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The Art of Dreaming

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Sock didn’t spend all of his time at Jonathan’s house. He probably would if he could, but he’d learned the hard way that Jonathan gets really pissy if you keep him up for 42 hours straight. So at night Sock came back to his little home in Hell. Well, he called it a home, it was really more like a dorm room. He had to walk down a long hallway lined with other rooms to get there, yet he never seemed to encounter anyone, he wasn’t sure why. The inside was pretty much just an empty room, there was no kitchen or bathroom, it’s not like he had much use for either, being dead and all. There was a little TV in the corner where he could watch live broadcasts of various torture chambers in Hell. He didn’t use it for that often though, stabbing is kind of boring if you’re not the one doing it, but if he wiggled the antennas just right it would pick up the occasional signal from Earth. Of course, it was usually filler episodes or foreign soap operas with no subtitles.

The only other thing in the room was a little bed pushed against one of the walls. Sock didn’t really sleep anymore, but it was hard to shake the feeling that he needed to. Old habits die hard he supposed. Mephistopheles said the urge to sleep would disappear after a while, he’d still get tired, but eventually he’d learn to ignore it. Until then, the little bed was there for him to use. He couldn’t actually fall asleep, but he could kinda doze if he tried hard enough.

It was in this sort of half aware state one night after Jonathan kicked him out that something weird happened. He was lightly dozing, curled up in a blanket. There was no way to pinpoint the passage of time in Hell but it would have been pretty late back on earth. Suddenly, he was standing in a house wide awake and definitely not in Hell. He looked around for a second and realized it was Jonathan’s house. Specifically, he was standing in the middle of Jonathan’s kitchen, and there was rich afternoon light pouring in every window.

Anyway he looked at it, this was definitely Jonathan’s kitchen, but Sock couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a little bit off. The sunlight was just a little too perfect, and the pictures on the fridge kept changing. Suddenly it dawned on him; this was a dream.

It couldn’t be his dream though, he hadn’t had a dream since he killed himself. You can’t really dream if you don’t sleep. Besides, there wasn’t nearly enough blood for this to be one of his dreams. He had a weird prickly feeling in the back of his neck, like he wasn’t meant to be there, like he was trespassing. This dream had to belong to someone and Sock had a pretty good idea of who.

As if on cue, the door to the kitchen swung open and Jonathan padded in. His eyes swept over Sock completely, as if he were empty air, and moved to open the fridge.

Jonathan couldn’t see him.

Sock floated a little bit closer as Jonathan rummaged around in the fridge, he looked a little different than how he usually did, a little younger maybe. He apparently didn’t find what he was looking for in the fridge because he grunted and closed the door. He peeled a post-it note off of the door that was complete gibberish when Sock looked at it a minute before. Now it was a grocery list and a note from his mom, complete with a little heart. Sock tried to read it over his shoulder, but the letters kept rearranging themselves. Jonathan seemed to understand it though because he tucked the list into his pocket and moved towards the door. Sock followed him, floating closely behind, because he didn’t know what else to do.

The second they stepped out the door, Jonathan’s house melted away and in its place was a quiet grocery store. As he peered around the normal, everyday produce isle, Sock couldn’t help but think that Jonathan dreamt about really mundane things. He couldn’t remember ever having a dream this quiet and routine. Of course he’d been repressing murderous impulses his whole life, so maybe most people did dream like this.

It was kind of strange watching Jonathan going about his daily business like this. Sock spent nearly every day following Jonathan around but it wasn’t like this. He looked so relaxed, turning apples over in his hands so he could check for bruises, like he didn’t think anyone was watching him right now, so he could breath for a bit. Sock leaned forward, drinking it in. This was Jonathan’s mind at it’s most open, he couldn’t hide anything in here. It made Sock feel a little uneasy, like he was spying. He wished he could step outside to collect his thoughts but he wasn’t sure what would happen if he left. This was Jonathan’s dream, did anything here exist if he wasn’t a part of it? Sock turned back to Jonathan, who had started quietly humming to himself, and swallowed. So he was in Jonathan’s dream. Now how in Earth did he get out?

