DREAMING WEIRD FICTION

by Jeffery Scott Sims

Introduction

In the science fiction epic The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the alien Moties find incomprehensible the human penchant for composing fiction. It is all lies, after all, untruths designed for eager audiences who actually know they are receiving untruths. The narrowly pragmatic Moties can not understand this curious species which amuses itself this way. I suspect this intellectual dichotomy arises because the Moties do not dream. Homo Sapiens, after all, is prey to those unconscious night-time fantasies, awakenings of unreality, which make themselves real for a brief spell. Is not fiction something like that? Might we consider fiction the conscious fabrication of dreams? I could live with that definition. Given this, it would not surprise me one bit to learn that fictional accounts have been suggested by dreams, nor that the warped reality commonly found in dreams lends itself uncommonly well to the composition of weird fiction.

Of course this supposition constitutes a mere statement of known fact. Cases abound of authors who utilize their dreams to fashion fresh stories for their readers. My favorite example, necessarily, is H.P. Lovecraft. A great dreamer, the master records many delightful nuggets of slumber in his Commonplace Book, so that we can see, through perusal of his finished tales, how he weaves the raw material into its final form. His methods vary. Lovecraft's famous "Loveman dream" becomes, with minor editing, a complete short story, "The Statement of Randolph Carter"; he transcribes a nightmare. Rarely, though, does Lovecraft-- a literary professional, despite his protestations-- resort to this easy employment of unbidden gifts. Rather, he chooses unique fragments of dreamt mystery, wraps fulsome opuses around them, such as his classic "The Call of Cthulhu". The dream, a personal, heartfelt addition, enhances the tale. I could write much more about HPL and his dreams, but my betters are way ahead of me, and I doubt I could add anything to their dedicated studies without number.

My Kind of Dreams

Therefore I shall-- as we are routinely told-- write about what I know best, which is myself, my dreams, what I have done with them. For you see, I too am a great dreamer or, if that be unconvivial boast, then certainly a voluminous one. Since childhood I have dreamed many things, often quite bizarre. The most outré of them tended to stick in the mind, to be remembered through the years. Occasionally, from my teens, I jotted down the more striking specimens. Then, during my twenties, a spate of nocturnal visions, all faithfully noted in writing, gave me an idea: why not record all of my dreams for posterity or pleasure, that I need never forget them? This I commenced to do. Little effort underlies the desire. I keep paper and pencil on a stand by the bed. When I wake, I write down anything I recall, be it ever so humble or disjointed. In this manner I have recorded thousands of dreams, thus far gathered in two fat volumes, and I am poised to begin filling a third.

Some of them, I confess, are junk, of scarce interest to me, none whatsoever to anyone else. Here is a short seasonal item:

"There are a number of fake Christmas trees blocking the hall leading to my room. I can scarcely squeeze by. They don't have articulated details; they're just masses, like plastic blobs in the shape of trees. At first I'm puzzled and annoyed, but then realize that they deaden sound. As long as they're out there my sleep won't be disturbed."

We all, I take it, experience those dreams that are slurries of our daily lives, impressions of trivial matters that stew and bubble for the moment, dismissed with the new day, unless the dreamer be the obsessive sort who insists on scribbling it all down. I have those dreams, lots of them, most of them, I am pleased to state, somewhat more entertaining than the above. Still, concerning this large category, I choose not to bore.

Then there are those of great interest, if normally only to me, such as the gigantic subset I call the "travel dream". I am a joyful and frequent traveler, a seer of sights, a wanderer of wild, scenic, and historical places. A big proportion of my dreams present scenes, even coherent plots, of my venturing to fascinating places which do not always, precisely, exist. Often I recognize elements of reality, drawn from actual travels, in these imaginary excursions. Other times the locales are oddly generic, and I wonder whence came the ideas. Many of these can be quite lengthy and detail laden, as these excerpts indicate:

"I've been driving a long time on a straight road through gently rising, rather barren country-- a few trees, some scrub-- but haven't reached my destination. Am I on the right road? Then, before I know it, I'm high up on a mountainside, and realize I'm entering the quaint little village of Georgestone. What I see at first is pretty: few streets, older homes, numerous big trees, tucked against an imposing granite cliff."

"I'm on a camping trip into wild, fairly open country atop a big ridge of high mountains overlooking a large, dry plain... It seems that I'm staying at a formal campground; if so, then I'm the only guest. It's an area of grassy meadows and small stands of trees, with a creek and a lake... I start off with a pleasant, scenic walk around the lake, the shoreline reedy and overgrown with cattails." Both of these, and the host of others, go on and on, and such dreams can incorporate extraneous plots having, apparently, nothing to do with the setting.

Then I have-- more to the point of this essay-- what I must term "nightmares", although they tend to thrill me rather than terrify: those images of shifting shadows, of grotesque shapes lunging out of the dark, of peculiar or freakish situations mainly disconnected from normal life, feverish creations of a naturally morbid mind that will not shut up even after hours. Yes, I enjoy nightmares, I look forward to them, wish I had more of them (and I do believe I have more than my share). They inspire me. At whiles my sleeping brain conjures gold.

These dream tales-- for they almost always present themselves as little stories, however illogical or fragmentary-- are all over the map, covering the full range of my lurid interests and coalescing out of living impressions either bizarre or banal. There are episodes of horror, of science fiction, of grisly murder, of pure weirdness. I have picked up tidbits for dream recipes from books, movies, television shows, my own waking thoughts. This strange streak in me dates from my early childhood. I wish to present, in its entirety, my first two recorded dreams, experienced back to back when I was ten years old:

"I. A woman is trapped in a K-Mart after hours; it is dark and spooky. As she wanders the aisles hideous, demonic forms pop out, frightening her terribly. At first she runs from the horrible creatures, but then she gets curious, and begins to touch them. She continues touching more and more, and as she does so she swells up, as if pregnant. Finally she lies on the floor and bursts, gushing liquid and something like a giant ham.

"II. Again in K-Mart after hours, very gloomy. I'm there with my parents, but my 'father' doesn't look at all like himself; he is very tall, thin, dressed in odd black clothes. He is a warlock! To our horror he raises an amulet, chants an incantation, and evil things begin to slither from the aisles." Appended to these items is a later notation, "As a boy I used to hide in dark stockrooms and scare myself with weird stories. I always remembered these dreams as being very 'black and white'."

There it began, at least to recall, nor has it ended yet. Having gotten this far, I don't think these sort will leave off until I do. They keep coming, usually quite entertaining, if sometimes after the fact, once I know for sure they are just mental constructs. Before I reach the heart of the matter, let me provide a few more abridged passages, wildly different in character, illustrating what I deal with to this day:

A woman is trapped on an ocean liner with a strange purser who "retreats to a secret door and releases a hideous crowd of distorted, limbless, one-eyed mutants. Some have grotesque, horny jaws, others are covered with sores. All mental defectives, they swarm down the corridor after the woman."

"From a small speck of blight I discover on a rock grows a bubbling, corrosive, carnivorous horror. It spreads, devouring my home, wiping out my loved ones in a sickening manner... then spreads through city and countryside."

"I'm eating a sandwich ordered at a restaurant. It's large, rather soggy; no, slimy, the contents ooze in a repellent fashion, looking like the guts falling out of a disemboweled creature." "I'm haunted by a hideous monster, invisible to everyone else, which intends to kill me when it finally reaches me. No one will help or believe me, because they can't see it; in fact, I'm afraid they will restrain me, allowing it to get me... I'm hiding at home... It's pitch dark. I rove from one window to the next, peering into the night. Nothing... wait, what's that, at the limit of visibility? A hulking, lurching figure..."

After a few sporadic stabs at the notion, I conceived the idea of systematically developing a series of stories derived, in some fashion, from my dreams, of looting the mines of Morpheus, as it were. Now a sizable chunk of my canon, published and unpublished, stems from this source, and I have only begun to tap this material.

The Dreams, and What I Made of Them

What follows is intended as a complete list, with mostly full transcriptions (a few earlier ones, before I established a post-waking technique, rather abrupt), of every dream used as the basis of a tale to date, exactly as I wrote them down at the time, except with some personal data removed. I present these in the chronological order of the dreams. Appended are the ultimate story titles and explanatory notes.

The Cave of Ceratos

"I am in a museum in Cairo. The museum is not found in any normal tourist guide, but it is very good. As I pass through corridors covered with beautiful artworks I suddenly find myself in a small room, with no real idea how I got there. The lighting is subtly different, and the paintings are hideous. Disgusted, I view them one by one. The last is a large canvas entitled 'Beyond the Green Door'. It depicts a long view of an enormous cavern, crawling with evil creatures devouring a group of human beings. I am seized by panic, and turn to leave. I suddenly hear strange sounds from one wall. It comes from the only door in the room, although it doesn't seem to be the one I entered. Approaching, I discover that the door is green."

