ETWG First Chapter Award: The Girl Who Watched Over Dreams
July 18, 2016
The Girl Who Watched over Dreams by Jeff Russell is the Second Place Winner in the Mystery/Thriller Category of Published Books in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
What if a person could live in their dreams? What if the power of imagination could erase the inequities of life? The staff at Eden Perpetual Life Care makes that possible and Katrina Hammond turns to them when nothing else can ease the pain of her mother’s progressive illness.
The residents of Eden live in a medically-induced dream state, a fantasy world based on their secret desires. They are freed from the torments of their physical existence but at a terrible price, for where her mother goes Kat cannot follow.
When Eden offers Kat the position of in-house neurologist, letting her pursue her vocation while watching over her mother’s dreams, she reluctantly agrees. And when investigative reporter Morgan Brewer shows Kat what it means to be young and alive her own dreams start coming true.
But dreams are not always what they seem. An anomaly in the brainwave patterns of some residents suggests subconscious distress, and when Kat defies management’s order not to probe deeper she discovers something sinister taking place behind the pristine walls of Eden.
Unsure of what to believe or who to trust she must now find a way to rescue her mother and the other residents before she herself becomes trapped in their perpetual nightmare.
Award-Winning First Chapter
They sat across from each other in a dimly lit office. Neither spoke. The man behind the desk wore his shirt collar open, the other wore a bowtie that matched the grey in his neatly-trimmed beard. The first appeared weary, his eyes momentarily turned away. The other man waited, his face stern and resolute, his hands folded across a stack of documents sitting on his lap. Moonlight streaming through the window complemented the light of a brass desk lamp. In time the man behind the desk sighed heavily and faced his guest.
“My apologies for the late hour,” he said. “It has been a very trying day, but the review board appears satisfied and that is good news.” He offered a smile that was not returned. “But I’m sure you didn’t come to talk about that. What’s on your mind?”
The other man leaned forward, his eyes focused and penetrating, his hands still guarding the documents. “You’ve ignored my requests long enough. I’ve brought this matter to your attention on multiple occasions and you’ve chosen not to act on it. I held my tongue again today while meeting with the board, hoping they would broach the subject but apparently they remain unaware. No more! I’ve sworn an oath to protect my patients and if you will not assist in that process then I must proceed on my own.”
“Let’s remain calm,” his adversary replied. “What are you talking about?”
“You know damn well what I’m talking about! These!” He clutched the folders and pointed them like a sword grasped in both hands. “Residents going in for simple remediation but then experiencing an alarming degradation in brainwave activity. Carlson, Winthrop and Ogdon. And maybe Hodges. You promised these people dreams, dammit! Pleasant dreams, simple fantasies. But that’s not what I’m seeing. I see neurological distress, I see people suffering, I see a major flaw in your grand scheme and I intend to do something about it!”
The man behind the desk waited, showing no emotion, and once again the room fell silent. “These are serious allegations,” he finally replied. “Can you prove this?”
A confident nod. “Yes I can. I have enough evidence here to establish a pattern warranting a formal investigation and I intend to bring it to the board’s attention before any more damage can be …”
He paused, his head turned slightly to the side, his nostrils flared as he sniffed the air. “What is that? Is that ether?” Suddenly a hand reached around from behind and smothered his face with a thick, white cloth. When the struggle ended the man at the desk picked up the phone and dialed an extension. “We’re ready for you.”
* * * * *
Kat sipped her tea as she looked around the room, pausing here and there to marvel, reflect and reminisce. Her mother’s kitchen was a postcard from the past and Kat took her time admiring every simple, sentimental detail. Size, innovation and elegance mattered little here. Where others saw confined she saw cozy, where they saw worn she saw welcome, where they saw homely she saw home.
Gloria sat across the way and watched her daughter stroll down memory lane. When their eyes met Kat noted a bit less sparkle than she’d seen there earlier.
“Are you tired Mom?”
The soft curve of a smile followed. “A little bit, I suppose. It’s been a long day.”
Each precious word took its toll on Kat. The fatigue that accompanied her mother’s disease had slowed her speech, robbing her voice of its brilliance and clarity. The person inside hadn’t changed but age and affliction now made it difficult for that person to get out.
