Shadow Play

When I was six years old, I had a nightmare. I have never forgotten it, even all these years later.  In the dream, I stood at the edge of a deep indoor pool.  I was alone, and knew something wasn’t right.  For one thing, my two older brothers were supposed to be watching me–but they were nowhere to be seen.  I called out their names. but the only reply was the reverberating echo of my voice as it bounced off the walls.

When I called their names again, and still received no answer, I became worried.  I instinctively knew they were in trouble, perhaps deadly trouble–trouble that lurked beneath the surface of the water.  I looked into the pool–I couldn’t see the bottom.  I shook my head.  How could I not see the bottom of an indoor swimming pool?

Nervous, thinking about the warnings I had received from my parents never to dive into a pool unsupervised, I jumped in.  As soon as I went under, I realized I had somehow switched locations.  I was no longer in a pool.  I was in an ocean, surrounded by coral and strange, green plants undulating in the current of the water.  Sharks swam past, menacing, threatening.  But where were my brothers?  How would I find them in this vast expanse of water?  I started to swim, but then realized, horrifically, that I wore no underwater gear.  I couldn’t breathe!  I raced for the surface, kicking and thrashing, passing exotic fish along the way, wondering if I would make it.

I never found out.  As my lungs burned and my heart thumped in my chest, I woke up–gasping, out of breath.  I raced down the hall and looked into my brothers’ room, just to make sure they were all right.

I wondered if I would experience the same dream when I fell back asleep.  I didn’t.  I never had another dream like it.  What did the nightmare mean?  I’m not sure.  But even to this day, the memory of it is so real–as if it really happened.

And, in a way, perhaps it did.




In a second-season episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Shadow Play,” a man named Adam Grant is sentenced to the electric chair for first-degree murder.



When the judge issues the verdict, Grant screams, “No!  Not again!  I won’t die again!”  Adam Grant, you see, believes that this is all a dream, a recurring nightmare he experiences every time he falls asleep.  In his dream, he is always sentenced to die by electrocution–and the judge always says the same exact thing.  Grant actually mouths the judge’s words as the verdict is spoken.



Grant tells everyone that if they electrocute him, they will all cease to exist.  Since they are merely figments of his dream-imagination, they will vanish into nothingness when he dies in the chair and wakes up.

One person who believes in the possibility of this story is the local news reporter.  After the courtroom scene, he visits with the DA, Mr. Ritchie, and talks to him about Grant.



He says Grant’s dream theory makes a weird sort of sense.  Maybe this is all just a dream.  “Can we prove he’s wrong?” he asks.

Ritchie won’t hear it.  “I can’t prove the world isn’t going to end,” he says, realizing after saying the words that this is exactly what Adam Grant predicts.  Than, almost as an afterthought:  “But it isn’t.”

Ultimately the reporter urges the DA to visit Grant in his cell–to talk things over with him.  Reluctantly, he agrees.

Ritchie is escorted to Grant’s cell and begins talking with him, trying to get him to see reason.  It doesn’t go the way he wants.



Grant tells the DA that things are all wrong here.  For example, he was tried and sentenced the same day.  “It doesn’t work like that!”  But in a dream, it can . . .

Ritchie counters with a bit of logic:  “You say all this is a dream.  When you’re electrocuted, you wake up, and when you wake up, we all disappear.  Well, what about our parents?  And our parents’ parents, and everybody who never even heard of you?”

“What about them, Mr. Ritchie?” the condemned man says.  “A dream builds its own world, Mr. Ritchie!  It’s complete–with a past.  And, as long as you stay asleep, a future.”

Ritchie, growing flustered, asks Grant why he doesn’t just sit back and enjoy his electrocution.  If it’s all just a dream anyway . . .

Grant laughs maniacally.  How can he enjoy it?  “Haven’t you ever been hurt in one of your dreams?” he asks the DA.  “Haven’t you ever fallen out of a window or been drowned or tortured?  You have!  Don’t you remember how real that it seemed?  Remember how you woke up screaming?  How do you like to wake up screaming?  That’s what I do!  Because I dream the same dream, night after night after night!  It’s this one!  I can’t go on dying, I can’t go on dying . . .”

