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Thursday, January 31, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 12)

(excerpt 12. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

Lord Bartholomew's palace on the planet Kryllium was well-fortified. Breaking in would be no easy task. It would take careful planning, cunning, and nerves of steel. Once I broke in and freed my parents, the hard part would begin: getting out and getting off the planet before Bartholomew had a chance to realize what I had done and unleash the full force of his small army on me. I enlisted the help of my old friend, Theron. He was quirky and clumsy, but he was the best wheel man in the galaxy with the fastest space cruiser in the Milky Way: the Dormez-Vous.
The exterior walls of the palace were a thousand feet high and there were only two ways in or out: the east gate and the west gate. If Bartholomew had one weakness, it was his sweet tooth. I stowed away on the next chocolate truck bound for the castle. I'd always pictured a chocolate truck as a regular truck that transported chocolate, but this truck was actually made of chocolate. The body, the seats and doors, even the tires were made of chocolate. And it was fueled by chocolate syrup.
Once inside Bartholomew's compound I snuck out of the cocoa conveyance and began my search for the cell where my parents were being held. Detailed building plans, secured by Rick, another old friend, made the search easy.
Allowing fifteen minutes to ensure I had found my parents and was ready to escape, Theron detonated a bomb at the east gate of the compound. The explosion would have made any mercenary smile. Clouds of flames and smoke spewed high above the outer walls of the palace. The blast leveled an area the size of a small city. While Bartholomew's guards were in a state of disarray I slipped out with Mom and Dad and we climbed aboard the Dormez-Vous, which was parked outside the west gate, and headed for Earth. The flight seemed to take no time. In the blink of an eye we were parked at Theron's hideout in the mountain west region of the United States. I decided to ask Theron to keep an eye on my parents while I returned to Kryllium to take care of some unfinished business. But that would have to wait, for now.
“Thanks, buddy. I couldn't have done it without you,” I said to Theron as I shook his hand.
“Any time. You know I'm indebted to you for life,” he replied.
“Do you mind if my parents stay with you? I need to go to New York and check on Janelle.”
“Not at all. Take the Dormez-Vous.”
“Thanks, but I better take a commercial flight for this trip,” I replied.
“Parker, are you going to be okay?” Mom asked.
“I'll be fine. And you and Dad will be safe here. I can't think of another place where you'd be safer.”
I caught the first flight to New York City. I had to make sure Janelle was okay, but more than that, I desperately wanted to see her. I longed to run my fingers through her hair and feel the warmth of her embrace.
The city was something to behold - more than forty buildings which were at least 500 stories tall each. These truly were skyscrapers. On inclement days, the upper floors were bathed in brilliant sunshine while people on the street beneath the clouds shuffled through the dreary rain holding their umbrellas overhead.
The entrance to Janelle's magazine office was a soaring glass facade with the words Platinum and Polyester emblazoned across the top in  twenty-foot tall stainless steel lettering.
I walked into the lobby.
“Hi there. I'd like to see Janelle.”
“Name, please.” The pretty young girl behind the desk spoke with an authority that was miles above her station.
“Parker,” I replied confidently and condescendingly.
“Do you have a last name, Parker?” she snapped as she returned my patronizing treatment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 11)

(excerpt 11. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

“Are you back?” she said with a smile.
“I guess I was daydreaming. What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Our magazine is doing a story on chic lunar clothing. You don't seem to be very happy to see me.”
“It's not that.”
“What is it then? Don't you like me, Parker?”
“I'm trying not to.”
“Why on the moon would you do that?”
“Because nothing good can come of it.”
“Sounds like someone has had his heart broken one too many times,” she said as she gently stroked my chest.
“If I start to like you, you'll disappear. If I don't start to like you, I can't be disappointed.”
“Well, I like you, Parker, and I'm not going to disappear.” She gently kissed me on the lips and walked off to board the shuttle for Earth.
I made my way through the tunnels of the moon to the facilities of StarCon, our solar system's largest energy company. It was as if my brain went on autopilot. I felt like I was outside of my body watching the whole operation from above. In an instant I was back at the terminal looking for my diminutive friend. I quickly scanned the atrium. He wasn't hard to find - his hat was a dead giveaway. I sat in the seat behind him and slipped the computer card into his hand.
“I did what he asked. Now tell Bartholomew to let my parents go.”
“Yeah, about that,” he said. “Lord Bartholomew has one more favor to ask.”
“A Favor? Are you kidding me? He's holding my parents hostage and he has the nerve to demand that I do another mission, and calls it a favor?”
“I'm just the messenger.” He handed me another packet and quickly shuffled away.
Just the messenger my eye. Chauncey was Bartholomew's right hand man, and had been ever since Bartholomew plucked him from a life on the streets of Kryllium's nastiest city - Malevotown.
Was this the last “favor” or did Bartholomew plan to milk me for all I was worth? What was it this time? Take out a rival's new factory? Steal plans for the newest space vehicle in development? Personally deliver to Bartholomew a hundred pounds of premium cocoa beans from Central America? I took out the agenda and read the instructions.

Go to New York. Find the editor of Platinum and Polyester Magazine. Her name is Janelle. Kill her. When she is dead, your parents will be released.

My heart sank and I began to sweat profusely. I leaned over and emptied the contents of my stomach into the trash can I was standing next to. My knees got weak and I went down to the floor. I had only met her recently and spent just a few hours on a train with her, as well as a stolen moment in the lunar terminal, but Janelle was all I thought about. I could hardly stand being apart from her; I couldn't imagine killing her. However, I knew that if I didn't carry out the objective Bartholomew would kill my parents. On the other hand, I wondered whether he ever intended to free them or if he planned to string me along indefinitely. I had to take a calculated risk.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 10)

(excerpt 10. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

My ticket for the shuttle was stapled to the itinerary that was in my pocket - one round trip ticket to the moon. I handed it to the attendant and climbed on board. The shuttle cabin was luxurious, well-appointed, and very bright. Everything was white: the walls, the carpet, and the seats. The flight attendants wore all-white uniforms. Once everyone was strapped in, we departed.
After rolling down the runway and lifting effortlessly into the night sky, the lunar transport pointed straight up and the rocket boosters kicked in, slamming me back in my seat. The g-forces were overpowering. I could feel my eyeballs press against the back of my skull. As we climbed through the atmosphere and the sun broke over the horizon the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen was unveiled. Below the horizon was the earth in all its glory, growing smaller beneath us by the second. Above the horizon the universe stretched out to infinity. The space between the stars, which were too numerous to count, was the blackest darkness imaginable.
We soared onward and upward, gradually escaping Earth's atmosphere as we passed by the Intergalactic Space Station, which was something to behold. A kind of interstellar marketplace, it was five hundred miles long and just as tall and wide as it was long. Space ships from every corner of the universe were docked there, seeking to trade their wares with merchants from Earth – the richest planet in the galaxy in terms of garments, spices, precious metals, and other goodies.
Now that we were free of the gravitational pull of the earth my body relaxed and I was able to rest – once I'd read the details of the mission I was about to embark upon.

