Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
*Asterisks denote the names of real people which I have changed for purposes of privacy. The names of family members, celebrities and people who do not exist in waking life have not been altered and are presented as is.
I’m riding in a moving van with my former roommate and co-worker, George Beckam*. George is one of the most morally repulsive people I know in waking life, but in the dream he and I are good friends. I was recently injured in a car explosion which left me with a prosthetic left hand and a glass eye. It doesn’t bother me, living with only one eye. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what my life will be like and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
George pulls the car into what we think is the place. The house is set up with a one-lane highway going through the middle of it, leaving it with an open-air living room. George gets out for a moment, looks around and declares that this is the wrong house. The owner, a crazed woman with a revolver, comes out of the bedroom and starts shooting at us. This gives me flashbacks about the war. I think I lost my eye in battle.
It is nighttime and I’m preparing dinner for ravenous guests. I come out of the kitchen with a basket of dinner-rolls. The floor is covered with water and the guests gather around my feet, eyes big and round and black as volcanic glass. They gnash their fangs, waiting for me to feed them.
I’m a sixteen year-old student at a wealthy boarding school although I’m not rich myself. I’m wandering through a dorm where all age groups are housed together. My step-brother Ryan, who is eight years old, is watching TV in the common-area. He is wearing the same uniform as I am; blue pants and blazer with a red tie. The bathrooms are identical to the one in the elementary school dream. The beds in the dorm are the same except for the last one. That bed is tall and wide, the sort of bed an emperor would sleep in. When I touch the covers the bed begins to move and I see that my dad is sleeping there. He is the only other person in the room. I think his doctor told him move here after his aneurysm out of concern for his health.
I’m late for class!
For some reason the classrooms are spread apart like a college campus. I tell Dad that I’m late and he gives me the keys to his green F-150. He sold this truck only a few years after he divorced my mother in waking life, but in the dream it seems normal that he still has it. It is night by the time I get to my classroom and the streets are deserted and covered with snow. The truck transforms into a school bus when I climb out of the driver seat.
The snow is so thick that I can barely move. I make my way to a house where a bunch of other yellow busses are parked. The front door is locked. I look inside the windows but the place looks empty. I hear footsteps and run into the nearby forest. When I look back to the house I see a woman in a nightgown holding a flashlight in one hand and a twelve-gauge, pump action Mossberg in the other. This is the same type of weapon my father owns in waking life. I know she is looking for me; she wants to blow off a chunk of my skull for trespassing. But if I lie perfectly still I know she won’t see me.
I am seventeen years old and I live with my father. He and I argue constantly. The arguments start out as snide remarks but eventually escalate into screaming matches. We even came to blows couple of times. Every time my father and I have an altercation he becomes a little bit younger. At first he regains his balance, then his speech impediment disappears. It’s like he never had a stroke at all! Eventually he begins to lose weight and his gray hairs fade away like the leftover snow before the spring. His left arm now has just as much strength and dexterity as his right. I would be happy for him if he didn’t piss me off so much. This goes on for weeks until one afternoon Dad and I argue for so long that he turns into a thirteen-year-old.
As with all our misunderstandings Dad tries to put me in my place by talking down to me. But he is just a child now and as such can only manage to hurl petty insults at me. I also resort to petty insults because I too am a child. But I’m a much older child than he is now. My words have more venom for him than his words for me. I can tell by the way he clenches his fists and flares his nostrils that he is close to tears. The emotional center of his brain is sending radio signals to all the molecules in his body telling them to make with the waterworks and be quick about it.
Like most thirteen year-old boys my father tries to mask his vulnerability with superficial rage. He charges at me like a bull in Barcelona and head-butts me in the stomach. For a billionth of a second I actually thought he might knock me off my feet. But I am much bigger than he is now and with at least triple the upper body strength to boot. I lift him up by his armpits and drop him to the hardwood floor like a sack of potatoes.
I flip him onto his back and pin him down with his scrawny arms across his chest. Dad keeps screaming at me and thrashing this way and that. He calls me names like “asshole” and “nigger” and “motherfucker,” words that seemed so novel to me when I was that age. I just sit there and laugh until he runs out of steam. I tell my father that there are going to be some big changes around here and that I’m not letting him up off this floor until he accepts them.
