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THE WORDS ON HIS LAPTOP blurred into paisley patterns of black on white. Holding his head and eyes perfectly still, he could focus on single words, but when he tried to read a sentence, the words smeared, becoming unrecognizable. He tried turning his head to the side and examining the computer screen through the corners of his eyes. Weeks ago his peripheral vision was stronger, but this approach no longer worked.
He’d run out of options. A series of more powerful eyeglasses and larger screen fonts had bought him some time, but his time was up.
Diagnosed months earlier, a rare eye disease rapidly robbed John James of his sight and livelihood. He hadn’t been able to finish his latest novel or even make weekly posts to his nationally syndicated blog.
It was well after midnight as John sat at his writing desk in the corner of their living room. The desk was angled toward a panoramic picture window overlooking the river valley below. It was a view he could no longer use as inspiration. On the clearest of days, he could barely see beyond the window sill.
He slammed the laptop shut onto the keyboard with a loud crack, and leaned back, raking both hands over his head.
His wife Sally heard the commotion and came running, concerned John had fallen or knocked something over.
“John, are you okay?”
“No, I’m not fine! What good’s a writer who can’t see?” John whined, elbows on his desk, his head in his hands.
“Why don’t you try the speech recognition app again? You haven’t really given it a chance.”
“Sally, I’ve written the same way for over twenty years. I have to see what I’ve written and hone it, edit it, add to it. How do I do that talking into a machine?”
He rotated his chair away from her and stared toward the window.
Sally and John found each other as college freshmen. The moment they met, Sally was fascinated with John’s imagination. He had a knack for creating stories, extracting them from the places he visited and the people he met. It was like a sixth sense.
Until his diagnosis, he’d retained the zest for life that Sally fell in love with two decades ago. As she watched him at his desk, staring into the darkness, it seemed John’s imagination was fading with his eyesight. He’d spent much of his life living vicariously through the characters he created and within the scenes he so artfully described. Without them, she wondered what he’d do.
“Come to bed, John. Let’s try again in the morning. I’ll type up the last draft you recorded, and we’ll go from there. I think it has promise.”
John didn’t move.
SALLY AWOKE TO FIND John’s side of the bed empty. It hadn’t been slept in.
She hurried to the living room where she found John sleeping on the sofa a few feet from where she’d left him the night before. Sally walked toward him and shook his shoulder.
“Come on, honey. Go take a shower, and I’ll scramble some eggs.”
He rotated to a sitting position and rubbed his eyes. He could see sunlight filtering into the room.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“A few minutes after seven. I promised Karen I’d help at the store later this morning, but I have a couple hours to help you tackle that last chapter you dictated.”
“Forget it. I can’t even remember what I said.”
He stood and felt his way around the coffee table before heading toward the bedroom.
It pained Sally to see him so depressed, but she didn’t know what more she could do.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, John stared at the blurry image before him. An early morning shower usually jump-started his day, but showering seemed pointless. He took off his shirt, splashed some water on his face and patted it dry with a hand towel.
He found Sally’s brush and ran it over his bed head, but couldn’t see if it made any difference. After rummaging through his closet, he found his favorite t-shirt and pulled it over his head before walking back toward the kitchen.
“Feel better?” Sally asked.
“A little, I guess,” he replied, picking up the cup of coffee waiting for him.
Sally slid a plate of eggs and toast in front of him.
John pursed his lips and shook his head, frustrated. For years, he’d made their breakfast. It was now safer for her to do it.
“Karen said she knows someone who works with people losing their sight. I’d like to set an appointment for you.”
“Tell Karen to worry about her own husband,” John shot back.
Karen was Sally’s best friend. She owned a bookstore and gift shop in Asheville where Sally helped out several days a week. It was a cozy establishment, serving coffee and pastries to its patrons. It was also a welcome getaway for Sally.
“She says this lady is a miracle worker. She helped the mother of one of Karen’s friends. Her mother just sat in her chair listening to TV for months. Now she’s walking around her neighborhood and even plays braille bridge.”
“I didn’t like playing cards when I could see. What makes you think I would now?”
WEEKS PASSED AND JOHN’S eyesight continued to worsen. His interest in writing waned. He passed his time listening to TV and audio books. Walking with Sally around their mountain community was his only exercise. He refused to use a cane, preferring to hold hands on their walks.
It was a cool autumn evening as Sally and John relaxed on their wood-framed deck. It was one of the few outdoor spaces where John felt safe.
“I’ve made you an appointment with Dr. Willow,” Sally said.
“Who’s Dr. Willow?”
“She’s the woman I told you about earlier, the one who works with people who’ve lost their sight.”
“I told you I wasn’t interested. I’m doing fine.”
“John, you’re not, and neither am I. I haven’t been able to help Karen nearly as much as I’d like. I can’t even leave you alone in the house. Please go see Dr. Willow, for me, if not for you.”