To this I subsequently added, "This is the best, clearest, and most logically connected dream I've ever had. It made such an impression on me that I later wrote it up as a short story, which contained a few more details (mainly those of the painting itself) drawn from the dream." Indeed I did, and not long after. Being informed by a learned friend that the evil painting's title coincidentally resembled that of a naughty movie, I called the story "Beyond the Black Door", but allowing for the introduction of a mysterious curator, I otherwise let the story stand as a more detailed account of the above synopsis. It was rejected, the editor noting that it was obviously a dream account and nothing more. Much later I came back to this kernel, started from scratch, composed a vastly superior tale starring Jacob Bleek, retaining only the creepy painting, now in the collection of a decadent medieval nobleman, where Bleek sees it and gets strange ideas. This introductory scene became the springboard for the morbid adventure, "The Cave of Ceratos".

The Witch's Cave

"Father and I vacationing, meet young girl, often possessed. Evil comes from mountains, girl vanishes. We journey to 'Frying Pan', a rock shelter or similar formation. It has changed much since anyone was there, so it is hard to recognize. Find girl at Witch's cave, possessed. In cave: torture instruments, horrid sights."

To this I included a map showing the town we visited, the mountains, the "Frying Pan", the cave. This became "The Witch's Cave", about a cultural anthropologist carrying out studies in an isolated Arizona village, who does meet an oddly troubled child and discovers evidence of supernatural menace reaching out of the past.

The Children of Xenophor and The City At the End of Time

"Far in the future-- traveling in time-- the Black Tower, a tall, narrow iron structure, bulbous on top-- a single gleaming yellow light in a high window-- sense of mystery and great evil-- am chasing someone, a girl-- desperately wish to find her-- enter strange, underground 'city'-- gloomy tunnels, wide, low areas-- open cars racing on tracks through darkness-- I'm on one-- she flashes by on another."

I actually made two stories out of this. I incorporated the haunting image of the Black Tower into my grotesque modern fantasy "The Children of Xenophor". The plot of the dream, such as it is, became the framework of my particularly odd Jacob Bleek tale, "The City At the End of Time".

A Curious Incident At the Office

"Strange, multi-dimensional events, set in a normal office. Two secretaries stumble across a pit which has mysteriously opened in the floor of a closet, at the bottom of which, coated in some glistening substance, lies a male colleague. Horrified, they gather together their co-workers and boss (who looks like Carl Reiner), none of whom understand it. Even more curious, one of the onlookers proves to be 'X', who is the one in the well. Upon this realization the group scatters in panic. Later, the two girls find the pit gone, and memory of the event largely erased; the victim himself does not recall it. Later, when the pit reappears, empty, they realize events are catching up, and desperately try to keep 'X' away. No matter what they do, he keeps wandering closer to the deadly closet..."

To which I added, "Not at all frightening; puzzling, almost funny." I attempted to retain those aspects in the story, which with few changes became "A Curious incident At the Office", published in Strange Mysteries 3, an anthology by the Whortlesberry Press.

A Late Night Errand

"Weird, weird, weird; a crazy, disturbing dream, probably promoted by a stomach ache. On what seems a pretty lousy night I drive up to K-Mart to get something. I am unable to find it; in fact, I am unable to find my way around the store. Everything seems different. There are large areas with dim lights and no people, but sometimes the sounds of people. Eventually I exit through the garden shop, having gotten lost, and am unsure where my car is. A friendly old lady clerk points me in the right direction (I ask for the 'northwest corner' of the store), but when I arrive, although it is the right place, I can't find my car. Then I notice strange things are happening in the sky: moving lights, an object I take to be Venus, then Mercury, and the first hint of dawn... appearing in the wrong direction! The moving lights were not planes, even the celestial objects were visibly moving (sometimes backward), although the sun never appeared. Once I saw something like a Roman candle (from the fireworks here...?) in the distance. Disturbed, I resume the futile search, and unexpectedly meet ___. We are joined by the sales lady, who helps us hunt. Then a guy drives up in a pickup who looks like Kurt Russell. He hands me three letters, and says I owe ten dollars postage on them. I throw them back at him. Then ___ says he has found the car. It isn't mine, but only I see this. Frightened and confused, I am puzzling over these many strange events when I wake up."

I added, "For various reasons, I am reminded of 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'. What a horrid dream! The story isn't so bad, but I know how it felt to live through it. Nothing made sense, all was gloomy and menacing." With a little more logical linkage, some excisions (no Kurt Russell), this account transmuted into "A Late Night Errand".

The Mystery of the Old Church

"Weird dream, really weird. I am traveling in England, and am flying over the countryside when I spy a beautiful old church which quite takes my breath away. Later I read up on the site. I find that the church proper-- a long, multi-spired building, very Gothic-- has not been used for some years, since not long after a partial restoration in 1949, and that it has suffered a shortage of parishioners since the 1870s. Very close by is a more modern building, which until recently served as the pastor's home. It was Victorian, I guess, but with a peculiar wooden tower attached to it, standing on what look like stilts; a water tank, perhaps. I look at a number of pictures taken of the site over the years, and am disturbed by the neglect of years. Since the last restoration (and one in 1922) it looks better, but still abused.

"I am concerned about all this because I am unaccountably drawn to this church. I feel like I have seen it before. Memory tells me I saw it in Dr. Bruno's Western Art class, but I know that is impossible. Where, then? No matter; I must visit it, and I do so immediately.

"The church is far out in the country, reached by poor roads. The area is not entirely deserted-- a quarter mile up the road is a construction company of some sort, with idle heavy machinery-- but there is no town for miles, and the church buildings are totally empty. All around the little clearing is dense forest. It is a hot, still day; no movement, no sound. Curiously, I feel a chill. The church-- cathedral is more accurate-- is huge, and I spend much time walking around it, wondering why tourists don't flock to the site. I discover that the building is not shut up. There is a big garage door sized entrance, with a drop off into the shadowed concrete interior, like a loading bay, although the ledge renders it useless; perhaps it used to have a ramp. Not far away is an open door. I enter. This must have been a storage room at one time, now filled with junk and debris brought from elsewhere. This place has sunk so low, it is now a garbage dump!

"On the floor, in a corner behind a pile of trash, I notice a yawning trap door. I realize that people-- probably adventuresome boys-- have been exploring the church, maybe damaging stuff (this part of the dream reminds me of my own explorations of old buildings as a teenager). I am angry; they have no right being here. I pass through the trap door, down a ladder into the deserted loading bay. Nobody is there, but now somebody is coming: a man driving a truck pulls up outside, shouting "Now I've got you," and shuts the trap door. I am forced to explain that I am not a vandal or creep, just someone unreasonably interested in the place. He lets me out and we talk. He is foreman of the construction firm. He understands me very well; he is also curiously interested in the church. He knows or suspects things he will not discuss, but his hints are fascinating. Things 'happen' here; they always have. Its reputation is not good. I gather he is not so much angry at trespassers as afraid for them. Some of them, he evidently believes, enter the church, but do not emerge.

"Typically (for a dream) I decide to spend the night. I have a bedroom on an upper floor, with a storm lantern for light. I do not sleep well, and wake suddenly for no obvious reason. Something doesn't feel right... I sense a presence. A cockroach races up the wall, a big one, with two little ones nearby. Disgusted, I notice several tiny ones on that patch of wall, by the foot of my bed. I sit up. I see the wall more clearly: it is crawling with them, dozens! I turn to my left. My God, hundreds of them, gathering just inches from my face! I look around; swarms are converging on the doorway-- to block my escape? Luckily I am not paralyzed by fright; I move quickly, leaving everything, and before it is too late I have fled the room. I will not become another victim of whatever power haunts this too rapidly decaying structure."

I commented, "Needless to say, this dream had a lot of atmosphere. That last scene was so tense that my skin still crawls when I think of it." I performed major reworking on this one to make a story, "The Mystery of the Old Church", out of it. I dropped the English setting, transferring the tale to rural Arizona, a region I could more comfortably imagine. I altered the timeline of the greatly enhanced back story, and made as hero my grand investigator of the strange, Professor Anton Vorchek.

The Palace In the Land of Ice

"An extremely vivid dream. A beautiful girl and I are transported into another world, another dimension. This world is as gorgeous and fabulous as the girl: magnificent scenery-- mountains, gorges, cliffs and valleys, snow-capped above, green below-- the Grand Canyon and the Rockies look trivial by comparison. This planet bears copious traces of recent occupancy; from the vast buildings, roads, air-cars, appliances and other machines, we gather that this was an advanced civilization. Now, however, it is deserted. There is no sign of disorder, but the inhabitants are gone. An Ice Age seems to be in progress.

"We move into a swank hotel high on a frigid cliff (it has everything we need, including heat), and begin exploring. Before long we realize we are not alone: aliens are here, invaders. They roam about in air-cars, not noticing us at first, not thinking to look for anyone. We flee back to the hotel, but not before we are detected.

