Frank makes a startling discovery in the shower. He finds six strange circles of skin gone completely numb—three neatly spaced down the center of his chest and abdomen, and three more down his spine. His doctor takes sadistic pleasure in carving out bits of Frank’s flesh and a perverse childlike glee flipping through hundreds of pictures of his interior. But when the tests come back, he’s unable to make a diagnosis and refers Frank to a psychiatrist. Under guided hypnosis, Frank uncovers clues in a repressed dream, but his sessions on the couch are soon cut short when he loses his job and his health insurance. Now Frank is forced to solve the mystery of his six dead spots on his own. Armed with nicotine patches, pornography, sleeping pills, and a stack of books on lucid dreaming, Frank delves into a world of nightmares to do battle with the monsters lurking inside his head.
My first lucid dream occurred rather early in life when I was still small. In the dream I was swimming in a public pool and moments after ducking under the surface a strange thought occurred to me: I was breathing underwater. That very second the façade of the dream fell away and I was presented with all the freedoms of a lucid dream, the possibilities normally afforded to gods alone.
But this freedom was framed within my young mind, and I presented myself with an 8-bit select screen reminiscent of those navigated frequently on my Sega Game Gear, and it was from this menu that I was to select my ideal dreamscape. Various idyllic settings were laid out before me and – embarrassingly cliché I know – I chose a tropical beach.
But my mind didn’t take me there. Instead I appeared in my family home, alone on the landing. There was little light, but I could just about see a shape moving in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. I was trapped, alone in a dream with the very worst monster imaginable. It was the notion that I had created it and purposely chosen to torment myself that terrified me the most.
Lucid dreams have always held a fascination for me, and will continue to until we get a Better Than Life reality simulator (though Rimmer, like my infant self, found that the conscious and unconscious minds are rarely in synch), and it is this strange quirk of the human experience that Gregor Xane explores in Six Dead Spots.
The piece is a descent into madness, an ever-shifting sand beneath the reader’s feet. I was immediately reminded of the storytelling style of David Lynch, in that I was never sure if what I was reading was real, or another dream. Sometimes I’d be sure we were back in reality, only to suddenly veer into surreal and disturbing imagery. Other times, I’d have guessed we were trapped in a macabre nightmare, only to deduce later that it was in fact within the waking world, albeit as seen through a disjointed mind.
To give the piece grounding, Xane shifts the pov from Frank (whose madness we share) to his brother Steve. These breaks from the surreal nature of Frank’s experience allow us space to breathe and the occasional piece of solid ground to recoup like explorers before the next big push.
Six Dead Spots is a cleverly orchestrated sequence of nightmares, though ones sprinkled with humour so not to become overly sour. Recommended for anyone who has wanted to explore their own unconsciousness and find the demons that lurk there.