It’s Only a Dream


Kyle parked his jeep in the small turn-about on the side of the mountain road at the top of the hill. Reaching back, he grabbed his skateboard from the back seat, exited the jeep, and stood in the center of the road looking down the long, straight hill he had just climbed. "Stay calm," he reminded himself. "I can do this because I want to. I can do this because it’s possible." Kyle bent and placed the skateboard on the blacktop, centering it on one of the white lines that dotted the middle of the road. The sky was a cloudless baby blue and the air was dry and still, a perfect summer day in northern Minnesota. The street was deserted. He had passed no other vehicles going either direction on his short drive up. He could hear the birds chatting back and forth in the forest that bordered the mountain road and imagined them lining up in the trees to watch his daring feat. He took a long, slow breath, focused once again on the task at hand and with one foot planted on the skateboard, the other pushed off from the street with three quick pumps before joining the first, and he was on his way down the hill.

As he picked up speed gliding flawlessly down the center of the road, his excitement started to build and he reminded himself again to stay calm. "Breath slow and steady. I am the best mountain skateboarder on this planet. I am God. I can do whatever I want. Stay calm."

Kyle wasn’t worried about spilling off his skateboard while attaining peak speeds before reaching the tight bend in the road three quarters of a mile down the hill. He’d never encountered a stray rock or a pothole or a car driving in the opposite direction. In fact, the thought that that could ever happen had never even crossed his mind. This particular hill, this precise stretch of blacktop with its sharp bend in the road after a long, straight runway, had no purpose other than that for which it now served. As far as Kyle was concerned, it had been made for this moment. The street felt as smooth as glass beneath the wheels of his skateboard and the wind started to tousle his hair. He wore no protective gear; no helmet, no knee pads or elbow pads. They just got in the way. He wore blue jean shorts and a loose-fitting, oversized, grey Addidas t-shirt that flapped behind him with his shoulder length, brown hair in the wind as his speed increased. Holding his excitement at bay as best he could, he focused on the approaching bend.

The mountain rose to his right with tall pines and evergreens densely populating the hillside. To his left he could only see the tops of the trees over the side of the road as the mountain dropped steeply into the lush, green valley nestled below at its base. The bend in the road curved right, clinging to the side of the mountain. There was no guard rail along the left side of the bend in front of the drop, which was another reason why this particular stretch of road was perfect for Kyle.

As the bend quickened its approach, Kyle felt his adrenalin rise and tried to force himself to relax. He spied the small wooden ramp dead ahead on the edge of the road and with his arms held straight out on each side, he crouched a little lower in his stance on the board, readying his knees to act at precisely the right time.

Kyle hit the two-foot long ramp perfectly down the center and soared out over the treetops into the open air. The skateboard fell away from his feet and into the valley a mile or so below. Kyle rose with the wind and started flying like an eagle through the valley sky between the mountains. The wind rushed against his face and smelled of fresh pine. Below him, the foothills rolled until he spotted the freeway to guide him towards town. He didn’t have to flap his arms or anything silly like that to keep his speed. He just flew. Occasionally he would swoop in low and land on a high treetop for a second just to take in the view before leaping off and soaring high into the sky again until he got to town. Sometimes it took him only a minute to get there; sometimes it seemed to take an hour to fly out of the hills. He didn’t mind either way. He just loved to fly.

His vision was that of a hawk. When in the air, it seemed he could zoom in visually on anything that caught his attention. He flew over his own house, circling the small lake it bordered twice and landing once on his own roof before moving on to explore other neighborhoods and towns. He was just passing over downtown Duluth when he saw the flashing red pterodactyl cross the sky below him. "Ignore it," he told himself. "Stay focused!" But it was too late. Now Kyle was flapping his arms like a lunatic as he began to fall out of the sky, all the while, knowing his effort to stay air born was useless. He was going down. The pterodactyl had spoken and now he had to respond.

"Damn!" Kyle muttered to himself, as he propped up on his elbow and groggily reached over the bedside table to shut off his alarm clock. He clicked on the bedside lamp, opened the single drawer of the small table, and pulled out his pen and dream log. After leafing quickly through two-thirds of the journal to find the next blank spot, he penned in the date and wrote "flying - skateboard - valley, home, downtown - two trees and a roof - fell out of sky."

Putting the pen and journal back into the drawer, he climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and then checked the mirror closely to see if his prematurely receding hairline had made any progress while he had slept. He didn’t think it had, but that kind of thing always seemed to sneak up on you and he didn’t trust it. He measured the distance between his hairline and the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb and brought the results down in front of his eyes where he could see it. It didn’t look like it had progressed. In his dreams, he always had a nice, full head of hair. Of course, in his dreams he could skateboard, too. In reality, he’d never been on a skateboard in his life. He had trouble keeping his balance on a moving city bus when all the seats were taken, let alone a little slab of wood mounted on wheels. Satisfied that his hairline hadn’t receded during the past twenty-four hours, he climbed into the shower to ready himself for another day in the real world.

Kyle was twenty-three years old and though he still had most of his hair, he knew he was following his dad’s lead and would probably be mostly bald by thirty. He had accepted this fact long ago and had no ill feelings toward his dad for passing along that particular gene. He was not vain, at least not in the real world. But of course, when dreaming, one can be whomever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. Flying was Kyle’s favorite thing to do.

Looking through his dream journal, which he usually did at least two or three times per week, he was able to keep tabs on the different types of dreams he had each night. At least the ones he could remember. That was the first hurtle he had to climb when learning of this…hobby…was about the best word for it; the art of controlling one’s lucid dreams. Kyle wasn’t quite in full control yet, but he felt he was getting there. It took lots of disappointment and patience to get as far as he had gotten. But he was so intrigued with the idea from the start that he didn’t let the failures frustrate him. Two years later, all that patience was starting to pay off.

Kyle’s interest in dreams had been pure happenstance. Out of boredom, he had read an article about lucid dreams and the benefits of learning to control them from a Ladies Home Journal, of all places, while sitting in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. He wasn’t in the habit of reading women’s magazines, but it had been the only magazine within reach and he didn’t feel like searching the three little end tables scattered about the waiting room for a Sports Illustrated. He’d read the entire article twice by the time he finally heard his name called out by the dental assistant.

Some people remember their dreams more naturally than others. Kyle had fallen somewhere toward the lower end of the middle, occasionally recalling an entire dream the following morning, sometimes remembering bits and pieces, but more often than not, remembering nothing. It took him six months before he began remembering enough of them to start his dream journal. Each night he had gone to bed during that time, he verbally reminded himself as he fell asleep, repeating the reminder over and over like a mantra, to remember his dreams. After all, what good is having a great time in your dreams if you can’t recall the experience later? It would be like sleeping through a movie, or the Super Bowl, or sex. How do you know you had a good time if you can’t remember it?

So, being able to remember his dreams was the first obstacle. The next step had been simply recognizing the fact that he was in a dream. One needs to train themselves to do periodic reality checks during the day so that it becomes habit. Once the habit is formed, it will continue in their sleep. And if you do a reality check and see a green dog run by or notice that your car is nicer than you remember it ever being, then you are probably dreaming. But just realizing you are dreaming isn’t enough to control your dreams. Kyle had spent the week following his visit to the dentist’s office surfing the Internet and all its vast resources for information about controlling lucid dreams.

Kyle had then gone out and bought a watch, one that he could set to beep every hour on the hour. While trying to train himself to remember his dreams as he fell asleep each night, he would perform an hourly reality check during his waking hours. Throughout the day, each time his new watch beeped, he took a moment to look around and notice that he was not dreaming. As long as his co-workers weren’t all sporting orange Mohawks or his car was still the same old beat up Dodge, he knew he was in the real world. Then each night, he left his watch next to the alarm clock on the bedside table. About a year after he began this practice, he started occasionally hearing his watch while in a dream and would stop to make a reality check. The first time this happened, he noticed that his girlfriend had her arm around him as they walked downtown. He had instantly snapped awake, saying out loud, "I’m dreaming!" The only problem was that his excitement from the sudden realization that he was aware that he was dreaming had accelerated his adrenalin enough to wake him up. He had read in his research that this was likely to happen but had convinced himself that it wouldn’t happen to him because he was informed and ready for it. He was a little disappointed when his reading’s prediction came true, but the event was still enough to begin a new chapter in his dream journal and keep him motivated to maintain his training and patience. He knew it had been a dream. It was the only time he could remember being happy that he didn’t have a girlfriend.

