A Dream is a Relative Thing

February 11, 2008
By Lauren Chisholm, Yarmouth, ME

A dream is a relative thing. It differs from person to person. Some people dream images. Others dream stories, like a television show in their heads. Still others dream in words set on paper. I know what dreams are. This wasn't one. How many dreams do you have where you dream a whole world, in its entirety, with its own culture and wars, written and unwritten history, and even mundane things, like economies and pop cultures? Thinking about it still makes my head spin. When I get over the novelty of a new world, though, the memories of what happened there succeed at doing nothing but making my heart ache.

Even now, I do not know when it happened. I knew that it happened when it happened, and I remember thinking that it must have been a dream, but it might just as well never have happened, for all the success I have had at placing it.

The strangest thing is that I only remember seeing the place once I opened my eyes, like when you wake up. Maybe I was truly waking up. I was already there in every other sense; I could feel my bare feet on marble floors, could smell the lightly scented air, could taste the tang of the perfumed air on my tongue, could even hear music which my mind told me was of the elevator variety, though I heard music that was somehow as flowery as the perfumed air. I suddenly felt like it was imperative that I open my eyes, right that instant. But as it is when you concentrate too hard on doing something, I found that I could not do it.

Somehow, I managed to open them, and I was eerily aware of watching my eyelids slide up, like a camera shutter. Taking pictures of the world. I happened to be inside a lobby of some sort. The marble on my feet was black, with flecks of white and gold embedded in the surface. The walls, like the floor, were colored a shade that suggested complete blandness and willingness to be altered. Despite this, the whole setup suggested casual elegance, achieved through minute details such as the way the twin staircases silkily descended, barely touching the ground. The staircases suddenly put me in mind of a rich woman's beautiful hand, and the slow flick of a wrist I had seen once in a movie. My imagination had pounced upon that hand, recreating it in my mind over and over again. I was astonished to see my wrist flick take new life in a beautiful staircase. Every wall was covered in windows, tall thin cuts into the wall, with antiseptically rounded edges. Outside the windows was a vast desert.

I heard footsteps that suggested shined black shoes, and sure enough, they appeared, with a man attached to them. I took a closer look at him. He was a bellhop of sorts, with an Arabic complexion to complement the desert scenery. I wondered if he was here to collect my bags, for he had that sort of air about him, even if I was not carrying any.

"Welcome," he said, with the utmost pomp. It made me wonder, almost dreamily, what this place was, what it looked like on the outside. Suddenly, a picture of a tall, circular building with a flat roof came into my head, as naturally as if I had told it to come there. As if I had made the picture.

"What is this place?" I asked. The bellhop mechanically began to recite the history of the place, which was apparently a hotel.

It struck me while he was talking, suddenly, that this man had absolutely no personality. No spark. No fire in his eyes, no jolt of being. I wondered why that was so, and I felt a profound wave of empathy for the man. What must it be like, I thought, to live your whole life without any of the passions that define it? I instantly thought of my emotions, and wished that the man could have that too.
He interrupted his tirade with a broad, welcoming grin, and sped off, bidding me follow him.
I was then treated to a lavish tour of the hotel, with a view into every room. I wondered if this was standard fare for every guest, or if, indeed I was a guest. I had no money, and did not wish to be staying. Several times, I tried to pose this question, but was distracted by one of the bellhop’s more humorous anecdotes, or an interesting bit of history.
When the tour had abruptly ended, having been interrupted by the second person I had yet seen, a pretty young woman with the same Arabic complexion, the bellhop grinned at me and tipped his hat at me, a rather stereotypical action, I thought, and grimaced at the woman before leaving, walking those black shiny shoes into the elevator. The woman promptly whisked me away. She rushed several yards ahead of me, as though I was not there, but held the elevator door as I rushed to catch up.

In the elevator, I managed to get a good look at her. She was neither as young nor as pretty as I had originally thought, perhaps 40 instead of 30. Her attire suggested that she was a maid. She did not speak to me or indeed look at me. When she noticed that I was looking at her, she shuddered and looked at the wall, as opposed to straight ahead.

