Perchance: Part I is the first chapter in a fictional serial, which follows a very ordinary person’s adventures through dreams, nightmares, and the more familiar doorways of unreality.
We all dream, and in dreams we can know things that were and never were, or are yet to be. Dreams, in general, are powerful. Nightmares are more so.
Few people are taught that the term nightmare stems from the Old English word “mare,” meaning a demon, often of a female form. In tradition, these demons would threaten, trouble, and torture their sleepers, sprawling upon their bodies and bringing them to harm, strangling them, removing the very breath from their lungs.
But sometimes, nightmares are something else.
Sometimes, night mares are something worse.
Joseph Wood, a person very much like myself, is very familiar with these facts. But unlike you, Joe now knows that dreams are not merely dreams, just as nightmares are not merely nightmares. In fact, dreams were never dreams at all.
Once there was, and once there was not, as it goes in the world of tales and dreams, Joe, asleep, some two years before the present, staying with his family over winter break. His eyes danced rapidly beneath their closed lids. Then, in a moment, he awoke, but not from fear. Above him, a white orb wisped in hesitation, barely illuminating his dark room. Joe did not question it. He arose from his bed, beckoned by the light, and dressed himself in a bathrobe and flannel pants. The light waited for him. Moving on with it, Joe ambled down the hallway to the front door of his house; by luck or fate, his parents, still asleep, had not turned on the house alarm. Bracing himself against the oak heft of the door, he made his exit and stepped forth into the frigid Colorado air, accompanied by the guiding, celestial orb. The sky, dotted with more stars than he had ever remembered seeing, was no longer black, but blue. Dawn was approaching.
Joe walked down his street, stumbling in nearly a daze, but following a purposeful path. Finally, reaching the end of the neighborhood, he was confronted by the dark gloom of the forest wash. During the daytime, he had been given to flights of fantasy about this almost-enchanted trench. Since he was a little boy, Joe had explored and played alone in this same desolate creek bed, imagining a hidden treasure beneath every dried rock and woodland companions in every tree. He had never seen it at night. At first, he was daunted by the black gloom of the brush. As if in response, the bright orb wandered ahead of him, swimming to the edge of the forest and illuminating its brambles and shadows. Joe followed and continued onward, proceeding deeper along the pebbled path.
The neighborhood lights faded behind him until all signs of civilization escaped his view. Like the orb above, his breath danced, freezing in the chilly air. Suddenly, the orb stopped. It began to dim. Leaving Joe in complete darkness, it went out. Where it had been, the moon hung overhead.
Joe heard the crack of a twig break behind him. Whirling around in the pitch black, his muscles tightened. He was afraid. In the direction of the noise, in the dark, in some thickets, with his eyes adjusting, Joe perceived two glowing circles, slowly approaching. Except they weren’t circles. They were eyes, eyes he felt that he had seen before. In a nightmare. The eyes were ringed, with a red outer orbit, followed by orange, yellow, white–like the layers of a flame–and then black dots at the center. The dots were small but cavernous, a mausoleum of so many bodies that it was difficult to tell which were old and which were new. The eyes were hungry, perhaps.
But not like an animal’s. This famine was not the lust for prey.
Just as the eyes were upon him, the white orb erupted back into Joe’s vision. He could just barely make out the bare outline of the eyes’ owner, a large, crouching, spindly creature, with a bulbous head and extremities arranged as though from rotting tree branches. As the orb flashed, it retreated back into the brambles.
The orb continued to overpower Joe’s vision, consuming all of his sight. Briefly, Joe felt as though he was floating, flying even, before his feet found new ground. He felt a pressure on his back and heard a rumbling noise. The ground was unstable. He blinked.
Above him, the orb had been replaced by a blistering noon sun, more golden than the orb’s sterile pallor. Joe leaned forwards, upwards. He was on a paddle boat, alone. Salty ocean waves battered and sprayed against the sides. In the far-off distance, Joe could just make out a thin strip-there was an island, the only land in sight. He began to desperately row the boat towards it, pulling with all his strength over the murky waters.
After nearly three hour hours of rowing, Joe could make out the island’s features more clearly. Redwoods and pines, strange inhabitants for a tropical island of this climate, dotted the edge of the island’s jungle, straight lines contradictory to the curves of companion palm trees. Bright colors, flowers, formed the grove’s carpet above the sand.
Joe kept rowing, getting closer by the minute. The waves had become more violent, the closer he pulled to shore. His boat rocked about, rising and falling to extremes with each aquatic swell. Then, like an axe chopping wood, Joe heard the sound of grating beneath the boat as its prow descended over another wave. The grating continued, and the water, clearing up, revealed a high reef and jutting rocks at the bottom of the next crest.
In vain, Joe attempted to brace himself, but the boat flipped onto the reef, sending him flying. Salt and sandy water flooded his nose and burned his eyes as he tumbled into the sea. Once again in darkness, he struggled to reach the surface, barely making out the sunlight through the black and gold particulates. He had forgotten to hold his breath. Somersaulting in the undercurrent, he fought to stabilize himself. Then, he felt his back collide with something. He passed out.
Joe felt warmth, and softness beneath him. Somehow, he had made it up onto the sand. In his disorientation, perceiving brightness only on his left through his closed, crusted eyes, he knew that he was sprawled out on his right side. Then, he felt himself being rolled over. A soft hand was placed against his chest, pumping down on it repeatedly. A mouth touched his. Air filled his lungs.
Joe coughed the water out, drinking back the oxygen. Tired, he opened his stinging eyelids slowly. Three figures stood over him. Before he could make out anything specific, his vision faded once again, as he fell out of consciousness.
In the darkness of his troubled mind, the ringed eyes from the creak glared at him, face to face, alone and all-consuming.