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Dreamed 1993/9/14 by Chris Wayan

For Nina Glaser, whose surreal photographs inspired this dream

The future. I still live in San Francisco, on Bernal Hill, which is busier than I recall, with light industry, shops, and a small college. But unlike the City's grid of famously steep streets, the Hill is still a maze of winding lanes, old cow paths really. A few are still dirt.

I learn to levitate. Peer in high windows and down on compounds and loading docks of the sourdough bakers, the pasta plant, the tomato-sauce factory (Italians settled the Hill early, and feral fennel still chokes our empty lots). Levitation's giving me an overview of the workflow, the blood circulation of the beast that's the Hill.

Am I out to change it, effect a social revolution? Or just to learn how to cook decent Italian? I seem unclear.

Either way, I must be discreet. Aliens rule the City, and it's risky to draw their attention by flying. Levitation itself is harmless, but flyers may develop other psychic powers that could be weapons. So most of the time, I just walk the Hill, and save flight for foggy evenings.

Tonight I'm melancholy, and walk alone. A new row of trendy little shops has gone up, on the west slope. In a music shop I see a synthesizer with red and black and white keys. Reminds me, I hid my own synth around here somewhere, up a tree. Where, exactly? I've forgotten! Realize I'm slightly lost in the fog...

I brush past a young Asian guy who snarls "You go watch where go, you!" in a thick accent. I feel insulted: he was in my way as much as I was in his. Maybe he's a recent transfer-student, but his own insecurity is no license for yelling at me.

A big grassy ditch leads up the hill. A seasonal streambed? Doesn't seem to be. Strange. A buried pipe, maybe? Behind me, the green V leads down to the new BART station at the foot of the hill. I go up because I'd naturally hide my synth somewhere high. (I may be amnesic but I know how I think.)

The grassy ditch ends at a corner bar where I've gone with friends, now and then. I peer at the strangers inside but that make me feel too much like Peter Pan. Force myself to walk in. A few attractive women at tables... eating and drinking things I allergic to, wearing makeup toxic to me, talking of jobs I can't do, of relationships I probably couldn't (as a mild autistic) even understand. I read the menu... nothing I can have. Maybe one beer wouldn't poison me, but why risk it? No one to get drunk with--no autistic levitating genius girl. I'm alone in this jammed damned room.

I walk out. Follow the winding street. The gutter deepens slowly to a narrow, shallow lake. I've seen it before; it's semi-seasonal, often drying in summer.

A woman on the far shore waves and frowns at me, points ahead to a bend--no, the lake-head. Curious, I head for the grove there, and meet her. Hidden in the grove is a house. She putcs a finger to her lips, and squats by the lake. I join her, puzzled. Oh! She's fishing.

We catch four big eels barehanded. They're four feet long with oddly squarish cross-sections. She leads me into the house, and we set them down in the living room. They crawl around on lobe-fins. Lungfish? They can breathe air!

She shows me they have moldable bodies. We squeeze them into different shapes. Is this ethical? Try to justify it to myself by noticing how dully they respond; not bright! They don't care, indeed hardly seem to notice their shape. The woman encourages me to mold them as I please. I still feel strange about changing them. Don't push them too far.

More people arrive, all young, mostly women, all attractive. More than that. Alive.

They say "We've been judging you, based on how you treated the Malleable Eels." I gulp. Was I cruel?

"You passed the test. You showed compassion. You went with your feelings, rather than your rationalizations."

I'm not sure what they mean, but I'm relieved. I want very much to be accepted here. Unlike the women in the bar, they feel exciting, sexy, powerful.

They take me out to sit on the dock, over the pond, and explain the reason for the test. "There's an invasion," they tell me, "of aliens..."

I snort "I know THAT!"

"...who have been taking human form, mimicking human instincts--fitting in." That I didn't know. "They're polite, they don't cause trouble. But no one can be quite sure now who is real, how many are just acting."

" You thought it was possible I was one?" They look at each other. "Just how common ARE these aliens, then? You run into so many you test routinely?"

" We run into that many of them, yes." They smile sadly at me, as if they're sorry for me somehow. I don't get it. Unless they're saying--no, I'm strange, but I passed their test, it proved I'm not an alien.

One by one, my hosts stand up, and walk solemnly behind a concrete piling, and back out the other side, and come sit down by me again. Their faces are still beautiful, sexy, human--but not the same ones. Shifters.

They were the eels, too, I realize slowly.

" How many real humans are there, then?" I ask, shaken. I'd have sworn they were.

They look at me sadly. One of the girls says "We'll always love you."

The only one. The only one left. Such a wave of grief goes through me. They aren't bad people, just... they only have this form out of politeness to me... the last relic of the old race.

I think "I must be strong," and I force myself to feel curiosity about them, push my grief back. Ask questions about their people... how ironic, they're acting human for me, but I'm acting human for them, acting like I care, when I just want to run off and cry alone. Their feelings are just acting. Their beauty, their expressions are artificial: created just to be nice to me. Could just as well have been lobsters.

I will never find love. No one shares my instincts, my drives. And I can never be one of them either. I'm a cripple, now: the only person in the world who can't change. A woman with mottled stonelike skin cradles three eels.


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