Break into StarCon's headquarters. Steal their plans for harvesting energy crystals from the core of the moon. Deliver the plans to a short man in a fedora in the lobby of the lunar shuttle terminal.

Once upon a time I was hands down the best mercenary in the galaxy and everyone knew it. After eight years in military special ops I'd decided to turn my talents and experience into a lucrative freelance career. I hadn't been on a mission in ten years. I'd sworn off that life. I'd grown tired of cheating death and inflicting it on others to obtain information and technology for the highest bidder. I'd decided to settle for a less lucrative, but more honorable way of life. This time, however, I had no choice. Hopefully it would all come back to me - like riding a bike.
The Moon Base Terminal was quite a sight. Towering glass windows on all sides provided a spectacular view of the universe. Depending on the rotation of the moon the scene out the windows was either the brilliant shining sun, with the big blue marble of the Earth in the foreground, the space station gleaming like a giant crystal in the sky; or a dark, serene expanse shimmering with the innumerable sparkling suns of a million distant galaxies.
I saw a woman standing by the windows looking out at the heavens, apparently as spellbound as I was. Her waist-long blonde hair reminded me of Janelle. Despite my best efforts to put her out of my mind, certain that she would only bring me heartbreak, I was infatuated with the lady of the locomotive and thought about her constantly.
“Hello, Parker, fancy seeing you here,” the mystery woman said without turning to look at me.
“Janelle?” I said, stepping forward to see her face.
“It's me.”
She looked at me with those eyes - those cerulean discs. For a moment I forgot where I was and who I was. I remembered the train ride - holding her while she slept; her long, soft blonde hair laid across my arms. I dreamed about marrying her and raising a family in a grand home on a lake. I imagined her calling to me while I was out on the lake with Parker Jr. in our boat. “Parker,” she called to me from the dock. “Parker,” she repeated.
 “Parker?” Janelle said emphatically.
I shook my head and closed my eyes, then opened them again to find myself back in the terminal.

Monday, January 28, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 9)

(excerpt 9. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

The lobby of the hotel where I would be staying was very rustic. The scuffed and scarred wood floors looked to be a couple hundred years old. The walls were made of knotty pine paneling. A stuffed moose head hung over the reception desk. A polar bear played show tunes on the piano against the wall to the right. He paused momentarily, dipped a large ladle into the punch bowl on top of the piano and poured it into a glass and offered it to me.
I waved it off as I said, “No thank you.”
I walked up to the counter and rang the brass bell that sat next to the antique brass lamp.
“Good evening, sir,” the clerk greeted me.
“I'd like to check in.”
“Parker. Say, where's Trader Jack's?”
“Did you say Trader Jack's?” His face turned white and he looked around nervously.
“Yeah. I'm supposed to meet someone there.”
“I'd stay away from that place if I was you, mister.”
“Well you ain't me. Can you just tell me where it is?”
“Walk outside and turn left. Head up the street toward the mountains. You'll see it about two blocks up on the left. Look for the noose hanging from the awning.”
“Thanks,” I said as I flipped a gold coin toward him.
I walked out the door and followed the clerk's instructions. I turned left and proceeded up the wooden sidewalk. There were no streets or buildings, just the boardwalk which was enveloped in a tunnel of fog and mist. I'd never experienced such utter quiet. I could hear my heart pound inside my chest. “How will I know when I've gone two blocks,” I wondered aloud. My voice echoed in the emptiness. “I guess I'll have to look for the noose.” Again, I heard my words repeated long after I'd uttered them.
I proceeded along the walkway, searching for signs of life. I could no longer hear my heartbeat, as the creaking of the wood planks beneath each step drowned out that audible evidence that I was, in fact, alive. I contemplated the din generated by my traipsing treads, and as I did, I began to float, like an astronaut in zero gravity. I glided onward through the fog tunnel; everything behind me grew ever darker and a bright light, diffused by the water vapor shroud, led me onward. I felt sense of peace and calm.
The guiding glow ahead of me disappeared, and everything was now bathed in a flat, dull light. Still moving forward, I slowly twirled around, looking to my right, then behind me, then back in the direction I was gliding. As I came around full-circle, there it was: a large saloon with a noose hanging from the awning. A large wooden sign which hung above the front door depicted a man with a fur hat handing forth a dead animal and receiving back a bag of money.
As I walked through the front door I was blasted by loud music as a bottled crashed against the wall six inches from my face. Pretty girls in low-cut dresses stood against the wall to the left, underneath the balcony. They smiled and batted their eyelashes at me. A short man in a fedora stood on the balcony above them. He eyeballed me as I strode through the door. I returned the visual scrutiny. I walked over to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey. No sooner had I sat down on the stool and picked up the glass when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I put the glass down and whirled around to see the short man in the fedora staring me in the eye. I turned back around to face the bar. I could see his reflection above the liquor bottles that sat on the shelf in front of the mirror behind the bar. The fans which hung down from the thirty foot ceiling thumped rhythmically in the background.
“You the one who left the note in  my pocket?” I asked.
“I'm the one,” he replied.
“I appreciate you not robbing me.”
“You might want to hold your feelings of gratitude in abeyance until you finish the assignment I have for you.”
“Assignment? I have a job to report to tomorrow. Sorry, old friend, but I can't help you.”
“You'll work something out.”
“I told you, I'm not available.”
“Lord Bartholomew has your parents. He's holding them in his mansion.”
“What!” I pictured my mother's face. Her eyes were dark and sullen; her mouth was turned down at the corners. She and dad were sitting on a cold cement bench in a dark cell. They were tired and hungry and scared.
“He says he'll release them if you'll do a job for him.”
“What's the job?” I said with a soft surrender. I knew I had to do it. I'd learned through experience not to go against Bartholomew; he was well-funded, powerful and ruthless.
I was much younger then, given to rash decisions and brash comments. I'd just finished a particularly grueling mission when Bartholomew insisted I do him a favor. Perhaps in hindsight I might have been a little more diplomatic.
“Take your favor and shove it!” was my response.
I jumped in my space cruiser and headed for home. When I got to our beach house, I hurried through the door to our bedroom, eager to hold my blonde bride. The note on the dresser called to me.


I warned you not to go up against me.
Don't bother looking. You'll never find her.


