Fast asleep, I hear the rhythmic thud-whisk-thud-whisk of a straw broom sweeping nearby. I shift position and slide into, rather than out of slumber, happy to let someone else clean for a change.

My eyes shut, body blissfully relaxed, I recognize the sound of cabinet doors gently opening and clicking shut and tip-toing footsteps that seem oddly metallic. I hold my breath to listen more intently and realize someone is in my bedroom going through my things. Survival instincts kick in and whatever wisp of a dream still remains bursts like a pricked balloon. In an instant, I’ve flung off the blankets and am up and on my feet.

“Who the dickens are you?” I ask a trembling, barrel-shaped woman dressed in a haz suit and combat boots.

“One of the dream housekeepers. I’m supposed to tidy up your mind so that you can start fresh each day. I tried not to wake you, but I guess I haven’t got the hang of things yet; you’re my first customer.”

“I fell asleep in the Land of Dreams?” I ask, not believing it for a moment, and she nods her head vigorously. “I’m not awake then?” She blinks and shakes her head. “What’s in the bag?” I ask.

“Scraps. Snips and swatches, bits and pieces of your old dreams.”

“My dreams are precious! If you want to toss the worries and aggravating crap I’ve been thinking lately, feel free, Lady, but not my dreams. Give me that bag,” I demand and make a lunge for it.

She sidesteps gracefully considering her age and the bulky suit and clutches the plastic bag protectively to her chest. “Can’t. They’ll let me go for sure. Customers aren’t allowed to see.”

“Listen, Toots, I don’t want to get you fired, but this is my head you’re in and I call the shots. Hand it over.” My words have the ring of an oldtime movie and for the first time I notice the lack of color. Everything, including the woman, is in black and white–I am dreaming!

“You really should let me clear out your dream clutter,” she continues. “You’ve been accumulating it for years and your cabinets are bulging.

Just as I’m about to decline her offer my bedroom dresser shudders, the hinges on the overhead cabinet strain and begin to creak.

“If I don’t catch that, you’ll be sorry,” she warns, making a wild dash to the swollen door and covering it with her black bag.

“What’s in there?”

“Nightmares! Old ones that have been breeding and festering for years! Got it!” she yells triumphantly, as the door blasts off and shoots into the bag along with whatever propelled it. The momentum of the crash flings her to the floor where the bag wrestles and kicks at her as she tries valiently to twist it shut. I rush over, drag her to her feet and together we stomp on the hideous thing until it lies still on the floor. When we back away a thin stream of black oozes out and along with it a pair of enormous fangs and a revolting stench.

Breathless, I can only point in horror at the fangs, while this dumpy old woman leaps straight into the air and lands with both feet smack on top of them. A resounding crunch and they are history.

“Awesome!”

“Steel soles,” she says, turning pink, whether from pride or exertion I can’t tell. “I didn’t realize I’d need them so soon. Now, you’d better let me put some salve on those feet before they blister. Don’t need these any more,” she adds kicking off the boots and unzipping the haz suit, until she stands before me in a faded house dress and fuzzy slippers.

For the first time I realize my bare feet are itching and there’s a peculiar burning sensation in my ankles. When I lift my pajama legs I see tiny red lines snaking their way up my calves.

“Poison! That thing with the fangs was poisonous.”

“Not to worry,” she says with a reassuring smile, “It’s serious but not fatal; after all, we’re in The Land of Dreams.”

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