What do I even do for a living? Gary thought, as he glanced at the stack of business cards on his desk that announced him as Senior Acquisitions Manager. Through the glass doors and partitions, he could see the next meeting going in the room where he had just failed to win over enough review board members to approve his latest proposal.
If only things had gone as he had envisioned in his visualization exercise. He sighed. Not an exercise, his visualization had gone out of hand and become a full-blow daydream. He had marched into that room, the meeting room, no, the throne room. He had marched into the throne room an embattled king, weary but tested and confident, followed by a dozen loyal knights, courteous in his challenge to his nobles to support his latest royal endeavor. At the end of that speech, all had acquiesced and bowed to him. And he had inclined his head to them.
In reality, he had done a fair job of presenting his proposal, but a poor one of answering questions. He’d grown nervous and started gesturing too much and stuttering a bit. The eloquent and clear talk he had rehearsed the night before became a competent if somewhat clumsy presentation in the light of day and the presence of the review board, three skeptical members in particular.
The work day passed with other tasks. The next thing he knew, he was walking down the street with Luna in the chill of autumn, heading towards her car. She threw an arm around him.
“Let me cheer you up, Guy,” she said, trying to be cute and pun with his surname. She was in a good mood, even though it was only Tuesday. “Let me buy you dinner.” Her breath misted before her face as she spoke the words in fulfillment of her duties as best friend and roommate.
“I don’t need cheering. It was just a preliminary meeting. The real deal is at the end of the week.” At that thought, he felt both relief and dread. Dread because he would have to face the review board again. Relief because he knew his proposal was a good one, that he could sell it, that he could do better than he had, and he would have a second chance.
Luna removed her arm and some warmth with it.
“I wish things had gone like how I’d visualized,” he said. “Then there may not even be a need for a follow-up meeting. They would have been convinced today.”
“Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”
Gary sighed. She was right. If he shined too brightly at work, he might be saddled with further responsibilities, which would have been fine if he didn’t have other aspirations. But while most everyone he knew worked in some kind of office or other, no one he knew earned a living making art. He would turn his latest daydream into a painting as he sometimes did. But the only money spent on that painting was likely to be his own, on the canvas and pigments and other materials.
They jog-walked down the block to Luna’s car, weaving through others. Ironically, Gary was not daydreaming when he bumped into an elderly woman and caused her to spill her coffee on her coat. He stopped and apologized and checked that she had not burned herself. Despite her assurances that she was all right and her jokes that she was often clumsy, he felt so mortified that he offered to buy her another coffee and gave her his card so she could call the Senior Acquisitions Manager and he could take care of the cleaning bill. The woman took off her coat to examine the stain. She smiled, accepted his card, and thanked him for his courtesy. The dark stain was ugly and noticeable on the light blue wool coat. She was dressed for an evening out.
“This will never do,” she said, and draped the coat over her arm. “No one will notice the stain now.”
Gary frowned. “But you’ll be cold.”
She waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll be indoors most of the time. I’m almost there. Don’t worry, sweetie.”
Gary paused, exhaling a puff of mist in chilly air. “Here,” he said, taking off his own coat. A layer of cold slipped under his shirt and lay on his skin. He let out a bracing breath and marveled that the frail little woman was not shivering. His coat wasn’t blue. It was black and far too large for her, but it was a nice coat and it would keep her warm.
The woman laughed as Luna took her coat and Gary helped her into his coat. “Thank you.” She pointed to her coat and lay a surprisingly warm hand on his arm. “Why don’t you keep that? As collateral?” She waved to them, saying she’d be late for her evening plans if she didn’t move along.
Gary hunched his shoulders. He was shivering now. Luna looked at him and shook her head.
“I don’t think it’ll fit you,” she said, offering him the elderly woman’s coat.
“On the bright side, you drove today,” Gary said. “The heater is my car doesn’t work.”
Luna shook her head again, but she was smiling this time. “Poor Guy.”
It was the day of the next meeting, the presentation upon which the decision would be made. Gary was pacing in his office, rehearsing his talk. He knew most of the board members already approved of his proposal, but there were three whom he knew would not budge, not without more convincing. All three had been at his preliminary presentation. He called them the Objectors. This was only his second proposal, but he had been warned that no matter how good a proposal was, no matter how little risk and how great the profit, there would be those who objected. It was part of the process, he knew. And if he’d had a bad idea, he would have wanted the Objectors to win, and to stop him from making a mistake. But his idea for this new acquisition was a good one.
