
Hello, you've reached the Grants. Neither of us feel like answering the phone, right now, so you'll just have to be satisfied with a vicarious experience! Leave a-BEEEEEP!
"Hi, honey, it's me, I'm not-"
Daniel grabbed the phone, stabbing the Off button.
"Linda?" All his cockiness instantly evaporated.
"Danny? What are you doing home?"
(sunny patch of afternoon light)
"Oh, just thought I'd come home early, you know."
Linda paused. He imagined her eyes narrowing at the other end of the phone. "That's not like you. What's wrong."
No matter how good he thought he felt, he couldn't bring himself to continue on in the same cheery manner. He was caught. Nabbed. Voice wavering, he said, "I, well, there's no use sugar-coating it. I've been let go."
"What? You're joking, right?"
Daniel coughed, his throat suddenly dry. It felt blocked, numb, and his wife's sympathy made it worse. He shouldn't have answered the damned phone. "I wish I were. Tom called me into his office this morning. I'd barely had time to take off my jacket."
"Oh, honey, I don't know what to say-I'll come home early-"
"No-it's okay, I'm fine, really."
"You don't sound fine."
"I am." He was an open book, and sometimes, like now, he hated that. He paused, again trying to clear his throat. He could be so tough at work, so professional, but at home all defenses were down. He didn't want to be tough, didn't want to be professional, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. He wanted to be vulnerable and loved and cared for. Human. Wanted that soothing comfort only his wife, and their home, gave.
"Well, I've had worse days." Daniel heard muffled voices in the background, which Linda immediately squelched.
"Look, honey, I was going to leave a message I was going to stay late, but I'll come home early-"
"No, really, it's okay. I'm actually kind of enjoying myself. Did you know Winston licks himself even when we're not here-he doesn't actually do it just to annoy me? Or that there's this little patch of afternoon sunlight that makes its way across our living-room walls?"
"Oh, honey, I wish I could say something to make you feel better."
Daniel smiled. "You already have. I'll be okay. There're other jobs out there. Maybe I can get back into technical writing. Got any openings?"
There was another pause at her end. Daniel felt her reaching out to him, but also felt her trying to come to some kind of decision at her end of the phone with a co-worker. He was just about to continue when he again heard a begging for Linda's attention.
"Look, hon," Linda broke in, "I can't leave now, but I'll try to make it home early, okay? I'll bring home dinner-"
"You really don't have to do this, I'm fine-"
"-quit arguing. I know you well enough to know you and your work were so much a part of each other. Don't argue with me, okay? I'll be home soon enough, and we can talk more about it. I just wish there was something more I could say."
"Just don't get laid off."
Linda chuckled. "I'll try not to. Now, relax. When was the last time you did that?"
"Two minutes ago."
"And before that?"
"See? Go watch some television, take a nap-go see what that little patch of sunshine is up to. I've got to run, but I'll see you soon enough. Love you-"
"Yeah, but I'll be seeing a lot more of me." Daniel hung up the phone, then sat down at the breakfast nook. He searched the walls, here, for any patches of light that might be crawling across the kitchen, but found none. He wasn't all right, and didn't want to be. A part of him wanted to keep that eternally optimistic approach he was known for, but couldn't after talking with his wife. What was his next move? What was the reality of his situation? If there really were other lives out there, how could he find one for himself? Or maybe it was all just bullshit.
And Youth? It was really only a pipe dream-he had no youth, especially when a company could hire a hungry young buck at the lower end of the pay scale-or someone without a job who'd jump at anything-someone they could and would fire once that person had gotten to where he'd been. Face it, Danny-boy, you...are screwed. The American Dream is just that. There's a new age dawning, and only those who make the rules are going to survive, the ones who have the money and can position themselves however they want, fire whomever they want, shelter and protect their earnings and intents under whatever term and titles they cared to devise at the moment. It's all in the name of profit, the all-fucking-mighty dollar, and you're nothing but a bad investment. A pink slip sent to the office of New Beginnings. Your only consolation, if you can call it that, is that, sooner or later, we all die, even CEOs.
Daniel Grant sunk his head into his hands and did something else he hadn't done in a long, long time.