If Souls Can Sleep
By David Michael Williams
After years of being haunted by the day his little girl drowned, Vincent faces a new nightmare — one that reaches into the real world and beyond the grave.
If Souls Can Sleep introduces a hidden world where gifted individuals possess the power to invade the dreams of others. Two rival factions have transformed the dreamscape into a war zone where all reality is relative and even the dead can’t rest in peace.
First he lost his daughter. His mind may be next.
Vincent stumbled through the hospital’s unexpectedly automatic door. A sudden blast of heat burned his bloodshot eyes.
The antiseptic air made his skin twitch, his stomach roil. Though he hated hospitals on principle, he knew his nausea had more to do with a belly full of whiskey. All those hard-fought months of sobriety, wasted.
But am I drunk enough?
Vincent batted the thought aside and focused on walking a straight line to the elevators. When he spotted a policeman leaning against the information desk, he nearly lost his nerve.
Not a real cop. He doesn’t even have a gun.
Keeping tabs on the middle-aged security guard out of the corner of his eye, Vincent performed his best impression of a model citizen as he crossed the lobby and waited for the elevator. Fortunately, the guy seemed more interested in flirting with the young brunette behind the counter than scrutinizing visitors.
The elevator opened, and he hurried in, letting out a big breath as his view of the rent-a-cop was replaced by the shiny metal door. His relief was short-lived, however, when he considered what lay ahead.
Leaning against the elevator’s faux wood paneling, he wished he had some liquid courage left. If he had brought a bottle with him, he would’ve emptied it fast.
But there was nothing fast about the elevator. Why the hell wasn’t it moving? Panicked thoughts about the sly security guard and a master control panel disappeared when he realized he had never pressed the button for the floor he wanted.
Focus, damn it!
He jabbed a finger into the number three. The elevator’s sudden acceleration tightened his stomach. When the door opened, he took a few steadying steps onto the long-term patient observation ward. The vegetable garden.
As much as he wanted to avoid contact with hospital staff, he knew he’d never be able to find his destination without help. He had visited his brother only once before, and that was eight months ago. The day Danny went into a coma.
Vincent wiped his brow with the back of his hand, smearing sweat into his wild tangle of hair. He resisted the urge to rub his eyes as he approached the front desk.
A middle-aged woman with artificially blond hair and wearing a frumpy brown pullover looked up.
He forced his mouth into what he hoped would pass for a smile. “Hi, I’m, ah, looking for Danny…” He cleared his throat. “…Daniel Pierce. Can you tell me what room he’s in?”
The woman—Suzanne, according to her nametag—regarded him warily. Her nose twitched, and he wondered if the stench of booze could ever be mistaken for cheap aftershave.
“Mr. Pierce doesn’t get many visitors,” she said. The statement might have been an offhand comment or an accusation. “What is your relation to the patient?”
“I’m his brother. Half-brother, actually.”
The receptionist’s eyebrows arched. “You’re Vincent. Eve’s other son.”
Eve’s other son…Cain.
“Yeah, I’m Vincent. Wait a minute. She’s not here, is she? My mother, I mean.”
“No, not yet.” Suzanne glanced at her watch. “Mass won’t be over for another hour or so. You’ll have to sign in.”
She pushed a clipboard toward him, and he scribbled his name on the line. It felt like signing a confession.
“It’s Room 307,” she said when he returned the clipboard. “Down that hall and take a left.”
Vincent dropped the pen and walked away. While watching his feet to make sure they did what they were supposed to, he almost collided with a big, grim-faced man in scrubs. Vincent muttered an apology and continued down the corridor. His pulse quickened with each number. 301, 302, 303…
The door to Room 307 was open. He paused at the threshold.
Daniel Pierce lay on his back, a tightly tucked blanket covering his lower half. His red hair, usually an untamed mass of curls, had been cut short and combed. He looked pale, but then again Daniel always looked pale. Were it not the hospital gown and the many tubes connecting him to the bedside electrical devices, Vincent might have believed his brother was just sleeping.
He is sleeping. Asleep and then some.