He closed his eyes and imagined the Objectors as a three-headed dragon. Pacing, he daydreamed that he was a knight with a special sword, a sword made of righteous fire so that when he cut off one dragon’s head, the sword would burn the stump and another head could not replace it. He approached carefully. There were sharp teeth to be avoided. Venomous spit and dragon-fire to be dodged. And the knowing eyes. They were no ignorant brutes. They were cunning and clever. Dragons lived long. And during those long lives, they hoarded knowledge as well as treasure. He took a breath and gathered his courage and his knowledge. He had a strategy. He had prepared his tools and weapons. He had to face it alone, but he was able. When he was ready, he raised his sword and struck. And the first head was cut off and the stump seared. And then there were only two. But they were more slippery and on their guard now. For they’d thought him unworthy, but he had just proven himself an adversary to be reckoned with…
He snapped out of the daydream and smiled to himself…and found himself standing in the meeting room, the acquisitions review board arrayed around him, the projector displaying the last slide of his presentation.
He took a breath and suddenly the room grew very hot. He opened his mouth.
“You’ve convinced me, Mr. Guy,” someone said before Gary could speak. It was one of the Objectors. She smiled at him and nodded.
“You cut down every one of our objections,” a second Objector said. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea, but per the rules of the board, I have no grounds to reject your proposal. It’s solid and workable.”
Gary realized his eyes were wide and he was gaping. He closed his mouth and shifted his gaze to the third Objector who gave him a serious nod and simply said, “Approved.”
The room broke out in professional applause.
“I don’t know if this is a good thing,” Gary said. He was at home, sitting at the kitchen counter still in his shirt and tie. “I don’t even know what I did or said to earn this approval. I was just goofing around and daydreaming and the next thing I know, everyone is applauding.”
Luna frowned. “So…you blacked out?” She poured two cups of bergamot tea.
Guy watched the liquid fill his cup and brought up the memory of the meeting. His eyes widened.
“What? What is it?” Luna said.
“I do remember.”
The more he tried, the more he remembered the meeting. It came back to him.
He remembered slicing off the first dragon’s head. At the same time, he gave an argument against one board member’s objection. An argument so effective, so thorough, so convincing, that the board member—the Objector—had no further questions. He remembered leaping away before he was struck by a glob of venomous spit by another dragon head. In the meeting room, that was when he preempted another Objector’s follow-up question by providing a multi-part answer to his first question. Each act in his daydream was matched with an act he had performed in the meeting.
Two sets of memories he had. The real world. And his daydream.
“It finally worked,” he said. “Visualization of victory led to victory.”
Luna furrowed her brow. “Okay, cool, but what about the temporary amnesia?”
Gary shook his head, relief pouring into him. “Maybe I blocked it out because it was so stressful. It’s been nothing but work, work, work, lately. I feel like I’m always there. My mind probably just wanted to escape into that dragon fantasy instead.”
Luna shrugged her brow. “Maybe. I forget work stuff as soon as I get home or have a day off too. But daydreaming or forgetting is one thing. Blacking out is another.”
“I remember. And I was in control of my faculties. It’s all good, Lu.”
“If that’s so, then there is something else we need to do.”
“A karaoke bar?”
Gary pretended to be mildly disappointed that his friends had not taken him elsewhere, but Luna, knowing his secret shame, had insisted. He loved to sing, but just as with his work presentations, one moment of doubt and he would start fumbling. It was too nerve-wracking to do it most of the time.
As he sat watching two of his friends do an oldie’s duet, he nursed his drink and worked up his courage for he was two turns away. Still high on the success of his presentation, Gary imagined himself as a rock star in an outdoor amphitheater, exhilarated by the sound of screaming fans. It was deep autumn, so the air was chill and damp and smelled of a recent storm. The sky overhead was patched with clouds and through them shown the indigo color of full night twinkling with stars. Stars in the sky and a star on the stage. A half-moon smiled down on him, on all of them. His heart was full. He spoke a dedication, gave a charming deep-voiced chuckle to get hearts a-flutter, and started with a high-energy song that had people jumping, then moved to a throbbing ballad that had people swaying. The lightest of misty rain floated down and made rainbows in the stage lights.