Maybe in hindsight I should have taken his advice, but who could just walk away from the holder of his heart? I found her mutilated body in a dumpster.
The short man in the fedora handed me the agenda, which I slipped into my pocket. I downed my whiskey and got up to leave. Bullets splintered the wooden doorjamb on either side of me as I sauntered to the exit. I didn't look back. As I walked out into the fog, I briefly considered returning to my room to get a good night's rest. No, I can rest on the way, I told myself. Besides, the sooner I do this the sooner my parents will be freed. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 8)

(excerpt 8. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

“Where are we?” she asked through sleepy eyes.
“New York City. Listen, why don't you come to Alaska with me?”
“I would love to, Parker, but I can't. I've wanted this job for a long, long time.”
“Maybe I'll come visit you in New York sometime.”
“That would be fantastic. I'm going to miss you, Parker.”
There was a knock on the door. The conductor poked his head in the doorway. “Next stop, Penn Station,” he said in a sing-song voice as if he were performing a rock ballad.
“Thank you, sir,” I said. He left. “That was strange,” I said to Janelle.
“What?” she asked.
“The conductor: he looked familiar.” I was struck by his long hair, full belly, and piercing eyes.
“Well, this is my stop,” she said. “Why don't you come to New York with me?”
“I can't,” I replied without a reason.
She stood and looked at me with sad eyes. Rising, I took her hands in mine. “Good-bye, Janelle.”
“Good-bye, Parker.”
She gave me a peck on the cheek before disappearing down the corridor. I returned to my seat and looked out the window, and as the train jerked into motion and pulled away from the station I saw Janelle standing on the platform waving good-bye. I leaned back against the cushioned seat and reflected on my chance encounter with the blonde enchantress. Will I ever see her again? If I visit her will she even remember me? Would she be any different than the others who had broken my heart?
In the window I saw the reflection of a short man, his eyes hidden by his hat, standing in the doorway to my chamber. By the time I turned around to confront the mystery man he was gone.
The hypnotic wobble of the carriage and the pitter-patter of the rain against the window lulled me to sleep. The locomotive slipped through small towns, across rolling farm fields, and through snow-covered mountain passes. The train slowed as it climbed to the top of one pass where an enormous cave opening, the size of a football stadium, provided entrance to another dimension. Blinding light emanated from the cavern as people of all races and ages streamed down the slope into the earth. Their faces were relaxed and bore smiles and bright eyes. The aurora borealis flickered overhead: a wavy electronic curtain displaying the colors of the rainbow.
As the train rolled down the western slope toward Alaska, the radiance behind faded to the soft light of a full moon up ahead. Moose and Elk, skis strapped to their hooves, schussed down mountain slopes through deep champagne powder, carving turns like seasoned Olympic champions.
The Alaska Peninsula stuck out like a long, bony white finger across the Gulf of Alaska. Killer whales rolled and leaped out of the water, performing in the moonlight for the throngs of captivated passengers that leaned against the railing of their cruise ship.
The train rolled to a stop and the change of motion awakened me. The portly, long haired conductor poked his head in the compartment. “Anchorage, Alaska,” he informed me.
I stood up and stretched my arms and then mindlessly put my hand in the pocket of my jacket. What's this, I wondered as I pulled out the note that was not there when I fell asleep.

Meet me at Trader Jack's, nine PM, Saturday night.

What's this about, I wondered. And who put it in my pocket? At least he didn't steal my money while I was sleeping, I thought as I felt with my other hand to make sure my wallet was still there in my other pocket.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 7)

(excerpt 7. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

“I know what you mean. I'm going to New York to be the editor of a fashion magazine,” she said.
“That's not exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel,” I replied. When I looked at her for a response she simply winked and smiled.
We talked for a while as the train chugged through the darkness. The rain beat rhythmically against the window as the chill of the night air infiltrated the insulated walls of the cabin.
“I'm getting cold. Do you mind if I sit next to you?” she asked.
I slid closer to the window to make room for her and to shield her from the elements. She sat down next to me, lifted my arm above her head, snuggled in against my side, and allowed my arm to fall on her shoulder. She put her arm around my waist and leaned her head against my chest.
“That's much better,” she said. “You're very warm, Parker.”
“Uh huh,” I said.
“Look at that,” she said.
“I fit perfectly.”
While she slept in my arms I watched the night scene  unfold outside the window. The bitter rain had changed to snow and the ground was now covered in an endless, downy blanket. Streetlights glowed while couples strolled down the sidewalks, their eyelashes punctuated by vanilla crystals. High on a hill in the distance, I saw a giant merry-go-round - as big as a city block. It spun and played festive music while the animals leapt and lunged as they ran in circles. Its lights, bright and soft, cascaded down the hill through the snow, picking up intensity as they tumbled down through the powdery landscape.
The train rolled on.
In the distance up ahead a farm glowed under the lunar luminescence. The full moon, looking larger than life, hung low in the sky over the red barn and silver silo. As we got closer I noticed cows standing around in the soft light munching on the bright green grass in the pasture. As we rolled past I looked back to see a cow jump over the moon.
Picturesque farms and quaint small towns gave way to dirty city streets and dilapidated dwellings as we drew near to the big city. The pristine snow changed to a grimy rain. Two malevolent young men, wearing sagging pants and sweatshirts with the hoods pulled far over their faces, stood toe to toe. After a brief verbal exchange the faceless thugs pulled pistols from their waistbands. A flurry of bright flashes and loud pops ensued, and a moment later both were lying lifeless on the ground in a pool of blood.
On a street corner stood a young girl -- she looked to be about fifteen or sixteen – dressed in high heels, a crimson miniskirt that would make a Vegas showgirl blush, and a skimpy white halter top. Her face was painted like an opera singer, but the makeup couldn't hide her drooping eyes, lips which were turned down at the corners, and sunken cheeks. I wanted to jump off the train and rescue her and take her home to her parents, but as the thought floated through my mind the scene changed to one of towering skyscrapers and bright lights and throngs of people walking down spotless city sidewalks.
About that time, Janelle woke up. She yawned as she stretched her arms above her head. Her fuzzy sweater bristled as her curvaceous body undulated beneath it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 6)

