Less than fifteen minutes prior to Ashling’s exit from the young girl’s dream, Ashling’s father had returned to the hotel. Finding Ashling asleep, he tried to wake him so that they could both go out for a bite to eat, but Ashling was obviously too tired to be woken up, so he went out alone to get some dinner for the two of them. When he returned, half an hour later, he found it much easier to wake up his son.
As they were eating their dinner of Chinese take-out, Ashling asked his father, “You think we might be able to spend some time at the beach tomorrow? I’d really like to go.”
“Sorry, Ash. I had actually planned to take you to the beach, but I learned today that I’m going to be a little busier than I thought. I’m gonna have to be gone for almost the whole day tomorrow.” Mr. Welsh smiled sadly, trying to sympathize with Ashling. “They do have a pool here though. Which reminds me. I almost forgot.” Mr. Welsh walked over to his suitcase and pulled out a vertically striped, blue and yellow swimsuit. “I bought this before we left,” he said, “thinking that we would go to the beach. At least you can still swim in the pool, right?”
“Sure Dad. Thanks,” he said without much enthusiasm.
“At least you could go try it on. See if it fits?” Ashling’s father suggested.
“And if it doesn’t?” he asked gloomily. “Oh never mind. I’ll go try it on.”
Ashling went into the bathroom and closed the door. As he stripped off his clothes and put on the swimsuit, he couldn’t help seeing himself in the mirror. He remembered the image he had created for himself in his dream and was disappointed by reality. His thin, pale body was an embarrassment to him now as he compared it to the tall, more muscular form he had adopted before. He wondered what he could do if he managed to dream himself to the beach on the following day. He wanted to go appropriately dressed, but he had no form in mind that he could assume, that would match his current dream image. Maybe I need to watch some more TV, he thought.
Ashling changed back into his clothes and went into the main room. His father was sitting on the bed with several papers spread out in front of him. “Hey. You mind if I watch some TV?” Ashling asked. He saw his father hesitate. Obviously he was busy with something. “I can watch with the sound off,” he said. “I don’t need it.” Mr. Welsh thought that odd, but agreed anyway.
With over a hundred channels to go through, Ashling felt sure that he could find something fitting. After an hour of flipping channels, however, Ashling gave up. The hour had grown late and he was sleepy.
Mr. Welsh made room for Ashling on the bed and Ashling lay down. Although he was sleepy, he couldn’t resist the temptation to try entering the dream world again. He closed his eyes and tried to envision the room exactly as it was, complete with his father sitting beside him.
A few minutes later, he awoke within the dream world – dream world being the term Ashling was now using to talk about this state of being with himself. He didn’t really want to go anywhere. He just wanted to be able to think out loud if he wanted without disturbing his father.
As he thought about the next day and what he wanted to attempt, a familiar shimmer of light burst suddenly through the wall and into the room. It stopped a mere yard away from the bed, but not before Ashling had leapt from the bed in startlement, scattering his father’s papers in the process, though Mr. Welsh seemed not to notice.
“What the…” Ashling yelled. “Someone’s dreaming next door,” he said more quietly. “Gonna give me a heart attack,” he muttered. With more time to observe than he had had in the elevator, Ashling noted the spherical shape of the dream boundary. Although shimmering on the surface with light, the spherical shape was as transparent as glass. It felt kind of like glass too, Ashling recalled, remembering the crushing pressure in the elevator, before he had been pushed through.
Ashling was quite sleepy now, but he hesitated returning to his bed. There was likely another bed, both above and below his, and if someone in one of those beds started dreaming, their dream sphere could very well encompass him as he slept. After a few more minutes of standing there, wondering what to do, the light from the dream sphere faded and it disappeared from the room. “That was a short dream,” Ashling said. “Mine usually seem a lot longer than that.” And then with a smile, “especially recently.”
Ashling moved to the corner of the room that he felt was probably farthest from any nearby beds. He closed his eyes and pictured a bed there until he felt convinced that it would be there. When he opened his eyes, he was happy to see that it had worked. The only bed that he knew well enough to imagine here was his own bed from home, though he only imagined the bottom bunk.
With a yawn, Ashling lay down upon his bed and closed his eyes. He was aware that this bed would disappear as soon as he stopped dreaming of it, but he hoped that it would remain until he could return to normal sleep. He focused on the pillow beneath his head and kept thinking about how soft it was until he finally fell asleep, a few minutes later. Upon falling asleep, Ashling’s mind returned to his body, and though the occupants of the room below did indeed dream, Ashling was unaffected, his mind no longer in the dream world, but rather in his own head as most people’s minds are when they dream.
