The Taste of Dreams

The Taste of Dreams

Lamia slipped out of their human skin with a sigh. The house was quiet in the deep darkness of night. Even the one at the top of the house was sleeping. In this peace, Lamia slid out of their room, down the stairs, through doors and down to the basement. From there Lamia slipped into the tunnels.

Stopping a moment to listen, they caught the faintest whisper of movement far down the first tunnel — for the things down there knew nothing of day or night and time for them ran differently.

Tasting the air with their tongue, Lamia determined that nothing was nearby, and slithered down to her destination. There was no light in the tunnels but Lamia had other senses to provide a picture of the surroundings. The faint sound of skin on stone echoed back from the walls, and the air changed in pressure, scent and temperature as they passed down into the underground world.

Lamia tasted the destination on the air, a faint aroma of lemons and cinnamon. Shivering at the deliciousness of it, they squeezed through a narrow crack in the tunnel floor and down into the place out of time where the roots of human dreaming lie.

Here there seemed to be light, but it was the light of the sleeping mind. Lamia began the hunt.

A woman was trying to buy a mouth-watering cake, but could not find money in her purse or anyone to serve her. This was a dream world that tasted of cardboard and had no nutrition in it.

Deeper down someone was running, chased by a great dark figure which roared and screamed, always a few steps behind. Lamia unhinged their jaw and swallowed the dark chaser whole. It popped when they bit down on it, dissolving away, made of nothing but childhood fears.

As Lamia reared up, the runner turned, and was suddenly granted more substantial things to fear.

Lamia moved on, hunting through the tangled forest of hopes, lies and expectations.

Here was another nightmare — a murder committed, a corpse buried in the garden, guilt and the fear of discovery, a pale hand emerging from rich dark soil.

Lamia circled the guilt, dragged it out of the earth for all to see, and swallowed it whole.

In the world above, the sleeper woke, aware of the recurring dream, expecting the dead hand of unearned guilt, but instead finding herself peaceful and happy to return to sleep.

Lamia moved on, not yet satisfied, found another woman anxiously caring for a pack of unruly small children. Lamia ate them all. The woman woke up screaming.

At the next turn Lamia entered a different kind of dream, not human at all, and tried to turn back, but could not find the way. All directions were blocked by a mass of squirming, hissing things, like tentacles with many mouths, grey and slimy as slugs. Snapping and biting at them was useless, they were bitter in the mouth and Lamia began to weaken as if from poison.

There was only one creature who could dream such toxic alien creatures. In the dreams of humans nothing could fight back like this.

‘Wake up!’ Lamia shrieked, putting every shred of energy into the cry. Since they were the only creature in this world that could take actual air into real lungs, the cry carried far and wide. The whole of Shuckleigh woke up at once, terrified, looking for the source of the alarm, only gradually waking to the realisation that the voice had called from the dream world.

The creature in the attic room of the Dark House woke too, her dreams of home rudely interrupted. Lying awake, longing to eat the moon that hung half-formed in the sky, she eventually heard Lamia slipping up the stairs and the door to their room closing. She smiled. That one would be unwell for days. The emotions roiling in her dreams were not to be eaten by roving earthly foragers. Lamia should know by now that they were not the most dangerous thing in this house.

River Stories

River Stories

The Well

‘You shall lift up the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

That was all the voice said, whispering into her left ear. She almost felt breath on her skin as it spoke, but there was no-one there.

There was nobody she could tell about the voice. They would think she was back in trouble again, perhaps even schizophrenic this time, and Maddy did not feel schizophrenic. Not that she knew how that felt — but she felt no different than she ever had, except that sometimes an invisible person said something incomprehensible to her.

One day, she was in the kitchen cooking dinner, it came again.

‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

‘You’ve got the wrong person,’ she yelled. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! Go away!’

‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’

Maddy threw a tomato in the direction she imagined the voice coming from. It splattered against the far wall, and then she had to clean it up before Ben saw the mess and asked what had been going on. The onions burned and she had to start all over again.

The voice did not bother her for a while and she thought maybe she had chased it away. But no.

Any time there was a moments’ silence and she was alone, the whisper came, so she started to wear her earbuds all the time and made sure that music was playing through them whenever she was by herself. There was never silence and she could not hear whispers above the constant noise in her ears.

At night, though, it found a way in through her dreams.

‘There,’ it said, ‘there is the stone.’

