The Lucid Dream
Immediately, after rinsing my face in the water provided for our tent, I sat my shield aside, tucked my gladius by the goatskin, and crawled into my pallet. I didn’t even bother unfastening the muddy boots from my feet. Geta was already asleep. Caesarius murmured sleepily “I’m proud of you lad.” I muttered my appreciation as I lay down my head. In a short while I expected Abzug to return from his watch. I hoped he wouldn’t wake us up. As a comforting blanket in my mind came the thought of my great white horse. I wondered fleetingly, as I had earlier in the evening, whether or not I would have another lucid dream. If so, I hoped it would be a pleasant one. I was so exhausted I might just drift into the black sleep. The sick feeling I had after drinking so much wine had faded and was replaced by sore joints, an aching back, and dull pain in my head. I could scarcely concentrate on my horse or place myself in the desired dreamscape, and yet I managed at least to visualize my steed. I had, after so many years of dreaming about him, never given him a name. He was simply the “great white horse”—a larger than life version of other horses I had seen among the Romans riding through my town. Since I had named both of my mules, it seemed only fitting that he have a fine name. What shall it be, I wondered, as I resisted sleep? Thunder? Lightning? ...How about Storm—that’s a great name?
Because of the threats around me, I was fearful of falling asleep. Due to the dark, foreboding stimuli experienced, I expected a nightmare. In that period in my life in which I suffered strange, unsettling dreams, Jesus taught me how to ‘awaken’ in my dreamscape in order to dispel my dream, even control it and change its plot. Seldom did I have a normal nightmare or dream, but never in my life would I experience a dreamscape as I had that night at the imperial way station. I had a series of prophetic nightmares, where I saw crosses, angry mobs, and the devil, himself, and was able to dispel them and awaken from the dream. It was not easy at first. Each night, following Jesus’ instructions, I would concentrate upon something I loved very much in the world. For a long time this was my great white horse, which I would ride freely in my dream, until the imagery became muddled as it so often did, then turn into what I know now was a vision of things to come. If I fell asleep and floated into a dreamscape where I was riding my white horse and then, as so often happened, drifted into a prophetic nightmare, I would know I was merely sleeping. This would allow me to manipulate my dream imagery, until I decided to wake up. When that moment came, I would slip into the corridor of wakefulness, drifting swiftly back to the world. I fought the temptation to dream of Tabitha this way. Jesus scolded me when I did this once. I’m still tempted now when I recall this lovely girl. The important fact, which made me more fortunate than other sleepers suffering nightmares, was the fact that I knew I was asleep. I could control this shadowy world. What I couldn’t control were the apparent revelations that appeared in my head. I had been so exhausted last night I scarcely remembered what I dreamed. That evening at the way station, while suffering the effects of wine, I prayed for a pleasant dream. It could even be a silly dream—one of those silly, unfinished and fragmented plots that could be pieced together like a puzzle. That would be all right, I thought, drifting off to sleep. Anything was better than those thought-provoking nightmares experienced in the past. I would, of course, prefer dreaming of my great white horse...or, God forgive me, Tabitha, my special friend.
That night, as I listened to the murmurs of the camp, trying to focus on Tabitha and my horse, I tumbled finally into slumber, but this time I found myself landing in a very dark place. I could barely see my mount below me. Ahead of me someone, I assumed to be another rider, held a torch overhead, my only guide in the blackness, leading me on and on, until the phantom horseman and I broke through a silhouette of trees into a familiar scene.
“Not again!” I groaned.
“Behold the Lamb of God,” whispered the phantom, “who takes away the sins of the world.”
I understand now what that meant. It meant nothing then, but I knew at once that I was asleep. Once again, I was having a lucid dream. Calmly, mounted on my trusty horse, which I named Storm, I sat it out, curious about the outcome of the dream. According to the disciple Philip, John the Baptist, had cried “Behold the Lamb of God!” when Jesus arrived at the river’s edge. At this time in my life, as in previous dreamscapes (which I realize now were revelations), the three crosses made no sense at all. What Lamb of God is this? I asked myself gazing at the scene. “All I see are three crosses. They’re in shadows. Who are those men? Where’s the Lamb of God?”
