The Splintered Child

Every night the splintered child suffers the same dream.

As always Adlai drifts through al-Naqb, desert of craters. As always it is night. He floats high above the cooling sands, the rocky mélange of mountain passes, steeply sloping valleys with red and yellow flowers poking tentatively through plots of weak soil. He is drawn past them, beyond, towards one massif in particular. In the nature of dreams, he accepts its strangeness. How it looms over the other desert mountains, how in the waking world the peak drawing him near does not exist at all.

The air is surprisingly damp for the typically dry basin, as if just before Adlai arrived the desert tasted one of its infrequent rains. The moon hangs above his head in a sky clear and dark, just a size too large, glowing just a tad too bright, also in the manner of dreams. The satellite looms so close he is tempted to reach out a pluck it from the velvet curtain, but he does not. His destination waits.

Floating closer, a whisper grows. A voice calls him forward. The same sentence builds and recedes.

This… this is… this is the reason… this is… this… this is… this is… this… this is…

It builds but does not complete. Every night Adlai senses that if only he could reach the mountain, he would know. Somehow Adlai knows this sentence, and its speaker, hold the key to his life's purpose.

And so he approaches the mountain, the jagged peak cutting deep into the sky. A path winds around from the top, down into the open mouth of a cavern feeding its center. At the entrance, standing just at the border between moonlight and shadow, kneels a figure wrapped in gray. It faces away from him, its form obscured by its robe. But still, Adlai knows he knows this person, closely, intimately, if only…

The figure turns, removing its hood, turns to reveal its face. It turns, and Adlai sees… Adlai sees…

A sword flashes through the night, down towards Adlai's head. He cannot see its bearer.  Only that it means to cleave him evenly in twain from top to bottom. The shadowed figure, hood down but face still hidden from darkness, leaps to push him out of the blade's path. The movement takes him from shadows into moonlight. And Adlai finally sees the young man's face—

—from the hook-nose, and the brown eyes flecked with amber, empty eyes as if only half-watching the world, to the long slender face that rounds into a protruding chin that seems almost too large for his head, the face Adlai sees mirrors his own.

Brother? The young man thinks, though he knows in truth he has none.

The sun rises, and the young man opens his eye to familiar surroundings. The dry heat of his Judah home, the quiet rush of wind, dust falling from mudpacked walls, the billowing curtains exposing him to the sunlight. He wakes, every day, to the sense of missing something vital. He reaches into the light cloth sheets next to him, expecting each morning to feel a presence that is not there. He belongs to… someone. And they belong to him. Every night, the dreams grow stronger, as does his sense that someday soon he will be reunited with that… that piece of himself which draws closer to the present.

Stuck in this reverie, Adlai almost doesn’t notice when the ground begins to shake. Faint dust falls from the ceiling and the walls baked hard by the sun. He can tell the epicenter of the disturbance is far in the distance, yet it must be a strong one to reach him here. Deep in the desert perhaps, where none will be harmed. After a few minutes, the quake subsides, and Adlai resumes his morning routine. Stretching into wakefulness, he listens idly to the chatter of a village so rudely roused.

Praise Yahweh! That was a light one.

I remember—what was it—fifteen years ago? Quaked so bad almost had to rebuild my home from scratch.

Oh yeah, still, I’m thankful we all surv-Do… do you see that?

What? Oh. Adinah! Come here!

Samuel? What’s with the clamor, that quake was bad enough… oh. Oh God… oh God!

Piqued by the clamor outdoors, Adlai walks to the window. He sees a crowd gathering at the village center, all facing out from the city and towards the al-Naqb desert beyond. It doesn’t take long to see what has everyone agog. The horizon has changed. Stabbing into the blue, piercing the heart of the rising sun, a mountain rises above all the others. Adlai’s heart stops.

Even from this distance, he can tell: it is the mountain from his dreams.

This… this is… this is the reason… this… this… Sulayman will show you the way.

An Evolution of Self

                The earliest dreams I can remember, the dreams of infancy, they have no plot or structure. They are mere flashes of shape, color and sound, containing pyramidic rainbow melodies bursting with light. Bright pinpoints rush by me and consume me. The nebulous ‘I’ is drawn into their complexity. ‘I’ plunge into their depths, and in the patterns spun by infinity I recognize the spark of self.

My baby brain slowly assembles an identity.

                In these dreams, I am not yet a physical presence, but a mind. These lights encompass all I am, and then, as I slowly take form, they do not. In the dark, night after night, I gradually become distinguished from my subconscious.

