Instructions on Falling Backwards Into the Dreaming Sea: Or, Midnight Is Not Morning But You Can Make Time Skip Like Anaesthesia
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It isn’t nodding off. That I learned recently, where sleep turns anaconda and coils, slumberingly travel pillows about the neck. Realize this slowly, suffocatingly, and know: this is not how to sleep — rather, this is how to get somewhere where you can. You must learn. Learn how to arrive at the doors of sleep, eyes forward and hand on the bar, and learn like how badger claws cedar how to turn the handle.

I was riding the Amtrak 509, 9:24 with the anxious sun shying down beneath the treetops, when I learned. Over my life, I have lived by the Pacific, and this tells in my dreaming ways: it was osprey after salmon who taught me, not my body nor my brain, how to dive into sleep, and it was rare bottlenose dolphin of the Puget Sound who taught me how to stay beneath the ocean’s mirror without drowning nor coming up for air. There are more lessons, but the ones for sleep and dreaming come from the sea for me — and so as I sat where I was, I watched, bleary, stars shattered through the double-plexiglass scratched-up windows gleaming, illuminating the forest like headlights made softer, wider, rounder gentler and sideways. And I sat there, the world buzzing under my skin, and I watched time rage on by.

And so, from the train as the sky turns purple with streaks of butter-white with magenta-amethyst splotches which will soon be galaxies: here is how to go to sleep.

My first step is closing the eyes. Reinforcing the head is optional, of course — if you keep lucid enough, your muscles will not untense and your head will not drop into a nod that wakes you with the jerk of movement you have become — though after too many times on a bus at 3am nodding off to the world, even the rattling window is preferable: a stable surface upon which I may rest my weary head, a sea of clover and moss where plums neatly rest upon from their long fall down the tree, unbruised and unblemished, unscratched and unharmed. This is how you want your dreams. In sparring, the longsword takes spring steel — razor piano wires, 39-inch silver alloy, twin-sided and beautiful, shining inside webbing of fingers wearing mirror-bright amethyst-opal rings, metal bright in rice-paper air filled with petal confetti — like this, here you want to be strong through soft rigidity. That there is a dream. Now, how do we get there?

We start with closing eyes, yes. Then, sitting in the seat on the Amtrak, tracks like skate wheels sliding in a roller derby bout, feel your body. Feel your blood, feel the way you nestle inside yourself, just beneath the skin. Are you lean? Muscular? Broad? Thin? Understand what your shape is. You have feet, ankles, toes, calves — work your way from the bottom up, not forgetting the hands and fingers. Check how they are. Are they being held up? Drop them like fainting. Make yourself limp — limp in a way that your body is fossilized, does not fall over. Only then can you proceed. If you feel your limpness becomes gelatin under heat, restart. Use your bones to hold yourself together when your muscles have long stopped retaining your form for you. I, personally, do not often stand — my mind, though not my body, often is either leaping, about to fly; curled up, like a cat in a cool morning; lock-jointed, moon-dewed heart-shamrocks shading my scales from the late brimming stars; sleeping against a hard oak corner, knees curled to my chest.

Find yourself. Hold yourself in such a way that your body will not move even when you let it go. And make your body not move, even if you want to.

Become locked in place. And shut it down.

Put yourself — emotional, referential, personal, social — as a landscape. A birch-tree-filled bog; an icicled mountain peak in a snowstorm; a rice field slope, standing there in your muckboots, stems whipping in the bluster and hard raw grails smattering your skin like hailstones. Hair whipping in the silent wet lightning. Establish your new mind-body outside of your cage-body. I live by the sea, so this is where I come when I go to sleep, and you can use anything else — fall upwards towards the sky, look down by turning your face towards the sun, slide sideways like how one does in one of those horrid deserts nowhere near my beloved ocean — but this is me, and so I describe how I arrive at the gates of Hypnos.

