Moon Dreamsby Brad Strickland
Jeremy Sebastian Moon is transported far from Earth where his dreams and job in advertising provide comfort but not much happiness, a world where fantasy is reality. This new magical world presents to Jeremy his double, a dangerous wizard who wants him to take his place and stand before the Council of Mages. Jeremy's mission before he returns home is to help the Mages battle the Evil in Thaumia. He encounters a beautiful thief, an enchantress and Nul, along his journey, but will his newfound powers take him back to earth?
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Brad Strickland
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Brad Strickland
All rights reserved.
The room had a 3 A.M. feel.
At the far end, past clusters of silhouetted heads, past drifting nets of silver cigarette smoke, the bartender stood in a rectangular fluorescent island, backed by hard-gleaming rows of bottles. Between him and Jeremy the blackness of the room was spotted with glowing red points of cigarette ends and broken by tiny green-shaded circles of light on tables.
To Jeremy's left, on a two-foot-high stage, a black pianist occupied a second island, a round spotlight island. His blind ebony face glistened in blue highlights, sweat-sheen, as he leaned back to let slow blues leak between his fingers and out into the bar.
Jeremy stared into the dark. They were there. He couldn't see them, but somehow he knew they were there.
They had come for him.
A baby cried somewhere in the dark, shushed after a moment. Jeremy frowned. A baby? In a bar? Where were its shoes?
Cassie had stopped by his office earlier that day. "You look terrible," she had said with the assurance of someone who knew she looked terrific, svelte and glowing in a russet business outfit. "Getting sick before Christmas?"
Jeremy shook his head. "Not sick. Just tired."
She stood over him, a warm blond presence, her sheer vitality filling the little cubicle. "You're in luck. You get eight whole days off."
"And you're going to Florida," he said. "Lot of good the vacation does me."
"Hey, I won't be gone the whole time," she said, and having mentioned time, she checked her Geneve wristwatch. Three of the diamonds caught the overhead fluorescent light and flashed rainbows in Jeremy's eyes. They only reminded him that his eyes ached from lack of sleep. But Cassie didn't even stop: "Oops, gotta go. I've got to chew up an artist." In the doorway she paused, looking back. Jeremy regarded her opulent figure, one that made her sensible harvest-colored business dress somehow lewd and tempting. "Get some rest, seriously. Get some sleep tonight."
Then she was gone in an invisible swirl of Giorgio, but Jeremy said to her absence, "How can I get some sleep? I always dream."
Jeremy was cold. The air-conditioner outlet somewhere up among the fake black beams directed its breath on him, and his highball glass, lifted to his lips, offered no warmth. It was empty, though Jeremy's tongue and stomach bore no memory of its contents. The pianist took the melody down a staircase of sound, a graceful nude descending into the smoky room.
Movement, dry rustle, a skulking figure caught momentarily against the light of the far-off bar: coming toward him: one of them.
Jeremy darted a glance to his left. Crowded tables, no escape. No exit signs anywhere. The scrape of a chair, pushed out of a deliberately slow walker's way, close. Jeremy pushed away from the table, found his legs, stood. The stage was only a step away; he took the step, gained the stage, found the dark exit into the wings—
"Here!" A hiss, Escher's voice. Why was he here? "You wanted to be the star. Take this damn thing and sing!"
Cold, phallic shape of microphone thrust into his hand. "But I can't—"
"Taplan and Taplan doesn't have room for quitters. You do what I tell you. Light!"
Blue stab of a spot on him, pinning him, an insect on the card of the stage. He turned toward the obscured audience, seeing nothing but the slant of light, looping the mike cord with his nervous left hand. On that side of him the pianist, blind face grave, inclined his head sideways, away from his long black fingers, and teased fill music from his instrument. The light-purpled lips moved, the soft voice said, "Anything you wanna sing, man. Anytime you ready."
Stage fright clenched cold in his chest. The microphone reared up of its own accord, a cobra of wire and metal ready to strike at his face. Nervous energy propelled Jeremy, and he paced, the light following him. "Ladies and gentlemen, I guess we all have blues in our lives. Yeah, blues from the time we stand up in baby shoes till they drop us barefoot in the ground." His voice. His voice? "So this is for all of us, ladies and gentlemen, 'cause we're all in the same damn boat."
He didn't know the words. Hell with it, his business was words. They would come. Bending his head low over the mike, he brought his voice up from deep in his abdomen:
Driftin on the ocean, ain't no land in sight
Said driftin on the ocean, Lord,
Ain't no land in sight—
Somebody tell my woman,
Say, "You man ain't comin' round tonight."
He rolls in sweat-damp sheets, groaning, trying to wake up.
Jeremy felt a difference in the room, the press of attention turning on him, someone looking up here, a conversation breaking short there, whispers ceasing, heads turning. He caressed the mike, sent words through it and out into the smoky room:
Ocean's mighty big, Lord, water black as coal, Say the ocean's big, baby, And that water's black as coal, And we all in the same boat, Ev'ry single livin' soul.