Over the following months, Kyle learned to stay calmer after recognizing that he was dreaming. This also helped with the number and clarity of the dreams he was able to remember. The next step had been the most fun, beginning to control his dreams.

There were more frustrations similar to the first realization. Kyle still wasn’t remembering his dreams every night. There were many gaps between the entry dates in his journal. Nine or ten times a month was doing pretty good. So when he excited himself awake during a particularly good dream, it might be another week before the opportunity to try to return to it arrived. It took three months before he finally accepted the fact that Carly Simon really did want to sleep with him. In order for something to happen in your dream, you have to truly believe that it can happen. The first three times Kyle was wooed into his own bedroom by Carly, she kept turning into girls he had known in college about the same time she started stripping off her flower print sun dress. Deep down, he knew someone like Carly Simon wouldn’t have the time of day for a nobody like him, let alone lay on his bed in anticipation of passionate love making. But he kept telling himself, night and day, that anything was possible in a dream. That was the whole point of a dream, wasn’t it? To be able to experience things first hand that reality could never offer.

Then one night, Carly remained Carly and there she was, lying on his bed, arms seductively reaching out for him, her wide, sensual mouth slightly open. "Remain calm," Kyle reminded himself out loud in his dream. He reached out and could actually feel her soft, copper skin. She looked just like she did on her Playing Possum album cover, wearing a skimpy black negligee, her youth frozen in time. He had awakened the moment he started to crawl into bed next to her…admonishing himself as he awoke for not staying calm enough to ride out the dream. It was still another month before he finally got to sleep with her. Since then, there were a few entries in the journal that read something like "Goldie Hawn - my room" and "Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah - Chinese Garden." Of course, Goldie hadn’t aged a bit since Butterflies Are Free, and Uma was wearing a short-haired black wig, while Daryl wore a black patch sporting the Red Cross logo over one eye. But he remembered the dreams, recorded them in his journal, and wondered why the whole world wasn’t making better use of the twenty-two years the average person spends sleeping during their life.

Believe it not, however, what Kyle had recently discovered he enjoyed even more than making love to gorgeous, young stars of the stage, was flying. This involved a particular nightmare of his when he had been young. Every summer, his family went on a two week long driving tour of one part of the country or another. Florida one year, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, on others. When he was eleven, they went driving through the Rocky Mountains. They hiked the Tetons and went to Yellowstone and saw a Broncos game. One day while out driving around exploring the area, they took a wrong turn and found themselves climbing a remote mountain road too skinny for two cars to pass and with no guard rail between the road and a steep drop down the mountain’s side. His mother had been visibly terrified until they found a place wide enough to turn around and finally made it back down to the main road. Kyle often had nightmares over the next couple of years in which the car plunged over the edge whenever they attempted to turn around. He eventually grew out of the nightmare, but he had never forgotten it.

Now Kyle revisited a similar stretch of road, with a few custom made alterations to serve his purpose, as often as possible, using it as his runway for liftoff. Once he became comfortable controlling the people he saw and the places he went in his dreams, it was time to start imagining the things he could do in his dreams. He could be invisible, for example, or ten feet tall. As long as he recognized that he was in a dream, kept his cool, and told himself that it was possible, he slowly began to believe there was nothing he couldn’t do. But once again, just telling himself that he could fly hadn’t made it happen. Even in the make-believe world of dreams, there are still some things that need to be figured out and explained. Exactly how one goes about flying, being one of the more important ones. After a few unsuccessful attempts at flight with wings instead of arms and jumping from buildings instead of mountainous cliffs, he finally convinced himself that he was as light as air and could just ride the wind.

Kyle was walking from the bus stop to work downtown on a crowded city sidewalk when he noticed Phoebe Cates walking toward him wearing the same red bikini she wore in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, still dripping wet, eyes locked on his as she passed. That was when he knew he was dreaming. A moment later, he was standing on that old mountain road, looking out over the same valley his nightmare had continually plunged him into so many years earlier. It was a windy day, the wind coming down off the mountain. Kyle thought about what it would be like to ride that wind out over the valley, to just leap off the edge and glide gracefully back to the Earth a mile or better below. Then he thought doing it would be better than thinking about it and dove over the edge like he were swan-diving into a pool.

He had awakened immediately after leaping into the air that night, but he kept returning to the dream as often as he could, slowly altering his surroundings to suit his needs and desires, patiently training himself to get used to the idea that he could fly. Mostly, he practiced remaining calm, tried not to act excited in his dreams even if he was feeling it. Then one night in his dream, he decided he needed speed, a good running start to get air born. To date, he had flown off his latest version of the mountain on a motorcycle, a bicycle, roller skates, and a convertible, but his favorite tool was the skateboard because it was the only one that he had never actually experienced in the real world.

His frustration came in staying air born. Because he had decided he needed momentum for liftoff, he often had trouble sustaining flight over time. It was only recently that he had begun to accept the idea that he could launch from anywhere, even from the ground. But it wasn’t foolproof. He was yet to conclude a flying dream on his own terms. So far, each had ended with him falling out of the sky or unable to lift off from a treetop. Then he would awaken feeling a little cheated and frustrated.

But he hadn’t given up. Last night he had landed three times and taken flight again before falling out of the sky. He was definitely making progress. His alarm clock had manifested itself into his dreams as a flashing red light. When flying, it appeared as a pterodactyl. For whatever subconscious reason, he frequently saw pterodactyls flying through the sky with him. He assumed it was a compromise his mind had made. If he could fly, then they could exist. But as soon as one started flashing red, he knew his alarm clock was sounding off back in the real world and it was time to wake up. One morning, after spending the night with Julia Roberts, he woke up to the alarm clock to find Julia still lying next to him in his bed. He was about to wake her and ask how she was still there when one of her bare breasts started flashing red and he suddenly woke up again, this time alone.

Another reason why Kyle now preferred flying over spending the night with sexy movie stars was that he had recently met someone. Kyle worked in accounts payable for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. He checked the math on payments being sent out by MinDOT, making sure the owner of the mailbox that had been knocked over by the city snow plow was only getting reimbursed $25.00 instead of $250.00; tires flattened by potholes only received $50.00, not $500.00; things like that. Most of his day was spent on the ten-key, double checking the arithmetic on payments and invoices of all kinds before they got sent out. It was boring work, but the pay was sufficient, the benefits were good, and the promise of advancement was all but guaranteed through time.

About a week after Lisa Styles had started working from the desk next to his, he had been striding down Hollywood Boulevard and ran into Laura Prepon. But when he got her down into Eric Foreman’s basement, she morphed into Lisa Styles. The confusion woke Kyle up instantly. The next day at the DOT, he asked Lisa if she’d sit with him during lunch in the cafeteria.

Lunch turned out to be too short and they had agreed to pick up their conversation about dreams again over drinks after work. Lisa, it turned out, was one of those people that almost always remembered her dreams, always had since she was a child. But she had never heard of lucid dreams and had no idea one could learn to control them. The concept had fascinated her as much as it had Kyle and she wanted to hear all about his experiences and how he had managed to achieve what control he had. He told her about his journal and the flying and many other adventures he had experienced, although he neglected to mention all the stars he had slept with.

"So you think you can teach me to fly?" Lisa asked, raising a finger toward the bartender.

Kyle drained his glass of beer to keep up then swiveled on his stool to face her. The bartender arrived on the other side of the counter and Kyle held up two fingers. After the bartender landed two bottles of Bud on the counter and replaced each of their empty glasses with clean ones, Kyle said, "Easily. You’ve already got the hardest part down, being able to remember your dreams. Now all you have to do is recognize a dream when you see one and get used to the idea that anything can happen."

"Anything?" she asked, raising an eyebrow teasingly. "So what else have you been doing in your sleep beside flying and winning NBA Championships?"

Kyle knew she was teasing, maybe even getting a little drunk after their four or five beers, but he felt himself blushing anyway, more due to her mischievous tone when she asked the question than the question itself.

"You have, haven’t you!" she said, holding her mouth open in animated shock and surprise while poking his arm when he didn’t answer right away.

"Well," Kyle stammered. "I haven’t got complete control yet," he said, trying to dance around the question.

