Black Petals Issue #105, Autumn, 2023

BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary-Chris Friend
Cards Fiction by Gene Lass
Barfly: Fiction by Gene Lass
Case Study: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Delivery: Fiction by David Kloepfer
Joy (noun): a source of delight: Fiction by Noah Levin
Master of Dream: Fiction by Ash Ibrahim
Nightshade: Fiction by Adam Vine
Red Popsicles: Fiction by Caitlyn Pace
Temporally Closed: Fiction by J. Elliott
The Mansion Dwellers: Fiction by Robb White
Time for a Change: Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
Bernie's Friends: Flash Fiction by Phil Temples
Death Visits the Sapling Trust: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Monster: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
Sleep: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Welcome, Ghouls: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Ode to Chateau Marmont: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Cadaver Dogs: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Phases of the Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Darkest Octave: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Green Man Standing: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Day That Mary Went Away: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Northern Migration of Souls: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Gone West: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
If I Scream: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Witchery: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Carry On: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
The Song of the Dead: Poem by Ben Huber

Ash Ibrahim: Master of Dream

Art by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal © 2023

Master of Dream


by Ash Ibrahim



I descended the stone stairs to a basement entrance of a dreary brick building on a cobblestone street downtown. Every night I came here to dream.

Standing by the heavy wooden door, I knocked and waited, studying its ornate carvings, which differed with every encounter. Some nights the door beckoned with baroque reliefs of sleep. Other nights, it stood aloof with serif lettering in a language I could not understand. Tonight, the door sang a romantic lyric of a dream. A blessing, I thought, a good omen. 

No one answered. I waited still, not daring to knock again. More knocking would not let me in.

A figure in the shadows opened the door in silence. I did not catch its face. I never did. My attention instead gravitated to the image of another face displayed in the entrance, hanging like a gruesome chandelier. Its eyes were closed, but it smiled from ear to ear. The black cross-stitching on its eyelids and lips pierced its grey skin.

I shuddered every night I saw that hanging face, but neither could I ignore its uncanny familiarity. It glared at me, exposing what I wanted—what I needed—and it judged me for it. Nonetheless, I stepped in, flinching as I passed underneath the repulsive fixture. I hung my coat and hat on an old-fashioned coat rack in the vestibule. No one else was there, if the coat rack was any sign.

Pulling back a plush curtain, I entered the underground tavern and sat on my usual high chair at the bar. The room was dark, lit only by candles on the walls with no discernable pattern, except for the flickers of light dancing on their deformed wax formations. I welcomed the darkness because it comforted me, hiding everything in the room and inviting me to do the same. Even though I knew it deceived me, I still desired it.

I smiled with nervous anticipation and waited, respectful of the decorum the place demanded. He would arrive on his own time, regardless of the bar’s occupancy and my apprehensive finger tapping on the spotless bar. I recall one night I tried to count the number of shelves and flasks on display behind the bar, but I lost count. Each flask came in its own shape and color, each one containing a kaleidoscope of fantasy. No labels identified the flasks, nor did the shelves show any letterings or makings—a magical library with infinite books with no shelving system.

My time came and he greeted me from behind the bar, the master of dream (also the bartender). I told him I wanted the usual, ignoring the quiver in my voice. On most nights, he would oblige by retrieving a flask without conversation, other than, on occasion, a dutiful smile. Tonight, however, he inquired why I always requested the same dream. His question lingered in the tavern’s thick darkness. I had no answer.

He furrowed his eyebrows, dissatisfied with my inability to respond, and refrained from reaching for a flask from the infinite shelves. Instead, he leaned in and imprisoned me with his deep-set eyes, inches away from mine. This close, I noticed their chromatic uniformity—solid black and not a speck of white or color—as if each eye were a giant pupil. Every intermittent blink of his eyelids sent a shiver up my spine, but I could not break his paralyzing gaze.

“Flémys,” he whispered my name. I had never told him my name, yet he spoke it as a lover cooed to his mistress. He knew how to pronounce it, the way they do in the old country and in my dreams. “Do you desire seclusion? Escape?”

“This is escape,” I shot back, trying to sound defiant, as if I had some dignity left (my shaking hands had already betrayed me).

“You cannot escape yourself. Does it sadden you that you are the only company you keep in your dreams?”

