Joe’s Nightmare

December 29, 2017–In a slight divergence from my normal posts, I’d like to present here the first five pages of my novel.  This magnum opus has been over 30 years in the writing, keeps getting shelved, evolves, and may be coming into its time.  I call it “speculative fiction,” describing visions that leap-frog over the Armageddon the sooth-sayers are so ominously predicting.

It’s About Time, Bud, Beon and the Bots, begins with “Joe’s Nightmare.”  Protagonist Joe and his doctor friend Marian are sitting at Mack’s  Bar and Grill on a busy Friday night.

I present this opening here, to WordPress friends and would-be friends, seeking correspondence of ideas and imagination.  I hope to entertain, tell a story, express a philosophy, and inspire the forces of vitality to all who are touched by it.



Marian glared at Joe, but he didn’t see.  He was slouched low in the booth, staring at his beer. His faded white shirt hung loose over thin shoulders.  His brown eyes, usually bright and inquisitive, were dark, brooding, and sad as those of an old, dying dog.  His eyelids drooped, and even his large, floppy ears seemed to sag.  Marian chuckled at his woeful appearance.  Joe’s eyes didn’t move.

Her eyes followed his to the glass, then scanned the room.  Mack’s Bar and Grill was hopping, the Friday night crowd jubilant and loud.  Tiffany lamps interspersed with hanging plants sparked with bejeweled light.  The misted window beside their booth gleamed with trails of glittering raindrops outside.  Mack’s mirror collection covered the walls, giving an impression of friendly spaciousness that Marian found refreshing.

As people swarmed, eerie, surreal shadows played across Joe’s face.  Televisions with muted sound in front and back showed sports highlights.  A dank, musty smell rose with moist heat from the milling bodies.

Marian leaned back and closed her eyes, absorbing the lively mood.  Occasional bursts of laughter here and there rolled over her like waves.  A loud gruffaw from the center of the room startled her, but Joe’s eyes remained fixed on his glass.

She sat up and sipped her wine, watching her strange friend.  As narrow as a line in his personal life, Joe was a genius when it came to science.  More than a genius, he was a wizard.

But tonight even the bubbles in Joe’s beer showed more signs of life.  “Joe!” she almost, but not quite, shouted.  He jumped.  His knee hit the booth’s underside and jostled the glass, but he caught it before the first drop spilled. He held the beer and glared at her.

“Where are you?”  she asked.

“I’m here, of course,” he retorted.  “I live inside my body.”  He put finger to pulse with a flourish and closed his eyes. “My heart is slowing now,” he finally said.  “Had me worried for a minute, a minute and six seconds, to be exact. It was racing at 144 beats, after you so rudely interrupted my experiment, but it has calmed to a mere 86.”

He released his wrist and blew on the chilly glass.  “I would fog a mirror if I had one, so I appear to be breathing.  Would you like to see? I didn’t bring my blood pressure cuff, this time, but perhaps you have one in your purse.”  He chugged half the beer and thunked the glass on the table.

“What experiment?” Marian asked.

Joe gave her a disgusted look.  “I was calculating the volume of air coming out of an invisible speck.  I was counting the bubbles, of course, to multiply their spherical volume by the number.  Then, I was going to add another speck and keep track of its air volume.  From that I was going to determine how much CO2 was dissolved in my beer to see what effect it might have on global warming.  Why?”

Marian sighed.  “I wondered if something was wrong.”

“Nothing but the ruin of my experiment.”  He chugged the rest of the beer.  “Another scientific failure.  Now we may never know how we could save the world by dissolving more carbon dioxide in beer and drinking fast.”

He waved his glass high in the air, exposing a thin wrist bounded by a frayed white cuff.  A passing hand with rings on every finger swept past and escaped with glass on tray, leaving a trail of french-fry smell. When the next beer arrived, Joe slumped into bubble-counting position, his head at eye level with the glass.  His feet struggled to find room under the table.

“Quit kicking if you want me to be quiet.”

“OK,” he said.  “Sorry.”