John hadn’t thought much about what his dependence was doing to Sally. No longer able to see her facial expressions, he had to take his cues from her voice. Until then, she hadn’t let him know how she felt.
Hearing her muffled sobs, he stood and walked toward her, holding out his arms. She stepped into them, and he held her tightly.
“I’ll give it a try,” he said. “I’ll meet with Dr. Willow.”
WILLOW’S OFFICE was located in downtown Asheville, a 20-minute drive from John and Sally’s home near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not much was said on the short trip.
“You can go in, Mr. James,” the receptionist said.
Sally waited in the lobby as John stepped into Dr. Willow’s office.
The office was noticeably darker than the lobby. The soothing aroma of incense captured his attention as soon as he entered.
Gaudy burgundy-colored curtains covered the office windows, dulling the midday sunlight. A plump fabric-tufted sofa with matching armchairs sat before an ornate oak desk. John sensed the baroque setting.
“Hello, Mr. James. I’m Dr. Melony Willow. Please call me Melony.”
“Hi. It’s good to meet you.”
The doctor reached out and took John’s hand, leading him to the sofa.
“Please have a seat right here.”
The doctor’s voice was soothing, almost sultry. It wasn’t what John had expected. He wondered if her appearance matched her voice. He could tell she had dark hair and was tall and slim, but he couldn’t see her hazel eyes and flawless almond-colored complexion passed down from her Navajo ancestors.
“Please tell me. When did you lose your sight?” she asked.
“It started nearly a year ago. It was gradual at first, but now I can only see shapes and shadows.”
“I understand you’re a writer. Sounds like fascinating work.”
“Yeah. It was, but I’m not sure I’ll ever write again.”
“Is it your passion to write?”
“Well, sure. I’ve been doing it for twenty years.”
“I didn’t ask how long you’ve been writing. I asked if it was your passion.”
He cast off his introductory smile.
“It’s what I live to do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Does that answer your question?”
Dr. Willow’s website said she was a board-certified psychiatrist with dual certification in ophthalmology. To John, her questions seemed out of place.
“I’ve found passion is much stronger than any of our five senses,” she said. “In a very real way our passions direct our senses.”
Silently, she stood and walked toward John. Leaning close, she pressed the palm of her hand to his chest. Her long, silky hair fell onto John’s shoulder. Her perfume made him weak. Without thinking, his eyes closed.
“You have a strong heartbeat, but I feel a void. You are letting the loss of one of your senses block your passion.”
She pulled back her hand.
“I can fill your void,” she said, standing over him.
What’s with this woman? John wondered. What have I gotten myself into?
“I don’t follow. What do you mean?” he asked.
“You need to push back your blindness, and let your passion rule.”
She walked to her desk and opened the top drawer. After sorting through the contents, she stepped back toward John.
“Here. Take one of these pills each night before bedtime,” she said, placing the vile into the palm of his hand.
“What are they?”
“You won’t find anything about this medication online or in medical journals. I, alone, have been passed the power to restore passion that’s been weakened by the loss of human senses.”
“I’m confused. I thought you helped people learn how to deal with their blindness. You know, like read braille. This sounds like witchcraft.”
“Call it what you will, Mr. James. Vision loss isn’t your problem. This medication will cure what’s really ailing you.”
On the drive home, John described his visit to Sally.
“She felt your heart and said those pills will restore your passion. What the hell does that mean?” Sally asked.
“I’m not really sure, but she sounded convincing.”
“You’re not going to take them, are you?” Sally asked, staring at the road ahead.
“I guess I will. She is an MD. At least her website says she is.”
JOHN STOOD OVER THE bottle of pills on the bathroom counter for a long moment. Finally, he twisted off the cap, tapped a tablet onto his palm and felt it between his fingers. It wasn’t large, about the size of an aspirin.
“What the heck,” he said to himself.
He placed the pill into his mouth and took a drink of water.
He felt no sensation, but then, he didn’t know what he should have felt. He walked to the bedroom and crawled into bed next to Sally.
“So, did you take the pill?”
“Yeah. I did. Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up next to a changed man.”
He gave Sally a kiss and pulled the covers over his shoulders.
If nothing else, his sense of humor has returned, Sally thought.
Exhausted from an emotional day, they both were into their first REM cycle in a matter of minutes. John’s sleep was especially deep.
The main protagonist in John’s unfinished novel, Adam Steele, appeared before him in a dream, taking up where he left off in the story.
John rarely dreamed in color, but this dream was vivid, as if he were living it with Adam. The dialogue between Adam and the others in the dream was crisp and clear. Oddly, John knew what was to happen, but he anxiously awaited each change of scene, each twist and turn along the way.
SALLY ROSE FIRST and was in the shower when John awoke.