Dad closes his eyes and lets out a whimper. It’s so faint that I can barely hear it. That whimper sends radio signals to the emotional center of my brain now. Suddenly I feel like releasing him, letting him go back to pretending he is in charge of me, perhaps even apologizing. But I can’t do that now. The damage is already done and if I stop now we’ll both be worse off for it. I tell him that even though it may seem a bit harsh I am only doing this because I love him. My dad closes his eyes and tears begin to fall, I can’t remember who they belonged to.
Children with adult faces.
I am not okay.
I disappointed my mother.
She turned into a toddler.
I am ashamed.
I’m at my family reunion. We’re in Texas but the place looks more like the Yucatan Peninsula. We go to a restaurant located on a lake-front resort. The lake is massive and surrounded by tall grassy cliffs on all sides. There are waterfalls and birds filling the air with the sounds of the jungle. There’s an airport on the lake. The planes all land and take off on the water instead of tarmac. These are not sea-planes, but commercial jets with landing gear made from the same type of floatation devices as the water-tricycles at the resort. The runway lights are on little buoys, bobbing up-and-down-up-and-down.
I go for a stroll.
The place is mostly deserted, but I manage to find the bar. When the bartender materializes out of the bottles and mirrors behind the counter he asks me what I’d like to drink.
I say, “Long Island Iced Tea, extra-Long, no ice.”
A waiter offers me a quarter so I can use the water fountain in case I get too drunk. His suggestion makes me second guess my choice of beverage. I remember how much I hate the taste of Vodka and when the bartender returns I ask him to change my order to an Old Fashioned instead. Just then one of the planes makes a botched take-off. One of the plastic floating wheels flies off into the beach and the wing dips into the water. An EMT races to the scene on a wave-runner.
I’m at Cousin Danielle’s house, playing Spades with her kids. Her boys are four and six in waking life but the dream decided that they should be twins for convenience’ sake. They are now both ten-year-olds, just like me. We were watching the summer Olympics on TV. Cameron finds a pair of rapiers in the attic and suggests that we try our hands at fencing. I oblige even though all I want to do is watch the women’s tennis. I’m able to beat Payton, the younger of the two in waking life, but Cameron himself is more of a challenge. My father is the judge.
Jada has been getting poor grades lately so my mother sent her to boarding school. Her room is like a little apartment and I feel like I’ve been here before. Mom is in the kitchen, preparing a strange dish with a cluster of egg yolks. It looks disgusting but she manages to turn it into a delicious, miniature apple-crumb pie in seconds. I suspect I might be dreaming because I know my mom can’t cook in waking life.
It’s like I’m watching a movie based on my life. The protagonist is a little boy, a runaway, possibly an orphan. He travels to the mountains to hide from the man with no face. After a day or so on the road he comes upon a massive hotel in the shadow of the pines. The hotel is hiring and the boy agrees to work there in exchange for food and a place to sleep.
The boy has several duties and his age seems to change depending on whatever he happens to be doing at the time. He has no control over his age, but then again none of us do. He is ten years old the first time he carries luggage for the guests, but he is almost sixteen the second time. He ages up to fourteen when it’s time to wash dishes. When his supervisor wants to have a serious discussion with him he ages down to twelve. When it’s his break time he wanders the hallways as an eight-year-old.
This place is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. The boy is so excited when he finds the hotel library that he ages down to six. The place is new and most of the shelves are empty. There are more bookshelves than could reasonably fit inside a library this size. The building seems to grow the further he walks. The boy is gradually getting older while the room gets darker and more difficult to navigate. He cannot remember where the entrance is. The empty shelves appear to him as sky scrapers against the cloud covered rafters.
The boy is going to be late for work. He is ten years old again and he hates himself for wanting to cry. He’s beginning to remember why he ran away in the first place. He can’t see him but he senses that the faceless man he has been running from is near. He can feel the cold fingers on the back of his neck, the skin like wet sandpaper. It is only a matter of time.
My family is coming to visit me in my new apartment. The building is the size the Lucas Oil Stadium. My apartment is somewhere on the top floor. There is an aquarium in the living room, thirty feet long. The fish are highly intelligent. Some of them can even survive outside of the water for several hours. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home to find my angelfish sunbathing beneath the fluorescent lights. She jumps back in as soon as she sees me.
