Chapter 1—“Dream... Dream, dream, dream...”
A good story starts at the beginning, and as such, I guess my story starts in the mid seventies.
The war (sorry, police action) was over, the draft had been dismantled, more or less. We were now working on a completely volunteer army. I signed up for military service instead of going to college.
Conventional wisdom had told us that such an army would be full of hard-luck cases, and we’d lose the cream of the crop that we had been getting, but it had turned out to be mostly wrong. Military service drew a lot of people that were either pretty much committed to serving their country, and also drew a lot of people from the lower classes. The latter was obvious when you enlisted, but it turned out that having a patrician outlook was something that boot camp was very good at curing. (This wasn’t my particular problem, by the way!)
After boot camp, some genius had decided that I would make a good officer candidate, and I found myself almost immediately headed for O.C.S. This was unusual, since such candidates normally needed to have some college experience, but I wasn’t one to argue.
Officer Candidate School was interesting if unremarkable. It was obvious to me right at the start that the winning attitude there was to keep on saying to yourself, “I WILL LEAD! I WILL LEAD!” when any situation comes up, even if it means that people can get hurt in the process. It requires you to be able to assess a situation as quick as possible, and come up with an optimal solution and be able to implement it. Quick thinking and ingenuity helped, but you also needed to be careful not to challenge the hierarchy in any way directly.
I graduated and became a first lieutenant, which was about the officer equivalent of a private first class in the enlisted ranks. I seemed to be on a fast track, however.
I was soon promoted to Captain and was getting charge of a new unit called the Zulu Squad. The Colonel said that he would give me the details of my new assignment the next morning after I received my promotion. There was somebody coming down from Washington to help with my briefing.
Of course, there was a party in the Officers’ Club that night in my honor. The officers and non-coms in my soon-to-be old unit were giving me a farewell. I didn’t do much alcohol, but I felt obliged to do the standard toasts. The party degenerated into a bunch of people gossiping together, typical Officer’s Club stuff.
Since I was not much of a party goer, I excused myself early, wanting to catch up on some reading in bed. I had first considered a game or two of billiards in the club, but decided that the night air (without all the cigarette smoke) was too inviting. I walked outside, looking at the stars playing games with the wispy clouds. The crescent moon showed a hazy light through the clouds off to the west.
I was walking on the road, my mind on the stars above. All was right in the world.
I never knew what hit me.
I heard the sound of voices, but couldn’t see anything. I tried to make sense of my surroundings, but revelation just wasn’t there.
The voices were just a jumble to me, I could make out syllables, but couldn’t make any sense of them.
I considered this, and tried to focus on the voices. Low voices, and some high voices. How many were there? Two, definitely. Maybe three. Yes... that was a distinct voice. The first one and the second one again. Three people.
I still couldn’t understand what they were saying. The voices continued, and I became aware of a fourth voice. Four people now.
I needed to open my eyes; if I could see, I might be able to make sense of this.
I noticed that I couldn’t feel anything. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn’t figure out where they were. Could I speak? No... I didn’t know how! Funny... it never seemed to be a problem for me in the past.
How does one talk? Open your mouth and breathe out... but I couldn’t find my mouth!
Oh goodness!!! I don’t think I was breathing!
Is this what it is like to die? Was I dying? Was I at my own funeral? No! No! I don’t think I’m dead. Can anybody hear me???
The voices continued, unperturbed. Maybe they weren’t even aware of me. I had no way of knowing.
After what seemed like an eternity, I came to the realization that I was in a panic. This couldn’t possibly help me in my situation, whatever situation it was.
Jim. I am Jim. I remember that. Jim is me.
I have a mother named... (emptiness).
OK. Let’s go back to Jim. My name is Jim... Jim... Did I have a last name? I must have had one before, but it eluded me.
Let’s stick with Jim. My name is Jim. I am Jim.
Don’t panic, Jim. Things will work out if you put your mind to it. Focus again.
I don’t know how long I tried to calm myself down, but it seemed difficult to just get past my own name.
I still heard the voices, but I couldn’t make out any meaning in what people were saying.
Focus, Jim. Take inventory.
- My name is Jim.
- I can hear four people... wait... I haven’t heard that fourth person in a while... maybe it’s only three now.
What else was there? I could hear... that was a sense! What were the other senses?
Nope. I wasn’t in a real darkness, but I knew that what I was seeing in my mind wasn’t coming from my eyes. There was an “other-worldly” feeling toward what I was “seeing.”
Smell... Nothing there either.
Touch... was I feeling anything? What was touch like? Remember, Jim!
OK. I could sort of “see” something, although not with my eyes. I could definitely hear voices. They definitely had an air of actuality that my seeing sense lacked.
What could I see in my mind?
My mother? A blank. Anybody? Another blank.
