I had not been a good king. The people were gathering to throw me from the castle and perhaps kill me. I was doomed.

Fortunately for me, this was only a dream. Unfortunately, when I woke up from the dream, I didn’t really wake up all the way from the dream.

I had such an incredible fever that I didn’t know my dream from reality. This sort of thing is tough when you look out your window and hallucinate a massive mob of angry citizens marching through your backyard to get you. I took it upon myself to freak out.

I leaped up, spilled the Kool-Aid that Mom had left by the bed, and wrapped the large blanket around me. It was the royal robe, after all, and they may be able to chase me from the castle, but they weren’t going to get the robe!

I ran out the front door, barefoot in my pajamas. There was ice and snow on the sidewalk.

I sprinted down the street, wrapped in the royal robe, and by the time I got a couple blocks away I started to wonder where I was going.

I was king. It’s not like when I made it to the neighboring country, they suddenly weren’t going to know who I was. I couldn’t run from this!

I stopped running. I looked back. No one was following. Yet.

I breathed. After a moment, I decided I had to face the lousy job I had done as king, even though the people were probably going to guillotine me for it.

However, I still didn’t want them to get the royal robe. So I let it drop right there, on the sidewalk.

I walked back. I stood outside the castle for a long while, dreading going in. Finally I decided I’d go to a neighbor’s house to think.

I knocked on the neighbor’s door. Oddly, one of the neighbor boys was home from school, also. He answered the door and said, “What happened to you?”

Not knowing at all how to explain how I was king and had messed things up and was about to walk into my house to certain death, I just said, “Can I come in?”

And he said, “Sure.” He went back to watching TV. That’s probably a clue about how strange I was in my youth. When you knock on your neighbor’s door, barefoot and wearing your pajamas, and all that gets you is one curious question, then you know that you are a very strange person and you’re not doing a good job of covering that up.

I stood there, near the door for a while. Maybe ten minutes. I didn’t say a word. I guess I just needed a little bit more time to work up the courage to go home and face everything. I knew I couldn’t stay at the neighbor’s house forever (plus, I was in my pajamas, which was kind of embarrassing).

I told the neighbor thanks, and then left. I walked up to my front door, took a breath, and went in. I was bracing for an angry mob to attack, but when I opened the door, nothing happened. The castle (home?) was empty.

I went back to the bedroom. No one was there, waiting for me, waiting to kill me. Nobody.

I saw the spilled Kool-Aid stain on the carpet. I saw the bed, and the backyard. Last time I had looked at the backyard I had seen an angry mob in it. Now I just saw a backyard. Definitely not the kind of backyard a castle would have.

I started realizing what had happened. I had dreamed it all. And after I woke up, part of me had kept dreaming. I had hallucinated heavily without doing any kind of drug other than maybe a fever-reducer (a lot of good that did).

Suddenly I thought of the royal robe–I mean, blanket! I had left it out there on the sidewalk! It was an afghan, practically a family heirloom.

I walked out of the house again, still barefoot. Wow, it’s cold, I thought. It’s so much colder when you’re not running for your life. Fog came out of my mouth.

The blanket was still there, a couple blocks away. I picked it up, and started carrying it back.

A police car drove up from behind me. It slowed to a walking pace. Some concerned neighbor must have seen me sprinting down the street earlier and had called the police to make sure everything was okay.

Both cops inside the car took a good look at me.

I waved.

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AARON DIETZ is the author of Super, a novel from Emergency Press about commitment, crisis, paperwork, and heartbreak. Dietz's super powers include a high metabolism and the ability to put things back where he got them. He's also pretty good at math. As an instructional designer, Dietz has written online high school courses on computer programming, green design, and 3-D video game creation. It’s natural for him to write quizzes. He’s worked a decade in libraries. He’s also been paid to count traffic and once failed a personality test. Dietz writes for TheNervousBreakdown.com, blogs at aarondietz.us, and is an advisory editor of KNOCK Magazine.

54 responses to “I Have Been a Bad King”

  1. Jesus, sure it wasn’t Electric Kool-Aid?

  2. Zara Potts says:

    That was one crazy arse dream/hallucination, Aaron!

