Although Ashling had enjoyed having Derek spend the night, he had fears about doing it again. Somehow, sleeping so close to another person had drawn Ashling unwillingly into that other person’s dream, and it hadn’t been pleasant. He had enjoyed the time afterwards to some degree, but the level of difficulty in returning to normal sleep or waking up caused that also to be an overall frightening ordeal. For the next couple of weeks, life returned to normal. His twelfth birthday would be approaching in a month’s time, a couple of weeks after school started up again. He was looking forward to his coming birthday, and even more to his return to school in two weeks.
Over the course of the last two weeks since Derek had stayed over, Ashling had spent much of his time in the tree, thinking about possible explanations for what had happened. He developed a few new ideas should the opportunity arise again, but was unsure as to whether he wanted that opportunity or not. If his ideas didn’t work, he’d be right back where he’d been this last time, confused and frustrated, unable to do anything. He imagined different scenarios and even had a regular dream of one where he stood watching something happen to himself that he was helpless to stop or prevent.
Finally, on a sunny afternoon, something happened that wasn’t the same as every other day. Ashling’s father, Andrew Welsh announced that he would be taking a business trip to California, and Ashling was coming along. Mr. Welsh had been given an extra ticket to take one family member with him, and chose Ashling. It would be too difficult to find someone to take care of him if Mrs. Welsh left as well, and Morgan thought it would be a good idea for Ashling to see something else other than one small town and lots of farmland. And so, three days later, Ashling was on an airplane for the first time in his life.
As Ashling watched the ground from the window of the airplane, he was reminded of his first strange dream when he had seen the town and the land around it from the air. It had been thrilling to see the land pass so quickly beneath him, as if he had really been flying. Now he was really flying, and he loved every minute of it. Even when clouds passed between Ashling and his view of the ground, he wasn’t disappointed. Everything was new and wonderful. It was a whole different world up there. Of course, this thought of being in a whole different world made him think of his second dream. Now that they were over, he could hardly distinguish his memories of the dreams from his memories of real life. Real life had been so boring though, so only his dreams stood out in his mind. As he continued to watch the view from the window, Ashling decided he was ready for another dream. Of course, he had no idea how to control it, but if it happened, he wouldn’t be disappointed.
It was impossible to sleep while flying since there was simply too much that was new to see. Similarly, when they arrived at the airport, Ashling’s eyes were wide open with awe, having never been in a city before. In fact, he had never seen any building taller than two stories. It was just like the movies that he had seen, but never quite believed in. Along with the people and buildings were cars, a countless number of them – so many that they had to stop their rented car for minutes at a time, just waiting their turn to go. Insanity.
Eventually, after stopping twice for directions, Mr. Welsh found his way to the hotel where they would be staying for three days. A young man that may still have been in his teens, though it was hard to tell, helped them with their one medium-sized suitcase, while showing them to their room. Ashling enjoyed the trip up the elevator, his first such trip of his life. As they rode the elevator, the young man told them information about the hotel, such as where they could do laundry or where the swimming pool was.
“You’re really going to enjoy your stay here,” the young man promised as they stood together at the door. Ashling noticed that he was wearing a silver name tag that read Nate.
“I’m sure we will,” Mr. Welsh said as he followed Ashling into the room. “Thank you,” he said just before closing the door in the young man’s face.
For some reason that he didn’t understand, Ashling didn’t like his father much at that moment. Though he couldn’t have said why exactly, he felt that his father had been rude to the young man, Nate, that had been so helpful. After all, they hadn’t even asked for help.
“That guy was really nice,” Ashling commented to his father.
“Yeah,” Mr. Welsh shrugged, “he’s just doing his job. He has to be nice.”
“He works here?” Ashling asked. “That’s a cool job if all you have to do is be nice to people.”
Mr. Welsh chuckled a little and said, “Yeah. It is.”
A few minutes later, Ashling’s father had changed into a business suit and was preparing to go back out. “Alright. I want you to stay here while I’m gone. If you feel you have to leave the room, at least stay inside the hotel. I don’t want you getting lost. I’m sure there’re plenty of channels on the television that you can watch while I’m gone. Okay?”
Disappointed that his father was leaving so soon, he just grunted an affirmation. He flew all this way and he would probably have to spend most of his time in the hotel room. What was the point? Well, he wouldn’t know where to go anyway, and he very well could get lost. He had seen what the streets were like before entering the hotel. Although the area they were in was much nicer than some they had driven through, it was still a whole different world from his small house, a mile away from the nearest neighbor.
