Dark Side of the Looking Glass

Dark Side of the Looking Glass

by Vernon Harris

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491716908
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/19/2013
Pages: 306
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

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Dark Side OF THE LOOKING GLASS

A Novel


By Vernon Harris

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2013 Vernon Harris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-1690-8


CHAPTER 1

Sunday dinner at Mattie Michael's house with the family was a once-a-month ritual. Momma started the meal with a blessing of the food. Then, as always, she asked her children how they were doing and what was happening in their lives.

Connie Jo, Sam's oldest sister who had just retired from the Georgia public school system at sixty, mentioned she had already begun volunteering her teaching services to a local adult-literacy program. "Yes, it is rewarding. I enjoy it a lot," she said. "And things are about usual with Ben and the farm. He hated to miss your wonderful cooking today, but it couldn't be helped."

Billie Jo, two years younger than Connie, said she was coping with her divorce from Jim. "One day at a time. The hardest part is the empty house." Both women looked strikingly similar: tall—unlike their mother at about five-nine—with dark auburn hair and deep brown eyes. Most mistook them for twins but in fact, BJ was a twin of deceased brother, Thomas Josiah, Tommy Jo.

Sam talked about his firm and how he was working on one of the nicest projects ever. "A government project in association with an Atlanta engineering firm."

Joli, Sam's wife, said that she still felt blessed to be working for the church. "The pastor and his wife are so warm and caring."

"What about Sam Jr. and Joy Linh Jr.? Are they coming in for your birthday?" Momma asked Sam.

Sam Jr. was his thirty-year-old son from his first marriage to Mary Sue Higgins. She and Sam had split amicably after five years of an on-again, off-again relationship that seemed to hold the allusion of a good marriage, yet one just out of their reach. After divorcing, Mary Sue raised Sam Jr. with his dad's full support.

"He's tied down by a highly sensitive government project, Momma. He probably won't be able to come unless something changes. Mary Sue called me yesterday and told me she got the same story," Sam said. Joli gave him a look. Sam hadn't mentioned talking to Mary Sue.

"Oh, really. Sorry to hear that," she replied. "What about Joy Linh?"

"She's involved in a summer program at vet school and won't be coming either," Joli responded.

John Strawder, Sam's longtime friend—a family member in every way except by blood—and his wife Noel, Joli's sister, had a standing invitation at the Mattie's residence for Sunday dinner. Momma Michael considered them her children. "And John. How's your and Noel's week been?" Mattie asked. "And Callie Lynne and John Jr.? What's up with those two?"

"Well, some great news from Callie. She's pregnant!" Noel said. All heads turned toward her. "Just got the word yesterday. Haven't even told Joli," she said, looking sheepishly at Joli.

"That is exciting news," Joli responded with a put-on hurt look because she thought she should always be the first to know.

Noel knew she was teasing and continued without comment. "She's due in February. We're hopin' for a Valentine birthday like she was."

"Well. Congratulations. John you got anything to top that?" Mattie asked.

"Not a thing. Nothing. All's about the same down at the federal building," he said. "Fortunately, nothing needs FBI attention right now."

And, as usual, Momma brought up Sam's brother, James. Sam and Joli shared a look. No, he wanted to say to her, he had not brought up his dream. It had been almost thirty years since James flew out of Saigon, headed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, his official last-known destination. His MIA status was yet unresolved, but officially, they linked it to his Vietnam action. Momma wished they would at least resolve it somehow. Sam wished she could leave it alone. But he knew she couldn't, and it was working on him somehow too.

Later Sam and Joli had a relaxing evening of television before turning in after the late news. Then he got hit with a body-slamming mother of all nightmares.

CHAPTER 2

As Sam drifted into unconsciousness, the incubus patiently waited for him. Burrowed deeply into the shadowed recesses of Sam's mind, it longed for another chance to latch onto his being.

Like a trap-door spider, the demonic dream weaver lay in wait to snatch Sam from a pleasant childhood dream. Sam's mind went into REM sleep. Seizing the opportunity, the thing caught him firmly; pulling him down, down into its lair, where Sam came face to face with his tormentor, a horrifying nightmare.

Fear gripped Sam, forcing him with arms flailing and legs kicking, into an obscure and unnatural universe. Panic paralyzed him, suspending him like a planet around a sun, in tethered helplessness. Terror securely held Sam captive in a bizarre state of deep sleep.

Fighting tenaciously for freedom, he wrestled bravely with his captor, but it was useless. He was firmly bound by unworldly restraints that shackled his imprisoned soul. Sam cried out for help, but no sound came from his constricted throat.

He struggled, relentlessly being pulled and dragged into the depths of ... where? Floundering and thrashing like wildebeest caught in the powerful jaws of a hungry crocodile, Sam was helpless against the clutches of the unknown. His screams went unheard in the nothingness of space. In front of him appeared a mirror. He saw his reflection grow larger, then like a dust ball into a vacuum cleaner hose, he was sucked into it ... into the dark side of the looking glass.

