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Brooke Nescott, Stilton Dreams and the Secondary Alternate Realm by Devon Pitlor
[Quoted in Wikipedia: "A 2005 survey carried out by the British Cheese Board reported that Stilton cheese seemed to cause unusual dreams when eaten before sleep, with 75% of men and 85% of women experiencing "odd and vivid" dreams after eating a 20 gram serving of the cheese half an hour prior to sleeping."]
Prologue: Brooke Nescott was sitting in some sort of large, basket-like thing. Alongside of her was a distinguished looking man of about fifty. Neither of them could move their hands, which were bound behind their backs by some sort of invisible cords. Around them swarmed the small, pink bipeds that seemed to fill the clearing. Before them sat large, ungainly, lumpen but humanoid creatures with solemn, threatening faces. The clearing---and Brooke instinctively knew it was a courtroom---was buzzing with a language she could not understand. One of the ogres at the front silenced the room with a wave of what looked like a long feather. He growled out two bursts of strange, rumbling syllables. Then a taller porcine creature came up and sneered into Brooke's face. "Congratulations," it said in perfect English, "you have just been condemned to death." Then peals of laughter and oinking cheers echoed from all sides.
I. The vague nature of reality at age thirty-six In June of 2010, the fatal line was going to be crossed, or at least Brooke Nescott, who had lived during both strange and desolate times, thought so. She was about to turn thirty-six, and for Brooke, who had always fancied herself younger than others, the age seemed to be fatal. It marked the plunge Brooke knew she had to take into middle age, and she did not like it. The excitement of youth, which Brooke so craved, was evaporating with each passing day. The first decade of the 21st Century had had its moments of thrill and grandeur for Brooke, as had the last decade of the 20th Century, but Brooke could see time passing, and it was already leaving small, nearly imperceptible marks on her face and hands. Though still fresh and young in appearance, Brooke realized, as we all do, that we are on a passage to old age and ultimately death. And there was nothing even slightly exhilarating about that. Brooke's life had been filled with moments of blankness punctuated by events beyond belief, such as the visit of Justine and her representatives from the distant future who had definitively influenced the outcome of her first marriage to Adrian Albritton and foreseen its ultimate dissolution. Then there had been Dragonsnort, and Dragonsnort deserved a chapter of his own, but as the fatal line in time neared, the downward slope, the descent, Brooke was unwilling to write it. Even in her thoughts. By age thirty-five, Brooke had already lost Dragonsnort, and that was something that had not been predicted by her strange visitors from the future, who seemed to have lost all interest in her after her choice to forego Chase Kingsley and marry the infertile Adrian and thereby not make children whose descendants would have a negative impact on the future of the world. Dragonsnort had been hers and hers alone, and the hours and days she had spent in his embrace were the most significant of her life, but, like all things related to the drab march of the early 21st Century, these things began to fall
apart like sculptures made of sand and washed by waves, waves of chaos that in 2001 Brooke had no way of foretelling. Dragonsnort had continued to play with his band, Death's Messengers, and the band became slightly more successful as the grim events of the mid-decade developed, transforming American society into something much less hopeful and vibrant than it had once been. The band had for a time thrived, and they began flying off to places in private planes provided by an unseen manager who briefly appeared to be making them rich. Dragonsnort had often been absent for long periods playing in concerts in far off places that bore no names, but that was how bands succeeded, he kept telling her. Brooke, regularly alone, accepted that, as she had always accepted all other things relative to Dragonsnort. But then in 2009, shortly after Brooke's 35th birthday, Dragonsnort and his companions had boarded a flight for some island belonging to Spain, ostensibly to perform in a resort cabaret. Going to the Canary Islands had become somewhat routine for Dragonsnort, and there was nothing sinister announcing itself about this flight. But over the Atlantic, the Cessna 480 carrying Death's Messengers had just vanished. It was in the news for a while, but then the story died out. Dragonsnort was gone, leaving Brooke only with memories of his masculine and electrifying embrace and, of course, Jared, their son. II. Jared Nescott Of course, he was Jared Nescott because, true to form, the mysteriously seductive Dragonsnort had---surprisingly---never told Brooke any other name for himself, nor had the inseparable couple ever thought to marry. Jared, therefore, could not become Jared Dragonsnort. That would have been even more absurd than Brooke could have tolerated, even after a lifetime of small absurdities, and so Jared, now nine years old, was fully branded with Brooke's family name, and was the only male to carry it, as Brooke's parents had both died years before, and she was an only child.
