Krishnamurthy’s bedroom was so crowded with furniture that it felt small, though it was probably half the size of my entire flat. Most of it was electronic; computer terminals perched on tables, a laptop balanced precariously on a small stool, and something like an X ray unit hung low over the bed itself.
Krishnamurthy ignored the clutter, moving his not inconsiderable bulk around it without effort. “You must be wondering why I insisted you meet me tonight,” he said.
“That,” I agreed, “and why you summoned me to your house. And why you said it was an emergency.”
“And why I brought you into my bedroom.” Krishnamurthy settled himself on the bed and pointed at a small and uncomfortable looking chair. “You know what my field of research is, I presume?”
I blinked. “Dreams, I heard. But what does that have to do with my being here? I don’t know anything about dream research.”
“I need you as a witness.” He glanced at me. “And it’s because you don’t know anything about dreams that I want you here as a witness. That’s apart from the fact that tomorrow being the start of the weekend, you can stay up late tonight.”
“What do you want me to witness?” I watched as he lay down and pulled the unit over the bed down towards his face. “What’s that?”
“It’s a dream coordinate apparatus. Normally, I use the one in the institute, but for particular personal projects I use the one here at home.”
I didn’t ask what the personal projects were. “You want me to witness what, exactly?” I repeated.
“I’ll tell you.” Krishnamurthy pointed at something resembling like an old aviator’s helmet which hung from a hook on the wall. “Give me that.”
I gave it to him. It was of heavy leather, had oversized earphones, large goggles with opaque plates where the lenses should be, and was attached to something that looked just like an oxygen mask. It was studded about with sockets, and Krishnamurthy began to attach pipes and lines that hung from the unit to it. Finally satisfied, he put it on his chest and turned his head towards me.
“You do know what dreams are, I suppose.”
“No more than the average person.” I shrugged. “And the more I read the more confused I get. Freud says they’re all sexual metaphors, while others say they’re just the brain shuffling information, and others...”
“Yes, well, if that was all dreams were we wouldn’t have a research institute on them. We wouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money on the subject.” He laughed, a short bark. “Not that we ever have enough. We have to scrape and beg for every bit we get.”
“So what are dreams, then?” I asked, before he could get distracted. Funding, or the lack thereof, was always a sore point with Krishnamurthy, like every other science administrator I’d ever met.
“Yes, what are dreams? We could tell them, but nobody would believe us. Dreams, my friend...dreams are nothing less than a gateway into a parallel world from this one!”
I waited, saying nothing.
“I know you don’t believe me either,” Krishnamurthy said, “but the research data is irrefutable. It’s hardly as though it’s even a new idea; from very, very ancient times men and women have realised this simple truth. Dreams are a gateway into a parallel world...and now we have the means to prove it!”
I spoke at last. “How?”
“How? I’ll tell you.” Krishnamurthy fiddled with the helmet a while. “Have you ever had a dream so vivid that you thought it could never be anything but real? Even after you woke up, you could hardly bring yourself to believe it was just a dream?”
“Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“You think so?” Krishnamurthy glanced at me from the corner of a yellow eye. “What do you suppose all this equipment is for, then? Why do you think dream research even exists...or governments spend money on it?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All I know is that you set up this institute almost single-handed, and that you’re probably the most famous researcher on the topic in the world today.”
“Famous!” Krishnamurthy snorted “Fat lot of good that fame does. There are far more important things than fame at stake here. Do you understand?”
“No,” I told him, truthfully. “I don’t.”
“That’s right, you don’t. But listen, and perhaps you will.”
I’ve always had extremely vivid dreams (Krishnamurthy said). From my childhood, I’ve realised that there was more to these than what everyone else chose to imagine. And the more I read on dream research and analysis, the more I became convinced that I was right, and that they were all on the wrong track altogether.
It was during those years, when I was a student still trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, that I taught myself lucid dreaming. But just training myself to dream of some particular topic only went so far; all it proved was that dreams weren’t random nerve impulses burst firing, or for that matter changing messages from the subconscious mind, but could be formed and directed. It did not bring me any closer to understanding what dreams were; what they were for.
So, for a while, I abandoned lucid dreaming, and, instead, set my mind free to roam where it would while I slept. Most of my dreams were bizarre and meaningless, but I knew that if I was to achieve anything, then I’d have to persevere. And then, one night, for the first time, I dreamt of the other world.
I still remember every little bit of that dream. As it began, I found myself at the wheel of a car, driving across a flat dark plain. The car was dark too; there were no headlights, no lights on the dashboard, and the sky was black and starless. All along the horizon there was a glow, though, a flickering of very pale violet, like lightning. In its glow, I could just see that there was no road; I was driving over bare rock, and apart from something in the far distance, the plain extended before me and to the right and left as far as I could see.
