In transcribing the current draft of Serpent in a Cage, as well as going through an old version of it, I came to the realization that I love a good fever dream. I’ve remarked about it on Twitter a few times, but it’s only until recently that I realized how much I use it. Both SiaC and Soulless have pretty powerful scenes where a main character, struck by injury or shock, find themselves in a strange and twisted dream ripe with symbolism and meaning. Have a look at a piece of Gilferen’s in Serpent in a Cage (the snippet does come with a NSFW warning, ahem):
He then felt the first cool touch of a serpent brushing against his wrist. More slid across his ankles, his legs, wrapping up his inner thigh, across his groin and up his stomach. He realized that he was naked, and, when he opened his eyes, the snakes had covered him entirely. Petrified, he was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, and he found himself staring into the eyes of a snake that reared back, forked tongue flickering out across his lips.
Gilferen wanted to scream, but the moment he opened his mouth, the tongue became human and the mouth against his belonged to a woman. She was someone he had never met, of that he was sure, because he would remember a beauty like hers, hard and fierce, her eyes glowing with intensity as she stared into him. Her dark hair fell forward like a curtain around his face, her warm body pressed up against him as her hips writhes and rocked. He nearly groaned with pleasure, meeting her mouth again for a deep kiss that tasted of acid and wine.
When she spoke, her voice was rich and throaty. “The serpent will rule the sun-scorched lands,” she said, flicking her tongue against his lips.
Voices emerged from around them, and they were no longer alone. Five others stood around them, chanting different words so that their prose mingled into an indistinct murmur. He didn’t recognize any of them except for Locke, as stark naked and highlighted by shadows as the rest of them Gilferen called his name, reaching out to him, but Locke broke apart into a thousand dark shards that fluttered wildly through the air, covering Gilferen, covering the woman, covering the whole world.
Now, consider this example from Soulless:
Dreams came to her that night, awful dreams, made all the more disturbing by the fact that she rarely dreamed at all. The faces of the people she’d come to see as friends and companions appeared before her in the gloom, distorted with the disease of the Soulless. Veroh, always with a smart, intelligent word, could not speak, for her jaw was gone, long grey tongue twitching from the effort. Beside her, the Captain of the Guard was rendered useless with no arms, nothing but festering red shoulders as his pitiful eyes implored her. Worst still was young Renald, who had no eyes to read his precious books, just sorrowful black pits that seemed endless. Even Kyle and the Doctor stood before her in her vision, their bodies ravaged by the Soulless disease, and she felt nothing but grief even for those two. Behind the flock of familiar but fetid faces stood Vega, his head thrown back to show the grotesque veins of his grey-green neck as he laughed and laughed and laughed. He stopped only to look at her, pointing her out with a gnarled finger upon which yellow maggots danced. “She who has done the hunting,” he said, in his strange, hollow voice, “prepare now to be hunted.”
The distorted effigies of her friends descended on her, and all she could do was scream as teeth and nails dug into her. Somehow they held her arms, her legs, and the Captain tore into her stomach to start eating her innards, and she felt and saw everything, while Vega laughed on through her screaming pain.
Yup, I do love me some fever dreams. One could even say that “The Wartburg Incident” in Bowlful of Bunnies is just one great big fever dream. Part of me wonders: is this going to become A Thing? Will fever dreams work its way into most of my works, and become something I’m known for? I can think of a lot of other artist-types who do something similar. There’s Sam Raimi and that car, or M. Night Shyamalan…what a TWIST! TV shows do it, too. South Park‘s alien and Adventure Time‘s snail, though those could be considered more Easter eggs than a recurring habit. I can’t think of many examples of authors with a notable thing for each of their books, except maybe Lauralynn Elliott‘s love of food. I’m sure you readers out there could think of lots of other example.
Which brings me to the main point (besides sharing with you guys a few snippets of writing): Is this a bad thing? Do you tend to find it endearing or annoying if an author or actor or director, you name it, have a recurring “theme” like a character in the background or a fever dream in every book? I’d love to hear your thoughts!