Darren and I like to shoot the breeze, usually about the Packers or favorite horror flicks, though we’ve never spent time together outside the workplace. When he first got the job we’d greet each other with cliché banter. Working hard or hardly working? Why don’t you file THIS, huh? Eventually we graduated to pranks, old-school stuff like placing a whoopee cushion on Cheryl’s seat or something more innovative like setting up a video teleconference at a strip club (his idea, not mine). Management reprimanded me for such indiscretions, but not Darren. His uncanny resemblance to Jeffrey Dahmer, coupled with a boyish charm, always got him out of a jam.
I should explain that Darren is a little “out there.” He could spend the entire day insisting a whoopee cushion is more formally called a fart bag. I quickly disabused him of this inane theory. Also, he claimed that when he was a kid he came up with the beloved schoolyard joke which begins with the question: “What are you eating under there?” To which the unsuspecting victim responds, “Under where?” or, for all intents and purposes, “underwear.” I told Darren there’s no way he came up with this one. I did the math. He’s thirty-two years old, and the joke’s been around since at least the early Seventies. But Darren isn’t the type of guy who lets the facts get in the way of his self-image; he considers himself one of the most creative minds since Stephen King, his favorite author.
Admittedly, he ended up making my dream more entertaining than it actually was. Ever a sales guy with a keen eye for marketing, he saw potential for a great video game. He imagined the German shepherd speaking in a German accent, but he wasn’t sure if it were friendly or menacing. That would be the game, in fact: do you trust the shadowy canine to get you out of the dark forest or do you find clues that suggest otherwise and find an alternative route? He then decided, much to my objection, that the dog should be a she-wolf, maybe even a half-troll half-she-wolf, with a gravelly demon-like voice. And then he made the forest come alive, with ominous trees whose branches wield swords and daggers, the object of which is to destroy them with a magic saw before they destroy you. “This isn’t frickin’ Narnia, Darren!” After I objected, he tossed aside the video game idea and suggested my dream would make a great novel or maybe even a movie. He envisioned either Ralph Fiennes or, better, the German actor Jürgen Prochnow, doing the voice-over for the German shepherd.
Another one of his ideas for the movie would give credence to office grapevine about Darren being gay. The rumors are false, I hasten to add, but it doesn’t matter, does it? I mean, I don’t care if you’re homosexual, straight, black, white, Martian, Venetian—everyone is a child of God and anyone who discriminates against another person, for whatever reason, is an ignorant fool. Besides, I wouldn’t be hanging out with Darren if he were gay. The Jürgen Prochnow character, which Darren now described as a full-fledged human who appears in the form of a German shepherd when fighting evil, would stumble across his lover bathing in a mountain stream. Now, I’m fairly certain that Darren said his, not her, but he denies it. That’s so Darren! He’s too homophobic to concede an innocent Freudian slip. I just shook my head.
I’m not interested in writing a book or creating a video game or designing a software program or selling rights to a movie or anything. My quest is about self-discovery, or maybe personal growth, if not the meaning of life itself! Why does everything have to be about making money or seeking recognition? After these remarks, Darren looked at me as if I were the dumbest person in DummyLand, another idea for a video game he once shared with me. “Yeah, right,” he responded with an exaggerated wink. “When and if the book gets published,” he said half-jokingly, “I get ten percent cut, especially if you use the half-troll half-she-wolf idea.”
Apparently, Darren gossiped about my dream as he sauntered back to his office cubicle. Cheryl, with one of the new hires from HR in tow, stopped by ostensibly to warn me that the area supervisor is making a visit after lunch and everyone should look busy. Evidently mistaken that I would care and maybe trying to relate, she recounted a dream in which she was a princess and the object of every man’s desire. Using her considerable feminine wiles, Princess Cheryl was able to hold off invaders from taking the kingdom, until the arrival of the prince, who appeared in the form of a dog that, in the process of ravishing her, transformed into a shirtless Sting. I wondered if her brain realized her lips were giving voice to her secret fantasy. Probably not, because it also didn’t register the nausea her story was giving me in the tummy.
An inner voice had warned me not to discuss my dream with co-workers, yet I foolishly did not heed its call. Consequently, I learned something that day. In addition to reminding myself that Darren’s a doofus, I confirmed my earlier suspicion: I’d regret casting pearl before swine at the workplace.
