What Dreams May Come: A Novel

What Dreams May Come: A Novel

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by Richard Matheson

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The New York Times bestseller


What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death.

But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and when

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The New York Times bestseller


What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death.

But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and when tragedy threatens to divide them forever, Chris risks his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair.

Richard Matheson's powerful tale of life---and love---after death was the basis for the Oscar-winning film starring Robin Williams.

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Tom Doherty Associates
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What Dreams May Come

A Novel

By Richard Matheso

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1978 Richard Matheson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1369-0


A blur of rushing images

* * *

"BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING" IS THE PHRASE. I CANNOT DO THAT. I begin at the end — the conclusion of my life on earth. I present it to you as it happened — and what happened afterward.

A note about the text. You have read my writing, Robert. This account may seem unlike it. The reason — I am limited by my transcriber. My thoughts must travel through her mind. I cannot surmount that. All the grains will not pass through the filter. Understand if I appear to oversimplify. Especially at first.

Both of us are doing the best we can.

* * *

Thank God I was alone that night. Usually, Ian went to the movies with me. Twice a week — because of my work, you know.

That night he didn't go. He was appearing in a school play. Once again — thank God.

I went to a theatre near a shopping center. Cannot get the name through. A big one which had been divided into two. Ask Ian for the name.

It was after eleven when I left the theatre. I got in my car and drove toward the golf course. The tiny one — for children. Cannot get the word through. All right. Spell it. Slowly now. M-i-n ... i-a ... t-u ... r-e. Good. We have it.

There was traffic on the — street? No, wider. Av ... e-nue? Not exact but good enough. I thought there was an opening and pulled out. Had to stop, a car was speeding toward me. There was room for it to move around me but it didn't. Hit my left front fender, sent me spinning.

I was shaken but had on my belt. Not belt. H-a-r-n-ess. I would not have been too badly injured. But a van came up and hit the right rear fender of my car, knocking me across the middle line. A truck was coming in the opposite direction. Hit my car straight on. I heard a grinding crash, the shattering of glass. I hit my head and blackness swept across me. For an instant, I believed I saw myself unconscious, bleeding. Then came darkness.

* * *

I was conscious again. The pain was dreadful. I could hear my breathing, an awful sound. Slow and shallow with sporadic, liquid sighs. My feet were icy cold. I remember that.

Gradually, I sensed a room around me. People too, I think. Something kept me from being sure. Sidayshin. No, re-do. Spell slowly. S-e-d-a-t ... sedation.

I began to hear a whispering voice. I couldn't make out the words. Briefly, I could see a form nearby. My eyes were closed but I saw it. I couldn't tell if the form was male or female but I knew that it was speaking to me. When I couldn't hear the words, it went away.

Another pain began, this one in my mind, increasing steadily. I seemed to tune it in as though it were a radio station. It was not my pain but Ann's. She was crying, frightened. Because I was hurt. She was afraid for me. I felt her anguish. She was suffering terribly. I tried to will away the shadows but I couldn't. Tried in vain to speak her name. Don't cry, I thought. I'll be all right. Don't be afraid. I love you, Ann. Where are you?

That instant, I was home. It was Sunday evening. All of us were in the family room, talking and laughing. Ann was next to me, Ian beside her. Richard next to Ian, Marie on the other end of the sofa. I had my arm around Ann, she was cuddled against me. She was warm and I kissed her cheek. We smiled at each other. It was Sunday evening, peaceful and idyllic, all of us together.

I felt myself begin to rise from darkness. I was lying on a bed. The pain was back again, all through me. I had never known such pain before. I knew that I was slipping. Yes, the word is slipping.

Now I heard a ghastly sound. A rattling in my throat. I prayed that Ann and the children were not around to hear it. It would terrify them. I asked God not to let them hear that horrible noise, protect them from that horrible noise.

