Nick Hayes tried to keep his eyes open as he read his Physics textbook. The difficulty Nick had with staying awake had nothing to do with his interest level in the subject, he was actually quite fond of Physics and science in general. Instead, Nick’s struggle to stay awake was a partial result of his partying the night before. He was new to college life and was trying to have as much fun as he could during his first year. Friends came easy, and so, less than a month into the semester, he had already been out partying with newly made friends a number of times.
His first choice that morning would have been to stay in bed until at least sometime in the late afternoon, but aware of the first major test of the semester the following day, Nick had tried to force himself into activity. After less than an hour, however, Nick couldn’t stay awake any longer. As he allowed himself to drift off to sleep again, he promised himself that when he awoke the next time, he would study some place other than in his bed – perhaps at the school library. No. Too quiet. At least on the main deck then, where the cozy dim light of his room couldn’t lull him away again.
Shortly after falling asleep, Nick began to dream. In talking with friends, Nick had learned early in life that his dreams were somewhat different than those of others. Not always, but much of the time, Nick was aware that he was dreaming. In knowing that he was dreaming, Nick was able to enjoy his dreams much more fully than his friends that simply dreamed, unaware and largely unconscious. Where his friends were simply observers of their dreams, Nick was in complete control. What he wanted to happen, happened. Nick felt that this was fitting, since due to his father’s position and money, he could expect the same eventually in reality. What his father wanted to happen in reality usually happened, and Nick looked forward to the day when he would have similar power.
When a swimsuit clad teenaged boy of approximately the same age appeared suddenly in his dream, in a meeting room full of businessmen, Nick was confused. For at least several years now, Nick had only seen what he wanted to see during his cognizant dreams. He knew he hadn’t dreamed up this boy volitionally, so maybe he was having a regular dream for a change. He decided to find out.
* * * * * * *
As Ashling entered the dream sphere completely, he could see immediately that he was inappropriately dressed. He was standing in the back of a lavishly furnished meeting room, full of business men dressed in expensive looking tailored suits. At the head of the granite top oval conference table stood a very distinguished looking middle-aged man. Oddly, the man at the head of the table seemed to be looking at him. Since that was impossible, Ashling looked behind himself to see what the man could be looking at. There was nothing there but a closed door, so Ashling turned his head back toward the table and was shocked to see that every person in that room was now staring at him mercilessly, as though he had actually interrupted an important business meeting.
Despite Ashling’s belief that he couldn’t be seen and that all but one of these people couldn’t be real, Ashling felt very self-conscious. He tried to change his clothes back to his original black pants and shirt, but as had happened previously, he couldn’t make the change stick. While he focused on his clothes, his whole body beneath his head seemed to become temporarily transparent, and then regained it’s solidity, although still wearing the swimsuit. “Can the dreamer here see me?” Ashling wondered to himself silently, still feeling too self-conscious to speak aloud. He felt like the dreamer was fighting him, just as the girl had in his last experience within a dream sphere. Weird.
At that moment, a pane of glass from the window vanished, evaporated into thin air, and wind started to blow through the opening, creating a high-pitched whistling sound. Papers blew all around and Ashling began to feel a gentle tug as well – toward the window. The pressure grew until in moments, Ashling could no longer stand in one place. He turned away from the window and struggled not to get sucked out by the powerful suction that he felt. It’s not real, he thought. I can fight this.
With all the will power that he could muster, Ashling tried to convince himself that the wind didn’t exist and that it could have no effect on him. As he saw the others in the room sitting calmly, unaffected by the wind, Ashling managed the task. Papers continued to blow all about, but Ashling was able to ignore the pull of the wind and be unaffected by it.
As soon as Ashling managed to overcome the wind, he saw his hand begin to become transparent. A thought made Ashling suddenly very frightened. The dreamer knows I’m here! He’s trying to get rid of me! Ashling didn’t think he could die in a dream, but this was different than any dream he had ever heard of. What would happen if this dreamer managed to delete him from the dream? Would he simply reappear somewhere else, or would his mind vanish completely, never to return to his body?
With strength born from terror, Ashling concentrated on stabilizing his dream image. He would not allow this dreamer to potentially wipe out his existence. As he struggled, however, he realized that he was not strong enough. In moments, he would be gone and he wasn’t sure that anything would be left of him to return to his real body. Desperately, he cried out, “Please stop! I’m real! I’m real! I’m not part of your dream!”
