By Adrian K. Briggs
I hopped across the surface of Lake Arbogast. Its waters rippled out from the lily pads as my feet stepped over them. Every now and then, I would miss a step, but the water seemed to hold my weight just fine. Still, perhaps out of habit or insecurity, I preferred to plant my feet on the abundant lily pads.
I couldn't rightly recall the last time I was able to stand on the lake or hop along its lily pads. Come to think of it, why hadn't I tried this sooner? It was so much fun!
Off in the distance, towards the lake's centre, I saw a peculiar assortment of logs floating in numerous rectangular formations. Had to investigate. I picked up the pace. Just how fast could I run over the lily pads?
In truth, I wasn't certain where I was going. But I wanted to go there. Was there really any other path I could take? As I neared the rectangular log formations, I noticed that the water inside them was dark. Not at all like the dimly glowing purple waters that sat between them and myself.
Did Lake Arbogast always have glowing waters? Was this even Lake Arbogast? 'Never mind', I thought. It's time to go under.
Pickerels sped away from me as I plunged beneath the surface. The waters didn't feel particularly cold, or hot. They didn't really feel like water. They felt like home.
I was home.
I stared through the crystal-clear depths of the lake, at my hometown of Lorette. It's familiar brick walls reached deep down into the dark depths of Lake Arbogast. The sun's rays couldn't reach the roofs of some taller buildings, but the light from their windows sufficiently illuminated the deep underwater abyss beneath me.
As I swam towards the door of the nearest structure, it occurred to me how awkward it was that I swam with my back to the surface, while the buildings were all built downward from the logs that kept them afloat.
I decided to mimic this. I spotted a pair of flat wooden planks floating above me. I took hold of them and tied them to my feet with my shoelaces. The wood caused my feet to drift up to the surface while my head pointed to the lake bed. I was now standing as the buildings of Lorette stood.
I walked with my buoyant feet along the surface, towards the door, it felt so natural as I climbed the concrete steps and turned the knob open. I stepped through into a well-lit interior with a gold colour scheme on walls complemented by bronze accents. I felt soft fibres crush under the soles of my feet as they sank into the thick carpet.
I thought I had sticks on my feet? What happened to my footwear?
I had been underwater for minutes, but I was breathing with casual ease. Lorette wasn't under a lake. I was positive that Lorette was built a ten-minute drive away from Lake Arbogast. There was no community in its waters. The lake wasn't even this deep.
Something was awry. That much was certain. Reality check. I needed a reality check! My eyes shot to my wrist, but there was no watch on it. Had to find something else to read. I began to frantically search the room. Where was a sign? A poster?
There! I spotted a sign in the corner of the ceiling. It read "EXIT". The clear and undistorted text was a good indicator that this was real. But its placement was nonsensical. I should test it more. I turned my gaze to my feet and counted to five.
I looked back at the sign. It read "hVdKOnq".
Eyes on my feet. 1…2…3…4…5.
I read the sign one more time. "Nose."
My eyes widened and my heart sped up. This test had never failed me before. The now obvious truth flooded over me.
"I'm dreaming! I'm in a dream!"
My body lied still, but my mind jolted. All I saw was darkness. The inside of my eyelids. I could feel the toasty cocoon of bedsheets brushing around me, and the pillow beneath my shifting head.
I let out a disapproving sigh. "Rookie mistake."
This was the third time I'd woken up this night. My efforts to achieve lucid dreaming were running aground time and time again. The fact that it had taken me so long to realise I wasn't in the real world was bad enough, but then I'd followed up with an amateur revelation.
Reality checks are easy. Staying awake after they've failed is the hard part. I had let myself get too excited, and the dream had shut down as a result. I had to stay calm and proceed quietly, as though I was mentally creeping into the fantasy. Admittedly, I'd never managed to successfully lucid dream before; but my best attempts had been carried out with a slow, smooth approach, and at this point, I was convinced that that was the key to finally achieving my goal.
At least, that was just one important part of the process. With what was now well-trained muscle memory, I blindly reached over to the lamp beside my bed and filled the room with light. Though my eyes were still sealed shut, I winced at the spontaneous illumination. I turned my head away from the lamp and achingly spread apart my eyelids.
