The Baby and the Crystal Cube
© 2017 by Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.
Description: In The Baby and the Crystal Cube, two lucid dreamers meet in recurring dreams, fall in love, and conceive a dream baby; but the unreality of the dream world leads them to distrust each other—with nightmarish results.
THE BABY AND THE CRYSTAL CUBE
The sun’s about to set, but it’s been like that for months—or minutes, depending on how you’re counting. Time passes differently when you dream, and you can live a lifetime in the span of a few waking seconds.
I’m counting on that for my baby, so she has time to grow. She swims in a sea of amniotic dream fluid the size of a basketball inside me. I try as hard as I can to make the sun set and rise faster.
The back porch of my dream cabin is a perfect place to watch the sunset. The swing my husband hung there rocks my unborn daughter and me back and forth in a hypnotic rhythm like a cradle.
I know she’ll be beautiful. She already is. I talked to her. But she’s sleeping now, inside me. The second trimester was exhausting, and I’m afraid of getting tired and falling awake.
The swing. It’s making me drift off. I stop it and stand, and the sun moves again. Down, I tell it. Down. When it resists the order, when brute force makes it push against me even harder, a wave of my hand turns the horizon into a bowl, ready to receive the sun. Inviting it. Enticing it.
The sun cannot resist sinking into that terrestrial womb. The last ray of its surrender glints on the ruby-red cube perched quietly on the porch railing. A tiny version of the sun crawls along the cube’s edge, arming itself with hundreds of spikes of light before terminating at the point and vanishing.
I won’t hold the cube. Not again.
I wouldn’t dream of it.
The first morning of the lucid dreaming study, Drake scowled at me from across the round table and said, “Castaneda was full of shit. It’s pure fiction.”
“But the technique has potential. Look at your hands when you get lucid, to maintain it. I’m not arguing about his—”
He didn’t let me finish. “The method is no better than any other. It’s worse than some.”
I’d like to tell you we met somewhere romantic, but Professor Delnin’s laboratory was more like a 24-hour business meeting in an operating room. We were the patients: me, Drake, and half a dozen other lucid dreamers. The idea was to see if we could achieve co-lucidity; that is, becoming lucid as a group in dreams we shared.
We were all graduate students hoping to earn a few bucks over the summer. Being lab rats for a week sounded like a good idea. Sleeping on the job was a requirement.
So were the interminable meetings.
“Drake,” the professor interjected. With one finger, he pushed his thick-lensed glasses back up the bridge of his nose to be framed by his bushy, salt-and-pepper eyebrows. “Aimee’s presented one idea. Did you have another suggestion?”
The professor made nine of us in the room. We students slept in his machine the night before to calibrate his measurements and make sure everyone was comfortable. He had sat on a platform full of computers, monitoring us. We slept in a circle around him, in a ring of eight capsules wired back to the consoles in the middle like tentacles leading to a central brain.
We called the set-up the octopus, and the nickname was more than visually accurate. Each of us was like a distributed brain on a network, resembling how neurons distribute throughout the tentacles of the sea’s most famous cephalopod.
“Forget it,” said Drake. “It doesn’t matter. We can all agree to look at our hands, or we can all agree to do anything as a focal point to get lucid. But it’s not what we do. It’s where we do it.”
“You’re right,” the old man realized. “Every meeting needs a location.”
“And every location on a network,” said Drake, “needs an address.”
Drake annoyed me, but he was right, and he had a terrific jawline. I suggested the address for our group experiment. “Let’s make it memorable: 221B Baker Street. London.”
Remember when I said Drake and I didn’t meet anywhere romantic? I meant the first time we met. London was much more romantic.
“Aimee? Is that you?” The disheveled beggar who shuffled toward me on the sidewalk would have been more regally robed in thrown-out dish rags than the smelly scraps shrouding his face. But I recognized the voice.
“Drake?” I placed my hand on the beggar’s shoulder and sought his eyes. “Drake, what are you doing like that?”
The beggar raised his face to mine, and the cloth fell away. The face was wood, and utterly devoid of features, like the poseable figurines artists use to model people.
I gasped and withdrew my hand. The puppet man stumbled away, as if also frightened. He waved me off with one fingerless hand, like a flipper on his wrist.
Laughter and the rapid clicking of leather-soled shoes on cobblestone approached from behind. “Not him,” said Drake. “Me!” He ran to my side and bent over, placing his hands on his thighs for support while he caught his breath. “Why would I dream I look like that?”
His tailored suit adorned him in stately black and white, from collar to toe. I said, “You look like you’re on your way to a wedding.”
“It was the most Victorian thing I could imagine on short notice. You don’t like it?”
Down the street, the wooden beggar fumbled the lid on a rubbish bin. The lid clattered along the cobblestones to the horizon. The bin tipped over and spilled all over the stranger’s feet. It spewed more waste than it could possibly have the volume to contain.
