Near-Death Experience, But Not Really

Storm clouds loomed.

I expected a productive morning, even if I had plans in the afternoon. My novel-in-progress, more than half complete, needs a finished draft by the end of summer. It will need work, of course, but I'll have something. I've been slowed by two issues that need to be resolved. Sunday I awoke at 3am less with the solution than with a map that could take me there. I went to my office and typed for about half an hour. The next morning, I picked up the thread.

A severe pain stabbed my chest.

I arose, bewildered, and wandered, slightly doubled over, into the next room. Moments from deciding to hit 911-- my wife was out-- it subsided. I thought it through.

Heart-attack related pain tends to be diffuse. This was localized, and on my right side.

The actual incident lasted only seconds, at most half a minute.

I had pushed my workout the day before, because I'm conscious of having fallen out of shape over the pandemic years. I tried an experiment and did some basic movement with a small barbell. Left side: fine. Right side: definite muscle pull where I'd felt the pain.

Still, I realized that I should monitor my situation. In those seconds I felt myself re-examining my life and feeling that I don't especially want to die now.

Clouds gathered.

I took a COVID test, which came up negative. This was not because, since the pandemic started, every ailment needs must be COVID. Rather, we had an event that afternoon, and we did not want to bring along the virus.

I wished the event were happening on any other day.

The Box Hill Follies

When my wife returned, I explained the incident. We nevertheless decided to continue with our plans. The local Jane Austen Society had not held a social event since before the pandemic. Meetings, certainly, and most of those in cyberspace. One annual event was a picnic named for the one held at Box Hill in Emma. My wife was involved in organizing this year's, and I will be speaking to the group in a few months, discussing The Con.

It takes place on Lake Huron. An older couple, a pair of men involved with JASNA, own three properties on the shore. Two sit side by side, overlooking the lake, with wooden stairs down to the beach. One they rent. One get used as a studio, library, and place to sit nearer the shore in summer. They live in one across the street.

The same day, the local Pride Parade had returned after a two-year absence, and I really wanted to attend. A friend was present a week ago when a smallish Pride-related event in my old neighbourhood was interrupted by a couple who yelled slurs at people and got into a physical altercation with spectators. One of those spectators was a friend of mine, as it turned out, who'd been present with her toddler son. Naturally, I felt even more interest in seeing the return of the main event. So did at least one of our hosts, a fascinating, story-filled old guy who looks like an aging biker crossed with a Stonehenge Druid. However, the date had been set, the two events clashed, and we headed for the shore.

Or, I suppose, the hill.

I spotted a dead alien creature on a picnic table, a tiny green hominid. It was a sock monkey, a child's toy, that someone had found. Moss and mould engulfed it.

Many people chose not to come-- it is an older group, with health concerns-- and a few pulled out at the last minute. The weather services predicted storms, and that, at best, would have moved the picnic indoors, making for a less picturesque and pandemic-friendly event. At worst-- you do not want to be caught outside in some storms.

The resulting gathering became, subsequently, chaotic. Some contributions stayed home with the people who'd signed on to bring them. The wooden chairs and tables, in need of repair, were not always stable. One, until recently, had been occupied by a shambling mound of a sock monkey. The barbecue failed after warming up the buns and half-cooking the burgers (turkey and veggie-- the food, in my experience, has never been especially Austenian). Each of our hosts set out, one with the buns and one with the patties. Unfortunately, they headed to different kitchens in different buildings.

Food was served. Some event-appropriate games were played. People went to the shore and into the surf. One participant's young puppy played with the dog belonging to the couple renting the place next door.

The rain started. We broke up sooner than expected.

In the end, we would often hear distant thunder across Lake Huron, but we would never be where a full-on storm reigned. Rain fell local to us, but even that felt like an extended shower. Nearby swathes of the province were hammered, however, with the usual felled trees and local power outages resulting.

There's a story here. The next time you read it, it will be augmented rather than expurgated.

Of course, sometimes my dreams are also pregnant with ideas that will eventually appear in short stories.

Strange Dreams Indeed

The dreams began with me wandering around a city that had a blurred quality, as though painted by an artist gazing through rain.

I crossed a street and wandered into a police bust. A group of people were being arrested, each of them dressed like trick-or-treaters of another era. Their clothing was a motley tickle-trunk assemblage, and they wore those cheap plastic masks popular on Halloween in the 1960s and 70s. Similarly-garbed folk in a nearby diner looked out and protested, but did not interfere. I put on a plastic diamond mask and entered.

It turns out this was the Texas (SOME WORD MY BRAIN MADE UP) College. It consists of autodidacts who dismiss all history, science, and geology and develop their own conclusions based on personal observation and experience. Naturally, it's rife with conspiratorial beliefs, and some of its members become involved with fringe political views. Presumably, the group being arrested were involved in a politically-motivated criminal plot. The influence of recent news seems obvious enough.

The old plastic Halloween masks shield their identities.

Then the dream ceased to be about me, though the larger world continued to influence my night-thoughts. This morning starts the Pope's visit to Canada which includes an apology for the FN Residential Schools, many of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

As the dream continues, a story unfolds about a young woman seeking a place to stay. She's heard about a room in a building that houses FNMI people seeking temporary shelter in the city. While that was not her background, she was dark-haired and of Eurasian background, so she was often mistaken as First Nations.

She slips under cover of night into one bed available near the door of the women's dorm. Then somehow she exits the story, and the bed's occupant is a Caucasian man with wild, distinctive hair who resembles, but is not, the man who does play-by-play for sporting events. His doppelgänger apparently has some past history that has made him unpopular with local FN communities. Worse, morning reveals the large dorm room is occupied mainly by members of a female baseball team. How will he escape?

A flashback reveals that, during a game involving at least one FN team, the play-by-play took his eyes off the game to get an oyster or mussel from a device that serves them up, one at a time, using a pneumatic system. As a result, he missed a major play. "I'm sure that was spectacular," he said, over the mic. "I was getting a snack." The crowd booed. He wouldn't have behaved this way, went the thinking, at any other game.

Back at the dormitory, the inattentive announcer's double has a plan. He puts on the same diamond mask I had a dream ago, presumably to obscure the parts of his face that don't suggest his famous ringer. Then he bursts out of the bed while singing an off-key version of "I've Gotta Be Me!" People turn from outrage to laughter and pull out their cellphones. This will go viral! That play-by-play idiot, obviously high on something, is going to be revealed for the fool he is!

He leaps out the window and runs.

Meanwhile, I am crawling around my house dealing with tiny creatures that look like chocolate chips with legs.

I wake.

The sky is blue but it feels like rain.