The following was selected at my last workshop session as the best of two possible short story openings. (Much love to all of my fellow workshoppers btw, hopefully we'll be seeing more of them on here in the future.) So have a read, let me know what you think if you feel like it, let me know where you think it should go next if you're really interested. Been going through a fairly serious spell of writer's block so hopefully this will be my route out of it.....
Only In Dreams
Sleeping in novels is a funny thing. It turns up, it turns up a lot, but only in a particular way. You only get the kind of sleep where the dreams are really clear and lucid, you only get the kind of dreams that are symbolically important to the development in an obvious, and therefore the sleep-time, the sleep-world always follows the lead set down by the events of the waking-world, never the other way around. This story is an attempt to see what things might look like turned the other way around. This is how it goes –
One day a man lay down on his bed, drifted into sleep, and dreamt of a land in which he was the only person. It startled him, right away, being in this world, and yet he immediately recognised it as inevitable according to the logic of the dream, as if the world has always been like this and always would be. He had found himself walking down a long straight road. In the distance was the skyline of a great city, but it seemed to move steadily backwards with the horizon as he tried to progress towards it. To his left, he passed a solitary tree, its branches bare of any leaves. He passed over an enormous flyover junction, feeling himself become engulfed in the geometric lines of dark concrete, but there were no cars to be seen. After further walking, a row of shabby brown tenements appeared on his right, which at least gave him a hint that he might be getting somewhere. At the end of the row was a little shop.
The man had the instant realisation that he was hungry and must do something about it, so he wandered into the shop to look for a snack. It was one of the places that seemed to have about three too many shelves, piled high with newspapers and cheap biscuits and endless old tins of soup, meat chunks, fruit chunks, pet food, with barely enough room to squeeze between them. The man grabbed himself a chocolate bar, packet of crisps and a decrepit looking sausage roll in a wrapper. Inevitably, there was no-one behind the counter, so no need to pay, but he had to clamber awkwardly halfway over it to peel himself off a plastic bag.
Outside, the dream no longer had any need for him to eat, so soon he had forgotten the food and it vanished from his hands. A little further down the road, he came to the start of a long bridge, over the other side of which the city seemed to have finally settled into position. As he began to walk over, however, the consistency of the bridge’s surface became unpredictable: gaps began to appear, inclines would suddenly rear up, sometimes the tar of the road would drag him to stop like quicksand, other times it would become slippery as ice. The man wasn’t so much alarmed or scared by this, so much as he was just frustrated. There was the city within reach, but he was having to jump through all these hoops to reach it. After a couple of minutes of struggling on, though, the city began to disintegrate, de-realise in front of him just like the bridge was, until gradually he was left in an empty grey-brown surrounding, and then nothing.
The man awoke, morning outside, his dream buzzing right through his brain, but keeping him puzzled completely as to what it meant, what it could be telling him to do. Like most people in these situations, he didn’t spend long scrutinising it explicitly to himself, but instead got up and started to go about his daily routine.
The man worked a very ordinary job, in a very ordinary company. It was based around buying and selling, managing people’s money. The man’s specific tasks, though, You might suppose that the man felt himself as a drone, just going monotonously through the motions of his job, but that wouldn’t be quite right. He add all kinds of justifications and explanations for doing what he did, most of which made the work sound quite a bit more dramatic that it actually was. He often found himself, though, holding these views rather half-heartedly, certainly not in the strong way that his co-workers seemed to. When they were about, spouting their ideas, this usually sufficed to give him the confidence to keep going, but when working in isolation, the confidence began to sap, and then he indeed felt himself as drifting along without meaning.
That morning, they had all been in full flow, pretty much as soon as he’d got in. It seemed to have started with a run-in one of them had encountered with a cousin, a high-school kid who thought he was smart.
“It’s the same old crap I hear all the time”, complained Jim, the colleague in question, perched on the corner of his desk with a mug of coffee in hand. “Having a go about how all we’re doing is ‘exploiting’ people, whatever that means. The problem these lefties have is, they can’t understand that there’s no way you can exploit someone who’s freely entered into a financial agreement with you. The market is just a method for individuals to exchange things of value with each other. And that’s the other thing they don’t get, that when you slice it right down, the basic level of humanity is individuals, not collectives. The kid kept going on about ‘group rights’ like they all do, as if they could even exist.”
The man nodded his agreement sagely, as he usually did, but this morning there were doubts at the back of his mind. The world Jim had described, of solitary individuals trapped on their own, concentrated on satisfying their personal needs, sounded a lot like the world he’d encountered in his dream. And he’d yet to decide what he thought of the dream-world, whether it was welcoming or frightening.
And so the man set to his daily tasks, but with the anxious feeling of something indefineable creeping up behind him. It was there, leering in the background, as he talked to people over the phone and tried to fulfil his role of blandly reassuring them about everything. The hours passed quickly, and soon he found himself sitting back on his couch, guzzling a couple of beers and pushing some tasteless food into his mouth. He slept early, barely managing to force himself through to his bed as the eyelids began to draw together.
The man found himself on the road again, but this time he had an immediate awareness that he was further along