"We stay there, making only occasional forays. I return from one to find aliens in the vicinity. Upon entering our room I find, not the girl, but an old man who is also from Earth and, as he explains, has been here a long time, fighting the enemy. The girl is hiding in another room. This fellow is a genius; he knows how to travel to Earth, and says one of us must go in order to get help. The girl has already agreed to go while we deal with the enemy. I agree. We have a tearful parting, but soon we will be together again, struggling to save our paradise."

I wrote, "This was really a good story. It ought to be a book." When the time came I, very faithfully, turned it into the short tale, "The Palace In the Land of Ice." I preferred a palace to a swank hotel.

The Old House On the Hill

"This dream, so vile, so disgusting, so horrifying that it blew me awake, begins in an old, deserted house. While wandering in the back rooms (how or why I don't know) I find myself going down several levels, into larger and larger halls. The distance covered is enormous. There I discover the creatures, or aliens. I am so petrified that I don't cry out, which saves me. At first I see a number of bland-faced men walking purposefully about, then I see some that are not men: hideous, multi-jointed scaly things, with insect characteristics. I realize everyone here is an alien, that they can assume human form and, even more, change men into their kind. I see both going on: taking on human form in order to infiltrate society, and forcing screaming victims to become monsters. With dream omnipotence I know this alters the brain to a monster state, too; such people are no longer human in any sense.

"Now in the middle of a nest of them, I frantically seek escape. I am drawing more and more attention, so I dodge into a side passage leading to a little room with a time machine set into the wall. I attempt to manipulate it, to turn back time either to do away with them or to get away. Neither works, but I must get out of here, so I boldly walk out. Coming from the time machine room apparently convinces them that I belong because, although numerous alien eyes follow me, no alien form does. I walk across the great subterranean hall (like an outsized K-Mart stockroom), filled with boxes and building materials, buzzing with evil activity, up stairs to less populated levels, and then exit as fast as I can.

"Incredibly, I later go back, at night yet. I'm pedaling my bicycle uphill through a neighborhood of fine old homes toward my destination. Was it all a dream, or did it really happen? I don't quite believe it, but I notice something disquieting which shakes me up a bit: very few of these houses have any lights on, and near my goal none of them do, as if they're abandoned or have been depopulated, perhaps in some horrible way. I arrive at the old house on top of the hill. It's not terribly big, certainly not big enough to contain everything I remember. I enter; all is spooky darkness, but I go on. Farther inside the corridors slope downward-- I remember that!-- running far beyond the house itself, underground; a passage turns-- I remember that!-- down another level, and finally I'm standing on top of a high staircase, looking into a vast hall, mysteriously illuminated. The hall is empty, but I know it well: the packing cases, the lumber, the niche leading to the time machine. I go back up fast. I leave the house; the yard is completely dark; somebody runs by me in a flash, a human shape, but what does that mean? I don't know if he was being chased. As I'm about to flee, I realize I left my bike lying on the floor inside. I have to go back and get it, expecting every moment for something to jump me. Then, thinking I hear something, I clear out.

"Not yet is this shocker over. I have returned with the sheriff. He doesn't believe my story, but he is puzzled and disturbed by all the empty-- or ostensibly empty-- houses, and wants to get to the bottom of it. We enter the front room. A man is there, normal in appearance, who calls himself Jackson. He says he lives here. The sheriff is not impressed; this house does not look lived in. He asks Jackson a lot of questions, and the latter grows increasingly nervous; these are clever questions, hitting home. Finally all pretense is dropped: assuming a sneering, superior attitude, Jackson begins to change. As he transforms himself into the loathsome alien shape, I wake up..."

About this extravaganza of a nightmare I had much to say. "This one was so grotesque that I had to stay up for a while. 'Beyond the Green Door' has finally been surpassed. The various scenes were absolutely realistic, and exquisitely frightening. The story was a perfectly composed, logical narrative, like a good movie. Interestingly, the best part was the scene of the runner in the darkness; I could actually feel the lump in my throat and the tightness in my stomach!"

Initial impressions of tight logic aside, this was truly a powerhouse of a dream, my greatest to date. With modest prologue and epilogue, and the addition of a Sedona setting, this became my equally warped sci-fi tale, "The Old House On the Hill".

The Chamber of Horrors

"I'm wandering through a wax museum which gradually becomes a chamber of horrors. The exhibits are really weird. This place is run by a mad sorcerer who is closing in on me. He appears before me, raging and foaming at the mouth, in a puff of smoke."

This is a case, increasingly common, of my utilizing the general theme of a dream to write a very different kind of story. Retaining the setting, throwing out practically everything else, I concocted a less conventional version of "The Chamber of Horrors".

Expedition ZB-12

"Three male and two female astronauts make up an expedition which lands on an alien planet. At first it doesn't seem too alien; this place looks like a high class suburb, with a touch of English charm. However, there are no inhabitants; the visitors appear to be alone on this planet. They (I'm not clearly a character in this one) set up a base in a large, magnificently furnished country house. All is beautiful and serene, yet the astronauts are on guard.

"The problem is that an earlier expedition disappeared here, and the new group must (or at least want to) find out why. At first they stay in the house where they feel safe, but soon that isn't enough. The back of the two-story house is always dark-- a scary place-- and they get the impression that something is lurking there. The astronauts decide to check it out. Now, far back on the second floor, they pass through rooms and corridors which resemble an old English museum. On a pedestal in a dusty corner is a weird thing which looks like a partially melted statue of a man, only the bare outlines of a space suit visible. Suddenly this thing comes to life!

"It erupts into motion, a quivering, unholy fungoid monstrosity, obviously the remains of one member of the original expedition. One touch from this horror means slow, agonizing death and absorption by an alien mind. The astronauts flee, one girl just barely getting away. What happens next is a little hazy, but apparently four of the group head back to the ship (for help?), leaving one-- who reminds me of Waldo Evans from Sorry, Wrong Number-- to hold the fort or delay the attacker.

"He has a very bad time of it. The fungus monster drives him out of the house and onto the walled lawn (the tops of other houses can be seen over the wall). The thing has shed its semi-human form temporarily, now just a blob oozing after Evans. He runs and dodges for a time, then darts back into the house. The thing follows, sprouting blobby arms, and somehow acquires a shotgun. Evans is closely pursued but getting away until he unaccountably doubles back down a corridor and opens a door just as the monster squirms up on the other side. Blam! The thing shoots out three of Evans' teeth. The man is still running and opening up distance when the dream abruptly ends."

I state: "Portions of the story are reminiscent of "A Voice In the Night", by which I mean the fungoid aspects, certainly. This dream, with a subtly added comic air, forms the solid basis of my zany sci-fi piece, "Expedition ZB-12", starring Captain Avatar, who appears in an equally oddball sequel, "Planet XK-17".

At the Bottom of Montezuma Well

"I come to a huge sinkhole, very deep, with water at the bottom full of big rocks. A narrow path winds along just under the cliff, which I must take. It's extremely dangerous-- one misstep and I'll plunge to my death-- and the fact that a carnivorous octopus is lurking below doesn't make it easier. Finally I come to a point on the trail where the path stops. The edge of the sinkhole is six sheer feet above. I contemplate climbing that, getting this over with quickly... but fortunately I think better of it. I master my impatience and decide to circle back, taking the longer, safer way."

Although I did not make a note at the time, this dream surely derives from my visit to Montezuma Well, a striking geological feature in central Arizona. I definitely had that in mind when I wrote the story, for which I retained basic setting and fear of "something down there", wrapped around those bones a complex plot which became one of Professor Vorchek's and Theresa Delaney's classic adventures, "At the Bottom of Montezuma Well".

The Mystery of the Inner Basin Lodge

"High up on top of a snowy, fog-bound mountain, a terrible disaster has occurred. Something has happened at a resort lodge-- there have been deaths-- a large party sets out to investigate, including me, a girl named Theresa (!), and a fellow named Richard Dasein (!). He's a strange, mysterious character-- with an air of the sinister-- not well liked (during an argument he snaps, 'I'm not nothing, I'm Dasein'), who claims to have been up there when it happened. However, neither he nor anyone else will tell us what's going on. He hints darkly: 'You wouldn't believe me.'

"We march up the mountain, a dozen of us, through an intermittent blizzard, deep snow drifts, and dark pines. It's always twilight here; fog swirls in and the world disappears. Visibility is never more than a few hundred yards. Now high up, our group comes across debris, abandoned clothing and camping gear. 'Nothing human could survive that,' Dasein observes.

"We hear more comments like that, just enough to let us know that it wasn't a storm that struck this place. We have a more immediate problem: a couple of our people vanish into the mist, and despite a search aren't seen again. I can't help but think Dasein, who seems quite unconcerned, had something to do with it. There's more: a growing sense of being watched.