I reached for my notebook. My hands found it in its usual place atop the stack of resources I had collected on oneirology and the mastery of lucid dreaming. I pulled it in front of my face and unsheathed my pen from the notebook's spiral binding. I opened the book and shifted through its pages, skimming over record after record of past dreams come and gone. As recommended by my studies, I had been meticulously documenting everything my subconscious mind had conjured up, down to the last detail. Eventually, I hoped to document grand lucid adventures in those pages.
I stopped on a blank page and got to work. I had to write quickly. So much detail was lost the instant my dream had ended, and my conscious thoughts took over. In a matter of minutes, I likely wouldn't remember the majority of my dream; and by this time tomorrow, my subconscious experience would be completely forgotten. I was grateful to avert that loss through my notebook. An entire town floating upside down underwater? That's as wonderful as it was outlandish! It's ever astounding just how much absurdity the human brain will accept as reality if presented with it. Such a shame that I had blown my chance at staying there and exploring it further.
I remembered performing a reality check that had consequentially ended the dream. It was in a building. Gold and bronze walls. Soft carpet. I couldn't rightly remember how I had gotten there. Did I swim inside, or did I walk there? I remembered walking on lily pads, and could only faintly recall glowing purple waters. I seem to remember Lake Arbogast being involved, but that couldn't be right. I wrote it down anyway.
After I had written as much as my fatigued brain could recollect, I returned the notebook to its usual place, switched off the lamp, and settled back into the soft, welcoming mattress. As I drifted back to sleep, I focused my thoughts on where I wanted to be. The setting of my ideal dream.
I imagined Venice. Its gorgeous architecture and bustling streets. Its brilliant marble walls and lateritious roofs compactly erected aside its unique canal streets. I imagined the old port city's captivating colour scheme at sunset, as night settled in and the streets silenced into a serene world of beauty and bliss. The waters gently splashing behind the paddle of a gondola, before setting down into a calm stillness.
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves around me. As the branches of the great tree in which I had perched swayed back and forth, the wind blew through the tone holes of the clarinet I held in my hands. A familiar melody whistled from its bell as a result. I wanted to play my own song, but I resolved instead to listen to the song nature was crafting through her winds in my oboe. I looked out from my superb viewpoint over the mountainous landscape blanketed with a thick, lively forest. The dancing greenery beneath the full moon in a starry night sky was a soothing image, which perfectly accompanied the songs of birds and the tune of my flute.
I still couldn't remember what the song was, but my location made me think of that the nursery rhyme: Rock-a-bye Baby. What was the point of that lullaby? Did it really chronicle a baby getting blown out of a treetop? Would the baby not fall to its death in that situation?
I went to the tree's roots. I stared up the trunk, waiting for the cradle to fall into my arms. I had to save the child.
I waited at the base of the tree for what must have surely been hours but to no avail. I forgot what I was there for, and turned my attention to my surroundings. I was in a forest of countless trees, much like the one under which I stood. Concrete sidewalks wound between said trees in a system of curves and intersections like a discombobulated cobweb. I would expect that the sidewalks were for people to walk on, but everyone I saw seemed to have something else in mind. Winding through the trees like threads sewing through fabric, I saw what must have accumulated to hundreds of people wandering about in the night.
They didn't follow any marked path, and their destination wasn't clear, but they all seemed to move with a purpose. I singled out a slender woman pushing a baby carriage and focused on her face. Try as I might, I couldn't recognise her in time before she vanished into the tree line. Fortunately, she kept reappearing, but my efforts remained in vain. Where could she be going that required such a meandering path? I turned my focus off of her and scanned the area in hopes of pinpointing her destination.
There was no new sight to take in. Just more people winding between more trees. To my surprise, it became apparent that each and every one of the strangers in the trees was a slender woman with a baby carriage. All completely identical, right down to the most minute detail. I was sure that the same could not have been said mere seconds ago.
Suddenly, I remembered why I was standing beneath the tree.
A shrill cry from above rang in my ears, and my eyes shot up to the canopy above just in time to see the cradle plunging towards me, filling my vision.
Darkness. I was in bed, again.
A long sigh escaped my lips. This was getting nowhere. I hadn't blundered so much since I first began my attempts at lucid dreaming. "Frustrated" didn't even begin to describe my thoughts on this fruitless endeavour.
