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Experiment with Time

Dreamed 1948 by Nancy Price

Source: Acquainted with the Night by Nancy Price (1949), selections from an experimental dream journal she kept for one year.

I was in a fine old Queen Anne house that I knew well as a child. I can see it now with its magnificent avenue of elms, the big square hall, panelled rooms, the round pigeon house and walled garden with its wealth of luscious fruit of every variety; and the birds were something I will never forget, although I never saw the house after I was eight years old.

One brother and three sisters lived in this house. He was a reserved man, tall and angular in build, I realise now how fond he must have been of children, animals and birds, though he shunned any other society. Two sisters were typical spinsters, narrow in outlook but good in essentials. The third sister was a widow, I yet see her pale face and great violet eyes, "the beautiful lady" I called her as a child, but she rarely spoke even to her little girl, a frail, frightened little thing, with whom I tried to play. I had forgotten about these people, perhaps it is more truthful to say that I thought of them not at all. Yet though I knew this house so well and it vividly returned to me in my dream, the owner was now not the man I had known, but a man I had met much later, and whom I instinctively disliked. That he should be living here caused no surprise to my dream mind. Another thing that was entirely different about the place as 1 had known it, was that the servants appeared dilatory and impertinent, and everything in the household instead of being so orderly that it made an impression upon me even as a child, was now neglected.

In the library suddenly appeared a girl I had met in real life recently. She told me she had the chance of playing Juliet with an important management, but it was necessary that she should be sixteen.

"Well, but you are sixteen," I said.

"Yes, in one way I am," she hesitated. "Or supposed to be. They are coming to see you about me, they have found out that I am really sixty-one, probably more."

"My dear child," I replied, "that is quite impossible."

"Haven't you ever noticed my eyes? Don't you see in them signs that I have lived for very many years?"

"Perhaps I have," I said doubtfully.

"Well," she continued, "I had better tell you. You see somebody has come upon an old newspaper in which I am quite sure my case was reported, I imagine that is how they know. I am actually a foundling and adopted by the people with whom I live. You see I was kept at Guy's Hospital under observation for years and years."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Well, over sixty years ago, a curious boat was washed up on the West Coast of Scotland, everybody it in was dead save me. My history was found in strange writing in a container fastened to my body, which I believe was deciphered at the British Museum. It was decided that the people in the boat came from Algeraic, a forgotten island, where a witch doctor had injected me as a baby with a Time-concoction germ. I was in fact used for an experiment in Time. I was to live and be fed but should not actually use my bodily force or grow visibly older for very many years, though my mind, my spirit, would live and experience. During these years my spirit certainly wandered free, and I am sure I saw a multitude of things and people with uncomfortable clarity, rather as you do in a dream. I loved, suffered, hated, but no one knew this, my world was not seen by others. At the appointed time I began to develop as you know development, then I was no longer a curiosity for hospital observation and I was sent to a home for foundlings and from there adopted. I believe that the man and woman who adopted me are ignorant of this matter, they are not aware that I am older than they are. Yet all that life which I experienced is of no value to me now, it fades from my mind with only occasional flashes of remembrance. For instance, I remember that once I lived in this house, I know you as you once were but cannot remember enough to make the scraps into an intelligible whole. Now tell me, what am I to do to satisfy the management about my age in order to get this part of Juliet?" Illustration by Michael Rothenstein of a dream by Nancy Price: Nancy levitates to escape a silent crowd she can join but not leave.

"My dear, don't you see that you are far more interesting than any ordinary girl of sixteen. You ought to be able to get anywhere and do anything you want."

"Yes, I ought, if I could only remember distinctly, but can you remember your dream world? At the moment you may be aware that you are dreaming but you may see me to-morrow and forget all about it. Time is queer, the clocks tell it, the body obeys it, but the mind and memory disregard it for in a flash you can be anywhere, at any age, meet anyone you wish and there is no death for those you will to live."

"That's memory or imagination," I said faintly. "And now I am tired, I wish I could wake. I like familiar things, I do not think I altogether enjoy these excursions into the unknown."

"We are expecting visitors," said the man I disliked, who suddenly appeared from nowhere taking the place of the girl, whom I tried vainly to follow with my eyes. "Do you hear," he said. "You must go, we do not want you, go where you belong."

"Where is that ?" I said, feeling woefully lost. "I have forgotten."

"They know, they can tell you but you will be sorry if you wait to hear."

I looked out through the window, it was raining, the clouds were heavy. I saw a long procession coming up the drive. Something terrified me about it, there was no sound of wheel, horse or engine, no sound of voices.

"Don't look at it, and don't wait, or you will have to join the procession," whispered someone unknown and unseen.

I immediately drifted through one of the open windows over the treetops. Could I keep in the air long enough to avoid that procession? Could I keep the level of the treetops? I knew instinctively that if I got higher I could never get home. I gripped the topmost branches and I woke finding myself gripping the pillow, my face wet as if with rain, and in my hand I clutched a green leaf. Maybe it had drifted in through the open window, for there was a gale blowing that night.

--Nancy Price

EDITOR'S NOTES

All in all, I'd say this dream offered Price a shamanic initiation: hints of past lives and wisdom beyond her years, fascinating stories, flying, a journey to the land of the dead, even hints of paranormality at the end. But Price declines the invite. She'd rather just have (as she wrote elsewhere) a peaceful night's sleep.

--Chris Wayan



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