In the dream I was in lower downtown Denver with the sluggish Platte River flowing past though everything was different from the way it had been when every street and every alley was as familiar as the back of my hand. Dusk was falling as I ran out of the courthouse—misplaced a mile or so to the northwest, near the 15th Street Viaduct, a ghost itself as it was torn down decades ago—to retrieve my camera and reporter’s notebook for a trial I was covering when I made a wrong turn and somehow ended up in a bar catering to the lower dregs of society.
I remembered the place, not the interior of course because I’d never stepped foot within, but in the way that dreams make the unfamiliar familiar it was like a homecoming, the long dirty bar on the right and a smattering of tables on the left, a buzzing neon beer sign hanging crooked above the back door where I’d pistol-whipped the thief who had been stealing batteries from our vehicles. And everywhere in that smoky gloom hostile faces closing in.
Uh-oh, I thought.
We were never trained in how to deal with murderous crowds but left to our own devices as if by merit of our pistols and uniforms immunity would somehow be granted. Fat chance of that. Every technician had his own tale of close calls, his own internal scars and frights that would forever haunt his nocturnal wanderings. Mine had come at another bar about two miles to the south when a clever ruse stunned an agitated mob long enough to make an escape. A melted screwdriver was small price to pay for remaining in one piece, I felt, though for years I kept the screwdriver in my tool bag as a reminder of how close I had come to the unthinkable.
Here was a darker angle to the story, however. I was bereft of weaponry of any kind and outnumbered fifty to one, and if there was any saving grace in what would follow it was that the suddenness of the attack left no time for anticipation. Before I could bolt for the door they were upon me, their fists and boots pummeling me to the floor. A boot to the chest drove the wind from me and jolted me upright in bed, where I gasped aloud in agony. My ribs felt staved in.
The boundaries between real and unreal are never so indistinguishable as in nightmares. Muscle spasms brought about by post-hole digging the previous two days replaced the boots and fists, pain so intense and unwavering that it had fabricated an entire dreamscape to inhabit. Trying not to wake Lori, I slipped from bed and made my way downstairs where I paced the floor, trying to shake loose. A slug of bourbon helped settle my nerves, and the soft querying of a great horned owl outside seemed a balm altogether more merciful than I deserved. And if the owl’s query was answered by another, more distant, my own was not. Why, I wondered, do my dreams have to be so melodramatic?