Selecting the Superior Story

I must apologize, but you will not be reading a story cut from one of my dreams today. With working mandatory overtime through the holidays, a new baby born this month, and my chief editor (wife) taking care of a new baby, I have decided that it is time to start wrapping up this little experiment. So what little time I have for the foreseeable future will be focused on editing these entries and getting them ready to publish. 

Now, I’ll be giving my readers the chance to decide what I write. Beginning as soon as you read this, I’ll be accepting votes. You can vote on anyone of my blog entries, specifically the story part that came from a dream. Included with the vote, I am taking votes for a medium. Whichever one wins, I will expand that story into a full blown novel or screenplay. Now I believe that some of them are better suited for this than others, but I’ll let you determine that.

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Voting will be done by simply using my contact page (http://www.razaugg.com/contact/) and sending me a message with your votes. I think it would be really cool if you told me why you picked that piece as well. Once I get 1,000 votes, at that point I will set a time limit before I close the polls and begin working on the chosen project. So, if you really want a certain story, get your friends to read it and send in their votes as soon as possible.

What’s that? You don’t think that gives you enough motivation to send in your vote? How about prizes? Everyone who votes will be entered into a pool and five random readers will be selected to receive a signed copy of the piece (in either it’s printed or filmed form) as well as a signed copy of my first novel, Hunt of the Fallen.

In closing, I wish a fantastic end of the year to all my readers. May you have a season of marvelous holidays full of family, laughter, and charity for all. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on my pieces.

Here is a list of the blogs/stories available for your votes. Titles will likely change with full story.

-Giants and Good Judgement - A human scouting party is confronted by their giant enemies.

-Humanity and Hemoglobin - Vampires take advantage of those looking for quick reality TV fame.

-Artistic Actuality - One young man discovers that he can turn art into reality.

-Manipulation and Misinformation - A pleasant evening turns ugly as strangers attack one another.

-Prisons and Parenting - An imprisoned man blames his lifelong friend for framing him, but his father hasn't had his say yet.

-Covetous Command - Two enemy knights must fight the hate and greed of their people to protect the ongoing peace talks.

-Perplexing Perspectives - A loving man desperately tries to save his family from a witch, but not everything is as it seems.

-Cause and Effects of Exorcism - A small family travels through time to save a man from a grumpy life and his care facility from his ghost..

-Starships and Sustainability - Searching for a new planet, a ship of humans finds that they were followed.

-Analyzing an Adventurous Afterlife - Framed for betraying heaven, he must escape to prove himself.

-Understanding the Undead - Saving a little girl from attacking zombies gets a survivalist more than he asked for.

-The Freezing Fingers of a Fantastic Father - Trying to protect his pride, a young man's father accepts the challenge of a home-town bully.

-Partitioning the Peacocks from the Paupers - Dealing with the higher class, this restaurant employee must keep out the less desirable ilk.

-Trusting in the Toy Story - A secret underground base, a lover's betrayal, and a lot of loaded guns all comes down to a coin toss.

-Polar Bears and Comcast - Two cousins row to an island castle to defeat the witch that lives there.

Also include the format in which you would like your chosen story to play out.

-Novel

-Screenplay (which could turn into a film)

-Video game pitch and supporting documents

Giants and Good Judgement

The rain drizzled down like a thousand tiny hands patting me on the back for my good work. Or it could have been smacking me on the behind for being so horrible. I couldn’t tell. The spirits knew I had plenty of sins for which I had yet to suffer. 

I pulled my cloak closer, hoping that the cloth and my leather jerkin would keep me dry until we could return to camp. Though the mud soaking me from underneath made that cause futile. But I continued to crawl and scoot my way up the slope as smoothly as possible, despite the discomfort.

A quick brightening of the horizon froze my progress, and I hissed, signaling to my two companions to hold their position. My one good eye scanned the darkness around me for movement, but I only saw the outlines of bushes and trees, perfectly still but for the occasional tremble from drops of rain. The light beyond the hill grew into a steady glow reflecting off the canopy above its source. 

I clicked my tongue to resume our journey, yet more cautiously now that we knew the enemy was near. 

Creeping toward the trunk of a tree at the crest of the hill, I peeked my head over. I might have lost an eye in battle a few years earlier, but I had no trouble seeing the monstrous size of the army we faced. They were giants, of course, so their towering frames were no surprise when this war had been going on for generations. But we had never seen them gathered in this large of numbers. They had set up a gigantic barricade of fallen trees, but I could make out the tops of many of their heads. And those were only the tallest, I knew there were others just out of my sight. And the encampment stretched as far as I could see in either direction.

“Well that looks less than encouraging.”

I looked to my sides as Jasmine and Prince Alan came up beside me. “Very, very true, my prince.”

“What are they planning?” Jasmine asked.

The encampment seemed set to fight, but I couldn’t feel the charge of nervous energy typical of a night before battle. Nervous laughter and easy conversation reached my ears on the wind. If I had to hazard a guess, I would have said the giants seemed more confused than anything else.

“It’s hard to tell,” I said in answer to Jasmine.

“We should get a closer look,” the prince suggested, and he shifted in preparation to continue.

I laid a hand on his shoulder. “No. We are going to head back and report what we have seen.”

“But we need to know what’s going on,” the prince argued.

My eye, which had seen dozens more battles than the young prince, met his glare, which quickly softened. “That is true, but they aren’t making preparations for immediate battle. And more importantly, I won’t put a member of the royal family in any danger if it is not necessary.”

“I can take care of myself.” A hint of the glare returned.

The hand on his shoulder tightened. “I know that, as do all the bruises you gave me, but I am still your superior officer for now, even if you are my prince. Besides, putting you at risk would be like stretching my neck out under the headsman’s axe. Have you found your father to be a very forgiving man?”

Even speaking those words in the wrong company could be considered treason, but I knew Alan. I had trained him. And he had a better heart than most. 

Prince Alan considered my words and smiled. “Captain’s orders.”

I nodded at Jasmine. “You lead the way.”

As we all scooted around to start crawling back to camp, a gust of wind whipped twigs and leaves into our faces, followed quickly by two trembles I felt in the ground beneath me.

“Aw, spirits,” I muttered as I reached for the sword on my back.

“Going somewhere?” a deep voice rumbled above us.

The giant was armored in thick leathers, protecting its already tough skin. Its legs were easily mistaken for tree trunks in the darkness. A true tree trunk rested on its shoulder, banded in iron that made it a quite intimidating club.

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“Run!” I shouted.

And as the scouts had trained to do when caught unprepared, we split up into all different directions.

“Op,” the giant exclaimed, “we can’t let you go quite yet.”

With that tone, I knew that the prince had been targeted. Skidding in the mud, my legs pumped to bring me back to where the giant was trying to cut off Alan’s escape.

A hand as large as a full-grown boar reached down to grasp a member of the royal family with enough strength to crush him into a mush that would be indistinguishable from the muck at our feet.

In the last few feet I dove and drew my blade.

The monstrous creature bellowed in pain as it grasped one hand with the other. Two of its fingers lay at my feet like crooked logs ready to be burned. I turned back, ready to collect more firewood. I was not, however, ready for a giant, booted foot to slam into my side and send me flying into a nearby tree. Air fled from my lungs as if escaping from a fire, and at that moment, I believed the fire in my chest was real. 

When I opened my eyes, the enraged giant was raising the same foot to grind me into the earth. I lifted my sword, barely more than a nail, but he wouldn’t enjoy stepping on that.

“Run!” I screamed at the prince, comforted in the knowledge that my distraction would at least let him escape into the night.

“Stop, Vutner!” croaked a voice that cut through the night sharper than my blade did with giant’s flesh.

Everyone froze for an eternal moment. Clumps of mud dripped onto my face from the giant’s boot less than an arm’s length away. Prince Alan had halted as well, cut off by the two giants that now lumbered into sight at the bottom of the hill.

One of the new giants held Jasmine with one hand by the back of his coat. My trusted lieutenant appeared unconscious but otherwise unharmed. The giant’s other hand supported her companion as they climbed toward us in the light of a huge torch that fizzled with each drop of rain.

