Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
 
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Dreamkiller

by Kent Rosenberger





It waited.

It always waited.

Time had no meaning to it. It would wait forever if it needed to. It was always there, patient as the night was long, waiting for the morning, waiting for the dawn to break, waiting for the alarm clock to ring, and ring it did, like the clockwork it was, every morning at 7 AM. The electronic buzz created a Pavlovian reaction in the parasitic creature, which had no name that would translate into human terms as sheer delight.

It was time to feed.


* * *

It happened every morning when Lee awoke to the cantankerous rant of his nightstand timepiece. He fumbled with for the snooze alarm to silence it and glean an extra seven minutes of shuteye, then thought better of it after only two or three sleepless ones and shut it off completely. In that scant breath of time his mind reeled with all sorts of crazy thoughts, trying to put some cohesion of ideas together.

He played tug-of-war with whatever particles of dreams remained in the misty zone between asleep and awake to see if there were any salvageable pieces he could use. As usual they flitted away from his memory like fireflies winking out and never flashing on again, gone in the light of day. Next he would practice turns of phrase, assembling strings of words like LEGO blocks in attempt to find just the right sequence, just the right ring, fashioning a less than satisfying patchwork of proposed dialogue. When nothing satisfied, he ejected the words from his head and abandoned the effort.

He flicked on the radio and headed for the shower, praying some magnificent brainstorm might be bourn of water. Many other writers swore by the practice of taking an idea into the shower, stating it was much like irrigating crops or being baptized. For some people, germs ideas naturally took root and sprouted like crazy in the tub, growing into full-blossomed stories or poems that practically wrote themselves under the influence of body wash and shampoo. On several occasions, he had experienced identical results during his bathing ritual, but lately every iota of creative talent he tried to eke from his usually affluent and imaginative brain seemed to vanish as soon as anything worthy started to develop. It was almost as if there was some kind of invisible vacuum cleaner sucking the notions directly from his head the moment they began to come to fruition and locked them away outside of his reach, never to return.

His frustration with the circumstance had reached a critical juncture since he was at the point of put-up-or-shut-up with his publisher. For several weeks now he had produced nothing, and if he did not have at least an outline of something worthy of print by the end of the month, he was told clearly he might as well start to look for new representation. With little expectation but eternal hope, he stepped into the steamy water and waited for something substantial to come to him.


* * *

The creature writhed invisibly, salivated dryly, feasted soundlessly. The astounding number of artistic creations brimming from the bathroom were more than enough to keep its appetite satisfied for a good long while, but bounty like this was difficult to find, so it was wise to stock up now just in case a famine was in its future. It kept feeding, its supplier completely unaware of his contribution to the growing force in his apartment.


* * *

An hour later, everything about him was dry; his body, his hair, and his ideas. The blank laptop screen stared at him, and he stared back at it just as blankly. He tried everything; coffee, pacing, speaking lines aloud, turning the music to varying degrees of volume, opening and closing windows, even browsing through the mail, which seemed like a rather desperate measure from its inception. Nothing worked, and the posts he read reminding him of impending bills and nothing in his bank account to satisfy them only made him feel more depressed.

He was beginning to think that maybe the curse he had been told about was true. A quick sweep of his apartment revealed he was alone, but according to what he had been told, there was no way to tell for sure if he was or not. He felt foolish, almost silly, investing even a dram of belief something he could not prove, but what he originally passed off as a seed of psychological nonsense had grown to the point where he had to do something drastic, even if only meant going through the motions of reversing the process to shake his susceptible subconscious.

It was time to make the call.

The person on the other end answered on the third ring. "Hello?"

"Mark? It's Lee."

"Lee? Lee Rose?"

"Yeah. How you been, man?"

Mark's voice went suddenly dark. "I don't have time for this Lee, I really don't. We've been through all this and you don't have a lawsuit."

"I'm not calling about the lawsuit," Lee reassured him. "I just want to see you. I... I have something I want to run by you."

"I'm sorry." It was difficult to tell if Mark was making excuses or actually had a full schedule, but Lee had heard so many reasons for not getting together lately he had a strong inclination the latter was closer to the truth. "I've got a lot of work to do. You know, a deadline to meet. My rough draft is due to my publisher by the end of the week." "I'll pay for lunch if you'll give me five minutes. I promise it'll be quick. Then you can get back to doing what you do best."

"Come on, Lee, don't be like that. You know..."

"I know, I know, life isn't fair and I shouldn't be jealous. I'm not, and I'm happy for you and your amazing success. I just need to talk to you. Five minutes, I promise."

"Five minutes." Was Mark actually checking his schedule or just hesitating for effect? "I'll give you ten. When and where?" "12:30. You know where. The park near the Telforton firehouse."