"That’s okay," Lisa smiled. "We all need our secrets. Besides, it’s only a dream, right?"

"But they seem so real," Kyle said. He was remembering very vividly his dream from the previous night when Lisa had stretched out on Eric Foreman’s couch and told him to get his scrawny little butt over there. It had been in Laura Prepon’s voice though. He hadn’t actually spoken much to Lisa until lunch earlier that afternoon. But now, here in the bar, her voice was quickly growing on him and he felt like he’d known her for years. While looking into Lisa’s intense, green eyes, he knew, at least for a while, his days as a Hollywood stud were probably over.

Lisa was the first person Kyle had talked about his new hobby with. He didn’t have a lot of friends. He spent most evenings at home alone, reading fiction; Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Christopher Moore. He was a fan of horror and suspense. Two months ago, he had taken sick leave for a week and read the entire Harry Potter collection for the first time, all seven books back to back to back. It had been the most exciting, adventurous, and cheapest vacation he had ever taken. In his dreams that week, he was Harry Potter. He had already made plans to take a Lord of the Rings vacation as soon as he built up some more sick leave time, but that one was only four novels long and he figured adding a couple of days to a weekend would probably be enough. Still, he was looking very forward to it. Currently he was perusing through the Bentley Little collection of horrors.

"We should go get something to eat," Lisa said. "I wasn’t planning on staying out this late after work, but I am mesmerized by your dreams. How’s Applebee’s sound? You up for it?"

Kyle was, and over a shared bottle of red wine and baby back ribs, he related to Lisa all the different methods and techniques he had tried or read about in his quest to assume control of his lucid dreams. It was just after 9pm when they walked out of Applebee’s into the night.

"Are you okay to drive home?" Kyle asked.

"Yeah, we finished off the wine over an hour ago. I’m fine," she assured him with a wink. "How about you? You need a ride?"

Kyle knew what his dreams tonight were going to be about, whether he remembered them in the morning or not. He didn’t drink much, only on occasion and only socially. He wasn’t sure what effect the alcohol would have on his dreams or his ability to remember them, but he was fairly anxious to find out. "I’m fine, too," he told her. "So, guess I’ll see you tomorrow at work."

"Unless we meet tonight in our dreams," she replied in that same mischievous voice, as though she had been reading his thoughts.

"That would be called dreamscaping," Kyle said, hoping she couldn’t see him blush in the dark parking lot. "Although some people believe that is actually possible, I’m not one of them."

"But you said anything is possible in your dreams."

"We could certainly dream we are together," he explained, feeling a little guilty about the fact that he already had. "But as far as sharing the same dream at the same time goes, that would probably involve some sort of telepathy which is something way out of my league, if it is possible at all."

"Well, I am going to start my own dream journal tonight," Lisa said. "I’ll let you know if you make an appearance."

Then she rolled up on her toes and gave Kyle a quick peck on the cheek and turned toward her car with a final wave his direction. Kyle didn’t move until she had unlocked her car and climbed in behind the wheel. He wanted to remember everything for his dreams that night. Her flowing blond hair, the way it rested on her shoulders, the tight corners of her lips, her green eyes, the smooth curves of her youthful, trim body. At that moment, as she turned and waved while walking away from him in reality, the feel of her soft lips still fresh on his cheek, Lisa looked more beautiful to Kyle than any of the Hollywood starlets he had invited into his dreams.

Kyle made the short drive home without incident and went straight to bed.

* * * * *

Lisa and Kyle began eating together in the cafeteria every day at lunch, mostly talking about their dreams, but before a month had passed, they’d begun dating. And it was another month after that when Kyle was able to confirm that, despite how much he enjoyed sleeping with women in his dreams, the real thing was unmistakably better.

"So was it as good as in your dreams?" Lisa asked. Her smile told Kyle that she had just come to the same conclusion that he had.

"Better," he said, kissing her lightly on her forehead. "Much, much better."

Lisa’s progress in controlling her dreams had moved along quite a bit faster than Kyle’s had. Her dream log, though she hadn’t allowed Kyle to actually read it yet, was more like a diary with daily entries. Kyle was still lucky to log four entries in a week. But his control had vastly improved. He had now mastered the art of flight.

In one of his dreams shortly after they had officially become an item, Lisa had asked him to teach her to fly and in doing so, had instilled in him the confidence he needed to believe in himself. Taking her hand, he performed a dream spin, a technique he had developed to change the scenery in his dreams. During the spin, he simply imagined where he would be when he came out of it, and voila, there he be. He transported himself and Lisa, still holding hands, from his bedroom to the edge of the same cliff that had been in his original nightmare when he was eleven. The road was unpaved and the trees a bit more sparse so high up near the timberline, but he didn’t need a runway on that day, or any day since. He was Peter Pan and Lisa was Wendy Darling. All he needed was to know that he could do it, to have confidence. Lisa believed in him and he wasn’t about to let her down. He and Lisa had leaped over the edge of the mountain together and flown hand in hand for what seemed like an entire day. They flew out of the hills and over a dessert before reaching the Grand Canyon a few minutes after leaving Minnesota. Not long after that, they were out in the Pacific watching whales spout fountains of water out of their blow holes. They dove into the water, scattering a school of minnows and circled an ancient sunken pirate ship before breaking out of the water and soaring off into the sky again, still holding hands. They saw Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza standing tall behind the mystrical Sphinx. Finally they landed on his front porch back in Duluth and walked inside his house and made love again. That night, it seemed a whole new dream world had made itself available to Kyle. It was that night that he realized he could truly do anything he wanted in his dreams, limited only by his own imagination.

"I agree," Lisa said, rolling back on top of Kyle in his bed. "That was even better than my night with Brad Pitt," she said, kissing his nose. "I wish we could dream together though. I still can’t seem to convince myself that I can do anything supernatural."

"You’ll get there," Kyle replied. "Just don’t give up. You’re a natural. It took me more than a year to get as far as you’ve gotten. Besides," he added with a chuckle, "some of the things you just did here in the real world felt pretty supernatural to me."

"I’m serious," she said, with a playful pout. "I want to fly. I want to visit Paris. I want to go to the moon!"

Kyle had told Lisa about their journey around the world together in his dream. That had been the same night that she had first begun to remain in her dreams once she recognized that she was dreaming. Her excitement the next day after telling Kyle of her achievement had waned dramatically when he reciprocated with his most recent experience.

"All you need to do is reason with yourself that you can do it, have confidence in yourself."

"But even though I know it’s a dream, I still also know that people can’t fly," she said.

"And when Brad Pitt arrived at your house, how did he know who you were?"

"I’d written him a letter asking him to come," she said, knowing Kyle would not be offended that the letter hadn’t been addressed to him. Although their dream journals were always conveniently out of sight whenever either of them visited the other’s home, they had pretty much related to each other most of the contents within them. They understood the difference between dreams and reality and had made a promise to each other never to be jealous of anything that might happen in a dream. It’s only a dream, after all, one’s imagination running away with itself. Kyle had even told her about his stint as a Hollywood stud, although he hadn’t let on to the regularity that it had occurred before discovering how to fly.

"Next time you try to fly in your dream, I’ll be there. I’ll tell you that you can do it. I’ll show you that you can do it. You know I can, so watch me fly in your dream. Then you’ll know that people can fly and you can chase me through the air."

"It would still be better if you could really be there," she said.

"Nothing is real in your dreams. It feels real, but it’s not. Try telling yourself that even though people can’t fly in reality, they can in dreams. Since you are now aware in your dreams, you can reason that you can fly because it’s a dream."

"Well, last night I jumped off the high board at a swimming pool at least ten times and hit the water every time."

"Ahh," Kyle said, "I see the problem. You are still giving yourself an out. In case you fall, you know you’ll be safe hitting the water. That’s a sign that you don’t have confidence in yourself yet. Try it with a pool of sharks below you and see if you don’t stay in the air a while." Then, looking at the alarm clock next to his bed, "We need to get ready for work. You want the shower first?"

"No. You go ahead. I need to sulk for a minute."

"Don’t worry," Kyle said, throwing off the covers and sitting up. "You’ll get there. Don’t give up."

She grabbed Kyle’s arm as he started to rise and pulled him back toward her, their eyes inches apart. "I think I’m falling in love with you, you know," she said softly, searching his eyes for approval.

