Saturday, February 09, 2013

On the Far Side of a Very Thin Curtain

On the phone one day with my friend Annette, I told her I would either send her a copy of my notes about this or, if the hastily scibbled notes weren't entirely legible, I would post about it here. This is that post. It's a long one. I won't hold it against you if you choose to skip it.

The events described in the following account are entirely fictional, although the human beings referenced exist in real life. Explanations of some portions of this story can be found in the footnotes.


My adolescent daughters and I were on vacation and were staying at a cabin in the woods. The cabin was built of boards, not logs, and was basically a big square, laid out into two main areas: an L-shaped living room/kitchen combination and a single bedroom behind the sparsely furnished living area. The entire time we were there I never saw the inside of the bedroom.

Immediately after our arrival, we dropped our bags inside the cabin and headed outdoors to explore. There was a grassy, cleared space directly in front of the cabin, but beyond that in all directions we were surrounded by tall trees, mostly evergreens. A path at the edge of the cleared space led to a nearby lake, one that was within walking distance, or so we'd been told. We never made it to the lake, either.

While we explored that first afternoon, staying in sight of each other but not together, I was startled when my younger daughter, Kelli, came toward me with a strange-looking animal1 held carefully in her outstretched hands. "Look what I found, Mom!" she hollered. I shouted for her to put it down, but she held on and brought it closer to give me a good look at it. It appeared to be some kind of reptile, either a short, fat snake or a legless lizard. It was about two feet long and shaped rather like a carrot, as thick as my calf at its head, tapering to a narrow, pointed tail. There were horizontal stripes around its body from head to tail, wide bands that shaded from light brown edges to a much darker center. The most distinctive feature of the animal was an image on its back, just behind its head. It was the image of a coiled snake, an image so sharp and detailed it almost appeared to have been tattooed there. The creature seemed to be neither frightened by the fact that Kelli was holding it nor threatening to her in any way, but it's ugliness--and its two rows of sharp teeth--suggested to me that it could be dangerous. At my insistence Kelli put it down.

We continued our exploration of the woods. Over the course of a couple more hours we saw at least another dozen of the strange creatures, all with the coiled-snake image on their backs. They were too short and fat to slither; instead they propelled themselves across the forest floor by flipping from one side to the other, fishlike. We stayed out of their way.

On our second day of vacation we ventured out again, occasionally encountering other people in the woods. At one point Kelli told me she had talked to a local man about the animal she'd picked up the day before and had learned that it was called a Melungeon.2 That word was familiar to me but not in the context of an animal. I gave Kelli a questioning look and started to say something. "I know, Mom," she interrupted. "It's not the same thing. This one is spelled with two L's -- M-E-L-L-U-N-G-E-O-N."

As Kelli and I were having that conversation, Kim suddenly burst through the trees, her cupped hands spilling over with brilliantly colored jewels: necklaces, bracelets, and a variety of loose stones.3 Her eyes were huge, as was her excitement. "I found these in the hollow of a tree," she exclaimed. We held each lovely piece up to the diminishing sunlight, admiring their collective beauty while we debated what we should do about them. With darkness rapidly approaching, we took them back to the cabin to discuss the situation further.

Later, after dinner, we heard an unusual noise outside. I opened the front door and was stunned to see dozens of what I thought were insects gathered on the ground near the doorstep. They were every imaginable color and looked to me like large, wingless grasshoppers. They seemed to crouch close to the ground, then leap into the air, and as we watched, they made their way inside. They continued to leap, now leaping onto us and biting whatever body part they landed on. The bites, though painful, did no lasting damage, and after a few frightening moments, all of the insects left the same way they had come in, through the front door.

After a restless night, the girls and I went out the next day to check out the area where Kim had found the treasure. We looked in trees and under bushes, and we did find more of it. Frankly, it hadn't been hidden all that carefully. We had decided that we would take all the jewels to the local sheriff at the end of our stay; in the meantime, we'd look for more of them. Treasure hunting had become the unexpected highlight of our vacation.

That night was a repeat of the night before: the grasshoppers came back. This time we were ready for them. I had found a flyswatter in the kitchen, and I put it into action. As the grasshoppers leaped, I swung the flyswatter, succeeding in knocking several of them out of the air. A few of those crawled to the door, but one fell right in front of me. I bent down for a closer look and was shocked. These were not grasshoppers. They were tiny, four-inch people, dressed in tiny modern clothing. The one I was inspecting4 had the dark skin and features of an African-American. He was wearing khaki cargo pants, a red-plaid shirt, brown work boots, and a tan driving cap. I left him there on the floor and went in search of a jar to put him in, desperately wanting to show this specimen to someone knowledgeable. A couple minutes later, when I came back with the jar, he was gone. All of them were gone.

