Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chapter Four

To Off-Grid  
Reve enters the Manus Market from the North, the side where the herbalists and spice vendors sell their wares. The market is noisy and crowded.  He’s looking for Bubba’s stall. He pushes his way down the crowded row to find it, in the middle of the aisle, on the right.  
It’s empty -- just a plank of wood held up by two saw horses, surrounded by walls of flapping saffron cloth.  
Reve doesn’t linger to be noticed by the curious neighbors, the other Off-Grid homesteaders, selling fragrant spices from large clear metal canisters.  Reve walks on, past the button sellers, and the tinkers, deciding that he’ll trek to the Bubba’s homestead by the sea.  But first, he must get rid of Lord Nightmare, and become someone else.
He smells the man he will ask to become him, long before he sees him.  He turns toward the honied scent, and sniffs at the air, his nostrils flaring.  He singles out the whiff of peaches, simmered with sandalwood, amber, and a whisper of myrrh.  This odor is familiar to the Dream Snatcher, and the memories it brings are not unkind,           
He’d attended SUL festivals, held at the interior’s molten lakes.  When the tides are low, the pools fill waist deep in warm water.  Arctic runoff meets lava flow in a roaring hiss, and a cavern of steam.  The several lakes are lumped with lava rock islands, and the SUL scent swirls freely into the lapping water, making its intoxication subtle and euphoric.  
Reve has a good nose for scents, most demons do.  He also knows the SUL to be a race of madmen, and of oracles.
Reve scans the market for the SUL he smells.  His eyes travel over the rows of brightly colored stalls in front of him, until he reaches the livestock end, where at last he sees the eyeless man, leaning over a corral of goats.  
“Yes, why not?” Teloh says, even before Reve taps his shoulder.  
“I’m ready for a journey.” The SUL man says, looking up from beneath the wide brim of his hat, to look Reve in the eye with his own, if he had any.  
Reve scrutinizes the face of this SUL.  How like the human they are, and yet not, he considers.  Theres’ a smooth patch of translucent skin over the hollows, where eye sockets might have been, leaving an enormous forehead.  A skim coat of green mud is dried all over Teloh’s face, as protection from the sun.  Only the lack of eyes, his sweet scent, and the strange tangle of hair, seems inhuman.  
The SUL all resemble one another, with full lips, square jaws, long necks, a variety of hair colors, all in a tangle of tools and adornment dreaded down their backs.    
Teloh wears a wide-brimmed Off-gridder hat, which he pulls down low, hiding his lack of eyes.  He smiles wide, as if he’s hearing Reve’s thoughts.  His teeth are like perfect kernels of white corn.  The green dirt on his face flakes when he smiles, like a skin-disease.   
Yes, this man will do, Reve thinks.  He’s the right size, and he has the right attitude.
“Push me, pull you.” Teloh says, and he pulls the brim of his hat down even lower.  
“Maybe she’s over there.” The eyeless man says provocatively, pointing in every direction imaginable with both of his arms at once.
“What?”  Reve asks.  
He remembers that the gases have an impact on the SUL State of being.  The things they say could be nonsense, or they could be foretelling, but few of them can verify which is which.  
The SUL are not welcome by the Night Mare in Winkin City.  They’re too delusional, too apt to spout their dreams.  Dreams leave a trace, possibility free floating, anyone might catch them.  The Night Mare likes a good oracle, however, so she tolerates the SUL underground, and sparingly nomadic in the desert lands of the right. 
“Where has she gone?”  Teloh asks sadly.  
“I don’t know.”  Reve replies, his thoughts as always on Mina.
“Hope is a waking dream.” Teloh says, and he chuckles again.  
“You must dare to do it.” The madman says, and he sputters a stifled laugh.
“Do what?”  Reve asks.
“Dream, my friend, dare to dream.  Fantasies once were, you know, free?  Set her free, my lord.”  He attempts a jig, dancing his way into paroxysms of laughter.

Reve watches the SUL man, now wearing his black hide uniform and the Off-gridder hat pulled down low, as he heads down that away and over there, by way of the interstellar screen, chattering nonsense, or brilliance, as he goes.  Reve’s given Teloh a handful of credit and an open visa.  
“Dare to dream.”  Reve mutters to himself.  “Why not?”  

Wearing Teloh’s clothes, and a skim coat of green mud across his face and arms, Reve stocks up on provisions for his journey through the left lands to find the Bubbas.  He trades credits for a few pieces of fruit, a lump of cheese, a round of bread, and a skin of water, planning to supplement his diet from the farms and orchards he expects to find along the way.  
He figures that the best place to get to know someone is where they grew up.  Mina already knows the worst about him.  It’s time to balance the scales.  

Reve’s exiting the Market, toward the left, when a man shouts in his ear.
“I don’t like the way you look!” He says.
Reve turns to see a big-knuckled fist punching at his face.  He feints left, and narrowly misses the blow.    
A dream policeman, his face sweaty with last night’s drink, leers at Reve.    
“I said, I don’t like you.”  He repeats.
“Then let me leave this place.”  Reve says to the ground.
When the officer’s fist shoots out again, Reve catches it in his hand, without raising his head.  Then Lord Nightmare looks up into the dream policeman’s piggy-blue eyes, which widen in fright at Reve’s flaming copper.  
The sound of water on dirt, as the policeman wets himself in fright.    
“Let me leave this place in peace.”  Reve whispers in a voice so cold, that it leaves a trace of frost across the terrified man’s sweating face.  
The quaking policeman nods, beads of ice sliding down his forehead.  
“Be a good boy and run on home now.”  Reve says, a concerned parent.
The red uniformed man squirrels away through the crowd, which cleaves a path, and then closes.  
Reve wraps his Off-gridder scarf across his face, as protection from the biting sand, born on a rising wind.  He bows his head, and he heads left.

