Ever since Vernon was a teenager, he was good at sleeping. So good in fact, that his mother was scared he’d never wake up when he went to bed. Vernon held the record for the longest sleep ever taken in his family. And there weren’t many records between him and his mom, although she was good at all sorts of things.
They lived together in their apartment on the edge of town; it was just the two of them. Their father left the family for another woman some time ago, right when Vernon started his long sleeping bouts. When Vernon was seventeen, his mother Vermillia recorded him asleep in his bed for six whole days before waking up on the seventh like he was from the Bible or something.
In the days she waited for Vernon to wake up, Vermillia’s hair turned white. The first thing she did after splashing water on his face was to call a doctor. Once the doctor rushed to the house, and ran some tests on Vernon, he told her his vitals were fine. Everything was fine with him. He just liked to sleep. Vermillia just about pulled out her hair in anger once she heard all that. Vermillia remembered the moment he finally woke up, imprinted on her memory like the back of her hand. She had never been so simultaneously relieved and angry all at once, and those two things twisted and turned inside of her. “Why were you asleep so long, baby? Are you doing all right, or are you worried about something?”
“No, Ma, I’m doing something important,” Vernon tried to assure her.
“Well, your dreams gotta be good to you. But remember that your dreams can’t cook for you. And they can’t even pinch you. So, think about that while you’re in your dreams, and wake up and get some food. I think that’s important too.” That was just a bit of Vermillia’s anger. “Next time you fall asleep for seven days, I’m calling the morgue.”
But Vernon wouldn’t stop sleeping, wouldn’t stop staying in his dreams. And Vermillia was concerned. Vernon slept like he was chronically fatigued. But Vernon always had said he was in fine health. Even though he never went to the doctor to be checked out. Much less the many therapists Vermillia suggested just for him.
“There’s nothing wrong with me, Ma,” Vernon said to his mother late one night. “I’m not sleeping just to sleep…and I’m not tired all the time before I go to sleep. There’s something I’m trying to do.”
“I’m tired of hearing that as an excuse Vernon. What on earth are you trying to accomplish while you’re sleep that you can’t do while you’re awake?” Vermillia contested.
“You wouldn’t understand, Mom.”
“Well help me understand, son. ‘Cause I can’t keep looking at you sleeping all day. You’re 24. You need to be working on your dreams and goals. I have half a mind to send you to stay with Grandma.”
“That’s what I’m doing, Ma. Working on my dreams, it’s just that it all happens while I’m sleep. Anyways, I always heard that it was good to have dreams, something to aspire to.” Vermillia wished that she knew her son more.
“In fact,” Vernon continued. “The only thing I can dream about are my goals.”
Vermillia exhaled heavier than she had ever done in her life. She might have lost a little wind weight because of this deep breath. She had been doing that ever since those six days he was asleep.
Later that night, Vernon fell asleep, and woke up in Summer Land. There, it was warm enough to wear whatever you wanted. And the sky hosted a glorious sun that didn’t hurt to look at. The first time Vernon had come here in his dreams, he shaded his eyes, thinking it was too bright. But once he stopped paying any mind to how bright it was and just started feeling his way around, his eyes adjusted. This place he went to felt kind of like a dream except thicker. There was something different about it. But Vernon paid no mind to that.
“It’s taken you awhile to get back here.” That was the old man, Wazir, speaking. A man he had met in his dreams the first time he came here.
“I told you, Wazir, I can’t stay asleep my entire life,” Vernon said.
Wazir always looked different every time Vernon saw him. But in each version of himself, Wazir was unmistakably an elderly man.
Vernon didn’t look his way on account of how trying to perceive Wazir brought on a headache. Instead he focused on Summer Land. A true oasis of summer in the winter of being awake. It wasn’t like Vernon disliked being awake, but he did prefer the charming weather and pleasant views. And someone else extra special was always here, waiting for him.
“Well…who says?” Wazir was behind him, following him through his dream. “Anyways, it looks like tonight is the night. I figure I won’t be seeing either of you two very often, anymore. And it may be a while till you see me again but…never fear.” As strange as that last part of his statement was, Vernon blushed. The man in his dreams was the real reason he liked to stay here. And they were the only two people he could remember when he woke up. Vernon could never remember what the other people in his dreams looked like once he woke up.
The man who starred in Vernon’s dreams was the best man he had ever met. Vernon named him Spring. Apparently, Spring had been waiting on Vernon before he started coming to Summer Land. And Spring comes before summer, so it felt apt, natural even. Spring was a tall man with long limbs and dark brown skin. His nose was wide, and his lips were red and soft and plump. His bottom was round, and Vernon had found out that it was soft, too.
“The first time we met was when you were sixteen,” Spring said. They both sat on top of a grassy knoll. Beneath them was a picnic blanket. And next to them was a picnic basket. Various victuals laid inside it. In his dreams, Vernon could eat to his heart’s desire and never feel full.
“Yeah,” Vernon said. He took a piece of cheese and mashed it together with a cracker and some ham.
“Do you remember what you told me then?” Spring had this otherworldly charm in his voice.
