And there I was, standing in a field of gray silt as soap bubbles floated around me. Vivid azure bubbles rose up from beneath the silt at my feet. Pushing through like hatching chicks climbing out of their eggs. The sky was filled with gray clouds, not quite stormy, yet rain was a likely outcome. A serene scene to say the least. The windless calm before the storm. How I got here? I had no idea.
Last I remembered was laying down in my bed and dozing off as I watched TV.
Yes, it was a dream. Where else would I be and feel this calm? Where else would bubbles form as I walked? Wait! Are the clouds just damp cotton balls? What else could this be? Usually my dreams are not so obvious. My regular life transposed onto a dream world in the typical instance. Why then is this one so clear?
As I stood there a man's smokey voice spoke up from behind me.
"Please, come into my bubble," he said with a firmness and calm of a manager talking to a disgruntled customer.
In my confusion, I turned around to behold the largest iridescent bubble I had ever seen stuck to the silt ground. The reflective sheen covering the bubble, prevented my gaze from penetrating and observing what was inside. It however did show that my reflection was attractive as ever.
"Won't the bubble pop?" I asked the voice inside the bubble.
"Do not worry, this bubble was designed to withstand multiple breaches without losing its surface tension," the man's voice spoke with the smoothness of black ice on an intersection.
I started with sticking my hand into the bubble. A feeling of a salamander's slickness engulfed my hand as the bubble covered it. Next I stepped in with my foot, the jeans preventing the bubble from touching my skin. As I moved forwards with closed eyes, I was coated in the oily sheen of the bubble. The bubble latched to my face, pressing inwards. It intruded into my nose and as I gasped for breath, my mouth too. My mouth felt the taste of a soapy cleaning solution which, as I child, I had the opportunity of enjoying once. It tasted horrible and toxic. I was now fully through the bubble and suddenly I felt a pop as the layer which encased me vanished. It left behind, however, a soapy feel and a stickiness on my fingers.
I opened my eye to witness the feeling of pain burst into them. The soapy bubble residue required a few tears to completely remove from my eyes. After all that, I reopened my eyes to witness a white tiled floor, reminiscent to the floor of a bathroom I had once occupied for a few minutes. This floor was cleaner though. I raised my eyes to see a grand mahogany office desk, with a mustached man sitting behind it in a leather swivel chair. He sat with the demeanor of a hiring manager, his arms folded over a single piece of paper. The suit and spectacles he wore only added to this view of him. His hair was parted to the side in a formal fashion. The mustache was bushier than anything I had seen before. Judging by the bushiness of his mustache I could only assume that a squirrel may have been missing its tail somewhere out there.
"Please approach," The mustached gentleman gestured me to come closer.
"So I'm going to be straight forward with you… In my usual dreams I just am and am fully okay with everything going on. I just fit. And my dreams are just so realistic. This time, I'm more aware and I know this isn't real. So like… What is going on in this dream?" I asked the mustached man as I stood my ground.
"Please approach. I will explain everything you need to know," the mustached man's smooth voice, firmly said.
I followed the orders I was given and approached the desk. On the side of the wooden desk which faced towards me, the words "Sleep More, Dream Better" were engraved in large lettering. The top of the desk was smooth except for the single sheet of paper on it and a slit big enough for the paper to slide through. There was no chair for me to sit on, so I stood in front of the desk.
"Thank you," he said, as he raised the piece of paper off his desk and began reading from it, "Now on behalf of the Dream Bureau, I must issue you a formal statement of grievances the Establishment has gathered against you. First offense: A creature borne of your nightmares has been performing unlicensed dream hopping. Second offense: You are harboring a nightmare creature in your dreams which has committed punishable offenses against the Establishment. Third Offense: A creature borne of your nightmares has committed four acts of murder against the elderly. You have been found guilty on all accounts and therefor must accept the consequences of having your dreaming rights removed. Do you have any opinions you would like to state?"
"Ummm… What?" Was all I could muster to say from that sudden barrage of accusations.
"Do you require that I repeat myself for clarification?" the mustached man asked in a richly deep voice.
"Uhh no. I'm just confused as to everything that was said just now. Shouldn't I be innocent until proven guilty? You just said that I was found guilty," I said in befuddlement.
"I am sorry but that is not how things operate here," He said while giving a pitiful smile. "This is not the United States of America's court system. Here we investigate, prove you guilty or innocent, and then carry out the punishment. It is a much more efficient system."
"So there was a trial, just without me?" I asked.
"Yes. There was no need to consult you, especially since the evidence against you had been conclusive and exhaustive," He stated without a shred of concern.
"So I'm now to lose my right to dream? Without any discussion? That sucks..." I dejectedly asked him. I thought I felt tears forming in my eyes but most likely those were from the soap still bothering them.
"Oh no, you are here to discuss terms. From what I can see and from the Establishment's research on you, you were completely unaware of any of this. In fact you are completely ignorant of all Dream and Nightmare laws. You were brought here to make sure we can deal with this as painlessly as possible," The mustached gentleman reassured me.
"Oh good! So I'm innocent then, no punishment," I gleefully said.