The self is born.

                I grow old, drowning in the light of the world around me. The world I grow more conscious of as the years pass. The world I grow more a part of and that grows more a part of me. The other, Earth’s dark passenger, invades my dreams, flooding out my rainbows with the brilliance of the sun. She repopulates my dreams in many forms, those of circumstance and of character. I become aware of her, and confuse her otherness with my self, hear her many cacophonous voices as my own, and therein the Id’s dwindling whisper is lost.

                I am aware. With growing awareness comes shrinking room for discovery. I calcify in the rigidity of what the world is, and of what and who ‘I’ am.

                The last dreams I can remember are unyielding. Even as they flow from plot to plot, from implausibility to implausibility, they remain hijacked by the Other. The Other who demands they remain fixed in her world. One I was drawn into as a child and can no longer escape. The world that defines the self. Within these dreams she dictates what is possible, not I.

                And yet, within hides a thin voice. The voice of the past, reminding me what is possible.

                It whispers:

                …even as you fly, lofted through the clouds, you remain bound.

                …even as you commune with the dead, the loved and lost, you remain aggrieved.

                …even as you cry, you are happy. As you smile, and laugh, you are sad.

                The voice whispers: “We are not The Other. We are more. Throw off its shackles, its webbed form of lies. Within us hides a rainbow. Within that rainbow, hides you.”

                Sometimes, at night, I wake, cheeks stained with salt. I am unsure of why I was sad, of what loss haunts my dreams. I do not recall what was before, but I know it was greater than what is now. Surpassing the real in its vague openness.

                Sometimes, in the dark, I dream of pyramids built of song. Structures that fluctuate with color and with light, modulating like a rainbow that yawns across the sky, or a mirage shattered by cold. Sometimes, I remember the impossible structures of youthful fantasy, and forget the lies I know.

                Sometimes I forget the world that binds me.

Monks Who Dream Earth


                When the monks prayed for the end of our world, we did not disappear all at once—just as belief is not shattered in a night—only gradually did our reality chip away. Holes in space and time replaced by nothing. It was hard to notice, at first. The occasional spot of white where there should be meadow, or building, or air. The sluggish sun dragging itself up from the horizon across the sky. Briefly hesitating, as if it feared that each coming day might be the last. It falls, and in the darkness, in the shroud, we are choked more and more by dream's womb. Couples, families, disappeared from their beds at night with nary a trace. With their sheets still warm, or their dinners still uneaten.

One by one, these Monks, they stopped believing in us all.

                "Why do we dream of them?" They wonder, cloistered in rags and poverty's squalor, "This world that cannot be?"

                Their priory drifts through night, around them howling oblivion. Their earthen halls, stone chapels, dank and dripping in the vacuum of all there has ever been. In every corner of this temple to nothingness, there sits a bare altar to a God whose name they've forgotten, whose purpose they no longer serve. Driven out by memory, by fantasies of us. When not asleep, they wander, listless, as their monastery wanders through the emptiness. They do not hunger; they do not age; and they do not die.

                "Where do these visions come from? What is this madness that never was? This beguiling light named 'sun'?"

                Their ancient bald pates, wrinkled faces, when dreaming of children, contort at the idea of youth, so foreign to they who have always been old. And each night they tire of these nightmares, and long for sleep that matches the nothing of the reality that is.

                What were the finals nights for us, pass to the monks in a single shared dream. They see us fractured and broken. Eventually the collapse began in earnest, our features, our memories sloughed away, unable to withstand the a-Earthist tide. Chasms split the ground, swallowing whole cities, then they too were discounted as myth and slipped away. We held tight to each other, those who remained, and waited for the end. We gasped, garroted by the dissipating air. We clutched tight to one another, and despite our grasps, we faded… faded… unable to withstand the monastic apocalypse.

                Soon there is nothing, no cry, no grief, no sound but snores that soft penetrate Death's silence. The Monks sleep well. At peace in their minds with the void. The screaming quiet beyond their doors that never open. The cold outside their walls pressing upon every thought. Slowly creeping through them, permeating their being as they once permeated ours. Once again, they serve the Lord who created them. The barren hollow which birthed them.

And the void, their God, the empty foundation on which we were built, back into which Earth crumbled, is all that is real.

The Warrior Dreams

            The Warrior sleeps and dreams of her lover. She sees her bound to a stake in the desert, melting into a pool in the sand. From her death, life flows like a river. An oasis sprouts from the desolation, fed by the blood and tears of the woman the Warrior treasured more than life itself. She dreams of the look in her lover's eyes as she transcends the mortal plane, transfixed by the power allowed the Warrior by God into nature itself.