After Mr. Welsh had left, Ashling took a look out the window. He stared, transfixed by what he saw. He hadn’t seen it from the street, but from this vantage point, ten floors up, he saw the ocean for the first time. The beach was only a few blocks away and he was stuck here in his hotel room. It’s just not fair, he thought angrily to himself. Somehow, I’ve got to convince Dad to let me see the beach before we leave here. If only I could have one of those dreams. Considering the possibility made Ashling aware that he had become a little sleepy. He walked over to the large king-sized bed and lay down.
Since he had last had a waking dream, Ashling had thought a lot about how they might have been triggered. The only thing that he could think of is that both times, he had not been sleeping in his own bed. Whether or not that was the reason, Ashling felt that he might have an advantage this time since he would not be sleeping in his bed this time either. Ashling closed his eyes and tried to remember how it had felt at the start of his two previous dreams. Each time, if he only counted the second dream starting from the time after he had escaped Derek’s dream, he had awoken from the same position that he had gone to sleep in. With his eyes closed, Ashling tried to imagine the room that he was sleeping in. He tried to see every detail of it, to make it real. He opened his eyes a few times to make sure he had the details right, but eventually, his effort paid off.
He knew he was asleep because he could still feel the pillow under his head as he sat up. “Yes!” he exclaimed. He got out of the bed and walked over to the door. Before leaving the apartment, he looked back at himself, sleeping on the bed. “Am I really so small?” he asked himself aloud. Then he remembered his experience in Derek’s dream. Derek had made himself bigger and stronger without even trying or knowing what he was doing. Why couldn’t he do the same thing? Ashling decided to try one more experiment before leaving the apartment.
He walked into the bathroom and looked at his reflection in the mirror. In his previous dream, he had only managed to change things by physically touching them, or by doing what seemed to be physically interacting with things. He couldn’t think of a way to change his appearance by doing anything physical, so he decided that there must be a way to do it mentally. “I want to be taller,” he told himself in the mirror. When nothing happened, he yelled, “Grow!”
This isn’t working, he thought. Maybe I need more imagination. Ashling tried to imagine what the counter and floor would look like from the height he wanted to be. He found it too hard to imagine something that he had never experienced before, so he thought of another idea. There was a coffee table in front of the television that was just about the right height. He went into the other room and stood on the table. Trying to only look at the floor and not at his feet, Ashling paced back and forth on top of the table, trying to imagine that he were really that tall. Soon, Ashling felt that he was just about ready. He closed his eyes, and stepped down from the table.
It was hard to convince himself that when he opened his eyes, he would not see things from the same height as he always had, but he strained his imagination for all it was worth. This is a dream, he admitted to himself. But that means I really can be tall – as tall as I want. Not can be, he revised his thought, am. I am tall. With his eyes still closed, Ashling walked back toward the bathroom. He found the edge of the door and held onto it for a moment. “The door knob should be here,” he said as he reached for the appropriate place at the appropriate height. He was elated to find the doorknob exactly where he had decided it should be. He opened his eyes and looked around. Perfect.
As he went into the bathroom again to look at himself in the mirror, he saw that everything wasn’t quite as perfect as he had hoped. He was indeed taller, but he still looked the same above the knees. The proportions were all wrong. An extra foot and a half or so had been added between his feet and his knees, as if he were walking on stilts. “Why is this so much easier in a natural dream?” he said loudly.
“Hmm, I definitely need practice.” Ashling tried to think of something he could do to resolve his current dilemma. As he thought, he remembered the young man that had helped them with their suitcase. He was about the right height, appeared physically fit, and not bad-looking either. Ashling closed his eyes again and imagined the body and face of the other looking at him in the mirror. He was relieved that this was much easier to do than trying to change his height. After a minute, he had convinced himself that when he opened his eyes, he would look like that hotel employee that had been so nice.
When Ashling opened his eyes, he was happy to see that he had been successful. He didn’t look exactly how Nate had looked, but close enough. He had only seen the young man once, so some aspects of the appearance he now assumed were questionable as to whether or not they were the same as Nate’s. As he thought about his new appearance, he realized that the clothing he was now wearing did look something like a uniform. He was about to go through his father’s clothes for something else to wear when he realized he was just being silly. He had changed his whole appearance with his thoughts. Why not change his clothing in the same way? Besides, Ashling worried that if he actually stripped down to change, it might disrupt the illusion.
