She called herself “Electric” and suffered from debilitating migraines every four days. Electric, or El for short, came to me broken and seeking a cure for an abstract pain in her dreams, to which I could only reply, “I’m not a medical doctor, but I will try to help.”
“A doctor of dreams then,” she said. When she laughed little dimples would form on both of her pale, crescent moon cheeks. I couldn’t explain why, or perhaps I masked the truth from myself, but I felt an awkward guest in El’s dreams; as if I should have asked permission and yet there I was, fumbling and prodding away at another human’s psyche, with little evidence of qualification.
El wasn’t an inmate and hence had never been inside a game. Her ‘scape was untrained, wispy and ethereal. Naive, one might say, or innocent, perhaps. The first time I entered her mind I knew something was off – she had no defences, there was no struggle, no questioning. Everything was laid bare to me, a stranger in her brain, unwittingly. I initially pitied her, for here lay a person of whom taking advantage would only require a step to the left, a little jaunt, to which an invader, a legitimate threat, unlike myself, would surely have exploited, but I quickly shunted this emotion away. It was fear I felt, fear of spoiling this sincere mind.
I was not here to teach basic dream fighting 101, I reminded myself. Nor was I here to pry, quickly averting my primal eyes from El’s primal memories. I at once felt a terrible power and for perhaps a minute I philosophised on the war between correct conduct and the situation that had presented itself; power corrupts, reality or no.
I shook myself vigorously, wiped my face hard and started subliming the ‘scape, projecting out a level of control El’s mind had never felt. The whispers of unconsciousness suddenly latched onto my outstretched structure and began to order themselves into a regiment. Here, an army lay dormant, only now hearing its call to arms; the mindless neural wind began to swirl and coalesce into something tangible, something that only had meaning to the dreamer, that is, a bed-bound red-haired woman, one hand clutching her forehead, her syncope absolute.
A house emerged from the clouds, Victorian, semi-detached. A fair rain finger-tapped the old, murky windows, failing to penetrate the soft, orange glow of the front room. I stood silently across the road, already damp. I reached out and-
Umbrella in hand, my gaze flicked to the right; a woman splashed loudly towards the house, her head covered desperately with a sodden newspaper, her shoes drenched – I could almost feel her exasperation. She did not notice my dark figure, or chose not to acknowledge, and hurried into the refuge of the front door’s alcove. The newspaper, flung to the lawn, was a lost cause, but it did the job; El’s long, red hair, tied up high into a ponytail, was only slightly wet about her fringe.
I watched on as she struggled to find the portal key, searching inside a leather-like messenger bag. Evidently the search proved fruitless as El began hammering on the door, calling out something that was drowned out in the rain. After a minute or so when it became clear that no-one was coming to the door, she halted this spiel and dashed around the side of the house, disappearing from my sight.
Naturally, I began to follow her in. I took one step, and the house bulged nauseatingly. The static construction at once seemed sentient, and threatened to belch or perhaps eject something that did not sit well inside its stomach of rooms and wood and dust. I hesitated for a moment, noting that something darker was evidently afoot, and crossed the road to the deviant house in the downpour.
The scene inside the house broke me from the get-go. It was painfully familiar and hence rattled the locks of a scarred childhood I thought I had firmly fastened. Electric had dumped her bag on the kitchen table, its contents spilling out. I could smell its leathery wet as well as the mulchy aroma from her hastily removed shoes. She was busying herself with pots and plates, shouting out intermittently at, presumably, a sibling.
“Oz! You home?”
I became formless and scouted out the rest of the two floor house, a whispering wraith. It was middle-class England incarnate, hence the familiarity. Antiquey crap, gomi, littered a gas fireplace; endless photos of relatives, some blurry; middle-eastern carpets garishly lathered on the worn, fake-oak flooring. A tortoise-shell cat twinkled its bell as it padded nonchalantly down the staircase. Was this Oz?
I floated up the stairs, still not corporeal, and coming up to a closed door, found that if Oz was indeed the cat, then he had an entire upper floor bedroom to his or herself, judging by the punk-rock font that screamed “Keep Out, Oz’s room”. I shuddered with memories of my own sister having such a sign.
Lock that shit down, Doc.
To my right was the master bed; a man lay there, fully clothed. Old, greying with the hint of a belly. His eyes were closed, but he wasn’t asleep. I came up close and saw dried rivulets of tears down his face. I noticed a family photo on the bedside table; four members, nuclear. Oz looked about 16, Electric older, possibly at University age. Their mother…
The dream wisps caught my thoughts and gave me the answer. It was in the air and it clicked for me a little too late. I phased through the floor, ending up in the hallway, just as Oz hurtled through me, his breathing taut from hyperventilation. I heard Electric hit the floor before I saw it.
“Mom died,” Oz croaked.
Here we go.
I find her sitting on the kitchen tiles, clutching a bag of pasta. Her mind starts to compartmentalise and fixate on details; something real and unchanging to hold onto.
Fusilli. A half-opened can of tomatoes, the opener still stuck on the lid. El not knowing what to do with her hands. She starts to touch her hair, starts scratching at the floor. I hear Oz behind me sobbing.
I slow down El’s dream time ever so slightly, and run a quick search in the ‘scape for current details on Oz: he got over it, married, 2.5 kids. The dream resumes and I can feel the crux, the climax of the dream, the nightmare, loom threateningly. Oz, the house, the unnamed cat vanish into grey smoke and we fall into an abyss. “Yawning wide chasm of pain”, would be an apt description I decide.
Okay, that’s enough now, I whisper into El’s ear. Locks of her red hair, tearstained and sweaty plaster her face. She’s falling headfirst, eyes closed. My words blink her back online. Everything freezes and we hover in mid-abyss.
Well, well, we may have a dream savant here. I tuck away that nugget of info away for later.
“Who are you?” She manages to get out. Her voice hoarse with pain.
“I’m your doctor. This is a dream.”
A line of panic flickers across her face and I feel the dream collapsing. I executive override her and will the dream to hold itself steady. A quick search of her memories and we blink into cheap, plastic chairs, magnolia walls and the smell of alcohol gel and stringent. Hospital waiting room.
“Your mother had depression, El. For years, it seems,” I say, scrolling through a virtual list. “But the car accident was pure coincidence on that rainy day. Why do you blame yourself, El? What did you do?” I regret this line of questioning the instant I see her raise her glassy eyes and parse the rage dwelling there.
“You know NOTHING!” She screams.
Ah, ok then.
She rips me out of her head. I jolt out of the dream, feeling a donkey-kick to my stomach and an electric charge sweep over my body. I rip off the ‘trodes and breathe haggardly for a few seconds. IRL, she lies there prone. Still asleep. After a minute of watching her tensed lungs rise and fall underneath skin, cotton and linen sheets, I open up my fresh notebook, flick to the second page and put a small asterisk next to El’s name.