Molly laughed, Bill roared, holding his sides, his head thrown back in abandon as the bellowing noise ricocheted around the room. The wine was flowing fully; from cup to lips, spilling over naked skin and wasting over the floor and the tables, staining clothes.
Another night, similar to any other. And Martin was still unable to get the conversation with Philip out of his mind. Philip’s answers just threw up more questions. He had tried to silence the questions in the usual way, with wine and strong beer, young women and fast music that drowned out everything except the whirling tunes and the beating feet, the rasp in his throat and the surge in his loins.
But still Martin couldn’t quieten his mind. Still he couldn’t get back into the rhythm of the town as he had done. He hadn’t been to one of Philip’s parties since then, though he had been invited last night. Philip would have missed him, asked where he was.
Martin stared at the raucous celebrations of the room. He had found Molly and Bill, searching the houses for them until he found them here. He had tried to talk to them but they weren’t there for talking, they were there for dancing and for laughter. But Martin wasn’t able to laugh anymore. He felt himself outside the joke and wondered how he could ever have found it funny.
Where was the sun, he wondered. Whenever he was awake it was night time. Had Hypnos gone for ever, could he get it back and if he did, would he ever feel the same as he had done before he had somehow found himself trapped in Pasithea.
Martin’s head was too heavy for his brain. He watched Molly repeat the last line of her joke and heard Bill struggle over the lip of his cup to hold the wine and laughter in his mouth at the same time. He saw the room whirl as other jokes rolled among them. The music flashed and soared, the people roared and clutched their drinks in hysteria.
Martin watched as Bill drank deep from his bottle and as he did so he twisted on his stool, his hips sliding out from under his torso. The stool he had been balanced on flipped out from underneath him and he crashed down, spilling himself and his drink across the sawdust floor. He gasped like a floundered fish as Martin watched him dispassionately. A blank look in his eyes as his friend tried to get up and couldn’t and clutched his chest with both arms as he gasped for air that couldn’t come.
Martin watched him as he slowed and stopped moving. He watched him to see what would happen next but nothing did. The room continued with its laughter and its drinking, the music didn’t miss a note.
Molly smiled weakly as she got up from her stool. “Come on Bill,” she urged. “Come on.” Her voice was small. “Come on you foolish man.”
She bent and shook him, the flesh rippling on his cheeks, his eyes dull in their sockets. “Come on,” her voice breaking.
She looked up as an older woman stood over her with a hard expression. Esme Bright stared at her with cold eyes. She didn’t need to say anything. Molly dropped Bill as though he was too hot to touch.
For a moment her eyes flickered around the room like a cornered animal then, finding no shelter or safety there, settled on the joyless comfort offered to her. With sudden firmness she stood up and grabbed her drink, pulling it back and drinking deep, spluttering as it all but choked her in her haste. She turned in an instant, away to a man by her side and, clutching him with both hands, pressed her mouth to his with her eyes tight shut and her wet lips mashing against his.
And he clutched at her excitedly and pulled her to one side and she went with him willingly. And Martin watched as no one else did anything. They continued with their lives, with their dreams. Though Bill’s dream was over.
And Esme, satisfied that everything was as it should be, turned back to her family at her table, ignoring the body on the floor.
And Martin watched the dead man, helpless now to hide behind masks and alcohol. Perhaps he could have done so a few days ago. Perhaps, within the dream, he could have ignored this slowly cooling example, this illustration of all the questions he could not answer. He had been doing so for so long after all. He had been doing so well.
But suddenly, surrounded by everyone who could ignore it, he found he could not. Not any more. And he looked upon death and his heart ran cold, his legs belonging to a marble statue, cold as stone and as unfeeling. Emotions rushed through him faster than he could sense them. And all he wanted was to turn away, appalled, but unable to take his eyes of those of the dead man.
This was reality, he knew. Not a dream. This man had lived and now did not. A fundamental change, the ultimate reality. And he could not look away. Try as he wanted to, he could not look away.
There was movement as two men came in, dressed in cheap clothes and wearing caps. They carried the body out, through a door in the back of the house that Martin hadn’t noticed before. Walking on stone legs Martin followed. Reaching the door in a fog and pulling at the handle.
It was shut fast, as though immutably fixed in place. He could not follow. And he found a hand upon his shoulder. It was Richard Bright, Esme’s son, a tall man in ordinary clothing, a wavy fringe and glasses. He gave a small smile and tried to lead Martin away. But Martin could not move.
