It was a day like any other for myself. I went to class, tried to focus on my work, and then continued to my dorm room, where I found my roommate - passed out on the lower bunk of the bed. There’s no doubt that he had been drinking the night before and skipped class for the second time this week. The only reason he hadn’t been kicked out yet was because of the large “anonymous” donation his dad made when he enrolled last semester (his father is a wealthy airline pilot and a close personal friend of the dean). I sighed at the greasy-haired pile of wasted potential lying there with one arm on the floor, and his face buried in a damp, drool-covered pillow. I took advantage of the situation quickly. I grabbed a bottle of water from behind the several bottles of beer in our mini fridge. I twisted off the cap, thrust it towards my roommate, and let momentum take care of the rest. He immediately woke up.
“Dude! What are you doing?!” he yelled.
“You missed class…again.” I felt more like an older brother than a roommate, by now.
“…Really? Oh, man. Not again.” I could tell that he wasn’t fully awake yet by the quizzical look on his face.
“It’s not my job to wake you up everyd-” He cut me off with widened eyes and a loud howl.
“Dude!!! I had the most amazing dream last night!”
“What?” I didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about.
My roommate scrambled across the room to his duffle bag. With no regard to our dorm room floor, he started pulling stuff out and tossing it in multiple directions - socks, text books, a half empty box of condoms, etc.
“Hey!” I yelled. “What are you doing?!”
“Here it is!” He pulled out a small unlabeled bottle of pills and showed it to me.
“You need help keeping it up? So what?” I was intentionally messing with him at this point. He grimaced.
“No! This is what caused my lucid dream last night.”
“Lucid dream?” I was still confused.
My roommate explained to me that a lucid dream is a dream in which the sleeper realizes that he/she is dreaming. I have experienced this before, but I never knew there was a term for it. I also usually jolted awake soon after becoming “lucid”. He also explained that he received these pills from a “friend” of his (his friend must have been out of the good stuff). These pills not only induce a lucid dream if taken before bed, but will also keep you from waking up immediately after becoming lucid. On top of this, it makes the dream a hell of a lot more vivid - almost life-like.
“It was incredible. The things I could do. The things I saw. The things that I felt.” Though skeptical, the reminiscent glint in his eyes told me that that these things must actually work.
“Do you want to try it?” He twisted the cap off, took out a small circular, colorless pill and attempted to hand it to me.
“I don’t know, man.” It was tempting, but I’m not one to experiment with weird medications whose side effects are unknown to me.
“Just take it.” He placed the pill in my front shirt pocket, gave me a pat on the back, and took off with an almost motivated and determined look on his face. Clearly this dream had an effect on him. Even though this pill-shaped miracle worker did wonders for my roommate, I had no immediate intention of taking it myself - especially without knowing the side effects. I continued about my life the way I normally would.
I woke up the next day, got ready for class, and headed out the door. I was running late and I had a killer migraine affecting my normally…well, normal mindset. I ran across the campus grounds when something occurred to me. I hadn’t heard the loud howl of my roommate’s snoring like I usually did every morning. Did he really make it to class before me? That’s impossible. Never, even if I were running late (which has only happened a few times mind you), has he ever arrived to Psychology class (the one class we have together) before me. I discarded the unlikely theory and continued running, as well as panting.
I crossed the threshold of my classroom, five minutes late. A normal teacher might have understood, but to Professor Livingston, five minutes late is five minutes too much.
“Nice of you to join us,” he said, with a foreboding look on his face. The class stared at me while I caught my breath. A few laughed, but most looked as though they felt bad for me.
“Well, don’t you have an excuse? Let’s hear it. We don’t have all day, you know.” At this point, he was just making an example of me; something he normally did with my roommate. At least when he gets here, I won’t look as bad. Just as that thought crossed my mind, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was my roommate! He was sitting there, where he normally does, and it almost looked as if he had been taking notes. Now, my roommate is no slouch when it comes to intellect. He knows his stuff, but learning tends to bore him. College for him is more about having a good time outside of the classroom. I’ve never once seen him take notes. Not only that, but he looked well rested and alert.
