I woke up in the dark. I was afraid to go back to sleep. I had gotten decently drunk in the early evening and hoped to sleep straight through until morning, but now I was up and there was no going back to sleep. It was a nightmare that had awakened me. It was the nightmare that I was afraid of. I could feel myself dropping back into it and I had to force myself up out of it as if I were really climbing.
I always dream in strange beds and these dreams are usually nightmares. That’s why I had gotten decently drunk, because I knew a nightmare was coming. I have spent many nights shivering on the edge of a bed, unwilling to risk the terrors waiting for me on the other side of my pillow.
I reached out now and looked at my wristwatch. It was just past ten. There was nothing to do but get dressed and go out again.
I had dreamed that I was watching myself sleeping. I was in a relative’s bed, a bed I had often seen as a child but had only slept in once, rather recently. There were large worms crawling along the wall towards me. I (the watcher) reached out with a butter knife towards the worms to keep them from entering my ear. I cut them in half as they moved across the wallpaper. But then I was no longer there watching; I was just in the bed and one of the worms was entering my ear. I knew that it would grow until there was a huge and angry thing inside me.
I took the dream with me out of the hotel and into the cold street. It was snowing and there was no one outside. The streetlights reflected bright off the piled up snow and that reflected lights made the buildings look artificial. I walked towards the river. It was late and there were only a few people in the square in front of St. Stephen’s. The top of the church was hidden in a fog.
After I’d passed the church I was alone again. I walked over to the Donau Kanal and across it. The wind off the water made it terribly cold. I walked through a part of the city in which I’d never been. There were no bars or cafes, just shops, long ago closed for the night.
Finally, I came to a large intersection of several streets. Past the streets, the elevated S Bahn ran. There were some squat buildings on either side of the track. It seemed to be a terminal of some sort. There was no one waiting there for the trains.
Beyond the tracks, there was something big in the darkness. As I approached it, I could see that it was the top half of the Riesenrad, the famous Ferris wheel. I walked slowly towards it. Its old cars, not moving, looked solid and sad.
The entire Prater was closed for the winter. There was no gate. I walked past the Ferris wheel and through the deserted stands. The Fun House, the bumper cars, the carnival booths with their fading, festively painted faces and the large grey steel shutters of mouths, closed down tight.
I kept walking, passing through an area of new and depressing apartment houses. At last I reached the river. It was like the back end of a railroad yard there, deserted and grim. I followed a street along the front of a housing project that faced the river. When I came to the next street, I turned back towards the Ringstrasse and the center of the city.
I came to an U Bahn station and went down into it. There was no one waiting for the train and, once it came, only a few people on it, sitting alone and silent. I rode the train to Karlsplatz and changed to another. The dream was still with me and wanted to ride. There was no one at all in my car on this second train. I got off at the Volkstheater stop because I had to use the bathroom.
It was cold in this stop. The lights were dim. I went up the escalator and found the men’s room. I opened the door. Hot air came out at me. Hot air and the smell of urinal cakes and the bright white of light on white tile. It was harsher than the reflected streetlight on the snow outside my hotel.
Sitting on the floor in front of me were at least ten men. All ragged, homeless drunks. They looked up at me with animal eyes from the warmth of their cave. A few of them grunted something. I shut the door quickly and went down to the other side of the tracks.
I took the U Bahn back to Karlsplatz and then from there to Stephansplatz. In a city where you hardly saw any people on the street at night, I hadn’t expected to find ten homeless drunks in a subway men’s room sitting on the floor.
Les Bohem has written a lot of movies and TV shows including Twenty Bucks, Daylight, Dante’s Peak, The Alamo and the mini-series, Taken which he wrote and executive produced with Steven Spielberg, and for which he won an Emmy award. He’s had songs recorded by Emmylou Harris, Randy Travis, Freddy Fender, Steve Gillette, Johnette Napolitano (of Concrete Blonde), and Alvin (of the Chipmunks.) His short novel, Flight 505, was published last year by UpperRubberBoot . His new album, “Moved to Duarte,” was just released on Jack Rabbit Day Records to much critical acclaim and no sales whatsoever.