by Scott Cannon
Just moments before another clean getaway, the dog had ruined everything. He could hear the woman talking to it as she shuffled into the utility room where he crouched frozen on the other side of the refrigerator. He couldn’t make out the words, and didn’t know whether she was coming to let the dog in or out. It didn’t matter; she was coming.
He couldn’t have been in the house for long, and didn’t remember how he’d broken in. This was not his first B & E. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been breaking into people’s houses while they slept, but it must have been long enough for him to get it down. There had never been a problem before.
He didn’t remember going through the house, but knew he hadn’t broken or taken anything. He never did. It was just for kicks. No one knew about his secret hobby: not the sleepers whose homes he entered, not his wife, not his son, not the police. He had never come close to being caught.
Until now. The woman’s voice and her shuffling slippers came nearer. She was on the other side of the refrigerator now. The room was dark, and if he didn’t move maybe she would just shuffle right past him, and let the dog in or out then shuffle back to bed so he could get away.
But just as she came into view the light snapped on and she saw him. For a flashbulb instant they looked at each other, eyes popping and mouths open, and then he was outside and running before she could even scream.
He left the car behind and ran all the way home. His family was waiting for him outside, acting like he was late again. The Weber had been rolled into place at the side of the house, its lid off, the charcoal out, the meat ready. It seemed like a get-together, but what was the occasion? He couldn’t remember. There was nothing to do but be cool and light the charcoal.
He was starting to think everything was fine when the police helicopters began sweeping the area with their spotlights. He wondered aloud with the rest of them what they were looking for, and kept up the act until the blue and red lights started flashing in the parking lot at the top of the high retaining wall at the back of his yard. When he saw the police up there, with the woman leaning over the rail pointing at him, he knew it was all over.
Then the police car was in his driveway, the police were in his yard, their handcuffs were on his wrists, and he was being walked back down the drive. Everything ruined: his career, his marriage, the life he’d known – but he felt strangely calm in the back of the car as they drove him away.
Instead of jail, they stopped at an old warehouse that had been converted to lofts in the renaissance district of downtown. The cops walked him up to the roof, where a party was going on, and got beers at the bar. They made their way to the wall that enclosed the rooftop and leaned their elbows on it as they drank their beers.
He was sitting on the wall between the two cops, listening to them talk about the young beautiful people at the party. They were not interested in him anymore, and seemed to have no further plans for the night. The handcuffs were off. What was going on?
Then he knew: he was dreaming. And, for the first time ever, he did not wrench himself awake from the dream. He was not afraid. He decided to stay in the dream and see what happened. It seemed he had wanted to do this for a while.
So he told the cops he didn’t care what happened because he knew it was all a dream and didn’t matter. He wondered if he could fly, and dared them to push him off the roof. They turned to him, surprised for a second, before giving him a hard shove to the chest and turning back to the party.
He did not fly; he fell backward and watched himself fall from four stories up, his body twisting in the air and getting smaller and smaller until hitting the parking lot below. He felt no pain, because he was still on the rooftop between the two cops, looking down at his small broken body.
He started giving the cops a hard time about how bad this would look in the news: “B & E Suspect Falls to Death From Rooftop Party While in Police Custody.” Maybe they would get mad and push him off again, and he could fly this time.
But they cared less about him now than when they’d pushed him off the roof moments before, and there had been no anger in the shove they gave him then. They didn’t even look back when he swung his legs around and started to climb down the side of the building, using hand and footholds he found in the bricked-in, arched windows in the wall. He called up to them about the convenience of all these “trigger-holds”, thinking that expression would make perfect sense to a policeman, but neither of them even bothered to look over the side.
When he reached the parking lot at the bottom his dead body was still there. It was no bigger than it had looked from four stories above: about as big as a Ken doll, but still warm and as soft and limp as a dead squirrel.
His teenaged son was there too, waiting for him. He picked up his own miniature dead body and put it in his jacket pocket. He could feel the weight and fading warmth of it as they walked home together. As they walked, he tried to think of a way to get his car out of the woman’s neighborhood and back to his house without getting caught again. He didn’t want to involve his son in a criminal activity, but he didn’t want to explain his nocturnal hobby to his wife, either.
Then he woke up.
His wife lay sleeping in the dark beside him. It was 1:30. He watched the ceiling fan circle above. This was not the first time he had realized he was dreaming while in the dream, but always before the dreams were unpleasant and he had forced himself awake. Getting arrested for breaking and entering in front of his family was not pleasant either, but this time he had willed himself to stay asleep and continue dreaming. Now awake, the dream still breathed within him. He remembered everything in exquisite detail. “Trigger-holds?” He smiled.