“Well?” Professor Livingston chimed in, disrupting my surprising observation.
“I’m sorry.” I walked over to my seat, still in shock.
“Lay off the drugs,” Prof. Livingston said, giving the class quite the chuckle. He may have been stern, but he still had a sense of humor. The funny thing was, it was my roommate taking pills, and he was the one here on time! I started wondering what this pill could do for me, an already motivated person - though I still wasn’t taking the notion of ingesting the pill seriously yet. In an overly-curious state, I walked over and sat down next to my roommate.
“How the hell did you get here on time - and why are you taking notes?” I whispered to him, so not as to agitate Prof. Livingston any further.
“I’m telling you man, this pill is amazing. The dreams I’ve been having are really affecting me. I feel better than I ever have. I’m undergoing the purest surge of utter ambition, both asleep and awake.” Just looking at him when he said this relayed to me the truth in his words. He really did look happy. It was almost unsettling.
After class, I had lunch in the campus park; like I always do. I liked the peace and quiet and seclusion it gave me. Though silent and peaceful on the outside, my mind was always racing on the inside. I used this time to my advantage so I could study. Some might call it weird, but I had every intention of making something of myself. Before I branch out into a personal back story, I will continue with the events at hand. Just as I opened up to the right page in my text book, I was trampled. Yes, trampled. A couple of other students were playing football in the park, unbeknownst to me, and I was apparently in their way. The person who fell on me apologized, but was less apologetic and more ecstatic that he actually caught the ball whilst almost killing me in the process. Needless to say, my face was bruised, and my text book was ruined. I was furious.
Instead of lashing out, I simply went about my daily routine. This was easier said than done. Even though I study during lunch in the park, the peace and quiet helps me relax during the day. The body-shaped bag of flesh and bone that crashed into me disrupted this meditative process, and left me feeling anxious. The throbbing pain in my face didn’t help either.
I walked into my last class for the day which also happened to be my least favorite; Cultural Studies. One of the many reasons I hate this class is because of the teacher. He always finds a way to bring up the priceless artifacts he’s collected while traveling the world - including an ugly vase that sits on his desk - one he received during a trip to Rome. I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it did.
Apparently the bruise on my face swelled into an unsightly bump, because as soon as I walked in, everything went silent. Everybody stared at me in the most uncomfortable way. One guy started laughing (probably at the silence, and not directly at me, but I became angry anyhow), and like an explosive chain reaction, everyone else followed, including the teacher. This was the final straw. Without even thinking, I grabbed the ugly Roman vase from the teacher’s desk and threw it at the floor as hard as I could. It shattered into a million shards. Finally, a release. Everyone went silent again as I stormed out. The teacher looked less angry and more saddened at the sight of his newly broken vase. I felt bad, but more relieved than anything. This day could not end soon enough.
I approached my dorm room with great urgency. I walked in, and slammed the door shut behind me. I sat down on my couch, mentally reviewing the day’s events in my head. I was most certainly at my wit’s end. I was angry, depressed, and tired. What I needed more than anything was a good night’s rest. I started unbuttoning my shirt to get ready to sleep when I felt something in my front shirt pocket. It was the pill my roommate had given me. I took it out, held it about 6 inches from my face, and stared at it for a moment.
“Why not? This day couldn’t possibly get any worse,” I said aloud, realizing that I had resorted to talking to myself as a form of comfort - one of the bad habits I succumb to when agitated. Another one of these bad habits may be self medicating with strange pills that my roommate gives me, because without another thought, I grabbed a water from my fridge, threw the pill in my mouth, and quickly drank the entire bottle. Anger always makes me dehydrated. I fell asleep moments later when my head hit the arm rest on the couch. What happened next surpassed every expectation I had for this drug, if you can even call it that.
