Somewhere, past the edge of dreams lies a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 2 - Perchance...
I woke up with mud in my mouth. Gagging and spitting, I tried to reach my face with my hands, but they seemed tangled up in layers of cloth. I pushed, tugged, rolled and squirmed to free myself and ended up falling into a pool of icy water. Breath knocked out of me by the cold, I struggled even harder.
Desperate, fighting against the weight of cloth and leather, I gasped a lungful of air as soon as I had my face above the surface then I dived back down and tried to swim out from under whatever was holding me back. I didn’t seem to have the strength to simply tear the entanglement away and swim free.
At that point, I discovered that my body itself did not do what I willed it to do. I’ve been a swimmer since before grade school, but such flailing and thrashing I engaged in right then made it seem like a lie. On the edge of panic, I managed to catch another breath of air, only slightly damp.
The thing that saved me was discovering I was not in a pool of water after all—just a snowbank being melted by a drizzle. My knees sank into freezing mud and I was able to straighten up and take as many breaths as I wanted. The air tasted sweet and sharp, flavored with wet earth, pine and a bit of woodsmoke.
I didn’t waste a lot of time being annoyed at myself for thinking I was drowning because now I realized just how cold I was. There are few things colder than melting snow; it seemed to suck the heat right out of my flesh. The sodden cloth I was tangled in seemed now to be the only thing keeping me from dying of the cold.
The remaining snow lay against a hedge of some evergreen shrub, and tall winter-bare trees stood around as I poked my head out of a pile of clothes and gear. The area I could see was all greens and grays and the dark color that is still white that snow has in the rain. The chill drizzle assaulted my exposed face and the wet seemed to go right through to my bones. I shivered and not just from the cold; the whole experience reeked of nightmare.
A moment before —it had been only a moment!— I had stood near a dry fountain in the warm night of June in the Southern California desert. The scene I saw now could not be more different except by being at the bottom of the sea. I could only be dreaming, I decided, but I had never dreamed of freezing to death before.
And it all seemed insistently real, if impossibly strange.
The cold rain, the unfamiliar hedge and trees and the snowbank I mentioned were only the edge of oddness. A newly plowed field began only a few yards away and stretched toward more trees in the distance, dimmed by falling water. Along the edge of the one field, a dirt road separated it from another field where a pair of cows stood hooked up to some metal and wood contraption.
A bearded man in a gray, knee-length robe stood beside the cows staring at me. His lower legs and feet were wrapped in leather tied with strings, and he had a hooded cape-like thing on his head and down his back. His mouth was open, and I realized he was screaming.
When I tried to stand up, his shouting turned more or less to words. “Goat them ready me for a double!” it sounded like. Then he turned and ran away with the cows watching him—as if such behavior from humans were only mildly interesting.
“Wait!” I called out but almost strangled. I not only had mud in my mouth but a wad of hair, too, it felt like. Besides, my voice sounded odd, my hands were still trapped, and I couldn’t reach my face. I struggled again with my entanglement, pulling one arm free to wipe a muddy hand across my mouth, spitting out the hair as I did so.
Then I stared at my hand. It wasn’t my hand. The fingers moved when I willed them to but this was a soft, pale, delicate hand like that of a child. I brought the other one up and stared at it too. Same thing.
The wet, the cold, the psychic dislocation of my predicament overwhelmed any rational thought. I literally gibbered at the sight of my hands. Darkness came up again and swallowed my mind as the melting snowbank swallowed my body.
* * *
I fell into an icy gap between worlds, or, at least, it felt that way. Someone called to me, but it wasn’t a name I recognized. I tried to call for help, but my mouth was full of snow. My teeth hurt, my bones felt as if they had been removed and put back in place by an amateur surgeon. My flesh felt like cold Play-Doh, ready to flake and crumble away from my mis-aligned skeleton.
“I’m dying,” I thought. “No, I’m dreaming I’m dying.” The dream-cold penetrated in a way that ice water and snow could not and I shivered a teeth-rattling dream-shiver. Still, the knowledge that I was dreaming made it possible to bear what seemed to be happening to me. I tried to take control of the dream, looking around for some escape from the cold.
Images assaulted me. A void filled with stars, a sensation of falling beside a vertical landscape of rocks and roots almost close enough to touch. I fell out of the bottom of a cloud and a gap between mountains opened into a meadow surrounded with woods as colorful as a bowl of a child’s cereal, green greens, blue blues, yellow yellows and red reds.
The view melted and I saw a tall blond woman dressed in a red cloak and hood walking in a dark forest. Suddenly, in the way of dreams, she loomed over me.
I heard her voice, but I didn’t know she’d said. It sounded like a blessing, and seeing and hearing her warmed me in some way. A light came from her face, filling me, saving me from the cold. My bones moved back into their proper places and my flesh felt warm and pliable again.
“Who are you?” I tried to ask but the words came out garbled. It sounded like, “Where beast do?” Where beast do what? I wondered.
She smiled. “Dow east gouda. Slape new,” she said. “And wake to another world.” The last part in clear English startled me, especially since she slipped back into authentic dream gibberish at the end. “Micky clapped tea dune,” she said clearly.
Then the channel changed to one filled with dark static and I found my way back to consciousness like finding a path in a night forest.
* * *
I must not have been out long; when I came to, I felt only a little wetter and colder than before. Despite what seemed to have happened to my body, I knew I needed to get somewhere warm and dry, soon. I had very little experience with hypothermia but vaguely remembered Boy Scout sessions about survival in the woods.
And now I knew for sure the difference between waking and dreaming. Whatever was happening, however strange and unbelievable, it was real and I could die from the cold. But instead of being frightened, I had a well of confidence that I hadn’t had before.
I felt stronger, more focussed, and I pushed my way under a bush-like cedar. It seemed warmer there, and I rubbed my arms briskly to help the circulation. Doing so, however, brought it to my attention again that this was not my body.
Not only were my hands small and delicate; my arms were slender. I looked down, again pushing damp hair out of my face. “I’m not dreaming, but I sort of wish I were,” I whispered because even in the dimness under the cedar, I could see small pointy breasts on my chest.
Breasts that reminded me of the ones Jacquie Marston had shown me back when we were both in Middle School. Little cupcake breasts like on some of the child whores I had seen overseas.
I spread my legs apart and looked further down. I didn’t see what I had more than forty years experience in seeing but instead a smooth almost hairless crotch. I put a hand down to explore and found the hidden cleft. The coldness of my fingers made me jump.
I didn’t scream or faint again. “Not dreaming,” I said aloud. It didn’t feel like a dream with snow under my butt and ice water trickling through the bushy twigs of the cedar to drip down my back.
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