“Where was he taken? Who were they?” And Richard looked at him with a withering air, and gave a short laugh.
“’Bill’ hasn’t been taken anywhere. That was just a dead animal that once we knew as Bill. To grieve is to pretend something that is not true. That somehow a dream is real, that any kind of meaning can be attached to ourselves other than what we are at any moment in time. We are animals on this earth as we live, nothing more, nothing less, and when we stop moving we are meat, nothing more or less.”
“But Bill was more than that?”
“A delusion,” the young man told him.
“But he must have been someone, otherwise who woke up?”
Richard sighed. “‘Waking’ is a fanciful delusion, propagated by the simple minded of this Town. I and my family follow the actions but not the philosophies of this place. We know that there are no other selves, no reality to wake up to. This ‘dream’ is the only thing that is real, this dream world as we see it is light hitting our eyes, chemicals in our brain, signals in our mind, nothing more. And when the signals cease, so do we. And so does our personal dream, our subjective impressions of reality. Nothing survives. Because there is nothing more to survive.”
“No. Bill woke up,” Martin tried again.
“If that’s what helps you understand the process I won’t stop you. But don’t expect me to agree with your delusion.”
Martin was shocked. He had known the Brights were different but he hadn’t realised how different, yet how similar to the others. They acted the same, more or less, they viewed their actions and the actions of their neighbours in the same way, they had the same view of life and its ending. They all lived in this town of Hypnos together.
Then he realised that perhaps they all had their own opinions, their own reasons for living here, their own philosophies that explained why life was so cheap and everything else was cheaper. As many opinions as inhabitants, yet they all gathered together, finding themselves in the same place, in this town founded by the Squire to gather all these disparate opinions under one citizenship.
It was not a belief in the dream that held them together. It was their approach to what lay outside the dream. And Martin realised, as his mind flashed with thoughts he could hold onto again, he realised that the only similarity he had ever seen in this town was how they had dealt with Bill. How they had treated his passing.
Throughout his fall, throughout his lying still upon the beer-swilled floor, throughout his passage across the room and through this fixed and immovable door. Throughout the entire process they had ignored Bill entirely. They had carried on with their lives, with their pleasures, with whatever they wanted to do. They had struggled to satiate themselves and ignored the simple fact of death. Except for Martin.
He could ignore it no longer. He did not know why but something in him refused to accept the comfort of this place, refused to accept the answers he had been given. And this refusal, deep within his self, stopped his enjoyment of the drinks and foods. The music was suddenly discordant to his ears, the drink now flat and lifeless, the women cold and distant and uncaring.
There was no pleasure here anymore. He wished, for a moment that he could go back, perhaps to Hypnos, if this truly was Pasithea. To go back and be like these people again, who seemed so uncaring, so free. Truly this was a paradise, where pain could not exist, and the suffering of unexplained deaths was so easily ignored. But he could not go back. He could only go on.
He needed help. He could not stay, and he could not go back to the moor. The thought of doing so, of braving that cold, ceaseless wind in his ears terrified him. He needed help to stay, he needed answers. He left the house quickly and outside. He needed to find Bill’s body, to see what they had done with it. Something must be there, some clue as to what had happened, what was left. And what it meant.
Martin ran to the back of the house, staying close to the wall as he did so, making sure he kept his eyes on the solid wood and plaster of the house, and away from the nothingness of the pitch dark moor.
He found the door in the back and a path that led along the back of the houses. He followed it in the darkness, barely able to see, his hands pressed tight over his ears. He ran and stumbled until the path led to the back of a larger house, and to a cellar trapdoor set diagonally against the wall. He opened it and descended the steps.
He smelled it before he saw it. The smell of roasting meat. It smelled like pork. And he remembered that was what it was called; ‘Long Pork’. He heard the hissing of fat in the fire. And he came to the opening into the large cellar and held his hand over his mouth and nose in horror as he descended.
A great fire across the far wall, meat on a spit. Great thick joints hanging on hooks by the wall. A massive oak table scored deep with blows from the cleaver embedded into its surface. Blood running thick into buckets. Ovens that made pies and pastries, delicate meat cuts, pastes and sausages.
Some joints he recognised as beef or pork. But there were others, others he could not look at. And the cleaver was wrenched from the bench and smashed downwards again to sever a hunk of meat from the body that lay upon it.
And Martin fled. Running to the Square, across its open space to the Squire’s House