Jared was a prescient, knowing and very old soul. Like his father, he was wiry and strong and a definite leader. His intelligence seemed boundless and far advanced over other children his age. Notably, Jared had a remarkable talent for listening, something most other children lacked. Jared was quite handsome too, a boy with deep pools of blue eyes and a clarity of complexion enviable to most other mothers. He was considerate of both adults and children, and like his father, whom he missed quietly and without complaint, his physical stamina had no bounds. Naturally, he was totally bonded to Brooke, as she was to him, and Jared, by age nine, had begun to develop a very mature concern for his lone parent. Long conversations ensued between Brooke and Jared, conversations that seemed unnaturally adult for a boy of that age, but conversations which took place nonetheless. Jared had a knack for understanding the blithe unconcern his mother had with the world and life in general, and he understood her immense sense of loss over the disappearance of his father, Dragonsnort. Implicitly, he seemed to realize that his mother lacked the excitement she had once lived for. A well-meaning social worker or teacher, if privy to the extent of this motherson bonding following Dragonsnort's disappearance, may have at once advised at least a short hiatus for the boy. He needed more company of those of his own age and less soul-searching with his mother. But Brooke had no use for counselors of any type and kept her intimate relationship with Jared secret from all onlookers. She knew that she was passing her frustrations with the dullness of life onto her son and realized that their mature rapport would have been most suspect if examined too closely by any outsiders. She revealed things to Jared that---perhaps---should have not been told to a nine year old boy. Things like how Justine and weird visitors from the future had caused her to make a choice between her two boyfriends in order to salvage a future society from servitude and destruction. Things about how she had left her first husband, due to his inability to deal with infertility, and found Jared's father at a time in her life when the world appeared to be at its
bleakest low. Born in 1974 into a typically middle class American home, Brooke had naturally experimented and used many of the fashionable drugs of her era, and she hid nothing about this to Jared either. That alone would have alerted certain social workers, but Jared was silent, understanding and, above all, confidential. It was these last revelations, those about her rather inoffensive drug usage, that launched what was soon to become the next outstanding event in the lives of Jared and his mother. And that is actually where this story begins. But first we have to examine a rather pertinent question once posed by Brooke's more than precocious son. III. Jared's question Jared Nescott asked his mother a lot of questions about life and the world in general, things he could not ask teachers or camp counselors. One of these questions came after a third grade picnic during which Jared's teacher, a wellmeaning lady named Sophia Barstein, who was Jewish, explained to the class that she preferred---as according to her religion---to avoid all pork products. The other students had taken this in stride, accepting simply that Ms. Barstein's faith barred her from eating pork, but Jared wanted to know why. Ms. Barstein could not, of course, answer this question. She had been raised on the Torah, and the Torah said pork was unclean and do not eat it, so she didn't, and that was that. Even Ms. Barstein had never thought to go farther with the question. She didn't care if others ate pork, she didn't herself, and that should have been enough for most children. It was not for Jared. Jared learned subsequently that other world religions and cultures, notably those connected with his three Lebanese classmates, also avoided pork. Using his computer, which he was already good at, Jared found that the sanction against eating the meat of the "unclean pig" was very widespread in the world and very, very ancient. This bothered the boy considerably. There was no
reason for the prohibition, he thought. All the historical sources said was that the ancient priests, imams and rabbis forbade it. Pigs carried microbes, etc., but so did other animals. Besides, his mother loved ham, and in fact, it had been her ham sandwiches contribution to the class picnic that had started the entire controversy. Not only did a huge number of people on Earth not eat pork, but an even larger number did eat pork. And none of them seemed to be any the worse from it. Brooke was totally unable to give an answer to her son's dilemma, and she felt bad about it. She liked the gifted element in Jared and wanted to answer questions that others could not or would not, but, like her son, she found no solid answers forthcoming. And so Jared's question went unanswered, and it is noted here mostly as an example of the boy's inquiring mind as he neared ten years of age. But little did either mother or son realize that a more concrete answer would soon be given to this question. But that will have to wait for later. IV. Return to the "drug" issue It is nearly impossible to write the history of person born in 1974, as was Brooke Nescott, without mentioning the usage of recreational drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana and speed. All parents emerging into the dark valley which was the first decade of the 21st Century needed to either hide their previous trespasses in this regard or, as Brooke did, be totally frank about them and hope that their offspring would not fall into the trap of substance abuse. Honesty, Brooke felt, was the best approach, and Jared seemed more than satisfied with her explanations. These amounted mostly to warnings that some substances were "just too good" to even try one time. So for Brooke, the approach was not that "drugs were bad" or "just say no," but rather "drugs are too damn good, so don't even go there." Jared understood and was happy