No! Not an illusion! He had to keep thinking of this as real or it just might disappear. He remembered the last dream, and as he thought about it, he remembered the cup, and how as long as he held and remembered the cup in his hand, everything else stayed true to his actions in the dream. I need something to carry with me in my hand, he decided.
He looked around for something small that would be easy to carry. After a minute, he found a small yellow pencil on a little yellow note pad next to the telephone by the bed. Small, easy to carry, it was perfect. Now what to wear? He approached the television and pressed the on button. Nothing happened. He checked to make sure it was plugged in. Well, either they gave us a bad television or my dream doesn’t know what’s showing on TV. Ashling laughed at what he thought had been a silly joke. Well, maybe I can find a neighbor who’s watching TV right now.
Twirling the pencil in his fingers, Ashling left his room and walked down the hall. He listened at each door as he went, trying to find someone with a working television. Finally, he found one. It sounded like an action movie which suited Ashling just fine. Out of plain curiosity, he knocked on the door. He was unsurprised that no one came to answer. He tried to open the door, but found it locked. Ashling considered his options. He could keep going and find another television viewer, he could try to knock down the door, or, he could try to dream his way in somehow. He decided on the latter.
He thought back on his previous two dreams, trying to think of possibilities. In the last dream, a ball had been thrown right through his head, after causing some considerable pain, and later, his fist had gone right through Derek’s head. He had felt that as well, now that he thought of it. He couldn’t quite go through things without some serious force. Besides that, Ashling doubted that would work in his own dream. His previous experiences with passing through something else had both been in someone else’s dream – not his own.
Then, he remembered the cupboard, from which he had taken the cup. At first, the door of the cupboard had seemed to be both open and closed, until he had decided which one he wanted. But he had made the second option by physically opening that cupboard door. But then again, how could anything really be physical in a dream? Maybe everything he had done in that dream, and this dream as well, he was able to do because he believed he could do it. The cupboard door opened because I thought I could open it. This door doesn’t open because in real life, it’s locked, and so I think I can’t open it. Maybe, if I convince myself that I can open it, then I can.
With this manner of reasoning, Ashling convinced himself that the only thing keeping him from opening the door was his own belief that he couldn’t. So, as he had done before, he closed his eyes, so as to help him concentrate better and to wipe the mental slate clean, so to speak. When he opened his eyes again, he had convinced himself that the door would open if he tried it again. Without any further hesitation, Ashling reached out, took the knob in his hand, and opened the door.
The room before him was practically identical to the room that his father and he were staying in. The only difference was the fat man sitting on the bed, watching the television. Ashling was just a little bit shocked at his appearance. Wearing nothing but a towel around his waist, the man sat on the bed with a beer in one hand. His beer gut was quite evident as it protruded several inches over the top of the towel.
Ashling tried to ignore the fat man as he turned to look at the television. After a minute or so, Ashling found an outfit that he thought would look quite nice on him. The outfit belonged to the villain of the movie, but Ashling didn’t care about that. He closed his eyes and imagined himself, his new self, wearing that outfit. A moment later it was done. Ashling walked into the bathroom to admire his new dream identity in the mirror. He was now wearing an open-necked black shirt and black pants. Ashling had always liked the color black.
As he looked at himself, he decided he ought to make a couple more changes to his face. He didn’t really want to be Nate’s identical twin. When he was finished, he had blue eyes instead of green, and black hair instead of brown. Overall, Ashling thought he looked quite nice. At that, he started to laugh. He had spent over an hour modifying his appearance, all because he had thought he looked small on the bed. He was starting to get used to being this height though, and he actually felt older as he looked at himself in the mirror. He looked at himself for a couple of minutes, trying to memorize his new appearance. He didn’t want to have to redo this every time. He thought that if he could memorize the look and feel of this new dream appearance well enough, he could recreate it very quickly next time. Ashling laughed again and then left the bathroom.
As one final experiment before he tried to leave the hotel, Ashling walked over to the television and pressed the off button. The television turned off immediately, though the man didn’t seem to notice. Ashling pressed the button again and it turned on. “Hmm,” Ashling uttered and then left the room.