I tried to access memories, and felt that they were drifting just out of my reach as I attempted to get to them. There was something definite about some part of my mind. For one, I knew my name was Jim. For two, I could count. One and two! One... two... three...
This was so hard... so difficult.
No! Take charge! This will work GOD DAMN IT! YOUR MIND WILL WORK, MISTER, OR YOU WILL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS!
There was something authoritarian in that attitude.
I tried to reflect on what had happened, and listened to the voices. Nothing clicked.
I woke up.
I must have been dreaming, but I had no memory of any dream, just the blackness.
I was back in that void. I still heard the three voices. I could still see something in my mind.
Let’s see. My name was...
Jim. I am Jim.
I started running tests on myself. I found that I was getting better.
I counted to twelve hundred when it occurred to me that I was able to count.
I remembered my last name. And my mother’s name. And her dog’s name.
Memories started coming back, but there was something missing from them.
Pictures! I couldn’t picture any of the things I was thinking about in my mind!
What did my mother look like?
After a lot of struggle, I conjured up an image that was vaguely female, but if I attempted to focus on any particular part... say, the face... it would blur into the inconsequential.
Your mind is a muscle, my teacher would say. (Teacher? Who?) You need to exercise that muscle.
I never realized that thinking was such tough exercise. It felt so good to sleep...
After eons, my memories came back, little by little, with a lot of work on my part. I believed that I had remembered most things that I should. Of course, if I didn’t know that I had forgotten something, how would I be able to tell? Anyway, there wasn’t any major gaps, except with visualizing things.
Apparently, my mental calisthenics was working. Time for the next part... work on visualizations.
I had avoided this before because it was very depressing. I knew that I should be able to visualize things, and I knew that I’d probably recognize things once I could figure out how to visualize them.
THIS MIND WILL WORK, I told myself sternly.
I woke up again. I had lost count of how often that I fell asleep during my mental workouts.
Something was different now. There was something glaringly obviously different.
A whiteness that wasn’t there before. WHITE! It was a color! I was seeing it! WHITE!
It was a blur, but it was more than I had accomplished so far. I could see white... and it wouldn’t go away as I tried to focus on it.
I worked at it, trying different angles. The whiteness moved, and I saw that there was darker whiteness within the white.
It was a puzzle, but I continued to work on it.
The darker whiteness was coming into focus. Little round blobs. The light was a bluish-white, I could see now. The round blobs looked like transparent plastic buttons...
After what seemed like ages, I realized that I was looking at the plastic pating underneath a fluorescent light fixture. I knew that I wasn’t seeing it with my eyes; I was seeing it in my mind. It still seemed very real.
I changed my point of view, and saw a new whiteness... a milky whiteness. I was now looking at a ceiling tile. I’m imagining a ceiling!
The observation stunned me. A ceiling!
My point of view shifted again, now a few feet lower. I could see many light fixtures intermingled with ceiling tiles.
Look lower... a white wall...
Nothing on the wall... just white.
Look below... What is underneath me?
I saw green, brown, and white blobs—and then a whole panoply of colors. I tried to focus on the colors, but they were moving. Tiny movements, but they were moving.
Slowly... very excruciatingly slowly... the colors came into focus.
There were three heads, huddled around something. There was whiteness underneath them.
I could see them now. Heads that had something green on them.
The picture started to clear, but very very agonizingly slowly.
There was four people in the room, not three. One was lying down.
The three other heads were above the one lying down. They were moving too fast for me to focus on them. The one lying down wasn’t moving.
It occurred to me that I was looking at a patient in a hospital.
This was strange. I don’t recall ever having been in a hospital. Maybe I was remembering some movie, but this movie didn’t seem to be familiar at all.
Wait... the patient had a band on his wrist. Could I focus on that band?
I shifted my point of view, moving slowly and liquidly closer and closer to that band.
I saw the name on the band, and realized that I was looking at myself.
It all went black.
I later awoke, and immediately remembered seeing myself in a hospital room. My memory exercises seemed to have been working.
The dark gray blurriness was back again. I couldn’t see anything any more.
Suddenly, unbidden, I was there again: up on the ceiling looking down.
I was in a different room now. There was a body in a bed... a hospital bed.
Focus came quickly. The person in the bed had his face all bandaged. A leg was in traction, and I could see that a lot of the body was bandaged.
I knew without checking the patient’s wrist band that I was looking at myself.
I looked around the room. There was a bed next to mine, made up and empty. The room looked quite empty. There was a television that was turned off, and a clock on the wall. There was a chair near the door.
I looked the other way, and saw that I wasn’t alone in the room. There was a woman wearing a dress uniform sitting next to my bed. Try as I might, I had to swear that I had never seen her before. Was she a missing memory?
I tried to focus on the woman. I was sure that I had never seen this woman before. She wasn’t dressed as a nurse, so why was she in my hospital room? Was I under some sort of guard? If so, then why?
