My feet shuffled across the red carpet. I hadn’t known that the Oscar’s carper was plush; it had looked like matted velour on the television. I felt my teeth clench when my high school librarian called out, “Ned! Ned! Can you believe that they nominated me for best supporting actress?” She then turned back to camera flashes and television interviews.
No, I couldn’t believe it. In fact, the whole idea of being at the Oscar’s was absurd. I looked around and felt a strange juxtaposition between my body and my mind. I could not only feel my body turn on the red carpet, but I could also feel the warmth of my body in my bed and the warmth of my wife bedside me though I walked alone through the crowd. The cameras flashed ceaselessly as faces moved into the theatre. I saw friends, people I had seen at work, and strangers. My skin began to crawl when I saw the incomplete faces: men with beards and no mouths, or women with artful makeup and no eyes on which to focus. There was a chill in the air and a warmth on my legs when an epiphany struck me, and I stopped on the red carpet. The people and the camera flashes froze around me: I was Dreaming.
And this wasn’t just any dream. This was a lucid dream; a Dream where I had control. When I had seen movies or heard about lucid dreaming, I had that laughing skepticism teenagers have when their parents tell them to do their homework before going to a ballgame. But my first lucid dream had changed that. It hadn’t been much: I was walking through a field and came to a field of poppies. Somehow, I knew I was about to walk into the field and I told myself dream-self not to do that; it would have disastrous or fatal consequences — as fatal as a dream could be, at least. When I made the left turn from the poppy field, I turned in my bed, kicked Amanda, and woke us both up. But I knew that I had made the decision to turn. After that, lucid dreaming became a euphoric high, if unpredictable. I had built castles and fought gods. I had explored oceans and caves. I had experienced countless fantasies. The solipsistic safety of lucid dreaming was my ultimate high. I felt my silent body in my bed; I could hear the chatter of the faux celebrities like my librarian and other people from my life talking to the photographers and television anchors; I could feel the overbearing heat of Amanda beside me; I felt the cool touch of the night air at the Oscar’s; I felt the weight of the comforter; I felt the levity of the events of the evening brining joy. I looked around my universe to see the expanse of stars and galaxies as numerous as the cameras flashes. The chatter no longer held my interest so it died down, and the stars became larger in my eyes. The myriad galaxies began to dance only for me, and I saw that it was good.
The utter content with my universe gave me a thought: I had always been the Hero. I killed the monster, saved the damsel, become the king or whatnot. This Dream felt different; it felt heavy with a weight of purpose, almost ominously maleficent. I wanted to be the villain this time. I wanted to destroy, maim, and conquer this world. I knew that this world was mine, but I wanted each rock and soul to know it too. I wanted to feed that dark spark in me that my good samaritan guilt always drowned.
I scanned the crowd for the infamous faces in my life. I saw friends, family, and strangers from the streets I had walked. The high school librarian waved and smiled at me; the beloved characters from movies and books wanted to shake my hand, but I smiled and passed them. I was looking for one face: his face. The crowd was awash with bodies and I willed them to give way.
Then Michael stood before me. Michael worked with me at the bank, and I loathed every inch of him. With snide remarks and the petty obstacles he put in my way, he was the one individual I wanted to end. I saw his dull brown eyes and lank hair framing his sneer. I wanted him to go; not just go, but vanquish into the nothing. I saw in my mind what I wanted, and I felt my hand move under my pillow. It was a simple flick of the wrist. For a moment, nothing seemed to happen and Michael’s oily sneer started to leech up his face. But it stopped before it reached his nose and was replaced with a look of excruciating fear. His form wavered like heat rising after dusk and his body slowly changed into fine, silver dust carried away on some intangible zephyr. There was nothing left to remember him by — no shoes, no shirt, not even a warm spot where he had stood. It was like he had never been, and I was made glad by my power.
I could feel my malicious smile in my Dream and I could feel my smile in my bed. Amanda’s warmth was permeating my Dream now; people were beginning to comment. I never had long in lucid dreams, and this one appeared to be no different. So, I began to explore the limits of my power. I began to move around the plaza and when people stood in my way, a gesture made them vanish on the wind as the fine silver black mist. I called lightning down to raze buildings to the ground; I seared the earth open and saw into its fiery maw. The witnesses of my Dream were shocked at my rage-less acts of aggression, they stood back but did not flee. They stood and watched as I tore down the world around them. I ripped the stars from Heaven and they watched with aplomb. I stopped my destruction and wondered why they did not fear my actions like Michael had.
Remembering the poppies, I understood — they cannot fear me because they are me.
Unlike the movies, my Dream could not kill me. My body has a self-preservation mechanism that extends deep into the primal stages of the unconscious. Apparently, this sense of self-preservation extends to lucid dream projections as well. I know I cannot die and so do the people with which I populate my Dreams. After all, they never really existed in the first place. That bastard Michael looked like he was in pain because I deeply wanted him to be in pain. This was an unpleasant realization. I really thought I was a terrible person on the inside, so much that I started wanting to be a terrible person. I wanted to play the villain, but my Dream says I am cannot be the villain.