The foot hovering above me moved away and the giant called Vutner turned to the newcomers. “He took my fingers,” he bellowed in complaint.

This much talking among giants already had me out of my depth. In the heat of battle, there wasn’t much talking. It was all smashing and stabbing. This whole situation felt very odd. I hissed and waved to Alan to join me.

“And he’s never received injury at our hands?” the giant that needed the support of his companion said as they came to a stop nearby. He pointed a cane at me and my missing eye.

Vutner bowed his head to his apparent superior, sufficiently chastised. He grunted at me as he tried to slow the bleeding in his hand. 

“I got ya, Vut,” the female giant said as she set Jasmine against a tree. She was dressed in similar leather armor, and aside from the knives strapped to her thighs, each bigger than a greatsword, she only had a bag slung over her shoulder which she removed and started pulling out what looked like bandaging.

Seeing a good gamble, I stepped forward and sheathed my sword. “My apologies,” I started. “I thought you were going to kill my companion here.”

The frailer giant with the cane and a cloak of patchwork furs raised an understanding palm. “An understandable mistake. Vutner has a tendency to leap before he looks.”

Vutner met my gaze as his hand was being seen to by his companion’s practiced hand. We nodded a soldier’s understanding to one another.

“I am Shaman Harrek, from the Grey Cliff clan,” the older giant said through a wrinkled and smiling face. “And these are my aides, Ritithia and Vutner, whom you have already met.”

The prince and I nodded to each of them. 

“My name is Ken,” I said as I stepped forward before Alan could. “And these are my lieutenants, Jasmine and Shaw. We are a scouting party.”

The giant’s glanced at one another before Harrek spoke. “I guessed as much, but is this not Alan, the human prince?” He pointed the cane at the young man behind me.”

He stepped out openly. “I am Prince Alan.”

My head dropped into my hands in frustration.

“Do not worry, Ken. We won’t harm him.” The old giant smiled kindly with wrinkles as wide as my fingers.

“As long as you are right,” Ritithia added quietly. 

My body tensed again. “What was that?”

Harrek waved Ritithia off. “We will come to that, but what I can assure you is that none of you are in danger tonight.” He caught my glance toward Jasmine. “Yes, well, not any more. Riti, Vut can finish that himself. Let us have at least a little shelter.”

With that, the giant pulled even more out of the bag she had been carrying. A kind of hide tarp appeared, which she expertly tied to the trees to keep the rain from soaking us further. She then produced a giant-sized folding chair, which the shaman accepted gratefully before settling down into it. 

Vutner had finished bandaging his hand, and had dragged his club beneath the tarp, setting its least muddy side up. “Have a seat.”

Alan and I did so, and Jasmine was soon resting at our feet.

“I’m sorry,” I began to say almost as soon as I had sat down. “But I’ve never known such hospitality to exist among giants, and I’ve been studying you all my life.”

Ritithia grunted and Harrek smiled sadly. “We could say the same about you. We look at one another only in the context of warfare. Have any of us tried to truly understand one another, more than just to find the other’s weaknesses?”

I couldn’t disagree. “So, what is happening now.”

“A dialogue,” Harrek said as he stuck the torch he had been carrying into the ground between us, a blazing bonfire that illuminated the hope and fear in his eyes. Vutner and Ritithia took up a watch around the small shelter.

“About what?” Alan asked.

Shaman Harrek fixed him with an unblinking stare. “The truth.”

“Truth?” Alan was just as confused as I was.

“More specifically,” the shaman explained, “the truth about the past. Tell me, do you know why we are at war?”

The prince looked at me and back to the giant. “Because you keep attacking and killing us. You are a threat to our existence that we strive to eliminate.”

Harrek chuckled dryly, but the mirth didn’t extend beyond his mouth. “And that is the same reason we fight against you.” 

Silence followed which allowed the humans to realize what he was saying. The giants were just as worried about us as we were about them, and thought they were just as justified in killing us. The thought went against everything we had been taught for generations. However, something about it stroked my heart with a gentle ease. 

The shaman continued. “But we have been fighting for so long that none of us can remember why the war began. I assume it is the same with you.”

Prince Alan looked at me, and I nodded. He passed that nod to the giant. “Yes, but there is no way to rediscover it.”

The smile that spread across Harrek’s face showed the most genuine happiness I had ever seen on a giant. “I believe there is. But I’ll need your help.”

Alan’s eyes widened as his mouth searched for the right words. “I can’t…What could…How?”

“With your blood.”

The sword was in my hands and I stood in front of my prince before any of the giants had moved.

Vut glanced back at me with a smirk.

Shaman Harrek lifted his palms in the universal gesture of peace. “Oh, not like that, Ken,” he assured. “Only a small amount will suffice. I’m sure he has lost more in training with you.”

The prince put a hand on my arm and guided me back to my seat. “How can my blood help?”

“It would be easier to show you with my own,” the shaman assured.

Ritithia spun around and knelt next to him. “No! You don’t have enough strength left to do it twice. You said we would only be looking for the truth through their ancestors.”

Harrek’s voice was suddenly hard. “They have as much of a right to the truth as we do. And if they realize it, we could end the war tonight.”

This thought sparked a hope inside me that I hadn’t realized could exist, and my heart pounded with anticipation at what the night would bring.

Apparently, the prince hoped for the same thing, because he voiced what I was thinking. “What can I do?”

The Shaman sighed. “For now, just watch, and listen.” 

We received a glare from Ritithia as she stood back up, but I sensed it was based more from fear, than actual malice. That however, didn’t lessen the danger I knew was behind that glare if things went badly tonight.

“If this is a danger to you…” I began.

“It is worth the risk,” Harrek insisted. “And I accept whatever consequences come, as you must, Riti.” 

With a reluctant bow of her head, she turned back to keeping watch.

The wise, old giant began to draw the tip of his cane through the muddy forest floor. “I call it Blood Memory, and it is a very difficult magic to perform. At least it is for the moment, as I have just recently developed it.”

I’d had an inkling that magic would be involved, and I voiced my opinion. “Can we trust this magic, my prince? I mean, we know that magicians haven’t been the most honest people.”

Alan didn’t have a chance to answer before Vut cut in. “And they are the most trustworthy leaders among the giants.” That shut my mouth.

The shaman continued. “It draws on the memories retained in the blood of the lives of the subject’s ancestors.”

“And’s it’s danger?” Prince Alan asked.

“Is to the performer of the magic, not the target. It draws on my life energy to access the memory. I was one of the clan’s greatest warriors before I performed it for the first time.” It was a pained smile that he gave us. 

He finished drawing in the ground, but I couldn’t recognize any of the symbols. The tip of the cane was placed in the center circle of the design, and Harrek closed his eyes.

For a time, we only listened to the wind and the rain, but a low humming began that I assumed was from the shaman. But as it grew louder, I felt like it was coming from below me. I could feel the vibrations in my feet. Then a faint flash added itself to the light of the torch. It came again, and I could see it was green. The next flash steadied into a consistent verdant glow that traced the pattern Harrek had made in the ground.

Shaman Harrek opened his eyes, which hinted at a similar hue as the magic light in the dirt. He exposed a hairy chest beneath his cloak and a stream of red began to leach from his pores, stringing its way over to the top of the cane, which now stood straight of its own accord, glowing with similar markings along its surface. The blood gathered into a blob, hovering in the air.

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Faintly at first, but with increasing detail, the orb of blood took shape, and with its shapes, the entranced giant narrated what we saw.

“Long ago, we giants didn’t live on this world. It was a land of vast wilderness and roaming beasts.” I could see all these things in the bright red hue of the giant’s blood, and one giant, with shaggy hair and large teeth stood out among the dulled details of the rest. “One day, my ancestor found a strange and tiny creature in the forest. It was a tiny child, no bigger than his finger, with insect-like wings.

