Of late, my dreams have taken on a disturbing quality. They are still a surreal mash-up of everyday life but I seem to feature in them less and less. Instead of having a physical presence in my dreams I find myself increasingly experiencing a disembodied awareness or point of view. It’s as if I’m no longer a participant in my dreams but rather a discrete observer. My subconscious appears to be screening my dreams as entertainment for me and I watch my dreams as though I am a member of an audience watching a tv show or a film.
It didn’t use to be like this. Formerly I was front and centre and took a major role in my nighttime imaginings. Nowadays, I often don’t even have a walk-on part in my dreams. I seem to have been demoted from actor to audience. Frequently I find myself wondering whether the dreams I’m experiencing are even my own. Sometimes I can’t identify with the content as having any connection to my life. There’re none of the recognisable situations that link to past events. School; work; hobbies; family and friends; they are all absent. The only reasonable explanation would be if I was eavesdropping on somebody else’s dreams. The people populating my dreams are all unknown to me, there are no figures from popular culture, just strangers.
So, whose dreams are they? Without being able to identify any of the characters featuring in them, it’s impossible to tell. One further oddity of these dreams was that whilst dreaming I’d sometimes imagine I was looking at my phone and see that I had a message indicating that I’d received a new text or email. Sure enough, on waking and checking his phone, I would invariably find such a message to exist. I tried to convince myself that this was a product of my imagination and that it was something that occurred when I was expecting to receive a message of some kind. It occurred to me that I could try some of the techniques used by adherents of lucid dreaming in order to gain information about whose dreams I was experiencing. If I was truly receiving messages on my phone during my dreams, I wondered if I could use my phone to take photos during a dream and have evidence of what I’d dreamt the next day. I resolved to try this out at my next opportunity and photograph as many of these strangers as I could.
On waking the next morning, this turned out to be even more disturbing than the dreams themselves. Sure enough, there were pictures on my phone that appeared to have been taken while I was dreaming. Many of them were poor, some were hazy, and the colours had a weird quality, but the people were recognisable. How was this possible? I had been asleep, dreaming, and taking photos with an imaginary phone, a dream version of my ageing iPhone. It defied all reasoning.
Over the next few days I ran these pictures through one of the major search engines, search by image function. Slowly a story emerged, they represented a group of people who all knew each other, they’d been to the same school and many of them had worked together in later life. They were residents of a town miles away from where I lived, a place I’d seldom visited. It was safe to rule them out as belonging to my dreams. Their connectivity pointed to them being close friends of whoever was dreaming the dreams that I was receiving. The problem remained of identifying who the true, or intended recipient of these dreams was. The dreamer, the one-person audience for these dreams, was never seen. Barring the presence of a mirror, this was likely to continue to be the case. Personally, I couldn’t remember seeing a mirror in any of my own dreams. I was certain I’d never seen my own reflection in a dream, nor even myself as a character in any of my dreams.
I tried searching social media to find any hidden links but came up against a dead end. My skills as a detective were just not up to the task. How could I identify an unnamed friend or associate from social media? The answer came to me in a flash – selfies! I renewed my search concentrating on selfies taken by those who had featured in the dreams that I’d managed to take photos of. I soon began to build up a library of possible subjects. I felt that I recognised some of them from the dreams. They must be people I was used to seeing but who I’d not yet managed to photograph. This narrowed the field down to a handful of individuals so I concentrated my search on them.
Over time, I refined my search, removing individuals from my list of suspects as I managed to get dream photos of them. Social media is a curious thing. Some participants remain opaque, hidden behind a wall of disposable chatter, whilst others tell you their life story on a day-by-day basis. I ended up with three possible subjects but I could think of no way of proving which was the actual dreamer. I hit on the idea of a scattergun approach. I joined the social circles of all three suspects and began to post snippets about my recent dreams. This was no sure-fire way of identifying the actual dreamer but it was the best I’d been able to come up with. There was no guarantee that the dreamer would recall the same aspects of their dreams that I was able to. After all, I’d been obsessing about these dreams for months now, keeping notes and taking dream photos, I had a far greater recollection of these dreams than I used to have of my own.
Every now and again I’d gain a hint that I was on the right track and was eventually able to rule out two of my suspects when I started to read things on social media to the effect of, that’s weird, I having exactly the same dreams. I’d found my dreamer. But what next? I tried to learn as much as I could about the dreamer as I could. I decided that I quite liked her and made an effort to get in touch with her to discuss her dreams.
That’s why I’m in here. Confined to a cell with no computer and no connection to the internet. The judge described me as a stalker and vowed to make an example of me, hence the custodial sentence. I no longer have a cell phone or a life, but I still have the dreams. If I did have a phone, it would be full of dream photos taken during her dreams. I continue to try to make contact with her as we both dream the same dreams.
Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink August 2nd writing prompt competition