Part i: Martin
This morning the pain had defeated him. He had woken from a fitful sleep, more exhausted than when he had closed his eyes. Muddled, he hadn’t been able to stop himself in time. Like a fool his mind had thrown up a memory of that summer, seven years ago; she had been pregnant, laughing. Sunlight in her hair, the memory was so rich it cut through him and for a moment he had seen it truly, a vision before his eyes, far brighter than his scattered dreams and his grey, daily sights. And then it was gone and he was alone. And then of course, the rest of it hit him.
Eventually he had managed to get downstairs. He’d tried the usual distractions, morning news on TV, double espresso that burned his mouth when he drunk it, grapefruit that set his teeth on edge. He had driven to the university, focused on the traffic, car radio on full volume, struggling with himself all the way. But today it wasn’t working. It was already too late. Already far too late.
He had smiled at his colleagues as he passed them in the corridors, his face a mile away from him as he did so, a mask attached to his muscles that he made himself pull. He didn’t think they noticed. They never seemed to usually. The warmth behind his eyes was high but he kept it back. At least until he got to his office. Today was a day for the whiskey, he knew that without even needing to decide. He grabbed the bottle from his desk drawer and slugged it even as the dam behind his eyes cracked and broke.
It took him a while to compose himself and then he sat and stared blankly at the door. No one came in. No one knocked or phoned. No one approached. His colleagues and his students had nothing to say to him anymore. No questions, or at least none they wanted answered.
Eventually he realised he hadn’t switched his computer on yet. He did so. The warmth rose again behind his eyes. He managed to stop himself breaking down again and read his emails instead. There were no new ones but he read the old ones just for something to do.
Eventually it was time to go and get another coffee. He didn’t really want the coffee but he drank it anyway. He left some coffee in the bottom, just so it wouldn’t be empty. He opened up his draft of the lecture for the upcoming conference. They’d cautiously suggested he might not be able to make it this year, they’d completely understand of course. He had told them he was fine.
He stared at the title on the document. There was nothing under it yet. There hadn’t been anything for a week, ever since he’d written it down. The problem was that he wasn’t sure it made any sense. The sentence seemed to be ok, he couldn’t see anything wrong. He just wasn’t sure any of it made any sense. The words were signs to something but he didn’t know what anymore. They didn’t seem to connect to anything else other than themselves. “The importance of mythology…” it began. He read it again. He tried the ending …the pan-Hellenic world.”
He tried to understand what that could mean. Was Pan a god? A goat. A pipe. Pipes were flutes; organ pipes. There was nothing that made sense there. His mind was empty of meaning. It was all just words to him.
He closed the document unedited and picked up a book. After staring at the first sentence for an hour he realised he’d already lost his struggle. He’d lost that morning, perhaps even last night when he’d bought the pills from the chemist, his mind blank as he did so. It was already far too late.
The realisation quietened the panic that had been hiding in the back of his mind. A weight seemed to lift. He realised there was nothing more to think about. The decision had already been made. There was only the thing itself to do now. That was just stuff. That would be easy. He almost smiled at the thought of how easy it would be. He felt relieved.
He went home, without noticing how he did so. He made himself some food. He ate it without tasting. And before he’d finished he realised how ridiculous it was to be eating and he stopped. He cleaned everything away. And put the plates neatly in their place. He tidied up absent mindedly as he moved about his home. Coat hung up, books on shelf, magazines neatly stacked.
As he passed his study he stopped at his computer for a moment, considering whether he wanted to write something down. But he had nothing to write and no one to write to. Not anymore. So he carried on to his bedroom.
He took the whiskey out of his briefcase and placed it on his bedside cabinet. He wasn’t surprised to see the bottle of pills already there. He sat on the bed and looked at them, the whiskey and the pills. He looked at them for a long time but nothing happened. No one burst in to stop him. No voice in his head told him not to go ahead. He searched his empty, cavernous mind for any reason not to do this. But nothing presented itself. He wondered why he hadn’t made this decision before. This was the obvious answer. The only answer. There was no fear anymore, no guilt.
Perhaps, he thought, an animal sense of self-survival would rise up within him if he tried to do it. He explored his feelings. They seemed to be missing. Scoured out. He was free. He felt like he’d already done it. He felt like he was already drifting away. A balloon cut loose, no thoughts, no feelings, no tears, nothing but consciousness on the wind, observing. It was impossible not to do it, now.
There was nothing outside his bedroom anymore. Nothing to go back to even if he wanted to. The world had vanished and closed up behind him. He couldn’t even imagine it. He couldn’t see anything but the bed, the walls, the table, the whiskey, the pills. And there was nothing to do but move forward.
He opened the pills and filled his mouth with them. He crunched and swallowed a number of times. Then he drank from the whiskey. He blinked and explored his mind. Still nothing. He realised that this was the most rational thing he’d ever done. He realised that he was at peace.