"I’ve already fallen for you," he replied.

They kissed one more time, as passionate a kiss as Kyle had ever experienced, and then he climbed out of bed feeling a warmth in his heart he had never known existed. A few months ago he might have disagreed, but this morning he was sure, reality was definitely better than dreams.

* * * * *

Summer in northern Minnesota was a time of celebration and outdoor fun. Usually by Halloween, the first blanket of snow moved in from Canada, the skies grew gray, often hiding the sun from view for a full month at a time, and despite the comforts and advantages of modern technology, survival became the objective of the year-round residents. Many of the elderly ran away to Arizona or Florida for the worst of the winter months, but those without retirement benefits were left to brave out the cold and shovel their way to spring.

It was the first week of September, the air becoming crisper and the northern winds just beginning to bite, but Kyle was living with a new lease on life. His relationship with Lisa had instilled in him a warmth that even the tyrannical winds sweeping in from Canada could not clout. But even though Kyle’s reality had vastly improved over recent months, he still loved his time in the world of dreams as much as he ever had.

Flying had become routine in his dreams. He no longer used his old mountain road backdrop to induce a liftoff. He simply shot into the air the same way he had remembered Superman doing on the retro cable channel every Saturday morning when he’d been growing up. He had even been Superman on many occasions, foiling the misguided evils of various criminals of Duluth, but it was from Lisa Styles instead of Lois Lane that he got his inspirations of heroism from.

To cap off each summer in Duluth, the city had a big Labor Day festival in the city’s central park. It was a day of shopping at little, wooden booths that lined the sidewalks where locals sold their artistic creations and stuffing yourself on foot-long hot dogs and deep fat fried bananas on a stick. There were three-legged races for the couples and treasure hunts for the kids. At dusk was an extravagant fireworks display and at midnight they rolled in a large white backdrop to show an outdoor movie for the entire family. This year it was Fantasia, the original one from 1940. Kyle and Lisa had joined the gala mid-afternoon and stayed all the way through to the end of the movie.

Most nights they still slept in their respective homes, but on weekends and holidays, as was the case tonight, they usually went back to Kyle’s house on the lake that his parents had left him in their will. The subject of Lisa moving out of her apartment and in with Kyle hadn’t yet come up between them, but the thought had certainly crossed each of their minds. Their relationship to this point still had that ’too good to be true’ feel about it and each were hesitant to take the next step thanks to imperfect pasts, afraid that at any moment the bottom could fall out. But in truth, neither had ever been happier in their lives.

In the dream world, Lisa had learned to fly but was still having trouble commanding her surroundings. She said she got dizzy whenever trying the dream spin technique and she didn’t always come out of it where she had intended to be and sometimes even spun herself awake. But she often had Kyle’s company in her dreams and even though she knew it was her own imagination doing all the work, she usually asked the dream Kyle to take her places she wanted to go in order to get there and they would fly off together, hand in hand, to the different destinations of her choosing.

Kyle had been just about everywhere he had explored on Google Earth and everyplace he could remember reading about or seeing in the movies. He’d even visited his own version of Mars after he and Lisa had rented Total Recall from Blockbuster one night. Nevertheless, he was running out of ideas in his conscious mind and lately in his dreams, he’d simply have fun with whatever situation his subconscious had landed him in as soon as he noticed he was in a dream. The novelty of flying had worn off as the challenge to achieve it had diminished, but the dreams still seemed as real as ever and its world remained a constant marvel.

It was after two in the morning when Kyle and Lisa finally arrived at his house, both exhausted from an active, fun filled day. They had each requested, and been granted, Tuesday off from work so they weren’t worried about having to wake up early. After making love in the real world once, they quickly drifted off to sleep, each silently acknowledging that it probably wasn’t going to be the last time that they were intimate together that night.

At some point during his sleep, Kyle realized he was wearing a dark blue wizard’s gown covered with the same yellow stars and silver slivers of moon that Mickey had worn in Fantasia while ordering the multiple broom splinters to magically do his chores for him. It was his own body in the robe, however, his own hand that waved the wizard’s wand to and fro, causing the miniature broomsticks to dance back and forth as they filled their pails with water.

Then suddenly the scene changed. He was still wearing the robe and still held the wand in his hand at his side, but the air had grown thick and dark and a volcano was erupting off in the distance in front of him, spewing out burning rocks and fire high into the purple sky. A yellow path that seemed to be made of solid gold appeared at his feet and over the horizon he saw two figures approaching. As the figures neared, he recognized Dorothy merrily skipping toward him, a basket swinging from her arm with Toto bouncing along her side. The conflicting vision of the angry volcano and the happy Dorothy confused Kyle and he just stood there waiting for the classic children’s characters to reach him as they skipped along the Yellow Brick Road in his direction.

Then, as real as life, Dorothy stopped in front of him and smiled. Even Toto appeared to be smiling up at him from his feet.

"So," Dorothy said, in a voice that sounded ready to break out in song at any moment. "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"

Although he had thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz when he had been a young lad, he had been sorely disappointed when watching it again for the first time many years later as an adult. Possibly aided by his knowledge of the too short and too depressing life Judy Garland had gone on to live, the movie had gone the same route as circus clowns. When he had been a small boy, the clowns had seemed colorful and animated and had been his favorite act under the big tent. But as an adult, he could see past their round, red noses and the heavily applied make-up. He saw the sadness in their eyes and the resignation in their postures as they went through the motions of their comedic routines. As an adult, they had looked no happier than the homeless men and women he had seen staking out a busy intersection in town, displaying signs that offered work for food.

With this thought in mind, Kyle looked down at Dorothy and replied, "A bad witch." Then with a wave of the wand, he turned Dorothy into a flying monkey and Toto into a frog. The monkey flew off into the dark sky and the frog hopped quickly after it trying to follow from the ground, still barking like the dog he had been moments before. And Kyle was once again alone in front of the raging volcano.

At first, Kyle thought he would just spin out of there and go…where? He couldn’t decide. The active volcano discharging its streaks of orange and red high into the dark sky had an ominous feel to it. Or maybe he’d just been reading too many horror books lately. He could feel the heat it was emitting on his face. The shiny golden road at his feet faded to a distasteful, dull brown. A shiver went through his spine and he tried a little harder to think of someplace else to go. He was fully aware of the fact that he was dreaming, knew he could take control at any given second and escape the depressing scene before him but he felt rooted to the ground, unable to move.

Even now, as he was becoming an old hand at controlling his lucid dreams, there were still numerous dreams in which he simply went with the flow and rode it out to where ever it lead him, playing the spectator of his subconscious imagination. He didn’t control everything that happened in his sleep, and in fact, sometimes found it more exciting not to. He assumed that was what he was doing at the moment when words he didn’t understand escaped his lips and his arm began to raise, aiming the wand at the fiery mountain. He continued to speak words that sounded like nonsensical gibberish to his ears, but he seemed to sense a kind of rhythm to them. It made him feel powerful inside - and a little afraid.

The orange and red fire spewing forth from the inner depths of the volcano suddenly stopped and the mountain appeared to be shifting into a new form. It reminded him of the scene in Fantasia that he had seen earlier that evening in the park, when the demon comes alive to rule the night. He had thought that scene a little much for some of the younger children scattered about the audience; thought it would cause more than a few nightmares that night. But Kyle hadn’t had a nightmare in longer than he could remember. In fact, since he had learned to control his dreams, he had even tried to initiate one a time or two after reading a good horror story by Stephen King or more recently, Bentley Little. But the fact that he was aware that he was only dreaming prevented him from ever being able to scare himself.

Just as the wings began to unfold from the mountain sides as they had in Fantasia, the slight breeze that had felt hot against his face shifted and the air began swirling around him, his wizard robe billowing up in all directions. Then there was a loud "POP" and the entire scene changed. The wind, the dark sky, and the volcano were gone. He was back on his old mountain top with the unpaved road and the trees that struggled for air. He looked over the edge of the mountain side but instead of the lush, green valley that had always been there before, he saw a large river running through what looked like the remains of a forest that had been destroyed by fire. The waters of the river were blood red. Then looking down the dirt road to his right, he saw the creature.

Kyle’s heart skipped a couple of beats, his adrenaline surged, and he awoke, Lisa still sleeping soundly in his bed next to him. He was still awake when the alarm clock sounded an hour and a half later.

