There were some unrelated parts of the dream. Farthest back I can remember, we were exploring the tracks of an ancient wooden railroad in the middle of the jungle. The best quick description would be a combination between Myst (abandoned ancient tech) and FarCry (the first jungle level from the demo is I think all I played anyway). There were all sorts of unpleasant things amongst the cool, though, like almost stepping in a giant pile of (elephant/not-elephant) dung and climbing up to a lookout tower where I was attacked by fierce mosquitoes.
The next bit was bad, as well. I had caught a ride home with some business guy, and though the trip had started out all right, he soon turned out to be an intense jerk. And really bad driver. In my head, I am picturing the Albany regional manager from Dunder-Mifflin, the one who showed up to the meeting with David Wallace without his report and then outed Michael and Jan's "affair." He was being a real prick, and ranting about every little thing that annoyed him. It was wet and chilly. He was ranting so intensely, he missed a curve in the highway and we ended up skidding around the turn on the wrong side of the road, held on the pavement only by the guardrail. So I decided I needed to go out, but when I talked of leaving he accused me of abandoning/betraying him and his driving decreased in quality noticeably. So I placated him and just asked if I could pick up my dry cleaning (at the River Mart plaza in Edgewater!). He seemed to think this was okay, since it wasn't *that* far out of his way (aww, what a swell guy). The dry cleaners was run by my mother (?), who offered to fix one of the items damaged in the cleaning free of charge. I took the remaining clothes and went back outside, where the business jerk was waiting impatiently. Against my better judgement, I got back in the car with him. I was actually planning to bail on him at the next red light when I reconsidered. I decided to ask him what was *really* wrong. And he broke down, though not exactly crying, and while he didn't tell me what was making him act like such a jerk, he did say that he resented having to drive me around when all he wanted to do was brew some tea (which he'd apparently bought next door while I was talking to my mother) so he could get warm. We had this conversation while headed up not-Rt. 5 to Cliffside Park/Fort Lee and so I was like, shit, I know a place! So we went to this place (totally made up, not at all real) where there were several small stands with guys selling food, drinks, fruit, sweets... all sorts of different things. It was weird because it wasn't a street or sidewalk. It was like an alley, only not between anything. No buildings, nothing. Except there was a cafe.
So this is where the meat of the dream started. The business guy was just how I got there. I was tempted by the sweet things the guys were selling, but I wanted to see what was in the cafe. So I went inside, and was checking out the various cakes and things in the display cases when I noticed that I recognized this one guy there. And he was someone I hadn't seen for ages, so I was like trying to come up with what I was going to say to him when I said hi. But then I realized I recognized all the people he was sitting with, too. These were all people who—while I wouldn't say I was /close/ with them—I knew really well. Not really friends, but as acquaintances go, real standouts. Definite characters. You know, big talkers. And the thing was, they all seemed to know each other, despite having known them at different points in my life. So I was like, this is too weird, I've got to check this out. So I turned away from the display cases and walked past the bookshelves to the table where they were all sitting. And there was the big storyteller, who would always bend your ear about this or that adventure, the various people he'd met (famous and infamous), or shit he'd gotten himself into (and then only just narrowly out of). There was the self-promotional artist guy, who nominally did web design but had his own art and photography website, was always posting videos of himself in the quest to become the next youtube sensation, etc. There was the quiet but diligent writer chick who aside from her works was largely quiet and cryptic (unusual for this group). And then there was the long lost love of my life, who had gone from the girl who'd go digging for worms with me to popular girl/prom queen, and finally to international socialite blogger, invited to all the best parties, high fashion shows and so on.
What these people had more in common than anything else was their sort of continual self-promotion. They were like engines of fame, trying so hard to be bigger than life. And as we were talking, it became clear. Each had stories more grandiloquent than the next, with the exception of the author. She had stories, though none were (overtly) about her. But I sort of had an idea what was going on by this time, because no one could possibly have had all these adventures. So when it was my turn, I made up grandiloquent tales of stories I'd written, people I'd met, amazing journeys I'd taken (including the railroad expedition). Then I said, "Either we're all lying, or we're just dreaming." I couldn't imagine that author was an author (as much that she'd sell out her integrity to churn out formulaic fantasy series as anything else), or that artist was really an artist (and had done a painting while skydiving and some of the other things he claimed), or that the raconteur had really met all the people he said he'd met (some of them had been dead for decades). Which storyteller said was funny, because he'd always been a lucid dreamer, and of course the artist quickly fessed up to also being a lucid dreamer, and once we explained it to her (not cause she was dumb or anything; she just wasn't aware it was a thing), socialite heiress chick was like, oh, me too! So we've all created our dream selves, the author chick asked/explained. And we sort of had a laugh, but there was something at the back of my head. And then it kind of clicked; the storyteller /might/ have met some of those people but because shouldn't he be like several years older? When last we'd seen each other, ages ago, he was decent a bit older than I. But I'd never seen someone adjust their outward age in a dream; appearance, sure, as in being someone else (intentionally or otherwise). But in dreams, when you're you, you're essentially you—except in dreams where you're remembering/reliving something from a specific age. Since this was a shared dream/hallucination, it couldn't also be a memory, now could it? So I asked him how he did it, and he looked at me. He said he never remembered being older than he was, which was a huge red flag to me. HUGE.
