The Three Dreams
As exhaustion overtook him, Adam tried unsuccessfully to stay awake. He had what Dwight Higgins referred to as a “patch things up” meeting with the elders tomorrow evening, which had been organized by Dwight, the senior elder of the church. He had a speech to compose for the meeting and a sermon to prepare for Wednesday’s Young Couple’s Night but no energy to accomplish his goals. His eyelids fluttered and head bobbed forward repeatedly as he battled sleep. He found his torso slipping gradually forward in his chair. At the threshold of unconsciousness, his eyes finally closed and his forehead touched the desk. At first, in a semi-conscious state of mind, he began rising weightlessly above the floor. From across the void where his body sat, were things of this world: a wicked wife, unfulfilled dreams, and the many cares that weighted him down. Somewhere in that faraway place also lay notes, a Bible and pages of scripture fluttering in the breeze. For just a moment then, as the passages flew, he realized he was asleep and hovering around the room. He was still conscious, out of his body and in one of those rare experiences called a lucid dream. This time, however, there were no crowds and heavenly choruses singing. There was only a deep and abiding sense of peace, as if his body had separated from his spirit and he was finally meeting the Lord.
As he drifted into deeper levels of slumber, his mind traveled back to progressive points in the week: Cora’s shower, Sunday’s confrontation at the church, and this morning’s ordeal at the hospital. Patches of memory blended with fantasy to create the imagery of dreams. Buried in this kaleidoscope was the emotional trinity of doubt, frustration, and despair. A great mass of clouds moved peacefully toward him while he floated from his lucid state into a prophetic dream. A Phoenix suddenly broke through the clouds, flapping its devilish wings. No longer aware that he was dreaming, Adam had been startled by the specter and grew terrified as he drifted closer to its cloud. A pitchfork was clutched in the dragon’s hands. Horns appeared on its head and two cat-like eyes in its grotesque face. Before long, as he watched the Phoenix’s body transform completely into this stereotype fiend, the surrounding clouds darkened and flashed with lightning. Following each flash was a peel of thunder as the cloud grew darker and darker and the sky behind faded to black. Two great orbs expanded from the cat-like eyes, as the body transformed now into something resembling a toad. When he was only a short distance from this horror, however, it’s lower half turned into a swirling column of smoke and it shrank as a genie through the cloud.
A great, featureless miasma now gradually darkened the firmament. Fearing that he, himself, was falling, along with the specter, to earth or, perhaps, hell, he tried to scream but could not hear his voice. A dreadful silence, as that preceding the Big Bang, gripped the universe, swallowing up the earth and the firmament as well. God seemed ready to destroy the cosmos. As it happened in the previous dream, however, the setting, as seen in a movie set, faded to black. Adam was suddenly alone in the darkness, the familiar backdrop of his study gradually materializing in his dream.
The shadowy warning faded as a dream within a dream, as he appeared to awaken at his desk.
Something was with him as he rose to his feet; he could feel it in the house, hovering at his back, watching him closely as he walked down the hall. Closer and closer he came to the bathroom. A great dread filled him as he reached for the door. As he fought the impulse, it was as if invisible paws pushed him toward his goal. Hatred consumed him, while fear held him in check. Out of nowhere a knife appeared in his hand. He knew what he must do to cut the misery out of his life, but something else, stronger than fear, now stood in his way:… his soul.
As he dreamed, Adam wrestled with temptation in his mind. A third dream—the most terrible of the three—now played in his head. Occasionally his snoring was interrupted by murmurs and faint yelps, for he frequently talked in his sleep. His eyelids fluttered and body jerked, as something awful began happening in his dream.
In the master bedroom, while Adam napped, his wife, Cora, wrestled with her own demons: alcohol and drugs. She had slept soundly for nearly six hours before awakening in a sweat. Though her flu was running its course, she needed a drink. A joint of marijuana would also be welcomed right now.
Adam would have her believe that her alcoholism had taken its toll and her liver, kidneys, and lungs had become permanently impaired. But her recent trip to Doctor Bledsoe’s office had proven him wrong. At the doctor’s insistence, Cora had several tests done to her in the lab, including a lung x-ray and blood tests that gave her a clean bill of health. What her husband didn’t know was that Cora had, during a sober moment, called the doctor’s office, herself, to get the results. A mere bronchial infection, that had been cleared up after medication, had once caused them to suspect lung cancer. The blood tests had been thrown in for good measure. Even before the trip to the hospital, however, she sensed that she was not sick, at least not terminally. Her husband had probably been exaggerating her condition to make her behave. If this was so, he had failed miserably. Cora, Doctor Bledsoe once admitted to Adam, was, in spite of her bad habits, in good health. Unless he slowed down and stopped stressing out the way he did, she might outlive him.