He finished the pills and drank deeply from the whiskey. His throat burned and tears came to his eyes. But he lay down on the bed and blinked at the ceiling. The tears cleared and he slowly finished the bottle. Then he just lay there.
Things started to drift away, starting with the ceiling. But it was okay. There was nothing left that he wanted to keep. It was all okay now. He closed his eyes.
*** *** ***
Part I: The Town of Hypnos:
It was the smell that woke Martin, a smell of poppies, waking him to the rocks in his head and the desert in his throat. His pulse fretted against his thin skin and everything was hazy and didn’t make sense. He tried to see where the smell was coming from and slowly things slid into place, into forms and shapes and sounds. And the smell was no longer poppies; it became the sharp tang of ammonia.
A container of salts was being held directly under his nose. The smell was small and sharp and made his nose itch and his eyes burn. He coughed, his head roaring painfully as he did so.
They pulled the container away and the sounds became words, slipping in and out of sense as he tried to imagine what they might be saying to him.
“…just left him…
“…hasn’t Woken yet…”
“…He’s still dreaming…”
The words pressed against his ears like he was underwater. And the smells of his surroundings were unfamiliar. Yet comforting, different from the smells of the life he had…but he couldn’t remember that. He couldn’t remember anything before he’d opened his eyes.
He had been swimming in darkness, drifting, sinking, rising, and then…now. He was conscious. He was alive.
He recognised the smells first, before sight or touch came to him. They were strong and real, wood, earth, dirt and sweat. A fire in a fireplace, burning fresh cut logs. Bare wood-scrubbed floor. Thick wool beneath him over a straw filled mattress.
Some things he smelled, then some things he felt, some he simply knew what they were. Was this a dream? He couldn’t tell, he had no reference to work from.
There were people around him. He looked at where their faces should be and there they were, rough, hairy, scrubbed clean, leathered, smooth. He closed his eyes. When he opened them they had arranged themselves into individual faces. There were lots of them.
Martin pulled himself upright. The room swam and he couldn’t see so he closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing until the room settled down. He felt light-headed but a bowl was placed against his lips. The smell of chicken broth filled his nose and mind and he allowed the bowl to be tipped slightly and the warm soup to slide over his tongue. He swallowed and as the soup hit his stomach he realised his belly was empty and he was starving. He took some more and some more and soon the bowl was in his hands and he was emptying it.
He spoke, his voice grating against his raw throat, “Am I dreaming?”
They replied, “Of course.”
Martin tried to work out how that made him feel. He couldn’t tell so he decided to just accept it. He was given another bowl of soup. This time with a lump of fresh bread. He concentrated on eating. He was very hungry. He didn’t even consider these people might be lying to him. He accepted everything they said, even though he couldn’t make out what they were saying yet. It seemed easiest.
“Where am I?”
A lady was before him, the source of the soup and the bread. Her face was round and her smile was friendly. She looked to be in her late 50’s and her eyes were bright and brown and Martin stared into them as she replied to him.
You’re in Hypnos now my love.”
“Aye,” said another voice. Martin followed its source to the man standing at the foot of the bed. His was the leathery face, the creased and hairy face with a great bush of a beard and shaggy eyebrows. His nose was round and red and after he spoke he stood in silence, a calm and solid presence watching over him beside the bustling homeliness of the woman with the soup.
“Aye,” he said, “You be here now. Now that you dream you be. Where you were afore who can tell.”
“’tis our town,” The kindly lady said. “It may not be much but it’s a friendly place. Not one that’d let a young man freeze to death where they found him.” But her comment seemed not to be addressed to Martin. Not the last sentence that was raised and tilted to the back of a room where others gathered and replied in a muttering of voices too guarded to hear, which the lady ignored anyway.
“Don’t mind them,” she said, dismissively. “You’re safe now you’re with us.”
“What…you mean…You found me?” Martin asked.
“Aye.” The old man said. “Aye, we did wi’ that.”
“We found you out on the edge of the town,” the lady said with her smile. “Freezing you were, like you had made it to the boundary but couldn’t quite make it into the town before you fell.”
“Was on the moor,” came another voice.
“And he weren’t at that.” The lady replied sharply, twisting quickly to address the figure standing with the group away from the bed. “He weren’t on the moor and you know it Esme.”
“Aint right, going out on the moor.”
“Aint right, taking people in from the moor.”
“He here aint he? An’ he made his own way here an all.”
“You found me.” Martin said again, trying to understand. “But how did I get here.”
“Bless ‘im, he don’t remember,” one of them said.
“Aye, many don’t like to.” another continued.
“And we’ll have none of that talk Bill, he dreaming now ‘aint he. Just like the rest of us.”
“The rest of you.” Martin asked.
“Aye. We all dreaming here,” she said comfortingly.
“We all dreamin’ and some dream better and for longer but we all wake soon enough,” came the reply from the doorway.
“He aint wakin’ Esme. He aint waking today. He’s eatin’ this here soup and then he’s getting some sleep. That’s what he’s doin’.”
And that’s what Martin did.