Yesterday was release day for a book I wrote called Beacon, book one of the Nation of Five series. The book is about young men and an impossible task they set before themselves. Well, I know a lot about impossible tasks. I’m a DID survivor who suffers from hallucinations. I have bipolar and Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. Getting through a day where I make dinner, hang out with my kids, be a husband to my wife, and not end the day screaming, is the completion of an impossible task. Well, it may be an impossible task that’s undertaken in the book Beacon, but it’s only even considered because of the friendship between four boys. Four teenage boys attempt this daunting feat. Got me thinking about the boys and men in my life. And so this weekend to celebrate the release of Beacon, I will be dropping upon you chapters from Reality of the Unreal Mind. These chapters are from the unreleased third volume, titled The Keep. I start at 7:30 in the evening on Friday, and will end at 9 at night on Sunday. So follow me now into the story of the men who made me possible.
It’s Sunday morning, I mean early in the morning, and I am just getting off work at Best Western. In the distance, just over the ridge and back onto the corpse of Route 66, sits Teardrop Road and the bridge that sparks magic in Artist. It has been over a year since he has been there.
He opened his comp book at about four in the morning that day and tried to write anything. Anything at all that might bring breath to his lungs and stop him from choking on the mundane life he lives. But there is no magic for Artist anymore. His wings do not flap in a Wasteland in the depths of his mind. He stands the ground. His wings gone. No life here. No spark. Artist is in decay. All of us are. And our nights here at Best Western have become the tolling of a dirge. This is where we are coming to hiss out our last breath. Here in the dark, watching over the sleeping, Artist dies.
He steps out and embraces the fact that he has about three miles to walk before he can get home, when a car he knows speeds up to him and jerks to a screeching halt before him. In the driver’s seat sits Ty with a scowl on his face, his fingers drumming on his steering wheel.
I get in. He says nothing. He just drives.
“Thanks for the ride.”
“Yeah,” Ty grunts. He hears my stomach rumble and burp. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Few days ago, I think.”
“Fuck, man! What the hell! See, this right here—” But he doesn’t finish his thought. He just drives. He is furious, so we say nothing. He speeds past my apartment.
“Where are we headed?” I ask.
He just turns and scowls at me. He shakes his head and looks back at the road.
We stop at Waffle House. Get out, slam doors, walk in, slide into a booth. And he does not talk.
“You just got off work here, didn’t you?” I ask.
“Yeah.” Still furious.
“Well shit, man, what are you doing back here?”
“Well if you are not going to feed yourself, I have to fucking do it, don’t I?”
“You pissed at me, brother?”
“What do you think?” he says. He stares at me with his cold blue eyes and I know I have fucked up. I don’t know how, but Artist’s best friend is right at the point of violence.
So we let it play out. See, Ty needs to build up to things like this. He needs to look at it for a while and try to figure out how he is going to come at it.
So I sit and I eat that chicken sandwich they make with the thick chicken breast that you can barely get your teeth through. They cook it perfectly every time. Juicy and delicious, but I can’t enjoy it. When I am done with my sandwich and hash browns, I thank him, and he orders me a Scuttlebutt.
Now this dish is gone, as far as I know, from every Waffle House, but it was around back then, so you have to hear about it. It is two orders of hash browns scattered, with onions, cheese, green peppers, ham, and I cover it in chili. It was amazing. Why the restaurant ever took it off the menu is a mystery to me, but here I am with Ty glaring at me, eating one of the last Scuttlebutts I will ever eat in my life.
We are in the car again, at the end of our half hour of sitting in silence, and on our way to my apartment.
“What plays have you been in this year?” I ask.
“It’s my senior year. I am working this year. I need money to buy a few things for college. You know, college, where your dumb ass needs to be!”
“Excuse me?” I am confused but a little hurt. I have been graduated for almost a year now. I’m working two jobs and dreaming of one day going to college, but not moving.
“You have got to get your fucking shit together, man, or I am going to beat the ever-loving hell out of you myself!” he yells.
“What are you talking about?” I’m at the point of tears but I hold them back.
“How much have you written in the past, I don’t know, let’s say, three months?” Ty says.
“No, the time is not right for fantasy.”
His tires squeal as he jerks the wheel and slams on the breaks, pulling onto a gravel-spitting shoulder. “You have got to be kidding me, Jesse. Tell me you are fucking kidding me. Tell me you did not say, ‘the time is not right.’ If you did, I swear to God, I’m going to hit you with my car.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, man. Maybe what you were born to do?” He slams the heel of his palm on the steering wheel. “Tell stories. Write them down. Give them to the world that needs them. I see you here in this tiny backwards town and I am just filled with rage. Get the fuck out there. Get the fuck off of your ass. Find a way, but you owe that mind of yours to the world out there and damn it, that bill is coming due!”
I drop my head. I stare at my lap. I can’t look up. Ty has broken me.
“Look at me,” he says. His rage is played out. His voice wants to help. “Look at me right now, Jesse.”
I look up and I am crying now. He plants his hand on my shoulder and squeezes. “You have got to get out of here, man. This place is killing you. I see you drying up and I know that whatever is in there wanting to fly is dying. Don’t make me watch that happen. I can’t live with that.”
I am sobbing now.
“Find a way to keep that thing in there alive until you can get the fuck out of this town. You can’t stay here. This is not the place for you. Waynesville will eat your mind if you stay. Promise me you will try to play DnD soon. Find a group and run some games. I know you have not been playing.”
“Now is the time for fantasy, Jesse. You are so wrong. Now is the time. All the time is the time for you to be making fantasy. You can’t live without it. And you owe it to us to hand it over. Get it together, man. Wake the fuck up.”
Ty said a few years ago, after I had published my second book and was planning the release of my third, a thing I will never forget.
“I want this for you more than I have ever wanted anything for myself.”
I’m awake. I’m writing. And the thing you saw dying is alive and hovering in his Wasteland. He loves you. He always will. Ty, thank you. Thank you for all of it.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.