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The Essay
Show #402
Les rêves du Hector
David Gunn

Hector is dreaming again. He is in Bed C of the Dream Room, a controlled sleep environment in "B" Laboratory at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire. Deep in REM sleep, his heart rate is beating like a metronome on amphetamines, 40% of the sucrose in his blood has solidified, and gastric secretions from who knows where have turned the linen bedding on which he, when not in the throes of acute levitation, reposes blue. A ferret's nest of wires snakes from his head to a large, bulky electroencephalogramometer that is parked at the foot of his cot. The internal fan that cools the unit's semiconductors sounds exactly like a Ronco Snoring Machine. Its digital readouts blink in direct contrast to Hector's dream-spurred eyeballs. A monitor from a discontinued Sega video game shows an analog reconstruction of his dream: He is asleep, but slowly awakens to the sound of magpies pecking at his liver. They never actually peck it out; they merely make a sound like it. But it is indeed a disturbing noise, and Hector rummages around in his abdomen to make sure the liver is still there. It is, but he notes that the neighboring gallbladder has turned into an avocado. Suddenly Hector is very hungry. A bell sounds on the electroencephalogramometer, corroborating a surge in the dopamine level in his leftmost cranial interstices. The machine implants the image of a banana into his brain waves, and the neurotransmitters relax.

The magpie dream morphs. Now Hector is in sinuous professorial robes teaching the fundamentals of science to a class of ninth graders, each of whom is named after an obsolete part of speech. His explanation of the atomic structure of the chemical elements is greeted with blank stares, followed by blank verse--his own, as he begins to recite the periodontal table: "aquarium, auditorium, condominium, cranium, valium, tedium, emporium, euphonium, delirium, opium, sanatorium, geranium, planetarium, pandemonium, librium, millennium, medium, moratorium, effluvium, terrarium." The mention of "effluvium" is concurrent with another gastric secretion, and the electroencephalogramometer plunks that datum into its memory buffer.

An attendant in a saffron kimono--i.e., the spice saffron, not the color--enters the Dream Room carrying an antiquated 8mm film projector. She places it atop Bed A, plugs it into a wall socket, aims it at Hector and turns it on. Mottled images dance across his face. It is impossible to tell what the images are, but Hector and the electroencephalogramometer are clearly responding to something. The former tightly scrunches his eyes closed while making little spittle noises like a cappuccino maker. A deep magenta glow emanates from the tomographic bowels of the latter; the accompanying sound is of a dog barking in the distance. The attendant removes her kimono and balls it up origamilike into the shape of a reptile, specifically, a lizard--even more specifically, a large monitor lizard native to Indonesia: the formidable Kimono dragon. In the flickering light of the projector, it seems to alternatively writhe fiercely and sit up and beg.

Whatever dream Hector is now experiencing, he seems loath to share it with the electroencephalogramometer. The machine's monitor--that is, the video receiver, not the big Indonesian lizard--is displaying only garbled snow. Hector levitates again, the snow rises concomitantly, and the dog barking morphs into the querulous chittering of a flying buttress. The attendant switches off the film projector, but for several seconds the mottled images continue to play across Hector's face, like incommoded fogdogs banished from a vaporous kennel.

Another attendant enters the Dream Room and smacks the electroencephalogramometer just above its landing gear. The magenta glow and chittering sounds disperse, and the monitor again shows Hector's enigmatic brain imagery--enigmatic, because Hector is the product of his mother's one-night indiscretion in 1957 with an echidna, a spiny anteater from Tasmania, the only mammal known to be incapable of dreaming.

Human in all respects save for a seemingly insatiable appetite for worms and ants, a pair of large claws that require frequent manicuring, and an inability to dream, Hector had long ago come to terms with and even embraced the first two personality quirks. (Yes yes, to be embraced by a pair of large claws was not for the squeamish.) But the absence of nighttime dreams was a defect that he desperately wanted to fix. Dreaming, of course, performs a neurological erasure function, eliminating extraneous information build-up in the memory system. After forty-five years without a single anamnestic elimination, Hector's memory system was ready to overflow.

Then, at his weekly echidna support group meeting, he heard about the U of H-on-S's Dream Room therapy, which boasted a better than 90% success rate for getting people to dream. He checked in, was fed a diet rich in aminopyrines and serotonin supplements and, within hours, began to release approximately 49,000 sublimated dreamscapes (i.e., 45 years x 365 nights x 3 dream events per night, give or take). However, the more Hector dreamed, the more his physical appearance changed. Coarse hair and barbless spines began to sprout all over his body. A stubby tail insinuated from behind his hemorrhoids. His ears shrank; the earring turned into a termite fetish. A long, toothless snout projected Pinnochiolike from above his erstwhile stiff upper lip. The electroencephalogramometer honked and attempted to levitate; the monitor displayed an advert for a prescription-only depilatory, followed by a fuzzy image of the Kimono dragon and his mother heading tail and arm towards the boudoir. It looked as if a "with reservations" asterisk might accompany Hector's "people who successfully dreamed" entry in the U of H-on-S's record book.

Today, Hector, so we're told, dreams on, unwilling to awaken and be forced to lay eggs and dig for ants and worms--a fitting metaphor, indeed, for this reluctantly abbreviated 402nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, half of whose own categorically unrelaxed neurotransmitters belongs to Kalvos.