I woke up unaware of my surroundings.
A voice, close to me, spoke nonsense.
“Give praise to the sudden flame. The sudden flame is not to blame. We are ham and eggs. Dregs. This is not the end. This is not the beginning. There is none. There is this. And all of that. Let’s all give praise to Fancy Hat.”
The sound of the ocean, sussurating against the sand. The smell of salt water and the clean flapping of cotton.
I pulled my eyes open to see the white of a tent and, beyond that, the endless blue of the sky.
“This day is one filled with stars and moon. I have a magic cup. You have a magic cup. Let’s try not to fuck things up.”
I was on a bed, soft and comfortable against my skin. I ran my hand along my chin. The beard was gone. My skin was as smooth as it had ever been. I felt cleaner than I had ever felt but, losing the beard was kind of like losing a friend. It was not lost in vain, however. It was more like a sacrifice. Things came back to me in bits and pieces.
“Let’s build a swingset on the moon and then lower the moon to the earth. We’ll need pulleys for that. Let’s eat serpents and shit angels. Let’s raise our hands to the earth and raise the dead from their graves. Let’s fuck things up so things can be just like they’ve always been.”
A beautiful dark skinned girl sat beside the bed, pressing a cool damp cloth to my forehead.
“Oh grim oligarchy. That which funnels down from the struedel roof of destiny. Oh solemn fornication shielded by the mentholated rain. Oh expectancy of things to come and things that were and things that may someday not be. We are the strong ones made of bone and fortitude. We are the weak filled with chaos and lassitude. But mine is fleshy and yours is furry and together they make a hundred times more solitude. What’s that you say? We rue the day! We must never rue the day. Any day. Because today is yesterday. Don’t you remember? Of course you don’t remember because you haven’t been there yet and that is the only flaw in the master plan of el capitan.”
Music came from somewhere far behind me. It sounded like it was played on an instrument I’d never heard before.
“Someday, that day is now, this island will be a table and we will eat from it. We will lick the sand and taste sugar. We will drink the salty water and taste wine and, drunk from the wine, we will fly to the treetops and couple until our seed falls from the trees and lands on the ground where more trees will sprout up in their place.”
The girl turned to someone behind her. “King Chin,” she said, her voice soft, lilting. “He’s awake.”
“He wakes!” the voice that had been speaking shouted. “Unbroken, unblemished, stronger from the voyage! He wakes!”
The girl stood from her chair and moved away from the bed. King Chin, a giant, longhaired, bearded man, took her place.
“Good morning, Mr. Glum,” he held out his massive, weathered hand. I took it and said ‘Good morning’ in return. “You are the one to thank. You have restored the good life to the island.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really feel like I had done much at all.
I felt amazingly refreshed. It turns out I hadn’t really slept for a thousand years. More like a day. I got out of the bed and King Chin took me for a tour of the island. Of course, we rode on the back of an elephant and were able to cover most of the island in only a few hours.
My family was still there. Grandpa looked much healthier than he had the day before and Mom looked, well, she looked alive. Dad’s arm had returned to normal, although he complained constantly about a splinter stuck under his fingernail. The three mutants, unable to cope with the loss of what they worked for so long, the complete and final destruction of the island, hijacked Big Karl and disappeared into the Malefic Ocean, probably headed back to the United States.
We had an amazingly large feast. The Nefarions’ powers of imagination were so great they only had to, essentially, wish for food and it appeared on the table. Not to mention these powers had been restrained for something like twenty years and were just itching to do something. The table was large, covering most of the beach, and they all gathered around it to eat. Looking around, they realized that, while they were sleeping, depressed out of their skulls, the island had fallen into a state of disrepair. And while the flame had restored many things to them, it had also lifted the veil that had blinded them for so long. It was now apparent what they needed to do. That night, at dinner, King Chin extended an offer to me. He asked if I wanted to stay on the island and work for them. Money was nonexistent and it probably wouldn’t look good on a resume but he promised I would have a good time doing it. I didn’t have to think too hard about it. Of course I would stay with him, I said.
I thought about all my failures and thought, maybe, I just needed to switch gestalts. This seemed like just the place for a good gestalt switch.
We all stayed the night and Mom and Dad and Grandpa went back home the next day. They didn’t have to board a ship or anything. It was just a matter of one of the Nefarions wishing they were there and then they were gone. For the first time I felt like I was doing something I was good at. In fact, it didn’t really matter if I was good at it or not. Here, I could be a completely shiftless layabout and be just as respected.
I didn’t, however, choose the role of layabout. All I had to do was think back to lying around my room in Grainville, trying to grow a beard. And while it was not without purpose it was kind of unrewarding. Of course, if I had not grown the beard then it was very likely the flame would never have ended up where it needed to go. So maybe it was like the wise people always said—everything has a purpose or everything for a reason or something like that. I still don’t know if I really believe that but I’m a long way from being wise.
After my parents left, King Chin walked me to a building on the far coast of the island.
“If you choose to stay,” he said. “This is where you’ll be spending a lot of time.”
The building looked kind of like a barn with a lot of skylights. He pulled back one of the doors. There were a lot of desks without any walls or anything separating them. Very few people sat at the desks. The whole interior was kind of dirty and unused-looking.