That night, at the stroke of midnight, Adam Grant is electrocuted in the chair.  As the switch is pulled, the scene shifts to the DA, his wife, and the news reporter.  They vanish, one by one, just as Grant said they would . . .

Another scene shift.  We are back in the courtroom, and a judge is sentencing Adam Grant to die in the chair for first-degree murder.  It’s the same exact scenario as the one we saw at the beginning of the episode.  Grant was right all along.  It’s the next night, and he is asleep again, dreaming–an endless nightmare that won’t let go . . .


This is certainly a theme explored deeply in The Eye-Dancers.  Throughout much of the book, the four main characters wrestle with the question:  Is this all a dream?  Or is it really happening?  And is there any difference?



The “ghost girl’s” visitations, the journey through the center of her eye into the endless blue void.  The variant world of Colbyville.  What is real?

In chapter seven, when Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski find themselves in a strange new place, they try to figure this out.

“‘You know what it felt like,'” Mitchell says near the end of the chapter. “‘When she [the ghost girl] was in our dreams, it felt real–like when I skinned my knee and Ryan hurt his wrist.’

“Ryan nodded.  The line between dreams and reality had certainly been blurred, if it existed at all.”


Returning to “Shadow Play” . . . and Rod Serling’s closing narration  . . .

“We know that a dream can be real, but whoever thought that reality could be a dream?  We exist, of course, but how, in what way?  As we believe, as flesh-and-blood human beings, or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare?”

Or, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe,

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”



Thanks so much for reading!


71 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. worldsbeforethedoor
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 20:15:14

    Great article! Here’s to vivid dreaming!


  2. mandyevebarnett
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 21:29:56

    My recurrent dream as a child was being impaled on a rhino’s horn and it galloping through huge tents full of people at a party. The dream was so vivid my stomach hurt!!! I have no idea why but it took until I was 46 years old before I could look at a rhino on TV or in reality! My 7 year old daughter made me stroke a rhino and after that I was OK. Strange.
    Another recurrent dream in my late teens/early twenties I was paralyzed in a pure white hospital room. Slowly red drops fell from the ceiling and gradually blood filled the room until it was lapping up over my face. That’s went I made the decision in reality!
    Dreams are fascinating.


  3. Carol Wuenschell
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 22:14:07

    Is it Plato who likened reality to the shadows on the wall of a cave?


  4. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 00:16:58

    And to extend it further:

    “To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep: perchance to dream: aye, there’s the rub;
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause:”

    Gotta love the Bard!


  5. Lyn
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 05:37:53

    As a child, I had two reoccurring dreams. One was about a dog whose snout looked like an old fashioned gas mask. He was also able to read your mind. If he touched you with the end of his nose, you died, but you could stop him if you grabbed the end of his nose and peeled it off. The second dream was that I had a twin brother who was kidnapped. Both dreams haunted me for years and years. Then about ten years ago, I found out I had a twin brother who died at birth. Weird, totally weird.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 28, 2013 @ 14:40:57

      Wow, that is fascinating! Dreams are like their own reality–a parallel world to ours, but a world that sometimes intersects with our world. Thanks so much for sharing, Lyn!


  6. skywanderer
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 08:51:01

    Fascinating writing – as always. I very much applaud the way you tackle the most fundamental questions one can ever raise. For example:
    “Is this all a dream? Or is it really happening? And is there any difference?”

    It is always a great pleasure – and definitely a thrill of the best kind – to read your thoughts. : )


  7. mummyshymz
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 09:46:22

    Great writing as usual! Indeed, which are dreams and which is reality? I had nightmares where I dreamt that I dreamt… And never really woke up!


  8. photographybyjoylene
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 11:09:02

    I had many nightmares as a child and sometimes still do. I can recall a lot of them. They don’t bother me much though – I find them very interesting, like reading a good horror novel.


  9. Fashion Mayann
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 12:09:27

    From the 1st words to the end, this is BRILLIANT ! It makes me want, more than ever, to remember my dreams …


  10. eemoxam
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 12:29:03

    I guess I’ll be looking for this episode of the Twilight Zone! Great post!