"I think I had my first nightmare since I was a kid last night," he told Lisa, while they were sipping their morning coffee in his kitchen. "It was like a weird mix between Fantasia and The Wizard of Oz, or something like that. I don’t remember much of it anymore. I didn’t write anything down when I woke up, but I remember being glad I was awake. I just can’t remember exactly why."

"You probably had one too many of those banana things on a stick yesterday," Lisa replied, smiling over her mug.

"But I only had one."

"I know," Lisa giggled. "And it was probably one too many. So, what do we want to do with our day off today?"

Kyle put his mug on the kitchen table and walked into the living room, standing in front of the large oriel that looked out over the lake. He felt Lisa’s arm snake around his waist as she joined him by his side, staring out at the water.

"Lately I’ve been thinking about how big this place is for just one person," he said.

"You’re not thinking of moving are you?"

"No," he answered, turning towards Lisa and wrapping both his arms around her waist. Then, looking directly into her eyes, he added, "I was just thinking about how happy I feel every time I wake up and see you lying next to me."

Lisa slid both her arms up around his neck and pulled him close. "I dreamed last night that I lived here," she said, almost in a whisper. "Are you saying that you want to make my dreams come true?"

After making love on the floor of the living room in front of the window facing the lake with the morning sun shining through and warming their naked bodies, they spent the rest of the day making several trips moving everything that would fit into their cars from her apartment into his house…into their house.

"We can rent a U-Haul this weekend and get the bigger stuff," Kyle said, as they carried in their final load of the day. "When is your lease up?"

"A couple more months," she told him. "But I’ve been there for three years and the landlord is a nice guy. I’ll bet if I explain, he’ll let me out of it."

"Well, even if he doesn’t, this place is already paid for so I can certainly help out if you need it," he assured her.

"I don’t deserve you," she said. "But I’m not giving you back. What do you want for dinner?"

"Anything but fried bananas on a stick."

* * * * *

Kyle found himself walking down the sidewalk of downtown Duluth again, as was often the case in the beginning of his dreams since it was something he usually did five days per week. Lisa was with him at his side. If the semi-truck that was driving by in the street had been making any noise, he might not have recognized that he was dreaming. At least not until after it had passed. They were standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change when it rolled silently by. He could hear others waiting for the light chatting next to him, and he heard the beeping of the walk signal announcing to the blind that it was their turn to cross. But apparently his mind had muted the traffic.

He and Lisa began to cross the street towards the DOT building where they worked after the truck cleared the intersection. It was then that he saw it. Kyle stopped in the middle of the street, unable for a moment to get his feet to move. Standing on the opposite corner was the same creature he had seen on the old mountain road the previous night right before he had snapped awake. It appeared as though it were waiting for them to cross to its side. Kyle had not been able to recall what it had looked like after awakening yesterday. In fact, by the time Lisa had awakened next to him, he had a hard time remembering much of anything from the dream, let alone what had given him the willies. But now, back in dreamland, he recognized it immediately and knew without a doubt that it was the same creature.

Creature was the only word he could come up with for it. It wasn’t human, but it was unlike any animal he had ever imagined. It stood erect on two cloven feet; its bowed legs were covered with thick, dark hair that stretched all the way up to its stomach. Its torso appeared scaly like that of a snake, but it had the head of an earless mule and its humanoid arms were far too long, hanging well past its knees. Its hands appeared to end with the talons of an eagle rather than fingers. Its beady, black eyes were rooted on Kyle and finally his feet moved as he instinctively took a step backward. The creature smiled a sinister looking grin and opened its long, wide mule mouth, showing off far too many sharp, pointed teeth.

"Let’s get out of here," he said to Lisa, and immediately took her hand in his and performed a dream spin.

But when he came out of the spin, he was alone, Lisa seemingly no longer a part of this


dream. As he slowly turned around to see where he had landed, he noticed he was out in the middle of the lake behind his house, floating in a canoe that he didn’t own. He located his house on the shore and saw Lisa standing in the oriel, blankly looking his direction but as though she couldn’t see him there at all. Then he saw the creature sidle up next to her and he started frantically using the oar he discovered he was holding to paddle quickly to shore.

The only sound was his own heart pumping wildly in his chest. Noticing that he couldn’t even hear the splashing water at his side, he reminded himself that this was only a dream and that he could fly to her if wanted to or even spin himself into the room with her and the creature. Even better, he could just wake up. But then, feeling his panic rise a little more with each stroke of the oar, he briefly wondered why his accelerated adrenaline hadn’t already brought him out of his sleep.

As he reached the shore, not taking his eyes from the scene in his upstairs living room window, Lisa appeared to be in a trance, unaware of the


creature at her side. She continued to stare out into the lake as though in deep thought. The thing by her side, however, was attentively watching Kyle’s every move with those beady, black eyes. It stood almost two feet taller than Lisa. It grinned at Kyle when he started running past the large boulder on the shore of the lake and up the hill of his backyard that sloped down into the water and then it turned to face Lisa. Its mouth stretched impossibly wide over her head as though it were about to remove it from her shoulders in a single bite. Slimy drool fell from its lipless mouth and dropped onto her head like a fat, polluted raindrop. Lisa still didn’t seem to notice.

"NO-O-O!!" Kyle screamed as he tried to dream spin himself into the house. The sky turned the same dark purple he recognized from the site of the volcano in his dream the previous night and the earth began to shake violently. "NO-O-O!!" he screamed again…

...and he saw Lisa’s worried face directly in front of him. She was shaking him vigorously and he felt disoriented and lost. "It’s okay," she was repeating over and over again. "It’s only a dream. Wake up. You’re home. It’s okay."

Eyes wild and wide, Kyle looked around the room without raising his head. They were in his bed, in his house, and appeared to be alone.

"Real?" he asked.

"Real," she replied, pulling him towards her and hugging him tightly against her chest.

Kyle was sweating, his pillow was drenched. Details of the dream were already beginning to fade. "You’re okay?" he asked.

"I’m fine," she assured him. "You were screaming in your sleep. I tried to wake you up but you kept screaming and I was starting to get scared. Do you want to talk about it?"

Kyle told Lisa everything that had happened in the dream. Having been quite the lucid experience and being only freshly awakened from it, he found that he remembered just about everything as if it had really just happened once he started talking about it. But now that he was back in the real world, the fear he had felt when experiencing the dream was quickly fading away. It was replaced by curiosity and his enthusiasm for adventure.

"It was actually kind of cool, now that I think about it," he told her, his confidence gradually regaining its strength. "It felt like I was relinquishing control of my dream to that thing but I was about to run in and save you from it when you pulled me out of the dream."

"You scared me when you started screaming. I couldn’t get you to wake up at first. You think someone can die in their dreams?" she asked.

"No. Not a chance. Even if that thing had bitten your head off in my dream, it’s not really you. It’s just an image of you my subconscious mind produced. No harm can come to you in a dream, or to me," he added. "I’ll just have to try to remember that next time I have a nightmare. It might at least prevent me from waking you up and scaring you with a scream."

"Well, hopefully there won’t be a next time," she said. "You really did scare me. For a minute there, I wasn’t sure I could wake you up. And you can’t leave me now, not after making me fall in love with you." She thought for a second, and then asked, "You don’t think that was your subconscious trying to tell you that you don’t want me living here, do you? You know, with the beheading and all. I mean, you’re glad I am here, right?"

"I’ve never been happier, love. Like I said, I was the one trying to save you, not the one trying to eat you. Although," he added, with a devilish grin of his own as he moved in closer to her on the bed, "you do taste incredibly delicious. I might just eat you up myself right now." Then he leaned in and started kissing her face, her neck, her shoulder, and he hadn’t been lying. She tasted wonderful on his lips. She wrapped her arms around him and they promptly forgot about dreams and nightmares and impossible head-eating monsters.

* * * * *

A noise somewhere in the house woke Kyle up. He sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and smiled as he looked at Lisa sleeping peacefully next to him. Then he heard what had awakened him again. It sounded like someone was playing ping pong in the basement. He climbed carefully out of bed so as not to disturb Lisa’s sleep and pulled on his robe to go see if a pair of criminals had broken in and gotten sidetracked from robbing them by a quick game of ping pong before making their getaway.