that at age thirty-five his mother no longer even smoked, something she had given up with great difficulty a couple of years previous. And then one day an absolute absurdity blossomed into the relationship between mother and son. As noted, it was not, by far, the first absurdity to mark the life of Brooke Nescott, who seemed to be fated to be apart from the mainstream of humanity in so many ways. It happened at another picnic. But this picnic was an adult affair, and it took place in a clearing in the woods not far from Aristock, an old Indian burial ground, where a newly wed couple, both claiming to be of Susquehanna descent, decided to hold an outdoor marriage reception. Many children were invited to this bucolic event, which was both alcohol and drug free, and it was catered by one of Brooke's few friends, a young woman named Stacy Edrich who made extra money by planning food and drink occasions for marriages, etc. Stacy knew or cared nothing about the forest venue of the event, other than she exacted a hefty surcharge for bringing out food and setting it up on folding tables in the woods. The food she brought out was very traditional, and, yes, there was baked ham and other pork delicacies because the Susquehanna Indians had no problems with eating pigs. Stacy had been very shrewd in her food choices, buying items that were left over in her catering company from other affairs, so the tables of food spread for the couple and their guests and children were very eclectic and represented no particular culture, other than that of an employee of a catering business who knew how to throw together odds and ends. The reception was in no way remarkable. The parents of the happy couple assured everyone that nothing Native American was being defiled and that in fact they were doing honor to the Susquehanna ancestors by eating in their special spot. Children ran about eating and playing and screaming and frolicking. Adults sat in folding chairs and talked about hard times, failing
retirement accounts and general matters relative to seemingly endless "recession" which had gripped the times. And when the sun began to set, everyone left happy. Like so many other affairs, Brooke observed, it was boring in its regularity and lack of incident. Because Jared and Brooke were Stacy's guests, they remained behind, ostensibly to help Stacy with the clean up. After this, Brooke and Jared would return home, watch television, and then go to bed. As Brooke busied herself with the leftover clean up, she remarked suddenly that nearly everything had been eaten except a huge one pound wedge of blue veined cheese. It had remained totally untouched on the table, ignored by both children and adults alike. When she asked Stacy what it was, Stacy turned up her nose and said that it was, strangely, the most expensive item on the table, at something like $36 a pound and that it was always left over and never eaten. "It's called Stilton," said Stacy. "Blue veined cheese like what the French and Italians have, but this stuff is from England, and it is to some people very special. But no one eats cheese much anymore, and, besides, it smells funny to most people here. We've been trying to get rid of it for some time now. No one ever eats it, so back in the cooler it goes. Funny that it is so expensive, but so unpopular." Jared, alert as always, listened to Stacy say this to his mother, and went over and smelled the cheese. It did indeed smell strange, and Jared, who was no experimenter with strange adult food, walked away, dismissing the issue as unimportant. In his mind, he was still wondering how all these people had so readily consumed the ham and bacon wrapped burgers with no ill effects, but even that matter had started to grow dim in his curiosity. But to Brooke it suddenly became another issue. Nearly forty dollars a pound and no one touches it. For a second she remembered Dragonsnort. She knew
at once that had he been there he would have at least tried it. Dragonsnort did everything that was unconventional on purpose. A cheese that was universally ignored would have excited his curiosity, and so she thought it should excite hers. The wedge of cheese was pretty in its own way, shot through with threads of blue and edged by a thick gray rind. She had vaguely heard of Stilton before and abruptly became eager to try it. "Knock yourself out," said Stacy. "It's already paid for." And so Brooke took a cheese knife and cut herself a rather large slice and ate it rind and all with her fingers. Not unsurprisingly, it tasted rather good in a sharp and pungent sort of way. Brooke liked strange tastes. She decided it would go better with wine or beer, so with Stacy's permission, she wrapped the remaining chunk of Stilton and put it in her car's cooler to take home. V. Jumping forward: "drug" rehabilitation Brooke waited for some doctor who was bustling in the back corridor of his clinic wearing, atypically, a white coat. He carried a clip board and went from room to room. She had no idea of exactly how she would approach this therapist when her turn came. Of all the absurd situations that had marked her life, this one was sure to be the most grotesque. Here she was checked into an addiction clinic and about ready to talk to a psychiatrist. Her addiction was Stilton cheese. She realized the doctor would never believe her, but the dreams were real and something a psychiatrist would have a fun go at. When she was finally alone with the man, who turned out to be a Doctor Mustafa Aziz, she felt overcome with embarrassment. She wondered how Dragonsnort would have approached the same state of affairs. Dragonsnort would have just said what his trouble was and waited for a response. If nothing else, Dragonsnort had been oblivious to the opinions of others. Either the doctor could help, or he couldn't. So Brooke decided to speak right away.
