A strange thing occurred as I dreamt, the particulars of which I still do not fully grasp, though I have since dwelled on them with manic ferocity.
I found myself, first, in the familiar setting of The Dream, that reoccurring scenario in which I, or the version of myself therein, serve as a deckhand on some monstrous ship where I am bent over the same unfinishable task that always awaits me there.
I am charged with clearing barnacles from the ship’s hull, a repetitive, mindless exercise that stretches on with no end. The barnacles are legion. They pock the hull like cystic acne. Still, obediently, I pry them off, one by one, with a flat, dull blade. I doubt very much that barnacles possess this ability in the Real World, but, in The Dream at least, they scream each time one is removed from the ship. The more I work, the more they scream. The more they scream, the more the boatswain, a faceless shadow of a man who looms over my toils, beats at my shoulders and commands that I work faster.
This, in totality, is The Dream.
As I have already stated, The Dream comes often (normally on the nights preceding a day booked with meetings and presentations) and is not, in itself, a strange occurrence, however unpleasant it may be to experience. Most individuals have dreams and, I imagine, most dreams are likely unpleasant to the individuals dreaming them. No, the strangeness that concerns me now is the happening that awaited me upon waking from The Dream.
It is a common thing for those who suffer from nightmares to find themselves in a bed full of damp sheets upon awakening. (Lest your mind stray someplace lurid, the source of the moisture is most commonly perspiration.) On this particular night, however, having been startled awake from The Dream, I found myself, and my sheets, positively soaked. Accompanying this unpleasant wetness was an even more unpleasant smell, a suffocating melange of salt and bilge that cloyed at my nostrils.
As I raised my hands in an effort to rub this noxious odor from my nose, my palms touched upon my cheek. I recoiled instantaneously, aghast. Something soft and wet, very much like a sponge coated in rubber, shrunk away from my touch. Startled, I sprung from my bed.
There was a heaviness about my neck and shoulders. I keep my hair trimmed, short and neat, but had I ever worn it in a longer fashion and dunked myself into a pool or hot bath, this is the feeling I imagine such an action would produce. There was something draped across my head and spilling down the back of my neck — and it was wet and smelly and cold.
Frantic, I rushed into the washroom. My feet skidded across the tiles as whatever it was latched onto my head dripped filthy droplets onto the floor. Luckily, I kept my balance, grasping onto the ceramic lip of the sink with white-knuckled ferocity. I must say that I was reluctant to tilt my gaze upward, to stare into the mirror and reveal whatever damp horror had followed me into the Real World from the decks of The Dream, but, steeling my reserve, I did indeed incline my chin and bring my eyes to their mirrored counterparts.
There, wrapped about the pale cheeks of a man with a trembling jaw, sat an octopus.
I screamed. It was an involuntary reaction and I regret it even now, eschewing pragmatic thought for the base pull of animal emotion, but to omit this detail feels like an even more blatant act of cowardice. I screamed, that is the truth, and if I am to be judged for it, know that I hold myself to a higher exacting standard than any other ever could and also that, were you to find yourself in the same situation, soaked in salt water and staring at an octopus draped about your face, you may also find it hard to react in a more prudent fashion.
The octopus itself, meanwhile, cared little for my screams. It quickly clamped one of its sweaty tentacles over my mouth, as if hushing me. The taste of salt water stained my tongue as the animal’s squishy suction cups pulled at my lips. With a free hand, I beat at the beast’s bulbous head. It recoiled, slightly, but did not relinquish its hold. Instead, it used another of its tentacles (they have eight, after all, so I was outhanded) to thwap at my arm. After a short struggle, I conceded and the octopus relaxed. Its hand — for, really, that is how the appendages are used and I feel it necessary to refer to this animal in more humanistic terms, given its intimate relationship with my own personage — slipped away from my mouth.
I gaped at the reflection. One large, swollen eye, oblong and multicolored, stared back at me from out of a skull shaped like an eggplant.
I raised a hand. The octopus mimicked my action.
I blinked. It blinked.
Clearly, this animal possessed some level of elevated intelligence, but the way it watched me, really watched me, belied a depth of thinking that went far beyond simple parroting of rote bodily motion. And if that were true, if his octopus — wherever it had come from — was smart enough to learn, then it was not too much of a leap to believe it could also be capable of reasoning. And reasoning could lead to bargaining, which in turn would eventually lead to the animal crawling off from atop my head.
But what would an octopus desire?
I didn’t know what they ate (some small fish, I assumed) and even if I did, I certainly did not have cans of octopus food taking up space in my cupboards. So, instead, I offered it what was available to me, which, in this case, was an electric toothbrush. The octopus reached out, tentatively at first, and grasped it. I could feel the animal relax its grip on my head. Until it clicked the power button.
The octopus flew into a frenzy as the toothbrush buzzed and whirred. It beat me about the face, suction cups plopping against my cheeks and forehead. I struggled against it, but quickly found this fruitless.
To be continued…
Art by pedrojhiann on DeviantArt.