If I fall asleep I’m done for. You’re going to have to keep me awake all night.
— Marla Singer, Fight Club
Turtle wakes in an empty alley. He stands, drags himself up and looks around. He moved too fast, so leans against a door to steady himself. It’s like all the other alleys, could even be the same one, but this is not where he wants to be. There’s a main road at one end, a dead end at the other. He stumbles to the road and finds himself on a hill looking down over the city. Which city? Last time it was Brisbane; the time before that, Lisbon. He can’t remember anything further back. And there’s every possibility this could be somewhere he’s never been before. But Lisa will be here, in their house, in their street, no matter where this is.
It’s early. The light is still new. Three taxis ignore his hails, then a fourth and a fifth, so he takes himself down the hill, maybe he’ll find a train station nearby. The further he walks the more it feels like there are streets stacked on streets, which would explain why his joints ache so much, having to pull himself through so many layers. There are bridges over bridges and rivers under freeways. The Harbour Bridge, the Go-Between, the Ha’penny, the Bridge of Sighs. He has a memory for such structures. He passes a few discount shops, just opening for the day, but out the front of a small Vietnamese bakery he begins to shake, so leans against a pole and concentrates on breathing. He can smell the fresh bread.
‘Are you ok?’ a woman asks. She’s walking in the opposite direction. Her voice is dry and harsh.
‘I’m ok—’ he says. The words stick in his throat. ‘It’ll pass.’ He clenches his hands to quieten them. Has he seen this woman before? Does he know her?
‘You don’t look well. I can call someone if you’d like?’
He shakes his head. ‘It’ll just be a minute.’ He’s barely audible.
‘What about an ambulance?’
‘No,’ he says; ‘no ambulances.’
‘Ok. Ok,’ she says and steps back a pace.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘My partner…’
The woman gives him a strange look.
‘My wife…’ he says, ‘my wife.’ He just wants to be at home with Lisa. He forces his hands to move and searches his pockets as best he can. ‘Her number’s in my phone.’ He’s so tired.
‘I have mine. Give me the number. I’ll call. What’s her name.’
‘Lisa.’ He battles to keep his eyes open. ‘Zero. Four.’ Again, the words stick. ‘One. Five’. His hands are trembling. ‘Fou—’ His words fall away. His eyes close. He tries to fight it, but sleep comes at him from above and below. His legs give way. He falls and dreams…
…The night is overcast and cold. He runs down the alley. His breath mists. Dull streetlights fail to cut through the rain. The gutters choke. Dreamers tremble and snore—
‘Hey! You awake there, buddy.’
The shooter? He opens his eyes, turns his head and looks up. Two people, silhouettes — the sun behind them — are standing over him. They’re tall, but one is fatter than the other.
‘You live around here?’
He makes out that it’s two cops standing over him. The fatter one shakes him with his foot. They both have gloves on. This is bad.
‘Where do you live?’ he says.
‘I think he’s having a heart attack,’ the woman says.
‘No,’ Fatter says; ‘he’s drunk.’
‘Oh.’ She looks down at him. ‘I thought he needed a hospital.’
‘We’ll take it from here,’ Fatter says.
‘Just doing my bit.’ She turns to Turtle. ‘You take care now.’ She smiles.
By the time both officers are standing over him again he’s raised himself to his knees. ‘I n-need to get home,’ he says. This is very bad.
Skinny shoves him with his foot so he falls into Fatter’s legs. ‘That’s assault.’
They wrench his arms behind him. The pain immobilises. They drag him to a police van, throw him in and slam the doors shut.
He huddles into the farthest corner from the door — so he can try to defend himself when they come again. The van is pitch black and it stinks.
They leave him sit and stew.
They don’t come.
He’s on edge waiting for them.
They don’t come.
When the motor starts and the van jerks forward he’s sweating all over. They drive around and around and around. He’s not sure for how long, or how far they travel or where they are.
He keeps nodding off.
He has to stay alert.
He starts to shake.
…The night is overcast and cold. Abandoned. His breath mists in the heavy rain. Dreamers crab over one another in the gutters. When he looks at them they’re gone—
The van stops and he jolts awake.