Nevertheless, I turned the lights on and jotted down the dream to my best recollection. My work was persistent if nothing else, and it was through such disciplined practice that I hoped to break through the barriers of nescience and mystery. When dealing with matters as inexplicable as our own dreams, one has little more to rely on than stubbornness.
What instrument had I been playing again?
Once the last detail of my dream had been chronicled in the notebook, I killed the light and dropped like a stone on the mattress. As determined as I was to harness control of my subconscious, enough was enough. I seemed to only be getting further from my goal tonight, and it was clear that any further attempts tonight would succeed only in depriving me of what little sleep I had left.
The corners of the soft pillow embraced my skull as I sank into it, and my chest welcomed back the blanket's encompassing warmth. I made no attempt at filling my head with thoughts of Venice. I would control my dreams yet, but that endeavour would have to wait until tomorrow night.
The next morning, I pulled my bike into the rack aside Lorette's local strip mall and latched it in place. I lumbered around the corner towards the entrance. Truth be told, I was in no hurry to get this day started. In contrast to my dreams, which always seemed to end too soon, my real-world routine felt as though it had gone on for far too long already.
I pushed on the door, but it didn't budge. I guess I was the first one there. I had a hard time believing that, considering how my every action on a workday morning was carried out with a sluggish reluctance. I reached into my pocket searching for my keys, but my fingers found only lint. I began frantically slapping at every other pocket I had, hoping to feel the hard profile of my key ring.
I jolted as a sudden screech stabbed my ears, and my eyes shot towards its source. The door had been shoved open from the inside by a stout, balding man in his late forties. He stuck his head out through the doorway and aimed a scowling pair of eyes straight at me. I recognised those eyes as those of my employer, Mr Yates. His sudden appearance had caught me entirely off guard. There wasn't a single vehicle parked nearby.
"For crying out loud! You forgot your stuff, you forgot your keys, and it's pretty damn clear you left your brain at home too!"
My stuff? I reached to my shoulder where I knew the strap of my backpack to be, but my palm found nothing. I silently cursed to myself. As if, I had actually made it all the way to my workplace without noticing the absence of something so important.
"I ought to smash a hammer through your skull, so you'll at least have something other than air between your ears!"
There were days when Mr Yates behaved with the rational judgement and compassion of a normal human being, and then there were days when the most minuscule mismanagement would cause him to flare up in an emotional inferno. He was kind of like the customers, that way. Though the worst part of this outburst was that I mostly agreed with him.
How could I have left behind that backpack? Aside from a select few items, that backpack held everything I needed for a day's work. It wasn't too late to fix this, but at any rate, the embarrassment of this mishap would surely stick with me for weeks to come.
I lifted a hand to calm my fuming smokestack of a boss and attempted with great difficulty to untie my tongue.
"Listen. I'm sorry, Mr Yates. But I still have time. I can go back home and get it if I hurry."
‘Hurry' was an understatement. My feet shuffled beneath me in anticipation of the scramble I would have to make for my home. Mr Yates continued his scowl, and it was evident from his expression that he was nowhere near through with me. But we both knew that my options were limited at the moment.
"If you're not back here in ten minutes, don't bother coming back at all," he growled before violently slamming the entrance shut.
I had taken flight before the door had even hit the jamb. Mr Yates hadn't given me much time, and I had to reach my bike immediately if I was to beat the clock. I threw my leg over the seat and pulled myself out of the bike rack. As I kicked away with my legs, I remembered that I had locked my bike in place, and I didn't have the key to undo the padlock.
A groan of frustration rumbled in my throat as I rolled out of the rack. My eyes shot open, and I stared down at the bike beneath me. Where had that padlock gone? I could have sworn that I had latched it in place…
I gave my head a quick shake and focused myself back on my destination. The missing lock was the least of my worries. I set it into a low gear and took off with all I had. I leaned my body forward and put all my weight on each pedal as I rounded the corner of the building and sped down the highway.
I raised an eyebrow and squeezed the brakes. Something was wrong. My workplace was nowhere near the highway. What was I doing here?
My hair stood on edge as I collected my thoughts. The epiphany snapped together in my head instantaneously.
"No. Relax. Just breath," I whispered to myself as I gauged my situation.
I elected to try something new. I didn't search for a clock or a sign. No reading tests. I just kept my eyes ahead of me as I stepped off of my bike, and focused on what I wanted to do next. Forget about Mr Yates. Forget about everything. Whatever happens, happens.