"Tick-tick-tick-tick." The sound grew louder as he descended the stairs. Then just as he was rounding the corner to the game room that opened up to the patio in the backyard in front of the lake, he realized how incredibly unlikely it was that someone would break into his house in the middle of the night for a game of ping pong…and that he was probably dreaming.

Sure enough, as he walked into the large, open room, the ping pong ball was bouncing from one side of the table to the other, being batted back and forth by paddles held by invisible hands, seemingly playing a match on their own. He was about to turn around and head back upstairs to crawl back into bed and decide what he wanted to do with this particular dream when he noticed a spectator of the phantom ping pong match sitting in the shadows of the night on the couch that lined the wall. It was the creature.

Remembering his discussion with Lisa about his nightmare from the previous night, he wasn’t afraid of the creature. He knew there was no danger in a dream, to himself or to any of the dream’s characters. He walked towards the ugly thing sitting on his couch, its furry legs casually crossed and its oversized, unfeasible head going back and forth following the ball intently as though it were watching the U.S. Wimbledon tennis finals.

"So why are you haunting my dreams?" Kyle asked the creature as he approached.

The ping pong paddles suddenly dropped to the floor and the ball carried into the wall before landing on the carpet after not being returned. The creature shifted its attention to Kyle, but remained silent.

"What are you anyway?" Kyle asked. "Some weird monstrosity from one of my Bentley Little books, or what?"

Kyle was about to think that the creature wouldn’t talk, but then it did in a deep, gravelly voice that reverberated against his bones like someone had cranked up the bass too high on their car stereo. It wasn’t loud, it wasn’t a matter of volume, but he could feel the thing’s voice as much as he could hear it. "You like the power you have in dreams, don’t you, Kyle. You like to be in control."

"As a matter of fact, I do," Kyle told the creature. "And right now I’d like to get rid of you and move on to something a little less ugly."

Kyle went into a dream spin thinking about Lisa and the first lunch they had shared in the cafeteria of the DOT. That had been another benefit to controlling your dreams. Not only can you experience new things and go new places, but you can also relive all your favorite moments of the past from the real world.

The dim basement faded away and was replaced by the lunch room with its bright florescent lights overhead and the sounds of chatter from his co-workers and silverware tapping against the hard plastic plates. But instead of Lisa sitting across from him at their table, the creature sat in her place, beaming smugly at him as though having just delivered the punch line to a good joke. But there was no humor in the two black marbles it had for eyes.

"You can’t shake me that easily," it said.

Kyle went into another spin, this time coming out of it high in the sky, soaring in the wind over the ocean with a couple of pterodactyls…and the creature flying along his side.

"Where’re we going?" the creature asked.

Kyle was getting tired of this and tried to wake himself up, but nothing happened. He did another dream spin from the air, a maneuver he’d never tried before but it seemed to work. He found himself back in his home, standing at the foot of his bed looking at Lisa sleeping under the covers.

At least he had assumed it was Lisa. But he was wrong. The covers flew back and the creature was lying in her spot, still displaying that repulsive grin with too many spiky teeth. "Care to join me?" it snarled at Kyle.

Kyle spun out of his bedroom with nowhere in mind. He needed to think, or to stop thinking and organize all the thoughts beginning to push his brain toward overload. This creature was starting to make him feel uneasy. He remembered when the creature had first spoken, saying something about the power of controlling your dreams. Kyle felt like he was losing control of his and he couldn’t figure out why.

He came out of his spin in a small, square room with empty, white walls. He was sitting on a metal fold-up chair in front of a fold-up card table in the center of the room. The only door had a small barred window with no glass. It looked like an interrogation room or a room where a prisoner is allowed to visit with a relative in moderate privacy. There was another chair across the table from Kyle, but it was thankfully empty. The beast was at least for the moment no longer stalking him in his dream and Kyle needed a minute to collect his thoughts.

Kyle slammed his hand onto the table as hard as he could, planting a dimple into its surface from the impact. His hand felt no pain. He was trying to wake himself up. A bare light bulb encased in a wire mesh above the door that hadn’t been there when Kyle had first looked around the room started flashing red and Kyle thought "saved by the bell" thinking his alarm clock was going off and he’d be waking up any second.

But he didn’t wake up.

Instead the door opened and the creature stepped in. It turned and shut the door, and though it had closed without making a sound, Kyle couldn’t help but feel like the creature had somehow just locked him in. The light bulb behind the creature stopped flashing.

In the real world, Lisa reached over Kyle as he slept and turned off the alarm clock. She was feeling a little stiff as a result of all the packing and lifting from the move yesterday. And she had only handled the light stuff. But it was back to work today, sore muscles or not. She decided to let Kyle sleep in while she showered and dressed first. Then she could wake him up and he could get ready while she put something together for breakfast. She gave Kyle a loving smile and a kiss on the cheek as he slept and got out of bed to get the day started.

In the dream world, the creature pulled the empty chair out from the table with its long, almost human arms, its talons clicking tauntingly against the metal frame as it grabbed it, and took a seat. It took a moment to look around the room, just as Kyle had done a minute earlier when he had come out of his spin. "Appropriate," it said, turning its emotionless, black eyes back to Kyle.

Kyle felt himself tense up, pushing hard against the pad on the backrest of his chair, and tried to relax, reminding himself that this was only a dream. Although it felt like he was quickly losing control of his dream; that in itself wasn’t actually anything new. But the added fact that it felt like control and been turned over to this sadistic looking creature with the deformed mule head; that bothered him.

Kyle couldn’t speak. He didn’t know if it was because he was too scared and confused all of a sudden to think of anything to say; or if maybe his mouth was currently physically unable to produce sound, his vocal chords having been stripped from his throat at the whim of the impossible creature before him. Kyle tried to spin out of the room. He didn’t actually believe he was going to go anywhere and tried to reason with himself that that was why he hadn’t when he didn’t...but he didn’t believe that either. He was somehow being held captive by this obscene creature in his own dream. And he was locked in.

"Power," the creature said, as Kyle tried to focus. "The power is good."

"What power?" Kyle asked, finding he could still talk after all.

"The power to control your reality. To live completely free of obligation and guilt. To live like a king."

"But this isn’t reality," Kyle argued. "This is a dream. My dream, in case you hadn’t noticed. And all I want to know is how to stop finding you in it."

"But you are here now. And I am here," said the creature. "We interact. This is our reality."

"But you aren’t real," Kyle reasoned. "You exist only in my imagination."

"You’ve not felt my power? Have you not already tried to leave here and failed?"

Yes, Kyle had felt its power, and he had also failed every attempt to leave this room, but he refused to believe that this monster had somehow gained control of his dreams. It didn’t seem possible, even in the world of dreams where anything is possible, and he wasn’t ready to accept it. "I don’t understand."

"I could feel you. Your power in my reality is strong. But it is my reality," the creature commanded. "Yours is on the other side."

Things can’t happen in your dreams unless you first believe that they are possible. Everything Kyle had learned about this stuff had led back to that fact. So how could this be happening? He certainly didn’t believe it was possible. Could this all be a self-imposed nightmare? Is this simply another half-hearted attempt to scare himself, except this time he was actually succeeding? Just calm down, he thought. There’s got to be a reason for this. There’s got to be a way to make it all stop. "Why are you in my dream?"

"I told you. Because I could feel you. You called to me and I came. I am the answer to your most desired dreams. I can make you immortal."

"I don’t remember inviting you here," Kyle said. "And I have no desire to be immortal, as if that were even an option."

"I fed you the words," the creature admitted, "but you spoke them aloud and here I am. And now I have an offer for you that you won’t be able to refuse. A trade, you might say. But I think you will like the perks."

Kyle didn’t think the offer was going to be anywhere near as enticing as the creature seemed to believe it was, but he knew he was going to hear it anyway. He was trying again to spin out of the room but it was like his motor had thrown a cog or something because he couldn’t get any rotation going. He just sat there in his chair, shaking a little.

In the real world, Lisa came out of the bathroom cleaned and dressed and sat next to Kyle on the bed. She stared at his slumbering face for a moment, thinking about how lucky they were to have found each other, and leaned in to give him another secret kiss before waking him up. As her face hovered an inch away before she kissed him, she noticed the sweat on his brow. His sideburns were damp and there were a few streaks now visible where salty drops had escaped his brow and skated across his face towards the pillow.

