Unbegun Tales are four volumes of short stories. The name refers to the fact that these were all ideas which I had for short stories in my notebooks; ideas which I had had for years, but which I had not even got around to starting. As I was going through all of my old notebooks one day I decided that there was little point in having ideas for stories unless you were going to actually try and write those stories, one day. So I sat down and wrote the short stories, one after the other.
Initially I thought that maybe, if I was lucky, there would be enough for one volume. But, in the end, I produced four volumes of the short stories, the last which I completed. I have now put aside short story writing for good, to concentrate on my novels and creating the Gas-Lamp Fantasy Role-Playing Game.
In these collections you will find strange stories about dreams, God, ghosts, dragons, the Devil, wasps, flying islands, magic gone wrong and other things.
The fourth volume, due to copyright issues, is not available on Amazon.
Here follows, in its entirety, the story Are You Dreamworthy? taken from the first volume of Unbegun Tales.
Short story: Are You Dreamworthy?
Are you dreamworthy? Do your silent nights call out for a crescendo of noise? Do your black and white images need an infusion of vibrant colour? If so, then contact the PKD Institute.
Phil stared at the poster on the wall. The poster seemed to be some sort of advertisement, as there was a telephone number given for this PKD Institute. But no website address. What sort of business didn’t have its own website now? Even the fish and chip shop he went to had its own website.
The poster did not seem to have been done that well, either. It was large black letters on a cadmium yellow background. It looked like something which was very amateurish. He should simply have ignored it and gone on his way. But Phil took out his notebook and pen, and noted down the number on the poster. He always carried a notebook and pen, just in case he had some idea which he wanted to note down. Phil closed the notebook, and put it back in his pocket, and gave it no more thought. He had shopping to do, and other, far more important things than think about some stupid poster.
Phil gave no more thought to the PKD Institute until that evening, when he opened his notebook and he saw the number which he had noted down. Perhaps, he thought, he would investigate it, just to see what it was about. But he did not intend to ring the number. He was not going to contact them directly.
He turned on his personal computer, and searched for details of this PKD institute. But he could not find any trace of it. The place did not have a website, which Phil found to be exceedingly strange. What sort of business didn’t have its own website? But not only that, there was no mention of it by anybody else. Somebody should have mentioned it. But there was nothing.
Phil decided that it was not his problem. He wasn’t going to contact them. So he turned off his computer and got on with his life.
The next day he walked past where the poster was, on his way to work. But the poster was not there. In fact, there was no indication that the poster had ever been there. Not a scrap of it remained on the walls.
At work he spoke to his colleague, Joe, to see if he had heard of the institute.
“What institute?” Joe asked.
“The PKD Institute.” Phil repeated.
“No, never heard of it. What’s all this about?”
“I saw it advertised on a poster, and wondered what it was.”
“Poster? A bit old school, isn’t it? What did it say?”
“It asked whether you were dreamworthy – one word – and gave a number to call.” Phil said. “I tried to check out the place on the internet, but there was no trace of it. And when I went past the wall this morning the poster had gone.”
“Ah, it’s obviously just some person’s idea of a practical joke.” Joe said. “You should just ignore it. Somebody was pulling your leg.”
So that was what Phil tried to do, ignore it. He put it entirely out of his mind, and got on with his job. His really dull job.
A few days later, he opened his notebook to do a shopping list, and he noticed the name of the PKD Institute, and the number. He frowned. He had his shopping to do, and he should ignore it. Joe had probably been right, and it was some fool’s idea of a practical joke. But he did not see what harm there could be in calling the number. The number was probably fake, anyway. He would get nothing at all – or get the local Indian takeaway, for all that he knew.
He picked up his telephone, and called the number.
“Good morning.” a woman’s voice said, almost immediately. The connection had been instant, and Phil had not heard the number ring at the other end. The woman had a very cultured voice, the sort of voice which you would expect to hear reading the news. “This is the PKD Institute. Are you dreamworthy?”
“Er, what is the PKD Institute?” Phil asked. He had not been prepared for actually getting through to such a place. It had caught him on the hop, a little.
