Dream Asylum

I don't pretend to understand them.


Two spacemen were descending from orbit in my Dad's van. They had completed their mission, and just finished the long journey back through space to their home. Everything was running according to plan, and they didn't even need to announce their presence to the crew at the base.

I was one of the spacemen. I removed my helmet, and my partner removed his. I went rummaging around the back seats for some equipment while my partner navigated the van blindly through a cloud barrier. It was raining on Earth. We touched down in the driveway of my old house, facing the garage door, a gloomy grey wall shimmering beyond the water that ran down the windshield. We were talking about our personal beliefs, and realized that to maintain privacy this close to base we would have to disable our radio-vox systems. We each turned a glowing blue dial on our suits, and I searched the back seats again and found two more blue dials mounted on cylinders about the size of hockey pucks. I turned both dials until they stopped glowing, and we had privacy. Now all the things we said wouldn't be broadcast on the radio. In addition, we could no longer receive dialogue from the radio. We were isolated.

To upload the information we'd gathered during our mission, my partner and I had to link up with a sattelite dish mounted on the roof of the garage. To do this I had to run a cable from the hood of the van to a socket in the garage door. My co-pilot and I made a bet that I could hook us up in record time.

I got out of the driver's seat and connected the cable, getting pelted with the thick raindrops filtering through the oak tree above the driveway. When I got back in I inserted a tape into the stereo. This tape had a wire coming out of it, and was the device I used to listen to my walkman through the speakers in the van. I'm not sure what I hooked the cable into, but I didn't have my walkman. This setup was essential to communicating with the sattelite though.

Indeed, I had hooked us up in record time. While my partner messed with some controls, I looked beyond him and out the passenger side window. The front door to my house opened for an instant, and I thought I saw a human shape in the doorway, but it was hard to tell in the rain. The door shut after an instant, as if whoever was inside had been startled by our presence.

For the first time I noticed that all the lights in the house were off. That's funny... Maybe there was a power outage? Then I looked at my friend and realized that if the power were out, he wouldn't be able to operate the sattelite as he was doing now. So my wife and kids were walking around the house in the dark; not because they had to, but because they preferred it that way? What, were they all asleep?

My co-pilot announced that he was having trouble getting the sattelite to work. The equipment was functioning properly, but there was massive interference on every frequency he tried. Every time he sent something, it got squashed in the horrendous noise that was filling the airwaves.

He turned on the radio to demonstrate. The van was bathed in a hiss of static, overlaid in whining and crashing noises that tumbled up and down the scale with no discernible pattern. It sounded weird, but it could have been ordinary storm interference. Then he slowly turned the tuning dial, and as we passed through the bands, the noise remained as loud as ever-- but changed timbre! Different noises were on different frequencies. There was order to this noise, then. And that meant that it was being broadcast.

I thought about the dark house again and became afraid. Perhaps something had happened to the human race in our absence. Perhaps some alien species that communicated through radio waves had invaded. Maybe everyone was a walking radio broadcast now. ... Including my family.

I suggested this to my co-polit. He laughed. "Oh, what a bunch of bullshit," he said. "You're being very paranoid. Everyone's probably fine."

The front door to the house opened and a figure emerged.

"See? That's probably your wife coming out to greet us." said my friend.

But I was beyond such reasoning. I dove over my friend and locked his door, then turned around and locked my own as the figure outside in the gloom walked slowly around the side of the van. Unwilling to look at the figure directly, I ducked down in my chair until I was practically under the seat. I couldn't see the driver's side window, but I could see my co-pilot, who was sitting up, following the figure with his eyes and smiling confidently.

Then I felt the van move a little as the figure touched the side of the van, probably to peer in. I watched my friend's face change, slowly, from cheerful confidence to shock, and then to the beginnings of abject terror. His jaw went slack and his mouth opened, his nostrils dilated, his eyebrows arced up. Then his mouth wrenched down and his teeth clenched. His nose wrinkled up, his forehead knit, as though his face were trying to retreat into itself -- but his eyes betrayed the effort by balooning out of his skull. Clearly, great pieces of furniture were being rearranged in his head.

With this wondrous image of fright, and no particular idea what had inspired it, I woke up, free to imagine whatever monster I liked as the figure in the window. The dream followed true B-movie horror flick tradition in this way.