"Kyle?" she said, abandoning the kiss, remembering yesterday when he had needed to be shaken awake. He had been sweating then, too. "Kyle. Time to wake up. Right now, Kyle! Wake up!"

Lisa started shaking him.

In the dream world, the creature explained. "I was in your world once a long time ago. I was powerful there like I am here. I know great magic and prepared for the day of my return before my form was killed by those that feared me. Take me with you back to your world and I will share with you this magic. You will have the power of your dreams in your reality. You can be a king of your race. You can have immortality. And I can avenge my death."

"And if I refuse to take you with me?" Kyle asked.

"Then you shall remain here until your body dies in your reality. The choice is yours. Take me with you and you live a king of kings." The creature then leaned forward and added with a growl, "Stay, and you shall die."

Kyle was right. The offer sucked. He could unleash some demon-type creature on the world and possibly become one himself, or he could waste away in his sleep until his body died of starvation. Even if he opted to stay and Lisa managed to get him to the hospital and hooked up to life support, he’d still be stuck in this nightmare, aware and unable to awaken from a cursed coma. Assuming of course, that what the creature said was not simply Kyle’s overactive imagination doing a real number on him.

Kyle didn’t know what to believe at the moment. All he knew for sure was that he should have already wakened up by now. He hoped Lisa wasn’t worried about him yet. He didn’t want to scare her again the way he had yesterday. He needed to figure this out. Whether anything the creature was trying to tell him was true or not, whether there could possibly be more than one level of reality or this was all just an illusion of his mind, he just wanted to figure it out and get back to Lisa.

In the real world, Lisa brushed away her tears and tried to think of what she should do. She had felt his pulse and it was strong. She could see his chest rise and fall with each breath. His eyes beneath his lids were darting back and forth, signifying that he was in a REM state. He looked at peace, if she ignored the dampness on his face and pillow from sweating. She knew he was dreaming. She was pretty sure the creature he had described yesterday was the cause of his continued slumber. She wanted to call 911 but didn’t know what to say. What was she going to tell the officer that answered, that her boyfriend was being held captive in his dream by a monster and they needed to send someone out to wake him up? And then what if they couldn’t do it either? Where would they take him? What would they do to him? She didn’t know what to do so she waited. Every few seconds, she checked that his chest was still moving up and down and confirmed that his eyes were still active beneath the lids, and repeated his name softly. But mostly she just sat next to him, running a worried hand through his hair, trying to figure out who she could call that might know how to help. Worrying that maybe she couldn’t help at all.

In the dream world, Kyle continued to try to figure out what was going on. "So why do you need me?" he asked the creature.

"Because you can travel from this reality to the next. You can take me to the talisman under the stone."

"What talisman? What stone? Why can’t you just go there yourself?"

"An Indian Chief with great powers brought my spirit to your reality many years ago. He gave me form and we shared our secrets of magic. But his people did not appreciate my magic. They did not understand the power and they fear what they do not know. They burned the body I had been granted. And they burned the great one that had given me freedom into your world. But I knew his people were weak and scared. I knew they would try to destroy us. So I made a talisman of the greatest power and buried it below a great stone on the banks of the water. It holds the essence of the life force I had been given. It waits for my spirit to find it so I can take form once again in your reality. For more than five hundred years, I’ve been waiting for someone powerful enough to hear my call, for someone to release my spirit from the prison I was banished to by the flames of their sacred fire. You heard my call. You released my spirit. And now you will take me to the talisman under the stone."

"Where is this stone that you buried the talisman under?" Kyle asked, more just to keep the thing talking than out of curiosity. He didn’t necessarily believe what the creature was saying as fact, but he was groping for anything that might clue him in on how to get out of this nightmare.

"It is close," the creature said. "My spirit has remained near all this time, waiting for you. We shall go back to your world as one. We shall remove the talisman from under the stone and place it in the ashes of a soul that has been cleansed by fire. The ashes will take new form and my spirit will live free once again inside that form. You will then be rid of me but I will grant you the power to do as you wish and to live as you choose before I leave you and avenge my death. I will grant to you the secret of immortality for your great service to me."

"Why should I trust you?" Kyle asked.

"You have no choice," the creature answered with a toothy grin. "That is of course, if you ever want to return to her again."

The creature nodded to the wall on his left and Kyle saw Lisa appear out of thin air, sitting in a chair like his own against the wall, but with the same glossed over look in her eyes that she had when standing next to the creature in his living room during his previous dream. Kyle knew it wasn’t actually Lisa. But he also knew there was no way he was bringing a monster like this back to life in reality. Kyle had already made his decision, but remained silent. If this thing were speaking the truth, then Kyle had to accept his fate. But if this was indeed just a nightmare gone crazy created by his own imagination, then he had no doubt that Lisa would find a way to wake him from it.

The creature had been right. He had no choice. He could do nothing and decided nothing was what he would do. He needed time, he thought as he looked longingly at the image of Lisa sitting quietly off to the side. He needed to give Lisa time to figure out how to wake him up. But he knew that wouldn’t be enough. He’d have to go back to sleep again eventually and when he did, he would dream. And the creature would still be here waiting for him. No, if this was ever going to end, Kyle had to get back to his reality and find that talisman and destroy it. But his chances of accomplishing that seemed as unlikely as escape from this prison the creature had condemned him to.

"I’ll give you two some time to think it over," the creature said.

It got up from its chair and left the room, shutting the door silently behind it as it left, leaving Kyle alone with the image of Lisa. He imagined Lisa back in the real world and wondered if she was trying to wake him up. He wished he could talk with her, tell her he was okay. Or maybe he was just wishing he’d had the chance to tell her good-bye.

In the real world, feeling like she should be trying to do something to help Kyle, though having no idea what that something could possibly be, Lisa pulled a few books out of Kyle’s study that he had collected about lucid dreams and brought them back into the bedroom with Kyle. She had called the DOT office and reported that both she and Kyle had gotten sick at the Labor Day festival, probably something they’d eaten, and would not be in to work today but would hopefully be well enough to return tomorrow. She knew her supervisor hadn’t believed her, but she didn’t care. For the past hour she’d been flipping through the books looking for anything that might relate to what was going on with Kyle but had found nothing that described being unable to come out of one’s dream. She was lying next to him on his bed, reading about out of body experiences when her eyes slid slowly closed and she fell asleep.

In the dream world, Lisa was making love to Kyle. But as she looked down at his face, she saw that he was sleeping through her passion and she became aware that she was dreaming. She rolled off of him and stared at him, aware that she was worried about him, aware that he could not seem to wake up in reality, and aware that this was not him in front of her, but merely an image of him that her imagination had produced for the dream.

But what was she doing here? Kyle needed her back in the real world. She shouldn’t be sleeping. She should be trying to help Kyle, but she had no clue what she could do. Though she certainly didn’t feel like she had been doing him any good from there either, crying and reading useless books. She looked at the dream Kyle and wished she could get to him, really get to him, in his dream. She wanted to talk to him and find out what he needed her to do. But that was impossible.

Or was it?

Hadn’t she just been reading about people who had left their bodies? Where did they go? What did they do? She couldn’t remember. But it made her think. She lay down on the bed next to Kyle and tried to concentrate, not on the dream Kyle next to her, not on the real Kyle sleeping in the real world, but on herself, her real self that was lying next to the real Kyle back in the real world. She imagined her spirit floating out of her body, the way the book she had been reading when she fell asleep described it. The image she was holding onto with every ounce of mental strength she could muster began to fade and grow dark. And then the darkness faded and she was again looking at herself and Kyle lying side by side in bed, but something was different. It took her a moment to realize what it was. She was looking at Kyle and herself. And unlike the vision of Kyle that had just faded away, this one was sweating. Looking more closely at herself, she could see where her eyeliner had run a little bit from her earlier tears. Then she realized these weren’t images from her dream. She was hovering over her real self.

She looked at Kyle and glided over him, hovering above him instead of herself. She stared into his face and imagined herself soaking into the pores of his skin, getting into his head, joining his dream. She could feel his heart beating and the blood surging through his body; she could sense his distraught mind. She could feel his terror. She was sitting in a chair against a wall of a small room. Kyle was before her, sitting in another chair at a table in the middle of the room, looking at her with his mouth open.