“Good morning. This is the PKD Institute. Are you dreamworthy?”
“Is this a recording?” Phil asked. Which was a pretty stupid question to ask, as the voice – if it was a recording – was never going to answer yes.
“Good morning. This is the PKD Institute. Are you dreamworthy?”
“Yes, I’m dreamworthy.” Phil sighed. This was obviously some sort of automated system. If he did not give the correct sort of response nothing would happen, he supposed.
“Welcome. You are now entering the PKD Institute.” the woman’s voice said. Then the line appeared to go dead.
“Hello?” Phil said. “Are you still there?”
He hung up, and stared at his phone. What had the woman meant when she had said that he was entering the PKD Institute? Was this all some sort of practical joke?
He tried calling the number again, pressing the redial button. He wanted to try to find out what the voice had said what she had said that he was entering the PKD Institute. But he was told that the number was unobtainable, as though it did not exist.
“That’s not possible, I’ve just dialled the number.” Phil said to himself. A telephone number could not suddenly become unavailable just like that. It was impossible.
He tried again. But he got the same response. The number was unobtainable.
It was just somebody’s idea of a joke, Phil told himself, just like Joe had said. Except that Phil did not find it all that funny. He could not see what the punch line was.
There was nothing further that he could do, though. So he picked up his notebook, and he made his shopping list, and went shopping, just like he had intended to do that. And he tried not to give any further notice to something which must have been nothing more than some bad joke.
That night Phil slept. And he dreamt.
He dreamt that he was walking into town, like he must have done thousands of times, either to go shopping, or to go to work. Except that he did not need any food, in his dream. And it was his day off.
He walked down into the town centre. He walked up to a building which he had thought that he had been past a thousand times before, an imposing building of pale stone, one which must have stood there for a hundred years or so. In the past Phil had always presumed that the imposing edifice was some sort of bank, although he was not sure why he should have thought that. But now that he was standing outside of the building he saw a large sign over the door, declaring it to be the PKD Institute. Now how had he managed to miss that before?
Nobody on the streets of the town paid him any attention. None of them walked in or out of the PKD Institute. They acted as though it was not there. Phil could not understand it. Somebody should have been going in or out of the place. Somebody should have been paying some attention to it.
Phil tried stopping one of the shoppers, to ask him about the PKD Institute. He chose a ferret-faced old man, his plastic bags. Phil had to step right in front of the old man to get him to stop. It was almost as though the old man had not seen him until Phil blocked his path.
“What is it?” the old man growled, staring up at Phil. The old man was considerably shorter than Phil.
“What can you tell me about the PKD Institute?” Phil asked.
“The what?” the old man asked, as though Phil had suddenly chosen to speak to him in Aramaic.
“The PKD Institute.” Phil said, pointing towards the building. The old man followed where Phil’s finger was pointing, but he did not seem to be able to see the PKD Institute. It was almost as though the place wasn’t really there.
The old man shook his head, as though Phil was a crazy person. He walked around Phil, not saying another word. But he looked back at Phil, over his shoulder, as he hurried away.
Phil stopped another couple of people on the street. But neither of them seemed able to perceive the PKD Institute. Both reacted as though it was not there. Or maybe they were simply seeing a bank, instead.
Phil, in the end, had no choice but to turn and walk through the double doors of the PKD Institute. As he did so, he heard a woman’s voice, the same one which he had heard on the telephone when he had called the institute.
“Welcome. You are now entering the PKD Institute.” the woman’s voice said. At which point Phil woke up.
He lay in bed for a couple of minutes, thinking about the strange dream which he had had. The dream was already beginning to fade, its details becoming unclear, as the real world asserted itself. He had dreamt of the institute because he had tried to phone the place earlier in the day. That had been the reason for the strange little dream.
Phil got up, got dressed, and went to work, not thinking about his dream. His day was boringly normal, just like a thousand before it. He put the whole PKD Institute out of his mind. It had just been somebody’s idea of a joke, after all.
That night, Phil dreamt again.
The double doors swung shut behind him. He had just heard a woman’s voice welcoming him to the institute. But he could not see where the voice had come from.