  3. Irene Zion says:


    A high fever in a kid frequently results in hallucinations.
    My kids had high fevers.
    Sometimes the mercury went to the top of the glass thermometer, which was 106°.
    There is no telling how high the actual fever went.
    No one ever had convulsions, but they all hallucinated very technicolor, scary things.
    You weren’t dreaming, Aaron, you were in full hallucinatory mode!

    (I hope someone is impressed by the degree symbol. It took some time to figure it out.)

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I’m SO impressed by the degree symbol.

      And your knowledge of fever-induced hallucinations! I’m glad that I’m not the only one. Wow. Someone should write a book on this stuff and then go back in time and make sure it’s on my shelf so I can read it right now!

      • Irene Zion says:

        Thank you so much, Aaron.
        I am so needy for validation.

        I might write a post about my kids sleeping habits.
        Or maybe a book.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Post…book…whichever! I’m there! Sleeping habits are actually fascinating to me–especially since science doesn’t really know a lot about sleep, in the grand scheme of things.

  4. Judy Prince says:

    That hallucinatory thingie you’re calling a dream might’ve been induced by a spider bite, Aaron—–you never know!

    The grip of nightmares is legendary in lit. I’m remembering the 1968 film version of John Cheever’s short story *The Swimmer*, for example—-and a later film “Groundhog’s Day”, starring Chicagoan Bill Murray. Someone’s dream made universal; that’s powerful.

    Have you analysed the dream? Decided what each thing and action symbolises?

    @ Irene, egad yeah kids have scarily high fevers, and I’ll bet most of us remember, like Aaron, some dream bits to them.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Ha! Spiders, indeed. I’m honored you remember about that.

      But wait now–Groundhog Day was about a dream? I just took it literally. I mean, of course there’s symbolism there and representation, but it wasn’t him having a dream was it? I’ve watched that movie so many times–now I’m curious how I missed the dream stuff. Or do you mean a literal dream in this case?

      Haven’t analyzed the dream–I really only remember the angry mob; I have no idea what I did to mess up as a king in the first place.

  5. Matt says:

    Man, I missed out on the childhood fever-dream hallucinations! Whenever I got this sick I pretty much went catatonic–really couldn’t do much other than lie on the couch while watching a tape of The Neverending Story or Star Wars or one of those other classics from my childhood.

    As an adult, though, I have had a few dreams that were so close to reality I had a little trouble telling them apart initially when I woke up.

    And who knows….maybe your subjects were just going to make you sign some version of the Magna Carta rather than just execute you outright.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Normally, I was a catatonic sicky, too, but for some reason this fever was able to get me out of the house in fright.

      As an adult, I woke up from a dream and hallucinated one of those Scream people with the masks on coming out of my closet with a knife. Not fun! But boy was I glad to realize I was only dreaming.

      (I’ll sign whatever, angry mob, just don’t chop off my head.)

      • Matt says:

        I once had a dream where I won the lottery. Everything else was identical to my life at the time: my apartment, my girlfriend, the college courses I was taking. In my dream I used my winnings to by a spanking new Mustang. The dream ended with me parking the car, going upstairs, and going to “sleep.” So when I woke up and went downstairs, I had a few genuinely confusing moments where I thought my new car had been stolen. I was horribly crushed when I realized the whole thing was just a figment of my subconscious.

        • Irene Zion says:


          It’s way better to have super-weird dreams, then it only takes you a short time to realize it wasn’t reality.
          The kinds of dreams you have are just torture!

        • Matt says:

          Well, normally my dreams look like what you might get if you dosed Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher with high doses of absinthe and then locked them togther in a room full of art supplies. Absolutely banal, real-life simulacrum dreams are an oddity for me.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Loved your story, Matt–I’ve had dreams where I ended up purchasing a lot of LEGO bricks, but…none were as convincing as your Mustang dream must have been, especially if normally your dreams are quite non-normal.

          I wonder if the cops get a lot of false alarms on stolen new cars once people realize they had dreamed it.

        • Matt says:

          Man, the things I could do in my dreams with a ton of LEGO bricks.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          I’ve had dreams with LEGO bricks that people only dream about…wait….

