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!
A flood, my savior told me, had nearly washed me under and away. I thanked him bitterly, he knew not what he had done. The next night, for naught but a few hours had passed, I went in search of that emerald bridge. But it was gone. The planks of the old bridge were ripped asunder. There was nothing. I took some solace, reckoning that in my dreams I would witness great rivers and iron mountains.
I was wrong.
I did not dream. I slept and my body seemed to fade into nothing. My mind followed shortly, subdued by slumber. And then I simply was again. If this was always the case, perhaps you cannot grasp the little death that accompanied me.
At first panic seized me. Those priests, who my friends told me where but figments of some over active mind, had banished me back. Cast me down to world that more and more seemed to be the slag and ash of a great wonder. I raced wild for some time, I will not lie. I sought dens of those trying to escape. I went to places that dealt often in dreams.
Panic gave way, however, to his older brother Terror. Day by day the sky turned stained. Hour by hour I saw color slipping through my skin. The woods faded, the roads grew. The great factories continued to rise, and then became ruins in time. The castles and manors were lost, first to monks as stern as stones, then to nothing in particular. Perhaps just to rot.
In time, I grew to look at my sickness as a science. I had heard, from a friend in the Indes, that certain holy waters were said to grant visitations. That if one wanted to cross a fabled river, a glass of its water would do the trick, whisking one’s soul away to that forgotten place. Of course, few had heard of the great river the emerald bridge. A nameless river is, after all, hard to find.
It was a rainy day when at last I found a small store that prided itself in such things. Its own defense against the world I suppose. There were jars of preserved bones, each with the saints’ name slapped on with tape. True crosses lined its walls. Such places are dime a dozen, and grew like weeds in desperate times. But what this place had, it’s perhaps one claim to true fame, was the bottles along the wall. Each had a paper tag, this one from the Egyptian Nile, that one from Roman Tiber, here the great Jordan, there the eternal Ganges.
One of these, I reckoned, was that fateful river of the emerald bridge.
I waited until a night when all was quiet and I was alone. I wanted my passing to be swift and sweet, to avoid interference by misguided relatives. I mixed the ashes of a dove’s feather in the cask and drank a single cup. I heard the steel mug clatter on the floor as my hands began to numb. The numb spread over me in a matter of seconds.
When I opened my eyes, I saw that verdant bridge stretching before me. The ground clinked as I ran and danced down the way to that old familiar shore. My laughter rang unopposed through the sky, the stars shining with all the lights of heaven. I nearly collapsed and kissed the ground when at last I set foot on the firm familiar shore.
But not all was right. The woods I knew was no more, nothing but rent stones and thorny groves grew there. I thought perhaps this was some new season I had missed. Some strange tide that brought oddities. I resolved to head northward, to follow the river to Allnar. After all, perhaps the cunning priests had moved the bridge.
Northward was not as I remembered. When I reached that place that I supposed the great city of shining crystal stood, I found instead a grim sludge. It was as if the earth was bleeding into the river and ocean, a bloody blaze bubbling out. Great shining pillars still stood, but bit by bit they were dragged down. One day I suppose they will sink.
Something had gone horribly amiss. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I had the wrong cask. Perhaps some curse of the priests had sent me elsewhere. But even I knew this wasn’t right. The pillars bore the old sigils of the Allnar, and some I recalled from my escapades on the ballroom of crystal. I decided to head west, to see the mountains of iron and the priests therein.
There was a distant clicking behind me of hooves as I walked onto those plains, covered in white grass. You would think snow had fallen if it weren’t for the cracking and crinkling sound they made as you stepped. I turned behind myself to see if anyone was following, to confront whatever grim specter waited. But there was nothing to the horizon, except a storm cloud swirling out by the sea where the river came to an end.
Carrying on west, I found the lands of Ziegera no less terrible. The mountains still loomed tall and might, but there were no temples. Instead, great craters and caverns of fire lined there sides, hungry maws of Moloch roaring with smoke. But unlike Allnar, I did here see some living souls. From a ridge I watched them, broken and bent shapes that resembled men. They pushed mighty carts of gleaming gold and burnished bronze, up paths and dumped them into the maws.
