Last night I had an especially detailed, bizarre and beautiful dream.

* * * * *

I’m at my dad’s house (although he’s not my real-life dad) watching some television show about government secrets, everything from technology to covert special-ops agencies.  Just for fun, I decide to grab a piece of paper and write down some of the things that are mentioned on the show, so I can check them out on the internet some other time.  My dad comes home, and he has a couple of friends with him who I’ve not met before.  They walk into my dad’s home office room and close the door behind them.  I walk into the kitchen, and just as I do, I hear a snippet of their conversation, and they’re talking about these same secret agencies.  I compare the names to the ones I’ve written on the notepad, and they match up perfectly.  This is how I come to realize that my dad works for one of these agencies.

I leave and go home to my place, which is a small building of one-bedroom apartments that’s located on the edge of a bluff overlooking the ocean.  I live near the end of the row; there’s only one apartment behind mine, and then the hillside slopes down toward the parking lot, with another bluff behind that.  So our building is built on a jetty, of sorts, that sticks out into the ocean.  It’s a beautiful place, but very isolated, and the only other person who’s ever around is the guy who lives in the unit behind mine, at the back of the building.  His name is Raymond Hsu, a Chinese-American guy about my own age, who is very quiet and reclusive.  He’s a computer guy, and spends long hours programming.  His apartment is immaculate, and it’s obvious that he takes great pride in living there.  He has a little white cat who often comes over to visit me, but I never see Raymond and the cat together at the same time.  After a while, I begin to wonder about this non-coincidental coincidence, and finally reach the conclusion that Raymond is the cat. He can somehow morph from human form into cat form, and I am determined to find out how he does it.

The next time the cat comes over, I say, “Hello, Raymond.”  The cat looks surprised, turns away, and walks back into his own apartment.  A minute later, Raymond walks outside to where I’m standing against the railing, looking out to sea.  “So,” he says, “you’ve discovered my secret.”

“For a while now I’ve thought this was the case, but I didn’t exactly know how to bring it up.  I just had to test my theory.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret safe.”

“I’m too shy to interact much with people,” he says, “but I know you like cats, and I figured that would be a safe way for us to meet, even though you didn’t really know what was going on yet.  But you figured it out.  Well done.”

He invites me into his apartment, where he pours two glasses of white wine, hands one to me, and shows me around.  His comfortable living room has a view of the ocean on two sides, and there are long tables of computers and monitors and bookshelves that run the length of each wall, underneath the windows, so he can gaze out the window while he’s working.  I tell him this is by far the nicest home office I’ve ever seen.

“Thank you,” he replies.  “I decided at some point that if I was going to work from home, I ought to make my home as beautiful and enjoyable as I could.  I was very lucky to find this apartment.”

“I agree,” I say.  “I love living here.”

“You’re welcome to stop by any time.  Really.  No matter what form I’m taking.”  We both laugh a little.

A woman of undeterminable age suddenly appears on the sidewalk outside our apartment building to speak with Raymond.  Actually, that’s not entirely accurate; it’s as if her age is fluctuating between ten and fifty years, slowly but perceptibly.  Her face has a greenish tinge to it that is also fluctuating.  I see her a handful of times over the next few weeks, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend or two, and they seem to be interviewing Raymond.  Her two friends are also of fluctuating age, so I assume they are related somehow.

A few days later, while I’m out walking on the beach, I discover the nature of their interviews when I see the four of them (Raymond, the woman and two slightly younger men) in the surf, talking quietly.  The woman seems to have the ability to change herself into a frog, Raymond into a cat, and the two men have similar abilities that aren’t apparent.  I wave to Raymond and walk over to join their group.  He introduces me to Rachel and the two men.  They look a bit concerned about my presence there, but Raymond reassures them, “He’s okay.  He knows about me.”  His features become slightly more feline for a few seconds, but he retains his human form, to show me how he does it, and that he’s in control of it.  Rachel, who is the ten-year-old version of herself, starts to change to a frog, then reverses it in the same way that Raymond did.

