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Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! Often, before I learned, did I wonder whence
came the multitudes of pictures that thronged my dreams; for they were
pictures the like of which I had never seen in real wake-a-day life. They
tormented my childhood, making of my dreams a procession of nightmares and
a little later convincing me that I was different from my kind, a creature
unnatural and accursed.
In my days only did I attain any measure of happiness. My nights marked
the reign of fear—and such fear! I make bold to state that no man of
all the men who walk the earth with me ever suffer fear of like kind and
degree. For my fear is the fear of long ago, the fear that was rampant in
the Younger World, and in the youth of the Younger World. In short, the
fear that reigned supreme in that period known as the Mid-Pleistocene.
What do I mean? I see explanation is necessary before I can tell you of
the substance of my dreams. Otherwise, little could you know of the
meaning of the things I know so well. As I write this, all the beings and
happenings of that other world rise up before me in vast phantasmagoria,
and I know that to you they would be rhymeless and reasonless.
What to you the friendship of Lop-Ear, the warm lure of the Swift One, the
lust and the atavism of Red-Eye? A screaming incoherence and no more. And
a screaming incoherence, likewise, the doings of the Fire People and the
Tree People, and the gibbering councils of the horde. For you know not the
peace of the cool caves in the cliffs, the circus of the drinking-places
at the end of the day. You have never felt the bite of the morning wind in
the tree-tops, nor is the taste of young bark sweet in your mouth.
It would be better, I dare say, for you to make your approach, as I made
mine, through my childhood. As a boy I was very like other boys—in
my waking hours. It was in my sleep that I was different. From my earliest
recollection my sleep was a period of terror. Rarely were my dreams
tinctured with happiness. As a rule, they were stuffed with fear—and
with a fear so strange and alien that it had no ponderable quality. No
fear that I experienced in my waking life resembled the fear that
possessed me in my sleep. It was of a quality and kind that transcended
all my experiences.
For instance, I was a city boy, a city child, rather, to whom the country
was an unexplored domain. Yet I never dreamed of cities; nor did a house
ever occur in any of my dreams. Nor, for that matter, did any of my human
kind ever break through the wall of my sleep. I, who had seen trees only
in parks and illustrated books, wandered in my sleep through interminable
forests. And further, these dream trees were not a mere blur on my vision.
They were sharp and distinct. I was on terms of practised intimacy with
them. I saw every branch and twig; I saw and knew every different leaf.
Well do I remember the first time in my waking life that I saw an oak
tree. As I looked at the leaves and branches and gnarls, it came to me
with distressing vividness that I had seen that same kind of tree many and
countless times in my sleep. So I was not surprised, still later on in my
life, to recognize instantly, the first time I saw them, trees such as the
spruce, the yew, the birch, and the laurel. I had seen them all before,
and was seeing them even then, every night, in my sleep.
This, as you have already discerned, violates the first law of dreaming,
namely, that in one's dreams one sees only what he has seen in his waking
life, or combinations of the things he has seen in his waking life. But
all my dreams violated this law. In my dreams I never saw ANYTHING of
which I had knowledge in my waking life. My dream life and my waking life
were lives apart, with not one thing in common save myself. I was the
connecting link that somehow lived both lives.
Early in my childhood I learned that nuts came from the grocer, berries
from the fruit man; but before ever that knowledge was mine, in my dreams
I picked nuts from trees, or gathered them and ate them from the ground
underneath trees, and in the same way I ate berries from vines and bushes.
This was beyond any experience of mine.
I shall never forget the first time I saw blueberries served on the table.
I had never seen blueberries before, and yet, at the sight of them, there
leaped up in my mind memories of dreams wherein I had wandered through
swampy land eating my fill of them. My mother set before me a dish of the
berries. I filled my spoon, but before I raised it to my mouth I knew just
how they would taste. Nor was I disappointed. It was the same tang that I
had tasted a thousand times in my sleep.
Snakes? Long before I had heard of the existence of snakes, I was
tormented by them in my sleep. They lurked for me in the forest glades;
leaped up, striking, under my feet; squirmed off through the dry grass or
across naked patches of rock; or pursued me into the tree-tops, encircling
the trunks with their great shining bodies, driving me higher and higher
or farther and farther out on swaying and crackling branches, the ground a
dizzy distance beneath me. Snakes!—with their forked tongues, their
beady eyes and glittering scales, their hissing and their rattling—did
I not already know them far too well on that day of my first circus when I
saw the snake-charmer lift them up?