The crucified men remained, as the audience below, shadows against an unfriendly sky. Unlike previous nightmares, the onlookers were silent. There was no cursing or wailing. Because they were mere shades, I couldn’t distinguish any of my previous dream world figures. Once, in one dream of the crosses, I saw my mother and the disciple John, whom I wouldn’t recognize until I met him in the flesh. Was my mother out there again? I wondered fleetingly. I couldn’t tell. That the clouds might break and light fall upon the setting caused me to shudder. Perish the thought! I really didn’t want to know. An unsettling calm pervaded the scene, and it was eerily quiet. All I could hear for several moments was my own breathing. The shadowy shapes seemed to be frozen in time. I saw no movement whatsoever, except from the darkly clad figure beside me. Pointing a long skeletal finger to the crosses, his icy voice blew finally into my ear, “You have ears but can’t hear and eyes that can’t see. You have a mind, and are ignorant of the truth. You’re not ready for the truth Thaddeus Judaicus. Your heart is both Roman and Jew. How can you serve two masters and see the truth. You belong to Caesar, not Christ!”
“Who?” I asked. “My name’s not Thaddeus Judaicus. I don’t care what Aulus says. I’ve never heard of this Christ. My heart’s not Roman, it’s Jew. I belong to no one but my parents and my people. I might just leave this bunch and go home. I want no part of their world!”
“You can’t go home!” the specter shrilled. It’s you who set forth on this road. You have a mission, Thaddeus Judaicus: Learn the heart of the Gentiles.”
“No, no, no,” I shouted, drawing back on the reins. “I shall awaken now. Storm, take me back. It’s time to get out of this silly dream.”
“Go, Thaddeus Judaicus,” the specter’s voice howled like the wind, “back to the Roman world. You can’t escape!”
This time I had no torch to led me. I road into pitch-blackness, my stallion as my guide, until I reached a clearing in the woods. Climbing off my horse, I bid him goodbye, standing there a moment I patted his nose and whispered endearments. The light of the bonfire shone in the horse’s black eyes as he backed away, reared up on his hind legs, then, after neighing shrilly, galloped into the shadows whence he had come. As I walked back to the encampment, I drew my sword impulsively, and quickened my pace. Suddenly, after I reached the center of camp and looked around for my tent, several dark bodies moved out of the woods. The thought that I was dreaming gave me great power then. During episodes before, I had dallied with Tabitha in my dreams. I had taken great risks other times or done mischief to people I didn’t like. Now, once more, I would have some fun before awakening, but this time with my sword.
“All right, you cowards,” I whooped, “I’m ready for you. I know all the moves. Stand down or face the Reaper!”
For several moments, I battled what I thought were dream images. As the first man approached, he looked suspiciously like one of the cavalrymen encamped near our group. Unlike the Romans, the cavalrymen, like our auxilia, wore an assortment of costumes. The stranger took two swipes at me with a long curved sword similar to the heirloom owned by my father. I felt it slice the wind near my ear, but I wasn’t afraid. I was invincible now. In one lucid dream, I had as a child, I jumped off a cliff in Nazareth’s hills and flew like a bird, and, knowing I was safely asleep once, I walked up to a surly Roman sentry and with my dream sword, after a short duel, chased him way. This time the make-believe warrior was more persistent and swiped at me again and again, each time his blade bouncing off my shield and, with a wide sideswipe, barely missing my head. Before this sudden encounter, I don’t even remember grabbing up my shield or sword. Normally, as I road my white stallion, I carried a spear, my cape fluttering in the breeze, but there was no horse, spear or cape this time—just my sword and shield, mysteriously present in my hands. A second, third, and forth stranger came at me now from all sides. In a flurry only possible in dreamscapes I lounged forward and, as the first attacker raised his sword over his head to split my skull, ran him through, immediately turning to slash the second man in the neck as he attempted to backstab me with a knife. I heard voices now in my dream, muffled at first, but recognizable as the camp was filled with invaders.