Something was wrong, for certain. So while I played it coolly, I casually grilled everyone about their stories and started putting together the details. There were little things, like no one could remember how they came to the cafe or how long they'd been there. And it started to seem like none of these people, myself included, were strictly speaking, alive anymore. As if in confirmation, one of the characters wandered over to the TV and turned it on. And, like in [SPOILERS]Nfurf gb Nfurf,[/SPOILERS] we each saw our own deaths (in his defense, it turns out Artist had actually attempted the skydiving painting thing, at least). So I sort of figured out what was going on, and talked with the others about what happens in the brain in the minutes between body death and brain death, where the mind is free to dream, and minutes can stretch to hours or longer as they often do in dreams. And yet it was odd that we should all come together in this kind of limbo. I mean, we were none of us really close in life (with the exception of my childhood sweetheart, and let's be honest that that wasn't really a serious thing even if she'd been hanging off me since I showed up—or at least since I spilled my heroic tales of awesomeness earlier). So we tried to put it together. The writer had the only real idea: "Our only common thread [aside from lucid dreaming, apparently] is you. Maybe you are somehow important to our progress to the afterlife." Or something like that; I don't remember what she actually said. So then the TV, which was either still on or had turned itself on, flashed the words in big block letters over the snow/white noise: YOU MUST ALL GO. It was very neutral, yet still rather ominous. And the raconteur asked me to repeat what I'd said about subjective time in dreams, and then wasn't it possible that now our brains were dying, too, and it was time for us to "move on"? Move on meaning actual death, obviously. That little things like the strange behavior of the TV indicated the shared hallucination was degrading.
I suppose it was because I'd just gotten there that this upset me the most. I stalked past the shelves and racks of books over to where the TV sat, and I bent at the waist to stare into the screen. It was a CRT set on a cart, which I mention because I was initially remembering it as mounted on the wall but that's not true. And I shook it, and I smacked it as one would with a malfunctioning set (at least, back in the day; I don't think I've ever seen anyone smack a flatscreen). And then the words disappeared and were replaced by the name of the storyteller/schmoozer dude. And then the door at the bottom of the back stairs opened, shining through with a white light not entirely unlike the television snow behind his name. And while we discussed it a bit, a countdown clock appeared beneath his name on the TV, and there seemed to be a faint whine that was growing louder the smaller the numbers got. Finally, the raconteur said he had to at least check it out, that not knowing was worse. And that if he stayed away from death, he might face a fate worse than it, which he didn't want to even think about. So we crowded around the door, standing on the various wooden steps at the foot of the stairwell. And he put a finger in, then his hand, and nothing. We could see the TV counting down at the top of the stairs, growing closer and closer to zero. Less than a minute. And the whining noise had gotten louder, till we could tell it was the sound of a flatline. It doesn't feel like anything bad, he said, and then stepped through with seconds left. We couldn't see him. We couldn't hear him. He was gone.
Socialite/debutante chick clung to my arm as we returned up the stairs. I don't want to die, she was saying, I'm alright with this limbo, I don't want oblivion. And she was suddenly very focused on me, and telling me she loved me, she'd always loved me and didn't I love her too? Couldn't we stay here together forever? etc. And I didn't know what to do, so I said yes, sure. And then the artist's name came up, and his clock started. And the discussion was intense and philosophical on the nature of death, levels of death, consciousness and oblivion. And he wasn't focused so much on staying vs. going as he was on making his choice meaningful, deliberate, and making it mean something. One last chance for an artistic statement. And we stayed at the top of the stairs and watched as he stared intensely into that abyss, long and hard, his bespectacled eyes but inches away from the light, trying to peer through the veil. And finally, all he said is, "I can't /not/ go." and he stepped through.
It was sort of cryptic, but we took it to mean he had no choice, and that one way or another, we would all be compelled to go. And the writer reminded me that I was the common thread, and suggested that maybe I was there to bring us "to the light" or to make the transition easier. Just in time, of course, for the beauty queen's name to appear on the screen. So I calmed her, dried her tears, held her, stroked her hair. I told her that no matter what happened, I'd be there when she went, and that we'd both be together on the other side soon anyway. And I knew it was true, that it would be soon. The dismal grey skies had gone but it wasn't night outside. There were no stars, no moon, no streetlights in the windows. There was nothing outside. It was just us, the cafe, and whatever was downstairs. So she stopped crying and we both walked down the stairs with her. When she got to the doorway, she looked through it and smiled faintly. "It's okay. It's really not all that bad." And without hesitating, she walked through, her eyes open.