I started forward at a steady march, that march quickly turned into a trot, then a run, and finally, a full sprint. I couldn't feel a strong wind blowing against me, but the landscape shot past me at such a rate that I was already moving faster than my bike ever could.
I lowered my head and leaned my torso forward. I skipped a step and planted my feet together.
I bent my knees and braced my muscles.
I kicked with my legs and shot all my momentum to the sky. It took every ounce of willpower to withhold my giddiness as the surrounding treetops became visible below me, and the highway shrank down to less than half its width. I must have been dozens of meters in the air, and I was travelling forward at an impossible speed.
I started flailing around as it occurred to me that I had no idea how to fly. The ground stopped shrinking and instead began to creep back towards me. I was descending. I decided to follow through as though it was all one big jump. Plummeting towards the ground from such a height would typically be the stuff of nightmares, but this was no nightmare. Truthfully, it was astounding just how natural this felt.
As my feet found solid ground, my legs went back to running in a transition that felt as natural as the landing of a one-meter jump. Before I knew it, I was back to running at break-neck speed alongside the familiar highway from Lorette to Lake Arbogast.
Over and over, I took to the air and landed without a hitch. My stamina was unfazed, and I felt that I could continue forever. With each jump, I relinquished a fraction of my own forced apathy and allowed myself to become that much more immersed in the here and now.
This was incredible! I had finally done it. Although my objective of flight had thus far come up short, each jump I made was of my own doing. Through bypassing my usual reality checks, and just gambling on whether or not I was in a dream, I was able to ease into lucidity without jarring myself awake!
At long last, I was lucid dreaming! I was at the helm, making conscious decisions within my subconscious! Normally, I started my dreams with a hypnotised acceptance of where I was, and what was happening; but with each passing moment, I was able to recall more and more of my true self. This self-awareness was like fuel to my mental abilities. I could feel myself grasping more and more control as fact and fiction were separated.
As I hit the ground from my latest jump, it became apparent just how ecstatic I was. I could feel myself grinning from ear to ear, and my throat tingled with the urge to laugh and cheer. I halted my run and came to a stop at the roadside. Time to go all out. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, focusing on what I was going to do next.
I was in control. I knew what to do. I had jumped when I tried to fly because I hadn't genuinely envisioned myself flying, and so I focused. I didn't give myself a running start, nor did I even attempt a leap off the ground. I just told myself I was going to fly, because I knew I could.
I envisioned my feet lifting off the ground, and I felt them do so. I envisioned myself floating up into the air, and I felt it happen. I opened my eyes to find myself levitating over the road. Success! My control over the dream was only increasing. I looked in the direction I wanted to fly and began rocketing in that direction. I aimed my body like a missile and let slip an excited cackleas I soared through the air. This was the beginning of something truly wonderful!
Up ahead, a burgundy car appeared in my line of sight. It was headed away from me, and I decided to test my speed with a race. Just as I predicted, it quickly became apparent that I could travel as fast as I wanted, irrespective of the laws of physics. I was speeding alongside the car, peering through the passenger window in no time at all.
I kept pace with the car and examined its interior. The vehicle appeared brand new, with nary a single speck of dust afflicting its interior. There was nothing but a laptop and some folders on the passenger's seat. The only thing of any interest was the driver. A man who appeared to be approaching thirty with excellent posture and a very short haircut. He was dressed like a desk jockey, sporting a bottle green dress shirt tucked into dark dress pants and complimented by a navy-blue necktie.
His eyes stayed glued to the road with intent. Perhaps he would be non-responsive to me. I knocked against his window as I would with a parked vehicle. I caught his attention, and he looked my way. His brow furrowed into a hysterically perplexed expression as he tried to process what he was seeing.
The confusion on his face was enough to split my sides. Oh, the fun I could have with a dream like this! I rolled around in the air, spewing gales of laughter like never before. I was beginning to grow concerned that I'd wake myself up when I was interrupted by a loud crash. I shot my eyes to its source.
The car had run off the highway and collided with a sign. I avoided reading the sign for fear of disturbing my sleep, though my eyes did catch movement from inside the cab. I floated down to the vehicle and hovered a good 5 meters away from the driver's door as it shot open, and the driver scrambled out.