Normally, John didn’t remember his dreams, or at most recalled only small segments. This dream was different. The entire episode was carved into his memory.
He stepped into the master bathroom where Sally was wrapped in a towel.
“Sally, you won’t believe it! I dreamed the second half of my novel last night,” he said, feeling his way into the room.
“I’m sure finishing it has been on your mind,” Sally replied, unwrapping herself and fluffing her hair with the towel. “It’s natural to dream about it.”
“No. It was more than that. I saw and heard the entire novel… to the very end.”
“Well, maybe this will get you motivated to start working on it again. I bought a new version of the voice recognition app last week.”
While John showered, Sally dressed and then went to the living room to retrieve coffee cups left from the night before. Looking over toward John’s desk she noticed a stack of paper positioned neatly in the center. She didn’t remember seeing it there last night and walked over for a closer look.
On the top page in bold print, was written LOST AND ALONE – An Adam Steele Adventure. It was the title of John’s unfinished novel.
She picked up the stack of paper and nervously leafed through it. It was a completed manuscript, including title page, table of contents, acknowledgement and a 325-page novel.
How did he hide this from me? she wondered.
“John!” she called out. “Get out here now!”
John stepped from the bedroom wearing only jeans.
“What is it?”
“When did you finish Lost and Alone?” she asked holding up the manuscript.
“I didn’t finish it.”
“Don’t tease me! How do you explain this?”
She handed John the completed novel. He stared at the manuscript and fanned the pages in disbelief.
“I don’t know anything about this! Here, read me the final chapter,” he requested, handing the document back to her.
They took seats in the living room and Sally read the final fifteen pages aloud.
“Sally, that’s exactly how my dream ended last night, word for word.”
“Are you sure you didn’t sleepwalk last night? Someone turned your dream into this manuscript. Who could do it other than you?”
“My computer hasn’t been touched. And besides, even if I did dictate this into the computer, I couldn’t print and bind it without help.”
AFTER BREAKFAST, SALLY spent the rest of the morning reading the mystifying manuscript to John. No editing needed. It was perfect, and was also an exact replica of John’s dream.
“There has to be an explanation,” Sally said. “Manuscripts don’t magically appear.”
“I haven’t discussed this novel with anyone other than my publisher.”
“You don’t think Dr. Willow has anything to do with this?” Sally asked.
“Are you serious?”
“All this did happen right after taking the medication she prescribed.”
“I’m not crazy enough to think medical magic is the answer. There has to be a plausible explanation. We just haven’t found it yet.”
“Are you going to continue taking the pills she gave you?” Sally asked.
“I guess so. I must admit, I did feel more energized when I woke up this morning.”
JOHN TOOK ANOTHER PILL before going to bed, and as the night before, a vivid dream followed.
This time his dream included a young boy and the boy’s yellow Lab. The dog saved the boy from a flash flood, but was swept downstream after leading the boy to safety. It appeared the dog had perished, only to reappear at the end of John’s dream.
The dream was inspiring and memorable, but John immediately thought about his completed novel the next morning. Sally was still asleep.
A few minutes later, she turned her sleepy face toward him, still lying on her pillow.
“Well, how did you sleep? Dream up any more novels?” she asked.
“Very funny,” he replied. “I slept great, and yes, I did have a dream.”
Sally sat up.
“Have you thought about what to do with your completed novel?”
“I guess I’ll deliver it to Bob. He’s been asking when it would be done. It’s clearly my work. I wrote the first half and dreamed the rest.”
“I agree. You should publish it. It’s good, and Bob doesn’t need to know how you finished it.”
Sally jumped out of her side of the bed.
“I’ll get breakfast started,” she said. “Maybe we can deliver the manuscript this afternoon.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll call Bob later.”
Walking to the kitchen, Sally glanced toward the living room.
“What’s that?” she mumbled under her breath.
It appeared there was a second stack of paper on John’s desk.
At first, she thought the manuscript was open, face down on his desk, making it look like two stacks of paper. As she drew closer, however, that was not the case. It was a second manuscript.
“John, come here! Quick!”
John ran toward Sally’s call, hitting his head on the door jamb rounding the corner into the living room.
“Damn! What is it?” he shouted, rubbing the rising lump on his forehead.
“Was there a dog in your dream last night?”
“Would Yeller’s Rescue be a good title for what you dreamt last night?”
His look of astonishment answered her question.
They skipped breakfast, immediately taking seats in the living room where Sally read the 30-page short story aloud.
Once again, the manuscript perfectly matched John’s dream, and once again, it required no editing.
“This is a great story,” Sally said. “It brought me to tears twice.”
“It even reads like my writing,” John added.
“Maybe your dream was based on something you’ve seen.”
“No way. Last night was the first time I’ve ever experienced any of this.”
