I will be finishing the deep edits of the latest of my Slum dreams sans the very last one, which I had just a couple of months ago and haven't written down yet. Once I finish those edits, I'll format them into the original edition and relaunch it.
If you don't know, Slum is a place I've dreamt of since my mother passed thirty-plus years ago. It's horrific in every sense of the word, and so the dreams I've written about aren't ones I recommend to anyone unless you enjoy the hellish, profane, terrible, and vile. Some do. I mean, look at the horror genre!
So let me amend my statement. Slum is for horror lovers.
In the dream below, I detail an endless trolley ride.
The Endless Trolley Trip
I WONDER if an airport is even necessary in Slum. Perhaps all incoming planes are doomed to crash. And as far as outgoing ones, they seem impossible. The populace, after all, seems utterly trapped there—or worse, utterly uninterested in escaping. For those who want to leave, perhaps they’re promised a ticket out, but the plane never gets off the ground. Or if it does, it doesn’t stay airborne very long.
In any case, it seems apparent that Slum’s air traffic controllers have the easiest job in the world, if controllers exist at all. I’d begun by that point to perceive of the city less as a city than a gigantic organism, one whose cells writhe and war and bleed and scream and spew shit and hate and beat and mutilate one another in self-loathing and un-self-aware gestures of futility, forever. It’s like the city is trying to tear itself apart, but can’t.
I was right about being admitted to the city proper. The very next time I went there, not two months later, I found myself at the murky bottom of towering urban doom, at what appeared to be a trolley or train station.
Everything’s a deep, sullen gray, even the yellow lights overhead, even the signs over the storefronts on both sides of the tracks. The gloom is still and cool and smells of factories and car exhaust and sewage. It suffuses all, perhaps especially the others waiting there with me.
Some are sitting on benches. Others, like me, are standing. No one’s talking, no one’s smiling, no one’s looking around.
An old woman waits ten feet to my right, a purse and cane in hand, a washed-out yellow scarf over her head. Her brown coat hangs heavily on her, soggy with age.
There are men on the bench behind her. They are slouching more than sitting. Two are wearing hats; one has a pipe in his right hand, which rests limply on his thigh. It sends lifeless smoke into the lifeless sky, which I look up into.
I’m at the bottom of a narrow canyon of skyscrapers, all a deeper shade of gray than the gloom. Windows in neat rows and columns cover them. Cold white light shines out of a smattering of them. It complements the gray to the point that I wonder if the genesis of the gray isn’t that light itself. It’s truly corporate: indifferent, rapacious, malicious.
The skyscrapers thrust into the murk like gods. I can’t see the tops of most of them.
I look along the tracks in both directions.
It’s like looking at a wasting disease. The view both ways is nearly identical: run-down shops and inner-city hotels, most of them dark. There are lights over the tracks, some blinking a defeated yellow, others steady and red, piercing and angry. I can see maybe half a mile in either direction.
Cars cross the tracks. They don’t look like modern cars, but older ones circa, say, the mid-forties to mid-fifties. Or perhaps they are modern models, but made to look like older ones. I can’t make a determination either way. Their windows are tinted and the beams of light shining out of their headlamps are accusing and uncaring. They appear to be silver or black, though the gray makes guessing iffy at best. They are all monotone in color: no stripes, streaks, or other markers of individuality. All are in mint condition. They cross the tracks with a quiet rumble and accelerate away. I wonder who’s in them.
I look right. There’s a single steady bright light approaching from that direction. It’s the trolley. It’s coming slowly, as though in no hurry to get from stop to stop. After what feels like half an hour it finally pulls up to our stop.
It’s three cars long and painted red. The red is faded and has random gang markings on it in various colors, all predictably illegible. The graffiti is faded as well, washed out, forlorn, sullen.
The doors open and out oozes a silent mass of humanity. No one talks. No one looks at his or her neighbor, even when shoulders brush one another or someone stands in the immediate path of another.
No one notices me.
As far as cities go, to this point I’m unimpressed. I’ve lived in or close to several big cities:
Angeles, San Diego, Bakersfield
(which has a population over a million), Albuquerque,
and Denver. And
I can tell you without hesitation that the people in those cities, and the
people here, in Slum, are no different. Utter solipsism, utterly. I’m so used
to the deadness from everybody around me that here, in the center of solipsism
itself, I find myself in quite familiar territory. I wait for the stragglers to
get off, and then wait for those ahead of me to board. I get on last. I’m in
the front car. I find an open seat and sit. The doors stay open a few more
seconds, then close. The trolley lurches, starts moving again.
There are no kids being eaten alive by centipedes here, or bulimic women shitting endlessly in the shallows of a polluted sea, or the perverse watching them and finding it erotic, or deranged and evil fathers looking for a fresh way to violate their young daughters. No one is spurting blood; there are no melting babies with exploding eyeballs, or burning pilots, and no infant flesh is being served under strains of vile pop music. Somehow I know that there won’t be.
