Bad Dreams

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        Doctor Abelard was a professor of criminal psychology at San Francisco State University.  He got along well with his students; he always seemed to understand what held them up whenever they had a problem with the material, and he was a very effective communicator. Despite his advanced years, he was never out of touch with the youth culture that his students brought into his classes.  He had a genuine gift for teaching.  He was a darling of the research-grant writers too, for that matter.  More than once, he'd teamed up with scientists from such disparate fields as ethnology and computer science, and done ground-breaking research with the combined team, facilitating communication across disciplinary boundaries and jargon barriers in a way that was almost magical.


        One thing that the juniors and seniors warned the freshmen about was to not even try to buy a term paper for Doctor Abelard's class.  Cheating was never encouraged, of course, but the utter futility of trying to cheat in Doctor Abelard's class was singular.  The old man would pick up the paper, and then he'd just put it down again and look sadly at you and give you an 'F'.  It was like he could tell just by touching it, or just by looking at you, if you hadn't done the work.  It was spooky as hell.


        His house was a bit of a rats-nest.  Papers, most of them scrawled in longhand by his students, stood in piles here and there, scattered among queer old antiques and, of course, several thousand of his favorite books.  He found these things comforting, in some small way he could never quite define, and no one ever remarked on it. There was nothing really unusual about his house, after all, for a professor.


        He had always had the dreams.  Sometimes he was in other people's dreams and sometimes they were in his.  He knew that wasn't quite ordinary, but he'd never really thought about it very much.  Dreams, after all, are just dreams.  In the queer manner of a physician who never takes an interest in his own illness, Abelard, a doctor of psychology, never actually thought much about how unusual his dreams really were.  Perhaps he was afraid to.  After all, it wasn't supposed to happen.


        About three years ago, he had started having bad dreams occasionally.  He didn't think about how or why his dreams had started going bad, but sometimes now he dreaded falling asleep.  He moved his bed to the most relaxed place in his house - the library - and that seemed to help. Several times that semester, he forgot to hand major papers back to his students.  He graded them, and passed out the grades, but the papers themselves wound up under his bed, or stacked into the bookshelf that was at the head of the bed, or piled next to the bed.  He couldn't exactly say why; it just seemed like a good place for them.  And he slept better somehow, when they were there.


        One night he fell asleep in the lounge at the psychology building, where he'd been going over a grad student's thesis.  He dreamed of being a young man, in a red sports car, tearing through town out of control, with an adoring girlfriend giving him head from the passenger's seat while he drove way too fast, laughing maniacally like maybe he was on drugs or something, until the buildings he drove between turned into squat shapes with malevolent eyes and craggy teeth, and the trees started reaching their craggy branches out into the road, trying to pluck his head out of the convertible, and the roads grew slick with blood. Blood, and things less wholesome.  He wanted to stop, but there were things in the rear-view mirror - things chasing them.  Things with glowing, flashing red and blue eyes, and huge silver teeth. He had just started to scream, when he saw the bat wings sprung from his girlfriend's back, and suddenly felt her sharp fangs fasten upon him. And then he looked up and the road was gone.  Coarse bark and branches ripped at his face as the car plowed directly into one of the things where the buildings had been. Whatever it was, it seemed to take malevolent delight in the car's sudden, final crunch.


        He went sailing up out of the car, realizing with horror that as his head tumbled, he could see his own body, still firmly strapped into the car, with blood spurting from its neck and groin....


        Abelard woke with a start and a yelp, horrified at the nightmare.  Criminal psych was always disturbing, but it had never given him such nightmares before.  He went home and crawled into his own bed, but he did not sleep any more that night.


        Next morning though, two students were absent from his class, and that afternoon he found out why.  The paper carried the story about the young couple, who'd run six red lights at triple the speed limit in a red convertible.  A patrolman had tried to pull them over, but they'd sped up, gone out of control, and rammed through a thicket of brush into an abandoned building near the Cow Palace.  Both were dead. The man had been decapitated.  There was a photograph that showed what was left of the car. The police cruiser was parked to one side in the photo.  It had two flashing red and blue lights on top, at each end of a light bar, and a big chrome grille that recalled, in its way, the huge silver teeth he'd glimpsed in his nightmare. Abelard felt helpless and sick to his stomach.


        Twice more that semester, after unquiet nights, he stared at the paper in the morning.  But he never fell asleep outside his own bed again, and the disquiet in his nights never again took shape so vividly that he could identify it the next morning.  And although he condemned himself for a coward for saying nothing, he preferred it that way.  After all, what could he possibly say, and to whom?  People died every day in San Francisco; what could it possibly mean that some of them had died in his dreams?

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