As a young boy, I was moved from the bedroom that I inhabited with my older sister to the room in the attic that my father had finished. I continually imagined monsters coming up the stairs to get me because of my isolation. As I got a little older, the monsters left me alone.
As I went through school, I was on cruise control. Good grades, a sequence of girlfriends, nothing serious, but very satisfying. After I got my Master Of Fine Arts, specializing in illustrating, I got a job at Quantum Comics. I advanced quickly and after a year I had my own comic, Universal Journey.
Luck, bad or good, sent me to an exhibit at our art museum “Art In Speculative Fiction” featuring historic and current paintings and art from or inspired by science fiction. I literally bumped into a beautiful woman at the exit to the museum coffee shop. After exchanging “excuse me” and checking for injuries, we started to discuss the art. Megan worked at a local gallery and had read classic science fiction for years – H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne. She also knew many overlooked female writers. All I had known much about up to that point was the famous, local writer Ursula LeGuin. I’d like to give the details about our courtship, but those details are too painful now. All you need to know is that we were married two months after meeting.
Married life was bliss after years of casual dating. Without trying, we split up chores equitably and with two good incomes, money was no problem. Two years later, I was thinking that with our stability, it was time to start a family. My parents were definitely thinking that it was time. The day before I was going to start Megan thinking along the same lines, she called me from work.
“Duke, I’ve tried to think of how to do this and there is no good way. I’m in love with Santos from our gallery. I hope that we can have an amicable break. If we can’t, I’ll just get the divorce on my own.” I dropped the phone and felt sick. I don’t remember the rest of the call except that I begged and cried to no avail.
When she called after another week, I had painfully accepted reality and agreed to divorce.
The night after the divorce was final; I had the first nightmare since I had been in grade school, or at least the first one that I could remember. It was sufficiently vivid that I recognized the male as some combination of Satan and Santos, and the woman was a caricature of Megan. It looked like the illustration from a lurid science fiction pulp magazine except that it was exaggerated anatomically and X-rated. As the two of them went about their antics, they seemed to be looking and laughing at me.
Santos’ appearance as Satan was easy to explain. Santos was quite muscular; reddish skinned and had a widow’s peak.
For a couple of weeks, I had variations on the original dream. During that time, I finished the latest issue of “Universal Journey”. An hour after I sent out the draft, my boss came into my office, and not for the reason that I expected. “Duke, this is your best work ever. I’m sorry about your divorce, but if I thought that it would work for me … .” He stopped, obviously embarrassed about what he almost said. “What I mean is I’m proud of what you turned in after your recent setback.”
As my first dream series seemed to know that its effect was weakening, I started dreaming about an Alien movie kind of monster. That eventually turned into an Alien / Predator / King Kong tag team production. I began to incorporate variations of my dreams into my comics. Was the tortured artist cliché working for me? My sales went into the millions of issues, and I was rewarded with six-figure bonuses.
My success led to national and international appearances at both comic and science fiction conventions. After the fact, I’m ashamed of my behavior with the groupies that I ran into, but at the time I loved the attention. At least there were no diseases or pregnancies.
My vivid dreams gave me plenty to work with. Typically a series would run for a few weeks and then change.
Life was looking good again. I tried not to gloat when I heard that Santos and Megan had broken up and that mutual friends said she’d been asking about me. I had started to date Sally by that time. She was a local biologist who had been helping me research crypto-biology.
Seven months into my ascension into the gods of comics and three months after meeting Sally, I had a completely different dream. A guy in a purple pants suit with elk antlers and clown shoes was the “monster”. Dream me started to chuckle, which led to great guffaws. For the first time, a “monster” addressed me. “So you think this is funny?”
Dream me could talk. “Well yeah, you aren’t scary at all. I’ve been introduced to some great scares in my dreams, but you aren’t one of them.”
“Well, what should you expect? After all, I’m a manifestation of your fears, anxiety and pain. In short, I am you. Now, where are your fear, anxiety and pain? Gone. I’m not even bringing up my scare fatigue. I’ve had a lot of fun, but maybe you are about to go through a second divorce. I think that it is over between us.”
I’d had it with monsters, particularly a poorly dressed uppity one. “Suits me just fine.”
Without my nightmares, Sally took up with a long-haired motorcycle riding painter and I was demoted at work. I felt miserable without an idea how to recoup my nightmares. Nightmares were my edge. Drinking is starting to look like a good option.
I thought that was the end of a sad story. After a couple of weeks, I got an idea – maybe I could induce nightmares with food or drink. After a lot of experimentation and vomiting, I found that jalapeno/chocolate / Tabasco pizza with a glass of Thunderbird just before bed did the trick without killing me. New and better nightmares are back; the very attractive, single CEO Joan promoted me back to my former position and suggested suggestively that we talk over the future of Universal Comics over drinks. I’m so happy to be scared at night over giant rabbits with guns, sharks with flamethrowers and things there are no words to describe. Back on top, baby.