As vivid as the memory was then, he knew it would fade if he went back to sleep, and he would remember it vaguely if at all when he woke up the next morning. So he got up and went downstairs and wrote it all down.
He told his wife about the dream the next morning. She said it was interesting and then left for work. He mentioned it to a couple of people at the office that day, but they were too busy to ask what the dream was about. He told his sister and brother-in-law about it at dinner that weekend. His sister, always ready with an opinion on any subject, told him the dream must have been an expression of his repressed inner rebel.
He didn’t know about that. He did think he knew why he had the dream, but not how, so he revisited the lucid dreaming website he’d looked at five days before his first lucid dream. He had heard of it before, but never thought of doing it when he hit the Lucid Dreaming clickbait in the “Pages You May Like” post on Facebook.
He had liked the page and gone to the website, which told him that anyone could have a lucid dream. You could fly, the website said. You could uncover the secrets of yourself. You could meet and interact with personal heroes like Abraham Lincoln or Bruce Lee. Reunion with lost loved ones, sexual adventures with dream figures, conquest of real-life phobias, mastery of real life skills and even of space and time: anything was possible in the lucid dream.
It sounded like fun, but he hadn’t thought any more about it until the dream, five days after the internet told him he could have it.
Returning now, he found the website offered some free advice, but saw that if you were really serious you should buy a DVD coursebook for $39. The Ultimate Box Set for Lucid Dreaming looked like it included a smartphone app. He didn’t have a smartphone. It linked to a vendor of a Mexican dream herb. He had tried African yohimbe tree bark and Hawaiian woodrose back in the Day, but the bark tea had done nothing, and the ground-up little wooden roses got him off but the strychnine in them sent him to bed with stomach cramps so bad he thought his navel might disappear.
This was not what he was looking for. He didn’t want an app for a smartphone he didn’t have, didn’t want to listen to the new age music that would be on the DVDs, and would rather eat peyote again than try some mystic weed from Oaxaca.
For the next couple of weeks he tried to do it again with what he had been able to pick up on his own. He would tell himself as he went to sleep that tonight was the night he would be able to push the fingers of one hand through the palm of the other, or see some other sign that he was in a dream and could do whatever he wanted. The dreams came: old friends he’d lost touch with, cities familiar yet strange, occasional sexual encounters never consummated, but he never knew they were dreams until he woke up, and didn’t remember them for long after that. When waking he would sometimes feel relieved to be freed from the dream, other times puzzled if he felt there was some meaning just beyond his reach, and always irritated when the dream was about sex. The “dream figures” were sometimes women he knew or had known, and guilt was always what woke him up. How stupid he would feel then, realizing he could have had a midlife crisis fling without having a midlife crisis or a fling to hide from his real-life wife of twenty years. With whom he was extremely happy.
There must be another way. He googled “lucid dreaming” with the name of his town. Meetup.com told him that 16 or so “soul searchers” got together two or three times a month to share visions, dreams, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and more. The calendar for upcoming meetings encouraged him to “bring an open mind!” and RSVP. He saw that these dreamers and visionaries were as much about astral projection, reincarnation, past lives (mentioned twice), and other such ideas as they were about lucid dreaming, and that there was no Guru in Charge. Their meetings sounded like AA on acid, and he had been to enough of those – not on acid of course.
His next click took him to a place of more promise. The School of Metaphysics’ curriculum was shorter and more focused than the laundry list of the soul searchers’ interests, and included lucid dreaming. It had a Director, a young woman pictured with auburn hair and a nice smile named Ashlee Emory. Her resume’ said she had an associate’s degree in the arts, and told him something of the spiritual journey that five years ago led to her founding this chapter of the School of Metaphysics, which was first established in California in 1973. Two years of study had earned her a Respondere Certificate before she began to teach here. She was now working toward her Qui Docet Discit Certificate from the 2nd Cycle of Lessons and pursuing her Doctorate of Metaphysics. She aspired to become a Psi Counselor, and to publish articles and books during her study and work with media outlets including radio, T.V. and newspapers.
He didn’t know what all that meant, but at least it sounded more like a place to learn than like a bunch of dry drunks or stoned soul-searchers sitting around talking about themselves. The School even had its own place, apparently the Director’s well-kept little house with an address in a run-down part of town, and a phone number to call when you were “ready for a new you.” And it was free.
A man answered his call. “Hello?”
That threw him off. “Hi, uh. . . I may have the wrong number. I was trying to call the School of Metaphysics.”
“No, you’re fine,” the man said. “Just a minute.”