As soon as the thought crossed his mind, Sock jerked into a sitting position back in hell. Sock shook his head as the strange invasive sensation faded. That was weird. That was really weird.

---

Sock knocked hesitantly on the door to Mephistopheles’ office. There was a muffled rustling sound before his boss’ voice shouted to come inside. Sock slid through the door to see Meph writing incessantly next to a literal mountain of paperwork piled on top of his desk. Sock wasn’t entirely sure if Meph actually had to do all the paperwork he seemed to be constantly working on, or if it was just some kind of self-torture he didn’t realize he could stop. Meph looked up from his paperwork for a second to smile at Sock.

“Hey kiddo, what’s up?”

Sock sat down in the opposite chair and Meph’s desk and folded his hands in his lap.

“I wanted to ask you; something weird happened last night.”

Meph set down his pen and linked his fingers together, giving Sock his full attention.

“Alright, shoot.”

Sock fidgeted a little, trying to figure out how to explain what had happened. He still wasn’t entirely sure it was what he thought it was.

“Well, last night. I think I ended up in one of Jonathan’s dreams? Everything was all weird and shifty, and it felt like I was there and not there at the same time, and Jonathan couldn’t see me.” Sock placed his palms face down on the desk after he realized he’d started gesturing with them.

One of Meph’s eyebrows lifted.

“Really?”

Sock shifted in the chair. He really wasn’t sure that’s what happened, but he couldn’t think of any other explanation. Besides, he really wanted to know how to do it again.

“I’m pretty sure.”

Meph leaned forward, propping his head up on one hand and drumming his fingers against the smooth wood.

“Not gonna lie kid that’s pretty weird. I mean, it’s normal for demons to haunt dreams—psychological torment and all—but you usually wouldn’t get that power until your 6th or 7th job.”

“So this isn’t normal then?”

“No, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.” Mephistopheles picked his pen back up and resumed his paperwork, scratching quick signatures onto them and tossing them behind him where they fluttered over to tuck themselves neatly into the correct file seemingly of their own will. “It was probably just a fluke, won’t happen again.”

Sock was a little surprised by the trickle of disappointed he felt. Ending up in someone else’s dream was jarring, but he also felt like he’d missed a chance to learn something. Jonathan was so tight-lipped, getting him to talk was like pulling out teeth. Dreams were supposed to be your subconscious talking to you, right? If it probably won’t happen again then he probably won’t get another chance.

“If it does, come back and let me know.”

---

It happened again.

They were watching TV after school, some show Sock didn’t know or care about. Jonathan drifted off on the couch, one arm across his stomach and the other awkwardly pinned between his body and the back of the couch. Sock watched the slow rise and fall of his chest, barely a movement at all, and the way the light from the TV bleached the color from his skin like there was no blood left. Was this what it would be like? When Jonathan killed himself? A car insurance commercial began playing in the background.

Sock leaned forward, acutely aware that Jonathan had asked him (yelled at him) to quit watching him sleep, but he couldn’t help it. Jonathan turned over in his sleep, eyelids fluttering and suddenly he wasn’t in Jonathan’s living room anymore.

One second he was there, and the next he was standing on a beach. He blinked and shook his head a little, that same feeling of wrongness was buzzing in the back of his skull and it made everything feel weird, like he’d just downed a pot of coffee and his body was trying to keep up with the caffeine. Plus he was starting to sweat from the heat of the sun pressing down on him.

Wait. The sun, he could feel the sun.

He looked up, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was hot and intense in the way that would give him a sunburn if he were alive. Could you get sunburnt in a dream? He didn’t want to find out. He scanned the beach, sliding his fingers around his scarf to unwind it from around his neck. It really was hot.

The beach was empty for miles, he couldn’t see any people on the sand or in the water. There weren’t even any signs that someone used to be here. No towels, no sandcastles, no footprints, it was completely deserted. So, he thought, where was Jonathan? There was a little outcropping of rock a ways down the beach casting shadows across the sand. He kicked up his feet and hovered uncertainty in the air for a moment. He could still float.

As he got closer he realized the outcropping of rocks was a bunch of little tidepools. Some were only a couple feet wide and others were large enough to swim in.