You know how, sometimes in dreams, you have an overwhelming desire to do something, which should be simple, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t? Just then I had a sudden, overwhelming need to look over my shoulder at what was behind the car. I couldn’t. Rear view mirrors? There were none.
And it was then that I felt the first cold chill of fear. Because, right then, I knew that I wasn’t driving across that plain; I was fleeing, from something that was chasing me, something that, if it caught me, would do something much worse than merely kill me. I had a sense of something huge, high as a cliff, that yet rushed along fast as the wind; something that merged fully with the darkness, except for vast, dim-glowing eyes.
I knew, of course, that it was a dream. By then I knew enough about dreams to be able to tell what was real from what wasn’t. But I knew, with absolute and total certainty, that it wasn’t just a dream either. The unseen thing behind me was real, and it wanted me.
By now my foot was pressing the accelerator pedal to the floor, and the light on the horizon was growing appreciably brighter. I could make out dim shapes now in the distance, low humps and hillocks rising out of the rock. Almost by instinct, I began steering the car towards them. Among them, I might be able to shake the thing chasing me. On the open plain, no matter how fast I went, I hadn’t a chance.
And then, far out beyond them, I saw something on the plain. It was so far away that I only just glimpsed it, although it was enormous: a shadowy arch, rising out of the plain and curving down to it again. And the flickering glow through it was different from the rest, the violet shot through with brilliant white like frozen lightning. It looked as though the horizon was closer – much closer – through that arch.
Right then I decided that it was where I needed to be, and that the thing chasing me had only one purpose, to stop me from reaching it. At the same time I knew I could never make it, not as long as I was still being chased. I’d have to throw off that thing first. And a moment after that, I was among the first of the hillocks, and doing my best to steer between them. The hills rose all around me, so steep that they were almost vertical, and so close that their sides scraped the car as I drove.
And still that thing I could not make myself turn to face was behind me, still following. The hills had slowed it, but they’d slowed me, too, almost to a crawl. When I came out on the plain, as eventually I must, it would be there to pick up the chase again.
It was then that I saw...something. I didn’t know then what it was, though later I saw it more clearly. It was a white glow, floating in mid-air; just as though one of the frozen flashes from the other side of the arch had appeared between the hillocks in front of me. I saw it just as it moved past a slope and was lost to view, but for long enough to know which way to follow. The further I drove, the rougher the ground got, and the slower I could go, until I turned into what was little more than a narrow canyon. For a moment more I caught a glimpse of the white glow, and then it disappeared. Out in front of me was only the bare, open plain.
After that I woke up.
Of course, the first thing I did was write down every little detail of that dream. The more I went over it, the more I was convinced that there wasn’t any other explanation but that it was a quite genuine breakthrough. There was something I’d caught a glimpse of, something that I could get to through that arch...and there was something that was trying to stop me from reaching it.
That was what, to tell the truth, convinced me that it was real – that unseen thing that I’d known was chasing me. And, of course, I would have to face it again. A dream like that doesn’t let you go; once you have a taste of it, you know that you’ve got to go through it again, over and over, until you’ve seen it through.
It was a long time, though, until I dreamt of that arch again, a year or more. In between I’d plenty of other dreams, some of them quite interesting, but I couldn’t get myself to dream again of the plain and the arch, try as I might. If I hadn’t written it down, I’d almost have thought I’d imagined it. And then, one night, after I’d already fixed on dream research as my path in life, it came again.
I knew it instantly, though I wasn’t on a plain this time. I was in a boat. It was a motor boat of some kind, rushing through a sea. There were great rough waves that rose on all sides of me, but the waves seemed frozen in place; either they were motionless, or moving so slowly that I could detect nothing. And in the glow of light from the horizon, I could see the arch again; this time it was a little closer, and perhaps was on an island, although from where I was it seemed to be growing out of the sea and plunging down into it again.
And still it was chasing me. I could no more turn my head to look than I could the previous time, but I knew it was there, cutting through the water behind me; something with fins as broad as wings and teeth as black as the ink-black water through which it swam.
That time I managed to evade it in a snarl of reefs that rose from out of the ocean. And as I was beginning to lose my way among the razor sharp rock ridges that rose from the water, that light came again, a frozen glow that I almost, but never quite, saw full on, appearing and vanishing from among the rocks. It led me to where I could see the open water again, and disappeared, just as before; and, as before, I woke up.
