“You’ve seen them, haven’t you?” It was not a question, though it was phrased as one for reasons that baffled him. Sitting there, in that hotel room, ornate to the point of being creepy, the ruffled curtains, the gilt edges of the table. He didn’t know who he was supposed to have seen and was about to say as much, when the words caught in his throat, threatening to cut it.
The old man sitting across from him had called him here, though for what purpose he could not begin to fathom. Was it simply to ask him if he’d seen “them,” whoever they were? Whatever the old boy was he was no fool, and he had the face of one unaccustomed to being wrong or dismissed. When he spoke again, perhaps sensing his companion’s confusion, it was with a sadness the younger man could not place.
“If I wanted to tell you a story, would you listen? Even if you didn’t understand what I was talking about?” The younger man said nothing. The older man continued.
“What if this were not happening here at all, but someplace else? Would you see them then? Oh, it doesn’t matter you understand,” leaning now towards the younger man, his breath a wisp of mint and loose tobacco, “that is clear to you, isn’t it? The fact that it is of no consequence at all, I mean?” He clapped his hands in his lap and stood. “We are here, after all. We are not in Mozambique, Granada or even Albuquerque! No,” now inches from the younger man’s face, “we are right here. In this room. And I would like the truth.”
The younger man could do nothing but frown, shaking his head. He had met the old man only once before, at Sam’s Place, a bar near the old trainline. He had never understood a single word the old man had spoken to him, did not even know his name, but he sensed that there was something buried deep in his elderly soul that needed airing, and by the look of him he was not long for this world. How he could afford a suite of this size, of this quality, in one of the few hotels left in this part of the country was beyond the younger man’s comprehension.
“You have called me here for this? Only this?” he asked, finally, hoping the older man would understand, but suspecting that he would not. The older man was silent, staring at him intently now. There was no light on in this room--it was daytime, there was no need of a light--and yet, as if someone had flicked a hidden switch, the room became as dark as pitch.
Far from earth, a female figure opened her eyes. She was not human, had never been human and would not want to be human. She found them vaguely distasteful, a barbarous species in so many ways. Yet, she loved them--all of them. She loved all of the myriad species she gave dreams to, in fact. She did not like dreams like the one she had just encountered, but she had no choice in what came to her from the place beyond the sky. The elderly man seemed too aggressive, the surroundings too gaudy, the younger man a half-drawn construct. Was the older man merely an aspect of his younger companion? Or vice versa? Such symbolism tired her, and yet her own sleep was not a consideration.
She had encountered neither of these men before that she could remember, though she had conducted this process many times--it was what her kind did. All they did. There were so many creatures in the galaxy, sentient and non-sentient alike, and all of them needed to dream. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but it didn’t matter. That was not the concern of her kind.
Her kind were conduits, nothing more. She herself had allowed dreams to flow to many species, some of them like the humans, some as different from them as a grain of sand is from a scream. She had access to the subconscious minds of uncountable trillions, and on the rare occasion she stopped to think of this she longed for what the older ones called The Last Dream or The Travelling. That dream was a gift for the conduits themselves, and they would never awaken from it. It scared her, but it was supposed to be beautiful.
She knew little of the species she gave dreams to, but she knew something of humans. Several of her encounters with their dreams stood out in her mind, for reasons she did not know. One she remembered was the teenaged boy who had the same dream for years, trapped in a building from a memory earlier in his childhood, desperately trying to save a girl that he loved from monsters. He never escaped and never found the girl, yet the monsters never killed them--the dream had simply ended, every time, for reasons she did not understand.
She rose from her dais, the utter blankness of her surroundings soothing. Let them go. She had to let them go. The dreams she gave to people were fleeting, it served no one to remember them, they were not hers. The child she remembered had grown into a man, yet it had seemed like a fairy tale to her--a story as made up as those she occasionally passed to others. Sometimes these stories would be written down, sometimes the ones writing them believing they were meaningful, sometimes believing that their dreams were not dreams at all, that they were messages from a deity.
