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The Dream Quest One Writing Contest First Prize Winner
Winter 2011 - 2012


Gary Garcia

of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

The Shelf

The clock struck six. The frosty morning air engulfed our room and numbed our toes. Winter in Wisconsin is never forgiving. Darkness slowly dispersed into daylight. There was fresh snow on the ground. Smoke stacks fumed in the distance. Rusted behemoths of industry growled with the morning’s business: Beer, cheese, and meats, struggling factories surrounded by hungry families, faces in the cold that had seen many winters and little food, art museums and corporate headquarters. Jazz clubs leaned against churches. Under its neat, blanket of snow, the city sparkled in the morning sun. The winds howled and screeched outside our window. Winter in Wisconsin is never forgiving.

Elizabeth slammed on the screeching alarm, took a deep yawn and slugged her way out of bed. She gave me a brief nudge before exiting the room towards the kitchen. My tear crusted eyes were dried shut until I rubbed them free. The smell of fresh baklava and home brewed tea wafted inside our room from “The Shawerma House Cafe” across the street. The sweet aroma helped me drag myself out of the bed and my feet met the needle-sting cold of our hardwood floors. I gingerly stepped out of the room to the kitchen.

Elizabeth had the coffee brewing while she showered to get ready for work. I dragged myself around the apartment covered in a fleece blanket she made for me as a graduation gift. It was black and purple, my school colors, and she stitched the word “write” onto the outside. It was warm, cozy, and one of the best gifts I had ever received. She truly believed in me. Her family did too; her dad even built a single level bookshelf for our place. I remember how excited he was when he brought it over. “Abe,” he said, “I can’t wait until you fill this thing with the great ideas and words that I know you’ll let loose.” He then gave me a big hug, almost as if he was my father. That was six years and five jobs ago. The shelf remains empty. I’ve been far too busy wallowing in my own unaccomplished glamour to bother achieving any real success.

Elizabeth called from the restroom for me to make her some scrambled eggs with toast and some orange juice. I reacted slowly to this request, instead staring outside to observe a hawk perched on the roof of a neighboring apartment complex. The hawk had pecan brown feathers and a prominent yellow beak that he pointed up to the sky. I stood staring out the window of our tiny apartment until he chose to stare back at me. His eyes were piercing, like he was looking beyond me. Elizabeth called out once more, “Could you add some cheese to the eggs, honey?”

Her calling got me out of my trance and the hawk broke his stare and flew off. He had better things to do. I got to work on my wife’s breakfast while she continued getting ready. The stone cold floor sent chills racing up my legs, neck, and back. I foolishly chose not to put on socks. I put Elizabeth’s food into the oven to keep warm while I poured myself a cup of coffee and got my bearings as to what I would do for the day. I was supposed to work, but freelancing was becoming a struggle and I was not contributing my fair share to our livelihood. Elizabeth never complained, she always felt that I would make my mark someway or another. I, on the other hand, was not so sure.

Elizabeth strode quickly into the kitchen, took the eggs out of the stove and planted a grand kiss on my dry, shivering lips. She asked if I was hungry, to which I replied, “Not at all dear. You enjoy.”

I continued to sip my coffee while Elizabeth finished her meal. She gathered her purse, lunch, and workbag before slipping into her grey winter coat. She was gorgeous. Her brown hair reached down just above her shoulders and her red lips reminded me of sweet summer watermelon.

“Have a great day at work, sweetheart,” I said, taking in her wonderful scent.

“You too, babe. Make sure that you work really, really hard. I’ll see you in about ten hours. Write something great!” She spoke with sincere encouragement.

“I always do!” I lied. Elizabeth then pinched my cheek before slapping a quick kiss on me. Then she headed out the door. The chilly hallway air bit me as it snuck its way into our apartment.

The clock struck nine in the morning. I should have been working. Instead I warmed up my body with some push-ups and sit-ups. With minimal heat, getting the blood moving was the best


way to get comfortable. I tore my sweat soaked shirt off and noticed that I had been slimming quite a bit. My body showed an unhealthy leanness. Perhaps I wasn’t eating enough? I quickly tossed on a dry long sleeve to keep warm and put on a pair of jeans to get my day started.

At ten-thirty, I realized that I had been staring at the white, blank, page for over an hour. I struggled to create something worth writing. Ideas floated but never stuck. I tried to grab at everything, trees, birds, children laughing, playing, people arguing. I hit no gold. Perhaps, I thought, this is how my career will be: a never-ending onslaught of massive failures and small victories: a microscopic plankton of success in an ocean of losses. I simply wanted to achieve something, anything that would make me a writer, make my wife happy, and make my family proud. I had done none of that. I could not even provide a decent quality of life that would sustain a family. This is how my days went. Drowned in sorrow, beer, sometimes whisky, and in my lacking creativity.