These people are their own separate race of shape-shifters.  Rachel and the two men explain to me that they’ve been looking for others like them for quite some time, without success, so when they found out about Raymond, they wanted to be sure that he was one of The People, so they interviewed him at great length.  So far, I’m the only one outside of their race who knows of their existence.  I tell them I’m prepared to keep it that way, if that’s what they want.

The dream changes just then, and I’m back at my dad’s house watching that show again; this episode is about a series of factories in which aliens disassemble humans and rebuild them from the separate parts.  They create these humanoid creatures, and then they pull out human eyes and cut off human noses and ears, whereupon they attach them to the hideous creatures they’re creating.  This is apparently one of the secrets the government is keeping. The show continues, and talks about veterans of the armed forces who have lost body parts in various wars, and who have been restored using this kind of technology.  The process requires massive amounts of medication in order to keep the vets alive.  Most of these men are little more than deformed vegetables, whiling away their lives on beds in remote hospitals.  Some can be seen and heard crying loudly, some are merely lying prostrate and silent.  One complains into the camera about having seen people who could change into animals while he was in Iraq, and then he spirals off into stream-of-consciousness gibberish, but I decide that my new friends need to know about this.

I go back home.  Raymond sees me, comes out, and asks if I’d like to go for a walk.  “Sure,” I say, and shut the door behind me.  We walk along a narrow, curvy highway that runs along the edge of the cliff beyond the jetty on which our building is located.  He tells me he’s gay, and asks if we can hold hands.  I don’t see a problem with this, so I agree, and we hold hands the way children do, without the fingers interlocked.  He says, “That’s very nice of you.  Gay guys always want more, like kissing and all that, but sometimes it’s nice just to hold hands.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that with me,” I tell him.  “I’m not gay, so I don’t go for the kissing or anything, but holding hands seems like it’s harmless enough.  Besides, you’re a shape-shifter; it would never work between us.”   I laugh.

Suddenly there is lots of traffic on the highway, and we have to let go and walk single-file.  There’s been an oil spill of some sort on the road, and it’s very slick, so much so that we’re having difficulty walking, and we almost slide over the edge of the cliff a couple of times.  A truck barrels down on us, and I grab Raymond’s hand and jump into the air with him in tow behind me.  We are flying over the ocean and over various parks and places that look like they’d be safe – albeit uncomfortable – places to land.  I’m unable to land, however, so we just keep flying until we come to a place where a small river meets the ocean.  Rachel is sitting in the sand next to the river.  She sees us and waves, and I’m able to land near her.  Raymond and I land feet first and knee-deep in the mud alongside Rachel.  She claps and laughs, telling us that was an excellent landing.  Raymond and I are laughing too, and we extricate ourselves from the mud and trudge down into the river to wash the mud off ourselves.

We climb out of the river and start to walk along a path in the adjoining park.  I tell the two of them about the vet I saw on TV who seems to have seen more people like them.  We talk about how dangerous it would be to go over to Iraq, and Rachel asks, somewhat sarcastically, “Why couldn’t they be somewhere nice that’s NOT a war zone?  Why do they have to be there, of all places?”

Rachel leaves us then, and we walk home, not holding hands this time.  I decide it’s probably not the smartest idea to encourage that very often.  We arrive at home and walk down into the parking garage behind our building.  There are these huge wooden beams that support the roof over our cars, and beyond the parking lot is a small grassy area.  We walk through the wooden beams toward the grass, and as soon as we get to the grass, a very strange feeling comes over me.

“I’ve seen this before,” I tell Raymond.  “I’ve watched this discussion happen, but I’ve seen it from a different vantage point. . .from over there!”  I point to a spot in the distance, toward a group of houses nestled along the edge of the wooded hillside, trying to work out how and when this could have occurred.  Am I a time traveler, or am I merely hallucinating?  I don’t feel as though I’m hallucinating, so the answer seems to be that I’m a time traveler.