Part I: The Town of Pasithea
Martin’s head swam up out of a fog of half-remembered feelings. A unicorn mask appeared and disappeared for an instant in his memory and he wondered if that had just happened or if it had been a year ago or more. He remembered the red liquid but the context of the drinking was vague. He remembered drinking it while surrounded by sparkling crystal and he remembered drinking it surrounded by flickering candles and bare black stone and in the Square and in a room full of grey smoke.
How many times had he drank, how many nights had he spent in this night-time twin of the dream, this town of Pasithea. When had he drank the draught with the masks and the unicorn hunt. Was that the first time or the last time he had drank it and given himself over to consequenceless action, pleasure without meaning, sensation without question or code.
Time had passed, he knew, perhaps a lot, but he had no recollection or at least nothing he could hold onto before it was gone, like dust glittering in a ray of light. It was night time now he knew, it was never day. He was a true citizen of Pasithea. Hypnos seemed as unreal and as far away as a reflection within a mirror. Where was Bill he wondered, where was Molly. He tried to think but his thoughts weren’t able to connect.
Martin’s brain realised he was in a room, reclining on cushions, drapes of silk and satin hung from the walls and richly upholstered furniture lay around him.
He blinked and let his eyes rest on the candles that flickered and gave off their frankincense scent. The room was warm, almost thick with the heat. A haze was in the air, or in his eyes, he didn’t know. But the room seemed unreal. A glass was held before him. He took it and drank the liquid within. It was just wine he realised after he’d swallowed. His glass was refilled and he drank from it again.
Martin’s eyes glanced about the room, and he saw that he was not alone. Others lay across the cushions and the furniture. Reclining, or prostrate. A soft rustle and moan led his eyes to notice a tangle of anonymous flesh on an ottoman by one far side of the room. His eyes moved on, unsurprised, uncaring.
“Ah, my dearest fellow. You’ve arisen from your slumber I see.”
Martin’s eyes followed the source of the sound to where Philip sat, attended by two servants who took turns filling his glass and offering him hors d’oeuvres from a silver tray.
“Philip.” He said, recognising the man, as though he’d known him all his life.
“You enjoy the wine?” the Squire enquired. Martin considered the question and peered into the clear garnet of his glass. It was a fine wine, all the Squire’s vintages were fine. Developed, rich on the nose and balanced like silk upon the tongue. But enjoy? It was impossible to tell. He had drank better, he had drank worse, he had quaffed cheap liquors that burned his throat and brought tears to his eyes and perhaps he had enjoyed those more.
“I see not,” The Squire observed. “Perhaps your palate has become too experienced to be stimulated by such thin pleasures as can be derived from the simple grape. Perhaps something with a little more kick to it?” He nodded to the servant who attended him who approached Martin with a twisting pipe from whose curling nozzle emanated tendrils of incandescent smoke.
Martin raised his hand with an effort and waved the servant back. The servant hesitated but at a nod from the Squire returned to his position.
“You decline my gifts?” The Squire enquired. “They are freely given. And my taste is exquisite. I can assure you I offer nothing that you will not gain great pleasure from.” He smiled at Martin guilelessly. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Martin shook his head. Philip was famous for his honesty. But still he shook his head at the pipe and the great jewelled vase of bubbling alchemy, of charcoal, water and steam.
“Nothing I give you will be less than you desire, nothing I offer will be less than you want.”
Martin raised his tired eyes and tried to focus on the great man seated among his silks and smokes. He was dripping with gems and finely embroidered cloth. Draped among a throne of delicacy and art. The cloth was wrapped loosely about his shoulder and draped elegantly across his front and lap. His left shoulder and his right leg were bare, smooth flesh, rounded and powdered.
He was large but not fat, his curves were solid, as if trying to contain a man greater than his skin had been designed for. His belly was a great round dome and his chest a barrel. His large face was handsome and his curved cheeks exhibited a ruddy health. His eyes were the purest blue.