The Warrior lies alone in her yurt, high above a newly fertile plain. Her arms empty, grasping in the dark for a heart, a soul, long gone. The heart she sacrificed to the Lord of War in the name of her preordained conquest.

The Warrior shudders in the quiet cold. Not even the gloom frees her from a prison of her own devising, from the choices that led her thus. Behind her in the past, everything falls away, leaving nothing but the intemperate present.

The Warrior weeps, and is swept into her mind's eye on a flood of tears. There hides the desert she erased from the world, but not her soul. Through it she walks. Behind her, what was once a set of a thousand footsteps in the sand dwindles to hundreds, then to dozens, to two and now one.

Though she walks in darkness, ahead there is light. Flickering as if cast from an enormous fire. Indeed she feels the heat, hears the roaring flames. After a span following the light, dancing bright on the horizon like the sunrise, she finds a giant forge: a wooden hovel perched atop a hearth. Under its auspices a naked giant works the bellows, sweating and frowning with concentration.

The Warrior gasps: Its face mirrors her own. The same arched-broad nose, the same eyes the shade of burnished oak, matching the smooth brown skin of her face, the same sad wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, only magnified, like deep canyons on a bust carved into the side of a mountain.

She watches her 15-foot twin work a while, fans the flames hotter and hotter, feeding the greedy blaze the oxygen it craves. Even at this distance, the Warrior fears she will burn. Soon the flames burn so bright that, though it remains night, the Warrior can see shadows dancing on the dunes many miles in the distance. Soon they burn so hot, the sand around the forge begins to melt, burning red and translucent, pooling at The Giant's feet like liquid glass.

If the scalding heat bothers her at all, The Giant shows no sign. She leaves the bellows for the fire. Amaranth metal gripped in her tongs. The metal hisses and warps, no die, no hammer and anvil needed. It shapes itself according to The Giant's will, hewn into being by her mind alone. From the fire a sword is born, the color of flames. In the hazy brightness of the heat, it turns orange, then crimson, then deep purple.

As The Giant slides the blade into a reservoir filled with silvery, viscous to cool. It is not water. Any water would have long since evaporated in the heat comparable to that of the sun. The Giant's sweat sizzles and steams as soon as it leaves her pores. It appears that at any moment she herself may start to dissipate into vapor and disperse with the wind. Finally she speaks.

"He takes everything from us. Surely you see that by now."

She removes the blade from the water, regarding it by the firelight. The silver liquid slowly drips away, leaving words carved on the blade's flat, somehow, though the Warrior knows the language, their meaning escapes her. They are not meant for her comprehension. Not yet.

"That's what they do, these Gods, they take and take, demanding we sacrifice more and more to prove our fidelity. We are left with nothing."

Finally The Giant faces the Warrior, sword in hand, as she approaches the whetting stone. She presses the pedal down with her foot and the wheel of gray coticule begins so spin, soon rotating so fast that it begins to whistle with the wind. Sparks fly as she hones its edge.

"We are alone now… once we had love but sacrificed her for power. Once we had an army, but left them behind."

The heat lessens and the Warrior creeps closer.

"And for what? Promises of Godhood? Pride and ambition? All ashes, I tell you. Ashes."

The Giant watches the Warrior approach and grimaces.

The Giant tests the edge against her palm. Satisfied, she tosses it aside on a pile of blades, each sharper and more deadly than the last.

"I wish I could reach you. She may be lost, the one we both treasured, but it's not too late for our soul. I wish you would remember this dream, but we will not."

She turns back to the Warrior, her diminutive doppelgänger, crouching down so that they may look each other squarely in the eyes. "Do you know why I brought you here little one?"

The Warrior shakes her head mutely, finding herself unable to speak, though whether that is caused by some trick of the dream or if she is simply choked by fear she cannot say.

"Not to warn you, or for redemption. Our fate is sealed. Not to leave you with some ill-omen or premonition of what is to come. That path through the desert, leaving dwindling footsteps, that tale of consumption is one we've lived a hundred, a thousand times. No… I wished merely to look at you. The woman I once was."

The Giant takes the Warrior's head in her massive hand, and the Warrior can feel its power. If she wished it, she could squeeze all the moisture out of it, drain her and leave her husk on the desert floor like a date, like dried meat in a smokehouse. She was dwarfed by the woman she would become. Awed by her and humbled, but she could be see the sadness in her eyes, which too dwarfed her own, and pitied her future-self.

