—not how it started nor how it ended, but somewhere in the middle of the first week, I must have opened the door in my dreams and gone through it despite having promised myself I would never. I suppose that was inevitable. I’ve never been very lucid a dreamer, you know? I just watch the world unfold, things happen to me. I process slowly. I’m always catching up. This is how all my lovers have ever left me, just so you know: there’s a lot of shouting, during which I lose myself in wonder at the clarity, the sheer architectural solidity of their arguments, and all I can muster is a weak, belated “Wait—”
Anyway, that was while I was still reasonably sure I lived in the real world. The basal reality, which is actually quite an unfashionable thing to believe in now—I hope you’re not a Bearer, because I’m an apostate so you really shouldn’t be talking to me if you’re a member in good standing. No? Good. I’ll tell you a secret about Ursus Himself sometime.
Where was I? Right, so this was around when velociraptors ate the House of Saud, about Wednesday the week the gods of order died. When all the oil turned back into dinosaurs—a dimetrodon burst out of the hood of my car, and that’s when I knew it was all messed up for real. I mean, I’d suspected because the velociraptors were featherless, but a dreamer who mixes up synapsida with sauropsida is probably just getting their imagery from the films. Fossil fuels are mostly trees anyway, right, not dinosaurs.
Anyway, long story short, they drafted us—did you get drafted? No? I can’t remember much about where I came from, but it was a very militaristic culture. They had us on a cocktail of uppers and eugeroics for days and my ears were always ringing. At first I thought it was all the constant gunfire, you know, people shooting at the dinosaurs and the vampires and all the unspeakable demon-things that came out of people’s nightmares, it was very loud. But then I realized that there was a regular, violent banging noise in my head, rattling my sinuses. The door in my dreams was ajar, and it was slamming in the wind even though I was still awake, which was and is impossible—
I remember that the wind was cold. I was shivering all the time. On the other side of that door was an abandoned stone temple at the top of a mountain covered in forest. Everything was green, like it was underwater, and by kicking my feet I could swim slowly in the forest canopy, diving higher and higher into tunnels of twisting foliage but never finding a clear sky.
This is what the Bearers say, that the sheer absurdity of mortdieu means that basal reality was itself a dream. They’re named after a prophet they call Great Bear, and they say that they’ve somehow preserved some of his manuscripts and brought them into the dream, which I don’t think anybody else has managed to do and that’s why the rest of us have to just try and remember the real history of the real world, if there ever was a real world. The Bearers say that the year of mortdieu was definitely either 1983 or 2527 or 1361. But I remember the Sony Walkman and a minute ago you were talking about Berdibek of the Golden Horde so who even knows. Kiss me again real quick for just a second.
See, some things don’t change. It’s okay to cling to that idea even if it’s not true. The Earth moves so easily now, people are always breaking worlds in their enthusiasm. It’s a good thing we have an endless supply never further than a dream door away. One time I flooded the Bay of Bengal—anyway, it occurs to me that story is embarrassing so, you know, never mind.
For the first few days? I was still coming down off the pills, right. I was twitchy and paranoid and prone to falling over from exhaustion, so I don’t know when I went through a dream door the first time, or how many times I did that before I realized I was doing it. I suppose I just vanished from the real world like so many other people did in those first days. The last TV news reports were all about mysteriously dwindling populations. Entire towns deserted overnight, the beds empty. I’ve never heard of anybody who’s actually seen someone else vanish, isn’t that weird? Have you? No, neither have I. Everyone falls asleep, and they wake up having gone through another door. They wake up somewhere else, alone.
Ah, you are a believer after all. See, I told you my lovers always have better arguments than I do. Sure, sure, I don’t wanna fight about it. Though I’m pretty sure Ursus Himself wasn’t—oh, of course you don’t want to hear it. You people never do.
I don’t know what I mean by that. Sorry.
Funny story. I once met someone who said he was part of a SWAT team his government sent in during the early days to reconnoitre the dreamscape. He had body armour and a big gun and fuzzy bunny slippers, and he eventually left me because I wouldn’t stop laughing.
No, I’m not making fun of his sense of purpose, just his lack of control over his self-image. Anyway, what purpose? Even if all the governments had not collapsed in short order under the massed malicious revolutionary dreams of their citizens, they would have bled out just by losing their entire population. Sooner or later everybody walked into their dreams one by one just to see what would happen.
Best dream: I once spent an idyllic dream day with wings the size of a continent, cupping them to catch stellar winds and cruising through the galaxy, which twinkled and flamed so extravagantly that time must have been sped up, because it seemed like a billion years passed very quickly before I slept again. That was a peaceful day. I think that was my favourite.