This prognosis was, of course, before her bout with the flu and her most recent binge. Rising from the bed, she felt the room spinning in all directions, her feeling of nausea growing as she staggered down the hall. She needed a drink. . . She needed it now!
Reaching the bathroom would take all her strength. It had been her haven and place to escape. There, when her husband was away on church business or cloistered in his study, she would sneak a smoke and sometimes take a drink. It was where she hid her gin, marijuana (when she could buy it) and, more recently, her stash of pills. Sometimes she would sit on her throne in the darkness to play it safe, while he was off on an errand, whiling away the hours before he returned. Occasionally, when she had the house to herself, she would brazenly drink or smoke where it suited her, often in front of the television or passed out on the bed. When she was not in an alcoholic or drug induced state, she would be in another world that would have been much worse in her husband’s eyes: prostitution. Added to her household allowance, it had allowed her to buy alcohol and drugs and was the reason why she had an endless supply.
This time, when she reached the bathroom, she remembered that her husband had poured out her gin but had failed to find her stash. After lifting off the toilet lid and fishing around at the bottom of the tank her fingers brushed the plastic sack containing the pills that would supplement her gin. A yelp of glee escaped her throat. Just one of the tiny white tablets would do, when it would take several gulps of gin to make her drunk. Gin and, for that matter her old standby marijuana, left telltale odors her husband would quickly detect, whereas her ‘magic pills’ left no such trace.
Perched shakily on her throne, she began pulling off her sweaty clothes in preparation for a rinse, but quickly changed her mind. The last time he caught her “butt-naked” she got a freezing shower. This time she would, she thought slyly, take one of the pills and retreat back to her bed. She would be clever this time, so that her husband wouldn’t know. When he went looking for her she would pretend to be asleep as the world around her spun and she floated around the room.
To her befuddled mind, a sense of security still hung within these walls. The glare from a sudden match gave her face a devilish glow. With the cigarette dangling from her mouth, she groped behind the toilet until she found her stash. Groaning with delight, she lifted it up shakily, tried to remove just one, but ended up cramming several of the tiny pills into her mouth. The realization that she had just overdosed herself on amphetamines was clouded by the fast-acting drug. Dimwittedly now, she settled in the place which had become her spiritual home. A look of ecstasy grew on her face as the drug took hold. She was beyond pain at this stage. Even the lingering symptoms of the flu were barely felt. Almost instinctively then, she tried putting her stash back where it belonged but found her hands not in tune with her brain. The signals, close to the motor reflex level, were becoming vague. Instead of putting them behind the toilet, she spilled her pills onto the floor.
Disoriented and on the verge of unconsciousness now, Cora sat there staring into space, a strange light glowing in her eyes. Helpless, hopeless, and godless, she felt her body listing as a boat on a stormy sea, slowly capsizing onto its side. A familiar voice, she usually heard in her head, now whispered into her ear “good girl Cora, you’re doing just fine!”
Cora had forgotten her original plan to return to the master bedroom and was too far-gone to care. Moving, as a vapor across the floor, Satan exited the restroom and reentered the hall. Once again it could hear snoring down the hall. So far, its scheme was working: Adam was on the breaking point, especially after today. Cora, it was confident, would push him toward the edge. It was good that he had slept long enough to allow her another binge—this time with pills. Now, it was time to awaken him and give him another shock.
Gently, to rouse the reverend, Satan blew warmly into his face. Responding slowly at first, Adam tumbled through dark shadows before awakening at his desk. For several moments he just sat there, staring into space, basking in the warmth, lulled by the quiet, increasingly aware of its presence in the room. Gradually, with a feeling of déjà vu, he stood up, looked around his study, and walked shakily down the hall.
The kitchen, he discovered, was in the same shape as his mind: messy and incredibly jumbled. Piles and puddles greeted his gaze. A rotten smell pervaded the air. Only, after great effort, could he find the coffee canister. Impatiently, he found a coffee filter, stuffed it into the basket and filled it almost to the brim. It didn’t matter how it would taste; he wanted it strong—black and sugarless to match his mood. After waiting only a few moments, he jerked the pot out of the coffee maker, allowing the basket to drip onto to the hot plate as he poured coffee into his cup. Jamming the pot back in, he listened briefly as the plate sizzled and steamed, thinking fleetingly of Dante’s Inferno and the poet’s depiction of hell.
After a few sips of coffee, it began coming back to him, slowly, as a dark wave filling his mind, until both the dream and wake up call swam darkly in his mind. At first, he made no connection between the two. He expected nightmares after today. A strange calm filled him as he sauntered back to his desk. There was a lull in the house that he could not explain. A sense of destiny, long absent from his thoughts, grew in the calm. It was as if something incredible was going to happen; and it was beginning in this house.