Without realizing it, Vincent had entered the room and walked up to the bed. Looking down at Daniel’s peaceful expression, he remembered the last argument he had had with their mother, who was still waiting for a miracle. But Vincent had sided with the doctors, trusting facts over faith.
Daniel was a hopeless case. He would never wake up.
Vincent would make sure of it.
People always said “pull the plug,” but there were a lot of wires and tubes. If he cut the wrong ones, would it alert the staff before he found the right one? Was it as easy as just yanking the power cord out of the electric socket? He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. There was no such thing as a second chance.
He reached a hand inside his pocket and grasped something small and cold. Still staring at his brother’s face—he half expected the intense blue eyes to open or the lips to curl into a smirk—he brought out the jackknife and opened it. The click echoed inside his skull.
Vincent held out the knife, his arm trembling. He wondered what would be quickest. Slashing the throat? Cutting his wrists? Plunging the blade into Daniel’s heart, vampire style?
The thought was so ridiculous he laughed out loud. Then he doubled over, gagging and gasping for air. Seconds later, the dry heaves subsided. When he righted himself, the room was spinning, but all he could see was Daniel as a kid, playing with Matchbox cars and reading comic books. A teenager, snitching cigarettes from their mother’s purse. A young man, holding his newborn niece for the first time.
Tears streaming down his face, Vincent took a deep breath and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
He always knows the nightmare for what it is.
Even if the scenes that preceded it—getting hammered at a bar with drinking buddies he hadn’t seen in years or sitting in a strange classroom, taking a final exam in a subject he knows nothing about—seem real at the time, the spell is broken every time the screen door slams.
Vincent jerks upright. He is sitting on a faded brown couch, one leg tucked under him and the other dangling over the side. Slowly, inevitably, he turns his head toward the door, knowing he will find Bella there, struggling with two overstuffed grocery bags. His heart pounds while he waits for her to speak.
“Were you sleeping?” Her tone is accusatory.
What Vincent should say is “I must have dozed off.” But the nightmare, while a thief of reality, is not a true memory and is perhaps worse than the actual moment of tragedy because he knows what will come next.
He knows, and he is powerless to stop it.
Even if he could change the script and overcome the cold hand of dread keeping him silent and rooted to the couch, it would be too late because the horrible thing has already happened.
“Where’s Clementine?” Bella asks.
He scans the room, hoping, praying, begging to see a pair of black pigtails peeking up from behind the coffee table or a telltale lump under the afghan on the rocking chair. The nightmare will not be swayed, however. Bella walks past him and dumps the brown bags onto the dining room table, spilling one of them in the process.
“Clemmy? Where are you, baby?” she calls.
They notice the open bathroom door at the same time. Some sadistic force, perhaps the nightmare itself, compels Vincent to finally leave the couch and follow her into the bathroom. Bella’s scream comes right on cue. Helpless to stop himself, he steps through the doorway.
Clementine’s bare feet stick out of the tub, her little toes pointing toward the ceiling. Bella has not started crying yet. In that forever instant, there is only silence as a rubber duck, Clementine’s favorite toy, floats atop the pink-tinged water.
Vincent gasped and blinked frantically against the darkness that harbored the image of his dead daughter. Kneeling on his bed, which was nothing more than one mattress stacked on top of another, he groped through the black air until he found the string for the overhead light.
With a click, the room burst into existence around him. He fell back onto his bed. Staring up at the crisscrossing cracks in the ceiling, he listened to the sound of his breathing until his pulse no longer pounded in his ears and the pressure in his chest eased into a dull ache.
I used to wake up sobbing like a baby. Maybe someday the nightmare won’t even wake me up. Maybe someday I won’t even remember that I had it.
Knowing he would never be able to fall back to sleep—that was one thing that hadn’t changed in seven, almost eight years—Vincent sat up again and looked at the clock. 9:44. In the morning? No, the little dot of light was next to “p.m.” But what exactly did that mean?
The third-shift lifestyle still messed with his mind after almost a year. It took him a full minute to piece it together. He had gone to bed just after noon and hadn’t set the alarm because he had off tomorrow—today off. Today and tomorrow.