As quickly as I had fallen asleep, I was awake again. Awake, but in a dream. The seamless lucidity astounded me. I knew I had just fallen asleep a moment ago, and now I was dreaming - but I knew that I was dreaming. I was taken aback. I was standing in the middle of a road atop a large hill, in the middle of the night. It was snowing, but I could not feel any coolness. I felt compelled to walk forward. I could see something up ahead - no, someone. This person was too difficult to make out, but I felt as though I was beckoned to come to them. Almost as soon as I’d seen this figure, I woke up back in my dorm room. I looked at the clock. Only a few minutes had passed. It seemed as though the pill was just starting to take effect. I got up and walked over to my fridge to get another bottle of water before I fell back asleep. The fridge door would not budge. Thinking this in itself was odd, I gave up and walked back to the couch. I let out a horrible howl when I did.
There I was, asleep on my dorm room couch. What? But how? How could I…how…but I’m here…what’s going on? After endlessly rambling in my own head, it finally occurred to me that I was still dreaming.
“Okay…..okay.” It took me a minute to collect my thoughts. This had happened to me before, but never in an artificial world so vivid and rich with color. If I had not seen myself laying before me on the couch, I would have sworn beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was reality and I was fully awake.
“This can’t be real,” I thought to myself.
The one time this happened to me was a few years ago. It was cool, actually. I woke up (or so I had thought) and was ready to start my day. I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and went back into my bedroom to put on my shoes - and there I was, asleep in my bed. This immediately triggered the realization that I was in a dream. This is when I noticed the little things about said dream that were…well, off. My bed was of the wrong size, and the window in my bedroom was in the wrong location in the room. Even the colors in my field of vision were different. Needless to say, I could then tell that I was dreaming. My own brain could no longer pull the wool over my eyes, even if it had my eyelids over them. I took advantage of the situation, and flew out of my wrongly placed window to explore the world that I had unintentionally created. Shortly after, however, I actually woke up.
This time, it was different. As I stood there, frozen, looking at my double laying there on my dorm room couch, I was still unsure of my surroundings. There were no obvious ‘dead give aways’ that this was a dream at all (aside from looking at myself lying on the couch). Everything was in its proper place, and it actually felt like reality. The only thing that convinced me that this was a dream, besides the second me, was that it felt too real. It seemed more vivid than real life. I don’t exactly know how to explain it. Simply put, it was amazing.
My mind was now racing. The things I could do, the places I could see. I could finally sleep with that girl in my philosophy class. I can fly to the top of a snowcapped mountain and enjoy the view without getting cold. I could…and that’s when it hit me. What if the ‘laws’ of real life applied here as well, given the similar illustrious feel the both of them share. Maybe the characters in my dream world will act as they do in the real world. Maybe I can feel cold, and actually sustain some sort of pain. What if my mind can’t actually handle such experiences while sleeping. Much like a computer, maybe I don’t have enough in me to process so much at once in such a vast and vivid world. Maybe my brain is working at full capacity as it stands now, and the world around me is fragile, so to speak. My computer of a brain might crash if I try too much at once. Then again, I’m probably over thinking the situation, as I usually do, and maybe I should just have some fun. Yes. I prefer the latter.
My first mission was the girl in my philosophy class. I know what you’re thinking. I’m objectifying women, even while asleep. What a typical insensitive college guy. I don’t care. It’s a dream. I could do so much more in this incredible realm of my own creation before resorting to my basic needs, but my sex drive won’t allow it. I’m only human, and I won’t apologize for that. Now, back to the mission at hand.
I walked out of my dorm room, only to find the hallways completely void of life. I found this odd, but I continued to my philosophy class as if it was a normal day. Positive thinking will bear positive results. I was alert and focused, completely consumed with the task I’d given myself. I walked and walked for what felt like five minutes; the usual amount of time that it takes me to get to my philosophy class. This seemed odd to me, because normally in a dream things don’t occur in real time. They usually skip ahead to the ‘good stuff’. I shook off my analytical thoughts and stopped walking, finding myself in front of my classroom door. I grabbed the handle and pulled it open. I did not find my usual philosophy classroom behind it. Not even close.
Behind my classroom door was nothing but a wall. A continuation of the wall in the hallways. There was no room. Feeling unnerved, I quickly opened another door. I found the same. A wall. I was now panicking. I opened another and another, only to find the same wall. What’s going on? What is my mind trying to tell me? At this point I was running - running towards the one door that could harbor some comfort; the door to my dorm room. I ran, and ran, now thinking it awful that this dream was running in real time. I even found myself panting heavily like I would in real life. Even in my dream I’m out of shape.