When Ashling woke the next morning, his father was already gone. Food had been left on the coffee table, along with a note. It read:
Breakfast is here. Lunch and Dinner you will have to get yourself by calling room service. The number is by the telephone and there is a menu in the top left drawer of the dresser. See you tonight around 7. Dad
“Thanks Dad,” Ashling said sarcastically. Stretching and yawning, he walked over to the window. Although there was no difficulty in seeing the ocean, it was quite a bit more difficult to see the people on the beach. He could see that it wasn’t crowded yet, but unlike his dream sight, focusing harder now did little for how much he could see.
After breakfast, Ashling took a walk down to the swimming pool. The swimming pool was larger than any he had seen before, with pool chairs all around. Most were unoccupied, but a few had people sitting, soaking in the morning sun. Among the morning sun-worshipers, Ashling was surprised and quite pleased to see the same hotel worker that he had taken his dream image from. I guess this is his day off, he thought. Now, Ashling had the opportunity to improve his dream form.
“Hey,” Ashling said as he plopped down in the pool chair beside Nate. “You work here right?”
“Not right now, I don’t,” he said with a smirk, not looking quite as friendly as he had the day before. “This is my day off.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Ashling asked.
“Actually, I live here. I have a room in the basement. Not the best, but at least I can use the pool whenever I want.”
“You don’t live with your parents or anything?” unsure that this young man wasn’t really just a man-sized boy.
“Hey. I’m eighteen. I can live anywhere I want. What’s with all the questions anyway?” Nate said, sounding slightly offended. He took his hands, that had been clasped behind his head, and folded his arms over his chest. Ashling watched every movement, trying to memorize everything so that he could make a more realistic dream image. The teen had the body of a swimmer, which included an even tan that looked just perfect to Ashling.
“Just asking,” he said. “So, are you a swimmer?”
“You don’t quit, do you?” Nate laughed. “Yeah, I used to be on my high school’s swim team. We even won the regional championship swim meet during my Junior year,” he said proudly.
“So, I bet you’re pretty fast,” Ashling said.
Nate smiled, “the fastest on my team, probably.” Ashling didn’t really like his boasting attitude, but decided it didn’t really matter.
“So, you think you’re still as fast as you were in high school?” he asked.
“I bet I’m faster. I still practice every day, so I haven’t slowed down at all.”
Ashling and Nate continued to talk about sports, and in particular swimming. Not being much of an athlete himself, Ashling had to struggle to keep the conversation going, but he managed it, due to Nate’s excessive self-absorption. He was more than happy to talk about himself, even to an eleven year-old boy. All Ashling had to do was keep asking him questions about himself.
Eventually, Ashling asked Nate if he could watch him practice sometime. “Well, usually I have to get up pretty early in the morning to practice before work, but all this talking is making me feel like a swim.” Nate demonstrated his point by sitting up in his chair and beginning to stretch. “I guess this is your lucky day,” he said, full of arrogance. “Cool,” Ashling said.
After another minute of stretching his arms in his chair, he stood up to stretch his legs as well. Ashling was able to get a good look at Nate from just about every angle, and he did his best to memorize it. He was worried that if he wore a swimsuit to the beach in his dream, he would look too cartoonish, not having enough imagination to create a full body in his mind. Now, Ashling began to feel more confident that he could create a pretty real looking dream image for himself, and perhaps even make some improvements. Ashling laughed at himself then. No one could even see him in the dream world, so all of this was exceptionally pointless. It just felt good to be taller and to look good, even if it was just for himself. He forgave Nate then for his vanity. He was just as guilty.
Nate turned and scowled for a moment when Ashling laughed, but continued with his stretching regardless. Finally, he got up and dove smoothly into the water, making hardly a ripple. As Nate began to swim laps, Ashling conceded that he was quite good. He doubted that he could ever swim that well, even if he had a pool to swim in every day. Satisfied with his success that morning, Ashling turned and left the poolside. He wanted to try out his new form in his dream before his memory began to fade.
Fifteen minutes later, Ashling was in the dream world and admiring himself in the mirror. He had modified the design a little bit from Nate’s hawaiian print swim trunks, changing them from blue to black and Ashling was very pleased with the result. Now he had a more difficult challenge to face. How was he going to get out of the hotel and to the beach? He remembered his first experience in the dream world and how he had been able to see across far distances and even around corners, but he hadn’t really gone anywhere. Of course, he had never really gone anywhere in his dream. Not really. Or had he? Did his mind actually go somewhere when he was walking about in the dream world? Where had his mind been when he was seeing Derek for the first time by the creek? It had felt like his mind had been at the place that he had been looking at, not back at the tree. So what was the difference between seeing around the corner and walking around the corner in the dream world?