A minute later, Ashling was standing outside the elevator doors, waiting for them to open. “So how will this work?” he wondered. Certainly, the effect of pressing the elevator button in his dream wouldn’t affect reality, but then, what was he waiting for? Was the elevator even coming? Would he have to somehow dream up the elevator? He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. As Ashling was about to give up and take the stairs, a young lady came and stood by him. She pressed the elevator button and waited patiently. Ashling could hear the sound of the elevator moving now, which meant that it hadn’t been moving before. That’s not fair, he thought. I pressed the same button she pressed, but it didn’t work for me. Still, Ashling knew that he hadn’t really pressed the button. He had only pressed the button in his dream which wasn’t quite the same thing as really pressing it, though it looked exactly the same to him. He realized that if he pressed a dream button, he could only expect a dream elevator to come, and that would have had to come from his own head. Fortunately, he was able to borrow this dream elevator since it actually existed here in reality.
A minute later, the elevator doors opened. Nate, the young man that had helped Ashling and his father before was there inside the elevator. Ashling followed the young lady into the elevator and waited. The lady told Nate that she wanted to go to the lobby and Nate obligingly pressed the appropriate button. The elevator began to descend.
Though Ashling had changed his hair and eye color, he still felt odd standing next to the person from whom he had taken his current appearance. The young man appeared slightly different now than he had before, probably because Ashling was now seeing him from the same height. Ashling turned away from Nate and held onto his pencil, trying to remember the image he had seen in the mirror. He was worried that his current image might be disrupted by the confusion of seeing small differences between the face and body he had imagined and the original.
At about the fifth floor, the elevator stopped to let another person on, an older man in a blue sports jacket. Ashling was careful to avoid contact with anyone. The only physical contact he had had with anyone during one of his own dreams had been with himself, and that, he believed, had caused him to fall asleep. He wasn’t sure what various types of contact with other people might do.
As they were stopped at the fifth floor, Ashling noticed a faint shimmering line of light, extending all the way across one side of the lower edge of the elevator. Ashling was sure that he hadn’t somehow dreamed it there, so he decided that it must be real, though he had no idea what it was. As the elevator doors closed, they began to move again. As they descended, that shimmering line of light rapidly approached as it grew into a broad band of light that curved around from the wall to the floor.
Ashling had no time to think as the other occupants of the elevator were quickly swallowed up in the growing shimmering screen of light, stretching across the entire length of the elevator, it’s growing boundary moving quickly across the floor and up the wall. If Ashling had had time to notice these things, he would have noticed that the others on the elevator were completely oblivious to what was happening. They passed through the leading edge of light, like a force field and were unaffected by it. Ashling had no time to notice these things, however, and so he fearfully tried to back up against the opposite wall to avoid contact with it. The field of shimmering light, however, did not slow in its progress across the floor of the elevator and Ashling was forced to make contact with it.
Unlike his traveling companions on the elevator, Ashling did not pass through without incident to the other side. He found the leading edge of light to be quite solid in fact, and pulsing with energy. As the edge of the light reached the opposite edge of the elevator, Ashling was pushed upwards, off the floor. Unable to remain standing, Ashling fell on his hands, and felt the pulsing energy of the strange barrier beneath him. In this moment, he didn’t have time to think, but at a later time, he recognized the feeling as being the same as when he had ended his dream with Derek, with his hand in Derek’s head.
He was pushed rapidly toward the ceiling, and when he hit it, was pushed so hard that Ashling thought he would be crushed. Just as this fear entered his mind, however, his body was finally pushed through the barrier…and everything disappeared.
The elevator was gone, the people were gone, and that terrifying force field of shimmering light was gone. Ashling looked around, struggling to understand what had just happened. He was in the middle of a forest, with tall trees all around him. A loud noise that had been coming from behind him finally registered in Ashling’s brain and he turned around to see what it was.
Instinctively, Ashling dropped to the ground as he saw what was coming his way. A monster, more terrifying and much faster than Derek’s grandmother had been was coming through the forest, pushing down trees and making giant tracks in the dirt with its enormous feet. As Ashling watched it, he recognized it as being some sort of dinosaur that he had seen in a book not too long ago. He couldn’t remember the name of this particular dinosaur, but he knew it was supposed to be a very terrible predator.
As Ashling watched, he saw that the dinosaur was chasing something, or rather, someone – a girl, in fact. This can’t be real, he told himself, though he continued to hold tightly to his pencil. Frightened though he was, Ashling took courage in the belief that he was still dreaming. Dreams are only as real as I want them to be, he said to himself silently. As the beast drew closer, it became harder and harder to remember that it wasn’t real. He tried to make the dinosaur disappear by imagining it gone, but he had only temporary partial success. The dinosaur became slightly transparent for a moment, but then simultaneous to the crashing down of his clawed foot, he became more solid than ever, and Ashling lost his courage.
