I’ve mentioned before that I write fiction as a hobby. It’s extremely, extremely rare that I ever share anything I have written. Actually, it’s rare that I ever even finish anything. However, I recently came across an old writing backup from several hard drives ago, and since I have long since lost the inspiration to continue it, I figured I could at least post it here.
This is the introduction and a single short story from an intended anthology of short stories. I only vaguely remember writing it, but I believe each short story was to be inspired by a dream I had had, and that the collection itself was a fictional “journal” written by some anonymous dreamer (who also served as a narrator). I feel my writing has grown since I wrote this, as have I, but it still sort of chilled me in how much of myself I put in it.
Anyway, it’s almost 5000 words already, so I’ll not lengthen it anymore here.
Conventional wisdom dictates that we all have but one life to live. One of our great tragedies is that, in the time which is allotted us, no single soul could ever have the opportunity to see all which the world has to offer. It is simply too large a place for one set of eyes to cover, and that one set of eyes can only see what they see from their own perspective. Furthermore, we are each bound by time. We only know what came before us based upon what we have been told, and we can only but guess what will come afterward based upon that which we have ourselves experienced.
Man is, therefore, an eternal slave to three great powers: the vastness of geography, the vastness of people, and the vastness of time. Each of us is limited by these three factors, both in what we can experience, and in what we can know. A curious species, we each speculate at what might lie beyond those borders set for us, but ultimately, there is no escaping this pure conjecture.
The earth which we call home is 197 million square miles. Of this, about 71% is buried by seas, oceans, rivers, lakes, and all manner of other blue pools. Even if we disregard the mysteries of the deep, that still leaves just over 57 million square miles of land. Even if we assume that a single, dedicated person may conceivably see every corner of this in a lifetime, there would be not a single moment to spare. It would be as flipping through a photo album: snapshot after snapshot, but what has been experienced? In reality, it takes a lifetime just to observe a single place, and even then it is all for naught when one’s time is done.
But what of the dreamer? Does not the dreamer live a thousand thousand lives? Does she not travel well beyond where she would otherwise be capable of? Can she not see from the eyes of another? Is she not able to see what has come before, and what might come after? Conjecture again, perhaps, but of an utterly different flavor.
Theories abound as to what exactly constitutes the nebulous nature of our dreams. They have pervaded all aspects of our cultural life. Dreams have been a cornerstone of all walks of spiritual life. They have been the stories behind our songs, and the songs behind our stories. Poets dream, conquerors dream. We cherish them, and we fear them. We cannot escape the influence of dreams, either privately or publically, and yet we know so little about them.
Shakespeare once wrote “to sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.” Sleep, ever seen as the threshold of death, was something to be feared. Yet as Shakespeare points out, though the risk of sleep is a descent into death, the reward is passage into the dream world. What exactly we might see, and what exactly we might feel, is unknown; yet the chance to walk through those doors of infinite possibility, no matter how briefly, is as great as death is terrible. These are the only ways in which we might reach beyond our mortal limitations.
I myself cannot hope to answer any of the infinite questions which dreams present us. I can only offer an account of that which I have seen.
I am a lifelong dreamer. I have been fascinated by my dreams from a very young age, and from the earliest days I have actively sought to improve the means by which I dream. One might ask how a person can possibly better their dreaming, to which I might offer many answers. It has been my experience, however, that the single best method is the keeping of a journal.
No matter how clearly we might dream, as soon as we open our eyes the experience begins to deteriorate. Colors are less vibrant, sounds are far muddier, and the details quickly slip away. This cannot be allowed to happen, as our memories are as integral to the dreaming process as the dreams themselves. To know what is seen, we must take note of what has already been seen. Nothing commits a moment to memory better than making written note of it. Thus, I keep logs of all my dreams immediately upon waking.
As such, I can remember dreams I had decades ago as vividly as one I had last week. I can remember how they felt, how they sounded, and even how they smelled. I have been fortunate to have lived many dream lives in my time, no matter how brief, and in keeping a journal I can remember the eyes with which I lived those lives. Yet as I flip through the yellowed pages, I have come to a striking realization: these written memories are of no value to me alone.