  11. readinpleasure
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 13:21:30

    Interesting and intriguing. Dreams can be a foreshadow of what it is come and so I don’t take mine lightly at all. Normally I dream of things to happen and they do happen in real life. Anytime I have such dreams I pray over them and the severity of the occurrence is lessened or it is averted. Before learning how to pray, whatever I dreamed of actually took place and mostly they were negative things.


  12. SerachShiro
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 13:28:38

    Wonderful article it has me totally taken, beautiful empathic art ! 🙂


  13. wannabephotographer87
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 20:13:54

    Oooo I have The Twilight Zone on Netflix, now I’m going to have to find this episode!! Very cool post 🙂


  14. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 21:12:27

    I have written about my frightening dream of years ago when I saw my year old daughter teetering on top of an ancient Irish stone bridge and suddenly plunge off. I had never been to Ireland at that time. Years later when I went to Ireland, I found the same bridge and as I walked upon it I suddenly began shivering with a strange sense of foreboding, though it was very warm that day. Curious. I never had the dream again either.


  15. stormy1812
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 02:38:16

    wow! loved this post. the question of reality is a constant in our world and for good reason. there’s always a different perspective on it such as “the matrix.” it’s such a deep philosophical question and one that is difficult, if not impossible, to answer. i know for me most of my dreams are just my brain jumbling up a bunch of information into total ridiculousness haha. there have been a few nightmares (including actual dreams with freddy krueger so i never watch those movies… ever). i have had one dream within a dream deal and that was very peculiar. most are just odd and don’t seem to have any meaning – its just my subconscious being weird haha. only a couple in the last couple of years may have had any real significance. i love dreams though generally speaking. it can definitely be an interesting experience. 🙂


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 01, 2013 @ 17:19:59

      Always great hearing from you, and I completely agree–dreams are fascinating! I wish I remembered more of my own dreams. Sadly, I usually forget them upon waking . . .


  16. araneus1
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 02:57:07

    Seriously……. some days feel just like that.


  17. likeitiz
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 05:07:20

    Great read! As always! The entire world of dreams, dreams vs. reality, subconscious promptings, etc. certainly makes for great stories. Or are these all just synapses…..


  18. Jane Dougherty
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 06:55:41

    Great post, Mike. It’s rather like trying to answer the question of whether something stops existing when one stops looking at it. What strikes me about your dream is that it isn’t the classic anxiety dream. Your anxiety is focused not on yourself, but on what might have happened to your brothers. Maybe that’s what it says about you. Look no further.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 01, 2013 @ 17:22:42

      Thanks, Jane! And you bring up a very good question about whether something ceases to exist when one stops looking at it. It’s a quantum-physics kind of thinking! Simply by viewing and observing the world, we alter reality . . .


  19. agarcia2134
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 14:58:03

    This was great! I have very vivid dreams (in color) and when I was a child I had a recurring dream where I was standing in a open area (kind of a window that went floor to ceiling that was open, no screen, no glass) looking out over a river and I felt so calm in this dream. I was an adult in the dream even though I was only a child. I had this dream from age 3 to age 5 and after that never again. When I was in my mid twenties I went with a spiritual channeler with some friends and she described my dream in detail to me!! I had never told anyone that dream ever so it freaked me out, She told me that I was dreaming of a previous life and these were “memories” of that time.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 01, 2013 @ 17:24:29

      Very interesting!! And I think she may be right.:) Another “odd” way of looking at dreams that I like is–dreams may be a window into “other realities”–not just past lives, but alternate lives. (This, of course, is dependent on if you believe in the possibility of parallel worlds.:)


  20. honeydidyouseethat?
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 19:51:09

    Hmmmm. Have thought about this before. Ground Hog Day was a less scrary but similar idea.


  21. laurie27wsmith
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 21:11:12

    I remember that episode of the twilight zone, great story. Dreams are funny things and I rarely take them literally, looking into the cryptic aspect of them will usually give you some insight. To me water is always about emotions in my life, the wilder the water the greater the emotion. Hmm getting impaled on a rhino horn then being taken past people in a party has huge sexual overtones. The list goes on. I love dreams.


