NiGHTS: Descent into Dreams
By Lynne Triplett
[ To read the comic version CLiCK HERE ]
Prelude to a dream paradox~
Sometimes you'll see them when it hurts the most …
Under London's dull amber street lamps. Coat pockets full of old bar receipts, office doodles and chocolate wrappers. Things you're not entirely sure were ever part of your life. You find yourself walking in too much silence with all the thoughts and memories still floating around your head. Drained.
That familiar heavy jingle isn't there around your neck anymore. You've grown to hear it with your footsteps, proud of it in a way. Running out the door before the sun rises. But now it's just you wandering down the street feeling strangely numb, walking home. Feeling lost in a place where no map could ever be of use to you. Still a little drunk to even consider what tomorrow will bring.
Did any of it even happen? Did anybody ever care? Was it all just another one of my horribly real dreams that I was abruptly waking up from?
That night, I'd cried my eyes out surrounded by friends.
I didn't ever feel a moment of shame. It was like everything had just built up, despite me trying my best to be strong, always optimistic, it had just come tumbling out despite my best efforts. It had been the worst day. It had felt like my most desperate dreams coming to life. Except in this place, I was helpless to fix anything. Helpless and small. Watching my world fall down. Reality at his worst.
And all I could do was cry and think to myself, this is my home. This is my family. This is what I chased for years. This is what I was proud of and wanted to protect.
I cursed myself for caring. It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. Be professional, it doesn't matter.
It did matter. It does matter. It always had.
Two nights later I picked up my pencil again.
As artists we have this ability to turn anger and despair into something beautiful. Something to be admired and celebrated. Something that a select few witnesses can ever fully appreciate. Leaving behind symbols and cryptic memories for people to weave their own stories from. Things that feed the image with living emotion.
There was a place deep in my heart that I had been neglecting.
Something that I had kept silenced for a long few years. At least openly. People may have confused it with disinterest, ego or simply growing up and become what they call an 'adult'. No, no amount of tax paying, legal document signing or having to bite my tongue would ever take this away from me. Nothing would ever take me away from my passion or dreams. Not those ones anyway. If anything, this had given me the spark I needed at 30 years old to do for others what had been done for me as a child.
I wanted to hand people the keys to their dreams again…
The night I resumed drawing was one of those ugly familiar color drained days. Grey like thick fog dragging you down into your lowest thoughts. I'd had too many days like these back in 2004. I had been hoping to avoid them. After a few sleepless nights I'd already given up on naming days of the week and had started counting waking hours by internet timezones again. My friend Suzy had given me her old HP laptop to keep a few weeks before we'd left. It sat perched on the bed surrounded by a mess of papers, art materials and crumpled kleenex. The light of Facebook casting a heavy air across the bedroom. I always found myself surrounded by a tangle of wires. Headphone wires, computer wires, console wires. Electronic spaghetti scattered around my work.
I furiously scribbled at my art board listening to music. Not really stopping to check for angles or correct perspective or any of the other technical things that normaly bothered me when working on our comic books. I just wanted to express a feeling as fast as possible. I'd missed moments like this as an artist. Having the fuel to put something raw on paper. Feeling that drive.
On the screen digital people softly passed through, waking up or going to bed. A flicker of photographs, places in the world you'd never see. Thoughts, joys and sadness. Cats, jokes, families, babies, hipster quotes. Freezeframed and archived forever. The internet going about its daily routine. Always something to see, always someone reaching out, always existing in a seperate world. It reminded me a lot of my dreams in a way. Never quite taken seriously enough despite its power. Ironic.
You often find yourself stopping to look at the computer clock at two in the morning and consider for a second that you might be wasting your life away. Shrugging it off you remind yourself that everything has its place and purpose. I'd always been a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. Going with the flow until you felt the need to switch. It felt like one of those moments.
The moments in life when dreams seem impossible to grasp like happy distant memories.
But as defeated as I'm sure I could feel, I felt something incredibly uplifting. I sleepily gazed at the timeline photo of me, my partner DiGi and my work collegues on Facebook. The photo had been taken at a house warming party. We were all ridiculously drunk and merry. We'd only known each other probably as a group for a few months if that. But, the bond I felt with that group of people was the kind I'd craved as a child sitting alone at my art desk in the homeless hostel. Back then I'd stay strong by telling myself I'd get there one day. Just big dreams for a little kid…
And here I was sat with the opposite problem. Trying to keep hope for the things I'd already gained.
