That day, I found myself on purple grass under a green sky. There were two moons in the sky and half a sun that burned furiously. I was sweating profusely, but when I wiped a little sweat off my forehead, I realized that I was sweating blood. I panicked. I shuddered. I thought I was approaching death. I wasn’t weak though. And so, I ran. I ran past trees with whalebone trunks and leaves that looked like caterpillars. They seemed alive. I ran past a lake brimming with all sorts of cats. I tried rationalizing things. Was I in hell? Did some ‘event’ transport me to another dimension? Was this the afterlife? I tried bringing everything I saw around me to the level of my reasoning, but I struggled. And so, I sat down and tried to recollect. My memory was fragmented. I only remembered a station…a train…a loud thud. Then it dawned on me. I was in a coma after an accident, and this was a lucid dream! But then something attacked me. Something feral but invisible. It tore a chunk of flesh out of my left arm. I screamed in pain. I shrieked. I yelled for help, but I soon found myself drifting out of consciousness. I woke up later to find myself missing an arm, although I didn’t feel it. Then I felt a burning sensation where my missing arm was. I hypothesised again and thought it must be phantom pain that I was experiencing in a lucid dream because the doctors had amputated my arm in the real world. I still haven’t woken up from the coma, I thought.
As the days passed, I felt hunger and thirst and drank from the lake of cats. The water tasted like piss. I then managed to fashion a weapon of sorts out of metal reeds I’d collected (I can only call them that) and to slay two cats and eat them raw. They tasted like fish, and they didn’t bleed when I sliced them open. Then, I found myself falling into a pattern of sorts. I avoided any strange animal I came upon. And I saw many – three-horned rhinoceroses with gills, elephants without tusks and tails, cougars with blue coats, walking on seven legs…I hoped the invisible predator would never return.
Years or what seemed like years passed and my reasoning was failing. My instincts, however, had sharpened. As I explored the strange biosphere, I encountered both things and occurrences that had a supernatural or surreal aspect. I started wondering if aliens had abducted me and placed me under observation in an unnatural habitat to see how I’d respond. But that didn’t explain how I’d healed from having my arm torn off. Had they changed me before placing me here? Had they tampered with my biochemistry and my human nature? Was I becoming an alien myself? Is this how they captured other species and transformed them into creatures like themselves?
Then one day, a memory flashed in my head. A memory of a hospital. And I thought that perhaps everything I’d known was simply a hallucination. I was just a mentally ill man in an asylum living out a terrifying make-believe reality, completely oblivious to the truth. But that posed other questions. How could I have known the true world unless I’d experienced it at some point? Was I a functioning individual who suddenly had a psychotic breakdown because of a personal catastrophe? Then I wondered if anything was real. We spend our lives looking for answers, but what if there aren’t any questions to begin with? What if some sentient being somewhere dreamt us all into existence, and when its dream turned into a nightmare, earthquakes, plagues and train accidents occurred? What if this being’s dream made room for each creature – man, woman, child, animal, bird, fish, and dreams within the massive dream made each life? And when a dream within the dream took a surreal turn, realities got turned inside out. This was an absurd explanation, or perhaps a profound one, I don’t know, but it was the best I could think of.
Now, I still live here in this bizarre place. Centuries or what seem like centuries have passed. I still sweat blood and don’t have an arm. I look at my broken reflection in the lake of cats and it looks the same. I haven’t aged. I’ve stopped praying for help. The invisible monster never returned. I hunt. I eat. I survive.
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)