“I didn’t realize the university was so big,” Gloria continued. “Yes, I’m a little tired but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Her upbeat attitude could not mask the pain as she lifted her teacup. Kat felt it also, an ache in her heart as her mother’s twisted hands worked to maintain their grip.
“That was a wonderful ceremony. Imagine … Doctor Katrina Hammond. That sounds so nice. I am so very proud of you.” She carefully returned the cup to its saucer. “We’ve talked about this day forever; seems so strange that it’s finally come and gone.”
Kat knew the extent of her mother’s suffering and marveled at how she fought to hide it. A giant of a person in a petite frame, her mother would always be first to share the good times and last to share the bad.
“You should be proud of you,” Kat replied, pausing to take another sip. “None of this would have happened if you hadn’t given up so much to put me through school. You’ve been amazing through all of this Mom, really amazing. I don’t know how to thank you.”
Gloria waved her hand as if to flick away the compliment. The gesture was slow and guarded but whatever discomfort she felt did not reflect on her face or diminish her spunk. “You can thank me by putting your new-row-whatever smarts to good use. Do what you’ve been talking about all these years … make a difference! The world needs you, so go show them what you’ve got.”
Kat frowned in mock frustration. “Neuroscience, Mom. Remember? Pronounce it ‘near-row-science’ if you intend to tell your friends. And the world may have to wait a while. I’m fresh out of school – no one is going to listen to me yet.”
On saying that she bit her tongue, closed her eyes and bowed her head. When she looked up her mother was staring back, scanning her daughter’s eyes. Kat had learned long ago that mothers can read minds.
“I don’t want to hear that,” Gloria replied, her tone teetering somewhere between reprimand and understanding. “Not anymore. You’re a doctor now and need to act that way and talk that way.” The words were muted but the message was clear.
“You must believe in yourself Katrina. People will be coming to you for help, putting their lives in your hands. Those people will want to believe in you so you must also. Do you hear me? No more doubts. No more questioning yourself. No one is going to question you. Just talk like an expert and people will listen.” She followed that up with a wink, then leaned back in her chair.
The afterglow of a milestone day dimmed further as Kat watched her mother attempt to steady the teacup. Gloria noted this and once more the patient assessed the doctor.
“So what’s next? Have you heard back from any of the hospitals you applied to?”
Kat reclined into the chair and drew in a long breath, forestalling the inevitable. “No, but I’m in no hurry either. Now that I’m home I want to spend some quality time with you. I know that taking care of this house is difficult, with all the cooking and cleaning and such. I want to stay around here for a while and help you like you’ve helped me all these years.”
“And I don’t want to hear that either,” Gloria said, her eyes stern and focused on her daughter as if the issue was not up for debate. “I can take care of myself and you should be out in the world, taking care of other people.”
It was another familiar message, one they had hinted at in the past but fell short of discussing in depth for the sake of avoiding an argument. But the time had come; there was no avoiding it now. Kat leaned forward, folded her hands on the table and sighed. “Mom, you can’t take care of yourself. We’ve been over this. Look at yourself … you can hardly walk, you have difficulty holding things … your spirit is strong but your body can’t keep up. Someone needs to be here with you and for now that someone should be me.”
Her frank rebuttal prompted a tough, scolding stare. “Listen to me Katrina Anne. I didn’t put you through medical school just to have you become my caregiver. You have so much more to offer. When the time comes I’ll see about hiring someone to help with the cooking and clean …”
Gloria’s attempt to defend her independence was interrupted when the cup slipped from her hands and shattered on the saucer below. Kat dove forward and yanked back the tablecloth, trapping the tea before it could reach her mother’s lap.
“Are you okay Mom?”
“Yes, yes … just a little spilt tea. Nothing to get excited about.”
“Mom! This is what I’m talking about. You can’t take care of yourself. It wasn’t – what – two weeks ago? You dropped the kettle. They were second-degree burns! Even the ambulance driver said you waited too long before calling for help. How am I supposed to leave you alone?”
The ticking of the wall clock filled the void as mother and daughter faced off.