"Finally, far away through the trees, we see the lodge, a quaint, sprawling wooden structure. On the slope below we find more debris, and bodies, scattered about. It looks like the remains of a panicky flight. Now Dasein reveals the truth: aliens came here from beyond and did this. He knows because he is one of them! He begins to change... We flee in all directions, not just from Dasein but from others who suddenly approach us out of the mist. In the distance, as I run, I hear shouts and screams..."

Of this I wrote, "Needless to say, this was a spooky one. Not much actually happened until the end, but throughout there was a feeling of menace emanating from the grim, frozen landscape." I faithfully used all this as the foundation for the Vorchek tale, "The Mystery of the Inner Basin Lodge", published in Flagship; granting to it spurious realism by setting it amidst the grandeur of the Inner Basin among the San Francisco Peaks overlooking Flagstaff.

At the time of recording I could have added more explanatory material. Richard Dasein appears in the dream (re-borrowed later for the short story) courtesy of my contemporary studies of philosophy including, naturally, Heidegger, as well as my rereading of the enjoyable science fiction novel The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert. The reference to Theresa sheds interesting light on my literary development. At the time of the dream I had conceived a wild, somewhat comical sci-fi novel, which never progressed past the notes stage, entitled Theresa and the Astragonians, starring a perky character named-- what else?-- Theresa Delaney. Several years later I plucked her character from limbo, gave her a somewhat brassier persona, and made her the devoted but querulous companion to Professor Vorchek, introducing her in the novelette, "Peril In the Red Zone", published in M-Brane.

Morstenburg

"While traveling across country, I stop for the night in a little town near Houston (yesterday I heard a reference on the news to Angleton). It's a quaint place, just off the main highway, nestled in the piney woods by a pretty river. I take a room in an 'old dark house', something like a bed and breakfast. The room is small but nicely furnished. A pinched, middle-aged woman runs the place. She is distant but correct, in an old-fashioned way.

"In the morning I awake to loud noises. Several people are in my room. An old lady is vacuuming, a cute young girl is cleaning, and two or three others are just wandering through. Only now do I notice that I'm not in a room at all, but in a wide spot in a hall. The disturbance, and the total lack of privacy, distresses me, but I say nothing; I don't want to complain in front of the girl, who speaks to me sweetly.

"There's something a little strange about these people. Some are dressed oddly, in bizarre, New Age outfits, and they all seem knowingly amused, as if they share a secret denied to me. They are pleasant enough, however, so I don't take offense. At one point the sheriff drops in and chats with the pinched woman. He's friendly, but seems to be subtly warning her about something.

"Later on, I'm invited to a gathering by the pretty girl. It takes place on a wooded hill, up a long path, inside a large underground chamber in the middle of a clearing. Now I realize that there's not only something odd about this town, but something wrong. Hundreds of people are present in the dimly lighted hall, the strangest bunch I've ever come across. All are taking part in a ceremony composed of weird chanting and singing. It may be religious, but there's an ominous pagan quality to it. This is confirmed when they start talking about 'sacrifice'. Appalled, I begin to slip away, and then all eyes turn in my direction. I can't be allowed to leave; I am the sacrifice!

"It's now night, and I'm on the run. I've entered a gloomy, dismal industrial district, quite unlike the rest of the town, with my enemies, in cars, in close pursuit. I dart into a warehouse to hide, but they see the move and park outside. The pretty girl taunts me from outside the door. I run through the dingy building past tools and construction equipment. In the back I encounter the sheriff and another girl. They're not of this town; they want to help me! Then, suddenly, they are dead, slain in the darkness. Who did it? They're attacker was also killed in the fight... the pretty girl. Despite everything, I mourn her death.

"I'm at the back door. Beyond are two armed men, casually waiting. Only one of them is close. To the right, behind a railing, is a sunken railroad, bounded by high concrete walls. I have only one chance: I grab two pairs of garden shears and prepare to run for it. I will throw them at the nearest man when I burst through the door, and then, if I make it to the railing... if I survive the drop... if I can flee down the tracks without getting shot..."

My comments: "This was a great one. The story is pretty clear-cut, with only a few choppy bits, such as the three deaths near the end. The experience was more frightening than the telling, especially as I readied myself for that last suicidal dash." With this we come to another example of using a dream theme, while radically changing most of the details. When I came to write "Morstenburg" (published in Tower of Light) I transferred the story to medieval times, making it a starring vehicle for Jacob Bleek, and injecting a dose of supernatural menace.

The Spirit of Lenny Gilk

"A well-to-do friend has recently died of an accident. I'm lounging on the deck of his yacht, eating breakfast. Suddenly pieces of food-- sausage, vegetables, a drumstick-- come together and form a crab-like body, which crawls around the plate. I jump up and back away. Then the thing causing this becomes slowly visible; it looks like a pink, semi-transparent shrimp. It chases me all over the boat. As I flee into a dark cabin my dead friend appears. He tells me that the Mob had him murdered, and he intends to prove it. The weird creature, an inhabitant of 'the other side', will help him."

I used this for the central portion of "The Spirit of Lenny Gilk", published in the anthology Strange Mysteries 2 by the Whortlesberry Press.

The Return of Vanek

"I'm a park ranger who's buddy has been killed; I found him, torn up, raving with his dying breath about the 'things' that did it. Now I've traced his attackers back to their lair, a cave deep in the rocky wilderness. Inside I find a central chamber containing a deep, murky pool. A rock wall surrounds the pool, with doorways chiseled through at intervals. The layout is something like Stonehenge. Looking down into the water from each doorway I find... aliens. At my approach their horrible little faces (with spiky little teeth and dark patches like bruised flesh) sink into the silty water like jellyfish. A horrible sight! I leave, groping my way over boulders, as some of the creatures fly after me on bat wings. I escape, but it doesn't do any good. They're able to home in on me mentally, and they won't give up; also, nobody believes my story. Some even think I killed my friend."

One of my most popular stories, the big sci-fi novelette "The Return of Vanek", published in Strange, Weird, and Wonderful, became one of Professor Vorchek's most intriguing cases. I threw everything into it, including this lurid dream anecdote.

The Diary of Philip Wyler

"Philip Wylie is telling the story of a curious period in his life, set sometime in the '30s or '40s, a time when he should have been happy, but wasn't. He has been hired, for a huge wage, by a huge corporation. The job takes him, along with his wife and son, to California. They live in a trailer in a wilderness area of trees and hills. The scenery is beautiful, the unnamed corporation is unobtrusive (the only sign of it is some fenced-in territory), the work-- some kind of writing?-- is satisfying... and yet something is wrong. Wylie feels it, but ignores the signs, until that terrible day which shatters his life. He orders his son, now a teenager, to do something. The son refuses; Wylie insists; the son leaves forever, followed by the wife. Not long thereafter, Wylie quits the company.

"It turns out I've been reading this in a book, with pictures; a big paperback volume containing selections of Wylie's writings. The foregoing material was found on pages 413-415. There follows his explanation of how he learned that the corporation was actually a front for a secret Martian invasion. The explanation isn't clear. Mind control is involved, as is something about secret chemicals in water. My mother is present, and I tell her about what I'm reading. Wylie observes that his 'discovery' dashes the argument-- advanced by a scientist-- that any alien invasion would 'stand out like the toad'. I'm wondering about the author's mental health, but his account is strangely compelling. The accompanying black and white photographs are interesting, but not much to the point: the trailer, dirt roads, images of WWII. On page 494 there begins his account of how the invasion was finally dealt with, apparently after years, and the corporation dissolved. I'm keen to read that, hoping that it contains proof of his claims."

Changing the setting to Arizona, and presenting the story as excerpts from a mysterious volume, this became "The Diary of Philip Wyler". Just for a lark I incorporated the odd reference to "the toad" into the final version, duly published in Sonar4.

The Philip Wylie of the dream, who lent a variation of his name to the titular hero, is of course a real person, the writer famous for co-authoring When Worlds Collide, and for Generation of Vipers, also notable for faux autobiographical novels such as Finley Wrenn and They Both Were Naked. The dream presented itself as a form of the latter type.

The Return of Vanek

"The Ventor Story is a play I'm producing, based on real events. It's about a couple who have troubles, perhaps medical. Anyway, some of my actors are giving me grief. Food is catered one night (as it was at work last night), but it's cold and greasy."

An aspect of this play provides Professor Vorchek with a clue in "The Return of Vanek", otherwise unconnected to the rest of the plot. This is the first of several cases of my using multiple dreams to compose a single tale.

The Saturday After the End of the World

"At the height of the slow, dull, quiet summer season, I become aware that aliens have invaded our world. They are capable of imitating the human form, and through infiltration are busy replacing or enslaving us. When they keep their victims alive, they're turned into empty-headed robots. One woman I know confronts them (this incident finally convinced me of the aliens' reality); the next thing I know she's a couch potato, mindlessly watching TV 24 hours a day.