Kyle had been staring at the image of Lisa when he saw the life enter her eyes. One moment she was staring blankly at the opposite wall, then she blinked and her eyes returned, wide and confused, but obviously aware. There was a light in her eye that had not been present in any of his previous visions that made her even more beautiful than the dream versions of her that he had been interacting with over the last few months. He didn’t know how, but he knew it was really her. Somehow she had gone looking for him and found him. God, he loved her. But he had to get her out before the creature came back. If it got a hold on her mind too, they might both be imprisoned here forever. Or maybe she had already been trapped by merely coming.

"Lisa?" Kyle whispered.

"Kyle?" she said, as she started to stand up.

"Don’t move," Kyle said quickly, putting a finger in front of his mouth telling her to remain quiet. "I don’t know when it’ll be back, but you can’t stay here. You need to go back."

"You’re coming with me," she said. "I’m not leaving without you."

"But how? How did you even get here?"

"I’m not sure how any of this works, but you have to come back with me. I can’t wake you up."

"But even if I could go back…"

"I know you can," Lisa interrupted. "We just need to believe it and it can happen. You taught me that. It’s got to work."

"But even if it does," Kyle started again, "I can’t stay awake forever. I’ll need to sleep sometime. And when I do, that creature will be waiting for me. It wants me to..."

Kyle stopped and held his breath. He was about to tell Lisa that the creature wanted him to take it back to reality with him. And if he was capable of riding Kyle out of this reality into the next, then maybe he could ride Lisa out, if in fact, she wasn’t also already a prisoner herself. But then what? Like he said, the creature would just wait for his return. As soon as Kyle fell asleep again, this whole nightmare would start over. Unless…

"Okay," Kyle whispered, quickly deciding what they needed to do. "How can we get out of here?"

"I don’t know," Lisa said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. "I just want you to come back."

She stood and stepped toward Kyle. Kyle didn’t stop her this time but also stood, reaching out his arms as she approached. They embraced each other full of emotion and desire, the desire being to leave this place and return to their reality as quickly as possible.

"I love you," Kyle said.

"I love you, too. Now come home with me."

The door opened and the creature stepped in looking a little confused at the sight of Kyle and Lisa embracing. Then as Kyle saw its form losing its distinct edges and start to waver out of focus, he heard it let out a roar that shook every bone in his body. Kyle closed his eyes, closed his mind, and concentrated on the feel of Lisa’s body and squeezed her against his own as hard as he could.

Kyle woke up lying on his side, facing Lisa’s sleeping form next to him in his bed. Her body suddenly seemed to shimmer a bit, like a mirage on a heated desert highway, and then he saw her eyes open and they immediately filled with tears as she rolled over and hugged Kyle, kissing his face frantically between her words. "We did it! You’re back! I love you! I love you!"

Her excitement quickly waned though as she remembered what Kyle had said about going back to sleep right before the creature had returned and they had made their quick escape. She fell back, giving him room to breathe. "What are we going to do? You can’t live the rest of your life without sleeping and I can’t go in after you every morning, Kyle. What’s going on? What is that thing in your dreams?"

"A stupid spirit from some other world that talks too much," Kyle told her. "Come on. We’re going to put a stop to it right now."

"What? How? Where are you going?" she called after him, trying to keep up.

Kyle didn’t even bother getting dressed first. He threw on his robe as he ran and headed down the stairs and out the patio door into the backyard, Lisa following closely behind him, unwilling to even let him out of her sight until this got resolved.

"I think it’s there," he told her, pointing to the large rock by the shore of the lake. "He said it was buried under a rock and was close by. He said he’d been waiting by it for five hundred years."

"What do you mean, buried under the rock? What’s down there?" She was even more confused now than she had been when suddenly arriving in Kyle’s dream. "Waiting for who?"

Kyle explained about the Indian Chief and the talisman while pushing and pulling at the large boulder with all his might but it wouldn’t even budge. He told her how the creature wanted revenge over those that had been responsible for his death, but Kyle had gotten the feeling that the creature’s idea of who was responsible had not been limited to a handful of relatives of the individuals that had put a stop to his rein on earth. He was after all of them. Kyle believed the creature’s blame pretty much included the entire human race.

Kyle ran back up the hill toward the garage, Lisa quickly trailing after him. "Have you got your keys?" he asked her. "You’re car is newer and more powerful than mine."

She reached into the pocket of her work slacks and drew out a key ring, tossing it to Kyle who caught them and went inside the garage. He grabbed a coil of extra co-axle cable the satellite guys had left him in case he got a second TV he wanted to hook up and threw it into the back seat of Lisa’s mini-van and climbed in. Lisa got in the passenger side.

"I’m only driving to the backyard, but you can have a ride if you want," he said, trying to smile, but failing.

"I’m going where you’re going," she replied.

Kyle backed out of the driveway and barely had room to drive the mini-van between his house and his neighbor’s as he did a backwards u-turn and backed the vehicle to the top of the hill in his backyard. He grabbed the cable and tied one end around the bumper of the car, the other around the boulder.

"Why don’t you climb in and drive while I push," he suggested.

She did, but the rock still didn’t budge. It only came up about waist high, but it must have weighed a ton and, if this was indeed the right one, it probably hadn’t been moved in more than five hundred years.

Kyle removed the cable. The van wasn’t going to get near enough traction on the grass to move this rock, especially up hill.

"I’ve got another idea," he said, and disappeared back into the house.

A moment later, Lisa saw him driving his own car around the side of the house. Lisa was still sitting behind the wheel of the van.

"Turn it around," he called out his open window to her. "We’re going to push it instead of pull it. I push the rock. You push me. Got it?"

He didn’t wait for a response. He started slowly down the hill and rested the steel front bumper of his old Dodge against the rock. He waved an arm out his window for Lisa to follow. She turned the van around and lined up her bumper to Kyle’s trunk, both cars now at an angle that appeared to be steep enough to carry them into the lake if it weren’t for the rock. She knew the cars were not going to come out of this unscathed, but figured that would be a small price to pay if it meant not having to worry about whether or not Kyle was going to wake from his sleep every morning.

"Okay," Kyle yelled back from his window. "Push!"

They both stepped on the accelerator and at first nothing happened. But then she started to inch forward. Suddenly both cars lurched toward the lake as the rock finally released its ancient hold on the earth. She slammed on her breaks as she saw Kyle continue forward a few more feet and the rock rolled into the water. Then it was as though a geyser erupted from beneath the back end of Kyle’s Dodge, but it didn’t look like water that erupted from the ground.

The rear end of Kyle’s car shot into the air, flipping the car over as it did a forward somersault into the lake. The boulder that had rolled in before it crumpled the roof as it landed, but also kept the car mostly above the water at the shallow shore. Kyle was already scampering out the window, staring at the blood, red geyser as it continued to shoot up into the sky like Old Faithful for five more seconds and then it stopped as quickly as it had started. There was no red mess, in the water or on the ground. The only evidence that anything at all had happened was Kyle’s car sitting upside on the water’s edge.

Kyle waded to the shore and cautiously peered into the hole where the rock had been planted for so many years. There was something down there. He pulled out a bundle about as big as a football, wrapped in some kind of animal hide, tied shut with hair that looked more human than animal. He broke off the hair tying it closed and unrolled the hide on the ground. Lisa had finally gotten brave enough to get out of her van and stood watching breathlessly by his side.

Inside the animal hide was a grotesque looking, crudely made doll. It reminded Kyle of a voodoo doll he’d seen in a movie he couldn’t remember but its head was not human and it had no features on its face. It didn’t look like the creature from his dreams, but it probably could have passed for a close relative.

"We need some matches," Kyle said to Lisa. "They burned only his body last time. This time I want to burn his soul."

Lisa produced an emergency lighter she always kept in her mini-van glove compartment and handed it to Kyle. When he lit the doll’s arm, he could swear he felt the creature’s voice vibrating his bones in a blood curdling scream. He didn’t hear anything except Lisa’s nervous breathing over his shoulder, but he felt it, deep down inside at the core of his being as the doll rapidly turned to ash.

Lisa and Kyle, though not for lack of effort, never met each other again in the same lucid dream, but they never ran into the creature again, either. They each lived out their lives together, in both the real world and the dream world, just as Dorothy was supposed to have done upon her return from Oz, happily ever after.

* * * * *

April 16, 2024

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