The title is what he said to me as the starting pistol crashed over our first journey. Luchino. The Lucid Dream Guide. Bald in the centre of his head but holding fierce along the side, his wide jowls are strung together by a bushy moustache. He likes to move his glasses from his face to his lap when he speaks. Endlessly pondering in his deep voice, the words from Luchino are an ongoing lecture, as though he invents new dialects as the words come out of his mouth. I saw him first under dark lighting, in lime chiaroscuro. My life had become a series of titles and lists. There was no reachable future in sight, or a past that could be counted on. Two years had disappeared into dust and I had lost my ability to put myself into any of the places I had been. The feeling of memory had gone. And yet I continued to dream of distant relatives, of impossible romances, of fighting wars, and the pressure of waves drowning my feet.
Luchino’s number was given to me by a friend of a friend. Well, an acquaintance of an acquaintance, I don’t have friends per se. Not at his moment in time. Luchino’s main practice is psychiatry, he couldn’t possibly afford to live in this city on the drabs of a lost art form. The number given to me was his secret line, that he would only answer between 00.00 and 00.05.
He answers: Do you have any stake in being awake?
I reply: Is this Luchino’s office?
He answers: Seventy-nine ninety-nine per hour, that will be fine.
I reply: Should I be rhyming too?
The beep of rejection echoed in my ears, and my existence continued. I’m a photographer, or at least I pretend to be, the more photographs I take the more I see them as designed images, created to mess with me. The click of the camera births a reality that I am separate from. It is quite unsettling, but for now, people still buy my work in this town. The ability to pay my rent means that I am still alive. I think and so I am. I pay taxes and so the sun keeps rising. The great problem with my work is that I cannot have living beings present in my photographs, no human, animal, or insect. Okay, I am exaggerating slightly with the insect part, I am sure there are millions of tiny breathing bacteria in every photo that I’ve taken, but I try my best to remove them. Shooting inanimate objects and buildings doesn’t sound so insane does it? Yet it has been a great impediment to my success, because the photograph is ruined whenever sentience gets close, and often I have discarded photographs if know there’s a person just outside the frame, or if a bird flew over my head moments before I pulled the trigger. Anyway, it was an afternoon when the wheels started to turn. I’m not sure on the exact time and place because each day interloped into the next, moving like clouds across the sun. I remember being warm, and I remember I had my camera fixed on a washing line strung between two buildings, trying to get a shot of the breeze interrupting the clothes. The reflections from the windows of the apartments were irritating me, and I had been stood straining my neck for some time. Then I heard a noise. It was a kind of jovial tune, slightly obnoxious, and repetitive. Then the side of my thigh started to shake. I grabbed my trouser pocket worried that my leg was going to fall off its hinges and felt the buzzing phone. Ah, how could I forget? I’d had that thing for years, I think. The camera dropped to my chest from its straps as I held the phone to my ear.
The rejection beep was more abrupt this time. I looked at the phone, and a message appeared.
ABOVE LAROUSESSE’S DELI, APARTMENT 2. TUESDAY. 00:10. 79.99.
My keen investigative skills led me to deduce quickly that this was Luchino. I wasn’t a fan of the mystery, and making Tuesday was the first obstacle, for the simple reason that I had no idea what day it was. I walked around in search of a newspaper stand, unable to look at the date on my phone because of its inherent lying. The space between screens and my eyes had been fibbing for a while, and that ethereal distance was haunting. I found a news stand and saw several papers laid over each other all indicating that it was Monday, meaning 00:10 on Tuesday was hours away, I knew that at least. And where is Lourousesse’s Deli? I asked the news guy: Where is Larousesse’s Deli? And the news guy said: Larousesse Street. It’s the place with the dictionary theme. They have dictionaries stacked everywhere and words glued to the windows. I asked the news guy: Where is Larousesse Street? And the news guy said: Next to Fuck Off There’s a Queue and You’ve Been in this Town Long Enough to Know Where that Fucking Deli is Avenue. I was familiar with that street, so all I had to do was go to Fuck Off There’s a Queue and You’ve Been in this Town Long Enough to Know Where that Fucking Deli is Avenue and Larousse should be around the corner.
