Lucid (Rusty Fears Winner)

This story is hosted here with the permission of its author, Elizabeth Richardson. As a contest entry, its content is not necessarily Creative Commons-licensed – please contact the author about permission to reproduce!

The moment comes slowly and with a sharpness, when a mundane dream focuses into lucidity. It’s an awareness that must be cupped lightly, like water in the palm, or else my mind jolts itself awake. The dream world fades then, becoming impossible to grasp. I recall it distantly, like a past visit to somewhere far away.

It’s difficult afterwards, to describe those memories of my own sleeping world to anyone else. My dreams are more than fragments of sight or sound – there is a pulsing sense of continuing life about them. There are patterns which have reappeared for years: the roads and neighborhoods of my hometown, childhood landmarks which my mind revisits, mirrored or shifted, north into south, city into field. The streets and buildings become merged, mixing with larger, distant cities as I travel in my waking life. Accumulated impressions of places build into a inner world.

Then there are the landmarks which live only in my dreams, repeated and familiar. They might return months apart, when I find myself lucid among their walls and doorways. I immediately recognize their surprisingly unchanged details. The shuttered, abandoned petrol station where in reality there are only friendly suburban houses. The small, brown house with carpeted hallways and cellar tunnels crushingly tight, where normally a bright ice cream shop sits next to a school. At some point, becoming lucid for me was no longer about the excitement of flying or the rewriting of dream plots. Moments I became lucid were opportunities to explore these places which existed only in my dreams, could only be visited in that half-waking vision. Upon waking, I would fill my dream journal with sketches and notes, trying to understand what these places, which seemed so important and real to me, might mean. I assumed they were some aspect of my psyche, some flavor of my soul that would help me better understand myself.

When I encountered the Otherness, it was not in these places, but in a watchful pair of eyes. A man was standing quietly outside my dream City Hall. There were many people walking the sidewalks, and the plot of the dream was comfortingly usual: I was late to an appointment, or maybe I was on my way to go shopping. I was only slightly aware that I was in my other city, the shifted place.

I wasn’t yet aware enough to really explore. Still, I was moving slowly and feeling curious. When I realized the man was looking at me, I stopped. His posture seemed friendly and normal. Gazing into his eyes, however, I felt the hazy sluggishness of everything burn off. A knowledge became clear: I was dreaming. I was lucid dreaming and there was a thing in the dream, looking out of eyes which I’d imagined, my idea of a businessman in a suit. The man and the suit were a part of my dream world; they were familiar, but there was a presence behind his eyes that was not of me or my world. The wrongness I couldn’t explain to myself any more than I could adequately explain my dreams to another person. I turned to run and woke up instantly.

It was still hours until dawn. I feared that if I went to back to sleep, I’d see whatever it was again, looking through those eyes with an awareness I’d never before encountered in any of my many dreams. So I unlocked my phone, wasting a few hours online until I felt exhausted, until the dream felt distant enough to be written off as a weird nightmare. I was able to sleep again, fitfully and without dreaming.

As much as that unfamiliar presence had disturbed me, I couldn’t hold onto the fear in the morning light. How many times had I stumbled upon strange buildings and distorted scenery that I’d never known until I found them while lucid dreaming? Often those places could be unsettling and creepy. And while they felt real and solid when I walked among them, I’d always accepted they were crafted by some remote part of me. They became familiar with repeated visited, but there were still times I’d make new discoveries. My dreams had ways of surprising me, the way the world seemed to build itself. Couldn’t there be parts so distant from my consciousness that I would perceive them as an anomalies?

When it returned to my dream world weeks later, the Otherness rode inside a body with long, spindle legs that bent at multiple joints. It rocked and lurched as it slowly moved towards me, as if it were unsure of how to move those impossible limbs. The figure was still a recognizable human shell, still wore a business suit; I would even claim the warped body as another creation of my own mind. But whatever sat invisibly inside the distorted form repulsed me beyond explanation. I ran up stairs and down industrial alleyways. I ran faster than the crawling thing with those awkward legs could run. I was only awake enough to know that I could run, even fly, away.

