This Week’s Prompt:24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.
This Week’s Research:The Fantastic Fae From Faraway!
I was but a boy when I first ventured past the fields we know. It is domain of children and innocents, that land of imagination that every youth and maiden is familiar with. Ask any of them of the wonders they saw, the adventures they were on, their great companions in that last gasp of freedom. It is an old, ever shifting land. Chaotic and full of ogres.
Adulthood lies to us, and insists that this world, this waking world of skyscrapers and certainty, is the real world. That distant Allnar is no such thing, that the castles beneath the sea cannot possibly be real. And some change comes over us in time. Some shift in the chemistry of the mind, some dilation of the eyes. And we can no longer see that beauty that bewitched us. The world robs us of naïve light.
But some of us, some us will not go quietly. There was a man in the former colonies who shrugged off the chains of this earth long ago. In Ireland, tales persist of those who are ‘whisked’ away. And I, for a time I was such a man. The doors into that great place lay open to me.
Even into the end of college days, I would lie in bed content. I sailed on the great river, which casts it shadow on the world as the shrunken and feeble Nile. With a large red sailed boat I sailed on to Allnar, that city by the sea. Its shining spires and great clock towers. I remember I would dance for days within the courts carved in crystal, with the ladies all dressed in lace.
I rode on the back of black horse to the west, to Ziegera, where the fields were gold with wheat and metal. Where the mighty mountains of iron feed furnaces of the people, to raise glorious ziggurats and temples of steel to idols of bronze. I bowed to priests as I passed, who knew the hidden words of the world.
The north of Ziegera was a wild place, a wood ruled by the King of Bears, a comrade in arms since I was a boy. He was as old as a mighty oak, and as fierce as a thundering storm. There the bears make war against the forces of the north, the whirling wind spirits that would blow the world away. And with them I made jolly pacts and feasted to their victory.
Returning to the world that we know was painful though. The priests at Ziegera told me it must be so. For centuries might pass between our meeting, but to speak with shadows was how it must be. Down into the cave, to be held with iron chains I was sent.
The world we know was always so drab. What man can make his fortune in London these days? Yonder Windgift boasts often that it has jobs to spare, a hungry Moloch looking to consume a helpless flock. The sea sings another song still, that young men might lose life and limb to the treacherous monsters that call it home.
And I believed this even in when the world was calm. When the great guns of war were unknown, when the battery of mighty canon did not echo off the shore of Britannia. When we feared ghosts conjured by suspect spiritualists, shadows of shadows, are delusions of meaning in a monstrous world. I bore the reality of existence as a yoke bears its masters load. Not happily, but not moaning under it either. After all, Allnar awaited in yawning dreams.
I was thirty when I found a route easier than mere sleep. For sleep bought me a few days, perhaps, on the coasts and in the woods of glory. But when I was in that twilight of life, I found something most amazing.
I was walking down an old path through my families woods, when such things were still respectable. The moon hung full and a light in the sky, shining it’s pale glory down as I walked. There was, to my knowledge, nothing peculiar about my behavior that night. No solemn prayer to pagan gods, no deep mediation. I was walking, can in hand, down the forest street when I came to the river.
There was always a creek in my woods. Since boyhood, there had been but a simple bridge across, and I had paid it no mind in decades. It was maybe two hands wide, barely capable of slowing down even a small child wading through.
But some strange fae light had fallen upon my boyhood creek, and now it looked all the grander. It was a river, mighty and sure, so wide that I could not see the other side. The bridge was still there, stretching out to eternity. But while before it was naught but wood, it now was of brilliant diamond and emerald. Green and glittering beneath the light of Diana, it waited for me to cross.
Perhaps a wiser man would question it. Perhaps a smarter man would have stared more deeply, inspected it’s construction. Perhaps. But I am more a man of foolishness and bravery than any such man. Despair is Wisdom’s handmaiden, and it is misery’s sweet kiss that shows one the secrets of the world. I walked across trembling at first, then with greater haste, until at last I was sprinting and full of wind.
And then I was in that land again, that wonderful city of stars, that crystalline castle. And there I remained for months, laughing again. My limbs were young, my spirit alive. It was as if I went out into a garden after being sick for ages, as if I was blind and now I saw the wonder of the Sophia. I saw the seasons come and go, the kings of winter riding on horses of clouds. I traveled to new lands yet unseen, distant Cathay and the realm of the evergreens.
For a time, I settled, though were is lost to me. It was stolen, long ago, from my mind. But I recall the joy of life in that cabin or house, entertaining friends and farming soil. But it could not last. One night, they came dressed in iron robes and with eyes of fire.
The priests of Ziegera, with great golden staves and silver knives gathered around my house one night, years since I had come. I was out hunting when they arrived, and when I returned nothing of my hall remained but ash. Flame bleched from the priests mouths upon my fields, and there silver knives were stained red.
I drew my steel, my mind remembering a hundred wars in this world of Allnar, a thousand victories over demons and spirits of the sky. I was, since boyhood, the triumphant hero of creation. Some shambling priests could not stand before me.
“It is not the place for shadows and fancies to linger this long. We warned you often, Jahpeth, we warned you well. Bodies as frail and mortal as yours are not meant for this place.” The high priest said from his throne of sure silver. His mouth and eyes flicker as he continued, his fellows glaring down upon me. “Had you any piety for this place, any obedience to it’s laws, long ago you would have cross that emerald. But you stay, and that we cannot allow any longer. Your presence, you old decayed man, invites your attendants. Look! Do you not see them, swirling about your footsteps, etching themselves into the songs of the world?”
I paid them no heed, a brave fool still. But I forgot that one great word of the Greeks: Not even Hercules may best two. So homeward I was sent tossed into the river against my will. The priests began their solemn chants as I floated along still.
Find part 2 here.
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.