More words spilled from somewhere inside him, words about darkness and loneliness and the bleakness of souls alone, the feelings coming not from him but through him, without effort, the voice not really his own but a whiskey baritone, rich and sick and full of knowledge and the sharp smoke of weary sin. At the song's end a surf of applause rolled forward through the dark to curl, to break against the stage. The light went out a city full of night and no lights showing, only the wind's howl in the streets,a rattle and hiss at ankle height, a windblown paper trying to snag his leg. Around him loomed buildings, deeper black against the black of sky. Jeremy had never before noticed how much difference city lights made: they shut out the stars, but also threw into relief the street mysteries, banished night fears to the deepest alleys, cast the sodium-yellow or mercury-blue light of sanity on the river of passersby.
This is crazy, Jeremy thought. I'm dreaming again. Nothing is chasing me.
He was driving an unfamiliar car through the night city, his eyes on the rearview mirror. They wouldn't give up that easily. Somewhere they would be behind him. The mirror, a rectangle of city night, showed headlights, hookers, marquees, liquor stores, a manhole pluming steam into the darkness. No gaze turned toward him, no one seemed to mark his passage.
If I can only find the shoes, he thought.
"Tacky," Cassie had murmured beside him. They had been heading home from work on the day before Thanksgiving—Cassie's car was in for a tune-up, and Jeremy had put his Civic at her service.
"What's tacky?" he asked. They had stopped at a red light on Highland, not far from her apartment complex.
"Look to your left. The Mercedes."
Jeremy darted his glance sideways. A gleaming black Mercedes, driven by one of those cool, angular brunettes with swept-back hair, eyes concealed behind large sunglasses, the sleeves of her red blouse tight over tennis muscles in her arms. "I don't see—"
"Oh." A pair of baby shoes dangled from the mirror. "Kind of unusual," Jeremy said. The light changed.
"A trophy," Cassie said with a trace of smugness.
Jeremy's attention was on the Audi ahead, the one driven by an uncertain man who just couldn't choose which lane he preferred. "Hmm?"
"Trophy," Cassie repeated. "She's a cradle robber." Cassie giggled a little. "Snatched the poor little bastard right out of his shoes—what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Jeremy had said that afternoon almost a month ago. "Goose walked over my grave."
Jeremy sensed them somewhere in the neon maze of streets behind him, in a long dark car like a shark come to town. Its flat eyes, without mercy or knowledge, searched the night for him. He shivered, realized that he could take no more of this random driving. He pulled off the street, into the cramped parking lot of a small restaurant; one slot open, a tight one, he had to ease his door open to avoid dinging the Corvette next to him. He stood, took a deep breath of night air, and looked toward the restaurant entrance. It wasn't hard to make a decision. Better inside than caught out here.
The restaurant was absurdly tiny, no more than four tables. A topless waitress met him, escorted him to a table, seated him. He was the only customer. Her breasts stared at him like round pink eyes. Her face seemed unclear, a blur beneath mussed black hair. He waited for a menu, checked his watch: 9:14:32 she thrust a check into his hand. "Thank you, sir. I hope you enjoyed it."
Why do I have a check? I haven't eaten.
He turned the paper over.
"A hundred and thirty-eight dollars?"
"Is anything wrong, sir?"
"But I haven't had anything to eat."
"That's not my fault, sir." Breasts round, with faint blue veins, two moons in the dim restaurant. His brother Bill was two years older than Jeremy. In high school they had been the Two Moons, Billy and Germy.
"I won't pay for food that I haven't eaten."
"In that case, sir, I'll have to call the baby shoes."
Sour bile rushed cold into his mouth. "Here." He handed his MasterCard to her, seeing that the intersecting circles on it had become her breasts.
She took the card away
his watch said 10:47:05
and came back with a bearded policeman. "What's the trouble here?" the uniformed man asked in a genial voice.
his watch showed 12:00:21, the same backward or forward
The policeman reached for the handcuffs dangling at his belt. They were small and white, tied together by the laces—
Jeremy shoved his chair over backward, heard it bang as he ran for the door. The door had opened from the parking lot directly into the restaurant, but now it was at the far end of a long corridor. Shots reverberated behind him, the vibrations felt through the soles of his shoes as he thrust his shoulder against the door.
In his tangled sheets Jeremy whimpered.
The door burst open, and Jeremy pitched forward off a ledge. He held his breath. The water was cold but not deep; not far above his head he saw the mirror of the surface, surprisingly clear, reflecting perfectly his upturned face, his streaming hair, each rising bubble also a descending pearl. Those are pearls that were his eyes. He fought to keep from breathing, felt himself rising with an agonizing deliberation through the water. If only he could wait it out. He could use that big black piano as a raft—
Piano? He frowned. Above him, his inverted image frowned back, eyes flashing. Beware, beware, his flashing eyes, his floating hair. What was there about a piano? No, it was a boat, on a coal-black ocean. That was it. A car with eyes like a shark. Sharks.
