After setting fire to the bridge behind me, I hooked the satchel over my shoulder and continued down the beaten path. As the sun made its fiery descent behind the mountains and I was certain the journey ahead was long and unforgiving. Where would I make my escape? The woods ahead? Perhaps the woods would simply swallow me as I entered at the mouth and spit me out, misplacing me far away from the center. Or maybe I would be lucky enough to sift into and out of the center and live like a lowly nomad. Still, I would be alive.
Two feet of autumnal leaves. Moistened with the evening mist. I dragged my bare legs across until the tiny cuts on my legs are no longer felt. The woods were deep, just as I imagined, but not quite as cold as the stories told. With some fortune, I would make it safely to the stream, wash my face and arms and set up camp.
I summoned the spirits to filter the path ahead. Yet, as I approached the edge of the stream I found a dying fire. Voices could be heard advancing. A group of men and women, fair skinned and with chestnut hair, appeared wearing tattered robes and carrying wood. In seconds, I felt my body lift with considerable force and velocity. I gasped when I felt the impact of my back against the tree. One by one, they took turns levitated my body, flinging it around as though it were a weightless and insubstantial thing.
But by then, I was conscious of the world around me. I, too, could play with magic. I watched as my opponents floated above me. Closest to me, a woman with wild eyes made a strange gesture of flicking her fingers about. I understood that I would be chased back through the woods. As I ran I felt my feet lift off the ground and as I moved through the air, the wild eyed woman scratched at my feet. Another came from the side and struck me with hidden energy.
We descended as we came near the burned bridge, feeling thick ropes around our ankles, necks and torsos. The soldiers who suddenly appeared placed chains around our necks and threw us into a caged caravan. There, as I sat with my back hunched over, thoughts of my other life came to the surface. The dream was no longer a dream. It was a nightmare covered with lucid layers of awareness. Although I recognized the situation as fantasy, it did not bring relief. Rather, knowing the face of the dream made existing in this place evermore horrifying. I couldn’t find the control I desired to suspend my fear. I sat across from the woods people, shutting my eyes and whispering to myself that the caravan wasn’t real. The soldiers only looked like Romans. I wasn’t going to die.
In the darkest of hours we arrived at a villa. As soon as the cage doors opened, I leaped out and began running with great stealth through a courtyard and then into an open field. I could feel someone decreasing our proximity. By the time the sword entered my back, I was already drifting. I sat upright in a small room and noticed the others covered with white sheets. Some were twitching erratically. Others were pushing away some unseen force and clutching at their necks as if someone were strangling them. I removed their white sheets and discovered they were fully clothed. When they woke up I said, “That was a dream to keep us asleep.” But no one seem able to comprehend what I meant. “This is a dream, too. We’re dreaming.”
I don’t remember when I began to scream, but the sound of my voice echoed madly against the walls. “Wake me up! I want to wake up!” No response. “Please wake me up!”
Alas, I found myself in the bed from my other life. But this world was without sound. Fists clenched, I turned over and slipped into another world. This time, it was exactly what I expected. The sounds of lawnmowers, car horns, the train passing by and birds perched by the window. My world. The real world.
The first time she dreamed of her, she never surmised that, in time, it would become a compulsion. It had been one of those glowing dreams, the variety that leave a sugary aftertaste on your lips as you wake up because you remember them with profundity, as though they were real memories. Then, with a little time, they are abandoned to the rising sun and the routines of daily existence. That morning she opened her eyes, unwilling to move the rest of her body, and closed them again. Without the faculty of sight, she recalled everything.
I saw their long legs, some too thin to look healthy, others more muscular and lean like the ones you see in biology textbooks. I’ve always liked the ones with dark brown eyes that soften with dark makeup; they seem so unadorned and mediocre. So wholesome.
As I passed the first photo shoot, I realized my right stiletto was too big. I kept sliding forward a few seconds after the left foot, but managed to correct the issue as I met their gaze. I squeezed my foot to grip the heel and glided past them the way I knew I could. Some of the models smiled. Some didn’t notice me at all.
It was almost six o’clock. Avenue D was lined with dozens of empty condos and fake cobbled streets. The artificial sun was a cluster of tripods with adjoined front lights, sidelights and reflectors. It was where we could see the blooming faces of fashion, summer’s newest bikinis, and master the fluid maneuvers of the human woman.
