Story:The Age of Dreams
|The Age of Dreams|
|Written||24 November 2019|
You know I read the other day, there are people today who’re old enough to vote and can’t remember a world before dreamwalking? Imagine that – fully-grown, adult people, and to them things have always been like this! They don’t remember 1999, might not have even been born when the so-called Apocalypse happened, and everything that’s happened since then is just normal to them! God, it makes me feel old.
Well, I sure as hell remember 1999. Ask anyone who was more than two years old at the time, they can tell you. I remember how the world flipped upside-down, and suddenly fantasy turned out not to be so fantastical, dreams turned out not to be so imaginary, and myths turned out to be a whole lot more real than we’d ever thought.
It started in May, I suppose, when a hurricane hit New Orleans way too early in the year. Then came another one, and another, and another. Not only that, but suddenly storms started coming from New Orleans and ramming into the Caribbean. All sorts of natural disasters came after that – storms, floods, earthquakes. It was like every day, all around the world, the news was showing us another city in ruins. At first, people were saying it must be climate change, but that didn’t explain the tsunamis or the volcanoes. It sure as hell didn’t explain the four horsemen riding in the sky above Jerusalem, or the flaming giant who crawled out of a volcano in Iceland, or the goddamn jaguars raining from the sky in Mexico. By the time fall rolled around, everything had gone insane. There was this guy running around England claiming he was King Arthur, and you know what, no one laughed – they just pointed him to the dragons and the giants who were tearing up Scotland and let him do his thing. Japan had completely gone to hell – the sun there just up and vanished from the sky for three months, and this woman who looked like a walking corpse started parading around the country with demons that witnesses said just crawled out of the ground. No one knew what was happening atop Mount Olympus over in Greece, but I heard a guy who said he could hear the screams and explosions all the way from Thessaloniki over 90 miles away. It was like all the old myths were coming to life, and unfortunately, they all seemed to be end-of-the-world myths.
I remember one day in October, hearing about how astronomers had been measuring some kind of giant tear in space itself, stretching across half the solar system and closing in on Earth, and I thought this is it. I phoned my dad to say I loved him, hunkered down in my living room with as many beers as I could stomach, and waited until it was all over.
Then, just like that, it was. For a couple minutes, everything seemed to just stop – it was like being asleep, or frozen. I still can’t describe it. I thought it might’ve been the alcohol at the time, but everyone I’ve ever talked to since then felt the same thing. Then, we woke up, and suddenly it was all over. The storms, the floods, the dragons, the fire and brimstone, it stopped. It was like everything was back to normal. Only... it wasn’t.
Things were pretty confusing for the next couple years. People kept reporting seeing monsters all over the place. Some of us were hoping it was just hoaxes, but no one could deny what they saw with their own eyes. I remember in the winter, just a month after it all ended, going to shovel snow early in the morning when I saw something out the corner of my eye. It looked like a naked man, but tall as hell and bleached completely white, and it was walking down the street bent over and sniffing like a dog. It turned and looked at me, and Christ, I’ll never forget that face... it had no lips, no lips at all, just huge pointy teeth. I didn’t move, and neither did it. It just stared at me, grinning like... well, like it couldn’t do anything else but grin with a face like that. I swear, it looked like it was about to pounce on me. There were some shouts then, some loud banging noises, and it got a look in its eyes like a deer in the headlights and it turned around and fled. And there was a little girl running after it, or I thought she was a little girl – she was short as hell, but she had military gear on, and she was carrying a gun that must’ve been nearly as big as she was without breaking a sweat. Soon as she’d run past, I gave up shovelling and went inside. Didn’t feel safe being outside anymore – but then I guess the scariest things weren’t outside at all.
I know this is completely normal for you today, but believe me, when we first started dreamwalking no one knew what was happening. First time it happened, I thought I was the only one. I remember I dreamed about standing in the field outside my old high school. I’d had dreams there since I was a little kid, but this time was different – not only did I know I was dreaming, but I knew something was different. It didn’t feel like any dream I’d ever had before – it was more tangible, more real. I’d had lucid dreams before, but nothing like this. It was like, I could feel the inside of my skull for the first time, I could tell I was inside my head, and it just felt small. There was a door just standing there in the middle of the field, and I thought “eh, what the hell”, so I went and opened it.