She was in a dark place, and all she could see was a circular stone, about a shoulder’s breadth wide, lying on the cold ground. The words ‘Well Beneath’ were engraved on it, lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.

‘You shall lift the stone,’ the voice told her.

So she did.

It was hard to get her fingers underneath the edge of the flat stone, but it was thin and not as heavy as she expected. She lifted it up and rolled it away. Underneath was a circular black hole. Looking down, she saw dark water and in it a great crowding mass of stars.

She leaned towards the water, and felt herself falling in.

The fall woke her suddenly and she sat up in bed, gasping, which woke Ben, too.

‘Nightmare,’ she said. Then she told him about the dream. It was a relief to tell someone, but she did not mention that she’d heard the voice before.

‘Sounds weird,’ he said, then he closed his eyes and a minute later was snoring gently.

In the morning he only vaguely remembered the incident and Maddy did not know whether to be glad about that or not.

Every night from then on she would be woken by the dream. Ben was very worried. She persuaded her doctor to give her a short course of sleeping tablets, but the dream managed to punch through her drugged sleep.

Ben made her go to see a Jungian therapist, who, after a few sessions trying to extract meaning from her unconscious, told her that she was ‘resistant’. She resisted by not going to see him again.

Ben’s next solution was a holiday. An expensive week in a country hotel with no phones, no work, nothing she did not want to do. It did sound good. The hotel was a converted manor house just outside a town called Shuckleigh, with the River Lost flowing through the extensive grounds. Here, the dream did not disturb her sleep at all, and during the day she heard no voices.

‘Stress,’ said Ben. ‘That’s all it was.’

And she believed him.

After a couple of days they went out of the hotel to explore the countryside. Further along the river was an old ruined abbey — not much more than a few broken walls, but quite picturesque. Ben wanted to take some arty photos, so Maddy wandered away and left him to it.

Between the last wall and the river she saw a round flat stone on the ground, and as she approached it she started to feel both fear and a magnetic attraction. She stopped and listened, but no-one spoke to her.

Trembling inside, she walked up to the stone. Incised into it were the words ‘Well Beneath’ with lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.

‘I could walk away,’ she murmured, but she knew that she could not.

Scraping with her fingernails, she cleared part of the edge of the stone and found that it was thinner than might have been expected, but it still took a lot of effort to lift and roll it away.

In the circular hole beneath there was water less than an arm’s length away from the top. As she looked down Maddy saw that it was filled with a multitude of stars. She reached down into the water, and the water reached up to her. A darkly glittering hand took hers and pulled her down into the stars. They crowded around, stinging her skin, peeling the life away from her, making her into one of their own, pressing her down into one bright, shining dot of light. She began to dance to the roar of the waters.

The water rushes by, but the river remains.

The Story of a Stone.

Ever since the River Lost pried it from the earth, the stone had submitted to the waters, wearing smooth in the flow of time.

Centuries passed. One hot summer the river receded far enough to leave the stone dry on the bank with many others. A child found it.

The stone was divided in two by a band of white quartz, harder than the greenish rock on either side of it. After so much wear, the quartz now stood out in a ridge around the stone’s middle. Fascinating to the child, who took it home.

The child’s mother found the stone in its pocket and, not taking the time to appreciate its smoothness and the ridge of white crystal dividing it, only seeing a dirty thing, threw it into the garden.

Decades passed. A trowel pulled the stone into the light once more. The woman wielding the trowel was gaining a few minutes’ peace by planting out spring bedding. She knew that the stone did not belong in the garden, but she liked the look and feel of it, so she pushed it into her pocket. She made her own clothes, and was always sure to have a hidden pocket in her skirts. If there was any pleasure in her life, it had to be hidden, or it would be spoiled.

The weight of the stone was comforting, a thing out of place, like her. She kept it always in her pocket, holding it secretly for comfort sometimes.

A day came when no comfort was to be found in anything anymore, and she ran away from that house, unable to face the depth of her rage and despair.

To the river was her only thought, as if the Lost was calling to her. The sound of rushing water filled her mind, pushing out all the other dreadful things.

She ran to the bridge, climbed over the edge and leapt free into the river. The cold waters embraced her at once, pulling her down by her skirts. The river reached into her pocket and plucked out the stone, then carried her away.

The stone tumbled to the riverbed and settled comfortably back into its place, surrendering to its slow dispersal into the waters of the world.

For the water rushes by, but the river remains.