“When nobody else came along to care for the creature, he took the female child home, and raised her as his own. Years later, when she had grown to her full size much like you humans, they were wandering the forest once more, when they came upon a tree they had never seen before, and at its base, was a pool of the clearest water they had ever seen. But when they touched the water, it would not let go, and ended up dragging them both into its depths. They awoke in another world, where creatures the size of his adopted child ruled the land. Yet the humans were in turmoil. The first giant and his daughter decided to help the humans, who were fighting against hordes of monsters controlled by a cursed sword.” The monsters shown in the blood seemed to leap right out of my nightmares into my vision.

“In particular, they accompanied a brave knight whose mission was to destroy the evil sword. Through their many harrowing adventures, it appeared that his daughter and the knight had fallen in love.” The memories showed the giant coming upon the couple embracing or stealing a kiss when they had the chance. “And my ancestor gave his consent for them to marry after they had destroyed the sword.”

“However, when they reached their goal and confronted the possessed sword-bearer, the bride-to-be took a fatal blow that would have killed her knight. In doing so, she created the opening he needed to defeat his enemy, and the giant destroyed the sword.” I watched the blood-image pick up the blade and snap it into several pieces.

“With her final words, my ancestor’s daughter declared her love for her knight, and for her father, who knew their lives would hold a great emptiness. But while they shared their grief, they could not agree on what to do with the girl’s remains. The knight, who had become a hero-king to his people, wished to entomb her in a shrine dedicated to her sacrifice where people could be reminded of her always. Her father, however wished to take her back home and return her to the nature where he had found her.” The images showed the giant and knight alternating between shaking fists at one another and pleading on their knees.

“With her body awaiting a decision on the funeral altar, the grieving men agreed to sleep on the issue to see if they could come up with a solution.” The giant separated from the knight and laid down in an oversized bed. “But when my ancestor awoke, he entered the altar room to see the knight at the open door on the other end and the body of his daughter missing.” Something caught my eye at that moment, but I couldn’t quite tell what.

“After arguing and accusing the other of wrongdoing, the giant fled the spears of the humans who had newly united into a strong force. With the resources he could find, he learned what he could of magic and opened another portal back to his world. But instead of going home, he brought more of his kin and friends who had loved his daughter as well, and they vowed to get her remains back from the traitorous humans and take her home.”

The blood converged back into an orb for a moment, but soon returned in a stream back into the shaman. When it had returned, the glow disappeared, and Harrek slumped over in his seat. Both Vutner and Ritithia came to his sides, providing a flask of water and checking his breathing. He seemed to be struggling to take in any air at all, and he was slumped even further over in his seat. 

After a few stressful moments, he waved off his two aides, grabbed up his fallen cane, and looked at us with raised brows and a strained grin.

“We haven't heard of any such incident,” I explained, and the prince nodded in agreement.

“As I suspected. Until I saw it through the blood, the knowledge had been completely lost to the giants as well. But I hope what you saw helps you understand us a bit more.”

“You are saying you are justified in attacking the humans who you feel stole a member of your family?” Prince Alan suggested. “But why come to us about it? You could just keep trying to kill us and find her body.”

“Did the memory show that humans took her?”

The prince’s brow wrinkled. “Well it looked like– “

“We saw what my ancestor saw and nothing more. Even he did not know exactly what happened. I believe it is possible that he let strong emotion lead him to assumptions.”

Alan smiled. “And that is why you need me.”

Shaman Harrek nodded. “I used other spells to find out where I could find a member of the royal line, and we were lucky enough to catch you out here, tonight.”

“Well,” the prince said as he slapped a knee, “let’s get this going. I’m curious.”

I raised a hand in front of my eager companion. “You say that the spell won’t hurt him, and I’m willing to believe that. But what will happen afterward? If you find out that this knight did steal the body, what will the giants do? If you find out that he is not the culprit, will that change anything?”

The smile that had been on the giant’s face lessened as his eyes turned to me. “Sadly, that I cannot say for certain. No matter the influence I have, I do not rule completely. It will need to be in agreement with the other clan shamans. If we find that the knight had betrayed my ancestor’s trust, they might want to continue the crusade, but if the humans are willing to admit fault, and maybe help return her remains, that could sway them to stop aggressions. If we find that the knight was honest about his innocence, we might just try to find a way to our original home.”

“Then again,” I added, “With all the bad blood built up over the generations could be too much for anyone to let go, and nobody would stop fighting.”

Harrek nodded somberly.

“It’s worth trying,” the prince said. I’d seen his jaw clenched like that before, and there was no changing his mind. I nodded my assent.

The shaman took a deep breath, and started as he had before. Soon enough, a stream of red began seeping right through Prince Alan’s clothing. Instinctively I stood up to keep him from danger, but he waved me down. “I think I can see it, more than just in the blood image.” His eyes had gained a similar greenish glow to what we had observed before.

“As do I, young prince. Tell us what you see.”

Alan began to describe the events that were shown in the image of the Blood Memory. While the relation began around the time that the knight first encountered the giant and adopted daughter, the majority of the tale was the same. Although, the times that the couple spent alone were a bit longer. In the end, we came to the grieving men arguing over the body of the departed woman, concluding that they would find a solution the next day. 

“The knight-king returned to his room and fell asleep. The first thing he does when he wakes up is check on the remains of his love.” 

In a scene so similar to what we had already seen, we watched the blood image of the knight open the door, only to see an empty altar and the giant standing on the other end. The ensuing argument was exactly the same as before, but the ending changed when the giant fled from the king’s soldiers.

“The knight talks with his advisors, and they assume that the giant somehow took the body back to their world. But later on, he gets reports of the giants appearing in force, attacking the kingdom’s strongholds. He surmises that the portal is still there, and that his former companion was only trying to prevent him from doing what he intended to. He would fight through the giants to find the portal and return with his fallen love.”

Yet again, the glow faded and the cane fell to the ground, but this time, Shaman Harrek fell with it before Vutner and Ritithia could reach him. The prince only seemed a bit winded, but we both got up and rushed to the giant’s side as the others laid him on his back.

“Shaman! Are you okay?” Vutner’s voice shook almost as much as Ritithia’s hands trembled as she spilled water over his lips.

His eyes flickered open, and his breathing was very shallow. His great voice came out in a whisper that could barely be heard over the patter of the rain. “I think I’ll be alright. Though you might need to build a cot to carry me back.”

“I’ll get it,” Ritithia said as she sped off into the night.

Harrek raised a weak hand. “Prince?”

Alan took the giant’s finger in his grasp. “I’m here.”

The giant turned to face him. “We must end this never-ending war that is based on a mistake. We could not find the whole truth tonight, but we did discover something.”

“We aren’t enemies,” the prince assured.

“Not just that,” I added, grasping another of the giant’s fingers. “We started as allies, and that way, we can conquer anything.”

It was a comforted smile that spread across the shaman’s face. “I’ll do all in my power to end this war.”

“Not if I end it first,” Prince Alan chuckled.

The shaman’s laugh quickly turned into a cough, but Vutner gave him water to ease his throat. “I think I’ll go to sleep now. I look forward to seeing you again, my little human friends.”

He closed his eyes and brought his hands to rest on his chest, resting as still as death. I was not so certain we would see him alive again.

After we gathered Jasmine’s unconscious form between us, we set out to return to our camp. But before we left, I turned to Vutner as he watched over his shaman. “Be safe, and I’m really sorry about those fingers.”

Vutner smiled and winked at me, something I hadn’t been able to do for years. “I barely used those ones anyway.”

I caught myself in fits of chuckling as we marched through the night that didn’t seem so dark.

 

***

 

This dream and story basically represent the opposite of what I see in most of the world today. If you judge by today’s current examples of interaction between people on opposing sides of any issue, it often results in absolutely vicious verbal attacks, sensationalized media, and even violence. In a sense, people are at war over whatever issues they are dealing with, but instead of addressing the issue, they decide to fight the people on the other side of the issue. If you take any single topic and look at “discussions” about it on the internet, you can find some of the most hate-filled, baseless, person-attacking comments that are out there. And for the most part, they attack the person with the opposing view and not the view itself.