* * *

Lee arrived only minutes before his lunch date. He waited on one of the open park benches, thinking about exactly how this process was going to work. Would things just suddenly change for him, or was there some kind of process or ritual he had to perform? He was not sure, but he figured if he did exactly the same thing to Mark as had been done to him, then he would be back to normal and this annoying difficulty would not be his problem anymore.

At least that was the plan.


* * *

Unbeknownst to him the beast came along, still relishing in the creative juices his host, but gleaning morsels here and there from other people it passed along the way while it followed him. It knew the risk of losing grip on Lee if it latched on to someone else too long or too strongly, but it had no emotional attachment to the down-on-his-luck writer. If a better opportunity arose, surely it would be willing to change companions for the sake of greater comfort and a more indulgent feeding source. It had done so before and would do so again if the opportunity arose. It was totally unaware of Lee's plan to try to pawn it off on someone else, and cared little if he did so as long as the trade was beneficial to it. It waited beneath the bench patiently, just as it did during the night, nibbling here and there until its host decided to move on to his next location.


* * *

"The food truck court. Seriously?' Mark was dressed in one of his best suits, his shoes shined like black mirrors. His tie clip, watch, cuff links and ring were just as polished and all matched each other. He obviously expected something a little more upscale for the noon meal he had been invited to. He had half a mind to turn around and go home to demonstrate just how insulted he felt.

"Hey," Lee stood to greet his friend. Was he still a friend? Perhaps this meeting would be the determining factor. "You remember when this place only had a hot dog and ice cream truck, and you and me and Ken would order the six for five dollar deal and sit here and write ideas for stories on napkins? Now check it out." He cast his hand about like a game show prize presentation girl revealing a luxurious new item. "You can get practically anything you want. Pizza, cheese steaks, sausage sandwiches, Chinese, and the piece de resistance," he pointed with enthusiasm at the vehicle on the far right, "Mexican. I know you love Mexican. You can get burritos, nachos, enchiladas, and fish tacos. Imagine, fish tacos, right here without having to drive all the way to Q-town."

Mark shook his head. "I knew this wasn't a good idea. You're just here to make me feel guilty and drum up the past. I'm going home to finish my novel."

"No, wait."

Mark stopped in mid-turn.

"Don't go. Come on. We used to be friends. We used to come here all the time and eat and laugh and share ideas. Why does it have to be so weird now? Why can't we just chow down and talk for a little?" He put his hand in the air like he was being put under oath as a courtroom witness. "It's not about the lawsuit or trying to get a share of your royalties, I swear. Two dogs, five minutes, and you'll never hear from me again if you don't want. I swear."

Mark took a few moments to consider the proposal, then swiveled back in the direction of the trucks. "Five minutes, and forget the dogs. If you're paying, I'm going full-on Mexican." He looked down at his Armani pants, then at the truck he intended to order from. "And I'm going to need lots of napkins."


* * *

On its comfortable perch, the monster felt a rise in its enthusiasm with the introduction of this newcomer. It did not understand the language Lee was speaking to his acquaintance, but the beast certainly liked him. So many creative thoughts, so many amusing anecdotes and insightful ideas, it was a regular smorgasbord for its senses. At first it appeared as though the young man was not going to stay, which would have resulted in having the creature make the hard choice of remaining with the sure thing it had or following the new arrival in the hopes that the buffet he was offering was not just a one time fluke, but when it became evident that he was going to stay for a while, it decided to just sit tight and wait to see what happened. Perhaps this meeting would benefit both itself and its current host.


* * *

"Fish tacos! I knew you would get the fish tacos, and that you would smother them in that picante sauce. You're so predictable."

Mark took another crunchy bite of his hard-shell Mexican staple dish and carefully wiped the residue from his mouth and chin with as to not spill any of it on his outfit. "It's surprisingly good," he said around the food as he chewed, "coming from a taco truck."

"You were never a food snob. Not that I recalled. You were never a snob about anything. Not until recently." Lee bit the end of his second dog bitterly.

"Hey, look I'm sorry, okay? I said I was sorry then, and I'm saying it now. I've said it a hundred times in between. This whole deal... it was nothing personal. It was just business."

"That's easy for you to say, since everything worked out for you so well. We all had a hand in coming up with the ideas behind The Chronicles of Endleridge. You, me, Ken, and all the others. You knew we all wanted to help write the first story and submit it as a collaborative work. You had no right to steal the idea an claim it was all yours."