Marian was left to her thoughts.  Marian wasn’t sure when she first noticed Joe.  Like a cloud, he had eased into her awareness, emerging as if from thin air, until one afternoon he was sitting on a barstool at Mack’s in full flesh, still and silent, his stiff brown hair forming spikes around his head, unshaved chin jutting over a coffee mug. He sipped coffee and stared at the back bar mirror, which revealed the scene behind him, of booths, mirrors, and windows lining the restaurant’s long side.

Over the ensuing weeks, Marian noticed Joe sitting on the same stool every afternoon, drinking coffee, staring into the mirror above the bar.  She liked relaxing at Mack’s, too, where she, exhausted from a long day of writing prescriptions and ministering to other people’s ailments, could let Mack alleviate suffering instead.  Most days she watched, sipping herbal tea at her favorite barstool near the cash register.  Here, she and Mack exchanged ideas on economics, as he collected low-overhead money for treating customers’ problems.

Mack’s Bar and Grill was an independent country, the front door claimed, the “State of Freedom, Democracy, and Capitalism.”  It pictured a lion with Mack’s face lapping beer out of a mug.  It declared Mack’s roar the “Loudest in the Land.”  So far, no one had challenged his independence, and the local police were some of his best citizens.

Mack claimed the lion was the ideal free market capitalist, king of the jungle, who sleeps 20 hours a day, eats two hours, and makes whoopie the remaining two.  Also, he gets his harem to do the hunting and killing for him. Mack complained that Linda, his wife, didn’t understand lion thinking.  She thought he was too fat.  “You have to work for your supper,” she told him.  As for the harem, she only smiled and shook her head.

Until the day Marian noticed Mack’s limp, she could have believed Joe knew only three words.  “Just coffee, Mack,” was all he said.

But Marian’s interest in Mack’s arthritis brought Joe out of his trance.  He jumped into their conversation and regaled them for nearly an hour on the anatomy of the knee, physiology of muscles, histology of bones, the causes of inflammation, and all the current treatments.  Marian was awed, because he was accurate in every detail, and his knowledge seemed infinite.

Who is this strange creature, she wondered.  He looks like he lives in the street.  Over time she found that his aloof manner discouraged personal questions, but Joe was always eager to discuss medicine, technology, and science.  Now Marian took his wizardry for granted and followed him from topic to topic with delight.

“How do you know so much?” she asked tonight.

Joe’s eyes didn’t waver from the glass.  “I’m a curious person,” he said.  “I read a lot.”

Suddenly, a hot dish of fried calamari landed in front of Marian.  Joe looked up.  He glared at the calamari.

Marian offered Joe a sample but knew in advance his answer.  He knew everything about squid, except the taste.  He explained its biology, physiology, anatomy, life cycle, mating habits, and preferred habitats the last time she ordered calamari.

“Fried food is bad for you,” he said now.

“That’s what they say,” Marian replied.  She dipped an offending morsel into tzaziki sauce and popped it in her mouth.  “But I believe in homeopathic doses of lard, from time to time.”

Joe’e eyes followed her hand, glanced at the TV screen, at Mack behind the bar, then looked briefly at Marian’s face before settling back on the beer. He spoke as if to the bubbles. “I had a nightmare,” he said, his voice barely audible.

Marian laughed.  “Is that why you’re so gloomy?  I thought it was something serious.

Joe ignored her.  Marian sighed.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

“Shoot me,” he said.  “That might help.”

18 thoughts on “Joe’s Nightmare

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, I’m happy that you’re revisiting your novel. I’ve printed a copy of your first five pages and will get back to you later with my comments.

    Wishing you all the best in the New Year ❤

  2. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Katharine, here are my comments. Feel free to delete my points for consideration.

    The story begins and flows well. I want to read more. I like the way you bring to life the bar and its owner, Mack. The way you liken him to a lion is very funny. What bar & grill offers fried calamari? Is it located near the seaside? You also develop well the relationship between Marian and Joe and bring them both to life.

    Points for consideration (from a fellow writer’s viewpoint):
    ~ Avoid repeating words, such as glared and chugged.
    ~ “gruffaw” should read “guffaw.”
    ~ On page 1: If Joe was slouched low in the booth, how did his knee hit the booth’s underside?
    ~ Jumping heads can be confusing. For example: (1) In the opening sentence, how does Marian know that Joe didn’t see her glaring at him? She could only assume that. (2) On page 2, how does Marian know that Joe’s “feet struggled to find room under the table”?
    ~ Switch to present tense on page 3: “Who IS this strange creature… He LOOKS like he LIVES in the street.”