He was in a long hall, the floor made of marble. Large marble pillars supported the ornate roof, high overhead. The walls of the immense chamber had oil paintings on them, every one of them ones of the Old Masters.
He knew, without inspecting them closely, that the paintings were by the likes of Constable, Stubbs, Reynolds and Gainsborough. There was nothing more modern than that. Certainly no modern art.
Lining both sides of the hall were old, mahogany desks. Sitting at each desk there was an employee of the PKD Institute. They were all dark-haired, and in their thirties, and they all looked similar, even though half were men, and half were women. They all wore suits, rather than some sort of uniform. But there was a strange uniformity about the black suits which they all wore, as though they had all gone to the same tailor, and bought precisely the same style of suit.
Phil walked over to the nearest desk, the one on his right. Phil looked at the man sitting behind the desk. The man was probably in his thirties, although it was hard to judge his age. He had an average haircut – not too short, not too long. There was not a blemish on the man’s face – not a single mole, or freckle, or distinguishing feature. He had a very bland set of features.
There was a chair the other side of the mahogany desk. Phil sat down. The chair was a little lower than perhaps it should have been, and Phil found himself looking up at a slight angle at the blank-faced man on the other side of the desk.
“Is this the PKD Institute?” Phil asked, wondering if he had come to the correct place.
“Welcome to the PKD Institute.” the man said. Phil took that response as an assertion that he had, indeed, come to the correct place. Whatever the PKD Institute actually was.
“What is the PKD Institute?” Phil asked, still wondering what he was doing there.
“Are you dreamworthy?” the man said, by way of response.
“What? What do you mean?”
“If you are not dreamworthy, then you are wasting our time.” the man said. “Are you dreamworthy?”
“Yes, I guess that I’m dreamworthy. Yes, I am definitely dreamworthy, whatever that means.”
“Good, now we’re getting somewhere. We can begin processing you. Now, we have a small number of questions which we need to ask you, before we begin giving you your new dreams.”
“Go on. Shoot.”
“Good. What colour is your soul?”
“What?” Phil said. “What colour is my soul? I don’t think that my soul has a colour. I’ve never seen one, anyway. I’m not even sure if there are such things as souls.”
“Everybody’s soul has a colour. Haven’t you ever photographed your Kirlian aura?”
“I don’t even know what a Kirlian aura is.”
The man behind the desk sighed, as though he was dealing with an idiot. He opened a drawer his side of the desk, and brought out a strange leather helmet with some goggles attached at the front. He put the helmet on his head, looking at Phil through the goggles. The glass of the goggles was smoky, and multi-faceted. They gave the man the appearance of some insect, perhaps some giant preying mantis. The thought made Phil shiver. He had never like insects. Spiders scared him, to the extent that he could not even help them out of the bath. He could not bring himself to touch anything like that.
“Ah, yes, I see.” the man said.
“What do you see?” Phil asked, wanting to know what it was that the man had seen. But the man behind the desk ignored him. He took off the strange helmet with the goggles, and returned them to the desk drawer, slamming it shut. The man picked up a board, to which a piece of paper had been clipped, and ticked a box, although he did not show Phil exactly what question had been ticked.
“So, what colour is my soul?” Phil asked, now more than a little bit curious. But the man ignored him. Instead, he took out a long form and began to tick various boxes. The printed words on the form were too small for Phil to read upside down. He tried, but the words swam, taking strange, alien shapes.
The man sitting across the desk eventually had ticked every box which he was going to tick. He turned the last page of the form, to the back page. He reversed the form, and pushed it towards Phil. All that there was on the back page was an area which required Phil’s signature. The man held the form down on the mahogany desk so that Phil could not turn the pages back, and see what the form was about.
“Please sign here.” the man said, handing Phil a pen. The pen appeared to be made out of gold. But it felt a lot warmer in Phil’s hand than he had expected it to.
“What is this form?” Phil asked. He did not want to sign a form which he had not read.
“Are you dreamworthy? Please sign here.”
Phil signed the form. It was only a dream, after all. As soon as he signed his name the dream began to fade.
Phil woke up. He lay in bed for a few minutes. He remembered a strange dream, where he had been inside the PKD Institute. He had signed some piece of paper.