When he snapped out of the daydream, he was on the little stage of the bar. On the television mounted in front of him, above his head, scrolled the credits to the song he’d just sung, and the bar’s patrons and his friends were applauding and whistling for him.
Luna gave him her crooked smile of suspicion when he returned to their table. “You killed it. I’ve always known you could carry a tune, but where the hell did that come from?”
Gary didn’t know. His heart was pounding from exertion partly, he knew as he remembered going up to the stage and starting his song. Partly it pounded from fear. As before, he had to focus and then he remembered. He remembered being confident, not needing to look at the screen, pointing to the audience, strutting around the little stage. He gave a good show. No one minded that he hogged the microphone for a second song.
Someone sent him a drink. But Gary didn’t want to drink it. He wanted to go home and tell Luna what had happened. Or perhaps not tell Luna. She was looking at him strangely. She would ask.
“What does it mean?” Luna asked later that night when they were back home.
“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I remember what I actually did now, but for the record, I didn’t say or do anything…embarrassing?”
Luna raised her brows. “No, I wouldn’t say so. You were hamming it up on the stage, and I’ve seen you like that before here, at home, but not in front of other humans.”
Gary gulped. “When I remember it, I remember being in control. But when I was actually living it, I was living the daydream, not what really happened.”
“So I know you’ve been stressed about work mostly. And your other work, your painting.” She avoided looking at the third bedroom, which they shared as a studio for Gary’s painting and Luna’s photography. “Have you…being taking anything?”
Gary frowned. “Does my multi-vitamin count?”
“Well, has anything changed in your life recently? Did you eat anything unusual? Do something you’ve never done before?”
Gary’s eyes widened. “Or encountered someone strange?”
“Yeah, or that. What?”
“The woman, remember?” He left her with a puzzled expression on her face as he rummaged through their cluttered hall closet and found what might jog her memory, a blue wool coat.
He brought it out. “It was weird, wasn’t it? How I felt compelled to give her my coat?”
Luna’s puzzled expression softened. She sighed and smiled. “Not really, hon. For her part, it was a bit much. She could have still worn the coat. I mean comfort over fashion, right? But she was elderly and giving someone the shift off your back is typical behavior for you.”
Gary looked at the coat. He had forgotten to get it cleaned. It still had the light brown coffee stain along the left side.
“Look, why don’t you do this?” Luna said. “Call your doctor’s office in the morning and set up something soon. It’s urgent, but nothing dangerous has happened yet, so it’s not an emergency. You haven’t hurt anyone or gotten hurt yourself. In fact, the two things that happened were positive. And in a way, they were under your control. They weren’t hallucinations. They were daydreams.”
“I just hope I don’t start acting out my night dreams.”
Nothing apparent happened during the night. Gary could not remember dreaming anything at all. It was the weekend and he had to wait till Monday to call his doctor’s office. He resolved himself not to daydream, reasoning that it would prevent the strange blackouts—or dream-outs as Luna was calling them. But over the course of the weekend, there were times when he could not help but to let his mind wander into more interesting thoughts. And he daydreamed. And he lived in the dream until a moment when he would snap out of it and return to himself in the real world. Only then would he remember what he was doing and what really happened in the real world when he was daydreaming.
Rescuing a damsel and her babe from an ogre was in reality the deed of giving a five to the stressed out mother in line before him at the grocery store when she found she had come up short. He snapped out of it in time to receive her harried but sincere thanks and a shy look from the toddler sitting in the front of her cart. Riding and taming a wild stallion that became his loyal steed was in reality the task of test-driving a new car he liked to replace his aging sedan. Exploring an exotic secret garden atop a high mountain, reached after weeks of exertion, was in reality the achievement of running an extra mile on a new trail that he and Luna had spoken of trying. Then Monday arrived.
In the social interactions section of the starship aboard which he served, he encountered a comely young alien he fancied and asked her to join him in watching through the starboard viewing room as the ship passed by a cosmic nursery where stars were being born. In reality, he ran into the lovely young woman he often saw and exchanged pleasantries with at the coffee shop when it was his turn to get breakfast for the office, and he broke his rule of admiring from afar. He asked her out to an upcoming science fiction movie. He snapped out of his daydream in time to watch her eyes light up as she laughed and thanked him for not assuming she’d want to go to some random rom-com.