Introduce a sensation to your mental body. Something to anchor you inside yourself, that you may detach yourself from your physical form. Imagine the waves, soundless buoyancy and rise-and-fall of floating on your back in the ocean. I have a friend who uses the rhythms of archery draw-breathing, that emptying of self so one becomes as the forest with each exhale, losing yourself with every expulsion of air. And so, like the woods when they are alive: when you have become an echo to your waking form, to your body, and have found yourself able to move your mental body without twitching your flesh — let yourself drift. A TV screen with the remote sat upon; a video, the spacebar leant upon. And then, lying down but not feeling it—

Remove the buoyancy from the waves. It’s air now, and cold.

Fall backwards into the sea.


I am plummeting beneath the waves.

The water is dark, soundless, ribboning past my upturned face distinguishable only as the muffled wake of salt and the bubbles tugging over my skin. My braids bead with trapped air like undersea puddles under a night sky — one lit by neither moon nor stars.

Hear the whale-song reverberate through your bones, the scraping of integrated salt over your world-barrier, your castle-moat, your organs-holder. I am nothing: a single experience — the roar of water and pressure, one becoming bloodlust-orchestra and then snapping as an oil pipeline after too many breaths gather as lung-saviours for unwitting divers at a corner — snagged with the offmelt of industry: unsmoothed walls, viperfish fangs of crooked metal snares. Oxygen, oil-soaked oxygen all about, bemoaning and never understanding the fate of pelicans and marshes who love it, the canebrakes felled to make this endotracheal fluid for cars portable. No sound, no light, no memory. Only the deep.

And the slap of tendinous fins over my skin.

I whirl, or at least the water does. No way to tell how far I have turned — maybe ten degrees, maybe one eighty. The stars, would they be here, churn. The water is fuzzy: marine snow falling, bubbles rising from some sediment far below. An oil rig is above me and a saturation diver has imploded; experienced delta-V against an oil pipeline, will have their viscera gurgled into a car in two to four weeks; or perhaps their line is cut by a diving buddy who hated them for years and never let them know, experienced a vendetta of religious zealotism, the fault of years in planning and training for an untraceable act of erasure against the universe for no eyes exist in the deep except for your own. I whirl, and I see the lie of the thought describing only two eyes in the deep, because a huge pupil is black and so invisible against the dark.

I heft my spear, gasp a heartfelt asthmatic heave, and I plunge the spearhead straight ahead through the softness like a javelin: a void-side of a planet encased in a worldwide sunset seen from orbit.

The membrane shudders, rolls — the lens is like glass, my spear splintering inside and I release the shaft, flooding myself away on an avalanche: the gelatinous hyposalinic glue from the anterior chamber flushes into the salt I live in, agonizing and globbing against my fins that long ago replaced my legs. A roar, or maybe a moan, fills my ears — my eardrums scream; I curl into myself in agony; something pops in my head and my skull feels light, full of air. My eardrums have ruptured, a pain like asbestos-toothed worms made of dryer lint burrowing inside and chewing gluttonous for red ambrosia, soaking themselves like cotton balls stuffed within an unwise haze of ecstasy at a concert. I moan, like my target, then straighten, breathing ragged the water heavy, so reluctant to leave my lungs as though there is an anticurrent inside my esophagus. The fins so much larger than mine whirl about me, and I am without my spear—

but there is a nylon wire connecting me to it, because no diver nor construction worker keeps tools on their body without a way to get them back. I am connected, then, to my fish’s eye.

I wait, wire unspooling. And when I have an estimated five or so feet left in my coil, I stop the line short and — finning fish-wake washing me in deafening texture and pressure of water, not sound, like I am pummeled by great swathes of leaden silk thrown from catapults —

The line goes sharp, taut, and in a singular violence of action I am tugged.

Slaughtering a leviathan means seeing prey as a conglomeration of limb-shaped monuments. I lock my fingers under a loose scale, pry it up and grasp like a prison escapee with second thoughts to a windowsill. The fell abyssal thing turns in the void-made-water like an eel and I surge upward across its coils, aiming back towards its skull. The leviathan does not wait — a gap in the armour of my movements, and it charges.