  6. Amanda says:

    I used to sleepwalk when I was small, and was frequently located trying to leave, dismantling objects, engaged in very industrious and serious projects (so called by me), and a few times, trying to climb into the wrong bed at sleepovers, much to the distress of whichever sleep-groggy sibling I was shoving and stealing blankets from at friends’ houses.

    I never left my own house though, and always wondered if that was because my parents were quick to catch me before I reached the door, or if there was some sort of forcefield (of common sense, etc) around the house which kept me contained.

    I love that you not only snapped out of it, but had the wherewithall to retrieve the royal afghan! You were a good king after all!

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Yes–retrieving the royal afghan–big sigh of relief over that one.

      Sleepwalking fascinates me–it sounds like having a secret other life, with tons of adventure, especially the way you’re describing it (“very industrious and serious projects”). I love industrious and serious projects! I mean, that’s what I do!

      Glad you never made it out of the house, though. It can be cold out there, and sometimes the police get involved.

      • Amanda says:

        One project in particular involved emptying the contents of my closet into the middle of the room and sorting things into piles and folding and stacking it all back “just so”. Apparently, the answer I provided, impatiently and without breaking focus from my work, was “I need to get it all ready for the contest! Judging starts in fourteen minutes!”

        Really, it is incredible I wasn’t placed in analysis, haha…

        One detail of your story about which I am curious: how old were you when the incident took place? (approximately) That you drew police scrutiny but not direct attention is interesting! You made them look but not stop…

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Yeah, I’m actually really curious why they wouldn’t have at least asked me a question or two, but this was Ames, Iowa–a place where people mind their own business much of the time.

          I believe I was in middle school, though I couldn’t be sure. My mom might remember when the Kool-Aid stain happened, though–something she never got upset about, since I was sick (I never told her I had sprinted down the street in a feverish haze–too embarrassed).

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Oh yeah–and what a contest that must have been. Super hilarious!

        • Amanda says:

          Fair enough. I grew up in a winky little town, too, and there was an unofficial boundary between ok distance from home and not-ok distance from home. There was a corner shop situated pretty much at the border between those territories, and it was a great place. Fully stocked with all the penny candy you could possibly desire, and far enough from home that your mother and your neighbours wouldn’t see you blowing your allowance on crap. But, close enough that if someone *did* spot you, you could say “we just rode our bikes along the creek and came out the wrong path. That was the part right before we sat on the swings then came right home!”

          A few years ago, my brother’s best friend bought the house next door to that corner store…and…I realised dang, that place is FAR from where we grew up! Not close at all! A little gang of eight year olds on bikes hanging out there without telling anyone first that’s how far they were going? This is the introductory scene to about 85% of the Law & Order: SVU episodes!

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Being nearly TV-illiterate, I almost thought you meant Law & Order: Sweet Valley University (the spin-off of the Sweet Valley High series for teens). Wow. That would have been quite a mix.

          But thanks to Google, I now realize that’s not what you meant. Perhaps distance changes with time–I think there were all kinds of places I would have gone on a bike at age 8 that I wouldn’t go now. (And now I like to think I’m safer, too.)

        • Matt says:

          For the record: I would absolutely watch a Law & Order: Sweet Valley University TV series. Not to mention CSI: The Hardy Boys and the medical mystery skills of i>Encyclopedia Brown, M.D..

        • Matt says:

          Damn you, HTML!!!

        • I think we ought to pitch both those shows. Seriously. I just arrived home from a day of dicking around at the office posting comments to my post about hating being at the office, and am getting ready to tackle an evening of (1) freelance work and (2) then entertaining some ladies on my balcony. And, I saw this reply re: SVU and Encyclopedia MD.

          I can’t speak for you, Matt, but how much more gratifying my own day would be, if it were spent fighting crime with sunkissed skin and curious dates, and patching up surgeries with my excellent memory and knack for detail!

        • Matt says:

          As a college student, I worked a graveyard-shift job with a police department. This was while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in it’s prime. Oh, how I wished my university sat atop a Hellmouth. My nights would have been so much more interesting.

        • Nice one. So true!

