I woke up several times in a sweat, but they were only dreams of waking. When I finally did wake up, calmly, to the real world, it was dark and familiar. I was in my own bed.
I didn’t move, gathering my thoughts. I tried imagining the entire thing had been an exhausting dream, from meeting Max to Lakedema’s blue skin and rapid wardrobe changes. I was not convinced of this, but it seemed to me the best assumption to make until something changed my mind.
Something had already arrived.
The same sense of familiarity, despite the pitch black, that told me I was in my own room told me something was also unfamiliar, that I was not alone.
Beyond knowing something or someone was in the room with me, I sensed nothing. I heard no breathing, no movement. The great dilemma inherent in fear of the dark began to overtake me.
As a child, I regularly believed beyond a doubt that something was out there, whenever confronted by utter darkness. Do I remain still, feign sleep? Then, whatever was there would move on and leave me undisturbed. This strategy had never failed. Neither had the strategy of quickly turning on the light, which either vanquished the intruder or revealed that nothing had been in the room. I could never really decide which it was.
Even as a very young child part of me knew that nothing was truly in my room, or at least I knew the odds. When I told my father about my fear of the dark or my fear of anything unseen, he told me the best thing would be to expect something and nothing at the same time. I argued with him throughout my childhood over the impossibility of it, though I never stopped trying to find the secret. Now, what I did or didn’t do could have real consequences. As sleep receded, I had to admit that whatever was going to happen was going to happen regardless of what I did or didn’t do.
I slowly parsed out the possibilities, more as a delaying tactic than because it mattered.
It could be Max returned, sitting in the chair in the corner of the room with his infinite patience, waiting to resume his duties as my genie. It could be Lakedema, waiting sheepishly after administering too much of whatever spell or potion it was that brought on the dreams of Max.
My only other thought was, simply, something bad. Reluctantly, I sat up in my bed and listened for a change or shift in response to my movement. Nothing. Looking toward the chair, I turned on the lamp next to my bed. The chair was empty and for a moment I thought that perhaps I had imagined the extra presence. Then I was overcome with the feeling of claustrophobia.
Slowly I turned to look past the end of my bed and found white fur, the entire width of my Queen sized mattress. I followed the fur up to large eyes inside the giant head of an enormous tiger.
I tried to scream and could not. I tried to make a noise, any noise, a whimper at least and could not.
All I could do was try to absorb the enormity of the beast as my body began shaking violently with fear. He was so tall that even sitting he had to bend his body to fit into the room. This posture made him appear as if he were about to pounce, although he would hardly need to move at all to take me into his giant mouth.
I forced myself to look into his eyes for a clue, some indication of his intent, and several thoughts came to me in succession.
His eyes were the most remarkable, beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen, filled with calm and even, I thought, compassion. My body stopped trembling.
He was impossible. I had seen tigers on movie sets. They were large animals but nothing I had ever seen came close to the size of this tiger and there was no way he could fit through the doorway.
Though I had calmed down significantly, I found that I still could not speak or make a sound.
I was muzzled.
The tiger dipped his head so his eyes were even with mine. Do not be angry, he seemed to be saying. Then the thought repeated in my mind, Do not be angry.
Shit. Not only was I muzzled, the goddamn giant tiger was telepathic.
I was angry. How could I be anything other than angry? I asked for none of this and I understood none of what was happening. I had gone, in a few days, from a man about to be granted three wishes to being drugged or dreamed or whatever and put in a room with a giant tiger. Part of me still didn’t believe any of it and being put into unbelievable circumstances without any way to deny them just made me mad.
The giant tiger’s giant head moved close, until I could feel his silent breath on my face. Compassion, the tiger suggested. Compassion, said the voice in my head.
No. Wait. Okay. Why?
I saw Max’s face from my dream. His expression had been so different from what I had become accustomed to over the days we bantered about wishes. In my dream, his face was full of anticipation and expectation, maybe even hope. There was something else. Was it fear, concern? Not exactly. It was deeply concealed concentration. I’d seen this before. Max had been acting and acting poorly at that.
I had no idea what was happening and certainly had no idea why there was a giant tiger in my room but I understood at that moment that Max, despite all his powers, was somehow powerless right now, or nearly powerless. Though I still wanted to believe otherwise, he expected me to help him.
The tiger moved toward me and rested a small part his huge head gently on my shoulder. Still, I almost collapsed under the weight.
“Where is Lakedema?” I whispered.
His head rose and I followed his eyes to my bedroom door where Lakedema stood looking taller and somehow more substantial than she had before. She also held a stance that she had not held before. Readiness.
“John,” she said, “are you feeling… okay?” She stumbled over the casual language.
“Honestly, I have no idea how I’m feeling. There is a tiger the size of an elephant in my room and I cannot tell when I am dreaming and when I am not.”
“You are not dreaming now and Isaac is here to protect you.”
I looked at the tiger and I swear he was smiling. “The tiger’s name is Isaac?”
Lakedema didn’t answer. She walked over to Isaac and began to stroke his fur. Isaac did answer, the words echoing in my head: John Tilton you are safe at this moment.
“I’m safe now, I wasn’t safe before?”
“You must eat,” said Lakedema. “We will talk.”
I suddenly had a craving for chicken salad.
As I walked through the door of my bedroom into the living room with Lakedema I looked back to see how Isaac would follow but he was no longer there. When I turned back around all the furniture in my apartment had been replaced by tiger.
“A giant, telepathic, magic tiger,” I said.
Lakedema turned to me and some of her previous child-like presence returned. “Isaac is high jinn,” she said.
“High jinn? You mean he’s a genie?”