Basically, that was what turned into an all-out war with the humans and the giants. While the original issue was to obtain the remains of a loved one, it quickly devolved into hateful attacks on their enemies and eventually a multi-generational war that left everyone off worse than before. And they didn’t just fail to accomplish their original goal, they forgot what it was completely. I fear that this is all too similar to what happens nowadays.

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So, what can be done to improve the situation?

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of observing something completely different take place on the internet. Two of my friends, one of which has conservative views on many political topics while the second sees things more from a liberal viewpoint, started to talk about something political on the internet. I feared that it would be like many of the internet interactions that just leave people feeling angry. However, they had a true discussion. They brought up points that were relevant, they recognized where their arguments might not be as strong as they had thought before, and they even saw value in what the other was trying to accomplish with their side of the issue. While they might not have solved the problem they were addressing, I believe they were both enlightened and came away with more understanding than before.

The answer to the earlier question can then be that by having a true discussion we can help avoid the hate that proliferates our world. But still, that raises the question of how they did that. How did they have a true discussion that didn’t turn from its original purpose?

My answer is that they knew one another.

These two friends did meet through me, but they got to know one another in a completely different kind of environment that let them learn that they actually liked one another and had a lot in common. And with the primary base of mutual friend ship and respect, they were able to maintain that desire to resolve the situation, and not just win a pointless argument. Their goal was to understand the issue from all viewpoints in order to come to a productive conclusion, and in so doing, people can come to understand each other more. 

Everyone has developed their opinions on an issue for a reason. Everyone has different priorities in their life. The more we talk to one another as people who have had experiences as real as ours, the less we will treat one another as hated stereotypes representing an opposing viewpoint.

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In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape gives advice to his nephew Wormwood on what to do to lead a man’s soul to darkness, misery, and eventually to hell. Part of this advice reads, “Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things that the patient can control.” Since this is what a demon would want us to do, I think it’s safe to say that it is a state of mind that we should avoid. The opposite might even be a good idea.

Luckily for Prince Alan, Ken, and the other humans, the giants initiated a true discussion, and they were able to get to know one another better. They used magic to try and find out a truth that helped move the discussion in productive directions. And while we don’t have magic in our world, we do have well-kept histories, unending information at our fingertips, and all sorts of tools that can also help us understand and interact with one another in productive ways. The hard part, but the most important part, is to use that to generate true discussions and understanding. And that is always a lot easier to do after you personally get to know the other person, whether they are family, a random person you come across, or a giant in an army you have been fighting your entire life.

Humanity and Hemoglobin

Blood dribbled across my lips and down my chin. The metallic tinge in the liquid rolled across my tongue, and I wondered at its ability to sustain life. However, I was very careful to not let too much of it fall into my throat, spilling most of it over my front. I didn’t like the taste. Never had. But right now, it was a necessity, because that’s what vampires drank, and that’s what I needed to be.

I tried not to look at Bill’s body as it hung in the vampire’s secret kitchen, draining of blood and lifeless. Only hours before, he had been doing cannon balls into the house’s pool and splashing the girls in the hot tub. Like the rest of us, he had been overjoyed at receiving the invitation to join the new reality TV show One Big House, hoping it would rocket him to stardom. Now we would be lucky to leave alive, let alone be famous.

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I’d had the good fortune of a warning when I saw the “producer” lady make the first attack on one of the other house guests in what we had thought was an interview room. However, I didn’t have much time after that before the screaming began. The only person I’d come across to warn was Karen, and she’d laughed off my story like I was a drunken lunatic. I knew my luck would run out sooner or later, and they would find me no matter how stealthily I crept around the house.

Sneaking back from the secret kitchen behind the hidden door in the pantry, I poked my head out for a split second to take in my surroundings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Well, nothing but the dead silence. Only two steps out, and a hand appeared from nowhere, grabbing my shirt and slamming me against the refrigerator. When my vision cleared, I saw what I had thought was the cameraman baring his fangs at me.

“A little mouse, squeaking around to find a way out of the trap, huh?” 

Now was the time to see if my bluff would work. I put a hand on his chest to hold him back as much as I could. “Do I look like a mouse to you?” I indicated the blood around my mouth and down my front.

His thick, brown eyebrows wiggled in confusion, and he sniffed me. “You smell like a human.”

I scoffed and gently pressed on his hand that held me. He reluctantly released me as I explained. “Of course, I smell human. I’m soaked in human blood, and I’ve been cozying up to them for days.”

He shrugged. “I guess that makes sense. I didn’t know we were gonna have anyone on the inside.” He leaned back against the island countertop.

“It’s a good way to ask them about their background; figure out which might have people come looking for them,” I said, thankful that this monster had basically handed me my cover story.

The cameraman chuckled. “Then I guess we have nothing to worry about since Mistress Georgia gave the order to take them.”

“I guess not,” I agreed, though I wanted to ask more when his words struck me, hinting that the others might not all be dead. But asking more might give away that I wasn’t actually one of them. “Is this the only one we are allowed to snack on?” I pointed back toward the pantry and Bill’s body, trying not to gag as I remembered the buckets that were collecting his blood.

“For now,” the cameraman confirmed. “We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. It’s pathetic. One even tried threatening us, saying that her father will come and get the lot of us thrown in jail.” He laughed as he turned to walk away. “I don’t think she realizes what we are, or that you were making sure nobody would look for them.” I was sure he was talking about Karen. “Come on. The Mistress has called a meeting, and you know how she gets if someone is late.”

If I went to that meeting, I would be found out the moment the producer, who was apparently their leader, Mistress Georgia, saw me. “Alright,” I said, as I grabbed a wooden spoon from the kitchen counter and followed. I prayed that some of the lore about vampires was true. As quick as I could, I snapped one end of the spoon handle to give it a point and jammed it into the monster’s back, hoping it hit the heart. 

He spun around with a snarl that cut off in a faint whimper. As he fell to his knees, his skin turned an ashy grey with red cracks growing through it. Before I knew it, he was just a smoldering pile of dust and clothing.

My heart, which had decided to pump into overdrive, began to slow, and I calmed myself by doing something normal, like sweeping up a pile of dust and folding clothing. I hid the clothes and retrieved my weaponized spoon, but it was obvious that I would need more. Unfortunately, it seemed like the vampires had done a decent job of avoiding using wood in their mansion of a house. After a few minutes of searching and sharpening, I only had my original spoon stake, a couple more broken off a cutting board, a longer one from one of the cupboard doors, and a kitchen knife.

And with my new arsenal, I took a step into the hall only to realize that I didn’t know where I was headed. The obvious choice at this point would be to escape. The longer I stayed here, the more likely it would be that I would end up very, very dead. But the words of the now pile of dust echoed in my head. We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. The conversation with myself went back and forth for too long.

What could I do for them anyway? I could go get help. How many would die while I was away? Maybe none. Maybe all. Why would I risk my life for them? I hardly know them. They are just random people I met here. I don’t even like some of them. So, who would care or blame me if I just escaped? They might. Their families might. Naturally, they would have at least some people that loved them, even if they had cut ties to one another. I had family and friends I didn’t talk too much, but I knew we loved each other. Each one of the people who had come here had completely different lives that had never touched my life until now. What made my life more valuable than theirs? It’s mine.

Then one question came to mind that I couldn’t ignore. What if your positions were switched? I would hope that anyone who could help would decide to do so. I would pray that anyone human would show up. Because at this point, all humans were in this together, to live. That common strive to live was what linked us, and the undead couldn’t share that.

I was halfway to the presumably locked front door when the guilt and sudden connection to my housemates turned me around. 

It didn’t take long to find the door to the basement. While I figured the meeting had occupied most of the vampire/TV crew, I assumed they weren’t dumb enough to leave the humans unguarded. I went over several scenarios of what I might encounter down there, along with how I would deal with it, but the uncertainty of the next few minutes made my hands shake as I concealed my improvised weapons about my person and stepped down the stairs.