“By the gods, we’re under attack!” Aulus cried.
“Where’s Thaddeus?” Caesarius sounded frantic. “He’s not in the tent.”
“Over here,” I shouted blithely.
After this point everything moved quickly and violently in our camp. Someone must of dispatched one of my attackers, for I found myself face-to-face with one lone, axe-wielding, scar-faced giant, who would have chopped me to pieces if an arrow hadn’t brought him down. It was Ibrim’s missile. Unphased by this close call, I sought out a new opponent. I could see all of my campmates now. Even Caesarius, Geta, and Abzug, who, like me, had behaved cowardly before, were forced to stand and fight. Had I not been certain I was still asleep, I would have been terrified at this point. Instead, I struck down one attacker after another, one time picking up a spear and throwing at an ugly brute cornering Langullus in front of a tree. Fronto, Ajax, Apollo, Rufus, Enrod, Aulus, and the optio were all pared off with opponents, desperately fighting for their lives. Caesarius and Geta had been running to assist Langullus when I tossed the spear. Meanwhile, Abzug and Ibrim, with short horsemen bows in their hands, fired arrows at our foes. Tilting the battle in our favor, were several of the Roman soldiers from the station who joined the fight. It all happened in such a fantastic fashion I was convinced it was a dream.
Ibrim gave a startled shout now, “It’s the Jew. I thought I was seeing things. He’s fighting like the Furies.”
“I see him.” Apollo yelled in the distance. “All this time I thought he was a coward.”
“By Jupiter,” Fronto declared, “It’s him all right: Jude Thaddeus. Saved up his courage, he did!”
“I’m Thaddeus Judaicus, the Reaper,” I cried jubilantly, chasing after a foe.
“We whipped’em,” Aulus announced. “We got’em on the run.” “Stop lad,” he called to me, “you’ll run right into an ambush!”
“Yes, let’em go,” Decimus said, out of breath. “...I can’t believe my eyes. You must’ve killed five or six men. If you hadn’t jumped in like that, they would’ve murdered us in our tents. To say I’m proud of you is an understatement.” “Now simmer down,” he ordered, grabbing me from behind. “You’re in a state, we call ‘frenzy’ in battle. Wake up, drop you sword and shield. There, that’s better.”
All of this, of course, I considered part of my dream. Decimus, in fact, had just told me to wake up. Even though I thought I was asleep, I was polite to my superiors and did what I was told. As our adversaries rode off into the night, I could hear exclamations and expletives erupt all around me, both praise and denial. Impossible, several of them said, shaking their heads. Was this not the Jew, who wanted to be a scribe—the same coward who ran like a jackal into the woods and trembled at the least sound? Yet here he was, they admitted begrudgingly, a champion. I knew better, of course. I would awaken in the morning the same frightened Jew. Yet, all around me, was the proof—ten dead attackers, over half of them credited to my sword. Many of the invaders had, in fact, only been wounded. Rufus’ brother Enrod had also been injured and one of the station guards had been killed. All of my campmates, including the wounded Gaul stood around me, as I sat on a log by the fire, murmuring with awe or disbelief, but I was just very tired.
“He’s a natural warrior,” declared Aulus. “He just didn’t know it until he was put to test.”
“Aye,” Caesarius stepped forward, “he was an inspiration. He saved my life.”
“Mine too,” Langullus grumbled. “I don’t remember Decimus showing him how to throw a spear.”
“I didn’t.” Decimus frowned thoughtfully. “I just showed him the basics.”
“Well,” Ajax grinned, “he remembered every one of them and then some!”
