Have you ever had a dream so vivid that you wondered if it actually happened?
You probably have… but shook it off, because of course it didn’t. Right? A dream under scrutiny, illuminated by the dawn, is easily dismissed. Yet, if you’ve been where I’ve been… maybe a part of you wasn’t completely convinced.
Maybe, in the course of a dream— you wandered a little too far from yourself, from your bed, body and world. Maybe you’ve been to the Dream District.
If you ever find yourself in a place to wonder… ask. He’ll tell you; he will be beautiful, friendly and inviting. He will offer you hospitality, flattery and gifts. Anything you want. He’ll know what you want, somehow.
Yet, a part of you will know, deep down: you can’t take it. Not unless you’re going to stay. But you can’t stay, it’s a dream. You don’t belong there.
If you find yourself in the Dream District, thank your host and leave. Start walking, and don’t stop until you find yourself back in the dream you were supposed to be having. Do that, and hope he doesn’t follow you.
It started with sweet potato pie.
If I had to describe it, I’d tell you it was richer than chocolate, smoother than cream and sinfully decadent. That description doesn’t do it justice. Other words come a little closer, like otherworldly or ambrosia. I feel pretentious describing anything in such terms, but I still mean them. Suffice to say, I’d never had anything so good and never would again.
The dream started in the middle of a Safeway on Thanksgiving Day. I was on a diet; that part wasn’t a dream, but it followed me there. The frustration and cravings that came with diets were hard to shake, even in my dreams.
I didn’t know I was dreaming, not at first.
Pushing an empty cart through the bakery section, I made note of everything I couldn’t have. Cookies, cakes, and doughnuts. No, no and no. As I steered the cart round every display, I repeated my mantra: “No sugar, low carbs. No sugar, low carbs.” The words became the whirring of the wheels; quickening with my footsteps when I realized I wasn’t alone.
Startled, I whirled to see a sales associate standing directly behind me. The nametag pinned to his chest said his name was Mor. Mor smiled, looking far too cheerful for someone working in customer service.
He was also surprisingly handsome, with skin clear as crystal, sleek gold hair and hypnotic emerald eyes. Everything about him reminded me of precious metals and stones. In fact, it was unnerving; like a living embodiment of photoshop: beautiful, but wrong. Beautiful, wrong, and staring intently at me.
It’s a trap, I thought. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. I backed away, ready to abandon my cart and flee– yet the impulse didn’t make sense, and I second guessed my instincts. It would be rude to run away from a gentleman who was only doing his job. There were no other customers in the store, was it any wonder he was being so attentive?
Wait. Was I really the only customer there? I looked around, uncomfortable with the sudden realization. Sure enough, it was just me, him, and all the delicious foods I couldn’t eat stacked neatly in every direction.
“Welcome.” Mor bowed in greeting, a strangely formal gesture. “There you are. Do you need help finding anything?” His voice sent a strange thrill through me, both pleasant and alarming. I shook my head.
Wait. What was I doing there?
I was trying so hard not to indulge. Why was I torturing myself? Why did I feel nervous, and even… guilty? Like I’d been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Caught on the verge of cheating on my diet! Not that Mor knew that. The word “diet” wasn’t stamped on my forehead, only on my mind.
“No, thank you.” I said, “I’m just browsing.” Browsing the baked goods, even knowing I couldn’t have them. He looked past me, peering into my empty cart. Clicking his tongue, he glanced back up at me.
“If you don’t mind my recommendation, the sweet potato pies are fresh and perfect for the holiday season. Please let me know if you need help finding anything.” He backed off a few feet, but continued to watch me.
“I’m on a diet, I can’t have that.” I admitted, “But I don’t see any diet-friendly options in here, so I’d better go.”
“You’re on a diet?” his jaw quirked, but the smile remained fixed. “There’s no need to worry about that.”
Annoyed, I gripped the handle of the shopping cart a little tighter. Holidays were the worst! No one wanted to think about dieting– so they’d go out of their way to sabotage me, giving me “permission” to indulge just because it was a special occasion. I didn’t want to hear it. “That’s not up to you.” I said.
“You misunderstand,” he said softly, “You’re in the Dream District. Whatever your worries are, you can leave them until you wake, if you ever do.”
“What?” I looked around. At first, the scene seemed like an ordinary grocery store, with glossy cement floors and incandescent yellow lights. Yet, the second I questioned it– I could see beyond the bakery, the interior gradually shifting into cobblestone streets under a lavender sky.
“Yes, miss. As you can see, you’re dreaming, there’s no need to count calories or sacrifice your sense of taste. Of course, I have to wonder… why a lovely creature such as yourself thinks she needs to be on a diet, even outside this place. You’re beautiful as you are.”
