I don’t want to go to sleep tonight. Not tonight, or any night. I do any number of things to prolong the inevitable call of Morpheus. I drink coffee at ten o’clock, watch a naff movie, tidy the garage…
Eventually, I can no longer ignore it. My body forces me to get ready for sleep. I lie down on the bed, I hope my night’s rest will not be disturbed. Please, I don’t want to see them.
It’s a summer’s day, golden light streams through the kitchen window as I make my morning coffee.
Ah, nectar! The kickstart my internal computer needs to boot up and run. I go to the front room, sit in an armchair―
A knock at the door. Who’s that this early? Postman? JWs? Double glazing salesperson?
At my door is a person dressed in navy blue jacket and trousers, cream shirt and royal blue paisley tie.
“Good morning, I wonder if you can help me? I need some assistance and none of your neighbours are in.”
This is probably true, my neighbours have children and are on the school run or working in the local town.
“All right so, what's the nature of your emergency?” I consciously use the response of an emergency services call handler.
“Well, I think it would be better if I show you.”
“Can’t you ring someone?”
“I’m afraid I left it at home, that’s why I’m in such a pickle.”
Such a pickle? They sound like a character from a 1950s Ealing comedy.
“I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me what your problem is.”
The person frowns before whispering, “I’m afraid I’ve run over someone’s cat. It just ran out…”
Now I understand their reticence. I agree to accompany them to where their car is parked. The crime scene is all too real. A ginger tomcat has departed for the great hunting ground above.
“Do you know whose it is? I must make some sort of reparation for their loss,” the stranger wipes a tear from their eyes with a green and white spotted hankie.
“No, I don’t recognise it. Perhaps it’s from—” I gasp.
The cat rolls over, stretches out its front legs, arches its back and gets up.
“Ah, you're here at last,” the cat drawls in a lazy, posh accent.
“You… can…” I barely get the words out, I feel a bit giddy. I hold onto a low garden wall for support.
“Talk? Of course I can. Are you sure you’ve got the right one?” the cat asked.
The stranger replied, “Of course, my research has been—”
I wake in a car. I sit up groggily from the leather seat I’ve been lying on and realise my situation in a moment.
“Stop this car at once. This is kidnap!”
I try one of the doors and then the other, both locked. I attempt to wind down the windows, but they’re stuck fast.
“Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll find out, soon enough.”
The cat is driving. Front paws on the wheel, it’s feet can’t reach the pedals. The stranger is controlling those. It’s like a driving instructor’s car with dual control. I put my hand to my head. I feel faint again.
“Can you get some air in here?”
“Why? You don’t need air, you're in a dream. We’ve got you safe and sound until we decide to release you.”
We arrive at our destination, a ramshackle old house. I've no idea how long we’ve been travelling. It’s dreamtime, so time is irrelevant. We climb out of the car, lightning zigzags across the night sky. The roll of thunder that accompanies it makes me jump—
I sit up in bed and look around. I reach for the bottle of water on the bedside table and gulp down a couple of mouthfuls. There’s no way I’m going back to sleep now. I get up and pad downstairs. I creep into the front room, half expecting to still be in the dream. To discover my two new ‘friends’ sitting there, enjoying a midnight snack. No one there, except the resident spider.
I go and make myself some toast and a cup of tea. My dreams have always been pretty lucid. Stereo sound and technicolour. When I was young, I used to have a recurring dream where I travelled back to the time of Robin Hood. After some thrilling adventures I went blind due to… Oh, why am I even remembering this? It was a dream. This is a dream. And yet, this dream seems more realistic than any other I’ve ever had. It is more frequent, occuring most nights, and always ends in the same place.
My lack of sleep has consequences in the real world. I’m a primary school teacher; you need to be fighting fit to tackle the education of young minds. I can’t concentrate on delivering my lessons and my charges take full advantage of my weakness. They talk animatedly in lessons and mess about in PE.
My head teacher takes me aside and had a quiet word.
“What’s going on? Your classroom this week is a shambles. I’ve had a look at some of their books. There’s been nothing marked…”
I switch off at this point. I know it's had been a bad week. I’m usually extremely conscientious about marking and lesson planning. I retune to the head listing my litany of failure.
“...not good enough. If you were a child, I’d put you on report.”
“And you would be right to. Look I’m sorry. I’ll catch up at half term, try to get some rest. I’ve had a bad bout of insomnia. If it gets any worse I’ll see the doctor.”
Half term, that wonderful oasis is next week and I only have one more day left. My colleague's words churn around in my head as I drive home. I buy fish and chips and eat them while watching the news—
I’m in a car… Oh no, it’s that car. The cat is driving, the stranger whistles a jolly tune. We arrive at the spooky house. This time, we walk up the rickety wooden steps and the stranger pushes open the door. The dilapidated door creaks alarmingly, disturbing a flurry of bats, who chitter past out into the night.
“Welcome to our house of dreams,” says the stranger.
“House of dreams? Nightmare house, you mean. It will cost a fortune to do this up.”
“Walk this way,” whispers the cat in sly drawl.
“No, I’m off,” I turn to run out of the door and stop dead.
The wooden door and plastered wall with its cracks and dents that I expect to see has vanished. Its replacement? A polished metal wall. I turn around, the whole room is polished metal; ceiling, walls and door. Wait! There’s no door. I’m trapped.
I wake up sprawled on the sofa. The television is now broadcasting a late night shopping channel. I turn it off and take my chip papers to the kitchen. I lean on the counter and breathe in and out slowly. I stay up and get some of my marking done. As the dawn chorus arrives, I make a coffee, scoff some cereal, shower and head to work.
It’s another car crash day. I’m running assembly and mumble through. Then I lead the children in a rendition of ‘Morning has Broken’. One of my colleagues pulls me aside at breaktime.
“Are you all right? You looked like a drunk in that assembly. The children didn’t know whether to laugh or be scared.”
I tell him I’ll get some sleep during half term. I'll come back refreshed and back to my old self again. Although, I don’t actually believe that vain hope to be true. During half term, I actually get some undisturbed sleep. After a day at the beach, ice cream, and a dip or two in the chilly North Atlantic, I head home feeling ready for a nice, relaxing sleep.
I’m in the metal room. The only furniture is a padded black office chair. At the head end of the chair, is a metal skullcap. The skullcap is connected to a large monitor screen.
“Ah good, you're back,” smiles the stranger.
“Time for you to start work,” the cat smiles, baring sharp pointed teeth.
“We need a new dream generator. Let me introduce myself, I’m Morpheus…”
“And I’m the Sandman," announces the cat. "Together we run the dreamscape, that you humans enter and leave when you sleep.”
“However, we cannot generate dreams for you humans to experience,” sighs Morpheus.
“So, we recruit, or maybe we should say conscript, an unwilling volunteer,” the Sandman snickers.
“Hurry up!" orders Morpheus. We can’t let those humans down. They’ll be expecting their fill of weird and surreal dreams."
I walk like a zombie to the chair. I cannot escape my fate. The pair of mythical beings strap me in, lower the skull cap onto my head and switch on. The pain is like having a tooth extracted without anaesthetic…
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