I turn myself and somersault backwards, belly-up; my prey misfires its propulsion and grazes my tail. Scale-stropped teeth flare in the dark: I cannot see, but I can feel, and there they are, caging like needleous fingers about a mistnetted leopard shark for tagging.

With my back bracing against its tongue, I yank my spear to me; it dislodges from the eye, and the animal opens its mouth in a cry. Then the shaft is in my hand, and I stiffen in preparation. With stone lungs, I thrust the spearpoint into the ceiling of a mouth the size of a cathedral.

My leviathan bellows; the water shakes, and it dives. I can feel it. There is a certain lizard called a sandfish that swims through sand grains at a frequency of 3Hz; I believe fish to also swim at a frequency enough to splice the water. Whatever it is, this is the frequency at which the leviathan’s tail pummels the sea. The vibration shakes my ribs, resonates in the liquids that hold in the interstitial spaces and between the fibres comprising the delicacies that are my soon to be deep-sea-adapted organs. With my spear jammed into its skull, and with the roar of water and pressure building, pulping my lungs into cough medicine flavoured gelatin and my eyeballs into red wetted styrofoam beads from careless crushing hands, drowsying threads waltzing marching lines across my muscles as I tear in two, I press up, and my spear—

cracks through.

Somewhere high above is a madness of purple sky and yellow sun and orange-red clouds like pustulent weeping sores. In the black miles below, I scrabble and twist the shaft; I lobotomize this beautiful, tender creature. I am wholly in the dream now; briefly, with that thought, there is a reemergence; I feel like I am at the crest of a wave, the sensations of my sleeping body: the regularity of my breathing, the deafness of my ears when I am sleeping but to the sounds I have conditioned myself to hear; and with that swiftness of rising I clamp down on awareness, no, no, and I am back. I spiral downwards into the deep, vicious swathes of buttery brain matter blooming in gloopy warm masses to slather across my face and across the leviathan’s open esophagus, choking.

Fish don’t have ears. To know which way is up in the black, fish use otoliths to sense which way is up. They are located beneath and behind the brain in lymph-filled cavities.

The leviathan is still diving. The pressure is unbearable. My skin shrinks into my muscles and my muscles collapse, crunch down globlike, into minute fractures in my bones.

I aim my spear, and like turning a lever I pull the shaft forward. Hard matter of paired otoliths, and I shove inward until something pops.

My eardrums burst long ago. People are born in agony, cry when they greet the world, so pain fades with time for us. But the leviathan is the greatest predator of the sea, and is coddled by its existence at the top. This pain is unbearable, and now it knows no direction, and now its attacker tugs its teeth from the inside like the bridle of a horse. It still cannot swallow, motor cortex three quarters destroyed. I adjust the shaft, slip it almost wholly out of the dream-maker borehole and move it into the front of its mouth, prop it open like a toothpick between a bored child’s gums after a meal — except this leviathan does not know that with a simple crunch down it would shatter me and my weapon. It fears pain, is so fragile and newborn to the concept. I use this to my full advantage, a creature with more scars than healthy tissue over time. Stretch marks, surgeries, cuts, bruises too necrotic to keep. Batterings against coral reefs, back when the ocean still had rainbows in high tide and surf.

I pull at the leviathan’s fangs. And the leviathan is still squirming about itself like a moray sliming itself; finally, when it is pointing the appropriate direction, I give my prey a sharp kick to the bruiseful soft palate of the mouth.

Briefly, think: what if I stayed down here?

And the leviathan rockets upwards; like a detached anchor, I come with it because I haven’t told my fingers to let go.


The sun. Ripped from the ocean, my leviathan breaches and its wake forms a hollow in the ocean beneath us. Its head comes first, sheen of undersea anoxic black clinging, and then its first coil, littered with silver scales among the pristine because my prey is aged, eternal and always, and then the second coil rises too, shining and full-sailed with the first fin-canvas spines, and then the next coil rises, jettisoning high like a black geyser, and then the next…

At the peak of the arc, higher above than a small mountain atop the ocean, inside the mouth of the deep-sea leviathan in the sky I am weightless. In that languid time, water from the mouth floating with me, I take my spear from its toothpick-position between my prey’s jaws, stab roughly back into the orange-red brain-weeping spot in the hard palate where I started the destruction of eternity, and with a jagged, crude curve towards the back, disembowel the leviathan’s hindbrain.

