Threnody: Closest to Heaven – Chapter 8

November 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm (Threnody: Closest to Heaven)

– CHAPTER EIGHT –

I knew vaguely that this was my fourth dream of the night – already, the previous ones were all but gone from my memory.

I found myself in a cathedral, this night. It was a sunny early summer midday, and the sun slanted in through the stained glass windows, casting hectically coloured little shards of light onto the interior of the large room, and patterning my skin. The architecture around me was reminiscent of the early Perpendicular style, with the classic perpendicular mullions and transoms of this architectural movement. This was definitely pre-gothic revival era, which meant that we were far from the 1800s and were probably around the 1400 to 1500 area. I gazed up at the extremely tall ceiling (it was a characteristic of my dreams that heights of buildings were often distorted, and I suspected that this cathedral was no exception, given how high up the ceiling seemed to be) and I gasped in awe at the perfect, elaborate fan vaulting that my eyes fell upon.

I was standing in the middle of the sanctuary, in the main aisle, facing towards the polished dark wood altar – the Altar of Roses, I knew this was called. There was somebody in the pulpit, but other than that, no one else was present in the huge chamber. There was not a single person in the seats. The sunshine illuminated those with vivid patches of green and red and gold and blue.

I could hear, with surprising clarity, birdsong from outside, mingled with the faint bustle of rural life: scuffles, voices, footsteps, and even the beating of a hammer. The air around me smelled of wood and flowers and leaves and the earthy, unmistakeable scent of summer. I smiled despite myself – sunny summer was a season I didn’t often dream of, because it was not a state of climate that I tended to enjoy in real life, being rather intolerant to heat.

I bowed to the small figure in the pulpit, because that seemed to be the right thing to do, and then turned on my heel and made for the exit, the muffled sound of my leather-soled boots following me as I walked.

As indicated by the stained glass, it was sunny outside. The sun was high in the sky, and everything seemed to be contained within a heat haze, against which I had to shield my eyes before I could assess where I was. In front of me stretched wheat and rapeseed fields, gold and bright yellow in large distinct patches, rippling under the wind. On the other side of the cathedral was the village from which I had heard sounds of life, but this was not the way I was headed.

I set off towards the fields, initially walking along dry pebbled paths, sloping faintly downwards. The beautifully rural landscape stretched out in front of me for as far as I could see: fields of gold and yellow and green quilted the land to the distant horizon, where they met with azure, perfectly cloudless sky.

Something told me, as I walked on with long, almost loping strides, that this was not one of the ‘fixed dreams’ where I was actually in a time period and at a place that had existed. Even though the cathedral I had just left had had that feel about it, I could tell that I had now moved – the dream may even have changed. I realised that I was trying to escape from something, although what it was and why I was on the run, I could not have said.

There was a cool breeze, despite the scorching sun, and I made good time. It seemed to me that I had walked for hours on end without stopping, although the sun did not change position, when I spotted hills only a few miles away on my route. I trekked on towards those, the scent of wheat and dried grass heavy on the air around me, almost like a hypnotising agent to my senses, lulling me onwards and somehow making the strong sun not just bearable, but actually enjoyable. I felt regret that I needed to be on the move – I wished I could simply lie down in the middle of the fields and sleep under the sun, for as long as the dream lasted.

I eventually reached the hilly region, and as I climbed up a slope and rounded a bend, the field I had been ploughing through trailed off and I found myself in an orchard, instead. There were many trees around me, and not all were fruit trees – some I recognised, like the apple trees and linden trees and chestnut trees, but others were not as familiar to me. All were consistent with deciduous vegetation, rather curiously, since in those dreams, I tended to find bizarre and unnatural combinations instead of what one would normally expect to find.

I knew what I needed to do. Walking onwards was not an option now – sooner or later I would be caught, if I kept on the same path, so I checked to make sure my bag, strapped diagonally across a shoulder and hanging against the other hip, was secure, before I picked an apple tree and hoisted myself up onto a branch.

I climbed a lot of trees in my dreams – it was something I did as naturally as other people might eat or talk in their dreams. The feel of the rough bark under my shoes and scraping gently against the skin of my hands and arms was familiar to me, and I pulled myself up, branch by branch. Eventually, I reached a part of the tree which was enmeshed with branches from a neighbouring tree, and I pulled myself into that tree, face turned upwards in the direction of the sky that was not visible through the heavy canopy, as I continued on my path to the summit of the trees, driven by the instinct to keep on fleeing – the instinct of the prey that is being chased.