(excerpt 6. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

Part Three
When I answered the knock at my basement door the lights were on and the cellar was brightly lit. I was surprised to find at my portal the detective from the show I'd been watching. I invited him in and when I turned around to give him the grand tour, I found myself alone at the entrance to a train depot with a wide open meadow behind me. The tall, yellow grass waved in the breeze under a clear blue sky. The endless stalks of wheat rose and fell, like a rolling tide, as the wind gently caressed them. The gabled red-stucco facade of the station contrasted starkly against the cerulean sky and flaxen field.
I walked through the front door, up to the ticket counter, and purchased a passage to Alaska. Out of my peripheral vision I noticed a suspicious character. He was a short man with dark glasses which were partially blocked by the fedora, which he was never without, that was tilted downward. I turned back to the teller to receive my ticket and change. With a wink and a smile she sent me on my way. I was captivated by her long blonde hair and striking blue eyes.
The boarding platform, just outside the back door, was covered by a small roof which extended to the edge of the tracks. Black clouds overhead dumped buckets of rain on the tracks and the field beyond. Splinters of lightning crackled all around. I glanced at my ticket. According to the scheduled departure time and my watch the train should've already arrived, but there was no sign of it. The air was bitterly cold and the wind blew the stinging rain under the overhang, soaking my face. I sneezed and when I opened my eyes the train was there, stopped right in front of me. Faceless porters guided people onto passenger cars to my right and left. I noticed the name emblazoned above the door in front of me: The Imagination Express.
All of the passenger cars were divided into small private compartments that accommodated four people in two facing bench seats. I found an empty chamber, parked my caboose, and hoped no one would disturb my solitude.
The benches were covered in luxurious burgundy velvet that yielded gently beneath me as I sat down. I leaned against the high, sloped seat back and folded my hands across my lap as I prepared to close my eyes for the long journey ahead. A large window afforded a grand view of the landscape that would soon be whisking past me while I slept.
When she poked her head in the doorway I groaned selfishly, hoping she would take the hint and continue on her way. I only wanted to rest on the long trip to my new adventure; I did not want to have to engage in polite small talk. Either she didn't hear me or she assumed I had a medical condition because she came through the door anyway. Her long legs ascended gracefully up from the floor and disappeared into the long blonde hair that flowed down her back like a flaxen waterfall.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked in a sensual voice that turned my insides to warm apple cobbler.
I shook my head to indicate it was not.
“I'm Janelle. What's your name?” She extended her hand as she sat down across from me.
“Parker,” I said as I shook her hand.
“That's an unusual name. Are you an unusual man, Parker?”
“I don't think so,” I replied.
“Where are you headed?”
“Alaska. I just got a job working on the pipeline.”
“Ooh, that sounds exciting.”
“Hardly, but in this economy you gotta, you can't -- sometimes you have to take whatever's available until the thing you want comes along.” I was having trouble organizing my thoughts; every time I looked into her eyes those deep blue pools put me in a trance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 5)

(excerpt 5. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

I was on assignment in some far-flung corner of the world, I don't remember where, when Dad called to tell me Carmen had run away. No one knows why she left. She was only fifteen, had lots of friends, and was a straight-A student. She seemed to be a normal, happy teenager. Mom cried and prayed every night as the days turned to weeks and then to months. Dad started drinking and withdrew from Mom.
During the course of the investigation the police discovered she'd been a prostitute, forced into the sex trade, they said. They see it all the time - young runaways, desperate for food and a place to stay, fall victim to opportunistic scumbags.
They found her body in a dumpster, her face covered with bruises and a deep stab wound to her abdomen. I remember exactly where I was the day Dad called to tell me the news – sitting in a bar in Singapore with my old buddy Rick. Adding insult to injury, Rick was killed later that week during a mission we were on together. Everyone told me there was nothing I could have done, but still, my friend was dead and I failed to save him.
I took my dishes to the sink and retired to my underground lair. The basement apartment was sparsely finished but I had it all to myself. My bed, which was set up in the corner, was big and warm and comfy, but I usually fell asleep in my roomy recliner while watching TV and slept through the night there. A college boy fridge was strategically placed beside the recliner which was located in the middle of the room in front of a flat screen TV. A spacious rectangular area rug with tassels on the ends insulated my chair from the cold, damp cement floor. Settling back and watching a good movie or TV show was like taking a magic carpet ride.
I selected an episode of Numb3rs, my favorite crime drama, from the DVR; popped the top on a dark beer; and kicked back to see what kind of magical math the detective would use to catch the bad guys this time. A young couple had been killed while they slept. They were newlyweds. He was a consultant for a military contracting firm, and she, a beautiful woman with long blonde hair, was the editor of a fashion magazine.
The brief intro was followed by several commercials: a promo for the latest lingerie fashion show; a spot designed to lure vacationers to an idyllic isle in the Caribbean; and a pharmaceutical pitch for a sleep aid.

My mind drifted back to a time long ago when I flirted with love; when she smiled at me and I dreamed of a happily-ever-after. We had taken a direct flight to St. Maarten and then hopped the shuttle to St. Bart's. After several days of fun in the sun and romantic walks on the beach at sunset I found myself falling in love. Although it was her long blonde hair and soft blue eyes that drew me in at first, it was her carefree outlook on life and tender heart that captivated me. I assumed she was in love, too. I bought her a rose from the girl who circulated through the restaurant with a basket-full of the red, white, pink, and yellow blossoms under her arm.
That next morning when I awoke to find her side of the bed deserted I assumed that she had gotten up to take her morning walk on the beach.
She loved to stroll along the shore in the soft light of the dawn and feel the cool sand between her toes and the salt air as it filled her lungs. One morning while enjoying my coffee on the back deck, my gaze caught her dancing on the golden strand, moving to some unseen tune, unaware that anyone was watching. She was happy and spontaneous and free; and I never loved her more.

My heart sank when I noticed the ring I'd given her laying on a folded up note on top of the dresser.

I'm so sorry, Parker,
I never meant to hurt you,
I hope one day you'll see,
But I'm not ready for roses,
And what they mean to me.

The peaceful tune of the insomnia ad faded out and the raucous music of the TV drama lead-in jolted me back to the present. My eyes grew heavy as I drifted into and out of sleep several times until, about fifteen minutes into the episode, I was out for good. The light from the TV flickered in the darkness, occasionally illuminating my sleeping form in the chair. I snored deeply. I always slept soundly and straight through til morning. I was dead to the world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 4)

