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The Secret of Life

by Bob Brill

part 1 of 2


As I entered the mall I saw a folded piece of yellow paper on the floor. There was something familiar about it. As I bent down to pick it up, two little men in leprechaun suits appeared, one on each side of me, and invited me to take a chance on a pot of gold.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Oh, but you must,” said one, waving a pistol in my face.

“Yes,” cried the other. “This is an opportunity you can’t afford to pass up.” I felt the muzzle of a second pistol against my neck.

They walked me toward a door marked NO ADMITTANCE when we were overtaken by a team of acrobats vaulting and somersaulting in slow motion over the back of a horse. This apparition glided alongside us, and just as they were about to leave us behind, one of the acrobats reached down from the horse, grabbed my wrist and yanked.

The next thing I knew I was straddling the horse, two acrobats in front of me, two behind. The horse accelerated, crashed through the door marked NO ADMITTANCE, and galloped over a meadow in a pounding rainstorm.

We came to a place where gypsy caravans were parked beside a stream beneath a monumental willow tree. The acrobats handed me down. I don’t know how they did it, but for a moment I was upside down in the air, then we were all standing on the ground. The gypsy king, with his wild hair and beard flying, stepped forward to greet us.

“Come, my daughter is waiting.”

He took my hand and led me to the back steps of a wagon. “Go on,” he said. I climbed into the wagon, which was covered inside with cushions and rugs, then the door shut and I was alone in the dark. A woman’s voice spoke.

“The first riddle is this: When will the last star wink out?”

“Uh, let me think. At the end of time?”

“That’s right. You have passed the first test.” I saw the flare of a match, then a hand lighting a candle. In its glow I saw the woman’s face. She was exquisitely beautiful.

“The second riddle is this: Why is true love like a laundry basket?”

I was stumped. I stared at her face. “Come,” she said. “There are only three riddles. If you answer them, I am yours for all eternity.”

“Till the last star winks out?” I mumbled.

“Yes, even till then. Hurry. You must answer now.”

“Can you give me a hint?”

Emerging from behind her head I saw two pistols appear, then the hands, sleeves, and finally the faces of the two leprechauns. I turned and fumbled for the door. I found the handle, but couldn’t budge it. Locked in.

“Time’s up,” she said. “You are not the one. Be gone.”

When I looked around I found myself seated at the counter of a tiny restaurant. On the next stool sat my old friend, Phil Bloom. The fact that he had died in a fiery car crash at least five years back was no impediment to our starting up a conversation.

“Try the falafel,” he said. “It’s the best in town.”

“So how’s it going, Phil? Haven’t seen you around lately.”

“Well, you know how it is. You get caught up in your own affairs. Never find time to look up old friends. But it’s good to see you, buddy. Come with me. I’ve got something to show you.”

Then we were riding on his scooter, he driving, me hanging on behind, as we swooped through the city. At every moment it seemed that we were heading for a crash with some trolley or bus or about to run into a crowd of women and chickens or vendors of watermelons and golf carts, but somehow we just brushed by and kept going. We sped up a ramp and sailed off the end of it. I looked down. We were flying across a street, over the heads of merchants and shoppers, rickshaws and bicycles. I shut my eyes and held on tight.

We landed on the truncated top end of another ramp and sped down toward a closed door at the bottom. The door slid open, we plunged into darkness and began climbing a steep spiral ramp, round and round till we emerged on the roof of a building and there we stopped and Phil cut the engine.

Phil ignored the fact that smoke was pouring from the innards of the scooter. He led me through a door and we entered his penthouse apartment. It was cluttered with electronic gear and the deconstructed pieces of his mad inventions. On a mattress in the corner lay a nude woman reading a magazine and sipping a drink from a tall glass through a rainbow colored straw.

Phil noticed me looking at her and said, “Oh, that’s Lily. Do you fancy her?” The woman winked at me, but Phil drew my eyes away by showing me a spherical gadget that he tossed into the air. Pointing a wand at it, he made it fly around the room and play nursery rhymes.

“But that’s not what I wanted to show you,” he said. “Wait here.” He went into another room. I looked at the woman. She licked her lips and beckoned me to approach. I took a step in her direction. I did fancy her. Very much. I looked back at the door through which my friend had passed.

She said, “Don’t worry about him. Come here.”

