Dedicated to Peter S. Beagle, for obvious reasons
Dreamed 1986/11/10 by Chris Wayan
I'm a work, in Stanford Library. Bored again. Ah. Here comes my salvation. A giant artbook! The art of Man Ray. They don't like me sampling our product any more than the beer factory did, but they won't fire me.
Won't get a raise, I'm too damn lazy,Hey, it scans.
But what good's money if I go crazy?
The part-time librarian bluuuues.
Man Ray is not a French coincidence. He coined his name to sound that way--half flesh, half light. Britannica says his birth name is unknown. I Xerox half the plates in the collection (Picasso's face, X-ray lilies, Isidora Duncan on the Acropolis) on the office copier before routing the book on down to the Art Library--into the Tombs where no one'll ever see it again.
Dozens of haloed dream-images. He discovered this surrealizing "solarization" process--or his lover Lee Miller did. He shot, she posed, and they processed the shots together; half his famous work is really hers, "but signed with her name, it wouldn't sell for as much, so--" Typical.
I tape up one eerie portrait, left negative, dark, of a narrow-eyed woman, surely Lee, with hair snaking upwards from the wind as she dives, raptorlike, through darkness. Hawk angel. Black on black.
Bike home in the dark. Cold stings me like little black ants. In the park, the normals play tennis in the near-freezing air. Lungsteam, white and sharp-edged as cartoon smoke in the sharp court lights. Like watching whales in an Arctic bay, the tableau seals me tighter in my own skin; I can only watch, never live in their habitat. Jealous--though tennis bores me. Hands stinging red on the bars, I steer awkwardly home and turn on the gas floor heater. Ashamed to waste fossil fuel, but my core got badly chilled.
My sister calls me. She's made a firm decision to get out of our parents' house at last. Good--without that stress her arthritis will improve. Unsure where she does want to live, or what she wants to do. "I don't care very much about anything, except... I'm so tired of being scared all the time! It's trapped me. I feel like I'm greedy when I do... even survival things."
"Not just you. I know what I want to do--dump that stupid therapy group, with all those realtors, and quit my library job and drop most of my friends and USE my mind and find some geniuses--creative people. I look for them on the tube, read them... but I shut down and hide when I meet them. I'm terrified of them! They'll see me as crazy, emotionally crippled... I dunno. But I stick with normals. Mediocrity's so comfy. I can dazzle them with my brain. Other geniuses would take the brain for granted and see I'm really sick." I jerk to a halt. Other geniuses! What have I done since childhood to claim that term? Dream?
"Uh oh, the G-word. Brother's gettin' uppity again. Your voice always shakes when you say that word. I never understood that. Your friends all accept it, why can't you? Does it ever occur to you other geniuses may be lonely too?"
"I'd tell you the same, but you'll explain to me again how you're mildly gifted, nothing special, won't you."
"Look, it's true, you're much brighter than I am. You can jump through your problems with... with brain wings. Not me."
"I can't either." But I know that's a lie, and she does too. I'd have been dead long ago... she wouild've been too. "Let's compete for the Modesty Award. Is that what this is?"
"No it isn't. Sure I'm 99th percentile. That means I'm smart enough to know the difference between that and you. I don't have your dreams either."
"You do when you write them down for a few weeks, and you know it."
"No, I'm too tired. I'm going to move. Send me a new story. They're good therapy for me. Dream for both of us. I'm exhausted now. Bye."
Sighing, I hang up, worried about her. I doze off on the couch. A knock on the door wakes me. It's Craig and Tina--first time they've come by in a year. They're both dressed in pink and brown. Uniforms? Such odd colors. What does it mean? I don't understand.
The phone jars me awake.
It's Craig and Tina! First time in a year. They want me to see their new house. "We'll pick you up.. It's beautiful--two stories, on a hillside."
Tina adds "Oh, Chris--I've found this fascinating group I think you'd fit into. They call it Psychodrama. You have to try it!"