I looked around the room again, and found the clock that I had seen earlier. Something was wrong. I could have sworn that the time it had said before was 9:50 (AM? PM?). It now read 4:15.
Where was time going?
I looked back toward the woman in uniform, but she wasn’t there anymore.
This happened a number of times.
Seeing things from this mental point of view was very disorienting.
I continued my mental calisthenics, trying to gather all my memories and test them out.
Mathematics had always fascinated me when I was growing up, and I retrieved memories of math classes I had.
I could see myself working out equations on paper. These were tests that I had in high school. I didn’t know that I had remembered the questions so clearly!
A sudden inspiration came to me. I had my mental image of my working out an answer—calculating square roots of numbers with decimals. I remembered the technique. I decided to imagine myself calculating the square root of two.
Slowly, slowly, my imagined hand worked it out. 1.4... this was familiar. 1-4-2... was this right? I checked the work sheet, it seemed correct. 1-3-4-5-2-3-7-3-0-9-5... how many digits was that? Fifteen after the decimal point.
The number “1.414213452373095” looked vaguely familiar, but how would I check?
I copied the answer onto another paper, and did the arduous task of multiplying the two sixteen digit numbers. After a time, it came out:
Very close to two. Let’s see... for every two digits of a square root, you get one digit in accuracy when you multiply it to itself. This gave me a one with seven nines... about what I’d expect.
This was weird, but I decided to continue my re-education.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t looked in on myself in a while. (How long?)
I opened my mental eye, and I found myself back in my hospital room. Something was different, though. There were no longer any bandages or traction equipment.
Was that me? I appeared to be sleeping. I looked... different, somehow.
There was somebody else in the room.
That woman again... this time standing. She was in civilian clothes, now, but I knew it was the same woman. Only, she looked different, as well.
How was she different?
I tried to think back on the last time I saw her, and I saw here there again, sitting on the chair in a military uniform. I had never looked at her name tag, but I now had her old mental image fixed in my brain. Could I see it now? Yes! The name tag read “Cadley.” That was her last name, anyhow.
My view shifted back to her in civilian clothes. She wore a light blue short-sleeve blouse, and a darker blue skirt. I could see more of her figure now, standing up, and out of the not-too-revealing dress jacket. I ventured closer to her, and I could see a light blue bra through the sheer blouse.
How was I seeing this? I turned my attention to “me” in the bed. I was still asleep.
Turning back to Lieutenant Cadley (I remembered her insignia from when she was wearing a uniform), I saw that she was talking. I looked in the direction that she was looking, and a nurse was there.
I tried to listen to what they were saying, and from somewhere, I started hearing them, like somebody turned on a radio.
“... not changed at all, I’m afraid. He occasionally changes expression, but that’s normal for his condition...”
The nurse was talking, and it was the first words that I could hear... and understand... since... since...
I woke up again. I found that I was alone in the room.
Something was different... I found that I could hear things again, just like I did when I first entered this twilight zone.
However, it was not like those disembodied voices that I knew I was actually listening to with my ears so long ago... this had the same “mental” quality as my visualizations of Lt. Cadley, my high school classes, and myself. I knew that it originated in my mind and not through my actual ears.
The sounds were consistent, however.
If I moved toward the window, I could see cars in a parking lot. I could see and hear car doors close.
Then I noticed where I was. I was in the hospital in San Diego! I recognized the buildings across the street as well.
The street looked different, somehow. The cars looked much different, as well.
Could I venture outside of my room?
I moved my presence outside the window, and floated down one... two... three... four stories to the ground level.
I saw the main entrance to the hospital towards my right. As I made my way toward the entrance, I was startled by the sound of a motorcycle and froze!
The motorcycle drove right through me... raising a big racket... and I lost my bearings...
I woke back up again, alone in the room again. I decided to go outside again, this time being a lot more careful.
I floated a couple of feet above the grass, careful not to get too close to anybody or anything. It was like I had no height or width. My presence was a single point, focused on a single location.
I was about fifty feet from the main entrance, and I saw a newspaper machine. I could find out the date! I halted, trying to figure out a way to get into the main entrance without getting spooked by all the people that were walking back and forth, oblivious to my “presence.”
As I was wondering my next move, I felt something bump into me... and then heard a mumbled “Sorry, guy!” as it brushed through me. I looked all around, but didn’t see what it was that had felt me, or spoke to me.
I froze, and my attention returned to the newspaper box. The date!
I looked all around, and saw that there was a break in the pedestrian traffic near the entrance. I moved quickly, and went right up to the machine. There was a paper in the window of the machine, and I quickly found the date... June 18, 1983.
My heavens! Seven years had passed.
Suddenly, I found myself back in my room.
I needed to think this through.