Putting pencil to paper I started to sketch out the scene around me. The room, the screen, my friends in the photograph. Every little piece of me I could share to show how I felt and how much I cared about the things I treasured. The things that I felt very lucky to have. Side stepping rules with expression. Remembering why I started and where I'd come from.
Remembering the person who gave me my dreams back.
I remember those days. The times when the chase was what kept me going. It had started out quite innocently and had become something that had nearly consumed me. Self destructive actions. I'd seen others fall down the same unhappy rabbit hole as me. Choosing one life over another. Fiction over reality.
But… for the longest time now I'd found a comfortable balance, knowing the fine lines between what we percieve to be real and what matters. Every single damn layer of this world. I've learnt it well now. I know the mistakes I made and I can see the problems that others face because of the broken legacy we were left with. It's frustrating. The most frustrating thing is that very few people understand it until they experience it for themselves. It's … addictive.
It's the hardest, hardest thing to explain.
It's one of the reasons I care about the fans so much. I know how hard it is. I know how beautiful it is…
I stared into the bottom of a half empty coffee cup. Lipstick stained and too dark to ever be healthy. One of my work friends had joked that my cups of coffee were like black holes eating time and space. At one point I'd gone day to day on 4 hours sleep drinking coffee with a side serving of caffeine pills to keep myself from falling asleep. I'd be hyperactive and extra annoying for an hour or so before clicking back into my tasks, thoughts and worries swimming around my head like a particularly toxic goldfish bowl. Reminding myself that I already had the prize. Living in this game of half fiction.
It's been nearly 16 years now. Over half my life dedicated to making sure one important nightmare never fades away.
We've all been through hell and back at times. The ups and downs, the nights spent laughing together in chatrooms slowly watching our sanity slipping away across time zones. The triumphs of our greatest days. The friendships forged, the lives changed, often the lives saved… From nothing came something. Something really special. Where all other things could wither and die this one concept was viral, passing from generation to generation in the only way it knew how.
I consider it payback.
For this Nightmare I would do anything. For the dreamers I would do anything. Anything to keep that primal ideal alive. Anything is possible. Hope is not worthless. Things can happen when you truely believe in yourself. I'd seen nothing but proof. I was proof myself. I wanted to help anyone out there who couldn't see their own self worth. I had to keep this going, nomatter the personal cost.
Looking across at my wall I could see a collection of personal memories pinned and strung from ribbon and bells. Lanyards, convention wristbands, photos, letters, gifts and artwork. Things that made me smile. These were the little slices of life that were a result of following fantasy and giving rational thought the middle finger. If I had listened to the negativity and fallen to my fears this wall would be empty. I doubt I would even be in London. I'd be stuck behind a cash register hating my life and wishing I'd chosen to follow my ambitions. Following that one track template you're given to play at being alive. Or maybe I would not be here at all. Things had been very hard back then.
- For the fans who grew up knowing that they were never alone.
One of the most valuable things pinned to the wall was a 'thank you' card from my community many years ago. It was full of hand written messages in the tiniest of text giving me messages of support. Some of them light hearted, some of them serious. All of them very much loved, more than they probably expected from me thesedays.
Over the years most of us had drifted apart. The oldest. But I knew in my heart that every now and then they would wake up from a long sleep with a grin on their faces and remember the time spent sharing their stories with oneanother. I knew that we'd shared an experience and we were always linked together because of that.
- For the new kids still chasing their dreams.
I cast my mind back to the last big convention I'd attended as a guest. One of the simplest joys I experienced was having young fans come talk to me. They were a new generation of dreamers. Showing me their artwork enthusiastically, dressing up as their favorite characters, seeing that dedication face to face. It made me feel humbled and a huge part motherly towards them all. It made me wonder what they would be doing in another decade. Would they remember? Would they be doing what I started out to achieve? Would they ever experience the things that us older fans had? Could someone be there for them and would they be taken seriously? I hoped so with all my heart. They deserved it.
Squinting through now angry tears clouding my eyes I looked at my photographs. They deserved the best. More than anything sincerity and respect. Our generation had not always been the luckiest. Causing a scene to protect the things we value. It was tiring. Tiring for people who already spent most of their life feeling tired. I'd watched people grow up as an admin. I wanted these people to be respected for their beliefs. They had all the value in the world to me.