I froze the people of the plaza when I found a tree-lined boulevard to explore while I still had time to Dream. I felt my legs move on the stone of the street and in my bed. Amanda would be frustrated that I had kicked the comforter off the bed, but I will have really loved this Dream. Now I began to feel something I had never felt in a lucid dream before. It was not a physical feeling, it wasn’t something that I was doing. I felt like the Dream was suggesting that I go back to the plaza. It wasn’t as if the Dream were talking to me. It was more like that feeling you get after eating too much at a holiday meal; I know I shouldn’t have another piece of dessert, but it is the holidays, so I do. And I never listen to that voice, so I ignored this one too. The boulevard was getting darker as I moved along it. I willed it to lighten up, but the suggesting presence of the Dream fought back. I focused on making a small sun appear in my hand to give me light and warmth. Now the suggestion became a pull back to the plaza. I could hear the laughter of people and the see the flashing of lights in my peripheral vision. It was as if I had not destroyed everything that was there. That only enraged me to push on into the boulevard. People that lined this street had no faces and no ears, yet they were clearly watching my actions. Their gaze made my soul shudder and I willed them away on the wind. The Dream has some suggestion ability, but I had power so I pressed on.
The Dream transformed from suggesting me to return to telling me to return. People began to mill into my path and the buildings began to loom over me. I felt hot in my bed and my face became twisted as I raise my hands and twisted my fingers into claws. I ripped the air in front on me and felt the sheets move, but I saw the people lacerate into flesh-tone ribbons by my will alone in front of me. If they had had faces they would have shown fear, but I heard their screams echo on the plaza. No blood was split, but the remains crunched under my steps like fallen autumn leaves. The building tried to shake and warn me of their presence, but it took only a scowl to cower them into submission. The voice, suggestion, will, or whatever the Dream had was silent now. I looked back to the plaza and found only a lonely boulevard behind me. The sky was devoid of galaxies and compassionless stars stared down on me with frozen light. My Dream was dying, and I knew I did not have long left to try to play the villain.
I came to the end of the boulevard and came upon a wall. This was unlike any wall that I knew either waking or Dreaming. The wall stretched to the stars, to the left, to right, and, I somehow knew, deep within the earth ad infinitum. It was some sort of rough stone with leafy vines sculpted in bas relief. Had I not known it marked the boundary to my Dream, I may have found it beautiful. I pushed my mind against it and it did not even acknowledge my presence; I raise my will against it and I could sense only an impregnable barrier; I roared at it and heard no echo. Even the grand boulevard had vanished behind me and I stood in a desolate plain with dull blue-black grass under the starry sky. My Dream was ending, but I did not want to wake up just yet. I wanted to go to another place. I wanted to transport into another dreamscape. I wanted to go through this Wall.
Simultaneous with this decision, a women with a priceless porcelain face materialized in front of me. I was suddenly struck with déjà vu from some sort of ancestral memory that I could not call into focus. She was not like the drones from the plaza or the faceless mannequins that tried to stop me from getting to this point. She did not want me to leave and I did not want her to leave. I did not want her to leave on the wind, so I nudged her with my mind. But like the wall, she did not budge. With a pang of regret, I waved my hand to mist her away. While her midnight silk dress ruffled in the phantom zephyr, her foxglove lips curled into a delicate smile that made my heart flutter in my bed. She folded her hands and placed them delicately in front of her; she made no move to leave. I knew that I wanted to leave this dream. I also knew — without knowing how I knew — that this woman would not hurt me, and that this world was failing and fading into darkness behind me.
“I am leaving this Dream for another one,” I said calmly.
“You should not do that.” She said this as if she were stating a fact, like the temperature in the room or the year in which the Magna Carta was signed. I drew a deep and patient breath, as if dealing with a child.
“I would like to leave.”
“It would not be wise to leave.” The tone was the same: resolute.
“I want to leave,” I said with some depth in my voice. This my Dream and this woman, that I knew and didn’t know, was telling me what to do. I had destroyed so many people tonight that I lost count, I had razed buildings to the ground, and I had spun galaxies to dust simply because I was bored with them.
“You do not want to do that,” she said.
Her words called out to me like something from a memory, a lyric from a song heard as a child, or a phrase read in a book sometime in the past. I could not tell if the memory was mine or hers. I had moved between Dreams before, walking through the door of a living room and emerging in an ocean somewhere else, but I did not know why I could not move between Dreams now. All I could do was ask.
“And why is that?” I asked coldly.
“Outside is the Æther,” her words heavy with respect.
When she said that word, my vision took on a strange perspective. I had the Dream perspective of first and third person. I saw what happened from within my body and outside my body. My eyes swirled with iridescent white smoke. I opened my mouth to speak and I could feel the entire Dreamscape resonate with my words and my will. Even the stone leaves of the unconquerable wall began to flutter with my words.
“I am the Æther” I spoke ominously and the remains of the world resonated my words.
“You are not wrong,” the woman stated solemnly as she closed her opalescent eyes and stepped to the side. As she bowed her head, the leaves and vines of the wall trembled, snaked, and wove into a doorway twice my height and at least thrice my width. I did not have to use my will to open the double doors, they split open and the pearly iridescent light flooded my Dream. Whether the woman was still there, I didn’t know. I could feel the Power beyond that door. It was the Æther, the manifestation of thought and dreams, it was the same churning white opalescent power that shone in my eyes. Without hesitation or fear, I walked home; I walked through the doorway and into the Æther.