J. W. Judge
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a vivid dreamer. For a time during my 20s, I started writing down my dreams. But that seemed to somehow magnify their intensity and creepiness, so I stopped. Then the dreams returned to their baseline weirdness levels.
More recently, I’ve started writing down dreams that are particularly interesting and stick with me. I’ve started letting my dreams fuel my fiction writing, rather than let them dissipate into the ether.
A few weeks ago, I had a dream that was graphic and surreal. I remembered every detail. And I had an inkling it could be the inciting incident for a much bigger story. It remains to be seen whether that last bit becomes a reality. Regardless, here’s the dream that fueled this particular bit of fiction.
[Note: I have adapted a version of this story to be incorporated into my debut novel, Vulcan Rising. Read more about the novel at jwjudge.com.]
I’ve also found that my kids inspire my writing. An episode with my son was the catalyst for what became a follow-up scene in whatever this story will eventually become.
When Your Dreams Fuel Your Fiction Writing, Magic Can Happen
Josiah and his wife were awakened by a loud, strange noise. Josiah propped himself up with an elbow, straining to hear what was no longer there to be heard. He had thought it came from outside.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” came the croaky response.
“Did it sound like an animal?”
“Don’t know. I was too asleep,” she said.
Josiah swung his legs off the bed and padded over to the window, where he peered through the blinds. The ground and trees were bathed in moonlight. Josiah, having forgotten to look at the clock as he traipsed across the room, judged that it must be very early morning now by the way the moon hung above the western sky.
At first, all was still and quiet. There were no indications that anything was amiss.
As Josiah was about to return to bed, he saw three figures in dark clothing stalk through the gap between his house and his neighbor’s and walk into the woods behind his house. Before he could comprehend what he was seeing, they disappeared into the shadows.
Moments later, Josiah heard an animal noise again. He was staring into the tree line but could see nothing. “Alright,” he whispered to himself, having made a decision about that to do next.
Josiah walked to his nightstand, pulled open the top drawer, and retrieved his Smith & Wesson .40. It had lain dormant in there a long time, in anticipation of a moment like this one. Josiah pulled on a sweatshirt, pants, and a pair of moccasins. With the handgun snugly in his left hand, he opened and closed the front door with his right.
Staying close against the house, he walked around the front and down the opposite side as the intruders’ route. He wished the siding were a darker color, to hide his movement, but there was nothing to be down about that now.
He reached the bottom of the driveway and stopped. Waiting. For what? He had no idea. He couldn’t very well go stalking into those woods with no light. Josiah realized that he should have grabbed a flashlight or headlamp. Anything that would provide illumination. He patted his pockets. He hadn’t even brought his phone.
So he waited. The only movement he saw was his breath emerging from his mouth and dissipating in the night air. Then a shrill animal scream ripped the silence apart. Josiah thought it sounded like a horse. Or maybe a donkey. Something in that family. Still, he could see nothing.
Movement. Emerging from the woods. Three figures. One was much bulkier than the other two. As they exited the shadows into the moonlight, Josiah could make out that the third man’s bulk was because he was carrying something. Something that was struggling against him.
The three men were moving quickly without running. And they weren’t moving in the direction they’d come from, they were coming toward his side of the house. Josiah had no idea what to do. Whether to do anything. They were closing ground, less then a dozen yards from the bottom of the driveway, where Josiah had all but made himself a part of the house.
As the dark-clad men came parallel with him, Josiah saw that the third man was carrying a horse. A foal. And a young one. Something was … wrong with it.
“Halt!” Josiah commanded, surprising himself and everyone else. All three men jerked to a stop, turning in the direction of the sound. The foal whinnied and bucked. It arched its head backward trying to headbutt its captor.
“Halt?” asked one of the men.
“Yeah. Stop.” Josiah found that his gun was raised in their direction. His hand was shaky, but he didn’t know whether it was visibly so.
The same voice said, “We’re stopped. Now what?”
Josiah didn’t know now what. He hadn’t had a plan to this point. “I’m gonna need you to leave.”
“What do you think we were doing?” asked a second voice.
The three men were standing in a clump. The man in the middle was speaking. All three were larger men than Josiah. Although it was difficult to gauge the size of the man carrying the foal.
The first voice suggested, “Why don’t you step out from the shadow and we can sort this out?”
Josiah realized his advantage, however slight. “I’m good. Put down the horse and be on your way.”
“Horse?” scoffed the second voice. “That’s not a—”
“Shut up,” the first voice instructed.
The third man started to lean forward as if to set the horse down. The first voice pointed at him, “Don’t.” And the third man stopped moving. “We can’t do that. We’re gonna take the … horse and be on our way.”
“No. You aren’t,” Josiah countered. He had no inkling why he cared what happened to this foal. But whatever was happening was inherently bad. Evil maybe.
“Enough of this,” said the first voice. He ordered, “Gary, handle him.”
The left-most figure began stalking toward Josiah, reaching into the front pocket of his hoodie.