Psychodrama! Doesn't she know I was in it for years? Jeez.
Strange that my former circle of counterculture friends should repel me so, now. As dull as all those realtors! Nice enough--but nice is not enough.
They pull up in front wearing pink and brown, though not quite as screaming as the dream. I brought my notebook along, so I take a moment to scribble "Precog dream--so much for the color symbolism!" I'm always trying to read symbols into plain psi hits--symbols are so much more respectable!
Craig points out his new work place, the Isaac Newton Library. It's near my parents' house, on once-wild land. Civilization advances.
He detours through the site. It shines in the night under banks of stadium lights. Glass cubes. "How many books, Craig?"
"517,348." Craig is... precise.
Uphill to their house. Long steps up to the front door. Living room... They've got three of my pictures, not one!
Well, maybe it is Emily Dickinson. "Revery alone will do..."
A huge print of 'American Gothic' hangs in a dim corner. How can they hang those people up near mine? They'll start a war. That patriarchal geek!
Yikes! They're moving. Not a picture: tenants! They walk out of their alcove and stiffly shake my hand. They frighten me. The woman's eye says "How can you draw those filthy..." The old man's eye says "Satan-worshiper. Abomination." His knuckles are white on the tall pitchfork. But they turn away, into the kitchen. I stare at Tina.
"Really, they're quite nice..." she mumbles. "Their rent pays half the mortgage." She gets a guilty look. My goose bumps must show. "He never forks guests!" she snaps defensively.
"Let me show you downstairs." interrupts Craig. "I fixed it up myself."
There's a gray dome on the living room rug, two feet across, two hands tall, with a ring like a steering wheel on top, four small bars forming a mandala. An artsy chair? Part of a barbecue? Wok top? "I like that." I say, wondering why it's there. "It adds mystery."
"Thanks." says Craig. He turns the wheel and the dome swings up. "Well, down the hatch."
There's a ladder steep as a firepole down into the dark.
Tiny rooms, pipes exposed everywhere. A queasy closed feeling. Riveted steel partitons, oval hatches. It's flawless. Sub Deco!
I peek out a double-glassed porthole. Isn't there any way out of this Sub? So stark and narrow and Fifties--brilliantly authentic. I hate it. Here's a tiny side-hatch Craig passed by. I turn the wheel and pry it open. Contorting, I struggle through. Sunlight! Their garden.
But it's an African kraal. A round dusty cow-pen, thin walls of dry reeds or cane. Bulbous mud towers beyond the corners. Islamic cowtown minarets! Four wattled extensions curl in, in that mazish kraal way, almost forming another mandala, a mock one cradling only dust. Beyond the frail wall, the Sahel, drought-dead to the horizon. The sterility reminds me of the mudflats I grew on. But it's drier, vaster. Worse.
Of course. Craig's Texas! He had to keep out a whole state of dried-up grass, and minds. No one out there. Not a skeletal cow. So this is what Sub Consciouses are built to keep out. And keep in: an oasis of science and secular enlightenment, tight against the sea-pressure of emptiness.
And built on the Sub, Urb! Plush after stark: earned Puritan rest. The two of them, domestically happy. Together, they've risen above the Sub. They've built a love boat. And can I criticize? I'm hungry for it!
I go back in. Even the Submarine's better than the harshness of Islam in a stripped-dead land.
Craig's in the galley. Copper silver. Suddenly I love it--like a toy train! Little and shiny and everything WORKS. Just like real.
Craig plans so well. He laughs to see me poking excitedly. "You look hungry. Cook something if you like. It's fun to watch you improvise." The hatch out is so narrow; how do they carry meals through it to the dining room upstairs? I think of the Eye of the Needle, the old security-gate into Arab towns, where you had to unload your camels to squeeze them through... You can cook up anything in this Sub Basement but how do you get it out?
Water's boiling already. Efficient little stove! I throw in noodles and get out my yak horn with the shaman soup mix. My eyes grope the shelves. "Hey, Craig, where's the salt?"
