She was three and a half year old when they discovered it. Her mother had started suspecting a little earlier but dismissed the thought as a figment of imagination. How could someone’s dreams be infectious? It can happen only metaphorically. No two people, no matter how close they are, can dream exactly same dreams. Even if they do, this is an extremely rare occurrence. But now it was confirmed. Her dreams were infectious. Whoever slept next to her dreamt the same dreams as her. What was the meaning of this? Was she a witch? A bad omen for the family? They could not tell as nothing considerably bad had happened to them since her birth.
She looked at them discussing all this with her deep, dark eyes. She understood some of it. Most importantly, she understood that from that day on she would never get to sleep with her mother. She would have to sleep alone. She would not have her mother to cling on to when she had a nightmare. She would have to deal with the fear of lizards crawling on her bed or some dark eyes staring from behind the curtains on her own. She did not protest because though she was very young she had understood that nothing would make them change their plans. They gave her the pink colored teddy for comfort.
Soon they realized that despite sleeping in different rooms, her dreams were as infectious as before. They hadn’t dreamt a personal dream since long. They were getting increasingly desperate for dreaming their own dreams. Dreams are an intensely personal experience. They could not keep dreaming someone else’s dreams forever. What would happen to their individuality? How would they vent out their emotions via dreams? Dreams also help you know yourself better but they longer had this option available. Their life was in a limbo especially after this discovery because earlier they were ignorant about the truth that was insidiously eating away their self without them realizing it, just like an undetected cancer. It is only when the cancer is detected that people’s lives change. Similarly, this discovery had put up an existential question in front of them.
Her dreams probably slipped out from the opened windows, or from the slit beneath the doors. So, they built a soundproof room for her with no openings whatsoever. She was to sleep in that for as long as she lived there. They were determined to get their dreams back and wanted to leave no stone unturned. She silently saw all that with those dark, deep eyes. No expression could be read in those eyes except for a blank resignation.
I first met her when she was six. I was a distant relative of her father. When her parents learnt that I was into analysis of dreams, they invited me over. Many researchers and other curious kinds had contacted them for letting them conduct research on their daughter but they refused. They could not let her become a lab specimen. Now that their dreams had become their own (the idea of a sound-proof room had worked), they did feel guilty about making their young daughter sleep alone in such a room. However, the greed of having personal dreams was far too strong to let her sleep with them.
When I first saw her, she was sitting in her room reading a book. Long curly locks covered her face. A beautiful face! She looked up from her book when she detected my silent presence. The very first look told me that she was unlike other kids. Her eyes were not like that of a 6-year old. They were deep and stable. They did not seem to belong to the rest of her body. They looked aged, with not even a hint of childishness. It was hard to maintain my gaze while looking at those eyes. But I did manage to do that with considerable effort. I saw a small vortex in the middle of her eyes, not at the surface of her eyes but somewhere deep inside. It was too small to be noticed but no discerning eye could escape it. I wondered why her parents never mentioned that to me. They probably never noticed it. So I decided against speaking about it to them. The vortex was moving with considerable speed but not fast enough to create any alarm. I suppose the presence of the vortex in the depth of her eyes gave semblance of stability to her gaze which I had found striking at first.
So was it the presence of this vortex that was responsible for those infectious dreams? It probably engulfed all the dreams inside it and then spread her dreams around. This was only a hypothesis and there was no way to confirm it. In any case, I needed to know if her dreams were really infectious. So I decided to sleep in the same room with her. When her parents told her so, they thought she would be happy as she had been sleeping alone all these years and finally would have a company. But she did not seem particularly happy though she did look slightly surprised at this announcement. She merely nodded and accepted the decision that her parents had made for her. I tried to find out the reason behind such a cold response. From what her parents told me, she was not totally expressionless. Though not bursting with emotions like children of her age, she did show normal expressions. Probably she was more comfortable sleeping alone and saw me as an intruder. Or probably she knew that I was not going to be there forever and when I would leave, she would again have to sleep alone.
We spoke about mundane things for couple of hours before we went to bed so that she gets more comfortable sleeping in the same room with me. I had difficulty sleeping initially. It seemed like my mind was resisting any kind of encroachment into its territory. But it finally gave up and I started dreaming. It was amazing how the next morning I clearly remembered all my dreams. None of them belonged to me. The symbols, the people, all were alien to me. I did figure in one of them but was just present in the background. I did not have to confirm with her but I anyways did. As I had expected, her dreams had infiltrated my mind. For all the days I stayed with her, I had stopped dreaming my own dreams. I was controlled by her dreams.