- For the creators who gave us the wings to fly above fear.
My personal heroes and mentors. It was always the strangest thing getting to know them after all those years. You had no real way to even begin to explain why what they had created was important. You ran the risk of sounding ever so crazy. So instead you'd nod politely and say thank you in the most respectful ways that you could. It became a mutualy understood thing. It was always easy to wish that they could have seen what we'd been through over the years, as I imagine is the case in reverse at times. But everyone shared a general opinion. We had something important and it had to be preserved. This was unique. Something that could exist beyond the realms of game coding and sketchbooks. A living breathing dream that could affect anyone and everyone …
So, for all the people who ever gave a real damn, who fully understood the situation-
I would do this forever.
Putting down my coffee cup on top of a stack of recent gaming magazines I juggled windows between translators onscreen. Writing in languages that were not my own. Trying in any way that I could to keep this dream alive. I'd not been sleeping very well recently. Any sleep that I'd managed to steal had been completely dreamless and broken. I'd often found myself looking up at the ceiling in the dark trying to wish my worries to silence. Overthinking. Thinking of every outcome and every fear. What should I do. What should I say. I'd end up just thinking instead of sleeping. A stark contrast to the days where I'd sleep for 14 hours a night and sit online writing about my adventures the next afternoon.
Regardless of my situation though I was determined I had a comic to draw again. Even if I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open and concentrate on what I was drawing. I had to do this.
A new personal message popped up on screen just as my head had started to slowly nod forward. Rubbing my face with my arm I sat staring at the short text for a while in disbelief. Perhaps I had entered a lucid state without realising I'd already fallen asleep. Perhaps, I mean it wouldn't have been the first time. I checked the clock twice and then re-read the message just to be sure.
'May I translate for you?'
An amused grin spread across my tired face. I laughed softly.
This, this was the legacy of our friend at its best…
Here was the person who created every dream in 16 years offering to help me with my little comic.
It didn't matter if you were a nine year old kid drawing doodles on your school jotter or a famous Japanese game designer. We all understood why this was important.
I found myself hitting reply thinking that this was always the way things happened. Things had always just fallen into place at the right times. They always seemed to mess up at the right times too. It was because of this that I had so very few big fears in life. I felt safe in recklessness because things always worked out in the end. This was a very selfish trait I'd picked up from him… it's amazing all the little things that can change a person.
All because of this one little idea in 1996. A video game on a system long long gone.
The strength of the fanbase had never relied soley on the actual game. The game was the catalyst. We had thrived on the concept. The concept had brought together the community. Dreamers, artists, writers, people who were flat out sick of nightmares and insomnia. Kids, teens, adults, parents. Everyone dreams, it was something every person had in common. Yet it's an area that so few people knew anything about. I guess a morbid curiosity for self understanding brought a lot of new faces in. I'd once went searching too. I'd found a few people here and there but eventually I'd set up my own space for my own ideas, for collective ideas. People just sort of appeared one by one after that. I can't imagine what my life would be like without those people.
Standing up in the dark I carefully turned on my TV and SEGA Saturn. It did feel a bit weird these days. I remembered doing this when I was a young teenager. It was still the same machine and still the same disk. The same boot up jingle and that great white-noise buzz as the scart cable attempted to play audio through a modern HD stereo TV.
We've all got these inner demons to contend with each and every day or our lives.
Sometimes they go away through the years or they choose to grow with you. Mine had definitely stuck around. It would occasionally made me feel ashamed when I'd watch the start up graphics begin to play. I'd catch myself thinking 'how the hell did this game get under my skin so much? It's just a little game'. I play a lot of games. It's my actual job to play games. I work for the company that created this game.
But… this one was different.
Thankfully I knew that even if I found myself ridiculed that I had an entire army of people around the world to back me up. People who had gone through the same things as me or worse.
Picking up the clunky yet comfortable control pad I pressed at the buttons selecting my favorite dreamer character to play as. Claris. I'd always been fond of her as a kid. Her color scheme was so bright and cheerful. Her story concept had really struck a chord with me back then. Claris was a dreamer who suffered from stage fright and lack of self confidence. She wanted her city to hear her sing on a big stage under all those spotlights. That was her dream. This little pink haired digital kids dream.