I manoeuvred myself through more trees than I cared to count, in this manner. Sometimes I pulled myself along, at other times I had to jump for a branch. Along the way, the trees changed, and became flower trees: acacias, flamboyants, jacarandas – tropical climate trees. Eventually some of the trees I encountered were covered by bougainvillea, in wildly coloured patches of purple, magenta and orange flowers. I found myself unable to continue through the large thorns on the bougainvillea, and had to start hoisting myself further up in the trees, seeking an exit that was not downwards.

My instincts were those of any chased being – I had a strong sense of urgency, which told me I had to keep moving, otherwise something dire would catch up with me. I had a vague fear that I might be playing exactly as expected and walking right into the cat’s paws, but I had nothing but instinct to rely on, and that sixth sense, right now, was telling me to keep on going in the direction I was following. The danger was below – in other words, behind me, since I had been climbing upwards all this time.

I burst out of the canopy eventually – by now almost entirely composed of flowers, as opposed to leaves. It was like being in a huge cloud, except that this cloud had thorns and smelled powerfully of exotic flowers and crushed green bark.

In front of me was the roof to a house – slightly slanted slate-tiled, on top of a white-bricked Mediterranean-looking building. I caught hold of the edges of the roof with my hands and pulled myself up onto it, and straightened to take in my surroundings.

I was on one roof in what appeared to be an endless sea of rooftops – some black slate, others flat concrete, but most on the same level. Windows and balconies were visible, enough to tell me that this was indeed somewhere rather temperate – the windows were big and there were no chimneys. The plants were familiar to me – they ranged from flowering geraniums to plump cacti, all flourishing in their pots, hanging from balconies or lining windowsills.

I moved from rooftop to rooftop, and noticed that I was now clad in modern clothes: trainers and jeans and t-shirt, comfortably wrinkled – I had had them on for a while. The sun was intense, and I felt as if I was slowly roasting as I clambered along – sometimes the slate was too hot for me to touch, and I had to manoeuvre without using my hands. As time went on, I noticed myself getting browner – my complexion tanning easily and quickly, as always.

I tumbled across rooftops for a long while. There were people below me, in the narrow streets, but they were strangely distant, as if part of another dimension. My world seemed to contain only rooftops and blue sky and the urgency to keep on running away – the latter getting worse as time went by. While in the trees, I had been relatively sheltered, but now I was exposed on the rooftops – anybody standing on a roof, even a mile away, would be able to spot me. I couldn’t help feeling surpassingly uneasy about this, and as I kept moving on, trying to reach the end of the ocean of rooftops, I realised that I felt worse and worse about whatever was hunting me. I needed to get off the roofs, get somewhere else, except that going into the streets, I knew, was going to be worse. Crowds were bad things when you were trying to hide from things you could not identify – too many things could mingle into the throngs of people and suddenly reach out and catch you.

I pushed stubbornly on, using the sun’s position in the sky to guide me on – since the time of the day was unchanging, I did not have to keep adjusting my direction with the movement of the sun, but instead simply kept on in a straight line. Now and then I checked over my shoulder, but it was a pointless measure, since all I could see in any direction, for as far as the eye could reach, was rooftops and more rooftops.

Eventually I reached buildings that started to slope upwards. Whether this was due to taller buildings (so far, all the buildings had had a single storey and tended to be uniformly square, some with courtyard-style gardens and pools in the centre of the house) or sloping ground, was impossible to tell. As I pulled myself up those, I realised that soon I seemed to be climbing upwards rather steeply – I could no longer see where I was going, but instead just kept scaling up buildings and rooftops, hand over hand, feet finding niches on windowsills and roof edges and pipes and drains.

Throughout this, I could feel the pursuit behind me getting closer. Perhaps it was because I could now no longer see behind me for miles, but instead could barely see further than the previous house; in any case, I felt as if whatever was after me was right behind me, and that soon I would feel their breath on my neck as I tried vainly to outrun what clearly could not be escaped.

Vines started to clamber alongside me, carpeting the white walls with unruly determination, and the further I went, the thicker were the leaves. At some points, I was able to even use the branches for footholds to hoist myself ever upwards, and although now and then I still encountered walls completely bare of ivy, I was starting to tread on leaves rather than concrete or sandstone or slate, again. I pushed on, hoping that this change meant I could get to another setting, one where the claustrophobia of the chase would not be quite so powerful.

