The Case of the Naughty Nightmare, Part 2 — by J. R. Kruze

(Continued from Part One.)

Finding a nude woman collapsed on the couch in his tiny writer’s cabin, the author finds she is physically OK, and covers her up against the chill.

In doing so, he also finds out that it’s someone he knows. Someone he thought was only imaginary.

And someone who needs help with the recurring nightmare she is having — about him.


The Case of the Naughty Nightmare, Part 2 — by J. R. Kruze


III

“It’s just not fair.”

“What?”

“I’m being stalked by a memory that couldn’t possibly have happened.”

“But how is that possible? Stories are able to remember and retell their stories a dozen, dozen ways — and are basically timeless.”

“That’s the problem — this is a human memory.”

“Which brings up the question — how did you become human?”

“Believe me, I was surprised as you are. Imagine, now suddenly I have to deal with eating, sleeping, health issues, how to find a bathroom, having a job so I can afford to eat, somewhere to sleep — preferably with its own bathroom…”

She reached over to grab her coffee mug. As I did.

After a sip, she continued. “It as when I started a series of non-fiction books with this other author. You’d like him. Tall, handsome, persuasive — a lot like you. Name is Ted. Anyway, we were going along and talking inside his mind, when he found a job opening for a psychology lecturer. It had been empty for a great long while. He’s a real gizmo’s nut. So he worked up an avatar for me, and a voice to match — pretty close to how I really look in your mind — and applied for the job on a temporary, out-sourced basis. For all that college knew, this was a real person with all these degrees and whatnot who was applying for the job. All telecommute, so videos were prepared in advance, and then assignments were to be submitted online, all very real.”

Joyce reached over to grab her fork and another bite of breakfast omelet-bread.

“I helped him with the papers, adding my two cents and how to phrase them. So there was real work, and a real job, and all of it was a complete lark to me. But then it became very real.

“You see, my lectures were well liked, and well attended. They were all based on research, but I was telling them as a dramatic story instead of dry prose. Something on the order of Gladwell’s books, or a TED talk.

“And then one day, ‘we’ got an email that they’d like to meet us in person since some journalists had attended the lectures on an audit-basis and wanted to interview me.”

She sipped her coffee again and looked out into space, collecting her thoughts.

“It gets sketchy about that time. Do you remember a movie called ‘Weird Science’?”

I nodded, sipping my own coffee. She meanwhile grabbed another bite, and then pulled our two plates back over.

“God, this stuff is so good. I know it’s your recipe, but I’m a better cook than I ever thought — well, at least with this dish.”

I had to smile at this. And enjoy the rest of my breakfast while she finished her tale.

“OK, so he had this kinda wild scene going on with a dummy that was made up with a wig and makeup, dressed to look like me — or anyway, what he imagined I looked like — and the face and gestures were all animatronic. Actually, the whole thing was just from the waist up, and had a green screen backdrop, so he just plugged in anything back there.

“It turned out pretty cool, since he had been already doing this stuff for years. And down-sampling the video into a grainy web-cam seemed to make it quite real. The news-people were told that it was being transmitted by satellite, so there was a bit of a lag in the responses. The questions had been submitted beforehand, so we had prepped answers recorded. And if they asked anything off the cuff, there was this pause where I could pretend to sip a glass of water while we figured out an answer. Ted would have the data and I’d tell him how to write it like a worldly, educated woman would answer.”

I’d stopped eating at this point, fascinated with the concept.

“Unknown to us, there was a huge electromagnetic storm overhead that night. And it struck his house right in the middle of this interview. The next thing I know, I’m walking out of his bathroom with his robe on, as alive as the next gal.”

She stopped to sip her coffee again.

“Meaning that now you’re a ‘real girl’ and all that.”

“Well, kinda. You know that movie — where Kelly LeBrock would do all those magic things?”

I nodded.

“That’s the sort of things that started happening around me. Sure, Ted took me out on the town, and I gave him some credit cards to use, and a nice sports car to drive. And he even tried to make out with me and take me to bed — but that’s where it got strange.”

“How so?”

“He reminded me so much of you, especially in how you treated me so fairly in our first book, that I couldn’t go through with it. Like it was somehow cheating or something.”

I had to repress a smile at this, “You know, I’m honored, but we’ve never really talked about this…”

“…and that’s exactly why, I figure, that I showed up here.”

Now I was stunned. Forkful of food went down on the plate, mug sat where it was. Time stopped.

At last, I swallowed what I’d been chewing before she dropped that bomb. “So where’s the nightmare in all this?”

“OK, if this isn’t enough, wait for the punchline. It’s a Pinocchio moment. Like ‘what would I do if I were a real girl?’ Only like I had that when I was a child.”

“Only you and I know that you were never a child — at least not a human one.”

“Right, so where does this memory come from, and why am I bothered by it?”

“Answer me this, then: what does this memory have you decide when you ‘become a real girl?’”

Joyce smiled, blushed slightly. Well, it’s got two parts — I meat a handsome prince, marry him, and live happily ever after.”

“That’s three.”

“No, that’s only the first part.”

She sipped her coffee again, while I left mine alone — in order to avoid having it come out my nose when she dropped the other shoe.

“So…”

“So, I’d take him to bed for a week and show him the time of his life.”

I was so happy my coffee was still in its mug.

IV

“But you aren’t.”

“No, but I should be. Maybe because I know so much about you that I know you’re earnest about this.”

“So, what do you think — and how do we get rid of this? I don’t want to go through the rest of my life with this nightmare haunting me.”

