The following is the first chapter of Push, out July 21st, 2021.
My dreams aren’t what they used to be.
They used to be vivid, wild, free.
Now they’ve become the home of everything I fear.
My life itself, though, is a juxtaposition of my sleep; when I’m awake, I’m okay. At least, I think, relatively.
It’s been a year since I discovered that Static, a person who I thought I invented in my dreams, was actually my real-life best friend Tim, who died of an aneurysm and who I had repressed in my memories. It’s been a year since I’ve seen Alen, the serial killer within nightmares (and possibly of my own delusions), who I was desperately trying to stop, and who I have never actually met with eyes wide open. It’s been a year since Regan told me that we could be together, and she hasn’t let me go yet.
I thought when my waking life started to come together that my dreams would follow suit. That has not been the case. My sleep unravels me in a way that I can’t seem to keep zipped shut, a spool of subconscious entropy.
Every dream I have had since that day has been a parallel multiverse of monsters, shadows and worst-case scenarios.
And the worst part is I can’t tell anyone.
I have made the few people in my world who actually care about me worry more than anyone should have to worry in a lifetime. Now that they think I’m alright, I intend to keep it that way. The joy I see on their faces when they think I am happy and healthy is almost enough to make me feel happy and healthy.
There is an enormous sense of dread I carry that acts like a shadow moving with the sun; when I wake up, I feel that dread spread straight behind me, as far back as the western horizon. Throughout the day, I feel the dread get shorter, creep closer to me, until it starts to shoot from my feet forward. There, I can see it grow, until it’s insurmountable, until I can’t see the end of it, and then I have to lay down and fall asleep into it.
And here I am, asleep, dreaming that I’m in a familiar house.
It’s the house I grew up in, and I’m sitting in my bedroom, but it’s decorated like it was when I was an infant. Everything is bathed in a deep blue light, and I’m waiting. I rub my hand across the wool baby blanket hung over my crib. I’ve had this dream countless times and, in it, a murderer who has chainsaws for hands and a face made up only of eyeballs and one screaming, bleeding mouth will suddenly appear at the front door. He’s a man of few words (understandably, what with all the screaming and bleeding from the mouth), but once I was able to ask him his name; he calls himself Looky Lou. The house will then spontaneously start on fire, and I will have two choices: exit from this room in any way and inevitably have to confront the killer, or stay in the house until it burns up and collapses on top of me.
Either way, I will come within seconds to losing my life before waking up in a cold sweat. I will tell Regan that I’m thirsty, so I can walk across the hall and sit in the bathroom for a half hour to compose myself, so I can stop shaking long enough to set off any kind of alarm.
The monster is at the front door. I wish I had a fast-forward function or chapter skip in my dream state. A few times I’ve tried to call upon Shelby, my dream-scythe, to help me fight off the killer, but she hasn’t shown up for me since that day, either.
Worst of all, though . . . I can’t flip.
Since the day that everything changed, the thing that changed the most was the way I dream. Now I feel lost and I feel powerless and I don’t know how to fix it.
. . . I think as I turn down a smoky hallway, trying to find a way out of the house I haven’t thought of before. I’ve tried every door and window, and each time Looky Lou was waiting for me outside. This usually leads to a chase, where I start to run away in slow motion while he cruises as though he’s using a moving walkway; this ends with him catching up to me as I wake up, breathless.
I’ve tried the roof, and that is probably the worst way out. I am rarely able fly in dreams anymore, if ever, so what happens is I get caught on top of a burning house, and my dramatic ass usually starts a thunderstorm once I’m outside. After I check each wall for a way to climb down, I turn around and the monster is usually waiting right behind me, where he then does his crazy chainsaw thing and I wake up, soaking wet.
There is one idea that has crossed my mind but the logical part of me knows it’s a terrible one and there’s no point in trying: the basement. When I walk past that doorway, smoke is usually bellowing out, and I don’t think there’s a way out down there (though dream logic doesn’t always and sometimes rarely follows actual logic). I stop for a moment to consider it once again.
As I’m contemplating, the front door bursts open. Lou is now running down the hallway, straight at me, his chainsaw hands tearing up the wallpaper on both sides. I don’t have a choice. I run into the smoke and stumble down the basement steps. The air is almost solid, and I can barely breathe, but I don’t hear anyone behind me. It’s hard to hear anything at all. It gets harder and harder to see, too.
Pretty soon, everything is silent, hot and black.
I try to flip.
It’s been a year since I could move my physical body in a way so that my dream itself can switch states, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try every time.
“Flip,” I whisper to myself, the creator of dreams, quietly.
“Flip,” I say again, trying not to get the attention of Looky Lou.
But my attempt is yet another failed one. I can hear the roaring motors approach. The end is near, and, exhausted, I welcome it.
Then there’s a faint light. I see it in the corner of my eye. I don’t recognize the color, but I see something glowing, through the swirling waves of heat, the dense clouds of darkness, just beyond me. From the light comes something even more unexpected: voices. Many voices. They overlap upon and scramble one another so I can’t hear any specifically, but they’re there, calling to me through the scorching quiet.
I reach out.
It’s all too far.
I take a few steps forward. The former growl of the chainsaws is now a chorus of snarls, and I can feel him moments behind me, but I keep moving, my hand outstretched.
“Liam . . .” the voices echo.
I pull my hand back. Just as quickly, I feel the smoke fill my lungs, falling and resting to the bottom and piling itself to the top. I can’t breathe. I’m choking, my jaw is twisted, and my mouth is dried with blood. Looky Lou bursts through the wall of smog and a chainsaw finds its way between my neck and shoulder. I can feel the tiny blades vibrate through my skin, shaking my whole body, shredding their way down to my heart.
The dream is ending now. Instead of light being an indicator, I can feel the absolute black of the fade approaching. As I transition to the waking world, the voices raise together one more time to deliver me a message.
“We’re still here . . .” they call.
“Who are you?” I manage to ask.
“Help,” they plead. “We’re trapped.”
“How?” I cry.
“Push . . .” they answer, before I shoot up out of bed, out of breath, blanketed in wet.
. . .
Push is available to order on Amazon now.