By John Thomas Tuft

(excerpted from the upcoming novel MIDNIGHT SHEPHERD, sequel to THE HEALER)

A dream is not easily pictured.  I’m not talking descriptions of aspirations and hopes, but rather the midnight meanderings of the unconscious, the cluttered frames of surreal scenarios and the all too vivid terrors.  It is impossible for the hearer to have any actual sense of the world the teller is describing.  Nobody with any sanity asks another to retell their dreams, unless the inquisitor is of the psychiatric persuasion. Or hopelessly in love with the human race. Which, I realize, does nothing to explain why I knocked on the door of one Christopher Drabek, asking to hear about his dream.  The man looked at me with a knowing smile.  “You’re here about the dream, right?” I confessed that I was.

He was a trim man, thick hair tastefully styled.  With a boyish smile, he motioned me to a chair in the sparsely furnished apartment.  “Have a seat.”  He fumbled for a moment with something behind the door.  It was only then that I realized he was grabbing for wooden canes in order to avoid toppling over in a heap on the floor.  In my embarrassment, I jumped back to my feet.  I cringed within when I saw the fleeting look in his eyes, that tiny sense of betrayal.  He was a man of pride and I was admitting to less.

“How did you find out about my little adventure?” he asked with a self-deprecating chuckle that failed to disguise the wariness in his eyes. “A good journalist doesn’t reveal his sources,” I countered.

He snorted.  “I’m not a fool, Mr. Tribe.  I don’t believe in dreams any more than you do.  I’ve always prided myself in being a realist.  Ever since I was a kid watching my mother get crippled up with MS, I knew there was a good chance that some day it would be coming after me.  I’m not saying I liked the idea, but I didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t a very real possibility, either.”

His trip from front door to chair was only possible because of the two dark canes with black rubber tips that made a soft squishy sound as he awkwardly shifted his weight from side to side.  I was glad I’d kept my mouth shut as he added, “These were hers.” He sank into a chair with an unexpected sigh. He switched gears.  “I have a PhD, you know.  I worked hard.  My mother’s disability didn’t mean I was handed anything in life, let alone an education.”  Christopher absently fingered the curved handle of one of the canes, its grain shiny and smooth with layers of finish.  “Of course, all that didn’t stop the monster, either.” He looked me in the eye.  “Why do you do this?  What prodding are you following, going around setting down people’s pain in that little rag?  Why did Willow Boston leave it to you?” “I don’t know.”

Christopher’s eyebrows went up, then down, then back up.  I didn’t have any other answer and he let it drop.  “All right, then.  I’ve been going about my business, living my life, terrified of ending up helpless and alone.  But nonetheless, I kept teaching, adapted my home with all the bars beside the toilet and shower, extra wide doorways, the whole bit.  I’ve cursed God and anybody who bullshits me about God, wondering why the hell is this happening to me?  Nothing they’ve tried to use to arrest the progress of the MS is working on me.” He gripped the canes between his knees and leaned over, his voice barely above a whisper.  “Then came the dream.”  His blue eyes sparkled like he’d just told a joke and was waiting for the laughter to start, or so I thought at the time.  “Can you believe it? I had a dream that changed everything!” “What did you dream?”

“What did I DREAM?  I heard God’s voice, the mouthpiece of eternity! ”  He shook his head from side to side as he went on, “Do you know what I’m saying?  The voice of God.  C’mon, I know better than that and so do you.  But it wasn’t really a voice like mine or yours.  It was more like a vibration deep inside of my brain that grew stronger and stronger, setting off brilliant flashes of light like blue fireballs.  Then, just as quickly, I was awake.  My hands were trembling, and I was crying.  I mean, Tribe, I was sobbing, hard, like a little child.” I stared at him.  This was it, that was all there was to the dream?  I’m sure he saw the questions in my eyes. “It was the name, Mr. Tribe.  God gave me a name.  God gave me the name that could cure me.” “Cure you or heal you?” “What’s the difference?”

“A doctor or a medicine man cures you with surgery or herbs and magic.  Healing is a natural process.”

He grew agitated.  “Did you hear me?  God spoke to me and told me the name.” “Who is this man?”

“A quiet man not looking for anything extraordinary in his life.” “I take it you’ve spoken to him?”

“Yes.  I awakened from the dream and scribbled down his name.  I’d never heard it before and, as far as I knew, we’d never met.  I could recall no one by that name in any of my classmates from college, my churches, nobody.  I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t go back to sleep no matter how badly I desired to return to the dream.  Yet, it filled me with dread, as well.  And I wanted to ask questions, hundreds of questions.”

“You heard God speak and you wanted to ask a lot of questions?  What is your degree in, Mr. Drabek?”

He slumped back into the cushions, his eyes narrowing.  “I’m not a fool, man.  My first question was why would I be healed and not one of the thousands, no millions, of others?  Why not my mother?”

“I’m simply curious about what you studied, that’s all.” He ignored my question.  “I called around to the churches in the county asking them if they’d heard of this man.  One of the secretaries was kind enough to look up the name in the national directory and I gave him a call.”  He took a deep breath.  “Believe me, it wasn’t easy for me to do.”

“So, God didn’t tell you where this man lived?  You had to do some searching on your own?”

“Listen, smartass!  Hearing that voice was terrifying enough.  I didn’t go looking for this…this manifestation.” His choice of words struck me as a bit odd.  “You didn’t?” “I’m as good as dead!” he started to shout, specks of spittle flying from his mouth.  “Nothing will stop it.”  He nodded toward his canes.  “It’s a wheelchair next, then a bed.  My world turns into four walls, lying in my own waste until some nurse’s aide decides to come in and do me the favor of changing my diaper.  I’ll kill myself before I go into one of those places!” “Wouldn’t God frown on suicide?” He fixed me with eyes now turned deathly still.  “You don’t think you would know God’s voice when you heard it?”

The silence that followed seeped into the corners of the room and under the spaces beneath the stairway like gray smoke.  I studied the few notes I’d scribbled and chewed on the end of the pen.  “What happened when you talked to this man?” Drabek’s hands fluttered apart.  “I didn’t get to talk directly to him.  You have to understand, I can’t give you his name.  If you put it in that paper, he would be in grave danger. But I did talk to his wife.  She said nothing like this had ever happened before.” “Why couldn’t you talk to this healer yourself?” He stiffened, like I had smacked him across the face.  Then he blinked and answered me. “It’s the damndest thing.  He’d had a dream about me weeks earlier. About being sent to heal me. He’d gone to his congregation, told them about this strange message, begged for their support. They gave it. His wife told me that on the same night as my dream, at the exact same time as I awakened, that her husband had a stroke.” “A stroke?”

“Yes!  His whole right side is paralyzed.  He’s going through physical therapy now, trying to get back what he can.  Uses a walker to get around, but he’s hoping to graduate soon to a couple of canes.”  Christopher studied my face to make sure that I caught the irony…

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.