When I was eight I lost the ability to dream. I often compensated with wakeful dreams and fancies of imagination I scarcely put on paper or canvas, even though my mind whispered to me that I should. When I did resolve to portray my wakeful dreams, I would enter an absurdly lucid state. Barraged by images I could only assume came from my youth, I struggled to maintain my visions until they assailed me to such an end that I had to cease. They filled me with a singular terror. As a result, I not only stopped writing and drawing, but also forced myself to not do it again. I knew the images were the culprit of my disorder, yet I knew facing them might mean a shattering of an already fragile mental state. I buried them instead. Deep enough for them to eventually manifest in a schizoid disorder, one I was acutely aware of, yet could do nothing to assuage it. I became intensely fearful of all public events.
It was because of this chronic avoidance of man that I was most surprised with myself the day I endeavoured to visit an event I would have otherwise shunned.
I was invited via an acquaintance of mine over a social networking site. He was one of those friends we all have on our list: a person who you never talk to and call a 'friend' only in the nebulous cloud of the internet. But then again most of my acquaintances were of such nature. I decided to go, and it was here that my true madness began.
I arrived fashionably late, as did everyone else. Unfortunately, everyone else was vastly more fashionable than myself. The result being me and the proprietor engaging in conversation and watching as people trickled in, all of whom eventually insisted on talking to me. Questions such as, “Where have you been?”, “Long time no see, eh bud?” became a constancy. Horrid.
Nevertheless the evening turned out delightfully droll, despite the fact that social anxieties got the better of me on numerous occasions, forcing me to withdraw (more than once) into the relative safety of the bathroom. At one point after midnight, matters in my head became unbearable. So much so, I decided it would be best for me to take my leave. But first, for reasons unknown to me, I resolved to wait and sat on a chair facing the bar’s entry.
I remained there longer than I had expected – some impulse keeping me in place despite my anxious sweat. I struggled to maintain a mask of bored vacancy, until she walked in and the walls seemed to breathe. She had an air of neglect about her which made her seem messy, but in a way as though it is her soul that is in disarray and all attempts to mask it goes unnoticed by those with less sensitive faculties. Her hair was auburn and fell over her shoulders in waves, her face and posture both immensely likable. Our eyes met as though following each other’s orbits for unknown ages and only now coming close enough to spot each other, like two comets that pass every few thousand years. My world became her eyes and I was blasted with a fear of such depth and intensity I nearly fainted. I could not explain the source of this fright and resolved to find out what might be the basis of such irrationality. I looked – for how could I not – and saw that she appeared just as lost in my gaze as I was in hers.
No one appeared to notice as she walked towards me. The movement of bodies around her became a blur, each unconsciously stepping aside and forming a corridor for her to meet me.
“I know you,” she said with an, aha! there you are.
“Do you? I don’t think I know you,” I lied. I did know her, though I could not say from where.
She seemed puzzled by my answer. We eyed each other until she offered a hand, the gesture awkward after our silence. I expected a soft handshake but instead she used it to yank herself closer to me. I could smell the piny fragrance of her hair as she whispered, “Let me show you where the ocean and they sky become one.”
For a moment I was dreaming again. Images both forgotten and half-remembered superimposed on the scene before me. I smelled the ocean and the breeze it carried; a reek of decay from some nameless place I visited once but never came back the same. A cold seeped into my bones. She stepped back, her eyes pressed into mine as if she knew me from another plane or dimension, knew me more deeply than anyone ever has or ever will or even could. I took a breath, realizing I had been holding it for a while. Then remembered her and wet myself and the chair I was sitting on.
“I accidently spilled beer on him,” she would giggle to those who asked why we are leaving.
There had been silence outside the bar as I came in; and a greater silence as we got to her car, for the silence was in my head. It felt like there should have been thoughts there, thoughts about who this woman is and how it was that I knew her. Thoughts about where we are going and what we shall find there. But there was nothing. The moon hung bright above the road and that too made me forget. We drove the silvery plane of the illuminated highway and it felt like driving into oblivion.
“How much do you remember?” she finally asked.
“I remember the cave,” I said, and that the two of you are strangely connected. “But not really as the cave, more like a black abyss where everything gets sucked into. My dreams, my thoughts, belching out my fears and my... I don’t know.”
