The first part –
It was 3:15 in the morning on a muggy Thursday. The Village Inn on Yale in Tulsa, Oklahoma had four customers. None of them were drunk, normal, or fictitious. The coffee was hot and the omelets were delicious. No one was talking, they were all focused on the hot skillet in front of them. Noel Joshua Hadley, A llama named Llama, Pauly Hart, and Carol Baskins were all enjoying the bountiful food.
“Wait.” Pauly commented, on looking around for the first time since entering. “I thought they had permanently closed this location as a restaurant. Did they open just for us?”
“Oh yes they did. But they’re open now.” Carol said. “Does it really matter? As long as I get to enjoy hanging out with you cats and kittens.” She gave a little pawing motion with her right hand and smiled a cutesy smile.
Llama gave a low noise in his throat. “You know I really hate it when you do that.” Llama said, chewing and talking at the same time, a little egg falling from his mouth onto his tuxedo. Since his head was three feet taller than the collar of his tux, it spilled a little like a waterfall.
“Woah there big fella, you’re leaking.” Carol commented.
Llama looked down incredulously and, upon noticing the eggy mess, became annoyed. “I’m never going to get the deposit back now.” He grumbled.
Noel was pushing some of his omelet around with his toast and considered before saying anything. “You know. I don’t even really know how I got here. The last thing I remember was putting my daughter down for a nap. Really surreal.”
“Oh you’re not here at all.” Carol said.
“Wait, what?” Noel said.
“This is Pauly’s dream.” She smiled that smile again.
“Well technically,” Pauly began, “You aren’t really in a dream at all. It’s a little more complicated than that.”
“What do you mean complicated?” Noel asked, squinting his eyes, trying to understand the ramifications. He picked up his coffee and took a slow sip.
Pauly spread out his hands. “Well, it’s not actually happening right now at all. To me, it’s happening in a different place. See, right now, I’m sitting in an RV waiting for my house to be built over in Midway, Georgia. I mean, literally, now. But I’m also right here, right now, talking to you.”
“Woah.” Llama said. “You’re not here?”
“He’s right here, lovey dove.” Carol said and poked Pauly. “See? He’s not a ghost.”
Well, in a sense, I’m corporeal. But in another sense, I’m not. And it gets a little stranger than that.” Pauly said, leaning back and taking a deep breath. “So. Also, at this exact moment, there is someone looking at us right now. But… Not in a voyeur sort of way. They’re sitting in a chair sort of ‘watching’ us on a screen, like a phone or computer.”
“What, like a security company?” Carol asked.
“Probably some creep, alone in the dark.” Llama said, stabbing his eggs. “I hate internet creeps.”
“Woah there fella… Not a creep, just a regular person…” Pauly shook his head. “I can’t really explain it. More of a group of people all experiencing this at the same time, in different ways.”
Pauly shrugs and looks up at you as you’re reading. You’re surprised. Wait what? Usually third person semi omniscient never turns into second person in a story, but you’re intrigued. You read this last part again. Pauly asks “You know what I mean.” He asks you. “How can I explain it to them?” He winks at you, because you know he will. Speaking of that, he switches back to third person and no one is the wiser.
Carol and Noel looked up to where Pauly was looking. “Who are you talking to?” Carol asked.
“You wouldn’t get it.” Pauly said. Just then, the ketchup bottle did a little fart noise as Llama used the last of the bottle.
Stephanie, the server, came over. “Looks like someone likes ketchup?!” She asked, handing him a new bottle.
“Specifically Catsup.” Llama said, taking it and pouring some more onto his plate.
“Okaaaaay… Well I’ll be right back with some more coffee.”
“What’s the difference between ketchup and catsup? Carol asked offhandedly.
Pauly answered. “Ketchup is historically pickled fish paste, but specifically has developed into any cold condiment, but mainly a tomato based ketchup. Catsup is the nickname for the tomato based ketchup. So you could have Catsup or a tomato ketchup be the same, but if you wanted, say, just plain ketchup, I could bring you a mustard hollandaise sauce and be correct.”
“Well you’d be a jerk, but right.” Llama said.
“I know. I’ve been changing over time.” Pauly said. “I realized somewhere in 2014 that I needed to win friends and not arguments.”
Noel wiped his face, folded his napkin and placed it on his skillet bowl as Stephanie came back with the coffee. “Are these all separate checks?” She asked.
“No It’s all free. This is all a dream.” Pauly said.
“Riiight.” Stephanie said. “I’ll make it all separate then.” She smiled and walked off.