(excerpt 4. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

Part Two

One Night I Dreamed

a novel by Parker Edwards

After spending the better part of my twenties in the military traveling the world, I found myself living in my parents' basement apartment at the age of 30, lonely and adrift with no job and no prospects; and no girlfriend and no prospects. I'd dated several girls over the last few years, but whether it was bad timing or the transient nature of my military life, none of my romantic encounters worked out. I guess it didn't help that no woman could ever measure up to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty I'd fallen in love with many years before. As soon as I let my guard down and let her in she disappeared.
Most of my childhood friends had moved away and I hadn't made any new friends since moving back home. It's hard to make a connection with people who have spent their entire lives working in a cubicle and living in a three bedroom house in suburbia when you've lived the life of a black ops soldier.
Dad had told me I was welcome to live with him and Mom as long as I needed to, and he wanted me to feel free to explore any options I deemed necessary, but at the same time he insisted on interjecting his opinions and solutions. He would say that I wasn't willing to buckle down and apply myself. I would say that I hadn't found myself – or my place in this world – yet. Mom was just happy to have her only son back home.
Mom had just one hard and fast house rule - that I eat dinner with her and Dad every evening. The mandate was not untenable as Mom was a great chef and I hated to cook, but I loved to eat.
That evening's meal was especially satisfying: succulent meatloaf, garlic mashed potatoes with gravy, and homemade apple cobbler. A glass of wine would have gone nicely with the meal, I thought, but that was not an option with Mom and Dad.
“Parker, have you found a job yet?” Dad asked.
“No, sir,” I replied.
“Well Jim, my old Air Force buddy, said the offer stills stands to go work for him on the oil pipeline in Alaska.”
“I don't want to work on an oil pipeline.”
“Son, sometimes you have to take whatever's available until the thing you want comes along.”
“It just seems so menial.”
“Promise me you'll think about it.”
I noticed Mom hadn't looked up at all during my conversation with Dad. She knew he was right but she didn't want to see me move to Alaska, or anywhere else for that matter.
“Are you dating anyone, Parker?” Mom asked in an attempt to change the subject. Subtlety was not one of her gifts.
“I met a real nice girl at the market. She's a cashier.”
“You didn't set me up with her, did you?”
“No, but I can if you want me to.”
“That wouldn't be too pathetic,” I answered. “A thirty year-old man having his dates arranged by his mother.”
“I just don't like to see you lonely.”
“I'm okay, Mom. Really, I am.”
“Okay, dear. Oh, I forgot to tell you, your friend Theron called while you were out.”
“What did he want?”
“He didn't say. He sure is an odd bird.”
Dad smiled knowingly.
“He's different, I'll give you that, but I've never had a more loyal friend.”
“Oh, I didn't mean anything bad; I like Theron a lot.”
“I know, Mom,” I said as I patted her hand.
After a few more minutes of obligatory chit-chat I thanked Mom for a delicious meal and told her and Dad good-night. As I stood up and pushed my chair up to the table I noticed the extra place setting. Mom's way of holding on to Carmen was to keep her room exactly the way it was the day she left and to set a place for her at the dinner table every night. Neither Dad nor I said anything; we knew Mom would let it go when she was ready. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 3)

(excerpt 3. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

When my eyes popped open it took me a minute to remember where I was. The cold, damp air and smell of concrete, old lumber, and insulation refreshed my memory.  I lifted my head from the table, wiped the drool from my cheek, and looked at the clock on my laptop: 5 PM - time for dinner. I closed the lid and trudged up the steps from my crude basement writing studio.
I had not written a novel in over three years. Two previous books on the bestseller list gave me a financial cushion and latitude from my publisher, but I began to grow more anxious with every wordless week. A vacation in the mountains didn't break my mental block; neither did a month-long stay in Key West. I'd hoped to glean some inspiration from Papa. I toured the Hemingway home, threw back more than a few drinks at Sloppy Joe's Bar, and even booked a day trip on a deep-sea fishing vessel whimsically named A Moveable Feast. Unfortunately, all my efforts yielded neither revelation nor illumination.
I returned home with my wife, hopeful that the dull normalcy of our everyday lives would provide the spark I sought.
“How's the book coming?” Janelle asked as I closed the door at the top of the stairs behind me.
“Still nothing,” I answered.
“What would you like to drink?”
“A dark beer in a frosty mug.”
I chowed down on the delicious meal while Janelle prattled on about this and that – I tried to listen but my mind was consumed with my inability to write and all of the consequences that I believed would logically follow: divorce, homelessness, and me ending up face-down in a gutter somewhere.
“Don't you think so?” I heard Janelle ask as my thoughts returned to the dinner table.
“Don't I think what?”
“Have you heard a word I've said? Even when you do spend time with me your mind is somewhere else.”
“I'm sorry. I'm just so preoccupied with my work.”
“Maybe you're trying too hard to come up with an idea. Maybe you just need to take a break.”
“We tried that already.”
“I know something else we could try.” She squeezed my hand and batted her eyelashes seductively.
“I don't think so.”
“Let's go see a movie.”
“You don't have to yell at me.” Her eyes watered.
“I'm sorry, honey. It's just that I need to empty my mind of all outside thoughts and words.” I got up and kissed her on the cheek. “Dinner was delicious,” I said.
“Parker, you're not going back down there are you?”
“I have to write again. Our savings are dwindling and we certainly won't be able to buy that villa in Austria that you've got your eye on unless I have another bestseller.”
“But what's the point of having money and things if we don't get to spend time together?”
“Janelle, it's only for a while, I promise -- until I finish the book. I'll see you tomorrow evening, same time.” I leaned in to give her another kiss but she turned her face silently away from me.
Desperate for a breakthrough, I'd taken to locking myself away in our unfinished basement, only emerging around dinner to spend the appointed two hour block of time with my wife. She wasn't happy with the arrangement, but I pointed out to her that if I didn't write another book soon she would leave me because of poverty and that assuaged her -- for a time.
 My laptop was set up on a card table in the middle of the cellar. I had no television or radio, and I had my internet connection turned off - no creature comforts whatsoever, with the exception of my comfortable computer chair -- the one deviation from austerity I'd allowed myself in exile. An old coffee maker, stained from years of use, sat on the metal shelves against the stairs, along with a stack of styrofoam cups and four jars, one for sugar, one for powdered creamer, one for ground coffee, and one for mini chocolate bars – for a quick burst of energy and caffeine. The dehumidifier whirred constantly as it fought a losing battle against the dampness and mold. A utility sink in the corner served two purposes: water supply for the coffee maker and a urinal for me. I blacked out the window wells so that I wouldn't be distracted by daylight or the rising and setting of the sun.
The mounting pressures of impending financial ruin and divorce were overwhelming.  I drank cup after cup of coffee. I offered up prayer after prayer to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers. I even spent time in meditation. I tried exercises where I wrote down every stray thought that entered my mind – now that was some weird stuff! I paced back and forth across the uneven cement floor, dodging the low-hanging metal pipes and brushing away the dangling cobwebs.
Then one day in a flash, as story kernels often do, it hit me out of the blue. I was so excited to get to my laptop and start writing that I smacked my forehead on one of the low-hanging pipes and fell backward, slamming my head on the cold, unyielding slab. I saw stars spin around my head like in a cartoon and then everything went black.
I had no idea how long I'd been lying there when I came to but the back of my head was cold and damp from the concrete floor. I rose to my knees, my head throbbing, and crawled over to my work station, climbed into my chair, and began rapping away at the keys.
It was a brilliant idea. A man, living in his parents' basement apartment, falls asleep one night and the rest of the book is that character's dream: one long, mysterious, action-packed, fantasy-like adventure. During the saga he becomes aware that he is dreaming and he begins to direct his own dreams.
As the words and paragraphs and chapters flowed through my hands to the computer like water from a burst dam, my headache disappeared and my hope renewed. I wanted to run upstairs and tell Janelle the exciting news but I was unable to move from the table. The story had a grip on me like well-set cement.
In that first burst of inspiration the initial parameters of the novel were clear. The main character's name would be Parker and the story would be written from his point of view. The rest simply came to me as I put down words in the machine.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When you Die in Your Dreams (excerpt 2)