A sudden onset of heartbreak overwhelmed me. Was there a hint of sadness in those achromatic cavernous eyes? He broke his gaze to turn behind him and my head buried itself in my chest. Perplexed and grieved, I could not feel the tear rolling down my cheek, even as it announced itself in a silent drop on the bar.          

A clink to my left alerted me to another presence catty-corner from me—a woman sitting on another barstool drinking out from a martini glass. The translucent liquid in the crystal glass made her drink invisible, like picking up imagination to her fiery red lips for a sip.

“Why should it sadden you that you only enjoy your own company? I think it’s fine,” she said without looking at me. “Ask for the same dream every night if it works for you. Like my martini—I have it every evening. I don’t dream myself, but if I did, I would think it’s the same. Find that special romance and hold on to it.”

Indignation overwhelmed me. How could she intrude into my confessional? Who was she to offer me advice? Or worse, judgment? I forced a smile and sunk back into my chair, craving my dream’s speedy arrival.

She continued anyway, ignoring my uninviting gesture. She spoke with the sureness of someone who received constant adulation. Perhaps her revealing white evening gown ensnared attention (though not mine), or her flowing hair that changed shade with every glance. “And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be only with yourself. Aren’t we all just self-seeking creatures? Even the company we choose to keep—lovers, friends, mates, companions, whatever—we keep to complement ourselves. So who better than your own self?”

I said nothing. “Being alone is not loneliness,” she said, as if I didn’t exist. “We never feel lonely in a dream, do we? If you seek solitude—let’s call it retreat—then good for you!” She took a long sip from her unseen martini glass and nestled it down on the bar in a thunderous emphasis to her soliloquy.

He returned with a flask, silencing the woman with a glance. She trembled in his presence—whether out of fear or reverence, I could not tell. I wondered why he had that effect on her even though she did not dream, but the thought vanished when I recognized the flask. A smile curled up my lips—it was my dream. It hid in the unusual flask and evanescent liquid, but my dream nonetheless welcomed me.

I expected him to say more. Another lecture about escape, or an implied admonishment on selfishness. He did neither of those things and left the flask. I caught a glimmer in his onyx eyes as he turned away. Was it a glimpse of a future rendez-vous?

I tried not to rip open the cork from the flask and reveal my ravenous desire for its contents. I glanced at the woman next to me, her eyes fixed on me with a razor-thin sneer on her face. I looked away with false indifference.

“Must you ruin this for me?” my eyes screamed at him. “I came here for respite, for a life worth living, for the goals I will never achieve. Why do you judge with more doubt and regret? What is it you want from me?”

When my eyes had finished their tirade, when the tears had muffled their cry, I uncorked the flask and drank with feigned nonchalance. I imbibed it all to the last drop without stopping for a single breath. My hands dropped, and I leaned back on the highchair.

Then I dreamed.


In my cave, I peered deep into the desert from its craggy edge. The cool darkness engulfing me contrasted with the harsh light of the merciless sun outside. The cave’s elevation atop a mountain enlarged the vastness of the wilderness.

I inhaled the dry air and smiled. It was the same dream. The dream I came for. The variations did not bother me—a cave in the untraversable wilderness, a cabin in the deep woods, an island in the unchartered ocean—they were all arpeggios in the same key. I relished the retreat from reality.

My dream welcomed me with a warm embrace. Or did it seduce me into seclusion? Whether as a friend or lover, it accepted my desires without scrutiny. Its only restriction was my fantasy.

I never recalled what I did in my dream, though I always came with lofty desires. Meditation, enlightenment, prayer, praise, sanctification. Perhaps I long for divinization, to become a god—transcendent, free, luminous. Or perhaps I yearned to be alone. Are they all that different?

It should surprise me, with such noble intentions, that when I return to the waking world, when my cave fades into reality (or vice versa, it is not always clear), I am the same. Change eludes me. Deeper understanding (of myself, of others, of anything) never comes. I have not changed, and it did not surprise me. 

“Because you have not invited me here, with you.” Startled, I spun toward the familiar voice, but the light from outside did not penetrate deep enough to reach the black silhouette with dark, glistening, dark eyes. I knew who it was.

“How are you here?” I demanded.

“I come with you every night, in your dream, but you never remember,” he said. “Every night I say the same thing.”

“And what is that?” My tone bordered on mockery to mask my astonishment.

