Nihal Ijaz Khan
There is a large Bougainville that towers and extends a limb-like branch over the fence to reach the only window of the slumber house. Airsoft dreams that use this branch call it a bridge, although in truth, it’s really more of a staircase than a bridge. The misnomer persists because of the association it carries with its function of connecting dreams to their dreamers, and also because below the bridge lies the dog.
The dog is tasked with watching over the sleepers from the window, but by who, it really doesn’t know; everyone inside is asleep, and there are never any visitors. The dog is named after its distant ancestor, also a watcher mentioned in the scriptures, one who left this world for heaven several hundred years ago. But nobody ever calls it by name, or even otherwise—again, because everyone around is fast asleep.
The Bougainville Bridge extends from the heart of the sleeper tree outside the fence. Dreamsap that effervesces inside the tree emerges as newly formed dreams at the entrance of the bridge, stretching out their limbs while assuming the shape of the dreamers’ nocturnes: the familiar face of a friend, or some monstrous tentacles on a computer body, the smooth side of a cliff from which to fall and kick-start a career in acrobatics or simply an unreturned kiss from a dissolving lover.
Once fully formed, the dreams ready and steady themselves against the twigged floor and immediately set themselves aloft. Prancing and dancing up the lazy leafed steps, these excited little things cross the fence and reach the white flower pad at the end of the bridge, from where they then launch themselves high back into the sky from where they once condensed. They’re careful not to look downwards—looking, they worry, might cause them to be looked at back. A dream never really wishes to be seen outside of sleep.
In one swift motion, they soar through the sky and reach the windowsill. From there, it’s really a walk in the park till they climb in bed with the sleepers and sing synaptic songs inside their ears. They do this with such poise and soundlessness that the sleepers never notice when a dream has ended and another has taken its place.
Some of the dreams, however, inevitably fall. Even though all of them are light on their feet, and the leaf steps are springy but sturdy, the dreams’ enthusiasm is the most slippery part of their journey.
In an effort to be dreamed as soon as they form, some of the dreams run up the staircase and trip against a cracked twig. Others slide off a dewed leaf. Some dreams, although they are never told this, are awkwardly shaped with uneasy gaits and are never really meant for the dreamers’ ears anyway. It’s a scary thing for them to even imagine, so when it happens, the dreams are left with no option but to clutch themselves tightly as they fall. In case of pairs, or even larger parties succumbing to a strong wind and plummeting together, they all hold on to each other until the very last moment. Dreams, after all, are all the dreams have.
Invariably, they all end up in the dog’s food bowl. Come the next morning, the beast slurps them all up alongside a helping of warm milk mixed with some honey and pieces of bread. It doesn’t know who fills its bowl—it suspects the sleepers, but how can they, if they are always asleep? Regardless, it resigns itself to watching over them, as it has been tasked.
Soon enough, the dog becomes drowsy and eventually falls into a slumber of its own. The dreams continue their journey while the dog sleeps. Thanks to the milk and honey dreamsoup, the dog, too, then becomes a dreamer. And the rest of the dreams are never the wiser—they think dreaming is only for the sleepers inside the slumber house to which they dutifully move.
Nihal Ijaz Khan is a writer from Lahore, Pakistan. He enjoys reading (and writing) speculative fiction. His short story, “The Smokecense of Pluvistan” won the Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction, 2020.