Everything looked normal down in the basement, with the huge couches, ping-pong table, pool table, and stocked bar. However, the door in the back, which had always been locked, was now open to a shadowy room. I walked toward it, strolling as casually as possible, and stepped in. My eyes adjusted quickly enough to take in the cement floors and iron bars which penned the rest of the humans in the back half of the room. They all looked up at my entrance, as did the boom operator on my side of the cage door. She leaned against the wall, filing her nails.

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Scenario 3 it is, I thought.

“What the…?” the vampire started.

“You?” That screech came from the cage as Karen slammed her hands against the bars. “You’re one of them?”

Good, I thought. Help me play the part.

Tossing her anger aside with an annoyed huff wasn’t difficult to fake, and I turned to the guard. “They want one of them for the meeting. Can you open the cage?”

She looked at me for a second, clearly confused from remembering me as a guest at the house. But after a moment, she shrugged. “Sure. Can you save some for me?” she asked with a glance and the blood covering my face and shirt.

“I’ll do my best,” I assured as she pulled out a key and turned to the door in the iron bars.

The door swung inward and the humans huddled into the corners. I followed the guard inside and slipped one of my wooden stakes from my sleeve.

“Any volunteers?” she asked the group with a chuckle.

I lifted my arm to make the strike.

She, however, turned around very quickly, and I was too slow. She locked my arm in her hand, digging into it with her newly sharpened nails. I dropped the stake to the floor. 

“Looks like we have a little trickster trying to be a big hero,” she said with a hiss before pushing me to the ground and pinning my arms to the ground with her knees. “I’ve heard that bravery adds some good spice to the taste.” Her fangs elongated and she descended to drain me of life.

I closed my eyes, accepting my death, only to hear a grunt and gasp. I peeped out, seeing my attacker turn the same ashy color with red cracks. Before I could push her off, she crumbled and covered me in dust that tasted like moldy bread. Coughing and choking, I tried to get back to my feet.

More weight suddenly fell on top of me, and I felt a splintered point against my throat. When the dust cleared, I saw Gary grimacing above me.

“Get off, Gary,” I said, trying to push him off. 

He tilted to one side then righted himself on top of me, returning the point of my own weapon to my throat. “You’re covered in blood. You’re one of them.”

“The guard attacked him after he tried to kill her, Gary,” Pat whispered. “He’s one of us.”

The point lifted from my jugular and Gary frowned in thought. “Where’d the blood come from?”

I hesitated in answering, but when I did, I couldn’t meet anyone in the eye. “Bill. They drained him dry.” I heard a gasp and sob in the darkness.

Gary nodded, satisfied at my remorse, and helped me back up. I dusted off the dead vampire and looked at the group. 

Nine of us left. Nine of us together. Nine of us alive with hopes and futures outside of this house. I took a deep breath and promised myself that we would see those futures.

“Who’s ready to fight?” I asked, wondering who to give the spare stakes to as I pulled them out. I let Gary hold onto the one I had dropped, which he had used to save me. 

Karen was the first to step forward and I handed her a weapon. “This doesn’t mean I like you,” she sneered. I chuckled inside at the ridiculousness of the thought.

Once those with a fighting spirit had been armed, I looked at the group. “Apparently, they are in a meeting, so now’s our best chance to escape.” I flipped my stake in my hands. “Nobody gets left behind.”

With a few determined nods, those strangers I now considered closer than some family joined me in the fight to escape that house of death.

 

***

 

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be get onto one of those reality shows where a bunch of overdramatic people are put together in a house. I don’t think I would fit in very well in the sense that I would try to lessen the drama, which apparently doesn’t make for good television. Either way, I don’t think it would be fun to go on a fake one run by vampires looking for an easy meal.

The reason I chose to look more into this dream is because of something I’ve been contemplating lately, which is the incredible variety of people in the world and what connections we have with one another. 

For example, I was at work the other day, seeing stranger after stranger pass by. Normally (and I know this is a common attitude of many), people annoy me in general, so my thoughts only turn to them when it also involves me. I know this is a selfish attitude to have, and I try to fight it when I become aware of it, but it seems like an extension of the natural inclination toward self-preservation. I worry about myself first, and then others if I’m taken care of. However, on this certain day, my mind went to wondering what these strangers were thinking about. What kinds of experiences have they had in their lives to make them the people they were? What hardships have they endured? What are their priorities, and how do those affect how they act? And what brought them right there, at that time, to be in the same place as me? And should that mean something? Will I never have the chance to get to know this person ever again?

Many more similar kinds of questions pass through my mind, but in the end, it awakened an emotion that I usually reserve for other situations. I felt an outpouring of fraternal love for these people, almost as if they were my own family. I realized that each one of them were living their lives the best they could, just like me. They might have different worries and thought processes, but every one of them was striving for some kind of happiness or contentment, just like me. I know this is also a feeling shared by many, but I didn’t know what to do about it. It was slightly overwhelming. 

Now, whether that feeling of love was generated by an innate sense that we all share some kind of spiritual heritage or by the simple realization that every single human being is sharing the same struggle that we call life, I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is that I realized that everyone has their reason for doing things, and in the end, that reason is because we are all striving for happiness. Knowing that, and as long as I keep it in mind, I find it easier to try and understand others when they act in a way that seems wrong or absolutely stupid to me. For whatever reason, they think those actions will help them in their quest to complete or fill their lives. With this, communication then becomes the key for true understanding of one another, but that is a discussion for another time.

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I like everyone. People can still rub me the wrong way and I might dislike being around certain people. But I try not to jump to conclusions and judge the person. They are sharing this struggle of life just like me. We are just on different paths, and I only see where our paths have crossed.

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So, in a situation where a bunch of strangers are thrown together in a house, I am proud that my dream-self decided to try and help the others that had been captured instead of just saving my own skin. I was able to see that we were all in the same situation, and not one of us were more valuable than the other when it really came down to it. Though I can only hope I would actually have that kind of courage in real life.

Vampires, on the other hand, are not human. Screw the undead.

Artistic Actuality

“What do you think he’ll do?” I asked.

“Shhhh,” Paul hushed me, and we sat back on the steps to watch and wait, trying not to look like we were watching.

The last time I’d gone out with Paul and his paints, it had been a time of good-natured hilarity. He had painted a 20-dollar bill on the ground, so life-like, that we watched person after person bend down and try to pick it up. Many even tried several times before believing it was just the cement of the sidewalk. Paul had the talent. I was just the idea man. It was a good thing we both shared the same sense of humor. 

We had done similar things with pictures of dog poop, open man-hole covers, and even a monster’s hand reaching out from a sewer grate. But those were all directed at random passers-by. Today we were targeting Neil, a friend of ours from school, just as congratulations for getting his first job at a news stand in the neighborhood.

I had distracted him and blocked his view as Paul had painted one of the recent magazines Neil was selling. He placed the optical illusion so it looked like it was about to slip down a drain pipe. We were hoping it would make Neil sweat a bit, and now we were waiting for him to notice. But he wouldn’t look up from the car magazine he was reading whenever he didn’t have a customer. His focus always leaned toward motor vehicles.

“We should have done a car magazine. He would have noticed it by now,” Paul whispered.

“He would have caught me swiping it for you to copy,” I responded.

Then, as if something supernatural had pulled at our eyes, we both looked at two people approaching on the sidewalk. The woman, in a sleek green dress that matched her flowing red hair, led her companion with purposeful steps. He wore a classic business suit and had his face glued to his phone. The pair passed us, but as they reached Paul’s sidewalk painting, the woman stopped and looked down. She quickly bent down and picked it up. Not the paint that Paul had put there. Not even a sheet of paper that could have gotten stuck to the paint. She lifted a full, multi-page magazine off the cement and started to flip through it. Paul and I looked at the ground where his painting had been. Nothing but grey sidewalk remained.

“Pay the man, will you, Jeffery?” the woman asked as she continued down the sidewalk.

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My eyes met Paul’s for a moment of silent conversation before we scrambled to our feet and chased after the woman.