Midnight approached. I wandered the paths and alleys of this cold town, my shoulders beamed by kitchen lights and heated ovens. How do the normal people live? I suspect they do not dream as I do. They are not followed by the spirits of the unseen, the effable, the creepy crawlies that whip themselves down sound waves and eat dinner in the gaps between my fingers. I’m a hypocrite, it didn’t use to be like this, I used to be able to touch things. I was tarnished, a member of the regret club, and my dreams were the only thing that got me out of bed. I needed Luchino. The time for the meeting came. I had been waiting on Larousse Street, doing a stakeout of the deli. The place was shut but the lights were still on, and the dictionary theme amused me. Written across the window, in watered on fabric, were the words: Transcendental, Paradigm, and Insurmountable. I learned later that they change the words once a week. The door next to the deli opened with a push, and I was invited by a straight stairway as I entered. I followed the stairs around to the second floor, seeing apartment number 2 immediately. The door creaked open as my hand floated towards it to knock. Luchino was smiling. “Come in,” he said. I stepped across the threshold onto a fluffy orange carpet, darkened by presumably centuries of wear and tear. All of the light bulbs glowed green, and perched upon every available space was a house plant – on the kitchen counter, on the mantlepiece, on the dining room table, on the little gap at the edge of the TV stand, on the floor. I wouldn’t be able to take photosynthesis in there, I mean photographs, because plant breathing counts too.
Luchino glided to a red armchair in the corner of the open living room and collapsed into it. “Where should I sit?” I asked.
“Let’s deal with the matter of payment first,” Luchino said.
“Yes, the seventy-nine, ninety-nine. I was hoping you could run me a tab.”
“I don’t have the seventy-nine, ninety-nine.”
“No, I mean. On the phone you said seventy-nine ninety-nine per hour, that will be fine. I don’t have seventy-nine, ninety-nine.”
“Yes and I mean don’t worry about it for now.”
“Oh, thank you, where should I sit again?”
“Most people ask why I hung up when they first called, then texted them a week later.”
“That was my second question. Actually, I was going to ask how you got my number.” (I’m still stood up)
“You rang me with it, remember?”
“Yes, well, I don’t remember, but I guess I do now.”
“Great. If you’re not going to accost me for my peculiar modes of communication then please sit down on that sofa right there, by the one with the spikey petals.”
“Thank you.” (I sit down)
“Are you not going to ask me why I hung up when you first called, then texted you a week later?”
“I presume it was because you wanted to assess me. No doubt you sieved through my online records before deeming I was worthy of treatment.”
“You presumed correct. Well done.”
“I am curious by all the mystery. Am I breaking a law by being here?”
“No, you are not. The mystery is for my own mental safety. Digging around in dreams can be very dangerous for the guide. I cannot open myself up for any old deranged lunatic to come in here and mucky my psyche. And my practice is frowned upon by the medical community. I choose to keep this side of my work private, as to not jeopardise my reputation in the mainstream fields.”
“Okay, is it going to hurt?”
“It depends on what you define pain as. First, you must tell me why you are here.”
I took a breath. “I have become numb to the world and other people. I can no longer recall memories. It is not Alzheimer’s because the memories are there, but they don’t feel real. And I’m dreaming, and it’s the only thing that I’m certain that I’m doing. They are beginning to blend with my daily life, and I cannot separate them from reality.”
“I see. This is a classic case. I will give you two philosophical thoughts to meditate over before we continue: number one, memories seeming unreal is a common feeling amongst almost the entirety of humanity, because the past itself does not really exist, once it has happened. Number two, our consciousness could be some kind of dream, our waking life and sleeping life are under the same umbrella of our mind.”
“Is it raining?”
“Please, in silence. You have ten minutes.”
I sat staring at the surrounding plants. Was I supposed to close my eyes? Luchino wasn’t, his glare was fixated over my left shoulder. I am convinced that Luchino can see the space in between, he can communicate with the distance. During the ten minutes my mind drifted away from the proposed topics. I thought of a woman I once slept with and the two freckles on her neck, I thought of when I lost a year’s worth of photos in a hard-drive meltdown incident, I thought of when my childhood cat went under my bed for a quiet place to die. Luchino snapped his fingers. “Do not say anything,” he said. “The meditation is for you, as is the next stage. You will spend the next week cataloguing your dreams. I want you to stop working, stop leaving the house, stop watching TV, stop going on your phone, stop doing anything. You are only to sit, and sleep, and dream, then we will know if you require treatment.”
“I can’t do anything?” I asked.
“Exercise is permitted. If you have any wall decorations, taking them down will help. You can leave now.”
“Wait. I’m having trouble keeping track of the days, could you give me something now to tide me over until next week? Otherwise, I might miss the appointment.” Luchino reached into the inside pocket of his corduroy sports jacket and handed me over a digital watch. I left with it on my wrist.