He got out of bed and put on an old pair of jeans that were lying atop one of the piles of clothes. A sorry-looking black T-shirt was the sole contents of the dresser. He pulled it over his head. Since none of his socks were even close to clean, he condemned his bare feet to the cold hardwood floor. Stifling a yawn, he opened his bedroom door.
The living room light was on. He was not alone.
“Oh! Hey, Vincent. We didn’t wake you, did we?”
For once, his roommate was not in his recliner. Instead, Jerry sat on the long, stumpy couch—dubbed “the Low Rider” by a former resident—next to a young woman sporting a lip ring and lots of cleavage. Jerry’s eyes were wide with concern. She smiled sheepishly.
“No, no,” Vincent said. “I didn’t even know you were out here.”
The girl stared at him. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to diagnose by touch how bad a case of bed head he had.
A fine first impression…or do I know her?
“Good,” Jerry said. “We were being extra quiet. Even turned the volume down all the way.” He gestured at the TV with the hand that wasn’t holding a joint.
Vincent turned in time to see a woman in skimpy attire leap up from the sand to spike the ball over the net.
“You’re watching volleyball?” Vincent asked.
Jerry shrugged. “Paish used to play in high school. And I’m watchin’ ’cause…well…look at them!”
I have met her.
Paish, short for Patience, was Jerry’s dealer. Vincent had been home when she paid a visit more than a month ago. “Made a delivery” was probably more accurate, since she had left soon after the transaction. “Schwag,” “nugs,” “steamrollers”—Jerry and Paish had spoken a different language. She seemed friendly enough, but Vincent hadn’t said more than hello and goodbye to her. According to Jerry, they were just friends.
She played volleyball. Just like Bella did.
Jerry passed the joint to Paish, who took a long drag. The smoke escaped from her mouth in a slow, steady stream. When she leaned forward for the ashtray on the coffee table, Vincent was afforded an unobstructed view down her shirt. Her puffy eyes met his.
“Do you want to hit this?” she asked.
The question caught him completely off guard. “What?”
She held the joint out to him. “Do you want a hit?”
Clearly, the expression “hit this” meant something different in Druggie Speak than the slang Vincent was used to. For a second, he had thought she was making a far more intimate offer. Embarrassed, he could only stammer and shake his head.
Before he could make more of a fool of himself, Jerry said, “Vincent doesn’t get high. I don’t think he drinks either.”
“Well, aren’t you a good boy?” Paish said to Vincent. She handed the joint back to Jerry.
“I try,” Vincent replied, forcing his eyes not to stray south of hers. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to jump in the shower.”
He retreated from the living room. Passing through the kitchen, he heard Paish say to Jerry, “Your roommate is kind of cute.”
Vincent smirked to himself. He supposed he should be flattered. Jerry had said she was a student at UW–Milwaukee, which meant she was younger than both of them, maybe by as much as a decade. She was pretty, though bleach-blond highlights and pierced lips weren’t his cup of tea. And then there was the recreational drugs use.
Standing in front of the toilet, he was half-amused, half-ashamed to find that he was getting hard.
Must be a side effect of abstinence.
Vincent flushed and washed his hands, glancing up at the mirror. He wouldn’t be mistaken for an undergraduate, but he didn’t look the worse for thirty years of wear. He was reasonably tall, somewhat dark, and closer to handsome than hideous. Maybe Paish found his dark, sleep-tousled hair charming. Maybe she liked half-Hispanic guys.
Or maybe she was just stoned.
If the divorce were done with, would I have flirted back?
He pulled back the shower curtain and gasped.
Two little legs and a rubber duck.
Vincent staggered back to the toilet and focused on not puking. After several minutes spent staring into the rust-stained bowl, beads of sweat sliding down to his neck, he finally looked at the bathtub again. Of course, it was empty.
By the time he stepped into the tub, all thoughts of sex had vanished. Thanks to outdated plumbing, the showerhead spat out an unsteady trickle of lukewarm water. He barely noticed.