He stared up at me with a sweaty, shivering face. Such an amusing person! He stumbled towards me with little to no regard for himself, or his vehicle. After a moment or two, he finally spoke up. The stuttering in his voice matched the shivering in his body.
I cracked a giddy smile, as a sense of pride swarmed over me. "I know, right?!"
I let out another laugh, but he didn't seem satisfied at all with my answer, as anger and frustration began to replace his shock and awe.
"Who are you," he demanded.
I was happy to answer him. Pride wafted off of me as I spread my arms like an idol afloat in the air.
"I'm an oneironaut on my first adventure!"
By his exasperated expression, it appeared as though he didn't understand. How odd that a component of my own brain found me to be perplexing. Perhaps it did so because I wanted to brag to someone.
"Oneironaut: It means someone who is lucid while dreaming, and can therefore consciously control the dream."
He looked as confused as ever. "Dreams? You're not making any sense! How are you really flying?"
"Heh. Trial and error, mostly. But I guess I was taking the wrong approach all along. After so many failed reality checks, it wound up being a matter of taking a literal leap of faith!"
The stranger stared at me for a second longer before shaking his head and shrugging his arms.
"Well, oneironaut, you're damn good at what you do; but for the love of God, practice these tricks somewhere safer. I crashed my car because of you! Unless your magic tricks can fix it, we're gonna have a real problem."
"Oooh, now there's an idea!" I grinned as I cracked my fingers. "Stand back, sir."
I floated past him and fixated my view on his crashed vehicle. The sign's wooden post had broken at the ground, and the car had ridden on top of it with the front right corner how stuck in the air. Again, I avoided reading the sign. Countless prior dreams had ended that way, and I was just getting started.
"What exactly do you think you're doing," I heard the stranger yell from behind me.
"I'm trying out something new. Now be quiet."
I took a deep breath, and raised my hand in front of my face, blocking my vision of the car. I remembered the car as I had seen it on the road in its pristine condition, and I concentrated on that image. I focused until the image of the pristine car was clearer in my head than the damaged one I had just witnessed.
I let my hand drop to my side, and there it was. Perfectly idling in front of the sign with its headlights intact and its bumper unbent.
"Yes!" I was a natural at this! I threw my fists in the air and let out a euphoric cheer. "Haha, incredible! It's just as I imagined."
I looked around at my surroundings, searching for something else to change. I turned my sights to the bright morning sky up above and pointed to a random spot in the empty blue space.
"When I drop my hand, the moon will be there."
I dropped my hand, and the moon was there.
This was groundbreaking! Unable to contain myself, I began cheering and laughing and spinning around through the air like an excited child.
"Yes! Oh my god, yes! Do you know what this means? The possibilities are endless now! I can create whatever I want! I can do whatever I want! For eight hours of every night, the world will be my playground!"
I looked at the stranger with a beaming smile, eager to share my celebration with someone, even if that someone was just a piece of a dream. To my disappointment, he seemed in no mood to celebrate. Instead, his face was a mask of pure terror. He was pale and sweaty, with a trembling jaw and wide, unblinking eyes.
"Wh-What did you say about dreaming?"
As irritating as it was to repeat myself, I was still excited enough to share news of my victory again. "I said that I've mastered my dream for the first time ever! From now on, this dream and every dream after it will be the ultimate playground. Every single night, I'll enter my own little wonderland and be able to do see, feel, and do whatever I can imagine!"
The man's trembling continued, though he attempted to calm himself with slow, deep breaths. His moved his lips, and the words that came out were weak and quiet.
"How long have you been dreaming?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. It's hard to remember exactly when and where a dream starts. I guess the first thing I can remember was going to work, and that was maybe ten minutes ago."
Either his breathing stopped, or it became too faint for me to hear. He stood there, staring at me for an uncomfortably long time before slowly shaking his head in denial.
"No, that's not possible."
I let out a sigh. It would seem that not even my dreams contained an agreeable conversationalist. I recalled many past dreams in which I had experienced a noteworthy moment that would just repeat over and over. This stranger reminded me of those moments. All he ever had to say was disbelief.
At any rate, the time to celebrate my lucidity had passed. I was ready to put this newfound ability to use, and I knew just what I wanted to do.
I shrugged to the man, who continued his usual look of disbelief. "Whatever. This is boring. I'm going to Venice now."
