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Jacques Coulardeau

Before waking up I was dreaming, not a dream mind you but a nightmare. My house was playing open house without my permission because all the locks had been broken and the doors could not close. Strangers were roaming from one room to the other. The basement was visited and systematically being looted. I was there in the middle of this havoc unable to do anything to stop it, not even to dial for the police or any other security forces. I was helpless and frozen in the middle of the big riot that this raiding of my house meant and represented. I was on the verge of yelling, though I could not because I had lost my voice in this crisis. When I woke up, a ray of sun was filtering through the shutters of the bedroom window and falling on my forehead and face. I did not waste time wondering what this could mean. I got up and checked all my windows and doors. They were all securely locked. It had been a nightmare and nothing else, even if in the deepest layers of my mind I was believing that no dream, no nightmare was innocent and that it announced some drastic event. But what ? I could not say. After all I was not a headshrink.

I went to the kitchen and got some breakfast ready with a large cup of coffee. That put me back into the mood of a new day. I was ready to go out and do whatever I had to do. So I went to my front door, and to my utter surprise, that front door of mine was wide open. I had checked it some half an hour before and it had been locked. So what was the problem today ? Was my dream becoming true ? Probably not, because there seemed to be no stranger in the house. I quickly checked the various floors, including the basement. No one. So what was the business with this front door that got unlocked and open all by itself ? I could not tell. I reopened it and I stepped outside. As soon as I was in the street I knew something was wrong, severely wrong because I could not hear one single sound, not even the birds in the gardens. I did not tell you that I am living in a small village in the mountains and there is always a sound of some kind that can be heard at any minute of the day or night. Today nothing, not one single little small noise. Something was wrong.

I looked around and the street was deserted. Nothing special because it is in fact a narrow back alley and practically no one ever takes it. So I locked my door and went down this small street to the main one, and there the same deserted spectacle. No one to be seen, nothing to be heard, total emptiness. I went on though and started to notice some strange elements. The shutters of Mrs Davidson, who is an early riser, were closed. The dog of Mrs Ericson was not outside her door, like everyday and every morning in all the years I have known her. Further on the bakery's shade was down in its window though it was at least eight thirty. That reminded me that I had not checked the time. I looked for my watch on my left wrist where it normally is and I had forgotten to put it on. Something was wrong with me if I forgot such habitual actions. But what ? Further on I came to the highway that crosses the village and it was still the same spectacle of desolation and emptiness. It is then, and only then that I started being afraid, feeling some deep fear of something I did not even know. But something had happened during the night and I could not tell what it was. I did not know.

When I arrived on the main square, I decided to sit on the bench next to the bus stop and wait for things to come back to normal. The butcher's shades were drawn in his window. The grocery store was closed. The tobacconist and newsagent was not in business today, though it was Wednesday and all the papers normally arrived in the village around six in the morning. I checked the clock on the tower of the church and it showed six o'clock, but I had not heard it ring, and six was definitely wrong. It must be later than that. So, what was the matter with the village today. It looked as if it had been evacuated during the night. But an evacuation that concerned even all the natural noises of a village, all the birds, dogs, animals, insects even I guess. A tragic situation that required some thinking and I was more afraid than anything else to be able to think clearly. So I dropped the task and just stayed seated on the bench waiting for some event to come up and explain this strange situation.

I had not been sitting on this bench for more than ten minutes when I finally saw someone coming along the sidewalk of the highway, dragging his feet, because he was an old man, dressed in an old coat and some kind of shapeless hat. He was smoking a pipe. At least I noticed that much about him. His looks were not that surprising, just out of place because they corresponded to no one in particular. A stranger, nothing else, a drifter maybe. But I guessed that he might be able to give me some explanation. I was going to call for him when I saw him coming to the bench. So I waited. He sat down and went on smoking his pipe which surrounded him with some kind of sweet smoke smelling like honey. I said hello and waited for him to answer. But he did not. He went on with his puffing smoke and said nothing. That seemed to me even stranger than all the rest because in our villages everyone greets everyone else, known or unknown. But one more surprising thing in the picture was not to surprise me. So I sat peacefully waiting for him to tell me anything, to ask any question. He gave me plenty of time to think about the situation.

And he finally did say something, after about ten minutes of silence.

"Hello, young man. What are you waiting for?"

"Well, I am waiting for the village to wake up."

"Wake up it won't."

"How do you know?"

"I know."

"But why am I the only living being in these dead surroundings and why are your here?"

"Never ask two questions at the same time. I am inclined to forgetting the second when I answer the first."

"So, why am I the only living being in this dead surroundings?"

"Who says you're living?"