"There is a near total news blackout-- the aliens' doing-- which prevents the few in the know from banding together to resist the invasion. By the time I'm fully convinced as to what's happening, their conquest is almost complete. At a general store out in the boonies, where I've stopped in while on a road trip, they close in on me. It turns out everybody there, with the exception of one middle-aged woman customer, is one of them. We flee in her camper, racing down dirt roads into deep, dark woods up in the mountains.

"We hide out there, living primitively, while a month passes. From reading between the lines of occasional comments on the radio-- cases in which pretense is abandoned-- I gather that it's all over for man. Then, one terrible morning, they get the woman. She's gone, they're coming for me now; it won't be long. I don't even care any more."

I respond, "This one made me feel bad." Not forever, though, since this gave me a strong structure for my eerie sci-fi tale, "The Saturday After the End of the World", one of my favorites.

The Return of Vanek

"...My sister has written a poem-- 'The Return of Vanek'-- and I want to get a copy on disc..." This fragment from a much longer, otherwise irrelevant dream gave me the title of the story.

The Cave of Ceratos

"I and several others are spelunkers, members of a expedition exploring a set of caverns far beyond previous knowledge, or even belief. The place is huge; the passages are bigger than subway tunnels-- it's like hiking on a road, with no debris-- the infrequent rooms like warehouses. There aren't many formations. We seem to be miles underground.

"Two of our party have descended into a dark cavern, which nothing seems to illuminate (curiously, most of the subterranean images of this dream are lighted, as if by a crystalline full moon; this greatly adds to the eerie effect). Suddenly, we hear shrill screams-- suddenly, the darkness advances-- terrible, black, insectoid monsters, racing straight for us!

"Without a moment's thought or hesitation, I turn and run, my guts churning with blind panic. This is a horror not to be borne or faced, or even seen. Everybody runs. I have the impression that the creatures close in on the closest of us-- it looks like he scarcely had a chance to turn-- but I don't stop to find out. I actually think, 'If they catch one of us, it may slow them down.'

"When I eventually stop, at a considerably higher level, I'm all alone, and awfully lonely. Am I the only one left? The silence, the darkness, and the solitude claw at my mind. Before long somebody else comes along, M___... She tells me the others-- the surviving members-- are right behind her, and that the creatures haven't followed this high. As we walk along, we discuss whether the things can come up this far, or must remain down below. Then I freeze-- I've just noticed a series of dark chambers at periodic intervals on both sides of the tunnel. They give me a creepy feeling; they're too much like that one below. M___ and I also discuss the notion that the passages and chambers this far down are too regular, too even, to be natural. We appear to be crawling through a gigantic ant nest rather than caverns.

"J___ appears, and insists on investigating one of the side tunnels, despite our begging him not to do it. In his typical smarmy manner, he won't listen. No sooner has he disappeared into the blackness than we hear dry rustling noises, and the huge insect horrors burst forth (they're something like the ants in "Them", only lightning fast). Flight-- the surface at last, in a rocky, hilly area by a river-- it's night-- surely the things won't come up here. They do-- I flee down river-- and as two of the nightmares come closer, I dive in. They spray webs like nets from their mouths-- the webs fall on top of me-- I struggle-- barely claw or hack my way out before I drown. Up ahead, on the right bank, lights-- a village-- no, a campground. I drag myself ashore, the creatures not visible. Here I can get help-- no, I must warn them-- no, it's too late, the monsters attack! It's a massacre. I can do nothing but run the other way."

This roller coaster of terror got to me: "This is the scariest dream I've had in a long, long time. Even now it gives me the creeps!" With a switch to a medieval setting and Jacob Bleek as the hero, plus tying the events to the painting of the earlier dream, this one provided the manic climax to my favorite Bleek tale, "The Cave of Ceratos". My cynical thought, "If they catch one of us..." I modified and retained to express Bleek's typical self-serving callousness.

My War Against the Invisibles

"I'm walking down a dirt road in farm country, with fields and stands of trees to each side. I enter a tunnel, and pass a fellow-- shabby looking, nervous-- whose wild eyes worry me. He carries one hand funny-- he's wearing a mouse mitten-- no, it really looks like a mouse for a hand. I stop-- he whirls-- the hand darts upward-- it is an animal in place of his hand! Then he screams as the blood spurts from his chest. The thing is eating him."

"Really horrible." Useful as well, for this morsel gave me a luscious introductory anecdote for my tale of alien invasion, "My War Against the Invisibles", published in Short-Story.Me!.

My War Against the Invisibles

"The aliens have invaded and taken over! What they make us do is work in perpetual assembly lines. It looks like the whole world is in line, manufacturing small, unknown instruments. Refusal to work means death. I want to stop-- I feel terrible-- but I don't dare."

And this dream delivered to me the central plot.

The Cave of Ceratos

"My buddy and I are explorers, slogging forward somewhere in the far north. All around us is ice and snow; ahead looms a stark mountain range. We've comes a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go, and we're in trouble. Other members of our party turned back when they decided they couldn't take it any more. That was long ago-- I'm not feeling well-- have I passed my point of no return?

"As the wind whips up and the flurries swirl, I spy a packed snow cairn topped with a flag to our right. I want to check it out-- my friend isn't interested; it's old, abandoned long ago-- what can it hurt, I say. We dig into it. At first he seems to be right-- there's nothing in it-- wait, what is this below? I can see something in the ice below. We keep digging, shortly breaking through into a large open space.

"It's an underground storehouse, consisting of rooms cut out of the frozen earth, supported by wooden beams. It's crudely constructed, but surprisingly large. Who could have built this? Our amazement and mystification increase as we descend into it. The first thing I notice is a rough shelf loaded with shoes; then I realize that many shelves are crammed with footwear, still in their boxes. We could use some new boots. Also, I find a section given over to guns, mainly hunting rifles, but I note some automatic weapons as well.

"Our strangest discovery is the realization that there are several levels to this place. It's like a crude multi-story building protruding into the ground. We go farther down, my companion one level ahead of me. Suddenly a small wooden door creaks open near his feet, and children emerge! One, then two... They're dressed normally, look normal, except for a certain shabbiness and lack of bath. What are they doing here? How do they live? Their eyes glow strangely. I don't like this... Here come two more. They're clustering around my friend. Too late I realize what's happening. "Get out!" I scream. They close in on him-- of course that's how they live-- they're flesh-eaters! Their teeth are razor sharp, like those of sharks. He struggles, but has no chance. I'm able to reach the top of the hole and scramble out. I head toward the mountains, no better off than I was before, but safe for the moment."

I ditched the Arctic setting and the retail merchandise, made the children something even more repulsive, folded the result into key scenes of Jacob Bleek's subterranean explorations in "The Cave of Ceratos".

The Ghost Town

"I've joined up with a military outfit like the SS (black uniforms, and something Germanic about them). This particular unit is based in Otwich, Massachusetts. Arriving Friday night, I've received a two day pass before I have to get down to business. First I acquire lodgings, taking a room in a boarding house run by an old lady. Now I'm seeing the local sights. Lots of soldiers marching around, and several military buildings. Otwich looks so much like down home America-- tree-lined avenues, couples strolling-- but the oblong, dark, futuristic military structures stand out, disturbingly reminiscent of coffins. From a vantage point I can see far out across the scrubby plains, to the hill or mound containing the ruins of Oton, the abandoned town from which Otwich is derived. There is something very strange about that-- a lost town-- what haven't I been told? It's gotten to be Sunday night. I think my pass is coming to an end, but I'm not sure; does the weekend count? I figure I'd better look up my commander and find out. A fellow could get in trouble with this bunch."

Despite throwing out all the military aspects, I retained a great deal of this dream when I came to write "The Ghost Town", published in The Harrow. I kept the place names, the scrubby plains which readily became Arizona, the mysterious ruins. Obviously Otwich is a dream warping of Dunwich, one of many Lovecraftian nods when I'm nodding.

A Simple Solution

"A troubling, disjointed dream, clearly inspired by Rebecca, which I watched last night. I'm a guest-- or a resident-- in a great house, lavish but spooky. Servants are everywhere-- apparently nobody else-- but things happen here, including the disappearance of servants. What's going on? There is only one man I can talk to about my concerns, but this is the really strange part.

"The chief servant, the one in charge of the others, is a somewhat elderly, talkative, engaging fellow who consists only of a head on a lean, truncated torso, perpetually residing in a deep, narrow box on the mantelpiece over the grand fireplace. It's the weirdest thing imaginable, but at least at first I take it in stride. He seems as helpful as the mere power of speech will allow, and assures me that I have nothing to worry about; he'll take care of things. Odd events continue (I see them as brief glimpses; surely people are being killed), so in desperation I return to the head in the box. He's always seen straight on, with that terrible, maniacal face leering close up. Still he soothes, but now I'm beginning to realize what should have been obvious from the first: this creature is pure evil, and is clearly the force behind the dreadful happenings."