The thought came to my mind then: Chris, you're dying. I strained to draw in breath but fluids in my windpipe kept the air from passing through. I felt thick and sluggish, trapped in density.

There was someone by the bed. That form again. "Don't fight it, Chris," it told me. I grew angry at the words. Whoever it was, they wanted me to die. I fought against that. I would not be taken. Ann! I called to her in thought. Hold on to me! Don't let me go!

Still, I slipped. My body is too badly hurt, I thought in sudden dread. I felt the weakness of it. Then a strange sensation. Tickling. Odd, I know. Ridiculous. But that was it. All over me.

Another change. It was not a bed I lay on but a cradle. I could feel it rocking back and forth, back and forth. Slowly, I began to understand. I wasn't in a cradle and the bed was still. My body was rocking back and forth. There were tiny, crackling noises deep inside me. Sounds you hear when pulling off a bandage slowly. Less pain now. The pain was fading.

Afraid, I fought to re-establish pain. In seconds, it was back, worse than ever. Agonized, I clung to it. It meant I was alive. I would not be taken. Ann! My mind cried out, pleading. Hold on to me!

It was no use. I could feel life draining from me, heard the sounds again, much louder now; the tearing of a hundred tiny threads. I had no sense of taste or smell. Sensation left my toes, my feet. Numbness started up my legs. I struggled to recapture feeling but I couldn't. Something cold was drifting through my stomach, through my chest. It stopped and gathered icily around my heart. I felt my heart thump slowly, slowly, like a funeral procession drum.

I knew, abruptly, what was happening in the next room. I could see an aged woman lying there, gray strands of hair across her pillow. Yellow skin and hands like bird claws; cancer of the stomach. Someone sat beside her, speaking softly. Daughter. I don't want to see this, I decided.

Instantly, I left that room and was in mine again. The pain was almost gone now. I could not restore it no matter how I tried. I heard a humming sound — yes, humming. Still, the threads kept tearing. I felt each severed thread end curling in.

The cold "something" moved again. It moved until it centered in my head. Everything else was numb. Please! I called for help. No voice; my tongue lay paralyzed. I felt my being drawing inward, totally collected in my head. Mimbins were compressed — no, try again. M-e-m-b-ranes. Yes. Pushed out and toward the center all at once.

I began to move out through an opening in my head. There was a buzzing noise, a ringing, something rushing very fast like a stream through a narrow gorge. I felt myself begin to rise. I was a bubble, bobbing up and down. I thought I saw a tunnel up above me, dark and endless. I turned over and looked down and was stunned to see my body lying on the bed. Bandaged and immobile. Fed through plastic tubes. I was connected to it by a cord which glistened with a silver light. Thin, it joined my body at the top of my head. The silver cord, I thought; my God, the silver cord. I knew that it was all that kept my body living.

Revulsion came now as I saw my legs and arms begin to twitch. Breath had almost ceased. There was a look of agony on my face. Again, I fought — to go back down and join my body. No, I won't go! I could hear my mind cry out. Ann, help me! Please! We have to be together!

I forced myself down and stared at my face. The lips were purple, there was dewlike sweat across the skin. I saw the neck veins start to swell. The muscles of my body had begun to twitch. I tried with all my will to get back in. Ann! I thought. Please call me back so I can stay with you!

A miracle occurred. Life filled my body, healthy color suffusing the skin, a look of peace across my face. I thanked God. Ann and the children wouldn't have to see me as I'd been. I thought that I was coming back, you see.

Not so. I saw my body in a sack of many colors, drawn up by the silver cord. I felt a dropping sensation, heard a snapping noise — as though a giant rubber band had broken — felt myself begin to rise.

A flashback then. Yes, that's correct. A flashback; just as in the movies but much faster. You've read the phrase and heard it many times: "His whole life flashed before him." Robert, it's true. So fast I couldn't follow it — and in reverse. The days before the accident, back through the children's lives, my marriage to Ann, my writing career. College, World War Two, high school, grammar school, my childhood and my infancy. 1974–1927 every second of those years. Each movement, thought, emotion; every spoken word. I saw it all. A blur of rushing images.