Finally, I heaved myself up onto what was not human-made brick wall, but was a rocky cliff covered by the ivy, little clods of stone trickling off as I grappled on the edge for a good hold to ease myself onto flat rock. I eventually rolled myself up and lay for a moment on the ivy- and grass-covered rocky ledge, and looked towards where I had just come from.

A vast ocean of roofs stretched out underneath me, for as far as I could see. There was nothing sinister in view, and wrapped up in the safety of the greenery, I felt the tension ease faintly. I turned over and looked in the other direction, where I needed to keep going.

I was in a glade, in a jungle sort of setting. The trees were not of the rainforest type, but were of a slightly dryer climate, but nonetheless, there was no such thing as a path in front of me. Everything was thickly covered with greenery – shrubs and trees and grass and leaves and long ropy vines.

I got to my feet and pushed on, and as I went deeper into the forest, the pressure of the chase seemed to ease up. I felt less panicked, less as if I was about to be caught any second now. It felt as if I was nearing the exit of a labyrinth, at which point the minotaur could no longer seize me, and as if the monstrous threat was already much lesser as I neared a point of safety.

Without warning, I stumbled in a clearing. Moss-green tree trunks stretched upwards around me, and as I looked upwards, I was reminded of the cathedral I had started out from, except that here this was nature at work, and not humanity. The trees branched outwards and formed a tall canopy, and as I gazed upwards, it seemed that I could see birds flitting from branch to branch, their faint calls reaching me as from a great distance. It was a breathtaking view, and it took me a while to stop staring skywards and to look around me again.

There was an old stone fountain in the middle of the glade – the big heavy blocks of stone were yellowed and covered with a mosaic of green moss and brown scrapes where the rock had worn off. What was most striking about it, however, was the fact that it still contained water. It had consisted of a simple upper level that acted as the fountain, and although this had slanted and fallen sideways, now resting against the edge of the lower pool of the fountain, water still gushed out of the opening at the end of the spout, running down into the lower basin, with the musical, lulling trickle that only water produced. The stone was strangely white where the water ran, as if it had been tricking along this tract for years and had washed away all the grime and moss and even the natural yellow tone of the stone with its passage.

I stepped closer to the fountain, enthralled by the crystalline blue of the water as it pooled in the basin, almost as if the fountain was enchanted and ran by magic. I sat down on a random stone brick that had fallen out of the fountain and was now a pace away from the structure, half-overgrown by grass. It was hard and craggy and yet I settled comfortably on it, as if this was a favourite seat that I was simply returning to, and had missed during my absence – it felt that natural and right.

I couldn’t tell how long I sat there and gazed at the fountain. At one point I leaned forward and dipped my fingers in the cool water, watching the way it broke the ripples that had been coursing through it, almost as if I was now interfering with the magic of the fountain, and creating new ripples which set their own pattern of reflections.

From the other direction, not the one I had come from, and therefore not the one where whatever danger had chased me awaited, came a faint sound – but that was not what alerted me to someone coming this way. Rather, it was their presence – deeply confident, belonging here as much as I myself belonged here. As one can know only in dreams – I knew that this was the right thing to happen, that this was not the danger that chased me, but rather belonged to this place which, I knew, was intrinsically safe.

It was a familiar combination of colours that met me, except that its balance had altered faintly – since it was rare for people’s natures to change, I gathered that it was the effect of the place we were in – it probably brought out the green more, which was why the colours I could see predominantly were now mostly along the green spectrum. But he also had that orange influence – orange, the colour of challenge, or rebellion, of recklessness. I didn’t have much of it, because I didn’t have much backbone. This was somebody strong – and I usually avoided people like that, because I was no good in power struggles.

I wasn’t sure if I could see him at that point, but when he spoke, everything came together as if somebody had pressed a button – it was sudden and it hit me violently. It was like diving, and hitting the water with a cold slap that stole the breath from you.

He had odd-coloured eyes. That struck me hard, even though I never recalled people’s features from dreams. He had one eye blue and one brown, and in the brown one were faint flecks of blue in one corner – distracting, frightening… mesmerising. There was something terrifyingly feral not just about his nature, but also about those eyes, something pure, undiluted, untamed – something that verged between rage and violence, something steely and confident and unyielding.

He leaned forwards and spoke, compellingly calm. ‘You have something they all want. Something they are willing to destroy to keep out of the reach of others.’

I was so hard-hit by his nature that it took me a while to take in the words, and when I did, they made no sense. I had no idea what he meant.