“I…I want to talk…to understand…” Martin did not know what he wanted to understand. All he knew was that he was at the bottom of a heavy pool and was struggling to the surface, to feel fresh air on his face once more. He was trying to think.
“To talk? Why talking is one of my chiefest pleasures. Many a night I will spend in discussing the state of things, of bantering wit and juggling trifles. But my only reluctance is on your behalf my dearest love. You have never shown any inclination for talk before. Why, rather the opposite.”
“I am…I am tired of sensation, endless sensation…without meaning, without reason.”
“Ah…of course…that malaise can come upon us all. A fickle thing, emotion, that turns on us and distracts and drags us into bleak places at the strangest times. I always advise my friends to pay no care to fugue and ennui, a good party will end the bleakest thoughts, and the darkest emotions can prove to be nothing more than shadows and fog when faced with good companions and the sweet embrace of a young delight.”
“But what of reason, of meaning?” Martin had never worried about such things before, or perhaps he had, in some distant life, long ago. And, it seemed, bubbles from that time were now rising up through the depths, to rest stubbornly on the surface, refusing to pop and dissipate.
“What reason do you seek, here in Hypnos, or as the fanciful term it, Pasithea.” Philip drank inserted the long, elegant pipe between his bright red lips to suck happily on it. As he let it withdraw from his plump lips his saliva lay wet along its smooth ivory length. “What can dreams offer understanding? We do not dream for knowledge, we dream for pleasure, or for fear. And in my house I will have no fearful friends.”
“But dreams can offer revelation.”
“Not in my experience.” Phillip beamed happily. “I have had no revelation here. Perhaps some have, but only their own desires reflected back at them. Or only their own philosophies and fancies.”
“But there is truth.”
“Truth? What is truth in a dream. When you wake there may be a truth or two waiting beside whichever bed you now slumber in. But here, in this land of dreams and in this Town of Hypnos and Pasithea there are no truths.”
“But you believe we dream, that is a truth that you accept,” Martin insisted.
“Ah…a hit, a palpable hit my good sir.” Philip sat back further among his cushions, piled up around him like a throne. “You are right of course. And yes, people fancy they see revelation in that. I see only opportunity.”
“Opportunity?” Martin asked.
“And what do others see?”
“Anything they desire.” Philip spread his arms bounteously. “‘Reasons’, if you will. And sometimes I encourage them, on a whim, for it pleases me to see people’s fancies ratified. Sometimes great philosophies have been born upon my doorstep and I shake these deep ‘truths’ by the hand and give them encouragement and support as they make their way in the world.
“Perhaps you have dreamed of your own truth, your own philosophy of life, or class, or rule. Perhaps you would like to discuss it with me and if it sounds good I may offer you preferment and a living in the world.”
“I…have no truth.”
“Ah, but you can still dream of one. This is a land of dreams after all.”
“I want to know the Truth.”
“And you think I can give it to you?” The Squire laughed, a bass chuckle that shook his belly like a drumskin. “I will give you what I have then, for all my gifts are free. There are no secrets, there are no mysteries. There is nothing deeper than what you see and feel and taste and think.”
The Squire motioned a servant who offered him a different smoking pipe. He drew a great draught of it into his lungs and let it billow out of his nostrils in a twin curl, unending. “What do you wish to know?” he asked.
“When we wake up. What happens then?”
“Hahaha. That I cannot tell you, for no one has ever woken up and returned to this dream again. Perhaps they dream again, the next night, and dream of another world, but never this one.”
“You said there were no mysteries.”
“In this world. There are no mysteries in this world. Nothing that cannot be measured, discussed, dissected, or observed. There are scholars my friend. And I confess with some pleasure that I am not one of them, but I have spoken with them and read their studies and I can assure you that the only conclusion that can be reached is that this world contains nothing that cannot be understood, nothing sacred or supernatural. They have cut a man apart and seen nothing but meat, no spirit, no mind, no soul. Do you find that comforting?”