"Weird, weird," I wrote; "I'll never forget the look on that crazy face." Nor did Professor Vorchek when, at the behest of his wealthy host, he confronted this more than natural, and surprisingly dangerous creature, in "A Simple Solution", published in Tower of Light.

At the End of a Dusty Road

"I'm definitely traveling, but I'm on foot, with a backpack; maybe I've just gotten off a bus or something (Or was I worrying about my car? That might be, although I recall no items of modern appearance.), but I'm on foot now, and I'm walking down a street late at night, all alone; not with anyone, and no one in sight. It's very dark, the sky just black, with nothing moving, as if I'm walking into an old-fashioned photograph. The place looks old; in fact, it looks like main street in a Wild West town. It really has that feel, not a decrepit look, more of a back-then look. There is even a tumbleweed in the road, although it doesn't move. Farther ahead I see cacti, saguaro, looming in the darkness. I see myself, as viewed from an upper balcony, walking down the dirt street. Then something does move. A giant rooster, 20 feet high, gallops quickly by on the lane at the intersection right ahead. I know that isn't normal. To my left, on the corner, is a fancy hotel, two stories, with that upper balcony. I dart in there.

"No one appears to greet me. That suits me. I climb to the second floor and choose a good room for myself. Once I'm situated I relax at the window and settle down to watch. Sure enough, shortly the secret inhabitants of this town-- a kind of ghost town-- emerge. They're zombies, horribly undead relics of the living, all of whom appear to have died in hideous ways, and who then have gone on to kill others, who in turn go forth, with staring, glistening eyes, awful sardonic grins, and pointed shark-like teeth. I'm terrified of them, but it's a curiously abstract, distant sort of terror. Isn't it too bad, I think, what they're doing to people, or what's happening to people. I wouldn't want that to happen to me. It's as if I consider myself somehow safe, even though the town is now crawling with those things, and just off-stage nasty things are happening.

"Then I see something else, and this image shocks me. A giant rooster marches steadily along the cross street (I'm pretty sure it's where I saw the first one loping), followed by a giant man in a giant cart, hooked to a giant ox or bull, the latter assembly moving backward, keeping pace with the rooster. At a second glance the rooster may have had horse harness and a cowboy rider. Anyway, this sight fills me with dread. Immediately I know I must get out of there. I pack up my bag and exit the room into the hall.

"Out of the shadows vaguely human figures awkwardly advance. I flee down the stairs. From behind the counter comes the clerk, a woman, far gone in decay, but moving pretty fast and looking hungry. I dash away from her, rush right out into the street... where those things are waiting for me, a mob of them, as if I'm the only victim left and they all want a piece of me.

"I woke up at this point, but I had trouble banishing the dream. For about a minute, if I closed my eyes, it would resume at the same spot, sparing me nothing. Evil glaring faces, sharp white teeth, reaching arms and claw-like fingers, the final sickening image being that of a young boy, another walking corpse, lunging at me; I got up."

I mused, "This may be the most terrifying dream I've ever had. What does it mean? Well, perhaps nothing... [S]ince yesterday I've read the stories in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth, some of which may be suggestive. Otherwise, I have no explanations." Actually, upon later reflection, the details indicate many sources from literature and cinema, all stirred in my brain. This dream, quite intact, easily lent itself to the composition of "At the End of a Dusty Road", published in Aurora Wolf.

Planet KX-17

"Four astronauts, including myself, land on an unknown planet. Our rocket sets down on the edge of a low, dense, compact city, which appears to be pretty much one extensive building of unremarkable architecture, being mainly red brick with warehouse style flat roofs. From what I notice of the surrounding terrain, there's desert or barren land all around. The city is strangely quiet, with no sign of life at all, which mystified us. We suspect it's abandoned. Our commander decides to investigate. We split into pairs, I going with him to the left, the others to the right, the idea being to make a circuit of the city.

"Our fellows aren't long out of sight within the urban maze when we hear piercing screams. The loudness and endurance of those awful sounds is terrifying. Immediately the commander urges us forward the way we were going. [It seems we're going away from the sound, but in the dream it didn't mean that, there being some suggestion we were cleverly maneuvering.] We dash along a readily marked asphalt path over the parking lot smooth building tops. Now we're heading right, close to the far side of the city, [circling?] when suddenly the commander cries out and disappears, plunging downward through a boarded up patch of roof. I peer down to the concrete floor below. He's unharmed-- but wait-- he's reacting to something just beyond my line of vision, something he sees, something nearby. He shouts, fires his rifle, [which I hadn't noticed before, though we all had pistols] then wields it like a club at something I barely can't see. He steps partially out of view, screams, a lingering, dying shriek.

"I flee back to the rocket, barricading myself within. [It doesn't look like a spaceship interior, more like a regular room, with double doors.] Something comes, pressing on the doors. I call out, get no answer, press back. Pressure builds, the doors slowly swing open. There stands a human form, only whitish, as if sprayed with thick cobwebs, and wholly faceless: this horrible thing is what's left of the commander."

I wrote, "That was a good one. The city thrilled me, although the description doesn't sound like much. It had qualities, modernized of course, of a vast prehistoric pueblo. The form resembles numerous artist's reconstructions I've seen." I made this over into another Captain Avatar extravaganza, "Planet KX-17", a story considerably less serious than its source. I might want to try those plot elements again.

A Late Night Errand

"I'm Driving to the Wal-Mart super center, to buy something, in the middle of the night. I'm shrouded in total darkness, save for my headlights, and cloaked in dense fog. There's no evidence of street lights ahead, nor those of other cars. Already I feel that something is wrong. I get to the store, meaning to get in and out, but find things out of kilter there, too. Areas of gloom alternate with garish, over-bright regions, and an enormous number of people seem to be about, although I can't quite get a good look at them. I can't find anything I want. M___ turns up in a rush, surrounded by assistants, talks to me, lets me know how much he wants me there. I break away from him quickly. I only want out of there forever. That may be difficult, however. I feel doom closing in. Must get out... is it growing dark? I make it to a room which looks like a cozy den, flop into a chair... and the whole room begins sinking into the depths. As I descend, and darkness closes in, I wrestle with the idea that what's happening is a dream. I try my conventional methods, all of which assure me I'm awake. I'm totally convinced it's all real, just as I actually wake up."

This was the immediate catalyst for "A Late Night Errand", which I began writing the next day. I built the story by combining this dream with a much earlier one, the two together providing practically all of the "meat".

Zirinsky's Swamp

"There is a swamp, or maybe it should be called a large pond with vast marshy edges, where two men come to muse on nature. Actually one does; the other, it turns out, wishes to play the game. That consists of a stylized, carefully regulated hunting (with a gun) of the opposing party. In the end they do this in the vicinity of the swamp. The hunted lurks behind shrubs, dives under lily pads, but the hunter is relentless. In fact he seems overly keen, seems to take the game too seriously. It becomes (somehow) known to the hunted man that in the past the game has gone wrong, that terrible things have happened. Now he fights for his life. Against all odds he turns the tables, and in the end the hunter is defeated, begging for mercy."

I naturally concluded, "Sounds like a rip-off of 'The Most Dangerous Game', but it was the images of the swamp that stood out most. I'd like to visit the place." So striking were the images that I kept them, discarded virtually everything else, when I came to write my somewhat amusing futuristic fable, "Zirinsky's Swamp", which bears no similarity to "The Most Dangerous Game".

An Ending, Orchestrated

"A zombie on the rampage story: without any warning they have broken loose and, in short order, overwhelmed our world. It all happened so fast, with my simple trip to the shopping center (a place like Arrowhead [Mall], only taller) turning into a nightmare as I try to escape. Those who have survived the initial grim surprise are all endeavoring to flee. Despite the increasingly lurid news, everybody wants to just get home. I'm no exception. I'd called my family, attempted to arrange a meeting with them, that we could get together. Meeting at the mall is out, so we decide to unite on the sea coast (which is not so far away) at a resort town. It's an easy hop for them-- hopefully-- certainly a longer one for me. At the last minute I drive frenziedly out of the big parking lot, past scenes of gruesome horror. Immediately I'm on a narrow country lane, no people anywhere, a family of three peccaries casually proceeding, exhibiting no hurry or fear. So quickly, I realize, is man's dominion dying. I continue on toward the coast."

Despite many, plainly derivative, zombie dreams, I worked with this one because the last part offered a springboard to a different kind of story. That one, "An Ending, Orchestrated", suggests that the apocalyptic calamity extends far beyond mindless flesh eaters.

