The Magic of Dreams
The modern world is largely thought to be a knowable place. Science and logic build us technologies to explore and control our environment. Electricity and light allow us to cross vast distances and communicate almost instantly, sharing lives and knowledge in ways that would have been unthinkable just decades before. Magic, superstition, and the irrational have been driven from the center of our lives, replaced by electric lights, wireless internet, and the wonders of medicine… but driven from the center does not mean banished. Mystery still lingers at the edges, in the dark, and in the backs of our minds. Fear of places we can’t see and noises in the dark. Vanishing and disappearances. Ghost stories and folk tales. Lucky charms and little rituals. And of course… the nightly mystery. For nearly a third of our life, we exist in a state where ghosts and phantasms move about freely, distance and time are free to shift and change, and anything is possible: for nearly a third of our life, we sleep… and when we sleep, we dream.
Even to much of science, dreaming is a mystery. We have experiences we don’t understand. We see those who have passed from the world, and others who have never lived. We dream epic adventures and anxious nightmares. We dream worlds of magic, and sometimes magic can be dangerous. Its no wonder that we sleep and dream a little easier knowing we aren’t alone.
Welcome to the world of Smaller Totems, where the myths and magics of dreams linger in the dark after waking, and the words “it was just a dream” provide precious little comfort.
The Story So Far
Chapter: The End Is Where We Start From-
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them. ”
-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
This chapter gives a taste of the history of our world, and a few hints about the origins of the type of beings that the characters are. One of the story’s critical characters, Mr. Bear, is briefly seen at the end of the Installment.
An as-yet-unknown narrator gives us a look at a night-in-the-life of Polar Rat, one of our cast of Totems. You’ll get a taste of nightmare spirits, Totems, and the battlefield between them.
Chapter: Grim Introductions-
In this chapter, we meet our protagonist, Ian, and learn his story from him in his own words. Taken on a memory tour of mental health issues, family problems, and the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother Brandon, we close the chapter out with the appearance of yet another member of the Totems cast.
The plot thickens! The Totems begin to try and work out the mysterious details surrounding Mr. Bear’s demise, and try to piece together exactly what happened for the months they were bagged up and stored in the closet. We meet Furdinand, Charlie Dog, Gottlieb the monkey bear, Kamezou the turtle, and hear mention of the as-yet-unseen “Fat Tom”.
Chapter: The Delicious Thrill Of Hiding-
“One of life’s primal situations; the game of hide and seek. Oh, the delicious thrill of hiding while the others come looking for you, the delicious terror of being discovered, but what panic when, after a long search, the others abandon you! You mustn’t hide too well. You mustn’t be too good at the game. The player must never be bigger than the game itself.”
Polar Rat ventures out into the house to find and bring back the errant Fat Tom for questioning. After a brief tour of the family home, during which we learn a bit about the way the Totems function in their job, Tom is found out of bounds in a distant part of the house. After a brief confrontation, he makes his way back to the room to face the music.
Chapter: Of All The Good He Did Not Do-
“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”
This chapter focuses on the suspicion the other Totems have towards Fat Tom, who was free to act during the time that they were all packed away in the closet, but bore none of the battle scars that the recently deceased Mr. Bear seemed to have sustained. Questioned as to why Mr. Bear was torn up while he was fine, a very unflummoxed Tom begins to paint some ugly scenarios. Tempers flare as Tom continues to avoid fully explaining himself, all the while making it clear to them how badly they need him. He emphasizes this by pointing out how, while they were grilling him, a nightmare spirit has gotten by, and is influencing the sleeping Ian’s dreams.