  22. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 04:42:42

    I miss The Twilight Zone. What a great series! Dreams are fascinating. They fall into different categories. God-given dreams are the best (Job 33: 14-17). Most of my dreams fall into the “What was that all about?” category. Here are some things to look for when evaluating a dream: Was the dream in color, muted, or black and white? Who was in the dream? Were you in the dream, or were you just an observer? Theme? Sub-themes? (I’ve picked up a lot by listening to John Paul Jackson, Christian dream interpreter.) Was the dream positive or negative?

    Often the best person to interpret the dream is the dreamer. Your dream sounds symbolic–especially since you remember it so well. I keep a dream diary (or whatever) by the bedside. If I don’t write the dream down immediately, I’ll forgot. Who knows, Mike. Maybe your next dream will inspire your next book.


  23. Christy Birmingham
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 15:39:23

    Intriguing! Some dreams are so realistic I wake up in motion, doing whatever action I was midway through in the dream. Oh dear!


  24. Kavita Joshi
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 02:39:02

    I used to see myselg jumping across the roof when I was a kid and someone is chasing me…but when I grew up then I started seeing myself saving people in various accidents or weired places..I do have surreal dreams where the world is nothing like the real world and things are working in totally different manner ..great post dear


  25. merrildsmith
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 18:41:53

    Wonderful post. Dreams are fascinating–and the Twilight Zone was a great show. will have to look up that episode! I love when I wake up and remember a dream I’ve had–well, maybe not the scary ones–although they sometimes make the most interesting stories later. One of my friends and I used to write each other about our “house dreams” that always seemed to mean one of us was in the process of thinking about and perhaps “fixing” something in our lives.


  26. Roberta McDonnell
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 21:13:17

    Very intriguing! Loved the twilight zone as a teen btw. Also can’t help mentioning your dream as I had several sinking water dreams and discovered via Jungian sites etc that it usually means you are delving or connecting with the unconscious. Just a thought – loving your posts and will def catch up with Eye Dancers as soon as I get my ‘to read’ list whittled down a bit more 🙂


  27. ampbreia
    Jul 18, 2013 @ 14:56:38

    I often think so… that when I die I will only be walking up from as dream as I wake from other worlds and lives every morning of every day.


  28. Melinda DeLos Santos (@CanineTrackers)
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 11:53:48

    Getting back to ‘genre’, I kid you not. For some reason I’ve been milling about it today: When I was in high school I learned what ‘genre’ was. Nobody cared about ‘genre’ then.

    I go take a vacation, and, like Rumpelstiltskin, I find that the word ‘genre’ is spouted EVERYwhere, You’d be hard-pressed NOT to hear the word ‘genre’ these days! 🙂


  29. jjspina
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 15:09:54

    Eloquent and profound as always Mike! I love your work and how you think outside the box. Keep writing. I am a big fan of the Twilight Zone.

    Do you remember one episode where a man has a secret but he is sworn to secrecy and can’t even tell his wife. Then one day he can’t help himself and he tells his wife his secret. She then turns into the very thing that was his secret? That one scared me half to death and I just can’t forget it.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 19, 2013 @ 15:40:19

      Hi Janice! Do you know, I can’t think of the episode you’re referring to!:( And I have every Twilight Zone episode on DVD–I may just have to watch them all this weekend until I find this one!:)


  30. fgassette
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 15:12:43

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.


  31. coastalmom
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 19:40:04

    This was great it gave me that AHHHHHHHH feeling! lol..


  32. reocochran
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 21:56:19

    I like the contrast of your dream that seemed so real to the television show, Twilight Zone’s episode where the recurring dream is his defense. All very eerie, and it would be hard to forget jumping in the pool looking for family members, it becoming an ocean with sharks. Then somehow shaking yourself back to consciousness where your lungs hurt from salt water, finding your family alive! Wow! Great screenplay or short film!


  33. quirkybooks
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 23:01:13

    A well written post and thought provoking. I have moments of thinking – ‘Am I in a dream?’ This is whilst I am awake and going about my day to day business. After a while of thinking this, my mind feels like it’s going to explode so I decide not to think about it anymore at that point in time.


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