“I’ve been looking for you, you know,” she said. “For a while now. I’m too afraid to do it myself and I remember you used to be different before it happened. It’s funny I find you randomly in the end.”
How does she know I was different? Even I could no longer remember being any other way.
“Nothing is random. And I haven’t gone far, I just hid.”
She nodded and I could tell she wondered why I do not ask any questions. I did not want to ask. I knew things would be easier for me if I asked, but it felt like asking would open a doorway I closed for a reason. Or that the reason closed the doorway.
I stayed quiet and allowed her to take me where my dreams could not.
We arrived in the misty half-light before the dawn and stopped the car on a cliff carpeted by waving grass. The high crag overlooked the ocean where waves seemed like ripples in silk. I opened the car door and stepped outside.
A soft splashing in the distance below.
The smell was not what I had expected. I whiffed a grim foulness of dead whales. Autumn was ending and everything was preparing to sleep, even the wide expanse of the ocean seemed lazy and uninterested in any endeavour to move. A lone freighter sailed through the misty distance. For a while I tried, but could not get over the smell.
“What is that?”
“Memories,” she said, the smaller strands of her hair held aloft by the first morning breeze. “They’ve growl foul over the years.”
Her answer felt irritatingly obtuse. Her face seemed odd and I could not place the reason why, until the sun rose into sky, red as blood, and illuminated her aspect in colour. A face cross-hatched by scars. It felt inappropriate to ask, but I knew her, it was just all the specifics of her that eluded me. “What happened?” I motioned a finger around my own face.
“Some things you need to discover for yourself for the truth to have an impact,” she smiled.
She led me to the cliff’s edge and sat down. The grass was soft and the soil cold, yet I soon forgot about the chill as I listened to her explain things I have wondered about for two decades. The more she talked, the more I could feel her words chipping away at my already fragile edifice of sanity. The more she spoke, the more her words became a source of dread. It seemed to me she must have crawled out of the sea, her voice slowly becoming as expansive as the sea. I could not speak in any way save to ask questions. Hours passed.
“We’ll have to get down there,” she said, and pointed to a lone, stone house on the edge of where the land met the sea. “It used to be a lighthouse, but a lighthouse stands there no more.”
Obviously. “Why?” I asked. “What’s in there? How should we get down?” There seemed no way of doing it save going all the way around.
“Because we need to wait,” she said, looking skyward. “The stars are not where they need to be. Follow me,” she smiled and was on her feet, skipping down a path I had not noticed.
We walked the narrow trail between the knee-tall grass painted gold by the meridian sun. As I watched her, smelled her as she walked ahead of me, she seemed to me the type of person that would never die. A ridiculous notion, I knew, but such was this feeling – the timelessness of her voice – that it gave me hope. Perhaps she would never die and teach me the secret so that I may never die with her. She suddenly stopped and looked up, then back to me and said, “Come to the Moon with me.” She laughed and hurried ahead. In an instant my mind pieced together all of her words and caused a sudden shift in perception. I am following a mad woman. A lunatic, certainly? It would make sense for me to not notice such a thing, being somewhat odd myself.
“What’s the holdup?” she waved at me from up ahead. The scars on her face looked less hideous from a distance and I hurried to meet her with masked reluctance. The ground levelled and I followed her prints upon the wet sand. Tall walls of foam splashed against the rock to my right. A cold breeze came with them and something else, a feeling as if the sea was not just the sea, but a great leveller pulsing with age and history, yet timeless and ageless because it knows such things do not matter.
“I never asked for your name,” I said to her.
“No, you didn’t.”
“What is your name?”
She gave me the broadest smile a person can give without appearing sinister, and said, “I am Forever.”
It was when we reached the lighthouse that I figured Forever must be mad indeed. What maddened me the most, however, was that all of the things she had told me appeared to have slipped out of my head. The feeling of memory-loss pervaded my thoughts to an almost intolerable degree. It was pushed aside when she pulled out a massive, silver key, unlocked the lighthouse gate with a clack and ushered me inside to stand beneath a badly-thatched roof.
She said, “Welcome to my humble abode.”