She reached out toward me. I touched her hand and a terrible electric shock pulsed through my body. I fell to the floor. I rolled over and looked up. Phil was standing over me. “That’s what I wanted to show you,” he said. “My latest invention. What do you think of it?”

I couldn’t speak. I was convulsed with pain. I had to shut my eyes. When the pain subsided and I opened my eyes, I was lying in a gutter in a pile of trash. A group of street urchins watched me with big spinning eyes that changed color. Could these be more of Phil’s inventions? I groaned and dragged myself to my feet. They backed away, chattering among themselves, in a high-pitched squeaky language I did not understand.

A squad of soldiers advanced in my direction. I heard someone bark an order. They halted with a sharp metallic sound and a whirring of gears. They aimed their rifles at me. I ran around the corner into an alley. There before me were the two little leprechauns waving their pistols. I bowled them over and kept running. Bullets went whistling past me.

With a mighty thrust I applied the toe of my boot to the base of my butt. Impossible? Maybe, but all the same I went flying, so high, in fact, that I found myself in the company of a flight of geese heading south for the winter. For once I understood their cackling chatter.

“Who is this stranger in our midst?”

“He doesn’t have a clue on how to draft.”

“Uh oh, he’s going down.”

Indeed, I was on the downward leg of my trajectory, looking for a good place to land. With a jolt I crashed, burrowing deep beneath the blankets, awakening among twisted sheets and the fast dissolving shreds of my dream.


It was Friday. Time for my weekly session with my analyst. I had forgotten my dream, but he had captured it in full color and surround-sound with his million-dollar advanced hypertronic dream catcher.

“So there you have it,” he said.

“That was a real wowser,” I replied. “So much action. So much detail.”

“Yes, but that’s not all. Packed with meaning too. A real classic. It has it all. Fear, desire, frustration, wonder, confusion. I’m presenting a paper at the next Dream Analysis Conference on the classic dream themes. I’d like your permission to show this dream to my colleagues.”

On the edge of his desk I noticed a folded piece of yellow paper. Where had I seen that before? It was tantalizingly familiar. I knew that somehow it was important, but I couldn’t pull up the memory. As I leaned forward to pick it up, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, a gyrating confusion of twisted space at the point where the two walls met the ceiling. It was a face, an implike grimacing face, that swirled and fused, transmuting its expression from a smirk to a smear of pain to a leering grin to a tearful frown to a mask of horror.

“What were you saying?” I asked.

“Let’s talk about your dream,” he replied. He lit his pipe and paced about his office, trailing clouds of smoke behind him. “Fear is the dominant motif of your life. It plays out in your dream in a dozen different ways, the pistol-packing leprechauns, the scary scooter ride, the soldiers aiming their rifles at you.”

For a second he turned into a smoke-belching steamship sailing across the room. I blinked and he returned to his normal shape, a short rotund psychiatrist with a pipe in his teeth. “There were two women in your dream, two women whom you desired, but who remained out of your reach. Why? Again it’s fear. Your failure to answer the riddle represents your fear of women, your self-appraisal that you lack the key to understanding them and coping with them.”

His mustache was undergoing a peculiar transformation. It now resembled nothing so much as the whiskers of a mouse. His nose twitched. With every word that spilled from his mouth he became more mouselike.

“In the second instance, the shock you received upon touching the woman, well, that’s a classic response, classic. Fear of rejection. Fear of the woman’s power.”

Could I continue to take seriously the squeaking of a mouse?

“Here we see the well known formula. Desire, thwarted by fear, resulting in frustration.” He pointed the stem of his pipe at me. Time slipped here and went into a loop. Over and over, he jabbed at me with his pipestem, repeating, “Frustration. Frustration. Frustration.”

“Shut up,” I cried. “You’re nothing but a mouse. Do you think because you’re as big as me and wear a vest with a watch chain and smoke a pipe that I should listen to your squeaking? I’ll get the cat after you, I will.”

The imp in the corner of the ceiling returned in a swirl of arms and legs. I turned my face away, but wherever I looked it was there to mock me with an obscene gesture. A sound like distant thunder was building as it opened its huge mouth and approached, as though preparing to swallow me. Its fangs grew large and down inside its gullet I saw a profusion of thrashing bodies. The sound of thunder became a hoarse piercing scream.

I woke up sweating, entwined in a tangle of damp sheets.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill

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