An early draft of this story started with the question ‘Where does anything really begin?’ This weeks chapter offers at least one suggestion. It’s a longer read than in recent weeks, but there is quite a lot going on! Enjoy.
Chapter 84 – Origin
Blown like thistledown by the dream-winds Tim sensed Asklepios’ location in the blustering blue-grey clouds as nothing more than a sense of rightness in one direction more than any other. He swept closer, Mrs Woosencraft a growing weight on his back. When they had set out she had been no burden beyond a slight inertia, the further they travelled the greater her weight had grown.
Asklepios resolved into the same pinpoint of blue-white light Tim had seen on the beach during his first dream-flight. His light rose to meet them, hung steady then plummeted like a falling stone. Tim dropped down after it and broke free of the mists. Above him stars glittered in a moonless sky, far below a double-walled city stood beside a broad river on a winding plain, the very place he had brought Asklepios. Free of the mists that had plagued him on his first journey Tim saw the city was on a grand scale with wide, brick-paved avenues, two and three story buildings, and towering stepped temples. Temples were everywhere.
Asklepios’ soul light glowed inside a room at the base of one of several buildings around a plaza. To the west a bridge with a dozen arches spanned a wide energetic river. Immediately to the north an enormous stepped pyramid thrust into the sky.
With no sense of transition they were inside the room beside Asklepios’ sleeping form. Mrs Woosencraft dropped from Tim’s back though her weight, the effort of carrying her, did not. She looked around in wonder, especially at the table.
Tim reached for Asklepios’ hand and drew him out.
Asklepios and Mrs Woosencraft’s spirits recognised each other immediately.
Asklepios thrust out his splayed hand. ‘Servant of Bez! Begone from this dream. I cast thee out!’
‘You can talk, interfering meddler. I’m glad to finally clap my eyes on you.’
‘You know each other?’ Tim was dismayed at their mutual hostility.
‘She is the root of all my troubles,’ Asklepios said.
‘He broke my teapot.’
Tim clutched his head. ‘What?’
‘Remember the bee and the glue? That was this idiot,’ Mrs Woosencraft said.
‘I was helping Tim,’ Asklepios said with affronted dignity.
Mrs Woosencraft looked at the two men in sheer amazement. ‘You two were working together?’
Asklepios bowed serenely. ‘Indeed we were.’
‘Foxy was plagued by cats,’ Tim said. ‘I didn’t know it was you.’
‘Oh–!’ Mrs Woosencraft clenched her fists, opened her mouth and struggled to find the right words. ‘Just forget it. Water under the bridge.’
‘A gracious offer I gladly accept.’ Asklepios turned eagerly to Tim. ‘Have you come to take me home?’
‘This isn’t it?’
Mrs Woosencraft cleared her throat. ‘I can only apologise.’
‘All right, we’ve been working at cross-purposes, but I can put things right,’ Tim said. ’Asklepios, I can take you home but I’m not strong enough to carry you both.’
‘Leave me here,’ Mrs Woosencraft said without hesitation. ‘It’s the simplest way.’
‘I’ve only done this once before. It’s not easy–’
‘Nothing worth doing ever is.’
‘If something wakes me up–’
Mrs Woosencraft folded her arms. ‘I’ll take my chances. You and Foxy, you’ve made it all worthwhile, see? I want to look around. Especially at that table.’
Reluctantly Tim agreed. If he did wake then she could end up marooned here like Asklepios. ‘I’ll be as quick as I can.’
‘I’ll be fine, bachgen.’
‘The people here have been kind to me. I would like to say goodbye,’ Asklepios said.
Tim opened the door and saw a shaven-headed man with a long, plaited beard dozing at a table. He was neither fully asleep nor awake. Tim tried to draw him out and to his surprise the man’s spirit emerged and stood in front of them.
‘This is Banipal, the man who saved me.’ Asklepios raised his hand and Banipal returned the gesture.
‘Goodbye, my friend. May your gods bless you,’ Asklepios said but Banipal gave no sign he understood.
‘He’s in his own dream, he cannot hear you,’ Tim said.
Asklepios accepted the fact calmly. ‘I shall miss him.’
‘Are you ready?’
‘To go home?’ Asklepios beamed with pleasure. ‘Always.’
He was not as heavy as Mrs Woosencraft but heavy enough. In a trice they were high above the city, then higher still. Asklepios cried out and clung on. Mist enfolded them and he relaxed.
‘I see you wear my pendant.’
‘I had to use the last charge.’
Asklepios’ disappointment was palpable.
‘It helped save people’s lives.’
‘Then I am glad.’ Asklepios became thoughtful. ‘Now it is uncharged please be careful when you remove it.’
‘What will happen?’
‘I have no idea.’
Tim smiled to himself. ‘I’m going to miss you, Asklepios.’
