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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Anatomy of a Dreamshop

Fenton scraped a microscopic bead onto the rolling paper. He was careful not to tear the thin rectangle with the dull tip of his tweezers. The polymer bead was the size of a speck of dust, almost invisible, but he knew from looking through his microscope that each one had a deep, cat’s eye interior. That’s where the magic was. One bead was more than enough to make the flowers of the mind bloom. One bead could make dreams.

He divided out three grains of salt—a necessary filler—and tucked them beneath faint barbs of duck down. Something about beta-keratins in feathers tickled the part of the mind that evoked sunset swatches and rose-lit phantoms. A true treat.

Fenton chuckled to himself as he capped the polymer jar. The delicate mishmash of ingredients was far deeper than commonly understood. Amateurs would often smoke pigeon feathers in an attempt to conjure dreams of flying. Simpletons. It takes a lifetime to memorize the algorithm, the gentle waltz of psychology, chemistry, and imagination. These penny-pinching feather smokers had no creative nuance. Only literal, Freudian bullshit for brains.

Gloria was in the other room, easing requests from their clients. “Describe in as much detail as possible.”

“There were lilacs...” The voice hesitated. “But they looked more like... buildings.”

Fenton’s job was to listen and craft, like an elf in the walls.

He took a horsehair brush from the red-ivory dish near his work counter. He smoothed his sleeve and moved his hand slowly into place. Small gusts of air could tumble the contents of the rolling paper across the lacquered mahogany and into the dry-sink. He uncorked a small jar. The contents sat like a fat apple in his palm. The label said “olive oil,” but he knew it to be the whey-mucus of a pig brain.

“Hold tight, dear,” said an old voice from beyond the thick tapestry, “I’ll go to the workshop and have it right out.” He heard Gloria’s steps coming towards him.

“Oh, thank you!” The soft-voiced client sounded young. An early start in life. Lined up for an addiction. “I’m really excited to try this!”

Fenton dipped the brush and slid it elegantly along the rim of the rolling paper—the straight line of a master calligrapher, he thought. Practiced plastic gloves rolled the little joint like a rug. He wrapped two more papers—one rust orange and one cerulean, twisting as he turned the rug of dreams round and round—until the modest joint had metamorphosed into a fluorescent cocoon the length of his pinky.

Gloria glided through the curtain. “Is it ready?”

Fenton held the joint between two fingers. She plucked it away with a withered smile. He cringed, knowing that her bare hands would trap traces of oil in the paper, muddling the experience. Her disregard for art chafed his insides.

“Lovely,” she wheezed and disappeared into the counseling quarters.

The next customers were a couple. He had dislodged his earpiece, preferring to eke out the details of a demand through the muffled tapestry divider. Each word had a quiver, a hidden description of what the customer truly wanted to see, which could be lost in the noise of the microphone. Gloria chided him for it, but what did she know.

“He just doesn’t... understand,” a buttery voice moaned. “I need him to see the place. With his own eyes.”

A bitter rumble spoke out beside her: “She thinks it’ll prove God-knows-what. Something...! I can’t get her to give it up.” An awkward air of silence. He’d heard this before, a million times. It may as well have been the same couple from yesterday or from twenty years ago.

“Go on,” Gloria cooed in her false manner. “We all have much to learn from each other. This will be a... binding experience for you both. Describe the dream.”

The butter-voiced woman went on to babble about the pink orbs, about the chair where her father sat, and how it all started to melt when he whistled that tune from the sports channel.

Nutmeg was the base of most paternal visions, a simple kitchen spice in the wrong hands. He scooped it out with the eye of a silver sewing needle. He nudged excess dusty particles into the dry-sink, bit by bit, until the vacuum scale agreed with his intentions. His intuition warned him away from adding any snake marrow. It would bind the husband into the role of the father, which wasn’t what the butter-voice wanted. He smiled at his own cleverness. Recipe books were far in his past.

He squirmed as he listened to the remainder of her description.

These childish dreams, all tainted by media. What do the pink balls mean? Why is my father there? Who owns the stone mask? They toyed with psychoanalysis for answers, but that was meaningless. Symbolism didn’t exist. Dreams were nothing more than imagination in the dark.

Yet this woman desperately needed to share her experience with her husband. It was a selfish effort, wordless and lazy. She would suffocate his innocent sleep with a narrative she had created—by accident!—in her fat skull.

He shaved dried starfish with a soap-sized grater. Not a lot. Three gratings would be fine. The rolling paper was pink this time, and so thin he could see the sheen of the mahogany wax beneath.

“There was a sadness in his eyes,” the client said. “A loneliness. It’s like he’s... mad at me and my mom.”

Fenton almost dropped a mustard seed. Sadness? Loneliness? What could this simpleton possibly know with her pink balls and her pudgy voice?

Had she ever experienced a dream like his own? An experience so dense with sadness that her mouth was both wet and sandy with spiderwebs, fresh, spooling from the asses of the spindly black beasts as they burrowed in through puffed, tear-streaked cheeks? The itch-ache!? The way the blood knots, becoming harder to swallow than the gumminess of the webs? He clenched his teeth.