No I wasn’t. That was flattery, but I still blushed like an idiot. Of course, now that he said it… it made sense. This was my dream, and now that I knew it… I had nothing to fear.
“I’ve always wanted to lucid dream.” I said, a wave of giddiness spreading through me. I thanked the man before turning my attention to all the displays with enthusiastic interest. “What was it you recommended?”
“Ah, that would be the sweet potato pie.” He pointed to a table which suddenly appeared in front of me. Presented prettily in a glass display was a single pan of sweet potato pie. A beam of glittering light cast down upon it, like an endorsement from God. Mor stepped closer to the case, opening it and looking at me expectantly.
“Go on, don’t be shy. I know exactly what you need.” he inclined his head, but I never lost sight of his eyes; pale, unwavering emerald. “I admire the willpower it’s taken to get where you are. Isn’t it time you rewarded yourself?”
In an instant, my hesitation evaporated, giving way to gluttonous desire. I reached into the case, marveling when I felt the coolness of the pan it was housed in– delight shivered through me, my knees weak with anticipation. The intoxicating aroma wafted towards me like a beckoning hand.
“There’s nothing like it,” Mor continued his sales pitch, as if I wasn’t already sold. “You can only get it here.”
Why did that feel like a warning?
“Maybe I shouldn’t.” I said slowly, “even if this is a dream… it’s a slippery slope for me. Dieting, I mean.” Why was I explaining myself to him? Whoever he was, he wasn’t real; just a manifestation of… something. My food cravings? Somehow I didn’t think I’d find the answer in a dream dictionary.
“Why not?” he asked, tilting his head slightly. “I prepared it just for you. This is everything you want, everything you’ve denied yourself. And for what? Certainly not your happiness, or you wouldn’t be here. This is your wish.”
This wasn’t an ordinary dream. Even in that moment, I knew. My senses weren’t the clouded, hazy approximations I was accustomed to in other dreams. This was a dream that indulged all my senses. Dread drifted back in, but I shook it off. What was there to fear from a dream?
“There’s no need to hold back.”
My heart began beating loudly. I could hear it; feel the pulsing, disconcerting rhythm of it. I sucked in a staggered breath; my palms were hot but the dish was cold.
“I need a fork.” I said.
“You already have one.” Mor replied. He was right. A plastic fork was already in my hand, though it hadn’t been before. I was startled, but when I looked up at Mor he merely smiled and said:
“In a dream, anything you wish is merely a thought away.”
I knew it was a dream, but there was still something unnerving in the logic of the place. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but something felt wrong.
“I should sit down.”
“As you wish.” in a dramatic sweeping motion, he pulled out a chair for me. It was suddenly there, along with the small round table. I sat down, setting the pie tin in front of me. Pressing the tines of the fork into the soft center, I scooped up a balanced bite: a perfect union of buttery, flaky crust and creamy sweet potato filling.
I will never forget that first bite, like God forged the flavor of my deepest, darkest desires. The taste of everything I didn’t know I wanted. The end-all be-all of dessert. Of food. Of anything. The velvety dream of sweetness and spices sent a quivering thrill through me that had me moaning for more. Fortunately, there was more. As much as I wanted!
“You can only get it here.”
I took bites as fast as I could, leaning over the table to shorten the distance between myself and the pie. The fork felt like a pretense, but I didn’t lose myself enough to set it down– though the thought crossed my mind. When it was gone, I licked the plate, the fork, the table, my own lips for any stray crumbs.
Then I remembered myself, and felt Mor’s eyes upon me; the glinting green gaze was half-lidded, yet predatory with the sharp curve of his smile. Unsettled and mildly embarrassed, I straightened my back and turned in my chair to face him.
“If this is my dream… why are you here?” Mor was unsettling. Why would I dream up someone who made me uncomfortable in a lucid dream? If my wishes were only a thought away, he’d be gone.
“I said you were dreaming, I never said this was your dream.”
I laughed at the odd reply, but his expression didn’t change. The laughter stopped, sticking in my throat like a stone. I stood up from the table, and started to walk– I don’t know where I thought I was going, but I was done with Mor and his sweet potato pie. Yet, even with my clear refusal to take further part in this dream… I wanted more.
For the first time in a long time, I was satisfied. I left the store, walking down the cobblestone path and merging in that hazy, dreamlike way into the next chapter of sleep… I could still feel Mor watching me, a feeling I couldn’t shake until I was awake.
When I sat up in bed, I knew something was wrong.
The haze that filled me wasn’t a typical early-morning daze; it was heavier, colder and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Sliding out from under the covers, my stomach shuddered with an audible growl. I was hungry. My stomach hadn’t been fooled by the dream, after all. Was that why I felt… off?