He told Luna about the encounter over the phone after he scheduled an appointment with a specialist that his doctor referred.
“Maybe it’s your superpower,” Luna suggested. “Subtle but effective, the power to make your daydreams come true.” But then she had to go back to work and promised to follow up with him later.
Superpower. How could it be? There was nothing super about most of what had happened, of what he’d done. They were little things. Good things, but little. It was no superpower as Luna had joked. It was just visualization. It was motivation and courage for a shy procrastinator with higher aspirations to do what he wanted to do and become who he wanted to be.
But that didn’t explain the dream-outs. The daydream being his actual experience and his actions and words reflecting parallel actions and words in the real world.
One of the questions his doctor had asked was if he was having trouble telling the difference between reality and his imagination, but he wasn’t. He knew the difference between what was real and what was a dream, at least he knew after the dream was over.
Oddly, the more it happened, the less fearful he became. And the less fearful he became, the more curious he became. About the daydreams. And the woman he believed had given him this gift, curse, condition, or whatever it was. His curiosity had no place to go. He had no way to contact the blue-coated woman. Only the hope of running into her again.
“What’s the point?” Gary said over lunch at a diner near his office the same day. “If I can’t do something spectacular like save people from burning buildings or stop bank robberies or stuff like that.” He took a bite of his sandwich and chewing it, he ruminated. “I should daydream about some wealthy dude loving my work and wanting to be my patron for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t think the good witch would approve of your using your powers for personal gain. That’s frowned upon in these types of mythologies.” Luna took a bite of her fry.
Gary frowned upon his best friend.
She waved another fry at him. “Why not go for broke and daydream about the big stuff like world peace or an end to hunger and poverty?”
“I thought about that. Maybe I need to work up to it. You can’t just start jogging for exercise one day and expect to be ready for a marathon the next week. You have to work up to it, be persistent and diligent.”
“Do you have anything in mind? Maybe three wishes for your buddy Lu?”
Gary laughed. “What happened to the ‘no personal gain’ rule?”
Luna shrugged. “It would be my gain not yours.”
“I do have an idea. The call to the doc’s office made me think of it. I need you to come and observe what happens.”
When they drove into the general parking lot of Fairhaven Hospital, he saw that Luna figured out what he was planning.
“I thought you said you were going to work up to the big stuff,” she said. “Curing people of disease is big stuff.”
Gary smiled. “I’ve been imagining myself as a king or a knight or some other kind of protector. But I was protecting people from things outside of themselves. Why can’t I translate that to protecting them from enemies inside themselves?”
Luna took a breath. She had brought her camera. “Maybe you should have started with paper cuts or something. Hospital security will stop us.”
“Then they stop us. Anyway, I’m not planning on going anywhere beyond the first floor where people are checking in and haven’t been seen to yet.”
“We’re in public. Are you sure?”
“I was in public for all my other daydreams. I won’t hurt anyone. But if something weird happens…tackle me.”
Luna raised her brows and widened her eyes. And then they went in.
Gary was a mage. The greatest mage in the land, and his specialty was healing. Once, he had used herbs and tinctures and incubated potions for months and uttered spells and incantations. But over time, he learned to see with his inner eye how the body was broken and how to knit it back together. Over time, he came to see with his inner eye how the body was invaded by sicknesses from without or suffering from imbalances of its normal workings. He could pinpoint exactly which remedy was needed. And then, as more and more time passed, he learned how to move the energies that lay beneath the physical body. He learned how to pull and bend and nudge those energies to affect the body so that it would be healed.
And in time, he could heal by touch alone.
He wandered the lands, offering his services to the sick and the suffering and there was never a wont of those. And now he was in the land of Fairhaven.
He walked its paths and saw its people. And they were indeed sick and suffering. He laid his hands on them and cured as many as he could before he grew tired for the day. So focused was he on his work, he had forgotten that his apprentice had come with him and now tended him. She bade him sit and rest and offered him some water.
“You’ve been going for hours. You’ll lose your voice,” she said.
Why would I lose my voice? Gary opened his eyes.
He was sitting on a stool, surrounded by children. He was in the children’s ward. He looked at them to see if he could discern if they had been healed. But a nurse was gathering them up and telling them that story time was over. There were groans and moans at the announcement. And one child asked if Gary would return. He was too disoriented to answer. Another nurse, a flash of disappointment on her face, admonished the children not to be rude, as she and others herded them back to their rooms.