(excerpt 2. If you missed the previous installment, scroll down the blog to catch up)

Being penniless and destitute I had no means with which to travel, so in the obscure darkness of early morning I snuck into the Raleigh Railway yard and climbed into an empty boxcar of a train that was being readied for departure.
As the locomotive rolled down the tracks heading west I felt free in a way I never had. I had no idea where I was going, but that didn't matter; I had no cares, no deadlines, and no responsibilities. As the train chugged up the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains I saw deer and foxes and bears roaming the woods and an eagle soaring over a towering waterfall which seemed to reach to the sky. As the water cascaded down the steep rock face it reflected the warm orange glow of the rising sun. Suddenly the western slope of the mountains dissipated into an amalgam of all the places I had ever read about or imagined. On the way to the Mighty Mississippi, we passed cotton fields and plantations and small towns. We crossed over that Old Man River, which was so wide I couldn't see the other side. From the trestle high above the muddy waters I saw paddle-wheel riverboats disappearing into the distance in both directions. Below the bridge a young boy on a makeshift raft held down his straw hat with one hand and waved at me with the other. Finally, after what seemed like hours we made it to the other side and the landscape changed to an arid desert.
The train chugged past a band of cowboys riding as fast as they could, obviously on the trail of something or someone. A little ways up ahead we passed three Indians, desperately coaxing their horses to evade their pursuers. The chase scene faded from view and slowly but distinctly out of the desert rose a series of towers, each capped by a dome with the large one in the middle significantly bigger than the rest. As we got closer I recognized it as the Taj Mahal. Gaunt, brown-skinned people wearing strange robes and red dots on their foreheads waved at me as they strolled the grounds. The awe-inspiring monument became distorted and wavy and then faded away, and we rolled through vast grasslands dotted with the distinctive umbrella trees of Africa. A bunch of antelope ran alongside the train, violently beating their hooves into the turf, kicking up a cloud of dust and blades of grass which trailed behind them like the column of smoke behind our train. As the herd peeled off from our course at an angle I saw a single antelope, thinner than the rest, struggling to keep up but falling behind. My gaze was so fixed on this lonely creature that I did not see his pursuer until it was upon him. Dust and grass, fur and blood flew around the blurred, twisted unidentifiable tangle of creatures as they rolled to a stop. When the dust cleared I saw a lean, muscular lion lying on all fours, his terrible fangs planted firmly in the antelope's hind quarters. Blood dripped from his incisors as he held his prey. The antelope struggled for a moment and then breathed his final, labored breath and went limp. The lion stared menacingly at me as we rolled past.
The landscape changed into a vast expanse of gray dust and everything was dark, like on a moonlit night. We slipped past a collection of glass domes, the size of small cities, and a spaceship that roared to life as its thrusters spewed out flames and smoke, propelling the craft off the surface of the moon. In the distance I could see a large blue planet, and past that two smaller planets, and beyond those the sun, shining with a radiance I'd never seen. The International Space Station glimmered like a diamond as it hung in orbit above the Earth.
Distracted by the unfettered celestial view I didn't notice that the moonscape had transformed into a more familiar scene: the round hotel tower with a revolving restaurant on top and the bridges over the Ohio River and the distinctive skyline of the Queen City. The sun was rising over downtown as we rolled in to the Cincinnati Railway yard and slowed to a stop. I jumped off the freight car and raced through the streets to the home of my youth. Mom and Dad were waiting on the front porch to greet me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When You Die in Your Dreams

This is the first in a series of daily excerpts from my novella,
"When You Die in Your Dreams" available on Kindle for 99 cents
Check back daily for the next installment.

Part One
As the fog began to dissipate I found myself wandering through the largest bookstore I'd ever seen. Three stories high and floors that seemed to stretch out to infinity. In the center was a beautifully landscaped atrium with soaring stone walls and exotic plants from all over the globe. A waterfall cascaded thirty feet from a rock ledge near the ceiling into a pool on the first floor. A glass-walled elevator ascended and descended behind the aqueous curtain.
As I stood awestruck in the middle of the store admiring the grandeur a clerk approached me.
“Parker? Parker Edwards?” He fidgeted anxiously.
“Yes. That's me,” I replied.
“You're late! Come with me,” he said as he grabbed my arm and frantically ushered me to the book signing chamber on the third floor.
A podium was set up at the front of the room. Next to it was a table filled with stacks and stacks of my latest novel. I was to give a short talk about my book and then sit at the table where I would meet fans and sign their copies.
I positioned myself at the lectern and glanced over at the books: 300 empty pages and a blank cover. My mouth dried out and sweat beaded up on my forehead. How could this have happened? I looked down at myself only to discover to my horror that I was naked from head to toe. I sheepishly looked up at the sea of chairs before me. Fortunately no one had shown up to hear me speak or buy my book. I shriveled behind the rostrum.
Dead leaves swirled in the breeze and crunched under my feet as I walked up the path to our front porch.
“That's odd,” I thought to myself, noticing that my wife's car was not in the driveway. “Janelle didn't say anything about going out.”
I pulled the piece of paper -- an eviction notice from the Sheriff's department -- from the jamb before opening the door and walking inside. As I laid the note on the table in the foyer I heard my wife rustling about upstairs.
“Janelle, where's the car?” I called up to her.
She did not respond but a moment later came stumbling down the steps with a large suitcase in each hand, the portmanteaus thudding heavily off each tread.
“Janelle?” I said as she trudged past me and out the front door, never making eye contact.
“Janelle!” I called out as she got into a cab that was waiting outside. After the driver loaded her bags into the trunk the yellow taxi pulled out of the driveway, taking the love of my life out of my life for good.
I walked back inside and made my way into the kitchen where I found the note, which she intended for me to find after she was gone, lying on the counter next to the sink with her wedding ring on top.

I'm sorry, but I didn't sign on for this.
The car was repossessed this morning.
Don't bother trying to call. Have a nice life.

