These five stories are all about the astral plane in some way. The astral plane is the realm of the dead and the plane of dreams.
A murdered child tries to contact her mother.
A solitary student has lucid dreams, but they trap her in an oppressive forest.
A girl in the afterlife is oppressed by sadness.
Batman's niece goes on a quest very unlike those in superhero comics.
On Midsummer Night, a film-maker meets his true love in an alternative realm.
Excerpt from The Challenge Landscape:
In Jessica’s dream the wood was always verdant and yet damp, with raindrops rolling down the leaves and dripping as she walked past. It always led to a barren wasteland where her heart felt like a cold stone. She was here again, and there was no turning back.
A dream in which you know you are dreaming is known as a lucid dream. If you look keenly at your surroundings and compare them with waking life, you find that the texture is the same; it only feels different after waking. So, the wood with its clinging moisture felt real, and the cold plain at the end was bitingly real as its chill slapped her face. Lucid dreamers are supposed to be supremely free, with no limitations, yet they can still be felled by a closed-in trap or a wilderness full of sorrow, just the same as in a normal dream.
Jessica began to run. If she could only find out how long the plain carried on before giving way to other territory, it wouldn’t feel like such an ordeal. But the scenery that flicked past her as she ran was unchanging, and at last she had to call a halt to her flight and stand still while the oppression of the place washed over her.
Straight upwards, she reflected, might be a good direction for getting away. She tried to rise above the plain, but its atmosphere pressed on her and held her down like an uncaring hand. There seemed to be no escape in any direction: there were no tunnels through the ground, no caves to hide in and no roads leading away to another place.
“I will face this!” Jessica exclaimed. But the moment she said it she did the opposite, and tried to disappear. That was just as unsuccessful as trying to move upwards; the place faded a little, but then returned in full force with the bleakness even stronger than before. She began to examine the details on the ground: the small tufts of grass growing on a mixture of dust and sand, to see if it might give her any clue as to why she was here. But while she was still peering down and kicking the sand, she awoke from the dream.
It was always so frustrating: the fruitless attempts at interpretation and the bone-deep chill she was left with after visiting the plain. She lay immobile, staring up at the white ceiling with its flaking plaster mouldings in the corners of the room.
She could always speak to that psychic, Miriam, again. But Miriam’s advice was not much use when it came to this recurring dream. They both felt that Jessica was up against a wall here; quite banging her head against it, but neither of them could identify what the wall was.
Leading to the ground floor of Jessica’s home was a long, dark staircase and descending that was like something in a dream, although the shabby condition of the house was all too real and physical. A little later Jessica negotiated this staircase and went out to attend to matters of the material world. She was not working at the moment; she was in a recess period between two academic years in a course, so it was part holiday and part study time. Of course, on a student budget she didn’t have enough money to travel much, and most of her leisure time was spent in the area where she lived.
She drifted into a bookshop and began picking up books about dreams, opening them at random and reading bits and pieces. It would have to be pretty relevant for her actually to buy one. Sometimes she felt her waking life was only an interval between dreams that were more important, that were her real life. Her dream about the plain always jolted her out of that, and made dreams seem alien and creepy after all.
Another night, another dream. She moved through dark trees, their tops clustered together, and then found that she was flying through the trees and recognizing them as dream trees. This is typical of lucid dreams: the dreamer often begins to float or fly and recognizes that it is a dream both at the same time. The same energy powers both the movement and the realization.
Jessica examined these dream trees more closely, and thought about what she would like to do in her dream. She would make a seated area like a luxurious garden at the foot of the trees, and meet some friends there. The seated area formed, although she noticed it was rather stilted and artificial, and as she landed within it she became aware that the only person there was Miriam’s sister Joanne, with a dog on a lead. Joanne had been at school with her; however, they hadn’t really been friends. They had met again only recently, and Joanne had introduced her to Miriam.
Joanne pointed at the dog. “This is Mitzy,” she said. “Meet Mitzy.”
Jessica was reluctant to be drawn into a conversation that might make her forget she was dreaming, which can so easily happen in a lucid dream and then it reverts back to normal dreams. “Do you and Mitzy know this is a dream?” she asked.
“Mitzy does,” Joanne said. “She’s a guide dog. You know, not a guide dog for the blind, a spirit guide. As for me…. I used to know, but I want to think about something else, otherwise I might panic.”
“Why would you panic?” Jessica asked.
“Well, you know-death and sadness,” Joanne answered uneasily.
“I can understand you saying death, although we’re not dead at the moment. But not sadness, surely? Being able to do anything you like is exciting, not depressing.”
Jessica’s enthusiasm was interrupted by Mitzy barking and snapping. She pawed indignantly at the artificial-looking trees and stylized white garden seats, and kept on barking loudly and urgently until Jessica woke to see the white plaster mouldings of her bedroom in place of the white seats. She sighed. There wasn’t even a physical dog barking anywhere.
There are times when you don’t know whether you are dreaming or awake. If you don’t know then it must be…. which of the two? There is one which it always is when you are not sure, but whether that one is sleeping or awake you cannot fathom at the time. At certain points while you are awake, it is clear that the state you must be in when you are NOT sure is asleep. The rest of the time, however, nothing is clear.
The psychics worked in a sprawling market, and although they said they preferred the ambience of many people for their way of working, it was if anything too busy and loud and fragmented. Jessica didn’t know how Miriam could concentrate in such a place, but she didn’t seem to have any trouble. She didn’t charge much for her readings; in fact Jessica had a special rate, because she came back regularly once a week.
She began by telling Miriam about her dream with Joanne in it.