No matter how many city blocks I put between myself and the sense of it, no matter how high I tried to float away toward rooftops and safety, I felt it pressing on me. I didn’t need to see into its eyes anymore to know it wasn’t created by me or my subconscious. Its presence had an alien friction that was prowling my dreamscape. I had a sense of those legs growing longer and more jointed as the presence pursued me.

Eventually, I became too lucid to hold the terrifying hunt in my mind. I startled awake at four a.m. It was enough to stay awake, to let an early shower chase away the lingering crawling sensations. Whatever my visitor was, it had dissipated. It was beyond my understanding and wandering in a place that felt so distant from my waking life that it was easier to let it go and avoid dwelling on it. In the nights that followed, I remembered little of my dreams. Those dreams which I could remember, I was barely lucid, caught in fuzzy and chaotic dramas that had no logic or structure.

When I finally stumbled onto the Otherness again, it wasn’t moving at all. I dreamt I was walking near an industrial factory I’d never seen before – an ordinary kind of nonsense dream perhaps; nothing there was tied to my repeated lucid dreamscape. A path led toward two doors, side by side. A great line of people were following each other single-file into the door on the left.

Everything about the factory and the doors was rusted and dirty, but it felt strangely safe and calm. I wanted to follow the crowd inside, but before I could enter the left doorway, I felt a scratch upon the lucid part of my mind. I went to the door on the right instead. It was solid metal, heavy and imposing. Suddenly, the calm was gone. The factory before me felt terrible and wrong. Still, I had to explore. I had to understand why. I had to know where it led. I wanted to know what it could mean. I opened the door slowly, waiting for a darkness to jump out and take me. Instead, I found myself at the top of a long metal staircase, built of grated iron, flush against one wall, and leading steeply down. The room’s details became clearer, enough that I knew I would soon wake up.

At the bottom of the metal stairs was an immense, empty warehouse, like a great cavern plunging down in front of me and to my right. To my left was only solid wall. All of the walls were covered in bolted steel plates between a few tall, darkened glass windows. High above me, a single bright light bulb rocked slightly, hanging from a long, thin wire extending out of the darkness of a vaulted ceiling. I walked a little ways down the stairs, then leaned over the railing to look at what was below.

The warehouse was empty, but for a simple metal folding chair at the bottom, propped open on a cracked concrete floor and set directly below the light. An empty warehouse, but for the chair and the space above the space the chair: so clearly filled with an unseen Otherness that I screamed, a loud shout that died quickly into an oppressive silence. The intrusion into my mind was overwhelming, crushing, and paralyzing. I felt frozen, still high above on the staircase, as the light began to flicker. Off and on, over and over, while the room became sharper and more real.

I waited for my mind to be jolted out of the dream, to be forced awake. I was certain I was dreaming. I could feel the corroded iron banister cut into my palms. I could feel the breath and pulse of my dream body. I could feel the weight of gravity as I leaned over the edge, unable to move back. Unable to move at all.

In the moments of darkness, I couldn’t see the chair at all. When the light flickered back on, I braced myself, expecting the chair to be filled with visible proof of the immense presence I knew was there. A presence watching me and waiting. The chair remained empty and distant below me. Hours passed as I was tossed between the darkness and the harsh light.

Whatever had been inside the businessman and the creature, it was now free from any mask or shell, waiting invisibly upon the chair. Paralyzed and still hoping for the dream to end, I could feel the presence welling up like a spring. It filled the warehouse, went past the bolted steel and glass, down pathways, through carpeted halls, past every shuttered window, down every street and alleyway. Distantly, I still wondered if whatever this was, this living presence which I had stumbled upon in my curiosity, could ever be called a part of my mind. If so, it was from such depths that I couldn’t lay any claim of control over the being now flooding my dreamscape.

When my morning alarm sent me reeling back into my bedroom, it was only habit that led my hand to the pen on my nightstand. Habit to open my dream journal. Nothing had dissipated with the morning light filtering through my curtains. And as the ink moved on the page, the words and drawings were not my own. What belongs to my mind and what does not has fragmented beyond my recognition. Here in my bedroom, reality is turning, slowly yet sharply. There is an itching sense in the air, or of a lens turning slowly into focus. Something is waking up within a dreaming world.

This story is hosted here with the permission of its author, Elizabeth Richardson. As a contest entry, its content is not necessarily Creative Commons-licensed – please contact the author about permission to reproduce!