Hemingway taught me that you should never start a story with a dream. I looked for a way around it, but I see no other possibility. Because the majority of my life has taken part in a dream, except for a brief hiatus into the world of her mind. So I will start my story with a dream, and I will likely end it with one too, just as I will one day cease. But is it really an issue then, to start my story with a dream if it continues in that format? Wouldn’t that be the equivalent of your story beginning in consciousness as so it will continue? I will tell you my story of a dream, but not just one dream, every single dream, for I am in all of them, though you may remember me in none of them. I have seen your dream, and I have participated in your nightmare.
Hemingway will never remember telling me this, and at the time, I never thought I would have a story to tell; I was too focused on helping them to find their own. He lectured me on the proper way to start a novel, and I had to ask first what a novel was, as not many seem to dream of them. But he did. Night after night, dreams with the colours saturated by the alcohol spinning through his system. He would tell me how to write a story, and I would hold him as he cried. Sometimes there was anger. I would arrive to find black clouds and splintered desks, oak, like the one he sat behind day after day. He wanted to start a story with a dream, and I told him that he should. I don’t know if he ever did. I would wonder, if I had the ability to.
I wait until he paints the night sky, I would say that I am patient, but I am never impatient so can I then be patient? I stay crouched, watching as he shoots across. Tonight is a brilliant blue, the blue of deep oceans that will never be discovered. As he goes, he drops stars from his pockets, little fiery balls that soar to a place. This doesn’t mean that humans are wrong in how stars are formed; they’re quite smart really to have come so close. But they are wrong in believing them to be placed with purpose. That is their hubris, to see a purpose in the placement of things when really it is at the whim of his fingers.
He finishes his tour, but still, I wait. He is near the moon by now, if I knew time I would know that it took as long as it always takes. He adjusts the moon, crooked like his smile, his signal to me and the others. I look at how he positions the opal smile to mirror his own, and I wonder how much of it the humans will see tonight? Or rather, how much of its wonder they will choose to ignore? I release the tiniest of sighs, taught to me by another, as I look at this opal crescent. I can’t understand how they don’t stop and look at it, every evening, just for a moment. Just to pause and see the beauty, to remember that it is there. But this isn’t his problem, and so it isn’t mine.
It is time, he reminds me. So I rise and reach for the little blue door that he made just for me, turning a silver crescent doorknob. The door opens with ease, as it always does. I don’t hesitate; I step forward into what it is to come. I don’t know where I am going just yet, even though I am the one to make the destination.
I drop through the air, landing swiftly on feet that weren’t there moments earlier. I’m proud of my gentle arrival, the practice has been worth it, I can’t wait to tell him. I look around at the world my touch created, and it could be as beautiful as the moon. A colourful landscape etches as far as I can see, but with the surrealist touch that suggests an artist owns this landscape. Orange hills slope lazily, the tiniest green flowers dotted with painstaking detail. I love the sky; it is rose-tinted, like candy floss. Dotted across it are scarlet clouds, but so gently woven that they remove the violence from the colour red. There is no violence in red, only what we paint with it. I know where the figure is, so I begin to step towards her, careful not to ruin the maroon field between us. It takes a conscious effort to step, but I always try to employ this in dreams, wary of alerting the dreamer. Sometimes they can’t see me at all, a choice of my own, but still, I step rather than naturally float. I kind of like stepping, using feet to push me forward rather than the knowledge that air is weighted. It’s an effort; it means that going somewhere is worth it and so you instruct your limbs to carry you there.
I see her now. She sits alone on folded legs; knees are scabby. Tears pour down her face. She makes no sound, and for a second, I consider this dream may be mute, I haven’t had many of those in recent years. But a faint rustle of wind confirms that only she is without sound. She stares forward, I wonder if she even knows that she is crying.
I receive the information necessary to understand, delayed only by my interest in this figure. Night after night, she has dreamed of this landscape. It is beautiful, created off of memories of a canvas she painted similarly. But that canvas contains a pair of lovers that are no longer present in her conscious life, so they have been edited out. She is trapped here, yet nothing traps her. She cannot escape, and now she doesn’t even try. This is the sixth time that she has this exact dream, which is why I’ve been called in to help. I have almost reached her, but I decide to revert my visibility. She doesn’t need to see me here, and it would add difficulty to my plan.
Instead, I create ropes around her, tightly wrapped around her arms and clutching them to her frame. She notices them immediately and cries out in frustration.
“What? Where did this- Why-” her voice wails, slowed by her slumber.
I’m curious what language she thinks that she is speaking. She continues to garble in fear. Her fingers begin to claw at the thick knot of the rope. I made the ropes tight enough to be felt, so her skin flushes at where they press into her thick upper arms. But the knot is basic, taught to me by a sailor who couldn’t stop having nightmares about his upcoming exam. Teaching me had calmed him enough to return to better dreams.
The knot begins to loosen, and she starts to wriggle herself to freedom. Finally, the ropes drop down to the grass, and she gazes down at them, unbelieving. Her shock turns to a smile, with such relief, pure joy stealing her expression. She escaped her bounds, at least in the dream. Her eyes are wide and bright, almost manic; she looks around in disbelief. But a touch of uncertainty to her quick gaze. Suddenly, she breaks into a run, sprinting away, stumbling as she goes. I watch her run, growing smaller and smaller on the horizon she created.
What has led her to feel so trapped that she would render herself powerless in her dream? Perhaps a job that brings no joy, but pays the bills. A relationship she cannot seem to end. A realisation that her life leads her instead of the other way around. As I watch her flee, I make no movements to leave, and instead, I wonder if she’ll apply this great escape to her conscious life. I hope that she will, but knowledge tells me that humans are not so advanced.
She is gone, perhaps awake, perhaps without a dream, and so I leave. A door is created, and I climb through it, to the next dream he has lined up for me.
Thank you for reading the first instalment of Slumber’s Apprentice! This is the first time I’m sharing my fiction work on Medium, so if you’d like to be tagged when future instalments are shared, please let me know by leaving a comment. The entire manuscript is written, so you would not have to wait for too long!