Title: Nicotine Dreams
Author: Dan Ehl
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
Trent Rowen believed giving up smoking was suppose to be a healthy life choice and that he needed all the help he could get, but he began wondering after the nicotine patches began giving him extremely colorful dreams.
Trent Rowen believed giving up smoking was suppose to be a healthy life choice and that he needed all the help he could get, but he began wondering after the nicotine patches began giving him extremely colorful dreams. Having vivid dreams while on nicotine patches is not unusual, but waking up bruised and battered after battling the minions of Dorga, the Fish Headed God of Death, was not something included in the prescription drug’s warnings.
Trent’s friends begin worrying about their buddy’s state of mind as he starts recounting visits to a dark and sinister world, where at the Crossroads Café he meets with a girlfriend long believed to be dead. Their skepticism is strained when Trent begins waking with items from his dream worlds. Worrying about Trent’s sanity turns to worrying about his life as strange and menacing denizen begin entering their own waking lives.
Around the corner was a restaurant. "Crossroads Cafe" was written across its large window in red and gold art deco letters. What caught his attention was the fact that there were actually people in it. Not many, but it looked like a crowd compared to the rest of the city. Two waiters wiped small round tables or briefly spoke to the seven or eight people scattered through the narrow room that almost disappeared into darkness before he saw a back wall. Torpid ceiling fans sluggishly drew up the isolated plumes of cigarette smoke.
No one looked up as he entered. A tall gaunt woman in black sat at one table shaded by a potted palm. She was wearing a fox pelt. Its head dangled across her left breast. Glass-bead eyes glared at Trent as he passed by the table. Her dress was vaguely in the style of a 1920s flapper.
"Sir, I am afraid guns aren't allowed in here," advised a waiter.
A startled Trent almost pulled the trigger. That wouldn't have been good since it was pointed at his feet.
Trent turned and inspected the waiter. It was difficult to tell under the red-hued lighting if the waiter's complexion was really yellowish. The man was two inches shorter than Trent, about five foot, seven inches tall. A thin mustache and greased-back hair were his only distinguishable features. The waiter had a face Trent knew he would forget within seconds of looking away.
"Uh, I really would like to keep it. I promise I won't cause a disturbance."
"I'm sorry, sir, that is quite impossible. What would our other guests think? We have a reputation to maintain."
Trent really didn't want to get in an argument with the waiter, especially knowing he was susceptible to bumps on his head after waking.
"You see," he leaned closer to the man and whispered, "the last time I was in your fair city, something huge with a very deep voice chased me all the way around the sixty-fourth floor of the hotel. I feel more safe carrying it."
"That's quite all right, sir. We are protected here. Followers of the Red Man are not allowed."
"The Red Man?"
Where had Trent heard that before? Then he remembered a page of that coloring book.
"What, or who, is the Red Man?"
"I'm afraid I am not allowed to become involved in religious disputes. Please, the gun."
Trent handed the revolver over by the barrel. Some dream master—he couldn't even successfully argue with a waiter. He was led to a table under a velvet Elvis painting—only instead of wearing a Las Vegas show jump suit, the King was a cross between an Aztec priest and Elton John. The figure wore a gaudy cape made from thousands of colorful feathers.
The waiter remained stone faced. "Would you like time to look at the menu or would you care to order now?"
"I've been having trouble reading fine print lately so..."
"As you are well aware, you will be able to read ours."
There was something in the tone that left no room for argument. Trent doubtfully picked up the menu and opened it. The items were plainly written and easy to see. He gazed about suspiciously. There was no way he was awake.
"The writing is extra large and brief," explained the waiter as if speaking for the tenth time to an exceedingly stupid child.
"I guess I'll just have a bottle of your best wine—for now."
The waiter stepped briskly away and disappeared through a back door.
There was no rhyme or reason to his dreams, Trent decided. What this all meant was beyond him. He looked around at the few other inhabitants. They looked like refugees from different times and different worlds, all sulking silently at their tables and ignoring each other. One woman looked remarkably like Amelia Earhart. She glanced up and frowned when she noticed Trent staring at her. He gave an embarrassed smile and looked away.
Trent was playing with the ashtray and a book of matches when four musicians stepped through an archway onto a small stage in a softly-lit alcove—a drummer, pianist, bass guitarist, and saxophone player. The opening number was a cross between big band, reggae, and jazz. He found the odd mixture strangely haunting.
His contemplation of the music was abruptly shattered when he glanced to the front of the restaurant. Walking past the window was the Melissa look-alike he'd seen at the hotel. He couldn't see her face clearly, but the hair and figure were painfully familiar. Trent had always described her as looking like Donna Reed. He hadn't been able to watch any of the actress's old films since Melissa's disappearance.
The figure glanced in the restaurant and seemed as equally startled as Trent. The woman came to an abrupt halt and then made a visible effort to shake off the surprise. She shrugged her shoulders and after a brief hesitation, aimed for the restaurant door.