“You look tired this morning, honey,” Sarah said, as Bob made himself a cup of coffee. Two spoons of sugar and a splash of hazelnut creamer.
He agreed with a mild grunt and sat down at the table.
“Bad dreams again?”
“No, just the usual surreal ones. I was driving my car down a two lane road when it turned into a galloping horse which bucked me into a brick wall. I woke up just before I hit. After I fell asleep, I was sitting at work, when the air conditioner came on, only it was like a fan and started blowing all the papers around, which turned into birds and started flying around the office. It freaked out all the girls, so I called the guys to help me shoo them out, but everyone was gone. Then the birds broke through the window and flew out.”
He sighed. “I need a new scriptwriter for my dreams.”
His wife laughed. “They say practice makes perfect, maybe in another 20 years you’ll write yourself some good ones.”
Much to his surprise, Bob did not have any dreams for the next week. When he finally did have one, it was definitely not surreal. A short, imp-looking man with a short-cropped beard wearing a brown beret, and brownish-green corduroy blazer was sitting at a old wooden desk drinking a cappuccino. Half a foam butterfly was still floating in the on the top. He seemed to be watching videos on a large, clear-glass tablet set on the desk like a picture, and was laughing. The room was kind of like an one of those Paris attic rooms in the movies, with a low roof and large, old, wooden rafter decor. There were piles of small glass-like plates about an inch square piled throughout the room, including a smaller pile on the desk that the imp would occasionally insert into the glass tablet.
“Who are you?”
The imp straightened up suddenly in shock, looking around, and looked embarrassed and sheepish as he saw Bob. “I’m your scriptwriter.”
“Your scriptwriter. You placed a request for one last week. Or, rather, your previous scriptwriter quit after hearing your request, before HQ found out.” Noticing Bob’s look of confusion, said, “Normally you’re not supposed to see us, but I forgot to close the door, and I suppose you were so bored that you started wandering around your mind.” Then, as an aside, “be careful about that, it’s like looking at your stomach digesting. Heh heh!”
“I’ve been reviewing your past dreams.” He chuckled. “Cedric, your last guy, sure is a hoot. Horse bucks you into a wall, that’s classic!” He chuckled again.
“Didn’t seem very funny to me.”
“Well, I tell you what, let’s do a sequel. Comedy’s not my strong point, so that’ll probably suit you better.”
He got up from the chair, fished around in his blazer. “Now where did I put that? Oh, yeah, here it is.” He pulled out a cylindrical metal object about the length of a hand and as thick as a thumb, and some sunglasses, which he put on. He activated to rod, and held it up in front of Bob. “Look right here...”
“Are you going to flashy-thing me?” Bob said incredulously.
He grinned. “Sure am! Now... you won’t remember this...”
Something flashed, and Bob was driving down a two lane road...
“Sarah, you remember when I said I wanted a new scriptwriter for my dreams? I think I got one...” Bob absent-mindedly stirred his coffee in a figure eight motion, occasionally adding two flicks outward from the center.
“Did you have an epiphany? What’s new?”
“I don’t think it’s anything with me. I just feel like I got a scriptwriter somehow. Doesn’t make sense...”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, honey. Have the dreams been different?”
“Well, actually, yes they have been. I have a sense of deja vu about one of the dreams last night, like I’ve dreamed them before, but they were different this time. I was driving down a two lane road in New England in the autumn. The trees were really spectacular, all sorts of reds, oranges, punctuated with the occasional yellows. I was driving one of those Dick Tracy mobster cars, a black convertible, really nice. I was driving along, admiring the trees, when I saw a white car like mine in the rearview mirror, with a guy in a bright red suit and a tommy-gun. So I tried to outrun him, and as the car sped up, it turned into a horse. When I looked back, all I could see was some British soldiers in the distance, and I was Paul Revere, riding to warn everyone. I made it to the square, but the horse tripped and I flew off the horse and landed on the brick wall of the church in the square.”
“So they are more vivid and exciting?”
“More exciting, yeah, but they aren’t really better. I use to dream that I was late for a meeting with my boss. Now I dream that I’m going for my annual review with by boss, but my car won’t start, so I used yours, but it is out of gas, so I take the bus, but there is construction which delays me to the point where it would be faster to walk, but when I get out to walk the construction ends and the bus zooms by and no matter what I do, I’m an hour late and I just know I’m not going to get promoted. I used to just dream that I was falling, but now I dream that I’m in a hot air balloon at the edge of space and I can see the earth spread out below and the black of space above me, but as I admire the view, the floor falls out and I start falling, but my parachute doesn’t open and I keep falling, but I’m so far up that I don’t get any closer, and it’s really cold, and then something starts shooting things at me, which I can see coming up, so I start dodging them, which would be fun, except that when they explode near me I know they would kill me if they hit me, so I have to keep dodging them, but I never actually finish falling and I wake up shivering.”
“I’m sorry, dear... I hope you sleep better tonight... But, if you keep rolling around like you normally do, it’s not surprising that you get cold from not having any blankets on.”
Bob was standing in the attic room again, but this time the old imp was painting one of the glass plates. He had a jeweler’s magnifying glass in his eye, a small brush in his hands, and there were a bunch of colors and glass plates scattered around the desk. Bob walked slowly over to the desk to get a better look. The imp seemed intent on his work, but did not seem surprised when he looked up and saw Bob.
