IT’S BEEN A LONG WINTER IN WHICH NO ONE’S had a better idea than to keep up with the TV Movies that a few insomniacs churned out while the rest of us slept.

 

My favorite is Finger Torture, about a guy who, believing that his dreams have prepared him for torture, signs up to be a Scarecrow, which is someone who is hired to be tortured in place of someone who can’t take it. The idea is that the Scarecrow will either withstand the torture with a modicum of dignity intact or else determine that it’s excessive and lucidly deliver the information the torturer is after, rather than devolving into the histrionics of a Scared Crow, as those who melt under the torture they have been singled out for are called according to the TV Movie’s prologue.

 

I read Scared Crow as Sacred Cow until the narrator said it aloud.

 

“In those days of sudden, random torture,” concluded the narrator, “the Scarecrow business was unsurprisingly booming.”

 

The guy who volunteered to be a Scarecrow in the TV Movie claimed he’d had a series of dreams in which a duo broke into his room and removed his fingers joint by joint, night after night, each time more painful than the last because his fingers had regrown imperfectly in the interim, but also each time less traumatic than the last because he’d been conditioned to expect it.

 

“Finger Torture was the only thing I’d been made ready for,” he told the camera from behind a veil.

 

This struck a nerve with me because I had a similar experience, years before coming to Dodge City.

 

*****

DURING EVERY NIGHT OF THOSE YEARS, I slept alone in a rented room similar to the one I was tortured in once the dream began.

 

When it did, they turned on the lights I’d been sleeping under and pulled me up in bed, always the same two agents — a guy and a girl, in matching blue T-shirts and khaki work pants — stuffing my reading pillow under my back so I wouldn’t slump over when they let go of me.

 

Their method was to cut my fingers joint by joint, starting with the thumb of my left hand and working toward the pinky of my right. The guy sliced the pads of the fingertips with a serrated kitchen knife, then, once they bled out, the girl cut off the first joint with a pair of garden shears.

 

“Is the code a woman’s name? Is it Heather? Is the dial just a switch?” Every night, these three questions.

 

Without giving me a chance to respond, the guy slices the skin on all my second joints and the girl comes through with the shears. Then it’s on to my third joints, until all 30 are in a pile in my lap.

 

They spray the pile with a water bottle like it’s seeds they expect to grow.

 

This happened every night, and the pain I felt was real. It leeched all feeling from my days. If I’d been able to get out of bed and run away, either out of the dream or past them within the dream, I would have, but the pain was so acute it locked my knees under the sheets. I couldn’t even slide off the reading pillow.

 

So, as they cut me, I took to tunneling into my head, into a dream within the dream, which I perceived as a daydream since in the dream I didn’t know I was dreaming. The place I was trying to reach was the parking lot just through my door and down the single flight of stairs of the housing unit.

 

In the daydream, I push the door open with minimal noise and step onto the landing, where my neighbor is smoking, oblivious to the gasps coming from my room.

 

I feel like one member of a duo who’s left his partner behind — I know that someone is still being tortured in my bed, but it’s not me anymore.

 

Down the steps to the parking lot, under the mosquito-clogged light, past the outdoor laundry station and the pool with its deflated raft and the jammed vending machine, into a waiting car.

 

I buckle my seatbelt beside a hooded boss who asks, “Do you have it?”

 

I say “Yes,” and hold my hands out. The fingers fall off, painlessly, into his leather kit bag.

fingerbag

We cruise up a wide, empty boulevard to a bank deposit box, and I get out and dump the finger bag in.

 

“The balance is in your account,” whispers the boss through the car window, not letting me back in. “Soon you’ll be ready for L.A.”

 

He drives off.

 

The dream ends when I make it back to my room on foot, which can take until well past dawn. When I wake up in my bed, my fingers are swollen and throbbing, and my reading pillow is propped behind me.

 

*****

THESE DREAMS TOOK PLACE YEARS AGO, but the TV Movie makes me consider the possibility that I’ve never stopped having them, despite the memories of other dreams I often awake with now.

 

Decoy Dreams, I think.

 

As the credits roll, I start thinking about where to get a serrated kitchen knife and a pair of garden shears, and how to convey to Big Pharmakos my desire for him to cut my fingers slowly but ruthlessly one by one when I’m asleep tonight, so I can see if I still have it in me to leave my body and get in that car, cruise up the boulevard to the bank box.

 

Because God knows my account could use a deposit.