A couple of days ago I shared on the Twitterer that I had a dream that went something like this. I have a story that I’ve finished and I want somebody to read it. But not just anybody. I wanted Berthold Gambrel to read it. Why? Because I had tried to write a funny story and, as Berthold knows, I really struggle with finding humor in stories, even when it is intended. But Berhold. He likes funny stories. Has written a few himself and counts P.G. Wodehouse as probably his favorite writer. (Hope I got that right.)
So, in this dream, I am standing there with my story and Berthold approaches me. I ask him to read my story and let me know what he thinks. And then I wake up not knowing what he had to say about my story. Berthold, of course, jumped into the breach and began a thing. What follows is something, I’m not sure what, but he and I traded a few bits and pieces and here it is, in all it’s unedited glory. The thing is though … it’s not finished. It’s clearly not finished. (My apologies for the inconsistent formatting. A glitch between OneDrive and WordPress that I can’t figure out.)
Paxton Marcus awoke drenched in sweat. He had been dreaming he was furiously typing out
the final pages of a comedic masterpiece; a novel of such gut-busting hilarity it would put P.G.
Wodehouse to shame. He had finished the final zany denouement, in which all the plot threads
resolved themselves. Erica’s pet poodle… the mystery of the missing Santa Claus magnet…
and the longstanding misunderstanding between Leslie and Johansson… all had been neatly
resolved in a beautifully orchestrated symphony of Pythonesque humor.
But already, he could feel the details slipping. His perfectly composed masterpiece was fading
quickly into that oblivion into which all dreams must fade.
“No!” he cried aloud. Then, realizing it was 4AM and he must not wake his wife, or their cat,
German Shepherd, he quickly cut off his cry. He eased himself out of bed and walked slowly,
softly, into his study, where he opened his laptop and pulled up a blank document. Quickly, the
began to jot down as many details of the story as he could remember. Let’s see now… there was
certainly a cake, he was sure about that. And there was a pineapple stand where they dipped
their fruit in pizza sauce… but even as he frantically put these things down, he could feel it all
becoming fuzzier, more distant.
His head fell into his hands. It couldn’t be…. This was it. It had been the story, he was sure of it.
And now it all faded away into gauzy ephemera and half-recalled feelings. He forlornly
scratched at German Shepherd’s ears as she strolled up beside him.
He was about to give up hope when suddenly he remembered something else: In his dream, he
had given his story to a man he knew named Bertrand Gumball who styled himself as a literary
critic. It was of course, only a dream. But… perhaps… just perhaps it was a hint. Perhaps Mr.
Gumball himself knew something of the story.
Marcus was desperate, so he decided to try. Quickly, he hammered out a message to Mr.
Gumball, outlining his situation. He didn’t really expect a reply, so as soon as it was sent, he
resumed scratching German Shepherd’s ear and staring sadly at the page of hastily-written
A ding from his computer alerted him to a reply from Gumball. It began, as was not unusual for
a Gumball message, with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft:
“Dreams are older than brooding Tyre, and garden-girdled Babylon.”
I, too, have dreamt of reviewing your manuscript. I seem to remember I liked it, but I
can’t recall the details just now. I am now in the state you humans call ‘awake’, so I
cannot read it. But perhaps, when I again venture ‘beyond the wall of sleep, as Lovecraft
put it, I shall once more be able to access it.
That was better than nothing, Marcus thought. It would at least give him some hope that all was
not lost, that perhaps this story—THE story—might be recovered.
It was not until he was once again in bed, German Shepherd curled up at his feet, and gently
drifting off, that another thought occurred to him.
Hadn’t Bertrand Gumball died years ago?
* * * * *
For it was true, Gumball had died a horrible death on the winding, fog-filled roads of the Mendocino coast.
But was he really dead? For what is death but a temporary state? Or, as Stephen King has said:
“There was a lot they didn’t tell you about death, she had discovered, and one of the biggies was how long it took the ones you loved most to die in your heart.”
And so it was that Gumball never lost the hearts of those he loved, even as a moldering corpse, or was lost by those he loved.