“It might as well be a dream for me too.” Noel said. “I really still don’t understand how I got here.”
“Oh it is. You’re dreaming as well. You’re still in the room with your daughter. You just put her down for a nap and you fell asleep in that chair beside her.” Pauly explained. “We’re experiencing a rare phenomenon called ‘Shared Dreaming’ where two or more people can experience the same dream.”
“Oh like the movie Dreamscape.” Llama said.
“Oh I loved that movie. It really made ya think.” Noel said.
Carol visibly shook as if she had spiders crawling on her. “Pshhh” she said, teeth clenched. “Mama kitty doesn’t go for creepy movies. Gives me the heebie jeebies.”
“You’re not a cat Carol.” Llama chided. “Quit appropriating their genus.”
“Felis is the genus.” Pauly said. “The Species is Felus Catus.”
“Whatever man.” Llama said, rolling his eyes. “You know what I meant.”
“Wait.” Noel said. “You guys are all over the place. And that’s usually me. It’s a little weird when… Anyway… What do you mean ‘Shared Dreaming?’ In Dreamscape, one guy had to enter the other guy’s mind by sleeping next to him, sort of an ESP trick.” Noel was visibly confused. “I try not to delve deep into a lot of stuff from CIA spooks, but there’s a lot of evidence that astral projection and remote viewing is real.”
“Don’t be alarmed Noel, I’m not doing any of those things. This is all simply a layer inside of a storyline. You aren’t really here, because, as I tried to explain before, this is a story that I’m writing, sitting with swimming trunks on, in an RV, in Georgia. I’ve got a peach mango ‘Bang’ energy drink next to me and I just had some of my wife’s homemade french toast.”
“Oh kitty, ‘Bang’ is bad for you.” Carol said.
“So is working with tigers.” Pauly countered.
“But I’m doing it for a good cause.” Carol said.
“And I’m writing about your life. Just a snippet. Just a tiny bit – the here and now.”
“But… But I’m fiction. I’m not me.” She gave a lugubrious pout and folded her arms.”
“You’re right. You’re probably adorable in real life.” Pauly smiled and patted her arm. “But this is just a story. Just a dream. I can prove it’s a dream. Here… Explain this.” He reached under the table and pulled out a nondescript black briefcase. Clearing away a large space on the table, he set it up and opened it. Inside were stacks of 100 dollar bills. It was just like every movie briefcase that held stacks of Benjamin notes. It was full to the brim and very clean.
Llama started coughing. “Holy jeepers!” He leaned back and thumped his chest with his hooves. “Where in the world did you get that? Has that been here the whole time?” He was flustered with disbelief.
Noel and Carol were also alarmed. Noel’s eyes were wide and Carol made strange little bird noises with a napkin in front of her mouth. Pauly pulled three 100 notes out a stack, set them on the table, closed the briefcase and set it back under the table.
“How much is that?” Noel asked.
A little over three million. What?” Pauly asked. “I told you it was a dream.”
The middle part –
It was 5:30 in the morning. Stephanie had been paid the three hundred dollars for which she had refused to accept it, then acknowledged it, cried a lot, said her thanks, and had gone home. Their new server was the regular morning server and didn’t want to help them because she knew Stephanie already got the tip. Llama still asked her for coffee every fifteen minutes or so and she grudgingly brought some over each time.
“Listen, here’s twenty dollars sweetie. Will you just keep coming back? Thanks.” Carol pleaded with her.
She changed immediately. “Sure thing hon!”
“I would hate to be her. What a job.” Llama said.
“I’ve been a server too.” Pauly said. “To them we’re called ‘campers’ and we don’t normally tip well.”
“”Yeah it’s a thankless job. And you never know what you’ll make at the end of the shift.” Carol concurred. This sparked something in Noel’s mind.
“Worst job in the world.” Llama said. “Nothing interesting and wonderful about it.”
“I don’t know.” Pauly said. “It was both the worst job as well as interesting to me.”
Noel piped up. “One of the most interesting and wonderful jobs was, no wait. Let me start again. I remember the worst job I ever had (besides being in the Army of course) was right after I joined the Army when I was in Israel.”
“I didn’t know you were in the Army.” Llama said.
“Yeah. I joined right after high school in 1999. I was discharged and then went to Israel over the summer of 2000 to kind of detox.”
“He joined up to run away from God.” Carol Baskins said. “Cause he’s a rebellious kinda boy.” She said it in a pretend baby voice that she knew Llama hated.