With a pang of nausea, I averted my eyes. They fell on the sign on the door whose stoop we occupied. “Look at that,” I said. “We did it. 221B!”
“I told you.” Drake smiled that self-assured smile of his I would later come to hate him for. “Let’s go inside and check it out!”
“What about the others? Shouldn’t we wait for them?”
“Those deadbeats? It’d be a miracle if any of them get lucid at all.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
Sherlock wasn’t home, so we snooped through papers he’d left strewn about his room. Then we dreamed our way through London. We rode the giant Ferris wheel that didn’t exist in Holmes’ day. We took a horse-drawn carriage across the Thames and jumped off the Tower Bridge to see if we could fly together. The Queen’s Guard kicked us off the tour group at Buckingham Palace for singing Sex Pistols at the top of our lungs, and it was probably the best week of my life.
Then we woke up.
The morning meeting with Professor Delnin might as well have lasted a week, too. He wanted to talk about everything. Why did only two of us meet up? Why not all eight? Did anyone else get lucid without making the rendezvous? What happened in London? Were we sure it was a whole week?
Across the round table from me, Drake’s face sagged. He slumped over his little paper cup of black coffee and couldn’t muster the energy to sip. The steam fogged his glasses and his hair looked oily. Pointy flakes of dry skin hung trapped in the greasy spaces where his scalp poked through thinning hair.
The lab had bathrooms where early risers could freshen up before the meetings, take a shower, and brush their teeth. I hadn’t done any of that or even put on makeup. After a week of seeing a perfect complexion in mirrors all over London and none of those blemishes I can never get rid of, and not a hint of those dark, baggy circles under my eyes—I just didn’t have the energy to try that morning.
Someone should have put that in the meeting notes, but it never came up. Delnin wrote page after page of notes, and none of them contained the four words every lucid dreamer needs to understand before diving in headfirst to do what we did.
Reality is a disappointment.
Later that night, asleep in the octopus, Drake and I took a three-month cruise around the world. We visited countries that don’t exist, drove on roads no human ever built, and caught a bunch of bands you’ll never hear of in Europe.
We shared a cabin, which gave us privacy from the other passengers and the crew. But when we wanted the run of the ship, I just dreamed those people away. We didn’t need them. It was our dream, not theirs.
The first time he was inside me was in our cabin, and it happened so quickly I can’t remember how we started. We didn’t make it onto the navy-blue sheets and striped pillows on the bed. We did it standing up against the tiny refrigerator like our lives depended on it and we couldn’t be bothered to get our clothes off. But suddenly, I was scared and naked.
“Drake, wait. Wait!” He did, which meant a lot to me. “This is out of control.”
He stepped away, just far enough to give me space so I could face him. “Aimee! Wow. What are we doing?”
I slapped my open palm onto his chest with a sharp smack and left it there. “As if you don’t know!”
He laughed with me. We sat next to each other on the bed. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to.”
“You totally meant to.”
He coughed. “I did totally mean to. Do we have any more cigarettes on this boat?”
“They’re not good for you.”
“Aren’t they? It’s just a dream, Aimee. Nothing here can really hurt you. Right?” He kicked his feet lazily back and forth over the side of the bed like a kid.
I rested a hand on his. “But it is real here. We’ve become conscious inside the unconscious. We think and feel. We’re aware. What isn’t real about it?”
He sat still for a moment and pondered. “Maybe instead of real, we should say ‘waking’ versus dreaming.”
“Then promise me you won’t start waking smoking.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because,” I said, stretching out on the bed to reach under the pillow, “you are going to love these.” A pack of cigarettes materialized in my hand, and I drew it out. The pack bore a blue hammer logo, matching the color of our décor, and the name of the brand I dreamed up for him.
He did not need his glasses to see it. “Coffin Nails!” He laughed so hard he couldn’t catch the pack when I threw it at him, and it bounced off his chest onto the floor. “You’re getting good at that. Making things.” He got up and bent over to pick the pack off the floor. His body had become increasingly supple and firm as our dream voyage progressed.
“Thank you! But you’re on your own for a light.”
“That’s just mean.” He pulled out a single cigarette, flipped it over, and slid it back inside. He closed the pack. “Maybe I can find a light on deck.”
“Good luck. I’m scared to make fire. I don’t know if I could control it. Things happen here, and my emotions get all distorted. Jacked up. Extreme. I can’t even tell if anything makes sense.”
He laid down beside me, propping his head on one arm. “I know what you mean. Feelings get distorted just like space does. Or time. Or even objects.”
“Or identity. Haven’t you ever dreamed you were someone else—some kind of character? Or watched your own dream from a third-person perspective?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s all another layer of distortion.”
But I felt like I knew who I was so long as he was there with me, and that feeling drew me closer to him. “There must be a thousand rooms on this ship, Drake. It couldn’t possibly be constructed in the waking world the way we experience it here.”
