The boy laid in a white room, a white bed, and white clothes while Robert Molner looked on, taking initial notes.
Mother was reluctant to leave, but subject submitted to clothes change and recumbent position without proclivity to violence--restraints and support unnecessary.
The mother had been adamant that she remain in the room; after all, she said, her son avoided all other children on the playground at recess and had scratched and bit relentlessly when a teacher tried to bring him to play with the others. She thought she could calm him down but clearly knew otherwise since she decided to bring the boy to Robert in the end.
The boy’s name was Thom. He was a small boy with pale skin and a dusty blond mop of hair on his head. He didn’t look ferocious as much as sick. Deeply purple blots puffed out beneath his eyelids--that much would have been enough to solicit Robert’s assistance for most people--and a fainter bluish ring surrounded his mouth.
As relaxed as Thom looked, his pulse was beating quickly and his breath faltered when drawn even if it was consistent in rhythm.
Subject is visibly afraid. Administered first probe when subject settled in...
Robert liked to note a probe before it happened because dealing with reality after delving through a dream could be challenging. Having a notepad to remind him what to do when he returned to his own body was essential for an oneirotrist.
“Do you know what I do, Thom?” Robert asked the boy.
“You’ll look at my dreams.”
“More than look. I’ll join them with you, inside your head. I’ll put my fingers here,” Robert said while placing his fingers near Thom’s temples, “and walk with you when you experience whatever you are experiencing.”
“Why?” Thom asked.
“To help you through it. Nobody would pay me if I couldn’t help. And if nobody paid me, I would be hungry. Being hungry makes me cranky,” Robert said, tightening his jaw and dropping it into a deep, pitiable grimace.
Thom didn’t find it funny. Robert was terrible at working with children, but he held the face a little longer anyway.
“Won’t you help me eat? Let me in?”
“OK, I’m ready,” Thom replied. The boy looked up at the ceiling with determination clenched between his gritted teeth. Oh, child, you’re not ready for this at all, Robert thought.
“Close your eyes.”
In time, the sedatives they had given to him took effect. Without rolling over or fidgeting, Thom closed his eyes. Robert moved in with a morpholyzer, a device that looked and worked like jumper cables attached to three car batteries, two of which happened to be, in this case, human heads and the brains within. The third was a small relay box designed to facilitate the jump. Robert always lied when people asked him how a dream connection would work--no one was very amused when he pulled out the little box and several feet of cables and told them he would shove the devices deep inside one ear (that was the permitter) and the other one deep into the nose (that was the receptor). Worrying about being eaten by technology was a recurring theme in dreams after Robert mentioned the box, so he eventually decided to omit it.
As Robert pulled up another bed alongside Thom, and as he shoved the receptor deep inside his nose, lodging it where it was most ticklish, he wondered if he was in the right profession.
There is a one-story house, but the lines are not straight. The yard’s grass bends uniformly at a 45 degree angle to the left, changing relative to the viewer. The picket fence surrounding the house doesn’t seal off the backyard, and there are contorted faces in the wood instead of knots.
The door is open and leads into a tremendous, abandoned warehouse with steel fans spinning and punctuating the dim sunlight leaking in--this is the starter room. Instead of going inside, there is laughter in the backyard. Each note of childish giggling lasts about one second longer than is normal, even for children. It sounds like someone being mocked.
In the backyard, a man with a whorlface is drinking a beer named… a man with a beer is sitting in a lawnchair. The man has a beard but then he does not. The man has sunglasses but then he does not. He is smiling, and he is frowning. He laughs a deep bellow that cuts short, ending in spittle.
Thom is in the grass, chasing a cat. It’s a black and white tomcat, very large. Another boy is sitting next to the man in the lawnchair. The cat seems bigger again. It runs behind a tool shed and the fence bends when cat and fixture collide. When Thom circles behind the shed, the cat moves to the center of the lawn, waiting. Thom easily catches it and tries to lift it, but the cat’s paws and torso spill out of Tom’s grasp like sand.
