I am not sure precisely what the inspiration for The Dream-Tongue came from. Sometimes I know precisely what has inspired me. But at other times the ideas for novels well up from deep within my subconscious. That was the situation with The Dream-Tongue, I think.
The novel is a kind of whodunit, but nothing like the sort of story which might have been written by the great Agatha Christie. The protagonist of the novel wakes up in hospital, to find that something terrible has occurred, although he cannot initially recall what. But the police want to speak to him, so it is clear that some crime has occurred. But the man in the bed finds that, as a result of an injury to his head, he cannot get out the words which he wants to: he spouts gibberish, instead. He cannot even write anything down.
His girlfriend has been murdered but, in the absence of being able to give any information to the police, he must try to investigate the crime himself, despite his handicap.
Extract from The Dream-Tongue
My head hurts.
I open my eyes and stare at a ceiling I don’t recognise, and I don’t know why I am here.
Tiredness overwhelms me. My eyelids flutter shut.
I open my eyes again and it is the same ceiling which I saw before. It is a light green colour. I can smell cleanliness and death.
There is somebody wearing a nurse’s uniform. Why is that woman wearing a nurse’s uniform? I didn’t order a strippergram. She smiles at me and scurries away. I try to turn my head to follow her, but it is like lead. It has become the heaviest object in the entire world, composed of the matter of a black hole. I don’t yet realise how apt it will seem to be.
I am in hospital. I stare at the ceiling. There is a television which is on, somehow affixed to the wall diagonally opposite where I am lying in a hospital bed. But I don’t look at it.
I close my eyes again, the lids dragged down by supergravity, and I am unable to resist. I don’t see the nurse return.
My head hurts.
My eyes open. How long have I slept? I feel as though I have slept for a million years and I am still tired.
I don’t see the nurse. And I wonder who I am. I can’t remember my name. Why can’t I remember my name? Adam? Alan? Aidan. I think my name is Aidan. But why is it so hard to think? Why can’t I recall what I’m doing in a hospital? Why is there blackness where my memory should be?
I try to cast my mind back to the last thing that I can recall while I wait for the nurse to return. Slashes of something glittering, like a falling star. And then a deep descent into a maelstrom of pain and darkness.
Somebody pulls open one of my eyelids and shines a bright light in. I try to tell him too stop but I only get as far as the “St…” before some perverse signal stutters my voice to a halt.
“Yes, he appears to be awake, nurse.” the doctor says. I open both my eyes to look at him, now that he has stopped shining the light within. He is in his forties, dark-haired and clean-shaven. As he has not bothered to introduce himself to me I think that I will call him Mr Whitecoat. It is as good a name as any.
My head still aches.
A policeman comes and sits down beside my bed. He speaks to me almost as though I am a child. He asks me if I remember what happened. I can’t even recall opening my eyes again. But his words have prompted some of the fragments in my mind to cohere. I remember a knife. It was the knife flashing that I recall.
“My brown now.” That is what I say. It was not what I intended to say. I am trying to ask how’s my girlfriend. But those words don’t come out. I try again.
“My brown now.”
The policeman turns to speak to Mr Whitecoat the doctor. They talk as though I’m not there, as though I cannot understand a single word. But I understand fine. I have not lost my capacity to understand English. But it seems like I have lost my ability to speak it, as though my tongue is dreaming.
Since I cannot speak I listen. They talk about an injury to my brain, when I was stabbed in the head. I don’t remember that. All that I remember is
a black woollen ski mask, with hollow eyes. Hollow eyes, lacking all the humanity that sets us apart from stone. There was a knife. Blood. My girlfriend on the floor. Then there was pain. Then there was me waking up beneath a ceiling that I don’t recognise.
There has to be more than that. But the past is fractured like an undone jigsaw. All that I can see are flashes of my life. And I can’t put the pieces together at the moment. Somebody give me the box, I want to look at the front, and see what it’s all supposed to be about. Confusion lies on me.