Jeremy nervously looked down, at nothing, at fathoms of nothing, silver shading to dusty blue to far dim midnight, way down between his dangling bare feet. He was really in deep this time. If the coach criticized his diving form, he'd damn well quit the team. Who needed tower diving with finals coming up, and Christmas—
That was eight years ago. That was in college, for crying out loud.
—coming up. Coming up fast now. Jeremy looked up. He saw himself reaching down for his own outstretched hands, and on the reflected face (a bearded face! his own face!) a demonic grin stretched, a grin he could not feel.
Jeremy went cold enough to freeze the water, and suddenly he knew he didn't want those hands closing around his wrists. He bent at the waist, pointed his feet up, and dived down into the darkness, dived knowing he was dying, losing his air, already past the point of resurfacing, already
falling faster and faster, from miles above the earth. A toy landscape grew to be real, a small pond (the eye of God) benign and blue one second, expanded, ready to swallow him the next. If he hit the water, he might live. If he missed the rocks, he might make it.
But the wind in his face was like a knife, slicing his eyes, making tears flow like blood, forcing them back along his temples, feeling like wounds opening in the flesh, drying before they could be blown off, and he knew he could not hit the pond.
He must not hit the pond. He would break it, break through, meet himself coming and going.
Somewhere there were baby shoes.
The only alternative was the rocks, and at the last possible moment he twisted, rolled, saw the pond water thrash in outraged disappointment, saw the rocks rush at him, pointed, deadly
"You'll be safe in here."
Beside his car, a stranger, holding the door open. Not the car door, just a door frame, a door ajar, door to nowhere? Jeremy blinked. Yes, a door frame, made of white pine, unfinished, set up on the asphalt of the parking lot. On the ground in front of the frame Jeremy could see a tuft of grass, green-bladed but red-streaked, a white flattened cigarette butt, the tab-pull from a beer can. And among it all a night beetle the length of the last joint of his little finger, a ridged blackish-green capsule, hurrying along like a miniature buffalo—all on this side.
On the far side of the frame, nothing. No thing.
The doorkeeper wore a faded purple robe. He was bareheaded, shock-haired, bearded. Teeth gleamed white through the whiskers. "Safe. Through here. Come on."
A hand closed on Jeremy's shirt, dragging him toward the doorway.
Jeremy grasped the wrist, felt its bones hard in his hand, felt the other's warm breath close against his cheek, looked into the other's face
it is his face, his own, but bearded
screamed, fell, screamed
he wants to go through
no, remember the shoes
"—God!" Jeremy Sebastian Moon found himself sitting up in bed, sweat-soaked and shaking. He gasped for breath, felt his heart leaping like something that wanted out of his chest. He ran a hand through his wet hair and said, "Oh, shit."
The red digits of the bedside clock winked over to 3:02 A.M. , the sigh of the heat vent overcame the thudding of his blood in his ears, and the dim outline of the bedroom windows registered.
He took a long, shaky breath. It was 3:02—no, now it was 3:03—dark in the middle of a workday morning. He had to be at Taplan and Taplan in just under six hours.
Moon swung his feet out of bed, pushed up, and padded barefoot into the bathroom. Standing on the cold tiles, he urinated, flushed, grabbed a still-damp towel off the shower-curtain rod, and rubbed his chest and belly. In the chill air he could smell the sour tang of his own sweat. He glared at his image in the mirror, wild-haired, thin-faced, pale, eyes thumbprinted by sleep, and he saw in it the memory of that other face, the bearded one. Gooseflesh made a relief map of his upper arms.
"Another late night special," he muttered to his reflection. It stared mutely back, offering no word of comfort or advice. Moon drank a glass of water, put his thumb on the light switch, hesitated, and finally left the bathroom light on. But he pulled the door almost shut, leaving only a wedge of light. The bed looked as if he had fought a battle in it—and in a sense, he supposed, he had. He tugged ineffectively at the covers, found an opening, and slipped in. The bedside clock said 3:09. His pulse rate, he guessed, was still above ninety.
Moon watched the minutes flick past. At four-thirty he decided he would get no more sleep that night, but sometime before five, he slipped back into slumber, this time, blessedly, one that brought with it no dreams.
The clock woke Moon again at seven-fifteen, and he got up with a dry mouth and the springy, drunk-like feeling of too little sleep in his head. His stomach lurched at the thought of breakfast. He settled instead for an extra-long and extra-hot shower and a new blade cartridge for his razor. He scowled into the mirror as he shaved. How many more nights like this could he take? But the hand with the razor was steady, the harrowed rectangles of skin visible through the lather showing no nicks. He dressed and checked his pocket reminder before slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket. December 21: Robinard, the wine people, today. Albert Robinard, despite the French pronunciation he insisted on for his Christian name, was a Savannah yachtsman who cultivated a casual elegance and a taste for underage blonds. Moon considered his clothes. His dark gray slacks, pale blue shirt, navy-blue tie, and gray tweed blazer seemed all right, enough to put Robinard at ease without making it seem as if Moon were trying to outclass the yachtsman.
Excerpted from Moon Dreams by Brad Strickland. Copyright © 1988 Brad Strickland. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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