I decided to visit her again next year to carry on with my research. But more than the research, it was my curiosity that brought me back to her. I wanted to know what shape were her dreams taking and if they had the same power. I got my answer as soon as I met her. The vortex in her eyes was speedier than before. It did not look menacing just now but had acquired greater speed than before and her eyes were even more stable. I knew that this time, my experience would be more intense than the last time. I was proved right in the very first night. Her dreams had started affecting me even when I was awake. I was losing myself to her dreams. It was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain myself in this de-personalizing situation. I was no longer me. The week that I spent there saw me turning into a zombie-like creature. It totally shook me to the core.
I did not have the courage to see her again. I lost touch with her parents too. But after couple of years I heard from them again. I inquired about her. They told me that her dreams had started penetrating the walls of her sound proof room. Even their neighbours were getting infected with her dreams that were getting increasingly bizarre. They had stopped living their own lives. They wanted me to come to their place for one last time. ‘One last time’? Why would they say so? Probably they did not want to trouble me any further. I tried to look for excuses but could not come up with any. So I decided to visit her. The house looked a little menacing. Things looked out of place and the air was a little too stifling. She had just woken up. From what her parents told me, she spent most of her day sleeping. She looked at me. The vortex had now become faster than ever before. It had to be stopped before it destroyed everything around it. It was already on its way. Her parents looked ghostly. They tried to stay awake as much as possible and tried to sleep when she was awake. But now that she spent most of her time sleeping, they had little choice but to dream the dreams that she would conjure for them.
Her parents said that they called me because she wanted to meet me for the one last time. I smiled at her and said that this was not the last time I was seeing her. I will definitely come again. But that got no response from anyone. She had apparently become really attached to me in my earlier visits to her. She would inquire about me often but her parents told her that they could not trace me. I understood that the real reason was that they realized that I was probably too scared to come visit them again. But why now I thought to myself. She told me she knew that her dreams were infectious. She had heard about it from her parents but she herself did not realize that. She felt deeply sorry about it but did not know how to stop it. The situation had worsened as she could hardly stay up for more than 3-4 hours at a stretch these days no matter how hard she tried. But that day she stayed up talking to me for several hours. We had dinner together. Her parents had told me earlier that they had booked a hotel for me to stay overnight.
I went to the hotel room and thought over the conversation we had. I realized that the person I was talking to was not the person to whom those eyes belonged. It was almost like two people were living in one body. While she was expressing her grief for causing so much pain to her parents, her entire body agreed with her. But not those eyes. The vortex had its same menacing speed and looked ready to gulp everything down. I felt sorry for her as those eyes were not hers. They would not listen to her. They belonged to the other invisible person inside her. She was being controlled by that person, just like her dreams were controlling everyone else around her.
Next morning the weather suddenly turned sour. It was terribly windy. Several trees had fallen down and many houses were damaged. My flight was postponed. I was supposed to have my breakfast with them before leaving but could not leave the hotel room. I tried calling them several times before her father answered the call. His voice was unsure. The way he said ‘hello’ told me something was wrong. She died last night, he said. The receiver almost fell off my hands. Now I knew the meaning of ‘one last time’. They had put her to sleep forever. I knew it. They said that it was probably food poisoning but I know there was no food involved in the poisoning. I was silent for couple of seconds before asking him to close her eyes if they were open. He was surprised and said they were open indeed. She had died with her eyes open. The eyes did not want to give up so soon I thought to myself. Since she died that way, they did not want to disturb it. I requested them to do so without further delay. Hesitatingly he closed them. In some time the weather became normal again. I decided against visiting her house.
I changed my phone number and moved to some other place. I never visited that city again. I had a strange mix of guilt and relief inside me. I remembered those lips and her last words kept ringing in my ears. I knew I could not have done anything to save her, but I was there when she died and that was enough to fill me with guilt. However, I also felt relieved as I could see a calamity unfolding. The vortex in her eyes had to be stopped. There was no other way than this. She had to be put to sleep forever. I could understand the pain of her parents but they had no other option left. Their daughter was no longer theirs. In fact she was never theirs. She belonged to those eyes that controlled her existence ever since she was born. I knew that they did not kill her for themselves. If this was the case, they would have done this long time back. They killed her because her dreams had started infecting others. It was taking the shape of an epidemic. The neighbours had already started complaining. They wanted to put an end to it before it threw the entire place off balance.
Some time back I heard from a relative that her parents died soon after their daughter died when their car was caught in a blizzard and the engine caught fire. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition. Strange way to die, that relative said. But I knew that it was the last act of revenge by those eyes.