Are there creatures who haunt dreams to consume and liquify your thoughts?
ENTANGLED DREAMS LIKE FLIES IN A SPIDER WEB
"My dreams are filled with joy, but I'm like a fly caught in a spider's web--waiting helplessly for the spider to return," Harper said.
"Do you think it means something?" Zoe asked. She was sitting on the couch, and it might have seemed ironic, except that therapy isn't quite like it's portrayed in popular culture. Harper sat across from her on the cushioned wicker-chair. They looked better. Their cropped hair, died blue, arced high on their forehead, and many of the lines of worry were smoothed out, and she was happy to see, the drawn look on their face had disappeared. The eyes of a person, she knew, didn't reveal any truths, but she liked to imagine the points of light that shone in Harper's eyes were sparks of the joy and intelligence, she knew, they contained.
"I don't know, but I'm afraid."
"What did you dream of last?"
"I saw two ants crawling on the wall beyond the end of the bed, and they moved like specks of dust buffeted by the wind until they disappeared behind the dresser. And then a spider the size of a quarter with legs like long, black hooks and with a bulbous abdomen scuttled across the wall with its jerking hydraulic motion before it stopped where the ants had been."
"You don't like spiders, do you?"
"Terrified of them," they said.
"What happened next?"
"The spider stopped, and if I was awake, I would have inched past until I was out the door, and I would have grabbed a fly swatter, and then praying it was still there because if it was gone--I wouldn't be able to sleep, I would inch towards it until I was close enough to hit it, jump back, and yelp all at the same time, but in the dream I moved toward it, as if it was something on the wall I couldn't see without my contacts, and I had to know whether it was a nightmarish bug, or just another spot I hadn't noticed before."
Zoe shivered, "My wife captures them in a cup and releases them outside, which I'm glad she can do, but I feel the same when I'm alone."
"I hate killing them, but I also like sleep."
"Me too! And I should stop interrupting, and let you do the talking."
"No worries. It's nice to split it up."
"What did you see then?"
"When I looked closer at the wall, there was nothing there. My head turned reluctantly to look behind the dresser knowing I would see the spider and its obsidian-faceted eyes looking at me with inscrutable purpose, but instead, I saw a single strand of spider silk dangling toward the floor and a single spot that was a tiny spider slowly sliding down it. I looked back at the wall, and I saw it wasn't a wall at all, but a spider web made of millions of strands of spider silk, and I looked around and all the walls of the room were spider webs. I was trapped with the room shrinking. I fell back towards the bed; I felt sick: my insides like liquid pushing its way up my throat as if the spider had already injected its venom, and I fell into a spider web, and it stuck to my face, and my hands scrabbled against it trying to pull each sticky strand off, and I knew I was caught in the web, and my heart sank like a stone. And like a dream where I was falling, I fell into bed as I awoke, but it was more like I was pushed out of the dream instead."
"When I woke up, I continued to struggle with the web until I realized it was only a dream."
"You've said in the past that you don't usually dream?"
"Yep, but I've been dreaming a lot lately. I've had a series of vivid dreams where I go out and have fun with my friends, and I'm happy. All the worries are gone, and when I wake up, I feel cheated. Real life is much bleaker."
"The dream is like an ideal that life could never measure up to. Does that sound right?"
"I wanted the dream to be real; I want it to be real; I want it to be a clue to the secret of happiness; I want it to be a magic pill. I hurt all the time, I know that sounds dramatic, but that's how I feel, and it hurts worse to feel things in a dream I've never felt before."
"Do you think those feelings are impossible to feel?"
"It's silly, I know, and you're right I think it would be possible."
"No, you aren't being silly. I remember last time you were going to a couple of Meetups, and how anxious you felt."
"I did, and I made a few friends, but it is difficult because sometimes I need to talk to people with similar life experiences, and that's hard to find."
"Have you had any luck online?"
"I get a lot of anxiety when talking to people online, and I've never got the knack of making friends there."
"I'm proud of you. It isn't easy to push yourself to go out and meet new people, and it's amazing what you have done!" She looked at her notebook and doodled a few simple shapes as Harper's face turned red, and their mouth broke into a sheepish smile. She looked up and continued, "And we can strategize on how to make friends online and how to deal with the anxiety, next time. If you want to?"
"Sadly, we're out of time, but if you need me, you have my extension. Feel free to call at any time."
"Do you want to schedule your next appointment?"
"No, I'm out of a job, so money will be tight for a while, but I'll be back eventually."
"I'm sorry about the job. I wish we could have talked about it. Maybe we can do a free session because it sounds like you need it."
"No," they looked at their feet and continued, "you've already done enough."
She watched as they walked out the door, but all day, Harper and their dream would not leave her mind. She sat down at and felt empty knowing she was running from one patient to the next slapping on band-aides over deep wounds that soon bled through.
It was a month before she saw Harper again, and by then, they looked thin like they hadn't eaten well for a long time, and their face was drawn, and the lines of worry were ingrained across their forehead, so deep, they couldn't be smoothed out with sandpaper. If they were a phase of the moon, she thought, they would be a waning gibbous: the full moon past, and now partially obscured by the darkness of the world. She was afraid if she tried to reach out with a comforting hand, it would fall through them like she was grasping for the moon, and their light would wane away.
"How are you doing?" she asked.
"A little better. It's kind of been up and down recently," they said.
"Anything you would like to talk about?"
"I've had more dreams."
"Have you been sleeping well? I know, sometimes, vivid dreams are a sign of poor sleep."
"That's just it. I've never slept better. I hate waking up because the dreams are so pleasant," they bit their bottom lip.