As Ashling asked himself these questions, he realized that there was no difference. His body was still laying on the bed, so the body he was using to walk around was just a product of his imagination, a temporary home for his wandering mind. So, I could get to the beach by sight, and then I could imagine my body there with me. Excited by this new idea, Ashling went over to the window to try it out.
He looked out toward the beach and focused his eyes on the place he wanted to be. His vision expanded rapidly and he was suddenly viewing the beach as if he were really there. He focused on the sand and allowed himself to draw near slowly until his sight was at the right height for if he were actually standing there. After taking a careful look around, Ashling closed his eyes and imagined himself standing there. When he realized that he had no idea what it might feel like to be actually standing on the sand, he tried to imagine himself a few inches above the sand instead, to avoid that obstacle.
When he opened his eyes, he could feel that he was really there. He had forgotten to grab a pencil, so he made sure to focus on the dream portion of this reality, to keep it from returning to normal, specifically his body. As he turned his head to look around, he realized that his feet were still not touching the ground. “I’m floating!” he exclaimed aloud. He focused on bringing his body down until his feet touched the sand. “Ouch!” he yelled, rapidly hopping from foot to foot. “That’s hot!”
Still hopping, Ashling looked around for a moment, trying to find someone with sandals. With so many people now on the beach, this was an easy task. Moments later, Ashling was able to relax, his new sandals doing their job. Finally free to enjoy the beach, Ashling walked closer to the water. The closer he walked, the more difficult it became to avoid making contact with anyone, the people seeming to be clustered closer to the water. No wonder, with the sand being so hot.
And then, unexpectedly, a dream sphere quickly expanded in front of him. “Whoa,” he shouted, falling backwards as he tripped over his own feet. The leading edge of light hit him hard like a wall, knocking him further backwards. Just as quickly, the dream sphere stopped expanding, and Ashling was left breathing heavily on the sand. He could see through the border of light to the swimsuit clad, teenaged girl, laying out on a large beach towel. “Why did you have to start dreaming right when I’m walking by!” he shouted in her direction. “Ouch,” he said belatedly, still feeling the force of the dream sphere hitting him.
Ashling turned his head to look up and down the beach. There were three more dream spheres open, though harder to see through the glare of the sun. The only way that he knew to close a dream sphere was to wake up the dreamer. The problem was, that the only way he knew to wake up a dreamer was to actually enter the dream sphere, and that still seemed like a dangerous thing to do. Ashling felt the warm sand under his hand. He scooped up some sand and brought it before his face. He had never seen sand like this before. The grains came in multiple colors and many appeared to be translucent, like colored glass. He wondered if that might actually be the source of some of this beach sand. He took the handful of sand and tossed it at the dream sphere.
Some of the sand blew back in his direction as the wind was unobstructed by the sphere. Some few grains however, hit the sphere and rolled back down its surface to the ground. “Why is that?” he wondered. He had thought that it was only himself that couldn’t pass through that barrier without some substantial force. What if I try to create something inside that sphere? He focused his mind and energy and tried to picture the first thing that came to mind within the sphere. There was a small, marble-sized rock near Ashling’s foot. He tried to create a larger copy of the rock a few feet away on the opposite side of the barrier. Ashling saw an image flicker for a moment, and disappear. He focused harder, and the flickering image returned, but try as he might, he couldn’t get the image to stay for more than a moment, it quickly fading away.
“Humph,” he grunted, not really understanding, and not really in the mood to think too hard anyway. He had come to enjoy a day at the beach, and so that is what he would do. His steps became more careful after that, avoiding anyone that looked asleep or about to fall asleep. Finally, he passed all the sunbathers and found himself as close as he could get to the ocean without getting his feet wet. Ashling pulled off his sandals and tossed them behind him a few feet. He didn’t notice the sandals vanish as he turned around again, though he could easily reform them in his mind later.
At first carefully, and then with greater and greater daring, Ashling enjoyed his first experience with waves at the beach. He only regretted that he had to be here alone and that he couldn’t even say hello to any of the other kids he was carefully managing to avoid, and have them respond. Despite the lack of a friend to enjoy this experience with, Ashling’s time, playing in the surf, felt as real as if it really were real. He felt the cold of the water, though he quickly adjusted to it. The few times he fell, knocked down by an unsuspected wave, he tasted the saltiness of the water. He heard the children laughing, screaming, and calling out dares to one another. It was as real as it could be.