Not true.

The words meant something to me. But it was too far inside my mind, too hazy for me to understand what he meant.

‘Start thinking,’ he said, those odd eyes maintaining my gaze. ‘You need to learn what it is they want from you.’

He had a way of making the colours around him slur into each other – he was strongly clearwater blue, just like the water in the fountain, and everything ran into watercolour softness around him. So dangerously softly-hued. Everything in this place was illusion and reality – the trick was to distinguish which was which. This, after all, was the play of minds – and minds played all sorts of strange tricks on us.

I was too fascinated by his colours and his features to speak, so he went on.

‘You can’t keep on running,’ he said, a repeat from the previous time we had spoken. ‘Because we can’t stop dreaming, and as long as you dream, you’ll be here, and your powers will make you a target. You need to learn what it is they want from you.’

‘If I do that,’ I said, the words coming out unbidden, ‘I play right into your hands, don’t I?’

He laughed, and the sound went right up to the top of the glade, echoing in the leafy canopy far above our heads. ‘Do you think they didn’t get to you long, long before me?’

‘I am still standing. And you’re warning me. That means that I still have what they want. Something they all want, you said.’

‘I’d definitely want it, if it was something to be had, collected, maybe.’ He shrugged, took a step back, and the world shifted again, this time coming into grey-and-brick urban focus. ‘But no – I’m curious, let’s say. You look like nothing and everything. You look like the faces in an everyday crowd – and yet you look like that planet shining in the night’s sky. I’m curious and, quite frankly, I’m jealous. I’d like to be a planet, too.’

‘Let’s swap, Seth.’

He flinched, and I realised he hadn’t told me his name. And yet, I knew it, very definitely.

‘Let’s swap,’ I repeated. ‘I’ll give you what I have. It must be possible to give it to somebody, surely, or I wouldn’t have been hunted as I have been?’

He had caught his right wrist with his left hand, and rubbed it slowly, along the extensor surface, as if something there ached. He met my gaze once more and there was the slightest trace of amusement in his eyes. ‘I am making guesses… but I think it’s something you could do. I think there is a power you have, that they want you to use on their behalf. I think that’s what they thought to make you do, when they caught you when you were born. Retrospectively. Don’t you think it’s interesting how they did that? But my guess is you still somehow refused them. They couldn’t force you.’

Interesting how they did that. I felt a sudden chill. No, he was wrong. They hadn’t done it. I had. I was the one who had run to South America. I was the one who chose where I went, every time – I was not even born there, so there is no reason why they would have tried to push me there. The timescale was also my doing – I have been doing this in my dreams since I was a kid, after all. 1946 Japan – an old dream, recurring. I felt very, very cold, considering that this was time out of reality.

‘There’s never been a coalition this strong between the two races, you know,’ he said. ‘They clearly really want what you have.’

‘How do you know they are together?’

He frowned. ‘They have the same aim.’

‘That’s a logical fallacy,’ I pointed out. ‘Just because two people are aiming at the same person and using guns does not mean they are working together. Hell, one of them was using a rifle and the other a pistol.’

A strange expression crossed his face before it slipped through the colours. It occurred to me that using imagery randomly in a dream might yield rather interesting results – after all, dreams were the offspring of the imagination’s whims, born from the subconscious: the same place from which random, impulsive imagery came. So was my metaphor somehow the equivalent of a dream itself, since it was made of the same fabric?

I had a vague feeling that somewhere in my recent past, there had been a gun – although I could not recall where. Memory, in dreams, was always hit-or-miss: either you could recall things in them that you couldn’t while you were awake, or you could not recall things that normally you would know off the tip of your tongue.

I didn’t have any difficulty with the rifle, though: one of the things I did often in dreams, other than flying, was sniping – I had been a sniper in more dreams than I could count.

So what did that statement mean? Hell, one of them was using a rifle and the other a pistol. More interestingly – Seth of the blue-and-brown eyes had some inkling as to what this statement meant.

‘Then you’ve got all the more reason to worry,’ he said, his face stoic once again. ‘You’ve got two parties to evade – and you can allow yourself to worry about when they’ll realise they’re after the same thing.’

‘The gun,’ I said. It came back to me, now. It wasn’t in real life that I had encountered a gun – that was in a dream, not so long ago. There had been somebody’s blood. Somebody had been shot in one of my dreams. If it had happened while free-dreaming, I wouldn’t have mentioned it here, since guns and shooting occurred relatively frequently in anybody’s dreams, but it had been in fixed dimensional dreaming. ‘Was that you?’

