Some say that deep sleep is dreamless and that we dream only in the moments before awakening, experiencing during seconds the imagined occurrences of minutes or hours. Others have surmised that dreaming is continuous as long as we are asleep, just as sensation and experience must needs continue as long as we are awake; but that we recall–when we recall at all–only those margins and fragments which concluded the whole range of our imagining during sleep; as though one who at night was able to walk alive through the depths of the sea, upon his return could remember only those light-filtering, green-lit slopes up which he had clambered back at last to the sands of morning [...]
Dreams, then, are bubbles, insubstantial globes of waking matter, by their nature rising buoyant through the enveloping elements of sleep; and for all we know, too numerous to be marked and remembered by the sleeper, who upon awakening catches only one here or there, as a child in autumn may catch a falling leaf out of all the myriad twirling past him.
-Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs
I dream. I’m sure I do.
Whether these involuntary experiences that are contained in my mind alone occur across the whole breadth of my slumber, or only in those frayed and fuzzed edges of it, they’re there — they must be. For if they weren’t — if these flashes of lives never lived were nowhere while I slept — then that would seem to mean that I was nowhere. Perhaps, like a child’s “doodle book,” the images that are etched upon my mind while I rest are erased when I awaken; my opening eyelids lifting my mind’s page and wiping it clean in the process. Or maybe my dreams are so close to my actual memories that I do remember my dreams, even if I mistake them for something more tangible. I guess I’ll never really know. But there is at least one dream that hasn’t escaped me; and that dream, at least in part, is what has brought you to me.
I found myself in a dark and barren field that stretched until the earth curved. When I came into the dream, or at least became aware that I was in one, I had the feeling that I had been walking for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if I was walking toward or away from something. As I pressed on, my footsteps seemed to echo, and it wasn’t until I moved my eyes away from the endless horizon that I realized that there was no echo at all. My footsteps were being matched by a companion.
He was a very tall man whom I did not know, though I had the strange sensation that had you asked us if we knew one another, I would have shaken my head with not enough confidence while my companion answered, “Yes. Of course we do.” But nothing was answered, because nothing was asked. We just walked.
I kept my eyes fixed on the far edge of the earth and nimbly stepped over obstacles that were in my path, never having to look at them to negotiate my way over or around. The ground ahead was a rolling sea of shadows cast from the sky above, and the air was cool and damp as if a storm were about to break. But when I looked to the sky, I saw that there were no clouds.
The sun was obfuscated by a lumbering and graceless collection of scavenger birds. They were vultures.
“Look!” I shouted to my companion. “Look at them!”
“I know,” he said.
I started to trip and stumble; my feet were no longer guiding me on their own. When I looked down, I saw that the earth was not earth; the ground was covered in corpses — as if the earth itself was carrion. Looking back, I could see that my feet likely hadn’t touched dirt since I first moved them to start this journey.
It was getting darker now. I looked up at my companion, and he looked up to the sky at the vultures.
“Yes. There’s a lot of them this time, aren’t there?” he said.
“How many? How many of them are there?” I returned.
He swept his arm, gesturing to the field, and said, “Why, there’s one for each of the dead. A thousand.”
That was it. I woke up, and to this day I haven’t had any dreams that I can truly remember. But that’s okay. I spend most of my waking life dreaming anyway.