    Keep writing!

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Sorry for the delay in response. I do appreciate your suggestions, but I’ve been distracted by cold, power outages, downed power lines, and health concerns. The novel has plunged to low priority, but feedback is invigorating.

      Your comments are well taken, and I will attend to them one by one when I get back to writing. It scares me to think how much revision this will require.

      1. navasolanature

        I agree and it’s taken me a year and now want to do a bit more! There’s an element of my plot needs to be clearer and my hubbie didn’t like my ending as it suggested you might need to read a second novel! It’s a really good novel and agree about touches about the lion and economics! Some readers will notice the glares and some won’t. I didn’t notice the slouches and then knee positions! It seems most agents want the first three chapters so careful consistency there helps to cover most types of readers might help there. Hope you are feeling better.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        It must be nice to have a hubby that will read your novel, even if he doesn’t like it. thanks for the encouragement.

        I am feeling better, but the computer room is the coldest in the house, and I don’t type well when fingers are stiff with cold.

  3. navasolanature

    Good to hear you are revisiting your novel. Will read as soon as I can after our New Year sojourn by the sea. I found with my novel it has taken a lot of revisiting and polishing. Do keep going as it begins well and the character draws us in. Happy 2018 to you.

  4. Bindu Krishnan

    Katharine, It’s a good read. You must complete the book. I will certainly buy it. Just a suggestion – you should get a good editor to fix some of the sentences. A great start to 2018. Wish you a very happy new year !

  5. navasolanature

    I love the descriptions and the way we are introduced to Joe. The conversation about the CO2 and beer experiment is amusing and I also love the ‘dose of homeopathic lard’. I would certainly like to read on and I like the style and am intrigued by the characters. As always editing my own book and noticing new points was not sure about the glare of Marion in the first paragraph and then the chuckle. The glare had caught my attention as to why she was glaring. And noticed more glares. Perhaps used differently in USA? Get it finished Katharine it seems like a thoughtful, fun and good read! Email me a bit more if you would like.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Posting these few pages, and getting responses like yours (and others) is such a relief. I have been besieged with doubts about whether anyone would want to read this fanciful novel. I’ve received so many “ho hum” responses in the past, or outright refusals to read.

      I’ve heard about the three chapters that agents want, too. Maybe as a priority I should concentrate on honing them.

      I don’t see any of the other novel writers posting excerpts on WordPress and wonder why. Have you ever done it or thought about it? While it may tax readers too much to post the whole thing, it is helpful to get the responses I’ve gotten from this small effort.

      1. navasolanature

        I’ve avoided posting my novel so far but Opher of Opher’s World does. Some blogs like dverse poets do writing prompts but I have found my time filled up with the novel that was writing me, if that makes sense. I bought some of Opher’s books on Amazon. These are self published and print on demand and one I would have read with students as it was spot on about science and today’s issues in a dystopian future. I ramble but think it’s difficult to decide but Opher feels he does not make much money from it but would just prefer a wider market. I think here in the U.K. It’s quite a ‘snobby’ literary fiction market with complaints now about no sense of plot. However, if the work fits a genre or is real it stands a better chance. I liked your characters and way of writing so it’s worth honing the openings and then getting the rest as ready as you can. I did send chapters by email to one blogger in the States. Her response encouraged me too. But my husband’s has now made me think about my plot and ending! Have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I have read half of it. It’s weird and fanciful. I usually don’t mind some magical realism. Good luck and keep us posted and send us a bit more by email if you like.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        The novel “writing you” definitely makes sense.

        I’m familiar with Opher from, which is generally a political site but requires commentary. Not much fiction there, and not much support for fictional posts.

        Your encouragement is quite helpful. My novel, though I call it “science fiction,” doesn’t fit easily into that genre, and this is part of my dilemma.

        No, I haven’t read American Gods but will look into it.

        Thanks for the offer of e-mail. I may take you up on it. Now I’m curious about your novel, too.

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