Dreamside - By Graham Joyce

Dreamside

P R O L O G U E

Behold, this dreamer cometh —Genesis

Lee was having trouble sleeping. It was already near dawn, and blades of light were slipping between the ribs of the blind. He'd spent the night on the edge of sleep, but every time he let go, something stirred in the dark and shook him awake. Not scary exactly, but enough of a jolt to flip him out of sleep. He opened his eyes. It was easier to give up.

The luminous dial on his clock blinked: outside a horn blared. He felt sticky and sweaty. His bed was a knot of sheets, his eyes were pasted half shut, and his hair stood up in a quiff. Fumbling to the bathroom, he turned on the shower and scalded himself.

It had been a strange night. A dervish of unfathomable, fevered images had crowded his dreams. Now they were sluicing away, as though painted on his skin. He threw on his once white towelling robe and went into his kitchen. Somewhere a time-set radio switched itself on and a breakfast voice piped feebly. He took an egg and cracked it on a pan but it didn't break. He tried a second time. Again it didn't break. "Oh, no," he said, "oh, no ..." Raising the egg close to his face, he blew on it sharply.

Then he woke up.

Daylight streaming in through the blinds picked out needles of perspiration on his face. The luminous clock dial winked at him. A horn blared outside, someone with their hand pressed down hard. He sat up, bedclothes slithering to a heap on the floor, and staggered to the bathroom. The shower made him catch his breath, gooseflesh popping as he walked into the icy pyramid of rushing water. This time he had a clear impression of what he had been dreaming the moment before he woke up.

In his kitchen, the time-set radio switched itself on. His eggs frying in the pan looked back at him with cartoon eyes, and he lost his appetite. He got dressed for work and pulled on his overcoat.

Outside, the earth was in the grip of its own dream, February frost that sucked the sound out of everything. He broke its spell with billows of exhaust that had the frost imps hacking and coughing and running for cover. Awake awake awake; that was what his wipers said. Awake awake awake. Slipping the clutch he put the car into gear.

And woke up.

The clock blinked. A horn blared. He was afraid to turn on the shower in case he should wake up back in bed. He looked in the mirror. A frightened face looked back at him.

His nerves were torn and he had a bad taste in his mouth. In the kitchen a radio switched itself on, and something fell away inside him. He turned, looked at the radio, then at the plug. He disconnected the plug from the socket and the radio died. He reconnected the plug and the voice picked up where it had left off.

He got into his car and sat behind the wheel in silence for a moment. Lee was the habitual early bird, always driving to work with his radio turned up loud, always first there. He turned into the empty car park behind the advertising agency and parked.

And woke up.

He lay in the dark of his room, panting, pressing himself into his mattress. The clock dial winked mutinously. The horn of a car sounded outside, falling away into the distance. This could go on for ever, he told himself. He wished he could tunnel out of it by going back to sleep, but he knew it was futile to try. There was no choice.

So he did it all again. Shower; oh no. Radio; not that. Breakfast; please God- Knowing all of the time that this could, and maybe would, go on for ever.

Dreaming. Would he ever wake up?

He needed something to convince him that he was awake, really awake. He brushed the back of his hand across the flame. He felt the hairs on his wrist begin to singe and got an unmistakable whiff of burned hair. It was a wide-awake smell.

Outside was the same frost-crisp morning. The car coughed into life. He drove to his office with excessive caution, and parked in a different place. The three flights of stairs left him short-winded, and he was breathing hard when he heard his phone ringing. Hurrying down the corridor, he pushed open the office door and reached across his

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