But it was only a dream. So he got up, and he went to his usual place of work. He did not tell anybody who he worked with about the dream which he had had. Why should he talk about his dreams? They were not something which were generally discussed. They talked about sport, mostly. Very occasionally they might talk about politics. But they never talked about their dreams.
He walked back from work that afternoon, when his shift was complete. The shops were just about to close. But, if he was quick, he could do some shopping on the way back from work. He needed more batteries, for some of his electronic devices.
As he was walking up the High Street, the batteries in his pocket, he thought that he saw something out of the corner of his eye: PKD Institute, high up on the walls of a white stone building, above its double doors.
Phil immediately turned to look. the building was there, and it had glass-fronted double doors. But there was no sign saying the PKD Institute above the door. In fact, there was no sign at all; which was a little strange if it was a commercial building. There should have been some sign indicating who owned it, or declaring what went on there.
He had been past the building a lot of times before, without ever having paid it all that much attention. He had always though that it was a bank. But, if it had been a bank, at some stage in the past, then it was one which had since closed down.
Phil walked over to the double doors. He tried them, even though it was dark inside the building. They were securely locked. He had expected nothing else. Beyond the doors Phil could see very little, apart from a plush, dark blue carpet extending into darkness.
Phil turned away from the building. He saw a short, rat-faced man struggling with a couple of bags of heavy shopping. For some reason the man looked familiar to Phil, even though he was sure that he did not know the man. Phil ran over and grabbed the man’s shoulder, halting the rat-faced man’s progress. The man looked down at where Phil’s hand was on his shoulder. But he did not say anything.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to stop you like this, but could you tell me what that building is?” Phil asked, gesturing towards the white stone building, the one which looked as though it should have been a bank. The man who Phil had stopped looked at Phil as though he was crazy. He did not answer. Instead, he wrenched his shoulder free from Phil’s grasp, and continued on his way, muttering stuff under his breath. All that Phil could do was to watch the old man go.
Phil walked home. As he was going, though, he thought that he glimpsed something strange out of the corner of his eye – something like a man-sized praying mantis. Something tall, anyway, with compound eyes and feelers.
Phil turned to stare at what he had thought that he had glimpsed. But there was nothing there, of course. Insects could not get to be that big. It was physically impossible. They would not be able to breathe; and they would not be able to breathe under the wait of their exoskeleton. The largest beetles, like the goliath beetle and rhinoceros beetle, were only inches in length.
Phil shook his head. He must be tired, that was all, imagining that he saw things which were not there.
He had no dreams that night. Or, if he did, they were not ones which he could recall when he woke up the following morning. Which he thought was a little bit strange, not to have any dreams at all. He had half-expected the dream where he had been in the PKD Institute to continue.
The next day he went to work as usual. It should have been a usual day. Just like the day before, and the one before that.
He clocked on. He started up his compute. His computer came on, making those little noises which all computers made as they booted up. Except that the sounds sounded a little bit odd to him. The slight crunching sounds reminded him of the sounds of insects; of some giant praying mantis eating food with his mandibles. Well, what he thought the sound of giant praying mantises would sound like, as he had not ever heard such a creature eat.
He stared at his computer a little bit suspiciously.
“Are you okay, Phil?” George asked. Phil looked up to see George, one of his fellow workers, looking down on him with a look of concern on his face. “You look a little pale.”
“Yes, I’m fine. Say, did you hear an odd noise just now, when I turned my computer on?”
“No, why? Is something wrong with your computer? Do you want maintenance to look at it?”
“No, it’s fine.” Phil said. “Sorry, I think that I was just imagining it.”
Phil carried on working. He did not notice anything odd. But he felt a little disconnected from what he was doing, as though it did not matter any more; or as though he was in some dream, and just dreaming of being at work. But that couldn’t be true.
He had no dreams that night. He had no dreams at all.
On waking it was clear to Phil that he had been stuffed by that PKD Institute, and that they had not sent him any dreams at all. He would have complained, but he could not recall the number to call.
He was sure that he had written the number down, but he could find no trace of it.