To dream of dreaming

* * *

I SAT UP ON THE BED ABRUPTLY, LAUGHING. IT HAD ONLY BEEN a dream! I felt alert, all senses magnified. Incredible, I thought, how real a dream can be.

But something was wrong with my vision. Everything was blurred as I looked around. I couldn't see beyond ten feet.

The room was familiar; the walls, the stucco ceiling. Fifteen feet by twelve. The drapes were beige with brown and orange stripes. I saw a color television set hung near the ceiling. To my left, a chair — orange-red upholstery like leather, arms of stainless steel. The carpeting was the same orange-red.

Now I knew why things looked blurred. The room was filled with smoke. There was no odor though; I found that odd. Not smoke; I suddenly changed my mind. The accident. My eyes were damaged. I was not dismayed. The relief of knowing I was still alive transcended such concern.

First things first, I thought. I had to find Ann and tell her I was all right, end her suffering. I dropped my legs across the right side of the mattress and stood. The bedside table was made of metal, painted beige, a top as in our kitchen. Spell. F-o-r-m-i-c-a. I saw an alcove with a sink. The faucets looked like golf-club heads, you know? There was a mirror hung above the sink. My vision was so blurred I couldn't see my reflection.

I started moving closer to the sink, then had to stop. A nurse was coming in. She walked directly toward me and I stepped aside. She didn't even look at me but gasped and hurried toward the bed. I turned. A man was lying on it, slack-jawed, skin a pasty gray. He was heavily bandaged, an array of plastic tubes attached to him.

I turned back in surprise as the nurse ran from the room. I couldn't hear what she was shouting.

I moved in closer on the man and saw that he was probably dead. How come someone else was in my bed though? What kind of hospital would put two patients in the same bed?

Strange. I leaned in close to look at him. His face was just like mine. I shook my head. That was impossible. I looked down at his left hand. He wore a wedding band exactly like the one I wore. How could that be?

I began to feel an aching coldness in my stomach. I tried to draw the sheet back from his body but I couldn't. Somehow, I had lost the sense of touch. I kept on trying until I saw my fingers going through the sheet, then pulled my hand back, sickened. No, it isn't me, I told myself. How could it be when I was still alive? My body even hurt. Proof positive of life.

I whirled as a pair of doctors rushed into the room, stepping back to let them at the body.

One of them began to blow his breath into the man's mouth. The other had a highp — spell H-y-p-o-dermic; yes. I watched him shove the needle end into the man's flesh. Then a nurse came running in, pushing some machine on wheels. One of the doctors pressed the ends of two thick, metal rods against the man's bare chest and he twitched. Now I knew that there was no relationship between the man and me for I felt nothing.

Their efforts were in vain. The man was dead. Too bad, I thought. His family would be grieved. Which made me think of Ann and the children. I had to find and reassure them. Especially Ann; I knew how terrified she was. My poor, sweet Ann.

I turned and walked toward the doorway. On my right was a bathroom. Glancing in, I saw a toilet, light switch and a button with a red bulb next to it, the word Emergency printed beneath the bulb.

I walked into the hall and recognized it. Yes, of course. The card in my wallet said to take me there in case of accident. The Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills.

I stopped and tried to work things out. There'd been an accident, they'd brought me here. Why wasn't I in bed then? But I had been in bed. The same one the dead man was in. The man who looked like me. There had to be an explanation for all this. I couldn't find it though. I couldn't think with clarity.

The answer finally came. I wasn't sure it was correct — but there was nothing else. I had to accept it; for the moment anyway.

I was under anesthetic, they were operating on me. Everything was happening inside my mind. That had to be the answer. Nothing else made sense.

Now what? I thought. Despite the distress of what was taking place, I had to smile. If everything was happening in my mind, then, being conscious of it, couldn't I control it?

