I originally planned my novel, Phoenix Afterlife, to open with a prologue instead of the scene with Matthius waking alone. The prologue would show the perspective of a character never seen again in the book: one of the unnamed alpha test subjects later mentioned by Matthius. The planned prologue went through several revisions before I dropped it from the book. Here’s one version that didn’t make the cut.
Where are the stars? I ought to be able to see them, now that it’s dark. He looked around and saw nothing at all. He couldn’t even tell if his eyes were open. They’d backpacked for three days in the Weminuche wilderness area, far away from the lights of civilization. At night, the Milky Way swept across the sky, a celestial riverbed like nothing he’d ever seen before. Brilliant white pinpoints of fire like flecks of burning magnesium flying off the tip of a sparkler. Swirling whirlpools of stardust clustered along rivers of shadow. Wait … that was two years ago. There were no stars now. No wind. No noise.
Not outside — underground. His parents worried that the cave would frighten him, but he loved the close embrace of the earth’s rocky core. He’d never felt so protected, until they turned off the lights and for the first time in his life, he experienced true darkness. It wasn’t just him; everyone was scared. He heard a lot of nervous laughter all around, and a few gasps. He thought he heard someone crying, and that’s when they turned the lights back on. But I’m not in the cave! I was just a kid then. Now he was alone in the dark.
He lay back and floated effortlessly. Perhaps he’d been floating all along; it was hard to tell in this darkness. He could feel nothing, not even the weight of his own body. His daughter didn’t want to go in the salty water, but his son couldn’t wait to try it. That’s why they call it the Great Salt Lake, he told them. The water was so heavy that you can lie on your back motionless, and you won’t sink. There weren’t even any waves. It was perfectly still. He could sleep here.
No! There’s no lake! Why can’t I remember? They said it was a strong sedative … a deep sleep. He couldn’t remember what else they told him, but he remembered driving up the canyon, talking to Dr. Kurz, lying on the bed. ‘Alpha testing,’ they called it, and it sounded like the easiest job in the world: sleep one night and go home … but he wasn’t asleep now, and he couldn’t be awake in this endless, empty darkness, insubstantial as a ghost. This had to be a dream.
Then he remembered what else they told him: You won’t even dream.