He didn’t feel fine, but held the line anyway. That was what people said these days if you were mistaken or confused. He heard the man say something, then a woman’s voice on the phone. “School of Metaphysics. How may I help you?”
“I was looking at your website. I’m interested in lucid dreaming. Do you -”
“Of course!” the woman said. “We teach that here.”
“In classes, or. . .”
“Well we do have classes, but no group study on that particular subject at this time. We do offer individual instruction. Are you a lucid dreamer?”
The question embarrassed him. He thought about saying “No, I’m a brain surgeon” or something cleverer than that but didn’t want to sound like a smart-ass and couldn’t think of anything cleverer anyway. “No, not really. I mean it happened once, a couple of weeks ago. I think I want to do it again, but I guess I need help. I’ve read up on it a little, they say anybody can do it, but I’m just not getting anywhere by myself.”
“I understand,” she said, and it sounded like she did understand. “Some people are born lucid dreamers, but most of the rest of us can learn to dream that way. I did.” She laughed. “There are techniques. They work.”
“Yes, I know. Writing down your dreams, and all that? Noticing your surroundings, being. . . mindful?” He wasn’t able to say the last word without some kind of overtone in his voice. He thought it was over-used.
Maybe she heard it, because she laughed again. It sounded like music. “That’s some of it,” she said. “There is more. Much more.”
“Well I’ve tried all that, but I’m just not getting anywhere on my own.” The first part wasn’t strictly true. In fact, it wasn’t true at all; beyond trying to wish himself into another lucid dream, he hadn’t tried any of that. He needed a guide.
“Some people can do it on their own. But most of us need a guide.” A silence passed. “Hello? Sir?”
“Yeah, I’m – still here. I must have gone away to the mother ship for a second.” That laugh again. “Just thinking. So what. . .”
“Let’s first meet and just talk. If it feels right to both of us then I’m sure we can help you with your dreams. Let me get your name, and a time that works for both of us, and we’ll see where we can go from there.”
He told her his name was Cole Taylor, and asked if she was available on Wednesday at 5:30. That was his mid-week AA meeting. She said she was, and looked forward to meeting him after regular classes at the School of Metaphysics, which she mentioned was also where she lived. He asked her name.
“I’m the Director of the School,” she said. “Ashlee Emory.”
“Well I look forward to meeting you too, Ashlee. I should tell you, I’m not exactly a new-age kind of guy. But that dream. . .”
“I know,” she said. And it sounded like she did know.
The School of Metaphysics was across the river in the neglected west side of town. It was larger than he expected, secluded and shaded by trees at the end of a wide lane off the main road. Perhaps it had been a farmhouse before the coming of the industrial development, apartments, and tract homes in the area. A large sign attached to posts in the yard near the front porch told him he had found his way.
A tall thin man in jeans and a black tee shirt opened the door. “Hello. You’re here for Ashlee.” The man who had answered the phone.
“Yes.” Taylor held out his hand. “Cole Taylor.”
“Greg,” the man said, and shook his hand and led him from the small anteroom beyond the door through a large dark room full of twenty or so folding chairs toward the back of the house. Halfway there they were met by Ashlee Emory, emerging from a door at the other end of the room.
She swept toward him in loose flowing clothes. “Mr. Taylor,” she said, “so nice to meet you. I’m Ashlee.” She led him back through the door into her office, or perhaps her sanctum sanctorum, Taylor thought. The room was small, the lighting ambient. Shelves of books covered most of one wall. Greg sat behind a small desk as Ashlee folded herself into an overstuffed chair on the other side of the room. She motioned Taylor to an oxblood leather loveseat between them. He sat facing the bookshelves, the woman to his right and the man to his left.
Ashlee Emory’s arms and shoulders and neck were bare and unmarred by body art. Her complexion was pale, with an almost pearlescent quality about it. Her auburn hair framed a smiling oval face.
After pleasantries about the School’s seclusion, she said, “So you had your first lucid dream. Tell me about it.” He did: the arrest, the fall, his broken little body in his pocket. She didn’t speak until he had finished with the dream and started talking about the website he thought had brought it on.
“Only $39 for the Ultimate Box Set for Lucid Dreaming?” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, it seemed a little steep to me.” They both laughed.
“We don’t try to sell anything here. We teach.”
“I wondered about that. Your website doesn’t say anything about tuition.”
“What we teach here can’t be sold. Metaphysics belongs to everyone. It’s part of us all, and we’re part of it, whether we know it or not. We just help you find it, and bring it out into the light.” Her eyes were steady on his. Green eyes like jade, set far apart in an alabaster face.
“So, how. . . ”
“The School is financed entirely by donations,” said the man from the desk.
