Interpretation of a Dream

by Gary Morton

Under normal circumstances a desperately suicidal patient like Cam wouldn't have been seeing a psychotherapist. Cam's wealth worked in his favour and he also stood out as brighter than the rest of my patients. In his initial phone call he informed me that his appointments would deal with my specialty, which is dream interpretation. He said he would pay for immediate therapy yet he didn't mention the scale of his problem.

His moment of arrival at my office remains as a vivid point in memory. I had an old photo on the wall of three Japanese nuclear workers who were nearly fried alive by radiation. A study on their bizarre psychological problems had made me shiver -- and I was shivering slightly for a second time and turning from the photo to the window as Cam walked into the room.

"Got the shivers, doc?" he said as he joined me by the window. "It's a peaceful scene out there isn't it? Calming the minds of the mentally disturbed. I bet that if you look long enough you'll start to see through the tricks of nature. Maybe you'll even catch a glimpse of what really is there behind that shallow mirror."

At any other time I would've humored a patient with comments like that. Cam was different. His voice had hypnotic qualities that made him more like another doctor. And while he was speaking a veil on the scenery seemed to lift. The breeze-blown willows, the trimmed beds of grass and flowers and neat rows of benches -- even the sickly patients strolling on the grounds seemed to shiver in some fun-house mirror of illusion.

The everyday images and the reality of them broke up in my mind and something black and hideous loomed. I suppose it was much like what occurs when a person faints; only a quality of vibrant awareness came with it. Staggering back from the psychological blow, I nearly fell as I made my way to my desk.

Cam should've been dumped as a patient right then. He shouldn't have got past my initial questions. He wasn't at all well and his answers were the wrong ones, but I suppose that in my disoriented state they seemed right.

His pale face was open and moonstruck, and for some reason I let him ramble on, taking hesitant puffs on my unlit pipe as he related his bizarre and often suicidal personal history. He'd tried to kill himself using every method from gas to drowning. Every attempt had failed so he'd simply given up on suicide.

"Hum," I said and nodded. "Yours is the most interesting tale of self abuse I've yet heard, but I should remind you that I've been retained to interpret dreams -- from a Jungian perspective, of course."

"Yes, of course," he said, his shock of unruly hair shaking as he spoke. "And since my life is only a dream, your study will be an interesting detail of the dream."

"Perhaps life is really only a dream for us all. The threads that fasten the mind to the body are thin ones indeed."

"I don't mean it that way, doc. I mean that someone is dreaming me. Iím not real."

"Ah, I see. Your dreams are having a profound effect on your mental health. Even so, for my specialty I need to know what you dream when you are asleep."

"That's easy," he said. "My dreams are rich in imagery. They are varied and they all have the same ending."

"And that ending is?"

"It's me, fleeing. Chased by a huge creature that is inky black and moves with the agility of a cat. Iím so frightened that I want to succumb and die as this beast pounces and feeds on me. Yet my body won't obey and I keep escaping, running with incredible agility and speed, escaping every time."

"That would indicate a conflict with the anima. Perhaps you can't come to terms with your own dark side and this has welled up into the conscious mind, taking form as suicidal acts. It really would be better if the beast would capture you, as that would indicate resolution of the conflict. As far as your personal analysis goes, I mean your idea of your life being someone else's dream -- I see nothing to substantiate that idea."

"You wouldn't. I concluded that over a long period of time. There have been many subtle hints as to my personal lack of reality. Animals hate and fear me. Other people seem to be partially hypnotized by my presence, as if they must join me in the dream state in order to respond to me. Those key items and other sensory data leave me convinced of my unfortunate situation. I have now also concluded that this beast pursuing me in my dream is in fact the dreamer who created me seeking me out to destroy me. This person may not even be aware of what is happening in his own conscious mind -- rather it is the dream-self trying to destroy the monster it created. So far I have survived, and it worries me as to what the fate of the world will be if mankind is displaced by its own dreams."