She would think no more of this. She did not know where the dreams came from any more than those who dreamed them did. If there was a deity, a being that controlled the universe, perhaps even realms beyond the ones she knew, it was of no consequence. All she knew was that the dreams came through her, as they had those before her. She had companions in this place, but none of them would know what was beyond the sky, and it would do no good to ask them even if she could.
She looked to the rows of those like herself and wondered where the dreams came from.
“They stand in lines!” The old man was on his feet, shouting now. “Lines, do you hear me, boy? Where do you think Shakespeare found his Ophelia, his Romeo, his Banquo? Down the back of a sofa?!”
The younger man sat very still. He knew of Shakespeare of course, from his days at college.
“And then, they wake up and Hamlet goes crazy!” the old man shouted, laughing and sitting back down in his ornate chair, behind the ornate table that he shared with the younger man, in an ornate hotel room on the edge of nowhere, near a trainline to somewhere else.
“What do they look like?” the younger man asked. He wasn’t sure he should be encouraging this behaviour in his aged companion, but he wanted to know. Needed to know. The knowledge was important somehow, vital in a way nothing in his life had been up to that point, but he couldn’t so much as guess at why.
The old man was calmer now, sweating, his breathing heavy, his eyes half closed. He placed one ancient hand on the table before him and smiled. “They’re beautiful. They look as much like the stars as we do,” he said.
She felt the dream stop and turned in alarm. Something had changed. The light had not gone out this time, why was that? The light always went out when the dreams had finished, and how was she seeing one when not in her place? She looked to the nearest of her kin, a face she had known for longer than she knew, twitching as innumerable visions flowed through him. Were they nightmares? She wanted to reach out and touch his face, to comfort him, but knew that she could not. It was impossible. She should get back to her dais and yet…there was something else here. And someone else, too. Another was conscious, and if two of them were here then she felt it might be dangerous, though she knew not how. Had her own dream begun, perhaps? She hoped it had not, there was still so much to do, though at the same time she was curious--what would she see?
The young man was confused. “Like stars,” he began, faltering. “But we don’t look like stars...”
“No?!” said the old man, sharply. “And how would you know that?! Have you held one in your hand? Warmed yourself in its glow on frozen November nights, only to awaken and see it back in the sky where it belongs? No,” he said wearily, “I thought that you had not…” the old man’s voice trailed off and the lights in the room dimmed. “Ah!” he said, another smile on his lips. “I think they are awake!”
She started, a surge flowing through her body and mind like a wind made of light. Could it be, somehow, that the dream was about her? About this place? That had never happened before as far as she knew, but perhaps the older ones had just never told her. She held out her hand to explore the air in front of her. Yes, there was something there. It was cold and hard like a surface, but she could see nothing. She saw the other of her kind that was conscious, and he smiled at her with beauty enough to make tears spring unbidden to her eyes.
“Go,” he said. “I will remain here for a while, then someone else will come.” She understood these words and nodded, though she could not give words to her own thoughts--that was not what her kind did, after all. And yet this one was conscious, just as she was, and had spoken to her. Was this one special? Was she? Were there those that awoke intermittently, just as she had, the dreams of billions in full flow, to watch over those who worked? She did not know. Could not know--it was forbidden for her to know such things, she felt this instinctively. Returning to her place, she blinked then closed her eyes and, as she did so, uncountable parsecs away on a blue green world, a young boy awoke to meet the dawn.
Peter J. Kenvin is an English, philosophy, religious studies and computer science graduate, living with his mother and 7 cats in South East Wales in the UK. He has been published previously in The Pilgrim magazine, a literature and culture magazine run by Tomas Stanger in Newport, South East Wales, and has published reviews for Mythaxis magazine, run by Daniel White, an American living in Taiwan. Encounters is his first published work for Moonchild.
Uncovered logs from the distant past and the future beyond.