“Nightmare’s Dream”

Sweets from a Stranger coverAnother horror story, shorter and sharper than “Swap-Shop”, and between the title and the first paragraph the conceit is fairly clear from the off:

There is a boy. Perhaps he is real. He lies in bed. Perhaps the bed is real. It is night and he wants to sleep. But the dream, the dream, the dream…! (124)

That is: is the boy dreaming the alien slug monster, or is the alien slug monster dreaming the boy?

A lot depends on execution, then. I think Fisk makes the right choice in, just for once, after that opening paragraph, plunging us into a first-person voice. The dream is creeping up on the narrator, “slack, slimy, cold […] It clamps my neck and my brain swells and wants to burst” (124). Overwhelmed, the narrator realises he is in his dream body, claustrophobically confined, harness-straps around his neck and middle. “Sometimes I bite the lock with my mouth, bite it for hours”, he reports. “Why do I do that? What is the point? My mouth is a wet blur, toothless, dripping, silent. Powerless” (125). It’s a pretty intense two pages.

The narrator, who thinks he is the boy, dreams that he is discovered in his dream-body by his schoolfriends, and that they run screaming in terror at the sight of him. Then he wakes up, or so it seems; then he falls asleep again. The final section of the story steps back out into third-person, and we see a conversation between Helm and Thelma Singlass, who have captured a sluglike alien and brought it back to Earth. It seems clear this is the horror that send schoolchildren running in terror; what’s less clear, but raised as a possibility by the couples’ bathetic final exchange, is whether the boy dreaming he is the slug was ever real, or whether he is entirely a construct of the slug’s own dreams. I prefer the latter explanation.

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