"I would say that you need long-term therapy as the psychological effects of this conflict have overwhelmed you. If it brings you any peace, I can tell you that I have often thought that it would be so much better if the world were ruled by the dreams of humankind, rather than by man himself."

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On his second visit Cam was drawn and pale. His veined blue eyes seemed faded and were surrounded by bags so heavy they hung in a corrugated oval shape. The skeptical expression that had painted itself on his flat mouth irregularly during the first visit now seemed permanent.

Apparently he'd read several books on Jungian dream symbolism, without supervision. This new knowledge led him to conclude that the person dreaming him was me.

"It's the detail of the symbolism in the dreams that convinces me," Cam said. "Only someone studied, like a psychotherapist, could fabricate such imagery. I believe that Iím drawn to you because it is you who is dreaming me into existence."

I nearly choked as I exhaled, then I took another long and illegal puff as I thought it over. I felt weary and dizzy. Golden rays of the afternoon sun flowed in the window and he did seem a lot like a dream character as he looked at me expectantly from behind the drifting haze of smoke. "Patients often come to believe bizarre things when tormented by dreams. Perhaps if you go over your most recent dream we can get to the root of this."

"Sure," Cam said. "The most recent dream is a long one. A repeating dream. I'm in this foreign city. Paris or London perhaps, and it isn't modern times. More like the 1850s. The lanes are dark slippery cobblestones; there is always mist, flooded sewers and the stench of horse manure. I feel wet, cold and lost -- like I've got to speak to someone. I don't know who, just anybody. Vague human shapes are moving in the distance so I head for them. Then an aspect of purgatory comes in as it seems to take forever to reach these people, and when I do they simply vanish before I can speak to them.

Eventually the dark lanes open on a vast square. At its far end a huge tower reaches up into a whorl of sucking storm clouds. I can see a lot of human activity, people milling about, horses and carts and other things. But itís all ghost activity. The people are never more than silhouettes and whenever I get too close to any group the figures vanish.

All of this disturbs me greatly and in the end I run about shouting in frustration and shaking my fist at that huge phallus of a tower and the clouds it penetrates.

But it does no good and only leads to more frustration as no one ever sees me or hears me. There is never anyone even solid enough to have complete eyes.

I wander in the square and eventually I reach a church, perhaps better described as a huge gothic cathedral. With incredible weariness descending on me, I go up the steps and inside. Itís empty, yet alive with inky shadows. Theyíre ugly things like cobwebs and bats that drip and crumble and fly about as a sort of stain of corruption on the church. Candles glow down at the front and they cast shadows away, including the hideous cobwebs. The brightest light is concentrated in a star shape near an altar. I see unlit candles there and feel compelled to go down and light one. After a few steps I notice something bright beside me, turn and see a mirror. Itís full length yet the image in it is only of the wall and a painting of Jesus behind me.

There is no me, and this terrifies me so much that I begin to run from the altar. I burst out of the church doors and into the street, seeing the darkness coalesce behind me as I move. A horrible black thing takes shape out of it and begins to pursue me. This is the monster I mentioned in our first meeting. It is a fearsome silhouette moving with the agility of a tiger. This predator seems to project the very essence of terror, and since it came from a church, Iím struck by the realization that Iím unholy and must be destroyed.

But as always, I do escape. This time losing it in the lanes just before I wake."

"I see a lot to look at in this dream," I said. "Yet there is nothing in it that should lead you to conclude that Iím somehow dreaming you."

"Oh, I forgot to mention that part. When I look in the mirror and see the painting of Jesus on the wall, Jesus has your face. That's how I figured it out. Itís telling me that you are my creator. Itís you who dreams me and are responsible if Iím something unholy that should be destroyed."