I will not bore you with details of how many times I’ve seen that dream over the years, ever since that night. At first it was at long intervals, but later I began to see it more and more often. Each time the circumstances would change; sometimes, I’d be on a narrow, twisting mountain road, or flying through the air in a light plane or a glider; or perhaps I’d be running through a huge building, through hall after hall where the ceiling rose till it was lost in darkness; but there would be the arch, each time infinitesimally closer. And, behind me, it would be there, on leathery wings or scuttling along on claws ragged and sharp as splintered stones.
I said at first it was at long intervals. Once I got the department set up, though, things became far less hit-and-miss. The biggest step forward was the invention of the dream coordinate apparatus. What does it do? It measures and preserves the location of dreams.
I see you don’t understand. I’ll explain it this way. Dreams are in the brain, aren’t they? They’re completely subjective, as far as the outer world is concerned, and can’t be recorded like movies. But what we can record is the brain wave activity at the time of the dream. And if, later, we can replicate that exact brain wave activity, we should be able to induce the same dream.
Of course, it’s a lot less simple than it sounds. Brains are awfully complex things, and each individual’s brain waves vary so much that the results can’t be duplicated between people. If one person’s dream waves are fed into another person’s brain, we discovered, the second subject doesn’t have remotely the same dreams as the first. But if one person’s recorded waves are replayed to that same brain, it will roughly create the same dream. Not exactly – because the brain will have other waves as well, and there will be interference – but roughly. With practice, and I have had lots of practice, the interference can be minimised. But it can’t be totally eliminated, not a hundred percent.
It didn’t matter, though. Once the apparatus had given me a rough map of the dream, I could induce it whenever I wanted, and I did so about once a week. After each dream, I’d give my brain several days of rest so it would not have the hangover of the last time’s impressions as it went into the next cycle. That way I’d be sure I was getting fresh, new material.
And that’s the way it’s gone these last years. Each time the arch is closer, and, each time, the thing behind is closer, too. It’s a race between us, me and the thing – one which, without the help of that glowing light, I’d have lost long ago.
Yes, each time I have to seek refuge in a cloud or a tunnel or a heap of crumbled wall, that glow appears to me, to guide my way. And lately it’s been growing clearer, so that within it I’m beginning to see things. Things I can’t name or even begin to describe, but which I know I’ll see more clearly and understand better – as soon as I get to the gate.
For, you see, it is a gate; it’s a gate to that other world, and the thing that chases me is desperate to prevent me from going to that other world. How desperate, I didn’t know until last night.
Last night, you see, I had the dream again, and this time it came by itself. I was here, at home, not at the institute. I didn’t programme it, and I wasn’t prepared for it. It was only three days since I’d induced it the last time.
It began in the usual way. I was on a motorcycle this time, driving down a dark highway between high ridges whose upper margins were lost in the night sky. The dim violet glow was, as ever, on the distant horizon, but this time it was almost drowned in the light from the Gate.
It was right ahead. It towered over the highway, as though a river of stone had hurled itself out of the ground, and, unable to break away, had at last fallen back again. The lights inside were no longer frozen; the white and violet melted and merged, flickered and separated, and in between I could see more of the things I’d only glimpsed before; things like machines and things like buildings, and things that are utterly indescribable by any words known to me.
And it was right behind me. I could all but feel its breath on the back of my neck, and I could imagine it racing along just behind, reaching out, beyond desperate now, knowing that it was its last chance to stop me. And I knew that it would not, and that I was going to win.
And then I woke up, here in this bed. But I did not wake alone.
The room was not dark. The dream’s familiar white and violet light, which seemed to be coming through the walls and the roof, filled it with a twilight glow. And there was something crouching on the bed beside me; something that I would have screamed to see, if only I had been able to scream.
Think of something conical, balanced on spindly limbs that hold it up to the sides. Cover it in silver-grey skin, indistinct at the edges, so that it merges with the glow that fills the room. Give it a tapered, flattened beak, above which is a pair of tiny, slit-like eyes; and you will have some idea of the beast that was looking down at me.
And then its head darted down, that beak struck my head, and it started to feed.
I was surrounded by white. All around me, was nothing but utter white blankness, not even the slightest smudge of grey or tiniest speck, to show any contrast. All I could feel was a tremendous pulling, as though I was being sucked further and further into that white, and when I looked down I saw my legs were disappearing into it, and the rest of me was following.
I can’t explain to you how I clawed my way back. It was part of my rigid dream training over the years, something that every dream researcher devises for himself; something we have to know how o do because of how dangerous dreams are.
But at last I did it. I felt the bed under me, felt the pillow beneath my head. And when I opened my eyes, it was in the cool darkness; the light and the beast were gone.