* * * * * * *
When Nick realized that the boy wouldn’t be blown away by his wind, he became more confused. If he were having a regular dream, then he wouldn’t have been able to call up the wind. But if this were one of his dreams that he could control, why wouldn’t the boy be blown away? And what had been happening before he called up the wind? It had seemed like the teen had become transparent for a minute. Maybe I’m keeping it here, he thought.
Accepting the possibility that he had himself kept the image from leaving the dream, Nick refocused his energy to rid his dream of this unwanted character. Surely, he had just drunk too much the night before and now it was affecting his dreams. Again, however, he experienced difficulty. The dream image wasn’t disappearing easily. It was fading, but slowly and irregularly. When the boy seemed about to disappear completely, Nick was surprised to hear it call out, and more especially to hear what it said.
Real? That’s impossible! How could someone be in my dream and not be part of my dream? In this moment of surprise though, the teen boy image seemed to reassert itself and to become solid-looking once again. Nick decided to allow the boy to stay. Whether or not it was real like he said didn’t really matter. At least it was interesting. Sometimes Nick forgot the fun of having random things occur in his dreams that he hadn’t orchestrated himself. We’ll see where this goes, Nick thought to himself.
If he was going to talk to this boy, Nick decided he should put together a different setting, especially given the underdressed appearance of the boy. The scenery shifted and Nick was no longer standing in his conference room, one he had used many times to discuss different issues and problems with himself. It was fun to have different aspects of his personality assume different roles within his dream. He could only ever imagine his mind with one body at a time, but from the outside, he could operate quite a few images simultaneously.
The scene that Nick created was of an uninhabited tropical island he had once visited a few years ago. A month after Nick’s mother had left his father for another man, Nick’s father was in the mood to get away from civilization. He bought the yacht they were now living on and hired a small crew. It had been good for Nick’s father to get away and good for Nick as well. Although his parents were communicating again, and without nearly as much hostility as there had been previously, Nick still enjoyed escaping to this tropical paradise from time to time.
The island had been the first place that came into Nick’s mind when he thought of a place to go, likely because of the way the newcomer was dressed. Thinking of that, Nick changed his appearance as well to better suit the surroundings. Still appearing as a middle-aged man, but now wearing swim trunks and an open Hawaiian shirt, Nick approached the boy rocking awkwardly on the balls of his feet in the sand. The boy’s image was far too good-looking to be genuine. Just as Nick’s own current image didn’t represent his true physical self, he doubted that this teen boy’s image did as well.
“Real, huh?” Nick tried to start the conversation. “I’m not sure I believe you, but maybe we can talk anyway. How’s it possible that you’re in my dream?” He sat down in a beach chair that appeared even as he sat down.
“I don’t really know,” the boy said. “I didn’t come here on purpose. I just sort of fell in, I guess.” A beach chair, identical to the one Nick was sitting in, tried to appear in the sand next to the boy. It flickered transparently and then disappeared completely. “Think I could have a chair to sit in too?” he asked.
“Uh…sure,” Nick said, not really caring. The chair appeared and the boy sat down in it. “So, you were just walking around, minding your own business, and fell into my dream,” Nick said sarcastically. “I doubt that.”
“Well, okay, I was sort of trespassing on your boat, I guess. And I’m sorry. I just saw your boat going by and thought it would be cool to check it out. Then you started dreaming and I got caught in it. It wasn’t on purpose.”
This was all sounding a bit crazy to Nick, but it was more interesting than one of his self-made dreams, so he continued to talk to the boy. “Do you know who I am then?” he asked.
“No, not really,” the boy said. “I saw some people on the boat before I got trapped in your dream, but I don’t know who you are or anything about you. You don’t look like anyone I saw.”
“So you’re trapped?” Nick asked. “You can’t get out of my dream? What happens if I wake up?”
“I think I just go back where I started. I’ve never been in someone’s dream when they wake up normally, so I’m not sure…”
“Wake up normally?” Nick interrupted. “So you’ve been in other people’s dreams and you got out when they woke up, but not when they woke up naturally. Is that right?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” the boy said.
“Hmm. I’m still confused. I think you’d better start from the beginning. Tell me everything,” Nick said in an authoritative tone of voice. As the boy began to talk, Nick was glad that he had chosen not to wear a younger image. The image he was now using seemed to be doing its job as the teenager began to tell a story that seemed crazy, but one that Nick was tempted to believe.