The voice startled him. He had forgotten the man was there.
Ashlee Emory went on as if he were not. She told Taylor to write down his dreams as soon as they woke him, before going back to sleep. She said he should try to be mindful of his surroundings at all times, paying particular attention to whether they were real or not. One way to do this, she said, was to try to do something impossible in the real world. Like pressing your fingers through the palm of your other hand. They would meet again in a week to discuss his progress in dream awareness and what to do next.
Greg escorted him out. On the little sideboard in the anteroom inside the front door, Taylor noticed a finely made box of inlaid wood, with a slot in its top and the word “Donations” on front. Taylor walked on out the door. Ashlee had a knowing air and something else about her he couldn’t quite name, but he was leaving with nothing he couldn’t have got elsewhere. Greg shut the door behind him without speaking.
He did his homework. The reality checks were easy enough. In a couple a days he was checking the reality of things every fifteen or twenty minutes. Okay, more like every hour or two, and maybe some days he forgot. It was sort of random really. But when he thought to notice, the steering wheel was always firm in his grip when he was driving and the surface of his desk was smooth and solid at work and he never could push his fingers through the palm of his other hand. Getting up and writing down his dreams was harder, especially when his wife came down the stairs to ask him what he was doing. He told her he was trying to have another lucid dream, then had to remind her of the one he told her about a couple of weeks back. He didn’t mention the School of Metaphysics.
He had little to show for his efforts when he went back to the School the next Wednesday, and figured on disappointment from Ashlee Emory. He hadn’t once done a reality check when dreaming, and his little spiral dream notebook was pathetic. His dreams were meaningless shit.
That didn’t matter, she told him, what was important was becoming more aware of his dreams. Did dreams have to mean something? What did his lucid dream mean?
He had given this some thought. He said his tiny dead body could be his former drunk self, and it was picked up and carried away by his new sober drunk self. He guessed the dream meant he felt he’d been living wrong, and should be punished for it, but would survive whatever happened.
She told him what a great thing it was for an alcoholic to stop drinking, and wanted to know if he had any recurring dreams. The usual, he said: losing his way to an urgent appointment in a city he should know his way around; being unprepared for a test or presentation; losing control of his body.
“Those are all anxiety dreams,” she said. “Don’t you have any pleasant dreams?”
“Not really that I can think of. I don’t just have anxiety dreams, but they’re the ones I remember. The others are just sort of random encounters with people that don’t make me feel any kind of way.”
She leaned toward him and took the notebook from his hand, then held it in her lap unopened. “No sex dreams? Those are usually fun.”
He barked out a laugh. “Yeah, none last week though.” When she didn’t speak he said, “When I have a sex dream, I always wake up before anything happens. Because I feel like I’m cheating. Then after I wake up I feel like I was cheated.” He shook his head, and they both laughed.
“Did you know that the number one reason most people want to learn to lucid dream is to have dream sex?”
He did not know that. And anyway, “That’s really not what this is about for me. I want to fly,” he said to lighten things up a bit.
“And that’s reason number two.” She waved a dismissive hand. “It doesn’t matter why you want to do it; what matters is that you want to do it. If you do, you will. And if you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. I’ll show you the way.”
Patience, she counselled. Stay mindful and practice dream awareness, and it would happen soon. He had made a good start.
This time when he left he dropped a twenty in the box by the door. He had made a good start, she said. That made him want to really make a good start, and the next week he did better. By the next Wednesday night he had pages of non-anxiety dreams to tell her about.
She wasn’t interested. Instead she wanted to know more about his recurring dreams. There was a similarity about the being lost dreams, he told her, and maybe other similarities between other dreams that he couldn’t remember, but nothing of Groundhog Day caliber.
“What about nightmares?”
The voice from the corner startled him. Talking to Ashlee, he had again forgotten Greg was in the room. Taylor looked toward him.
“Nightmares?” Taylor thought about it, surprised by the man and his question. “No. No, not really.”
Greg was impassive, the room silent. Taylor turned back to Ashlee. She was leaning toward him from her chair, elbows on knees, hands clasped.
“I mean we talked about anxiety dreams, and they’re no fun. But nothing like, you know, when your little kid wakes up crying and tells you some monster was chasing him, and you have to keep telling him there’s no monster, it was just a dream, before he’ll go back to sleep. Either that or take him back to sleep with you. Usually take him back to sleep in momma bed.” He laughed, remembering.
Ashlee smiled, but didn’t laugh. Apparently she didn’t have kids.