It felt like I had stumbled into a zone of instability where every aspect of the without portrayed the within of her mind. Canvases and books, most half-torn or wet, lay scattered about everywhere. The deck was carpeted by papers, handwritten notes and partially-washed off or smudged by rain. The bed was covered by a stack of them, each with crude, charcoal drawings. In the gloom I could make out noting for certain, yet all carried a heinous quality of madness and delirium. Above all hung the prevailing smell of fish and the sense that such a place could not be inhabited by anyone sane. There were tons of things scattered about of which I had no idea what purpose they might serve.
“You seem to have some problems with the roof, dear,” I said. Light pierced through the many chinks and apertures above in spears of light, illuminating each dust particle through which Forever began to dance and twirl with arms spread wide.
“Home sweet home. Isn’t it wonderful?” she smiled. “Lovely. The spots of sunlight remind me of myself: spotted with moments of sanity.” Her words only served to confuse me further as she seemed fully lucid of her condition.
She stopped dancing and undressed before me, and dear God I would be lying if I said her frail body didn’t arouse me. She carefully placed the clothes into a closet and picked from the floor a set of torn short jeans and a shirt equally as torn and stretched out. The shirt left one of her smooth shoulders bare. She looked at me with a shy expression and said, “You know, a gentleman never looks at a lady while she undresses, who knows how he might offend her delicate sensibilities.”
“Sorry,” was all I managed. I wished to say something else, when I noticed a picture behind her. I walked past her, drawn to the painting as if it were a magnet for my consciousness. What I saw upon it made me collapse into myself with horror. The outlines of the painting – if it could be called such – were of a house standing on an island, most of the island underwater. The material used as canvas was wood, and the technique seemed to be a kind of scratching, the scratches filled with strange-coloured paint or some mucus. Beneath the house, in the ocean which felt so real, was a large whale with its mouth gaping open in unnatural proportions. Everything about the artwork innerved me as it seemed to so adequately display my host’s insanity. I stared at the painting for a while, until I could have sworn the whale moved its roaring head. There came a trembling and a black abyss, surrounding me. A sound, a bass rumble of ‘uuuooooooo...’, as the devouring maw approached from some nameless distance. Petrified and so frozen in place, I watched as the mouth drew nigh with its million fangs and a flapping tongue. It encompassed me and with a loud crack snapped shut on top of me...
I woke up hours later with Forever scribbling and talking madly over something on the floor. She was on her elbows, her behind exposed in what my mind interpreted to be undeniably sexual way, with her short, cut-out jeans revealing aspects of her I could not look away from. Her words came out in a series of meaningless vowels.
I coughed so that she might notice me. She didn’t. I coughed again, this time louder and with fervour. Instead of looking up she rushed outside.
I considered myself without options – I certainly did not wish to stay here – so I ran after her, stealing a glace towards what she had been drawing and wishing I hadn’t. What she portrayed was something so appalling I do not wish to describe. The image would not leave my mind even as I chased her, yelling for her to stop.
She did not heed me until she came below the cliff-face above which we had left the car.
“Yes. Yes! Finally, the stars are in their proper place again. Look!” She pointed at the Moon and I thought I must surely be dreaming.
In my years as I recluse I often picked up hobbies that involved the least amount of human contact. Astronomy proved an easy route for a mind such as mine. And when now I looked at the Moon and could see Venus, Jupiter and Saturn forming a near perfect triangle around it, I became convinced I am still sprawled in the lighthouse, dreaming all of this.
“It’ll soon be over, Jon, just come with me, you’ll see,” she said. I was at once horrified and profoundly relieved. She reached out and grabbed my hand, leading me ahead the narrow path. Waves crashed against the rock below us, foaming and splashing, frothing and recombining with the ocean.
“I don’t trust this,” I said. “I don’t want this anymore.” I had no idea what waited at the end, and even though I knew most of my fear didn’t come from something that was real but from something imagined, I could not shake it.
“Then go back,” she said. Somehow that proved even worse.
She saw my resignation about the prospect. “Then trust me,” she smiled over her smooth shoulder. I decided I had come too far to chicken out. Too far to run as I have from most of my dealings with people. I would see this through to the end and so followed her swaying hips until the path below us became rough with odd chiselling – narrow to a point where we had to step sideways. Soon my back was pressed against the cliff with the fall and the ocean below.
“Careful,” she urged, “it’s slippery here, don’t fall.”
“You’ve been inside yet?”