They leave him sit.
There’s nothing he can do.
He’s on edge.
Then the back doors open. ‘Wakey, wakey. Hands off snaky,’ Fatter says as he jumps into the back of the van. Fatter presses his foot hard into his ribcage. ‘Get up sleeping beauty.’ He could probably crack one of Turtle’s ribs if he wanted. ‘We’re here.’ He releases him and steps out again.
Skinny’s holding the doors open.
‘Come on.’ Fatter claps at Turtle like he’s a child. ‘Don’t have all day.’
He climbs from the van into a late dusk. They’re on a headland, there’s a breeze and the scent of rain. They’ve reversed to the end of a dirt track near the edge of a cliff. ‘My partner’s a lawyer,’ he says. He hears waves crashing against the rocks below.
‘Really,’ Skinny says. He closes the doors and pushes Turtle towards the cliff.
‘She knows I’m missing,’ he says, walking backwards from the van, keeping one eye on the cops and one eye on the cliff behind him.
‘You’re not missing,’ Skinny says.
‘I don’t like what you’re implying,’ Fatter says.
They cage him in, flanking him either side of the car, and force him closer towards the edge.
‘Know where we are?’ Skinny asks.
Turtle acts like he doesn’t recognise this place.
‘The Gap,’ Fatter says.
‘A known sui-spot,’ Skinny says.
Rumours are, cops throw people off. No proof, of course. He’s too scared to say anything. There’s no one around. Sweat slides down his back and his shirt sticks to his skin. ‘All I mean is I should be home by now,’ he says. ‘She’s a lawyer. She’s—’
Fatter sighs and turns to Skinny. ‘What do you reckon?’
Skinny shrugs. ‘I don’t believe him.’
They herd him closer and closer towards the edge. Then they lean against the back of the care, and just wait and watch.
‘We’re on the night shift,’ Skinny says. ‘We have all night.’
They smoke cigarettes and lean and watch.
He looks over the cliff, back at the cops and then over their shoulders at the dirt track.
‘If you run, we’ll get you,’ Fatter says.
They talk and laugh and smoke cigarettes.
He squats on the ground.
Skinny comes over and kicks him in the bum. ‘Stand up.’
He stands. fatter gets in and reverses the car closer to the edge, so it pushes him closer and closer to the edge.
Everything is silent except for the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks rumble up from below. The only people around are a few surfers out beyond the point. ‘I just need to get home,’ he says. His body aches from standing: his lower back, his knees, his feet.
‘Look. Ok,’ Fatter says.
Turtle looks up.
‘We’re doing you a solid.’ He looks at his watch. ‘You have two minutes.’
‘For what?’ Turtle says.
‘To fuck off,’ Skinny says.
‘You’re kidding,’ he says. ‘This’s nowhere near my house.’
‘We’re not a taxi service,’ Fatter says. ‘If I ever see you again. Ever. I’ll bring you back here and throw you off myself. You know we can. Now fuck the fuck off.’
‘Go on. Get out of here,’ Skinny says.
They laugh as he skirts around them and runs back down the hill. Bastards. Cops having fun at his expense. Bring him out here to freak him out and then just let him go. he doesn’t look back.
The streets are empty, and soon he’s a long way from the coast. Lost and forgotten, he follows angled and brittle directions. One wrong turn and everything could break. Then he hears a car. The first he’s heard in a long time. He ducks behind a retaining wall in a front yard. It’s them. They cruise past slow, looking for him. He doubles back after that, down more side roads and alleys. Everything’s so quiet and the night closes in overcast. He’s so tired. He doesn’t recognise this city. The streets give up as a cold rain starts to fall. He shivers as he passes under a rail bridge where the caged fluorescent lights cast distorted shadows. He can hardly keep his eyes open. Someone is ahead of him. At first the man looks familiar in the washed-out light, but the stranger’s reveal comes slow. When the man reaches the other end, he turns and yells something at Turtle, then runs away.