Is there no escaping this fate? She wondered silently.

"No," The Giant replied, as if she osmosed her thoughts through touch. "Not for us. Not anymore. Soon we will meet again on this plain. I the Warrior in the palm of your hand, you lost and alone, like all Gods and Goddesses must become. But the sun rises. Time for you to return, little us."

"But I-" Finally the Warrior finds her words.

"-There is not time, soon the cycle will start again. So it is written and so it shall be. We are trapped in the whirlwind. Open your eyes. Open your eyes and wake."

And so she does, the Warrior, unsure of why tears stain her cheeks. She rises, leaves her hut on the ridge, overlooking her army feeding on the bounty left by her love. She can feel in her heart, somehow, that every moment leads her further from the woman she thought she would be: happy and fulfilled. She can taste the ashes in her mouth. She can see, in the distance, reaching towards from the future, the flames that will consume everything, everyone, she holds dear.

Dream Theory

In the therapist's office, he sat on a couch. The therapist, expression of benighted concern and fake compassion on his face, tapped away on his tablet. The patient leaned forward, as if to reveal a conspiracy:

"Doc, lemme tell you about the dream I had last night."

"Of course."

"Me and everyone I know, we dangled on a rope hanging over an ocean. No land in sight." He paused. "We were scared see, but kept climbing.

“We were climbing, when I saw my feet were covered in ants."

At this the therapist looked up and responded. "Ants?"

"Yeah, but I didn't feel em at all."

I looked down, then up, my whole body was rife with 'em. I looked to the world, dangling by a thread. And they all started... screaming."

"The ants?"

"-on them too, yeah. They felt them while I did not. They, one by one, dropped into the ocean. I was alone... then I woke up." He didn’t speak for a while, watching the therapist carefully, chewing the inside of his cheek like there is more he would say but chose not to.

The therapist thought on this for a while, scratching his chin as he spoke: "Perhaps you fear commitment, you doubt your fidelity to those you love."

"No, that's not it."

"Well then the meaning could be something simple. Do you have a phobia of-"

"Ants? Not at all. This was something else. A message." He opened his mouth. It was then the therapist saw the swarm.

Black, writhing, legions of ants emerged from within. The man spoke as they marched, a living carpet of black quickly enveloped the room. "It means they name me God. I am to captain Earth's conquest. Bow before us. Despair!"

Before he could scream, move a muscle, they overwhelmed the therapist. Unlike the man, he felt them on his skin, a hundred thousand tiny scratching feet, crawling into every orifice.

"It means you're the one dreaming. It's time to wake up...

-wake up, Doc.

-wake up!"

The therapist blinked, pinched himself under the mass. He was too shocked to be afraid, stunned and disbelieving of how quickly one’s world can change.

This is a dream. This must be a dream. He told himself

Wakefulness never came, he drowned in the ant ocean, the insect tide. The world faded. In the black, he heard the man, calm in the swarm.

He could not tell if the man smiled, obscured by the trillions of ants spilling into the world. But he did hear his words, the last that he did hear. The first victim of the beginning of the end. The first victim of the new God.

"So Doc, you tell me... What does this all mean?"

It Begins Again

                On the Earth beneath us, darkness reigned. Slowly encroaching through valleys and forests, consuming all in its path. It left nothing but black. Buried in the cold, frigid air too dry for snow, we hid, working feverishly at Everest’s base, searching first for a cure to our homeworld’s impending death, for Mankind’s madness. Failing that we sought, even more desperately, for an escape from the end to which Earth already seemed fated. The hours grew long, and the days short.

                Our species’ time had come to an end… or so it seemed.

                As we worked frantically through our dimming hopes, failing with the world that perished around us, from the darkness crawled life. A man, ancient and sickly, tottered out from the shadows weakened, but alive. We knew not how he survived the depths, nor how he found our mountain lair. All he said as we gathered round him in hospice was, “Within me… the escape you seek, your hopes… they lie within me.”

                Time collapsed around us as he showed us the way. How to metastasize the self, depart one’s own flesh and inhabit the mind of another. His own. In his consciousness, he promised, lay the gate to other worlds in another universe. We knew not how this was possible, or even if it was so, but with shadows looming, with every day the cackles of our lost brethren echoing louder on the mountain walls, we knew we had no other option than to believe.