"Incorrect. You will still receive a punishment just not as severe as dream removal. You will have to pay a fine. We will also have to remove the nightmare creature from your dreams," he said.
"A fine? I'm not really rich and I don't have any magical dream money you might need," I informed him. What could the Dream Bureau want from me? My best dreams? My teeth? My lewd thoughts?
"Do not worry. What the Dream Bureau will want from you, you shall always have. In this instance we desire to obtain the Grufles from your dreams."
"The what?" I replied to the request.
The mustached man opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a manila folder labeled Grufle.
"In 1994 you had created these creatures in your dreams. Since then Grufles have inhabited the corners of your dreams, hiding and never to be seen. We wish to take the Grufles from your dream and place them into the Sanctuary," the mustached man said as he opened the folder and handed me a photo which he had removed from within.
"You want a creature I created when I was six years old?" I said as I looked at the photo. In the glossy photo I was just handed, there were three creatures, all of which had the same features. A single skinny bird leg with an eye, surrounded by a plumage of red feathers, coming out of the top. A simple creature, one leg, one eye, and too many feathers. It reminded me of one of those pens from back in the day. It had some jiggly bits and feathers on the end and the pen tip was covered with a plastic foot… in fact this Grufle looked like the living version of this. I had dreams that my pen was alive apparently.
"Yes we would like to relocate the Grufles to the Sanctuary," The mustached man restated.
As I stared at this ugly creature, I could not help but feel a little bit of nostalgia. The way one feels when thinking of an old pet they had as a child. Maybe I could recreate an environment for them in my dreams if I was allowed to keep them.
"What if I didn't pay this fine?" I asked him, handing back the photo.
"Then we would stick to the original plan of removing your dreaming rights."
Maybe not being able to dream is not a bad thing either. It would remove all of the night terrors. Never having a horrible nightmare again. I would not have to worry about the Grufles either. My nights would be calm.
"What if I were to accept-" as I started saying this, my mind experienced what a month without dreams would be like. It all happened in a second but I slept peacefully, went to work, had dinners with friends, and went through my daily routines. It was all normal but there was something strange. I could not place it but something from my mind was missing. Normal memories would not be retained of what I had done the previous day. I went through the movements of living but I was empty without dreams.
"I assume you had the experience?" the mustached man asked me in a tone of expectancy.
"Yes, I'll take the deal," I quickly said after seeing my dreamless life. It was a new experience to have a dream inside of a dream. Reminded me of a movie I once saw however the plot was very different from what I was experiencing.
"Wonderful! I have the paperwork right here," he said, pushing the single paper that had been on the desk towards me. "You will see it has everything written down from your crime to the agreement we have just come to."
The mustached man rotated his hand and apparated a pen. Maybe it was up his suit's sleeve but it was not in his hand before that moment. He then elegantly handed over the ornate fountain pen.
"Please sign here and here," the mustached man directed my signatures. I made quick work of those signatures with all of that cursive practice I had received back in grade school.
After signing I felt no different. No magical hand descended and removed the creatures from my mind. I still could vividly picture them in my head. Was something supposed to happen? I felt like some magical stuff should have happened. Instead I stood there staring at the spectacles on the mustached man's face as he sorted the paper away. The glasses were slightly crooked.
"One more thing before you head back into the waking world. We still must remove the nightmare creature from your dreamed possessions," the mustached man said this as he pulled a bottle from under the table and a small shot glass.
Shots? Was he going to get me drunk to remove the creature?
"A glass of this will clear the nightmare creature from your system. It will induce a nightmare which will bring out the creature we need. We will then be able to trap it and rid it from your dreams. Do not worry though, you will not experience the nightmare or remember it. You will wake up with a shudder and that is all," he said. Sugar coating the experience with his silk smooth voice, no doubt.
The mustached man removed the cork with ease and poured me a full shot glass of the red liquid. The red was dark, darker than blood. It gave me the sense of eyes, a beast's eyes. The red inside of a predator's eye whose mark is within reach. The red eyes of something out for blood. The red eyes of something that knows it has caught its prey.
"What exactly is this?" I asked as I lifted up the glass.
"I am sorry but I cannot tell you, company secrets. Only thing I can say is that you must drink it. It would not be prudent for you to break the contract you just signed," the mustached man said with a smile. The generally honeyed voice came off more aggressive and threatening with this sentence.
I lifted the glass and downed the liquid in one swig. It tasted of fear and dread, of adrenaline and a rush… it tasted like black coffee too.
As I placed the glass onto the desk, my vision started to sway. A darkness appeared behind the mustached man, an infinite darkness of space. An abyss. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw little red creatures dancing. The mustached man stood and watched as I lost balance and fell back.
"We enjoyed your cooperation here at the Dream Bureau. Here we hope to encourage you to sleep more, dream better," The honeyed words of the mustached man resounded through my head as I fell into the darkness behind me.
A gasp and a shudder. I was lying in my bed, staring at the popcorned ceiling. A stain in the shape of a pig ruining the clean white color above. I looked over at my clock to see the time 6:48 a.m. My alarm would ring two minutes from now. A nightmare I could not seem to remember woke me. Might as well start my day early.