Jenny D. Williams

Sleep Lab


In the begin­ning, God cre­at­ed humans so that He could be enter­tained by our dreams. In our ear­li­est incar­na­tions, we per­formed all nec­es­sary func­tions while asleep. We had sex while sleep­ing, for­aged for food while sleep­ing, ate, digest­ed, hic­cupped, laughed, gave birth while sleep­ing. We had no under­stand­ing of our­selves or our sur­round­ings. Our dreams were very bor­ing. God decid­ed to wake us up for short periods—an hour a day at first, then two hours, then six. Our dreams became reflec­tive and philo­soph­i­cal, and God was pleased. But there were com­pli­ca­tions. The more we humans were awake, the more trou­ble we caused. Our dreams, in turn, became vio­lent and angry, full of anx­i­ety and fright. The few hap­py dreams became lost in a sea of strange­ness. God has now moved on to the dreams of dogs and tad­poles. Sometimes He tunes in to the dreams of humans and is over­come by sadness.


Dreams do not orig­i­nate in the sleep­er but in the slept upon. Objects that have no life in our world expe­ri­ence their alive­ness in dreams. When a pil­low dreams through us, we see the images as if they are famil­iar, when in fact the true mean­ing of those faces and events are known only to the goose down beneath our heads. Mattresses dream of lev­i­ty; sand dreams of water; and the cot­ton of our spouse’s T‑shirt dreams of a great unraveling.


We inher­it our dreams just as we do our slen­der ankles, the shape of our eye­brows, a predilec­tion for clas­si­cal music. Though the images adjust to mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy and rec­og­niz­able per­son­al­i­ties, we are con­tin­u­al­ly dream­ing the dreams of our great-great-grand­moth­ers and their great-great-grand­moth­ers before them. Eventually all dreams can be traced back to a sin­gle com­mon ances­tor, who hunt­ed ante­lope by day, shiv­ered in cold caves after dark, and dreamed of lions, rain, and wait­ing for lightning.


Someday we will learn how to sleep like dol­phins, half a brain at a time. (We will also have three hearts, like an octo­pus, but this is anoth­er mat­ter.) When our left hemi­sphere is sleep­ing, the right is awake; when the right hemi­sphere gets drowsy, the left perks up. Instead of dis­ap­pear­ing, our dreams will over­lap with our real­i­ty, each pro­ject­ing on the oth­er as two film­strips on the same screen.


When we die, we dis­cov­er that in the after­life we are not judged by our actions in our wak­ing life, but by those we have under­tak­en in our dreams.


In anoth­er realm, angel-like beings shuf­fle our dreams in a deck and use them to play cards. The rar­er a dream, the high­er its val­ue. Sex dreams are on the low end of the scale. Likewise dreams of being chased, of show­ing up to an exam for which you have not stud­ied, of fail­ure, of fly­ing. The dream that knows bliss—deep, bod­i­ly bliss, beyond the thrill of romance or the exhil­a­ra­tion of flight; an absolute rap­ture of spirit—is a card so sin­gu­lar that its play halts the game, and the angel-like beings unlatch their false wings and close their eyes, bask­ing in the radi­ance of its light.


When we dream, we go into a very large and very dark room. All of us are in the same room. Some of us have flash­lights, and some of us have wax lanterns, and the very unlucky have noth­ing to illu­mi­nate their way. They spend their dreams crip­pled by fear on their small patch of ground, hud­dled in dark­ness. When they wake they believe they have had no dreams at all.


Jenny D. Williams is a writer and book edi­tor cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Marburg, Germany. She received her MFA from Brooklyn College, and her fic­tion, non­fic­tion, poet­ry, and graph­ic sto­ries have appeared in var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions and received numer­ous awards. You can find her at