His vision came back into focus. That jar... on the high shelf with a honey glimmer. It was normally kept hidden with a blue rag for the sake of customers. Now it was exposed, the rag draped along the top shelf like a sheet of rain that couldn’t fall. The jar was full of mead. Bobbing in the middle was a black-gray blob: an infant water-rat. Some of its premature fur lined the rim. It gave the darkest dreams when used incorrectly—or correctly.

“Make sure you drink milk after you smoke it,” Gloria said. “Whatever doesn’t make it to your lungs will leave residue in your mouth, and the fats from the milk will help wash those into your stomach. It’s best to get it all into your bloodstream before you sleep.”

“Will it taste bad?” the man asked.


“It depends on the person,” she lied, “but... keep the milk nearby. Let me go check on your product.”

A cloud of knotted gray hair appeared. “How’s it coming?”

“Almost,” he answered.

She winked a dark eye. “You can start making my night cap afterwards, hun.” The sleepless bags above her cheeks jiggled as she turned away. She looked like a woman who never rested. He hated it. He had been crafting her the sweetest dreams night after night for fifty-two years. Her dull subconscious couldn’t grasp the depths of his creations, the happiness it brought her. She hadn’t earned the right to ache inside.

She should learn.

He pulled a dark leaf from the greenish oaken drawer, slit the stem and midrib into the dry-sink, and laid the rest in the center of a sheet of gold-speckled tissue paper. He rolled the wheeled ladder into place against the mammoth ingredient shelf, took seven steps upward, and heaved down the mead-filled jar. One turn of the lid filled the room with musk. He never understood the chemistry, but he knew the legitimacy of pickled water-rat. He could see tiny scratches on the inside of the glass, desperate, as the creature had slowly lost oxygen throughout the hours of submergence. Its lung were plump with the honey-wine before it died. It was hard to pickle an animal alive.

One drop. Just one, to sour the dreams. To feel the emptiness.

Just one drop more.

Too many and the joint wouldn’t light. A professional must consider the effects of both wet and dry, flammable and non-flammable. He added three beads of gunpowder, a drop of alcohol. Too wet, still. A coconut fiber, one-point-three millimeters long. The cat’s eye polymer... so the flowers would bloom.

Sweet rat musk hung around the room like a halo.

Maybe the woman with the butter voice had it right all along. How could you share your mind with words alone? Had anyone ever felt their minds wrench the way his did at night? Felt the dying dreams? He had known the Poison of Life manifesting into a symphonic plague that both seared and ripped the woken flesh of his soft forearms. It had happened. Many times. And the darkness had fallen from Gloria’s upside-down eyes and smoked his soul rotten. Had he shared that?

There was no meaning behind pink balls, melting fathers. No, what do the iron rivulets mean...? They drip hot from the sky and pour into upturned nostrils. They coat your throat with the fear of drowning and the horror that you’ve never actually breathed a breath in your life.

He added another cat’s eye. Then a wormgren polymer. Toxic plastics, both of them, but not in these amounts. These masterful cigarettes he mixed would cause dreams, not death. No. 

But... could dreams kill?

Could someone dream to death? Could they?

His heart raced. Excitement pounded through his veins. The formula for this wild new experiment snapped—clack—into place and over again—clack—into the manifold calculators of his mind.

His hands were possessed. 

Dried mandioca root.

A recipe unknown! 

Peppercorn, imported, blessed, and shaved to seventeen micrograms. Chloride vapor.

Could it be done? 

Phenethylamine from a crushed tablet, fourteen micrograms. A single rottweiler hair, from the hind leg, point-five centimeters. A single femtogram of anthrax extract.

Gloria came in like a haunting, her yellowed smile feigning sweetness. He handed her the proper order—an uninspired pink worm of simple dreaming—watched the joint swim in her oily hands. She blew a hollow kiss and exited.

He heard the couple depart, the surety in Gloria’s voice as she promised them the “sweet dreams” she ritualistically imparted to every buffoon.

Fenton hurried, yet still careful not to disrupt the temperamental mixture with stray gusts or loose flakes of skin. There could be no contamination. The joint would be bitter, harsh even.

A clove-let, a micro-nugget of jellied goat urine. 

He wrapped and turned and weaved layers of black wrappings. The result was a chubby cockroach, winged with tissue and vibrating with anticipation. Death was in this congregation of powders and herbs and once-living tissue. A foulness so destructive the dream itself would rip apart the mind. A Death Dream.

Yellow lights dimmed behind the colorful curtain. Gloria emerged. She placed her clammy hands on his cheeks and kissed his forehead. “It’s been another busy day, my love. Wonderful work as usual.”

He swallowed. “Thanks, my love.”

“You’re the best, you know that?”

She taunted him. She deserved to feel fire.

“I know it,” he said. The little black cockroach wiggled secretly beneath his knuckles.

“Did you finish my night cap?” she asked like a windchime. “I know I shouldn’t rely on it so much, but when I dream about that old prairie I feel like we’re getting married all over again.” She winked.

“I made yours this morning, my love. It’s on the nightstand.” He patted her on the bottom and motioned her upstairs. “Go wash up. I’ll see you shortly.”

She danced up the steps, singing a song in minor key.

He lit the roach and never stopped inhaling.


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