"I had every right," Mark argued, making the two-point shot with his taco wrapper into the distant waste can. "I asked you guys several times if you wanted to help me outline and flesh out the first adventure. You said it sounded too much like a half-baked Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and Ken was busy writing that Into The Void story. You remember, the one with the huge pile of soapsuds in the tub he called Mt. Stanley? I don't remember too much more about that story other than the tub part and the crew members of the starship it was on arguing about how hot or cold the cabins were, but the point is that I gave you guys a chance to help and you didn't. Now I have a successful book series, and you guys have floundering careers. Don't blame that on me. The court decided Ken's allegations were unfounded, and unless you have any further evidence to prove the idea isn't wholly mine as it is written, then you're not going to have any kind of a legal case either." He unwrapped his second taco. "Besides, I thought you didn't come here to talk to me about this."

"I didn't. I'm sorry. Jeez, I just hate that it all turned out this way. We all used to get along so well and see each other all the time. We promised fame and fortune and women wouldn't come between us. Now... well, now it just feels like you're living our dream and we're still on the outside looking in."

"I'm sorry it did too, but it is what it is, and because of the lawsuit, if I put in a good word for you or Ken to my agent about looking at your original works to help get you to where I am, well, I was told in no uncertain terms that would look like I was admitting to being a liar and could jeopardize my own career."

"You... you actually went to bat for us?" A sinking feeling started in Lee's heart. Maybe Mark wasn't such a schmuck after all. Maybe he was just as much a victim as he and his other friends were about the whole ordeal.

"Well, yeah, sure. After all, you're my friends, right?"

"Couldn't you have done that before all this stuff happened?"

Mark delivered a fraction of a shrug, playing with his ring absently. "I don't know. I suppose. It wasn't like any of your attitudes motivated me to do so at the time. In retrospect, I guess I should have, but this situation is not all my fault. I mean, I was hurt just as much as you guys were by this. You feel like there's a wedge between all of you and me, but I have a wedge between me and all of you. Do you have any idea how that feels?"

Lee chewed the last bit of his dog without tasting it. "Gee, I never thought of it that way."

"Do you have any idea how terrible it is to do exactly what we all talked about doing every day of my life and not be able to share it with you guys? We wanted book deals, but I'm the guy who got one first. We wanted to land at least one title on the bestseller list, and now that I'm on my third one, the victory feels hollow, and now that there's a movie proposal on the table..."

"A movie?"

"Yeah. A producer in Hollywood thinks my adventures might make a great film series."

"Series?" Okay, this guy was a schmuck, and absolutely deserved exactly what he had coming.

"Yeah, can you imagine? I know those schmoozers in Tinsel Town talk big, but if this deal goes through, The Chronicles of Endleridge could end up being as big as Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings. At least, that's the early buzz."

Lee had to fight hard to contain himself. Lashing out, blowing up or showing any kind of jealousy could make his ex-friend exit prematurely. He had to make the exchange, if that was what it could be called, as soon as possible before the opportunity was past. "Well, I'm happy for you, man."

"Really?"

"Sure, why not? Even if I can't share in the credit or the spoils, I'm glad one person from our writing pool has finally made it big. Congrats."

"Er... thanks." They shook hands despite their separate greasiness. "Gee, I thought you'd be mad as hell."

"To be completely honest, part of me is, but I suppose a vicarious win is still a win, right?"

Mark made his second wrapper shot into the garbage. Two for two! "Well, let's not pop the champagne cork just yet. I promised my agent there were going to be six books in the series, and right now, I'm working on number four. In order for the movie deal to go through, I have to have the fourth one finished and the fifth one started before they even consider starting to shoot. I wasn't lying to you when I was on the phone, I really am on a tight schedule. So what was I you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Oh. Oh, right. Well, Ken just recently came back from a writer's convention and ran a story idea by me. After he told it to me, he said he did not think it was that great, and if I wanted to use it, I certainly could. I figured since you're my connection to the inside, maybe I could run it by you and you could let me know if it was worthy of my time."

"You do know I don't any kind of magic formula or anything, right? I might tell you it's terrible, but if you run with it, someone might think it's gold and publish it. I might think it's amazing and you could be turned down thirty times. This whole business is terribly subjective."

"I know, I know. Just let me tell you what I'm thinking and you can give me an opinion one way or the other, okay? Just like in the good old days."

Mark checked his watch. "All right, as long as it's not too long."

"I'll be brief, I swear, and you have to promise you're not going to take it and make it your own."

"Okay, shoot."


* * *

The beast beneath the bench had not been this content in a long time. There was so much to take in here, so much to ingest, so much to consume. It would be difficult to decide which way to go if these two men parted ways. Until that time, it grew fat on the pair of imaginations.


* * *

"There's this guy, see, and I guess for the sake of the story he has to be a writer."