Turtle chases, recollecting this place with the memories of those who were here. The cold rain falls hard and stings his face. His breath mists in the dim light. There are two cities here. Maybe three or four.
He passes dreamers with trembling mouths. They drag malformed bodies along the ground, their skin scratched to bleeding. They’re here, then they’re gone, then they’re here again. He’s chasing this stranger against his will, so he stops running.
He’s running again. His own body has infected him. He trips and falls.
Ahead of him, the man also trips and falls.
Someone is chasing him. His own body has infected him. The night is overcast cold. He runs erratic down the alley. Rain falls hard. He recognises the alley. His breath mists in the weak light. Dreamers snore in the gutters, mouths open, their featureless faces too far gone. Unblinking seizures. Sleep’s coming, is behind him, but his legs just won’t move fast enough, so he huddles, shaking, in a doorway. Abandoned, he covers his face with his hands he closes his eyes. A heavy shadow falls across him in this darkness. He has been found, but his eyes won’t open.
A gun fires into his left shoulder and right hip.
He wakes in the alley. Shaking and sweating. That didn’t start as a dream. Standing is more difficult this time. He stumbles out to a main road. It’s later than before, but the light is still new, and it’s a different alley. He takes himself down the street, and, just like before, he finds himself looking down over the city from on top of a hill, but this time the cities are more pronounced: on the edge f the CBD two rivers flow together, and then, right under a large building, they drop into a huge hole and disappear. Sleep is trashing whatever control he may have had. The bruising is getting worse each time, he can feel it. He hopes he can make it back home this time.
As he gets to the front door Lisa opens it and steers him inside. Her smell comforts.
She hugs him.
He winces, against his will.
He shakes his head. This all-over ache has been a constant since the dreams started. He follows her to the kitchen. The table is covered with plates, toast crusts, tea bags, knives, half full glasses of water, the coffee plunger, honey and jam jars. She looks so tired. And with all this, she’s obviously been awake for days. His mobile phone is right next to the pill bottles. He knows exactly how to mix the pills without thinking about it.
She hands him his phone. ‘Sleep Disorders Centre,’ she says. ‘Doctor van Eeden’s been calling since the moment you left.’
To hide his shaking he sits with his phone on his lap. There’s about 80 messages. Out of habit he eats her leftover toast crusts. The phone rings and he jumps.
‘See,’ she says; ‘it’s like that all the time.’ She pours two coffees.
He stops the call and deletes all the messages without reading them.
‘I called in sick for the both of us.’ She spoons sugar into her cup. ‘You’ve been gone a week. Said you had another migraine.’
‘My office must think I’m a hypochondriac.’ He picks up each bottle and drops the pills into his hand. Pill. Water. Swallow. Pill. Water. Swallow. Coffee chaser.
‘We really need to go,’ she says.
‘We will,’ he says. ‘I stink, though.’ He unbuttons his shirt ‘We’re going to have to burn these.’ He winces as he takes his shirt off. Then the look on her face when she sees the injuries. ‘We knew this could happen,’ he says; ‘it’s not a total surprise.’
She takes a few seconds to gather herself. ‘Ok. You shower. I’ll get the antiseptic cream and set up the machine. Then we’re going. No arguments.’
‘I won’t take long,’ he says.
In the bathroom he twists to see in the mirror. It’s worse than he thought: what he’d give to never see that look on her face again. The bruises run from his left shoulder blade around to his chest, and from his right hip up to his stomach. They are dark and black, with purple edging. There’s something about bruises, sometimes. They can look beautiful. Or if not beautiful, intriguing. These ones just look nasty. His hands, wrists, elbows and knees are all cut up. This sleep keeps coming at him. Tired to his bones, he showers until the hot water runs cold.
The lounge room windows overlook the street, and Lisa’s watching cars when he comes back in. She has a Coltrane album playing. ‘I feel a bit more human,’ he says, and slumps into a chair. The dream machine and antiseptic cream are on the coffee table.
She turns and comes over. ‘Sit up properly.’ She taps his knee.
He sits up straight.
‘This might sting.’ She massages the cream into his shoulder. ‘A blue car’s been sitting out the front. You see it on your way in?’