“Hey!” I called to her. “Excuse me, ma’am.”

She turned around with a raised eyebrow. “Yes?”

I fumbled for words as we caught up to her and stopped. “I…um. Can I see that magazine?”

She looked back toward the stand. “My assistant was just paying for it. I didn’t steal it.”

“No,” I started, unsure of how to explain, “I just want to hold it for a second.”

With a slight hesitation, she handed it to me. As I examined the cover, I couldn’t notice any difference between it and the one Paul had painted. But again, that was the whole point.

“No, I’m sorry,” came the voice of the assistant as he caught up to us. “Please don’t bother Miss Valiere. She doesn’t have time for the likes of you.”

But neither myself, nor Paul were paying the least bit of attention to him. I was flipping through page after page of the magazine, gaping at the words and images printed on them.

“But I just painted that,” Paul marveled.

“I know,” I said.

“How?”

“Would you please give back Miss Valiere’s magazine?” Jeffery said as he tried to snatch it out of my hand. 

But the woman’s hand stopped him with her delicate but quite strong fingers. “What did you say, young man?” her voice was husky and coarse.

Paul looked at me, and I just shrugged.

“Madam, don’t let yourself be accosted by these hooligans.”

“I painted that,” Paul said, pointing to the magazine.

Both the woman and her assistant glanced at one another, then burst into laughter.

“You don’t even know who you are talking to, do you?” said Jeffery.

Then the name he had said, Valiere, clicked and I looked down at the cover of the magazine, which depicted an oil on canvas painting of an emerald-green island alone in the ocean. Below that, large letters read, “The New Masterpiece of Deborah Valiere.” And I understood their laughter at Paul’s statement.

“Not the painting,” I clarified. “The magazine. He painted this magazine on the concrete, then you picked it up as a whole magazine.”

Again, the older pair looked at one another and laughed.

“Come, Miss Valiere, we need to get to your next appointment.” Again, he tried to grab the magazine, but I pulled it away.

“It isn’t a joke,” I protested.

“We don’t have time for your tomfoolery,” Jeffery scowled and made another grab, which again was stopped by his boss.

“If they are so insistent, let them prove it,” she suggested with a smug grin.

Paul stared at her, wide-eyed. Perhaps he was a little start-struck still. I didn’t know who this woman was, but he might have heard of her. “What?”

“Do it again.” She nodded toward him. “Paint something so real that it becomes real.”

“I…I don’t know how I did it,” he stammered.

“Humor me,” she encouraged, not unkindly. “Just give it a try.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Um…okay.” And he turned around to go back to where we had been waiting to prank Neil. Paul picked up his paints and knelt on the ground next to the nearby building where I lived. We gathered around him, but he had frozen, unable to begin a single stroke.

“Just do whatever comes to mind,” I prodded. “If it doesn’t work, oh well, we hallucinated for some reason. No biggie.”

“Right,” he agreed, grabbing the blue paint.

And he was off. I’d seen him get into the zone before as he worked, and there was no stopping him. He would keep painting, drawing, or sculpting until he was satisfied. Soon enough it became apparent that the blue was the oceanic backdrop for an island that was taking shape.

Jeffery scoffed. “This is just an insult, Madam. Let’s just move alo– “

“Shush,” she cut him off, and we continued to watch Paul create.

Browns, greens, reds, and more gave shape and texture to the island, and bit by bit, I felt like I was looking down on it from a helicopter flying overhead.

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Paul finished by topping the island in an active volcano, lava bubbling in the pit. He sighed and leaned back.

“You have talent, child, I’ll give you that much. You might even have a future in…” She trailed off as she peered at the painting closer. 

Then we all noticed what she had. The lava was actually bubbling and beginning to run down the side of the island. Even a faint breeze could be detected rustling the leaves of the trees.

We all leaned a bit closer. “What in the world is that?” Jeffery gasped.

Miss Valiere knelt down next to Paul. “This is amazing.” She leaned over and reached out her hands to touch the painting that was no longer a painting. As her weight shifted further and further forward, something didn’t seem right to me. And then I saw it. She shouldn’t be leaning that far. Just as her weight began to tip, her arms deep into the ground that was now an open sky, I grabbed her belt and yanked her back. She fell into the arms of her assistant and me. 

She looked at the rest of us with a look of unbelief that we all mirrored. “I could smell it. I smelled the ocean.”

All four of us looked between one another and the picture on the ground for a moment, unsure of what to do or say.

Eventually, I chimed in. “Can you paint over it?”

They all looked at me as if I was crazy. “Why would you–” Jeffery began.

“She almost died,” I interrupted. “I’d rather not have some random person walk by then fall hundreds of feet to their death in an unknown ocean.”

Paul nodded and got out a grey that matched the cement. Lucky for us, the paint didn’t fall through the painting like Miss Valiere had. He quickly had it looking like a normal sidewalk again.

“You must come to my studio,” the woman told us as Paul finished. “And bring your things. We must find out what the cause is of all this. Is it you? Is it some special paint? Or could it even be this sidewalk? Whatever you have discovered will change the world, and we need to understand it.” She held out her hand to Paul. “Will you come?”

He looked to me, utter confusion apparent in his eyes. “You too?”

“I got your back, buddy,” I assured him.

He turned back to the professional artist and her assistant. “Let’s do it.”

As we set off down the road, unsure of where it would lead, I heard Neil call out behind us. “I’ll catch you guys later.” But my mind couldn’t come up with any kind of response that seemed appropriate for the circumstances.

I waved goodbye.

 

***

 

There isn’t all that much to say about this dream in regard to social, economic, or political trends of today. But I do think there is a little to say about the concept of blurring the lines between art and reality. In my dream, it was a very literal thing where art was becoming reality. However, I think that there is a lot art that can have an equally impactful effect on reality as Paul’s paintings did.

There are a lot of people who might argue between the concepts of art imitating life or life imitating art. However, I think most people would agree that the truth is that it is a mix between the two. If that is true, that life imitates art and art imitates life, a cycle of imitation is created that seems to have no beginning or end. In conjunction with the events of my dream, I would like to focus on the half of the cycle where life imitates the art we see.

One of the largest and most impactful art forms of today, I would say, is film, whether it comes in movies, television, or even on the internet. While there is a lot of wonderful and uplifting content that people can enjoy, it seems like most of the world, and Hollywood, likes to focus on shows filled with various degrees of graphic violence, gratuitous sexual content, and foul language. And much of the time it glorifies this kind of behavior whether directly through the hero or indirectly by making it seem even normal.

Now, I’m not ignorant. I know that the world is truly filled with all of these things, and that sometimes they are even required. Violence might be needed for self-protection. Sex is needed for people to procreate and even express love. Personally, I don’t think foul language is ever needed because there are many more entertaining and intelligent ways to get one’s point across. But while these things happen in the world, they aren’t things that need to be blatantly paraded before the audiences. There is danger here. Seeing these kinds of things over and over in our entertainment breaks down a normal person’s sensibilities and can even normalize the graphic behaviors of the characters on the screen. What do we do when the world is full of people who think that violence is the solution to petty debates, young teenagers that haven’t developed a sense of responsibility that see no risk in having sex before they really know someone, and toddlers cursing up a storm at babysitters or teachers because they didn’t get the cookie they wanted? Wait, that seems like the world we live in already, doesn’t it? I feel like I remember when I was a teenager when this kind of behavior was generally accepted as bad and looked down upon, even by the majority of other teenagers. But now it seems like it is encouraged by peers of all ages.

I know that there are other factors that affect these kinds of behaviors in people, but the media and the art of film can’t hold itself blameless from contributing to this kind of society. They might claim that their art is just imitating life, and in some cases, that might be true. But it can always be done in a more tasteful manner, and even be more transparent in condemning destructive behavior.

