Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wandering the dream fields

Humans have this misconception that the dream fields are called the dream fields because that's where people go when they're dreaming. Not true. People don't go anywhere when dreaming. Except into REM sleep. Believing otherwise is indulgent fantasy.

You're welcome to indulge in indulgent fantasy. Just acknowledge that it is fantasy. It's not real. Which isn't worth getting upset over. Some of the nicest people I know aren't real. Never gets them down.

We call this place the dream fields because it's like someplace you'd go while dreaming. A shifting, changing place. One with its own idea of geography. Encompassing most of the Twilight Lands. If it isn't dream fields or Far Reaches, then it's probably got Old Ones settled there to keep it steady.

Thinking about places keeps them constant. They can't wander off or be swallowed by the dream fields because they haven't been forgotten. Forgotten places are especially at risk of becoming somewhere else.

But the dream fields aren't easy to navigate. You don't navigate them. Not really. They move. You just walk. Turn one way or the other according to the compass. I always end up where I'm going. It's just not always where I thought I wanted to be.

"So this is where people come when they're dreaming?" Maria asks.

You see? This is why I tell you these things. So you know better.

"No," Dante says. "It's just what some call them. Because they're fluid, like places in dreams."

She gives the rippling grass a critical look. "So this isn't where you come when you're asleep."

"Not unless you're sleepwalking," I say.

"Where I'm from," Dante continues, "we call them the Shifting Plains."

The blue-green blades stretch out around us. Typical dream fields. A lot of it is waist-high grass. Sometimes. Other times it's snowy hinterlands. Desert wastelands. Sometimes just color-flecked darkness. You know. Not grass.

Maria looks from him to me. "So you're from different countries?"

Goggles fixing on me, Dante waits for my response. I'm not sure if he even knows what a country is. We don't have them. We have borders between our area and the Far Reaches. But we aren't countries. Not really even dominions. We're territories. Maybe. Mostly just Here and Over There.

We know if someone is from Here or Over There. It means a lot. Probably as much as it means to be from one of your countries. Maybe more.

But when humans look at us, they can't really tell the difference between someone like Dante and someone like me. You're probably more confused because I've mentioned part of Dante is like part of me. Probably shouldn't have told you. Those of us from Here don’t like to talk about those from Over There.

Maria doesn't know that. Or the difference between Here and Over There. How can she? But she'll have to learn to stay Here. Not go Over There. It's not a spatial mistake she wants to make being Not Quite Right like she is. We won't really want her around, but Dante's less tolerant neighbors would want her destroyed.

"I mean." She plays with her hair. Tries to fill the silence. "You said I was one of his."

"No," I say. "You're not one of mine. You might have been one of the partyers. Once. I don't think you belong to anyone now."

She seems to find this comforting. I can't imagine why.

"I meant you aren't from here," Dante says.

She glances at me. "He looks like he's from here."

"I'm not. No one is from the dream fields," I say. "We should keep walking."

We should. The ground shifts beneath our feet. Rippling the grass with pent-up waves of their desire to change. Perpetual motion. Things that stay in one place too long get swallowed. Transmuted.

"Hey." Dante puts a hand on my sleeve. "You know what I meant."

Usually I don't mind him. He doesn't disrupt the music. His touch is like what a touch is to your kind. Just a touch. Even now, it's not the physical connection I mind. It's that he’s doing it to force my focus on him. Not good. I need to focus on where we're trying to go.

"Not now." I point to the compass. "Busy."

Its needle swings away from NOT THERE to THERE. Not helpful. At least it's staying away from NOWHERE. I try turning to my left. Then my other left. Can't get a read on which way to walk. The compass stubbornly refuses to indicate HERE.

"You're cranky," Dante says. "Not just from hunger."

"She shouldn't be here," I reply. "The dream fields aren't safe for humans."

"You need to stop acting like she has a choice."

Easy for him to say. He never tricked a shiny young fragment into crossing the veil between our world and yours. He never watched humanity slip away from someone he knew. This place and what keeps you part of it changes your people into people like me. Sort of. I was born here. But there are those who weren't. Like Avalon.

He may be more like Dante than like me, but I still know Avalon changed. Maybe not as big a change as some of the others. But any change brings differences from before.

Dante reaches for me again. "C'mon, Ethanael, don't be like this."

I dodge. Ignore him and the way my full name races over synapses. Tries to command my attention to him. Instead, I listen to my thoughts. Avalon is a reoccurring riff. His name plays more frequently than usual. When he domineers the melody, it means…something. Last time it happened it meant trouble.

But if there was trouble with Avalon, I would hear it. I've spent enough time around him to know what his music between the notes sounds like. Silent harmonies. Particular pauses. I always know it's him. Maybe not what he's going to do. Just that he'll do something.

But I can't think about Avalon. Not when I'm trying to get us to Vancouver.

"She's staying," Dante says, quietly. "Just like the rest of you. At least until someone finds a cure."

A cure. Like what I am is some kind of disease. Like meds could quiet the music. Make me human. But I was never like one of you. Never part of your world. I've always belonged to this one.

"A cure wouldn't get rid of me," I say. With a smile. Like it's all for fun. "Face it, cousin. You're stuck with me."

"Hey." Maria is watching us. "You said 'Vancouver,' right?"

We look at each other then nod at her.

"But isn't that one of the cities that vanished before the Second Dark Age?" she asks.

I nod. She's a bit slow.

"So this isn't the place you go when you're dreaming," she says. "It's the place you go when you vanish."

Not exactly. You can vanish in a few other ways that have nothing to do with this place. Most of them involve being dead. We aren't dead. Well, not yet anyway. Our status could easily change if we keep standing around.

Dante looks like he might correct her, but the rumbling of the grass silences him. Change is congealing into a dense focal point that's rolling through this part of the fields. Grass curves and twists around it as it advances. We can't see beyond. All we see is being swallowed by Not Grass in the spherical shape of star-flecked darkness.

"What in the Abyss." Maria points. "Is that?"

"Hard to say," I admit. "Don't think it's made that decision yet."

"Ethan." Dante's voice sounds anxious. "Direction would be good right about now."

Instruction, his worried tone implies, would be even better. Holder of the compass does the leading through the fields. It's an unspoken rule.

I move the compass around a bit. The needle swings toward HERE. When I look up, the change is advancing on us. In other words, the way to Vancouver is to do nothing. Great. Dante and I are resilient enough to withstand a rolling change, but what about Maria? She doesn't belong to anyone—or anything.

That's exactly the kind of abandonment that gets things swallowed up by the fields.


stormywriting said...

Favorite so far. I love the dream fields... though I'm perfectly happy to be on this side of them.

L T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth M. Thurmond said...

Where can I get one of those compasses? It sounds very handy.

John Evans said...

"Wherever you go, there you are."
--the great philosopher Buckaroo Banzai

Chandra Rooney said...

Wow, E, two weeks in a row now. You're being dangerously consistent. ;)