Dreaming, all were dreaming. Martin dreamt. He slept and he dreamt and he woke still dreaming. What difference was there in the dreams as he slept and the dreams while awake. If indeed he was awake. They didn’t believe that, these people, these ‘folk’. Who were they, with their country dialect, with their clothes from a costume shop, yet real and faded and creased from use. And dirty, some of them, and tired and bearded and lank and smelling of earth and sweat, and candle fat and smoke. And animals. Yet he heard none outside.
Perhaps the smell came from them. Nothing would surprise him. He was dreaming after all. The room he slept in, with his eyes both open and snoring, was hazy with the smoke from an open log fire. And warm from the stove, an iron heap with a cavernous belly. And soup bubbling continuously on the stove. Soup that he dreamed of, even when asleep.
And Martin did not question, did not ask himself where or when he was. Perhaps he should have done, perhaps the answers would have meant something. Or perhaps the answers would have taken no mystery away from the questions.
Martin did not want to question, he did not want to think of why or when or what had been before. Something he remembered, from his dreams before this one. Something he was running from. Something he couldn’t escape. A nightmare always on his heels as he ran as fast as he could but realised to his horror that his steps were sluggish and his movements like in quicksand. And always, always if he dared to look behind (which he couldn’t, just couldn’t do), he would see it. Whatever it was, just behind, reaching out, its claws inches away and just about to catch, and tear and hurt his naked flesh.
That was what lay outside this dream. That was what was real. And that was why he didn’t question. That was why he clutched hold of this place with a childlike faith. And accepted it. Accepting the dream, even though his eyes were wide awake.
“My name’s Molly. Molly Farson.” She told him, her face kind and welcoming.
“Martin,” he replied.
“Pleased to meet you Martin. This here’s my husband Bill.”
“Who were those people who were here earlier?” Martin asked.
“Oh, them. Them’s just folks with too much time on their hands. Think they know it all. Think they guardians of the dream or some such nonsense.”
“Esmerelda Bright.” Bill put in.
“And her kin,” Molly went on. “Them Brights haven’t the brains they fell asleep with, in my opinion.”
“Well, they don’t and I don’t care who knows it, Bill. You see them when we found this ’uns poor body. They was just standing there, watching.”
“Watching?” Martin asked.
“Watching to see if you was gonna wake up or not.”
“You mean…if I was gonna d…”
“…Wake up.” Molly interrupted firmly. “There aint no such thing as…what you were gonna say. Aint never no such thing. Life aint nothing but dreams. An’ dreams within dreams. Aint nothing more nor less than a dream.” She busied herself with fluffing Martin’s pillow. “And I’ll be thanking you not to say nothing more ‘bout it, if’n you please.”
“S’ok.” Martin replied. “That’s ok.”
“Watching.” She repeated, catching her train of thought again. “Like they didn’t care one way or the other. We all just meat to them.”
“Aye, just bodies, no mind, no spirit, no soul. They say no soul in a dream, not even true mind, just bodies that we imagine and that are nothin’ when we leave them.”
“But don’t you believe…” he asked hesitantly.
“What I believe aint never you mind, and aint to them Brights neither, but I know folks in the dreaming shouldn’t just be watched when they in trouble. Not just looked at, and commented on. And criticised when they try to be helpful.”
“Aye,” said Bill. And he sat by the bed and lit his pipe and filled the room with its sweet-smelling smoke.
And Martin ate some soup and felt it warm the chill of the moor where he had come from. He ate the soup and dreamed. And after a while he closed his eyes and drifted off.
People sometimes came in, to visit, or to watch. Martin saw Esme once, her pinched lips and grey eyes staring right into him. She was watching. Then she saw he was awake and spoke.
“You dreaming,” She told him coolly.
“So I’ve been told,” he replied.
“No, aint nothing about what you been told. I tell you your dreaming cause you are. It’s a fact, no tellin’ about it.”
“Ok,” he said, not wanting to argue.
She stared at him hard then. “We don’t bring people in off the moor.”
“We welcome people who come from the moor. We even let people on the moor know about this town. And invite them to come. But we don’t bring people in off it.”
“What…what difference does it make.”
“All the difference.” Her voice was dry and cold. Iron beaten into truth by the certainty of her conviction. There was no room for manoeuvre, no room for discussion, nothing but what she knew to be true. She stood there for a while more.
“All the difference.” She repeated, and left without another word.
“Don’t you mind Esme,” Molly told him, when he told her of her visit. “She aint got no say so in this town, just thinks she has is all.”
“She doesn’t like me,” Martin replied.
“She don’t even know you. She just got her back up is all. When Brights get their backs up they aint to be reasoned with. But she aint got no call, nor no power to make you leave. You in my house, you under my roof, you sleeping in my bed. When you well you can sleep in the empty stable out back. I’ll make it up all nice for you. You aint goin nowhere if’n you don’t want to. No need to worry about that.”
“What about the Squire?” Bill interjected.
“He don’t need to worry about Philip.” Molly turned to Martin, “Don’t worry none about Philip. He’s a pussycat. He won’t say nothing to you but welcome. And that with open arms. He aint turned no one away yet that I know of and he’s been the Squire here since forever, or as near as darn it.”
“He could turn me away?”
“If there’s a problem. But there aint none. You aint gonna disturb the peace here. You aint gonna cause any ruckus in the streets or disrupt any party now are you.” Molly smiled.
“But Esme could be saying…” Bill went on.
“He don’t pay no attention to Esme,” Molly snapped, “and neither should you, husband. Stop worrying the man when there aint no call to.”
The room was small, yet seemed large enough to hold all the contents that it shouldn’t have been able to hold. Tools and mugs hung from the rafters. Pots and jars and buckets piled against the corners, shelves of plates and saucers and bowls and pictures lined the high walls and cupboards and drawers below.
Rushes on the floor and thatch in the roof. Plaster walls whitewashed and scrubbed regularly to stop the soot from settling in. The bed was against one wall and everything he could imagine was up against the others. The doorway was opposite the bed and led out to the street, unpaved, uncobbled outside. The kitchen was through another door and another room led off that to make the room where the couple slept on a spare mattress, like his of straw. It was one floor only, and small and busy and poor, though comfortable and warm. A fireplace was by the bed and blazed most of the day, thick logs placed regularly upon the sputtering embers by Bill, an older man, seemingly without work, yet intermittently present.
Bill was a slow and ponderous man. He had no passion of movement yet he did not seem dejected or unhappy. He seemed content enough with his pipe and his wife and this cottage and his trips outside. He smiled rarely but warmly. And his pipe smoke smelled like home. Martin often fell asleep to its billowing scent. And dreamed dreams he didn’t remember but that he knew were not the ones that he was running from.
The running dreams were less common now. He had almost forgotten them. Sometimes he wouldn’t think of them all day. And then he would wonder what he was trying not to remember, and it would flash across his mind and he would shiver, and try hard to forget what he could not remember but knew now was there.
But that was rare now. He was in this room now, off the moor. In this town of Hypnos, fast asleep and dreaming well, far from the life he had once knew, whatever it might have been. This was more real to him now. This room vivid in its detail, its solidity.
It did not shift and twist like when he slept and his dreams remembered what he could not. It did not make him scared, or tearful, or clutch himself in dread and pull his thighs to his chest and hug his face to his knees and force himself to wake up, back to this familiar, soft and comfortable cottage. He could breathe here. He could live here. He could be happy here. He would stay here.