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It’s true that my opinion on this topic might not be the most popular view, but I think it at least deserves honest consideration. When art reaches a point of becoming reality in some form or another, it might be entertaining or amazing to see, like technologies from Star Trek becoming a part of our everyday life, or a picture of a magazine turning into an actual magazine. On the other hand, we need to be careful that it doesn’t end up endangering the lives or happiness of others, like shows about teenagers getting pregnant making real teenagers think that it is a perfectly normal thing to do, or a painting of an island becoming a portal to a deadly fall into the ocean.

For those that find merit in this argument, we can then ask about what to do about it. For my part, I am trying to become a novelist and screenwriter that will treat these topics with taste and class if they are included in my material at all. Hopefully that will show the world that you don’t need to normalize deviant behavior to make something entertaining. For others, people can choose not to support that kind of art by not viewing or listening to it. And as far as film goes, there are options for filtering content so that you can enjoy some quality storytelling without feeling like you need to scrub your brain out afterward.

No matter what you do, I wish for your reality to only imitate the kind of art full of obstacles overcome, happy endings, and character growth with the least personal loss.

Manipulation and Misinformation

I stepped out into the evening’s fading light and sighed. If nothing else went well on this business trip, at least the food was good. With a belly full of some of the best steak in town, I turned to take a walk down the river and admire the setting sun as it reflected off the calming ripples in the water below. I wasn’t the only one that looked forward to the summer nights along the river that brought a cool breeze to grant relief from the day’s heat. Couples and families enjoyed meals in the outdoor seating of a multitude of restaurants. Youth and the elderly meandered up and down the path along the river.

Then a single man caught my eye, standing at the guard rail on one of the piers. He wasn’t watching the water, or the sunset, or even the darkening sky. He was watching the people. Now, people-watching isn’t odd, but there was something in his eyes as he scanned the crowd. It wasn’t amused. It was more of a cold analytical gaze with a specific purpose in mind. The hairs on my arms prickled as his eyes passed over me.

Just as I was about to turn and walk in the opposite direction of the creepy man, he pushed himself off the railing, stuck his hands in his pockets, made a tiny hole with his lips and walked off, upstream. I thought I would hear a whistle from him, but only the pleasant chatter of the people reached my ears.

I took a few steps downstream, ready to resume a pleasant evening, but something stopped me. At first, the thought came to me that is was some kind of sixth sense. But after a moment, I realized what had happened. All the pleasant chatter had died down to a quiet murmur of groans. I also turned my head to see more than a few people raise hands to what seemed like headaches.

Then the world exploded.

Everyone around me flew into a rage and started attacking one another. Fists flew into faces, chairs broke over backs, and bodies flew into the water. Someone tackled me from behind and we fell into bushes beside the walking path. Despite the blows raining down on my back, I was able to push my unseen attacker off, turn around and raise my fists to defend myself. But before the teenage boy in a Superman t-shirt could resume his assault, a homeless man covered in dirty brown rags flew into him and took them out of my sight. As I looked around from within the bushes, I mentally thanked the teenager for pushing me into a hollow in the shrubs that hid me from the outside world while giving me a decent view of everyone around.

The fights continued all around, and I saw drops of blood begin to speckle the ground. This was a nightmare. All I had to do was wake up. I closed my eyes and began rocking back and forth.

“Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream,” I chanted to myself. “Just a dream. Just a dream.”

The chaos continued for what seemed forever. Just a dream.

But eventually, the sounds of screaming rage and pain began to die away, replaced by shouts and weapons fire.

I opened my eyes and peered through the leaves to see people on the ground struggling against cuffs and ties around their hands and feet. But already the fight in them was beginning to die down. Other people in riot gear and sleek helmets fired Tasers and rubber bullets to bring the raging mob down. 

Then one of the masked faces appeared before me, and a hand shot in to the bushes to grab me by the collar. I was dragged out of the bush and forced to the ground. One hand was in handcuffs before I gathered my wits enough to resist.

“What are you doing? I didn’t do anything!” I yelled.

The hands immediately released me and I stood up to see soldiers running all over and checking on the people who they had stopped from fighting.

“Are we clear for now?” asked the soldier behind me who had brought me out of the bushes. Her voice was stern, but not harsh. “Looks like we've got someone that’s blocked here.”

I turned to her. “Blocked?”

“Yes sir, I’ll take care of it.” She removed her helmet to reveal her close-cropped, blonde hair. “Hello, sir. I’m Captain Bloom from INTOP, the International Network of Tune Overwatch and Protection.”

“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

“We are a small organization, but we are spread wide and well equipped,” she explained without explaining anything.

“Equipped to do what?”

“Handle this. What’s your name?” she asked before I could continue to barrage her with questions.

“Ahhh.” I was still so confused that I didn’t know how to answer, or if I should.

“I.D.” she stated as she simultaneously reached for my wallet in my back pocket. She pulled out a phone and snapped a picture of my license. “We’ll be in touch.”

She turned to go, but I needed more answers, so I stopped her with a hand on the shoulder. “For what?”

Her head snapped back at me and my hand immediately fell back to my side. “I’ll try to explain quickly,” she offered. “We discovered that there is a specific sequence of notes, or tune, which messes with the human brain when heard, causing people to do exactly what you saw happen today. The tune is so specific and odd that it rarely occurs. But when it does, we respond. Some, like you, seem to be immune, so we’ll be in contact with you to see if we can figure out why.”

“Oh,” I said. There wasn’t much else to say, so I just watched the captain join her troops in releasing the citizens who had calmed down from their frenzy. They treated injuries and assured that nobody had been seriously injured. And before I knew it, they were gone. 

Everyone in the area slowly reunited with their families and friends to check on one another, concerned for black eyes and bruises they had sustained. Ambulances soon arrived to assist those more seriously injured. I heard musings and ideas of what had happened. Everyone’s memories seemed to have been affected, but none of the thoughts being tossed around came close to what Captain Bloom had told me, if it was even true. I decided to head toward my hotel across the river and sleep off the stress of what had just happened. 

The foot bridge spanned the river not far away, and I was soon watching the rippling depths rush beneath my feet. Things began to seem almost normal again, like that horrific fight had been just a dream.

A chill crept over my skin, and goosebumps prickled me out of my ease. The bubbling waters suddenly grew louder, and I looked to see if something had agitated them. When I saw no change, I realized that the water hadn’t gotten louder. Everything else had gotten quieter. 

I looked up to see that I was alone on the bridge, but crowds had gathered on both ends, staring at me with a focus I’d never seen before, unmoving. Then a figure stepped to the front of the group before me.

The people watcher. Only he wasn’t watching people anymore. He was watching me.

His lips again curved into whistling shape, things began to connect in my brain that was miraculously free of the influence of his tune. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had started the mob fight. And now, he was targeting me.

The man jabbed his chin toward me, and the people obeyed. Men and women on both sides of the river rushed over the bridge in a desperate attempt to reach me. I had no idea what would happen when they did, but by their frothing mouths, I didn’t want to find out. 

With one quick thought, I took the one escape available to me, leaping over the railing and into the cool river. When my head broke back through the surface, I heard several splashes behind me, but the river was swift, and I was already well down river. 

As I looked back, it seemed that those who had jumped into the water were no longer quite under the man’s control. Glancing up, I saw his face, filled with a burning rage that chilled me even more than the river did. Stroking with the current, I prayed the river would carry me well out of that man’s reach.

 

***

 

This dream may touch on some other subjects I’ve already written about, but I guess having a similar dream multiple times in a row means that it might be a message that needs to be heard more than once.

I feel like most people in the world, myself included, are often like the manipulated people in the dream. Someone with some kind of influence can say the right words, or sing the right tune, and we will be whipped into a frenzy and pretty much dance on that person’s strings. And it seems to me like when that happens, like in the dream, what we end up doing is focusing all our attention on one another, rather than the source of whatever it is that making us angry, depressed, or whatever emotion they want to evoke within us.

It can happen in all sorts of settings, whether it’s republicans vs. democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, whites vs. blacks, everyone vs. unhealthy foods (whichever ones we are taught to fear at the time), or even elders vs. youth. We are conditioned to hate and attack one another rather than question what we are told. And why would that be? Why does so much of the information that floods our lives inspire us to vilify one another or the incorporeal?