“He’s a natural,” Aulus repeated. “Looked like a gladiator the way he handled that sword.”
Fronto wrinkled his nose. “How very strange. You gave yourself a gladiator’s name too: Thaddeus Judaicus, the Reaper. Is that what you want us to call you?”
“Sure, why not,” I yawned. “Decimus and Aulus gave me my Roman name. I added the last part. Reaper’s short for Grim Reaper, our religion’s Angel of Death. I was dreaming about him tonight. He said strange things to me I don’t understand.”
“Well, I like the name,” Decimus rustled my hair. “We’ll call you the Reaper, for short.”
“I don’t care what he calls himself,” Langullus reached down to grip my shoulder. “He saved my skin. Transfixed that blackheart on a tree,” “but tell me lad,” his voice crackled, “who was that strange man in your dream?”
“Oh that was him—the real Angel of Death. I have had those dreams frequently—off and on. Sometimes a whole month will pass without my visions, and then—bam! (I socked my palm) I have a mind boggler like tonight. I wanted Jesus to interpret my dreams for me, but he was afraid to...They’re prophetic, he believes...I’m not so sure.”
Langullus looked back at the others. “He’s either mad, touched by the gods or very brave.”
“No,” I said, smiling crookedly, “I’m just asleep.”
No one questioned my words; I was, after all, a peculiar sort, and yet I had, in one burst of emotion, won them over. The duty officer approached Decimus less amiably that moment.
“One of my men is dead,” he complained bitterly. “We’re short-handed now. When you arrive at your fort, please ask Aurelian to send a few replacements. This station needs more than ten men.”
“I’m sorry this happened.” The optio sighed, gripping his forearm. “I sensed those men were trouble when I laid eyes on them. One of our men will need a physician in the next town, but we’re going to reach Antioch before the end of the week. I will ask the prefect to send you a lot more than one or two replacements. You need at least twenty soldiers at this station.”
The officer and his men disappeared into the darkness. For a few more moments, as I basked in their adulation, I expected I would awaken any moment, but I didn’t. I tried pinching myself, and this failed. This seemed troubling.
“All right,” I heaved a sigh, “this has been fun, now I must wake up.” “Wake up Thaddeus Judaicus, the Angel of Death calls.”
“What’s he talking about?” Abzug’s face loomed in front of mine. “You all right, lad? You put on quite a show.”
“I know,” I piped, stretching as if I was ready for a nap, “now I’m going to lie down and wake up. I’ve done this before.”
“You’re acting like a sleepwalker.” Aulus muttered, gazing into my face. “All this must’ve addled your brains.”
“He thinks he’s asleep,” observed Langullus. “How very peculiar.”
“Did he take a knock on the head?” asked Caesarius.
“Lemme see,” Decimus probed my scalp. “No knots, cuts, or bruises. Matter of fact, there isn’t a scratch on him.”
“He’s falling asleep,” Geta commented drolly. “He is a sleepwalker.”
“I’m worried about him,” Caesarius shook me gently. “He might be in shock. I’ve never heard of anyone’s personality changing that drastically. The lad wants to sleep.”
“All right, let’s put him to bed. ” Aulus reached down, with Caesarius help, and pulled me to my feet.
Several men, who I once saw as enemies, reached out to steady me as I took a few steps.
“Listen up men.” Decimus called through cupped hands. “Enrod has a nasty cut, so we’ve got to find him a physician in the next town. There’s no moon tonight. It’s too risky to be on the road, but we’re gonna be on it before dawn. Caesarius and Geta, make sure Thaddeus Judaicus, the Reaper, stays on his pallet for a few hours sleep. Those men who stood watch should catch a few winks themselves. You too Langullus; you don’t look so good. Ibrim claims to know a little about wounds. He will stay with Enrod in one tent, while the rest of us stand watch and start packing our gear. Except for our young warrior, I don’t think any of us will be getting much sleep.”