The cravings and barely heard murmurings wrapped up in desires, crumbling out of your mouth like loose teeth. The Freudian teases that substantiate childhood tremors and adult hypochondria. The plummets down the rabbit hole to a brave, new world and the falls that jerk you back into waking, like a rope around your gut that has a tenuous anchor in reality.
But he fed on waking dreams too. The intangible, insubstantial unsaid words that metamorph into a sigh -- only then released by our lips. Everything you might want, the hopes you dash in your own mind, let free and drifting to him. That hand that you would reach out to touch her hair, taken and forced into the safety of your pocket -- that dream turned into an exhalation rich with poignancy.
There used to be enough dreams that fled through their open mouths in the night as they breathed their sleep out. Enough dreams that slid out, squeezing through the cracks of windows to make their way to him in his cave. So many that as he gorged on them, he grew to immense proportions, growing so big that he filled all the crevasses of the cave, becoming like Alice in the Rabbit's house, expanded beyond any possibility of escape. He took to spending the nights outside in the open air, under the sparking of stars, feeding on dreams, glowing with possibility.
But that was a long time ago. He no longer grew big enough to fill his cave. It had been long since he had feasted on dreams. Every night, he lay waiting in the fields, remaining pale and emaciated.
People these days don't dream as they used to. No more soaring in the night. No more aching from unrequited love or torpedoes into the idlewilderness of turmoil. Dreams that used to tumble out into the night are forgotten once people wake -- ignored, analyzed, or dismissed as ridiculous. And so dreams faded from people's minds; they ceased from memory and existence.
People focus on what is attainable and in the realm of possibility instead of what's beyond the possible. They keep their eyes focused on the path that would take them to the summit in the easiest, fastest way without meandering. If possibilities are ignored, don't they cease to be?
Instead of letting the mystery of another soul grow, people focus on attributes that can be related easily. It all comes down to a checklist. What do you do? Who do you know? What have you accomplished that you can verbalize for me? In accordance, the first date is the hand hold, then the kiss, then the sex. It's logical. But if the soul -- everything that makes up a person that can't be verbalized -- is ignored, does it cease to be?
All that matters are the attributes that would create the best match. Logically. And without expectations, there are no disappointments. No more exhalations. No more poignancy. Just a reliable plan.
And reliably (although without plan), he began to fade as well, becoming as insubstantial and fragile as starlight.
Allen rode the train home alone. This time of night, he was almost always alone besides the stray traveler that was more often than not the type you avoided eye contact with. The low light of the train carriage flickered with a buzz every once in a while, but he kept his eyes trained out into the darkness. The train threw a beam of light onto the tracks it careened around, curving in and out and through the water, skimming its surface. Sometimes it ducked into the water, and Allen could see schools of fish dispersing, flitting past his windows before the train emerged dripping from the sea again. The only thing awake to its mournful whistle into the night was the motionless skyline across the water.
The train sounded as tired as Allen felt. Exhausted to the core, but not sleepy. He slumped in his seat, eyelids drooped over his eyes as he propped up his head while leaning against the window.
The train slid to a halt and Allen heard someone come in when the doors slid open. Odd. The train usually slipped past this stop. Whoever it was remained standing near the doors and he didn't move to look. Looking would only encourage. Fortunately, the other person stayed stationary, only moving several stops later to pull the wire to signal their stop.
"Tiny Media Empire Stop."
Allen snuck a look at the other person when the train stopped and the doors opened with a swish.
He caught only a glimpse. Long brown hair tucked behind an ear that looked as if it listened well. A girl. As if she felt his stare, she turned her head as she exited and they exchanged one surprised, quick glance. Her dark eyes wide and questioning while the doors closed between them. Questioning, because he found he had been staring at her as if she was someone he recognized.
Only a glimpse. But Allen felt something stir inside him. A something that had not been felt by anyone in that city for years.
And far away, he stirred as well in the grass, moving for the first time in years, turning his head as if to catch a strain of far-off music.
Night after night, they shared a space for a small period of time.
"Tiny Media Empire Stop."