“And it changes daily. Or hourly. Aimee.” He took my hand and kissed my fingers lightly. “I’m sorry we got carried away. But I’m not sorry.”
That earned him a playful smack on his bottom. I climbed on top of him and pinned him down. “I guess it’s the ultimate form of safe sex, isn’t it?”
Though I held his arms, he managed a shrug. “What’s the worst that can happen? We can’t get STIs from a dream. There’s no pregnancy scare. No complications. It’s at least as safe as smoking your imaginary Coffin Nails.”
“Did you just compare sex with me to smoking?”
He wasn’t threatened by my scowl. “I think it’s amazing how you make things, and what I want you to make next is love to me.”
For the next two months, that’s exactly what we did.
It’s how I got pregnant.
Delnin’s meeting dragged itself like a wounded animal across the morning’s highway. After months of living on the ultimate cruise ship, the routine at the round table felt like a transfer to a penal colony. It didn’t help that Drake and I were disheveled, bleary-eyed, and generally about as useless as a pair of umbrellas in a tornado.
We did not repeat our mistake of the previous day, which was honesty and forthrightness that took up the entire morning. Instead, we stuck to a simple version we agreed on before waking.
“We did meet,” Drake told the professor, “and we walked on a beach. We picked shells out of the sand and threw them back at the water. Then we were running through the surf like a couple of kids, and that’s the last I remember.”
Delnin rapidly scribbled notes in a bland notebook. Its monotonous pages matched the dull color of Drake’s coffee cup and the blasé acoustic ceiling tiles, the boring whiteboard with faded scraps of things once written and half-erased into ghosts of dreams you can’t quite remember. I felt like I was about to puke.
The professor wanted to know all the details about the beach, and the shells we threw. I rubbed my eyes while slurring out details that sounded vaguely dreamy.
The other students must have hated us, getting all the attention for co-lucidity while they reported a mundane parade of archetypes, fantasies, and cigar-shaped objects.
One of them reported she made something out of nothing in her dream. I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring it up. I wanted to go back to sleep.
When I arrived at 221B that night, Drake wasn’t there. I sat on the front steps in a white dress that would have turned heads at a Renaissance Fair. I’d filled it with an overflowing mass of cleavage I simply didn’t own in waking, and topped it off with a hairstyle that was physically impossible. A massive bun gathered in curls on the back of my head and spilled in meter-long rivulets twisting in the sullen London breeze.
The city was too dreary. I drew my hand across the horizon and cleared the clouds completely. They revealed a sun which shone with a brightness and clarity rarely seen in England’s green and pleasant land of soul-crushing drizzle.
There. Sunny London. Just right.
Terrible shrieks pulled me to my feet. Lifting my skirts and ruffles, I ran toward the din. The cobblestone street led to a shipyard where anachronistic oil tankers sat alongside wooden docks like sentries. I cursed them for neglecting their duties.
The screaming continued. With the irrational certainty of the dreaming mind, I knew it came from inside a foreboding warehouse whose windows stared blankly over the displaced sea like the eyes of dead men. The building loomed, a black colossus in my suddenly sunny London, and I vowed to remove its blight from my paradise.
With a wave of my hand, the oaken crossbar and the chains securing it exploded, taking the massive double doors with them. Splinters shot through the air around me like the arrows of a million archers. All of them missed their target.
Advancing unscathed through the debris, I called out, “Drake! Drake! Where are you?”
“Aimeeeeee,” came the reply—a forlorn distortion of the vowels in my name, like a wind howling down icy fjords in a frozen hell. He screamed again, and this time the blood in my veins turned to steel and rage as if I were a mother bear in chains watching her cubs hacked to pieces in front of her.
Worse, the shriek came from everywhere at once. Drake’s voice was not in a single location, but distributed throughout the entire structure. “Drake! Tell me what happened! Retrace your steps!”
A silence more miserable than his caterwauling confronted me. A single door glowed with a sickly, greenish light—the door to the men’s toilet, judging from the sign before the light became too blinding to penetrate with eyes alone.
Pushing through the luminescence which beat on me like a cyclone, I forced my way into the room. Human filth and excrement caked its walls. All the sinks and toilets had been ripped from their bases to reveal mangled, rusted pipes. They teemed with giant roaches and deformed beetles from the diary of a psychotic entomologist.
The far wall exposed a gaping hole leading into some place dark and indistinct, and it terrified me. Drake was in there. I swallowed my fear and drowned it in a pool of black water deep inside me where no light shined at all, and I stepped in.
Drake’s smell hung in the air. Not his dream scent, the one like sandalwood and spicy musk, but the other one he had at morning meetings. I didn’t like it, but it grounded me. My emotions were getting out of control.