"Salt?" he says strangely. "I had no room down here for... spice."
"Jeez. Salt's not a spice."
"I read that it was unhealthy and unnecessary, so I didn't stock it. So little space..."
"You read! Craig, you need chlorine and sodium just as much as you need calcium or iron. Too little salt in your life can be a serious problem!"
Craig says "Your water's turning blue! What's wrong?"
"Wrong? Oh. I hate plain noodles so I add a soup mix."
He stares horribly.""What kind of soup?!"
"Spirit soup. It's awful without salt."
Craig shouts "GHOST SOUP!" and the pots crash. Spaghetti steam blasts up in our faces and I'm lost in white hot fog and clangs. His great shout echoes, fades. It's as if he blew up, evaporated. The kitchen's gone, blown. I'm in a darker place, big and echoing, bitter with chemical smells. The steam fades and I look around. The ceiling slants down to the rough floor-planks without walls. An attic! Craig and Tina never mentioned a third level!
It's a real maze. Old desks, bureaus with warped mirrors. Heaps of musty clothes. Then I hear old voices, and the clothes move, and I see them for what they are. Wizards.
On the third level, wizards brew spells. Robed bald mustachioed dried wrinkled greasy or thin, Christian and Saracen, all scuttling around like rats in your attic; wizards. Tang of iodine and metal salts. Alchemists! I'm looking at the living history from which Craig's scientific method came.
And then a man near me calls into the brightening air, and summons a living flame: a Salamander. How wrong I was. These are no mere alchemists!
I cringe in the shadows as he chants to the bobbing little arc-light, and points at a distant colleague in a blue robe. It shoots across the room and dives right through him, and on through the wall. The blue man falls slowly, smoldering. Faintly, I smell pork chops.
I'm terrified. The murderer nods, jots a short note in his three-ring binder. His formula seems to have worked.
Clouds condense over the dead man, suck down into him like smoke in a film run back. He blinks, stands, dusts himself. And gets back to work! Without a glance at his killer. Well, why? No harm done. Hard to hurt a man who can rise from the dead.
But can I? I work a little magic now and then, but can I take being burned alive? I don't think I belong here on the Third Level!
I guess brewing magic in the basement opened the door, brought me among them, on their professional level. I have to stay out of their way.
Lucky they don't see me as an outsider. A sorcerer turns to zap me and I wave my notebook at him and blurt "No, please, I've almost got this worked out." He shrugs, turns, and sears another man with liquid light. Nothing but a black smear left. He sweeps up the ashes, adds water, and sketches what looks like a circuit diagram. With dead man's ink.
They're true sorcerers, in the Judeo-Christian-Moslem tradition. I'm an amateur, a fraud among them. I don't know spells. I'm just a dreamworker.
Yet I better pass! I know enough about other planes (from dreams) and sorcery (from 500 fantasy novels) to fake plausible responses, at least. I don't have to be too convincing: they're pretty preoccupied.
A bald Moslem sorcerer says "Could you hold this?"
"Sure." It's a bottle with a metal coil around it. "What is it?"
"A condenser! Haven't you seen one?"
He chants quarter tones a long time. A faint vapor eddies round us, thickening to a greasy diesel smoke.
"I don't know much of your tradition." I temporize.
The cloud acquires form, and as it condenses, he siphons it down into the bottle. A small demon gapes out tiny-handed like a lizard in a jam jar.
"I'm pretty much lost when it comes to instruments." I say. "I'm a strictly a mindwork type."
"Wow. I could never memorize all those formulas! I need my ref manual." he says. I haven't the slightest idea what he's talking about. I just do magic and meet other magic beings. Does he do everything by rote? He adds, smiling, "Oh, well, Moslem, Christian, Jew, or Scientist, we're all Ahl al-Kitab."