“But really, as an adult? I can’t think of one time a dream has scared me awake. If that’s what you mean by nightmares. You know, the kind where your heart is just pounding and you kind of just thrash out of it. . .” His voice trailed off and his eyes lost focus for a moment. Ashlee’s smile went away and her gaze sharpened.
Now that he thought of it, he did remember one. It had been years ago, when he was in his thirties maybe, and probably almost that long since he’d given it more than a passing thought. Remarkable how it came rushing back to him now, and so vividly. And how Ashlee’s green eyes drew it out of him.
“Now that you mention it,” he said to Greg, then to Ashlee “there was this one. It’s been so long ago I can’t believe I still remember it. The Black Man.” Her eyebrows lifted, and he rushed on.
“Not black in the racial sense – or even in a color sense. Not a man, either, just the shape of a man.”
She was eating this up, it seemed, still leaning forward from the depths of her chair. So he told her of finding himself thrust into this dream, this nightmare, where he was grappling with this thing, fighting to get free of its grasp and out of this confined space, like a closet, where it was holding him. It was not a man, but the shape of a man, featureless, and black but not the color black because true black was no color at all, the absence of color, of light. The black of the void, in the shape of a man, and it was wrestling him, clutching him, dragging him, and he was fighting to get away. When he tried to hit the thing it was like trying to strike the space between the stars. He couldn’t touch it but it had him and was trying to drag him deeper into the dark of the closet, and he was kicking and clawing toward the light of the open door, almost there when he jerked wildly awake, terrified, his heart hammering in a flood of adrenaline.
How did that rate on her nightmare scale? Well enough, it appeared; she unclasped her hands and sank back in her chair, her eyes still on his face but not seeing him for the moment. He glanced at Greg. He had not moved.
Neither of them spoke. What, no follow-up questions, like what he thought brought on the nightmare, what was it about, what the black figure was? “I never had a clue where that one came from,” he volunteered. “It never happened again.” He was flustered with the feeling that he’d been trying to please her.
She acted like she’d heard enough. Time was up, and it was back to business. Keep up with the dream journal and the mindfulness, and if he hadn’t broken into lucid dreaming by next week, there was something more they could try.
He dropped another twenty in the box on his way out, not sure why this time. What was that about, anyway?
All the next week he kept up his journal, scribbling his mundane dreams into his little spiral notebook, but without the enthusiasm or diligence of the week before. So what if he let a few vapid dreams evaporate in the light of day? He was getting the idea that Ashlee Emory didn’t really care about the dream notebook, so why should he? He felt he’d disappointed her with his first week’s half-assed collection of anxiety dreams, but she had seemed no more interested in what he brought her the next week, after redoubling his efforts in response to being praised for making “good progress.” He was starting to feel like a fool, a schoolboy smitten with a secret crush on a cute new teacher he wanted to impress.
Well, he wasn’t bringing a polished apple to the next class. He was no schoolboy; he was a fifty year-old man with a family, a house, and a real job, and she was a twenty- something year-old girl with cat-green eyes and a Respondere Certificate. He was getting nowhere with his furtive dream-journaling and his mindfulness, such as it was.
By the weekend he was of half a mind to return to his AA meeting instead of the School of Metaphysics the next Wednesday, but thinking about AA again gave him pause. How many meetings had he been to, how many relapses had there been before he had put together that first year of sobriety? He found his one-year chip, a bronze silver dollar with the triangle of Recovery, Unity, and Service on one side and the Serenity Prayer on the other. He put it in his pocket and carried it with his change as he had done for a couple of years after he earned it.
Patience, she had counseled, and if he’d had patience for the me-me-me of all those AA meetings, he could find enough left over for a couple more of these with Ashlee Emory at the School of Metaphysics. If there was any chance it could lead to something more fun than being sober, it was worth a fair chance. And hadn’t she said something about another thing they could try?
That Wednesday he learned the other thing was a drug called galantamine. It was in a white plastic bottle that looked like something from a health food store, which Greg produced without ceremony from his desk after Ashlee had spent some time prepping him for it.
They were all sitting in their usual places, and she had flipped through his dream notebook like it was an unwanted catalog from the mailbox, then set it aside. “No lucid dreams yet?” He looked down and shook his head.
“Don’t feel bad,” she said. His head came up again as she went on to explain that he was one of a very few individuals who even wanted to try lucid dreaming. The masses were content to live their lives wearing blinders and being part of the cud-chewing herd. He was one of the few, the select, who were interested in something more than what was on TV that night. He had raised his level of consciousness when he stopped anesthetizing himself with alcohol. Now he wanted to see if there was some other way to be than just normal. That made him special, brave, adventurous, enlightened, even.