* * * * * * *
Starting from the beginning, Ashling told his story. He didn’t speak without some measure of distrust, however, and so didn’t share any personal information or tell the story exactly as it had happened. He did, however, share everything he had learned about traveling in the dream world. Ashling was aware that this middle aged man was probably the boy that had seemed so drowsy on the lower level, so he felt he had an advantage, though it seemed of little use to him at that time.
“So what now?” the dreamer asked when Ashling had finished his story. “I don’t think I want you plowing your hand through my head to get out. There’s got to be an easier way.”
“Yeah,” Ashling agreed. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I can’t think of anything that will work.”
“Hmm. Well, let’s both think about it for a while and maybe we’ll come up with something. I don’t think I’ll stay asleep for a lot longer, so if we don’t come up with something before that happens, …” the man shrugged. “Well, you’ll find out what happens when someone wakes up naturally.”
“Mind if I wander around a bit while I think,” Ashling asked. “It might help.”
“Suit yourself,” said the teenager, pretending to be a man.
Ashling did have one idea that he hadn’t tried yet. He began walking inland from where they had been sitting. He had been curious about what would happen if he walked too far inside a dream sphere. The dreamer could only be dreaming so much, and Ashling was curious to see how far that extended. He tried to use his dream sight here, but found that he couldn’t. I guess that doesn’t work in regular dreams, he thought as he remembered that he had never tried before. Although, this isn’t a regular dream either, he thought, remembering the watery feel of his entrance into the dream sphere that had been far larger than the others he had seen. Ashling realized that he might be in an entirely new kind of dream and what he had learned previously might not even apply here.
Although Ashling walked as quickly as he could, he felt that he wasn’t moving very fast. As he walked through the trees, he felt that he was walking through a regularly repeating pattern and not really going anywhere at all. Ashling turned around and found that he had barely penetrated the trees lining the beach. Remembering his two other experiences inside the dream of another, Ashling realized that he had never really been far from the dreamer. Somehow, he only managed to walk in circles around the dreamer, but never create any serious distance between them.
Well, I needed force to get into the dreams. Maybe I need force to get out. Ashling began to run, thinking to ram the boundary of the dream with his body. Unfortunately, running had the same effect as walking, the only difference being the rate at which the pattern repeated itself. This isn’t working, he thought. Maybe the other guy’s come up with something by now. Moments after turning back toward the beach, Ashling found himself standing on the sand. “So, um… Thought of anything yet?” he asked.
“No, not really,” the dreamer admitted. “I think you’ll just have to see what happens when I wake up naturally. I don’t think you’ll have any problem. I mean, you’re not really here anyway.”
“Well, that’s what I’m not sure about,” Ashling said. “I mean, if I think about it, I can still feel the pillow under my head, so at least part of my mind is there. You think a person’s mind can be in two different places at the same time? That’s what if feels like.”
“I can see three possibilities,” the man said, after considering for a minute. “Actually four. Your mind could be in more than one place at once. It could be really big and just stretching from where you’re sleeping to here. It could be that you’re just imagining the pillow beneath your head because you think you should be able to feel it. That’s the one that seems most likely. Or, I drank too much last night and you are just an odd addition to my dream. Take your pick.”
When Ashling didn’t reply right away, the dreamer continued, “of course, if your mind really is just here, then my waking up could be a problem. It kind of sounds like that electric feeling you keep having is the feeling you get when you are going into or coming out of someone else’s head… or mind, dream, whatever. Without making that mental contact, I’m not sure you could get out. Anyway, you don’t have much choice, I can feel myself waking up soon.”
Ashling felt an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach, like the feeling he usually got when he was about to do something very dangerous or risky, or about to be publicly humiliated. As Ashling looked around, he could see that the scenery had a slightly transparent look to it. Only his own body as he looked at it, still looked solid.
“Good luck,” the rapidly fading man said. “If you make it out alright, feel free to visit again some time. I think we could have some fun.”
Ashling grunted a response, feeling too panicked to respond more politely. As everything began to disappear, Ashling could see the color blue penetrating through. In a last second effort to save himself, Ashling focused hard between the man’s eyes. He couldn’t touch him physically, but then, what was physical here anyway? Ashling focused his mind on the place behind the man’s eyes, straining his energy without a thought for what he was trying to achieve. He was too panicked for thought.
Just as Ashling thought that he could feel a faint current of energy in his own head, the dream ended. Ashling understood suddenly why everything had been becoming blue. He was fifty feet up in the air above the yacht , facing the horizon – the blue sky above and the sea below. “Aaaah!” he yelled as gravity began to assert itself.