“Well not really Carol. I had just given my life over to God again after working in Israel. And I wanted to do something to really, you know, find myself. So I ended up working at a chicken farm near the Valley of Elah, in Palestine, Israel. It was possibly the worst job anyone could have asked for. Day after day, in exchange for my work, I was given room and board. It was really good food and was great in every aspect you could hope for except for the work itself.”
Llama cleared his throat. “You didn’t make omelets did you? Wait. I’m thinking it’s something a lot different. I have one guess.”
Noel continued. “Well if you guessed shoveling chicken poop, you’re right. It was nasty… And I don’t mean regular nasty… The nastiest thing you can ever imagine.” He looked at Pauly, “You’ve done some pretty awful things for work, but I assure you, no one can imagine… Well… OK.
“Oh you’re going to tell us about chicken poop as our omelets digest? You’re a real hero.” Llama chided.
“Sorry,” Noel said, and continued on, “Here it is: I get up at around four in the morning., cause it’s just so hot in the afternoon, so like we all tried to get our work done before noon. And they had hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of chickens. There were fifteen rows in this long building. Just full of chickens. And my job was to go to each pen in each row and scrape up this nasty horrible chicken poop.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Ugh.”
“But you were happy because you were serving someone other than yourself?” Carol pressed.
“I mean, yes, but not really. It was so gross that I was angry a lot of the time. And I put myself there. You know they didn’t have enough water for us all? Here in The States we shower any time we want, but over there I was only allowed a shower once every other day. So. It would be late at night and I would be sitting and looking over the valley – it’s the same valley where Saul confronted the Philistines, where David and Golliath fought. It’s really cool, like a natural amphitheater where you can hear everything. And there’s the Philistine army on one side, you know, just taunting them. Then there’s the Israelites on the other side. Anyway, it’s really cool. And I would just sit out there at night in the cool breeze reading my Bible. It was peaceful but really strange.”
Carol cleared her throat, ready to ask a question, but Noel was on a roll, reliving the experience.
“And you know. I was gross, just covered in chicken poop and reading my Bible and one day I looked down and I’m just sitting there and I see these three little red dots on my shirt and I’m like… WHAT? And I look up and there on the horizon is this massive black helicopter with dudes hanging out of the door. So, I stand up, Bible in one hand and put my arms up in surrender and they eventually just fly off.”
“What the hell?” Pauly said, unable to control himself.
“Yeah I know, kind of a weird little story to throw in the middle there. But, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so I mean, I really liked doing it, but it was so gross. Oh yeah, so at the end of each row I had the wheelbarrow, or whenever it got full we had to wheel it up this little steep ramp to the top of this absolute mountain of poo. And you know, there’s this mountain of poo and it’s super hot outside and so it’s baking and it’s got this hard crust, but boy, if you fall in, it’s all over… Underneath the crust, it’s still the slimy, stinky, nasty, slick chicken poo. Oh boy, I mean. Wow, the grossest thing ever.”
Noel took another sip of coffee then and peered out the window, still lost in the moment. The others were quiet as well. They hadn’t heard this about Noel yet. Not a lot of people had. Pauly sure hadn’t and that’s really what the dream was about. The fact that there was an anthropomorphic representative from family camelidae, a famous cat rescue TV personality and himself sitting in a closed restaurant should have been par for the course… But just to recognize the mental fabric of Pauly’s own dreams’ reality, his mind had stitched together all of this to make it make sense. Never mind that he heard Noel talking about it on The Unexpected Cosmology group chat just the other night, the dream had taken on its own form and function… And just like dreams, there was a before, a middle, and an after. This next part is the after part.
The after part –
The sun had just peaked over the horizon of LaFortune park. Towards the south, you could make out the pink monolith that was Saint Francis Hospital. There were people inside the restaurant, having breakfast. They had filed in one or two at a time. Old folk mostly, just getting out of bed and needing their morning fix. The restaurant was half full and Noel and company were the only ones seemingly out of place. More than one person had, upon going to their seat, taken a look at Llama and turned away in scorn.
“Horse lovers.” He shrugged. “At least I’m a white Llama.”
Pauly snorted. “You think you’d be frowned at more if you were another color?”
“Sure.” Llama said. “You think it’s a mistake that Boston Dynamics and Toyota have their robots be white?” He asked.
“Huh?” Noel said.
“Sure.” Llama said. “And did you know there are people calling it a ‘white man’s issue?’ That there is some sort of ‘entitlement’ going on with their ‘white robots’. But can you imagine if they had molded black plastic on the outside? Can you imagine the backlash about white people owning ‘black robots?’