          The other day, the chalk board out front of my local café said “seeking members for elite top secret crimefighting squad–report to the treehouse with resume”.

          While the lady prepared my morning latté, she also grilled me Harriet the Spy style, about how many cats I had found up trees, how many capers I had foiled, and if faced with a choice, would I pick the mean newspaper delivery kid as the obvious perpetrator of the bake sale theft, OR would I realise that of course, it was the good-seeming kid from down the block, and really, the mean dude wasn’t mean at all…he was just misunderstood.

          AWESOME. Best way to start a day! (well, second-best)

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Amanda: Lovely story, and yes, lovely way to start the day. My, my. If there is any way you can snap a picture of that chalk board (if the message is still on it), I’d love it if you could send it to me–my next book is superhero-themed and we’re putting together an album of superhero-related sightings. At all possible? Is the sign still there and is it somewhere you’ll be going by soon? (If not, no worries.)

        • Amanda says:

          Actually, the lady posts a new chalk sign each morning, so the detective one is long gone, but I will certainly keep an eye out for similar detectivish things! You never know when/ where they might turn up

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Thanks, Amanda! That would be splendid.

  7. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    I loved “When you knock on your neighbor’s door, barefoot and wearing your pajamas, and all that gets you is one curious question, then you know that you are a very strange person….” Ha!

    I distinctly remember having such a fever when I was… six? seven? The walls of my apartment had huge, multicolored Sesame Street-style numbers coming out of the walls and I kept walking through them while an odometer-like counter – replete with voiceover – was spinning upwards, apparently incrementing into oblivion. I still hate math.

    Nice job on the afghan, too.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      To tell you the truth, Andrew, I never thought of myself as seeming like a strange kid–or at least not as THAT strange…. It’s only in retrospect that I’ve realized I wasn’t fooling anyone.

      Numbers, walls, voiceover–that sounds quite scary. I hope the police were not involved at any point.

      (Me never having a numbers hallucination might explain why I like math.)

  8. Irene Zion says:

    Yeah, Aaron,

    Poor Granny would’ve been crushed if you lost her afghan.
    Good job getting it back!

  9. Jordan Ancel says:

    I love this. At that age we are all kings and queens, no?

    If only you’d known then (as regarded by Mel Brookes) that “It’s good to be the king!”

    Very sweet and funny piece, Aaron.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Yes! This was probably before I became a Mel Brooks nut. And I don’t know what I did in my dream (I don’t remember anymore), but clearly I wasn’t having as much fun as I should have been.

  10. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, man, fever dreams were such a bitch. When you’re so messed up and groggy and you don’t know what’s real and what’s not so you can’t separate fact from fiction and come up with an escape plan.

    I mean, aside from running down the street.

    Maybe the mob figured ‘We can’t go near him! We’ll all get sick!’ and bolted.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      That must be it.

      They probably just surrounded the castle, then decided to avoid the plague by not going in. Or, the castle had a very good secretary, who never let people in without an appointment.

  11. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Awesome! I must admit I was pulling for you to retrieve your lightsaber and round on the regicide punks 🙂

  12. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Loved this: “When you knock on your neighbor’s door, barefoot and wearing your pajamas, and all that gets you is one curious question, then you know that you are a very strange person and you’re not doing a good job of covering that up.”

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Funny thing is, I didn’t really know I was that strange until years later, looking back on this moment. I always thought it was weird that he didn’t seem to wonder why I wasn’t saying anything to explain my appearance barefoot in pajamas, and never asked me about it later….

  13. Erika Rae says:

    I am sort of jealous that you were in charge of your own fantasies. For whatever reason my little sister ruled all of mine. Thus, I was always the boy. It kind of sucked. Not that I think being a boy sucks, it’s just that she always got to wear the fancy dresses. Also, I don’t believe I EVER fantasized that I was royalty. I do remember fantasizing that I was a raccoon, though. A boy raccoon. Perhaps I lived my entire childhood in a fever.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      I don’t know, Erika–I was wearing pajamas and a “royal” afghan. Not too fancy! Plus, I thought I was going to be killed by an angry mob. I’ll trade you for the raccoon.

  14. So long as they weren’t footed pajamas with leather soles.

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