At an old bookstore, you find a book that helps you interpret your dreams. But something is strange about it. You fall asleep reading the book, and find yourself in a dream that you cannot wake up from. What is it? And how will you snap back to reality?
In my dream, there wasn’t this void, this empty stage. My dream was always crowded. People milling about, yet tightly packed like a movie-theatre line-up. Faceless, shadows without real definition. With all of the brightness around me, I almost didn’t realize how strange it was to be in this place alone. Would it make what was to come better or worse? If this was my dream, and my dream was all wrong, what was going to happen when the Shadow Man appeared? It’s a silly name, I know. But I’ve been having this dream since I can remember. A childhood name for the faceless Boogey Man in her nightmares, yet it always seemed appropriate, even as an adult. I was trembling before I even heard his voice. It’s always his voice that I hear first. In all of these years he has only ever said one thing to me, “This way.” I never follow. The dark ghostly figure never moves, he just stands behind me calling me “This way.” In my dreams I run, or at least try to. I never get far. My legs become so heavy and I feel like I’m going to fall forward, stuck on the pavement for his to get me. He never does, though. I cry out as his command grows stronger and fiercer. By then I usually wake, screaming because I can’t make my body move.
Unlike my dream, this time I feel hyper-aware of what’s to come. I turn around before the Shadow Man can call. I see him, but he isn’t where he’s supposed to be. He’s always just a few feet behind me, towering over me. It’s more frightening to know that things are different. I was ready for him to be there.
He’s standing, if you can even call it that – maybe floating – a long ways off. He almost looks small being so far. I expect him to come swooping in, twice as terrifyingly because I’ve caught him off cue, but he doesn’t. He just stares.
I’m waiting for it. That voice that will chill me. That voice that has haunted me since childhood. “This way.” But he doesn’t say it. He just stares. My dream-self wouldn’t believe what I’m doing, but without thinking, I walk towards him. All my life I’ve been trying to run away and have gotten nowhere. But he isn’t where he’s supposed to be, and my legs aren’t being weighed down. I’m not going to run this time. I walk, purposefully, straight up to the Shadow Man.
“I’m here!” I tell him, standing the same distance that we always do when we’re face-to-face. I’m breathing heavily. I can feel my shoulders rising like a child having a temper-tantrum.
He doesn’t say anything. He’s still towering over me. His wispy, ghostly drapery swaying ever so slightly in the subtle breeze, like when air-conditioning units are on a low setting and ever so gently dangling objects in a room stir.
“I’m here!” I shout once again.
He glides back in a diagonal sort of way. I’m not sure if I’m the one who has now frightening him, but it doesn’t feel like he’s retreating. His movement is too controlled.
Then I see it. In all of the bright neon colours, how could I have possibly noticed this one small detail. It’s an exit sign. An over-hanging metallic sign with red, illuminated “EXIT”, the kind you see in every public building. There’s a door. It’s outlined in glow tape so even though I can barely see the push bar, I can clearly tell that it’s a door.
I’m feeling more confused than afraid, but since I’ve come this far, I might as well keep going. I push the door open. The light on the other side is blinding and I feel like I can’t walk straight. I trip and fall forward. I scream. This has always been the part that I fear most in every dream, that I fall and get stuck. But I’m not stuck. I fall on my face. I hold my hands out in front of me in to catch myself, and I feel the hit in my palms and wrists when I hit the floor.
“Woah, Mam, are you alright?” a very unhelpful stock-boy asks.
I’m back in the bookstore. If I wasn’t so close to the employee backroom where they hide the “New Age” section, I probably wouldn’t have been found at all. I must have fallen asleep. But that makes no sense because I don’t even remember being tired.
The kid helps me up while mumbling nervously – I suppose he isn’t sure if my little fall requires an “incident report” or not. I tell him I’m fine. My wrists hurt but I can rotate my hands well enough that I don’t think any real harm has been done. Once he seems reassured that he can walk away and pretend like this never happened, he bends down and hands me the book I had dropped. He dashes back into the backroom before I can even register what it is he has given me.
Advanced Dream Interpretation.
I’m almost tempted to flip through it again, just to explain the bizarre hallucination I just experienced. I hesitate. What if it was because of the book? As silly as it sounds, I am really not convinced that I spontaneously blacked out in the middle of a bookstore. I run my thumb over the pages, contemplating opening it. My thumb gets caught on a slight opening and stops. I take in a deep breath, close my eyes, and open it.
Dream Lobby. Sometimes dreamers lose their place in line and get stuck in the lobby. Follow the directions from the ushers to ensure that you are promptly directed to your dream room.
Embedded between the pages is a bookmark. I didn’t notice that the book came with an accessory.
But it isn’t a bookmark. It’s a ticket.
“Admit One – 10:15PM showing - Pleasant Dreams”