The movie gave her nightmares for four nights running—nightmares like she had not had since her husband had convinced her to watch a gruesome film in which an unknown madman arranged for person after person to kill themselves in inventive and horrible ways. Which was strange because unlike that other movie, this movie was intended for small children. It was animated. It was rated G.
But it was absolutely terrifying, at least once her subconscious took hold of it after her conscious mind turned in for the evening.
Each dream was more or less the same. First she was running through debris-strewn and dirty streets devoid of any other humans. Shop windows jailed blank-faced mannequins observing her as she passed, their wigs askew or gone altogether…some with arms or hands amputated. Newspaper vending machines held breaking news frozen in time from decades ago. The sun shone brightly on hundreds of dusty, cracked windshields of haphazardly parked, driverless cars.
As she ran one thought propelled her ever forward:
Where are the People?
Signs of the People were discarded everywhere: here, a soda bottle, its label announcing better taste and fewer calories…there, a neon yellow personal music player with its postage stamp-sized display cracked down the center. Here and there some of the machines that the People had built were still working. One was forever broadcasting a vacation spot to an island locale, telling of its stress-reducing and partner-reconnecting powers and urging interested parties to book soon to take advantage of low holiday rates. Another was a two-child Ferris wheel outside of what once was a store that sold organically-grown apples and 12-count collections of toilet paper rolls and sweet-smelling multicolored cosmetics and shiny dvds enclosed in thin hard plastic packaging. The two riderless horses chased each other in a circle—nuzzle to tail, nuzzle to tail—to the warbled tune of a long-forgotten nursery song.
But no matter how far she ran, or how fast, she could not see the People themselves anywhere.
There were other things that moved, however, that were not the People or their machines. These were dark brown, hard shelled, long-antennaed things that had grown huge in an atmosphere of chemical non-interference. These things did not skitter from her approaching footsteps as their ancestors would have, or seek shelter in the dark caves of mounded debris. They sunned themselves openly, and congregated in threes and fours and fives to explore the empty containers in her path. She was the one who skittered from them, avoiding stepping on them lest they injure her bare dusty feet.
Then at some point in the dream during the running and searching in the dusty sunlight the point of view shifted, as points of view in dreams often inexplicably do. She was now stalking and hiding, fearful of being seen. Everywhere here was gleaming white—a white hard and sharp and cold like a photograph that had been mistakenly overexposed. Here was high above the earth. Here there was a constant hum, like background music, and the machines that were collectively responsible for the sound whisked around inches above the gleaming white floors doing things that they had been programmed to do with calm routine and indifferent efficiency.
Here there were People. These People had grown huge in an atmosphere of physical non-interference. They floated like the machines, but inclined as if ready to sleep. They drank from soda bottles with labels announcing better taste with fewer calories. But these were not the People. As many as there were here—huge and floating and sipping—there were not enough of them to account for how many there should have been back down on earth. These were only few, comparatively.
Where were all the Others? What happened to the People?
She stalked and hid, here behind a towering bin containing discarded debris from these huge People, there inside of a walk-in freezer containing colorful treats for the People’s future consumption. She was afraid of being seen, but not sure of by whom. She was aware, as she stalked and hid, that she was leaving dirty dusty bits of herself everywhere she went. She was a blight on this cool, clean, calm, gleaming white world. She in her brownness knew that she did not belong here in this place. Nor was she stalking and hiding in an attempt to somehow fit or stay in this place. Her mission here was the same as it had been on earth: Find the People.
(Now this is the point of the dream that for four nights running caused her to awaken with her heart pounding and sweat pooling in the crevices of her neck.)
She was emerging from behind a rolling cart of folded white bath towels that she knew would be soft and fluffy to the touch if she dared to soil them with her fingers. The coast seemed to be clear. No machines or huge People were there to see her. She had only to head to a door a few feet away. But as her foot was landing on her second step a machine that only came up to her waist emerged from nowhere. It was, like all the other machines here, gleaming white. Only a small area where its face might have been was gleaming black, like a dark visor. It was legless, and its arms were like fishes’ fins. Something on its front where its belly might have been revved up and a green light began blinking wildly. At this the machine raised one of its fin-arms, from which had sprouted a weapon as long as the machine was tall. It pointed the weapon right at her.
The revving noise was the last thing she heard those four nights before consciousness rescued her.
She never knew why the nightmares stopped, but was greatly relieved when they did. She never told anyone of the dreams. She knew people would laugh at her. What adult suffers nightmares from a G-rated, animated, children’s film? Watched on pay-per-view from the comfort of one’s own family room, no less?
So she never told a soul. But some days long after the nightmares had stopped, she would taste dust in her mouth, or a strange tangy metalic flavor, and she would be reminded of her frantic search and frenzied hiding and implied violent demise. Usually this sense memory would come while she was surrounded by people–people tossing footballs and frisbees in a park, or people jostled together in a line waiting for entrance to the zoo, or people in their cars while she was in her car sipping four dollars’ worth of vanilla flavored coffee from a paper cup during morning rush hour. Surrounded by the People and all their machines and all their things.