Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, December 5, 2016


Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.


T H E  K O B A Y A S H I  M A R U

I don’t usually remember my dreams.

When I was in college, typical anxiety dreams plagued me. You know, the ones were you show up at class only to find the teacher handing out a test for which you hadn’t prepared. Or, worse still, dreaming you’re in class only to realize that you’re naked. I had those dreams many times. I also had workplace variations of them when I started at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The change in location did nothing to lessen the anxiety.

Most of my dreams, however, were completely unmemorable. All I would remember were snatches of faces and maybe a line or two of talk. Even when I found myself in a vivid enough dream to remember it, my analytical mind almost always ruined it for me. For example, I remember someone was chasing me in a nightmare. The chase started near my childhood home on Rueckert Avenue in the northeast corner of Baltimore City, but when I turned a corner, I found myself in an alley near Johns Hopkins Hospital and the next turn found me near my current high-rise apartment in Towson, Maryland. Even in a dream state, my mind couldn’t accept the juxtapositions. They pulled me out of the dream and woke me up.

This dream began with a young voice singing, “Rise, shine, give God the glory, glory.” I remembered that tune from earliest childhood. My paternal grandmother Eleanor, who was a very religious woman, used to sing the song to us in the morning when we spent the night at her house. However, this wasn’t my grandmother’s voice. It was my brother Lenny. That’s what he would sing to wake me up. Not out of any reverence. He gave up on God, too. Never asked him why, but I’m sure it was the death of our father. But now I had to wonder whom he was mocking when he’d sing that: God or our grandmother. I hope it was God. My grandmother was a nice woman. She didn’t deserve to be mocked.

Finally, the bed shook. “Come on, Ricky,” Lenny said. “We’re going to do a little trespassing.”

I opened my eyes to find myself face-to-face with twelve-year-old Lenny in our old shared bedroom in the old house on Rueckert Avenue. He stood up. “Get your bathing suit on,” he said. “And whatever you do, don’t wake mom up.”

The next thing I knew I was walking down the street with Lenny. Everything was deathly quiet, except for a little faraway traffic on Harford Road, the main artery through our neighborhood. I knew what we were doing. We were going pool hopping. It was one of my best childhood memories with Lenny. In reality, however, it was a memory we wouldn’t have shared if Lenny had his way. I forced his hand.

One summer evening the year after my father died, Lenny convinced my mother to let him and two of his friends, Charlie Woods and Pete Thompson, camp out in the backyard. This was when my mother was at her over-protective worst. There was zero possibility that she would let him go on a real camping trip, or even spend the night at a friend’s house. I don’t know how he managed to convince her to let him set up that little pup tent at the back of our yard, but he did. He did not, however, intend to stay in the backyard all night.

He knew she would be watching, but he also knew he could outlast her. What he didn’t count on was me. I kept my eyes open even after my mother went to sleep. I waited until I saw them leave the tent. Then I went outside to join them. Lenny heard the creak of the back door and turned to me. He angrily pointed back inside, but, in a rare display of boldness, I shook my head no. He hurried over to me.

“Get inside,” he whispered.

“No,” I replied, “I want to go with you.”

Lenny pushed me. “You go inside or I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

“If you do, I’ll tell mom.”

That trumped his threat. Charlie and Pete wandered over. “Come on, Lenny,” Charlie said. “Let’s give him an education in trespassing.”

Lenny gave Charlie a look, and then turned back to me. “You say a word about this and I will kill you.”

With that warning, we indulged Charlie’s favorite summertime passion: pool hopping. That night we wandered throughout the neighborhood clandestinely swimming in the pools of our neighbors. By four a.m., we swam in thirty pools. Charlie said that was the all-time neighborhood record that would never be broken. I know I never broke it. I tried to repeat the night with my friends, but they always chickened out. I don’t think Lenny and his friends came close to that record again. The next summer, they discovered pot and spent most of their time getting high under Charlie’s porch.

Now, in this dream, it looked like Lenny and I were finally going to get the chance to break the record.

