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Perchance to Dream — By Sam Chereskin Dedicated to Filippo Valentini It was the middle of the day, but it could have been night. So little light shed through the clouds above; it was as if a thousand spinsters’ ghosts had quilted the day-time sky with stillness. The trees around me were the same color grey as the sky, nearly black swirled with a distant dimness that gave no warmth. The dark created a bowl for my senses, as if I were in a small man-sized dish. I could not touch, or see anything beyond the double radius of my arms. I could only hear. Crick. An uncertain number of seconds would pass and I would hear it again. Crick. There was a sound in the undead leaves in front of me — fallen but not yet brittle on the ground. I could not see its source. I looked up and the clouds had gotten lower. The ceiling above me was now even more colored like the long-dead. It was swollen like a horse’s corpse in a creek, a grey-green that was mostly grey, bulging towards my eyes, propelled by a pestilential leaking gas I can almost see, like small streaks of vaporized bacterium entering the air I breath. I had seen the dead horse in the creek that I speak of, a long time ago, floated down from my neighbor’s property. The image came back into my mind. I could imagine entire portions of the horse coming away with a simple swipe of a stick or my arm. The forest, sky and greyness all around me seemed just like that. Fetid thoughts were upon me in this place as is only possible where the sun does not shine well enough or long enough to purge the permeating blackness it daily leaves behind. It still smelled fresh here. That was completely unlike the ghastly metamorphosis as death-abundant flesh’s stink came slowly, unannouncedly upon my lifeabundant scene. A picnic by the creek was interrupted by its wetly belching stomach, popping with viscous tendrils launched under the pressure of its decay and resulting gasses. Hoooo! I didn’t have time to jump as an owl’s wing touched my cheek while it trumpeted in my ear. By the time I threw my hands in fright it had come and


gone, but it was upon a rodent in stepping distance of my place. I could not see it though. I could hear its prey’s last squeak and the chomping of it’s beak. Why was it not afraid of me? It’s brazenness... This place was like none I have ever been. Then the sound stopped. The owl was no more. Did the night-time flyer go back to the poplars silently? Crick. I had not taken a step in minutes. I was rooted where I stood as if my shoes’ soles had been grafted to the ground. Crick. Crick. This time the step, or what I thought was a step, passed through the top, and long-hardened layer of leaves below. “Hello?” I said. I could not think of anything else to say. Crick. Crick. The sound was no more than a furlong in front of me now. “I have no money,” I said, for it seemed a safe thing to say. Music started to play behind me. I turned to face it. It wasn’t frightening, but inexplicable. It was full as if the grey all around me carried music, a pregnant substrate of sound. It was a soft requiem or nocturne built of fifteen violins, a piano, and a harp. Their notes hung like picked, black, meaty cherries in the thick night; they were unlike the other phantasmagoria of this place. A clarinet joined in the baroque paganism before the violin and the piano took the center of the sound with a siren-like melancholy that stirred with the refreshing sadness of late autumn — when there is no life in the seasonal death of trees. Crick. Crick. Now the sound was behind me, so I put my back to the music again. The approaching sounds melded in my ears. The crunching leaves in front of me were a staccato in reflection of the sad, strange song of death and night. I was sure I was going to die. I clutched my chest and could feel all the rosacea leave my cheeks. My face, hands and feet were small glaciers, permanent edifices of my cold terror.


