“Yes, hello everyone,” I say, surveying the crowd. Heights, weights, skin color, genders, clothing, constantly shift among the attendees. Here was a fat clown in face paint, now a slender woman dressed like an attorney, now a boy in Bermuda shorts. Meetings in the Dreamlands were so complicated. I clap a few times. “Look at me, please.” I say. “Object dissonance, context hopping, and perspective shifts are a real danger if you don't pay attention.” Heads swivel, bodies stabilize, but faces are still indistinct. They're barely paying attention, but it'll have to do. “Welcome to Advanced Dreamer Orientation, where you will learn how to Assert your Will against the Chaos of the Unconscious Mind.” That's the tagline, anyway. “You are all here because you felt the pull to be here. “Whether you know it or not, you are ready for the next phase of your Dreaming.” I smile even though I'm not sure they can see it. “Take a brief moment to look at your surroundings, but not too long.” I give them maybe a second. “Okay, back to me. “What you need to understand is that each of you is seeing something different. “Similar, probably, but different. “That's the nature of this place. “Also,” I pause, smiling again, “you can hear me but I cannot, in all likelihood hear you.” “We'll be able to converse when you've learned to better manifest persistence in the Dreamlands.” I sweep my hands around. “What I see is a very nice conference area in a hotel lobby.” It's not a lie. There's even refreshments. I start walking. “It's open in the back and leads to a small lake with a wooden dock that lets you go out over the water.” I'm outside now, blue sky above, I can smell the musk of mud and water, the pollen of exotic plants. “Obviously, a lake inside a hotel is impossible. “The sizes don't work, but this is the Dreamlands so it's no problem.” I'm trying to see the next trigger or clue. “Does anyone know what the dream wants us to do?” An eight foot tall man in a red suit waves his hand. “Remember, I cannot hear you, but you can point.” He points to the edge of the wooden dock, under an overhanging tree. I follow his gaze and see a bear lying on its back in the water. I close my eyes for a moment, vibing, sensing. I see The Three Stooges in my mind for some reason. “Okay,” I say out loud. “Slapstick.” I nod. “For those who cannot see it, there is a bear lying down in the lake just out of sight at the end of the dock.” “I imagine we are supposed to upset it somehow and get it chasing us. “Nobody would get hurt for real, but there would be falling and running into things and general tomfoolery. “This was to be a silly dream.” I see people nodding and a few straining to see the bear. “What I am here to show you is the key to everything: You do not have to follow the narrative.” I pause again before adding, “That's right. You can choose to do something else.” “Now, the Dreamlands might push back, but you can hold your ground and push harder.” I shake my fists. “You are the Dreamer. “Never forget that.” I sneak up on the bear and see a boat motor attached to the side of the dock, sitting in the water. “I think we were supposed to not see the bear, start the motor, and startle the bear so it's starts running,” I tell everyone. “I'm going to do something else.” I kneel down on the edge of the dock. “Hey, bear?” It doesn't move. I can see its eyes are closed. “Bear? You awake?” I ask. I reach down and nudge him with my hand. “What the—dang!” the bear says. “Why did you wake me up?” it asks. I look over my shoulder at the rest of the Dreamers. “That's right everybody. “You can talk to bears.” “Well, yeah,” the bear says. “Why wouldn't you be able to talk to me?” I turn back to the bear. “In the real world, animals do not speak the same language as the Dreamers. So we can talk, but they won't understand.” The bear rolls over and sits up in the water, “That must be inconvenient.” I shrug, “It doesn't come up as often as you'd think.” I continue, “Hey, bear. I think we were supposed to startle you and you would chase us around.” The bear scrunches its face, “Why would I chase you?” “Well, what would you do,” I ask. “Like I did just now, sit up and ask you what's going on.” I point to the motor. “I think we were supposed to start that up and startle you.” “Wait,” he said, looking over my shoulder, pointing a massive claw. “What's that?” I turn my head and see a tremendous beehive, hidden under the awning of building we just left. It may not have been there before. “Bees,” I say out loud, shaking my head. “Oh dang,” he said. “That propeller is right next to where I was sleeping. That's dangerous!” “Sorry,” I say. “We weren't supposed to notice you. “Well, you should really check the water before you start a motor like that,” he says. “I know,” I offer. “What would you have done?” “I don't know, probably run up on the shore and try to get away, but since the hotel is on this side, I'd be kind of stuck running circles. I assume the bees would swarm everybody and none of us would rightly understand what was happening.” “There it is!” I exclaim. “Misunderstanding. He wouldn't even be chasing us.” The bear grunts, “I'd probably get shot by someone though, so that'd suck for me.” “That is the world we live in,” I say. “We'll leave you to your nap.” The bear waves its huge claw and lies back down in the water. I walk down the dock until I'm back on solid ground. I motion for everyone to head back inside. One of our Dreamers has turned themself into a garbage can. I see her face reflected in the metal on the side, anxious, afraid. She didn't do it on purpose. I don't have time to deal with that right now. The garbage can slides closer to me. I can feel it. “No,” I think to myself. “I am the Dreamer and I am not handling this.” It fades from view. The front doors burst open and a grizzled, buff Christmas elf walks in. It's like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an SNL skit. “Come with me,” he says, gritting his teeth. “The Koala Uprising has begun,” he adds with grim certainty that we will both understand what this is and care enough to act. I address the group, “When you try to push, as I said, sometimes, the Dreamlands push back.” I can see through the glass doors that we are on a hill overlooking a snowy village of gingerbread houses. Explosions rock some of them, sending edible debris into the sky. I say to the group, “See? Trying to reassert control.” I turn to the elf. “No, thank you,” I say and walk past him. I motion for the group to come along. “They play on your emotions, your guilt or honor, maybe curiosity or shame or fear. “But, remember,” I hold up my finger, “it is your Dream, not theirs.” Outside, the battle is clearly raging up toward our cozy hotel. “When this happens,” I say, “I recommend flying away.” I push myself into the air with my toes until I'm about 6 or 7 feet off of the ground, just tall enough to clear the fence. I lean into the air and rocket forward a couple of blocks in a blink. Still levitating, I look back and see one woman jump up and stay in the air only a moment before falling. She tries again and stays up and in place. I see another fly too low and trip over the fence spinning themself over and over in the air. Others are confused and have no idea how to get off the ground at all. I throw up my hands, shaking my head. How can they not know how to fly? That's like Dreaming 101. Not my problem. I yell so they can hear, “The trick is to go so far, so fast that the Dreamlands cannot keep up.” “You'll either hit the edge and wake up, or your find yourself in a different scenario.” Away from them. I push against the air, leaning into it. The landscape slips by like a fast-forwarding slideshow. Something hits me hard in the shins. I stop. I was flying standing up instead of lying down. Common error for me in dreams. I look around and see a battle between super heroes and villains. I recognize them. Sinestro, Batman, Bizarro, Aquaman. The outfits are old-school cartoons. “Aren't you from Superfriends? The Legion of Doom?” Sinestro looks up at me, purple skin a uniform color. “Another one, eh?” I roll my eyes. “No, thank you,” I say. I push against the air again, this time, straight up. I'm rushing above power lines, above trees, through clouds. I know I'm risking hitting a bird or a plane, maybe even an invisible one. I can see stars, I look toward the moon. I keep pushing. “Huh?” I'm awake. The Dreamlands never let me fly to the moon.

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