Suddenly came a knock on my front door. I walked the three steps from our table to the entryway and opened up. There I saw a young, fairly attractive woman, not much younger than I, wearing military camouflage. Before I was able to ask what she wanted a pistol emerged within her hand and she pointed it square into my face.

“Mr. Abram, I’ve been looking for you. Do you remember me?” she spoke sharply.

As caught off guard as I was, I stuttered, as I replied, “No. Who are you?”

“I’m one of the forgotten ones, Mr. Abram. An idea that was born, formed, and never developed: a brief lean towards success that was ultimately disrupted and lazily shelved with no further attempts at completion. I am a lost one. I have a name. Artist, they call me. I know I belong somewhere, for some reason, but I don’t know where or why. I can speak seven different languages. My favorite movies are all James Bond films. I was not so much of a human as much as I was a creation. But, that is all I can currently reveal. Do you think you can help me?”

The woman was as petite as she was magnetic. Her skin was dark, appeared smooth. She wore her hair just past her shoulders and her purple eyes gleamed like Amethyst. Her stark magnificence was mesmerizing. So much so that it was easy for me to completely overlook the fact that she held a pistol to my head.

“I’m not certain I know what you are talking about. Artist, is it? But I can assure you that my brain doesn’t work quite as well when the possibility of it being spewed across my wall is present. If,” I paused to clear my throat, “ . . .you could remove that hideous means of defense from my cranium, I’d be happy to assist you in any way that I can.”

She remained stoic. Barely moving an inch. I shuddered when I realized that most individuals able to hold such cold gazes rarely allowed someone to live after threatening their lives. It also didn’t help that she was gorgeous, small, and overall appeared unthreatening, save the gun. I couldn’t stop gawking at her. Something about her seemed so familiar and warming.

“Mr. Abram, I have minimal time. No time to play around with games or unnecessary words or phrases. I need your help. I need an ending. And I need it now!”

It was becoming apparent to me that Artist was more than likely an escapee from the local mental health ward, which was a few short blocks away. I had never crossed paths with her. That much I knew. It was such an unusual request. Asking to be given an ending, well that was absurd. People don’t create their own endings, but I entertained her idea.

“Artist, when you say that you are an uncompleted person. A creation, as you said, what was it-that is unfinished? Is it your life that you consider to be short? Unhappy with your lot in life?” She lowered the gun. “Well I’m not much of a finisher. I’ve made plenty of excellent starts, but have seen minimal conclusions or outcomes. I remember, back in college I used to entertain Elizabeth, my umm.”

“Your wife.” Artist interjected.

“Yes, my wife. I used to entertain her with my hopes of becoming some great writer. Wait, how did you know my wife’s name? Who are you?” Fear continued to climb up my spine. Who was this woman? How did she know us?


“Mr. Abram, you have been doing so much speaking but have failed to grasp the fact that I came here with a need. I need you to complete me. Now, please.” She looked at me with contempt.

Artist had accelerated into insanity at light speed and she appeared to be pressing down on the gas with minimal effort. My hands were shaking now and it had nothing to do with cold air. I perked my ears in hopes that a parade of sirens and military were descending upon my apartment at once. No such luck. As I attempted to make my way to the telephone it struck me like a punch in the gut. Artist was not so much insane as I was ignorant.

“Artist. Artist Christian Thomas. A.C.T. That is your name correct?” I hoped against all hope that I was right.

The stunning beauty nodded her head in agreement.

“Artist, how did you? I mean. We met while I was in high school, correct? We, well, you and I. We started our relationship my junior year of high school. I was so sick of studying for the ACT exams. You, you were a fantasy of mine. An idea. Right?”

Artist now appeared strangely comfortable with my staring. She appeared much more lively, a less vicious siren, more hopeful, and a vibrant youth.

“Abram. I think you know what to do now. You are the one who created me. Gave me life. You were alone and struggling. You were unsatisfied with your situation. You made me as an escape. I was completely concocted within your creative mind. But, shortly after you gave me my personality, my skills, my difficult situation, you gave up on me. Left me, unfulfilled. I need closure now.”