“I am the master of dream. If you chased your desires, noble as they are, you would have invited me into your dream because I would be your desire. Every dream I grant is me, and every dream realized is me. Do not choose yourself over me, even if you think you seek me. That is a delusion.”

“A delusion?” I forced a laugh, suppressing the familiar ache of guilt in my chest. “Of course, it is a delusion! It is my dream, the dream I want.”

I heard him shifting in the darkness. “The dream is not a delusion, only your desire. Look around! Your dream attempts to unmask you, yet you cling to vanity. Why do you think your cave lives in the darkness, forcing you to its rocky mouth before scorching light? Or your island hides in the impenetrable jungle, pushing you to its blinding sandy shore? Or your cabin—”

“I didn’t come to explore caves or islands or cabins,” I interrupted. “My adventure is within.”

“Then let me show you what you are within.”

My legs betrayed me to a different master, stepping toward him, deep into the darkness of the cave. I grew accustomed to the darkness in an instant, as only the logic of dream allowed, and saw him beckoning at me. His silky, black hair reflected light from an unknown source and swayed in an undetectable breeze. He stood with a regal posture in a flowing robe of many colors, all visible in the darkness.

He stepped aside to reveal an above-ground tomb, a sarcophagus of sorts in the cave. Its lid cracked open just enough to see myself, Flémys, in full repose inside the tomb. My necrotic self (I cannot bring myself to say “I”) had a leathery grey face with eyes and lips sewn shut—an unrecognizable sight, except for the desire that bound us.

“This is you,” he said standing beside my motionless head, gazing down with his hands clasped behind his back.

Uncontrollable remorse choked me. “I do not understand.”

He pointed at himself and opened his chest in a singular, incisive motion from the hollow beneath his neck to his diaphragm. Using his bare hands, he peeled back his torso to reveal an enlarged beating heart. I threw up my arms, aghast, expecting him to collapse in a bleeding heap of flesh. Instead, I felt an outpouring of warmth and power gush over me, overwhelming me. I fell to my knees and gasped.

“Within, this is how you are when you refuse me.” He bent down and put his hand on my neck. His touch defied any sensation I have ever experienced or can describe. “Whether you are in solitude or among a multitude, your gaze is not on me. You know this to be true! Search deep within yourself and you will see yourself, not me. Seek me first, here in dream, my kingdom, and you will live because I am life itself.” 

I dared not look up. “Out of ignorance,” I whimpered. I felt a deep shame that I lied. What choice did I have? Was I ready to admit to the dream king that I preferred my personal fantasy over him? Especially if I received my dream from his hand every night?

“Let me in, Flémys, in your dream. Desire me and not the dream,” he said as he caressed my chin, my tears flowing down his fingers.

I found the courage to look up and meet his gaze, but he disappeared, as did my sarcophagus and my deceased self within it. Trembling, I regained my composure and wandered to the mouth of the cave, at the boundary of the light. I could not bear to confront the darkness inside the cave once more.

It was easier to peer deep into the desert from its craggy edge.


In the vestibule, I put on my hat and coat to face the uncertain world behind the heavy wooden door closed shut. I came to the entrance before the door and waited for someone to open it. The gruesome chandelier still hung above me, more unnerving than ever. Was it the same face as before? Why did it look so familiar? Unable to stomach more than a glance, I brushed aside any more thought of that macabre image.

I waited for a long while, not daring to knock or ring a bell. Someone would come. Knocking or ringing would not open the door for me.

At last, a figure in the shadows opened the door, but I did not catch the figure’s face. As I walked out, I heard a voice ask, “did you meet the master of dream or of wake?”

That has never happened before (as far as I recall) and the voice was familiar, but I did not respond. I wondered whether the voice originated from the figure in the shadows, or the revolting visage hanging from the ceiling. It made no difference, I thought as I ascended the stone stairs and stepped into the night just before dawn.

 I could not remember my dream. I never did.

Ash has been a practicing attorney for twenty-five years and has written about his experiences, both historical and speculative, always in the form of story. 

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal lives in California and works in the mental health field in Los Ángeles. His artwork has appeared over the years in Medusa’s KitchenNerve Cowboy, The Dope Fiend Daily, and Rogue Wolf PressVenus in Scorpio Poetry E-Zine. 

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