The patient in Room 4 was named Marshall Ferriot and he couldn’t dream.
Instead he experienced vivid eruptions of memory that came from the center of what he perceived to be his person. After the terrifying fall that landed him at death’s half-open door when he was only seventeen, he lost all sense of his physical body.
Only rarely was he given some sense of the passage of time and, when it came, it was always accompanied by the jarring realization that his home was a dark, purgatorial place where dreams and memories, all those aspects of human beings people consider to be intangible, took on discrete wavelengths before they were stripped from those human souls they once defined.
In these moments, he could feel himself dragging against a current of souls broken down to their raw constituents—a quantum flow of hopes, nightmares and memories—and it made him feel like shark bait being towed through open sea. While he had no sense of his limbs, he knew he was still too fully formed to be worn down and passed through this pulsing refinery of the spirit.
Then, a moment of stultifying blackness would arrive, stealing the passage of time, an intermittent distortion that turned a march of ten years in the conscious world into an endless tape loop of revelations lost, rediscovered and lost again.
Sometimes he could hear the nurses. Their whispers and their shouts would come in at equal volume and, with them, a dim awareness that they spoke of him often because they were afraid of him.
But, for the most part, Marshall Ferriot’s consciousness fluctuated steadily between vivid memories of the time before his fall and a terrifying awareness of his paralysis at the edge of death.
And the memories were growing stronger. They had come to include rich sensuous details that suggested an awakening of some kind might be close at hand. But first they carried him back to New Orleans, the city of his birth, and to the swamps of Tangipahoa Parish and a place called Elysium, where he’d been granted his first and last taste of a beautiful girl with cat-eyes and honey-colored hair, a girl whose very name filled the remnants of his soul with sustaining rage.