He was sure that he had gone along to the PKD Institute. He had, hadn’t he? He could recall some great stone building, with the legend above the double doors announcing that it was the PKD Institute. There had been the double doors, and that great hall disappearing into the distance. There was blue carpet. He could recall some form on a clipboard, and that some young man had been asking him questions. That had been real, hadn’t it? Or had it all been some sort of dream? Phil could no longer recall which it had been. He should have been able to tell.
He carried on going to work. He asked the other about the PKD Institute. But none of them knew what it was.
The feelings of being separate from his work continued. It felt as though he was outside, looking in. it was like he was watching another Phil doing his menial work, and none of it mattered, because it was all only a dream. But he still carried on with his work, just on the off-chance that it was real.
His computer, when he turned it on, still sounded like an insect. It was secretly a praying mantis, chewing up information with its invisible mandibles. As to what the mantis did with the information afterwards he could not possibly begin to imagine.
On Sunday he went into town to look for the PKD Institute. Phil had to know that it was real and that he had not dreamt up the whole thing. He had to know that he was not going mad. And he had to know why he was no longer getting any dreams.
He felt tired. He was getting enough sleep each night. But, each morning, he felt a little bit more tired, however much coffee he drank.
He walked into the centre of town. He looked around for the PKD Institute, but he could not find it. There was one building which looked to be a similar shape. But that building had been a bank, until it had closed down. He was almost sure that he remembered it being a bank, although he had never been in the place.
Phil saw a short, rat-faced man struggling with a couple of bags of heavy shopping. For some reason the man looked familiar to Phil, even though he was sure that he did not know the man. Phil ran over and grabbed the man’s shoulder, halting the rat-faced man’s progress. The man looked down at where Phil’s hand was on his shoulder. But he did not say anything.
“Excuse me, but do you know where I can find the PKD Institute?” Phil asked, feeling, for some reason, that he had already asked that question before. He was struck by a sudden, overwhelming feeling of deja vu.
“Do you mean the Psycho-Kinetic Dream Institute?” the rat-faced man asked. Phil could see the man’s whiskers twitching as he spoke.
The Psycho-Kinetic Dream Institute? Was that what it was called? Did PKD stand for Psycho-Kinetic Dream? Phil supposed that it could, even though he had no idea what a psycho-kinetic dream might be.
“Yes, that’s it.” Phil said. It had to be. It was the only thing which made any sense.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of it.”
Phil let the rat-faced man go. There was no point in holding on to the man’s shoulder if he had never heard of the place. But something still felt wrong to Phil. he felt light-headed, as though he had not had enough sleep. Everything felt out of kilter.
He did not dream that night.
The next day, at work, he felt even stranger. Or perhaps it was the world which was getting increasingly strange, and he was the only sane one within it.
His computer made insect sounds when he turned it on. But that was not all. Out of his peripheral vision he could see George – or the being that sat where George was supposed to be sitting. Except that he glimpsed some horrible creature, similar to a giant praying mantis, but with a shining silver exoskeleton and compound eyes.
Phil turned to stare at the creature. But it was not there. It was only George. There was nothing of the insect about him.
“Are you alright, Phil?” George asked. Phil realised that he had been staring at his work colleague. “You look pale. You look thin. You look as though you are wasting away.”
“Yes, I’m fine.” Phil said. “Well, no, I’m feeling a little odd. I’m not dreaming any more.”
“Are you sure?” George asked, and smiled at Phil, revealing his teeth. Phil had not realised how shiny George’s teeth were, in the past. But they gleamed.
David walked over to stand at Phil’s desk. Except that David looked just like George. He was George II. Peter walked over to stand at Phil’s desk. Except that Peter looked just like George. He was George III. In fact, as Phil looked around, he was that everybody was a clone of George, the entire staff of the office.
Phil had to get out of there, before he turned into a clone of George, as well. It was not like he could remember what his work was supposed to be, anyway. He no longer knew what it was that he was supposed to do.
As he bolted from the office he heard all of the Georges mockingly asking him if he was not going to ask him about the PKD Institute. But all that Phil could do was to run.