I love when my parents read to me, but I hate the beeping. But I’m not supposed to say “hate,” so I really, really, really, really strongly dislike it. But I love the stories.
It seems like there is always either beeping or stories, and a lot of times there are both. I do other things, too. Sometimes, I get to watch TV. Bugs Bunny has always been my favorite, but I like the animal channel, too. I like watching them in the jungles, and hearing the man tell their stories.
I’ve tried drawing and painting and coloring, but I’m just not very good at them. I see how my parents do it, or sometimes other old people, and theirs always look so pretty. Mine don’t. It makes me mad. I can see what I want it to look like in my head, but it always gets stuck somewhere when I try to put it on paper.
I remember one time, my dad read me this story about a pirate ship. They sailed and sailed and went wherever they wanted to. They went all over the ocean, to treasure islands and other places that weren’t on a map. I decided that I would like that very much, so I decided to go on an adventure of my own! That way, I would be able to get away from the sad beeping room and I would be able to have a story, too.
Of course, the first thing you need to have an adventure is a good boat. I asked my dad, and then my mom, but neither of them had a boat I could use. They just looked really sad at me. I didn’t think about it, but they would probably miss me while I was on my adventure. I promised I would come back, but that just make it worse. Mom started crying, even. That made me sad, so I gave up on the adventure that day.
A few days later, I came up with a solution to my boat problem. I would just have to go find one! I couldn’t bear to tell my parents, but like I said I would come back. Everything was going to be OK.
Now, I had already looked all over the house, and I never found a good boat. That meant I would have to go outside to find it. Now, I had never been outside before, so thinking about it was a little scary. I didn’t know what I would find out there…
But I sure hoped it was a boat!
You know, it really wasn’t that hard getting out there. Not as hard as I expected, anyway. I couldn’t use a door, but there was a window in the basement that I just knew I could crawl out of. I had to stack a bunch of stuff to get to it, but thankfully it was just clothes and stuff, so it was soft.
Anyway, I made it out, and my adventure had truly begun! It was so bright outside. The grass was so very green, and the sky was so very blue. I had never before seen such a beautiful place.
I didn’t want to forget any bit of my adventure, so I decided to write them down. My favorite moments were when my parents read me stories, and now other people would be able to have their parents read them my story! The whole thing made me so excited, I couldn’t wait to get started.
Here is my adventure as I saw it. I hope you like it!
It was upon the start of my journey that I noticed the most curious of things: there was a path, a road of sorts laid out before me. Flat, rough-hewn stone slabs were lined up, one behind the other, along a winding path which stretched out into an unknown expanse. I will admit that I was seized with a feeling of trepidation as I stepped out onto that first flag. This was utterly unknown territory. Not only had I myself never been here before, but I could not even confirm that another living soul had yet passed this way in a very long time. The path I was taking was the only blemish upon an otherwise untouched nature, and even it had a whiff of the ethereal.
Yet I clutched hard at my chest, and took yet another step. It was not so bad, and the next was easier still. Before I knew it, I had well rid myself of that threshold. Where exactly I was headed, I could not say, but everything within me said that I would find the object of my desires by journey’s end.
I soon became unconscious of my surroundings. I don’t know how long I had been travelling before I became aware of this fact, but by the time I did there was no sight of that first path I had taken. I was now at the bank of a wild river, whose current made crossing quite impossible. I was now having some difficulty remembering why I had ever left the comfort of home in the first place, but I had the strangest feeling that it had something to do with water. How fortuitous, then that I should find myself here at the bank of this great river.
I wandered along the edge of that meandering stream in search of whatever it was that I was in search of. With time, its flow slowed to a more manageable pace; its roar faded into a melody of a much more pleasant nature. Just as the waterway below me gave way to a new and beautiful sort of serenity, that which hovered above became all the more black and sinister. Storm clouds, heretofore unnoticed, had spread out over the once azure sky like a virus, sucking from it all the magnificent hope it had once offered. Granted, neither thunder could be heard nor lightning seen, but the presence of the great, dark clouds were nonetheless ominous. Perhaps, though, they would pass in time. A bit further down the trail, they may only be the whisper of an unsettling memory.
