What manner of creature may the idle dream give birth to?
|2018 Quill Award Nominee. 1500 word fantasy and sci/fi genre for "The Lodestar Contest" prompt: dream sequence
The clutter of medical science bubbling and popping through tubes rivaled any movie set featuring the birth of Frankenstein's monster. Doctor Maddy Turnbull flittered among them like a harried bird. 'So close. I have a beating heart. But I need more."
She thumped the chest of the full-grown man laying flat before her. All the past failed trials echoed in her mind. "This time will work." She'd dreamed of it day and night. it consumed every minute of her life. She walked in it, sometimes fearful of her life as she narrowly escaped onrushing traffic to her privately funded hospital wing.
Maddy was so tired, even the rings under her eyes had dark purple rings embedded in them. No-one believed in her. No-one supported her but the anonymous benefactor funding her project. Their shared dream was coming to life at her side. All the years of nightmare were surely behind her.
"I have memorized every known fact about him to fact check the results." She forced herself to believe reality was finally surfacing into view. The hand clutching at her wrist widened her eyes in disbelief. "He's coming to." Her heart threatened to escape from Maddy's chest.
"You are back. Back from the dead." Maddy had to sit down. The room swam around her, the reams of technical data spilling out of shelves, the pulsing lights of the technological marvel she alone had created. It all merged together in illusion and mirrored longing.
“I dreamt I was dead.” He felt like he had cotton in his mouth. It was a struggle opening his eyes. When he did he yanked them closed again. “No. I’m still dreaming.”
“It worked, I think.” the ends of Maddy Turnbull's doctor’s gown fluttered like wings around her knees. Her white medical mask muffled the sound of her voice. “You are not dreaming, sir. I have made you real again.”
She thrust an original copy of one of his books he had written between his hands. Their reality had been revealed and accepted by generations of readers. More books by the gifted author tumbled to the marble floor as she grasped for anything to remind him of who he was. "See? You are famous."
Her heart banged away in her chest. It was hard to breathe with the excitement pulsing inside. All the macabre stolen hours hiding her graveyard work could now be revealed to an adoring public. “I purchased your old home for you, refitted to your time and place. Nothing has been spared to make you comfortable.”
She could not hide the delight of seeing Edgar Allen Poe reincarnated into his own DNA, rebuilt in body and mind. The soul of imagination unlocked there would kickstart a new American hunger for literature. “You are mine.” She caressed his black curly locks. Her dream had been made real.
Poe stole her words right out of her mind. “Please, Madam. If this is no dream, your affrontery is uncalled for.” Edgar’s last memory of himself was a dream fogged image of laying in an unknown gutter gasping his last breath. Sodden with drink he had given himself up from this world. How had he returned?
He felt a strangeness in his bones and sparse pickings in his memory of himself. The name given him seemed grounded in reality but everything around him seemed surreal. “If you please? Where am I?”
Maddy was delighted. The man looked the image of the old pictographs published of him even down to his black mustache. There was a deep shadow of sadness reflected on his face. “There is hope, Mr. Poe. If I was able to return you to yourself, I might also do so for the love of your life, your young cousin Virginia Clemm.”
The longing to replace Clemm as the one most important in his life vibrated in her passionate wish. Sacrifice had been the hallmark of her life, her religion, and her reason for being. Maddy's worship of her godly guest shone on her face. "I love you. What will you create? What magic will you bring with you from the past?"
This utterance pushed Poe back on the medical table he had been resting on. His hands turned into claws grasping for support. “This is no mere dream. It is utter nightmare.”
He felt ready to fall into a dead faint. Yes, he had married his thirteen-year-old cousin. They had lived happily together for thirteen years. She was the third woman he worshiped in his life to die of tuberculosis. He had tried his best to drown that sorrow in alcohol. He had carried her memory with him to his grave.
"Leave me, wreath, spirit, strange ghost of some unwritten rhyme yearning to be born." His fingers yearned to take up the quill and paper. He struggled to clear his mind. Poe sat up straight, gazing around him, taking in a strangeness so wild it escaped his every thought.
"No story I could write could survive beyond this madness." Dream I am and dream I surrender to." He lurched up to escape into what rabbit hole his imagination might find for him. In its place, he found himself in the arms of a woman smelling of lilac soap and minty breath. He had torn her white gown from her shoulders. Black lace and satin clothed her heaving breast.
"I wept with you as I memorized your life. Losing your mother and father at such an early age. Being thrust into a merchant John Allen's home. There only to be given privileges and university education for a year only to have all funds withdrawn." Maddy beat him with her words, forcing him to realize how well this strange apparition knew him.
The white masked figure hovering above him brought a needle into view. It plunged into his arm. Edgar Allen Poe sank back into the dreamlike state he’d been reborn in. “Too much, too soon. I should have known, but how could I?’ Maddy’s words cut at her heart. To lose Poe to madness would be to lose America’s hope for a literary revival which might save it to the very core.
The cottage in the Bronx where Poe spent his last years awaited him. Maddy had done everything humanly possible during the last five years to bring this vision back to life. As the man of her dreams slept, she sat by him, one hand on his, the other on a book of his poetry. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary”. Her lips caressed the phrase every American could recall if they knew no other from this genius of words.
That was why she had chosen to use her advanced technology to bring him back, body and soul. Taking DNA from his corrupt body in its grave had given her the one. New, untapped technology previously unknown to science had provided the other.
“No-one can go back in time, but Quantum Mechanics can fake it.” She rubbed her tired brow, willing the sudden headache to depart. Through the secret use of that science, she had followed the ribbon of time back to him long enough to steal a few well-chosen tissue samples of his brain.
Maddy jerked herself awake from dreaming of that horrendously difficult endeavor. She was so worn out she could barely think. No, she hadn’t retrieved Edgar Allen Poe’s unique personality. Her microbeam moving like a pulsing quantum laser connecting Edgar Allen’s past life to the new one she had given him had done it for her.
A few moments later and doctor Maddy Turnbull joined Edgar Allen Poe in dreams. "I am yours and you are mine."
Hers were of a reenergized literate America where Robert Louis Stevenson walked the same path as Mark Twain. Where Robert Frost discussed poetry with Dylan Thomas. Where these giants combined brain power and talent led the American public into a hungry quest for renewed honor and pride. A flame rising so hot and bright it would banish the dark age the country was falling into.
In Poe’s fevered imagination, madness fought with hope. The longing to return to a happier past tugged at him. His eyes fluttered as REM sleep pulled him deeper inside himself. A smile curved upon his lips. “Eleanor.”
The two sleeping figures one of past dreams revisited and one of future not yet expressed dozed away the hour, sheltered in repose.
Outside the small medical facility, the nation renounced Darwin, enclosed itself in physical and mental walls, embraced hatred and violence. No nightmare of the previous two hundred years could have so conquered this nation shining forth as the leader of the free world, home to the downtrodden, example of industry and invention.
Bookstores were shuttered. Even the giant Walmart had only a few shelves stacked with torrid romance paperbacks. Hardbound works were on a single half row almost out of sight.
A few ghostly figures haunted here for an overpriced best seller. Libraries were solitary enclaves, never funded or renewed without a fight.
Lost and alone two solitary figures slept the hour away ticking towards a nation's last seconds of light.