“How could I forget?” Vernon lay his head down on Spring’s shoulder.
“I already talked to Wazir about it. And according to the stars tonight, we could do it,” Vernon said.
Vernon took Spring’s hands in his. His eyes were blue flame. The elderly man Wazir was standing not too far away from them, but Vernon did as usual and paid Wazir no mind. Without another thought, he kissed his lover. Then Vernon held Spring in a tight embrace. And Spring held Vernon too, leaning into his warmth. Vernon squinted his eyes, and without letting go of Spring, he pinched himself awake.
This time, when he woke up, he wasn’t in his bed alone. This time, Spring was with him.
“Spring!” Vernon’s smile reached from ear to ear as he saw Spring laid out on his bed. Vernon touched him all over, feeling his sculpted chest and abs and butt, squeezing every bit to make sure. Then to double-check, he pinched himself. And really felt the pain. With all the sleeping he’d been doing, he hadn’t been cutting his nails. So the pinch was sharp, and he was sure that he was awake.
Spring woke up in a lazy way, and Vernon watched him, remarking that he had never seen him sleep before. “Vernon!” Vermillia called him from her room. “Is everything alright in there?”
“Yeah, Ma, there’s actually somebody who I want you to meet,” he yelled across the hall. At that, he could hear his mother scrambling around. It was unlikely that Vernon had met anyone what with all his sleeping. And he knew one of his mother’s dreams was for him to finally have somebody to talk to. To finally have a friend. She was at the door in under two minutes.
“Who is this you want me to meet? You’re bringing over friends?” There was a tinge of hope in her tone.
Vernon opened the door to show her the man who had come back with him. The man of his dreams. And it stopped his mother right in her tracks. “Vernon?” she almost whispered. “What…what is…is this your friend?” Vermillia’s smile was only half of what it had ever been.
“Yup.” Vernon smiled brightly. “This is the man of my dreams. Isn’t he so handsome?” Vernon looked over at Spring, who stood up now. The covers slid from his body and he was naked, without shame. Vernon quickly went to cover him up with his body and tossed a pair of his underwear at him. He tried not to stumble, speaking to his mother in embarrassment.
“Well, where is he from?” his mom asked him.
“I told you, Ma. This is the man of my dreams. And that’s where he’s from: my dreams”
Vermillia’s face became crooked. “Boy, what did I tell you about dreams?”
“I know, I know, but he’s why I’ve been sleeping so much.”
“Huh?” Vermillia did not understand.
“I took him with me from my dreams, Ma.”
“Oh, hell naw. I know this boy don’t have you so in a spell that you can’t even tell me where he’s really from.”
Vernon thought about this. Explaining Spring to his mom would be hard without inching her into it. Vernon had found a way to manifest his dreams in the most literal way. It was all thanks to Wazir. And he was just some old wizard from what he called the collective unconscious. Whatever that was.
One of the last times he went into Summer Land, Wazir tried to show Vernon that place called the collective unconscious. To Vernon, it was just an underground cave with categorized skulls laying in neat rows, one after the other. Wazir had invited him to take a closer look, saying it was just a harmless place. But Vernon didn’t get a good feeling, so he pivoted instead towards Spring, who was waiting for him. Vernon wasn’t only unimpressed but a little annoyed that Wazir had taken him somewhere so underwhelming when he had Summer Land. All he had ever been doing in Summer Land was hanging out with Spring. And it was all he had ever wanted to do. Wazir never really understood that.
“Well anyways, Spring,” Vermillia started. She looked him up and down and she received her own halfway smile from him. “Keep my boy safe, and I better not see y’all sleeping all day. Vernon does that enough without you.” Without another word, she walked away.
Quickly and respectfully, Vernon closed the door behind her. Soon he and Spring got to feeling and kissing and rubbing all over each other and before Vernon knew it, Spring was picking him up and wrapping his legs around his torso.
Spring praised Vernon and gave thanks. “Thank you, Vernon,” Spring said between kisses. “Thank you for taking me out of that place and bringing me back here.” Then he slammed Vernon on the bed, and they made love for the first time in the real world. It was so much realer than the dream. Spring was much more of an aggressive lover than he was prepared for. Holding him down, ripping his shirt, Vernon didn’t mind. But the way Spring tried to enter him was too much.
“Hold on,” Vernon said, and they lay down together as a breeze wafted into the room from his window. Strangely, Vernon couldn’t fall asleep for anything. Not even in the embrace of the man of his dreams. He felt comforted but not drowsy. And when he looked over at Spring, he was looking back at him with his eyes wide open.
Vernon couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. He was still trying to understand what Spring had said earlier in the heat of passion. It felt like trying to pin down what the dream people looked like after the dream was over. Vernon couldn’t make much sense of Spring’s words on his own.
“Hey Spring, earlier you used the words ‘back here.’ What did you mean by that?” Vernon asked.
“I used to live here. Until I was, well…collectively forgotten. But now I’m back.” A big smile lifted his face. “And better now because I exist with humans. And I’m no longer back there with the forgotten monsters and creatures and things.”