My throbbing heart was filled with the same longing as the music in my ears. Premonition gave way to apparition; there was no guessing that something was coming for me as it closed in upon me from two directions. My terror subsided however as it was so strong and strange as to transmute itself in my heart into a macabre curiosity. The looming doom-like sounds around me had conspired so poetically that they seemed a perfect mirror to the night’s motives. Each night promises to deliver something: every night delivers the day, I thought. Most nights deliver sleep. This one delivers a mystery to me. And same as the way all nights come to us, all I had to do was wait as this danced nearer, as this mystery came to me. The violin, like a woman singing, reached deep into its bosom for long resonant echos in my left ear, and my brother’s voice sounded in my right. “Hello,” it said. I spun around and I could feel leaves flying from where I stood. Nothing was there. I spun the other way with music still in my ears. Still I could feel the leaves get thrown from under foot, hitting nothing and no one. I was still alone in this dark corner of the woods. “Who is there?” I asked and flailed my arms to know. There was no answer. “I heard you. I still hear you. Your music is with child, with sorrow, and you have the voice of my brother. Your steps danced with this music unexplained.” “They did dance,” my brother’s voice answered. This time it was directly ahead of me so I stumbled forward looking for a body. Once again there was nothing there, and I tripped over what I think was a root and fell into the loam hands first. I lay there and the music seemed to swell even louder as I floundered to regain my footing in the leaves. I got to my knees when I was overwhelmed by an un-fightable fatigue. Try as I might I was so taken by this sudden loss of energy that I lay back down. I was almost pushed to the ground by this feeling, as if by a hand unknown, so all I could do was roll over and face the still grey sky. “Brother, why have you come back?” I asked. The violin and voice answered in a somber dreamcatcher’s melody. “I am not back, brother.”


“Then what are you?” “Hear my silent prayer, heed my quiet call, one that’s dark around you, let the grey surround you. Look inside the light, you will know that I have found you,” my brother said. It continued, “ You carry guilt alive inside of you. “I am your fears. Look inside the light. Let the grey surround you.” I looked directly into the sky again and found the first keyhole of sunshine. I had such a will as I stared into that feeble blotch of light that I squinted and strained my neck off the forest floor so that I could be closer. Try as I might the light did not change. I lay my head back down and just looked, as I would look at anything. Slowly my mind became awash with all things, which is to say I thought of none in particular. Then the light grew. It doing so was not a product of my intent. Like staring at a spot on the wall, I saw nothing else and was free to contemplate its radiance. I lost consciousness in the tired hours of the day. When I awoke it was darker than it was before, as if the ember of a day had finally given way to the fullness of the dark. I did not even try to move. I still lay in the loam. I lay there for a long time listening to nothing in particular and fearing nothing about the blackness around me. I could feel a bug crawl over my neck. I had no idea what type it could be, but I was unconcerned. I felt a rodent between my feet, but I lay still. I thought I could even feel the slightness of bacteria or grass growing in mass between my unmoving fingers. I suspect that was a fiction born of under or over-stimulation from the silence. There was no music around me. I could not tell from whence that music originally came in the darkness. Lightness finally came across the far stretches of the sky. It happened in the normal way; the distant stretches of the world above me became a lighter darkblue, then a grey and then a pink upon the trees. The clouds were gone and a red sun erupted from the ground, only partially obscured by the thinning forest in the east. I sat up and saw the sun and it looked only as tall as a man. Indeed it was an obese, happy man in the distance that was too brilliant to look upon for


more than a few instants. Then this man grew and grew and took flight, slowly drifting up into the sky like a warmth-giving balloon. I got up. I walked back to the inn I was staying at the night before and at which I never planned to stay again. I got my previous room once more and sought about for pen and paper. I got breakfast—sausages filled with pork and sage, tomatoes, and eggs—and sat writing this down long after my scraps got cold. I suspect I will have no need to re-read what I have put here; I have strong doubts about whether such a remembrance can ever leave a mind. I closed my writings in this way: I am haunted by the day my younger brother and kid sister died. It was the day the horse passed by our picnic. Bandits or vagrants, from I know not where, must have watched us from the undergrowth. These men came upon us as I went to go inspect the hideous remains of the horse. It was my last act of youthful curiosity. They struck me about the head with a branch that I later found. I fell into the horse. I woke later to find my brother’s and sister’s throats cut. A few of their trinkets and the basket with the food were gone. They were taken from me for the lowest of costs, one I wish I just could have paid. I woke and still had three times that value mixed with the horse puss in my pockets. I kneeled there looking back and forth between the change in my hand and the blueing body of my seven year old sister. I went into the woods to hang myself last night. The rope was in my jacket. It is what I clutched when I thought to clutch my chest. This morning I found a stick not ten feet away from where I lay last night that looked like a clarinet, so similar to the one used to incapacitate me years before. That was remarkable enough a thing for me to find that I lost the name of action. Perchance I will try again; perchance I won’t.

Perchance to Dream  

A gothic short story about a man in a dark forest, and about what he saw, heard, and thought.

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