He lived on in a way. Maybe it was felt most towards the end of each October when his home in the wilds of Ohio was lit up, even years after his passing, with pumpkins and ghosts and black cats. Oh my! Gumball was nothing if not a fanatic for the holiday. Known alternatively among his friends as Pumpkinhead, he surely was still alive in those wind-swept Fall days that led to Old Hallow’s Eve.
Surely he was. Ol’ Pumpkinhead still lived. There were times when those who set up cameras to catch wildlife in their yards and their farms posted videos that went viral, and all too frequently, there was an image to be seen. Of an eerie orange face, with a gap-toothed smile leering out as it sped across the screen. Pumpkinhead had returned.
Every year, this was so. Why couldn’t, therefore, Marcus believe it was possible that he would hear from Gumball, finally, about his story. Whether or not the story even existed. and so, when the next Hallow’s Eve arrived, Marcus waited. For surely, on such a night, as the Ol’ Pumpkinhead flew by, Gumball the critiquer would drop some notes down Marcus’s chimney, or maybe leave those notes behind in his treat bowl.
Surely this was so, for wasn’t it the renowned actress Natalie Portman who once said:
“Lying is the most fun a woman can have without taking her clothes off.”
Marcus grew impatient. Surely word would be coming from Gumball at some point. Eventually, as the Halloween season approached, he decided it was time to take a chance. So he booked a flight to Ohio, to find the mysterious Mr. Gumball.
It didn’t take long. All the local Ohioans told ghost stories and sang fearful songs of Gumball Manor, the high mansion on the hill, surrounded at all times by bats and jack-o’-lanterns. But Marcus was undeterred by any of it.
He followed the winding path up the hill, passing scores of Halloween decorations as he went, until at last he reached big door of Gumball manor. It was made of the finest oak, and had a huge brass ring mounted on the front that glistened in the moonlight. Not that this matters for this story, but it’s the sort of detail some readers demand to know.
Marcus tried the doorknob and, rather to his surprise, it worked, and the door creaked open, to reveal a cavernous room, mounted wall-to-wall with computer monitors. There were tables piled high with video games, books, and yet more jack-o’-lanterns.
Cautiously, half-expecting something to leap out from the shadows, Marcus approached the nearest monitor. It was black, with only some basic green text on the screen:
Bertrand Gumball Chatbot Awaiting Input
Marcus typed his question into the Chatbot … “What did Gumball think of my story?”
The computer hummed for a few seconds, the green cursor blinked at Marcus, a bit of steam came out of the CPU’s vents. Marcus began to worry that maybe he had gone a step too far.
After all, Gumball was dead. Was the story even a story? Or was it all just a dream? A wonderful, fantastic dream that he would soon wake up from. If that was the case, there were no flying pumpkins. No mansion on the hill. It was probably July, but certainly not All Hallows Eve. Marcus began to wonder … had he finally gone insane.
Just then, when that thought entered his head, the blinking cursor stopped, it froze on the screen. The steam stopped as a fan in the CPU’s innards clicked on, whirring to life. And then, the screen went blank before clicking back to life.
Gumball’s blog, A Fantastic Mansion on Halloween, popped up. Marcus stooped to peer at the screen. There was a new post there, something Marcus hadn’t seen since Gumball died an unfortunate death in the fog of Mendocino. The title of the post … Paxton Marcus’s Hilarious Tale.
For years, Gumball had posted reviews and critiques of books and short stories, films and video games. Literate in his presentation of his thoughts, those reviews were always a pleasure to read. Marcus couldn’t wait to see what Gumball had to say, forgetting, of course that if none of this was a dream, that if it was all too real, there was actually no way Gumball could have read his story, wrote a review, and posted it to his blog. He was … dead, after all.
Marcus scanned down to the line of the post and saw the first few words “… is an absolute abomination, a waste of words. I can’t believe I wasted my time with this drivel.”
I have so many ideas for where this could go.
There are a lot of issues we need to resolve. I mean I killed you and now I want you to read my story!!! Ponder those ideas. I may not add much to it until I’m back from NY.
This was a road with many twists and turns! I so know that feeling of having created an amazing story in one’s dream and then waking…oh no, it can’t be, it’s fading!! Personally I think the guy’s chat bot was playing its own game, he would never have said such a thing.
For a long time I rarely remembered my dreams. I’m remembering them more frequently these days. This is the second or third that has been turned into a short story.
Done that a few times too