My girlfriend on the floor of our house, wearing a big red grin on her neck. Why was her lipstick melting, running down the side? What was her name? Why can’t I recall her name? And why can’t I speak what I’m trying to think?
“Night like meteor.” I say, trying to describe the knife. But the policeman isn’t listening to me. He is talking to Mr Whitecoat. I can’t hear what they say. Speak up, speak up, you’re talking about me and I want to know what is being said. Am I on death’s door, about to peg out? Part of me hopes that to be true, for I do not like what my life has suddenly become.
The policeman turns back to me. This is my chance to show that I am not dumb, and that I can still communicate.
I motion for paper, hand held up pretending to write. I must tell PC Plod what has occurred, even though I still don’t remember much. But what I do now I will write down, making a novel of it, something better than any novel which I have produced before.
A novel: something new, truths so terrible that they have never been told before. And in this truth there is no beauty, only the horror of recall. I don’t want to look at it. But I can’t turn my face away.
The doctor nods at me. He seems to understand. PC Plod looks, and gets out his notebook, and a stubby pencil. Do the police still really use notebooks and pencils? I suppose that a pencil cannot run out of ink. But I would still much rather use a gel pen. They feel so much better when there nib is scrawled across the virgin whiteness of the page.
I try to write down what I can remember – and little fragments come back, like how big the knife was, and the black, woollen ski mask, and how hollow those hazel eyes were, as though there was nothing behind them but the void. No humanity there at all.
I try to write down hazel eyes. But the marks which I inscribe are not even letters, let alone words. Whatever wound has been inflicted on my mind has not only robbed me of speech, but of my ability to form words. I cannot speak, I cannot write, I cannot get my views across.
What is a novelist without his words; and suddenly I remember that is what I do. I am a novelist, and that is how my money was made. My name is Aidan, or Adrian, and I write books… and my girlfriend was murdered by an intruder in a black woollen ski mask and… and I don’t recall the next bit yet.
The policeman looks at the hieroglyphics on the page. He gently takes his pencil and notebook back out of my hands. No Champollion to decipher what has been writ.
He goes to whisper to the doctor, so sotto voce that I cannot hear. But I know that they are talking about me. Speak up, speak up!
I want the policeman to explain to me what has happened. I want him to explain away the cruelties of existence. But he does not. He gives a little smile at me, and walks away, not telling me what has occurred.
I’m sure that he must know far more than I about why I am in hospital. I am sure that he must know far more about the masked interloper who has stabbed my purpose away. I have seen those CSI television programmes, and I know about all of those marvellous gadgets they have, to see the splashes of wood on the living room wall, to trace a spare woollen fibre from the mask, to check up on any DNA which was left behind. The policeman must no more. But he leaves without telling me anything. I curse him inside my mind, knowing that if I try to speak nothing fruitful, or fruity, will occur.
Mr Whitecoat comes over and he speaks to me. The way that he talks to me I know that he is unsure if I can understand him or not. I would nod, but my head hurts too much.
He tells me words that I don’t want to hear, about how I was stabbed in my brain and that I have suffered damage to my speech centres; to the parts of the brain which control forming words, whether written or spoken. That must be why I cannot talk or write. It does not make me feel any better knowing why I cannot speak the words within my mind. It only makes me feel more frustrated. I try to ask about the killer.
“Kitten.” I say. “Kitten.”
I am told that it’s for the best if I try not to speak at all, at least for the moment. Then I am given the standard drivel about there still being a lot about the brain which is not understood, and about the body’s ability to almost miraculously heal. I don’t buy this, and I don’t think that he does, either. But I suppose that you have to try to give the victim hope, don’t you, when all off the other evil’s have been loosed out of Pandora’s Box?
The doctor mutters stuff about getting a specialist to look at me, and that I should rest and try to heal. That’s when I work out that the wound is not going to be fatal after all. Shame, I almost wish that it was, and that I could escape. Then he shrugs his shoulders and walks away. I watch him walk. I don’t try to say anything.
The Dream-Tongue is available as an e-novel on the Amazon Kindle store.