At least that’s what he heard her say, in so many words. He shouldn’t feel discouraged or frustrated because the techniques hadn’t worked yet. Discouraged and frustrated: yes, that’s how he had felt, not irritated and pissed off like some curmudgeonly old fart.
Not many came to her for help with this, she said. Of the few that did, many just weren’t serious about it in the first place. Some, like him, had come to her like children after one accidental lucid dream experience, excited and wanting another. But, like children, they stopped coming back after they found out there was some work involved. He was not like them. She knew how hard he’d been trying! And others came just because they’d heard about dream sex on the internet. She paused to smile and laugh. She remembered that’s not what this was about for him.
Maybe one in four or five had the right motivation and depth of dedication to realize their dreams. “Like you, Cole.”
But even some of those as special as he could never break through, she said. Maybe half of those that did had needed a little something in addition to mindfulness and a dream journal to get there.
Taylor was sitting forward on the loveseat by then, trying not to look like a schoolboy waiting for the bell at the end of the last class on the last day before Christmas break. The skids were greased when Ashlee said, “There’s a drug, a vitamin supplement really. Galantamine.” He heard the sound of a desk drawer, and looked around to see the white pill bottle on the desk in front of Greg.
He sat back on the loveseat and turned to Ashlee again, ready to tell her what he thought about mystical Oaxacan dream herbs, and maybe African yohimbe tree bark and Hawaiian woodrose as well, but she was still talking. “It comes from a flower called the Caucasian snowdrop, very pretty, from the same plant family as the daffodil. The active ingredient was discovered in Russia, the Soviet Union back in the fifties. The plant has been used in eastern Europe for centuries, as an herbal remedy for what they used to call nervous disorders. Now the active ingredient is FDA-approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
“Well I don’t have that problem. Yet.”
“Touch wood,” she said, in the British way, and they shared a laugh before she went on. “It has an interesting side-effect: vivid dreams.”
“An oneirogen,” Greg said. Taylor glanced at him, and Ashlee went on as though he hadn’t spoken.
“Now please understand, we don’t want to push this on you, Cole. We’re not peddling drugs, and your body is your temple. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable with this. . .” She stopped as he stood and took the three steps to Greg’s desk to pick up the bottle. Galantamine, the label said, 60 8 mg. capsules. The lid was sealed.
He sat down again and twisted off the top, peeled the paper from the mouth of the bottle, and pulled out the cotton stuffing inside. It was full of red gelcaps. He shook one into his palm and held it up to the light. It was translucent like a ruby.
“So you’re offering me the red pill? Seriously?”
“Sorry I don’t have a blue one to give you a choice.”
“Should I call you Morpheus, then?”
“Don’t, and I won’t call you Neo.”
That was all it took. The bottle of galantamine cost $30. Greg stood as Taylor took out his wallet, then left the room with the ten and twenty Taylor handed him. Ashlee stayed to explain how to use the stuff. Don’t take it before going to bed, she told him. Usually that only produced dreams that could be extraordinarily vivid, but often disturbing as well, without lucidity. Better to wake up and take one after 2 or 3 hours of sleep, then go back to sleep for the rest of the night. Because galantamine had a rather long half-life of 48 hours or so, he should space out his doses and take it only a couple of times a week. Of course she couldn’t guarantee how he would react to it – everyone is different, don’t you know – but he might be in for a nice surprise! And keep up the dream journal, and don’t forget the mindfulness and reality-checks. She let him out of her inner sanctum and led him halfway through the big room full of folding chairs toward the front door. He supposed this space had once been the living room of the farmhouse, and reflected that he had never seen a single soul sitting in any of the chairs. Well, his appointments were after hours after all, and maybe they didn’t have any night classes on Wednesdays because that time was for individual sessions with special people.
She stopped short of the door to return to her office. Maybe she didn’t want to embarrass him by leading him all the way to the donations box. As she turned to go back she said, “Good luck – have fun!” with the sound of a wink in her voice. “Same time next week?”
“For sure,” he said, and made for the door. As he was opening the inner door to the anteroom with the box in it, he saw to his right another door, partly ajar, leading to what he figured were the living quarters of the house. He paused for a moment, listening but hearing no sound. He looked around. Ashlee had disappeared. He took a couple of steps and a quick peek through the open door. It let onto a dark hallway leading to the back of the house. There was no light but for a faint bluish glow coming from somewhere farther back than he could see.
Then he was struck by the feeling that he was acting like the B & E artist of his lucid dream, and hurried on out. On his way, he dropped another twenty in the donations box. He was pretty sure they had charged him the same for the galantamine that he would have paid in a health food store.