"What's wrong with the main character being a writer?" Mark wanted to know.

"I don't know. Writers writing about writer... it all just seems to be very narcissistic to me."

"Don't worry about it. My experience has been that any good reader deep down wants to be a writer, so there is no shame in having a writer as your main character. Writers write what they know. If you have no clue what it's like to be a construction worker or an accountant, then don't use those occupations unless it's detrimental to the story. If it is, research the job and do it right. If it's not, then pick anything, so long as it makes some sort of sense."

"All right, fine. So there's this guy who's a writer, and he's at a convention, a lot like Mark just was, and he runs into this other writer who tells him about this creature. He was kind of vague on the details of what it looked like or how big it was, only that people couldn't see it and it fed off the imaginations of human beings. So anyway, it moves from one person to the next, writer or not, and if you have a big imagination, it will just keep sucking and sucking the ideas from you, picking your brain clean, making you unable to do or think or participate in anything creative. It's not such a big deal for your construction workers or your accountants, to use the examples you gave, but if you're a writer, an artist, an architect... hell, even if you work in advertising or write something as simple as furniture assembly instructions for a living, it can become the most crippling and debilitating thing to happen to you, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it off to someone else who also has the creative spark by letting them know about it."

"This sounds like terrible B-movie stuff, but go on. Why do you have to let them know about it?"

"Because when they are aware their creative genius, the very thing they treasure and makes a living for them is in jeopardy, even if they don't believe in the thing, they naturally try that much harder to overcome the handicap they've suddenly been made aware of, and that makes their imagination all the more stimulated and enticing. The jump in activity spurs the creature to go with the more imaginative of the two at the moment, leaving the first person to go back to his or her active and artistic life while debilitating the other one."

It did not take long for Mark to start picking at the whole idea. "Sounds to me like there's a lot of work to do to make it a cohesive story. Where did the creature come from? Is there more than one? How would anybody know it exists or how it works if it's invisible and nobody's ever heard of it? If it eats, does it excrete as well? And if so, how?" He finished his drink and stood.

"You don't think it has any merit?" Lee asked, looking hurt.

"Look, I know it's hard to find a starting place for a story, and it's that much harder to sell it once you've gotten it down on paper. Any story can be gold or trash depending how you handle it. The way I handled the Chronicles of Endleridge... well, the results speak for themselves. Just make sure whatever you submit is something you'd be proud to put your name on and have hundreds of thousands of people know you were the creator of it. If you want my opinion, no, it doesn't sound like a winner, but who knows. Maybe if you keep swinging away at it you can mold it into something good enough to call yours. After all, everybody starts small. Well," he checked the time again, his gold Rolex catching the light of the midday sun, "almost everybody." He offered his hand, which Lee shook. "I like you a lot Lee, and you've got a long way to go, but I'm sure you'll get there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really do need to get back to Endleridge and format the next chapter. Thanks for lunch."


* * *

The monster, unseen by anyone, rose to follow the departing man. There was this new flavor coming from him that the old host never provided, something about elves and adventure in some far off Endleridge place. It did not understand the details, only that it tasted so good, so vivid and delicious, so indulgent, almost like a smorgasbord of unending dessert. It severed all ties with Lee, latched on to Mark, and began swallowing wave after wave of all the amazing ideas the man had to offer.


* * *

Lee waved after his former friend. "Okay, Mark. Thanks for coming and listening. I'll take into consideration all of your feedback, and good luck with the book, and the movies. I hope it all keeps working out for you." No sooner had his friend gotten up to go than several ideas for stories came flooding into his head like they used to since before his last talk with his other ex-friend, Ken. The thing was leaving him, whether it was an actual monster, or a deeply implanted subconscious suggestion, or just some indefinable clog he needed to acknowledge to liberate it. Whatever it was, the fact was he was free. He was free!

He could not help but grin inwardly, and was quick to add with just a hit of a sardonic tone, "And keep those ideas of yours fresh and alive. I wouldn't want you to come down with a sudden, severe case of... writer's block."


THE END


2015 Kent Rosenberger

Bio: Mr. Rosenberger is the author of over twenty-five e-books available for review at Amazon.com/kindle and Barnesandnobel.com, including a novel series called The Dragon Quartet, as well as several poetry and short story collections. His work has previously been published in such magazines as 365 Tomorrows, Big Pulp, Weird Year, The Absent Willow Review, Orion’s Child, Title Goes Here, Flash Shot, Resident Aliens, Death Throes, Schlock!, and The Digital Dragon. His last Aphelion appearance was Offer Her the World in our August, 2011 issue.

E-mail: Kent Rosenberger

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