He shakes his head and stares past her at the machine: a 1960s all-metal Burroughs design with an electric motor in the base. It has such a sure weight. The body, a polished cylinder with five rows of teardrop holes, encloses one light globe. Like a totem. When it spins, the holes glint the light at frequencies Burroughs devised to be seen with closed eyes. She’s put the pill bottles around the machine.
‘What’s doing this?’ she says.
‘I don’t know—’ He shifts in his seat.
She stops massaging. ‘This is how it happens,’ she says; ‘they come from all sides.’
He wants her to touch him again. ‘I don’t know what you want.’ He tries to quieten his shaking hands.
‘Tell me,’ she says.
‘I’ll be ok,’ he says.
‘Tell me the truth.’
He looks down. ‘They’re shooting me, ok.’ The words stick. ‘Two cops picked me up and took me to The Gap,’ he says. ‘They were going to throw me off.’ His voice is low. He concentrates on breathing. ‘I don’t know what’s a dream or not.’
She turns the machine on. ‘We’re transitioning now.’
He knows she’s right, but his vision hazes. ‘Too late,’ he whispers as everything recedes…
Lisa slumps in the chair. He’s gone in an instant, and she unwinds, grasping at evaporating moments. Not again. She’s this close to crying. A quiet descends on the house. This is all such a mess. She’s exhausted. After everything, she still can’t stop from thinking that she can’t keep doing this. She doesn’t want to believe any of it. At some point he won’t make it back. Each time a part of him erodes. If the SDC is this close, then there’s nowhere to go.
She has to stay awake. More coffee. Lights on. Windows opens. The blue car’s still there, so she closes and locks the lounge room windows. To arrive together they need to transition together.
She is in the kitchen when she hears the front door opening. Immediate relief. She rushes to the hall. She is not in the hall. She hasn’t moved from the kitchen. She checks all the rooms in the house. He’s not returned yet.
The sound of the door opening (again?). ‘She can’t contain her worry as she rushes to the door (again?) and opens it. No one’s there.
She deadbolts it and a slow and heavy quiet surrounds her. She yawns. When she hears the door opening (the second or third time?) her eyes won’t open. She fumbles at the handle, manages to open it, but she is not at the front door.
The kitchen is askew. The door (again?). She stands (again?) and rushes to it, opens it and peers out (again?). She closes it (again?) and slumps to the floor (again?). This is relentless. Not for the first time she just wants to sleep. It looks like their kitchen, but doesn’t feel like it. This is what happens every time he disappears. She replays it again and again.
When the front door opens (again, again, again, how many times again?) she is in the kitchen. Has she moved at all? She gets up from the table and leans in the doorway between kitchen and hall. She yawns.
Turtle rushes in. ‘The SDC’s here,’ he says. ‘It’s getting late. We need to go.’
She follows him into the lounge room. He looks terrible. His skin’s coloured grey. He’s falling from her — or worse, maybe he’s pushing her away — and she can’t stop it. He slumps into the lounge chair. Through the windows she sees an ambulance pull up in the street. Two paramedics jump out and run up the front stairs. Two more people jump from the blue car and run up the stairs. They pound on the door. Banging and yelling.
She turns the machine on and it spins into life. She sits next to him, ensures he’s facing the machine, holds his hand and closes her eyes.
Turtle has always found it easier to transition. Music helps her concentrate, but all there is now is banging and yelling. These things can’t be hurried, but she’s in a hurry. She has to go. Don’t think about it. Surrender.
The patterns, normally clear and fast, are dull and heavy. She searches for a full pattern to hold, but there is a silence in the visions that she has never encountered before.
Then a smooth and fast pattern flows across her and she feels a warm tingle.
Banging and yelling. ‘Miss! Miss!’
The tingle builds. Then a shaking rips her out.
She blinks. Everything’s bright. A paramedic is crouching next to her. She was almost gone.
‘Can you tell me your name,’ he says. ‘Who are you?’
This is not encouraging. ‘I hardly know,’ she says. His voice is dry and harsh.