Dumb luck saves me again: I just learned that term in National Geographic. Arabic for "People of the Book": those who live by the words of any of the other Prophets: Moses, Christ, Newton, Marx. This term of interfaith respect says a lot about Islam--and wizards. I was wrong, it's a fraternity of the mind. All who go beyond the everyday level are welcome here.
So why do his words upset me? I feel even faker. And scared. And something else... What? I mumble a polite good-bye to the demon- condenser and back off... find a vacant, black-stained table in the corner and write it out. Slowly I see I'm...
Insulted. Why insulted? I don't get it! Insulted to be accepted.
But I am Ahl al-Kitab! I am a sort of magician. How else did I get here?
Shamanism. I've grown out of my childhood materialism, it's true. I am spiritual. But I'm not a believer, not Ahl al-Kitab. This word makes me clarify myself: I reject faith just as I rejected the secular--through experience. I am not a follower of holy books.
I HATE the Book! Laws from outside. That's not living, it's puppetry. I'm pagan. I set my will, and my living encounters with sacred beings, against faith in laws dictated by sacred beings, whether Prophet, God, or Axiom. (As the devout say, "Logic dictates.")
Thought I was a universalist, but I'm not. Partisan! Eerily disorienting to learn I'm so committed. But the feeling's strong, and in my gut.
I don't belong with these people on the Third Level. Not because I'm a fraud. Because I'm a revolutionary.
I write "I am not Ahl al-Kitab. I'm an anar--" and a shriek jabs my ears "AYYYEEEGGGGHHH!" My pen nearly goes through my hand as I jump up out of my notebook and look around. The worst sound I've ever heard.
The sound of sixteen wizards, screaming.
Smoke boils up from a commotion by the far wall. Panic in the screams. I stand on my table and peer, alarmed and bewildered. What?
In an alcove where the roof slants down, three photo floodlamps shine on a wide wood platform. Wizards scramble, dropping their books of summoning, as a huge cloud condenses darkingly on the altar, like cream swirling boiling pouring backwards out of a light brown coffee, leaving pure hot brew. "What have you DONE!" yells an old man. "The Black One!"
Alarm round the room. "Rebel angel!"
"The Horned One!"
The floor creaks under the cloud's growing weight.
"Find the exorcism! Look in the index!" The wizards form a cordon while the eldest grabs the book. Everything gets silent. A small voice says "I didn't call it." But it's coming, we all feel it. We wait.
A huge lean thing, enraged. Absolute black, shining like the deep-space-with-angels I summoned the last time I made Blue Soup. Did I summon this?
This much magic I know--once you invite a demon past your door, you can't just toss it out.
The old man flipping pages stops, tearing the page in his panic. "The summoning pact requires us to... uh... aha! Feed it and it'll go!"
A step. The floorboards boom. Dust of old scriptures and wizard corpses stings our eyes, wreaths the apparition like a second mane of steam.
"Bind it before it kills us all!"
The cloven hoof comes down again and the floor rings with the stamp, like a summons or demand. All the babbling stops.
"But we can't feed it!" the bald man groans.
As I wait to die in the firefight I wonder idiotically if they sense the black angel on the floor below. As we charge and die, will Craig thump and yell "Hey, turn it down up there!"?
"Why can't you feed it?" I ask the air. The mages are weaving thin spells around the angry shape, trying to keep it still. The spiderwebs of light shrivel away as the dark horn parries, scythes. At least it's keeping both sides distracted from an all-out fight. "Unicorns aren't demons." My voice thins and gets louder. "They're vegetarians. What've you offered them, blood sacrifice or something?"
The bald man by me hisses. His dry fingers twitch; my stomach cramps with sick fear, knowing what he can do. Don't be sarcastic with wizards.
"Idiot. Mortals, and all our creations, are ephemeral to unicorns. And this is suburbia!"
I gape. The banality of the word, here, now, is so silly I get bold. "So?"
"So our food and the shrubs in the yard are too new to be real to a Unicorn, let alone be nourishing. This whole tract is less than thirty years old, and the old forest was bulldozed. All subliminal to an immortal. They won't really notice it for another century or two."