While I was lying in bed consciously keeping myself from succumbing to fright and dashing around like a wild animal, I couldn't help but think of several ways in which I could embellish the dream. What if, for example, the static coming out of the radio changed timbre when the front door opened?

What if, after seeing the horrified expression of my friend, I turned the key to the van from my ducking position, threw the vehicle into reverse, and propelled us out of the driveway and away from the creature?
What if I ran over something?

Sort of an odd way to recover from a scary dream? Not really-- by grabbing hold of it and bending it about, I can expose it's imperfections, making it less real. I thought about it for ten or fifteen minutes before settling down, and made myself memorize the word "radio", so that by recalling that word in the morning I could remember the dream.

After I went back to sleep I had a couple more dreams.
A group of people at Merrill were being weird one morning, and we decided to walk on our hands and knees as a choo-choo train from one dorm room to the next, waking up the people we knew in the process. We passed in and out of several rooms to lively morning salutations, and anyone who felt like it joined in at the end of the train.

Eventually we crawled into Eszter's room. It was a single, about the size of a large bathroom, a bit messy. Two high shelves against the wall opposite the door, with the bed to the right of the doorframe. Morning light from a picture-window that took up most of one wall bathed everything. Our long train snaked in and back out, and as I made the circuit around the room, Eszter's MOTHER woke up and peeked out from under the covers. Then a student, unfamiliar to me, raised his head and peered around bleary-eyed at our procession. He was lying next to Eszter's mother. Eszter herself then woke up, but she raised her head and peered from the opposite end of the bed, as if she'd slept backwards in relation to the other two.

The sight of Eszter waking up in the morning with another boy in her bed made me feel extremely unhappy for some reason. I couldn't hide my grief, and I stood up from the train, gathered a few things on the floor, and dashed out of the room grimacing with my head down, trying not to embarrass myself. I was wearing a long cotton nightgown, and I may have had long braided hair, but I'm not sure. Eszter watched me go.

I was downstairs in my old room, then, tying my shoes. I was sitting at the doorway, with the door partially closed. I heard someone come down the stairs and walk up to the sliding glass door in the living room. From there I could see that it was Eszter. She looked at me and I pretended not to notice her, so she could be the first to say something, since she had apparently come down here to talk to me. She was packing her things upstairs for a long journey to a far away place, and this would be our last opportunity to speak. But she turned her head and stared out the glass door, with an unhappy expression on her face. I realized that despite her strong demands for assertiveness and frankness, she was only used to reacting to it in others, not enacting it herself. She couldn't speak to me.

Silently, she turned around and went back upstairs as I finished tying my shoes, still wearing the cotton nightgown. This is bad, I thought to myself. I really feel for her, but something prevents us from communicating. Then again, since the beginning, there has always been that suspicion that she doesn't really give a crap at all for us. Maybe the problem is all in my head, and she's just going about her business and doesn't even know I exist. Maybe she just wanted to look out that window one more time.
Maybe her weaknesses in the dream are, in fact, mine in reality.

When I woke up I thought about it, and wondered why I'd been so quick to assume that the boy in her bed had slept with her. Evidence implied that he had slept with her mother. Or maybe it was a manage-o'-THREE. The point was that I'd assumed that she had hurt me; I assumed that she didn't care. This is a bad way to prejudge a person you're supposed to be communicating with.

I had another dream after this one, in which my father led an expedition to another country. I was second-in-command and the official navigator, and I forged on ahead in the forest making sure the path I'd decided we should take was still clear of obstacles. On the way up a dirt hill under the forest canopy, carpeted with golden oak leaves and redwood pieces, Phaedra laid down for a rest and I curled up around her. She was lying on her side with her shirt off for some reason, pressing the volume of her pale breasts together between her arms. There were oak leaves clinging to her black hair. I remember looking down on her resting form and feeling an intense surge of protective emotion. She was of a kind that welcomed such protection, and that rewarded it with confidence and gratitude. Not that she couldn't get along without it, mind you. She just worked better if she had it.

These thoughts flew through my head while I was dreaming. Whether they have any bearing on the Phaedra of reality is an open question. I like to think that they do.