Doctor Aziz didn't let her. He pursed his lip, read her written account, and said pleasantly to her that she seemed very well educated and wrote well. That put Brooke at ease. Her greatest fear was not being laughed at, but rather that once in a psychiatrist's hands, where she had placed herself, she would lose custody of Jared. A doctor had the power to do that. Instead, Dr. Aziz just stared at her and said "Hmmm" a number of times. "Your dreams were caused by the cheese, you know. There is a clear history of that in some people. It has been documented for sometime now, especially in the United Kingdom. However, the addiction part I refuse to believe. My initial diagnosis is very simple. Get back to your usual routines, your job, your life, your family and quit eating chunks of that ugly stuff. The dreams should go away." Brooke realized that the clinic was filled room by room with people with much greater problems than her own. Behind each door in Aziz's consulting corridor were alcoholics and people with real drug dependencies. She didn't want to take up any more of the doctor's time. She knew all about the effects of eating Stilton cheese on weird dreams. That information abounded online, and she had read it eagerly at first. She asked Aziz for a sedative, and, being somewhat rushed, he readily agreed, scribbled out a prescription for Ambien and dropped it in her lap. "Stop eating the cheese," he said, smiled and walked out. The visit had cost her two hundred dollars. As she drove home through the cluttered streets of Aristock, she knew she would stop at the specialty cheese shop and buy more Stilton. The need to do so would overcome her, and it did. The cheese being the most expensive in the store, she spent nearly a hundred dollars. Then she drove to Jared's school. Jared would be waiting in front for her, as he did every day. He would be worried about her as usual. She hated herself for giving in to the overpowering urge to buy more cheese. And later she hated
herself more for hiding it and eating two large chunks after Jared was tucked into bed. The cheese was beginning to taste horrible to her, with or without the two glasses of wine she drank to wash it down. Besides, it was fattening, and Brooke, now at age thirty-six, had no desire to become fat. Deep inside she harbored the hope that Dragonsnort would someday return. She wanted to be thin and shapely to greet his homecoming. Thinness became yet another obsession. Still she ate the cheese. A troubled, lonely single mother alone at night in a big house with a sleeping son and a mouthful of blue-veined cheese. Absurd, she thought. She swallowed an Ambien and hoped the dreams would not come, but in a strange way, she knew they would. In the other place she seemed to have unfinished business. A lot of this involved Joel. VI. The Stilton dreams The initial dream came immediately after she had consumed the first slice of Stilton after her afternoon with Stacy. She had found the cheese tasty and wondered, as usual, whether Dragonsnort would have liked it. He had always sought out strange tastes. If other people didn't like something, Dragonsnort was sure to like it. That was his way. She had never lost the habit of relating every activity to Dragonsnort. She had watched some television, mostly news about flooding in the river valleys near Aristock, and retired as usual to her empty bed. She patted the spot where Dragonsnort would have been and said good night to her missing soulmate. She had done that every night religiously since his fading. Somewhere in the night, a technicolor dream burst upon her. She was standing in a green forest overlooking what seemed to be a ravine of sorts. She could hear water flowing far below, and to her right was very dark bridge which appeared to be constructed of gray stone. It arched over the gorge and into a
patch of forest that was far darker than what surrounded her. In fact, about midway across the chasm, the bridge and what followed it became---for lack of a better term---black and white. After all, dreams are just mental movies, and this one was no different, other than in one place color abounded and just beyond that place everything was either sepia or simply black and white. She was, however, able to guide her movements, and for some reason, she drifted almost uncontrollably toward the dark arch of the bridge. She touched its stone railing and found it rough and, above all, real. This was not like any dream she had ever had before. She wanted to cross the bridge and see what was in the monochrome stillness which lay beyond. That part, at least, was in Brooke's nature: this curiosity about the unknown. Dragonsnort had only fueled that aspect of her personality. Dragonsnort liked bold, unrestrained people, and in his company, she had always striven to be one. So across the bridge she would go. A perfectly normal, if not strikingly handsome, man dressed in a shockingly brilliant checked shirt suddenly was at her side. He was a passionate looking person who seemed to be at home in the colorful woods which surrounded her side of the ravine. He blurted out "Don't cross!" but gave no explanation why. A loud ring woke her up. Nothing could have been more normal. It was her alarm, and it was time to get up, feed Jared, take him to school and get herself off to work. Just like any other day. At the time she had not heard of the strange effects that eating Stilton cheese produced. She had only learned of these later after searching for Stilton online and finding multiple articles discussing the phenomenon. But by that time, it was seemingly too late. She developed an almost psychic need for the cheese and had gone off on her lunch hour through the college section of Aristock looking for a place where she could buy it. The store clerk apologized to her for the high price of the cheese
and then offered her a neatly printed brochure describing how to use it in cooking and appetizer plates. In one line printed near the bottom of the brochure, there was a slight mention of the dream phenomenon. This was attributed to the British cheese marketers who had probably invented the story to sell more of their overpriced product. But the dream came again. This time she was again with the man in the checkered shirt. He seemed muscular and sexy, a woodsman of sorts. If she was going to have an affair with a dream person, it might as well have been him. He introduced himself as Joel somebody and asked her if she wanted to drink some strong alcoholic potion made from honey. She agreed and followed him to a sort of crude shelter wherefrom he produced a stone bottle of very sweet tasting, yellow liquid. "Mead," he said, pouring them both a large glass. "Don't drink too much." Brooke sat down on a log which served as a chair and stared at the man. "You have something to tell me," she said. "Yep," he replied, "but I doubt you will listen. This is a lot more real and much less imaginary than you think, but, to be honest, some of it is imaginary too. It all depends on how you take it." "Where am I," asked Brooke amused. She knew she was sensually attracted to Joel, but could not say why. Having an affair with a handsome man in a dream would in no way be an offense to Dragonsnort, and Brooke wanted the episode to continue. Even within the dream she wondered if she had set her alarm too early or whether it was going to ring before their conversation was over. "Yes, where am I," she repeated, "Cheeseland?" "Maybe that explains it; maybe it doesn't," replied Joel somewhat disturbed. "Right now you are in a different part of your own world," he continued pensively. "You crossed a kind of perception barrier to get here. I don't know
