Don’t ever admit to anyone that your story is based on a dream

I don’t believe in prophetic dreams. Actually, let me amend that: I believe in prophetic dreams in the same way I believe in ghosts – because the Bible tells me so. As a basic tenet of my faith I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as well as in the inerrancy of Scripture. Any Old Testament stories about a King having a dream and one of God’s prophets interpreting that dream must be true.

However, I’d be a good deal more suspicious if someone walked up to me today and told me they had a dream that came true. While I won’t say it’s impossible, it’s really not worth judging; everything I need to know has already been written down for my benefit. I suspect the days of prophetic dreams have passed away.

That said, I can understand why people are sometimes inclined to attach special meaning to dreams. From what I can tell – by both experience and some very vague reading into the subject – dreams are a way for your brain to sort through all the things on your mind. Worried about your sick mother? Mother dies in your dream. Mother then dies in real life, because that’s how life in a fallen world goes. Prophecy, kids.

My mind sorts things a little differently. In my last year of high school I finally started to realize that if I was going to write a book, I’d better start planning it. My ideas from those days turned out to be weak, lame, or just stolen from other sources (so I’ll never write them), but it did get me into the habit of constantly thinking in terms of story arcs and character. A couple years down the road and my dreams start to become strangely coherent – clearly following a plot. The ones worth remembering are from when I’m just on the edge of wakefulness, so I’m guessing I have some sort of control over what’s happening. Also, as soon as I lose the thread of the story (almost always on a plot twist) I wake up, dying to know what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, the reason I woke up is almost certainly because I didn’t know.

Still, if I really like the story my mind has been working on in my sleep, I’ll write it down while it’s still vivid. None of these dreams will ever show up in my writing as-is (dream logic is still way too fluid to work in a story bound by reality; I don’t think anyone would stand for the main character changing from a nameless man to an old high school friend and finally to me without warning or explanation), but someday I might use the bits and pieces that really struck me.

That said, here is a dream I jotted down during college. My roommate was taking a film class and decided to do her final project on zombie movies, which pretty well explains everything about this bit of creepiness.

They were starting to get smarter.  We were out in the desert, houses dotted in a small clump on barren land, Mom and Dad were there.  I don’t know what happened to [Your Local Friendly IT Guy] or [The Sister].*

The neighbors were taken.  Became them.  I knew before he revealed his face, that something was wrong.  He was dead.  It never stops the shock of it.

His wife and daughter made it into the house.  I don’t know how.  They’re not supposed to be able to get in.  They were able to talk, and they followed me in.  I was with the old woman who knows too much.  They spoke to the old woman, walked around the house, looking and touching things like they didn’t recognize them.  But they knew where everything was.  It had been their house.

They spoke of things that didn’t make sense, but had that on the edge feeling that they should.  They unplugged everything—hate lights.

Someone’s name was Maria.

The mother looked back at the door, saw the light-up cactus ornament on the back of it.  She said We’re tied in—smarter, but still don’t understand.  Their tempers are volatile.  She told me to go turn off the light upstairs, anger growing and bubbling and seething just under her skin, but I didn’t want to leave the old woman.  The old woman looked at me and I knew she wanted me to go.  I think she wanted to hear the creatures talk.

I was on the stairs when I turned to look back.  The daughter was closing the door on me, her face turned away and I knew, knew, that they were getting rid of me so that they could kill the old woman.  Let themselves go, destroy her, and I suddenly knew they were afraid of killing me on accident in the process.  And I knew the only way to save the old woman was to stay.  Because they weren’t willing to risk it.

I aimed a kick at the daughter’s head, missed, but forced my way back into the room.  The old woman was already pushing Maria out the door, of course already knew what I’d realized, and I followed back into the kitchen as they disappeared into the night.  I turned, and looked at the old woman: “They want me for something.”

“Oh honey,” she said.  “They’re planning something big for you.”

*names changed to protect the relatively innocent