Blowing things up. Fjords from hell. Drowning in black pools. This wasn’t me. This was the dream cranking the volume up to eleven on my feelings.
“Fuck you, dreamland. Where’s Drake?” When I received no answer, I summoned a ball of fire into the palm of my left hand and held it before me, above eye level, like a torch.
Yes, I was afraid it would get out of control. Or burn me. But into the darkness I pressed, and if it did not want me there, then too bad for it. This was my dream. It belonged to me.
My improvised torch revealed a narrowing passage. The walls refused to behave. They bent into octagonal hallways where I met door after endless door. Through them I persevered into increasingly narrow and angular spaces. I stooped, then crouched, then crawled on my hands and knees.
The corridors forced me onto my stomach, making me worry about the baby inside me. I was just beginning to show. I dragged myself along by my elbows.
What kind of hell was I in, and how could this maze possibly fit inside the warehouse? It went on for hours. Or kilometers. What was the difference? Time was space, and space was a dimension of time. They obeyed no rules. Not any sane ones.
Drake’s intermittent shouts devolved into pathetic sobbing that made me wish for more screaming. I wanted to raise my fist and smash it into the terrifying crawlspace, but I lacked room to raise my arm more than a few centimeters. It was a claustrophobe’s nightmare.
“Shit.” I ended my struggle into the impenetrable passageways. “That’s exactly what it is. Think, Aimee. This isn’t just your dream. This is Drake’s nightmare, and all you’re doing is getting trapped inside it.”
Emotions were the problem. I wasn’t really limited by the confinement. I only faced the feeling of being trapped. Restrained. Afraid.
“I’ll show you fear, you goddamn warehouse.” I clenched my fist and gave no thought to the fact that I could barely wiggle it in the enclosure. I focused on the fear I endured for months the night before: the fear of letting loose with fire, the fear of being out of control, the fear of making something I could never unmake or force to stop.
I focused on the ball of fire in my hand, and I feared its awesome power with all my heart.
It grew from a torchlight to a blazing inferno, to a roaring volcano, then a supernova. Nothing of London survived its wrath. It wiped the stars from the sky and the blackness from the places between the stars.
It left nothing but an infinite plain surrounded by a stark, white light.
“Lover,” I said. “Come to me.”
In the center of that edgeless ivory expanse, Drake curled in a ball with his hands over his face.
I rushed to his side. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. It’s just a dream.”
He unwound from his fetal position and surveyed the glowing blankness around us. He placed his hand on my cheek as if he couldn’t believe I was real. “Aimee! I was trapped. I was in these tunnels that kept getting smaller and smaller until I couldn’t—”
I threw my arms around him. “Drake, I love you so much.” I think he believed it.
Sadly, so did I.
After the morning meeting with Professor Delnin, I went to Drake’s apartment for the first time. It was a sparse little studio you’d expect from a broke graduate student: a mattress on the floor, posters framed on the wall (not tacked up, thankfully), mismatched dinnerware strewn upon the furniture in clusters around cups with parched, brown layers at the bottom—coffee rapidly returning to its solid form.
It didn’t matter. After a week in London, a quarter year on a worldwide cruise, and the aftermath of the warehouse incident, I needed him inside me for real—or, I should say, for waking.
He locked the door behind us, tossed his keys on the table of his kitchen/living-room combo, and my hands were under his shirt pulling him to me.
We ended up on his twin mattress with the two pillows that were too skinny and the comforter that smelled musty, and I couldn’t get wet. Drake had a half-empty bottle of lube for me, but I swore I’d smack him if he fumbled the penetration one more time.
I got on top. “Let me do this.” I meant it to be confident. But it came out critical, as if I’d appended my words with you incompetent fuck.
A cloud passed over Drake’s face, and he could not meet my eyes. Then he wasn’t hard anymore, and I rolled off him in frustration.
Instead of spooning with me, he turned away and curled up on his side.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Just go to sleep.”
That solved everything. For a few hours.
At the end of the week, we left the old professor slightly wiser than when we’d met him, but not nearly as wise as if we had been honest about our final night in the study: our honeymoon.
I don’t want to make it sound like we got dream married just because the sex was amazing, but let’s be honest. We got married because the dream sex was absolutely amazing.
In the dream, whatever awkwardness we felt at Drake’s apartment disappeared. I had an orgasm with an intensity I never believed possible. His arms encircled me, and his scruffy cheek pressed to mine and scratched it. He said, “I love you so much, Aimee.”
He was inside me, and my baby was inside me, too. My dreaming body had become the nexus of an entirely new kind of family, one that lived and breathed in a realm of ideals and emotions. I never felt so close to anyone in my life.
My husband tensed, trembled, and emptied himself into me again, and I whispered, “Drake, we’re a family now.”
The sun was made of lava and poured through pixelated caverns in the sky. I dreamed I was a canyon, and Drake was the river flowing through me. We were the earth, and we were one.
