In December, I posted the three-part Blast From The Past series. The first post featured a surreal flash fiction piece I wrote when I had recently moved to New York in 2011. The second post included three poems I wrote in college. Then the third went all the way back to my senior year of high school for a short story I wrote called “Pedestrian” that was based on the months I worked at a bowling alley and fantasized about escaping into a life of crime.
It was embarrassing and hilarious to look back the naïve hack writing in the story from high school, and for today’s blog post I dug up another story I wrote in high school that I had totally forgotten about until just now. I believe “Momentary Reality” was also written in my senior year, and I think it was considered for publication in the Alton High School literary journal Calliope, except the editor let me pick whether a poem I wrote would be published or this story, and I picked the poem.
I didn’t cringe as many times re-reading it as I did when I uncovered “Pedestrian,” but there still certainly are a few cringeworthy moments, including the hastily written twist ending and some clichéd descriptions peppered throughout — along with the overarching tired concept of the story about dreams.
But all writers have to get the writing of a Dream Story out of their system. I believe it to be a rite of passage — a moment where you are crossing an important threshold in your life as a writer, which hopefully you cross and never look back.
And so without further adieu, I present to you “Momentary Reality,” written in the spring of 2005.
He was definitely speeding up. So slow, then too fast to be slow, then too fast to just simply be fast. He was whirling endlessly in circles, the speed never decreasing but always increasing. But why? He had only intended to rotate sluggishly and contemplate the mysteries of life. Suddenly he was six again. A red maelstrom of metal bars blurred before him, and he could barely keep from puking when the merry-go-round suddenly reversed directions.
How can this be happening? he thought to himself. One second I was an adult ambling into the old playground (reminiscing of simpler times) and resting on the merry-go-round, the next I’m six years old and Barry Lovett is in his old, worn-in-the-knees jeans tormenting me again. I was minding my own business just plodding along, moving the merry-go-round with baby footsteps, and Barry the Bully starts spinning me. How is this possib-
His thought was interrupted by a jerky halt in motion. He flew off the fire engine red playground equipment with almost supernatural speed. Shocked, he looked forward to notice that a telephone pole was only centimeters away. Time seemed to slow down as his life flashed before his eyes. He flinched and-
“HOLY GOD ALMIGHTY! HOLY–” Howard yelled aloud, his head shaking violently as he erected himself in his bed so quickly that he pulled a muscle in his back. “Wha?!-. . . Whoa. . . Whew.”
Just a dream, he thought with relief. He felt the bed sheet beneath him, surprised at how damp it was. God. . . Did I wet myself? I must have sweated like a pig. Damn that Barry.
“I’ve got to stop having dreams like that,” he said, with the kind of voice anyone would have after waking up in the middle of the night after sleeping without rest.
He yawned and stretched his arms. In mid-stretch, however, he looked at the always-too-bright digital clock at his bedside and realized that he had, in fact, not just woken up in the middle of the night; he arose from his troubled slumber ten minutes before he was due to be at work.
Howard frowned at the alarm clock. The more he thought of it, the more he realized how all his life’s failures could be blamed on the alarm clock. It didn’t matter if it didn’t make sense later; it made sense to him right then. At that moment in time, he knew that the clock was the culprit of every one of his life’s many injustices.
So he smacked it off his dresser.
“Damn thing!” he yelled. “You. . . You PIECE OF CRAP!”
The more he thought about it, the more he reddened with anger. How many times before had his alarm clock never gone off, leaving him high and dry without a single solitary thing to blame but the clock itself? Too many to count, or at least to Howard’s enraged, illogical mind.
He looked for something to hit to ease his frustration, and somehow the thin, grimy apartment wall next to him seemed an appealing target. At the very moment he clenched his fist he knew he was capable of breaking through the wall. He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. He also knew that on the other side of the broken wall would be the old lady next door. She had always made a big deal out of him playing even the slightest bit of music, and now he wanted to wring her neck.
He punched through the wall and felt for that cold, fleshy loose-skinned neck of hers. But it was already in his hand as soon as he cleared the wall. Suddenly a cold chill went over him and he looked up into a blinding light.
“Time to wake up, Howie,” the light-holder said.
The figure above Howard was shrouded by darkness. Then just enough stray light hit the shadow person revealing it to be his fiancé, Wendy. She held a pitcher of ice water in the hand opposite the one holding what now appeared to be a flashlight.
At this point Howard realized that he had just dreamed that he had woken up from a dream. Amazing. . . A dream within a dream.
Sometime between his shooing Wendy away from his bed (and her subsequent refusal to let him sleep) and sitting down at the kitchen table to read the morning paper, Howard did what everyone does; he forgot his dreams. He forgot that somehow the alarm clock had become the scapegoat for his ever being late for work. He forgot that only moments ago he was fighting to keep vomit from escaping his mouth from the spinning and flinching at the prospect of a head crushed via collision with a telephone pole.
On his way home from work, the thought of his childhood popped into Howard’s head. He tried to shrug it off, but the strange urge to revisit the old school he’d gone to would not leave him.
He came to a stoplight. His old school was just down the street if he turned right, but his home was to the left. Deciding that his subconscious had to be telling him something, he turned right. Before long he could see the filthy gates teeming with vines and insects that surrounded Woodson Elementary’s playground.
The last teachers were leaving the premises just as he shut the door of his car. Thus, he was alone in the schoolyard as he sat down on a swing. This must look odd, he mused. A grown man wearing a business suit rocking himself back and forth on a playground swing. Yet there was no one around to laugh at the odd character who would undoubtedly appear to be out of place.
Then he saw it: the merry-go-round. It tilted slightly by itself from the gentle westward breeze as if it were hinting at Howard to hop on. The paint was chipped, Howard noticed. He could remember when it was fire engine red. He used to believe he could beat the devil on that thing. When his surroundings became blurry, little Howard would pretend like the devil was flying behind him, biting at his heels. Chuckling at that thought, he sat down and started dragging his feet on the ground.
Life used to be so much simpler, Howard thought. I miss adding and subtracting apples on worksheets. That was a lot less taxing than counseling disgruntled employees.
Out of nowhere, a shiver ran down Howard’s spine. He started thinking worriedly about his present situation. Has this happened before? Why did I feel the urge to come here? I feel like something bad is about to happen.
The feeling first irritated him, and then it welled up inside him until he became consumed by paranoia. He looked around. No creatures lurking in the shadows… So why do I feel this way?
He stood up angrily. The very notion that he was meant to return to this place full of memories struck Howard as being uncannily silly. Normally, he was not superstitious, and there was no reason to become that way now. Yet the gut feeling did not leave. He sat back down, his face resting blankly on his hands.
Suddenly a jolt came. The wind rushed against his face from the right side. His dark, medium length hair flowed to the left. Still in shock, Howard was unable to even glance to his side to discover his perpetrator. Yet somehow he knew. It’s Barry the Bully, and he’s going to kill me just like I dreamed last night. He finally remembered, but it was too late. That feeling that seemed to tell him to go there was actually telling him that that was the last place he should go.
He turned his head. “Hi, Barry.”
“Hey, Hungry Howie,” Barry replied with a devilish grin. Howard had been on the chubby side in his younger years.
Barry brought the frenziedly twirling merry-go-round to a halt. Howard’s body whizzed from of the equipment into a telephone pole. The entire block could hear the sickening thud of skull on wood. His teeth instantly burst from his mouth and his upper spine shattered, breaking his neck and ending his life instantly.