The fugue confined him in a surrealistic realm, a dream state of chaotic oblivion ... and yet somehow, one of ordered awareness.

The unseen power clutched him tightly with claws of steel, its grip unbreakable and inescapable. Sam's mind, his being, his soul, cried out for mercy from a ghoulish incubus that carried him through the darkness of a nether world, buoyed along relentlessly by raging streams of nothingness.

Lightning flashed from a monstrous thundercloud that melded into a black and starless sky. Angry seas trapped Sam in a violent whirlpool that pulled him down inexorably into another frightful dimension of existence.

He struggled to break free.

A gauntlet of ghastly guards dressed for jungle warfare stood at attention and awaited his arrival—their silhouettes illuminated against the fiery night sky. They growled like starved animals, impatient for a meal, and lunged at his prison wagon. But somehow, they were powerless to touch him—a pack of ravenous dogs held at bay by their master's command?

A massive double door rose up before the cart—behind it, the entry way to a stone castle. Built with ornately carved wooden staves cross-banded with iron straps, the door was guarded by a pair of gatekeepers in ceremonial uniforms. With great effort, they parted it in the middle, and creaking on enormous black iron hinges, it opened to either side.

The macabre entourage hissed and spat at Sam as they guided the prison cart over a drawbridge and through a darkened stone tunnel, into a hellish court. Looming in front of him was a powerful, huffing and puffing beast, an imposing cyclops that shuffled toward him, screeching loudly as sparks from its body sprayed the night.

The colossus called out to him, "Come, Sam. Come into my kingdom. Come see who I have waiting for you." It spoke with ... an Asian accent!? Vietnamese, he thought. Did it matter? Then, as if to answer Sam's query, a vignette of Vietnam battle scenes flashed across the backdrop of his terrified mind.

His paralyzing fear gave way to frightful curiosity. The beast's words were difficult to understand ... sounded like they were coming from a deep abyss ... Not sure of what it had said, Sam asked, "Someone to see me? Who?"

"Your brother James." The thing's voice was deep, resonant, consoling. "He's here with me, but wants to go home. He says it's dinner time. Will you come get him?"

Sam's heart leapt. "James? Did you say ... James? My brother James is here? Now? Where? I don't see him."

"Right here! Open your eyes, boy!" The inflection changed. The voice was taunting Sam.

"Where? Please show me," Sam pleaded.

But the beast spoke no more. Thick, dirty, smoke billowed from a tall crown on its head. Directly below it, one large sickly eye twitched and winked. A set of jagged teeth projected from a gaping bucktoothed mouth that sneered at Sam with a wicked grin.

Sam teared up from the sulfurous steam that spewed from its ears. The acrid smell of brimstone enveloped the area like a heavy fog. He could barely breathe. His lungs screamed for relief.

The sound of the behemoth's voice was now a deep, guttural chuff: "James, James, James ..." the beast seemed to utter as it came closer and closer. Then it bellowed a deafening howl as its yellow stare washed over Sam. He fought for freedom, but could not break free. He realized too late that he was on a collision course with the approaching horror! He accepted his fate, and then—thanks be to all that's holy—he awoke, muted screams filling his throat ...

CHAPTER 3

Sam Michael sprang from the bed like a freed jack-rabbit. Even the king-sized, overstuffed, pillow-top mattress didn't squash the hard jerk that he made as he flung himself to the floor. He had finally ripped free from the monstrous claws of the otherworldly incubus.

"Sam, you okay?" asked his wife sleepily. Only half awake, she saw the time: two o'clock.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Go back to sleep, Joli."

Sam lay there awake for the rest of the night. His mind tortured by replaying the nightmare. He heard her purring softly and knew she had finally gone back to sleep.

For over twenty-three years, Joy Linh O'Neil Michael—Joli—his soul mate, had always been there for him in times of trouble. Sam tried to comfort himself with that thought, but how could you fight against the unknown!

What was that!? Distinctly different in feel from a nightmare, these terrors were starting to happen more and more. He took to calling them his nocturnal excursions. But he couldn't be sure what they were. Were they trying to show him something? Was his subconscious channeling a message to him? Was it just his own imagination playing with his head? Or was this some real, alternative universe where he was being tortured by a macabre demon solely for its morbid pleasure?

When the sun rose, so did Joli. Sam immediately started talking. Joli listened patiently for a minute, then said, "Hold on, Sam. I need to pee."

He heard water running in the lavatory. The towel bar squeaked. She returned from the bathroom and sat back down on the bed.

"Now continue," she said.

The chilling aura that enveloped him as he repeated the episode to Joli in every possible detail felt like stepping into a blast freezer—instantly, the mind-numbing coldness overtook him.

Finally, after several gut-wrenching minutes, he concluded his story and said, "Joli, I ... I don't know what I'm going to do. Last night was the worst one yet ... but the most revealing."

"It must have been bad, Sam." She looked at him, concerned. He was shaking, trembling.

"I thought I was a goner ... no, really, I did! If it's possible to die from a nightmare, I was almost there. I just know it." Sam shivered again—from the unnatural coldness that hung in the room or from pure fear, he didn't know.

CHAPTER 4

It had been five hours since Joli heard Sam bound off the bed and hit the floor with a loud thud. Tiredness now clung to his body like a rain-soaked shirt. The dark bags under his bloodshot eyes sagged like two flat tires. He looked ready to collapse.

But what can I do? Joli thought as she took in the haunted image before her. I'm not helping him ... or myself. And I can't go on like this either, she admitted to herself. "I feel for you, Sam. I really do, but—" She caught herself. What am I thinking!? What's wrong with me? He obviously had a very rough night! And true, so did I because of him ... but now, I have to think of him.

Joli asked wearily. "Do you remember throwing yourself off the bed, Sam?"

Sam bounded back angrily, grimacing. "Hell yeah, I remember! What a dumbass question!" He responded much too irritably, yet persisted with a condescending tone. "And Joli, it wasn't the damn bed that I was jumping from."

"Do not snap at me, Samuel Thomas Michael!" Joli, the godly, patient, and always understanding life partner was instantly hot and barked back at him. "If not from the damn bed, then how did you land on the damn floor?" She highlighted the curse words that she almost never used. "And, Sam, watch your mouth! You're the one sounding like a dumbass!"

The blood drained from his face. Instantly, he regretted what he had said. "I'm sorry, Joli. You're right. Shouldn't have," he said, now sounding drugged. "But ... I told you about the thing—the ugly cyclops, shackled to a prison cart, the imminent head-on collision!" Sam continued his tale, but he was starting to slur his words. "Then, a blaring horn and the beasht wazh right ... on ... me! I had to break ... free ... and jump ... jump ... for my life!"

"Sam, it's clear that you—"

"What's clear, Joli?"

"Oh, nothing, Sam ... Never mind." She dropped her head in submission. She didn't want any more harsh words.

After a brief pause, she questioned, "Sam, are you all right? You sound funny, like you're going to pass out. Is anything hurting? Headache? Nausea?"

Sam ignored the questions, "I know whatcher thinking, Joli. I need ta shee a shrink. Right?" But he did hear himself: I'm talking like a drunk! he realized.

The caffeine from the two cups of Puerto Rican espresso he'd slammed at two thirty that morning, because he had not wanted to go back to sleep after the nightmare, was wearing off. To compound matters, at about five that morning, he had taken a double dose of an over-the-counter sleep aid to try to calm the jittery high from the strong, black coffee. The jitters finally faded about six o'clock. He was now left without any nervous energy and only wanted to lie down and rest ... but not sleep!

"Mus' lie down," he said as he slumped down on the bed.

"Sam! Snap out of it!" Joli screamed at him. She was not aware of the coffee that he'd drunk or the sleeping pills he'd taken, so she didn't know what was happening. She was genuinely concerned about what had come over him.

Sam responded with dull grunts. "I'm fine," he said. "Jus' skoffee and Shominex."

Joli stared at his blank face ... at nothing. His eyes were empty orbs. Then a few more impaired words slipped from dry lips. The trauma of what he had experienced and described must have struck him a swift blow.

She swung his legs onto the bed. "Sam, just lie there and rest. I'll call your office and let them know you'll be in later. And I'll stay here with you."

She, too, was nearly at her wit's end. What was happening to her man? Was it an early sign of a mental disorder? Was he having mini-strokes? He was definitely more depressed of late—with good reason, no doubt! I must get him to a psychiatrist, but can I hold on?

"Sam, should I call the doctor, or take you to the emergency room?"

"No, no, Joli. I'm okay. I jus' feel groggy, totally exhausted ... jus' need to rest."

CHAPTER 5

When he was able to get up, he stumbled to the bathroom to relieve himself and to freshen up some. Washing up at the lavatory, Sam looked at his tortured face in the mirror and didn't like what he saw. Calamity was staring him in the face. Catastrophe scowled back with contempt and a contorted grin. Being the kind of person he was, he liked to fix things, perfectly, himself.

Sam Michael was a logical-thinking, well-grounded structural engineer and owner of his own company, but now he was feeling concerned about his sanity. The battle that was raging in his head was fierce. His stubbornness and perfectionism, as inseparable as a boy from his dog, only made bad matters worse. The nighttime mind games were getting worse, and he knew he was teetering on the brink of disaster.

His type-B personality mostly made for great creativity and stick-to-itiveness, but now, it was his enemy, tearing at his insides with anxiety and depression. From one day to the next, his moods swung radically, from one extreme to the other.

"What are you looking at?" he asked the wretched image that stared back at him with haunting eyes. "I'm going to fix this," he blurted out in anger to the face in the mirror, but just as quickly he realized that he was beating his head against a wall and was losing.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dark Side OF THE LOOKING GLASS by Vernon Harris. Copyright © 2013 Vernon Harris. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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