One of the biggest hurdles writers face in their profession is writer’s block, or the Block as I like to call it. It really feels like some massive concrete slab is containing all those amazing story lines running through your head. Sometimes, it’s a temporary difficulty that passes with time, but then there are more severe cases where you reluctantly abandon your short story, or the novel in progress because it seems improbable you’ll ever figure out where the story is going. It can even be a case of inspiration where you don’t feel like writing because other distractions are getting in the way. There are hundreds of reasons why writers stop producing new work. But here’s the good news…the solution is in your dreams.
We all dream. We’ve all remembered at least one dream and told someone about it. There was something that compelled you to tell someone about it. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the dream. The vividness of the dream world, or the peculiar people you spoke to. Maybe you knew you were dreaming and began to fly and suddenly woke up. This sense of urgency, to tell someone about the dream, is the key to tackling writer’s block.
Keep a journal next to your bed and write down your thoughts as soon as you wake up. Most of us don’t feel like writing early in the morning because we need our coffee, breakfast and want to beat traffic on the way to work. But keeping this journal filled with your remembered dreams or early thoughts will only take about five minutes. You don’t need to remember the whole dream, or any dreams for that matter (but it certainly helps). Forget grammar, perfect spelling, or coherence (at least for the moment). Just write!
Maybe all of this still sounds ludicrous and time consuming. Here’s an example of a dream I recently had (exactly as I wrote it) and how I turned it into a flash fiction.
The dream: Walking down a New York street with several fashion photo shoots. Many models- everyone is so beautiful.
That’s it. A small dream fragment turned into yesterday’s story about a cyborg on her way home who likes to walk down a particular street to watch human women pose for photos. I only had two sentences written down in my journal but as I sat in front of the computer, this two sentences served as a kind of warm up exercise. I wasn’t the one walking down the street. She became an observer. Someone who enjoyed studying the female body, its movements and facial expressions. A being who lives among humans and has her own daily routine. Instead of washing her face, brushing her teeth, and applying moisturizer this female cyborg cleans her metallic body parts. In this case, it’s her eyes. She requires a different kind of bodily maintenance and this, I believe, makes her very human.
As writers what we need to remember is that we are always writing. Not just when we’re awake, but as we sleep and different regions of the brain activate and deactivate playing scenes from our long term memory, creating whole worlds and figures with distinct personalities. Writing always begins with the dream.
Jake hadn’t smoked for six days. He left Gabe’s deli, straight to the liquor store. Cheap tobacco would suffice, he said. Hands shaking, he threw the sandwich onto the passenger seat and sped away. When his thin fingers were wrapped around the cigarette, he took harsh drags and filled his lungs with thick smoke. He was breathing again.
On the verge of tears, he let his eyes wander over the fog. It was one of the coldest mornings of the season, the air was raw against his cheeks. He closed his eyes and took another drag.
He saw Jasmine. She was laughing, head tilted back, the vodka surfing on the edge of the glass. The man standing near her was outlining her body with his eyes. First the legs, then the skin above her jeans, her breasts and the Christmas necklace. The man raised his face and tipped his hat. Why was Jasmine smiling? She hated cowboy hats.
Sometimes you can live so far away from the rest of civilization, out where neither the roads, trains, bicycle paths and airplanes reach: in a firewood house close to the shore; out where sea life can see you rise each day, where the notion of an enemy strikes an unfamiliar chord. Inside the flexible canvas of the dreaming brain, waking to the sound of sand particles sifting through the water, sometimes feeling that those particles belong in the air, or inside the lungs, Penelope kicked off the sheets as her eyes began computing the streaming pixels of the world around her. In seconds her toes were dipped in the cool morning sands.
On her way out, Evelin told the doctor she was grateful for the prescriptions. They made her feel relaxed and agreeable. The doctor didn’t look at her, but seemed to nod at someone else on the other side of the hall. She exited the back of the hospital and went directly to the bus stop. She noticed her blouse was damp with perspiration and searched for an area of shade. She found a cool square near the bus sign and stood there wiping the sweat from her forehead. When she tried to read the sign, the words moved like waves breaking over the shore. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Austin. Tallahassee. Atlanta. New York. Everywhere except Los Angeles.