He was surprised to find that his guitar was lying on the carpet and some of his more colorful paintings were propped around the room. Luna explained that as soon as they started heading to the hospital doors, Gary had turned around and said they should go back home. Luna thought he’d changed his mind or had a different idea. But he loaded up her car with the paintings and with his guitar and returned to the hospital.
When he started remembering, he realized that he had not healed anyone. But the hospital staff thanked him for bringing some liveliness to the wards with long-term care patients, the elderly and the children. He’d brought his guitar and asked about providing some entertainment right then and there. They waited an hour just to fill out forms and go over safety and all the applicable hospital rules. Gary didn’t know how to play, but Luna did. She played and he sang. And for the children, he had mounted some of his paintings behind him and told them stories that were inspired by the paintings. Stories of runaway elephant kings and aliens having comic misunderstandings with earthlings.
He remembered. And was disappointed.
“Why are you disappointed?” Luna asked as they loaded the guitar in the trunk. The paintings he had left for the hospital. “You did a great thing in there and you dragged me along on your good deed.”
“It’s nothing anyone else couldn’t have done.”
“Anyone could, but not everyone does. Don’t you see, Gary. We wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for your daydream goading us to.”
Gary nodded. “We did have fun and cheer people up, I guess. We can keep doing that. But it would have been better by far if I could have really healed someone.”
Luna looked at him. “None of your daydreams have made any magic happen. They are limited by what you can actually do in the real world. You can’t actually fight dragons, but you can verbally fight your review board members. You can’t actually heal people in the real world, but you can cheer some of them up, make some of them laugh, draw some of them into your imagination, the way you’ve been drawn in.”
Gary sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“I am right. You’re a good Guy.”
He laughed and put a hand on her shoulder. “A lucky Guy.”
The daydreams continued and with them the little good deeds. It was almost a month after their first encounter that Gary saw once again the elderly woman whom he’d randomly marked as the cause of his “superpower.”
It was a fairly mild autumn day and they were both wearing sweaters. He had to jog her memory a bit.
“I have your blue coat, the one I ruined when I bumped into you. It’s all cleaned and good as new. Can we meet somewhere sometime so I can return it to you?” And ask you all my burning questions, he thought, but did not add.
The woman smiled, knowingly he thought, and they arranged to meet the very next day. He had developed a superstition about the coat as well as the woman. He had it in mind that the gift of the daydreams had passed to him along with the coat. He had checked its pockets and found nothing. Aside from a button that didn’t match the others, the coat was unusual in no way. It did not seem to be hiding any talismans or secrets. He wondered if the coat itself was the talisman he sought, and if returning it would mean returning his superpower.
He wondered why the woman had given him the gift. Was it a reward? For a small and simple kindness? For owning up to even a minor mistake? For having courtesy toward his fellow human? He wondered if she was involved at all, or if it had just been a coincidence that they had encountered each other just before the dream-outs began.
She had brought his coat back as well. He had not asked for it. And as they exchanged coats in the diner where he and Luna often ate and where he had bought the woman breakfast, Gary was certain that he was surrendering his superpower. But he was just as certain that he would continue to daydream and to let his regular daydreams—at least some of them—guide him in his real life. He wanted to ask his questions, but they all seemed silly when he thought of them. He didn’t want to scare the woman by sounding crazy, especially if he had jumped to conclusions in linking her with his recent experiences. He wanted to ask the woman to keep in touch, but he realized it would seem too forward and unseemly. Instead they exchanged pleasantries and a joke about not spilling anything on each other should they bump into each other again. He wished her well. And she did the same for him.
And when he went home, though he felt no different, he told Luna that he had lost his mojo.
“This might cheer you up then, the hospital called and said one of the kids is well enough to be released to go home. She wants to bring one your paintings with her, so her dad is asking about buying it.”
Gary sighed, knowing he should sell it, knowing he would probably give it away.
“Speaking of hospitals, when are you supposed to hear back from your doc?”
“Next week sometime, but I don’t want to dwell on that. We’ve done good deeds. Now let’s go do something fun.”
“I was thinking something more passive, like a movie. I could use a break from my own imagination and get lost in someone else’s.” He glanced at the studio they shared. “I’ll go back to my own dreaming tomorrow.”
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.