Lakedema began laughing and her laughter made the world seem, for a moment, perfect and full of bright hope. Isaac seemed to laugh too, though it came out as a low, soft growl.
“We are not laughing at you John Tilton,” she sighed. “Of course we know about this word, ‘genie,’ it is true. To hear it used in reference to Isaac is unexpected and, forgive us please, amusing. Yes, if we understand your use of the word, Isaac is very truly a genie, a genie like no other, and we both are of the old jinn.”
With that, Isaac lay down on his side and stretched, taking up the whole of the dining room and living room combined and forcing Lakedema and I into the kitchen.
I picked up Max’s bourbon bottle. Holding it made me feel more confident that I was awake. I pulled a box of crackers from the cupboard and as I set it on the counter it suddenly became a platter of cheeses, sliced fruit and, out of politeness I suppose, my saltines, each with a dab of chicken salad on top.
“I need to know what is happening,” I said. “I’m not sure I can tell the difference anymore between dreaming and being awake, or if it even matters at this point because, you know, I don’t think, I don’t know if regular minds, human minds, whatever, are meant to handle this sort of thing. I mean a genie, three wishes, those are things, circumstances that we’ve been prepared for on some level. Max, he’s a real professional and all… the rest of it, the whole malfunction, blue skin, giant tiger…”
I felt Lakedema’s hand on my shoulder and this time her touch, her presence, felt comforting and nearly absent of sexuality… nearly. I ate some cheese.
“I will explain everything as far as I am able,” she said. “Many questions will remain for which I have no answers.”
“Fine, let’s start with what just happened, the dreaming.”
Isaac became more attentive, as if he too wanted to understand what had happened.
Lakedema addressed us both.
“The Dreamrule is free, belonging to no one. No human, no jinn, no spirit or creature in heaven or hell controls the Dreamrule. In this all are equal, but all are not equal in their knowledge and skill within the Dreamrule.”
Isaac yawned and Lakedema paused.
“Isaac reminds me that I am not lecturing young jinn and he thinks I should arrive sooner to my purpose. It will suffice if you understand that anyone can enter the Dreamrule at any time, regardless of station or circumstances. I sent you into a dream because I knew Max could find you there no matter where he was or… how he was, I suppose I should say.”
“Well then, why didn’t you just start dreaming and speak to him yourself?”
Lakedema smiled, clearly having anticipated this question.
“It was the first thing I did when we lost contact with Max. We meet often in the Dreamrule, at places we have pre-arranged, as the dreaming world is vast. I began visiting these places. I did not find Max but I did find my path blocked and it became increasingly difficult to find my way. Then I realized I was no longer moving freely, I was being led, or stalked I think. I cannot say by whom or for what purpose, but I felt uncertainty and even fear. I fled to waking.”
“What? So you sent me?”
Isaac shook his head, telling me to listen.
“John, please understand you are the Designate, the name for those who receive the allowance, the wishes, you call them. Max is bound to you and you to him like no other in any realm and at all times. Deep Water and the Designate are one until the debt is settled. I knew he would find you as soon as you entered the Dreamrule and draw no attention from others, at least for a time.”
I turned away, hoping Lakedema would stop talking long enough for me to absorb what she was saying. “So I wasn’t bait, I was undercover?”
Lakedema looked to Isaac, who tilted his enormous head slightly.
“Yes,” she said, “I think this is correct to say.”
“So that was really Max?”
“Well, in a manner—“
“I know, I know, close enough, real enough. It doesn’t matter. What happened after I spoke to Max, I dreamt I was awake and speaking with you? Why would Max mention my father?”
“Because you and Max were mingled in the Dreamrule it was understood by others that you must be the Designate. This is our guess only. I could see that your dream became disturbed and something was wrong, so I forced waking upon you, which can be dangerous and is to be avoided with use of a hypnos. I truly do not know why Max would speak of your father.”
As Lakedema spoke, I felt some of the details of my dream were starting to fade. I understood by the look of anticipation on her face that Lakedema knew this would happen and was anxious to hear what I had learned, but did not wish to press me.
I told her everything I could remember, skipping some details regarding how, exactly, she had been sucked into the lamp. When I spoke of Max’s red book, she glanced quickly at Isaac who began to purr thunderously. When I told them about the end of the dream, of dreaming I was awake, she looked distressed.
“That was not me John Tilton. I was here watching over you as you became disturbed, but I could not wake you. I summoned Isaac and together we brought you from the dream into a peaceful sleep.”
“Okay, I get it, not you. Then who or what was trying to get information about Max’s book?”
“We have learned much from your travels in the Dreamrule John, but we can only guess at who discovered you and attempted to deceive you. It is very important that your dream became disturbed during the deception. It means that part of you saw through the guise.”
“Then what is your guess?”
Lakedema walked to Isaac. “We have lingered too long in this place. You must come with us and we can talk more of Deep Water and the Book of Shapes and what is to be done.”
I started to protest but suddenly felt foolish starting an argument with a blue person and a giant tiger.
“What if I refuse to go with you, just call it a day, forget about my wishes and go on with my life?”
“I do not know for certain,” said Lakedema. “I know that nothing like this, exactly, has occurred in the recent memory of jinn and though I do not know what form it should take, I believe you are in danger.”
“You don’t know what is going to happen next, do you?”
“It is true. I do not. We do not.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. My mother had told me so many times to stay in one place if I ever got lost it was ingrained in my psyche. I didn’t feel like I was running I felt like I was lost. “I can’t leave with you just like that. I need time to think and maybe you can look into this whole thing because I think maybe there has been a mistake and anyway, maybe Max will still show up.”
“As you wish, John,” said Lakedema, but she did not attempt to hide her concern.
Copyright © 2016 by Mike Ferguson