When the smoke cleared, I knew my essay was done. I was writing on a prairie cabin’s porch. I set down my pen and poured a few drinks, then lit cigars and let them burn like candles for an hour. Satisfied, I called a friend and told him I was going to subtitle the essay “Subconscious ideas received in a dream.” I picked up my pen again and drew a diagram over the essay itself, inserting extra ideas into each sentence.
There was a knock from inside the cabin. As I turned, I blinked and saw I was in bed. That’s odd, I thought. I looked to the bedside table where my finished essay lay, a sticky note on top. I picked it up and saw a single word written there: Metadream.
“I should remember,” I said to the room, “to write that down later.”
I got out of bed in my hotel room, picked up a spare notebook, and started writing a script about a writer writing a meta-horror film. I’d seen a film like this before, but I’d added a twist: the writer took horror stories and applied them to the plots of non-horror films and TV shows that’d already been made. The writer had written a Real World reality TV horror film, a coming-of-age/starting-college horror film, and a Mark Wahlberg action-horror film, and he’d gotten filthy rich in the process, but now he was haunted by what he’d done to the original films.
I couldn’t figure out what that haunting looked like, what shape the horror would take, but I told myself this thing would write and sell itself—I definitely had to write it all down as soon as possible. So I picked up my pen and set to writing a mock stalker’s diary about other women in the building until a heavy noise from the hall startled me. Putting my notebook down, I crept over to the door, and got down on my hands and knees. I angled one eye against the floor and peered under the door’s edge—some terrifying feet tromped past, and I let out a yelp. It took me a moment before I realized those were just the feet of the girls from the Real World horror flick filming on the next floor down. I let out a sigh of relief, got dressed, and went outside.
My old friend Mick was waiting there in a white Cadillac. In the back was a fat businessman, gazing out the window. I sat in the front with my notebook and started writing my dreams while the businessman requested Mick play country music laced with alpine horns. Mick nodded, fiddling with the dials, then turned to me. “You wanna get high?” he said. I nodded and, without turning away from the window, the businessman handed Mick several bags of tea. Mick eyeballed the teabags then handed two over to me, and I got out on the next street corner that opened onto miles of empty prairie, carrying a paper sack and my journal. This seems like as good a place as any, I thought, so I took the drugs and started tripping.
I found myself walking through the walls of an unfinished cathedral. Wandering through hallways, I came to a swimming pool and walked into the water; the drugs made it so I didn’t need to breathe. There were windows underwater and the sun shone through them, transforming the water into different colors. The sun inside was stuck in a sunset and the sky was a permanent hot brick. “This is all part of the process,” I said.
A man appeared above me at the water’s edge; I couldn’t remember his name. He walked into the pool, looked at me, and transformed into Spock. As he moved his limbs, he released clouds of blood. “Go with the orcas,” he said, and got out of the pool. I got out of the pool and as soon as I toweled off the trip ended, the strange swimming pool disappeared, and I was back on the street.
I still had the paper sack and my journal in hand, so I went to a forested park where kids were playing. I sat down and wrote a page about a Free Willy horror movie, then decided it was terrible. I crumpled the page up and it broke like eggshells. As I slid the mess into the bag, I looked inside and saw all the tiny eggshell shards were individual letters. “A puzzle,” I said. “I’ll have to put that together later.”
A kid came over to me. “Hey,” he said, latching himself onto my arm, “play with me.”
“No,” I said. “I have to write down these dreams, and I can’t do it when you’re on my good arm.” I picked up my notebook again, but as I clumsily flipped through it with my free hand, I began to notice a pattern I hadn’t seen before.
Each time I’d gone to write down a dream, I was actually writing down the experience of dreaming the dream for the second time…or the third or fourth or even tenth time. I’d written down the same thing over and over and over again, forgetting important details and adding in false ones—and now the truth of each dream was distorted.
“Well hell,” I said aloud, “Now I’ve got all this extra work. How the hell am I gonna write all this down when I wake up?”
“I don’t know, mister,” said the kid. “I can’t move.”
I looked down at the kid—his arms were made of vines.
Horrified, I pulled him off my arm, set him against a bench, and ran away.