"What do you mean? Am I dead?"

"No you're not. But you're not alive either. You are in-between."

"What do you mean in-between?"

"I had to talk to you without any witnesses. So I had to take you into a time when the village was no longer alive, when it was empty. We are just five minutes after time. Just five minutes mind you, though time must seem to be frozen to you. If you behave properly, you might be able to get back into the main stream of time."

"You sound like some character in the Twilight Zone. Are you the devil or something of the kind?"

"Be reassured. I am not the devil. I am you, yourself and yours. Don't you remember your dream?"

"Of course I do. My house open to any roaming looter and visitor. My house pillaged and desecrated, emptied of all its contents. I do remember it."

"Have you wondered what the meaning was?"

"I am not a headshrink and I know nothing about dreams."

"It was a sign that your life was going to be dilapidated if you did not react in your present situation."

That did make me think. My present situation. Nothing special, just a little bit dramatic. I examined the evidence of my present situation. My wife had been killed in a road accident a week ago. My son had left home to live his life with some harsh words about his necessary freedom. I was alone in the house and in life. I had been on a week " vacation " for the burial and the necessary adjustments. I was supposed to go back to work on the following day. That was my situation. My wife killed by a drunk driver. My son stolen away by this unplanned death. I was at the end of a rope, of a path that led only to a big abysmal chasm. I did not know what was going to happen. And now this supernatural situation. I was back in time five minutes. I was confronted with a crazy baboon that was pretending he was me and was telling me about my life and announcing me he had to talk to me. I did not say a word but the man seemed to hear my thoughts.

"An abysmal chasm. That's what you feel. Your house has been raped just like your life by one event that was unforeseen, for you. Unluckily that event had been in a way programmed a long time before and it is some kind of hurdle for you have to climb over."

"I am touched by your concern, mister. But I think I can face that reality all by myself."

"You can? Vanity of vanities. You can't even keep your house secure in your dreams. You have to face your situation and think it over."

"But who are you to tell me all that?"

"Let's say I am fate on the road of life. I never meddle with events, normally. But there are some cases where I have to intervene and sort out pieces in a shattered life. You are one of my favorite cases at the moment."

"What makes me so special?"

"Your potential, boy. Your potential."

"But what am I in life? An Internet programmer that can be replaced in five seconds. I can disappear and yet the world will go on turning around the sun."

"Oh, yes, of course, the world will go on because, as you know, the show must go on. But you have an assignment in this world and you have no right to evade it, even if you have been caressing the idea of opening your house to the looting riot of pillaging thieves. You have been caressing the idea of forgetting your assignment and dropping out in a way or another."

"That is totally false. It is a lie."

"Do you call me a liar? Vain little worm in the hand of fate, that is to say in my hand. I can crush you like a slug along the way and you dare call me a liar? Were you not caressing the idea of dropping everything and retiring in some kind of desert where you could lick your wounds like a wounded dog, or rather cultivate your sorrow? Tell me if that is not true."

Of course he was right. I had envisaged the possibility to close up shop and go on a trip somewhere where I could be alone with myself. And suddenly I realised that I was alone with myself, but in the past of things. Did I have the intention of leaving this life ? I quickly examined my mind and I had to reckon it was so. I had envisaged the possibility to step out of life.

"So this encounter is like a sample of suicide?"

"Not so much a sample as a real experience for you to think it over. Do you really want to step into the past of time and disappear for the real world, or do you want to cope with the real world and real life?"

"But my life is finished in a way."

"Vanity again. You have a task on your agenda and you are the only one to be able to do it."

"What task, for God's sake?"

"You can swear as much as you like. God does not mind it at all. You have a task, yes. You have to build some kind of temple for your dead wife and for your departed son. A temple where you would create a completely new universe on the basis of your recollections of these two beings that have left you. If you drop out, they will be abandoned to roam for ever and ever, your wife on this side of life, behind time, and your son on the other side of life, in time. Who can build this sacred place where your wife will find a recollection of life, of her life, her memory in a word? Who can build this sacred place where your son will one day come back to remember his youth and his mother? You have no right to drop out. You have the responsibility to erect this mental temple for both of your losses. And that can only be done in real life."

"But I don't understand."

"Who cares about you understanding. You've been an eternal rebel in life and yet you only know orders. You cannot understand what is as plain as plain can be. You have to make up your mind for this task, and you beg me to give you an order, and what's more calling it understanding. The conversation has come to its end, anyway. In an instant you will be back in time and you will have to consider your options. What I have done is just to bring them to your mind in a different perspective from your suicidal desire. So now go on back to time and decide for yourself. The interview is finished."