Before bed that Friday night he put one of the ruby dreamcaps in his nightstand. Waking up to take it would be no problem; he awoke every night at about one-thirty, usually just to roll over and go back to sleep. He figured this was a habit left over from the drinking days, when he would usually start awake almost every night about that time after metabolizing the alcohol out of his brain.
He brought a bottle of water to bed and read until sleep came. He had been asleep a couple of hours when he awoke at half past one and opened the nightstand drawer to get the red pill. He held it between thumb and forefinger for a moment with the uncapped water bottle in his other hand. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he thought, and swallowed the pill and laid back, turning on his other side and rearranging the pillows. As quiet as he’d tried to be, he’d awakened his wife. Anything wrong? she wanted to know. Just took an Advil, he told her.
Then he was on vacation at a beach house full of friends and family. It was nighttime, and most of them were outside on the large deck that was strung with lights, talking and laughing and drinking. The beach house was like others where he and his family had stayed, but different. He was away from the rest of the people there, lying in bed reading. He looked away from his book at the party lights outside his window. When he looked back he could not find his place, because it was not the same book he was holding just a second ago. Then he knew.
He switched off the reading lamp and sat up and put his feet on the floor, immersed in the wonder of a dream in which nothing was real and he was self-aware and in control of himself. He knew he could wake up as easily as he could turn the lamp back on, but there was no way he was going to do that now. He wanted to go mingle with the people on the deck. Under the party lights, he could see some of them through the window. Was that his father, dead more than five years now? There was something he wanted to say to him, something he’d never gotten around to saying in life. He could even have a drink, get drunk if he felt like it, and still celebrate his next sober birthday and accept his five-year anniversary chip at AA in waking life. Because nothing in this dream counted in the real world, and he could do whatever he wanted. Maybe he could even fly when he got outside.
The hallway leading to the front room and the deck where the party was going on was dark. He heard familiar voices, and started moving toward the sound and the light outside, but a figure blocked his way. A woman in silhouette, headed for the bathroom probably. Her features were shadowed by the party light spilling into the hallway behind her and he didn’t know who she was. He made way for her and started to walk by, but as he did he felt her hand clasp his, and then she was leading him back the way he’d come, into the bedroom and onto the bed, pulling him down on top of and into her.
The party went on outside as they moved together and against one another, naked on the cool sheets. His parents, his friends, probably his wife and kid were out there, and any of them could come looking for him at any moment. But this was just a dream and it wouldn’t matter what happened, so he abandoned himself to the sweet and the soft and the slick warmth of her.
Who was she? As he pushed his upper body away from her to look, she turned her face to the light from the window. Auburn hair framed eyes of jade, set far apart in an alabaster face.
He called the School that Monday. She answered the phone this time. So nice to hear from you, fine, fine, etc., then: “Did it work?”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes it did. The dream I had was really. . . well that’s why I called. It was just strange, and surprising, really, not what I expected, and – I was wondering, if we’re going to talk about it, does Greg have to be there?”
“No, of course not, if you’d rather talk in private.”
“I would. No offense to Greg, but. . .”
“He makes you uncomfortable? He has that effect on some people.” Her little laugh. “So the galantamine worked. You did it – how wonderful! You must be so excited.”
Excited? Yes, but that didn’t come close to covering the whorl of feelings the dream had given him. Amazed, perplexed, frightened – why? – but that didn’t cover it either, so he just said “Yes, I am. Excited. It’s just that I’d rather not – ”
“I understand perfectly.” And again it sounded like she did understand, and perfectly too. The world of dreams was psychic territory, she said, and talking about the exploration of it made some people uncomfortable. Yeah, people like me, thought Taylor, especially in the presence of an odd fellow like Greg, when the dream was about fucking his wife, or girlfriend or whoever Ashlee was.
Fact was, right then he didn’t know what he was going to tell her Wednesday. I had dream sex with you? You seduced me, like some kind of succubus? No, that was the Blame the Victim defense, and why did he need a defense anyway? He had only wanted to fly! Maybe better to make something up. But he had a feeling she would know if he lied.
He went back without the dream notebook. He didn’t need it. He could remember the dreams as if just having woken from them. She answered the door this time. There was no sign of Greg.
If she noticed he was empty-handed she didn’t mention it. As soon as they were settled in her office she asked him to tell her all about the lucid dream.
He had come with some sort of plan but couldn’t remember what he meant to do so he just blurted it out. “It was a sex dream.”
She smiled and nodded as if that’s what she’d expected to hear. “Not at all unusual,” was all she said.
Her silence made him want to fidget. “Not what I expected at all. Very strange. A total surprise.” The sentence fragments kept bubbling up as she sat there with a serene smile, one leg crossed under the other. He took a breath.