His hair dripping false tears down the sides of his face and once more wearing the faded black T-shirt and jeans, Vincent ventured back into living room. He made a beeline for his bedroom but stopped when he saw Paish was gone.
“She works in the morning,” Jerry explained from the comfort of his mustard-colored recliner. “Man, I’m glad I don’t work weekends.”
Hand on the doorknob to his room, Vincent said, “I thought you didn’t like hanging out with college students. Or is it common courtesy to schmooze with your supplier?”
“Whuh? Paish? She’s the shit. A bit of a tease sometimes, but what’s wrong with that?”
Vincent went into his room. He picked up two matching socks off the floor and slipped his tennis shoes on over them.
“And I got nothing against college students,” Jerry said from the next room. The closed door hardly muffled his roommate’s voice at all. “I told you I never wanted to live with one ever again. Too many bad experiences.”
Vincent ran a comb through his slick hair a few times before returning to the living room.
“Did one of them nark on you or something?” He hoped his tone came off as more curious than condemning. Jerry had been upfront about his drug use from day one, and aside from the not-quite-campfire reek of marijuana, Vincent couldn’t complain about his roommate.
“Naw,” Jerry said, his eyes glued to the volleyball game. “But my last roommate…a philosophy major from Waterford…threw a big party that got busted. I was damn lucky none of the cops found my stash. Anyway, college kids never have any money. When they’re not moochin’ your food, they’re moochin’ your weed.”
“Well, that’s something you don’t have to worry about with me.” Vincent paused. “I’m going for a walk.”
Jerry suddenly stood up, and for a moment, Vincent feared the big guy was going to invite himself along. Instead, his roommate went to the pantry and retrieved a bag of potato chips. On his way back to his threadbare throne, Jerry said, “Alrighty. I’ll probably crash soon. See ya tomorrow.”
Vincent was halfway out the door, coat in hand, when the phone rang. Something made him stop.
“Hello?” said Jerry with mouth full of chips. “Oh, just a sec.”
Vincent turned around. Jerry held the phone against his chest. “It’s for you. I think it’s your mom again.”
“Tell her she just missed me.”
Vincent shut the door and pounded down the hallway stairs. He refused to feel guilty about ditching his mother, but he did regret leaving Jerry to deal with her. For all of his foibles, Jeremiah Weis was a good guy. He also was the closest thing Vincent had to a friend.
More than a dozen bars called Milwaukee’s East Side home, and most of them were within walking distance of the apartment. The bulk of them lined Brady Street, which was one block from home.
Vincent went in the other direction.
You can purchase If Souls Can Sleep here: https://www.amazon.com/Souls-Can-Sleep-Soul-Cycle/dp/0991056280
Meet the Author:
David Michael Williams has suffered from a storytelling addiction for as long as he can remember. With a background in journalism, public relations, and marketing, he also flaunts his love affair with the written word as an author of speculative fiction.
His most recent books include the sword-and-sorcery trilogy The Renegade Chronicles and The Soul Sleep Cycle, a genre-bending series that explores life, death, and the dreamscape. “Ghost Mode,” a sci-fi story that takes augmented reality to a chilling extreme, recently appeared in the One Million Project Fantasy Anthology.
David lives in Wisconsin with the best wife on this or any other planet and their two amazing children. He joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state’s oldest writing collectives, in 2005, and the Wisconsin Writers Association in 2018.
Connect with David Michael Williams:
Check out his website and blog, One Million Words, at https://david-michael-williams.com for more information about his published works, upcoming books, current projects, and life as an authorpreneur.
You can also connect with them on your favorite social media platform:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/onemillionwords/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/1MillionWords
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14427025.David_Michael_Williams
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-williams-7229626b/
Don’t forget to check out If Souls Can Sleep!
“A blend of sci-fi and fantasy that manages to transcend both!”
“David Michel Williams uses sleep and dreams to create an engaging thriller that is not uncomfortable with wrong-footing a reader’s expectations.”
“This is the kind of book that lingers in the back of your mind long after you finish reading it.”
“I couldn’t put it down. Very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!”
Available in paperback and for Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Souls-Can-Sleep-Soul-Cycle/dp/0991056280