Threnody: Closest to Heaven – Chapter 4

November 8, 2010 at 6:47 am (Threnody: Closest to Heaven)

– CHAPTER FOUR –

It is said that in dreams, you cannot recall beginnings, but I always knew where mine began – perhaps that’s a peculiarity unique to my dreaming. It began in a small street in a wet town, where the red-brick walls glistened moodily from the trickle of rain. Voices echoed off alleyways, bodies invisible behind the barricade of rain that upended onto this part of the world. I blinked, trying to attune myself to the way the sounds filtered through the roar of the water.

It was warm and heavy on my skin – I closed my eyes and simply surrendered to it for a while. Lying on the hard pebbled street, as I was, I could feel it resonate within every ache my body contained… and every tendril of life.

This was how I awakened. Life filled me, and every sound around me was a cacophony of perfect notes that aligned themselves within my mind. This was somewhere temperate – I knew exactly where, and exactly which year, although I had never been there… especially not in that year.

I got to my feet and the world tipped right way up, blue and greys and reds in front of me. I could smell a million things on the air – and as always – the strong scent of the sea, carried to me through the humid one of soaked earth, rock, and city. I knew where I was going. I walked through streets, amid scattered people I could not see through the cascading sheets of rain, but could only hear and sense. Nobody used an umbrella. Umbrellas did not exist in this place and time.

It is hard to explain how I knew my dream was a dream. I have just always known the distinction between reality and dream – perhaps it is the very realistic quality of my dreams that brought to me this awareness. Or perhaps it was the fact that I never looked like my real-life self, while in my dreams. I stopped in the corner of a street that sloped downwards, away from me. I had rounded a turn and was standing in what was almost a ray of light that spilled round the outlines of houses stacked on top of each other.

The body I stood in was just as skinny and tall as the one I had in real life, but that is probably where the similarities end. But the hair plastered to my neck and shoulders was a lot longer here than it was where I was sleeping – I had to peel it back from my cheeks to be able to make out what was in front of me – it was a much harder task to do this with hair that easily reached my waist and consequently had glued itself to my body for a considerable length.

I was guided by many things, some of which I could not even understand. I resumed walking, following the tang of salt on the air. Now and then, I could make out the silhouettes of people, but we were all following our own trails – some of us on trails that would take us through our lifetime, unhurriedly, some of us, like myself, on trails that were more likely to be shorter, and more urgent. My footsteps resonated in my ears, in between the unstopping roar of the rain. It was as if I was dancing along a connect-the-dots path that only I could see – and each step joined yet another dot to the greater picture.

And eventually it stopped raining. Not gradually, but as suddenly as it had landed on my face – it cleared as if a wind blew it clean aside. I was still on a slope and moving further downwards, and now I could see where I was going. In front of me stretched a blue and brown expanse of ground with houses and walls sprinkled along the way. There were fields of a crop I had never seen before and could not identify – it might have been sugarcane, but it was a lot smaller than I would expect sugarcane to be at this time of the year. The road I was on was cobbled in black stones, smooth under my shoes, and it led the way sinuously to what my nose had told me I was headed for: the sea.

Blue. So very blue, as if somebody had spilled a bottle of Prussian blue ink onto Arches hot-pressed paper – with all of that intensity, all of that purity – the sea stretched out as far as I could make out in the distance, to where the sky seemed to meet it at the horizon – another blue, but lighter, half still blotted with heavy grey clouds that were rapidly being swept away by a wind that made my soaked skirt flap loudly against my stockinged legs. It was a wind of the south – as warm as the sun that I knew would soon flood the land around me – it was a wind that brought with it the song of mermaids from out on the sea, a wind that knew where treasures and ships were sunk, a wind that whipped up white-teethed waves and brought them to crash on the shores.

It was the wind that meets everybody equally and throws the salt in everybody’s face. It is the wind that can tell you everything you need to know, if only you knew how to listen.

There was no longer anyone around me, now. I was on a road people did not take – and this road would lead me to a tiny pin-prick in the distance.

I walked for hours, but in dreams, hours pass both slowly and quickly. By the end of the first hour, I had dried completely; by the end of the second, my skin was as brown as the earth that peppered the spaces between the stones in the road; by the third hour, I knew by heart every sound of the birds around me, and every lulling shush of the wind through the trees.