I finally made it to my dorm room, and I swung the door open. To my satisfaction, my dorm room was still there, and there I was still lying asleep on the couch - panting no less, just like my dream self. I backed up into the hallway, holding my head in dismay. What the hell was going on? My roommate said that his dreams were amazing, but this felt like the opposite. A terrible thought overcame me. Maybe the pill could only benefit a certain demographic. A demographic of people much like my roommate - a carefree happy soul. Maybe for me, a stressed out college student, who had just had a horrible day in the real world, it did something much worse. This pill doesn’t just make your dreams more vivid; it makes your nightmares more vivid too. On top of all of this I was prone to having nightmares as a child. My mom used to wake up to me screaming at the top of my lungs in the next room. She had told me about these incidents, but I didn’t remember much about them. I just remember the fear and solitude I felt waking up until my mom came in to assure me that everything was alright. The same fear and solitude I was feeling right now, only I couldn’t wake up this time. You might think it odd that a dream with a few dead end doors was getting me so worked up, but I had always been like this. I had a deep fear of being alone. I was born with it, just like we all are, but I never grew out of it. I once had a panic attack as an adolescent when I took a detour through the woods coming home from school. I thought I knew my way home, but I quickly became lost and remained lost for several hours until I finally found my way out. That was as bad as it had ever gotten, and I never told anyone about it. Since then, my disorder has remained at bay, especially since living on campus with a lot of people around. I could feel the fear coming back gradually as I paced back and forth in the empty hall outside of my dorm room. The anxiety was eating me alive from the inside out. It was at this moment that I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Something off in the distance at the end of the hall. What was it?
I couldn’t make it out being as far away as I was, so I started taking some steps towards it. As I inched closer, the image was making itself clearer. It was the same thing from my previous dream at the end of the winding road. I was about 20 feet away from my dorm room when everything came into focus. The thing at the end of the hall was a man. A very tall man. A very tall man in a suit. Even completely in focus in my vivid nightmare, I could not make out a face on this man. How very peculiar, yet somehow familiar. Where had I seen this faceless man before? I could not put my finger on it. I kept walking closer, ever so slowly. I felt this thing beckoning me to come to it. As I took one more step towards him, I stopped dead in my tracks. A sharp and indescribably uncomfortable feeling of terror settled at the bottom of my stomach. Everything was coming back to me.
My dreams as a child, the ones that fueled my high volume shrieks at the midnight hour; I remembered them. This was the thing in all of my nightmares - this faceless abomination. This was the thing I was so afraid of as a child. Just like then, It was calling out to me now, not with words, but with a feeling. I couldn’t help but heed his call, even being swept over by fear. I was being drawn forward by an unknown force that I had no control over.
“Wait…that’s it!” I thought to myself, as I gradually moved towards the featureless face at the end of the hall.
I did have control, maybe not over my movements or the thing waiting for me at the end of the empty hallway, but I did have control over the landscape. This was my dream.
With an outpour of confidence and pure wanting, I willed with all of my might for something to impede my march, and block my sight. Nothing happened. I kept walking uncontrollably, but I also kept willing for anything to happen. Nothing happened. The space between me and the man was becoming smaller and smaller. I thought for what little time I had left. I knew that this dream was different than your run of the mill lucid night terror. I had to use every ounce of mental power I had on this one. With one last deep breath and all of my might, I willed for anything to appear in front of me and stop this madness from continuing. Just then, I witnessed a miracle. Metal beams from out of nowhere came hurdling through the walls one by one. As I kept thinking, they kept coming, until a wall formed between me and the man. Just as my gaze upon the man had ceased, so did my uncontrollable movement towards him. Without a second thought, I ran back from whence I came, towards my dorm room. Though not religious, I silently prayed that the man wouldn’t come back. I made it to my dorm room and passed the threshold of the doorway. I was still asleep on the couch. I did the only thing I could think of. I ran over and shook myself violently on the couch, yelling as loud as I could.
