In which our intrepid hero’s subconscious makes him wish that he had never woken up in the first place.

Last night, I had the most amazing dream. I’m not sure how it happened—I don’t really dream when I’m that exhausted—but it was so big and so cool that it has its own cast list:

Persona Real-Life Role Dream Role
Will* Friend of ~12 years Friend since childhood
Joanne Morris (Labor) Mayor of Hurstville Herself
Madonna Musical superstar Herself
The Johnsons* Clients and friends of my boss Hereditary servants to my family
Andrea* Girl I have a bit of a crush on Girl I have a bit of a crush on
Michael* My boss My majordomo
Albert* My boss’ best friend A minor official in my household

*Not their real names.

The dream begins thus: Will and I have been visiting a lush, but restricted, area of land ever since we were children.

It lies across the bend of a broad, shallow, rocky river, and the only way to access it clandestinely is to swing arm-over-arm beneath a two-foot-wide, khaki-painted pipeline that crosses the river’s mouth as it empties into the sea. Along the top of this pipeline lie two rows of razor wire and a long, narrow pressure sensor that runs the length of the span across the river.

One morning, we’re hanging out with friends, when someone suggests that we cross the pipe so they can see what’s on the other side. Will and I shrug, and figure Why not?; we lead about two or three of them through a broken chain-link fence and, taking the lead, proceed to brachiate across the river.

When we’re about three-quarters the way to the other side, a loud siren sounds. Will and I look at each other and realise that we’d forgotten to tell them about the pressure sensor. Somehow, over the siren’s din, we hear a helicopter rotor in the distance; realising that we won’t have time to escape before it gets to us, we head for the restricted side in the hope we can conceal ourselves in the foliage.

Our friends make it back to the fence and out before the helicopter arrives. (It’s a very dark green Bell UH-1, for those helicopter buffs out there.) Once it leaves, Will and I make our way inland to try and find another way out. After wandering through neck-high fern prairie for a couple of hours, we spot a hill; a path rises to a small lookout building at its peak.

The sides of the hill are too steep to climb, so we sneak up the path to the entrance. Inside, we hear a television and a guard moving around. We duck behind what appears to be a peeling, white-painted flare chest and wait. Some other guy is already hiding there, and as the guard steps out of his post he sees us.

"I get off shift in half an hour," he says. "If I turn my back and don’t see you, then I won’t have to file a report."

He turns away; Will and I dash through the building and down the path on the other side. The path leads into the hill, and we find ourselves in a series of passages, shored with old oak beams and with side chambers clad in steel laminate sheet.

People live here, tired, dirty, poor and adapted to their troglodytic existence. I feel sorry for them, but realise that they hate surface dwellers, and that we might not get out unscathed. Somehow, I manage to talk our way out, and we exit the hill near a concrete bridge that crosses the river. We hang over the side of the bridge, and cross hand-over-hand, so as not to be seen.

After a few hours’ walk, we wander into our local, an English pub well-lit by large, clear windows. Many of our friends are here, and Will wanders off to chat with someone. I make polite conversation for a while, then notice Joanne Morris in the corner, having drinks with a friend.

I reach into my pocket for a business card, hoping to offer Joanne my speechwriting services gratis, when Madonna walks in the front door. It seems she was in the area, and, guessing where I would be, popped in to say hi. We hug and begin to chat about her latest tour. Just then, the phone on the bar rings, and one of my friends flags me over.

At this point, I should mention that in the dream, I’m the last remaining patriarch of an old, prestigious but fading noble family. On the other end of the line, one of the Johnsons tells me that there’s been a problem at my estate, and suggests that I get over there as soon as possible.

This, I do. My estate vaguely reminds me of my real-life high school in its layout.

I’d asked Andrea to stay for a couple of weeks, and she’d arrived in my absence. Andrea is a member of another noble family in the dream, with somewhat less prestige but whose fortunes are on the rise. Her parents are currently overseas, at some sort of social function which I’d declined to attend; this leaves Andrea as the pro tempore head of her family, and she’d arrived with a considerable retinue.

Andrea is in tears, apologising profusely that she has to leave, stating that given her newfound responsibility, she couldn’t deal with "the embarrassment". She wouldn’t elaborate further, but promised to be in touch.

I question the Johnsons, but I don’t get much out of them. It turns out that some sort of kerfuffle erupted between my staff and hers. I don’t have time to press the matter, having to head off to a royal cabinet meeting later that evening.

At the meeting, one of the other noble scions around the table casually mentions the incident; they comment off-handedly how hard it is to find good help these days, and that it was a brave but ultimately futile decision to put Albert in a position of trust.

I excuse myself, and pick up the phone in the next room. I know that for the news to reach the cabinet chamber so quickly, there must be a spy in my household staff. I suspect Michael, who comes from a distant cadet branch of the family (in the dream); it also doesn’t help that Michael and Albert are best friends, and that Michael had recommended Albert for employment in the first place. It occurs to me that Albert must have shot his mouth off, ruining a delicate situation and ultimately damaging my chances with Andrea.

I call Michael and tell him that he has to fire his best friend. I know that I can’t act directly against Michael (being a member of the family and all), but I can make his life very difficult.

I retire to the estate. At the top of the main building is a small, unpretentious room, decked out with cheap, white carpet and grey steel folding tables with white melamine tops. It’s a private shrine to my illustrious ancestors; on each table are two or three unframed portraits, with an illuminated book opened to tales of their exploits in front of each and some mementos of their life.

Many of them have fragments of steel: broken swords indicating that they died in battle. Their portraits feature wild hair, but trimmed beards, depicting them in the throes of combat. I stop by them, one by one; without reading the books, I know the stories of their lives by heart.

I finally stand in front of my favourite ancestor, the one with whom I identify most, the wisest and most eccentric of them all. Like the others, his biography lays open and a broken sword litters the table; however, in place of his portait, there’s a mirror. I look into the mirror at an angle, not seeing myself, but the room reflected around it.

You bastard, I think, grimly, staring at the glass’ surface. If you were still alive, I’d have you murdered. You knew too much for your own good.

And there, the dream ended.