I sat down on the floor and buried my head in my hands. Tears seeped through the fissures between my fingers. What am I going to do? Where am I going to go? As I contemplated my future -- whether or not I even wanted to go on -- I heard a knock at the front door. I got up and went to the dining room window and pulled back the curtain. It was the sheriff, there to evict me.
How did all of this happen? Things had been so good. Janelle and I were newly-married, had just built our dream home, my books were selling well - and then I hit the dreaded writer's block. I couldn't produce another novel and sales of my previous volumes dried up. It all seemed to fall apart in the blink of an eye; like a bad dream. I just wanted to get away.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Coral Island Project (a short story)

The Coral Island Project

The USS Oceanus, an aircraft carrier, cut through the Gulf Stream on a southerly course, passing east of Coral Island.
The white chalky ridge of the island slipped up out of the sea like the back of a giant sea serpent. Houses on the ridge stepped down like flat, scaly humps, each in a different color: from the red house on top of the ridge down to the violet house at the beach. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet: like a coral reef on top of the water. The island was devoid of vegetation, save for a few bushes and palm trees planted by the homeowners.
At the highest point of the ridge and at three stories tall, Bill and Angie’s house was the envy of all their neighbors. The entire flat top roof of their red stucco manor was a luxurious patio that was furnished with dark walnut, Moroccan wicker lounge chairs and a wet bar. Glass-paneled railings provided an unobstructed view of the ocean and the stunning sunrises and sunsets which were commonplace.
Lobster, steak, fine wine and Single Malt Scotch – Angie, you and Bill really know how to entertain.”
Why thank you, Roy. We aim to please. We're so glad you and Donna were able to come out,” Angie replied.
Bill, I was just commenting to your wife about this impressive spread.”
Nothing is too good for our friends. It was such a fortunate turn of events, how your business trip out west was canceled at the last minute,” Bill said.
It sure was. Donna and I would have been sitting on an airplane instead of standing here enjoying this amazing view. Do you ever get tired of these sunsets?”
What do you think? I love the way the orange glow gradually fades to indigo and then to black as you follow the sky from the horizon back overhead to the east. This is my favorite time of day.”
I see what you mean. It’s breathtaking.” Roy craned his head backward.
If you think this is special, wait until the sun goes down. Since there is virtually no man-made light out here, you can see so many stars, you’d swear you were floating above the earth.”
Yes. And tonight will be a perfect night; there are no clouds and the humidity is low.”
I can’t wait.”
When it gets dark, just grab a drink, kick back in one of the lounge chairs and gaze up at the stars. Most nights we’re treated to a few shooting stars as well. I usually fall asleep in my chair and wake to the sunrise.”
They clinked their glasses together in a toast to their posh life.

Viewed from the heavens, Coral Island looked like a white teardrop, ringed in green, in a great blue expanse. Just north of Bill and Angie’s villa, and a little closer down to earth, Tom and Rita’s orange house occupied a small patch of land on the little sand bar that poked out of the ocean, providing a place for a few lucky souls to inhabit the tropical paradise. Not quite the statuesque manor it stood next to, Tom and Rita’s home was impressive in its own right. Capped by a terra cotta tile roof, the three-story abode boasted wide balconies on all four sides.
Rita, why don’t you open the balcony doors? It’s such a nice evening; the breeze can just blow right through the house.”
I’m way ahead of you, baby. They’re already open.”
She sat down in Tom’s lap and began kissing him.
To what do I owe this pleasure? The salt air? The wine?”
Nothing like that. I just love you and want to show it.”
I think we better turn the lights out first. I can see Bill and Angie’s roof from here, and they have guests tonight.”

Coral Island rose up smoothly from the sea, as did the houses which were built there. As one approached from the north, the homes seemed to be stacked, one upon another. It looked like a piece of rainbow colored candy, red at the top and violet at the bottom, with all the colors of the spectrum in between. The red and orange stripes were thicker than the rest. Beneath the orange stripe was a charming two-story yellow structure: the home of Russ and Dorothy. Beneath each window on the second floor hung a flower box, replete with colorful blooms that spilled over the edge like a polychromatic waterfall.
Dorothy, where did you hide my glasses?” Russ bellowed.
I didn’t hide them,” she snapped back. “Try looking on top of your head.”
His glasses were exactly where his wife said they’d be. Rather than a thank you, all he could manage was a gruff grunt.
Dolt!” she muttered under her breath. “Russ, would it be too much to ask to actually put your dirty glass in the dishwasher?” she carped.
That’s what I married you for,” he carped back.
After cleaning the kitchen and checking emails, Dorothy walked into Russ’ den.
I just got off email. Billy and Susie send their love,” she said sweetly.
Oh yeah, it’s good to hear from them,” he replied gently.
I’m going to bed, dear.”
Russ stood up and embraced his wife. “Good night. I love you.”
I love you, too.”

Coral Island sat on a shallow ridge, with the Gulf Stream on one side and the Straights of Serendipity on the other. The shallow waters around the island glowed emerald green, which is the color Pete and Robin, Russ and Dorothy’s neighbors, picked out for their island home: a modest two-story dwelling, without many of the luxuries of the homes up the hill. Pete and Robin had overextended themselves, but a second home on an island was something they wanted more than anything. They scrimped and saved for six months, forsaking movies and restaurants so they could afford to visit their island getaway. Two weeks in paradise.
Would you like a second pork chop?”
No thanks, Robin. Save it. I’ll have it for lunch tomorrow.”
Isn’t it wonderful to finally get out to our house?”
It sure is,” Pete replied as he kissed her on the back of the neck. Taking her by the hand, he said, “Why don’t you leave those dishes for later? I’ll do them when we get back. Let’s take a walk on the beach.”
Ooh. That sounds so romantic.” She kissed him passionately.

An official hurricane warning had been issued as a precaution, although the projected path showed it tracking well to the northeast of Coral Island. The Weather Service was very reliable, and not a single hurricane had struck the island in thirty years, since before any of the homes were built, so no one took precautions.
Much in the same way the blue of the deeper waters contrasted with the green of the shallows around the island, Joe and Helen’s blue one-story cottage plunged below their neighbor’s green two-story home.
Are you sure we don’t need to go to the mainland, or at least shutter the windows?” Helen said. She fidgeted nervously and paced back and forth.
You heard the report. The hurricane isn’t supposed to come anywhere near us. They just included our island to cover their butts, in case it changes course.”
I don’t know.”
We’ll be fine. Come here.” Joe put his arms around his wife. What started as an embrace of encouragement turned into something else as Joe tenderly kissed her on the neck.
I’m sorry, Honey. I don’t think so. I’m too worried about the hurricane.”
I told you, we’ll be fine.” He gently pressed his lips against her neck again.
Really, Joe. Not tonight.”
It's always something!” He abruptly pushed away from her; his anger intensified with each passing moment.
What is that supposed to mean?”
We never make love anymore, and you always give me some lame excuse.”
But I’m really worried.”
He stormed off into the other room.