“Wake up!!!” I cried; hoping to end this horrific nightmare. Alas, nothing happened.
I turned around for a moment, and there he was at my doorway - the faceless being of my childhood nightmares. I turned away before he could beckon me away from the couch. I shook myself harder and yelled even louder. I could feel the man making his way towards me.
This was it. It was now or never. I could feel the man’s presence as close as ever behind me as I kneeled by the couch. I forced one final yelp out from every orifice in my lungs, yelling with all of the capacity that my dream throat would allow.
“WAKE UP!” I closed my eyes and waited for the worst.
Nothing was happening. I slowly opened my eyes to find myself in a horizontal fashion on the couch. I sprung up and looked around. There was my roommate asleep in his bunk, almost smiling. I ran out of the dorm room in my boxers and peered at the end of the hallway. There was nothing there. I looked in the other direction to see the girl from my philosophy class fighting with the vending machine. She must have been up late studying. While wildly attractive, she was also a book worm. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was her, and this was real. I was finally awake! The feeling was surreal. The world around me had lost its unnatural luster, but it had gained a sense of peace - at least for me it did. I was very happy and had no intention of going back to sleep. I walked down the hallway towards the girl to help her. I didn’t even care that I had never spoken with her before, or that I was in my boxers. I was elated.
Though taken off guard at first, she welcomed my help, and I retrieved her snack from the vending machine. We ended up talking for a good half hour about class and the assignments ahead. Even though it was just small talk, she seemed very interested in me. My happiness from escaping the clutches of my childhood fear seemed to actually be helping me in the real world. The positive attitude I gained was apparent, and the girl from my philosophy class liked it. This made me more happy, not just because I liked her, but because my happiness was affecting another person. It felt good. Maybe this was how the pill worked all along. Maybe my nightmare was a blessing in disguise.
As the girl and I parted ways, I headed back to my dorm room with a smile on my face. I finally knew how my roommate felt. It was amazing. I felt happy, motivated, and more focused than ever. The world was my oyster, and I was ready to take anything it could throw at me; good or bad. I just hoped this feeling would never end.
Just feet away from my dorm room, another thought crossed my mind. With this thought, the utter fear I experienced in my dream came back and made its way through my entire body with a vengeance. I knew for a fact that my college didn’t have a single vending machine. I hesitantly walked into my dorm room and my roommate was nowhere to be seen. Low and behold, there I was asleep on the couch like I always had been. I could almost hear both of our hearts racing as I felt the uneasy and discomforting sensation of pure adrenaline coursing through my veins. I slowly turned around to see the faceless man standing in the hall. I couldn’t feel my legs, but I ran to the couch and shook my sleeping self violently to make myself wake up. Tears were streaming down my face. I kept shaking him and shaking him, but the second version of me wouldn’t react. The man must have been inches behind me at this point. I wanted to cry out to him to please spare me, but I was too hysterical to speak. I shook myself over and over, to no avail. The man’s face, or lack of a face I should say, was now side by side with mine. My fate was now sealed, and there was nothing I could do about it.
At this very instant, I awoke again. This happened three or four more times, before I realized that I could never wake up. Every time there would be a different plot and different characters, but it would always lead to the same result. I stopped keeping track of how many false awakenings I’ve undergone. Sometimes my life will seem completely normal for days at a time before the climactic facets of my nightmare manifest, and I awake again on my dorm room couch. I even sleep like I normally would, and have dreams within my dream. As of right now, it has been eight days since I last awoke. Who knows, maybe I’m actually awake this time, but I stopped hoping for that a long time ago. The man in my nightmare is now with me wherever I go, whether I can see him or not. I will always be looking over my shoulder, waiting for him to strike. Even if I could actually wake up, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between my dream world and reality anyways. The solitude I have feared my whole life is the only reality that exists now. I will never truly know if anyone around me is real, or if their just characters created by my inner psyche. I am now cursed to walk this earth alone, whether I’m awake or asleep. Cursed that is, until the man in my nightmare finally finds me. I might just heed his call and let him take me, just to end this misery once and for all.
Written by Christopher Maxim