All three of us.
Shackles bind my arms to chains that lead to iron rings set in a stone wall. Its clammy surface drips with a fungal slime. Between this wall and the one across from me lie two meters of bare stone floor. Three meters up, metal bars cross each other in a grid to let light though the single window for a few hours a day. It used to be that I could see the treetops of a distant forest, but Drake tore them all down last week in one of his tirades across the countryside.
To my right, another wall. To my left, a prison door of metal bars. Even if I had a key, I couldn’t reach it. Beyond it stands another slimy wall that fades quickly into darkness down a corridor I can’t see.
The hinges creak on the door at the end of the hall. Leaden footsteps pound with the weight of elephants. They come closer until he stands on the other side of the bars. He carries a tray of food, a cream-colored slop that drips off the edge.
I greet my husband. “Drake, you sadistic fuck! Let me out of here!”
The monster throws the tray to the floor outside the cell. He roars at me and beats his chest. He looks nothing like the man I loved.
His face resembles a gorilla’s, and black hair covers his body in a dense mat. He must weigh 150 kilos by now. But there’s something childish about his misshapen eyes, and his aggressive display irks me like a two-year-old’s tantrum.
I scream, “Look at what you’ve done to yourself! You can’t even hold on to your identity anymore!”
He grips the bars on the door in a rage, like he’s trying to tear them out of the wall. The bolts creak where the bars meet stone. I know he can tear them off. I’ve seen him do worse. He just needs some encouragement.
“Then you throw my food all over the goddamn floor, you fucking idiot! No wonder I can’t love you!”
The bars bend in his hands. He bellows so hard I can feel his rancid breath on my face. It smells like cigarettes.
“That’s right, you incompetent moron! You can’t even run a dungeon properly! You are useless!”
The building trembles, and the bars strain against their housings.
“Stupid and weak and useless!”
The ropes of ape-like muscles swell in his arms, and the entire door rips free, taking chunks of the wall with it. I turn my face away to shield my eyes. His grip encloses my head like a ball of five hairy pythons. He almost snaps my neck.
The honeymoon is definitely over.
Things started to go wrong the day the study ended.
After we finished our exit interviews, I spent the night at Drake’s. I dreamed about my baby. She grew inside me like a new organ, like an unfolding flower—someone who was me, and yet not me. Of all the things I’d made in the dreaming, she was the most wonderful.
But even without the professor to torment us, the next morning felt heavier than a bourbon hangover. Drake avoided my eyes during our desultory caffeine ritual.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, “besides the usual?”
He glanced up from his mug then looked into it again, as if consulting a crystal ball for an answer. He mumbled, “I can’t believe you said that last night.”
“You remember. In the dream. You said our sex life was terrible.”
“What? I didn’t say that. Where were we?”
“Come on, now.”
“Fine, don’t tell me.”
“We were having dinner with my parents. And you told them what it was like in bed. It was so embarrassing! Why would you—”
“Drake, we didn’t have dinner with your parents. What are you talking about?”
“How can you just deny it?”
“Because it isn’t true!” I got up to sit beside him on his couch, but he looked away from me and studied the opposite wall. So, I stood by the coffee maker next to the sink and thought for a minute.
“Listen, Drake. How do you know for sure it was me? Don’t you dream about other people all the time?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how do you know this me at your dinner party was the lucid me, and not just some dream image you conjured up like everything else?”
He set his mug on the low table in front of the couch and placed his forehead in both hands. “Aimee, that is so fucked up.”
“But you have to admit, it’s at least possible. And, I should think, a lot more possible than my lying to you. After all we’ve been through?”
Later, we tried waking sex again. I couldn’t get off. Instead of bringing us closer, it just upset him more. If I had thought about it for a couple days, things might have ended differently.
But we just went to sleep as usual. It made everything better before. Why wouldn’t it work again?
I hadn’t considered Drake’s insecurity was a kind of fear. When people are scared and insecure, they try to make themselves feel better by seizing control of a situation.
And the situation was me.
That night, we spent a week building a cabin where we could watch sunsets from the porch, swing with our baby, and rock ourselves until we fell awake. That probably sounds ideal, but it turned into a house of horrors.
Like the time I walked into the baby’s room and it was full of maggots and animal corpses. We had just painted it!
For weeks, I had found these nightmare rooms. When I slammed their doors, the hallways began twisting into Drake’s claustrophobic mazes. I could fix most of the damage, but perpetually rebuilding became a chore. What’s the point of having a dream life if all you do is bend halls back into shape after your neurotic husband’s nightmares mess them up for the millionth time?
The maggot-ridden baby room was the last straw. I confronted him in our living room. “Drake, you’ve got to get a grip. This phobia you have is wrecking the cabin. It’s all wrong all the time!”