The old man got up, still puffing on his pipe, walked away the way he had come and I was alone again in the dead village. He told me I was supposed to go back into time, but he did not tell me how. So, I got up and walked back to my house. I reopened the door and decided to let it unlocked. Don't ask me why, I don't know. I went to the kitchen and for the first time I found out that the clock was not ticking there. I picked up the telephone in the living room and found out there was no dialing tone. I went around in the house and found out that all the clocks, that on the hifi, that on the computer, that on my desk, that on the VCR, that in the bedroom and of course that in the kitchen, all of them were stopped at the very same time : six o'clock a.m. It was fine and dandy to be told that I had to go back into time, real time. But I was locked in old time, dead time and I did not see what I could do. So I went back to the kitchen and got a cup of coffee ready. I drank it. I smoked a cigarette. I sat on the couch in the living room. I turned on the radio that carried only statics. I turned on the TV that gave me a screen of snow. Everything was dead. So I must be dead and I did not know the way to go back. What could I do?

At this moment I realized that I was trying to go back into time, to get away from this dead time. I was surprised by this desire or decision and frightened by my impotence. I was in a way dead and I wanted to go back to life. And I did not know the way.

But a fact came back to my consciousness. If I had been able to prepare coffee, which was already made in the electric coffee-maker, it's because I had been able to warm it up in the microwave oven. So this world was not completely dead. Some juice, electricity, was still running. There still was some life in this dead situation. Same thing with the radio that was not dead since it gave statics, or the TV since it gave snow. Communication was dead, like the telephone, like the radio or TV that did not bring any programs, but that's all. At this very moment I realized that there was some one or some people in the house, though I could not see them. I could hear some mumbling, though nothing was clear. Strangely enough I felt myself being moved around, strangely enough I felt myself being transported somewhere though I did not know where. I felt myself being transported outside the house, into some kind of vehicle and strangely enough I heard the door being locked behind me. I abandoned myself to that feeling, the feeling of being transported, moved around, though I did not know what it was. I was still seeing my house. I was still inside and roaming around, and yet I was being transported somewhere else. I decided to lie down on my bed and go to sleep. Sleep is the repairman of all clogged human plumbing. As I was going to sleep, falling into sleep I had a quick vision of the village bustling with activity. I had a vision of the old man and I heard him say :

"You see, James, I know your name. It is not easy to evade one's responsibilities and one's life."

"But, God damn it, who are you ? What's your name?"

"Why ask two questions at the same time ? My name would tell you nothing."

And I delved into sleep for an unknown period of time, then came back to some fuzzy consciousness that brought me some sensations of being transported again and being put down on some couch of some type, and I got away again into some cloudy sleep, though when I was on the very verge of losing awakened consciousness I heard some ticking. I could not place it and recognize it, but something was ticking next to me. And I dived into a sea of dreamless sleep.

I woke up a long time later. At least I thought it was a long time later. I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was the old man, sitting next to me. I was in a bed, I assumed my bed. And the old man was sitting on a chair, holding my hand. It was the first time there was some physical contact between him and me. But my vision became shady and fuzzy. And little by little the old man changed and his features became some familiar features, some familiar face. Little by little, every time I opened my eyes because I closed them regularly to go back to sleep, the face became more and more familiar and little by little, over an unknown period of time, I recognized Paul, my son, sitting next to me and holding my hand. I still heard the ticking sound but it was now a lot more complex, complicated. There seemed to be many sounds, all entangled into some ticking that resembled some heart beat. I started too to see what was around me. It was not my room, my house, but some kind of white universe. What was Paul doing here in this white universe ? Where was I ? A lady came in and mumbled to Paul something I nearly did not understand. Some words though floated over the indistinct mumbling. " … coming …back … must … patient … some time … " And she went away. I went back to sleep.

When I woke up again, this time things were clear. I recognized the room I was in as being some hospital room, you know, this standardized universe that we have visited many times without really looking at it, because we come to visit a patient. But the details are recorded and I recognized these details. Paul was still in the room, but standing by the window and looking outside.

"What are you doing here, Paul?" I asked.

He turned around and smiled. That must have been the first time he smiled at me without any irony or sarcasm in his features or eyes. I saw in his eyes both tiredness and some joy.

"You're at last back. What got into your head to do what you did?"

The point is that I did not know what I had done. I did not know why I was in this hospital room. I did not know why Paul was here with me.

"What exactly has happened? What have I done?" I asked in some kind of slurpy voice.

"I came back this morning to pick up a guitar that I hadn't taken along and I found you in your bed in some kind of strange sleep with some vomit all over you. I called the doctor who came at once and had you transported here. They told me that you had tried…"

"Don't say it," I said briskly and curtly.