Life is beautiful. I am riding
alone in a canoe at
nighttime. I’m wearing a
tuxedo for some reason.
The river flows peacefully
between the city of bark
and ferns. The pines are so
tall I can’t see their tops
through the ceiling of fog.
I’m living in a college dorm where the rooms are oddly proportioned. It is only wide enough for a single desk on one wall and the bunk beds on the other. There are four bunks apiece to make up for limited floor space. I am on the top bed which is a bad place to be since there is an outbreak at school. Students and faculty have begun to eat each other. Two of my roommates have been infected. They are trying to climb up to me. The third roommate is Questlove, the drummer for the legendary hip-hop band, The Roots. Quest is sitting on the top bunk with me. Thankfully he has not been infected. He suggests that we escape through the window. We tie the bed sheets together and rappel down the side of the building. When we are both safely on the grass I stop to listen to the blue jays and watch the clouds go rolling by. I am mystified by what a beautiful day it is outside.
“It’s a damn shame,” says Questlove.
That it is, Brother Quest, that it is.
I’m riding passenger in a topless jeep. The driver is a four-star general. We travel down an asphalt road through a little park. There are men and women jogging in military fatigues. Every once in a while someone will come running up from the side of the road and pin a medal to a jogger’s shirt. I am afraid that we might hit one of them, but the general seems pretty sure of himself.
My friend Charles* is renting an apartment from my aunt Regina in Kansas City and he’s invited me over to visit. The two have never met each other in waking life and to my knowledge Charles has never even been to KC-MO. The strangeness of them knowing each other does not occur to me.
We are sitting out on the patio, Charles, Regina and I, drinking iced tea and watching the planes go by. The jumbo jets whiz past us at breakneck speed, some only a few feet above the roof of the apartments. The summer sky is a nice orange from the sunset shining through the air pollution. I never really cared much for Kansas City.
The sky is green with yellow clouds. The world beneath is a wasteland of flooded roads and fields of plastic grocery bags. My step-brother, Ryan, and I live in a dilapidated house on stilts. There is a shortage of housing after the flood so Ryan and I have to share our home with about a hundred or so people whom we are not related to. Nobody talks to each other here. They all just stare at their naked feet and brush their muddy bangs from their eyes. Their clothes still smell like swamp water even though it’s been months since the storm hit.
I am a teenager. Ryan is only seven or eight years old, I think. He doesn’t like it here. He and I have to sleep on a ratty old mattress inside one of the many square cubby-holes in the kitchen. There are other families in different cubbies above and below us and on each side. I think this used to be a shower but the pipes no longer work. The spout is covered with calcium and the hot and cold valves are so rusted that they won’t even turn. Ryan lies down on the mattress and begins to cry. He tells me he misses his mom. I want to sing a song, something quiet and happy to make him fall asleep. When I try to remember the lyrics my thoughts become stuck like moths in amber.
It’s a sunny day in the sandy desert, bright but not too hot. The perfect day to visit the bazaar. The place is all indoors and underground so I won’t have to worry about the heat. As I walk through the streets one of the grownups, an Arab man wearing a Taqiyah, wraps a red scarf around my neck and hands me a piece of licorice. I hate licorice in waking life, but in the dream it’s delicious.
I know this city well enough that I don’t need my parents to escort me. I follow the staircase along the side of the building down below street level and open the door. The place is supposed to be full of merchants and customers but when I get inside the entire bazaar is empty. All but a few of the wall lamps are burned out and with the little light they provide I can see children’s footprints in the dust. The only other person in the room is the man whose face is a thumbprint.
His head is either bald or shaved. He has pale skin, thin arms and always wears a dark suit with no tie. I’ve encountered him on several occasions throughout the years, but he’s never spoken a word. He just chases me instead. I run to the stairwell and climb down to the basement even though I know the lights are completely gone and I won’t be able to see. This man has been chasing me since I was six years old. He has no mouth, but I can still feel his breath on the small of my back. It’s like lying naked in the mud beneath the porch, centipedes and ghost-crickets crawling across my neck and belly. When he wraps his arms around me I know I’ll wake up. I always do.