Which left me alone with the author chick. And I looked into her eyes and had something of a realization. Maybe she was right. Maybe she was right about a lot of things. And maybe I was wrong about a lot of things. And I told her: "I know what I said just now, and I know why I said it, but it's not true. That's not what I want. I want you. Let's just us stay here, even for just a moment, and be together. I don't know why I never saw it, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't want her. I want you." And I thought she was looking away from me, but she was looking at the light. Or through it. And she turned back and hushed me. "Shh. It's okay." It's okay, just like the one who went before her. And in her eyes I saw that moment that I was acting as much out of fear as anything else, and that she knew this. And while there may have been something between us, a connection romantic or otherwise, this was not the place to discover or explore it. I was chastened, but also confused, because her evaluation revealed even more the depths that I loved her, respected her for. But yet I couldn't be certain, given the situation and my emotional state, that my feelings for her were genuine. Despite—or perhaps because of—my emotional turmoil, she turned and walked through the bright doorway.
I turned away and stormed up the stairs. I shook the TV, but my name wouldn't fade. I made to pull it off its stand, to hurl it down the stairs and out the door itself, but it would not come loose. And as I pulled with all my might I slipped loose and fell amongst the bookshelves. And it was then that I finally noticed the books themselves, several of which had been written by me. And they were all about these people I had known, but taken them and made them larger than life, and put them into my stories. And I could tell from the way the books were worn that these stories were read, somewhat heavily. And that's when I realized it wasn't a shared hallucination, or lucid dream, or limbo between life and death. It wasn't a shared anything. This was a world I had created, and I had given these people their extended lives through my stories. Yes, the principals were dead now, both in body and mind, but they lived on. And I, as the author, was a character in my own right. I couldn't die either, not really. I would not go to oblivion. I /had/ accomplished something. I /had/ given something to these people, meant something to them more than I'd realized. This was the reason I was the common thread tying them together. This was the way in which I had been important to them. Which wasn't so bad, really. I had been worrying not so much about dying but about not having accomplished anything, not having made a difference. And so when I approached the doorway, I saw not a blank glare or empty noise, but that the wooden stairway and flooring beneath my feet continued outside, transitioning seamlessly into a wooden deck upon which my buddy the raconteur sat, sipping a beer and telling a story to some fellow. The light had been replaced by a late afternoon sun, and there was a gentle breeze through the grasses behind the cafe. My sweetheart held her skirt up a bit to help her run through the grasses towards me. She was dressed as a 50s housewife, which was mildly disturbing to me (I've never been about the demure 'wifey') but from the sound of the TV, I could tell I did not have much time left. Deciding it would not be so bad, I stepped through to embrace her on the steps of the deck.
Now if that's not enough (MS Word tells me I'm over 3,000 words at this point, for a SUMMARY), the dream came with a SEQUEL. See, I was kind of right to be disturbed a bit at the end there because years later, though things were generally hunky dory in this world I'd created, there was the start of an underground movement. I guess things were a little too perfect, or at least too static. It was maybe like living for eternity in a Norman Rockwell painting, I guess. But since we lived in a world of the characters I'd written about, that included some villains and some fiercely independent people. Which was odd (or at odds), since I'm generally a pretty independent guy myself. But this was my world, so I couldn't exactly rebel against my own control. Or maybe as an abstraction of myself I could? I'm still not sure. Because it was my dream/consciousness/reality, the underground was very intent on keeping their plans from me. So other than that there were some folks going around and asking people if they were happy/letting them know there were others who were not okay with the status quo, I didn't really know what they were doing. Which was odd, because I *did* have an omniscient view point. So maybe that's all that was going on. Maybe the idea of an underground was enough of a subversion of the reality I'd created, the very fact that there was something in there that I didn't create but was instead an emergent property. I don't know. I woke up.
Still, it's rare that my dreams can surprise me so. I figured that I knew what was going on early on in the dream; it all conformed with my concept of what happens to the mind at death. Though it didn't fit so neatly that I didn't have to do at least some figuring to get it, which would have raised a flag. So for people not familiar with me, it's a bit of a double twist. For those familiar with me (myself included), it's a nice garden path and you feel so smrt for having figured it out that when the real twist comes, it's a shocker. And, I mean, the twist itself is a doozy. It's not exactly original (people living on through stories), but it still seems striking. I also like the additional hook at the end, just the barest hint (though obvious here) that everything is not quite as "all right" as it seems.
Now I just need the time to take this and craft the narrative around it, turn it into a proper story. If the summary is this long, maybe I gots my NaNo for dis November? lolz