‘What do you mean by that?’ he says.
‘I can’t explain,’ she says. It feels like ants with pins for legs are running under her skin.
‘Miss. Look at me.’ He flicks torchlight into her eyes and she blinks against it. ‘I know it hurts.’ He does it again. ‘I thought so.’ He gets a syringe. ‘This’ll keep you here.’ He injects her.
She is more than drowsy, and whatever this is, is extractive. Everything about her is numb.
He stands and speaks to someone she can’t quite see, then picks up the dream machine. ‘Shame, this is a nice old 1960s model,’ he says and rips the power cord out, unscrews the base, drops the body on the floor and stomps on it.
They lift her onto a gurney, strap her down and cover her with a blanket. They take her down the stairs and put her in the ambulance next to Turtle. The door shuts and it’s pitch black. They drive.
She is so tired, but now she feels like she’ll never sleep again. Everything is fuzzy, even her arms and legs. She can hear Turtle’s breathing. But she can’t see a thing.
When the paramedics take them from the ambulance, doctor van Eeden is standing over her, moving in that quiet confident way graceful people do.
‘Yes,’ the doctor says after checking both of them. ‘I’ll sign for these two.’
‘We had to sedate them,’ the paramedic says. ‘They were almost gone.’
The doctor sighs. ‘Not the best outcome, I’ll admit. My fault.’ He rubs his eyes. ‘Should have found them earlier. Take them to my office, please. Through the waiting room, down the hall, last on the right.’
The paramedics push them up a short driveway and inside. This time the SDC is an elegant stone cottage somewhere in the CBD. Its position is forever changing. The waiting room has big couches and an open fire, and smells homely.
‘Don’t struggle,’ the paramedic whispers as they pass under the ‘QUIET PLEASE’ sign that sits above the door to the hall. ‘I injected you with atonia.’
Her stomach turns: he’s a somnambulist — she should have known. It’s in the eyes. She wills her right arm to move, and although it feels like it is, she can see it is not. The hall’s silence is narrow and eerie, like another world. The paramedics place the gurneys next to each other in the doctor’s office: a simple room that smells of strong coffee and stale cigarettes, then leave without another word.
‘Lisa,’ the doctor says as he enters the room. ‘Who do you think you are?’ He slurps coffee from his chipped brown mug.
Not a reassuring opening. ‘I’m not feeling myself, you see,’ she says. She can’t stand the slurping, Turtle does it with soup.
‘What do you mean by that?’ he says; ‘explain yourself.’ He examines her eyes.
‘I can’t, I’m afraid,’ she says, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’ This conversation is a little strange.
‘I don’t see,’ the doctor says; ‘I don’t see anything. You should, however, say what you mean.’ He checks her blood pressure.
‘I do,’ Lisa replies; ‘at least— at least I mean what I say. That’s the same thing you know.’
‘Not the same thing a bit,’ he says. ‘You might just as well say “I see what I eat” is the same as “I eat what I see”! or,’ he continues; ‘you might as well say “I like what I get” is the same as “I get what I like”! or,’ he adds; ‘you might as well say “I breathe when I sleep” is the same as “I sleep when I breathe”!’
‘I’m just not feeling myself.’ She still can’t move at all.
‘So you’re changed,’ he says. He checks her heart.
‘I am,’ Lisa says; ‘I can’t remember things as I used to.’ She doesn’t like the way he’s touching her.
‘What things?’ the doctor asks.
She’s never been so contradicted in all her life, and feels she is losing her temper. ‘I think you sho—’
‘Follow with your eyes.’ He holds up two fingers and moves them across her vision. ‘How many fingers?’
‘Two,’ she answers.
‘What day is it?’ he says.
She considers this for a time. ‘The fourth.’
‘Three days wrong.’ He sighs.
‘Tell me what’s going on,’ she says.
‘You,’ the doctor says. ‘Who do you think you are?’
Which brings them back to the beginning; and as the doctor’s short remarks are unpleasant and irritating, and she can’t think of any good reason to stay, she tries to leave.