At one point, Ashling even scraped his knee. This experience was particular odd, and reminded him, unfortunately, that this was all a dream. After he had scraped his knee, he turned his head to look, expecting to see his knee look the way it usually did after it had been scraped in his tree or yard. And it did. It looked exactly the same as he had imagined it would, down to the paleness and skinniness of his leg. “Oops,” he said as he saw his mistake.
Quickly, as if afraid someone would notice, he focused on restoring his appearance to the way he wanted it to be – lean and tall, tan and muscular. He was very happy to find how easy this was becoming. He knew he would keep practicing until he could get around in the dream world without difficulty. For the moment, however, Ashling would just play and be a kid. He didn’t even stop to think how it might look for someone with the body of a healthy eighteen year old, to be jumping around like an eleven year old. Though he would have liked someone to play with, he enjoyed the freedom of being able to act however he wanted, without having to be self-conscious or embarrassed.
As the hour approached noon and the sun was high overhead, a boat came onto the horizon. There had been other boats that Ashling had seen, but this one was a bit larger. He didn’t know the first thing about boats, but as he focused on the boat to see it better, he could tell that it was probably very expensive. Although he could have explored the boat fully by his dream sight alone, Ashling thought it would be fun to try some distance traveling again. He zoomed in on and was soon standing upon the main deck of what he would later learn was an eighty-foot sailing yacht.
Ashling had never even imagined that such a boat could exist. As he wandered through the various rooms from the main deck to the lower deck, he was amazed by the display of immense wealth. He had never had opportunity to associate with anyone that could have afforded such a boat. Similarly surprising was the fact that there were only three individuals on the boat. One of them seemed likely to be an employee of sorts, but the other two, and likely owners of this boat, were an older gentleman and a young man that appeared to be approximately the same age as Ashling’s dream image, or about eighteen years old. Ashling suspected that the boy was the grandson of the older man. He based his analysis of their status on the rooms that they occupied. Most of the rooms on the yacht were unoccupied, but Ashling supposed that if the owners had wanted to take a longer voyage out on the sea, they would have had plenty of room to house a crew.
He nervously took note of the teenager’s drowsy appearance. The boy was laying in bed, reading what appeared to be a school textbook. Ashling smiled, seeing that he wasn’t the only one who became sleepy when reading textbooks. Ashling hurried away from that room, unwilling to get caught in another dream, should the boy succumb to the temptation to fall asleep. He decided that next time he entered someone else’s dream, it would be by choice.
Half an hour later, Ashling had finished his exploration of the gentleman’s yacht. The main deck had a Jacuzzi hot tub and Ashling decided to relax for a while as he tried to envision what it might be like to live on such a boat. As a student, the teenager would have to go on land everyday to attend school. Maybe, they were just on vacation now, Ashling thought, and didn’t live permanently on the yacht.
As Ashling relaxed in the warm water of the Jacuzzi, he closed his eyes in enjoyment. He had had a wonderfully pleasant day and Ashling was sure that he was now enjoying its climax. One more day and the two of them, Ashling and his father, would be returning home to what Ashling considered to be the most boring place on Earth. At least school would be starting soon.
Gradually, Ashling grew bored of the Jacuzzi experience. It had been thoroughly enjoyable, especially for being his first time in one, but anything will lose its appeal eventually, and there were still other things that Ashling wanted to try. He stepped carefully out of the hot tub and walked over to the side of the boat that had been facing the beach. He was temporarily surprised to not see the beach where it had appeared to be before. Then he remembered that the yacht had been moving all along, and not slowly either.
Thinking to return to the beach where he had started, Ashling began to look up the coast, following it around the corner with his sight as it curved.
Sploosh! Ashling’s focus was yanked back to the reality of the boat as a giant dream sphere from the lower level expanded suddenly outwards. He was thrust up into the air on the surface of a wall of what felt like water, maintaining a spherical shape as it grew. “No! No! No!” Ashling shouted.
A hundred feet in the air, Ashling began to sink through the wall of the dream sphere as it’s rapid expansion slowed. To Ashling, the feeling was not unlike the experience of doing a belly flop from a high place. The water had seemed hard at first, but it softened as he began to sink through the surface. The last thing Ashling saw as he looked wildly about before sinking into the dream sphere was the yacht beneath him, appearing through the sphere as if it were at the bottom of a lake with exceptionally clear water.