They were old friends of mine, enemies rather, that peopled my nights with
Ah, those endless forests, and their horror-haunted gloom! For what
eternities have I wandered through them, a timid, hunted creature,
starting at the least sound, frightened of my own shadow, keyed-up, ever
alert and vigilant, ready on the instant to dash away in mad flight for my
life. For I was the prey of all manner of fierce life that dwelt in the
forest, and it was in ecstasies of fear that I fled before the hunting
When I was five years old I went to my first circus. I came home from it
sick—but not from peanuts and pink lemonade. Let me tell you. As we
entered the animal tent, a hoarse roaring shook the air. I tore my hand
loose from my father's and dashed wildly back through the entrance. I
collided with people, fell down; and all the time I was screaming with
terror. My father caught me and soothed me. He pointed to the crowd of
people, all careless of the roaring, and cheered me with assurances of
Nevertheless, it was in fear and trembling, and with much encouragement on
his part, that I at last approached the lion's cage. Ah, I knew him on the
instant. The beast! The terrible one! And on my inner vision flashed the
memories of my dreams,—the midday sun shining on tall grass, the
wild bull grazing quietly, the sudden parting of the grass before the
swift rush of the tawny one, his leap to the bull's back, the crashing and
the bellowing, and the crunch crunch of bones; or again, the cool quiet of
the water-hole, the wild horse up to his knees and drinking softly, and
then the tawny one—always the tawny one!—the leap, the
screaming and the splashing of the horse, and the crunch crunch of bones;
and yet again, the sombre twilight and the sad silence of the end of day,
and then the great full-throated roar, sudden, like a trump of doom, and
swift upon it the insane shrieking and chattering among the trees, and I,
too, am trembling with fear and am one of the many shrieking and
chattering among the trees.
At the sight of him, helpless, within the bars of his cage, I became
enraged. I gritted my teeth at him, danced up and down, screaming an
incoherent mockery and making antic faces. He responded, rushing against
the bars and roaring back at me his impotent wrath. Ah, he knew me, too,
and the sounds I made were the sounds of old time and intelligible to him.
My parents were frightened. "The child is ill," said my mother. "He is
hysterical," said my father. I never told them, and they never knew.
Already had I developed reticence concerning this quality of mine, this
semi-disassociation of personality as I think I am justified in calling
I saw the snake-charmer, and no more of the circus did I see that night. I
was taken home, nervous and overwrought, sick with the invasion of my real
life by that other life of my dreams.
I have mentioned my reticence. Only once did I confide the strangeness of
it all to another. He was a boy—my chum; and we were eight years
old. From my dreams I reconstructed for him pictures of that vanished
world in which I do believe I once lived. I told him of the terrors of
that early time, of Lop-Ear and the pranks we played, of the gibbering
councils, and of the Fire People and their squatting places.
He laughed at me, and jeered, and told me tales of ghosts and of the dead
that walk at night. But mostly did he laugh at my feeble fancy. I told him
more, and he laughed the harder. I swore in all earnestness that these
things were so, and he began to look upon me queerly. Also, he gave
amazing garblings of my tales to our playmates, until all began to look
upon me queerly.
It was a bitter experience, but I learned my lesson. I was different from
my kind. I was abnormal with something they could not understand, and the
telling of which would cause only misunderstanding. When the stories of
ghosts and goblins went around, I kept quiet. I smiled grimly to myself. I
thought of my nights of fear, and knew that mine were the real things—real
as life itself, not attenuated vapors and surmised shadows.
For me no terrors resided in the thought of bugaboos and wicked ogres. The
fall through leafy branches and the dizzy heights; the snakes that struck
at me as I dodged and leaped away in chattering flight; the wild dogs that
hunted me across the open spaces to the timber—these were terrors
concrete and actual, happenings and not imaginings, things of the living
flesh and of sweat and blood. Ogres and bugaboos and I had been happy
bed-fellows, compared with these terrors that made their bed with me
throughout my childhood, and that still bed with me, now, as I write this,
full of years.
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