“Aaaah,” the terror filled boy screamed. With the beast so close, Ashling could no longer think clearly. He began to run. Weaving through the trees, Ashling strove to remain on his feet, though his legs felt weak. As he ran, Ashling caught a glimpse of something yellow, moving through the trees to his right. It was the same person he had seen before, wearing a yellow cloak. She appeared young, probably younger than himself. This is her dream, Ashling realized. Somehow, I’ve gotten trapped in someone else’s dream again. She must have been watching a scary movie recently.
Following close behind the girl, who was angling gradually away from Ashling, was the dinosaur. As Ashling realized this, he let himself slow down and come to a stop. The dinosaur wasn’t chasing him. In fact, as Ashling stopped to think about it, nothing in this dream could probably even see him. After all, his own parents couldn’t see him when he had been in Derek’s dream. Even Derek had not been able to see Ashling. As Ashling stood in one place, his rapidly beating heart gradually began to return to normal. This is just like watching a movie, he thought, nothing can hurt me.
Though the dinosaur seemed insanely fast, the girl was faster. She eventually outpaced him and the monstrous beast faded from view. The trees also disappeared, while a school building appeared in their place. The girl, with a furtive glance behind her, slipped into an open classroom. Ashling ran up to the classroom door and tried to open it. It was locked. He closed his eyes and told himself that the door would open, that it was now unlocked. Without hesitation, Ashling tried again to open the door. Still, it wouldn’t open. “Why isn’t this working?” he wondered.
Then it came to him. She’s fighting me. The yellow clad girl wanted the door locked, and so it stayed locked. Ashling remembered the partial success when he had tried to make the dinosaur disappear. I just have to focus harder, he thought. I can do it if I just try hard enough. As he considered his options, the scenery shifted again. “Why can’t regular dreams just stay still for a moment,” Ashling complained. He was still standing before a door, but this time, it was the door of a house – probably her house. Ashling tried the door again, but it was still locked.
While he had been thinking, Ashling remembered the ball that had passed through his head during Derek’s dream. The ball was part of the dream and Derek didn’t want that changed, so it kept going. But what’s the difference between the ball going through my head and my head going through the ball. I bet I can get through this door. Thirty seconds later, Ashling was hurtling himself against the door. He felt the pain of his shoulder hitting the door, but at the same time was happy to feel it begin to pass through. Though he slowed down, Ashling found it easy to continue through, once he had started. Now, where is she?
“Hello!” he yelled in vain. “I really want to get out of this dream. Please come out.” Ashling rushed through every room of the house as quickly as he could, fearful that the scenery would change again and he’d have to start over. With a smile, he remembered something that might help him. “This house doesn’t exist,” he said, willing it to be true. As had happened with the dinosaur, the house became transparent for just a moment, long enough for Ashling to see through to where she was hiding.
“Under the bed?!” he laughed incredulously. “She had a scary dream and now she’s hiding under the bed. In her dream!”
Seconds later, he was at her bedside. “I’m really sorry about this, but this is the only way I know to wake you up. And I really need you to wake up right now.” It was challenging to feel that he had enough force behind his fist as he lay on the floor, but it was the best he could do.
“Wham!” Ashling’s fist hit the side of the girl’s head, and as had happened with Derek, his hand passed through. His hand buzzed with the feeling of static electricity as it came between the girl’s eyes. Instantly, he was gone from her dream and lying in the king-sized bed again.
“Great!” he moaned. “I’m back here again. I’m never going to get out of this hotel.” Ashling reflected on what he had just done to end the dream of that poor girl cowering under her bed. He felt guilty. Real guilty. Of course, he knew from his experience with Derek that she wouldn’t actually feel anything when she woke up, but still… It went against his morals, against all he had ever been taught by his parents. “Okay! okay!” he told his conscience. “I’ll figure out a different way to do it next time. Leave me alone!”
With that decided, he closed his eyes and thought about what he would do next. He still felt as tired as when he had lain down originally. Perhaps you actually had to be asleep when you were asleep to actually get any rest. Ashling chuckled a bit at that thought. As Ashling began to feel that he could fall asleep again, he had a thought that caused him to open his eyes with surprise. “Wait. Am I asleep right now, or awake?” He sat up so that he could feel the pillow behind his head. Yep. Still there. With a smile at having possibly figured something else out, Ashling lay back down and closed his eyes. Maybe there was another way to get out of a dream besides dragging himself out of bed or jumping from tall places. In minutes, Ashling was sleeping soundly, with only the regular sort of dream to entertain him.