Somehow, during that second episode, I had begun to suspect that the grasshopper-people were there because of the jewels. I knew we were in for a great deal of trouble unless we could figure out what was the right thing to do. Should we just hand all the jewels over to the grasshopper-people, or should we take them to the sheriff first thing in the morning and tell him the whole story?

I sat down, my head in my hands, and tried to think. It occurred to me then to call someone who might be able to help me understand what I was dealing with. I called a highly intelligent friend, Scott.5 Scott knows a lot about a lot of things. I told him about  everything that had happened, including the Mellungeons and the tiny leaping people, and asked him if he knew anything at all about creatures like that. Scott was silent for a moment before he answered, then he said he did not know about them but didn't doubt their existence. He continued in a somber tone, "I've read enough Stephen King to know that there's a very thin curtain between our world and the others."


That's it. I'm sure that if you've read this far, you've figured out that these fictional events happened in a dream, and Scott's statement about other worlds is where I woke up. The dream was entertaining enough that I tried my hardest to go back to sleep and continue the adventure, but I couldn't do it. Instead, I got up and wrote everything down while it was fresh. I began at the end, while I could still remember Scott's eerie declaration word for word. Those words struck me so funny that I did not want to forget them.

Now, the whole point of this post, the question I want to raise, is how weird are our sleeping brains to come up with this kind of stuff? I can put my finger immediately on what lies beneath certain parts of this dream, but it cracks me up that the sleeping brain--the "dreamweaver" if you will--can pull up random bits of information it has stored and weave them together into such a bizarre scenario. This is where the footnotes come in:

1 The creature Kelli was holding looked very much like a reptile version of an Atlantic Wolffish (see the top one in this image), without the tail and the fins, but with the delightful addition of a coiled-snake "tattoo." I had a frightening personal encounter with a wolffish many years ago when we were surf-fishing near Miami. A three-foot-long one swam toward me in clear water, sharp teeth flashing, sending me high-stepping out of the knee-high surf at a speed that sent my husband and children into gales of laughter. Let's just say I now recognize a wolffish, even one wearing a disguise.

2 Also many years ago, I read a long article about Melungeons, a mixed-ethnic group with only one L in its name. It was an interesting article, but not one I've thought about any time in recent memory. Still, even in a dream state I recognized that the animal Kelli was holding was not what I understood a Melungeon to be. There is apparently some logical part of the brain that monitors dreams and says, "Tsk-tsk!" when it catches an obvious error. In this case I have to give the dreamweaver credit for quick thinking in amending the story to cover up the mistake. How clever: add an extra L--and spell out the whole word for good measure.

3 These were not your typical jewels. Their intense colors and distinctive shapes were familiar to my wide-awake self. I see jewels like these several times a week when I take a break to listen to music and play Bejeweled 3. Kudos to the dreamweaver for mounting most of those blatantly artificial stones into wearable necklaces and bracelets. Nice touch.

4 In the dream I didn't know the tiny grasshopper-man whom I knocked out of the air with the flyswatter, but upon waking I recognized him instantly and was delighted that he'd made a guest appearance in my dream. He was Emilio, a favorite fashion designer from Project Runway All-Stars, which I watched faithfully. Apparently the dreamweaver did a little custom-designing of its own, creating a special "woodsy" outfit for Emilio to wear in the dream.

5 My friend Scott is the husband of my good friend, Annette, who blogs at Writing My Novel. He's a smart guy, and he does know a lot about a lot of things. I don't know if I would have called him in real life to consult about Mellungeons and piles of jewels and grasshopper-people, but I suppose it's possible. (Highly possible, now that I'm doing a quick mental run-through of all the people I know and eliminating those who for sure wouldn't know about such strange things.) Anyway, I can guaran-damn-tee you that if I had called Scott with questions about those things, he would not have referenced Stephen King as the reigning expert on factual other-worlds. Scott would have referred to a scientist. The dreamweaver clearly didn't know or consider Scott's reading habits (nor do I) but, knowing what a King fan I am, threw in what must have seemed like a deal-clencher. Unfortunately, hearing Scott make a statement that was at once so profound and so absurd tickled the non-dreaming part of my brain enough that I laughed out loud and woke myself up.

Most of the time I don't remember my dreams. Sometimes I do. Sometimes they're so much fun I'd buy tickets to see them again. What about you? Do you dissect your dreams to see what they're made of?

UPDATE - February 12, 2013
Well, I'm laughing again, because I just found the source of the coiled-snake "tattoo" on the Mellungeons. It's on an album cover, and it just now popped up on my computer screen when a certain iTunes song began to play. I listen to iTunes frequently while I'm at the computer but don't consciously look at what's playing. My subconscious apparently does pay attention--and takes notes.

Dreamweaver, you are SO funny!


  1. All I want to know is when are you going to write a novel? Stephen King's got nothing on you!

  2. You have more ESP than you realize. Scott is a huge science fiction/fantasy fan and reads it avidly. I know he's totally flattered to be in your dreams. What a great story!


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