A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in a shallow pool of water on the banks of a muddy river. The yellowish brown water concealed everything within from sight, even my legs which sat folded in the mud. I had nowhere to be and no worries to deal with. The water and I, we were perfectly chill.
This sense of calm disappeared when I spotted something moving across the surface in my direction. Much too quickly, it was in front of me and approaching fast. An alligator. Its eyes hovered over the water, each promising several hundred pounds of predator hidden beneath the murk. Any second now, it would leap, jaws wide, ready to sink its teeth in and drag me under, down into its territory. If that happened, it was all over. I would struggle and flail, I might get a thumb into its eyeball, but my efforts would accomplish nothing more than making me need air that much sooner. My lungs would fill with water and I’d be a meal. I backed away, but the water slowed my retreat. I was in deeper than I realized. I didn’t want to make any sudden movements, but even as I backed towards land, the gator was closing in. The river bank seemed miles away. The fucking thing was arm’s length away and it was not listening to reason.
Then of course, I woke up.
I was in my bedroom, in bed with my wife asleep next to me. Night was just about to punch out for the evening and the whole house was quiet. The alligator had remained back in my dream, but my heart thumping in my chest told me that I had managed to bring back the sense of terror that he had inspired, that feeling that a certain and horrible demise was in my immediate future. I laid in bed waiting for my pulse to slow. It was an awful way to kick off a morning.
So I decided to take it up with the guy in charge of these things, the Dream Lord himself. I had to go to him, of course, as he isn’t one to come by the invitation of some random human. Adding to the difficulty of the trip, I had to take on the form of my spirit animal in order to travel through his realm. It took forever, but after an impossible number of hops, I finally came to the grounds of his palace. I found him in his courtyard, listening to the singing from his newly planted orchid choir.
“Ribbit.” I said.
“You may speak with your human tongue.” he sighed. He didn’t bother to look up from his flowers. He was already bored with me.
“Oh, uh, thank you.” I said. I waited for him to bid me continue, but he did not. I realized he was just going to let me sit there and age, so I figured I might as well state my case. I mustered up all the dignity befitting of such a fine bullfrog as I, and spoke.
“You threw a dream my way last night--”
“The crocodile. Yes.”
“Crocodile? I thought it was an alligator.”
“I crafted that dream myself aeons before the first human could dream it. I know the beast I placed within its territory.”
“Ah, right. Of course.” I said. The orchids were now singing a Tori Amos song. “Winter” I think. Must be crafting another nightmare personalized just for me.
“So,” I continued. “That was a pretty messed up dream.”
He glanced at me, just for a moment. Wow, those are some black eyes, I thought. The pictures don’t do them any kind of justice. They’re like pools of non-existence.
“I don’t mean messed up in the sense, like there’s something wrong with it.” I stammered. “It’s totally...effective. Too effective if you really want to know.”
“Do I?” he asked.
“It scared the crap out of me.” I said. “I woke up completely freaked out. I wasn’t right for the whole morning.”
“Such is the power of a good nightmare.” he said.
“Well it’s not the only time it’s happened in recent memory. I had one a few months ago that woke me up in the middle of the night terrified to step foot out of the bed. I can’t even remember what the dream was.”
“Ah yes, the laughing--”
“I don’t need to remember.” I interrupted. Again, he fell silent. The orchids had finished their song and were now running scales.
“Look, I don’t mean to complain, but this nightmare business...aren’t I a little old for it? Aren’t I supposed to outgrow it? Like acne or fear of rejection?”
“Do you not occasionally struggle with bouts of those issues?”
What an asshole. What a totally correct asshole.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t even remember most of the stuff you put in my head at night while I’m sleeping. How come these are the only dreams that have such a powerful effect on me? Why can’t I have happy dreams that wake me up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and loving humanity?”
“Your dream memory is none of my doing or concern.” he said. “But since you asked, perhaps fear is the impulse that you find most compelling, and therefore such dreams make a stronger impression upon your psyche.”
He just called me a big pussy. I scoffed, the only possible reaction I can have when somebody says something about me that’s both totally shitty and totally probably true.
“It is not uncommon.” he said.
“Oh yeah, well I also happen to have a pretty rockin’ libido. How come I don’t have sex dreams that make we wake up all nice and relaxed?”
“Need I really answer that?”
Blink. Blink. Ribbit.
“If there is something you wish to ask of me, I would advise you to do so. I’ve little time to take complaints from upset mortals.”
“Fine. Cut it out with the fucked-up scary dreams.” I hadn’t meant to be so demanding. It had just popped out, like a slippery bullfrog from a little boy’s grip. My froggy skin felt dry.
This is the first day of my last days....
They even managed to mimic the guitar part. They had a lot more bass than you would expect from a bunch of flowers.
Build it up, now take it apart.
Climbed up real high, now fall down real far.
“Is that really what you want?” he asked. He was talking to me again, but still looking at his flowers. Though both of his hands were hidden in his coat, I still had the sense that he was somehow directing them. “Do you not enjoy a good scare? Are you not a patron of the horror genre of both film and literature?”
“And do you not lament how rarely you are able to partake of these frightful pleasures due to both the constraints of time and a spouse who does not share the same fascination?”
He's got me there. “Okay sure, but those are controlled situations. I know that it’s not real. Dreams are a little more immersive.”
“And therein lies their limitation. At any time you can look away. You can hide your eyes behind a pillow, taking furtive glances back at the screen to see if it’s safe, if the awful thing is gone, if the gore has passed. And even if you keep your eyes on the screen the whole time, you can simply remind yourself that, as you say, it’s just a movie. It’s a rare piece of cinema that can draw you in so completely that you forget about the boundary between its world and your own.”
Then he looked at me.
“And how are you supposed to learn anything that way?”
“Learn?” I croaked. “What am I supposed to--?”
“But if no more nightmares is what you want, I suppose it is not too much to ask. You did come all this way.”
I thought about it for a moment. Did I really and truly never want to have a nightmare ever again? It’s not as if they were plaguing my every night of sleep. And what was this learning business he was talking about? Learn what? Why is this kind of stuff always so shrouded in mystery?
“Well,” I said. “Maybe the occasional nightmare wouldn’t be totally horrible.”
“So keep things as they are, then?”
“I guess so. And you know, while I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind the occasional flying dream. I had one of those one time and it was awesome.”
“You need to leave soon.”
“Oh, and if I could be the guitarist for Rage Against The Machine for a night, I would so owe you.”
“You have nothing that I want.”
“I don’t care how you do it, either. Like I can actually be Tom Morello, or else I do it as myself, like maybe Tom is sick or dead or something. Either way. Whatever works. Whatever’s easiest.”
“Anything else?” he asked. It was probably a rhetorical question meant to show his annoyance, but I didn't much care at this point. I’d come a long way.
“Well since you asked, I could go for--”
And then I woke up. Right back in my bed, back in my human body. That sneaky fucker. Woke me up before I could ask for more sex dreams.
My wife was already in the shower, but the boys were still asleep, dreaming of who knows what. I crawled out of bed and went to the kitchen to brew up the morning’s coffee. Out the window, I could see one of the neighbor’s many cats sitting atop the fence. The dog was waiting anxiously at the door, so I let him out and watched him chase that little fucker down. He never catches them, or much of anything else for that matter. But from the way he kicks in his sleep, I’m guessing he catches a few in his dreams.