Right away I knew something was up because they called instead of texting. “I had a dream, can I come over?” It was the morning after the winter solstice. I’d gone to bed super late but was already awake, lying in bed in my ancient Urban Outfitters shirt dress that was full of holes. I couldn’t remember the last time they (or anyone for that matter) hung out at my place. And in our entire friendship we’d never seen one another this early. They always got up before dawn but spent the time alone, meditating or staring at the liquid green leaves of their plants or sitting on the front stoop of their building. They said the colors of the world were special in the morning light. The hazy shadows held the possibility of magic, even in Bushwick. This quality lasted until 11, which is why I never arrived earlier than that. A break in protocol could only mean something big had happened. Of course! I said, come over, secretly thrilled at the chance to take care of them in a time of need. But when I opened the door, the first thing they did was give me a hug, which shocked me, as we barely touched. They kept asking me how I was, over and over. Fine, fine, I told them, as I gave them a coffee cup full of water. I felt awkward. I looked at the dingy clutter all around us and didn’t know which seat to offer them—the wobbly chairs were uncomfortable, and my sunken couch was covered in blankets and flattened pillows. They solved the issue by taking the cup and immediately sitting on the fake parquet floor, crossing their legs into the lotus position. With their usual glacial movements, they opened the hip bag they wore slung across their chest and took out a hand carved, Birchwood pipe that I’d never seen before. They packed it with ground mapacho that looked black in the white bowl, and sat puffing on the floor beneath my ancient dust coated halogen lamp that shone upon them like a spotlight.
“Are you OK?” I asked, when it was already clear they were fine.
“I’m good, SWIM. But different. The dream fixed me.”
“Fixed you how?”
“It healed the grief I’ve carried with me—ever since finding out about Mica. The terrible blame and fucked up anger I’d felt—which I had misdirected at the Prophet Motive, so much so that I legit fantasized about rolling into his East Village apartment and pissing on his couch.”
To this they chuckled.
“Can you believe I really wanted to do that, SWIM?”
I gave them a long look. It was strange to hear them say my name. I despaired that this was some new excuse to reconnect with the Prophet Motive and the rest of the fucked up New Age cult they were a part of for so many years.
“Tell me about the dream,” I said, and although my bias was a nearly perfect fortress, which should have caused me to have missed the whole thing, the white smoke from their pipe curled up and around my head, carrying the unspoken true message of the dream past my cherished mental blockades.
(and the same thing will happen for you, the invisible smoke curling up out of the screen and into the in between places, waiting for your permission to be activated)
“I was late for a flight and running through a large, white airport, looking up at the signs to find the right ticket counter, which I did, but the person working there didn’t speak English. My Spanish was busted, just like in real life. Everything was in the present tense… and I racked my brain for the right words. But the weird thing was that I could understand everything the person said. They were telling me I had to go to a place outside that was adjacent to the airport. There were people there who would help me. But where exactly? They spread out a paper map on the counter that was old and faded and half disintegrated, like a treasure map in a movie. They pointed to it and then pointed outside but as usual with maps it all just seemed like gibberish to me. They told me I had to hurry so I figured fuck it and grabbed my stuff and went outside. I stumbled along the side of the building, past a long line of people waiting with their luggage. The line was so long it seemed to go on forever. It snaked along and disappeared into the distance. Was I meant to wait here as well? As I trudged along in the wet, oppressive heat, I saw my brother waiting with the others. He was slumped headfirst over his luggage. His shirt was pulled up and hanging around his shoulders. Many others were in a similar position. I thought, they’ve been waiting so long they fell asleep. I shook his arm until he sat up. As always around him, I became officious and dictatorial as a result of my deep-seeded need to take care of him. I told him I was going to figure out what was going on with our flight and that he should wait here for me to get him. He nodded, dazedly, perhaps wondering why I woke him up. I continued on, walking for what seemed like forever. In the distance I could see a tarmac filled with planes pointing in different directions and lined with palm trees. I thought to myself, we must be near the jungle, which made sense because my brother was there and that was the only place we went to together. We were on our way to do ceremony. The palm trees were the key. That's it, I thought, but something was still off. Maybe the trees are the key, but to something else? It was then that I noticed a door in the airport building and walked inside.
I should mention that all of this figuring out was happening just like it would in real life. My thoughts and my body felt really real, for instance the weight of the heat on my sinus cavities.
I entered a large room with cream colored walls and soft lighting. The walls had a bumpy texture like the stucco walls in doctor’s offices I used to love/hate to touch as a kid, but these walls were much older than that. They exuded a coolness, some ancient technology at work. The whole room was calming. Is this still the airport? I wondered. There were long shelves along one wall with a few objects on them that I couldn’t make out. And there were people milling about, wearing long golden colored robes and flitting about in the corner of my eye and moving out of view before I could get a good look. But one of them hung out a little longer—occasionally letting me see them straight on. But only for an instant. It was an old white, bearded person who I immediately knew was Philip K. Dick. I was certain of it. And I’m still certain of it now, homie. He was formidable, stocky… but also serene with kind eyes. His hair and beard were pure white and very soft looking. He looked like what he might have looked like had he lived to be an old man—had he lived till today. He never spoke but he smiled a Mona Lisa half-smile. It made me so happy—his smile seemed to be an aspect of the message being beamed into my mind. When I woke, I could still see his gentle shining eyes filled with kindness.
He conveyed directly to my mind that he wanted me to climb up a ladder and bring something down off the top shelf. The shelf was so high up I couldn’t see what it was until I carefully climbed the thin yet sturdy ladder. It was a large scroll, at least I thought it was a scroll but when I got it down it was more like a tied-up pile of pages. They were brown with age and thin and crinkly like onion skin. As I sat across from PKD on the floor, I was at first holding the bundle, but then it was gone and he was leaning over to give it to me. He made me understand--without words--only that half smile and kind, sparkling eyes--that my assistance was in some way required to finish these writings.”
I raised my eyebrows when Odious said this last part. I didn’t think they would see it but they did.
“I’m not the only one”, they said, picking up on my discomfort. “This is not a one-person mission, that’s the whole point.”
“I didn’t say anything,” I said, which was true, but I’d thought it.
Here at the most important part of the dream, I couldn't help but harbor ugly thoughts:
And now here comes the thing about being a sci-fi writer. I’m going to hear about it all the time. When that’s me, I’m the actual sci-fi writer. The one with a Netflix show and everything.
“Go on," I said.
I waited for what came next, the big moment, in which their new mission as a writer was completely laid out and consecrated, but it turned out the dream was pretty much over. Or at least they were done telling it. They were shown out of the room and back into the unforgiving sunlight which turned out to be the light streaming in from the window in their bedroom.
“Why couldn’t the whole world be like that room”, they asked me a little later, “soft and chill and mostly empty?” When they got back to their place later that morning, they gathered the majority of their clothes and books and furniture and had them picked up by a refugee center. They stripped their apartment down to the essentials of one futon couch, a desk and cocktail table. And screens. In addition to the ones they already had, after the dream they got a bigger big screen and an extra mid-size screen in the form of an iPad…and eventually a projector for their MAC and an old fashioned movie screen they found at a flea market.
Much to my chagrin, they threw out the squadron of plush bean bags we chilled in to watch movies during the first part of the pandemic. The pile of fleece blankets was also tossed and replaced with a single throw pillow.
"I’ll be fine on the floor," they said, nodding to the meditation pillow.
Those few hours at my place had been an intermezzo. The time in between “before” and “after”. For someone who didn’t believe in linear time, it was necessary for Odious to engage in physical theater to make a point.
They were clearing the space to receive and analyze transmissions.
Image: Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away, 2001