In honor of the Halloween season, I’ve decided to do something a little different by sharing a much longer story with you. I wrote this a few months before I started the blog, and it will take three days in all to unfold. I hope you enjoy it as much as you do my shorter works.
“Does it count as a recurring dream if only the setting stays the same?” she asked.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” her husband said over his newspaper. “Everybody has dreams that take place in certain familiar places, like the house they grew up in.”
“This is different,” she said. “This isn’t any real place I’ve ever been; it’s like a strange city buried deep underground. All the streets are just big halls, and the houses are mostly sets of rooms cut into the stone.”
“Like caves?” he asked, putting the paper aside and holding out his cup for a refill.
“No, not really,” she said as she poured him more coffee. “They look just like normal houses inside, with regular rooms and straight, square, paneled walls. Sometimes the floors are bare stone, but sometimes they have rugs or even hardwood floors. The only thing out of the ordinary is that there are no windows, except on the side they face into the street.”
“You mean hall.”
“Well, yes, but they’re used as though they were streets. I mean they’re public places, and people come and go freely down them, whereas the houses are private places with doors that lock and belong to the people who live in them. I think.”
“Are there cars in the streets, too?” he asked, seeming genuinely interested.
“No, there aren’t any cars, nor machines of any kind. I mean there are simple machines, but not modern machines like cars and radios and electric light. It’s kind of a medieval-type place, but clean and…” – she struggled to find the right word - “…I don’t know, middle-class I guess.”
“Like an underground medieval suburb?” he laughed.
“No, silly,” she smiled, realizing how absurd it sounded. “I just mean it isn’t filthy and poor, with a bunch of one-room hovels full of miserable people eating black bread and gruel. The houses are spacious and well-decorated, and the people are healthy and happy and have plenty to eat; it’s just that they don’t have modern technology.”
“It sounds to me as though you’ve been reading too many fairy tales,” he said teasingly, rising from the table. “You should be glad you live in a modern age with labor-saving conveniences that give you the time to read; women in those days had a lot more work.”
“Well, they had servants too,” she said, following him to the door with his coat and hat. “At least, middle and upper-class people did. I read somewhere that men in preindustrial societies actually worked fewer hours than most men do now, and women worked about the same unless they were lower-class or pioneers or something.”
“And speaking of work,” he said, “I’ll be late if I don’t get moving. I’ll see you tonight, beautiful dreamer.” She put her arms around his neck and stood on tiptoe to kiss him, then waved as he set off down the block to the train station.
But afterward, she realized that he hadn’t answered the question.
That night, she walked the streets of the strange city again; it was pretty, but not fantastic. The architecture seemed real and practical, rather than ethereal and achingly beautiful like the illustrations in magazines. The designs were intended to please the eye and create light, airy spaces in what was essentially a cavern, a place which would otherwise be unfit for healthy human habitation. For there was light; it came down from far above, and was bright enough that she couldn’t look into it, and natural enough to sustain beds of flowers and even a few ornamental shrubs here and there. One tower (a true freestanding tower rather than something cut from the rock) was even covered with ivy. The air was sweet and pure, though it did have a slight staleness which, she thought, was only natural for a place so far underground. She knew that as surely as if she could see it; this place, this city, lay buried deep in the earth under miles of rock, with no obvious connection to the surface at all.
Nobody seemed to mind, though. She walked through a lovely little cobblestoned square with a fountain in its center, and laughing children playing hide and seek while nearby adults chatted or carried packages or tended small garden plots; in the distance she could hear a dog barking, and behind a wall the sound of a hammer striking metal. A few red chickens chased insects across the paving-stones, and a cat perched like a sphinx on the edge of the fountain and regarded her with quiet curiosity. She sat down near it, and it moved a little so that she would not be quite so near and shifted its attention to the chickens. She looked down at the cobblestones, worn smooth by the passage of countless feet over what must have been many centuries; how old was this place? The edge of the fountain was in good repair, but clearly exceedingly ancient; the fountain itself was if anything older still, but in the absence of the elements which would weather stone in the surface world, the marble nymph was able to conceal her true age most enviably.
She looked at her hands; they were as soft as those in her waking life, with no sign of the calloused dryness which betokened a life of toil. Her nails were well-manicured, and her wedding ring occupied its accustomed place on her hand. Her dress was of several layers of sheer silk, thick enough for modesty yet light and cool, and her slippers were far too delicate for walking on anything rougher than pavement. So her condition in this dream-world was certainly no worse than that in waking life, and the people she encountered smiled or waved as though they knew her.
But with the realization that she was dreaming, the scene vanished like a soap bubble and she awakened in the warm darkness of her own bed. Her husband shifted restlessly, no doubt disturbed slightly by the slight start of her awakening. So she lay quietly so as to avoid arousing him completely, and though it took a very long time she eventually drifted back to sleep, and dreamt no more of the strange city that night…or if she did, she did not remember it.
“Are you sure you’re awake?” he asked. “That’s the third time I’ve asked where the butter is.” She suddenly realized that he was standing in the kitchen door rather than sitting at the table as he had been; she realized guiltily that he must’ve asked for the butter once or twice and then gone to fetch it himself when she had failed to respond.
“I’m so sorry, darling,” she said, then “sit down and I’ll get it for you.”
As she placed it on the table before him he asked, “Didn’t you sleep well last night?”
“Oh, it’s just that dream again,” she said in an annoyed tone. “It’s just so clear and intense, that I have trouble getting it out of my head.”
“If you have a nightmare you should wake me up,” he said sympathetically, placing his hand on hers. “You know I wouldn’t mind.”
“But that’s just it, it isn’t a nightmare. Like I was trying to tell you yesterday, what happens in the dream is always different; it’s only the setting that’s the same.”
“The underground city?”
“Yes. All sorts of different things happen, but never anything scary; it’s only that the setting is so strange, and so incredibly detailed.”
“Do all of your dreams take place there?”
“Oh, no, not at all; I have lots of regular dreams as well. Sometimes I go weeks without having one that takes place there, but it always eventually comes back, and much more frequently now.”
“Now? How long have you been having these dreams?”
“For years now, at least since we’ve been married. But they used to be pretty rare, until the past few months when they started to come more frequently.”
“Honey, is something wrong? Are you unhappy?” She could see he was genuinely concerned.
“Oh, no, nothing like that!” she reassured him. “I’m not at all unhappy, and I don’t know why I keep having them; they don’t seem to relate to anything going on in my life.”
“Well, you should try to put them out of your mind, at least when you’re occupied with other things,” he said gently. “It wouldn’t do for my little one to burn herself or trip and fall because her mind is somewhere else.”
“You’re right, of course; maybe it would help if I told you the dreams when I have them. But I just feel so damned silly.”
“If it helps, tell them by all means,” he said. “Anything to ensure you get your beauty sleep.” She assured him she would report the next such dream, and after he left for the day she found more than enough to occupy her time and attention, and thought no more that day about the strange buried city.
To be continued…