And then, it shattered everything, in one loud bang that made me reel and almost fall down.

Gunshot. In a place where guns did not exist.

It was followed by the shriek of seagulls and the loud slap of wings in the air, almost a gunshot itself, as birds around all took to the sky, in a massive, surreal cloud of white wings – it was like the proverbial black cloud of crows from a nightmare, except that these birds were all white.

I ran the rest of the way, my panting breaths accompanying me every inch of the way. I could see my destination, now – a white and red lighthouse painted against the blue of the skies and sea, not the slightest chip marring its clean new colours. I ran, a step for every heartbeat.

I don’t know what I expected to see when I reached the lighthouse. Maybe I thought there would be somebody there, the danger I felt around me coalesced, maybe, into the one focus of my dream, awaiting me as if foreordained. I should have known better – dreams were never that simple. The sense of wrongness was all around me – even though I had felt myself drawn to a single spot, I still felt an urge to keep moving.

The lighthouse was on a flat expanse of rocky shore. The black stones, irregular slabs of basalt, glistened under the sun, covered by the spray from the massive waves that crashed up against them. Nothing separated the rocks I stood on from the feral sea. Even as I stood there, bent over to catch my breath, hands on my knees, a massive wave exploded up against the shore, and white spray dusted me. There was so much salt on the air… I could feel it on my palms, as they pressed against my knees – grainy, incredibly tangible.

It was this very realism that told me this was a dream.

I straightened and stepped forwards, closer to the sea. In a way, I knew what to expect. There was blood on the white foam that coated the receding wave that had just slammed against the rock – this blood came from the stones I was standing on. It was bright red and had not yet started to clot – and there was an immense amount of it. I would stake a guess that the sea had added some volume to it, for the rocks were already wet with the spray, with puddles in some nooks and crannies. The blood covered a good few square feet, smooth, peculiarly opaque on the black stone. It did not reach the lighthouse, a few more feet away.

‘Somebody was shot here,’ I said, out loud. ‘But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is… somebody bled here.’

Even given that the sea had contributed to the blood at my feet, I would estimate that somebody had lost enough blood here to die shortly unless they left this place – which it would seem they had done. This was a blood loss of over two litres; nearly half the average blood volume in a person.

I stood there for seconds, maybe minutes – a girl in a dream, flurries of birds circling the sky above me, enclosed by the vast expanse of uninhabited sea and sky and stone and earth. I stared at the blood for a while, then for no reason, turned around to gaze at the town I had just journeyed from. Behind me was the most beautiful mountain range I had ever laid eyes on – green and stretching tall in the distance, peaks lost in the mist. The town was dwarfed by their immensity, a picturesque little patch of brown and black that patterned a few cliffs, following the contour of the landscape.

Foreboding was wrapped all around me, thickly, making the air almost unbreathable.

Unbidden, the strong stench of blood rose to my nose, metallic, a haze of redness and pain and wrongness.

‘This way…’ the wind seemed to call in between the mask formed by the blood.

I could tell that there was nobody around. It was not that somebody had fallen into the sea – if this was real life, that would have been a very distinct possibility. But in a dream, if I felt that nobody was in the vicinity – then nobody was. There was the matter of the gunshot – this was a place where guns did not yet exist. I knew better than most the dangers of an object being present in a place where it had not yet been created; because, quite simply… such objects were not naturally present in such a closed environment.

I knelt down, making sure to pull my skirt up so that it did not soak up the blood, and focused on catching my breath, in the midst of spray and birdcalls.

There were many types of dreams. This kind was a closed dream – I was in a place that actually existed, in a time that had a place on the time-line. Other dreams were open: situations that unfolded with time and events that happened contrary to possibility – nuclear weapons could explode and you could expect everybody to survive them. This… closed dreams also warped reality, but they did not present non-existent objects.

I was one such object in that place. I had introduced myself in there. But unless I also brought in something else – which was something I don’t believe I could do – everything else that was in there and was foreign to this era, had to have been brought in by somebody else.

Everything operated by the law of probability. I had no idea why I was in this place; but for somebody else to land in there by chance was… unlikely. Considering that this was one spot in the world, on one spot of the timeline… it was only one in an infinite number – greater than googol to the power of googol – of such places. Two people did not land together in such a spot by accident.