Then he told her the whole thing, or almost. When he finished, she said “Who was the woman?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did she look like?”
He started to stammer through a made-up description, then stopped. “She looked like you.”
Her eyes widened and she put a hand to her mouth, feigning shock. “Mr. Taylor!” she said. When she took her hand away her face was alight. “I must say, I am flattered.”
“Don’t be.” He stopped short, surprised by his sudden anger. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I only meant to say this wasn’t some kind of wish-fulfillment thing. You’re very sweet and pretty and all but I don’t – I have never. . .”
“No worries, Cole. It doesn’t mean anything. I know you’re a happily married man and I’m sure you’re a good husband and father. It wasn’t really me, I promise. Friday night, you said? I think I was in Tibet at the time.” He managed a weak smile to go with her musical laugh.
She explained that the beginner had little control over what dreams may come, but with time and practice could master the lucid dream state. Hadn’t he said he wanted to fly? Keep at it, and he would be looking down at the backs of eagles in flight. They would talk about how to program his dreams and what he could do in them during sessions to come. Meditation, progressive relaxation before sleep, conscious command of the lucid dream environment – there was so much for him to learn, and she would show him the way. She was thrilled with his breakthrough, and wished she could be back where he was right now, at the beginning of the wondrous journey that lay ahead.
One more thing before he had to go. The dream he told her about happened Friday night. Had he tried again before coming for his session this evening?
He had, the night before last. “And?”
“Another sex dream. With you.”
“Oh my,” was all she said as she stood to show him out. Again she led him halfway to the front door, turning back and taking her leave of him there. Still no sign of Greg as he left, but on his way out he saw the hallway door was again partly open. He veered slightly to his right as he walked and glanced in to see the dark hallway and the bluish glow from somewhere in the back.
He put fifty dollars in the donations box on the way out. As he started his car, he wondered how she knew he was a father and a married man.
With the galantamine and Ashlee Emory’s tutelage, he was soon able to dream lucidly almost at will. At first, where he was and what happened seemed as much the whim of the dream as his own, but it wasn’t hard to learn the little tricks Ashlee taught him and it wasn’t long before he felt he had some sort of control. A simple technique was just writing down where you wanted to be and whom you wanted to see, or making a mantra of it to repeat to yourself as you fell asleep. A more complicated one was supine focused relaxation beginning with a spot on your forehead and going down and up each arm and leg to the fingers and toes and back up to the third eye again. That would get you there too sometimes.
In dreams he went to the desert and he went to sea. He went to cities of marble and mountains of agate. He spent time with all kinds of people and did all sorts of things
One thing he was never able to do in dreams was fly. He concentrated all his will. He said his wish aloud, like Pee Wee Herman. He threw himself off high structures, always to land unhurt in water, a snowbank, or a pile of hay, just like his guy in Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag. Nothing worked. Would he never fly? Patience, she kept telling him.
One thing he could always do in dreams was fuck Ashlee Emory. She always showed up in one of his dreams every night he took the little red pill, and she always wanted to get it on. It didn’t matter where they were: a houseful of people, a hotel swimming pool, the caldera of a volcano, outer space; she was at home everywhere, and always ready for some squeezing.
If he told her to go away she would, but the dream would seem a little the poorer for it so he hardly ever did that. He tried to have dream sex with other people, but if they didn’t turn him away, they turned into Ashlee Emory in mid-coitus.
When they met for their Wednesday evening sessions, they talked less and less about the dreams themselves and more and more about Ashlee’s view of the world through the roseate lens of metaphysics. When they did talk about the dreams, she dismissed his concern that she was always the dream figure in his sexual encounters. They weren’t having an affair. Everyone had sex dreams; he was just more dream-aware since he had limbered up his mind with her teachings and his strict drug regimen. She didn’t know why she was always the dream figure, but assured him that was none of her doing. Maybe there was a little transference going on. Yes, he had heard of that.
He continued to feed twenties and fifties and sometimes even a hundred into the dream box on his way out each week, and it occurred to him that this ought to make him feel like some kind of john leaving a brothel. But that was the wrong way of looking at it. The dream sex with Ashlee was just a part, a small part really, of the total dreamscape he now enjoyed two or three times a week. There was no harm in any of it.
Until the troubles at the School of Metaphysics. . . .
END OF PART I
Hold on! The story is only beginning. Stay tuned for Part II of “Lucid Dreamer”– which will be posted in one week.
Meanwhile, WHO is Scott Cannon, author of this extraordinary tale? We’ll let you know early next week at our new “hype” page.