“And that’s my fault? This is your dream, too, Aimee. Your rooms full of nightmares. A baby crib full of death? That’s you dreaming that!”
“I would never—”
“Bullshit! You’re terrified something’s going to hurt her, or that you’re about to fuck it all up.”
He might have been right. He might have been wrong. But he was definitely grabbing my arm, and I didn’t like it. “Get your hands off me.”
“Why? Are you scared?”
Fear ran through my bones like a cold electric current. My powerlessness angered me. My wife was a complete bitch.
Wait. I am the wife.
I slapped his face. “Let me go!”
He hit me back with a closed fist. “You like it rough?” He shoved me backwards until the wall stopped us, and his body pressed against mine. “Is that what gets you off?!”
I pushed back, but he was heavier than before. Bigger. Hairier. “Damn you!”
Drake answered not with a curse but a savage roar. His body and his face changed, transforming into something stronger and more brutish, like a Cro-Magnon devolving into his primate ancestors.
He pinned me to the wall and tore at my clothes, and I feared for my baby.
I felt what Drake felt: frightened by a loss of control, and angry. With impossible strength, I pushed him away. He flew backwards like a missile into the wall. It caved at the impact like a moon crater, and a chunk of the ceiling the size of a semi-truck fell on him.
The house groaned. It pulsed all around me, like a beating heart. Deep in its labyrinthine rooms, nightmares blossomed and bore terrifying fruit. As the dust settled on my buried husband, I shut my eyes and turned my attention to the cabin.
Every door on every room slammed shut and locked at my command. Behind their wooden portals stormed a menagerie of demons, corpses, soldiers with their eyes torn out stripping the skin from babies, angry mobs hanging their scapegoats with barbed wire instead of rope, mothers drowning their children in boiling water, fathers beating their daughters with baseball bats.
With an involuntary shudder, I opened my eyes. My daughter would suffer no such fate.
The pile of rubble stirred. A malevolent beast howled his thirst for vengeance. The broken beams and rafters tumbled from the pile.
Drake was still alive, but he no longer resembled the man I married. Shaking off the debris that crumbled away and thundered on the floor, he rose to his feet to face me.
Breathing laboriously, he found the clarity to speak words instead of grunts. “You,” he said. “I’ll show you.” He picked up a rafter from the floor and swung it about, destroying everything in his reach.
My dream cabin started coming down around my ears. Dropping to one knee, I crouched and covered my head. It was no good. I had to get out.
I should have forced myself to wake up. But any judgment of my actions must consider this was not merely my dream. It was ours.
Just like in the warehouse, emotion gipped me, a collaborative emotion growing out of the co-lucidity. Drake’s frustration and my fear, the suspicion I was to blame for all this, they fed off each other. They made a feedback loop, intensifying our feelings until rationality evaporated.
From my crouch, I gathered my strength and shot like a bullet through the ceiling and into the sky.
The thing Drake had become burst from the cabin a moment later in a wild frenzy. He began demolishing the dreamland, uprooting trees, throwing boulders, and pounding mountains with his huge, hairy fists.
He was so bent on destruction he forgot about me. I took a deep breath and descended to the ground beside him. “Drake, you maniac! Stop!”
My proximity did nothing to quell his anger. When I tried to place a hand on his shoulder, he hurled me away. I tumbled across a field of Venus flytraps and tombstones.
I needed to get away from him, get space to clear my mind and focus. His emotions overflowing onto mine weren’t helping anything. They only locked us tighter into the unreasoning dream.
And that was the key. I couldn’t overcome the dream. It was too powerful. I needed to accept the troubling emotions it brought me. Brute force was not the answer, but receptivity.
Receptivity, and separation. I rose to my feet and shouted, “What do you want, Drake? Do you want me to be your slave? Your prisoner? Fine!”
I did what he could not, and let go of my fear of imprisonment. I choose my jail and summoned it into existence: a sturdy stone fortress with bars on the windows and locks on the doors. It rose all around me from the ground, wall by wall, turret by turret, until it towered overhead.
Drake accepted its reality. It fit his paranoid fantasy, and his belief I was to blame for his feelings of inadequacy. After all, the guilty deserve to be punished.
I made myself a dungeon, and decorated accordingly. As my husband lost himself in a month-long rampage across the landscape, I meditated, gathered my thoughts and feelings, and put them back in order.
I needed to wake up, but not as badly as Drake. His monstrous form and boundless hate made him feel powerful, so much more than in the waking. He could lose himself in it. Maybe he already had. But he was my husband, and I couldn’t ignore the possibility he might never wake up voluntarily.
When I was ready to confront him, I called out for food. “Drake, I’m starving! You’re murdering me! Is that what you want? How can I love you if I die?”
Then we dreamed he brought me food, and I taunted him. He tore the door off, and nearly tore my head off, too.
Better for him if he had.
