Just Want to Dream Better by Trey R. Barker

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It’s a pleasure to welcome Trey R. Barker to the site. Barker is the author of over two hundred short stories, some of which you can find in his collections Where the Southern Cross the Dog and Remembrance and Regrets, as well as the critically acclaimed Barefield trilogy. Recently, Barker has been exploring the world of Jace Salome, a deputy sheriff in Zachary County, Texas. When The Lonesome Dog Barks, out now, is the most recent entry in the series, following Slow Bleed and East of the Sun.

Just Want to Dream Better

From When The Lonesome Dog Barks

Dreaming, she was Little Girl Jace again, six or seven years old. She was in the shack again, standing in the tiny front room, the windows broken into jagged shards, holes in the walls, holes in the floor that let her see the cinder blocks the house sat on. The brown on the walls, she had finally come to understand, was blood and it came from the mass of empty syringes that littered the floor, lost amid all the empty forties and tallboys. She wanted to close her eyes against the sunlight pouring through the holes in the walls and the broken, uncurtained windows. She wanted to stay in the comfortable blackness of sleep, but was unable. The sun’s colors—changing into lurid reds and blues, shiny and electric greens and purples—were crowbars that forced her eyes open. The sunlight, in hundreds of degrees and shades, came from everywhere and nowhere. The colors, as always, were the color of Rory’s Skittles.

There is a line in the Dr. John song, “Hello God,” that fits much of what runs through Jace Salome: “I just want dream better, no more nightmares.”

Jace Salome, a young woman who found herself working the jail at the Zachary County, Texas Sheriff’s Office dreams badly, and has for as long as she can remember. Sometimes, the dreams are so bad that she talks in her sleep. It scares her grandmother when she does it, and though Jace would never admit it, sleep-talking scares her, too.

She sleep-talks to her dead mother, stolen by a drunk driver; to her Grapa, stolen by cancer; sometimes to people she doesn’t know but who find themselves in her dreams.

Three novels ago, Jace Salome began working in the jail and realized almost immediately that her job was to warehouse people. She was called a correctional officer but what she’d been hired to do was straight up jailing people, holding them for trial, holding them for sentencing, holding them for the bus to the Texas state pen.

That kind of industrial warehousing still eats at her soul, three novels into whatever her series and life will someday become. It seems anathema to the human spirit, but it is something society requires.

She’s never thought of herself as a woman careening down the road of justice, though she understands, viscerally, when something isn’t justice. She is beginning to understand, as we get into her third adventure, When the Lonesome Dog Barks (Down and Out Books), that true justice doesn’t always match official justice. Those two things can be quite different, quite distinct from each other. Thus far, she’s managed to shoe-horn the one into the other and everyone walks away happy, but I am as certain as you are, Loyal Reader, that won’t always be the case.

Jace’s mother was killed by a drunk driver when Jace was still young and she moved in with Gramma and Grapa. That death has hovered over her since it happened, and it drives her dreams, though in the second novel, East of the Sun, she realizes her dreams are also driven by what happens at the Sheriff’s Office; the deaths and investigations, the blood and hatred. All of that sloshes together in her dreams, mixing itself into a potent, almost violent, swallow of kerosene.

That violence, because this is the foundation of her new life, shocked her from the first moment and continues to eat at her page by page. What she’s beginning to figure out is that the shock of the violence itself is less of a problem for her than the fact that she is beginning to lose herself to the impulse to violence. Gramma tells her, repeatedly, to make sure she chooses violence rather than violence choosing her. It becomes almost a mantra for Jace, almost a twelve-step program that she works every day.

The first time we see her, Jace is remembering the day it rained puppies.

From Slow Bleed

“What the—? Hah.” His voice, as brittle as old paper, had still somehow boomed through the U-shaped hotel. “Somebody left their damned dogs and ain’t that too bad.”

The old man had found a box of seven puppies left in the ceiling tiles. Six were already dead, the last near death. Carrying the puppy, he had strode to the second floor balcony and tossed it over the side.

The puppy had fallen toward Grapa’s Ash trees, its paws scratching the empty air. It had crashed through the leaves and came to rest in a branch.

“Gramma! He killed the dog.”

Jace had bolted from the pool and heaved herself into the tree. A hot breath later, Jace had had the puppy tightly against her chest. When it peed on her, she hadn’t cared. She’d been scared enough to pee, too. When the puppy let fly again, the urine was so strong Jace smelled it years later in memories.

“Come on, I’ll get you down.”

But she hadn’t been able to. She’d needed both hands to climb down, but had refused to let go of the dog.

Even when it began to rain dead puppies.

“Call the garbage man,” the old man had said gleefully, tossing the dead puppies over the railing one by one.

Their bodies had tumbled over her as Gramma had come from the office, her face pale. Then the firemen had arrived and a big man had climbed up, grabbed her by the hand and the dog by the scruff, and had taken them down.

Though I stumbled into it, it is an apt metaphor for the life Jace has chosen. Yes, she laughs and is finally making friends in law enforcement, and she has the friends who’ve always been at Gramma’s side. It is not all heavy and soul-crushing, but she is a woman in law enforcement now and she will have to get herself out of that tree, rather than waiting for someone else to come for her.

Trey Barker was born in west Texas and raised with music and books and not much else. For a time, his mother was a bookkeeper at a number of clubs (dives all but lovingly so) and there was always music playing. At home, sitting in front of his mother’s bookshelves, dipping into and out of science fiction, humor, horror, crime, there was also music. Which would explain why his fiction is full of both music and criminals. Barker spent nearly two decades as an on-again/off-again journalist (along with all kinds of other odd jobs) before falling into law enforcement in North-Central Illinois. He is a patrol sergeant and crisis negotiator, and spent a few years working on both the state and Federal level in task forces dedicated to on-line child sexual exploitation. He is the author of more than 200 short stories, as well as the Barefield trilogy – 2000 Miles to Open Road, Exit Blood, Death is Not Forever – published by Down & Out Books. His new series are the Jace Salome books.

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