which one either. I can't explain that. This is like another leg of the same forest---if I can use that metaphor---that you live in. You are only slightly removed. I came here by a different route, but that really doesn't matter. I am of your species and speak your language. Over there (he pointed to the ominously arching bridge to nowhere) they are not. You won't understand a thing they say or anything about them. If you cross their barrier, which is that bridge, you will be an intruder, and they hate that." Joel went on to explain that in the past he had been a very ordinary traveler from somewhere in the state of Delaware and that before taking up residence in his brightly colored forest, he had a normal job and family. He gave no explanation as to why he was living here. More and more, Brooke found herself attracted to this fine-looking and compelling man. In her thoughts, she interrupted what she knew to be just a dream by all sorts of fussy concerns about her appearance. She was, after all, getting older and presumably less attractive to men. Dream or not, she wanted to know what this striking and magnetic guy thought of her. I am vain and silly, she thought. Here I am in strange dream and worried about how I look and whether he finds me pretty. Once again, the thought amused her. But at least there was a little spark of enthusiasm and excitement. Joel took her hand and said "Go back to wherever you came from. This is not a good place for you. I can handle it because I have for a long time, but you are totally out of place---and unprotected. I can see you want to cross that barrier, that bridge, and you probably will do it if I am not around. I can't help you at all if I am not there, and I can't always be there." "Do any of these places have names?" asked Brooke suddenly, breaking off her reverie about attracting Joel. "Probably. I know a little of their language by now. And I know a little about
them." "Who?" "The inhabitants over there. They come in all varieties. Some are like swarthy dwarfs, gnomes. Others are like rough and brutal ogres. Like characters from fairy tales. Still others are reptiles. They are the mean ones, and they do a lot of the dirty work for the ones that resemble us. One of their jobs is to keep intruders away. They will not, therefore, hesitate to kill you, and if like you say, you are dreaming, you simply won't wake up." A strange birdlike thing buzzed through the blue sky above. It had no wings but was rather a head and body attached to a large, balloon-like bladder which sputtered as it propelled the creature through the air. Then the alarm, the wake up, Jared, the school, and her job---where Brooke sat dreamily all day thinking about Joel and his multicolored forest and the dim passage that he had warned her not to cross. After dinner that night, she sat down to talk to Jared as she always did. Jared, wise as usual, stared at her and asked whether she had ever eaten any of the cheese from the picnic two weeks before. Brooke, who had always been open with Jared, broke down and told the boy everything. He was not happy. It was as if she had taken up smoking again. He did not laugh, however, at her addiction to cheese. He only assured her that he had never eaten any "because it stinks" and that he never would. Then, for some reason, she told him about Joel. "Your father has been gone for nearly two years now," she said quietly. "What would you think if..." "You found another man?" Jared's eyes brightened. "I'd like that for your sake. But not some dude in a dream."
Brooke was fully aware that she was sounding silly, especially to her son, but then something crossed her mind. "I have something else about your father to tell you," she began. "You have heard just about everything except this. That missing plane where he vanished, well, it was mentioned in the news. Death's Messengers were not a big band, but they were an Aristock band, a college town band. So there was an article in the paper. They named all the guys in the group. I sort of knew them all too. Your father had always introduced me, but they were stoned a lot of the time and just kept their distance. I was Dragonsnort's girl, and they respected that. Some of them had girlfriends too." "What's the secret?" said Jared, his interest again piqued by news of his father. "The article never mentioned anyone named Dragonsnort, and there were no strange names mentioned. I mean your father lived and died as Dragonsnort. That was all I ever called him and all he ever told me about himself. On the list of the missing there was no mention of him. It was as if he had never lived." Jared nodded his head wisely, glanced at both the clock and then, tellingly, at the refrigerator. He knew, Brooke realized, that the cheese was in there. The cheese that she had to eat before bedtime. He shuffled up in his pajamas and said goodnight and walked off to bed. "I'm glad you didn't call me Jared Dragonsnort," were his last words. VII. The crossing Cheese. Wine. Sleep. No Ambien. It didn't do any good. She was off to Joel's forest whether she wanted to go or not, and she wanted. She knew she did. Her entire life, save the years with Dragonsnort, had been one long panorama
of sameness and ennui. Nothing had ever come of anything. She had made a decision once to save a future generation by her choice of husbands, and nothing had come of that. It was an episode that had simply ended. Like everything else in her life. Then the fire and eruption of Dragonsnort. There was meaning and value and excitement....things she so much craved. And now that was gone, and Brooke now thirty-six for sure was alone with the dingy drabness of life that had always characterized her every waking moment before Dragonsnort. Joel, the dream, the strange colorful vistas, the promise of seeing extraordinary creatures, learning more, finding out secrets began to obsess her. Yes, more cheese. By all means, more cheese. She arrived into the technicolor vista just in time to see Joel disappear over the shadowy bridge. She called out to him, but he was too far over to hear her or answer. He simply dissolved into the blackness, and she stood alone watching odd looking creatures scurry back and forth in the underbrush. This was a dream, right? And she always woke up from it. What harm could really come to her in a dream? Without much further reflection she was at the opening of the gray stone bridge. She climbed over a ravine, the bottom of which she could not distinguish and into a strangely shaded eclipse of sepia which gave way to a glowing black and white pathway which extended from the far side of the bridge. Behind her was the flush and splendor of Joel's forest. Ahead lay only a bleak channel leading into...into more brightness and light!! Just beyond the black and white zone, which Brooke assumed to be the barrier Joel had spoken of, the colors became even more dramatic. It was a world of neon iridescence, a sparkling tangle of purple and red and orange vines from which strange fruits in unfamiliar geometric shapes hung, triangular and octagonal fruits...the stuff of a real dream. Two alligator things stood upright on their rear legs and eyed her passage.