One Day, Complete With Aliens

"I come home to my dismal little apartment in the big city to find it largely empty save for the handful of cheap furnished furniture, and two strange men in suits awaiting me. 'Who are you?' I cry. They explain they're from the government, are here to protect me from the aliens who want to kill me, and for my sake have removed my belongings. I go with them as they tell me about the disguised aliens lurking among us. Later, alone, I talk to my old, crotchety landlady, take her to task for letting those men in. She grumbles about how it 'ain't' her business. Wandering off, I see an old fellow eyeing me. As I stare back, his face transforms into something insectoid. I flee. Across the street, half in a warehouse and half on the sidewalk, I find my stuff in crates casually dumped. Looking through one, I find comics of long ago, and a series of SF magazines from earlier years, these all containing Martian stories. The covers are great. I remember one contained an especially good tale I unsuccessfully tried to locate years before. Here it is. Two men come around the corner. I start to snap at them, thinking them the G-men, realize it's two buddies. I ask them to help me move my stuff back to the apartment. There the Feds soon turn up again with further warnings. I tell them I won't be chased away through fear."

This dream forms an excellent synopsis of my science fiction comedy, "One Day, Complete With Aliens", this time hardly more amusing than the source.

Planet KX-17 and In the Hills of Yost

"Going through town on foot one morning, I see lots of short potted plants everywhere, on porches, window sills, fence rails. At first I scarcely notice them, then slowly begin to realize their unnatural profusion. Surely somebody didn't just set them out all of a sudden, so how did they get there? When I try to describe this to someone, a little girl contradicts me, making me sound a liar. She says there's only a few strange plants. It turns out she means a peculiar, quite tall, potted plant with long, tentacle-like fronds. One glance at that unfamiliar shrub gives me the spooks. In fact, both are proliferating unchecked and apparently on their own. Then I begin to realize how few people are about this morning. Where are they? What happened to them?"

I merely noted, "The town looks southern, c. 1940s." What more could I say, what could I do with such unpromising material? Why, use it as the basis of two wildly different stories, of course. The weird business with the plants factors into the goofy sci-fi "Planet KX-17", and the somber sword and sorcery tale of antique Dyrezan, starring my recurring hero Lord Morca, "In the Hills of Yost".

Stealing Boris Karloff

"I've decided to steal the corpse of Boris Karloff. My reasons aren't clear, or perhaps they're so understood that I don't dwell on them. I picture myself with him, a big, pliable body, well preserved, much resembling his classic character in Frankenstein. I hold him lovingly, cradle his rubbery flesh to mine...

"I do the deed, bring the coffin home, covered in the back of my truck. I pull into the garage, shut the door, wrestle with the heavy coffin. I drop one end to the floor, an accident that makes me gnash my teeth. I better not have damaged him!

"I can't get over it. So many of my expectations are confounded. The corpse is hideously desiccated, thin-- no, more than that, kind of flattened-- scarcely recognizable, like the remnants of his character in The Mummy; certainly not anything I wish to drape myself on. It reminds me of a dead animal in the road.

"Still, I have big plans for the corpse. Now I have it inside what looks like a cross between a greenhouse and a hobby hut: glass enclosed, extended far from the house, lots of plants, but apparently ornamental, not being raised there. [It appears that I possess quite an estate.] Boris is on the floor, his flat face toward the ceiling. Someone comes to the door. I see him crossing the yard, skirting the glass, and metal supported, walls, knocking. It's my annoying neighbor. He'll see! He'll ruin everything! I reach the door, open it a crack, do my best to block his way. He sees enough to know something is there. I tell him it's an anthropological specimen. That seems to satisfy him."

As it did, I trust, the readers of DemonMinds, where "Stealing Boris Karloff" was published. I used most of the above material, gave more attention to the mechanics of the theft, grafted on a grisly supernatural angle, resulting in one of my more unique stories.

Beyond the Crossroads and A Sojourn In Crost

"My bed lies in the corner of the room, flush against a long walk-in closet with sliding doors. [The closet is like the one I have in real life.] My head and pillows are close to the right edge of the farthest right closet door. Now, some time back I became aware of a fungal infestation emanating from that corner of the closet. It took the form of clinging green powder coming through the cracks, pretty hard to clean up. I didn't stay on top of it, out of laziness, became aware that it was gradually getting worse. This day I roll over in bed to spy a puff of green dust from the closet which actually stains the pillow upon which my head rests. Perturbed, I raise up, notice several encroaching green stains among the sheets and pillows on that side. This is unsettling, even a tad scary. I observe more carefully. Suddenly it is as if sight is restored: I see the horror that has infiltrated that corner. All the way to the ceiling it is festooned with spider webs and dust, with grotesquely fat black widows writhing among the filth of shocking neglect. There are bronze stands at intervals going up, like min-shelves, but instead of trinkets they contain dirt and creeping vermin. I recall my pitiful attempts to check the rot (I note one dead black widow), decide to go to war with my old stand-by, a can of Raid. I soak the entire area until the fumes repel me. The creatures die, the webs sag, the fungus wipes up. I move to the left along and past my bed toward the hall door, spraying the long, hideously dusty shelves over there. I vow never to let my room get so foul again. I'm still concerned about the source of the fungus in the closet."

I noted, "A bit of this reminds me of "A Voice In the Night". It also helped suggest a crucial scene for two rather different travelers' tales. The medieval wizard Jacob Bleek and the ancient sorcerer Lord Morca both seek shelter in what prove to be vile and haunted lodgings, the former in the wryly recounted "Beyond the Crossroads", the latter during weird wanderings that lead to "A Sojourn In Crost".

Beyond the Crossroads

"My girlfriend and I are driving through unfamiliar territory. We come to an unknown town. The highway becomes main street. The town is quiet, no movement, no one in sight. Something isn't right. She's getting scared. 'Don't stop,' she says, just drive on through. We reach the heart of town. Suddenly we spot something weird: the place is infested, blanketed with vermin, crawling, buzzing things. I spot by instinct at a stop sign. 'Go on, go on!' my girl shrieks. Just in those few seconds the creeping, flying mass has found a way to my door. Bees explore the arm rest. I swat at them, gun the motor."

Shorn of its modern trappings, this imagery served well to extend the supernatural nastiness faced by Jacob Bleek in "Beyond the Crossroads".

Beyond the Crossroads and In the Hills of Yost and A Sojourn In Crost

"I'm hiking along Oak Creek, which flows through a heavily forested region of steep, rolling hills. The wide dirt trail parallels the creek at a considerable distance, such that the water is seldom seen. [None of this bears any resemblance to the real Oak Creek.] I mean to hike down to the bank, but at the first approach I see a group of people in a sylvan setting, framed by mossy trees and shadowed, earthen cliffs. There are three: two well dressed men, a woman beautiful in white. I realize it's a wedding, choose not to interrupt. Pushing on, I presently come to a steep declivity, a drainage which runs down to the invisible creek, but it does so in such forbidding fashion that I decide to skip it, see what lies ahead before I turn back.

"Before long the trees pull back, revealing a wide space of current road construction. At the moment it's silent, lonely, a broad dirt and gravel track curving away to my left, running straight into the distance on my right. That way I see a road sign, giving me the mileage to:

"Oak

"Yost

"Crost

"Even in the dream I'm puzzled by 'Oak', which I surmise must refer to the area of Oak Creek to which I must return. I've never heard of the other places. I'm sorely tempted to keep going that way, but the distances listed are oddly long, so I turn around and head back the way I came. Approaching the tree line, I see another hiker, a fat, loud fellow who hails me pleasantly, then plops down blocking my path, forcing me to squeeze between him and the cliff of the road cut."

Three stories benefited from this one, after I transferred the setting from Arizona to fantasy lands. "Beyond the Crossroads" garnered the woodland scenes and the twin villages of Yost and Crost which offer Bleek his fateful (possibly fatal) choice. The Dyrezanian tales featuring Lord Morca's mystical adventures also adopted those as place names.

A Sojourn In Crost and The Enemy From Nowhere

"I'm on an expedition of sorts into densely forested territory near town. My business may be archeological. There are ruins protruding from the growth, crumbling brick and concrete structures. [The images resemble a cross between small Mayan edifices and New Birimingham.] My companions are M___... and a magnificent black tiger. M___ has wandered off-- I'm worried about him-- he gets fogged in the brain so easily. While I circle a square ruin searching my faithful tiger disappears. Has he abandoned me? No, here he comes bounding playfully back. We leave the wilderness, I planning to organize a search for M___ when I get out. Back in town, I'm walking uphill in the street when M___ comes behind..."

I plucked two elements from this dream for two stories. In "A Sojourn In Crost" I introduced Lord Morca's faithful companion, the black tigress Treenya. Into my science fiction mystery "The Enemy From Nowhere" I inserted, along with Professor Vorchek and Theresa Delaney, the eon-shrouded ruins of the alien landscape.

New Birmingham is the Texas site of an early 20th Century steel city, now a ghost town lost in the forest.