She spoke truth. Artist was my very first attempt at becoming a recreational writer. She was everything to me. I was with her for almost two years before I decided to hang up the idea of a highly skilled, purple eyed, ferocious, killing machine that was on the run from the government. Her blood also happened to contain the cure for most if not all illnesses, including depression and alcoholism, both of which I was fairly familiar.

I explained, “Artist, I never knew how to go about ending the story. I haven’t thought about that story for over ten years.” I wanted to wallow in my failure a bit more but another sudden knock at the door came. I didn’t even have an opportunity to open when the door was blasted off of it’s hinges and in came one of the most unfortunate looking boys I had ever laid eyes on. He was gaunt, pale; his teeth were buttery yellow. He wore a Boy Scouts uniform. His name patch simply read, “Pest” and he had a black leather glove on his left hand. Artist instantly dove and shoved me away from the boy. I was stunned and a little light headed after slamming against the floor with such force. I remembered that I had given Artist super human strength. She was easily able to throw vehicles around when it was necessary.

“What is going on?!,” I asked, while a storm brewed inside of the apartment. The boy held a savage grin on his face. Upon closer inspection, he had a look in his crimson eyes that I had never seen on such a young child.

“We have to move to your room! You don’t want to be near him at all!” Artist screamed as the boy continued to slowly make his way toward us.

I couldn’t place if this was something that I had written. I searched the deep recesses of my brain to come up with some hint of recollection of this specific individual. Pest? It seemed so juvenile. “What would a child named Pest want to do with me?” Another blow to the gut, I thought. Pest, or Pestilence as the reader would later find out, was the youngest of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He was an unfortunate soul who lived out his life as normal as he could, called upon only to develop and implement the destruction of various regions of the planet. He was destructive, more than your usual ten-year-old boys. I had decided to make him a sympathetic character. He was after all a boy, and a lonely one at that. Those character traits were not shining through at that particular moment. I was unable to develop much of his story after that though. But apparently he had crossed paths with Artist because he was inching closer to us with each passing second and the expression on his face showed a


vivid disdain for Artist, or perhaps it was directed toward me?

“Artist!” I shouted as I led us to my room where she slammed the door. She began to gather my desk chair, dresser, clothes, and plastic storage boxes. Anything she could use and pushed it up against the door.

Through all this unimaginable and unexpected madness I couldn’t help smiling to see that these things were going on right in front of my eyes. It was terrifying, but marvelous at the same time. There was a certain romance in being hunted by a character you had created. Those feelings quickly dissipated as I heard Pest pounding on the bedroom door.

“So you’ve met Pest, huh?” I comically remarked to Artist. It was comical to me at least. She responded with an alarming explanation.

“Abram! You stored his unfinished story papers directly on top of mine. He and I have crossed paths many times. I was in a forest searching for my ending for what seemed like forever when he fell directly in front of me. It was as if he came from the sky! He’s been nothing like you had hoped. He has developed himself. His story is borrowed from The Bible. Pest the child only existed because of you, but he’s growing and becoming exactly what he is meant to be! He has lost all of the feelings and human nature that you gave him and is simply becoming a horseman. And he has been trailing me for a long time now! That is why I need you! You must have Pest and I cross paths in my story and I must destroy him! I must finish him so that I can continue my life.”

Hammers usually exist to build or create pieces of carpentry work. They are useful tools that provide the necessary sturdiness to pound nails into pieces of wood so that they can be connected to other pieces of wood. I, however, would easily have used one to crack my skull in half at that particular moment. I was about to reply to Artist when I noticed that Pest was no longer pounding the door on. It instead was sizzling and appeared to be melting away. A repulsive stench had entered the bedroom and began to engulf the whole place. Memory decided to join the party and I realized that the reason Pest wore a glove on one of his hands was because that was the source of his curse, or power, depending on if you were human or one of his horsemen brothers. It was a dead, frightful hand full of sores and lacking any shade of human color. It was more of a greenish yellow and emitted a foul odor that remained with anyone who came into contact with it, which would ultimately result in his or her death. He was a bedraggled monster if I may say so myself

“This, this is so surreal and I have to admit a bit exciting! He, and you too! You’re real! Every writer would love to have this experience. Both positives and negatives.” I placed my hands upon my head as I stood in awe of this incredible phenomenon.

“I hope you find death exciting then, Abram! You have to get to work! Finish our stories!” Artist hollered to me.

Artist was not happy with my fondness of Pest. I found him to be a character that was able to develop an audience. Secretly I had no high hopes for Artist’s story. It was simply something that I did to pass the time. I hesitated to adhere to her request to finish their stories and have a face-off where she somehow came out on top. I would actually prefer his character to continue on, but something within me knew that I could not allow her to die.