They had wide but slitted eyes which seemed to follow her every move as she penetrated this new dreamland. They glowered at her in obvious disapproval but did not make a move. Between the two lizards seemed to pass a type of psychic understanding. Like humans, they shook their heads menacingly as if to warn her away. On Joel's trail now, she passed between them without fear. This was a dream. She could wake up. A cheese dream but a dream nonetheless. If an upright alligator made a move to attack her, she would scream, and the scream would awaken her. Of that she remained confident. Farther on, Brooke passed at a distance of several yards a group of squat, thickset dwarves who seemed much wider than tall. Some of the dwarves were lounging around what looked to be a stone sundial. Others were striking at the huge neon fruits with long cudgels. They too observed her passage. On their wrinkled faces were looks of displeasure. She knew she was intruding, but wasn't this what Alice did under the rabbit hole? The dream was worth the adventure. Perhaps the puzzling and seductive Joel would be the prize. Brooke pressed forward. She passed more and more of the erect lizards and the stubby gnomes hard at work with the glowing plants. It was magical and exciting. Far more exciting than anything she knew in her life. And she could tell Jared about it when she woke. He would believe her and be interested in what she saw. Then suddenly it ended. But it was not the end of the dream. No, she was still in the same place. The ground under her feet continued to vibrate, and she could sense that the dream was far from being over. But something or someone had pulled a dark sack over her head and clamped her hands behind her back. Other thick, oily, unseen hands held her shoulders and waist. Wisely, Brooke decided not to struggle.
The dream had to come to an end soon. She would just wait it out. VIII. The dream continues But this time, the dream did not end. There was no ringing of an alarm, no getting up from bed, no Jared to drive to school, no job. Just heavy and coarse hands holding her and guiding her somewhere that she could not see. She could feel actual pain in their abrasive grasp. How could an innocent dream of an imaginary place cause her so much actual pain? Brooke writhed in the strong holds, finally attempting in vain to free herself. She heard the sounds of grunts and snarls all around her. A strange language. Joel had warned her. When she finally did scream, there was no response. When she screamed again, a heavy smack fell across her lips. Whatever had taken her prisoner wanted her to be quiet. Brooke felt the very real drip of blood from her lips and tasted its salty essence. This was becoming too genuine for words, too real for screams. She found herself mumbling "Joel...Joel" under the coarse fabric of her head cover. The muffled sounds of alien laughter surrounded her. Whatever beasts were holding her prisoner were laughing in a crude way and attempting to utter "Joel" themselves. Their grumbling sounds were not human. Finally, she was thrown down onto what felt like soft dirt, and she heard the heavy hinged creaking of what must have been a door. Her hands were still bound behind her. A dream within a dream, in exhaustion, she fell asleep. When Brooke Nescott awoke, she was not awake. The dream was continuing. But the scenery had changed. She was in a small chamber with a dirt floor. The mask had been removed from her eyes and her hands were free. Some wet slices of the strikingly colored fruit lay in the dirt beside her. Food, she thought. I must eat. And she did. The fruit, though gritty with soil, tasted fresh and invigorating.