I had two choices: I could wake up, or I could solve this mystery. Part of me was terrified and told me there was good reason for this illogical fear – that there was something I could not remember that should be avoided at all costs in dreams. But the rest of me felt all-powerful with the confidence that if I did come across something I could not face, I could simply wake myself up.

And then, suddenly, there was somebody there. I lurched back to my feet and turned around – for some reason, I could not tell who was there. I could only sense their presence, as tangible and real as if they were indeed present there physically. This was not a combination of colours I was familiar with – and the voice that reached me rang no bells.

‘They’re after you. You’re not running away well enough.’

I looked up at the sky and saw that it had started to show distinct cracks, like puzzle pieces starting to come apart. This was no longer closed. We’d moved on to free-dreaming. The colours were a lot more vivid around me, but still in the same hues of reds and blues and rich browns – except where he was. He was a strange combination I hadn’t even seen before: orange and ultramarine and green and white. I didn’t like the combination, but there was some green in there. It might be a small part of…

‘How well does one run into hiding across an open plain?’ I countered.

The area around us shimmered and almost turned into the fever dream, but I focused and kept it solidly to the lighthouse by the sea.

‘Unless you can stop dreaming, that’s all you can do,’ he said.

There was truth there. If you were running away from something in a dream, you could only escape it by waking up. But he was insinuating that this was something that followed across dreams – and nothing, surely could do that. Weren’t dreams all… separate? You woke up, and it stopped being real. The next night, unless you went back to the same dream, you were on a new, clean slate.

‘You need to wake up now,’ he said.

Maybe I should have listened and paid attention to the foreboding that surrounded me, but I was too confident right now. I turned and returned to the closed dream, leaning over to touch the blood at my feet with one finger. I could not tell anything from it – which way to go, what to look for.

I turned away from the lighthouse, and faced towards where the town I had left was, but instead of returning on my traces, I followed the cliffs of the shore. At one point they started to slope upwards, leaving an increasingly higher drop to the white-flecked sea. I continued along my way, but after a couple of hours, by which time the drop was almost giddying, I realised that I could sense something.

It was just like I could smell the sea on the air – except that this was a smell that made something within me gag. It was beyond the physical. There was something here that told me I should go in the other direction – there was something very wrong, something I should not meddle with. I hesitated, considered my options, then undid my shoes and took them off, standing briefly on the cliff edge in stockings. I leaned forwards, but as I’d expected, I could not see enough over the edge to make out more than a line of sand where the low tide had receded.

You could often do more in dreams than you could do in real life. Maybe this is because you are dreaming it and can give yourself any power you wish, or maybe it is because in dreams, you are fearless, and can afford to take any risk – or so you think, at any rate.

I knelt down at the edge of the cliff, and cautiously, hands gripping into the craggy rock, turned around so that my back was to the empty air, and I edged one leg backwards over the limit of the cliff. My foot found a snag, and I tested my weight on it before leaning on it and sliding the other foot over. Step by step, I lowered myself down, the roar of the sea in my ears, the wind plastering me to the cliff. Step by step, I made my way downwards, focusing on my task and not allowing myself to be distracted by my instincts, which told me I should not be doing this. My fingers chafed on the rough volcanic basalt, and I was grateful for the cotton of my socks – I stepped on as many sharp points as I grasped with my fingers – sometimes scrabbling, but rarely in trouble. The key to such a thing was to take one’s time, and I had climbed enough cliffs in my dreams to know this.

Eventually, my foot inched down to meet sand, wet and grainy even through my sock, and I allowed myself to drop down, landing on both feet and stumbling one step before I caught myself.

I was on a… creek. It was hidden from above by the cliff. All that surrounded it was sea and rock – it was a sandy little beach, secret, secluded.

And in the middle of the sand, a dozen feet away, was a gun – it glinted in the sun, smooth and steel and real. [insert description of model here]

Dreams are about instinct. Part of this instinct is transmitted by colours – already present about people in real life, they are amplified a million times in dreams, sometimes to the point where I cannot even recall somebody’s face, but only their colours. Another part of instinct in dreams is about recognising feelings. Some things feel wrong and this area was one of them.