“OK, there’s a couple of ways we can approach this. For now, you’re a real human. So half of that Pinocchio memory contains the pretty honest urges any red-blooded female would have. Now, the first half of that memory — and also the last part — could have been implanted, false.”

Joyce brightened up at that, and then frowned. “Oh.”

“What?”

She looked up at me with a twinkle in her eyes. “Too bad. I was starting to look forward to it.”

I almost laughed at her honesty, except I knew her too well. “To be honest, and you know me just as well as I do you, that last part isn’t necessarily off the table.”

And finally, I felt I could sip some more coffee.

She just grinned. “Well, that’s a relief.”

“The other point is what was in that programming he built into that dummy — before the storm.”

“Oh, like false memories or something?”

“Or maybe his own ideas of what he wanted — just torqued to fit into the persona of the dummy.”

“Well, that would make sense. Especially when he made that pass at me. I wasn’t a ‘real’ person, so he thought he could finally live out his repressed childhood fantasies. And since I couldn’t go through with it, I’m being reminded somehow of it all the time, only I’m supposed to ‘do it’ with him, not you or anyone else.”

I took the opportunity to get another mouthful of breakfast while she considered all this.

“You know what — this is a lot like those false rape memories that witnesses come up with. Parties that never happened, or at least not that way and not at that time, or never at all. Being groped and touched and not remembering details of it other than certain specifics they ‘know’ to be true.”

I nodded. “Seems like it.”

She sipped her coffee and eyed her breakfast.

“So, do you know what happened to this guy?”

“Nope. Like I said, I woke up here, last night. In that storm.”

“Hey, do you remember his name and that course and so on? Maybe we could look him up.”

Joyce moved her plate and mug out of the way and leaned over to grab my laptop. “Let’s see — I’ve seen you do this enough. Oh, here we go…”

She flipped the top open and scooted her chair over closer to mine so we could both see.

I moved my plate out of the way, and my mug to the side. My arm went around the back of her chair and ended up on her shoulder. Not that she minded, she was busy typing in with a blur of fingers.

“Here we are — hey there’s his phone number. Let me borrow your cel.”

I grabbed it off the desktop corner where I kept it for recharging, then handed it to her.

She entered the numbers on its face and waited.

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Sure, I’m OK. Just fine. Hey, I’ve got a quick question. No, just hold on a minute. You owe me.”

“Yes, OK. Now — did you put a baseline of memories in that dummy?”

“Yes, uh-huh. Right. Was one of these like some Cinderella-Prince Charming episodes — happily ever after and so on? Right. Uh-huh. You did, did you? OK. Well, thanks.” And then she hung up and handed me back the phone.

“Well, that fits. You figured that right out.”

She closed the laptop and pushed it away again. But didn’t move except to pull her mug back to her.

My arm was still on her shoulder and she wasn’t moving out from under it. I could smell the cedar and roses in her hair, like always. It had been a long time since we had collaborated on any stories. Too long.

As if reading my mind, while only looking straight ahead over her coffee, “You know, I was always meaning to come back and create another story with you. I missed your story style. It was so satisfying.”

“And I’ve missed your unique story ideas.”

She looked up at me, and I felt like I was losing myself in her hazel eyes.

“OK, let’s do it. Let’s you and me make a story.”

At that point, she pulled the laptop forward again and minimized all the windows, opening up a new text document. Then turned the laptop over toward me.

“You’re going to need this…” And she took my arm off the back of her chair and set that hand down by the keyboard. “Both hands, I expect.”

But then she put her arm around the back of my chair, and rested her head on my shoulder. Comfortable, she started dictating: “Let’s see — oh, yes: Chapter One…”

V

When I woke to the sunshine streaming in, Joyce was gone. All that was left of her was a pile of my clothes she’d been wearing, and one-person-too-many dishes in the sink that still needed washing.

After I tidied up and put everything away, I opened up the laptop to look at her search history to see what she’d been looking at just to find that guy’s number. There had been a guest lecturer at that small college, but the course was closed now. And an image of that speaker matched the Joyce I’d known and worked with in person, only yesterday.

And there the trail ended.

So I got dressed for outside and went to take a walk. Clearing my head seemed the best activity right now.

A mist rolled in, and then the surroundings turned back into that parlor I’d often imagined when talking to Joyce. Tall mahogany-stained shelves filled with books. Tongue-and-groove pine floor. Oval hooked rug in various browns. Red velveteen day bed. It all matched.

There was Joyce. Dressed still as she was when I’d last seen her in the flesh. Cutoffs were a bit shorter, t-shirt now had a v-front, and the sweatshirt was a zippered hoodie, open and curving around her bust. She was reclining, provocative.

“Hey, thanks for last night.”

I only smiled. “That was quite a storm.”

“Not quite a week’s worth, but we both seemed to enjoy it.”

I just grinned, as she did.

She tugged at the fringe of her cut-offs, then looked up into my eyes. “So, how’s the story?”

“Still needs proofing, just as we left it.”

“For the record, I didn’t want to leave you with all that to clean up.”

I almost chuckled.

Joyce stood at that, and came over to me, putting both of her arms around my neck. “But when you gotta go, you gotta go. It was great having that time on earth, but I’ll take my imaginary one any day.”

“Some benefits?”

“Like living larger, and being able to re-imagine a scene as much as you want.”

“But no problem with nagging memories?”

She put on a wry smile and cocked her head. “None. Just nice ones.”

Standing on tip-toe, she kissed me for what seemed like a long time.

And then the pasture returned with the rest of the very real world.

Imaginary or not, some memories are well worth keeping.


(This book is available almost everywhere. If you want your own copy — see https://calm.li/CaseNaughtyNightmare for details and immediate access.)


Originally published at Living Sensical.