It was Jonathan, sitting on a rock with his headphones on, staring into one of the tide pools. He didn’t seem to notice that he wasn’t alone anymore, so Sock called out to him, just in case. But Jonathan didn’t turn his head, didn’t even tense a muscle like he would when he was actively trying to ignore someone. He just continued staring into the tide pool like it held the secrets to life itself. Jonathan still couldn’t see him.

Sock floated over. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the tide pool, he saw a couple minnows dart by, and a couple of clam holes, but overall it was just an empty tide pool. There were plenty of other pools that had a lot more going on, so he had no idea why Jonathan picked this one. He leaned forward and waved a hand in front of Jonathan's face, but his gaze didn’t break from the tidepool.

“Why don’t you get a closer look?” He asked out loud, just because he could. “Stick your hands in, get messy?” But Jonathan didn’t answer. For moment Sock wondered if Jonathan was experiencing things in this dream that he couldn’t. Something deeper in his subconscious, like Inception , but he wasn’t sure.

As he watched, Jonathan plucked up a piece of dry seaweed from the stones and began to tear it into strips almost absentmindedly. He got the feeling there wasn’t going to be much more to this dream.

“I’m bored,” he told the dream, “Jonathan, you’re boring.”

To amuse himself, he went to peer into the other tidepools, there had to be cooler stuff there, like a sea urchin… or an octopus! But the other pools had nothing, less than nothing, no fish, no urchins, no bottoms like a video game that hasn’t fully loaded yet. Jonathan’s pool, however, trucked on, like the very fact that Jonathan was looking at it gave it the energy to exist.

He came back and crouched next to his human, tilting his head to the side to get a better look at his face. With nothing better to do Sock reached out and batted his shoulder, as he was expecting, his hand went straight through Jonathan. What he wasn’t expecting was for Jonathan to shudder harshly and snap his head up. As he moved the world around them grew fuzzy like someone had erased the outlines and all the color was draining away. The ground slipped out beneath him and he had a sensation like standing on top of a really high cliff, or swimming out into the middle of the ocean and looking down to only to see miles of water beneath you, then he was back perched on the edge of the couch.

Jonathan sat bolt upright, blinking awareness back into his eyes. He swung his feet to settle on the ground and focused on Sock. He blinked again.

“Did… Did you just…?” Sock tilted his head to the side trying to look innocent.

“What?” Jonathan shook his head.

“Nothing.” He rubbed at the spot on his shoulder where Sock smacked him. “Just a weird dream.

---

Once 5:00 PM rolled around Sock left Jonathan listening to music on his bed so he could report back to Mephistopheles about the dream. Meph looked perplexed and Sock hadn’t been a demon for long but he could guess that didn’t happen often.

“Hm.” Meph scratched his cheek, staring up at the ceiling like he was considering a whole bunch of things at once. Eventually, he lowered his eyes back down to Sock, then spun around in his chair to start rummaging through one of the many file cabinets lining the wall behind him. “Apparently,” he said not bothering to turn around while he talked, “this isn’t gonna stop, so we might as well make sure you’re prepped to handle it if it happens again.” When he found what he was looking for he slid it onto the desk and started scribbling away, still talking as he wrote. “I’m gonna send you to another demon, a specialist of sorts. His name’s Damien MacAisling and he’s an expert at dream torture.” Sock took the note. Meph’s handwriting was curly and precise like calligraphy. It looked like a sort of reference, like a doctor’s note or office meeting.

“Dream torture?” He looked up at Meph.

“Yeah ya’ know,” he waved a hand vaguely, “getting inside someone’s head and using their fears against them or whatever. I don’t know that much about it,” he shrugged, “don’t dream, but this guy is an expert.” He tapped the note and Sock was drawn to the name again. “He’s not very friendly, but not many demons are so just keep your nose down and he’ll help you out.”

Sock left the office slowly, not really sure what to think. Honestly he was just confused. He was still pretty new to this whole demon thing and if Meph didn’t know what was going on with him what chance was there that anyone else would? Meph seemed to think Damien MacAinsling would. The note had an office number on it and an appointment time, hopefully he’d get some answers.