I called up the fire into my right hand and pressed it against his face. “Wake up, Drake!”
The stench of burning hair would have sickened me if Drake didn’t do much worse, thrashing my body back and forth about the stone cell like a child beating the walls with a doll. Then the fire grew, and it covered me.
Drake’s flesh seared. He flung me away. My skull struck the wall. My ears rang, and his bellowing did not help. Pushing off the stones, as the flames cascaded upward from my skin and snapped in the air, I had words with the father of my child. His were incoherent, bestial things. Mine were, “Wake the fuck up!”
Even a monster could burn. He backed away.
“That’s right, you sick bastard. Wake up!”
The heat blistered his shrieking face, and I pressed the advantage. I struck him again. The flames grew white hot until his hideous, primitive form disintegrated to reveal the naked man inside.
I woke with a start, already in motion, flinging off the smelly comforter and pouncing on Drake. He put his arms over his face to block my swinging fists. I pummeled him anyway. “You son of a bitch!”
He shouted my name and a string of curses. “Stop! Stop! What is wrong with you?”
“Beating me up and threatening me? Wrecking my cabin? Ripping my goddamn head off?!”
“What are you talking about?”
If he had so much as raised a hand against me, I would have bashed his brain with a desk lamp. But he didn’t fight back. I relented.
“Aimee, what the hell?” He kept his arms over his face.
“Months I put up with your shit!” Exasperated, I got to my feet.
From his mattress on the floor, he asked, “What happened?”
I told him, and didn’t finish half of it before he denied it.
“This is the same thing that happened yesterday,” he interrupted. “Just like when I thought it was you at the dinner party.”
That caught me off-guard. I settled onto the floor next to his mattress and studied his eyes and lips.
“You can’t seriously believe I would do stuff like that to you.” He turned away as if I’d hurt more than his face. “Or be some kind of monster.”
“Drake.” His bare shoulder begged for my touch, but I drew my hand away. “I can’t deal with this before coffee.”
Disappointment awaited me in the kitchen. “You’re out of coffee!”
Drake groped the floor near his alarm clock to find his glasses, peeled himself off the mattress, and drifted into the kitchen like a dead animal floating on the open sea. “I’ll go get some. Store should be open.” He grabbed a grey hoodie and pulled a pack of cigarettes from its pocket. He slapped the top of the box half-heartedly against an open palm.
I’d never seen him with a waking pack of cigs before. “I’ll go with you.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “No, I’ll just go,” he huffed. “I’m not useless.”
The door slammed behind him with the force of a petulant child throwing his toys.
I’m not useless. The phrase stopped me colder than the slamming door. Useless.
I peeked through the blinds on the living-room window. Off-white slats parted to reveal Drake’s car, two stories down in the parking lot, crawling past the apartments and slithering onto the main street.
Why would he choose that exact phrase? The same words I yelled at him in the dungeon? The same insult I yelled at him in a dream he said he never joined me in? I hadn’t even told him about the dungeon before he interrupted—
I set Drake’s alarm clock for five minutes later. It wasn’t much time, but once I fell asleep, I could gain weeks to do what I needed. Not just for myself, but for my baby—my daughter, now into her second trimester in the dreaming. It wasn’t safe for her there with that maniac around.
I fell to sleep and got to work.
Drake returned 27 minutes later, smelling like an ashtray.
The stink made me heave. I kissed him on the cheek. “What do you say we get drunk? I’ll buy.”
Men don’t mind running errands if there’s booze in it for them. I sent him back out with a pair of 20s from my purse. He returned with a liter of vodka and a 12-pack of beer.
We drank until he passed out.
I became lucid at 221B. “Drake! Where are you?”
He emerged from the door of an eye-glass shop at the far end of the street. He walked toward me, instead of flying. Were his powers in the dream devolving? Or just his self-image?
I pulled down the front of my Ren Fair blouse. “See anything you like?”
He tried to touch me, but I pulled away. “You’re not going to lose your temper, are you?”
“Don’t toy with me, Aimee. Come here.”
“Maybe I don’t like being ordered around.”
He replied with a growl that rumbled through the streets all the way to the anachronistic shipyard. His fingers curled into fists.
“That’s what I thought.” For the last time, I turned the brass knob at 221B and flung open the door. “Come and get me. If you’re man enough.” His roar rang in my ears, and the clatter of my shoes up the wooden steps to Holmes’ room was matched by the stomping of huge, hairy feet behind me.
He was already growing larger when he hit the doorway into the detective’s study. His massive bulk rammed the wood frame. The force cracked the plaster on the walls, but they held.
Drake squeezed through the entrance to Holmes’ room in a rage, and nothing was safe from his swinging, simian fists. He knocked over a table, shattering its kerosene lamp on the floor, scattering vials and beakers and notebooks from Holmes’ experiments. Drake ripped the bookshelves down from the wall. They crushed the books that tumbled out of them.