It came back to me in a flash. I had tried to … I couldn't say it even in my mind. The old man of the village square was trying then to explain me that what I had done was both doomed to fail and absurd. I nearly went back to sleep, escaped this realization into some sleep, some evasion. But sleep I could not. So I faced Paul instead.

"You were not supposed to come back."

"I'm sorry but I had this strange desire to have this guitar around five in the morning and I decided to get it at once. I felt some urgency to do it and I did it. I kind of heard a voice waking me up and telling me : " Go home, you have something to do there. Go get the guitar you have been missing for a week and do what else you have to do. " In my waking up slumber I heard myself asking : " What do I have to do ? " And the voice answered : " I can't tell you. I am allowed to tell you only one thing. You hurry up and do what you have to do. " I ran all the way home and found you. What in hell did you have in mind when you did what you did ? Don't you know that I need you still ? Don't you think the death of Mary-Ann was enough for one day, one week, one month, one year?"

At this moment a nurse came in, all dressed in white and gently told Paul:

"You better not speak too much with him. He still has to recover and that will take a few more hours or even a few days."

And I started thinking about what I had done. And I saw myself preparing the pills, crushing them into a powder that I put in a big spoon, a heaping spoon mind you, and then I swallowed this powder with some orange juice, and I added some alcohol behind, to rinse it down and activate the effect. And then I saw myself going upstairs to the bedroom, lying doing on the bed and falling slowly into unconsciousness without any pain, except maybe the pain of departing this world without saying goodbye to anyone. And I started thinking about the old man who had called himself fate, and I realized he was part of my dream, and at this moment I closed my eyes to think deeper about my leaving without any warning for Paul or other friends, and I started to wonder why I had done it, what made me do it, why I did not stop it once it was started, and the old man was there, in my mind this time, and he said:

"Well, welcome home, welcome back to time. It is not that easy to stop the clock of life, and there is always some kind of fate that disturbs our most determined decisions in that field. I can disappear for good. My mission has been fulfilled."

And he did disappear. I remembered in my mind what he had told me on the bench about building a temple for the memory of the departed one and for the comfort of the surviving one. I was back into my responsibilities. And deep inside me I heard a voice, an unknown and unidentifiable voice saying:

"Life is a long road and no one has the right to fall behind time. We must follow the stream, the movement, the flow of time and take whatever it brings us with the strength of a wild beast that has to conquer its territory against all hostile elements."

I must have slept again for an unknown period of time because when I reopened my eyes the hospital room and Paul had disappeared and I was in my bed, in my bedroom, in my house again. The sun was filtering through the shutters and falling next to my head. I checked the time on the alarm-clock and it said six a.m. I looked around myself and I wondered what the meaning of all this was. Was it a dream, a premonition, a visit from another world ? And just then the alarm-clock rang. A new day was starting and I had the bitter taste of reality in my mouth and throat. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout. And I could neither. Life was back and with it the pain of the losses of this week that was coming to an end and the new week that was starting, even if it was wednesday. Mary-Ann had gone on her road beyond life and Paul had left, swearing he was not going to come back soon. I was alone, all all alone on my road to … what could it be ? Bliss or doom ? Salvation or damnation ? Had I really considered coming to a final solution ? I could not remember any more. I only had in mind the strange dream I had had, because I assumed it all was a dream, and I shivered slightly in the cold of the april morning.

Yet I wanted to make sure. So I got up. I went to Paul's den and there, sure enough, the guitar he had come to take in my dream was missing. But all the clocks were ticking, the telephone had a dialing tone, the radio was bringing news, the TV was broadcasting some cartoons, the door were all locked, and I had to get ready for a new day.


Jacques Coulardeau is dedicating a lot of his research to multimedia literature, particularly horror and fantastique (Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker,...). But his scope is a lot wider, from the Middle Ages to modern times in the field of English, European and American literatures and arts. He is particularly working today on the relation between language and music, bringing together, for example, Shakespeare and his multivaried linguistic music and Purcell, a musician that brings the language into the music. On another level he also works in theoretical linguistics, which enables him to look for the intricate and deep levels of the language that build its music, its power. He has extensively travelled in Africa, the USA and Europe, and has taught in many universities (University of California at Davis, Université Lille III, Université Paris IX Dauphine, Université de Paris II Panthéon Assas, Université de Perpignan) as well as in many secondary schools in "Zaire", the USA, France. He has also been involved in many cultural movements and actions as an author for the radio, the theatre, the press; for kids as well as adults. He also works with other artists and musicians in order to create, in various places, cultural events that bring together various artistic forms.

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