It was within minutes that I discovered that which the clouds were a portent of. Contrary to the what logic had dictated I should expect, the weather remained static. Neither rain nor wind cut across my face; rather, it was the howling and barking of a pack of great hounds which rang through my ears. The blood from my heart turned to ice in my veins: I knew the beasts from whence those bellows came. In another life I had been warned of their ilk, and told of their meaning. These were the guardians and messengers of death. From Baskerville came these Cerberi, from Hades these hellhounds. For me, such frightening tales were once a source of great excitement, for to fear was to be alive. It was only now that I realized how foolish I had been. Without the excitement, all that was left was fear of death.
There was no time to consider my options when I heard them closing hard on my trail. Across the water I spotted a thicket of brush and briars, which looked to be the entrance of something even more tangled and foreboding. I knew not what lay before me, but what lay behind me was a death I did not want to face. With my right foot I took a step into the river, and then another with my left, and the next was easier still.
As I crossed through the outer perimeter of the wall of branches, I looked back across the water. There stood one of the hounds, silently pacing the shore opposite. When it noticed I had stopped to look back, it ceased its padding. Its ruby eyes peered right into mine, the black flame within them seething with hate. I had outrun it this time, but I must never again look into those evil eyes; twice more, and my death would become an inevitability.
As I turned my back to stumble through the brush, the fiend loosed an abyssal howl fit enough to crush a weaker soul. Its next quarry would not escape so easily.
Save for the affair with my demonic pursuers, the road ‘til now had been relatively easy. Such was not the case in this new landscape. Whether I was in a dense forest of trees, or a single organism of bark and bough, I cannot say, nor can I do justice in detailing its unnerving beauty. Great roots rose from the earth like the fingers of the dead, grabbing my legs and pulling me to the ground at every turn. The leaf-shod limbs were so tightly woven that specks of daylight were just able to peek through here and there, and were so low hanging in places that I was forced, at times, to crawl about on all fours. It seemed that my relief at having evaded death was premature; I surely would not be so fortunate a second time.
Yet as I clawed my way through the overgrowth, I came to see the beauty in its limitless germination. Above me, the old life lingered at the height of its glory, while fresh sprouts rose with great promise below. Somehow I felt calmer, happier, and more comfortable than I had in a long while. Death nipped ever at my heels, but should I have to give myself over to its cold embrace, this place was as good as any, and likely better than most.
Though it was difficult to discern bush from arbor, I stumbled upon what was inarguably the largest tree I had yet laid eyes on. Crawling up to its base, I rested my head upon one of its roots, and closed my eyes. I cannot recall a time I was ever more at peace than when I was lying on that soft, dewy earth.
Yet my final moment, it seems, had still not come. Though I do believe I drifted towards the next plane while resting beneath that great tree, I was brought gently back by an insufferable tickling of my nose. Groggily, I opened my eyes once more, only to see what appeared to be a butterfly standing easily upon my snout. Its wings, slowly flapping with no lack of grace, were a luminous green and gold. I stared at it for a minute or two while my vision again came into focus, though what I saw once my sight was restored to me continues to shock me even to this day.
Clearing my throat, the diminutive thing backed quickly from my face. It was only then that I was able to see that what hovered before me was, in fact, no common butterfly. Rather than the body of an insect, it had the figure of a human, albeit far smaller, far more slender, and far more blue of skin. She was dressed in the finest gossamer gown, and adorned with gems of dew. As she stared at my eyes, I stared at hers, all the while a tiny smile creeping across her face. Her hand beckoned me, motioning me towards her as she drifted lazily away.
I could scarcely believe my eyes, but I could not let this opportunity pass. Where the faerie would lead me, I could not say, but I craved to know. I soon forgot the comfort of my near-death as I scrambled after her through that dark and wonderful place. Yet no matter how I tried, no matter how much effort I mustered, I could not reach her. Ever she would look back at me and smile, beckoning me forward, yet never once was I so close to her as I had been in sleep.