“Oh my God.” Pauly said, slack-jawed. “You’ve really got too much time on their hands.”
“Are you kidding?” Llama asked, craning his neck down a little to Pauly’s eyeline. “How many Llamas do you know? Can you imagine the discrimination I deal with on a daily basis?”
“I really can’t.” Pauly said, abashed.
“I have an idea.” Carol said, almost sadly.
“Oh yeah, the whole Joe Exotic thing where he calls you a murderer.” Noel said. “That’s got to be rough.”
“It’s been a little while now.” Carol said, meekly. “Thanks for that. I appreciate it.”
“Yeah.” Pauly said. “Because of my Eagle-Barret syndrome I was ridiculed most of my childhood.”
“Sorry bud.” Llama said. “I think you’re alright.”
“Aw thanks guys.” Pauly said. “I think you’re alright as well.”
“Nice dream you had.” Noel said. “Glad you invited me.”
“More of a kidnapping really.” Pauly said laughing.
“Whatever the case.” Noel said. “You know. I think that in every story you write, I want you to include me. Like, I don’t care if it’s just some bum on the corner, like, I just want to be written in to the story somewhere.”
Pauly laughed. “What do you think I’m doing now?”
“Oh yeah?! I guess this is the first story, huh?” Noel said.
“Yessir.” Pauly said.
When the lightning flashed outside no one thought anything of it. This time of year Oklahoma had rain clouds every other day. Sometimes the lightning brought rain, but often not. It was awfully bright outside for lightning though. Suddenly it flashed several more times from the sky and finally over and over. Everyone in the restaurant stopped talking and looked outside. It was still clear but the lightning was striking the ground in the middle of the parking lot. A freak phenomenon to be sure. It flashed and hit again and again and again. It was strange enough that no one moved, they were transfixed and stared – most mouths wide open. It was supernatural to be sure… For there was no thunder… Just lightning. Bright, yellow lightning flashed again and again towards the ground, striking over and over in the same spot in the middle of the parking lot. As if in slow motion, or rather, the illumination coming back into focus from the brief blinding of all the repetitive light flashes, a figure emerged from the middle of the parking lot, right where the lightning had struck. Straight off the cover of Whiz Comics stood Captain Marvel.
“Oh good, here he is.” Pauly said.
Llama stood up straight, leaned over and looked out the window. “Is that…”
“Captain Marvel?” Pauly asked. “Yeah, that’s him.
“But… But I thought he was property of Marvel Comics?” Noel asked incredulously.
“No. I thought it was DC Comics?” Llama asked.
“Warner Brothers?” Carol asked.
Pauly laughed good naturedly. “Nah. He’s okay guys. It’s alright for him to be here, he’s public domain.”
The large figure in red spandex, gold boots, and white capelet strode through the front door and stood by the hostess stand. “I AM LOOKING FOR A MISTER HART!” He declared. His slick black hair looked greasy but in the kept up way that most men had it in the 1940’s.
Pauly waved a hand. “Over here Captain!”
Captain Marvel strode over to the table. “MISTER HART! DO YOU HAVE THE PACKAGE?”
Pauly pulled out the briefcase from under the table and handed it over.
Captain Marvel held up the briefcase with one hand. “IT’S A LITTLE LIGHT.”
“$300 dollars to be exact. I bought my friends breakfast.” Pauly shrugged.
“IT IS GOOD TO SEE YOU CHAMPIONING GOOD DEEDS MISTER HART.” He said and smiled. He turned to Llama. “AND I AM A HUGE ADMIRER OF YOUR COURAGE SIR.” He smiled at each of us in turn. “IT WAS GOOD TO MEET YOU ALL.” And he nodded at Carol, “MA’AM.”
With that, he strode out of the restaurant and stood in the same spot he had ridden the lightning in on. He tilted his head upward and shouted at the top of his voice: “SHAZAM!”
The lightning crackled for a bit.
The restaurant dissolved.
And I woke up.
Pauly Hart is a public speaker, actor, painter, singer, poet, and story-teller. His main focus today is writing. His latest works have involved novellas in the vein of “Classical Horror” from the Christ-centered world-view. The Horror story is the story where the character has to survive until the end. What better chance for survival than in Christ? Pauly writes not for the churchy types, but for those who would pick up a Stephen King book, giving them an alternative to the spirits. Pauly writes so that the Holy Spirit will have room made for him in modern day literature. He runs several websites all bent on leaving the mind of the atheist awash with the glory of heaven. You can find him at PaulyHart.com