She stayed standing by the door. Allen stayed at his seat by the window. But the shared train compartment was charged, almost pulsating with awareness. Even though they didn't acknowledge it, they knew it. Allen heard her come in. He heard her leave. He wondered. And that wondering made him realize he stood on one side of a closed door, rife with possibility. Once when he slipped a sneak look at her, he found her looking at him. Instead of startling away from that tactile contact, their gaze held for an unaffected, ingenuous moment before she smiled.
Far away, he began to grow night by night.
Allen would keep snatching looks at her, nightly coming to know a little more. The fawn-colored coat she turned the collar up to. Her way of shifting from foot to foot.
Slowly but surely, he began to have strength to move. To sit up in his field of stars and look around.
Until one night she came to sit next to him. And then slowly, night by night, he came to know her more. The sound of her voice. Her warm expression. The way the air seemed to change once she left, leaving a cold space. The difference between her spoken words and what was unsaid. How he felt when he was talking to her while the train traversed underwater, the flicker of streetlights cast against coral and refracted on her skin.
Did she feel the same? Was this all imagined in his mind, fabricated only on his end? Surely this electric anticipation can only crackle this much because there's a connection -- some sort of reciprocation on the other end?
He grew enough to stand up. And he walked through the fields. As he grew stronger, he recognized the dreams that fed him. Before he had fed on the dreams of whole cities. And now it was down to one. But somehow, these dreams were enough to make him thrive. How?
Her hand was down on the seat in the space between them, scant inches from his. Did she know? Was she as painfully aware of the proximity? If Allen just stretched one finger out, he could for the first time, touch her. Establish physical contact.
He grew high, stretching far above the trees, bumping into branches and scattering a flock of birds that rose, crying frightened into the night sky. This much from one dreamer. And he understood. It was these dreams that fed him. These dreams that were necessary in the world, but sorely lacking. Perhaps it was only one person, but one dream that escapes from a person's mouth colors the world, pervading wraithlike and fogsmooth, running rampant.
If only they had more time than this small space that the train ride allowed them. Their time flickered away too fast, gone before Allen could muster up the courage to say or do anything. Sometimes it felt as if time was theirs, slow enough for Alan to capture. And other times it stretched spiderweb thin, difficult to see and shivery delicate. There was something formal and constraining about their time and space together -- something that made him feel that if he dared, it would snap that spiderweb strand irreparably.
And so he had to do his part to feed the dreams that fed him. He moved ponderously forward, a dark shadow in the night lumbering up through the forests from the fields and onto the streets. Houses lay dormant on either side of him, sleeping dreamless as people merely recharged their energy for the next day's endeavors. He walked sideways into the electric lines, tangling himself in the wires and pushed forward so they burst in a shower of splendor. Street lights blinked off all around him and he kept moving, wrapping electric wires around him like garland strands of a Christmas tree. Each line of wires he found he walked through in a cacophony of scintillation, igniting him in radiance before dying in a snap.
Abruptly, the train screeched to a stop and all of the lights cut out.
"What's going on?" the girl asked.
Allen tilted his head out the window where the usual miasma of city lights had stuttered out simultaneously. "I think we've lost power."
They sat in the darkness, immobile as the train that held them. And even though they couldn't see each other, there was something about the shared shadows that made Allen feel closer to her.
Perhaps she felt the same way too.
"After all this time, I don't think we've ever introduced ourselves," she said.
"No, I don't think so either."
She said her name and in the shadows held out her hand. And he took that name, and took her hand in his own. And suddenly the whole world opened before him.
He shot up, shedding the wires as he exploded in size. Stretching upwards at such a rate it was as if he was racing to meet the stars.
This was only the beginning.
This was only the beginning.
I saw Daniel Danger's illustration "hear." and wanted to write a story to it. I had no idea what kind of story or what it would be about. But I saw this picture and thought to myself the first line -- "he fed on dreams." This is what developed. Please check out Mr. Danger's other works on his website. They're all marvelous. I first saw Daniel Danger's work thanks to my sister.