O The Tangled Webs We Weep, When Breathe We Don’t When Go To Sleep

Ever since I was a wee lad, I’ve always had really vivid dreams. On occasion, this translates into really vivid nightmares, which sucks mightily. Usually, though, it just means I’m going to have a good story to tell come the dawn. Well, that is, until I found out I had sleep apnea. Turns out, one of the side effects of stopping to take a break during sleep to not breathe every few minutes is that you never really leave REM sleep — causing incredibly vivid dreams. Getting a machine to help with that provides me with a lot more energy during the day, but I only get a tiny fraction of the WTF I used to reap each night. This week, however, my sinuses have decided to clog up everything, making it really hard for my machine to blow air down my throat to keep me breathing normally. And that meant it was SHOWTIME.

It all started off fairly innocuously. I was at my parents’ house, waiting to go to a weekly board game night at the local community college with my dad. I really wish this existed. It was like a little mini-convention, but everyone there was really laid back and the lights were low and it was really mellow and it made me feel like how adults looked to me when I was a kid. I say this never having gone there in the dream, just remembering it, because my dad was taking forever. I was getting impatient enough to wander around the house, which apparently had become the Christmas village in a department store since I’d moved out. After pacing a few times around a few snowy gumdrops, my dad decided it was finally time to go.

When I was very young, probably 5 or 6, I read an article in Parade magazine called “You Can Control Your Dreams”. I didn’t really understand what it was trying to tell me to do at the time, but the concept that I could take a bad dream and decide to take it in a much better direction was extremely appealing to a little boy who would sometimes wake up terrified in his parents’ bed not knowing how he got there. I tried to control the nightmare I had that very night — Darth Vader had taken over the playground at my school, and several Imperial Stormtroopers had their blaster rifles pointed at me. I made it so their blasters could only fire Finger Pops. I was ecstatic. However, that was about as far as I could take it, and I soon woke up all freaked out as Vader and his men were about to get me.

So it was from then on. I’d get a little nudge, but not full control. I’ve managed to erase tornadoes from nightmares, only to have the storm continue or find another threat emerging. I’ve managed to summon the Sword of Omens to smite my nemesis, only to find it’s made of plastic. Having a useless power is almost worse than being completely helpless.

So it was that my dad was finally ready to go, but instead of going to the Community College Weekly Mellow Game Con, we went to K-Mart. I think we were going to go buy a swingset, and we were in a really bizarre truck that had the engine in the back, no windshield or doors, and pretty much exposed you to all the elements. I think it had seatbelts. I remember being very keen on making sure of that. It was wintertime in the dream, so I wasn’t real happy about riding in this truck to begin with. Fortunately, we somehow found ourselves having the argument about riding to K-Mart in front of said K-Mart, so we just sort of went in. (Arguments as an alternative source of clean transportation energy?)

I can’t tell you what shifted in the dream just then, but I noticed something odd in the dream. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Whatever it was, it shifted everything toward the worse. I became aware of the fact that the FBI was coming for me, because I’d mistakenly hacked into a server somehow and looked at a secret file that I didn’t understand. I remember my conscience being clean, it all being just a big misunderstanding, but knew they wouldn’t see it that way. They were coming for me, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I saw my son happily running around the lumber section of the K-Mart, and I cried knowing I wouldn’t get to see him grow up.

I heard someone pull up outside. For a moment, my heart rose, thinking it was my mom come to pick me up and whisk me away. It was the police, and they had replaced my dad with an agent meant to act in his stead wearing a weird leisure suit. Weird Leisure-Dad explained what was about to happen to me, disingenuously pausing to call me “son” every few seconds, and then a Clearly Evil person in charge showed up. I apologized and cried. He laughed and had me stand on a large couch cushion. “For science”, he said. I didn’t understand. Shaking his head, he declared the experiment a failure, and told me to go sit on a nearby porch swing. I noticed it was rusting and ready to fall apart. “For science,” he gestured toward the contraption, leering cruelly.

I’ve seldom been happier to wake up.

Even today, I haven’t mastered lucid dreaming. On the rare occasion that I realize I’m dreaming, I’ve usually got about 15 seconds before I wake. I’ve had people suggest looking upward and spinning, scrambling the dream somehow and putting you in control. That makes me dizzy and in a dark, dangerous place. I used to try pushing my temples in to wake up. That was a nice thought, and it got me dream-killed a couple times.

