Horacio Valdez is a man of science. He has poured himself into forging a career, a life…and just hoping that, somehow, the rest will take care of itself. Loneliness has stalked him for years, and he has never fully mastered the art of connecting with others. Only in his dreams does Horacio know the comfort and closeness of another’s presence, but is the figure that haunts his nights completely benign?
When Horacio is forced to confront his dreams—and the beautiful, terrible creature at their center—the truth might just be more frightening than his reality has ever been.
Read the first chapter free!
” … Perhaps my favorite part of this story is the very vibrant storytelling. M. King spins a tale that’s captivating in its imagery – the opening scenes flicked by like a flashback sequence at the beginning of a movie. I loved the easy, unassuming flow and uncomplicated way it unraveled. The pacing is quick and light with a perfect amount of detail … ” ~ 3 Chicks After Dark
Chapter One of THE DREAMER
Copyright © M. KING, 2013
All Rights Reserved, Wilde City Press
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
— Hamlet, I:5
HE WAS BORN in a nondescript California town, raised among its acid greens and muted autumnal browns in a house like several others that, as the song said, were all made out of ticky tacky and all looked the same. His parents loved and nurtured him, first as their cherished baby, then as their fine little boy and, later, as the big brother to their new infant daughter. They adored him, but their adoration was filled with pride, and as he grew, Horacio Valdez swelled with their proud love, knowing he must try his best to please them, and to fulfill every hope and expectation they had for him.
Naturally, he did not always succeed. That vast pressure of love, when pushed skyward with the intensity of dreams, could never float entirely free of failure, awkwardness, or embarrassment…and no child ever becomes the person his parents plan him to be.
At the age of four, Horacio wet his pants at his cousin Lucinda’s wedding and thoroughly wrecked the velvet pageboy suit he’d been parceled into. At eight, he tried to pop a wheelie on his brand new bike—after he’d been told very explicitly not to do any stupid stunts—and managed to crack the wing mirror right off his dad’s car, leaving a dent in the driver’s side door and a gash in his own boyish forehead, which required several stitches and left a permanent scar.
When he was ten, his mortified mother marched him back to the local bodega and made him return a stolen chocolate bar with one bite taken from it. She cried when she told him that it hurt not to trust him. She told him lies were bad. And yet, when Horacio was twelve, she entered his bedroom without knocking and found him kissing Gary Pedersen from down the street…and she didn’t seem to like that holy notion of “truth” as much as she’d claimed.
It had been hard to tell who was more shocked. Certainly, Gary never came around again, and Horacio’s first uncertain dabbling on the shores of intimate discovery was so traumatically brief, so abruptly curtailed, that he felt sure it must have been something wrong, no matter how right he’d wanted it to feel.
There was a lot of shouting and some crying. Mostly Horacio’s. After everything calmed down, the melodrama seeping away with the dusk, his mother had come back into his room again, brought his face from his wet pillow, held his hand, and talked to him for a long while. She told Horacio that she and his father loved him, told him everything was all right, and in the following months, she didn’t bother him so much about taking Confirmation classes.
He grew up, blessed to know he had no cause to hate himself or to apologize, though it didn’t always seem like it. School was far from perfect but could probably have been worse, and Horacio, like most teenagers, couldn’t wait to leave puberty—with all its complications and frustrations—behind him. He lived through the dramas and awkwardness of his peers, the isolation and the loneliness of his shy nature, and he learned to accept the sensation that had been with him his whole life: the feeling that, somehow, he was waiting for his life to begin, waiting for the world around him to fall into step with the one inside his head.
At fifteen, he thought he’d have everything figured out by eighteen. Upon reaching eighteen, he decided he’d been over-confident, and twenty-one would be the magic age. Adulthood, technical and legal, would bring with it that sudden leap in understanding, like the refraction of light suddenly spearing through a prism. The rainbow would manifest on the wall, where only white light had been, and all his potentials, all his hidden hopes and possibilities, would spill out in its wake.
At twenty-one, as a chemistry major at a prestigious school, Horacio threw himself into his studies, and they comforted him. They were predictable and reassuring, and soothed the fear he felt when he realized being a grown-up conveyed no automatic solutions.
There was, he realized with a degree of terror, no magic wand, no instant sense of contentment or understanding. Horacio was just as confused, just as frustrated, as ever before.