After a long while the elevator stopped and the doors opened. The maid rushed out into the open space and began walking briskly, as though she was relieved to not have to be in the same small space with me anymore. I followed her several steps until we came to a wall with a big gold door in it, and I stood aside while she took out a huge set of identical keys and rustled with it, trying to find the right one. I wondered how she could find the right key out of the identical key chain. I looked exasperatedly at the wall, at the sedate painting on the wall, all the while wishing that the keys were all different, so she could find the key. I looked down and saw that they had each become different. Some were skinny and long, some were stained bright gold, others were tarnished with age, some had little tags on them. The maid looked at me, the first time that had happened, and I was startled to see the almost superstitious horror reflected in her eyes. She now found the key with ease, a little bright gold one with a blue tag on it. She inserted it into the lock, turned it with infuriating slowness and deliberation. Finally, after she pushed the door back, I saw a splendid space formed like an apartment, decorated with white walls and furniture that reeked of wealth and comfort.

“This is yours,” the maid proclaimed, with the same pomp as the bellhop.

“Don’t I have to pay? How long do I say here?” I asked, the words spilling from my mouth like water.

The maid was impervious to my words, and only said that I must refer my questions elsewhere.

“But who is that?” I asked, as the maid walked out and shut the door. Bewildered, I sat on an insanely comfortable couch. I wished that someone would come who could answer my questions, numerous though they were.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. I reluctantly got up from the couch to answer the door. A young girl, no older than I was, rolled a silver, squeaky cart in. The cart was stuffed to bursting with all sorts of good food, and in the center sat a crystal vase with a rose inside. The rose struck me as the most luxurious thing I had seen so far. I must truly be an important guest, I thought, to merit a rose in this desert!

I asked the girl if I had to pay for the visit. She looked up, startled (evidently, she wasn’t supposed to answer questions) and eventually answered fairly warmly that the whole thing was free. I thanked her, and asked who was in charge, so I could thank them personally. She gave me directions, which I was certain I wouldn’t remember, and I thanked her again. She smiled and offered me some pie. I was sure she was at ease with me now. I took the pie, and bade her take some and join me, and she obliged. I led her around the apartment, putting on a show of knowing where I was going. Eventually, I found the dining room and exclaimed that I figured the thing didn’t even exist; it was so hard to find. The girl laughed aloud at my newly-blown cover, and I knew that I could make a friend out of her.

We sat in the long dining room, at the table which was the length of a typical garage. I felt oddly out of place, but reveled in the fact that I was eating pie in a luxurious hotel, with a girl I was certain I could make a friend out of.

I asked the girl various questions about the hotel and the surrounding desert. She told me that everyone lives and works at the hotel. I asked her if there was a city, and she said that was there was none. I wished, to myself, that there was a city, at least to travel to and see, before I left. Whenever that was. I then asked her when my free stay was up. A shadow passed her typically jovial face, and she answered that it will never end.

“So, you mean to keep me a prisoner here?” Typically, I’m not that melodramatic, but I needed answers.

“Well, you can leave any time you wish. Just-”

“Just what?”

Her face clouded again, and she looked away from my face into her pie. “Well, you’re our only customer,” she said, so cryptically I was sure she was lying.

When I did not answer, an awkward silence filled the room, magnifying the hidden meaning of the girl’s words. To break the tense interlude, the girl suddenly exclaimed,

“Oh, I just remembered! A new city is being built! They have just begun construction!”

I nodded, distractedly. I was only slightly interested in that information, I only wished to find out what she was hiding from me. I knew that asking her would probably not yield any information, maybe it would even put her on her guard, but I thought for some reason that there would be no harm in asking. I pushed my pie away, leaned my chin on my hand, and peered at her in a way I knew would either intimidate her or make her think I already knew the answer.

“What are you trying to hide from me?”

“Nothing.” She looked away, her eyes betraying a glimmer of that same superstitious horror I had seen on the maid’s face. What did it mean? Did I have some sort of power over them?