“And that’s why I asked you to be here tonight.” Krishnamurthy’s fingers prodded at a touchscreen on the apparatus hanging over the bed. “I’m as certain as I can be that the next time I have the dream, I’ll go through the gateway. I can’t rely on that not happening before I go back to the institute on Monday, not after last night. Therefore I’m going to induce the dream, now, tonight, and I want you to be here to watch.”
“Watch for what?” I asked.
“Anything.” Krishnamurthy began to put on the helmet. “You may know nothing about dreams, which means you’ll be a neutral witness. At the same time, you’re a trained observer. So just observe, and if you see anything unusual, just note it down.”
“Unusual – in what way?”
“Oh, hell. Unusual! You’ve seen sleeping people, haven’t you? If I make any sudden movements, or say anything, note it down.”
“All right.” I took a deep breath. “You’re really sure this gateway leads to another world?”
“Yes. Why else would that thing be so desperate to stop me?”
“What do you expect to find there?”
“How should I know?” He shrugged. “Whatever there is, it’ll be worth the effort.” He reached for a small silver cylinder I hadn’t noticed before, by the side of the bed, and connected a hose from it to the gas mask. “This is a gas to induce sleep, and the helmet, apart from being fitted with electrodes to recreate the dream map...” He pointed at shining metal inserts in the leather. “It also blocks out external sensory input. No sound or light to change the dream experience.”
“Wait,” I said, as he started drawing the helmet on. “How long do you expect this dream to go on? All night?”
“Hardly. An hour’s sleep from beginning to end at the most. I’ll wake up at the end of that.”
“And this...beast...you saw on your bed? Is it what was chasing you?”
He shook his head impatiently. “I haven’t any idea, and I don’t think it matters. It isn’t going to stop me now.” He paused in the act of pulling on the helmet. “Make a note of the time. And one thing more.” He pointed up at a panel on the unit. “See those lights? Only the green should light up. If the red comes on, that means there’s an equipment malfunction of some kind. If that happens, pull off my helmet. I’ll wake up at once.”
I nodded, watching him pull on the helmet. The green light came on, a tiny glowing square. I fixed my attention on it. The room was silent but for the sound of Krishnamurthy’s breathing and an almost inaudible hum from the machine.
Sitting there, watching the green light, I began thinking over what Krishnamurthy had told me. If it had been anyone else, I’d probably have put it down to an overactive imagination; but Krishnamurthy only had dedication, not imagination. Still, I wondered from what depth of his subconscious mind he’d dredged up these dreams. And I wondered what he’d do when tonight’s dream failed to get him through this gate. What would he do when confronted with the fact that all his induced dreams added up to nothing more than random flickering of the subconscious mind, at best?
Taking my eyes off the light, which glowed a steady green, I glanced at Krishnamurthy’s helmeted face. The goggles and mask completely concealed his features, but his chest rose and fell steadily, while the hiss of his breath, emerging from a valve on the mask, was reassuringly regular. I wondered what was going on behind the blank opaque goggles, under that helmet, and suppressed a shudder. Under no circumstances did I ever want my mind and dreams to be measured, and controlled, like that.
What would all this dream research mean anyway? What would the government expect out of it? What use could it possibly make of it? Was it remotely possible that anyone in power actually believed that this other world even existed, and that anyone could make use of it or anything in it at all?
I must have been thinking these things for some time, and my attention had gone wandering a little. All of a sudden I realised I hadn’t looked at the square of light for a while. It would be green, of course, each time so far it had been green, but...I turned towards it guiltily.
It wasn’t green. It was a sullen, angry red.
I don’t even remember jumping out of the chair and rushing to Krishnamurthy’s bedside. I remember my hands fumbling at the helmet, trying to drag it off his head.
The lights in the room faded and died.
It wasn’t all dark, though. I could see a very faint glow, as though from infinitely far away, that seemed to come through the walls and ceiling. And there was something else, something I felt rather than saw; something that squatted on the bed on spindly legs, and watched me with eyes like slits above a beak like a sword. Those eyes were as cold and blank as the gulfs of space at the edge of the universe.
And then the lights were back, and the helmet in my hands; and Krishnamurthy was blinking himself awake.
“Are you all right?” I asked, the words spilling stupidly from my mouth. “I saw it. It was right here!”
He stared up at me. “What was right here?”
“What? The thing you told me about. The beast!”
“Beast? What are you talking about?” He shook his head in annoyance, and poked at the apparatus. “What’s this?” His bleary eyes turned towards me. “And, anyway, who the hell are you?”
I went home, but I did not go to bed. I don’t want to sleep again.
I’m afraid of the dreams.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017