“I must confess I don’t.” Martin admitted quietly.
“Then perhaps you are not thinking about its consequences. If there is no deeper truth than what we see then there is no deeper meaning, no deeper morality to accord our lives to. We are free to do as we please. That is how I chose to found this town. That was my founding charter. We are but dreams of flesh, unreal, brief things soon to wake and leave the flesh and bone behind.”
“And the people of Hypnos agree with you.”
Philip pondered. “Some do. Some are just attracted by the freedom, by the respite for the constant search for meaning in a meaningless world. Most are like you, they don’t bother to think it through. I’m not blaming you of course, why concern yourself with meanings behind a lack of meaning. It’s inherently pointless.
“Some however, take time to consider things, and come to the same conclusions I do. The Brights, for instance, some of my most avid pupils. They don’t bother to pursue the pleasures I offer as deeply as I do, for their own reasons. They rather prefer the intellectual pleasures of my philosophy. And of making sure everyone ‘tows the line’ so to speak and doesn’t start moralising or proclaiming some deeper truth. They allow the Town to attend to its own concerns as long as no one attempts to prevent anyone from doing so. Tolerance is their watchword.”
Martin thought of Esme Bright and found it hard to think of her and tolerance together. “What about Esme?” Martin asked. “She didn’t strike me as too tolerant when I first arrived.”
“She is cautious.” Phillip answered. “She is only tolerant with people who are tolerant as she is. With lawyers and legalists she is fiercely intolerant. Rules and laws are meaningless in a dream and so Esme has no time for any itinerant law-giver who comes trying to impose their own repressive fancies on the freedom of her neighbours and friends.”
“Was she with you from the beginning?”
“The beginning, oh no. Hypnos has been built up and rebuilt for many years, in many incarnations since the beginning. Even I don’t recognise it now. I have been dreaming for longer than any of the others. Esme has been here a long time, but she came as an outsider first.”
“Was she alone, were the other Brights born here.”
“No, Esme’s husband woke before she came here. His name was Charles. They weren’t called Brights then, Esme changed her name after she’d been here a while. Her son Richard chose the name. He said their life here in Hypnos was so bright now after where they had come from that it felt appropriate. The whole family changed their names. And Richard’s son John was the first born to them in this town.”
“John, have I met him before?” Martin wondered.
“Perhaps, he attends my parties more than the rest of the Brights. You may have seen him at one of my masked balls. He favours the Peacock. A symbol of vanity, pride and arrogance.”
Martin remembered. “And he flaunts such qualities?” he asked.
“Of course, why wouldn’t he. It shows great self-assurance and confidence in the dream. Anything less would be hesitance and lack of faith.”
“You speak of faith. Is that not significant of mystery?”
“Faith is not a bad thing, though it has been used to propagate ignorance as though ‘twere a quality. But faith in what you know to be true is a quality is it not? And John has this faith in abundance. A belief far different from faith in what you only wish were true.”
“Meaning. Meaning from outside yourself. Meaning in anything that cannot be touched or felt or observed. Meaning that forces us to live in ways that make us feel bad, that prevent our pleasures, that repress our enjoyment of the sensations we can experience. Meaning that is unnatural.
“For what is more natural than to indulge ourselves in whatever we fancy or desire. If it exists and is good to eat or take or experience then why not? Why do we prevent ourselves. Why do we hold back. For no other reason than these unnatural meanings of our own invention.
“And they are no more than dreams, no more than any other of our dreams, with no more substance than anything else we imagine to be real, like this room, like this life, like this wine. And with no more need to be followed or obeyed.” And he threw his head back and emptied the wine into his throat to illustrate his example.
Martin could not think how to respond. His thoughts were silent now, the bubbles rising from the depths of himself had gone, popped and vanished, and even their ripples disappeared. He looked deep into his glass, filled to the brim with rich, deep-red wine. And he drank it to the bottom, and sank once again.