“Things?” Vernon asked, becoming slightly alarmed. He worried more and more about Wazir. Who he was, what he was. What he looked like, he couldn’t remember. Only the sound of his voice.
“Yes, things. Things that don’t have a shape or a name. They just come and go however they please in there.”
“How come I never saw these things before?”
“Because you never knew them. That’s the only way they could be in your Summer Land. Your dream space is better than the whole world’s, Vernon. I guess you slept so much that you haven’t seen the same monsters as most people. So, you don’t got no monsters roaming around in your mind because you don’t know they exist. But I paid a heavy price to Wazir to enter that place.”
“And I plan to make good on my promise to that thing.”
“Wazir is a thing? Spring, what promise? Why have I never known about this?”
“Wazir said I couldn’t tell you because you might not do it.”
“Take me with you. Back here.”
Vernon had to think about it. What did the two of them ever do except stare into each other’s eyes and enjoy the warm weather and make love? It dawned on Vernon, why his mother didn’t want him dreaming so much. If he’d realized how empty their connection was, he would have interrogated it much sooner. But just because it was empty, didn’t mean it wasn’t strong.
“Spring, you love me, right?” Vernon asked.
Spring nodded his head, licking his lips.
“And you would never do anything to hurt me? Or my mother?”
Spring just looked at him, with big eyes. And for the first time, Vernon was scared so awake that he felt all the sleepiness in his body flush from his insides.
“Talk, Spring. What does Wazir want you to do in this world…now that you’re here…?”
Spring looked like he was considering it. “Wazir wants me to open the gate so that he can come into this reality again, too. He said he has been forgotten for too long. And that now is a good time for him to come back, like me. To be remembered again,” Spring said. And then he continued, “Wazir wants to seize power that way. He’s a big old thing and I’m sure he’ll do it,” Spring said. Then he got up, still nude, and sat on the corner of the bed, facing the wall.
Vernon scrambled as he quickly put his underwear and blue jeans on. They lived on the first floor. He was mad that he hadn’t taken off his rose-colored glasses sooner; he felt like the biggest fool. This was a sober thought after years of drinking. This wasn’t in his dreams.
“Spring, you’re scaring me,” Vernon reasoned. “And we’re lovers. You love me, right? Well, I’ll teach you since you don’t know. One of the rules of this reality is that you don’t scare the person you’re in love with. You try your hardest not to. In fact, you try your hardest to make them feel safe and secure.”
Spring straightened his spine. He stood taller than when he was hunched over, even when he was sitting. Vernon’s words must have meant something to him. Even though now, Vernon couldn’t tell exactly what the impact of his speech was. Just that he had his attention. “Please, whatever Wazir is…maybe it’s good that he was forgotten. Maybe he doesn’t need to be brought back into everyone’s memory. Maybe he should just stay where he’s at.”
“Is that how you feel?” Spring asked, a little contention in his voice. “Well, what about me? Aren’t you happy that I’m back? Now, I can live in more people’s memories. Aren’t I beautiful to behold?”
Vernon gathered his courage in his hands and then balled his fist. Vernon didn’t want his dream man being with others the way he was with him. “You know what, Spring…” Vernon said, lunging for his lover from behind.
Spring was just a strong as he looked; he even seemed to have a touch of supernatural strength. He knocked Vernon clear to the other side of the room. Things went dark for a little bit.
WHEN VERNON WOKE UP, he was in Summer Land again. But this time, things were different. It was a bit colder than usual. And the sun was setting. But the sun had never set in Summer Land before.
“Wazir!” Vernon screamed out. “Wazir!” Vernon screamed again. But only silence answered him. Suddenly, he felt himself tugged back to reality and when he came to, he realized it was his mother. She was in his face, screaming his name.
“Vernon!” Vermillia screamed. “Vernon, what happened?”
He looked around his room. It was like a tornado passed through. Well, that was rude of Spring. If he was going to leave, then he could have just walked out of the front door. Vernon looked over at the window and it was broken, along with some pieces of the wall. Spring was gone. Summer Land would never be the same. Wazir, or whatever that thing was, would be remembered. Unless Vernon could stop him.
“Mom,” Vernon cried out as tears started to roll down his eyes. “I’m never going to sleep again. I’m not sleepy anymore.”
Vermillia squeezed Vernon close to him and rubbed his back. “Some dreams just seem good, honey. But when you’re awake, you can see them for what they really are. A dream doesn’t know itself; it just knows you.
“It teaches you from what you experience in reality. A dream may even be a vision in disguise. But here,” Vermillia pinched Vernon’s arm, “is what you will need to remember you are alive. Pain.” Vermillia brought Vernon to his feet. “I don’t want you sleeping so much anymore.” She gestured to Vernon’s window area that looked expensive to fix. “Okay?”
“But, Ma…” Vernon had resolve in his eyes. Everything Vermillia had said was right but there was also something he knew he needed to do. “There’s one dream I’ve gotta catch. This time, I’ll do it with my eyes wide open.”