‘The atonia,’ he says. His sunken deep-set eyes narrow before he smiles. ‘You won’t be able to move for some hours yet. This is a compulsory admission.’ He slurps his coffee. ‘You’re both here for as long as I need to make a full assessment.’
Turtle wakes into a familiar room. Lisa is here. Initially he’s glad he isn’t in the alley, but then it takes time to assemble meaning: his peace of mind is artificial. He remembers something. With some effort he climbs off the gurney, but his legs won’t take his weight and his knees buckle, his eyes shut and he almost passes out. Steadying himself against her bed, he leans close. She’s sleep talking. ‘Wake up.’ He gently shakes her.
‘Wake up,’ he says.
She opens her eyes and looks around, and it takes a few seconds to gather her thoughts. She looks straight at him. ‘No.’
Now he remembers. That look on her face: he never wanted to see it again. ‘We have to go. Quickly,’ he says. His speech slows almost to a standstill as a weariness crashes on him. He can’t stop from yawning. ‘Why couldn’t we transition?’ he asks slowly. Minutes pass, and those minutes grow longer as the slow time protracts.
‘You don’t remember?’ she says. Her elongated words are stretched and drawn out.
He shakes his head. Slow time slips down the wall and lodges between the tiles, and with it the whole place is affected. This slow time, from wherever it came, must not win.
‘They gave us atonia.’ She sits up. ‘I tried to transition.’ She stands.
He takes her hand, and really wants to speak, but it’s taking all his effort to keep his eyes open. Atonia. No wonder; that explains everything. The aching in his joints. They sneak, slowly, into the hallway, where the building’s rhythm syncopates with his, as if it’s reinventing itself around him. He sees multiple versions of every room, tens of thousands of them, each with two people lying on gurneys with their eyes wedged open watching dream machines. The sheer size of the SDC is larger than he imagined. It overwhelms. He rests on the wall. Down the hall he sees there’s an empty room with a basic dream machine sitting idle on a small table. He knows what they have to do.
‘Are you alright?’ she asks.
He nods his head slow. ‘Let’s go,’ he says and holds her hand tight as he takes them to the other side of the building, somehow. Not sure how he did that. The movement was painless, but not benign. He feels woozy. ‘Time’s not working,’ he says. As he pushes the door open and enters the room Lisa falls backwards, dead weight, and his muscles seize. In an instant she is gone, disappeared, just now, a long time ago, and he unwinds, grasping at the evaporating moments spinning from him. She could be anywhere.
Left is gone, disappeared, and he is overtaken by the fear of something very old that will forever swallow him. The fear of disappearance without a trace, of nothingness nowhere, and as the disappearances continue — right is fading, as is up and down — he falls into doubt. Everything that’s not here is here, but is too far gone to be thought of as being still here. He drops to the floor, plunges back into himself, and crawls. It’s easier this way. Without left, right, up, down the room has him spinning. It takes him hours to inch and drag himself bit by bit across the floor towards the machine, and all the while he can’t even be sure it remains. This slow time shows him all his forgotten in-between thoughts and he does not like what he thinks. So there is a trace, that trace is the disconcertion, and that is what scares him. Now his hands are incomplete. He yawns. He only has his right eye, so focuses everything he’s got on the machine that is only metres away, but he doesn’t know if he can make it. Part of him, a large part of him, wants to lie down and sleep sleep sleep; it takes all his effort to keep going. He yawns as he struggles numb fingered with the machine. So, never once considering how in the world he was to get out again, he turns it on, closes his eye, which itself brings such relief and lets go. Shaking off the weight of fear, he floats from heavy to light, he is sunlight flickering through leaves, he flies under and it flows strong, point to point to point across him…
…From the beginning again looks like someone he doesn’t know. The foundations dull at the edge, obtuse and fractured they find and create no time. He knows he’s going under the things he takes for granted. He takes deep time. He starts forgetting himself. He bought night wings when he was low and people wouldn’t speak to him. He has such a heavy load. Night spores spring and thoughts live underneath the river bed near the pulse laden with colours. Silhouette houses, they are expensive, flow into all the forgotten places where he wishes he could stay. There is something in the way he walks. He takes cool skin. Fourteen-day-long words cry silky snow-sheets along wind-blasted white beach-cliffs. Clouds become rivers and inundate in a common rhythm that saturates gestures so their transparencies emerge and they speak in geometry. They appear sophisticated, but are crude and jagged. Surfaces decelerate, cease and take another turn. Inferences and gaps surge while light separates and drifts. He would talk about things that aren’t there. And that was a problem. He forgets himself. There are half-spaces.