“I wish you would tell me.” I said it gently, but with an unmistakable ice-cold undertone. At the word ’wish,’ the girl’s body gave a shudder, switching from its formerly relaxed posture to a erect, robotic, and soullessly calm position. Only the eyes knew what was happening. Her words came out like metal, but they were of inestimable importance to me.

“This. This world. It’s all yours. You created it. Everything you wish for happens. Whether it’s logical or not. Remember the keys? And the bellhop?”

How could she have possibly known about those?

“What did I do to the bellhop?”

“You gave him a soul.”

“How? Why-”

“He didn’t have a soul because he was unimportant. A minor character, you might say.”

“But that’s-”

“Heartless?” She shrugged. “As you wish. As for me, I didn’t even exist until you called me up.”

“I didn’t-”

“Yes, you did. Don’t you remember? You wanted someone to answer your questions. Here I am. Fulfilling my purpose.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“I’m not doing anything to you. You’re doing it to yourself. You wanted to know what was going on. I suppose that, in your head, knowing the ugly truth is better than being completely unaware of what is happening while you are here.”

“Where is here?”

Suddenly, in a surrealistic sort of way, I was in the graceful lobby again, only this time it was filled to the brim with people, surrounding me on all sides, though not daring to come close. I did not notice any differences about them, they were just a nameless, faceless crowd, but when I noticed this fact, they all suddenly put on their guises of individuality, some old, some young, some with chef’s hats, etc. I noticed that the girl and the bellhop were among the crowd. As I looked at their faces, the words ‘minor characters’ kept coming into my mind.

The crowd parted, to let the maid through. They did it silently, as though they were all of one mind, which, I reasoned, they probably were.

And it was my fault.

The maid looked at me, and with no expression on her face, answered my question.

“You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re just inside your mind, now.”

“Am I dreaming?”

“You could say that. You could also say that you are just now awake.”

That was meaningless, what she said about truly waking. I knew, suddenly, certainly, that I was dreaming. As I took several seconds to process the information, I found myself fancifully thinking of these people like an acting troupe, putting on costumes and acting out different scenarios every night.

“No.” the maid said sharply. “Different people every night. Are all your dreams about a lone five-star hotel in the middle of a desert?”

I had to concede that they were not.

“So,” I found myself asking. “What happens when I wake up?”

The staff jostled and murmured amongst themselves, as I had expected they would. The expression on their shocked faces led me to believe that I had just committed blasphemy of the wickedest sort. I tuned them out and closed one eye, all the while watching the lobby with the other. I suddenly felt extremely tired, and began to focus my attention on my closed eye. But my attention was still split two ways. I heard screaming on the other side of my consciousness. I regarded it sleepily, with a passing interest, and began to wonder, for an instant, what exactly it was. Listening to the now-mysterious screaming, I began to focus more on it, more and more, until I realized that only one thing was left. I had only to open my eyes.

Upon opening my eyes, I saw the lobby, deserted. Almost cruelly, I wished that I could see what had happened. Suddenly the lobby filled with people, the nameless, faceless crowd of only moments before. They ran around, going about their hotel business with almost choreographed movements. They were blissfully unaware of the fate that was about to befall them, if my guesses were correct. Then the lights went out, and the lively desert scenery outside of the windows seemed to melt away. All the staff began to scream, like a person knowing of their imminent death and being unable to do anything about it. I noticed that one was chanting a prayer, a prayer in a non-existent language, and I realized what was happening.

This was the end of the world.


This was the end of their world.

And I said it, and it was so.

When I had realized that I was somewhere, I wondered where I was. I decided that I was in the city, the city outside the hotel, that was being built. There was a group of slaves building a wall to surround the city. But I did not care about that. I only cared that I had created all of this, and I was destroying it at my leisure. How dare I? How dare I elect myself a god over these people, a god who distributes souls at his slightest whim, and whisks them away out of childish curiosity?

No, I did not want this, this responsibility. Nor did I believe I deserved it. So I did the most cowardly, yet the most human thing any god could do, and closed my eyes.

One morning I woke up, just before sunrise, and I began sobbing, and I did not know why.

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