The “Dream” series is ten complete novels and a collection of short stories as well. You can listen to a Blog Talk Radio interview about the books (mainly Dream Student) here.
The books follow the adventures of Sara Barnes, who as the first book opens has just discovered that she can see into other people’s dreams (hence the “Dream” series, and also the name of this website).
Book One, “Dream Student,” takes place over the winter of 1989-1990, when Sara is a junior at a college that looks a lot like my alma mater), and chronicles Sara’s efforts to find and catch a serial killer, while trying to figure out if she’s falling in love, and at the same time hoping to get into medical school.
“Dream Doctor” picks up Sara’s tale in the summer of 1991, when she has to survive her first month of medical school, adjust to married life, and most importantly, figure out who’s trying to poison the most unpopular professor in the school.
It’s December 1996 when we meet Sara again in “Dream Child.” She’s just learned that her four-year-old daughter has inherited her talent for seeing the dreams of others. This time she’ll have to interpret her daughter’s dreams and use what she learns to discover who’s blackmailing a Congressman.
“Dream Family” finds Sara in August of 1998, when she’s mistakenly arrested on her very first day at her new medical practice. She’s released the next day and the real culprit caught, but it’s a shattering experience for Sara. While she struggles to recover, Sara will have to turn to her dreams to help prevent her godmother from suffering the same fate.
“Waking Dream” jumps ahead to the winter of 2000-2001, and Sara discovers that she and her mother and daughter aren’t the only ones who have the ability to visit other people’s dreams – when her own dreams are visited by a stranger. It doesn’t take long for Sara to realize that this fellow dreamer is using her talent for selfish and destructive ends – and she’s got her sights set on Sara and Brian.
Below are brief excerpts from each of the books:
I’m staring at my clock radio. According to the big green digital numbers, it’s exactly 3:14 AM. I think it might be off by a minute or two, but that’s not really the point. The point is that I’m awake to know it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:14 AM.
This is not by choice. Actually it sort of is, I guess. I’m awake because I don’t want to fall asleep. And why I don’t want to fall asleep? It’s a fair question. I’d ask, if it were someone else.
The answer sounds stupid, even to me. If I’m honest, I have to admit I’m just being a baby about this. I don’t want to fall asleep because of the dreams I’ve been having. “Nightmares” is a better word. I don’t think even that really gets the point across, though. Is there a word for dreams that are worse than nightmares? There should be.
It’s been the same the last four nights, exactly the same. The people in it are the same, the places are the same, everything happens exactly the same way, in the same order, and the worst part is that it all feels so real. There isn’t any of that weird imagery that people always talk about – talking rabbits or losing your teeth while flying naked behind trains through long dark tunnels or whatever else. Everything that happens in this nightmare could come right out of the news. It could all really happen.
Oh, God. That’s a horrible thought. What if – maybe it is really happening?
…Sara is suddenly elsewhere. She’s surprised to be on her feet again, the pain in her right ankle gone. She’s equally surprised at finding herself – where?
A cemetery, she realizes as she looks all around, marble headstones dotting the well-manicured lawn. Specifically, a cemetery during a funeral. She recognizes none of the people standing around the open grave, but as she listens to the minister’s words she gasps at the name of the deceased: Dr. Abraham Morris.
Sara knows who he is: chairman of the admissions committee of the Crewe University School of Medicine. She’s met Dr. Morris exactly once; he conducted her final admissions interview. It had been an extraordinarily stressful hour. Afterwards Sara had been left wondering if medical school was the right choice after all.
“I don’t hate him! And I got in anyway! I don’t want him dead!” Sara blurts out, immediately cringing, whirling around in search of somewhere to hide, to disappear. She sees no such place, but the reaction she expects from the mourners does not come; no angry words or disapproving stares. In fact there is no reaction at all.
Sara is surprised, but only for an instant; then it becomes clear to her what’s going on. This has happened before; this is not her dream at all. She doesn’t cry, or scream; she simply closes her eyes and pleads – already knowing she will not be answered – “Please, God, not again!”
I open my eyes, and I know before I can even force them to focus what I’m going to see. The clock reads 3:05 AM.
It was always three o’clock in the morning last time, too. At least I didn’t wake up screaming. Or bite off Mister Pennington’s arm again – my stuffed rabbit is still in one piece, right here in the bed with me. I didn’t even wake up Lumpy, who’s living up to his name, snoring away at the foot of the bed all tangled up in the sheets, or Beth, down on the floor, looking more comfortable sleeping on an inflatable mattress than I would ever be.
I’m not going to tell her about this. Or Brian. Or anybody. Especially not today.
It’s almost funny, except it isn’t at all. I haven’t had any of these dreams in a year and a half, not since “it” happened – except one time, last summer. When Brian was dreaming about me, and I saw it. But that was the only time.
Talk about luck. Of all the times for this to start back up, for my brain to start picking up signals again, it has to be the night before my wedding.
Sara looks down, and she’s surprised to see her belly rather than her feet. She had no idea she would get this big this fast. It wasn’t like this the last time, with Lizzie, she thinks. But then, she reminds herself, Lizzie was just one – this time it’s two.
Sara walks into Lizzie’s room, where her daughter is sitting up in her bed, playing with a very old, very ratty stuffed rabbit.
“Lizzie, honey? Mommy needs to talk to you,” Sara says, and Lizzie sets Mister Pennington aside and looks up. Sara sees her own eyes staring at her, something that she wonders if she’ll ever get used to. She sits down on the bed, pats Lizzie on the head. “You know your friend Marnie?” Lizzie continues to look intently at Sara and nods her head up and down several times. “You know how she has a baby brother?” Lizzie continues to nod, not breaking eye contact with Sara. Sara wonders if this was how she was with her mother.