By happenstance my weird uncle overheard me describe the dream to my cousins over Thanksgiving weekend and subsequently gave me a bizarre explanation. We were all sitting around with loosened belts and stuffed bellies after a gargantuan meal at my parents’ house. One of our family traditions is to share something for which we’re thankful. The kids, my nieces in particular, usually say something lame like, “I’m thankful for pumpkin pie and my hamster Samuel.” My sister, never disappointing us with her flair for the theatrical, shocked everyone this year when she expressed thanks for her (cheating) ex-husband’s motorcycle accident. We momentarily fell into an awkward silence. When it came to my turn, I unthinkingly uttered my appreciation for the clearing in the forest and the white dog that led me towards it. That’s how much the dream had been on my mind and how the surreal was seeping into reality. I just blurted it out. Naturally everyone was curious about my comment and wanted all the details.
Later in the day my uncle took me aside to offer an implausible story, and I recount it here only in the event that the reader can make something out of it, because I certainly can’t. For privacy we walked into the garage where he would weave quite a tale of a harrowing escape from the clutches of a would-be killer. According to my uncle, my flight through the forest was not the stuff of dreams but a real event that I’ve evidently refashioned into an enchanting fantasy so as to avoid reliving the trauma.
A deranged kidnapper had held me for ransom in an abandoned lumber mill. The shafts of light are my dim recollection of the kidnapper shining the flashlight into a shed to check up on me periodically. Lucky for me I had somehow unloosened the electrical cord from my wrists when my psycho captor left to retrieve the bag of money, because he had no intention of letting me live when he returned. My weird uncle wasn’t sure whether the German shepherd I saw was a real police dog from a K-9 unit or an illusion from effects of the chloroform slowly starting to wear off. When I informed him that the police don’t use white German shepherds, he rejected my comment out of hand. He explained that the dog had earlier burrowed his snout in alkaline soil in an effort to make out my scent, unwittingly getting white dust all over himself in the process.
My uncle then told me I have “a great little lady by my side.” He was referring to my wife Karen who had fully cooperated with the sheriff department to provide any details that might lead to my rescue. She also got the neighbors to chip in money for the ransom and at a great risk dropped it into a dumpster behind Wal-Mart as the kidnapper’s note had specified.
My uncle was a bit shady on the details of the abduction. As I was walking out of Burger King one late afternoon, the kidnapper, whom authorities later identified as 38-year-old Thomas Sherwood, asked if I’d help him with directions. He reeled me in with a sob story: he wanted to deliver a birthday gift to his eight-year-old daughter who lives with his ex-wife. They recently moved to a Chestnut Avenue. (How did my uncle remember these details? He has trouble with the names of his nieces and nephews, let alone his grandnieces and grandnephews!) As I crouched down next to his car to help him locate the street, he banged the door hard against my head knocking me out cold. Remarkably, not a single person witnessed him dragging me unconscious into the backseat of his Subaru. Countless questions arose in my mind. In broad daylight? Which McDonald’s are we talking about exactly? Did I put up a struggle?
I found it a strange coincidence that my dad and uncle went to a barber named Tom Sherwood. This Sherwood fellow also happened to own a purple Chevy van, much like the Mattel Hot Wheels car my son had left on a storage bin in the garage and right within eyeshot. I was skeptical. Some of the details didn’t ring true to me. I never eat at Burger King. If my uncle had said McDonald’s, and specifically McDonald’s in the morning, maybe I’d have believed him, because I share with my wife a wanton lust for their breakfast menu items. Also, I’d never help anyone with directions. I say, if you’re lost, get rid of your GPS cellphone and learn to read a compass, asswipe!
He said I have no recollection of the kidnapping, and he’s absolutely right about that. Between the trauma of the ordeal and the bump on my head, I’ve suffered from amnesia. The police would substantiate this story if I bothered to check. This crime had consumed various law enforcement agencies, producing one of the largest search parties in the state’s history and even yielding new techniques in forensic science. Those who worked on the case, however, have since gone into retirement and records are already under lock and key in the state archives. Moreover, while authorities had been searching for me for weeks, they kept it out of the local papers to protect family members.
Again, red flags started going up. I got the impression my weird uncle was covering his tracks. He was tying up so many loose ends, as if he wanted to dissuade me from substantiating his account. He even told me that, should I ask Karen about the kidnapping incident, she would lie about it to protect me. I was getting exasperated with my uncle’s suspicious tale. He had an answer for everything. “My wife? Protect me from what?” I got no verbal response from him. Instead, he swiveled his grey head, grabbed a toothpick from his shirt pocket, started to pick his teeth, and at the same time give me a look as if to say You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
I didn’t know what to make of my uncle’s explanation. As I mentioned at the outset, the dream seemed like it was really happening, but I still say it was undoubtedly a dream. As preposterous as his story was, I came to realize that my uncle was merely trying to help. I reminded myself that I call him my weird uncle, not my mean-spirited or lying-sack-of-shit uncle. I swear, not fifteen minutes after I thought these words, my dad, upon finding out I had been talking with his brother in the garage, said, “Stay away from that lying sack of shit.”