I don’t usually recall my dreams. But those that stay with me… well, being a writer for many years now has long ago plugged my narrative sense straight into my subconscious. I’ve had dreams wherein I scornfully recognised plot devices which were supposed to lead to further developments; dreams where I realised a certain character was “comedy relief”; dreams where I knew that certain characters were marked to die to advance the narrative.
Really, it’s a relief to wake up from that kind of nonsense. One shouldn’t apply literary criticism to one’s dreams, I feel.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not so easy to awaken.
I had a stunningly vivid dream last night. It started almost normally — driving home with my wife, who was at the wheel of the car. She’d been complaining of the cold in Tasmania while I was away in Sydney at the Australian Ju-jitsu Association National Seminar, so I wasn’t at first surprised to see snow on the roads. (Seriously? It doesn’t snow much in Tasmania. But you know: dream logic.) I was worried the car wouldn’t handle the roads as the snow got deeper, but then we moved over a hill into a new valley, and the snow was virtually gone.
I came home (not my actual house. I have no idea where this dream house might be) and found what I knew to be a dreadful, arcane sigil carved on the front door. I knew if I left it alone, the sigil would bring down upon me (family and wife? No longer involved…) an unspeakable horror. I also knew who’d put the sigil on my door.
I used a sledgehammer to destroy my own door, and went to the house of the miscreant summoner to carve the same sigil on his door. I reasoned that closing the circle — returning the summoned horror upon him — was the most likely means to escape. However, my opponent knew this too, and as I carved the shape on his door he came out to confront me.
Too late. I felt — over my left shoulder — the sky tear apart, and I knew something terrible was coming. My opponent raised his hands and began speaking, intoning meaningless syllables in a strained voice, and I knew he was trying to turn the coming thing upon me. I moved, and in that instant (as one does in a dream) I saw myself: younger than now, dressed in my old Air Force trench coat against the cold. My left eye turned whitish blue, like the cataracted eye of a blind man, and I knew (dream logic again!) that with this eye, I could see the true nature of things.
I looked at the sky, and I saw a black rip yawning wide against the grey clouds. At first I thought what I saw was gigantic and distant, but perspective caught up and I realised I was seeing a huge, black hand only a score of metres or so away. The hand had too many fingers which waved bonelessly like tentacles as the arm reached down through the tear in reality, and I knew if that hand grasped me I was lost.
I turned my eye on my opponent, and he stood naked before me. On his right shoulder, on the pectoral muscle there was a complex wound: deep cuts arranged in a spiral intwards to a suppurating red centre. I reached out with my open right hand, lay my palm on the wounded area, and turned my hand counter-clockwise. The skin peeled back as the spiral cuts unwound, opening like a hideous flower to reveal only black, foul corruption beneath.
My enemy screamed. The great hand reached down, and a single finger snaked out, touching the open wound, bonding with it somehow. Without another sound, the man whose sigil had brought this thing upon us became part of the terrible hand. Still attached to that tentacular finger, he literally crawled out of his skin, sloughing it off to lie empty, limp and crumpled on the ground. His skinless body was as black and corrupt as the hand itself, wet and slick and shiny, and as I watched it was drawn into the finger and the hand until no sign of it remained. But the empty skin on the ground now puffed up, inflating like a balloon until it stood once more manlike, looking slowly back and forth and I knew that what filled that skin now was far more terrible than the man who had been taken out of it.
At that moment, a woman came out of the building behind the creature, and while it was still adjusting to its new situation I slipped past, grabbed the woman and covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream. I dragged her to safety and told her to run.
I wasn’t afraid, though. I knew perfectly well I could drive out the Thing in the stolen skin. I needed nothing more than an egg and a fish as tools to work with — the creature couldn’t bear those things together. (Symbolism, anyone? An unfertilised egg. A swimming creature. A promise of something more from their union?)
Instead of driving the creature off, though — because I knew that would catch the attention of the awful owner of the great black hand which had now withdrawn through the hole in the sky — I thought I would walk. I thought I should look around with my new eye, see how many of these things might be among us. I thought that before I declared war on this horror, I should know the extent of its influence. I wanted to see the world as it truly was.
I regretted that decision almost instantly. Everywhere I looked with my new vision, the world was broken and corrupt. Wet, dripping, armoured wormlike things gnawed with needle teeth at the roots of trees. Something indescribable seemed to … uncoil… from the belly of a dog as I passed. Flowers were not flowers but swaying, lamprey-like things, mouths closing and unclosing hungrily.
I came to a low building where many people had gathered. It was night, now, but the building was lit with candles and lanterns and torches. The people were dressed in clothing that looked rich and chic, but when I looked more closely it was cheaply made, tawdry, ugly, coming apart at the seams. As I watched, I realised they were waiting for something. They wanted to feed on something that would give them life. They were desperate, hungry, fighting with each other for precedence.
As I realised this, a bloated, corpulent woman waddled onto a low stage. She looked, perhaps, like an Inuit with glossy, straight black hair cut at her shoulders, but she was ponderously naked, proportioned like the ancient Venus of Willendorf. She spoke in a surprisingly high-pitched voice, and the words were nothing but gibberish, but the crowd laughed, cheered, and applauded. They struggled and pushed to stand in front of her and one by one, they lowered their faced to feed at her enormous, pendulous breasts.
Yet it was not truly they who fed. With my left eye, I could see the truth. As each person took that dark nipple in their lips, a kind of light flowed out of the person, into the breast and into the woman behind it. A small, secret smile played about her lips, and as I watched, I could see that each person who drank became more tired, more worn, older, greyer as if she took the very life out of them, though they celebrated and begged for more. The light played about her subtly, a rich golden yellow in colour, and I understood that this ritual of feeding was ecstatic for her.
Each feeding was short no matter how her victims pleaded and fought, and I knew this was because she wanted to feed many times, from many people, so that no-one would suspect what was being done to them. The only one not permitted to feed was a pretty young woman, a tall, slender blonde in grey with silver sequins. She was pregnant — not heavily so, but enough to show — and I knew that the fat woman would not allow her to feed because it might harm the developing baby, and the terrible, gross creature knew that if she waited, she could feed from the child as well.
That was more or less the end of the dream. I awoke just as my mind was beginning to process the implications, and I understood: there was nothing I could do. There was no place to go. I couldn’t free anyone. I couldn’t even live freely myself without having to take from people who were already enslaved — enslaved of their own will, enslaved without knowing the horror of their condition. I knew I could stay free of the hideous woman and the skin-walking creatures. I wasn’t afraid of them for myself. I knew them for what they were.
What horrified me was that there was no recourse. I could live, and to do so I would either have to submit to the terrible creatures — or I would have to live parasitically, taking from people who had submitted already, submitted without knowing.
Or I could die.
So now I’m awake. But the metaphorical left eye will not close, and I cannot shake that final sense of horror, and I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for what I have to do to live. I’ve been looking for another way, but I think it’s too late.
(That’s what you get when a writer has a nightmare, by the way.)