John and Sally delivered both manuscripts to the publisher that afternoon.
THE CALL FROM BOB HAROLD came two days later.
“John, our reviewers loved Lost and Alone. They think it’s your best work yet.”
“That’s great news. So, you’re going to publish it?”
“Without a doubt, and we’d like to get you on the road publicizing the book as soon as possible. I’ve already asked our marketing team to start arranging appearances. Hope you don’t mind if we leverage the fact you finished the book after losing your sight. We might even get you a spot on The Today Show.”
“I don’t know, Bob. I’m not sure I’m prepared for all of this yet.”
Sally was listening, standing at John’s side. She mouthed, “You can do it,” as she nodded forcefully.
“I know it will be different, but we’ll help arrange everything you’ll need. By the way, are you working on any more short stories? We’d like to package Yeller’s Rescue in a collection.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a couple more ready. How many do you think we’ll need?”
“If they’re as good as Yeller’s Rescue, five or six should do it.”
“I don’t think it’ll be problem. I’ll have them to you next week.”
“If you can do that, you’re the most prolific writer I know.”
“Yeah. I’m clearly hitting my stride these days.”
THE NEXT TWO DAYS produced two more short stories, waiting on John’s desk each morning. Both stories were based on dreams from the night before.
While neither John nor Sally had any idea how the manuscripts were being produced, they had no reason to think they would stop. As long as John was having dreams, they expected the stories to continue.
John agreed to go on the book tour arranged by Epic Publishing.
The time on the road was good for John. To survive in public places, he needed to become proficient with his white cane, and he was rapidly learning to interpret braille signs. He was even becoming skilled using speech recognition on his phone and laptop. He could text and send email messages as efficiently as any teenager.
Sally was proud of John’s progress. Less than a month earlier, he’d been depressed and had lost all confidence in himself and his writing. Sight or no sight, it now appeared there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN she’s gone?” John asked Sally. “A doctor doesn’t just pick up their practice and leave without telling their patients.”
With only a couple pills remaining, John had asked Sally to get a refill while he was away at a book signing in Raleigh.
“The practice is still there, but not the same Dr. Willow you met,” Sally said. “The Dr. Willow I saw in the office today was grey-haired, short, and much older. The receptionist confirmed that she’s been the only doctor practicing there for thirty years.”
“What about Karen? She’s the one who recommended Dr. Willow. Did you talk to her?”
“Karen’s the first person I called after going to the doctor’s office. You’re not going to believe this, but the grey-haired Dr. Willow is the one her friend told Karen about. She has no idea who the tall, dark-haired doctor is, or why she was even at that office.”
John was silent. A feeling of doom spread from his gut to his mind.
What do I do now? he wondered.
Thinking for a moment, he realized he had a cache of more than 20 stories he hadn’t turned over to his publisher. He figured he could milk his past late-night productivity for several months if needed.
“I’ll be home late tonight,” John finally replied. “We have some time to come up with a plan. Besides, we don’t even know if Dr. Willow and her pills have anything to do with my dreams and these manuscripts.”
IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG to determine the source of the mysterious manuscripts. John continued to have vivid dreams after running out of pills from Dr. Willow, but the manuscripts ceased to appear the following mornings.
“I’m back to where I was a month ago,” John said after finding his writing desk empty for the third consecutive morning.
“Not really, John. You still have several stories yet to publish, and look at all the publicity you’ve received the past thirty days.”
“A dozen short stories won’t pay the bills the next thirty years. And just yesterday, John told me Epic Publishing is expecting a sequel to Lost and Alone within the next six months. There’s no way.”
Sally could see John rapidly sinking back into the hole that he’d dug himself out of the past month. Each morning that passed without finding a polished manuscript on his desk, he withdrew more and more.
The doorbell rang.
“Who could it be at this hour?” Sally asked as she stepped toward the front door.
There was no one there, only an envelope at the foot of the door, addressed simply to John James, Author.
“It’s for you,” she said. “Can I open it?”
“Go ahead,” he replied, nodding.
Sally tore the envelope at one end, removed the note from inside and read it aloud.
You never really needed the medication I provided. You’ve always had the imagination and talent to produce riveting novels and stories. The dreams were yours. The words were yours. I only provided the printed copies.
As I told you, passion directs our senses. This past month, your passion for writing and your desire to be known as an author far surpassed your fears of losing your sight. You traveled alone, and you learned to communicate as effectively as any sighted author.
It’s time to take what you’ve learned and put your imagination on paper. I’ll be watching.
Dr. Melony Willow
JOHN NEVER FOUND the sultry and mysterious Dr. Willow, but it turned out she was right. Using his talents and the tools he’d mastered, it took less than six months for John to produce his sequel. His days of night writing were over.
Copyright © 2019 by D.R. Shoultz
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without the author’s permission.