Then she saw another person in the cell with her. It was a man. He was crouched in the far corner. This was an older guy with graying temples and a wise but hopeless look on his face. He said a timid hello, then turned his head to one side with a expression of great sadness. "What is going on?" shouted Brooke as if her companion had an answer. The older man continued to look at the door. He did indeed seem to know what was happening. Brooke could sense it. He knew everything. He just had that air. So where was Joel and who was this guy? What would it take to get him to talk? Once again, Brooke interrupted the fear of her dream to wonder about her looks. Was her lip swollen and bleeding? Was she still engaging enough to get a strange man to talk to her? Was she actually thirty-six now, and why was she worried about that at a time like this? Minutes passed in silence between them until the man began to speak. He had a very thick accent, which seemed to be French, but his words came fluently enough and without interruption. "We are both intruders here," he said in a highly inflected monotone. "I suspect that you came here by a different route than I did, but nonetheless we are still here. The pigs and their friends are going to put us on trial. That is what I think." "Pigs?" interjected Brooke. "That is what I call them. They look a little like pigs, the smooth ones here in the interior, and I believe after years of studying this place from different angles, entrances if you will, that pigs describes them exactly. They walk both on all fours and vertical when they want. They are not like the gnomes, which are basically harmless. The pigs live here in the core. That is where we are,
you know. We are in the interior of a place often called in your language the Secondary Alternate Realm. This is a place of miscellaneous creatures, some of whom used to live among us in our world centuries ago. The gnomes, for example, the ones who tend the fruit." "What about the pigs?" stammered Brooke, growing more anxious by the moment. "It goes like this, I think. When the Ancient Progenitors came to Earth and established our civilizations, there were many thinking creatures to choose from. Some looked like us. Others didn't. They chose us to breed and form their first civilizations with. Others they banished somehow in this alternate vibratory place. I suppose the gnomes had little value to them. Nor did the huge pig ogres, who are just another variety of the porcine creatures that abound here. In our world, some of them were allowed to remain. But they were ignored by the Progenitors and devolved. Eventually they lost their sway over man and grew more animal like and smaller, and the Progenitors even warned everyone not to eat them. Most of us never got the message. Some did. Back in our world, their descendants are eaten now. Here in the core, they rule. They hate us for what was done to them. They have always wanted to find a way back. A lot of it is about revenge." Brooke thought about Jared's question about the ancient restrictions in so many religions about eating pork. If what this man was saying were true, it all seemed to make sense. A forgotten and disowned species. Just like the gnomes and the sentient lizards. This was a world where they all ruled or at least coexisted, and humans were simply trespassers. "Do you know anyone called Joel?" Brooke asked the strange, foreign man. He shook his head calmly and said yes. Yes, he knew Joel, and Joel knew him, and that was all he could say. Later he would add "They just haven't been
able to catch Joel yet." He did not appear to like Joel very much either. The discussion then seemed to be over. The man buried his face in his hands and muttered something to himself in what Brooke supposed to be French, the little she knew of it from school. IX. The trial Rough manacles once again bound the wrists of Brooke Nescott and her unnamed companion as they were taken from their miserable underground cell into the overly dazzling sunlight of what now Brooke knew to be the Secondary Alternate Realm at its inner core. The creatures who escorted them were smooth-skinned porcine beings that walked upright but apparently had hoofs instead of feet. They did, however, have perfectly prehensile hands, and these grasped the pair, relentlessly steering them through the mystifying and tangled foliage to a circular opening in the vegetation. The sounds of incomprehensible chatter filled the heavy, perfume-laden atmosphere around them. Like pigs, their captors spoke in strings of guttural grunts and made oinking sounds. Their faces seemed boldly spiteful, though intelligent. They had small, beady eyes and flattened noses which resembled what could have conceivably evolved into pig snouts in a further evolution, which the stranger had claimed for them in Brooke's world. In the absence of all gentleness, the prisoners were pushed into the branchy seats of a kind of basket in front of a long paneled bench which stretched before them. Their feet were secured in place. Behind them sat a host of porcine beings interspersed with the squat gnomes that Brooke had at first observed tending the neon vegetation. The crowd was also punctuated by the occasional vertical lizard, although none of these latter entities spoke or made intelligible sounds. Some kind of unseen horn blasted, and larger pig-like beings wearing strings of
unknown fabric about their shoulders entered the circle and ceremoniously took seats in front of the soon to be condemned couple. Without warning, these larger pigs produced little handheld flails which looked like chains of barbed wire on a handle. In unison, they stripped down the fabric covering their pink shoulders and began thrashing themselves on the back until each of them, and there were three, were profusely bleeding. Then another horn blasted, and the largest one rose and spoke. He held his flail by the handle and pointed it at Brooke's male companion. A long string of grunting sentences issued from his snoutlike mouth. Then he sat down. The same was repeated by the second and third of the accusing pigs. None of their words were intelligible but their intention showed in every malicious gesture they made. At times they all brayed at once, more like donkeys than pigs. At times they paused to flail themselves again. Self-flagellation seemed to be expected of them and long rivulets of blood streamed downward from their torn backs. Another horn blasted and the act was repeated, only this time the grunting invective was directed toward Brooke. When it was