Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Five: You forgot someone

Dragomir opened his eyes to a light in his face.

It was not a particularly strong light, and it took him a few seconds to even register that it was there, and not just a figment of his imagination. It did not blind him after a night of darkness, did not startle him into abruptly sitting up, did not frighten him into wondering if, perhaps, the rats had somehow come back, and were shining their brilliant white judgment down into his face. It was just there, and when Dragomir felt like it, he responded.

The light was accompanied by a familiar face. It was the face of a friend.

“Hello, my earnest, earliest, greatest comrade in harms,” Edmund said, smiling gently down at Dragomir. “I see thou hast misplaced one of your arms?”

Dragomir sniffed, mirroring Edmund’s rueful grin as he sat up, propped against one side of the wagon. “Aw, shit. Hi, Ed. Yep, lost it in a bar fight, or something like that. You know how it is. Am I dreaming?”

Edmund shrugged. “Only in part, my erstwhile chum, / So out of that wagon you had better come.”

Edmund helped Dragomir to his feet and out the back of the wagon. They were still parked in the same place where the wagon had stopped the night before, only now the landscape was bathed in a subtle golden glow, one so soothing that Dragomir felt like going back to sleep. But he couldn’t sleep within a dream, and it was the first pleasant dream he’d had in a long time, so he coaxed himself to remain awake. It was a bit easier to do when Dragomir stumbled on his flimsy prosthetic leg.

“Man, I can’t get used to this thing,” Dragomir complained. “I’d get Libby to make me something better, but I’m not gonna see her again, so… anyway. Happy thoughts, right? What’ve you been up to, Ed?”

“Whatever goblins do in goblin hell, I guess,” Grylock replied. He seemed to consider peeing on Dragomir’s fake leg, but, mercifully, decided against it. “Somethin’ shitty, aye? Somethin’ shitty. Watch your step, Mr. Mayor.”

Grylock led Dragomir away from the wagon and onto a forest path, and Dragomir considered protesting the abrupt change in company. He’d liked Grylock well enough, but he liked Edmund more. But he was too calm, and feeling too polite, and Grylock was already dead, so he decided not to complain. Instead he looked back at the wagon, watching as it receded out of sight, lost in a glittering mist. The toads at the head of the wagon disappeared first, and Dragomir noticed that both were sound asleep.

“Aye, don’t worry ‘bout them, they’ll still be there,” Grylock insisted. He pulled Dragomir along. “C’mon. Got a surprise for ye.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Dragomir wanted to rub his hands together, but he only had one, so that didn’t get very far. He settled for scratching his chest instead. “Some kinda present?”

“Some kinda,” Bernard replied. “Come on.”

The path narrowed, and widened, and narrowed again, twisting and turning in random directions. Several times Dragomir wondered if he wasn’t just going to pop out beside the wagon again, but every time the path turned it seemed to take him deeper into the undergrowth, further away from whatever destination he’d been travelling towards the past three days. It almost didn’t matter, because he knew he’d end up in this place soon anyway, so why delay? Why not just continue on with this odd, ever-changing parade? Surely he’d been here before anyway, though he didn’t remember the experience.

“No, you’ve still got something to do,” Evangelina said. Her fingers tightened around Dragomir’s good hand. “You’re going back. But you need to look here, first. Just for a moment.”

Dragomir’s chin drooped. A tear welled up in the corner of one eye. “Damn. So… so you are gone, then, Eva…?”

Evangelina nodded. She pointed, too, through the trees, and a stern-faced man peered back at them through the brush. Then he was gone, his clean, pale face looking both proud and happy. “Don’t worry. I’ve got good company. Even if he doesn’t feel like speaking right now.”

“Ah, that’s too bad,” Dragomir replied, and to his surprise he was telling the truth. 

They came to a clearing after either a microsecond or an eternity of walking, Dragomir couldn’t tell which it was. In the middle of the clearing was a tall tree, so vibrantly golden that it reminded Dragomir of Pubton, and it took him a moment to remember the town’s own golden tree, a shining beacon on even the darkest nights. Yet that tree had held secrets, terrible secrets, and the thought of its destruction - and what lay in its roots - gave Dragomir sudden pause. He looked at Evangelina, hoping she would lead him back the way they’d come.

“Go on, bro,” Robert said, his tall chef’s hat drooped over one eye. He pushed Dragomir towards the tree. “Get it over with. Y’get to rest soon, I promise.”

Dragomir staggered, and he turned back, hoping to catch another glimpse of his brother. But Robert was already gone, fading as quickly as memory, and the path they’d taken together had closed. Now there was only the clearing, large yet oppressively small, and Dragomir trembled as he looked to the trunk of the golden tree. Its glow had dimmed noticeably, looking almost bronze, and the canopy of branches and leaves over his head crunched together into a solid ceiling.

Something was laying on the other side of the golden tree. No, rather, someone was laying on the other side of the golden tree, their arms and legs spread, as though trying to create an angel imprint in the forest floor. 

No, Dragomir thought. No, no, no, I left you behind, I left you the fuck behind.

“No, you didn’t,” the man explained, rising to his feet. “You only get one dream from now on, remember? Only one. ’n it’s one where I get me some food.”

Dragomir stumbled back against the closed trees, searching desperately for a way out of the clearing, even as it closed in around him, bringing the man to him. In seconds Dragomir was caught in a space no larger than his bathroom in Pubton, trapped with another, larger man, with broad shoulders and hairy arms, and a mane of hair so long and unruly that it couldn’t possibly have belonged to someone else. The man opened his mouth, salivating, and his right hand travelled to Dragomir’s face, brushing his helmet from his head and caressing the skin around his right eye. 

“Better wake up, stupid,” Traveller said, “‘cause this isn’t a dream. Not this time.”

Dragomir did wake up, his body covered in a cold sweat. And, unlike every other time he’d pried himself from a nightmare in the last year, Traveller did not disappear. 

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