Dirt and growth alike were trampled underfoot in pursuit of the faerie, but unfortunately she eventually disappeared before my very eyes. To let such beauty slip through my fingers was, suffice it to say, disappointing. I do thank her, however, for getting me back on track so far as my adventure was concerned, though I must admit that I had quite forgotten at this point the purpose that it had had from the onset. Perhaps she knew better than I, and that is why I found myself standing before an ancient little house. It was a derelict reminder of a life another from days long past, standing at the border of the brush and the river. It was the crossroads to nowhere, and it felt strange to again look upon the waters I had thought to have long since left behind.
With no dearth of wood in the surrounding area, it was no surprise to find the little shack to be of all wood construction. What was surprising, however, was that it was still standing despite being made entirely of this impermanent material. Moss crept up its foundation while ivy sought out any gap it could find in its boarded flanks, and the whole thing stood close enough to the running water that it could certainly never have been totally dry at any given moment. Yet here it was, a testament to something I did not understand.
Curiosity gripped me as I approached the door. It appeared to be a one room affair, which would date it several generations before I ever drew first breath. What was its story? If people have stories, cannot also places? I seemed to recall having heard a few tales about little houses in the woods, much like this one. I chuckled at the prospect of finding a full-fledged witch inside…until I remembered the little faerie that had led me here.
The door handle was solid iron, only lightly patched with rust. It was cold to the touch as I grasped it and yanked hard. I am not quite sure what I expected to find there: if you came upon a house in the woods, what would you expect to find there?
As I had guessed, it was indeed a single-room dwelling. No ornamentation lined its walls; no furniture cluttered its floors. It was almost totally empty, save the slowly fading signs that there had once been life here. There were faint impressions of footprints embedded in its dirt floor, and the walls still wore a deep red hue, chipped but intact. Though I had not espied the chimney from the outside, a stone fireplace sat in the wall opposite the door. It was an unduly basic affair, with rough stone and slipshod mortar work, yet I somehow found myself drawn to it. Inadvertently shutting the door as I stepped inside, I walked over and sat down before it. I imagined many others before me had done the same at some point.
As I stared into the blackened stone, it was not difficult to imagine a warm fire in place of the cold ashes. It would have easily lit the entire room, filling it with life. Though a modest dwelling, I could imagine this as having once been the province of a small family. I suppose it would have more likely belonged to a single, lonely hermit, but that is not the story as I imagined it. Looking around, I could see the bed where mom and dad slept while the little one joined them at the foot.
Of course, the parents had already risen hours before, and were busy with their daily routines. Being so far removed from civilization, I didn’t think that those routines would have been so burdensome. Mother was sitting in her favorite chair, rocking and humming gently, while father sat on the outside bank, his bare feet dipped in the running waters. By the time the little one got up, they would all three be sitting there, fishing and laughing and telling stories. Some days there would be a catch, and some days not, but they never wanted for anything. Not while they had each other.
The little one thought those days would never end, while mom and dad knew the bitter truth. That house could not hold them all forever: they would all have to leave that enchanted place one day, and parents and child must then part ways.
For years they lived in that little house and told each other stories, until one day the dreaded time came. With a head full of fairy tales, the little one decided to leave that place in search of adventure. There were no goodbyes; the parents didn’t even know until long after the fact. A day never went by that they didn’t all miss those earlier days, but that little house was just too small for them all.
A chill ran across me when I realized that I was sitting before that place of dead embers. It was almost certain that nothing of the sort had ever happened here; far more likely that this house’s actual tale was far more pedestrian. It was, after all, such a lonely little place. So very, very lonely…
I had never felt so lonely as I did in that moment in the ramshackle cottage. Why had I come here? What was I doing with myself? It wasn’t that I was unhappy; rather, it was the total lack of emotion which startled me. I remembered times of happiness, and times of sorrow. My life had always been one of the two sides of that coin. But here, now, there was simply nothing.
I was stumbling through the dark, alone, for reasons unknown to even myself. How could I press on with no real goals in sight? I had thought of staying a while in that place so that I might rest my weary feet, but I would surely die if I stayed there any longer.
I missed my own parents. I don’t think I would have ever realized this fact had the faerie not led me to the little home that was, and though it was a painful epiphany, it was one which I was thankful for. I wished they could have been there with me, on my adventure, to see all the wonderful and terrible things I had seen. They had taken me on so many adventures before, and now I wanted to return the favor. I would find my way back to them, and tell them this little story of my own, and it would make them as happy as their stories had always made me.