“No,” she said. “I had to prepare the way. Don’t mind the voice.”
I didn’t know what she meant until I took a careful look at the hieroglyphs below our feet. They were scratched into the rock like the scratches in the wooden painting had been. They consisted of no signs or letters I could identify, nor would they form any suggestion in my head as to what their relation might be. Around them appeared a faint aura of suggestive meaning. I was certain I could remember them if I tried hard enough, looked long enough. When we neared the pathway’s end, a voice called out to me. I tried listening to its whispers but soon realized it must be a fabrication of my own imaginings, as I realized I had become immersed in a frightened and highly suggestible state. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, I could not shake the absolute fact that there arose from the whispers a drumming in my marrow which spoke to me of things I have long forgotten.
“Don’t be frightened,” she said, which served to do the opposite – a panic rose in my throat. How had she gotten those scars? They looked more like her skin had been torn, or peeled off. Had she fallen down this slope and injured her face?
“Don’t tell me these things. Tell me something else,” I said.
“What should I say, then?”
“That I’m dreaming?”
“Well... you are not,” she said as we reached the passage and entered the cave below the black arch.
The walls had a bioluminescent quality, outlining Forever’s shape in stark cyan. She seemed a ghost to me. My breathing felt heavy. My heart relentless and loud in my ears.
We passed various obstructions in the cave system, my hand always in hers as she led me through the increasingly cold cavern. Soon the draft became ice on my skin and after a while it occurred to me that I should take a closer look at the walls, even when the reason why was not immediately apparent.
“What the hell are these?” I asked. She did not respond – her hand had gotten cold. “Aren’t you cold?” No answer. An anxiety of singular force made my hand sweat. I noticed the strange incrustations upon the walls were getting smoother, as though whoever had left the place in ruin had time to sand out a section of the within. We had passed numerous forks in the system, suggesting the cave was of great elaborateness and scale. All of these and other, inner impulses slowly proved to me that she must have lead me here – where the walls began to smooth out – for some sinister purpose.
I heard mumbling ahead; a burr of ghastly character on the very edge of hearing. It took me a few strides to realize it was the voice of Forever. Her tonality and the strange chanting with which she repeated whatever she was saying made me start planning my escape immediately. Surely I had come into the grasp of a mad-which, and was now trailing the path of her insanity. Suddenly the belief that she had lead me through this inextricable maze so none would find me became absolute. We entered a vast cavern peopled by hunched and robed figures, staring into what seemed like silver mirrors that reflected nothing. I attempted to break free of her grasp and managed to dislodge my hand. I turned back to try my luck in the caverns, only to bump into a solid wall where moments before a tunnel had been. In a second, or it might have been more, I felt everything all at once and vomited over the roughly hewn floor, then suddenly felt nothing. I looked up to see the scar-faced Forever gone, replaced by a figure whose hands were in his sleeves, staring down at me from a hooded robe and empty eye sockets. His eyes had been gouged, replaced by a black bump in between the two sockets. My fear became a physical menace. I shook as my ears picked up an odd chanting of synchronous rhythm resonating at a pitch my mind had not encountered before.
I had seen many sights in my wakeful dreams, but none so hateful as I saw in the expression of the ancient and robed man now standing before me. All my senses were drawn to his one, black eye. The world seemed to stop until I noticed but one movement: an otherworldly-hued substance splurting out in aetheric waves from the black and never-blinking eye in the centre of his forehead. In a roar of unexplainable mindcasting, I realized my whole existence had been an initiation. I became complacent, but within yelled for my own self to stop as I was ushered forth in a mindless stupor to where my true purpose lay. I had come to a radiant well where all reality emanates from, and from where a set of robed figures pulled out a ball made of what looked like mercury out of which I would forge my own mirror to gaze into eternity. All of this made strange sense to me and I proceeded towards my task with unstoppable zest.
I have no idea how long I polished that piece of mercury that wasn’t mercury and shaped it into a smooth, oval window – a plane where everything explained itself to me. It showed futures and pasts interwoven into an infinite cosmic cycle where humans and their existence formed transient thoughts in reality. I felt more than I saw, for in the darkness only my mirror and our chanting became real. My eyes atrophied until their insistence on seeing became an unbearable distraction. I gauged them out myself.