The Coast Guard cutter sliced through the calm waters of the Straights of Serendipity on its way in from patrol. As it passed by the familiar Coral Island, the lower two houses seemed to disappear in the late evening light. The second house up the ridge from the beach, Phil and Mary’s quaint, indigo cottage blended in to the twilight atmosphere and would have been invisible except for the flashes of light strobing out from the living room window.
Will you just pick a channel and stay there,” Mary complained.
It’s hard, there are so many good shows to pick from,” Phil said as he surfed from one station to another.
Go back to the Weather Channel. I think they were covering the hurricane.”
Forget that. I’m sure nothing has changed since the last time we watched it.”
You never know. Hey, what was wrong with that?”
Really? The Heart of a Woman?”
It looks really good.”
Unless a zombie rips her heart out of her chest and eats it, I don’t think so.”
You used to be so romantic.”
Here we go. A baseball game.”
Phil laid the remote down on the couch. Mary rolled her eyes and leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder.

Bill sipped his Scotch as he scanned the ridge and all the houses below him, fixing his gaze upon the violet cottage on the beach. There were lights on at all the houses except for the violet house, which seemed strange since he’d seen lights on there earlier. “Gone to bed early, I guess,” he mused. As he stood on top of his house enjoying the commanding view, Bill noticed a change in the weather. The wind, which had been a gentle breeze out of the southwest, shifted suddenly and dramatically and was now blowing steadily out of the east. He sat down on a lounge chair, took another sip of his Scotch, and reclined back to look at the stars.

Captain, you need to take a look at this.”
What is it, Chief?”
The latest hourly weather report.”
The Captain looked at the Chief, who nodded his head and raised his eyebrows as if to say, ‘Yeah, you read that correctly.’
Chief, get your crew, take the cutter and get as far south as you can. I’ll prepare the station for the hurricane.”
Aye, Captain.”
The Captain secured everything on the dock while the crew of the cutter prepared to make way. As the stout ship disappeared into the night a small cabin cruiser pulled up to the station and a man jumped onto the dock to tie the boat off.
Sir you can’t dock here, this is a Coast Guard station.”
My wife and I and our child have nowhere to go. Are you going to turn us away with a hurricane bearing down?”
Where are you coming from?”
We were staying at a friends’ place on Coral Island.”
The Weather Service wasn’t projecting the hurricane to come anywhere near the island. Why did you leave?”
We were sitting on the beach earlier, enjoying the sunset, when both of us got this feeling in our gut that we should leave, that the hurricane was going to hit the island, despite what the Weather Service was saying.”
You must have some special sense, or a connection with the man upstairs, because the hurricane took a sudden turn and picked up in intensity. It's heading straight for Coral Island. Well, it’s against regulations and I can’t guarantee your boat won’t be destroyed, but go ahead and tie off and come inside.”
Thank you so much, sir.”

When the sun came up, the hurricane had cleared the area and the Coast Guard cutter returned to its station, or what was left of it. The building, made to withstand a Category Five storm, though heavily damaged, was still intact, but the dock was gone except for one-eight foot section, and there was a cabin cruiser, upside down, in the parking lot.
Captain.” The radio crackled to life.
Go ahead, Chief.”
We’re back. You okay in there?”
I’m fine. You better go check on those people on Coral Island. The hurricane went right over top of it. The Weather Service said they’d never seen a hurricane change course so quickly and dramatically.”
Aye, Captain. Have you heard from anyone on the island?”
“Actually, I do have a family in here with me that was staying in the violet cottage on the beach. That’s their cabin cruiser in the parking lot. They showed up right as you left last night. Said something told them to head for the mainland.”
I guess somebody was looking out for them.”

The Chief piloted the cutter through the Straights of Serendipity towards Coral Island, maneuvering through the debris in the water.
Lieutenant, what was that?”
I’m not sure, Chief, but it looked like a piece of wicker patio furniture to me.”
Hey, that reminds me of a joke. What's Irish and stays out all night?”
I don’t know, what?”
Patty O’Furniture.”
Funny, Chief, funny. According to the GPS we should be in range of Coral Island.”
Are you sure about that?”
Yes, sir. You should be able to see it.”
Oh my God,” he said grimly.
What is it, Chief?”
I hope that GPS is broken.”
Why do you say that?”
Because all I can see is a barren sand ridge. No houses. No signs of houses. Just a white hump.”
Chief, slow it down, I think I see a body in the water,” the Lieutenant called out.
As he throttled back the engines the horror of what had happened dawned on him. Two more bodies, then several more. By the time they finished sweeping the area they had recovered fourteen bodies. Some were dressed in nice party clothes; some had pajamas on; two, a man and a woman, were naked. Although all the bodies were face down in the water, they were pulled on board one by one and checked for vitals, just in case someone was still alive. Everyone was dead.
So, what do you make of this, Chief?”
Well, it appears that when the hurricane went over the island it blew everything into the water: houses, people – everything. I don't know if the winds killed them, or if they drowned.”
That's just awful.”
Think about what it must have been like for those people.”
That’s what I mean. So, what do we do now?”
Not really much to do, except head back to the station.”
The dead calm was interrupted by the sound of helicopter blades beating powerfully overhead.
What's that?”
Looks like a Navy chopper, headed for the mainland.”
What do you suppose it's doing here?”
I have no idea.”
As he pointed the cutter west for the return trip to the Coast Guard station, the Chief looked back. The morning sun shone through a rain shower, a lingering remnant of the hurricane, casting a rainbow over Coral Island – or at least what was left of it.

In the Atlantic Ocean, about 100 miles southeast of Coral Island, the USS Oceanus continued in its elliptical holding course. Admiral Sare sat in his cabin poring over the data in the folders which were marked - Top Secret.
There was a knock at the door.
Who is it?”
It’s Commander Sherme.”
Come in, Commander. Do we have all the data?”
Yes, sir. It’s all there.”
So what is the result of the test?”
It was a complete success, sir.”
We were able to control the hurricane?”
Yes. We were able to speed it up, increase its intensity, turn it, and dictate its path.”
And the target: Coral Island?”
Completely obliterated, sir. There isn’t so much as a brick left on the island.”
And the people? All dead?”
Well, not all of them.”
What are you talking about? How could anyone have survived?”
There was a young couple, with a child, that was staying on the island. According to the Coast Guard Captain, something or someone told them to leave; that the hurricane was going to hit their island.”
Do you think someone leaked information about the test?”
No, sir. Our security is tight as a drum.”
Well, how did they know the hurricane was going to hit the island?”
I don't know; maybe they have some special gift – some kind of ESP or something.”
We’ll need to bring them in for testing. We may be able to use this gift they have, or at least determine if our enemies might have the same gift and be able to anticipate our attacks.”
I already sent a chopper to the Coast Guard station. They’re on the way.”
Very good. As soon as they are on board, plot a course for Phase II.”
Sir, you mean?”
That's right. The Cuba Project.”