Speculative Fantasy Contemporary

“Not a Dream Gift” by Elizabeth Fenley

The dream deities must be pissed off. If I had to guess, Morpheus is delivering his messages in record numbers, his brother Phoebetor, the Son of Darkness, is bringing more nightmares, and Mara is sitting on the chests of the sleeping to pour nightmares into sleep-cycling brains. They have to be the ones responsible because the dreams are so palpable, so tangible that they exude from people as they go about their normal days.

I have the misfortune of reading everyone’s dreams.

I can’t control it—and I certainly don’t want it. It’s like music from the car next to you at a stoplight, blasting stupid loud with the windows rolled down as if everyone wants to hear their music because they and their music are just so awesome. Personally, I believe there is an inverse proportion between music volume and intelligence—the louder the music, the dumber the person.

This ability is doubly unpleasant because once the dream opens up, it brings the current thoughts as well—reading their thoughts about the dream in addition to interpreting it. I wonder what I did a year ago to piss these dream gods and goddesses off enough to deserve this. It’s been a long, alarming year, bombarded by so many dreams.

The woman waiting for the crosswalk light to change dreams about her ex-husband as if he they were still married. Sometimes he is as horrible in the dreams as in real life, and sometimes he is just there, a ready-made stock character representing other things. She hates it, feels like she should take a shower in extra hot water and try to scrub out her brain with bleach.

The teenager who drags my groceries out of Wal-Mart to my car dreamed about holding a baby last night, and now she’s worried that the dream meant she’s pregnant. She plans to steal a pregnancy test at the end of her shift. That’s a good idea. She is pregnant.

I never wanted this… ability, curse, whatever it is. I want desperately to get rid of it, but I don’t know how or even if it’s possible. It’s always so loud, so crowded in my head. I spend as much time as possible alone in the remote cottage I bought when this started happening.

I told my therapist right away. She, of course, interpreted my interpretation of what I experienced as other people’s dreams and asked why I was suddenly having these thoughts. Not helpful. I didn’t tell her—or anyone else—about it again. I’m afraid someone will interpret my claims as hallucinations and delusions of omniscience. Even paranoia. I know that would land me in an inpatient hospital with drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, who knows what else. I would be trapped with the dreams of the suicidal, the bipolar, the schizophrenic, and the addicts. I can’t imagine what those would be like. And I don’t want to.

For the last year, I’ve just been trying to cope with it. Just cope. Just survive. But I’m tired, weary of knowing everyone else’s problems.

Laura, who works in the cubicle beside mine, dreams about being attacked by a dog—even though she loves dogs and grew up with them. It’s the same dog every night—a familiar dog, but not her dog. She hasn’t made the connection yet. She’s afraid her boyfriend is cheating on her again. He is.

The man in the breakroom pouring himself a cup of coffee, whose name I don’t know, dreamed last night about being in a plane crash even though he hasn’t been on a plane in years and has no upcoming travels planned. It means he’s worried about projects, plans or decisions in his life, and the parts he can’t control.

My boss dreams that each time he opens his mouth, rotten teeth fall out. He has a vague sense that it has something to do with what he says at work, that he’s an imposter and what he says is all bullshit. It is. Maybe he will have a dream that will make him stop talking bullshit.

The pharmacist at the drive through window smokes a bowl every night before she goes to sleep and then has wild, psychedelic dreams that are just the drugs. They don’t mean anything. They’re just odd. She never remembers them.

Ironically, I never remember my own dreams. I know I must have them because all the sleep science I have read says everyone dreams. I wake up the same way every morning, never feeling any emotional residue of dreams. Maybe it’s because I have too many dreams in my head during the day from all everyone else.

I never stay the night with my girlfriend—at my house or hers. She doesn’t understand, interprets it as my fear of intimacy. It isn’t. I need to sleep without her dreams in my head. It’s only a matter of time before she breaks up with me for my emotional unavailability. She tells me it’s hard enough with parents who have been distantly disapproving of her “lifestyle” as they put it, but she needs me to be a partner. Her straight friends and her co-workers don’t quite rise to the level of bonding she needs. She doesn’t spend as much time with her lesbian friends and ex-girlfriends now that we’re Facebook Status: In a Relationship. But I know that will change, and I only have to remember the patterns of my past to know that—no dream interpretations required.

I spend most of my free time reading, escaping into other people’s lives, people who don’t interpret dreams or read minds or predict the future. People who are completely unlike me. I secretly hope the seam of the book will rip open and pull me into it and never spit me back out, just let me live in that world without who I am in this one. Nobody would miss me. Rachel would dismiss my physical lack of availability as an illustration of my emotional unavailability, assuming I just bailed without saying goodbye, ghosting her. I wondered how long she would wait to change her online “Status.” My boss would wait three days, documenting the calls, and then let HR do the paperwork for firing me. No family left to miss me. Not even a pet to depend on me.

Maybe there is another solution—aside from the big permanent solution—and I haven’t found it yet. I will keep looking. Maybe there’s a way to appease the dream deities enough to let me escape

When people cross into my dream radar field, I will keep trying not to look, listen, interpret, know.

But I know it won’t work.

September 26, 2021 21:35

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Grath Brooks
12:08 Jan 28, 2022

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Cliff Pratt
00:37 Oct 09, 2021

A fascinating glimpse into a mind that is different. It's one of the sort of stories that poses more questions than it answers. It's complete in itself, a nugget. Each character has a story and this story is their meta-story. I liked it. For me, there is a little downside, though. I prefer stories where more happens. It's like we are given snapshots of each of the characters and the protagonist. But this almost certainly a personal bias.


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