It takes ten minutes for the leviathan to finish collapsing into the ocean again, floating now, and for the waves to settle.

The sun is so bright. I cough. Then I cough again, can barely breathe in the searing air, there are flowers blooming in my lungs. An urge, starvation-strong: I need to dive down again. I need to be in the dark again.

This world is not meant for the likes of me, history-slayer.

I ignore these urges. I have had them before, and I will have them again. I just need to wait them out. Ripples like aftershocks of an atomic bomb litter the air around the great corpse, huge around as an island. I am lying on my back, resting in the groove of its tongue. The muscle shudders under me, primitive reflexes and neurons not fully connected to the brain still going. It takes a long time for something this big to truly die. I’ve only started it. Tomorrow, if my people don’t tie the leviathan and tug it to shore, the animal’s body might wake again and dive out of reflex, to be found years later after it has truly succumbed to its aquatic gallows-shudders, death-rattles, history-entombment.

Gingerly, exhaustedly — muscles more dead and numb and useless like swollen air-filled balloons under my skin — leviathan jerking around me like it is dreaming — I crawl from the back of the throat, not cold and grey but warm and rich maroon like expensive velvet. This leviathan is like a sunfish, generating heat without being a mammal. I crawl to the front, and I pry the teeth apart, flexible like the needles of an anglerfish, or maybe the spring-steel of a rack of quality sabres that vibrate when their ship's crew make the cannons sing. I climb.

And at some point, I make it to the top of the great beast. Its body is waking, just as I predicted, and salt cakes my cheeks in tear-rivulets as I stare into the sun like a wound in the blackening horizon. Starspecks litter the char like the aftermath of bullet-fire. The leviathan twists beneath me, coils slipping, and the fins are the sails of the grandest ship.

I do cry. I do. There is salt on my cheeks, but that salt is my own. And there is now a sense of resolution — my body numbs, the breath from my lungs doesn’t even steam in the cold anymore, but I am awake, my eyes kindling. My spear is broken and still embedded in the mouth of the leviathan. I didn’t even try to remove it while I extricated myself from the mouth I should have died in. But here, at the nape of the beast that once swam the world, I have my diving belt. Inside of that, my cold-numbed fingers quest for my diving knife. Meant for utility, and sometimes saving small dolphins and whales from fishing nets. Never for harm, never for eating. But a knife is a knife, and I detest being the only purity corrupted tonight.

I bend down, and with still-empty muscles — using my spine as a driving force — I slip my knife under a scale like a whittling project, lever up and the plate-sized thing cracks and breaks like a black watermelon dropped on hot parking lot. Black, and within the black is tender red.

Peel, peel, crack and peel them all, I make a bed of flesh with only the scale-buds remaining. Here is just skin. Tender and grey-blue and speckled with sharp red fish and salt smell, buttery and fresh and new. Sweet relief to the smell of my own blood clogging in my nose. I make this bed. And then I cut down, sharp curve, around, more. My knife goes through muscle and flesh, toned and beautiful, this tiny amount like a sandgrain from a beach encircling a nation, and soon I am holding a wet red heap of striated muscle.

I bring it up to my mouth, but then I notice. I put it down atop the heap of scales. The leviathan’s back is so large it’s flat even at the sharpest curve. There is a buzzing in my chest, and I put the knife down in the hollow of the life I stole.

I take off my diving mask. Out come my teeth, needlelike. Bare are my scales, rainbow in the last air-breathing gasp of the setting sun. Sharp are my gills, sharklike. Off I peel my wetsuit, and out now are my fins and rubbery limbs and I am a monster, too. And when all the nylon and polyester and plastic is gone, I throw those things to the waves now inking scarlet with rivulets of never-stilled muscle finally stilled, and the hunk of meat is gone, gone, where did it go.