That was oddly my dream many years ago too. Because of her story my own story became a reality. I'd ended up singing in my cities opening night musical. This little red haired non digital kid. Singing on a big stage knowing that something completely fictional and beautiful was watching out for me. Always had my back.
Many of my dreams came true. Real dreams, not digital dreams.
I found myself sitting control-pad in hand, eyelids growing too heavy to keep open.
Claris fell down the black TV screen surrounded by the light of her Ideya circling around. Hope, Purity, Wisdom, Intelligence. Yellow, white, green, blue. Like a rainbow of Jungian tinsel. To anyone playing the game for the first time thesedays it may not have looked like much or may have even gone straight over their head in a mash of blocky polygons, but this moment in the game had always made me smile. It was showing the best aspects of being human.
In this blank dark space I was entering sleep.
But, awake or asleep it makes no real difference in the end…
We are all dreamers. You can be the worst or best person but we're all connected through dreams and ambitions. Things at our very core.
As the Spring Valley level begun the bright warm colors lifted the dark greys of the bedroom walls. A blurry sea of the tallest snow capped hills and sparkling cool waterfalls. Blue skies and lush green meadows. The taste of fresh mountain air on your lips and the comforting sound of distant sleepy waves of grass rippling on the breeze.
I was asleep.
This was a dream. Not quite far in enough yet to be lucid but…
Claris yelled out as she flew backwards in a crash of colors. Small nightmare creatures grabbed her Ideya orbs and tore off in four different directions across the level. A jumble of illuminous pixels and camera panning.
I began to feel that awful feeling as I watched the scene unfold. The kind of overbearing creeping feeling that pricks at the back of your neck and keeps building into something that sets off a mild panic within you.
The feeling of something terrible advancing.
In life you can run all you want. But in here… your fears will always catch up with you.
You have to stand and fight-
I stumbled forwards as lucidity hit me full rush. My lungs filling with a sharp hot air tinged with smoke and chemical. Eyes wide, taking in the unfamiliar scene around me that I now found myself thrown into.
Red. Bright red light.
Standing amidst an endless realm of paper. Money. All of it abandoned as if worthless. I looked down to my boots and cringed. This nightmare was being none to subtle. None of them were ever known for subtlety.
The paper notes were heaped around in many different currencies, some of them not really existing in the waking. The text a jumbled garble of deformed imagery.
The most opulent and mocking human junkyard. Cruel, real cruel.
If I didn't already know that this was all just a dream, albeit a nasty one, I would have been trying to grab as much of this money as possible. Stack as much of it into my arms as I could before it smothered me. Right now, money would have been the cure for so many problems and scenarios in my life. Any other dreamer might have tried. Fallen for the lure of blatent fear symbolism.
But I knew what this really was.
The warm bright red glow of my Ideya rushed past my arm to settle behind me. It slowly hovered in mid air dropping small sparks of fluorescent light into the money below.
Normaly by now the Nightmarens would have made themselves known. Tried to attack or wake me up. But this was deathly silent, not a breeze. Not a flicker of a shadow. It felt suffocating like standing in a very cramped small room. Dry smokey air burning at my throat. The air pressure becoming more and more uncomfortable. Lucid nightmares had the potential to be quite dangerous to the dreamer if enough fear was applied. Nervously I began to jog in a direction that seemed easier to pass.
Paper crunching under my boots.
As I moved forward it began to feel like the sky and air around me were becoming heavier and heavier.
I found my rational thought begin to falter the further i progressed.
Did it have to be him?
Not now… please not now…
I began thinking of the events of the past few days, the weeks I'd spent sleeplessly worrying about the future. The arguments, problems and troubles I'd found myself in. Debts. The drowning feeling of helplessness I'd felt as I'd sat in the bar that night. The anger and frustration I'd felt about things I'd heard a few weeks ago. Useless. The sadness I'd burried every time I'd recieved a reality check from how far-fetched my goals were. Pressure. Expectations. Choices. My crumbling self esteeme. Fights with my boyfriend about money and relationships. Responsibilities. How could I help the fans, my friends. Feeling directionless. Feeling confused. My emotions digging their claws in and twisting my thoughts. Everything, just everything I didn't need right now. I tried hard to block it out of my head.