A deafening bark. A flash of light. Gary fell into a sitting position, holding his belly. The sounds of the night had stopped. Or maybe it was just that Josiah could no longer hear them. His vision was interrupted. The imprint of a flame was placed over anything that he looked at directly. He could see in the periphery that none of the men were moving.
“Now, you’re gonna go. And you’ll leave the horse.” Gary had fallen onto his side and was moaning. “Set the horse down. Gently.”
The third man squatted down slowly, setting the animal on the concrete. Josiah could see it clearly for the first time now that two arms were no longer wrapped around it. It wasn’t a horse. It was … what was it?
“Y’all go on now. And take him with you.” No one objected. They got on either side of Gary and started trying to get him upright, to be his human crutches like a football player being helped off the field. But Gary’s clothes were glistening darkly in moonlight. He would have to be all but carried.
Josiah watched until they were beyond his eyesight. They walked into the shadows of the trees that canopied the street. A short time later, he saw taillights ignite. The reverse lights flickered as the vehicle was put into drive. Josiah heard the thrum of the V-8 engine as it accelerated and carried them into the night.
Josiah heard the front door of his house open and close. Agatha asked, “Honey, is everything okay?”
Josiah remembered the horse-ish thing lying in the driveway behind him. It wouldn’t do for her to see that. He shoved the gun into the waistband at the small of his back and thought about all the times he’d thought movies were ridiculous when they had somebody do that. But he’d never considered that there was nowhere else to put it when you didn’t have a holster. He was just glad the barrel wasn’t still hot. He jogged around toward the front of the house. His wife was walking his direction as Josiah rounded the corner.
“Yeah, baby. Just … um … a … uh … fox.”
“A fox? I was looking out the back window but never saw anything.”
Josiah was relieved. “Yeah. He had come around the side.”
“Did you get him?” she asked.
“Yeah. I need to take him back into the woods and get rid of him,” Josiah said.
“Now? Tonight?” she asked.
“Got to. He’ll attract coyotes and buzzards. You just go back inside and I’ll be back shortly.”
“Alright. Be careful.”
“Yep. Will do.” Josiah turned around to go the way he’d come.
When Josiah reached the side of the house again, he saw that the horse creature was standing, looking at him. It was young. Not more than a few weeks old. Maybe days. He just couldn’t believe that what he was seeing was correct. Wings. On a horse.
He walked toward the animal slowly. As he got about twenty feet away, the foal got nervous. It started looking around a little wildly and shuffling its hooves.
“Whoa, boy,” Josiah said, in not more than a whisper. He held out his hands in front of him in what he thought would be a non-threatening gesture. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just want to see if I can help.” He kept walking as he talked. The foal seemed to settle a bit.
Josiah approached to little more than arms length and stopped. They stood taking each other in. Maybe the wings were some sort of prank? Some attachment the guys had put on its back. None of this was making a good deal of sense. And why was there a horse in the woods?
Whatever the answer, this was a beautiful creature. All white with a pale mane. White wings that were folded onto its back. The moonlight gave it an ethereal quality.
Josiah started talking softly to the animal again. “Hey, boy? Where did you come from? Is your momma around?” As he spoke, he stepped forward and raised his left hand to rub its head between the eyes. The foal snorted and shook its head with the approach, but didn’t back away. Josiah kept talking and made contact. After a minute, the foal pushed back against his hand. With his right hand, Josiah began to rub its neck.
“That a boy. Nothing to be scared of. Now I’m just going to reach over here to your shoulder. Good boy.”
He didn’t know whether the talking was helping. It didn’t seem to be hurting though. He also didn’t know whether the foal was in fact a boy. But that also seemed inconsequential in the moment. Josiah continued to scratch and pet its head with his left hand, while migrating his right back to its wings.
“Holy cow,” he whispered. “Those are really yours, aren’t they? Yep. There. I can feel it coming right up through your hide.” A shiver crept up his spine.
When Josiah started handling its wing, the foal shrugged its shoulders and shuddered. Then it unfolded its wings. The transformation was majestic. Josiah took an involuntary step backwards. It was white as a ream of paper. He thought this was probably a dumb comparison, but it was the first thing he thought of. A wingspan greater than the length of its body from head to tail.
“Wow, buddy. That’s … I mean, that’s … wow.”
Josiah took to petting its head and neck again, and it tucked its wings away.
“What are you called? Not a unicorn. You don’t have a horn,” Josiah was thinking that paying closer attention during literature — or was it mythology? Whatever — it would have been helpful about now. “Icarus? No that’s a Greek guy. What did he do? Fly to close to the sun. Hang on. You’re a pegasus, aren’t you? That’s the one with wings, right? Except you’re not real. How can you be? I’m just losing my mind or something. Which is fine, I guess.”
The pegasus nuzzled him. “We’re going to need to get you back home. Is your momma in the woods? Let’s go for a walk and see what we find.”