He blinked, unmistakeably confused. ‘What do you mean?’

I stared at him in silence, thoughts whirling. So much about dreaming was instinctive that I hadn’t really reflected on what I meant to say and why I wanted to say it. But now I realised that although I seemed to have memories of dreams from quite a while ago, and I could recall faintly the green tinge of his colours, I had never actually even really heard him before the dream with the gun – not sufficiently so to recall.

‘Why now?’ I said. ‘Why are you saying this to me now?’

Something about my words had thrown him off. He stood there, the oranges fluctuating slightly and receding, to allow more of the green through, and he didn’t seem quite so feral in that moment. ‘Something about you is different. I thought it was me, but it’s not – it’s you.’ He looked both frustrated, as if this foiled a plan, and keenly curious.

‘You said they’ve already caught me,’ I said, pressing my point. ‘There is no way you could know that if you are not with them, and there is certainly no reason for you to say it to me now that the deed is done.’

He laughed shortly. ‘Do you not understand? You’re still running away. That is the problem. They’re one step ahead of you, because they know what they want, and they’re working on getting their hands on it by making you use it. You believe that the chase is their main endeavour? I am sure they try hard while after you, but of all the times for them to get you, do you not feel it’s too much of a coincidence that it was from your birth?’

‘I refused them,’ I whispered, unable to stop the memories from invading me.

He shook his head. ‘We know that already, you and I. Clearly, you refused and so they still haven’t gotten what they wanted. But this is why you must get to the answer before they get to you – because this is a race against yourself. You can’t stop dreaming, therefore you can’t stop them chasing you, and therefore it’s only a question of time.’

I made to speak, but he leaned forwards again, those mismatched eyes steely and implacable. ‘It’s important. Get to the answer.’

There was only the wind in the glade with me. I blinked and then knelt next to the fountain, desperately wishing the greens were back – the feeling was so strong that eventually I turned and walked into the stone of the fountain, into another dream, to try and find a colour combination that would comfort me.

____

I woke up slowly to the spring dawn, eyes opening reluctantly to the faint light that flooded my comfortably small bedroom. Because my last dream had been about flying, it took me a long time to recall that there had been more going on during the night than simply the pleasure of pacing the air currents.

Orange and blue and green.

I sat bolt upright in the cool morning air, ignoring the protests of my aching body. A dream – I had to remember a dream. I gritted my teeth and tried to bring back the elusive feeling that had made me sit up in bed. Again and again I tried – it was like sweeping your hand through a pond and trying to keep your hand completely full long enough to catch your reflection in it. It kept slipping away from me, and everything I grasped onto seemed to be the wrong thing, for it failed to trigger more than the powerful feeling of déjà vu.

Blue and brown eyes.

I exhaled the breath I had been unwittingly holding, and this time clutched onto the memory and didn’t let go. Slowly, but with the abruptness of a bud opening to flower, the dream returned to me – first the fountain and the sense of the green tones around it, and with it, the knowledge that this was a place I had dreamt of since my childhood.

And then the conversation returned to me. I lay back down onto the bed, arms crossed behind my head, staring up at my ceiling with a frown. Things that made sense in dreams never made sense in the waking world. Two races, he had said. What two races had we been discussing? At the time, the implications had been clear to me, but I seemed to be disconnected from the part of me that had been in the dream and had understood what was going on.

It wasn’t the first time I dreamt of this person. I had never put a name to him, but I realised now that I had sensed this colour combination a lot, in the past – for some reason, it connected with the fountain, a place which I remembered believing, as a child, was an omen that I was about to meet a friend in the waking world. I had been a fanciful child.

I had, however, never spoken to him before – in fact, I hadn’t even known that this colour combination truly was a person. And this brought me on to the subject at hand: Seth with the blue and brown eyes. What really was he? Was this a mere projection of my imagination? If it was, it had just provided me with more answers than I had hoped to find, because that single conversation had brought back huge chunks of information from my past – given that most were about dreams, it was still something to go by.

In fact, now I reflected on it, I had gotten, possibly, too many answers. I felt that there were a lot of things contained within that single conversation, and yet I didn’t know what they were. I had, in short, received answers… but this time without knowing the questions.

And because of the way I had received this information, I could only wonder: was it even real? Or was all of this mere fancy?

It sucked when your only source of information came from a dream.

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