He ran into the centre of town. He was there almost instantly. It was as though the intervening distance did not exist.
He was dreaming. It was the only possible explanation for what was going on. Except that Phil did not normally realise that he was dreaming, when he was within a dream. And he could not work out just when it was that this dream had begun.
He was in front of the PKD Institute, that white stone building which he had been looking for. Of course he was there. It made perfect sense to him.
The double doors were open. Phil could see a dark blue carpet beyond it. He went into the PKD Institute. He had to find out what was going on. Except that, at the back of his mind, was the thought that if this was a dream, then none of it could be real, anyway.
He went into a great hall, going into the distance, carrying on down to a vanishing point. It seemed that this hall, with its plush dark blue carpet, went on forever. There were desks either side of this great hall. The desks were oak, or maybe mahogany, Phil was no longer sure which. But they were some polished dark, hard wood.
There were pictures on the walls of the hall. They looked like old Masters. There was a picture behind every desk. Phil had not realised that the Old Masters had painted so many pictures.
There was a person fro the town at every desk, asking about dreams. Phil recognised some of the people. They were shopkeepers who he knew, or occasional friends, or the man who delivered his mail in the morning. On one side of the desks were all of the people who he knew.
On the other side of the desks there were the staff of the PKD Institute. They wore very smart suits. They wore very smart hair. They wore very shiny smiles, just like the smiles of the Georges had been in his office.
But that was all only clothing. It was nothing more than a disguise. Phil could see beneath the disguise. And he could see that they were not human, not at all. They were like giant praying mantises, with compound eyes. But their exoskeleton was shining silver, rather than green.
“Are you dreamworthy?” That question was being asked by the alien insects over and over again. And everybody sat at a desk answered yes. They were all dreamworthy. They all wanted to have dreams.
As soon as a person answered yes to the idea that they were worthy of dreams Phil saw a stream of colour go from the mind of the insects into the eyes of the person sitting in the chair. Were those dreams? He was not sure. But he supposed that they must be. Dreams were going directly into the minds of the people. That was what they had asked for, after all.
But that was not all. If it had been, it might not have been too bad, despite the fact that strange, alien insects were responsible for this process. But something was coming out of the humans sitting in the chairs. It looked like a glittering silver line. It looked as though it was alive. It looked like life itself.
The silver strands issued forth from the mouths of the humans sitting in the chair. The strands went straight into the mouths of the insectoids. It might be a two way process, but Phil did not think that the humans were getting the best of the deal.
None of the people stood up. They sat in their chairs, having their vitality drawn away, feeding the insects, which seemed to love whatever it was that they were getting off the people. They sat there, as their life forces were drawn off. Phil watched, in horror, as these people were turned into burnt out husks. The silver strands ended, with nothing more to be drawn out of the people. The people were empty, like mummies, desiccated and with nothing inside them.
But the multicoloured stream from the mind of the insects did not stop, even though they were now directed into what appeared to be corpses. If anything the multicoloured stream of dreams seemed to get stronger.
The bodies began to fill out again. There was something inside them. But whatever it was, it was certainly not human, even if that was what it looked like from the outside.
The people on the other sides of the desks smiled. They all had gleaming white teeth. They were all Georges. Everybody was being turned into George.
Phil ran out of the PKD Institute. He did not know where he was running to. But his mind realised that this was nothing more than some nightmare, and that there was no way in that it could be real. The dream collapsed around him.
Phil woke up in bed. He was covered with sweat. That had been one of the most horrible dreams which he had ever had in his life. The only thing was Phil could not definitely recall just when the nightmare had begun. But he supposed that it must have begun when he had gone to sleep the night before. He had – initially – only dreamt that he had not had any dreams; while, in fact, he had dreamt that he had woken up and gone to work.
He got dressed and went to work, still feeling that something was wrong. He could not shake off that feeling. And at work he knew what it was, because he was met by an army of Georges.
He woke up screaming; and again, and again. No matter what he could do he could not escape the dream, for how can you, when dreams become real?
Are you dreamworthy? Well, are you?
The first three volumes of Unbegun Tales are available as e-books on the Amazon Kindle store.