Wake up.

No, I told myself. If I stepped forwards, to where the gun lay, anything could happen – anything, positive or negative. I was strong enough to face this, to brave that stench. I just had to anchor myself solidly and move in there and get the gun. It was a vortex of possibilities, that area, so I might even be able to get to the person who had brought in the gun, from that point. I had encountered areas like that before. Something told me that all such encounters had ended in ways I had not predicted, but I ignored that little part of me that was crying out sense.

There is no way to describe the stench that came from… maybe a six-foot diameter circle around the gun. It was not the weapon itself that was the cause of this – it was quite simply the area itself. This place had been like this, corrupted, long before the gun was dropped there. If you had a sixth sense that was devoted to detecting wrongness, this place would have set off all your alarm bells.

You need to wake up now.

I took a couple of steps forward, my feet sinking into the wet sand. Nothing about my apprehension changed – getting slightly nearer to that area did not make me feel worse, contrary to what I had expected. Up in the sky, all the birds had disappeared, now. The world was still, frozen, hushed – as if it was holding its breath, like me.

I might have closed my eyes just before I stepped in. As soon as both my feet landed within this area with the invisible parameters, the world around me upended. Everything darkened, became purple, indistinct – it was like seeing through thick smoke. But worse than this, worse than the feeling of my stomach flipping upside down with my surroundings, was the… revulsion that hit me.

It will always remain an indistinct moment, for me. All I could describe of it is in segmented bits and pieces – as if somebody had somehow disjointed my mind during that instant.

Imagine a hundred beings around you clamouring to push into you. That was the sensation that overcame me. A feeling of being distorted, being altered, being taken over – I felt as if I was on the very brink of being warped into something forever lost… and I was too lethargic, too thickly claimed by smoke to even move a limb.

Imagine a million hands touching you, running fingers along your skin, over your body. That was the sensation that paralysed me. I was caught in a web of revulsion at the brush of things against my body, that I didn’t want anywhere near me. I felt that every single touch was enough to make me shriek or go mad from the sheer disgust.

Imagine not seeing the things that are physically overwhelming you. I felt as if I was blind, and yet part of me could see things shifting in the darkness… but it did not compare to the other sensations which overpowered me.

People describe nightmares. I have no need of nightmares, because for me, there was this.

I think I was screaming. My mouth was open, but whatever was around me swallowed all sound. Their hands touched my mouth, but I could not close it over my silent screams.

I think I was being warped.

A peculiar numbness curtained onto my mind. I could no longer really think. Save me. Somebody, anybody.

Pray.

Save me, from this suffocating wrongness. God… Save me… The hands, all over me. Save… They were reaching into me. Touching everything inside.

The thoughts wouldn’t even come out.

Save me, god.

But it wasn’t happening. They were crawling from inside me, now, embracing me from within. My mind was so, so cold with the numbness, now.


____

 

I wasn’t even sure when I woke up. I could still feel them inside of me, like beetles that crawled on the inside of my skin, except that their touch was infinitely softer, infinitely more knowing. Except, I realised, I could feel my bed under my back, in a strange, unnatural way – my whole body was stiff and numb, as if it was not mine, but belonged to somebody else, and my limbs were like frozen lead.

Into my mind burst my prayers: Save me, god, save me, god, save me, god, save me, god, save me, god, save me, god, save me, god…

My eyes shot open, but I could not move yet, nor make a sound. I was in a foreign room, with cherry blossoms papered on the ceiling. I was in darkness, but this time it was not smoky – it was simply the obscurity of the night.

I struggled to speak for a good while before the breath finally managed to push past my numb, inanimate lips, escaping in a hiss that I frantically continued working on. Save me, save me – eventually I managed to mumble the words. At the same time, I fought to move my fingers, bending them, trying to make a fist, trying to jerk away, to make any sort of movement. Nothing happened for a very long time, while I strained in the dark, fighting to regain control of my body and my mind.

And when it happened, I sat up clutching at my body and my face and my legs, trying to erase the memory of the touch that had covered me only seconds ago. I could not stop babbling prayers, in between gasps for air.

I had been stupid.

Whoever he was, he had been right. You need to wake up now.

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1 Comment

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