12 November 2017

Awake By the Sea of Dreams

My right arm woke me up. I was dreaming. Bad dreaming. Fighting things I could not clearly see, I flailed and screamed in desperation. Clenched fist on the end of a swinging arm. In the real world my arm spasmed. My fingers smashed into a pencil cup crammed with pens and a small crafting knife. The pens spilled over the desk in muted tintinnabulation. The cup itself clattered like a cowbell against the steel sash of the window, ricocheting into my chest as I flung my self up and awake. The world swam into focus.

“Where am I?” I croaked. It was nearly dark except for lamplight and a gauzy moon rising over the headland. My face was wet on one side.

My hands shook. I raised the left one to my left cheek. It felt hot and damp. And flat. I had been sleeping, head down on the desk. The dampness turned out to be drool, confirmed by the wet patch on the note paper in front of me.

Night. No idea how late, or how early. The sea groaned and boomed down on the tide line. Breeze, salty and cool, blew softly through the open casements facing the beach. The fire I had lain hours ago was down to dull embers. Red patches like the eyes of spiders crouching in the firebox. Faint yellow rays leaked from the lantern perched at the end of the desk. Something told me it was in need of fuel.

I decided it could wait. My heart was still racing. Phantoms were fading from my mind. Shivering, anxious, I found myself with no desire to recall what they had been. Not now.

I looked around the cottage. Nothing unusual could I see. The louvers on the west side were in place. I remembered adjusting them earlier before I sat down to write. The fading sun had been a bit much, then. The door was still closed. Locked, too, from what I could see.

Turning back to the water I could make out some profiles in the weak moonlight glow. Clumps of seaweed on the beach. The curl of breakers, with faint phosphorescent edges, sliding up the beach. A dark blocky shape on the horizon, small and indistinct. Pinpoints of light wavered on the swell. A freighter, maybe? Bulk carrier? No way to tell. The shape momentarily disappeared, dipping I thought below the horizon. Fog might be gathering out there. Or heavy chop. The wind was picking up.

I shivered again. Manannan stirred, I could feel it in the thrum of the waves hitting the sand. How long I had been asleep, there was no way to know. I had no clear recollection of what I had done between arriving at the cottage earlier in the day and when I sat down to write. Except dinner. Dinner had been a hasty affair of roasted fish and day old cornbread washed down with tepid tea. Then I sat at the desk to write. I had hoped to cast off the jumbled emotions and stresses of the previous week.

The cottage is good for that sort of thing. To my chagrin it is not without failure now and then. Tonight had been less than a success.

A sharp puff of wind hit my face. The cool, briny air perked me up. With a napkin I wiped my face. The simple action brought my pulse down further. Anxiety receded not unlike the wavelets down the strand. The bad dream was dissolving like mist. The walls of the cottage lit up, brilliant white in the beam of the lighthouse up on the head.

Day bloomed briefly to sparkle on the disarray of pens strewn across the desk. I began to corral the pens into the cup. The crafting knife had lodged itself point first in the bead board paneling. I tugged gently to free it. It was then I noticed writing scrawled across the top sheet of paper. The light flared, was gone.

So. I must have written something. Not much from the looks of it, although the remaining light was too dim to make out what I had jotted down. I put the pens and the knife in the cup. In the shadows I sat breathing slowly for a few minutes. For some reason I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I had written. The lighthouse beam pulsed and flared. I did not look down. My interest had attached itself to the ship or whatever it was out there on the horizon. I watched until the sea or fog or who knows what made it disappear.

I reached for the lantern. Turning up the wick, a pool of yellow light spilled across my desk. Leaning forward I could make out my spidery scrawl, dark blue ink tracking across the cream of the paper, curling slightly from damp and spit. There were two sentences written there. Terse, compact, brittle in the lamplight.

“In the battle for self-worth being your own worst enemy is a guaranteed path to defeat. In this arena, I exist to be rejected.”

I don’t know what surprised me more, the deep cuts of the words or the sudden tightening of throat and moistening of eye that stole over me. Head in my hands, the cottage dimmed in a swirl of emotions that took my breath away. The events of the week bowled me over. No amount of speed or finesse was going to take me from their path.

This explained the dreams. The shadows in the cave of the head and the heart. Fighting things I could not describe except through the dread and pain they laid upon my desperate soul. Well-mannered ghouls plucking at the flesh. The flesh itself recoiling and quivering as it sought escape.

I rocked back and forth until my breath was under control. The cool damp had made its way into my bones. The ghost of William Faulkner whispered in my ear “A man always falls back upon what he knows best in a crisis—the murderer upon murder, the thief thieving, the liar lying.” I had no plans to kill, steal, or lie, but what I was going to do was make a pot of tea. Warmth would help, Tea would have to do for warmth, as there was no one with me to offer theirs.

And probably wouldn’t be, pessimism congealing in my heart. I picked up the paper. The fire would need stoking. My hands ripped the paper into strips. The dry scrape of it abraded my heart. Leaning into the fireplace, I blew on the embers while casting about for the poker. A few thrusts of the cast iron, a few breaths, and the embers glowed as if eager to burn the past. The present. Telling omens for the future.

I cast the ragged strips into the coals. They writhed and curled and burst into flames as I watched. Shadows danced over my face and the walls. I fetched the teapot from the mantel as the paper swiftly burned down to ashes. Out past the eastern windows the Sea of Dreams muttered and moaned, waiting for me fall asleep once again.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...