Thom pulls the tail. There is a grip now, and Thom tugs upward. The cat doesn’t move. Clouds move in and the rain falls, making the man and the other boy disappear while the cat remains completely still except for two eyes that are dilated with fear before the eyes narrow to the point that they resemble razors. The wind reverberates and the rain falls unevenly and the cat’s form becomes unstable, flickering with the rain.
Something large falls on Thom, flattening him into the grass and dragging him across the yard until he collides with the fence.
When Robert had his first lucid dream, his first indication that oneirology was the profession for him, he watched an ocean from the bobbing of a buoy. He realized that he felt trapped in a position, unable to see the depth of the sea no matter what force was exerted on him. Always floating, Robert would take anything anyone gave him, never truly making goals.
He would attribute his own will to this later, but an object fell from heaven then, splashing as it made contact with the sea, sinking out of sight. Robert mourned the loss of it, but whatever it was, it drained the ocean completely. Nothing would remain sightless after that. Robert was a prodigy at dream manipulation and it started with himself.
Robert awoke to find himself in a white room again, wearing his standard all black slacks and shirts. The contrast between Robert and the rest of the room helped the subject begin inputting him into the dreams. It hadn’t happened yet, Robert realized.
It also occurred to Robert that his patient apparently died in the last dream. His own dream took over when Thom’s failed; few people could dream their own deaths, but it seemed like this happened to Thom on a regular basis.
Robert examined his subject.
Subject’s heart rate has increased. Eye movement indicates continued REM-cycle patterns even if dream sensations are non-present. Administering second probe. Intensity of first probe merits increased caution.
The morpholyzer’s effects could be wearisome if Thom needed to be probed too many times before resolution--the central conflict of a dream being fixed or removed by the dreamer somehow--could be achieved.
For Robert’s part, the fewer times he had to watch Thom get trounced by something unseen and the fewer times he had to shove a morpholyzer node deep inside his nose, the better.
Calm wind on open water.
Thom sits in a shallow, wooden boat. The waves move like waves but are mostly still. No land visible anywhere. Thom is wearing an anachronistic sailor hat like the boy character on a box full of frozen fried fish.
Thom has a fishing pole. The line is long, but flimsy. The line is cast. The reel has a digital display because it is from an electronic fishing game. The clouds in the sky look like dolphins, sharks, and whales, repeating in that order. The air smells like a bubble bath.
Something dark moves beneath the boat.
Robert starts to scream, but he is a buoy in the distance again.
The line hooks on something, and Thom is snatched from the boat and hauled underwater. The splash of his body going in is interrupted by another body coming out--a tower of mist sprays the empty wooden boat as it ascends towards the sky with a boy dangling from its mouth. It blots out the sun and the clouds turn purple and rain acid on distant seas. The stars become visible, and each one is on fire while the body continues to ascend.
Robert becomes aware that there is no ocean at all except the movement of scales beneath him.
Robert wipes the sweat from his brow before he wakes up completely. What is this? I’ve never been so scared before, he wonders.
Thom’s body looks different than before. Paler and tense. Robert wonders if it’s time to stop the treatment and turn the boy over to a general practitioner at a hospital. Something seems quite wrong.
Thom’s head tilts to the side in a jerk, and Thom pleads.
“Save me. It comes.”
Robert glances at his notebook--the words are scrambled completely, and he realizes.
The walls to the clinic crumble while the world serpent crosses the other side of the room before coiling back on itself. With its tail firmly wrapped around the whole earth, it rears into a poison sky and whispers with a sound that could shatter bone.
I’m going to eat you. I’m going to eat you.
Robert reaches into his nose and rips out the node.
When the boy’s mother returned to the room after, she couldn’t help but notice that her son still looked pale and sickly.
“Did you help him?”
“Does anyone you know own a large snake?”
"I asked you if anyone you knew had a pet snake. Like an anaconda or something similarly sized."
The mother looked perplexed.
"Anaconda? Can you even buy those? What are you talking about?"
Robert went home that evening covered in sweat, and he didn't stop sweating until he pulled the blankets to his chin and turned out the light. He didn't stop sweating until he fell asleep and dreamed of a poisoned sky covering a sundered earth. He dreamed that, beneath the acid rain, Thom fought the serpent until the world ended.