My feet were sinking deeply into the piles of paper slowing me down as I dragged on forwards. My breath becoming choppy and my heartbeat beginning to thump at my chest.
Why was everything going wrong? Why? Why did everything have to hurt so bad. I wished I could stop caring.
Tripping up I landed roughly on my knees, lurched over and sobbing. Cursing to myself. Feeling money start to softly rain down from the crimson sky, covering my footprints like I'd never been there. Never made a difference.
I'd never make a difference.
"Lauf nicht weg . . ."
A strange whispery distorted voice suddenly breezed through my head. I paused for a second hearing only my breathing. Rubbing at my eyes I pulled myself to my feet in a dazed stupor. That voice. My friend… I…
I began to run. Running as fast as I could. I didn't know where I was headed but I knew it was the right direction. Money piled down around me as the entire landscape shifted as if it was alive. A huge monster. Laughing at me in a low gutteral voice. The sky echoing like a huge broken machine. An oncoming storm of creatures.
Being watched by the god of all Nightmare.
Huge eyes following me as I ran through a twisting red maelstrom of papers. My heartbeat thundering in my ears.
Face all your fears head-on like your very life depended on it.
I ran towards the light.
As the brightness of another layer of reality peeled back I jogged forwards into a rush of bittersweet emotions. A sensation of surfacing quickly from deep dark water. The noise and fear of the chase fading away behind me into twirling smoke. Black dollar bills fluttered to the ground disolving into nothing but pale shadows as the light hit them.
I stood at the bottom of a short hill ankle deep in soft white snow. I must have seen this scene a thousand times before. Just never like this…
In front of me sprawled a breathtaking world. The very same world I'd seen on my television screen perhaps only moments earlier before I'd fallen asleep. But this wasn't jaggy digital pixels and polygons. This was a dream. A real dream. The most incredible thing. Nightopia.
But all was not well here.
As I took in the full scene I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.
This was supposed to be the land of pure and happy dreams. But… it was falling apart. Spring Valley. Fading at the edges. Crumbling into disrepair and blanketed by heavy snow. I'd never seen it look this run down. I didn't think it was possible. The distant mountain ranges hung in masses of slowly crumbling icy rock suspended in mid air. A slow rumble echoed behind me as the ceiling to the world began to collapse further into the blank reaches of a black void. This dream had become unstable. Panicking I glanced up the hill. Feeling the pull.
At the top stood a broken down blue stone prison-like structure. An Ideya Palace.
This was where they'd locked it away.
This… this was where the most powerful Nightmaren creature created had been banished as punishment for disobeying his master. A nightmare trapped in a world of light.
As I motioned to move two figures turned quickly to see me stagger in the snow.
One of them was a familiar friendly figure I'd seen many times before in the past. Back in old dreams of giant trees and daring rescues. The person who I'd just sent a mail to before I'd fallen asleep and ended up here. Mr Naoto Ohshima. In the waking he'd been responsible for taking this dream and designing it to fit our reality. He had given our nightmares a face and a means to spread many years ago. Because of people like him this world had become something tangible, something marketable to a worldwide audience. Today he looked unusually stern and worried. Standing in the snow holding a stack of development sketches. A few of them accidentally dropping to the ground as I'd barged into the scene.
The Ideya Palace was strung with long icicles hanging from the eroding stonework. Frost spreading up the roof and across the small colorful stained-glass windows.
A trail of small fading dud halos lead up the hill, half covered by snow. I shuffled uncomfortably closer to the prison knowing why these were here. My breath clouding with coldness the closer I walked. Goosebumps rolling across my skin. This was what it felt like to be near him… frightening.
Curious sharp purple cat eyes glowed from the shadowy chamber, locked onto me as I climbed higher. Twisting in a mass of liquid shadows and smoke. Taking on a vaguely recognizable form.
I grimaced a little to myself as I kept eye contact. I knew he was looking at what was following me with much more interest. The bright red glow casting from behind me. Ideya had always been more important than humans. I was never quite sure. It was hard to pin anything down when it came to his mood or intentions. Trouble delighted him.
The landscape continued to rumble closer. Falling to pieces. A terrible sound.
Once more I wasn't alone. He had found me. At the end of all things. I would be there.
To be continued soon...