Considering we may die soon, what sticks in my mind is absurdly trivial. "So Thurber's fable where the unicorn eats roses in the garden was..."
"A lie. That stupid golux didn't know a thing about magic. We mortals can offer a Unicorn exactly... nothing."
"Ideas, anyone?" yells the old man, weaving spells around the black storm.
"And black unicorns want Nothing!" says a young wizard by me. "No way to bargain with a rage elemental. We'll be lucky if it leaves the roof on!"
My own meetings with unicorns and their kin come back to me in a moment of lucidity, and I get mad. "You all talk about it... Why don't you talk with it?" I sort of throw out my fear, and head for the alcove.
The old spellweaver waves me back. "Never run toward anything immortal! It attracts their attention."
A Kabbala man says "God said we'd burn to cinders if we ever saw His face. He speaks through prophets and books to shield us!" He links arms with the old mage.
A wigged Scientist plucks my arm and says in a shaking voice 'We're children picking pebbles on the shore of a vast sea." He glances at the darkness beyond him. "Child, that is the undertow."
It's nothing, nothing like my silver dream in the desert.
An obsidian horn lowers to my chest. I've made a terrible mistake. Hubris to think all unicorns are friends!
Sheer inertia opens my mouth. I came to talk. I talk.
"Should I lead you over to the Hetch Hetchy watershed? It's a preserve with no humans, mostly first growth; you should find what you need there."
The Mages erupt in shouts. The horn leaps up and waves at them and the unicorn shrieks back in unmistakable threat. My ears rumble on overload, and the wizards freeze. "You can't," says the bald man finally, carefully, to me. "It's Black Magic. You just offered to unbind it. It must be lured into a pact that sends it home. You cannot just loose Darkness on the world!"
I look up at the black unicorn, who gives me no sign. Just anger.
Not hate. Anger.
I look back then, at the men of science. And see them anew: all men. I feared them too much to notice before. They fear more than blackness.
And I realize I've made my decision.
I wake in clear dawn light.
The pictures gleam on my wall. The waterfall's not here, for Craig and Tina really did buy it. But the others:
Craig's "Emily Dickinson" picture, the naked girl gazing fiercely at her blue crystal of intuition. Bare body, bare soul. No armor. Slut! Oh I've heard it.
And on the far wall...
Silky, the black mare, longs for her centaur daddy to mount her. She goes sex-hunting, and when she spots her feral father high on a ridge, a mile away, her human mom says "at least we got to see him, dear." The filly in heat shouts "THIS ISN'T SEEING HIM!"
But there's one more picture, one Craig didn't have on his level. One the door is a big pen drawing of a fierce pawing black horned creature and two characters, qi lin, which sound like the Chinese for 'unicorn' but literally mean "angry unicorn mare."
A nightmare. A horny nightmare. A furious, horny nightmare.
Was she my love as well as my fury?
Did I fail to recognize my own love?
UNICORN TAG is a set of dreams of hoofed animal teachers who dragged me (kicking and screaming!) past simple dreamwork into shamanism. 1: The Deer Party 2: Ariane's Honeymoon 3: Everest Marathon 4: Who'll Be My Love? 5: Dreamrider 6: Half Shaman, Half Statesman 7: 8 To A Horn 8: Black Magic 9: Misfits On Mars
Next and last: MISFITS ON MARS. Silky, the black shapeshifting nightmare, leads the Martian Revolution...
LISTS AND LINKS:
Peter S. Beagle - a Lee Miller dream: Bumbree Syndrome - my sister Miriel - giftedness and genius - ships and subs - Craig, Tina, and a bigger culinary catastrophe: Blue Soup - food dreams - houses - wizards - fanatics - spells and curses - power - religions - Islam - Christianity - Judaism - science as a cult - shamanism - summonings and invocations - oops! dreams of mistakes - demons - unicorns - rage - courage - trust - soul-mates - ink drawings
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