"Venice? No, wait!"
With a mere thought, I shot off like a rocket towards a hill. A hill that was tall enough to obscure my vision, and help me craft my destination. That was the easy part. I had already run the image through my head countless times before, and like a film I had seen over and over, the details naturally flowed through my head. I knew with absolute confidence what I would find on the other side of the hill.
As I approached the hill with increasing speed, it began to completely fill my vision. I waited until the last second to pull up and over it. The change was as instantaneous as it was drastic. The sound of gulls; The smell of salt water in a busy port; The breathtaking spectacle of a one-of-a-kind metropolis. It all hit me like a wave. I had left behind the straight highway cutting through dull fields and now floated above the Venetian Lagoon, gazing over the most beautiful place I'd ever known. It was literally everything I imagined.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God…"
What was that?! My eyes shot downward, and to my surprise, I saw the man from the highway clinging desperately to fistfuls of my clothes. His legs kicked at the air beneath him as he stared back at me with panic on his face. I guess I had been too fixated on my destination to notice the uninvited passenger.
"Float down," he screamed. "I can't hold on!"
"Frankly, I'm amazed that you held on this far. Just let go. You'll be fine."
"You promise," he asked like a frightened child. What a bother.
"Yes," I groaned in response. "Now let go!"
He looked at me with fearful eyes for a moment longer before clenching them shut, releasing his grip, and dropping towards the waters below. I promptly headed for the city. In the distance behind me, my ears caught his terrified screams as he realised my deception. No matter. I was more than ready to move on from that part of my dream.
It was time to indulge in the scenery of my fantasies, and indulge, I did. I walked through the halls of the Doge's Palace and witnessed the extravagant art meticulously built into the walls and ceiling. As one of the more famous attractions of the city, it was initially crowded; but to my joy, solving that was a simple matter of imagining my own desolation. I just closed my eyes and wished everyone away. I don't know how long I spent in there, admiring man's most gorgeous interior design, but I knew that it would by no means be my last visit.
But the Doge's Palace was just the beginning of my sightseeing. Next, I flew to St Mark's Square. I stood atop the cube at the peak of the Campanile and flew around every square centimetre of the breathtaking Basilica. I floated so close to its beautifully carved statue of St Mark that I could see the erosion on his shoulders from centuries of rain. I flew within inches of every mosaic in St Mark's Basilica, and then, every tapestry in Santa Maria Della Salute. I flew through the arches of Rialto Bridge and ran my fingers through the waters of the Grand Canal as I flew just above its surface.
Ah, the canals. A circumstantial accident that had created one of history's most beautiful cities. I had had my fill of sight-seeing. It was time to take a ride down these world-famous waters. I closed my eyes, leaned back, and imagined myself lying blissfully calm in a hammock. Then, I imagined the hammock to be a gondola, stuffed with the softest padding and reclined seats as it coasted through calm, clear, waters. I didn't want to deal with a gondolier, and so I imagined a boat that would gently carry me through the city by its own independent motion.
I opened my eyes to find that not only had my creation worked like a charm, but it was attracting the attention of many passersby. This had been the case throughout my visit to Italy. My seemingly magical way of going about my business always seemed to compel wide eyes, pointed fingers, and flashing cameras. As laudatory as all this attention was, no one rides the gondolas of Venice to be gawked at. Prior to my gondola ride, I had maintained serenity by erasing anyone who intruded on my personal space; but since I was now in steady motion through the canals of Venice, I decided it would be best to simply put the rest of the city on mute.
With a mere thought, I conjured a bubble around myself and my boat through which sound could not pass. The only noise to reach my ears was that of the gently splashing water rippling by my gondola. I doubt even the real city of Venice could have provided me with such a peaceful experience.
There was one particular bystander who seemed especially desperate to catch my attention. He clumsily rushed through crowds of civilians alongside me, all the while jumping and waving his arms around like a madman. I rose from my rest when it occurred to me that I knew this man.
His clothes were soaked and his face dirtied, but there was no mistaking him as the very man I had let drop into the lagoon a while ago. Unbelievable. He was truly like a bad penny that just kept turning up. Once he knew I had been made aware of his presence, he sprinted at top speed past all the other spectators and turned onto a bridge passing over my travel route. As my gondola approached the bridge, I fixated my view on him; hoping that he wasn't planning what I thought he was planning.
