The shrink gave me some tricks to try out that I thought were stupid, but I did them anyway. The same way a desperate insomniac will try any and all home remedies on the chance they might lead to a good night's sleep. They didn't help (of course not) but it wasn't for lack of trying. But that was a million years ago. Over time I've become accustomed to my nightmares. The style of the dreams has become more sophisticated. The terror is still there, but the delivery system is more ... refined.
Imagine your living room. The couch, the chairs, the TV, the bookshelves, the windows and curtains. Your room. All of your things where they're supposed to be and seemingly ... safe.
To the right of the fireplace's mantle is a small discoloration on the wall. You move closer to inspect it. The paint has slightly bubbled up and you pick at it, uncovering a hole in the wall about an inch in diameter. You look through it and see a vast cosmic abyss lit by something completely different from mere stars. These shifting points of light are somehow aware and know they are being observed ... and it is somehow understood that is not allowed. You begin to feel the coldness of terror when one by one, they align in one direction to gaze back at you. Even if you remembered Friedrich Nietzsche's warning, you thought it was just a hole in your living room wall. How were you to know what lay beyond?
These days my dreams start out completely prosaic until I discover one little thing slightly amiss ... and with that discovery everything unravels into another time and place where chaos rules the land and sky and everything above and below.
Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and other Authors of Unease, like the best Twilight Zone episodes, will start by establishing a reality we can readily accept. And then Something Happens and unknowingly we take our first steps ... sideways. We still might think we're in our reality -- it's still close enough from where we embarked -- but with another step and then another, we are somewhere in between light and shadow.
Jack Finney, author of The Body Snatchers, wrote a story where everything changed because of a coin. This is my version:
Imagine you've just come home from work. You go into your bedroom and dump the contents of your pockets onto your dresser. Perhaps you put the change you've accumulated throughout the day into a small bowl. Your attention is drawn to a dime mingled among the quarters and nickels. Instead of FDR's profile on the coin you see Woodrow Wilson's. You take it into the TV room and show it to your wife and son who have just finished watching the local news. You don't know anything about numismatics, the coin might not be worth anything, but you think it's interesting nonetheless. Until your son pulls a dime from his pocket. "What's the big deal?" he asks showing you his Woodrow Wilson dime. Your wife gives you a slightly odd look as she tells you and the boy to wash up for dinner.
As you walk down the hall to the bathroom you think about what this might mean ... and what's at stake. You know that Wilson's profile had never been on a dime. Ever. But your wife and son don't see anything amiss. As you wash your hands and face, you begin to see the borders of your problem more clearly. The people in this house are not your wife and son. This is not your house. The borders expand exponentially until you realize this is not even your universe. You began the day in one world and somehow, without realizing it, you are now in another. And you have no clear idea how you got here or how to get back. The borders stretch to infinity.
And that's why I say ... once the screaming starts ... it's already too late. As the woman and the boy realize cringing behind the locked bathroom door, as you yourself realize when you just can't stop the screaming. Whatever has happened ... already happened. The screams are just the exclamation points at the end of the sentence.
But those are just books, stories and dreams. They're not real.
Each day there are more and more anomalies eating holes in our reality. Things that shouldn't be ... suddenly ... are. And we are supposed to unquestioningly accept this altered reality. And tomorrow and the next day and the next, the reality of "What Is" is altered again and then again, and we're supposed to glide into the new version because that's what we are supposed to do. No one on the Nightly News on any of the networks is going to hold up a dime with Woodrow Wilson's likeness on it and proclaim, "This is not what it is supposed to be ... Things are not what they appear to be ..."
The logic of our nightmares has shambled into the daylight and defeated it. What was unthinkable is now commonplace. But we are not trapped in the Middle Ground Between Light and Shadow. We are still capable of choosing between the two. But for some reason we have yet to make the decision. But we must hurry -- someday there might not be any relief in waking. The alarm clock will go off, you'll fumble to stop the buzzing, swing your legs over the side of the bed, and before you can slide into your slippers a cold leathery hand grabs your right ankle. And pulls ... hard.
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