Luchino’s task was easy. It was how I was living already. I had even taken down my wall decorations a few months earlier because I wasn’t happy with the way they were looking at me. A Japanese painting of a serene waterfall can be extremely judgemental. It was the watch that frightened me, how did I know that I could trust it? I drank and ate what remained in my apartment, a combination of expired orange juice and Basmati rice with boiled frozen peas. Luchino didn’t say anything about keeping to a basic diet, but I thought it might help the process to completely strip away all the enjoyment from my life. I sat for hours every day staring at the walls, the kitchen installations, the blank television, sometimes the ceiling for a treat. And I slept and slept and slept, in a combination of small bursts and longer deeper slumbers. Even when I couldn’t sleep, I laid with my eyes closed until I reached the absent state of consciousness that you fall in and out of before and after sleeping. A state Luchino likes to call the Lost Base. My mind ticked over, of course, with regrets and sexual urges and worries, but they never dug their feet in too deep. And so, I dreamt. This is the catalogue I showed Luchino at our second appointment:
Tuesday night: Green lights and hallways.
Wednesday night: I rented a house with a loved one, and we had scary neighbours. If we left the heating on the neighbours would come and attack us. There were protests outside.
Thursday afternoon: I made an online video by accident. Everyone I know loves it.
Friday night: I am back in school, and in a relationship with a famous actress. She keeps saying mean things to me whenever I see her.
Sunday night: I come up with an incredible song and perform it at a festival in front of thousands of people. When I wake up, I realise the song already exists.
Monday afternoon: Two opposing groups of men are fighting outside a Polish train station. I try to get out of the way, but I get trapped in an underground shopping centre.
The watch eventually came round to TUE on the minuscule screen. I had no choice but to trust it. When I arrived at Larousesse’s Deli the words in the window had been changed to: theatricalising, paroxysm, and imperturbable. I was relieved to see the watch hadn’t let me down when Luchino opened the door to his apartment again. We sat in the same places as the week before. Luchino looked up from my catalogue, and asked, “What about Saturday night?”
“No dreams,” I said.
“Interesting, and would you call any of these nightmares?”
“Dreams and nightmares are the same to me. Neither one scares or excites me more than the other.”
“So, what do they mean?”
“Nothing. Dreams don’t mean anything. They are simply projections of our lived reality. Sure, they may indicate stress or a sexual longing, but anything else is guesswork.”
“What? So why am I here?”
Luchino grinned. “To be in charge of your dreams, to live inside them. That way you will better understand your own reality. I needed to see whether you could conjure dreams without distraction, and you can, well done. You have passed.”
“Follow me.” Luchino sat up and wobbled his small frame towards a door at the other end of the room. He went into his pockets for a set of keys as I hovered behind him. Through the door was a room with a single white light in the centre, showing a beach lounge chair (the kind with no back support), that sat on a patch of artificial grass. There was a great deal of space around the chair, but it was too dark to see what lingered in the blackness. Luchino instructed me to lay down on the chair, and it took me a couple of wriggles to get to a position where I would be able to get up again. In the darkness, I heard Luchino mixing together liquid, hearing the trickles, then he emerged and placed a wet towel over my forehead. “It will take a while for the medicine to seep through,” Luchino said. “I suggest that you get comfortable.”
I was there before I knew it. An emptiness, but with a foundation. My feet were touching something. “Can you see me?” Luchino asked.
“No,” I said, not sure if I had actually said anything. Then he appeared, not in my eyeline, but somewhere else. “Wait, I can see you. Or I can feel that I can see you.” Luchino’s face suddenly engulfed my entire imagination, and his voice echoed across my body: Take a walk down from reality and into the realm of dreams. I fell downwards through viscous lava. It temporarily burned my skin. I fell further, this time through stacks of papers, and they crumpled into balls and down my throat, thousands of them forcing themselves into my intestines. I couldn’t breathe. Then I landed with an empty stomach onto a hard surface. “What’s happening?” I asked, again unable to hear myself.
“You have reached the Lost Base. The in between of awake and asleep.”
“The medicine. It will give you an illusionary control over your dreams, but we must wait for them to arrive.” Meditative silence in the Lost Base is a comfortable sensation. In truth, I had no idea where I was, whether I was still in the lounge chair, or if Luchino was rifling through my pockets looking for something to steal, or he had killed me, and this was the afterlife. But I was comfortable. The infrastructures of my dreams began to appear on the horizon, sprouting like tentacles of black smoke. Luchino’s face was neither above nor below them, it was situated like a photograph overlayed onto another, transparent and constantly present, as was his voice, which replaced my own inner monologue. I was a vessel. Luchino spoke, or thought, these words: You have to learn to fight me away. Imagine you are in a nightmare and you are trying to wake up, trying to call out for your mother for it to stop. Confront me and take control.