Sadly, he was every bit as foolish as he seemed. He lifted his legs over the stone railing and sat right over the canal, waiting for me to pass beneath him before jumping.
Having anticipated this, I conjured up a ramp floating above my gondola which angled off to the side. It spontaneously appeared beneath him the instant he threw himself from the bridge. He hit the ramp hard before rolling to the side and splashing into the canal beside me, just as I had intended.
It made for quite a good laugh, but I should have made the ramp longer. My snickering came to a halt when the man managed to swim to my gondola and grab hold of its side before I floated away. He pulled his upper body over and shot me a look that could have churned milk.
Well, I was in a stymie now. I let out a frustrated exhale, and watched as he awkwardly fumbled his way aboard. His stumbling probably would have capsized a real gondola, but I had the situation in hand. He sat himself down, facing me with a bitter glare.
"Dropping me in the water is getting really old."
"Hey, you'd still be dry if you didn't cling to me," I retorted. "Though I have to admire your iron grip."
"It wasn't hard. You flew for less than a minute. But somehow, you brought us to Italy in that time. I want to know how, and I'm not leaving without answers."
I rolled my eyes. He sounded like a broken record at this point. His unexpected persistence had piqued my interest though, and it was for this reason that I abstained from erasing him altogether.
"I gave you answers when we first met. Do you want me to spell it out for you? Elucidate my motivation or my techniques?"
There was a low growl in his voice as he raised it. I was clearly pushing his buttons.
"I want you to tell me what's really going on because I'm not buying that stupid ‘lucid dream' story."
I shrugged. "That doesn't really matter to me. You're just a figment of my imagination."
"No, I'm not!" He jumped to his feet and shouted down at me. "My name is John!"
He was passionate, to say the least, but I was not about to be intimidated by my own dream.
"Well then, you're a figment of my imagination named John. And you're surprisingly obstinate. Why can't you accept what I've so clearly shown you?"
"Because I have dreams too. You hear me? I have dreams just like you! I have a family! I have memories of them, more extensive and vivid than anything you could ever have just imagined up. You expect me to believe that every nook and cranny of my life was just spun out of the ether minutes ago while you slept?!"
Yes. That's the answer I wanted to tell him. Yes. But I hesitated. I knew that my dreams were always full of surprises, but I never expected such a profound simulation of life to manifest within my head.
Even though I was in control of this world, I had failed to control John's response to me, nor even predict it. It was as though this talking component of my fantasy were actually alive. Actually sentient. At the very least he appeared to believe so.
I dismissed the notion. I knew clear-as-day where I was, and how I got there. The things I had just done: They were impossible in reality. There was no mistaking that I was in fact dreaming. But how I had created John, his world, and its history, was a mystery even to me.
"I… I don't know. No one actually knows what a dream is and why we have them. I admit that I didn't expect my subconscious to be so lifelike, but I'm in uncharted territory now. I suppose anything's possible."
"No! No, this is not possible. I refuse to believe that!"
I shook my head and threw up my hands, not sure what more there was to say. "Yeah well, with all due respect, your beliefs are irrelevant."
"Shut up," he snapped. "Why did you even tell me all this?"
"I don't know. I guess because I wanted to talk to someone about my accomplishment. My friends probably won't care, but this is a big deal for me."
Contrived laughter burst from his mouth as he threw his arms in the air and looked around; as though he had just heard the most outlandish statement in his life. "Tormenting me is a big deal? Shattering my understanding of what I am and why I exist is what you call an accomplishment?!"
This man had some nerve. Even if for whatever reason he was unaware of his relation to me, surely, he was at least aware that I could wipe him away with a blink of my eyes. Ironically, his defiance might have been the one thing saving him. It intrigued me and made me want to interact with him more. Why was my own subconscious being so unruly?
"Hey! I've just made a terrific breakthrough, and I'm celebrating. Try to see things from my perspective."
"Try to see things from mine," he retorted in an ardent scream. His eyes began to water, and his voice cracked with despair. "I've just learned that my god is a devil, and my reality is a fantasy!"
I squeezed my eyes shut, and shouted a colossal yet straightforward command to the world. "STOP!"
