180 Degrees of 24 Years

Nanologue

This is a collection of surviving manuscripts of short stories or outlines for longer stories that I have dreamed up at various times in my strangely recursive life. There’s not many of them*, so I guess the short story is not really my form. In fact these are the minor end of the scale in backlogue, and even more fragmentary than usual, but still fairly complete and interesting in their own right as stories of survival. My surrealist leanings in writing (less so in art, where I tend to a kind of calligraphic abstraction) get a good workout and there’s even some science-fiction based on quantum cosmology.

Two of the short stories (I do mean short) are based directly on dreams that I transcribed as nearly as possible. I kept a dream journal for a few years when I got the idea that dreaming is a source of natural inspiration for amazing stories, some of which seem to go on for hours and would actually make great movies if you could only capture them. Robert Rodriguez made Sharkboy and Lavagirl with this idea. These stories follow the dreams as nearly as I could recall them, right through to what seemed like natural points of ending when I woke up and wrote them down. Their effect on me is still strange, a glimpse of other lives I seem to have lived. There are a few other dream manuscripts like this that I haven’t included***, but these are the two most coherently story-like.

In lieu of apology**, a dedication:

                 These short stories are for my children, Alex, Lewis and Zachary, who really know how to dream.

PDF Version: Nanologue

**I seem to have fixated on a name, Alec or Alex for my principal youthful male character wherever he appears. In the later ones I think this is just a placeholder “insert name here” when I haven’t got beyond a working title, but the fact that it’s also my eldest son’s name needs explanation. It ain’t just me who called him Alex! Alex(andra) is his mother’s middle name, and his Great Grandfather was an Alexander too, so kid, you had that name coming to you from both sides.

*There are a few lost works out there somewhere, including the first (1982) which was destroyed and the latest (2009) which survived but had to be retyped. In most cases I scanned in the originals because the actual manuscripts are interesting objects to look at, at least the old hand-typed ones are, in this digital age. There’s one even older and more crudely typed in The Hunting of A Snark, quite possibly the best, but it doesn’t belong here.

***Here’s another one from around 1993 – I found it again recently (or Brett did, and sent it to me). I couldn’t be arsed updating the pdf, so:

In my dream I am a young man, the student and protege of a famous historian, and I live with his family in a large house overlooking the water. It seems that I have been thrust into unfamiliar shoes in this dream, but it does not bother me; I am entering the dream with the confidence of one fast asleep.

I do not question it, but little details emerge and surprise me; for instance, I am twenty years old, turning twenty-one in a week or two. I know this because I am busy making preparations for the party, writing invitations, visiting friends, etc. The party is to be a traditional but well-illuminated affair and there will probably be a large crowd, especially as it coincides with the season of debutantes and such occasions figure highly at this time of the year.

In the city where we live there is a girl who wishes to meet me. I know this, again, because of the season. She lives with her family on the other side of the water, an old and venerable family, and her parents have communicated with my own adoptive family in the traditional manner, as I presume they have with numerous other families. So, I am to invite her to my coming of age, my twenty-first.

I decide to deliver the invitation in person, and take a launch across the water to her father’s house. As I approach I see that it is enormous, a magnificent old mansion rising from the palm and fig trees on the far shore. I tie the launch and climb the salt-wet steps to a graveled landing, and there is a path leading towards the house. Looking up I am struck by a sense of great age in the house. It seems to be older than the city itself, built of giant weathered stone blocks in an ancient European design. I follow the path up through the arched gate in the seawall.

The girl’s father is standing in the courtyard. I introduce myself and politely extend the invitation. We chat for a while, standing at the foot of the staircase in the entrance hall of his house, and unconsciously I absorb many details of the place; the sense of great age is even stronger here, I see it in deep reflections in the polished tiles of the floor, the weight of the architecture towering with columns and dark recesses above, the enameled walls studded with lamps and stained glass windows. I cannot imagine a young girl living here. I start in awe for a moment, distracted, then slightly embarrassed I thank the father politely and turn to go.

But at that moment I notice the girl standing halfway up the winding staircase. I can’t really make out her features in the shade, but I am cautioned by a feeling of recognition, that I know her from somewhere. Surprised, I stare for a second longer before turning away, stepping out through the arched doorway into the sunlit courtyard.

It is not until I am on the launch and halfway across the water that I realise how I know this girl. In a strangely lucid moment I realise that I must be dreaming, and I nearly wake up; but at that moment the memory of an earlier dream, perhaps days or weeks ago, in which I knew here in some strange circumstance, occurs to me. Trying to recall the details I settle back into sleep, and troubled by these strange realisations I continue home across the water.

The dream fades for a moment, and then it is early on the night of the party and I am upstairs with my family, getting ready, answering telephones, and trying to calm a sort of special occasion tension which is not really unpleasant. My sense of identity has firmed with the dream’s progress, but still I am aware that this is not my life, that I do not know any of these people, that I am as a clever impostor who has memorised every detail of some other life in order to live it. This feeling is at the back of my mind at every moment, even as I talk and laugh with my family or as my mother ties my cravat.

In my house there is a large and ornate staircase which spans the three floors from the family areas down to the entrance hall and lower ballrooms, and from the top it affords a splendid view of the whole house, which is designed to open around this feature and centralise it, as if the whole house is saying “Ascend!”. Occasionally I am called down the staircase to greet friends and family coming early. I am delighted by my Great-Aunt’s gift, a simple sketch by a great master, nicely framed. Coming upstairs again to find a pin with which to hang it, I hear the phone ringing. I answer, and a voice I vaguely recognise says “Joel, she is a vampire!” and hangs up. Surprised, I realise that I knew this already, and a thin shaft of panic penetrates my chest. The telephone sits on a little table under a warm red corner lamp, with a message book and pen, and out of habit I scribble the message down there. Then I scratch it out and write No! instead.

At that moment the world around me explodes into a roaring, rending, splintering crash of shattering glass and tearing wood, and I turn in panic to see the walls and rooms of the front of the house disintegrate before my eyes, folding and flapping away on a great wind of noise to leave me standing on the edge of the stairwell in the dark.

Stunned, I look out into the night air; I see the stars, the lights of the town on the water, and all the little streets and houses; but moving among them, towering over them, there is a squat and symmetric tornado, black and glossy, strangely silent, and as it moves it seems to tiptoe, touching nothing. I realise with shock that another of these things has just passed through the front of my house!

Then I notice the carriage coming through the streets, in a livery of darkness with one giant black horse, and as it draws up at the kerb I know that the girl is in it. The panic rises in me and I press myself against a wall, fighting the urge to run. I twist in my sleep. I almost cry out, I’ve got to wake up! This isn’t happening! The carriage draws up in the street below and in a great fear I hurl myself backwards, upwards, breaking out of the dream but feeling at the last moment her eyes find me and her grief and rage come at me like a knife thrown in the darkness. I wake up, sweating, and I know I won’t sleep again tonight.

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