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It used to be that there was a clear demarcation between reality and these forays into the Land of Nod, but things have become more . . . blurry. When I was a kid my dad had an old Ford pickup truck. It had the gear shift on the column – for some reason that grinding sound of him shifting gears sticks out in my mind. Anyway, he was driving that old Ford pickup and I was with him. I don’t remember where we were going or anything but we were heading down this country road when a dog darted out in front of us. It was a mutt. Just an old tan dog. It scared the crap out me but dad didn’t even try to swerve or brake. He just ran right over the dog’s back. The truck bucked and I heard the crack of the dog’s spine through my open window.

Dad cussed as he finally decided to slam on the brakes. I looked back at the dog and it was writhing around yelping in the most horrible pain I had ever heard. We both got out and I just stood there staring at the poor dog while dad stood over it rubbing his chin. “Dumbass dog,” was all he said. I asked if he thought we could save it and he just said, “Nah, he’s a gonner. Might as well put him out of his misery.” Then he told me to get in the truck. Dad retrieved his shotgun from behind the seat. I couldn’t watch. I just closed my eyes and waited for the blast. Boom! And then the yelping stopped.

I see that dog in my nightmares. It’s different than the rest of the things around me too. It’s like it’s more concrete. More palpable. Whenever I see the writhing dog and its pleading eyes, hear its cries for salvation, I know that a part of my own self-defined reality has taken a foothold in Nod. But that’s not the most disconcerting thing because it goes both ways.

The other night I was driving through the city. It was late, so late that I guess you could really say it was early. When I can’t sleep or just plain don’t want to sleep, I drive where there are people. Even then, there’s still an isolation there. People think that individual souls haunt places, but I’ve come to realize that places have souls too. And certain places have passed away. You know, seen their heyday, or whatever. People may go right on living there and building stuff there, but the deceased soul of the place haunts it and makes it – not right. That’s how the city feels at night.

So, I was driving and the buildings were there; empty and dim. Some of the lights were on in the office buildings but it was a faint light and no one was working. Something in one of the offices caught my eye. It was a figure sitting at a desk. It was the Plague Doctor. He caught my eye and rose from his desk. That was the first time someone of his caliber came over.

***

Whenever I get ripped out of Nod there’s always a moment of hope. It’s probably the weirdest part of the trips. It’s so nebulous a thing to pinpoint. Maybe it’s because it’s certain knowledge that I have no account of where it came from or what it means. I just know that behind me lies the City on the Hill. I struggle so hard to turn my head just to catch a glimpse of it but it’s like I’m barreling away at such a great speed that my body won’t budge. But I know the City is there. And therein lies the hope. If I could just figure out the solutions to all the riddles I know I could get there. But there are so many symbols, people, places, figures, archetypes, and mythologies that I don’t know if I will ever unravel it all before they have made the boundaries disappear. But there is hope. And when all hope is gone, death isn’t far behind. So I have to believe that one day I will see the City.

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