author’s note: on a whim, i entered a writing contest, and came up with this submission in about an hour or so. it’s a true story. and for that, i just might win $500.
By Stephen B. Thomas
Several years ago, while still in college, I experienced the dream I remember more vividly than any other. There are some who say that dreams are ‘windows to the soul’ or ‘communications from the aether’ or some other mystical, otherworldly phenomenon. These days, I happen to be of the opinion that dreams happen to be combinations of ‘snippets’ from the previous day, be they images, thoughts, sounds, and so on. In essence, a dream is something one creates within their own mind, based upon their recent experiences.
Perhaps that’s why I find this particular dream so discomforting.
It may be useful to include some background details to contextualize not necessarily the dream, but the state of mind in which I found myself at the time. During my second semester of college, I fell in love with a woman whom I felt was dashing, wonderful, gorgeous, and all those other things that young people believe when they first meet someone they think is the love of their life. It would come to pass that she and I would be engaged after nine months, married after living together for a year and a half, and finally divorced after two and a half years. After she and I became engaged but before she and I married, my father was diagnosed with an invasive variety of cancer, and he spent his last year of being alive enduring chemotherapy sessions while wasting away, eventually passing while rendered unconscious via morphine.
Probably the most interesting thing about this whole situation is the fact that I was engaged in secret; no one in my family had known this woman and I were planning to marry. My father went to his grave without knowing any of this; I doubt even that there was suspicion of the happening; I do recall that, when I told my mother—tearfully, and with my dying father lying on a bed between us—her only response was “That hurts.” It would have been nice to have let both my parents know I was planning on spending the rest of my life with someone.
But this dream took place before that day. My father was alive, still in the process of dying, and I needed to ‘get away’ for a while. I went to a beach condo with my fiancé and her two roommates, and we stayed there for the long weekend. It was Spring Break of 1997, perhaps a month before my father passed away.
When one dreams, one has a cognizance of the world in which they find themselves; a kind of “all-knowingness” that helps one fully appreciate normality in a sometimes abnormal world. In this dream, I knew I was in a war. It was very similar to “Lord of the Flies,” as there were two rival factions of young boys. For some reason, the two factions arose around the presence of adults. One camp (the one in which I fell) was of the opinion that adults should be permitted back onto the estate grounds, while the second group believed that life was just fine and dandy without the grown-ups, thank you very much, and there was no need for an adult to be around for supervision. Armed conflict was inevitable, it seems.
I was young again myself, in this dream, perhaps 13 or 14 years old. The battleground was some rich family’s estate and manor grounds, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before in my life. Sounds of conflict filled the air: the distant crack of gunshots, screams of adolescent boys, and various explosions.
I came running past the large mansion, presumably at the center of the grounds, and came upon a terraced backyard, easily wider and longer than a US football playing field. Encircling this broad expanse was a miniature locomotive and railway, similar to the kind installed at shopping malls during the winter holidays. There was an engine connected to a faux coal-car, followed by a procession of a half dozen or so ‘passenger cars.’ These all had the perplexing look of antiquity about them while appearing about a fourth of their original size (but without a roof and room only for a single person) and to be made entirely of plastic.
My first adversary emerged near this train. I knew that it was a neighbour of mine; in real life, this young man was perhaps two or three years younger than I. I had babysat his younger sister in the past, and he was a good guy. However, in this instance he had a shotgun and I had a mere pistol. I frantically pulled the trigger while pointing the gun in his general direction; before he was eventually dispatched, he had loosed at least one shotgun blast into my stomach. I felt the weight of the pellets dig into my belly and witnessed him fall to the ground, dropping the shotgun. Apparently, one of my bullets had grazed a fuel canister, which was now spurting flames. I grabbed the discarded shotgun and raced away from the gigantic model train set, fleeing before it exploded and my neighbor vaporized in its blast.
A treehouse was my next target, though I had no true plan as to where I would attack next. I remember this particular tree and treehouse from my youth: my across-the-street neighbours let us hammer and nail a haphazard mass of scrap two-by-fours and plywood together about a dozen feet from the ground, and we spent our afternoons and weekends dirtying ourselves in it. Within the dreamworld, however, it was occupied by a nameless youth, whom I was eager to blast with my stolen shotgun. Although, to this day, I have never used a firearm, my brain thinks I must be a crack shot. He fell from the tree with a wet thump, and I continued forward, seeking my next objective.
Drawing once again on my dreamworld omniscience, I realized that the tall, warehouse-like structure emerging before me was the ‘evil kids headquarters,’ and I was not far from their ringleader. Was I the leader of my particular band of kids—the kids who wanted the adults to return? I never determined that; all I knew was that I had a mission to complete, and killing off the leader of these bad kids became my goal.
I slinked inside. It was dark and humid within. The interior was of marble and old flagstones, and pale blue light sifted in from above. Wide pillars stretched upward to support the ceiling. The nameless leader of the evil kids emerged from behind one of these pillars, and I shot round after round in his direction with fervor. He was agile, however, and my many shotgun blasts had not met their mark. The youth would dart behind one pillar, and scamper quickly to the next, avoiding my lethal barrage with a mysterious, catlike agility.
The leader had finally shown himself on a balcony supported by those marble pillars, this time showing his own firearm. It was I who ducked behind a pillar now, chips of marble jettisoned from the blasted supports as I sprang from one hiding place to the next.
My mind raced as I gasped for breath, sweat coursing down my forehead. I had no idea just how long I could last, now that the leader was on such a vigorous offensive.
“Robert!” I heard a strident female voice call out. “Robert! You come out here right now!”
It was the evil kid leader’s mother.
Moon-eyed, I watched the woman emerge from the darkness and walk courageously to the center of the anteroom where he and I had recently been trading gunfire. She stood and waited, arms outstretched, with an irritated expression souring her adult features.
A clattering of metal on stone signaled the boy’s surrender, as did his following words. “I’m sorry!” he screamed. “I’m sorry! I just can’t take it anymore! I just don’t know what’s wrong with me!” He descended from the balcony, and rushed to the arms of his waiting mother.
When they embraced, the dream quickly shifted scenes, to vignettes of different locations throughout the estate grounds. I first saw what I understood to be the upper levels of the mansion. Thick steel pipes crisscrossed the area, the only light shining dimly through arched, gabled windows.
The scene shifted again. A toddler sat alone, weeping. His curly blonde hair matted to his head, dirt smudging his precious skin. A torn onesie and filthy diaper his only clothes. I stood nearby, watching the child cry. His skin began to change. Obscene pimples and abscesses puckered their way to the surface of his angelic skin. Too quickly, his entire body was mottled with these sores, which began to swell. Like a basket full of tomatoes, his body turned red and bulbous, while above all I could hear his wailing.
Nauseated by the sight, I raised my arm to cover my view, and a sickening, wet splashing sound was heard. I knew then that the boy had perished, destroyed by his own sickness.
The mansion’s upper levels. A buzzing sound began to emerge, though seemingly not from the pipes themselves; rust began to form on the metal, pitting and cracking its surface. Bloated horseflies coursed through the air, feeding on the filth gathered along the decaying plumbing. As the metal began to split, rotted filth would seep through the cracks.
The backyard, with its now-destroyed miniature train. An indescribable wave of putrescence, of corruption, began coursing its way over the terraced yard, inching ever closer. The flies formed huge living clouds in the darkening sky.
I awoke next to my slumbering fiancé, sunlight streaming in the huge glass doorway, the sound of the ocean waves in my ears.