The Dream Man

The Dream Man had been waiting for some time when the settlers drew near. He could smell them from far off, a vague wafting of hope on the breeze, but now that they were closer, it was like lifting a wine glass to his lips. There were tinges of fear, and a splash of fatigue. One of them was sleeping.

The wagon was alone, and would make a small meal, but the steady trickle of people moving westward had increased over the last few months. People were taking advantage of the weather, and it was possible something back East was chasing them. The Dream Man did not know, but he was torn between greed and irritation. Plentiful meals were always welcome, especially since so many of the wagons had Soft Ones inside, but he was used to long silences, and found that the grinding of dirt and rocks under the large wooden wheels kept him up at day.

As the sun buried itself under the mountains behind him, the Dream Man watched the man who held the reins of the oxen slow them to a shuffle. The man unhitched them from the wagon, but left them yoked together, presumably so if they spooked, they couldn’t get very far, but also couldn’t damage the family’s property. The Dream Man thought this was sensible. He slipped up from his hole and skittered across the ground like nothing else ever has or should.

As he approached the camp, he steeled himself for the act. It was never pleasant, even long ago, when he was fed by friends. He could never remember where his friends had gone, but he wasn’t the reason. That much he knew. His memory had many parts filled with shadow. He did not remember his birth, but accepted that, since most creatures have difficulty recalling an event so singularly significant. He felt that maybe he had been punished for something. He hoped he was being punished, for the idea of this life seemed unbearable otherwise. He said a silent apology for whatever it was he had done, and inched closer to the man, who had built a fire in the interim.

The man knew he was near. The Dream Man could feel the hairs on his own neck and arms stick up, just as the other man’s were doing. He was impressed. Most never realized he was coming, and the few that had known, in the days when he was fed, had never made him feel this way. He was anxious, the Dream Man, because he had not eaten in several days, and had spooked himself thinking of the past. He told himself this was just a man, and crept up to him.

The man was far too awake to see the Dream Man, but nonetheless, the man had picked up a branch from the fire, and brandished it nervously. The Dream Man slid up to a standing position and stood face to face with the tired settler. He stared in the man’s eyes, empty and vacant. The Dream Man opened his mouth and pressed it to the man’s own.

A torrent of emotions and images flooded the Dream Man’s stomach, but none of them were filling. Not a single one was of the man. They all were of the Soft One, laying inside the wagon. Image upon image of the Soft One as she would be, tall, and full of life, smiling and dancing. In one, she stood in a white dress with a man who was not in the wagon party. In another, she carried her own Soft One, and sang it a song that hurt the Dream Man’s heart. The Dream Man pulled off of the man abruptly.

The man sat down with a thud and began to rub his temples. He muttered something in a harsh tongue, and clutched a silver cross in his right palm. The Dream Man was unsatisfied. This man thought only of the Soft One, and so the Soft One would have to provide the meal. He slid like towards the wagon like a cold shudder.

The Soft One was inside, and sleeping peacefully. A woman lay next to her, awake and stroking the Soft One’s hair. The Dream Man would not waste his time with the woman. She would be like the man, he knew, and all of a sudden, was jealous. He clambered over to the Soft One and lowered himself until he could feel her breath on his cheek.

There was a city in the Soft One, shining by an ocean, with thin mountains and trails of stone. There were trees full of strange fruits, and more people than he had seen, even in all the dreams he’d eaten combined. There was an entire history, sprawled out before him, weaving and shimmering like a thousand gemstone snakes, and he was sated. He had not even tasted the dream, and found himself full. This had never happened before, and it concerned him greatly.

“It’s not a dream,” the Soft One said, looking at him. This was why he didn’t like Soft Ones. He so rarely spoke, and they expected him to. It was awkward, at best, and life was so much easier after the Soft Ones hardened up and no longer felt the need to see him.

“What is not a dream?” asked the Dream Man.

“The city,” said the girl, a smile forming on her lips. “It’s a future. And it’s where I’ll live soon.”

The Dream Man had never been to a city, though he’d seen far smaller ones in dreams. However, it seemed possible that this girl was telling the truth. If that was the case, he could leave his hole, and find a new one with much more food.

At the girl’s wedding, years later, the Dream Man attended dressed in attire he had seen the ones who had only dreams of more wealth wearing. Though a scrumptious feast was being served, he fasted the whole day, and left, as a gift, her father’s dreams for her, almost all of which had been fulfilled.

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