The Hypnagogic is gritty and itchy on his skin, which is odd because feeling doesn’t typically happen here. Normally there is a uniformity here that renders Dreaming and Hypnagogic seamless and littoral. As he falls weightless towards a somatic Dreaming, which is also odd because direction and physicality don’t usually happen here, shapes distinguish themselves. He feels awkward because seeing doesn’t usually happen here either. Below, or above, dreams tear from the Dreaming, float into the Hypnagogic, then dissolve. They leave gaping holes. So this tacky itchy crap is dream goo. He rubs at it, but can’t get it off, it’s everywhere.
He hardly knows how he got here, but instinct says go to it. The Dreaming flinches when he lands, so he whispers an apology for putting down heavier than he wanted. The laceration’s edge is torn and spongy with blood. It reminds him of a sink hole, and although he doesn’t like diving into the unknown, instinct says jump. Down, down, down. The walls are stratified like wonky lines of blue, polished rocks. Down, down, down. Dreams track like veins and arteries, cris-crossing at divergent angles. He’s taken by how smooth the wall is. Down, down, down, and into the blood, which isn’t liquid at all, but mist — his expected splash is just a puff — then into a tunnel, where he tumbles for some way, but then it dips and he falls straight down again. Down, down, down. Then the tunnel evaporates into clouds thick with song, and his fall is over as he floats on the concert amid tender-smelling air. These are the songs of his childhood. They are his. He is rain and is aware of more than just himself as others’ understandings lay out before him and expose his feelings. These attachments strengthen him. Everyone is rain: dreams, dreamers, even dreamriders, but he can’t find Lisa. She has to be here somewhere. He tries everything he can think of to reach out. He is astonished when he drops from the clouds after discovering that everyone is awake. They can’t be. Everything unravels as the songs cease. Now he plummets: down, down, down towards a strange ground that’s there, not there, there again. Barren, its lack of substance disorients. Without landmarks, its definitions are the same. Down, down, down. Instinct says he’ll be fine.
Centimetres from the strange-ground he pulls up and hovers. None of them are rain anymore. Some flash across the grubby sky; some flutter; some drop straight down, but upon crashing into the strange-ground each becomes topography, all dreck and oddments. He’s heard of this. Those who fall into the Dreaming but disappear before reaching the ground, they jolt awake, safe in the Waking. Those who don’t disappear, die in their sleep: heart attack, stroke, aneurism. He takes no comfort from knowing that the dreams are not suffering. He suffers fragility, knowing this shouldn’t be.
Thunder cracks. Behind him a ragged black storm sits low on the horizon, sucking things up off the strange-ground and rolling up, sharp-edged into the sky. Everything bristles in moments of compacted distances, fractured light, and hidden places being dragged up from inside. A wind gust heaves the storm towards him. Lightning flashes. He can’t stay in the air. The sky’s distortions: smudges, blots, and nicks and scuffs are as obvious as an old photograph that’s been scrunched up and smoothed over, but the wrinkles remain.
He flies low, just long enough to get well away from the storm, but when he lands the unstable terrain tugs as his resolve. Then the storm catches him. Then the wind cedes and the storm stalls, ticking and popping like a cooling motor. Then the storm falls. Turtle runs. It would have hit him, but the tremor it sends out through the strange-ground, like a wave through land, knocks him over. He stands and brushes himself off. He’s in the alley, but it’s marooned by a sea of strange-ground. Behind him, the storm hisses and a crack appears in its blue-grey side. Then rain swarms from the fracture to protect the hive. Each droplet is abuzz with spinning razor-sharp edges. His isolation weakens him.