Dreams are the latest drugs, Dreamers are the junkies, and The Sandman is the dealer. You pay in nightmares.
Characters (especially this Sandman) belong to me, as well as the concept of Dreams as drugs and Dreamers being addicts.
This was written for a writing exercise, but prepare to see them in a future novel of mine.
Donnie kept his Dreams tucked away in the back-pocket of his jeans. Whatever jeans he was wearing, he'd switch the Dreams over. He'd never lose them. He'd only run out, and he knew where to get more. His fingers would tremble with anticipation throughout the whole day, until he got home from college – or from hanging out with the Oneiroi.
He'd wait – and then he'd wait some more.
First his Ma would go up to bed, shortly followed by his father who always thought he was being coy in his lecherous ambitions. It was no wonder Donnie's Ma always had a headache.
"Don't go to bed too late, son," Donnie's father would tell him nightly. "It isn't good for a boy your age to be sleep-deprived. Girls don't want someone who can only sleep in the sack."
Donnie agreed wholeheartedly: he didn't even want himself sleeping 'in the sack'. Dreams were what it was all about. He and his father shared only one common interest – they both wanted something in bed.
If it were up to me, Donnie thought, I'd be in bed as much as my dad wishes he was.
He would wait for the voices of his Ma and father to reverberate from the cavern of their room; die down, and be shortly followed by the sound of snoring.
Then he'd take the Dreams from his pocket and unfold a strip of them. He'd smooth them out and lay them on the coffee-table, peering with admiration at each small square tab. In the centre of each square was a circle with the colours of the rainbow spiralling out. There were three tabs per strip, and the cost was a nightmare.
He'd lick his finger and press it down on a tab before transferring his finger to his tongue. His synapses quickened, jolting his mind into a colour-spectrum that surpassed his brain's usual capacity for colour. His pupils dilated and the living-room was removed from existence: all that was and all that had ever been was colour and vision and the sound of existence. It roared inside his head, and then he lost all grip of himself – he was everything and was without a need for a physical form. The Spectrum would take care of him.
And then he was back in his house, in his body, in his head. The Spectrum vanished as quick as it had arrived, but it left no trace of itself. You had it entirely while you were in a Dream, but the moment it ended was the moment you woke up.
The Dreams were always vivid, exciting and beautiful. And so very real. You weren't considered a genuine Dreamer if you didn't know what you were doing, and Donnie considered himself genuine. The Dreams were always safe: you were never in any danger while in The Spectrum, but while you lost all thought of yourself, your body still reacted in the physical world. It was risky for sleepwalkers to Dream – once you were in The Spectrum you weren't getting out of it until the Dream's over – and it was simple stupidity for someone not to put themselves to bed before taking a Dream, sleepwalker or not: physical reactions became over-exaggerated and sloppy – arms would flail, legs would kick, tongues would occasionally get bitten. At least in a bed and wrapped up in a quilt a Dreamer's actions would be relatively limited, but if some idiot (usually newcomers to Dreaming, or teenagers showing off to their mates) took a tab, they'd lash out and appear as if they were having a fit… there were rumours that a couple of people had fallen in front of cars before they'd hit the ground.
Donnie was no fool. He knew the risks, but he knew how to play it safe – as safe as you could make yourself. He would wrap himself up in a thin quilt, and then another thicker quilt around that, with only his head and an arm showing. That one arm never did much damage, but he had woken up a few times with bruised knuckles where his hand had hit at the wall throughout the night. He could only hope that each morning he'd wake up with his tongue intact.
Donnie picked the strip of tabs up from the coffee-table with fingers that trembled with the reverence of a saint. Then he was off to bed.
The tabs were gone come sun-up.
The Sandman was the one you wanted to go to when you needed a Dream.
He could be found in the shadows of any building, lurking like a phantom in an opera-house; he could be discovered at night-fall, when the sun had gone down and left the world parentless and cold.
But it was always more convenient for Donnie to meet him in the daylight.
He always seemed to find The Sandman by the same telephone-pole, off the corner of Elm Avenue and near the monoliths of derelict buildings, standing like crumbling giants.
Donnie thought it good of the man that he could be easily found, even if the police who remained in the City never seemed to have a clue where he was.
"My boy, how are you doing?"
The Sandman's face was tanned, and his eyes were obscured by dark glasses. He was a tall man with broad shoulders whose shadow always seemed to be trying to climb up the nearest building. Ice-white hair threw a web over his shoulders and down his back.
"I'm good, Sandman, but I'm chasing," Donnie answered.
The Sandman grinned and a shadow slithered up his cheekbones.
"How much are you looking for?"
"The usual 3-bit strip. I can't afford many nightmares – they make me itch all over for a week."
The Sandman chuckled like he had syrup stuck in his throat.
"People've had it worse from me, boy," The Sandman purred and sounded like a growling tiger. "One man had a go at scratching his eyes out for a Dream."
Donnie bit his lip, struck with the rare thought of what he did for Dreams. But The Sandman wouldn't accept any other mode of payment – not flesh, not cash. Nightmares and Dreams were what he traded in. He gave one, you got the other, though Donnie was willing to bet that not many people sold a Dream to The Sandman for a nightmare back.
"Look here, fresh in."
From inside the pocket of his coat (scraps of fur sewn to one another, making up a multi-animal tapestry) The Sandman took out a wallet and opened it up. Held behind a clear pocket were strips of Dreams, all in threes.
"I can only sell you what you want, and they're here if you want them."
Donnie looked at the bright tabs and had a brief daydream of what life would be like without Dreams. Boring.
He wanted the explosion of colours that The Spectrum brought, and he revelled in the tab dissolving on his tongue before he was thrown from his mind and into a Dream.
The Sandman was smirking and his teeth gleamed victoriously, in lieu of his shaded eyes.
"Yeah, I want 'em."
"Good." The Sandman draped an arm around Donnie's shoulders and led him into the nearest Titan of a building, painted an ugly prawn-pink that was peeling and slowly curling down the walls. "This won't hurt a bit."