"Is there something more?"
"The sounds beyond the dream."
"Beyond the dream?"
"It's hard to explain, but it feels like there is always an uneasy feeling just around the corner, the scuttling sound of spiders on the walls, the rasping of string woven into a net--and the sound of others struggling to get out."
"What do you think it means?"
"I've been feeling trapped?"
"Vivid dreams can be a sign of anxiety."
"But there's more. I feel reticent to talk about the good parts of the dreams: they're addicting. I feel whole in the dreams, and I can talk to people in an easy-going manner I could never master--I almost forget."
"Is it affecting you when you're awake?"
"I... I think I could just sleep forever. When I sleep it doesn't hurt. What do I have to wake up to? No stability at work, no community, no friends because we're all so busy. It's like a malevolent force is plucking out every string connecting me to the world."
"I have to ask: are you having any thoughts of hurting yourself or of suicide?"
"No, I just want to sleep, and I know it's silly, but I'm afraid the spiders are real, and they are luring me into the dream--to liquefy my thoughts and consume them"
"If I had dreams like that, I would feel the same. Have you been sleeping longer than usual?"
"Except for work, I sleep the rest of the time--and I wonder, if there are spiders, is it a worse fate than my current life?"
"Are you feeling depressed?"
"Maybe. I don't know. I'm afraid. But I just want to sleep."
"And what about your friends? Have you talked to them about the dreams?"
"I don't want to bother them with all my troubles."
"How do you feel if your friends talk to you about their troubles?"
"I'm happy when they confide in me, and I know it is irrational the way I feel--"
"But you still feel it. It can be difficult to change that."
"Would it be bad to do something that makes you feel better even though it might also be harmful?"
"I don't have the answer to that, but, remember, these feelings are temporary. You won't feel like this forever. I don't know if there are spiders that trap you in dreams, or if this is a way that your mind is coping. I hope you can come back soon because you're having a really difficult time."
"I think I can afford to come back in a couple of weeks."
"PLEASE call me if you need anything in-between."
After two weeks, she saw them again, and they looked like a waning crescent, she thought, the light illuminated their face, but they were as thin as a sliver. And the threat hung over them that at any moment they would wane away and become whole again like the new moon.
"Are you doing okay?" Zoe asked; she couldn't hide the lines of worry that stretched across her forehead.
"Not really," they said, and they paused before the rest of the words tumbled out, "I started sleeping all day and night, and I lost my job, and I'm freaking out, and I haven't talked to anyone, and I had another freaky dream, and I'm freaking out!"
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"That's what brought me here. But... It's stupid."
"Just tell me at your own pace."
"I've been sleeping longer and longer, and I don't want to stop."
"Have you seen a doctor?"
"No, it's hard to find one that will take me seriously. And I wouldn't even believe me."
"I believe you," she said, "Let's just talk about the dream for now and see what we can do afterwards."
They slumped down into the chair like they were trying to relax, but it looked like the whole world was pushing them down, so that she wouldn't be surprised if they sunk into the chair and were swallowed whole. She shivered as the wayward thought buzzed incessantly in her head like an errant fly, and she wrested her mind back.
"I was in my room. Not my current bedroom, but the one I grew up in," they said
"How did you feel?"
"It was an oven with glowing orange walls; it was a prison where I lived in solitary; it was another boys room bulging with sports equipment, sports logos, and army men. How I hated that room! But it didn't bother me in the dream, and--oh!--what a relief that was." They stopped and couldn't go on for a few minutes.
"Did you hear the spiders again?"
"Yes," they swallowed, "they... um... they..."
"Take your time."
"I lay on my bed. My head, filled with pleasant thoughts, lying on the pillow, and trying to ignore the shadow in the corner of my eye. But I knew what it was; I could never forget: the closet door just beyond my head--looming. It was how I remembered it when I was small, when I could barely reach the doorknob, when I opened it every night before I went to bed afraid that a murderous axeman would be hiding there, and when I spent long nights staring at the door until a shadow moved, and I heard the door creaking open, and I turned on all the lights to find it still closed. Until one day, I pilled so many boxes, and books, and toys in front of it, not even a supernatural creature could open it," they swallowed again and wiped their forehead with a shaky hand, "As soon as I thought of it, I was in front of it, and it was stripped of all the piled up junk: the talismans that had protected me. I could hear them behind the door, and I wanted to wake up, but I couldn't."
"What did you see?" her eyes were fixed on Harper, her notebook had fallen to the floor, and a fly buzzed around unheeded.
"As I opened the door slowly, it squeaked. Multiple silk threads arched down from the door to the pilled junk which was covered in spider webs like someone had sprayed a bottle of crazy string, and I could see, in the back, the threads hanging down from the ceiling with all the thumb-sized spiders rotating slowly around on the ends with their hook legs curled up. I wondered if I squeezed one if their legs would open and close like a clasp, but with that thought, I was pushed away as if a powerful wind was shrieking through the doorway, and the door slammed shut, and I found myself awake again."
"Have you had any more dreams?"
"No, I've been awake for a couple of days, and I don't want to sleep, but I want to sleep, and I don't want this to be real."
"What do you mean?"
"Why is it so terrible? I didn't do anything!"
"No, you haven't, you're an incredibly brave person! But how can I help you? I feel helpless."
"The dreams feel real; the spiders feel real; this feels real."
"Are you having trouble telling the difference between the dream and real life?"
"No... I don't think so--"
"Please! Help me understand, so I can help."
"Tell me the spiders aren't real, tell me happiness is worth the risk--tell me this world is the dream!"