‘And I, you. In the past few days I have lived an entire lifetime of enlightenment and adventure. Now I am ready to go home.’
‘Then show me where.’
Asklepios fell silent. Far across time, distance, and possibility, a dim red light shone. ‘There.’
Travelling the mists was not getting easier. Tim struggled against a rising wind – a growing pull to wakefulness. Unbidden thoughts of Mrs Woosencraft’s back room intruded. He saw himself asleep there clearly, it would be such an easy thing to open his eyes. He pushed onwards, determined not to let Asklepios down a second time.
The winds grew contrary, gusting hard in one direction then the other. ‘Think of home, Asklepios. Remember the street, your rooms, your family, every little detail.’
‘My doorstep has a chip where my son dropped the bucket.’
‘My room– My dearest wife–’ Asklepios’ voice dropped a tone. ‘I shall bathe more.’
It worked. A steady breeze built behind them first countering then cancelling the push against Tim. For Asklepios there was a rightness to this direction of travel. He was going home.
At long last the dream-mists parted. The two men stood in a monochrome alleyway of tapered arches in mud-plaster walls. Nearby stood a particular doorway familiar to Asklepios.
‘I am home.’ Asklepios dropped to the ground, knelt, and kissed the packed earth.
Exhausted, Tim leaned on the wall, the urge to wake almost overwhelming. To wake and sleep again –
Asklepios gestured apologetically and backed away. ‘Master, my children, I am anxious–’ Colour bloomed around Asklepios as he stepped into the waking world, red-mud plaster on the walls, a patch of blue sky, a waft of orange blossom.
Colours faded and with them Asklepios and the alley. Tim was alone in the mists.
Wind slammed against him. Asklepios had brought him close to the waking world. Tim pushed increasingly vivid memories of his own home from his mind and began the wind-torn journey back to Mrs Woosencraft, each moment an act of sheer will.
She shone far brighter than Asklepios and for this Tim was grateful. It was so very far…
Brighton. The shingle beach front, happily screaming children, music on the pier, the sunshine on his face. Morse asleep on his bed.
Thunderheads of black and grey cloud piled in front of him, the winds against his chest like a forbidding hand. In the far distance a scatter of bright motes blew – dreamers like himself. Most went with the winds but one drove headlong into the dream-winds towards some far destination on a dream-quest like himself.
That brief moment of kinship gave him strength. He drove on through air so dense it felt solid. Grab and pull, grab and pull. Mrs Woosencraft was still far away. A trembling fear built in him, the growing certainty it had been a big mistake to leave her. Dark clouds circled all around, the wind a soundless hurricane. Weary beyond measure Tim veered and swooped towards her beacon light.
When he finally breached the mists she was terrified.
All that remained of the city was Asklepios’ room. Outside there were no buildings, no city, just a windswept charcoal-black tornado through which pinpoint lights whirled tore round and around.
The corners of the room sloughed into smoke. Mrs Woosencraft clung to the table, the last item of furniture in the room.
Then the walls of the room were gone, rubbed away into nothingness. They stood on a corroding circle of floor within black storm-winds spattered with bright motes.
The look she gave him was half gratitude, half incomprehension. ‘Leave me. Wake up, be safe.’
All around was a maelstrom of dark dreams, nightmares and terror.
‘Out there – its madness.’
He was right and she knew it. If he left her, even if she woke. Her face set hard, she tried to push him away. ‘Save yourself.’
He did not need saving, this was still his dream and he would always be safe from his own nightmares. But her–? They would tear her apart.
The power of the dream-storm was daunting. They climbed onto the round table and clung to each other. If they were going to go it had to be right now. Tim lifted Mrs Woosencraft onto his back. His knees buckled, her weight was astonishing. The idea of going into those winds with her on his back an impossibility.
He couldn’t do it.
Mrs Woosencraft climbed down. ‘It’s all right, Tim.’
‘I’m sorry.’ What else could he say?
She squared her shoulders and looked down at her feet. ‘I never thought I’d go out like this. Look after the cats, won’t you?’
‘I’m here to the end, Mrs Woosencraft–’
She took his hand. ‘Dorothy.’
‘I won’t leave you. Dorothy.’
The dark winds touched the table and it resisted. It resisted and even here, even now, Mrs Woosencraft gave a great laugh. ‘I knew it! That Asklepios, he’s the bloody one.’
They stood inside a dream-tornado of black wind spattered with whirling motes of light – other dreamers blown by the dream-winds wherever they took them. The thought shook Tim like a thunderclap. He had brought Mrs Woosencraft with him, her spirit was connected to his dream. Therefore– Those lights were dreamers, if he could attach himself to one of their dreams–
The mad black winds were close enough to touch. Tim clutched Mrs Woosencraft’s hands and flung himself towards the nearest light.
To be continued…