Surfacing at the end of his dream was also the resignation he had as he fell asleep at his desk…. What was going to happen was out of his hands! He had tried and tried again; it was now up to God! Such thoughts were momentarily comforting. But there was something else that troubled him now. He remembered a voice in his dream asking him “Adam, why do you wait?” The remainder of the dream came to him slowly as sudden, terrible flashes of death and destruction aimed at his wife.
For a few moments, it remained fragmented, lacking a purpose or plot. Gradually then, as incoming waves, they washed up on the shore of his conscious mind: grisly reminders of his dream. The macabre blood lust began stabbing his conscience then and, at the same time, echoing the anger he felt…. More and more pieces washed up, until the entire dream flooded back, as one terrible whole. Again and again the scene replayed: the stabbing and headless wife, until finally, during its last rerun, the voice was heard blaring in the background, coaxing, taunting, and telling him what to do.
Strangely enough, as he sipped his coffee, the horror faded, as had the creature in his first dream. Both the first and second dreams had almost been forgotten but the nightmare he just experienced seemed smeared throughout his skull. After dreaming it out, much of his anger seemed spent. It was not his fault what he dreamed…. It was what caused it that bothered him now.
A voice, he had never heard before, had entered his sleep, directing his actions against his wife. Gleefully, almost erotically as he listened to its command, he had hacked his wife to death: on the toilet, on the floor, and finally in the hall. During the meantime, as would a mad dog, she bit, tore, and scratched him, as though she were impervious to his knife. But in the end, as with Medusa, he had cut off her snarling head, triumphantly tossing it into the commode. It had been the worst nightmare of his life. Horrifying as it was, though, it was the voice telling him what to do that gave him pause. While he slept, it appeared as if Satan was in control. It was true that Satan used the wife to tempt and taunt the minister, but doubt, frustration and despair had worn him down. Through her misdeeds, the devil set the mood for what played in his head. Adam had walked onto the dreamscape driven by pent-up hate. Though it was comforting for him to say “the devil made me do it,” however, Satan had not yet entered his mind, so it knew nothing of his dream or its success so far….Yet victory seemed close now. It could see it this moment in the reverend’s gray eyes and had sensed it in his demeanor today—strong emotions: anger… desolation… and hate.
Sitting back in his chair, Adam shut his eyes and managed a brief, contrite prayer. “Oh Satan, you crafty fellow,” he then uttered, half seriously to himself. For a while afterwards, as he finished his coffee, he tried blanking it out: the terrible dream and ominous voice. He even tried, with less success, to blank out his feeling that Satan, not God, was in this house. He could feel its presence in his study, as he had yesterday. There was, as there had been then, peace in his home: a tainted, unsettling quiet in which his wife shared his house but not his life.
While listening to the silence, he kept his eyes closed and sniffed the air. It was clean, crisp, and pure. At least in his study there was not a trace of liquor or smoke. After reflecting a moment, he was reminded of what he had felt a few days ago when the phenomena first began. It had started as a cold breeze, slowly warming up to his soul. It continued to move about, as if it had a life of its own. With sudden misgivings now, he stood up, exited his study, and began another inspection of his home. Unlike before, he found the breeze synchronized with the house. There was no difference in the temperature outside his door and what he had felt at his desk. When he reached the living room, however, he sat down heavily on the sofa and shook his head. A conviction grew in his mind that he couldn’t shake…. The voice in his dream and the breeze in his study were one and the same thing. Something evil was in this house, testing his faith and threatening his very soul; it had entered through Cora, his wife.
Jumping up from the couch, Adam clinched his fist, swore aloud, and paced anxiously around the house. For several moments, as he paced, he mumbled the Twenty-third Psalm. He also quoted from other psalms, beginning with the first, his voice flat and eyes moving restlessly over the floor:
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly. The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”
His voice trailed off momentarily, until he began quoting from the Sixth, Fourteenth, and Twenty-fifth Psalm, at times abridging them to suit his mood. When he had reached the Sixty-ninth and Seventieth Psalm, his quotations had elevated from mere chanting to a plea that God intervene now, this very hour.
“Save me, O God;” he cried “for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fall while I wait for my God. Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord!”
At this point, when he found himself shouting at the top of his lungs, he shrank self-consciously into a chair. Now the entire neighborhood knew! The temptation to walk out of this house and never look back was suddenly strong. The fear of losing his sanity was weighed against the ambitions of his ministry. Everything would be wiped out immediately if he could just walk away. With his ministry, would go his wife, her addiction, and all the cares of this world.