finished, the trio of judges, flagellated themselves once again. One then grabbed a long feather and whisked it through the air in front of him. This silenced the nattering crowd behind. He made a bellowing sound louder than the previous grunts and pointed his flail at both victims. The whole trial, as it were, took less than twenty minutes by Brooke's reckoning. Brooke for some reason had given up the idea of waking from this dream. Whatever was happening was as authentic as anything in her waking world, and she knew she would just have to see it through to the end. She wondered what the "verdict" was. Within seconds, another standing pig pushed his way through the crowd at the side and approached the prisoners. This pig was seemingly the translator, for it leered at both of them and informed them each in good English that they had been condemned to death "as unwanted intruders" from a hated and wicked dimension which everyone present seemed to loathe equally. Peals of happy laughter rippled through the
crowd. The judges stood up in unanimity and walked off out of the clearing, their self-shredded backs streaming blood. A group of several pigs...and Brooke was now consistently calling them that...approached the older stranger and pulled him to his feet. One or two alligators stood vertically alongside, acting for all the world like cops. Brooke remembered how much she hated both cops and courts. But her real life suddenly became more of dream than this dream life. She watched as the older man was led to a crude wooden platform on the side of the clearing. When she looked away, several porcine hands twisted and held her head so that she was forced to see what was about to happen. The stranger, sobbing to himself and still speaking what Brooke supposed to be French, mounted a ladder made of logs and stood in the middle of the platform. A twisted and knotted vine rope fell from a tree branch above. Brooke remarked that it was lucent purple in color, one of the most stunning shades of violet she could ever imagine. The vine ended in a noose, which was summarily looped around the man's neck and tightened. Brooke watched in abject horror as the pigs and lizards backed off, gave each other some kind of whistled signal, and the gray templed man dropped through a trap door, his neck stretched impossibly distant from his shoulders and his eyes glossed over and bulging with his last vision of life. He was very dead. Then his body was cut down. It fell with a heavy thud to the dirt below and was dragged away by some of the stumpy gnomes. Now it was Brooke's turn. This is where I wake up, thought Brooke. The idea gave her courage. Goaded by the pigs and lizards, she mounted the scaffold and stood on the same trap door through which moments before her one time cell companion had fallen. Another purple noose fell and was clinched painfully around her neck. She knew she would either die or wake up. So not struggling, she resigned herself to an uneasy patience. Her bedside alarm clock
would surely ring. But it did not. Somewhere out of the tangle of vivid vegetation a man arrived carrying a blazing torch. It was more fire than Brooke had ever seen issuing from a stick, and a dense black smoke billowed up from the blaze as well. Before her blurred vision, Brooke recognized Joel. Joel was swinging the torch in all directions, and Brooke's captors seemed to recoil swiftly as he moved up and onto the scaffold. With a slice of an unseen blade, Joel cut her loose and pushed her off the side of the scaffold. "Run," he screamed. "Run" was the last word Brooke heard, and it didn't take that word to make her do it. She blasted off in any direction that seemed open. Behind her was Joel and his fire and the now cowering denizens of whatever world she was in. But the run did not last long. In an instant Brooke was stopped cold by a solid object which caused her to drop onto a hard floor. The floor turned out to be the tile of her home. The thing that stopped her was her bathroom door into which she must have run. She was, in effect, back home. X. Conclusion The noise Brooke made when she crashed into her bathroom door had awakened Jared, who bounced down from his room still wearing his orange pajamas. It was, Brooke realized, Saturday, and Jared had no school, nor did she have work. The dream had been far too much this time, far too vivid, and Brooke grabbed her son in the most undisguised of fears. She was covered with sweat and her heart pounded. Whatever she did from now on, she would avoid Stilton cheese
for life. What remained of the expensive substance in the refrigerator she would throw immediately in the trash...and later she did. But before that, she shivered uncontrollably and clung to Jared. Jared looked into his mother's wide and dilated eyes. He could sense a fear that he had never seen before. He knew it was the dream, but the dream must have been worse than ever before. Jared became afraid himself. Afraid of what he saw burning in his mother's eyes. For several minutes the two simply clutched one another without speaking. In time, both mother and son regained their calm. Brooke went to the kitchen to make some coffee and breakfast, and Jared went to get dressed. It would just be another serene Saturday, with perhaps mother and son enjoying a day at the park. Brooke was still shaking, however, when she put Jared's cereal on the table and poured her own coffee. She shook almost uncontrollably as she walked in her night gown to the curbside and threw the remaining pieces of Stilton cheese into the trash bin. Then she sat down at the table with Jared. She was about to tell him about the dream when Jared's eyes opened wider than Brooke had ever seen them before. He was staring at her neck and searching for words. Without hesitation, Brooke got up and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. A blistering red ring of tortured flesh, bleeding in places, circled her neck. It was, of course, the mark left by the noose. She stared at the hideous bruise for several seconds then pursed her lips in quiet resolve. "Thanks, Joel," she whispered to no one in particular. Then she paused long enough to say it again: "Thank you very much. And I do hope we can meet again. I do." And after Jared had heard the story, he agreed that someday his mother might
indeed meet Joel again. Like Brooke, he was certain that it would happen, and like Brooke, he wanted to say thank you himself. ________________________________________ Devon Pitlor -- May, 2010 ///
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