Short Story: “Disoriented”

Ever wonder why you suddenly feel dizzy for no reason? [You can have this story read to you.]

by P. Orin Zack

“I hate it when that happens.”

Jordan Flemke was far too familiar with the shock of having his attention snatched from the warm numbness it had burrowed into to let it also shatter the dream he was in. But there was still something disconcerting about coming awake to the sight of the ground rushing up at you.

“A dream is as real as you want it to be,” he yelled, struggling to hear his own voice over the sound of the wind in his ears. “The trick is in taking control of it.”

His chaotic tumble towards what looked like the scrubby brown Verdugo Hills outside Los Angeles abruptly stopped. For the moment, he lay spread-eagled across nothing -catching what would have been his breath if this had been the kind of real that surrounded the bed he’d fallen asleep in the night before.

For Jordan, flying dreams were a form of nocturnal recreation. He’d long since figured out that any vehicles he found himself in when he realized he was dreaming were symbolic of whatever was driving his waking life at the moment. So the obnoxious rust-bucket stick-shift pickup from the dust bowl era, for example, was signal of the struggle he’d had to drag a former employer into the era of personal computers, just so he could explain why the man’s competitors were leaving him in the dust. Even aircraft figured into the metaphor. But naked-air soaring was different. That was reflective of being in direct control of the personal vehicle of his soul, which was why Jordan most often found himself soaring when he awoke within a dream.

Hurtling earthwards from a thousand feet up, however… now, that was a different kettle of fish. Fortunately, he’d had the presence of mind to keep from being sucked right back into the seeming reality of the deadly situation. Which left him with the question of what to do with what time he had left in this lucid dream.

He slowly turned a circle, looking for landmarks that might make for good aerial viewing. Southern California never looked this clear through the scratched window of a jetliner. A glint of late afternoon sunlight off the ocean caught his attention, so he focused on the thought of being over the coast, and shot smoothly westward.

Slowing, he started to descend, intending to land on a deserted stretch of beach, but just as he dropped below the rocky cliff edging the ocean, a wave of dizziness broke his calm, simultaneously disorienting him and thrusting him deep into the sensate reality of body-wracking nausea. He spun wildly, tumbling towards the narrow beach with complete belief in the deadly reality of the situation. He screamed in panic, his vision clouding from the strangling grip of his spasmed muscles as he succumbed to the overwhelming nausea. And then, when he was scant inches from the ground –

-Jordan opened his eyes to a darkened bedroom, still struggling to breathe through the nausea of dizzying disorientation. The room spun crazily. He pushed himself upright, propping his back against the wall, panting from the exertion. He squeezed his eyes shut, and concentrated on breathing. “One,” he rasped, forcing an unsteady breath. “Two…”

Nothing like this had ever happened before. Not straddling the threshold of consciousness like this. Sure, he’d felt waves of dizzy before, both in dream and while awake. And sure, he knew that both kinds meant the exact same thing: that something had altered the reality he was in at the time. But it had never straddled realities, never hit him so hard that he had trouble remembering his own name.

“Jordan,” he told himself calmly. “I’m Jordan Flemke. And unless something has gone horribly wrong, I’m still sitting on the third rock from a small star called Sol.” The more important question, he told himself silently, was what had changed on that rock. What was different this morning than it had been last night after he sent his last email and set his laptop down on the bed stand?

Afraid to peer into what might have become of the wider world on an empty stomach, Jordan did not grab the laptop before dressing and check the newswire, nor did he read his email. Instead, he left the unit behind, grabbed his robe, and headed for the kitchen. But after filling the kettle, he hesitated a moment before opening the refrigerator and closed his eyes for calm.

Reality shifts weren’t always dramatic. Those he’d experienced during dream were inherently broader in their effects, because of the greater elasticity of realities not shared by multitudes. And truth be told, the vast majority of times that he’d noted a passing wave of dizzy in his waking hours, nothing seemed to have changed at all. But that did not convince him that no change had occurred, merely that whatever it was that had changed was either inconsequential, or that the change was only evident elsewhere on the planet.

He’d made the mistake of telling a co-worker about a shift not too long ago. The change had seemed so trivial that he figured he could bury his fears in the humor of it. After all, what was the big deal about the ice cream suddenly coming in a smaller package? It’s not like chocolate had disappeared from the world. Still, the man’s reaction to Jordan’s playful suspicion that evil forces had swept in during the night and shrunk his supply of fudge ripple was anything but comical.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than worry about ice cream,” Bob had replied angrily. The rest of the day hadn’t gone much better.

Steeling himself, he opened the door, and pulled out a fresh carton of eggs. The packaging looked the same as ever, and they were still packed in dozens, but the eggs had shrunk this time. Where before they had filled the little cardboard depressions, now they were narrower.

“Great,” he said. “It’s not bad enough the dollar’s going to hell, now the eggs have been devalued.”

Amused by the change, and relieved that it had turned out to be inconsequential, Jordan relaxed and started his morning ritual of four strips of bacon, two – now three – scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and coffee.

While the bacon was frying, he stepped outside to get the morning newspaper. It had been tossed in the bushes, as usual, but the plastic bag was missing, so the outside was soggy. Returning to the kitchen, he unfolded the paper, glanced at the headline, and froze.

“What?” he said, and read it again. One of the largest employers in the state had just announced that it was shutting its doors and laying off fifty thousand workers worldwide. His employer. Which meant there wasn’t much point to be in any rush to face the traffic today. Dispirited, he sighed wearily, and trudged back inside. Laid off. Out of work, and without so much as a hint of warning. Well, that was that, he grumbled silently. The reality shift that had shaken him out of that dream was a real beauty.

Jordan let the tabloid slip from his fingers as he crossed the hallway and rounded the fridge to the stove. The bacon was due to be flipped, but instead of reaching for a spatula, he just stood there and watched it crinkle. The hiss of frying grease soothed him like the hush of waves on a beach. In seconds, he’d zoned out, and would have happily watched the room fill with smoke if it hadn’t been for the irritating jangle of the wall phone.

He dragged the pan from the burner as he turned to get the call. It was definitely not turning out to be one of his better days. Lifting the handset, he hoped it was just another lost motorist, hoping that the lock shop, which once had the number, was still in business.

“Yeah?” he said flatly.

The caller hesitated briefly. “Um,” the voice said, uncertainly. “Have I got the right number? I was looking for Jordan Flemke.”

“You did. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m calling from her office. There’s been some-.”

“Her?” Jordan parroted. “Oh crap.”

Copyright 2008 by P. Orin Zack


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