Meanwhile, the door and dresser and all other furniture were melting away. Artist was doing her best to hold off this maniacal child while I stood back and tried to come up with something. She shouted at me once more, “Abram, you have to finish the story! Use that paper and pen! She pointed to a notebook that had fallen to the floor. I grabbed the pen that lay next to it and began writing. The environment was not conducive to great work, but my future was at stake. I wrote, I skipped big words, used minimal artistry, kept metaphors to a minimum.

Pest had stumbled upon the beautiful Artist in the sacred forest…I wrote with a nimbleness I had never previously experienced. Things had never seemed to come together this way before. Sentences gracefully spilled out. Strength battled mythology. The livelihood of all the human race rested on the


shoulders of the delicate warrior. I continued on. My back faced whatever horror was going on behind me. I could hear grunts, screams. Pest had gotten inside the room. The smell was nearing unbearable. It surrounded me like a toxic cloud. I was making headway on the conclusion of the story but the war continued to wage just behind me. Near the end, I decided that Pest would not succeed, at least not this time. As I lifted the pen just briefly to press down for the final sentence I felt a cold, wet, heinous looking hand rest upon my shoulder. And with that, the room went black.

I opened my eyes. The room was full of dark. I was covered in sweat. Elizabeth lay next to me. I reached for her and stroked her shoulder to confirm her existence. I rubbed my tear-crusted eyes for a bit before I was able to open them fully. I looked around the room. Everything appeared intact, but the room was so dark I was not certain. What had just occurred was nothing more than a dream, I thought. I yawned, stretched and looked over to the clock that read five in the morning. It was still dark though. I decided to step out of bed quietly to keep from disturbing Elizabeth before she had to get her morning started. My naked feet met the floor, which did not feel under ten degrees. It was warm and comfortable. Our hardwood floors were carpeted now, which was a home improvement that I had no prior knowledge of. I stepped out of the bedroom to walk just down the hallway to our kitchen. However, the kitchen was out of place. I must have fully experienced a dementia-related episode as I realized that the kitchen was in our home, but it was down a flight of stairs. I stood at the top of the stairs confused and troubled. This was not my apartment. This was not where I lived. Something must be off or I must have still been dreaming. I hadn’t done hard drugs in such a long time that I could not attribute it to that, nor was I drunk. I walked down the steps and noticed that in the lounge area was a computer with a number of notebooks stacked on either side of it along with various sticky notes that contained numerous phrases, sentences, names, places, descriptions, and other useful scene notes. This place must belong to a writer, I thought.

I decided to turn on the computer and see if I could gather some news or information of my current location. Before turning it on I could see a slight reflection on the monitor screen thanks to the desk lamp that sat near the computer. My hair was there, but it appeared dusty. I rubbed my head a bit, but the dust remained. If I had not known better I would say that there were hints of grey in my hair. This whole unbelievable situation seemed to be drifting further into Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I was sitting stunned for a moment until a hand, soft and small placed itself gently upon my shoulder. I jumped briefly before I turned around and saw the most beautiful little girl I had ever laid eyes on. Her jet-black hair extended down to the small of her back. She had a beaming smile and stuck a tiny finger into her watermelon-red lips. She swayed back and forth at her waist. The girl wore purple footy pajamas that matched her stunning purple eyes. An inscription on her pajamas read, Artist, and she gave me a big hug. “Morning, dada! I thirsty!” The little wonder brought a warming sensation to my heart. I knew who this girl was. She was mine. I picked her up and decided to make my way to the kitchen. As we walked around the comfortable household something caught my eye. It was the shelf that Elizabeth’s father had made for me just after we had moved in together. I walked over to it, and saw what appeared to be several full-length novels stacked against one another. I eyed the book spines. Numerous titles. “Pest,” “A Deadly Battle for Life,” “Age of Epiphany,” “Struggle of the Horseman,” “End Times.” They were all there. And that was just the top shelf. Below was another that held what appeared to be children’s books: “Artist Goes To Camp,” “Artist Learns To Share,” “Artist Recycles,” and other similar titles. Each one had a written by that was followed by my name. I stared at the books while I held Artist tight in my arms. My throat tightened, and I held back my tears. I was a writer. I had finished with not one but many books. I was a finisher. But I was not finished. There was much, much more to come: more things to write of course. More importantly, more things to start and finish with my first and favorite character of all time, my little Artist. Winter in Wisconsin seemed a little warmer.

#  # #


By Gary Garcia