And so, I did. I pushed back and wrestled with Luchino’s dominance over my mind. At first, I couldn’t move, but as I centred my emotion on Luchino’s floating spectre, the figures of the dream took shape. They were abstract, faceless people and tall buildings emitting gas, an ocean of water flowing through them with boats riding the tides. I walked through them, and I was euphoric. I could feel my left leg going with me, then my right, then I could hear my own voice inside my head. What did I want to see? Swimming through the flooding waters I emerged to a room of people clapping, and I turned around to see a photograph that I had taken long ago. It was a self-portrait, the camera rested on my stomach pointed towards a mirror in a clothing store. The background was blurred, and I rubbed the photographs with my hands trying to focus the image with my mind, but my hand began to wipe the dream away. Like steam on a mirror evaporating, the emptiness took the tangible’s place, and gradually I woke up, back to Luchino. I rolled over to my side on the lounge chair, away from Luchino, blinded by the light. “That’s it,” he said. “Take your time. You got a long way for your first journey.” I writhed around in the chair, stretching my muscles, trying to feel more awake and alive.
“The photograph,” I said, still facing away from Luchino. “Could you see it?”
“I could see everything.”
“I’m not sure whether I’ve already taken that photograph, or if I’m going to take it.”
“The dreamworld is not prophetic. Your ego is the driving force of your mental burdens. Tell me, why can’t you take photos of other people?”
“They repulse me. Something alive in my work is an unpicked scab, a blemish.”
“And do your palms ever itch?”
I sat up and looked at Luchino. He was sweating. “I have to go back to wherever I just was,” I said.
“In time,” Luchino said. “In time.”
The following week I returned to Luchino’s apartment with a set of goals, all of which I never achieved. Our session was a step back. From the Lost Base I could only see the dream figures in the distance before waking up. The week after that was the same. Then I began to move laterally, to the alleyways of the figures, and I spoke to old friends and my parents, and teachers, and ex-girlfriends. It was useless, all I wanted was the photograph. After each session Luchino would preach his philosophical arguments to me, that my ego was the obstacle, that I needed to connect truly to another human being, that the past was irrelevant. He was, and still is, naïve and wrong. The quest for artistic perfection extends far greater than those menial plunders, and so our battles got bloodier in the Lost Base, both of us entrenched in our ideologies. This went on for months, or was it years? It could feel like days passing in the realm of dreams. I would wake up in my apartment thinking I was awake, but really, I was in the lounge chair at Luchino’s navigating across coastlines of the asleep. To aid my mission, I drew outlines, a blueprint of what the photograph could be, and showed them to Luchino. He inspected them with a sense of intrigue, seeing me as a psychiatric case that one day he could write about. I got there first, Luchino. My memories refused to return, and the distance between all matter expanded away from my fingertips.
Luchino’s arrest happened whilst the towel was on my forehead. I was making a breakthrough, managing to seat myself in the auditorium that was clapping my work, somewhere in the back squeezed between two rolling film cameras. Then I heard shouting, and I awoke in a hospital. I called out Luchino’s name to see if he was in my mind, and I was asleep, but there was no response. The police interrogated me as I hung from an IV drip. I told them the complete truth, and they said I was not liable for charges under clause 17 of the Dangerous Experiment Act of 1998, which reads: The person under the Dangerous Experiment is not liable for charges, as long as they were not profiting financially from the Dangerous Experiment. The fact that I had never even paid Luchino for the sessions gave the two police officers a hearty laugh. I even chuckled myself. Luchino was sentenced to two lifetimes of imprisonment (they quadrupled his sentence because he was buying his house plants on the black market from terrorists) and I haven’t seen him since. The only connection that remains between us is this watch on my wrist. I trust it now, and its grip is getting tighter, strangling the blood from my hand, enflaming my ageing palms. And so here I am, basically homeless, but not really, typing into a computer trying to feel something. I have been strolling down the roads of this town, tracing the steps of where the dreams with Luchino took me as I proceed from pavement to pavement. With extreme vigour, I have researched whatever concoction Luchino put into that towel that sent me to the Lost Base and discovered nothing. The police wouldn’t tell me a thing, and I assume they think I’m utterly insane. I have stopped dreaming too. My sleep is completely blank. It’s like I have tasted all the good food in the world, exhausted every drop of emotion, danced to every great song. This does not mean that the pursuit is over. I have several plans that will allow me to see the photograph again. I must scan the events of my life until I find the moment that I took the shot, I must dream again, I must dream of the future, and I must reach out to another practitioner of Luchino’s methods. Who gave me his number again? If only I could remember.