Imagine you’d spent your whole life living on a desert island – just you, way out there in the middle of the ocean, with some sand and a few palm trees and maybe a hammock, and you thought this must be it, this was all there was to life. Then, along comes a boat, and the captain invites you aboard, and suddenly you find out there are other human beings, and then the boat sails to Hong Kong or Los Angeles and suddenly you find out the world is a hell of a lot bigger and more exciting than you ever thought it was. That was what my first dreamwalking experience was like.
I saw some amazing things – soaring cities straight out of the Arabian Nights, mountains that floated in the air, entire oceans of molten gold. I saw dragons, deluges, giants, things straight out of myth, and now I knew why the myths existed at all – this was where they came from. That one night seemed to last forever.
When I woke up, I thought it was going to stop making sense like any other dream. It didn’t. If anything, it felt more real then than it had when I was in it. Turned out I wasn’t the only one who’d had this kind of dream either – my friends, my neighbours, my relatives, people on the news, on the Internet, everyone had been experiencing this. It was like someone had flipped a switch back during the Apocalypse, and suddenly everyone’s dreams had changed. Suddenly, things in the real world and this “dream world” weren’t so separate. I started bumping into friends of mine in my dreams way more, and when I woke up and told them about it, they told me I’d been in their dreams too – and it wasn’t just a coincidental thing, they were always the exact same dream in the exact same place where the exact same things had happened. Maybe the freakiest thing was that when people were having these dreams, spouses said they just straight-up vanished from their beds, and as soon as they woke up they just reappeared like nothing had happened. I was kind of curious, so I set up a camera and filmed myself sleeping. And there it was, on film – now you see him, now you don’t.
People started to figure out what was happening pretty quickly. I started hearing the name “Carl Jung” bounced around a lot – some psychiatrist from around the same time as Freud. He’d had this idea called the collective unconscious, where everybody in the world pulls their ideas from the same place. That’s why the same sorts of characters and events crop up in myths from cultures that have never met each other, he claimed – because those things are somehow fundamental to human nature. They’re thoughts we all share, but we don’t realize it unless we follow the patterns or analyze our dreams. Somehow, people were saying, we’d all gained the ability to visit this collective unconscious, but... well, consciously. It was like a whole new world we could all explore, together.
I make it sound like it was all sunshine and rainbows. For sure, it was an exciting time, don’t get me wrong. Course, by now everyone’s familiar with the dark side of dreamwalking. Anyone who’d ever woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night should’ve seen the creepy stuff coming. These dream worlds had a lot of amazing things, but we didn’t realize the danger at first. How could we? Our dreams had never been able to hurt us before, not beyond a nasty scare at least. But the more we started exploring out there, the more people started coming back hurt, or not coming back at all.
The first time I realized the danger, I was in a forest somewhere. I’d meant to meet up with a friend from work to go hiking in the dream worlds, but I’d gotten lost somehow. I was turning and turning, wondering which way to go or whether I should just wake myself up, when I heard a kind of wet slobbering. You ever had a feeling where you’re watching a scary movie and you don’t want to know what’s going to happen next, but at the same time you can’t look away? Anyway, I crept closer. There was something white through the trees. I pushed a branch aside, and my heart nearly skipped a beat. It was the pale tall man I’d seen in the snow – the same goddamn monster I’d seen in real life, and it was right here. It was eating the carcass of some big animal like a deer, gorging like it was going to drop dead of starvation right there. I thought I was going to throw up. I must’ve made some sort of moaning sound, because it looked up, and it looked at me with that big lipless grin, and I knew I was in danger. I woke myself up just as it pounced. I landed in bed, panting and sweating like I’d just run a marathon. I stared at the ceiling for ages until my breathing finally started to slow down. It was only after I’d calmed down a bit and gotten a chance to think that I got really scared.
It wasn’t hard to put two and two together, and I wasn’t the first to do so either. This collective subconscious wasn’t just someplace where humans could visit, it was the place where all the monsters were coming from. Now we could cross over to that world more easily, they could cross over to ours. Dreams, reality, nowhere was safe.
Pretty soon, governments were passing laws to limit dreamwalking, trying to get this new world under control and prevent people from hurting themselves. Not that it did much good – even if anyone in their right mind was alright with having their dreams policed, the dream worlds are just too big for a proper police force to be watching everyone. Still, most of us followed the new rules anyway because we were just too scared not to. We just stayed in our heads, locked our doors and tried to pretend everything was normal like before. We pretended there weren’t monsters on the streets and in our dreams. I bet things would’ve carried on like that if it wasn’t for the Dreamwalking Thesis.