The world obeyed. Upon opening my eyes, I found everyone and everything sitting at a complete standstill. I rose to my feet in the motionless gondola and approached John. I examined him up and down like a detective analysing a clue. I looked at the open pores and hair follicles in his skin, the dirt under his nails, the fire beneath the water of his fierce, impassioned eyes.
He was so… human.
I stopped and looked to the crowd that had gathered at the banks of the canal. The people I had disregarded, and even eliminated at times. I saw tourists with their cameras pointed to me, awestruck civilians trying to make sense of what they had seen me do, a mother pulling back her child as he pointed at me.
This sondering served only to fill me with despair. These were made-up people living in a made-up world, yet who was to say that they were any less real than I? Who was to say that their fictitious lives were any less complex, interesting, or even less important than my own?
I recalled the Doge's Palace, with its myriad of past tenants and historical renovations. The portraits therein of men who had lifetimes ago influenced countless lives through their decisions and governance. Their memory… Their history… Nothing more than a fabrication of my subconscious mind.
The mere thought of it sent chills through my spine. In the depths of rem sleep, I had unwittingly crafted a dreamland populated with sentient beings blissfully blind to their true nature. Their minds were their own!
The lifeforms of this world… the silent people of my prior dream… the fish from the dream before that! So callously had I disregarded them up until now, but was that a logical sentiment, or a sociopathic one?
How many times had I done this? How many times had I forged a universe within my head, only to obliterate it right down to its memory?
Wrong… This was so wrong! My fun was over. I had to put a stop to this right now!
I explored my options and came to a bittersweet decision. I could not cure the harsh reality that plagued John, but the sight of him frozen in time had inspired a way to treat the symptoms. A course of action merciful enough to perhaps be called reparation.
I switched gears and pedalled harder alongside the highway. I focused on feigning my façade of a nobody travelling down the roadside. Nothing to draw attention or concern. I was nothing but mundane, and I remained that way until the familiar burgundy car came into my view.
I steered as far over to the side as I could while it approached. It sped past me and disappeared over the horizon with its oblivious driver at the wheel.
Time travel: the stuff of dreams. My selfish carnage in Venice, John's mind-breaking revelation, all not to be.
I abandoned my bicycle, and having checked for possible witnesses, flew to Mars. The Red Planet, populated by nothing but dirt and rocks. It was there that I took a seat, and waited for it to end. I wanted it to end. Wanted all of this to be over. I imagine I could have done so at will, but I couldn't bear to do it.
I had hoped that the lifeless isolation of Mars would calm me, and bring me down from this existential dread, but it only served to make it worse. I sat in the dirt and stared out into the sky. Countless little lights above me decorated this black canvas of outer space.
One of those lights held life. Countless lives shaping their own unique stories. One of them unwittingly passed his creator on the highway today.
Beyond that floating ball of life, was the star that made life possible. The gargantuan body of raging nuclear energy that throughout history had been revered as deity after deity. Beyond that star, was billions of other stars. White dwarfs, hypergiants, nebulas, supernovas, and all-consuming black holes. Beyond that, the Milky Way. Our galaxy. Beyond that, the Andromeda galaxy. Intergalactic space, littered with billions of galaxies, each potentially containing billions of stars and planets.
And somewhere beyond that, I was sound asleep in my bed.
How could I have done this? How could I have spun together such a vast, complex reality with nothing but the discarded synapses of my subconscious? It all seemed so impossible. I was just a nobody. I was nothing! Although, I suppose it's said that my own universe came from nothing.
My own universe…
My mind returned to John. Something he said earlier had stuck with me. He said that he too had dreams, but that couldn't be. I hadn't even been asleep long enough for him to have experienced one. It must be a matter of false memories of dreams. That was the simplest explanation. But what if it wasn't the case? What if the tenants of my dream were indeed dreamers themselves? Were their dreams like my own? If that was plausible, then…
No. I dismissed the thought. I wasn't going to think about it anymore. Just sit down, and wait for the inevitable end.
The end. The one thing still beyond my control. I wondered if the people of this world would see it coming? Would they feel anything? I wondered if--
I rolled over on my mattress. The change of positioning sent a renewed relaxation through my joints. I wish the same could be said for my stomach.
I didn't turn on the lights or reach for my journal. Instead, I squeezed my eyes shut and thought about the mundane activities of tomorrow. With any luck, it would help me forget my nightmare.