There is only the consuming gray of total self-absorption.
The city comes and goes slowly and haltingly. The trolley seems in no particular hurry: it’s like a great earthworm creeping over saturated soil, stopping to inspect morsels of rotting food. The stops aren’t identical, but they may as well be. The people aren’t identical, either. But they, too, may as well be.
It’s what has always shaken me most about humanity: how vacuous most are, how barren, how desiccated and drab, how unoriginal and incurious and sparkless. How violently anxious they are to be just like everyone else, and for everyone else to be just like them. I look at the woman in the scarf. I study her. She’s sitting directly across the aisle from me.
She could be a great-grandmother. Her wrinkled face is like a prune that’s been dipped in wet cement and left to dry in a public toilet. Her gray hair is tied up under the scarf. But it’s not gray hair: it’s a stringy mix of used adult diapers and stale cigarette smoke, of a corrosive and ill-spent youth and conspicuous-consumption landfill, of lost days and Chicken McNuggets slathered in pus, of back-alley abortions and liposuctioned fat dumped into a forgotten and beaten-up washing machine found in a junkyard.
She’s staring at the back of the seat in front of her. She doesn’t notice me. Her eyes are bottomless with the will to nothing and yellowing like her teeth. The trolley stops and she rises to get off. I watch her go.
The trolley lurches forward.
The city is endless. Dingy shops and ugly strip malls and shabby hotels and shadowy pawn shops with the occasional group of men hanging listlessly about them. Forgotten street corners. Homeless camping along torn fencing. Empty, cracked lots. A cheerless plaza with a gaudy fountain. A nearly lightless underpass, at the other end of which is an abandoned stop covered top to bottom in graffiti. Boys are standing in the shadows. The gray is thicker here, darker. The trolley lurches forward again, and I look out to see that we’re in the middle of a tremendous, sprawling trackyard. Tracks and tracks and tracks, crisscrossing like the healed-over scars of a deranged maniac’s knife on his own flesh.
In the distance are abandoned cars. But with a shock I see: they’re not abandoned. They’re dark, and yes, they’re forgotten, but people are inside, sitting there as though they’re going somewhere. I can just see their motionless, downcast silhouettes, which are illuminated by the city’s gloom and the occasional yellow or orange or red lights shining through the windows.
The trackyard goes on and on. There are more abandoned-but-peopled cars out there, many more. Some appear to be decades old. The trolley picks up a little speed, and suddenly we’re rolling down a slight hill into a tunnel.
The lights go out.
It’s not just dark: it’s the kind of blackness that’s so solid you can feel it pressing against the backs of your eyeballs. I hear nothing and feel nothing, not even the trolley’s movement. There’s just … nothing.
I panic and try to wake up. But then the trolley emerges out the other side and the melancholy gray greets my gaze once more. I’m not grateful for it. In fact, I feel increasingly saturated in it, as though the blackness is there to loosen my pores so the gray can get in.
I can feel it. The gray is beginning to soak through to my vitals. It’s beginning to make me like these people: empty, apathetic, lifeless.
The trolley slows, stops. We’re inside a tremendous building or underground. A high vaulted ceiling arcs artfully overhead. Shops surround us: a shopping mall. There are lots of people here. None are smiling; none are laughing.
I get up to leave. But as I get to the door a short, skinny man is suddenly, magically in my way. He’s outfitted like a trolley conductor or ticket-taker, and his face is full of malevolent regard. He looks like a drooling serial killer.
“Ticket?” he demands with an evil grin.
“I-I’m sorry,” I stammer, taking a step back. “I didn’t have one getting on.”
“Then you can’t get off.” He spits, then turns and marches towards the front. Doors close behind him and the trolley lurches forward once again.
I sit down. I’m shaking. The trolley accelerates into another tunnel, and I can feel it:
Nothing … nothing … nothing …
I try to push it away. It’s a slow cancer with a one hundred percent mortality rate. And those in the abandoned trolley cars in the trackyard? Those were the ones it had claimed. The tunnels … the gray beyond … the dead stares … the hopelessness … the oppressive weight of fearsome nothingness … Tracks and shops, day after day, lifeless cigarette smoke lifting into a lifeless sky, tinted windows, cold white corporate light and the bowed cubicle-cattle it illuminates behind high-rise windows, the sickly sweet smell of car exhaust, TV dinners and air freshener, tube socks and the nightly news, anti-depressants and envy, sameness … sameness … sameness … on and on and on.
I can’t get off. Every time I try the ticket-taker man is suddenly just there, demanding my ticket. I can feel the city claiming me, more and more.Somehow, I don’t know how, I manage to wake myself up. I’m a wreck the next day and a half, and two weeks after that I call a taxi to take me to the emergency room, because my panic attacks had advanced to the point that I wasn’t at all certain anymore if they were panic attacks or if I was suffering minor heart attacks.