Instead of racing to the kitchen for breakfast, I forced myself through my morning routine. That strange funk didn’t fade, but I didn’t have a fever. When I opened the fridge and peered inside, nothing looked appealing to me. If I’m being honest, that wasn’t unusual… my diet wasn’t exciting. I’d been low-carb no-sugar for a good six months.
I peppered a hard boiled egg, but despite the firm whites and crumbly yolk… sawdust. It was like eating sawdust, in both texture and taste! That didn’t make sense. Even if the eggs were spoiled, that wasn’t right. They looked okay, even smelled as expected– but the second the egg touched my tongue… it was wrong. All wrong!
A second bite confirmed it. Spitting it out and throwing all the eggs away, I rummaged for something else. Nothing sounded good, but I was starving! I tried the salad next, but the results were the same: sawdust. I choked, coughing the wilted greens into the sink before vomiting.
Nothing in the fridge or cupboards was edible. My hunger howled at me to find something, anything! But only one thing sounded good: sweet potato pie.
“You can only get it here.” Mor’s voice brought a little color into the room, quickly fading when I realized I’d imagined it. I was awake and alone, but I knew what I needed.
Grabbing my car keys, I left the house. Rushing to the Safeway, I scoured the bakery. The pies weren’t housed in glass cases or bathed in sparkling pillars of light, but they were still easy to find. The pastries were imperfect, with crusts cracked and crumbling. The filling wasn’t the right color either.
It didn’t matter. I was drooling. I bought them all! I tore into a pie as soon as I got into my car. I couldn’t even wait to get home! I didn’t have a fork, but that didn’t stop me. I used my fingers! Scooping up a heaping mouthful and drawing it to my dry, eager mouth– only to start sobbing into the steering wheel. Like everything else I’d eaten that day… sawdust.
“I know what you need. You know it, too.”
I needed to sleep.
With the words came color, and a flash of taste… but it faded as soon as the thought did. After my tears, I threw the pies into the parking lot and took myself back home. Had a dream really destroyed my sense of taste? Would it come back?
It was ridiculous. I knew it, but nothing seemed as good as it once was. Not just taste, but colors, textures and sounds– all seemed lacking in ways I’d never noticed before.
I called the doctor and made an appointment, but I knew this wasn’t something medicine could fix. By noon, I crawled back into bed and prayed into my pillow for sleep to take me back to that place, to that dream. The Dream District.
Hunger made it hard to sleep, but when I did…
“I knew you would be back.”
Mor found me, a ray of light in an otherwise dark and colorless dream. The details around us didn’t matter, just the warmth of the hand he extended. I took it, and followed him from dream to dream until my bare feet touched sun-warmed cobblestone under a cool lavender sky.
“I’m hungry.” I whimpered. “I need more.”
“I know. I’m here. I’ll give you exactly what you need.”
The knowing gleam in his green eyes should have infuriated or alarmed me, but I was too desperate to care. It was already too late for me. Now that I’d tasted that sweet potato pie, I couldn’t eat anything else.
“Now that you’ve proven it to yourself, there’s no reason for you to leave.” he held something out to me. Without even looking, I knew what it was. Sweet potato pie. The culmination of every craving I’d ever felt, every morsel I’d ever denied myself in every delectable mouthful.
I found myself on all fours, far too eager to bother with utensils or even my hands. I chewed wildly with abandon, even tearing through the tin with my teeth once I’d eaten my way through that dreamy, creamy filling. There was something about this pie that satisfied me more than anything else ever had. It wasn’t an indulgence, it was a need.
When I woke up, I cried. Consciousness felt like a curse. I wanted to go back. The world outside of dreams was overrated, without color or flavor.
It gets worse with every dream, a slow spiral into bleak madness. My only respite is dreams, even knowing I’m only dooming myself a little more with every bite. Each day became a race to bedtime, with the window growing shorter and shorter– consequences be damned. I lost my job, my home, my everything… and I didn’t care, because I didn’t need any of that. I just needed a place to lay my head. A place to dream. I can do that anywhere.
“Why should you ever wake again?”
I don’t eat anymore. Not when I’m awake. Though I tried to choke down the sawdust, knowing I’d die if I didn’t… I can’t.
There’s a tarnished silver lining though; I’ve lost a lot of weight. I look better than I ever have. I’m a real Sleeping Beauty, aren’t I?
I know how wrong it is. I promise I do, but recognizing the trap I’ve fallen into doesn’t save me from it. My fate is sealed, but at least I’m lucid enough to share my cautionary tale. Maybe, in the course of a dream– you’ll do what I couldn’t, and say no to Mor, and others like him.
I’m going back to bed now, hopefully for the last time. I’m weak, I’m tired, but most of all…