“It’s been twenty years since we’ve used this building,” King Chin said.
“So this is the place?”
“The place where dreams are made,” King Chin said.
I noticed what I had originally thought were skylights were actually just openings in the ceiling. Strange vines grew through the openings, hanging over the desks.
“The dreams are in the soil,” King Chin said.
He sat down at one of the desks, this immense man, reached up and grabbed one of the vines. He bit the end of it off and continued to chew on it while he ran the tip of the vine over the top of the desk. The shapes he made were beautiful. Beautiful and transient, fading away after only a few seconds.
“The most amazing thing about a dream,” he said. “Is that you can’t hold on to it. You can try. You can try to remember it. Maybe you even think you can remember it but you’re really just beating it into shape. Beating it into something your mind can comprehend. But a dream is not something that can be shaped. It is wild and free and momentary. And that’s what makes them so beautiful. It is perhaps the only thing we have left that can not be reproduced, can never be experienced. There is no technique to dreaming. And there is no technique to the making of dreams. You can use these tools as a guideline, as something to get you started, but you won’t always need them. This building doesn’t even need to exist. After a while, you will create dreams in your head permanently, projecting them out into the world. You’ll do it without ever realizing it and, by the time it makes it to a dreamer, it might be something completely different.”
“So what’s the point of doing it at all?”
King Chin threw back his head and laughed.
“Because dreams are the final wilderness. An elephant wind blowing through your head. They cannot be harnessed. They cannot be touched by any man, woman, or corporation.”
“But wouldn’t people dream on their own?”
“Maybe,” King Chin said. “Maybe they would. It’s hard to say. Do you want to take that chance? We’ve been doing this for a long time. Since the beginning of time, actually.”
“What about when the flame was missing?”
“Well, those were maybe moribund dreams. Diminished dreams. But all of us, the dreamers, were still thinking of things. Still trying to... sweeten people’s dreams. We just got lazy. That’s all. Does this sound like something you’d like to do?”
I thought about Grandpa’s wild speculation about the resonance of dead dreams and realized he wasn’t that far from the truth. Maybe he wasn’t as crazy as everyone thought. I thought about what King Chin said and couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“I think you’ll be good at it and, even if you aren’t, no one will ever know.”
Eventually, I fell into the routine. It was comfortable, the most comfortable thing I had ever done. It was difficult. I realized, after only my first week, what I was doing was destroying my ego completely. People would receive my ideas, my dreams, or a highly distorted mirror image of them but they wouldn’t arrive with any kind of byline. And the only payment I received was being a part of this island society. A part of something larger than my ego. A part of something larger than any paycheck. It ran completely counter to everything I had ever been taught and that was very tough to embrace but, once I did, once I realized it wasn’t some kind of race to the end of the week or the next paycheck or the next finish line, I settled down and just enjoyed it. It had been so long since I had done something for the sheer joy of it I forgot what it was. In a way, I had become a sort of anti-writer, no longer dealing in being credited with a finished idea. I was now the genesis of many anonymous ideas.
After only a few weeks I met a girl named Gretchen. She was one of the dream people too. She had a habit of falling asleep at her desk and mumbling her dreams aloud. Sometimes I wished my dreams could be like hers. While sleeping, she would tell me about taco kits that also made coffee. Sometimes she told me she wished I was made out of pillows and I would imagine myself as a giant pillow. She spoke of wolves and tooth coats. Apocalyptic peanut butter marshmallow sundaes. One time she told me she bought a bag. The bag was so large it made her laugh. It was impossible to fit into the closet so she had to enlist the aid of fairies. Sleeping, laughing, she pointed at the fairies and I blinked my eyes, desperately wanting to see them too.
I went back to see my parents often. They still bickered constantly, something I hadn’t noticed as a child because my father was always at work and I didn’t notice when I moved back because I was too busy growing a beard. My grandfather continued to live with them and he was as crazy as ever. Once around him, it was hard to fathom ever having a notion he wasn’t crazy. He dug out all of his anthropological field studies, added a plot and eventually released them as a series of highly successful fantasy novels. My sister, Cassie, eventually moved back home after her modeling career took a nose dive. The only thing she had left was her helicopter. It didn’t take long for Action to notice she had moved back and they realized they would do very well at taking advantage of people together. So they began offering tourist rides in the helicopter, promising people they would see the amazing sights of southwestern Ohio. Most people didn’t know they were being taken advantage of. I guess most people see what they want to see. If they want amazing sights to sprawl below them then they will see some kind of amazing sight, especially if they’ve paid good money for it.
I never saw the three mutants again. I imagine they moved to someplace like Home City and probably led very successful lives as thugs or something. They continued to be the only real threat the island had. Ever since the crazy anthropologist had stolen Brilliance, they promised to never let any outsiders in, excepting me, of course.
The island life continued to be wonderful for me. It wasn’t long before Gretchen and I were married and King Chin told us the dreams of married people are twice as strong. I think he was just trying to make us feel good. It didn’t take me long to realize most of what he said was nonsense. Of course, if you thought about it long enough it all made perfect sense. Therein lay his genius, I guess. Besides, what was a little nonsense, anyway? We all need a little more harmless nonsense in our lives.