Reve expects this journey left to be one of bright sunlight on verdant valleys, lined with fruit trees.  These are his memories of the Off-grid to the Left, last visited, when, he wonders?  Not since Hoda, he thinks, and memories of the fey girl step forward to meet him.  Thin, frail and unhealthy was Hoda.  She was raised by a breeder in the herd, who claimed to have found her inside the stone wall of the building.  Hoda was sickly, neglected, and undervalued, until she pulled her gold stone.
His mother had been afraid of Hoda.  She worried that she might contract some wasting disease when she ate the girl.  But she ate her just the same.  How long ago was that, Reve wonders?  
He had loved them, all four of the Gold Stone Girls, to distraction.  He’d seen only his part in the tragedies of their deaths, his passion, not their peril, until it was too late.  Always, it was too late. The realization that he had not even considered saving them until it was much too late always snuck up on him, usually as his mother ate them.  Yes, that was the last time he’d visited the left lands, with Hoda, he thinks with shame.

What he finds now are charred fields, and orchards billowing smoke.  
By order of Nightmare law 57,475,330500463.1 (fifty-seven trillion four hundred and seventy-five billion, three hundred and thirty-million, five hundred thousand, four hundred and sixty-three, point one) all crops have been destroyed, to force a mass Off-gridder migration to the city.  This is President Bob’s latest effort to boost the dwindling numbers of Winkin’s human population. Most of Winkin’s humans have left the planet, seeking safe harbor at the closest space station, where they will be housed until they can be placed on host planets by the Intergalactic Council.

Reve has seldom traveled in Blinkin by foot.  He is mistaken about the distance and direction of the Off-grid to the left.  So what he imagined would be a day’s journey, takes him two moons, as he criss crosses the interior the wrong way.  Up and back down, to the right, and then finally left.
When Reve arrives at the Bubbas’ homestead, it’s after forty suns lean of food.  He’s dull eyed, hollow cheeked, and tatter clothed.  Reve appears now as what he has become, a shrunk and hungry vagrant. In truth, no one would recognize Lord Nightmare.
The road to the Bubbas’ homestead has changed too.  Once mowed straight up to the gates, in a long welcoming swath, through fields of golden wheat and wildflowers.  Now it zigs and zags, cut into a threatening labyrinth of tall corn, over which a wind of flames has blown, charring everything in its place.
Reve navigates the hypnotic sameness of the blackened corn maze for many days, and just as many nights.  He circles the blighted torment, lost again.  
Just when it feels as if he will have to admit defeat, when he will lay down and let the crows feed upon his carcass, he notices a subtle dent in the row of blackened, ladder high, corn.  It looks to him as if it’s been thinned just in that patch.  On closer inspection he notes a narrow path, which leads him at last to the homestead gates.    
Reve pulls charred wood from off the gate posts, to find a war zone left of what must have been the homestead, his hopeful journeys end.  The frail man drops to his knees, he slumps to the ground, and he sobs, watering the sooty earth with his disappointment.  

Long after he stops crying, Reve rolls onto his back and he stares at the blue-grey sky.  Then he hears the distant pounding of waves upon the sand, the low of cattle, and the snort of rut beasts.  Then comes the sound of a female singing.  
He lurches back up to sitting, and he really looks around.  He sees sagging buildings, roofed in charred-sod.  There’s a crippled mill-wheel out back of the tumbling shed.  Reve squints at the glint of sun, glaring off a sliver view of seawater, glimpsed between the broken milk barn and the house.  Then he sees chickens, clucking lazily, pecking at the grit mixed with ash for stray seed.     
He hears knocking.  Then he sees a bull sized man shouldering a beam, fitting it into a new notched column over the porch.  There’s clanking, and Reve’s tired eyes flick toward that sound. It’s a breeder.  No, that’s not the right word, but he cannot summon any other.  He raises a dirty hand to scratch at the several moon’s growth on his chin, and he remembers, of course, that she would be a human female.  If she’s raised Mina, he suspects she’s even more than that. 
Reve watches the woman, with the greying russet mane, bang a large metal ladle against the iron pot.  He imagines it bubbling its smells right into his belly.  His stomach gurgles with longing. 
Several dogs mill near the stone stove, under the graceful elm.  The beasts are unaware of Reve, his scent so mingled with the dirt of the maze.  When they do notice him, one hound pricks up his ears and lets loose a long howl, that infects his friends in a chorus of deep and scary growls.  They sniff at the dirt, they grab snorts of the air.  The dusty black dogs charge at the vagrant man, leaning on what use to be the gate post.  
  Reve sees fierce yellow eyes, and long wet teeth, which remind him, almost fondly, of his mother.  Two pairs of large black paws punch his chest at once, the force knocking him backwards.  
He sees wisps of clouds, covering a blue-grey sky, just before the world goes black.

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