Exploring the art of prose


Author: Paul Rousseau

Author’s Note

As both a guitar player and writer, I’m always a little envious when I find out a work of art I admire, be it a melody or plot point, was originally derived from a dream the artist had. Some examples: Paul McCartney’s haunting tune “Yesterday.” The chord progression to “I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingos. George Saunders’s “Semplica Girl Diaries.” I wondered what forbidden nectar I would have to drink to make my dreams as potent, mystical. Then one dense winter morning, an image just stuck.

It felt like I woke up prematurely, in the middle of an REM cycle. The last thing I remember was eating on a rooftop restaurant in a cyberpunk megacity with people I thought I was supposed to know, but couldn’t figure out how, which brought about this feeling of unresolved baggage, of anticipation and dread, leading up to some great revelation still unknown to me. The scene felt loaded, and I needed to get back there as soon as possible. I wanted to explore more, figure things out.

Unfortunately, I am not a lucid dreamer. I do not possess the power to control what I do or where I go in dreams. I knew my only way back was to write my way there, muck about. So I went into my office, shut off all the lights, and wrote in the dark for eight hours straight. Starting where the dream left off, I wrote that last lingering image then worked my way backward on the page, trying to maintain the tension of an impending doom that may or may not have already happened.

Time loops in media have always fascinated me. I knew pretty early on this was the story to finally incorporate one of my own. Since my main character is part machine, I saw that as an opportunity to use some sort of software glitch/reset to direct the reader back to the beginning, propelling the piece in constant motion. But the loop was more than just an aesthetic choice.

Something you should know about me: About six years ago I was shot in the head by my best friend at school in our on-campus apartment, one month before college graduation. It was a freak accident that required neurosurgery, titanium implants (am actually cyborg?), and left me dealing with various cognitive and emotional disabilities. Naturally, the thoughts and sensations accrued from that event occasionally bleed into my work. Like my character, I, too, should have died. The loop also represents the brain’s recalibration process after a traumatic injury, something I know all too well. The spirals, repetitions, and obsessions are hard to break.

“The Replacement” is not just a dreamy sci-fi mystery flash loop. It is a story about disability and recovery. The piece is a representation, in miniature, of what it feels like to be inserted back into the real world after a near-death experience, overwhelmed by its many moving parts, while also shouldering the expectation that everything’s back to normal, peachy keen.


PAUL ROUSSEAU is a disabled writer. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, his work can be found in Roxane Gay’s The Audacity, Catapult, Necessary Fiction, Jellyfish Review, and Wigleaf, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Paulwrites7.