by Julie Carpenter
I have a vivid dream life that sometimes crosses over into my writing. Of course, many times, dreams die with the light, cracking into dust and scattering. Poof! I’m no longer running in place through a field of skulls while zombies fling lime Jell-O bombs at my head or sweating through an interview with FBI agents in the guise of talking dogs, or whatever was happening in those immediately forgotten visions. Vanished nightmares disappear into a miasma of never-was. Just as well.
But sometimes I have dreams that follow me into the waking world, hanging on in the light, refusing to dissipate, some lucid as the full moon behind inky tree branches, some hiding around corners and only jumping at me when triggered by an object, a word, or a scent. Those detailed dreams I sometimes put into words and stories. Dreams seem safer pinned in ink to a page. Is this cruel? I can’t tell but I reserve the right to defend myself.
Perhaps, I think – and this makes me feel better - they want to be reborn here in some form. Perhaps this world is thicker and more dependable. I don’t know if that’s true either, but it lets me off the hook. Putting dreams to paper is midwifery, giving birth to something that already exists, not imprisoning them. So, I comfort myself at any rate.
Of course, often I the dreams take new forms. The apricot dream-snakes that rose from the ground and hovered in front of me wanted to warn me of the apocalypse. They told me how to find the rainbow bridge. They were represented in one of my tales, called Alma and the Snake, by a single apricot snake with copper color eyes whose motives seemed more suspect than her night cousins. Then there was my passage on a dream-train, running through tunnels of falling red rocks as Hell crumbled. When I wrote about it in the daylight, it turned out the tracks ran through complex world filled with characters that I’ve grown to love and write about at length. It first became a short story, Last Train Out of Hell, and has now grown into a novel.
I have yet to write about some of my dreams: women appearing in balls of light to send out last messages to loved ones as they are being tortured to death hundreds of miles away; my long night riding a broom on a quest for the witches’ guild (in the dream it was just as uncomfortable as you might imagine to ride a broom all night); ghost children throwing books and tantrums while Vesti La Giubba plays in the background. It turns out the ghost children wanted me to find their graves so they could tell me a sad story and then we all lived happily ever after in the haunted house. Perhaps some version of dream-me is sitting in the library of that very house with a cat, a book, and a cup of tea while the ghost children playfully chase one another around the shelves and through the heavy silk curtains.
Some dreams taunt me with the promise of brilliant stories, the dream world mocking me for my attempts to pin it to a page. In one promising nightmare, I was both writing and living in a thrilling narrative that ended with a dying man looking at me and saying, “But we wanted the monster.” Good lord, I want to write that story, but I woke up with only the fragment.
There are nightmares that followed me out of the dark that I can still barely think about, much less assign some permanent form. Nightmares of loss and death. Dreams of falling or being frozen while a tall man in a hat moves towards me with ill intent. In one, I looked down at my phone and realized it had turned to concrete and I had no way of contacting the waking world anymore, that I was trapped in the shadow world forever. Maybe I would be better off if I wrestled these dreams onto the page.
Some tales my brain tells me at night are almost too good to be true - the technicolor mountain range that leads to the high hills of heaven, where the dreamer must follow a thin, rocky path into the sunset. On another occasion, I dreamed I died in battle then lay face up in a stream, clear water running over me, soothing me into the deepest sense of rest, sleeping or waking, I’ve ever had. I don’t know that I could do those dreams justice.
I also have a darker set of dreams to draw from. I have had throughout my lifetime, a bad habit of passing out. This is remarkably inconvenient by the way, and I can’t recommend it. When I faint, I go to a place that feels very much like the dream world except more sinister, further removed from this reality. In the dream world, I sometimes understand that I’m dreaming. REM visions are a world within a world. Entering a sleeping dream is descending a steep staircase through a rock with a pool at the bottom. Dive in, dream, swim back to the opening and return to the waking world. A sleeper has a vague notion of both worlds.
I find that the unconscious world runs parallel to this one with no easy return. In an instant, I’ve fallen through a tunnel into a universe I can’t leave on my own. Not that there isn’t occasionally fodder for stories. I once found a circle of gnome like creatures chasing each other and fighting– they appear in The Thin Hungry Man. Mostly these dreams are more mundane and useless. When I passed out in a hospital, I found myself in a parallel hospital, talking to medical staff in green scrubs who didn’t know me or why I was there. Mostly I find myself in a dull second universe where I don’t belong. Even so, returning from unconscious land seems more precarious, more random, than waking from a dream.
Like many people in 2020, I had very vivid and unsettling dreams. I hope this year my sleeping brain settles down because I think I have plenty of material to write about already. Typically in spring, the dreams ease up and fade into the flowers, grass, and warmth. The longer days tend to prevent my dreams from spending so much time at my side.
But now it’s dark time. The curtain between the moonlit world of sleep and the daylight seems thinner in the winter when night presses in, consciousness seems more fragile, and stories need to be gathered while there’s time.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and will be included The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel titled The Last Train Out of Hell.