As I watched, strange creatures came and went. They looked the part of mortal men, but stood twice as tall and with the heads of lions and tigers. Their mouths spewed fire, and in their hands were great serpentine whips. In iron chariots they rode, taking glee in assailing the poor workers.
I would have turned tail then and there. I heard the distant hoof beats growing quieter now, and if I was to slip by, now would be the time. But one of the older works spotted me. As I made to leave, I heard an aged voice call out.
“Jared?” he said. I stood stark still, a child caught by his parents. The voice, I recalled it dimly. But I could not, even in the land of dreams, place it. I turned as the old man limped away from his cart. Some of the other workers stared on in hushed silence.
“Jared!” he shouted, rushing towards me. His fingers were so thin, they were like claws on my back. I could feel each rib as he embraced me. “I had thought you only a dream from boyhood, a fiction I’d long forgotten! But at last, at last you’ve returned.”
I stared ahead blankly as he turned to the crowd and told of all the things I’d done when I was a younger man. How I had fought against the winds of the North. How I had quested to see that glimmering lion Sharur. How I had only left when the priests drove me out.
And the hoof beats faded at last. I let out a sigh for a moment, glad that at least I had not been caught unawares by whatever foe pursued me. The workers began to stumble back however. And a voice, a voice of pealing thunder, came from behind me.
“Go on, good sir, and finish your story. I have just arrived, but make no pleasantries for me and mine.”
I turned to face the voice, the elder hanging from me like a sash of flesh. And there he stood, atop a great steed. He was tall, taller than I could quite work my head around. I could feel his shadow, stretching from his feet and out over the land until it dimmed even the distant fires. His skin was dark like soot and slag, his breath a venomous green gas full of flies. And his steed, his steed was a wicked thing. Its head was a rabid dog, its tail a serpent, its feet like a lions.
And behind him were gathered a vast host, each a towering figure atop a monstrous steed, with many heads and mouths. Each bore sword or spear or hammer or whip, cages on their sides and backs. Many roared and bayed as the leader spoke.
The old man stayed silent, his eyes wide.
“No? Then let me intrude. For once I heard of your return, whispered on the winds of the desert, I had to come and pay respect Jared Jahpeth. For without your sturdy bridge of emerald, how could I cross the great river of all torments? Without your cardinal march, I would be bound between the shores. Yet you in your kindness let me in. And now the bridge, broken by the iron of Ziegera a thousand years past opens again! Come, ride with me to glorious conquest and ruination! A thousand year reign, a ten thousand year reign!”
And he reached down a palm the size of nations towards me, aiming to pick me up like a small insect lost in a house. As he lifted me up, I saw that he had a hundred heads stretched above the clouds. Each a new beast, a menagerie of horrors. Each grinned with a thousand teeth and mandibles and in the multitude of eyes I saw cruel delight. And terror held me in place for a time.
I saw stretching before, in those eyes, a mind capable of thousand cruelties upon the soul, a mouth that in ancient times bore plague and war with its breath and words. And when the iron chains of terror loosened on my legs and arms, I turned and leapt off the arm. Limbs outstretched, I flew as only a dreamer can. I dove and swerved over the mountain tall host. A hundred hissing beasts burst from their skin and soared after me, but the mind is faster than the host.
When the familiar green stripe of the bridge appeared, I descended down. For a moment I let myself breathe, but recalling the hosts earlier trick, the silence was no comfort. I sprinted in a panic towards the bridge. My footsteps in panic trampled their former steps of joy.
At last I found myself in my study. At once I began to pen this note. Trust me well dear reader, for this is locked in my bottom cabinet. Forsake boyhood swiftly, or the realms of dream become a nightmare. Never seek the paths to Allnar, lest they follow you in your steps. The bandits lie in wait on the other side of the emerald bridge, and the once good paths are filled with vipers.
There is no refuge in dreams any longer.
I hope you enjoyed this tale of horror! The body was so big, I couldn’t cut it down to the normal size. Next time, we will have a lengthier research section, as we approach our fiftieth corpse un-interred. Oh, and if you missed part 1, it’s here.
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