From the next room, I called, “I’m not impressed!” I dashed out the back door. It led up another flight of stairs.
Drake charged through the room behind me and forced his way into the stairwell. Its narrow ascent frustrated him even more. The steps went up for half a kilometer, where they angled off to some unseen destination.
“It’s getting tight in here, monkey boy. Why don’t you go back the way you came?”
His fear of the enclosure overcame his rage, and the monster twisted his head around to peer over his shoulder.
I waved my hand in a circle and drew it into a fist. The staircase behind him sealed shut.
“Aimeeeee,” he shouted, and charged.
I abandoned running and flew up the stairwell faster than he could climb. At the turning point, a door led into an even narrower tunnel with uneven, reflective sides, an octagonal tube of mirrors. My image appeared on a thousand surfaces.
Drake huffed outside the door, flexing his gorilla nostrils and breathing heavily. “You can’t trap me here,” he said. “I can just wake up.”
“Can you? Why don’t you try?”
The twisted grimace on that ape-like face would have been comical if not for the storm of fear and frustration that blew up in his eyes.
“Go ahead, big man. Wake up!”
He smashed his fist into the wall, which did not crack. “What did you do?!”
“Arrr!” He beat the unyielding wall again. “What did you do?!”
“Drugged the shit out of you while we were drinking. You couldn’t wake up now if the goddamn house was on fire. Get the picture?”
He screamed, “I’ll kill you!” Into the tunnel he pursued me.
The maze I led him through almost got me lost, too—even though I’d built it. It took weeks in the dreaming, during my five-minute nap. In that time, I pondered a question the philosophy majors had beaten like a dead horse for centuries: could an all-powerful being create a rock so heavy she couldn’t move it?
They would have been jealous of my having a world where I could do original research on the topic. For my proof of concept, I created a dream substance so durable I couldn’t break it.
I built Drake’s nightmare from it.
He chased me through kilometers of twisting corridors which grew smaller as they receded behind him until, at last, he was wedged in tight. Immobilized. He seethed.
Being smaller, I was ahead of him by a meter—close enough to smell the hate-filled terror in his sweat, but not close enough to touch. I pressed my back to the wall of the dead end I’d led him to. “This is where I get out.”
His unearthly throat poured out a stream of pre-linguistic curses from a species of brutes.
“It’s too bad it had to be like this, Drake. But I have my daughter to think about. Good-bye.” The wall behind me swung open like a hatch. I leapt into damp London air and slammed the hatch closed. Lifting my arms, I summoned four sheets of ruby-red crystal down from the grey sky. Each was 20 meters high and just as wide.
They dropped vertically like guillotine blades, with a resounding thunder, enclosing the property on Baker Street on all four sides. A fifth sheet of crystal dropped horizontally to cover the top. Drake, in the heat of the chase into the building, had failed to notice the entire foundation had been replaced with a similar sheet of crystal.
There it was, my proof of concept: unbreakable dream crystal. I traced lines in the air with my index finger, and all along the cube’s edges flared a radiance with the intensity of an enormous arc welder. The cube sealed at the seams. I couldn’t break the stuff, but I could bond it to itself. And I could resize it.
The cube shrank until it was small enough to hold in my hand. I can’t imagine the effect on Drake as his enclosure grew ever tighter, taking him with it. But perhaps it wasn’t complete torture. Just as time inside a dream can be longer than the time which passes in waking, objects in dreams can hold more volume inside than they appear to on the outside.
Either way, my baby and I were safe. I plucked the cube from the ground and flew back to my cabin. There, I repaired all of Drake’s destruction and architectural distortions before watching the sunset.
A whisper flowed from inside me. “Mama.”
Holding my belly, I considered attempting to dream about giving birth right then, but my daughter wasn’t some inanimate object to be manipulated. Like her lucidly dreaming parents, she was a consciousness inside the unconscious.
But I could exert control over the dream. That’s when I started speeding up time until I was too exhausted to do it anymore, and I fell awake.
Drake curled like a fetus on his inadequate mattress, drugged out of his mind. Maybe if we’d taken the time to get to know each other in the waking, outside of the Delnin study and his bachelor hovel, he would have known my purse held a travelling pharmacy.
Mom’s sleeping pills I stole so she wouldn’t accidentally overdose. Anti-depressants I bought from a girl in political science lecture. Hydrocodone I didn’t take when I got a tooth pulled. Liquid morphine I took from Gramma’s medicine cabinet when she was on hospice.
Drake looked so peaceful. I was tempted to make my own chemical cocktail for the road. Then I considered suffocating him with his pillow.
Instead, I walked out. I wanted to have my baby. I wanted to meet my daughter and hold her close. I wanted to go the hell back to sleep.
I left Drake’s door unlocked, in case the pillow idea sounded better a few hours later.