The other fun part of sleep apnea? Sometimes it comes with sleep paralysis. That’s when you wake up (or think you do), and you can’t move, and you can’t breathe. Sometimes, your brain is still in dream-mode, and the stuff my  subconscious makes when I’m scared ain’t nice. I’ve dreamt or hallucinated so many ghosts, serial killers, monsters, and packs of ravenous wolves coming to claim my paralyzed body that I feel like I’ve really stimulated the supernatural economy over the years.

I had a really mild bout of sleep paralysis that night, as well:

I felt like the bed was at a 45 degree angle, and I was slowly sliding off, only it never stopped. I figured out I was dreaming and calmed down a little when the aliens from They Live were holding a potpourri party.

Shortly thereafter, I drifted back to sleep to find myself in a world under attack by aliens. Or tornadoes. Or energy trees. This part was extremely chaotic. It was like watching a sci-fi movie where I really had no control over what was going on, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I was there or watching it. What I do remember is a bunch of guys dressed like the Ghostbusters giving each other high fives like they’d saved everyone and a bunch of government types sneering at them and calling them losers.

Then, I felt it again. The same shift I’d felt before, only less subtle. More deliberate. I saw something gold skitter past the corner of my vision, but then it was gone.

The shift wasn’t quite as traumatic this time out. Well, for me anyway. Suddenly the tone of the dream is pretty mellow and most everything is rebuilt. I’m driving around my small town making sure every building and structure has a colorful kite or enormous hair tie stuck to it. Apparently, this was how the aliens were defeated. The scene cuts to a ruined house, where one of the Ghostbuster-type guys is milling about  when he finds one of the female scientists featured prominently in the  earlier movie-action part. Then he says “so when did you find out you were pregnant?” and then her belly suddenly goes from zero to “we better go shopping at Target right now“. This didn’t seem particularly unusual to either of them, but as a father I wondered where they would find a duffel bag to hurriedly pack with a bunch of things they will be completely wrong about needing at the hospital later.

Then, I feel that weird shift again. Then, I see a gnome in full plate mail, gold and glittering, drop from the sky to land right in front of me. He hands me something purple. Then I wake up.

I woke up knowing full well what the gnome had given me.

He was an agent of the GM running my dream. He gave me a plot point. Apparently, my subconscious runs Cortex+.

I’d like to think this was all an elaborate night-long multi-dream joke my subconscious played on me, but more likely it just sort of progressively interpreted some earlier stuff into the golden plot-gnome. Either way, my son looked very strangely at me when I woke up laughing.


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  1. Awesome!

    My last big dream featured a man-sized trickster penguin called Frank that was pulling all the strings in order to help some lady in the mid-west to get better at asserting herself. I thought Frank was pretty cool, but I’d trade him in for a gnome in golden full plate any day of the week.

  2. B.J. Morgan says:

    I have been “blessed” with serious insomnia issues my entire life. I took a particular type of medication a few years back that gave *intense* dreams. I would literally crawl out of bed, act out whole scenarios, or have conversations with the subjects of my dreams. They were intense and real, but eerily fun too. I ended up going off that medication for something a little less crazy, but I can still remember the details and realness of those dreams.

  3. When I get sufficient sleep consistently I can sometimes control my dreams. It is pretty awesome. Flying, telekinesis, being in Aliens but having it be fun, getting to be one of my Living Greyhawk characters, hanging out with that person from school…

    Part of it is learning to recognize when you are in a dream. I have good luck with reading things. I’ve learned somehow to read something, then go back and read it again. For whatever reason my brain can’t reproduce what I read. I can barely remember what I read the first time, but I know enough to recognize it is different. Then I know and I can try to carefully change things without waking up (or wake up deliberately if it is a lame dream).

    Of course, the key is consistently getting sufficient sleep. It has been far too long before I had a good dream I controlled. Speaking of that, I need to get back to work so I can get “barely sufficient” sleep.

  4. “Sleep paralyzation” sounds like the medieval “incubus”, a demon who comes and sits on your chest and slowly suffocates you while you sleep.