I don’t remember getting dressed. The next thing I remembered was walking down the middle of Beechwood Avenue trailing a few steps behind Lenny. This was quite unlike our last adventure when we all stayed closer to the shadows out of fear of being spotted. Looking around at the houses, however, alleviated that fear. There wasn’t a single light on anywhere.

“Must be late,” I said.

“Yup,” Lenny answered.

It suddenly struck me that I was speaking in my adult voice, not my ten-year-old voice. However, since Lenny was so much taller than me, physically I was still my ten-year-old self in the dream. That was exactly the type of incredulity that normally pulled me out of dreams, but this time I continued walking in the silent night. Only our footsteps disturbed the silence. 

“Where are we going?” I asked Lenny.

“The Kobayashi Maru,” he said as he turned and gave me a wicked smile.

The Kobayashi Maru was a Star Trek reference to an unwinnable training exercise in Star Fleet Academy. I knew immediately what Lenny meant by it: The Coleman Pool. It was the only one we opted out of hopping on the night of our triumph. The pool itself wasn’t much, just a four-foot-circular above ground model. The problem was the location. An unclimbable seven-foot-high, wooden privacy fence surrounded the entire Coleman backyard. The only outside entrance into the backyard was a gate between the garage and the side of the house, which was only a couple of feet away from the back door. Therefore, if you woke up the owners, you would have to pass right by the back door to get away. To make matters worse, Mr. Coleman supposedly kept a shotgun loaded with rock salt near the back door. Even the always-reckless Charlie balked at hopping that pool. He was the one who named it the Kobayashi Maru.

The next thing I knew we were sneaking alongside the Coleman house toward the gate. I should say, I was sneaking: Lenny walked normally. When he reached the gate, he opened it. The metal clicked so loudly it seemed to echo throughout the neighborhood. I grabbed his shirt to pull him back.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

Lenny just turned to me. “No,” he said softly. “This is one thing I always regretted not doing.”

I released his shirt. He turned and walked into the yard. I stood motionless for a moment trying to figure out what was going on. What did he mean when he said he always regretted not doing this? Was that from his childhood perspective, or his adult one? Who was this Lenny? 

The sound of a soft splash interrupted my thoughts. I stepped into the yard to find Lenny floating in the pool. When I got to the pool, Lenny was floating on his back with his eyes closed and a smile on his face. After a moment, he opened his eyes and turned to me. “What are you waiting for?” he asked. “This is the Kobayashi Maru and we’ve beat it.” Lenny laughed sharply. “I betcha Charlie’s rolling over in his grave.”

That comment scared me. Charlie died of a heroin overdose just two months earlier. I went to his funeral. Everybody from the old neighborhood was there. I put up a very nice memorial for him on RestingPlace that made his poor mother cry in gratitude. How did Lenny know Charlie was dead? He was long gone before it happened. I answered the question myself. This Lenny, this person before me, was just a figment of my imagination. He knew everything I knew. That thought reassured me. This was all just a dream. I might as well enjoy it.

“You coming in or not?”

Why not? I moved closer to the pool, but I hesitated. In the darkness, the pool did not look very inviting. The water was black as tar and I had a strange feeling that if I got in, it would never release me.

“You’re not afraid, are you?” Lenny asked. He stopped floating and straightened up in the pool, kneeling down enough to keep just his head above the water.

“It’s not bad in here, Ricky. Not bad at all,” he said, his eyes becoming more serious. “I wish I had taken the leap earlier. I couldn’t keep going the way it was.”

His words gave me a chill. I knew what leap he was talking about. Was he just a figment of my imagination?

“It’s not what you think, Ricky. It’s very peaceful here. You’ll like it,” Lenny paused, and then added. “The world has no pity for screwed up people like us.”

“I’m not screwed up,” I replied. 

Lenny laughed as he moved closer. “Please! You’re the boy in the plastic bubble. You don’t touch anyone and you never let them touch you,” he said. “I might have been a paranoid schizophrenic, but I embraced things. I followed my feelings. I loved.”

“And what did that get you?” I said defensively.

“Peace,” Lenny answered. “Come on, Rick, I don’t want to argue with you, man. We’re brothers. We’re supposed to love each other.” Lenny swam back a little and opened his arms. “Come on in and try it out just for a minute. You’ll see what I mean. I promise.”