She’s about to continue when someone else walks into Lizzie’s room. Sara turns, but she knows before she does who she’ll see, and she knows – even though she’s never experienced this side of it before – exactly what’s going on.
Her daughter stands in the doorway, looking at Sara and another version of herself as well. Sara doesn’t say anything; she doesn’t want to scare Lizzie. Lizzie looks at herself briefly, but the image of herself seems to hold no interest. She focuses on Sara, concentrating all her three-year-old attention span on her mother.
“You’re so big, Mommy!”
Where’s Lizzie? She was standing in the doorway. She was – oh, my God.
She was seeing – she was inside – she saw me dreaming. She’s got it just like I do.
Sara is in the workroom on the second floor east ward of the hospital. It’s been a year and a half since the last time this happened, but the feeling is unforgettable; she’s in someone else’s dream. But whose?
Colin Jackson, last year her junior resident and now, in his third year, Chief Resident, is alone, poring through a pile of patients’ charts. As Sara watches him, she knows it’s not his dream. She’s puzzled; there’s no one else in the room.
But her confusion is dispelled a moment later when the door is thrown open and a familiar face looms in the doorway: Paul Sorrentino, with his little girl in tow. Grace Sorrentino, eight years old, looks deathly pale, while her father’s eyes are red and he’s pointing at Colin menacingly.
It’s Paul’s dream, Sara is certain. He growls at poor Colin, “Why the hell am I paying you? Gracie’s doin’ worse again! I want her old doctor back, Dr. Alderson! She took care of Gracie the right way. You tell me where she went, you understand?”
Colin stands, somewhat shakily, and answers Paul. “She’s gone on to a private practice. She’s down in Washington, DC now.”
“I want her back! Grace needs her!” Paul bellows. As she listens to him, Sara’s years of medical training assert themselves. She can’t help but notice that he does not look well. There’s a slight yellowish tinge to his skin, and in the corners of his eyes. And she is certain that he looks thinner than she remembers…
I wake up, and my first conscious thought is: “I hope he doesn’t track me down.” But who? Who would be…?
It comes back in a rush. I dreamed about Paul, Paul Sorrentino. He was looking for me. He’s upset because I’ve moved – because I’m no longer his daughter’s doctor. But why should it bother him now? I told him back in May that I was leaving. By the time Laurie and I introduced him to the new team at Children’s Hospital in July, right before our actual move, he seemed fine with everything.
Brian’s just stirring awake, and I have to tell him. Aside from the fact that I need to share this, he needs to know just in case Paul comes knocking on our door in the near future. It’s not as though I’m going to be hard for him to find.
He’s got a smile on his face as he sits up, just like I did when I fell asleep. But it disappears the instant he gets a good look at me.
It’s funny. If we were any other couple, he’d probably assume I’m nervous about my first day at my new job, or worried about our finances, or how Lizzie will do in first grade or any of a hundred other mundane things. But we’re not. I don’t need to say a single word and he knows exactly what’s going on.
He puts an arm around me, pulls me close. “What did you dream about?”
And then the door to the meeting room opened. Someone inside the room opened it. That woman, with her red? – yes, definitely a red dress. And red shoes, with at least two-inch heels. Not Brian’s type at all – nobody is his type, except me.
But she wasn’t sitting at the table. There were a bunch of his co-workers, all men, all wearing suits. And there were a bunch of Air Force officers, and they were all wearing their uniforms. Nobody in a dress at all.
Until there was. And nobody else seemed to notice her. Nobody even looked up for a second to see who was opening the door.
“Brian?” I grab his shoulder, shake him awake. It’s three-thirty in the morning, but I have to know.
“You were dreaming. Just now.”
“Let’s take a quick break,” he mutters. He’s still mostly there.
He turns to me, his eyes slowly focusing. “Quick break,” he murmurs again, then he finally realizes he’s not at work. “Sara?” Fear suddenly spreads across his face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I say, too quickly. Now he looks terrified. “Just – you were dreaming. Can you remember?”
He rolls over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. “I was – uh, in a room, a big glass room. Giving – I was doing my presentation. You know, the one I’ve been working on.”
“I know. I was there.” Now the fear vanishes, and it’s replaced by puzzlement. “Do you remember who was there?”
“Didn’t you see? Sara, what’s going on?”
“Humor me,” I say softly, running a hand through his hair, trying to calm him – and myself.
“Uh – just my team. Rick and Alex and Joe and Dave. And there were four – no, five people from the Air Force. General Kelley was there, and the rest of them were his aides.” He sits up, and so do I. He’s staring hard at me. “Sara, I don’t understand.”
Neither do I – except that I think I do, and I’m afraid to say it. It’s impossible – but it’s impossible for me, too, and I can still do it. “There wasn’t anybody else?”
“No. That was it, just who I said.”
I’m staring hard right back at him, holding his eyes. “You’re sure? Nobody else? Not a woman in a dress, a red dress?”
He has no idea what I’m talking about; I can see it all in his eyes. “No. Why would you think…?” His jaw drops. “No. You don’t mean what I think you mean?”
“I saw her, but you didn’t. Nobody else in the room did, either. The same way that you didn’t see me, and neither did anybody else. The way nobody ever notices me.”
We’re both silent for a moment, then we speak the same words, exactly in unison: “Oh, my God…”