“Are you still there?” Ashling heard a voice shout from within his head, like an errant thought. “Get out of my head!”
Ashling didn’t have time to respond as he had other matters to consider at that moment. “I’m dreaming,” he reminded himself, willing his body to stop falling. As his body slowed to a stop, Ashling heard the voice again. Like a loud thought in the back of his head, the voice yelled, “I know you’re dreaming, you idiot! You’ve dreamed yourself right into my head and I want you out, now.”
“But I’m not in your dream anymore,” Ashling said, confused.
“I know. I’m awake and you’re still there. What did you do?”
Ashling looked down at the boat and zoomed in with his dream sight. Moments later, he was standing beside the teenager’s bed. The boy was still laying on his bed, but with his hands holding his head. “Please go,” the voice begged from within Ashling’s head. Ashling noticed that the boy sitting in front of him hadn’t opened his mouth.
Not knowing quite what to do, Ashling stepped forward and placed his right hand on the young man’s head. Nothing happened. “I still don’t know how to get out,” Ashling admitted aloud. “Do you have any suggestions?”
Ashling could see from the young man’s face that he was hearing his voice from within his own head as well, even though Ashling had spoken aloud. “No. I can’t think right now. My head’s not working.”
“I’ll think of something,” Ashling promised. He thought back to what he had been doing just as the dream had ended. He had focused hard on the man’s head, as if trying to see inside, although he had really only been trying to get out. He had thought that he had succeeded, but perhaps something different had happened instead. As he thought about it, he realized that although dream spheres had seemed to retract when viewing them from the outside, that isn’t how it had appeared from the inside. Instead, the dream construct had dissipated evenly, leaving Ashling intact, he not being an actual part of the dream. Maybe I would have been fine, he thought.
Unable to think of anything else to try, Ashling probed carefully at the teenager’s mind. As he gently focused, he thought he could feel the connection that had been formed. Focusing on that connection, he tried to retract his mind, feeling similar to what he felt when he zoomed out with his dream sight. As the connection lost its intensity, Ashling found that he was feeling emotions and having non-verbalized thoughts that were not his own. Like layers of an onion, Ashling felt something new during each moment until the connection was nearly lost. Just before he pulled out completely, Ashling said, “I’m sorry that happened. I think I’ve figured it out now so it won’t happen again.”
In Ashling’s mind, he heard the thought, “I’m okay now. Thank you. Maybe we’ll talk again, as long as you can be sure this won’t happen again. Good bye.”
“Goodbye.” Ashling let go with his mind and stepped away from the young man, who was now getting out of his bed. Ready to be on his way, Ashling sprinted up the stairs to the main deck. With a focused glance at the nearest section of coast, Ashling zoomed in and put himself there, on the top of a coastal cliff. “Phew,” Ashling breathed a sigh of relief. Reflecting on what he had learned, Ashling realized that although he had discovered a lot from his most recent experience, he still did not know how to leave a dream without the dreamer waking up.
Having had a full day and now feeling a little tired, Ashling thought up a bed to lie on. After he lay on the bed, he noticed the wind and found it difficult to sleep, so he decided to finish the job. Ashling imagined the inside of his room around him and before he could blink, it was there as he imagined it. Much more comfortable now, Ashling managed to return to regular sleep in the hotel.
* * * * * * *
Nick Hayes was feeling paranoid. The pressure in his head had quickly disappeared to the point that Nick thought the boy had left. But then the boy had spoken, and even now that they had both said goodbye, Nick couldn’t be sure that the boy wasn’t really still there. Obviously, the kid had been able to hear his thoughts, which was quite disturbing to Nick. But at the same time, he was intrigued. Was it just some freak mutation that allowed the boy to do what he did, or was there some other explanation? What if it were possible to learn this skill?
Although Nick continued to feel paranoid for the rest of that day, he could not help hoping that the boy might return to his dream again in the future. He at least wanted to find out who the kid really was. If Nick couldn’t learn this skill, then maybe someday he would be able to use the boy himself. He would at least need to learn to defend himself against this ability. That feeling of helplessness was something that Nick had rarely felt in his life and did not plan to feel again.
For now though, Nick had a test to study for. He felt much more awake than he had before dreaming, so he had no difficulty in staying awake for the rest of that day. Physics took on a new light as well, when he compared the so called ‘facts’ with what he had seen. The world was much more complicated than his textbooks tried to make it seem.