It’s probably in the waves. My wetted fish-eyes cannot see it now. The meat will grow eyes and a brain, become a tiny leviathan and one day become like this one. But never as big. Never as big. Ouroboros will never be remade.

No matter, that I cannot find the pieces. On the horizon, I see the ships as colours on the brim of the world. They are here for the feast. But first, to the victor: the spoils.

I lie down, sun gone and stars prickling their angry vengeance at the horror I wrought the world. I’ll return to the water after this. I wish this was a dream. That I had been eaten by the leviathan, not I to it. Right now, though…

I rake a clawful of meat from the barren expanse. Rip it stringy and wet from the skinbreak, the scale-bald, wet raspberry pulp dripping down my armoured talons. Bring it to my mouth. People become like me by doing as I do. I bite down, teeth already through because they jut from my mouth like rows of broken glass. I am halfway through to being hunted by my own people. I place it in my mouth.

It’s buttery. It’s stringy. It’s meaty. It’s fatty, it’s sweet, it’s rich, it’s all-encompassing. For a moment I cannot see. Salt, blooming on my tongue like fungus. My scales crack, grow. My legs were gone long ago, but my finned tail lengthens, coils. I twist in the dry mucous-covered scales of my leviathan-hunt in joy. If I still had eyelids, I would close them in bliss. The meat is heavenly. Nectar-sweet, honey-savoury. Indulgent and marbled and flavoured in savour. Tuna is an apt comparison, but could never compete.

The flesh of a god is divine.

The wind is slow and the sun is hot. There, exhausted but alive, on the back of the slowly sinking beast, rainbow fleet fast arriving to share in my spoils, I take a moment, lie down on the warm mass of sun-baking meat.

The sky is broken and pristine.

I sleep.



The train is silent. Deafening, this: a 44,092,452-pound train moving at 46 miles per hour, and the absence of sound is even more. My heartbeat does not thunder — it pads through my arteries on little mouse feet — but I am a blue whale in a stone ocean. I hear it.

Move from my seat. All of the passengers are asleep. Not uncommon, with a locomotive who leaves at 5:48am, but the sun looks wrong coming in through the windows, like the shading is off. The train shudders, vibrates without a cry or wail or stretch of metal muscle or bone — it is the bare rustling of my clothing and the muffled sound of my own footfalls over thin beige carpeting. My movements echo, and this is a surprise. I stand, stretch. I am alive. I am awake while my fellow travellers slumber.

Something slips, and I try to get it back. I try. I really do. But my mind is lost in and slipped-from-the-mountain valley clouds. Wh-words are living fish caught in oil. Critical thought is slow to me today. Am I dreaming, or is this the lingering effects of sleep deprivation?

Stretch again. Feel the muscles, the striations in strength and the gradients in suppleness. Feel the ligaments, that spot where I ripped my tendon three years back twinging in additional strength now, because breaking and healing brings someone back stronger than before. I try.

And then the train stops. I stumble, grab a seat as it halts without screeching. Like we’re on ice. The conductor walks through and takes our ticket tabs, brushing me by — but this is common. And slowly, as I grab my bag and exit the train, step over the hidden electrified rails in the ground where pedestrians walk and take a final glance at the majesty of the diesel-and-steel engine and make my bow to something so influential on the world that I may as well consider it alive, how would I know for sure that trains aren’t huge jaguar-like animals in a metal shell, slowly: sound bleeds on back.

I walk from the station. The sun is bright but not blinding, and I realize I have forgotten my sunglasses. That’s unusual. And my earplugs are not in — I flex the muscles there and feel nothing. There is a bolt of fear, but.