I didn’t just walk from that little house: I ran. I ran with all the force I could muster, and for as long as I could. I ran out of the brush and past the river, I ran until everything on all sides was simply a blur. The storm clouds returned overhead with renewed vigor, swirling and tumbling over one another with grim intent. As I stopped for a moment to catch my breath, I noticed how sharply the temperature had risen, and how surely the wind had died. The world about me was filled with foreboding.
My musings were cut short by the dim sounds of rolling thunder. Scanning the horizon, I saw flashes of lightning in the distance. Despite my fear it was somehow…beautiful. I was held in trance by it—the harbinger of my own sure demise. I stood in that field paralyzed as I watched the storm’s slow, sure approach. The flashes grew brighter and more frequent as the moments passed, and the thunder barked all the more viciously.
Knowing that my imminent death was approaching had never made me feel more alive, which in itself was an utterly alien emotion. I had spent my whole life afraid of death, and had exerted all my will in escaping it. Now I saw how very fruitless that endeavor had really been. I came to realize that when the reaper really wanted to take me, he would. I had only escaped the hound of Death because it had let me, and only averted giving up in the brush because Death had awoken me. Death reminded me of what it was to live when it took me to that ramshackle homestead. And now I was again totally subject to its whims. This realization brought to me a comfort which can only come when one realizes how utterly small and powerless they really are.
Just as my existential crisis reached its crescendo, I heard what sounded to be the squawks and screeches of an exceptionally large flock of birds. Looking up at the tempest in the sky, I saw them in their magnificence and laughed. My time had still not come, as what happened next could only be described as a divine sign, a promise from providence.
It wasn’t just a large flock that flew overhead, but a legion of thousands upon thousands of massive blue birds. Their sapphire feathers shone with the hue which the black clouds had stolen from the sky; each flash of lightning only further highlighted their brilliance. There were so many flapping beasts up there, flying past and over and under one another, shining with a nearly-metallic quality, that they appeared to be a mirror of the Earth’s oceans below.
As I watched wave upon wave of them crashing upon one another to the steady roll of growing thunder, I had a thought. Never once had I heard of a phenomenon quite like this. This was something—a single, beautiful thing—which was wholly my own. I just—
Someone far, far away called my name. It shot through me like a sudden migraine. I looked up at the storm above—
My name again. It was closer, more desperate than the time before. And it was joined by a second voice. I—
Mom and Dad were calling me. The pretty birds were still singing, but when I turned around and saw my parents I became so sad. I loved them, and I wanted to see them, and I wanted to show them my discovery. It’s what I wanted most of all. But I was sad, because I knew they wouldn’t see it like I saw it.
They were the ones that told me the stories. When I was sad, when I was in the beeping room, they took me away on wonderful adventures. I saw what they told me, but they never saw what I told them. Sometimes they pretended, but I could tell. They were lying to me; not in a mean way, but they were lying. I could see in the looks they gave each other when I tried to convince them. They looked sad when they looked at each other, even when they tried to smile for me.
They ran across the porch towards me, tears streaming down their faces. I had never seen them cry so much. When they got to me and hugged me, it scared me. They were so sad, or maybe scared, or maybe both. I hugged them back, but they kept crying anyway.
When I was sad, they told me stories, so I thought that maybe they would be happier if they heard mine. So I told them everything, from the evil dog to the little faerie to the tiny house I found. They looked at each other while I told them their story, and it was clear that they were just as worried as they were before. It was breaking my heart. I started to stumble through the end of my story, and I forgot really what happened next.
Finally, it came to me. “Birds! Birds!” I shouted, pointing my finger at the sky. For a moment, they looked away from me and from each other and looked up. I knew they wouldn’t see them, but maybe—
“Oh, wow,” gasped my mom.
“It’s so…beautiful,” said my dad.
We laid down on the grass and looked up. My mom was on my left, and my dad was on my right. They never looked away from that sky as they laughed, holding me tight. I looked over at their lightning-lit faces and saw them smile for the first time. I smiled, too.