Chapter: For The Winds Like Dreams Or Visions-
“… because I sometimes have moments of such despair, such despair … Because in those moments I start to think that I will never be capable of beginning to live a real life; because I have already begun to think that I have lost all sense of proportion, all sense of the real and the actual; because, what is more, I have cursed myself; because my nights of fantasy are followed by hideous moments of sobering! And all the time one hears the human crowd swirling and thundering around one in the whirlwind of life, one hears, one sees how people live—that they live in reality, that for them life is not something forbidden, that their lives are not scattered for the winds like dreams or visions but are forever in the process of renewal, forever young, and that no two moments in them are ever the same; while how dreary and monotonous to the point of being vulgar is timorous fantasy, the slave of shadow, of the idea, the slave of the first cloud that covers the sun…”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, White Nights
Ian recalls the nightmare inflicted on him by the spirit that got by in previous chapter. We encounter the Bag Men, mysterious fiends who seem to be inflicting a shame dream on Ian… a shame dream with a particular message. But before they can finish delivering their message, something new arrives in the dream, and everything changes. Ian goes on to finish his nightmare story with the strange tale of benevolent “dream invaders”, who comfort him back to awareness. We get our first look at the Totems as they manifest in their full Spirit Forms, and one of Ian’s old friends, Swapan, is also introduced.
Chapter: Coffee And Memory-
Ian gets a new job, and we get a look at the history of his friendship with Swap.
Chapter: Even When In Safety-
“One is not exposed to danger who, even when in safety, is always on their guard.”
In this chapter, Charlie begins to receive basic training, the process revealing nuggets of knowledge about the job of the Totems and the workings of their enemies. Polar Rat tries to break down Charlie’s duties for him, putting special emphasis on what he has to learn, and not to get in over his head. Kamezou shares her philosophies regarding the purpose of the Totems, an under the wise turtle’s tutelage, Charlie begins to develop his powers as a Totem. The Catcher is introduced… and we find out that Totems aren’t the only strange objects at play in Ian’s room. We close out with Charlie telling the story of his week of training his senses, coming to understand his role in the group, and bearing witness to the arrival and defeat of a powerful nightmare creature. Slowly, he is learning to manifest his animus.
Chapter: Know Yourself But Not The Enemy-
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In this dense chapter, we find Sindri and Kamezou in the aftermath of a battle between a nightmare spirit chieftain and The Catcher, puzzling over something new: their first encounter with physical evidence left over from a battle. New and dangerous mysteries are accumulating fast, and even the nightmares the spirits bring seem to be changing. Fat Tom takes Sindri and Kamezou back through moments of weirdness he hadn’t shared before, and revealing details of the events leading up to Brandon’s disappearance and Mr. Bear’s death. Hearing tales of “Shadow People”, the Totems try to puzzle out whether or not a hierarchy is forming up among the nightmare spirits, and piece together their possible agenda. It becomes clear that the missing Brandon was the subject of their nefarious attention, but they haven’t been seen again since Mr. Bear’s death. As they mystery deepens, Sindri struggles with having to step up as leader of the Totems, who are looking to him to solve the mystery of Brandon’s disappearance, while Fat Tom puts aside his commitment to being a pain in the collective ass in order to help fill in blanks in the story. Key details regarding the “Shadow People” and the Catcher come to light, but the question remains: why are the nightmare spirits showing new levels of sophistication?
Chapter: The Heights of Sleep-
“Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.”
-William Butler Yeats, A Deep Sworn Vow
We follow Gottlieb while taking his shift on a new nightly patrol routine. When a skeletal nightmare is caught emerging into Ian’s room, rather than flee, the warrior nightmare advances, and Gottlieb is forced to engage in a dangerous one-on-one combat. We get a look into the acrobat monkey-bear’s views on his role as scout and warrior for the Totems, and what it is like for him to unleash his animus, “The Beast”. Forced to use his animus and physical form, together as a team, Gottlieb barely manages to outsmart and evict the dangerous spirit.
Chapter: He Nevertheless Recovered-
“Though the doctors treated him, let his blood, and gave him medications to drink, he nevertheless recovered.”
-Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
In this psychotropic-filled chapter, Swap notices Ian looking more tired than usual during his shift at the coffee shop, and asks after him. Ian begins to share an uncomfortably subjective, semi-psychedelic tale of sleeplessness, mental unrest, and bad medicine, complete with side-effects, delusions, and nightmares. An experimentally written and illustrated look into the path Ian has taken to get to the current moment. Also… we meet DJ Tonight, a conversational bulldozer of a customer with a barrage of questions for Ian about the story she overhead him telling Swap.