Right, I thought. I'd do exactly what I chose. And what I chose to do was find my Ann.

As I decided that, I saw another doctor running down the hall toward me. Deliberately, I tried to stop him as he hurried past but my outstretched hand passed through his shoulder. Never mind, I told myself. In essence, I was dreaming. Any foolish thing could happen in a dream.

I started walking down the hall. I passed a room and saw a green card with white lettering: NO SMOKING — OXYGEN IN USE. Unusual dream, I thought, I'd never been able to read in dreams; words always ran together when I tried. This was completely legible despite the general blurring which continued.

It's not exactly a dream, of course, I told myself, seeking to explain it. Being under anesthesia isn't like being asleep. I nodded in agreement with the explanation, kept on walking. Ann would be in the waiting room. I set my mind on reaching her and comforting her. I felt her suffering as though it were my own.

I passed the nurses' station and heard them talking. I made no attempt to speak to them. All of this was in my mind. I had to go along with that; accept the rules. All right, it's not a dream persay — per s-e — but it was easier to think of it as one. A dream then; under anesthesia.

Wait, I thought, stopping. Dream or not, I can't walk around in my patient's gown. I glanced down at myself, startled to see the clothes. I was wearing when the accident occurred. Where's the blood? I wondered. I recalled an instant vision of myself unconscious in the wreckage. Blood had been spraying.

I felt a sense of eggs — no! Sorry for the impatience. E-x-u-l-t- a-t-i-o-n. Why? Because I'd reasoned something out despite the dullness of my mind. I couldn't possibly be that man in the bed. He was in a patient's gown, bandaged, fed by tubes. I was dressed, unbandaged, mobile. Total difference.

A man in street clothes was approaching me. I expected him to pass me. Instead, to my surprise, he put his hand on my shoulder and stopped me. I could feel the pressure of each separate finger on my flesh.

"Do you know what's happened yet?" he asked.


"Yes." He nodded. "You've died."

I looked at him in disgust. "That's absurd," I said.

"It's true."

"If I were dead, I wouldn't have a brain," I told him, "I couldn't talk to you."

"It doesn't work that way," he persisted.

"The man in that room is dead, not me." I said, "I'm under anesthesia, being operated on. In essence, I'm dreaming." I was pleased by my analysis.

"No, Chris," he said.

I felt a chill. How did he know my name? I peered at him closely. Did I know him? Was that why he'd appeared in my dream?

No; not at all. I felt distaste for him. Anyway, I thought (the idea made me smile despite my irritation) this was my dream and he had no claim to it. "Go find your own dream," I said, gratified by the cleverness of my dismissal.

"If you don't believe me, Chris," he told me, "look in the waiting room. Your wife and children are there. They haven't been told yet you've died."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute." I pointed my finger at him, jabbing at the air. "You're the one who told me not to fight it, aren't you?"

He started to reply but I was so incensed by that I wouldn't let him speak. "I'm tired of you and tired of this stupid place," I said. "I'm going home."

Something pulled me from him instantaneously. It was as though my body was encased in metal with a distant magnet drawing me to itself. I hurtled through the air so fast I couldn't see or hear a thing.

It ended as abruptly as it started. I was standing in fog. I looked around but saw nothing in any direction. I began to walk, moving slowly through the mist. Now and then, I thought I caught a fleeting glimpse of people. When I tried to see them clearly, though, they faded off. I almost called to one, then chose not to. I was master of this dream. I wouldn't let it dominate me.

I attempted to distract myself by making believe I was back in London. Remember how I traveled there in 1957 to write a film? It had been November and I'd walked in fogs like this more than once — "pea soup" is a good description. This was even thicker, though; like being underwater. It even felt wet.


Excerpted from What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheso. Copyright © 1978 Richard Matheson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Stephen King
The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson.
Ray Bradbury
One of the most important writers of the twentieth century.