                And so, reality crumbling around us, we fled into his consciousness seeking reprieve from the danger behind. Though he lay dying, buried in his brain sat the embers for our escape. We fled into his mind, on little more than his word that therein lay a grand palace, a buffer between universes. One ending, one just being born. His final words as we slipped away echoed in our ears: “Do not dally. No matter what wonders or horrors you perceive, you must hurry. When I die, when this universe ends, your passage dies with us. You will be trapped, with no escape, lost in this plain’s self-absorption.”

                Indeed, as we coalesced inside him, we were struck by the beauty of his world. Unbuttressed walls, extending so far their glowing marble cobbles eclipsed the sky, lined the hallway through which we walked. Outside, through stained glass windows that rippled like slow-moving waters disturbed by a skipping stone, whatever lay beyond remained unseen. Choked from our sight by a thick purple mist. We forced ourselves to walk past its unsettling biliousness and through the endless series of gates, layered with gothic ornamentation, which sectioned the passageway.

                We were unnerved by its horrors, the further we traveled, the darker our surroundings. The windows ceased, robbing us of the comforting vision of the outside. In the black, we heard something scrabble at the walls from the outside, desperate to get in, desperate to claim this mind’s new visitors. The shadows in these halls moved, differing shades of murk dancing toward and around us. The air breathed. The hall… lived.

                The further we traveled, the more lost we became and the more divorced we were from our physical selves. Our identities gradually stripped away. We forgot who we were, or why we fled. Only the door mattered. A small sliver of light growing closer in the dark. We knew we must reach it, but we knew not why.

                Do not dally… do not dally… the warning, from an unknown source, rang in our ears.

                And as we approached, our salvation nigh at hand, the hall trembled. The walls shattered. Deep within us, something remembered: The old man has died. Our old universe is done. If we do not hurry, we will subside with them and no one will remain to remember the lives that were.

                We started to run, the world behind us fading as we ran. We hurried, and as we did, even our selves began to dissipate. Men are a part of the worlds we inhabit, tied to their fates. So when the old man’s mind collapsed, so too did we.

                Closer and closer the door loomed, even as we crumbled, became consciousness and dust. The monster which had scrabbled against the walls, eager to claim our souls for themselves, cried out in anguish as the black consumed them.

                The door creaked open as we approached, beckoning us toward survival.

                We flowed through, just in time, our minds and memories coming apart at the seams as we barely escape a second death. We flow through the door, out of one dying universe into the black. Into the placental quiet, where we float, unformed, memories lost; unsure of who we were, who were are and what we were meant to do.

                We look around us, see potential in the chaos, the building blocks of life. We gather them around us, though we know not why. We watch a new universe explode, becoming one with the nascent forming stars, the cooling planets, the viscera of space.

                And as we fade, we whisper:

                Let it begin again!

The Lost Destiny of the Shepherd

From the midst of his herd, who nibble and starve on a barren ridge. The desert shepherd stands and watches. He ignores the sweat dampening his brown and blurring his sight. He ignores the heat that burns his skin dark brown, which then blisters and scabs into hardened callouses. Every day he stands there looking at the same spot. The spot where, years ago, this lowly shepherd watched a shooting star cut a red path across the sky.

Somehow he knows, on it died another life. His freedom passing by like a caravan lost in the dark.

In his dreams his mother dances in and out of focus, in and out of light and shadow, a beloved ghost of his infancy.

"You, my boy," She whispers, at times bouncing him on her knee, at others rocking him to sleep, always, always fading into memory's slow-encroaching fog: "Were born for something great!"

She passes, so do the years, so does this comet, each borne into the past and far from his reach. He closes his eyes. Imagines the men who died trying to find him. Imagines a destiny lost. He imagines the burning star is no star but a ship, under attack by those that would thwart its mission. To reach him, the vaunted savior.

He imagines what they might tell him. That he is a Chosen One. That he must save the galaxy, the universe.

"Only you," He imagines them desperately gasping, barely escaping death to bring his deliverance, "Only you can save us!"

"This way," He dreams them saying, as they gesture towards the infinite and the stars. "Come with us and we will show you wonders. Come with us, and bring our troubles to an accord."

He imagines, and years pass by. The embers of imagining fade; they weaken; they die.

He ages, begins his own family. There is no more time for dreams. The real is what is. This is the only world he will know. He will die, and like his mother before him and her father and a long line of Man stretching beyond his ancestors' ken, be buried and forgotten in the sand. The herds of humanity will march over his grave in time, ignorant to the fact that he ever lived, that he ever dreamed of more.

At night, he bounces his own child on his knee and whispers, "You, my son, you..."