All that he had to comfort him were dreams.
They had always been there…the places inside his head where he went, safe and secluded. He could do what he wanted, be who he wanted, and it was all so easy, so free.
As a child, Horacio had devoured books by the dozen. He’d taken them inside himself, stripped away their frills and fancies, trimmed out the fripperies of characters he did not need, and brought them into his own worlds. He had been a knight, a prince, a troubadour…a magician, sometimes. Once or twice, a street urchin of Baghdad, or a noble thief outlined against the skies of Revolutionary Paris.
But, with the passing of years, the dreams changed their form.
That golden sense of pride, of acceptance and belonging he had always felt in his own world—his own plane of existence—changed, too. It took a shape, and the shape was beautiful.
It held him, in the stillness of the night, when he could hear nothing but his own breathing. It grew strong fingers that soothed his knotted shoulders, and brushed the unruly lock of hair from his brow. The faceless shape developed a body whose firmness and angularity mirrored his own—exceeded it, in fact, in both definition and symmetry. And, as Gary Pedersen’s awkward, dry lips became no more than an embarrassing memory, Horacio retreated to different comforts…just as ephemeral, but so much more perfect.
Still, college wasn’t the hedonistic experience he’d hoped for.
He made friends, dated a little bit…flung himself into believing that this was the fullest, most passionate expression of life that there could be.
He almost fell in love, once.
The guy’s name was David. A sweet, diffident white boy who held his hand everywhere they went, had a smile like a furled flower, and knew how to make weekend mornings spin out into endless pools of pleasure.
It didn’t last, though. What David wanted, Horacio could not give. He didn’t know how and when he tried—tried so hard to open up and share the dreams and the worlds inside him—there was nothing but dry air, and the stale impossibility of an un-crossable gulf.
Horacio regretted it, but regrets, like so much in life, passed in time.
He still hoped things would change. He held out for twenty-five or thirty, that sacred band of age when he wanted to believe his life would somehow fall into place; he’d have a good job, maybe a lab tech or research position, and all the trappings of success he thought he’d like. Hot TV, cool car, great apartment…there might even be a man, though Horacio wasn’t too sure on that point. Ever since Gary Pedersen, he’d always been waiting, somehow, for that moment—proverbially speaking—the door burst open and the world broke apart.
David had called him cold when they parted, which hurt.
Horacio knew it wasn’t true, wasn’t fair…he didn’t lack warmth; he just couldn’t express it. That, and the fact he felt so very disjointed, so inferior next to other people. Like he wasn’t real, or maybe they weren’t real; that, somehow, everything was blurred and fuzzy at the edges. There was a wall between him and the world, and every brick was carved from his fear, his uncertainty, his reticence. He wasn’t the same person he was in dreams, and outside of his own head, Horacio just couldn’t quite find enough common ground with other people.
Guys he met in clubs didn’t interest him. Oh, they were fine for hot and heavy weekend nights and Mai Tais, or fuel for fantasies in the barren days that followed. He could overcome his shyness there, be a different person in the dark, and when he inhabited that circuit boy persona, even if it was a fleetingly brief illusion, he could believe in it. Believe that he was real and desired. That was a powerful dream in itself, but Horacio realized early on he didn’t want to waste more than a few hours in the company of anyone whose verbal repertoire didn’t extend much beyond “I love this song” and “Yes, do it harder”.
The trouble was, that realization did not free him from need or want.
Horacio tried not to think about it. He let himself skate through the days without admitting the loneliness, the waiting, and told himself he had other things that needed his attention. He focused on work, on landing his first good internship, and on devouring journals and scientific periodicals the way he’d once greedily consumed the stories that built his dreams.
They didn’t fail him, at least.
The dreams cosseted him and gave him somewhere to turn, somewhere to hide. He embraced them, spending his nights in cool lagoons and shallow coves, under canopies of ferns or stars, and always in the arms of a man whose face he’d never seen.
It was enough. Or, so he made himself believe. A temporary measure.
One day, after all, he would find his Mr. Right in the real world, and life would miraculously sort itself out.
Somehow. Some day.
ISBN: 978-1-925031-66-9 | Length: Short Fiction (11,000 words)
Published by: Wilde City Press, and available from all good ebook retailers.