The Dreamwalking Thesis... nowadays, it’s probably the most famous document anyone’s written since the Geneva Convention. It was the answer to the question everyone had had on their minds since 1999 – “what the hell is going on?” There was a scientist, Charlotte Beaumont, and she claimed she and her sister Amie had been involved in the Apocalypse. In fact, they took the credit for stopping it. Charlotte had been out of commission for a few years after that, and Amie was avoiding the spotlight, but once they were ready, they wrote a paper and released it to the world, answering all the questions we’d had since this all started.
Dreamwalking, they claimed, had been around as long as humanity. Once upon a time, there’d been an age where powerful dreamwalkers – the Zula and the Goar – had ruled the world. When they abused that power, some great cosmic entity – the Great Spirit, they called it – had banished them to other worlds. From then on, aside from a few descendants of the Zula scattered around the world, most people had a hard time getting into the collective subconscious. A few had managed it through intense meditation or drugs or sensory deprivation, and everyone else either worshipped them as prophets or laughed them off as fakes. All our myths, our legends, our collective dreams, became trapped behind a veil in a world we knew nothing about.
Things had started to change during the 20th century. Some of those descendants, from a tribe of Native Americans called the Ahona, worked with the US government during World War II to fight the Japanese, and pretty soon more and more people were learning about it – all top-secret classified, of course. The world was changing during that time, getting greedier – people were forgetting about the gods, and the gods didn’t like that at all. Some rabble-rousing trickster stirred them up into a war, and the balance tipped completely in 1999.
The fighting spilled over into the real world, and that drew the attention of this Great Spirit. It must’ve had enough of all the trouble Earth was causing, so it opened a giant rip in space and time to swallow the Earth and wipe us all out. For those couple minutes back in November of 1999, when the world had just stopped, they said we’d all actually died. The Great Spirit didn’t change its mind until Amie pleaded with it to give us a second chance. It brought us all back to life, but the side effect of passing over to the other side was we all learned to dreamwalk again. Once we’d passed through the veil once, it was like letting the genie out of the bottle, and no one could never turn that power off again.
I guess the bit you’d find more important than all that history was what I liked to think of as the “how-to guide” – some tips on how to deal with the monsters, from people like the Ahona who’d been fighting them for centuries or more, and other ways to make dreamwalking safer. We started working together to build our own dream worlds, with protections put in place to keep monsters out. Everything we couldn’t do ourselves, other people took care of – the ancient dreamwalkers teamed up with a group called SomniCorps, dedicated to protecting the world from dream-related threats. Together, they helped clear the monsters off the streets, and they did their best to keep them from intruding on our world. We learned how to keep the monsters out of our own heads, and how to avoid places where they were common. Pretty soon, we were using dreamwalking for all sorts of things – interactive dream worlds evolved out of video games, ancient household spirits started coming back to help run small cafes, architects started getting employed to build big public dream spaces like parks crossed with online forums. People from around the world were able to interact like never before, face-to-face instead of through a screen. It was like a new age had dawned.
To be sure, all this change has been frightening. Everyone’s optimistic now, but how long is it going to last? Scientists say only the tiniest fraction of the collective unconscious has been explored – some people say there are other whole clusters of dream worlds outside of the one where humans and our myths live, and we have no way of knowing what kind of monsters might be living there. There could be things just as powerful as the Great Spirit who aren’t half as merciful. Even without some tentacled thing from outer space swooping in to devour us all, I sometimes wonder if we’re going to screw all this up on our own. We’ve been signing up for all the benefits of this new world so quickly, but we’ve never stopped to consider the danger of what we’re doing. It’s human nature, I guess – fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, like the poets say. I guess what I’m trying to say is, maybe all this seems normal to you young people, but it’s really not. The world we’re living in today is nothing at all like the one we’ve been living in for maybe a hundred thousand years, and I think everyone should remember that. Every day is a new piece of history being made, a new chapter in the story of the human race, and maybe if we all remember that, we’ll be able to treat dreamwalking like the awesome privilege and danger it is. Maybe we won’t mess it up this time, we won’t get cocky – we’ll stand humble before the unknown, and walk hand-in-hand into the future.
Or maybe we’ll all be dead in twenty years, I’ve got no goddamn clue. I guess none of us do. And you’ve got to admit, there’s something exciting about that.