It had the liquid unreality of a dream, and a dream's intense reality. The things he was seeing were by turns morbid, comical, erotic, soothing, shocking. None of it made sense, but none of it seemed out of place. Of course fish nested in trees. Of course commuters traveled without pants. Of course every third person carried a different container - some buckets, some cups - filled with blood.
It had to be a dream.
He was someone else, someone outside himself, trying to fight through the other images to get to... himself. It was confusing, and he fought for clarity. He knew something, and he had to tell himself what it was before he woke up. That was clear enough, certain enough; it didn't matter that he didn't know what the message was, only that he got through the interference.
There was so much to get through: the cascade of compact discs; the dark, red rain in the living room; stumbling over his chair from work, and climbing over a cubicle wall; the green field, shaped like a bowl rimmed with trees, and two metal structures back to back in the center. All the while, he felt a presence looming, first over one shoulder, then the other. He dodged around it - some uneven round shape he did not want to see - only to see it again, this time in the hand of a clown.
He hated clowns. Always had, even before reading that old Stephen King novel.
Dashing through the obstacles, he heard a rising tide of voices. Friends laughing, crying, family pleading. Enemies laughing. He tried to listen, but realized he was getting off track. He focused, and spotted himself again, standing in the center of a beam of light. Bright, yellow light, like sunlight streaming from directly above, and if he didn't get to himself in time, he would vanish into that light, and it would all be lost.
The clown was back. It was moving in from his right, standing in shadows, but still moving. He avoided looking at it, partly out of revulsion, but partly out of a dimly remembered instinct: as long as he didn't look at it, it wasn't really there. And as long as it wasn't really there...
But thinking about it was like looking, and he had something else to look at. He focused on himself, and pushed everything else away. It was getting harder to concentrate, harder to fight. But he was getting closer; he could see that the him under the light had spotted him, too. He reached out, called out, but in the way of dreams, the goal he reached for receded and his voice rasped in a near silent whisper.
This message was too important, whatever it was. He grew frustrated, did not want to give up, but he started to lower his head. The clown began to move in, and he felt something grab his hand.
In a stark, panicked terror, he looked up, expecting to see a bright red glove wrapped around his wrist. Instead, he was looking himself in the face, grasping his own hand. He tried to speak, hoping that whatever was so important would just come out on its own. Nothing happened. He struggled, but his teeth felt locked together, his throat constricted. He couldn't breathe.
Now he felt something seize his other hand. He turned and found that bright red glove on his arm, extended from a baggy white sleeve with a gaudy ruffled cuff and primary colored polka dots. If he had allowed his eyes to wander up to that face... but he didn't. He forced himself to turn around to face himself again, desperate to convey whatever he needed to say. He felt laughter bubbling up from inside himself, but no sound escaped.
But he knew what he wanted to say, now. He felt it, so strong, so right... but so... insignificant. How could something so small and trite make a difference?
"I know," his other self said. And then he let go and vanished up into the light.
As the clown took him downwards, he thought how odd it was that he hadn't woken up yet. He might have been afraid, but he had a sense of accomplishment. As if he had passed a test, or placed in some race.
But he didn't feel fear. After all, nothing can really hurt you in a dream. Besides that, there were four forms swimming out of the growing murk of the depths... and the clown had let go...