In the Hills of Yost

"From a high point atop a cliff I'm looking out on a green, well-watered plain, watching a medieval-style battle unfold. One army, in the distance, is using catapults to hurl boulders at the other force, which is nearer me. The receiving side is clearly getting the worst of it, already retreating below past my position. Interestingly, many of them look like Zulus or Watutsis (the latter dressed as in King Solomon's Mines). I pay attention to the oncoming missiles, find them fascinating. Some, of course, are huge, roughly oval bombs arcing through the air. Others, however, drift toward the enemy, slowly but steadily moving with the help of parachutes (I reason, to extend their range!). I even see a cluster of three smaller stones, each with its individual small parachute, flying somewhat faster in formation."

Altered a tad, this battle scene became a bitter magical contest between the legions of Dyrezan and the fell forces of the Rhexellites which opens my fantastic tale, "In the Hills of Yost".

In the Gorge of Pentono

"I'm on a road trip, touring a wild-looking desert area. [It's reminiscent of Agua Fria National Monument in aspects of scenery, and the fact that it lies near a major highway.] I'm able to pull right off the highway to investigate cliffs, lots of colorful, jumbled boulders, and scattered formations caused by mineralized water, such as little blue pools rimmed with deposits. [These resemble such things in Yellowstone.] There are a few other sight-seers around, not many, and we chat amiably when we meet. I proceed through this desolate, sheer canyon which hugs the road, [This reminds me a little of Zion National Park, although all this appeared black and white.] stopping at a dusty trail on my left which follows the canyon wall where it veers away from the highway. I hike this maybe a quarter mile to a point where I can see Indian ruins carved into the base of the cliff. {A bit like Petra.] I camp in a rock shelter on my left. In the morning I make the curious discovery that my location is not so isolated as I thought. A fellow hiker passes by on the trail embankment above me, doesn't see me, but I'm surprised to see him. Almost immediately a dump truck trundles by from the road. I thought the trail was wide; it's a dirt road! I climb up to the trail, look down to where the truck has parked at the mouth of a subsidiary gorge. Those ruins down that way look very odd now. They're less prehistoric structures, more of modern make; I see glass and screen doors, and windows, trivial decorations like potted plants and items like morning newspapers. They're across that side canyon-- here comes a SUV out of it, occupied by a morning commuter, so somebody lives there-- and my goodness, they're on this side too, right next door to where I'm camping. I'm surprised somebody hasn't complained about me."

"Such unusual compounds of reality fragments, stirred together wildly," I thought. I thought also to remove the modern details, employ the amazingly vivid geography to fashion another questing tale of Lord Morca, this one set "In the Gorge of Pentono".

The Crags of the Schwartzenburg and The Idol of Zita

"I'm hiking a very pretty park. My adventures take me along a wide trail between trees, which eventually terminates at a narrow bay. At this point there is a cliff to my right, with a steep flight of steps leading to a wood plank door. Climbing to it, I pass through, discover the best vista so far, one revealing the extensive, sprawling size of the lake, and the starkly beautiful landscape around. The solitude impresses me.

"Sometime later-- another day, surely-- I pass that way again, this time find the stairs leading to the cliff door choked with small, purple pebbles, most of which have white writing inked or scratched on them, messages to others from tourists who have come here letting them know this is the way. I'm disgusted by the clutter, and the crowds it represents, and in full view of another hiker I kick the stones off the steps. Then I pass through the door again, where all is peaceful."

I wrote, "There are elements of Lake Pleasant in this one," referring to the popular get-away north of Phoenix; also indications of the Sedona area, where New Age types fashion symbols out of pebbles. When I used these images for a story I transformed the passage through the door into a frightful experience, the basis of Jacob Bleek's alpine adventure among "The Crags of the Schwartzenburg", published in Roar and Thunder. No details, but the general setting of this dream, akin to the Lake Pleasant region, also crept into the final version of the Vorchek yarn, "The Idol of Zita".

The Crags of the Schwartzenburg

"My family and I, traveling or fleeing some great peril, arrive at a strange, artificial cave of sorts; like a deep stone hall, dusty and cavernous, with a massive, natural roof of rock. Maybe it has been carved from solid rock. We set up to stay there. Then come goons on motorcycles. They roar in, begin setting up wooden shelves across the floor of our living area, start putting goods on them. I'm incensed, argue; they ignore. They look dangerous. Do we run, or fight? There are others who have fled to this place who may combine with us."

I removed the modern indications, made the most of the curious hall. It became the spooky destination of Jacob Bleek among "The Crags of the Schwartzenburg". The bikers metamorphosed into hostile, ghostly cultists; what else?

The Enemy From Nowhere

"Disjointed, episodic, choppy, this dream affected me powerfully. I'm huddling with a small group of men, perhaps half a dozen all together, under a worn wooden canopy or awning of the sort found in parks. The men wear camouflage and fatigues, clearly military men, although not myself. It is raining steadily, the drops pattering among thick, luxurious growth beyond. [Like Butler Canyon.] Without lies danger. Something lurks out there-- not one thing, maybe many, but hints suggest formlessness-- something unnatural and horribly dangerous. Then we're moving, creeping down a wooded trail, with glimpses of old wood and brick structures protruding through the leaves. The horror is close; it senses us, is hungry for us-- threatening more than death-- we dare not make a sound, nor dare we run, though instinct demands we flee. The damp and the gloom oppress us."

This dream readily supplied the other-dimensional setting of "The Enemy From Nowhere". Butler Canyon is a lush locale-- rainy the day I visited-- near Greer, Arizona.

The Wheel of Dargalon

"We slaves have revolted from the Romans, and are running loose in this huge, stark complex of concrete ramps, walls, and stairways. A few of us are armed, but I'm not, no one nearby is, and the Roman legionaries are advancing. They look ferocious in their body armor and crested helmets, with those terrible swords at the ready. I've fled up a stairwell, with a soldier on my heels. I'm trapped-- pinned against a wall that drops to pavement, how far below?-- it looks 50 or a 100 feet! I can't jump it! But wait: a Roman has stopped directly below me. With no time to contemplate the risk I vault the waist-high concrete barrier and plummet. My God! My only hope is to land without injury, otherwise I'm finished."

My response: "That was scary. I really felt I was about to die." It was worth it, for this dream gave me a critical scene from the climax of "The Wheel of Dargalon", a Lord Morca fantasy from the days of ancient Dyrezan. The bad guys weren't Roman, of course, and there was plenty of magic thrown around too, but I kept everything else.

How I Use My Dreams

No formal planning went into this project. I set out, on a whim, to convert my dreams into literary tools, did so in various ways. Looking back on it now, I see that I did precisely what others before me have done: used those misty images as suited me at the moment, nothing more. I detect three reasonably well defined categories:

1. Dream transcription: in a few cases a dream provides virtually the entire plot and environment of the story, the process of composition merely adding the trimmings of dialogue, characterization, perhaps a framing prologue and epilogue, possibly some explanatory back story. "A Curious Incident At the Office", "The Mystery of the Old Church", "The Old House On the Hill", are examples of this kind. My waking mind doesn't contribute much to these tales, other than to sort out their interior logic, which in the dream can be, as everyone knows, rather garbled..

2. Astounding anecdotes: much more often the crucial dream delivers a particularly delicious scene, around which I build a story, or which I contrive to insert into a story already roughly composed. "The Cave of Ceratos", "The Return of Vanek", "Beyond the Crossroads", benefit from this ploy. The plots of such tales are all conscious inventions.

3. Milieu: an increasing number of stories have utilized general settings or themes derived from dreams, often with the near or complete dispensation of dream plot detail. "The Ghost Town", "Zirinsky's Swamp", "The Idol of Zita", derive some, even much, of their character from imagery buried in dreams that otherwise bear no relation to the finished tales. In this case, the dream functions as an eye-catching postcard, evoking ideas worthwhile to the waking brain.

I must point out an additional factor which interests and entertains me, and which I can aver has greatly aided certain stories. I refer to the ability of my unconscious, in sleep, to design images and episodes which, it just may be, I am incapable of conceiving-- or most unlikely to do so-- while awake and soberly intellectualizing. This gives a story a twist, a kick, which it might not otherwise have possessed. "My War Against the Invisibles", for instance, is pretty standard sci-fi, a good old-fashioned tale of its kind. Not too many surprises there... and yet, I wove into it the gruesome early scene of a victim of the invading aliens, aliens with weird powers who have done something to him, so that his hand has been replaced by a furry, carnivorous animal. A dream gave me that. I never came up with it while aware and of sound mind, nor can I state with certainty that I could have done so.

Perhaps, for the future, my task must be to study to compose as if within a dream, to teach myself to cook up such morbid craziness "on my own", as it were. I must try it, with deliberation. I wonder what difference that may make. Meanwhile, my mountain of recorded dreams offers copious raw material for further soul-stirring adventures. It would be a shame to let all that go to waste.


Return to Essays Page