Chapter: The Facts That Will Not Fit-
“They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”
This chapter starts with a frustrating brainstorming session between the Totems going nowhere fast. After an explosive outburst by an impatient Furdinand, Sindri makes the decision to follow Kamezou’s suggestion that the Totems capture and interrogate a nightmare spirit. The planning of a trap begins, and the Totems go to work.. Vents are sealed and boxes stacked in an effort to limit the nightmare’s route of entry and exit, and strategies are set for how to take one of the enemy alive. A no-kill policy doesn’t sit well with Furdinand and Tom. In the calm before the coming storm, Sindri reflects on the plan while the Totems take their positions and wait. A bad feeling begins to prick at his intuition. A strange shadow stirs under the bed.
Chapter: Room For The Mouse-
“In baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse”
The trap is sprung, but who is doing the springing!? Charlie detects something stirring under the bed, but no one else is able to penetrate the strange darkness that is creeping into the room. A shape emerges… and then another. Communication lines get crossed, Charlie springs into action to protect Ian, and Fat Tom’s keen night vision confirms that the worst- not only are there stealthed nightmares, but their enemies are armored as well. Gottlieb is forced to leap where he can’t look, Charlie sinks his teeth into one of these strange, shadow-armored enemies, and Fat Tom finds that he isn’t the only thing that can be tricky in the dark. We quickly come to see that the old adage “no plan survives first contact intact” holds true for Totems as well. A totem is captured, grievous injuries are sustained, and the trap is unsprung as a rare fury is unleashed on the mysterious enemies.
Chapter: The Sailor Does Not Control The Sea-
“The sailor does not control the sea, nor does the lucid dreamer control the dream.”
A phone call between Ian and Swap reveals Ian’s new experiences with lucid dreaming, and the rudiments of a dream-strategy begin to form.
Chapter: The Soul Of The Maker-
“It is interesting… how weapons reflect the soul of the maker.”
In this super-sized chapter, we get a look into the minds of the Totems, as each reflects upon the aftermath of the battle just fought, and contemplates the possible paths ahead of them. Leadership is questioned, plans are reconsidered, and wild emotions put loyalties to the test.
Chapter: That Strange Interlude-
“I took some bad acid in November of 1965, and the after effect left me crazy and helpless for six months. My mind would drift into a place that was very electrical and crackly, filled with harsh, abrasive, low grade, cartoony, tawdry carnival visions. There was a nightmarish mechanical aspect to everyday life. My ego was so shattered, so fragmented that it didn’t get in the way during what was the most unself-conscious period of my life. I was kind of on automatic pilot and was still constantly drawing. Most of my popular characters Mr. Natural, Flaky Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Eggs Ackley, The Snoid, The Vulture Demonesses, Av’ n’ Gar, Shuman the Human, the Truckin’ guys, Devil Girl all suddenly appeared in the drawings in my sketchbook in this period, early 1966. Amazing! I was relieved when it was finally over, but I also immediately missed the egoless state of that strange interlude..”
-Robert Crumb, sketchbook
In this chapter, Ian continues to struggle with the emotional reality of Brandon’s disappearance, all the while trying to remain functional in a world he feels increasingly disconnected from. A brief encounter at the coffee shop provides a moment of respite from the increasingly heavy paranoia and suspicion Ian wrestles with. And is that a new Totem?
Chapter: Ruthless Revision-
“All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.”
-Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two
Hoping to learn from their mistakes, the Totems take a second run at their plan to capture a nightmare, and get stuck playing a brutal waiting game. The slow creep of boring nights continues until an outside force intervenes, bringing the Totems more nightmare than they can deal with. Thrust into conflict that may be more than all their powers together can defeat, secrets are revealed, suspicions are cast, a Totem falls, and a sleeper awakens! Meanwhile, in the Codas between Installments, we see Ian’s story of lucid dream exploration continue to play out, as he spends his sleeping hours in search of missing brother Brandon.
Chapter: That Comes From Knowledge-
“Doubt … is an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.”
-Gustave Flaubert, Memoirs of a Madman
A late night phone call between old friends leads to a night of drinking. Along the way we encounter difficult conversations about the nature of magic, cultural appropriation, dream experiments, and ultimately a deal between Ian and Swap that may change their friendship forever.
Stay Tuned For More…