Worst: this happens to everybody sooner or later, I’m sure you’ve heard rumours. Familiar strangers coming through the doors in our dreams and waking up in our beds. Strangers who are almost like your lost loved ones, but different, like they were really just somebody else’s dreams of the people you knew. Those are the worst, all those ruined reunions. Maybe Ursus Himself is right and the gods of order are dead, whoever they were, and we’re part of the greatest mass migration in human history, the longest journey and the final mystery, blah blah, I know your catechism. I told you, I’m an apostate. All of us travelling together: us, our dreams of ourselves, and our nightmares. The reason I hate this story is because it holds out hope that someday you’ll meet your real lost loved ones again, somewhere millions of dreams deep, and that’s too cruel to be real. I try not to think about that. When I think about it too much my breath hitches and I think I’m drowning—I must have had a near-death experience when I was alive, awake. You know what I mean, I’m carrying around a phobia—and I puke up a river. I know what floods are like, you see, unlike that dreamer who couldn’t tell their prehistoric reptiles apart. The torrent is always muddy and filled with debris that catches painfully in my throat. All my important dreams are about flight or water, I know. Flight is life, but it’s always death by water. Sometimes both at once.
How far? I’m pretty sure I can’t have crossed more than a few hundred dream doors so far to get here, so it’s been about a subjective year since mortdieu for me. It’s frightening when you say you’re twelve thousand dreams down. What is that, thirty years?
I once met a woman who claimed to be a million dreams deep. I’ve heard rumours of others, but she’s the only one I ever met. I know, I laughed too, but her eyes seemed so full of worlds upon worlds that it gave me vertigo to look up into them. After we had sex she laid an egg in my torso with her ovipositor and warned me it would hatch some day. I feel it sometimes. It’s cold. It doesn’t go away, no matter how many dreams I cross or how I change my self-image. I don’t know what to believe. It’s possible, right? We don’t age—because we don’t actually have bodies, we’re dreams held together by self-image and self-delusion. Any of the people we meet in dreams could be old like that. They’ve become very, very strange. They’re evolved oneiric life-forms rather than humans dreaming. Would they even remember what the real world was like? I can’t imagine living so long in the slippage—
Oh, I don’t mean you. Thirty years is impressive, sure, but it’s still not so bad. That’s still within the scope of a human life. You could have grown old, if you’d lived out there. I do believe there’s still an out there. A physical substrate. There has to be.
I know, it’s my blasphemies you find so attractive. You people always do.
Here’s a nice blasphemy for you: I think Ursus Himself is wrong about lucidity. No, hear me out. The Bearer position is that we need to practice lucidity to hold ourselves together, right? To strengthen our core identity and to hold it steady. We stay who we are because we keep telling ourselves that’s who we are, not just in the sense that we say the words, but with the words behind the words in the mouth. The words in the bones, the words in the marrow, or the dream of marrow.
No, that’s definitely how it works, I’m not disputing that. I just don’t think we need to do it. This is why it’s a cult—don’t give me that look, you wouldn’t sleep with an apostate if you didn’t want to hear this. All this grasping at maintaining a solid identity through the slippage, none of it is necessary. You can just let go. It’s so easy.
Like this: you remember the body you once had when you were once a body, rather than the dream of a body? You remember that it was made of quarks like everything else? It had continuity. It was the same kind of stuff as everything around it; it was a part of everything around it, dreaming that it was awake. And now that you’re dreaming that you’re a dream, the stuff that you’re made of is still the same as the stuff around you, in all its flickering, maddening slippage of dream logic. The sun in your memory of your mouth when you smile is burning and vast, the dream of your teeth on my cheek is red ants swarming and biting, the milky smell of your breath is a lagoon I once waded in, the water curdled around my knees.
You don’t end at your extremities where I begin. We aren’t separate beings, you and I, that was just part of the dream. We haven’t been, or been human, in so long.
Do stop shouting! You make a very good argument for being and I’ll miss you so much when you’re gone. Wait, there’s something I wanted to—
I know you can’t hear me anymore because you no longer exist as an independent consciousness waveform. I’m sorry.
I can’t stop talking to you, though. Some would say I ate you, to which I say predation is as natural a part of this ecosystem as any other, and just as valid a lifestyle choice as self-delusion. Besides, I prefer to think that we are now truly one in the measureless and undivided oneiric continuum; I’m just a little less one than you are. What can I say, I process slowly.
Story copyright © 2015 by Vajra Chandrasekera
Artwork copyright © 2015 by Carrion House
Lw’nafh naflhlirgh Vajra Colombo wgah’nagl fhtagn. Vulgtlagln Ursus! Iä! Iä!
Carrion House a.k.a. Luke Spooner currently lives and works in the south of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first-class degree, he is now a full-time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence.