What Lurked Beneath His Morning's Eggs
This morning, the only thing he could remember of his disturbing dream was that it involved a journey.
At his usual diner, over his usual fried eggs and usual dry toast, a ridiculous idea popped into his head as though through a hidden trap door at the base of his skull. To paraphrase: "Hasn't the time come to peel back reality and find out what's underneath."
Seized by this absurd idea, he put down his fork and closed his eyes, falling immediately into the clutches of a reverie that was waiting for him in the dark thickets of his mind. Perhaps it had something to do with this morning's forgotten dream.
Caught in a fast undercurrent, he felt swirling and woozy. This sensation swam and shape-shifted into the image of holding a gleaming scalpel in his hand. He imagined making a deep incision in the epidermal covering of the morning. The sharp blade sliced into what seemed like layers of skin and fatty tissue and peeled back the reality that included his plate, the table, and the steamy windows of the diner.
Opening up beneath this usual reality, was an abysmal internal cavern, a vast, possibly infinite, subdural void, crammed with an activity intensely palpable and impossible to describe. For an approximate sense, picture millipedes writhing and squirming over each other … picture a time-lapse video of entangled roots wiggling and writhing to escape their own proliferating bifurcations and interconnections and their condition of being trapped in black soil… picture the heaving, glistening, pulsating viscera spilled from disemboweled soldiers who fought in every war since the beginning of human time…
As he sat in his usual booth, this absurd vision recalled him to the dreadful wonder he'd felt as a little boy when his family moved from the city and he first explored the woods behind his new house, discovering things he'd never seen before erupting from the leaf litter, things somehow both hideous and jolly: silver dark streams, bent trees coated with lichen and moss, sprouting mushrooms, warty toads, whizzing insects, dead birds, live birds, odd shaped rocks and boulders.
After the nanosecond that spanned eternity, his plate with its egg-yolk stains, flecks of albumen, and toast crumbs forced him back to his familiar reality just as surely as the sunlight thrusting through his bedroom window had earlier this morning forced him back into his daylight consciousness after his agitated dream.
Like a wound observed healing over with only the faintest scar, the skin of his usual reality knitted together again and the vast cavity with its activity once again closed itself from view; in the next moment he wondered, "But have these crazy entanglements been beneath things all along?"
He looked around and saw this was true. The world as he knew it now seemed utterly unreal, charged with signs and clues of what lurked beneath its familiar surface, including the old man kneeling on the floor looking for the coins he'd inadvertently knocked off the counter, a squeal of truck brakes outside the diner window, and the sexy middle-aged waitress just now arriving at the table to retrieve his egg-smeared plate.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Bang, bang… The sound arouses her… persistent banging trying to get the attention of someone… as from a distant enclosure, a person pounding on a tough glass wall with a metal object.
It takes her a moment to realize it is herself out there banging. Ugh. She must reach herself. The banging continues. She makes an effort but discovers she can no longer walk. She begins to crawl, dragging dead legs. Bang, bang… Shuffling forward, she feels her legs now actually dissolving. Evaporating. The room grows larger. Its distances expand. With each movement forward everything seems further away. She must span these distances to reach the banging, which continues. Is it growing more desperate? Soon, the lower half of her body having entirely vanished, she advances, wobbling upside down on elbows and shoulders.
Soon even her shoulders, neck, and head have dissolved—leaving only a vain, invisible effort of straining forward to reach the relentless banging.
Like six monstrously identical copies of her passport photo, six full-bodied replications of herself stand in a circle. One of her copies, who seems annoyed, instructs her, "You need to remember the seminal dream." She knows what this refers to. A few nights earlier she'd dreamed something she was sure, on awakening, was a "seminal dream." But she had no clue what that meant. Now, hearing this annoying copy of herself insist that she remember the seminal dream makes the dream seem more remote than before. She has to get to the bottom of this.
As she interrogates the imperious copy of herself and the other copies, something unexpected takes place. The instant she asks a question of one of her avatars, she feels herself leaving her own body and entering the body of the copy until she can't keep track of which copy she is temporarily inhabiting and which of the six—or is it seven—is the not-copy original that is actually her. Of course all the copies are identical. She quickly feels dizzy, like a coin being shuffled around beneath a tin cup in a sidewalk game of chance, only here she is both the mover and the item being moved. That's bad enough. But worse is the heart-stopping, head-spinning discovery that she can no longer remember if she likes cauliflower.
JP Briggs is the author of Trickster Tales (Fine Tooth Press) and author and co-author of several nonfiction books on aesthetics and physics, including Fractals, the Patterns of Chaos (Simon & Schuster); Fire in the Crucible (St. Martin's Press); Seven Life Lessons of Chaos (HarperCollins), and Turbulent Mirror (HarperCollins), as well as Metaphor, the Logic of Poetry (Pace University Press). Briggs is a former senior editor of Connecticut Review and managing editor of New York Quarterly. He is a retired Distinguished CSU Professor at Western Connecticut State University and a fellow of The Black Earth Institute. His "Four Stories" appeared in Issue #49 and "Getting Ready to Go" in Issue # 54 of The Cafe Irreal.