“Ah, you’re here. I left the door open for you; I figured you’d stop by sooner or later. Later, as it turns out...” Then, brightly and professionally he asked, “so, how are you liking your new scripts?”
“Well...,” he said uncertainly, “there is certainly a lot more plot compared to before.” Then, it occurred to him, “you’re a painter?”
“I do a fair piece,” he said with a mixture of humility and confident passion. “I studied under Verda for three seasons. Now she’s a painter! She makes everything look so vivid and vibrant. She did a forest dream where you could almost smell the musty maple leaves and taste the pine-scented raindrops dripping off the needles.” The imp stopped and stared in a reverie of the memory before he remembered what he was doing.
“My specialty is details. I think it’s what gives that extra-sense of ...,” he paused, looking for just the right word, “well, magic, that je ne sais quoi that turns a dream into a story. The secret of of a great story is that every piece has its own little story. Just like the real world—every tree is unique because each tree has it’s own story, even though they are all kind of the same. So you’re happy with your new dreams?” He smiled hopefully.
“Uh... yes... Well, they are richer...,” he said, uncertainly again. Something felt not-yes, but he wasn’t sure what it was.
“You sound like you aren’t really awake yet... Could I interest you in a coffee, clear your mind a bit?” The imp offered Bob a cappuccino with a butterfly pattern in the milk, which he took, and sipped automatically.
“Will this work? Aren’t I ... dreaming ... or something?”
“Works for me, who knows, I’ve never had a conversation with a client before. Most things work in dreams. You want to run and you run; you drop a glass and it breaks. Well, usually. You know coffee makes you think better, so you drink coffee and you think better.” The imp paused. “Well, unless it doesn’t.”
The not-yes something was becoming clearer. “You mean, like the telephone two nights ago? That didn’t work. Actually, it never works, now that I think about it. It used to simply not-work, but now it not-works in film-noir, with me surreptitiously picking up the phone and whispering “Operator? Operator? Cheryl? Connect me to the station. Operator? Cheryl?” while the bad guy walks back in the room with corkscrew he stepped out, to open the bottle of wine we are going to toast his newly revealed criminal success with, and he just starts laughing at me because I am so stupid to think he would have a working phone after his big reveal. Yeah, there’s a story, and a backstory, and even the phone operator has a name, which I know, because of course I know all the telephone operators’ names as the chief detective in 1925. But it’s still the same lousy dream! You’ve just dressed it up, but I’m still stymied at the end.”
“What were you expecting?”
“Well, something new, at least.”
“What about the balloon? You haven’t dreamed about being in a balloon at the edge of space before. I checked. Fifteen years ago you watched a music video that had video footage from Project Excelsior, where Joseph Kittinger jumped from the edge of space, but you’d never dreamed about it, and I thought it would be a new sensation for you—"
“That’s not new, it’s still a falling dream!”
“Sure, but I didn’t have much choice in that.”
“What do you mean?! You’re the scriptwriter!”
“You think scriptwriters just make up whatever they want for clients? Don’t take a job at Hollywood if that’s what you think it is. It’s always ‘I need a script about X, but it needs Y and Z, with a bit of Q,’ which is completely the opposite of X. I wrote dreams for a guy in Los Angeles for a while, and he stole them and tried to sell them to the movie companies.” His face clouded, and his voice got quieter and more intense. “Still burns me up they didn’t buy them, though. Would’ve been great. ‘Too risky,’ they said, ‘feels like one long dream sequence.’”
Then, looking back at Bob, he said, “Look, you haven’t been giving me a lot of choice here. All day long you get frustrated at your boss for not recognizing your talents, and frustrated at your employees for doing it wrong, then frustrated with your kids at home. So all I get to do are dreams about frustration. I could invent new ways for you to get frustrated, but I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I figured you’d catch on that you’re frustrated and do something about that, but not yet. You gotta deal with your stuff, man. Share your dreams with your boss. Talk to your employees to figure out why they never measure up. Who knows, maybe you’d find the problem is your high expectations.” The imp paused. “But at least you’re vividly frustrated,” he said, gesturing to the work on the desk.
“Wait, so I make an offhand comment about a scriptwriter and I find I really do have a new scriptwriter, and then you tell me that I actually write my dreams like I thought in the first place? What do you actually do, anyway?”
The imp leaned back in his chair, sipped some coffee, reached in his jacket and pulled out a cylindrical metal rod, about as thick as a thumb in the same motion as he leaned forward over the desk. “I just reveal that to you,” and in a fluid motion he picked up a pair of sunglasses from the desk, put them on, and pressed the flashy-thingy.
The next morning Bob told Sarah, “I had this weird dream last night, but all I remember is this sense that maybe my dreams are trying to tell me something.”
“Like you’re frustrated for most of the day? I could have told you that six months ago!”
Some time later, Bob walked in the attic room. The imp was not there, and the place was tidied up. Bob looked around a bit in surprise, but quickly realized what was going on. He leisurely made himself a cup of tea (try something new), then sat down at the desk. He flipped through the glass squares, which seemed to be engraved kind of like one of those Chinese bottles painted on the inside. He put a few down on the desk, took up an empty square on the right, and started to paint.