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What Dreams May Come 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 104 reviews.
Maria_of_amor More than 1 year ago
Though Matheson writes this in fiction form, he uses a great deal of research in forming his theory of the afterlife. Anyone questioning their personal beliefs about this great unknown will find solace from reading "What Dreams May Come"... you don't have to believe this is how things are, but it offers a compelling and beautiful picture of what might be. This book was very influential in shaping my own spiritual beliefs. What I love most about it is that any and all religions, or people of no faith at all, can enjoy and be inspired by this tale. Even if you don't view this from a spiritual perspective, and you are just looking for a good read, you will be entertained. This is so well written and easy to read that it is hard to put down. Highly recommended. Most importantly, please don't judge this book by the movie. Though I'm a fan of Robin Williams, the movie really doesn't come close to conveying the deep spiritual journey the protagonist, (an atheist until death), embarks upon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel changed my life. Yes, my life. Previously having been completely atheistic, this book opened up possibilites of what life is really all about, and the hope that there is something afterwards that makes living actually worthwhile. This book gave me hope, inspiration, and something to look forward to. It gave me something to believe in, and something to put my faith in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Words cannont explain how good this book was. I saw the movie and thought nothing can get better than this until i read the book. Please read this is so sweet it made me want to cry. A tiny depressing but terrific reaaaaaddddd
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Draws you in from the first sentence and keeps you until the end. Loved it. The movie is also great and has a whole new take on the idea.
haleysname More than 1 year ago
It's been years since I have read this book, but I decided my nook library is completely incomplete without it. As others have said, I am and always have been an atheist. This has not made me believe in a higher being, or given me faith, but it has brought me to tears because it is a beautiful love story. That is enough to make me recommend it. It is well written and is told with an imagination that I wish I had myself. (BTW, yes this was made into a movie, and yes without a doubt, the book is better)
DeDeFlowers More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader and until reading this novel, no book had ever brought me to tears. I am in no way a religious person, so this book touched me in a way that is hard to explain. I have always been terrified of death and I'm not sure that I am anymore. That may sound really stupid and not make sense if you haven't read this book, but it's true. So, aside from just being a very well written and interesting novel, for me it was also life changing in a few big ways. I literally could not put it down. I feel like this should be required reading for all adults. It has beautiful messages that I think every single person would agree with. I have never felt quite so strong about a book before. Read this. It could literally change you life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is about the fifth or sixth Matheson book I have read and by far it is the best! What set Matheson apart is his excellent prose and compelling characters. In this one Chris, a family man and devoted husband, is killed in a car crash. In scenes reminicent of the hospital scenes in the movie Ghost, Chris's life expires (I am sure Ghost was inspired by this novel). Chris lingers around or should I say stumbles around observing everything including his funeral and tries to contact his loved ones to no avail until his son brings in a medium who can see Chris (again like the movie Ghost). Eventually Chris is able to leave Earth and discovers the real meaning of what it is like to be dead when he ends up in Summerland (a type of Heaven). There he is watched over and instructed by one of his dead uncles. Though Chris' new existence seems ideal, he misses his wife and feels that she will not be able to cope in a world where Chris no longer exists. His fears come to pass as she commits suicide not too long after. Chris then learns that death has rules governing suicide and that his wife cannot be with him because she is sent to another place. Chris has to decide whether or not to sacrifice Heaven, to try to aid his wife. However, even if Chris can locate her, there is no guarentee that she will even know him or that Chris will be able to escape from the dark place that she now resides in. The book is impossible to put down and makes us examine our own inner selfs more thoroughly! There is a poor imitation of this book (A Brief History of the Dead) that was published recently but it nowhere hits the mark that this winner by Matheson is!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want a real romance with deep themes, humanity, and true love, you must read this book. Even though it was, in parts, a bit long-winded, I was instantly pulled into it from the first page and was simply consumed. I read it within a few days and was in another world with each turn of the page. I found myself literally sobbing and sniffling for about four pages straight in which the main character, Chris, tells his wife all the things he's grateful to her for and why he loves her. The clincher was - quite arguably the best line in the whole book - 'Let this hell be our heaven'. There was no stopping the flow of tears. I felt remarkably uplifted, enlightened, happy, bittersweet, etc. when I finished it. And I think I fell even more in love with my own sweetheart, who thought it was a bit funny, albeit cute that I was crying so much. 'What Dreams May Come' makes you think, laugh, cry, cringe, and appreciate life and love much more than you did before. It did for me, anyway.