There are no cars in the street. There are no planes overhead. Only the gear-whirl of bikes, the chatter of people walking, the low hum of the light-rail alongside car lanes overtaken by small pop-up market stalls, bikers, joggers, flattened curbs so wheelchairs don’t go bump, planter boxes overflowing with flowers. The world is more real than reality, now, and again comes that pang of slipping, rain on a swimming competitor’s petroleum-smeared skin. I do not want to wake. Reality is smog, loudness, dreary banality and not an emotion in sight — so I hold fast, cling like a ladybug to a rosebush with a fox climbing through. So I walk in the street and find myself gliding like the train did over rails, like skates are strapped to my feet. The sky is a brilliant fuschia and persimmon. The air is warm and doesn’t hurt my lungs — like fresh mountain air, but city-side. There is salt from the ocean on the wind, undiluted by exhaust, and I can smell frying fish from the market square. I turn right at the automobile shop turned community theatre.

What if I went through a whole day, only to realize that it all had been a dream? Went through everything in perfect detail, and then woke up and had to do it all over again, like I was stuck in a two-cycle time loop? I step onto the sidewalk that is at the same level as the road, walk up the street past a busker playing the violin harder than I have heard in years.

My alarm is taking longer than it should. Slippery sensation again. When will I wake up?


I look up.

A huge maw of teeth and scales is coming down from the cloudless sky like a crashing starship. It is aimed straight for Earth, plummeting arrowpoint down. It is bearded with barbels like a catfish and its gills flare like a betta before a mirror — am I like it? It fills the heavens and darkens the world like the moon, big enough though that it’s an eclipse of not just the sun but the stars and mountains too. It fills.

Descending. I crouch to the ground, and I wonder about the train: have the passengers woken up yet, or will the world end while they slumber? An odd, icy calm in my chest, and I recognize myself in the fish.

It turns its head, this leviathan, and the eye that faces me has a spear with a bright red ribbon dangling from its end. A patch of backscales have been torn up, and a pinprick of flesh has been scooped away. I suck saliva like my teeth are baleen. There is a taste of ambrosia, and a string of fishmeat slips past my tongue down my throat. I’m at the bus stop.

The bus is here. Sweat sheens the driver’s skin, and she does not open the door. The ground trembles like a chicken pinned to the slaughter-stump. I look up, and I see that the teeth jut from its mouth like those of an anglerfish. A cut of wind touches my shoulder, just gently, just at the socket, and the inviolable pressure twists the bulb of my humerus from the cupped hand of my socket, all the force of the eventual damage happening in the instant of contact. I twist away, and it descends feather-slow. When it pierces the concrete, it does so like the world is grapeskin.

I stare at the bloody eye of the fish, seeing straight through me — and grin viciously, with all of my teeth.

The bus door is open. But it's not for me.

The world is right. Everything is clear now. Pieces of earth are tearing down, the sun gone and buildings crushing under the weight of fish jawbone coming down into the city air. I cradle my dislocated arm and weep, weep in hot joy. I thunder up the electrified stairs of the parking garage stairwell so I can get to the leviathan faster: the strong and large are immortal, the divine right of kings has returned, and the leviathan has the mandate of heaven while I, powerless ant and unworthy animal who thought himself enough to devour a god — I am finally being punished.

Joy, relief like a violin string snapped. The world is balancing itself again. The air has become wet, full of wind and storm and salt-laced rain that burns the eyes and skin — I keep my dreaming lids wide open, white hot iron beads bubbling in my sockets, and I tilt my head back to the heavens so my organs won’t fall out. The beast descends. I am in bliss, a sakura tree blooming in a lightningstorm. I stand and face the fumes of rotten flesh billowing from the maw of the leviathan, one-eyed god of the sea here to reclaim what was lost. And I cry there, on the roof of the parking garage, elated in the darkening void. A tongue the size of a tidal wave flexes. Muscles pulse.

The jaws shut whole.

Trees flitted through the window — closing one eye, I watched the forest vanish from outside into a sea of ink, my pen exploding inside my chest where my life had stabbed itself inside me, poisoning me with beauty. When I opened my mouth to whisper the name of the woods, they sprouted inside the train, all grand cypress and douglas fir and western red cedar. It was then, in the marshland bordering temperate rainforest, when I learned why sunset is fast here. It’s because the mountains are so beautiful that they make the sky forget the sun.

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