Lenny’s eyes radiated sincerity. Despite my misgivings about the water, I decided to give it a try. After all, it was just a dream anyway. Nothing could hurt me. 

I took a final step forward toward the pool, hoisted myself up on the rim with both arms, and threw a leg over the top. Then, before I even felt the water, I heard a fire engine. The sound stopped me dead. The siren was echoing, as if it were reverberating off tall buildings. It should not have sounded like that here, where the trees would have swallowed and muffled the sound.

“Don’t worry about that,” Lenny said. I turned to him. His eyes were anxious now, but he forced a smile. “Come on, let’s do some laps before Mr. Coleman breaks out his shotgun.”

There was something wrong about him. I could see it now. Brothers were supposed to love each other, but I wasn’t so sure he was my brother. Who was he? What was he?

The siren continued. I turned to it. When I did, I really opened my eyes. I could see the fire truck moving down Joppa Road ten stories below me. I watched its progress for a moment before I realized I was standing on my balcony and that I was hanging halfway over the railing.

I normally enjoyed the view from the balcony, but now it was dizzyingly terrifying. I froze. I had no idea how strong the rail was and whether it could hold my weight. I was afraid to move and equally afraid to stay still. Closing my eyes, I resolved to throw myself backwards in one motion. Like a frightened child, I even counted to three before I pushed myself back.

My neck hit against the seat of one of my lawn chairs as I tumbled backwards onto the hard concrete of the balcony floor. My elbow and back ached as I reached back to rub my neck. My other hand went to my skinned elbow. There was blood, but it was better than what almost happened. I slowly stood up and looked over the balcony. The fire engine was gone. All that remained immediately below was a decorative fountain in front of the building. I doubt the five inches of water in it would have done much to break my fall.

I staggered back into my apartment. The television and lights were all on just as they were when I fell asleep earlier in the afternoon. I looked to the clock. It read: 3 a.m. Exactly. That was almost my time of death, I thought with a chill. 

I sank into the sofa to let the cushion soothe my back and neck. I turned to the television to find the 1973 horror film The Legend of Hell House, starring Roddy McDowall, playing. It was actually one of my favorite horror films of the period, but I was in no mood to watch it now. Picking up the remote, I remembered something. The Orioles game was the last thing I remembered watching, and that was playing on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. They didn’t play movies, especially horror movies. I clicked the information button on the remote. The Legend of Hell House was playing on Turner Classic Movies. Did I change the channel? I didn’t remember doing it. Then again, I didn’t remember climbing up on the railing either. That was just a dream.

Was I going crazy?

It is hard to explain how unsettling it is to learn you were doing things you have no memory of doing. I suppose alcoholics and drug addicts, and mentally unstable people like my late brother experienced it frequently. I didn’t. I hated losing control. That’s why I never took drugs or drank to excess. I liked living a neat and tidy life. This incident threw a monkey wrench into my worldview. I just hoped it was a one-time aberration. 

I clicked off the television and stood up. My eyes went to my desk. As they did, the screensaver switched to one of the pictures of my brother Lenny that I used on his RestingPlace memorial. He had a lazy, happy smile in it. The photograph made it easy to see why he held onto so many friends despite his frequent bouts of madness. There is no way I’d get as many people at my funeral, even if everyone brought a date.

“Lenny, are you here?” I asked, not believing the words as I said them. Of course, he wasn’t here. He was dead and dead was dead. Forever.

The screensaver image suddenly changed again and I found myself staring at Elisabetta Kostek. Her smile was now a bemused taut as if to say she had done this thing.

“This is crazy,” I said with the voice of rationality as I walked over to the computer. 

I moved the mouse and the image of the dark lady disappeared. Although my gait might have appeared bold as I walked over, the outcome somewhat surprised me. Part of me feared her face would not disappear. That she would stay as long as she wanted.

Without bothering to turn off the lights in the living room and kitchen, I retreated into my bedroom. I closed the door and locked it. I believe that was the first time I ever locked my bedroom door in my own apartment, but it would not be the last.

Click here to read Chapter Five.

Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

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