xFarFromHavenx More than 1 year ago
Before reading "What Dreams May Come", I had only seen the 1998 movie of the same name starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr. I was a bit hesitant buying this book at first, since I'd already seen the movie. Let me tell you now, that even though I was familiar with the plot and characters, this book was worth every gosh darn penny! I'm not a religious person, and I won't bore you with my personal beliefs. Let me tell you, though, that this book is truly an eye-opener. You will not regret reading it, I can assure you. If you're like me and you read fictitious books with an open mind, you will *not* put this masterpiece down until you finish it. In a nutshell, allow me to say this; read this book!
DW55 More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've ever read. Much better than the movie. I appreciate all the research the author did. Spiritually, it all rings true to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you saw the movie and liked it then you should give this short novel a read. It is different than the movie in many parts. But, I liked the book so much better because of the descriptive words used. It was easier for me to imagine what everything was like due to the attention to detail. I read the paperback version and enjoyed it immensely. -AvidReaderMS
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A truly inspiring and deeply moving novel
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my all time faves! A must read for everyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing
Julie Dean More than 1 year ago
The movie was horrible, read this! I love richard mathesons work.
MitchStone More than 1 year ago
...in a great way! While the movie had some unforgettable imagery and moments, the plot and character differences make the two works akin to distant cousins rather than identical twins. Or perhaps fraternal twins. They're both stand-alone works w/ the book giving you a greater sense of the immense research performed to write the book.
SandyBeecher More than 1 year ago
This book changed my life. Read it!!
Star_Dreamer More than 1 year ago
If you have seen the movie, you have not experienced this book. The book and the movie are so far apart it makes you wonder why they had the same title. I absolutely loved the movie, but I am in love with this book. If I could describe heaven it would be the heaven found in this book. I was captivated, transported and could not put it down, in fact I read it in one night. For me the book would have made just as wonderful movie if not better than the movie was. Once again you will really miss out if you don't read this book, and I am sure you will love it just as much or even more than the movie, a fantastic read.
Anonymous 3 months ago
After losing our dear friend Richard, I sought comfort from the deep grief I felt. This book is that comfort for me. I am deeply grateful. Thank you. TKD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very easy to read story full of thought and arcane significance.
fourstring71 More than 1 year ago
First of all, I never give a five star review for any book. Having said that... here's my review. With the preconception that a book is always better than a movie, I was not at all suprised to find this different, at least, from the movie. I feel that if the movie were made word for word by the book, it would have been great. I am glad the two vary in a way. The book is amazing in its own right. It also gets you thinking. Having the misfortune of dealing with the loss of my Father, I find the book gives a sincere hope; a ray of light stating there's always the hope that someday we'll all be reunited. You will do yourself a huge favor by making this part of your library. It will have you drawn in right from the get-go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will admit I read this book because I love the movie so much. Having read others' reviews of the book, I was not expecting it to be "like the movie" and was prepared for an entirely different story. I was not, therefore, disappointed that the book is unlike the movie. What disappointed me was that I found this novel wordy and uninspired. A number of other reviewers said this book "changed their lives;" I did not have that experience with this book. I felt like a lot of the story was utterly unoriginal. As a teacher of English, I have read quite a lot, and I would not count this novel among even the best 25% of my readings.
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