In my opinion, it is because that takes the focus off of the real source of whatever problem we are all experiencing together. That source, those that cause misfortune and suffering among others, usually benefits from that situation, so in order to continue to keep that benefit, they must shift our focus elsewhere so that we don’t see the truth and take away the power they have.

But then there are people like I was in the dream; people that aren’t controlled or duped by the misinformation fed to the masses. These people are a threat, so they become the sole focus of the trying to control the population. I have no doubt in my mind that there have been people or industries whose ideas, innovation, or knowledge of the truth have been crushed by lies generated by the powers that be, silenced by money, or possibly even killed for their idealism.

So how can we escape? How can we avoid being manipulated so easily by politicians, media, or even celebrities?

I know I don’t have all the answers, but one thing that I think could help would be to always question the information we are given. Research where it comes from. Explore all sides of whatever issue it is. In general, and if at all possible, never take anyone at their word.

If we are able to do this on a larger scale, I believe that we will be able to, as a society, see the truths of the world much more clearly and be able to guide our world toward one that is beneficial to all and not only for the few.

Remember to always question.

 

 

Prisons and Parenting

I sat down in the prison visitation room, staring at the empty seat on the other side of the reinforced glass, waiting. It felt like I was doing way too much of that lately. I felt useless. And that feeling was exaggerated when I had to hand over my sidearm while in the prison.

None of this made any sense. I had been against him going to work for his father in the first place. I knew the elder Mr. Shaw was dirty. I’d seen it, but I had no evidence. And evidence is all that mattered to Bram, his father, and the courts. Within just a few months, Bram had been more difficult to talk to, and he was more secretive than he had ever been in college. Then he was charged with insider trading and sent here last week. Having been one of the most honest men I’d known in my life, that didn’t make sense. And in my first visit, Bram had confirmed as much with his pleas for help proving his innocence. 

Then I got reports yesterday about a drastic change in behavior from Bram. He’d been fighting, and not just other prisoners as might be expected, but guards, cooks, and anyone he could get his hands on. I had to see it for myself.

I didn’t have to wait too long.

Screaming and shouting reached my ears well before the doorway to the prison interior smashed open. It took three guards to secure Bram and get him into his seat, despite his having already been handcuffed.

His face turned to me with a feral snarl and bulging eyes. But for a moment, so fast I wasn’t sure it had happened, the expression slipped into a hint of surprise and dread. He was back to growling at me before I could be sure it had even happened.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Hey, buddy,” I said with a small wave.

“What do you want, Harold? You shouldn’t be here,” he sneered.

“I hear that my peaceful best friend has started to punch almost everyone he sees. Where else should I be?” I held open palms to him, pleading that he be open with me.

“Maybe stabbing us in the back again, I don’t know.” He jerked toward the glass, but a guard’s shoulders held him down.

“What are you talking about?” I asked as my brow furrowed. I didn’t like where this was going.

“My dad told me what you did. It’s all your fault that I’m in here. That investigation you launched turned up planted evidence of crimes my father and I never committed.” His foot banged against the metal separating our feet.

I sighed. I hadn’t wanted to worry him about the investigation, so I had left him out of it. “Bram, I knew you might be angry that I started investigating your dad, I get that. But I didn’t plant any evidence. Your father is lying to you. I didn’t want you to go to jail. I know you are innocent.” I smiled, hoping that would clear some things up.

But Bram just gritted his teeth at me. “He said you would say that.”

“Come on, man,” I pleaded. “What can I tell you to convince you of the truth?”

“I already know it. So, you should just leave.”

“I have five more minutes.”

“You really should just get out of here, for your own good,” Bram said, and for a moment, I thought I saw pleading in his face. I could tell his legs were bouncing around; an old nervous habit of his.

“You might be satisfied with the crap your father has landed you in, but I’m not going to give up on you,” I growled. My anger at the situation had started to overcome my pity. “If you’d rather believe a greedy, lying scumbag like your father more than someone who wants to get you out of prison, that’s on you. I however am going to make sure the truth…”

Boom!

The explosion shook everyone to the ground, and an instant later, the door behind Bram blasted open to reveal a mangled hallway littered with debris, but with rays of sunlight streaming through the dust.

Before I could react, Bram was out of his seat, bashing the distracted guards’ heads with whatever he could find.

“Stop, Bram!” I shouted and banged on the glass. “This will only get worse!”

He didn’t look back as he disappeared down a path that I assumed led to what he thought was freedom.

I ran back through the visiting area, past panicking guards and visitors to the security check where I’d left my weapon. Nobody sat at the desk, but with a few pounds at the desk, I got someone’s attention.

“Just evacuate the building please. We’ll sort everything…” she tried to say in passing.

But I slammed my badge against the bars separating us. “I’m a cop. I can help, chase down some of the escaped inmates, but I need my weapon.”

The corrections officer looked around, wondering what to do for a moment. But she approached and held out her hand. 

“What’s your box number?”

I handed her the key. “Twelve.”

Shouts and alarms filled the air as I waited, tapping my toe on the ground. I had to stop Bram from making his situation worse. Looking back on the conversation, the way he was acting made me think he knew the explosion was going to happen. And I would feel safe putting money on his father being behind it all.

“There’s nothing there,” the officer said as she came back. “And I can’t really take time to sort this out right now. Sorry.” And with that, she was gone.

I didn’t have time to think about it either. I had to catch Bram before he got hurt or   committed an actual crime. Moving as fast as possible through the chaos, I ran out of the prison, flashing my badge whenever an officer stopped me. I saw some inmates back in handcuffs and under control, but a quick look told me that he hadn’t been rounded back up yet.

Several flashes of orange jumpsuit caught my eye in the distance, making for the tree-line. But one of them limped familiarly, as if from an old injury sustained in football tryouts in an attempt to impress a dispassionate father that couldn’t care less. I sighed in slight relief. Now that I knew where he was going, I could catch up with him pretty quickly.

I began jogging, trying not to draw too much attention. I had to bring Bram back alone, and without incident. It would be hard enough to try and prove his innocence without adding this breakout to the mix.

After a few minutes of tramping through the woods, I heard a rustle of leaves and a whisper. I slowed to a walk and moved in that direction. The sunlight streamed through thousands of breaks in the leaves, casting an odd mix of shadow and brilliant color over every surface that made things difficult to make out very well.

I thought I saw two people. However, just as I realized they weren’t wearing prison jumpsuits, pain exploded my head, and everything spun as I fell.

My back slamming against a tree jarred me back to consciousness. Two men held me in place by my arms as a third stood before me.

“It’s nice to see you again, detective,” Mr. Shaw greeted.

The reply I wanted to give was muffled by the gag that barely let me breathe.

“I know what you are probably thinking, and you’re right. I did organize the breakout to get my son out of prison, though you’ll never be able to prove it.”

I struggled against the arms that held me, but they wouldn’t budge. 

“You’ve probably been wondering why I would do such a thing after I went through so much trouble to get him in there.”

This was something I wanted to hear, since it had been confusing me.

Bram’s dad held up a gloved hand holding a pistol. My pistol. “I thought it would be a pretty poetic way to make your investigation into my activities go away, and get rid of my pathetic offspring at the same time.”

At that moment, I recognized a spot of orange off through the trees that wasn’t foliage.

Mr. Shaw must have seen my glance. “Yes. That’s him, waiting to meet me in that clearing so I can take him out of the country to live in a tropical paradise.” He lifted the gun and leveled it at his son. “It’s too bad you’re going to kill him.”

Desperation flooded my body with adrenaline and I head-butted one of my captors, releasing my arm to land a nose-breaking punch into the other. Muscles coiled and I lunged at the sociopathic criminal still aiming for Bram.

Bang!

 

***

 

This doesn’t follow the dream that I had precisely. I’d lost my sword instead of a gun, and I was running across rooftops, but the heart of the dream remains the same. It was about someone I cared for being manipulated by someone who feigned that caring.