"Nonsense," I said as I hid my shaking hands under the table. "It's only natural that you'd see your doctor as a figure of salvation. The proof that I'm not dreaming you is that Iím wide awake now as we speak. In your disturbed state the boundary between dreams and reality is breaking down. You are losing your grip. You really have to reinforce your conscious self. What I want you to do right now is clench your fists and shout it out - I am real and not a dream! I want you to do this at least three times a day, and each time you wake from a dream."

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On his third and final visit Cam caught me napping. I awoke in a startled state at my desk and saw him standing in the doorway. He looked shabby and rumpled, like he'd not slept much.

I knew that I looked much the same. He'd left me confused after the last session. I felt more responsibility than usual, mainly because he was a patient whose fixation rested on me. It ate at my conscience that such a character was out there and suffering because he felt himself to be a product of my dreaming.

In my groggy state it took me some time to formulate some careful words, and I didn't get a chance to go with them because Cam ran up to me, leaned over the desk, grabbed the front of my shirt and shook me.

"Don't go on with nonsense," he said, his eyes shining with near hysteria. "I want to hear the details of your dream, the one you just had now before I entered."

I pushed his hands back and brushed down my shirt. "Okay, I guess it can't do any harm. Sit down and I'll try to remember it."

Cam sat and his face grew calm. The sun flashed gold on his watery eyes and it worked on me like a hypnotist's watch, drawing the memory out of my mind.

"In my dream I'm a magician and sorcerer, high in my tower wielding the symbols of the planets and universe. Yet I'm a miserly owner of these things and nearly all of my time is spent counting what I have. This time around I find that a moon symbol has been stolen from me so I whirl my cloak and rise out of the window as a mighty force.

So great is my power that the day becomes night as I descend on the Earth, and I speed my search by becoming omnipresent darkness feeling for the missing moonlight. I do find it and there is a ghostly figure holding this orb inside his chest in place of his heart.

This for some reason enrages me and I fly down as a massive black bird that pursues him  . . . then it gets to be a long murky dream of a chase with an ending I can't quite remember."

"Try, you must remember," Cam said.

"I'll try," I said, since it seemed so important to him Ö though I didn't want to as a feverish feeling had come over me while relating the dream. "Ah, now I remember more. I'm running in the darkness. Running endlessly, though I don't seem to be human. More like I'm some kind of animal or beast. I can feel the tremendous power of my limbs and predatory hunger as I run. But this ghostly man still escapes me at every turn; he runs and leaps with the power of a devil. Now he's getting over a high wall and escaping me for good, and I can see his face. He's  . . . . "

"He's who? Who is the dream man? Tell me!" Cam shouted.

But I couldn't tell him and neither could I stand the memory of him grinning at me as he escaped over that wall. I looked down at his sickly features and thin madness-withered frame. Cam had never been a real person; he was my dream just as he said.

And he wouldnít escape this time. I moved slowly, surely, dreamlike -- tremendously aware of the golden light streaming in the window. It seemed to be heavenly light marking a certain moment of destiny.

Sliding open my drawer I let my fingers ease onto the handle of the Glock pistol I kept there for protection. Never taking my eyes from Cam, I pulled it out, stood and fired.

"Yes, yes," I heard him say as I pulled the trigger. Then the first bullet hit his chest, tearing open his shirt. The second got hit him in the face with a hammer blow that sent a dark pattern of blood spots into the wall.

I'd expected him to vanish, and that I would wake. When it didn't happen I kept firing -- bullet after bullet knocking into his collapsing corpse. In the end his body rested in a pool of blood on the floor and I ran around the desk to it.

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Cam is gone now and itís certain that no one can dream him back to life. Iíve not traveled far to wake from my nightmare. In fact Iím in another wing of this same institution, where I can see across the autumn grounds to the window of my old office.

My past life as a doctor seems like a dream. In it they found me there chewing on the leg of Cam's corpse like some sort of human predator.

Yes, they all think that Iím mad, but all I did was interpret Cam's dreams, just as my doctor does for me now.

. . . . . . . . . . .