"This wasn’t just gravity anymore. And that wasn’t the ground. That was hell."
City of Stars
"He counteth the number of stars; he giveth names to them all." - Psalms 147:4
July 6th, 2000
I was dreaming....
I was dreaming a dream. A dream in the middle of a night, underneath the glow of a medallion moon. It was true for once. Underneath the stars that freckle the faces of our nights, underneath the pallid, placid eye of the moon, inside of the walls of my bedroom, in the comfort of my bed, in the secrecy of my pillow and the danger of my city.
I had a dream.
Dreaming. Messages from the latent stranger that's my unconscious. The misty projections played before me at night and the foggy aftermath I was cursed with in the morning. The things remembered when I’m asleep and the things forgotten when I’m awake. Where the dreamiest of dreams tend to become the most painful realities, more so than my own, or maybe even yours. The nocturnal performances in which we’re both the cast and the audience, where the lights of the night were only beginning to shine, the clouds only beginning to dissipate, the curtains were only beginning to open. Replays, mind torture, morbid humor, omens, premonitions, signs of things to come or long forgotten and distant memories.
This is a dream and the nightmares that oppose it. And this time, for once, I think I had one. I think one night I actually felt light-headed and sleepy and felt my soul float with a graceful buoyancy up into the heavenly glow of the stars above me. And, I think I closed my eyes and just...had a dream...a long, unforgettable dream.
That’s what I think, anyway.
I’m not even sure now what you could call it. You could call it a happenstance, a story, a legend. A miracle or anything. But I think it was a dream. A powerful one.
In this dream, I was at Acmeis on a cold night, looking over the calm suburbs, the illuminating Prominopolis in the center, and the dim slums hidden behind that facade. Sights like that made me think, so I thought. I thought on what it was like thirteen years ago when dreams were more valuable than all the X Corp. money you could stuff in your pockets. A time of hope, faith, vanity and life. A time where the ground was softer and the stars were brighter.
I looked up to see those sky dancing babies of mine but saw nothing but these dark, dark clouds, stretching all across the purple sky, blocking the stars and the moon. I swear, it was dark. Down to the horizon, over my head, and on the edges of the city, like a parachute. A dark so dark, nothing could be seen beyond it. I could feel it, too. My stellar strolling star siblings were sad and they were secluding themselves behind a curtain of clouds to show their sorrow in silence.
They didn't wanna talk to me tonight.
I turned around to go home but, with a groan, the ground dropped from my feet, and the world, and my life were scrolling vertically before my eyes in hazy streaks, but my hands found the ledge. That wouldn't last long, though, me just holding onto nothing but rock, sweaty hands conquering me, feet dangling with nothing to push up on but air. Dangling. It didn't even feel like that. It felt like they were weighing me down but I knew that was just the gravity of the world. That’s all it was: the cold world wanted me. It wanted my body. My corpse. My soul. Most of all, my blood. It wanted to pull me into its pit of a mouth and swallow me into its abyss of nothingness along with all the others before me, leaving behind my memory to nobody but my mourners. This wasn’t just a ledge anymore. This was my life. This wasn’t just gravity anymore. It was imps. And that wasn’t just the ground.
That was hell.
Satan was the one who wanted me. Satan, the cementer of time. The world was nothing but time and time was nothing but a road paved with the dead and he wanted just one more piece of bloody cement for satiety, but he wouldn’t just stop there. He would go on. He would go on, and on, and on, and on, and he would never stop. He would go on until the end of the world.
I was just about to give up and let go. The imps were pulling harder and my hands were slipping but I felt something at one of them. It had warmth and life and all the things only another human could have in it.
It was on top of mine, trying to get a grip on it. One look at its large, dirty, deformed form, and I loved it. I let that human savior of a hand wrap itself around mine, and its power wrestled against the gravity, the time, the world, and hell, pulling me back up to the somber stars and the clouds. Clouds. The ceiling.
Looking up at those clouds, I saw that my savior’s face was nothing but a black blur. I could feel a smile somewhere in there but there wasn’t a face for a smile to be seen on. It was just a blur as black as the mouth of the world.
I thought that was even hell, too.
I gasped and let go.
* * *
The next thing I knew, I was sitting up on my bed, breathing hard and sweating. I looked around my dark room and felt myself to make sure I was safe. At the end, when I looked at my hands and saw how clean and rested they were, yet sweaty, and how fast I was breathing and how my heart pounded in my ears, I knew it.
I was dreaming.
I grinned at my hands as if they just created the greatest thing I could ever think of. As if they shook the hands of God. It was enough to make me laugh and I would’ve if I hadn’t noticed something weird: me still in my street clothes. My eyes went wide, my hands gripping my clothes at a thought, and I looked at the clock: midnight. I glared and groaned. The memory was coming back. The memory of me just finishing cleaning up the place and making dinner, deciding to lay down for a bit, but sleeping, instead. I could just see my dad peeking in on me through a slit of light and having pity on my soul.
“Dammit,” I growled and jumped off of the bed. I went to the door and cracked the door open, but saw that the hallway was dark so I growled again, closed the door, and groped the ground and found my sneakers. I put them on, opened my window, climbed down the tree right outside of it, landed on my lawn, and I walked.
I walked outside of my fence, opening and closing it gently, and I walked to my right, which was west. I walked on the cement of the city, past the houses of the dreaming with their dim windows. As miffed as I was, it made me smile a bit deep down inside as I walked by and it made me look up, too, but I stopped dead right then and there.
Clouds. The very same ones. Somber stars behind them.
I just kept myself from screaming or fainting, and marched until I stopped at a house, so I looked at the windows of it: all off except one at the base, stray yellowy light peeking around the edges of the curtain. That made the sweat on my skin a bit drier but butterflies burst forth in my stomach. I just took a deep breath, entered the gate, and walked what I felt to be that last walk.
I didn’t know what to do next when I reached the porch, but I didn’t need to. The door flung open, and there stood Aeres. Dressed in pajamas herself, standing tall but slouchy. I almost thought she just woke up but the blankness of her face didn’t tell me that. She just snorted, turned around, and limped back into the kitchen.
I just stood there for a moment, feeling like something left behind. That wasn't right, though, so I went in, closed the door quietly behind me, went to her kitchen, and saw her slumping back in her chair at the table, looking at me with her head tilted, and a pair of reddened, bleached blue eyes. Clear as glass, just as empty. Her face, too, but I looked away from it, to her large hand, and saw an empty mug. When I stepped a bit closer I saw that the bottom outlined in brown. That caused me to frown at her.
“You stayed up for me?”
She kept up that stare which made me regret coming. “No.”
She looked away and started rubbing her right elbow.
I looked down. “Sorry—for being late. I slept by accident.”
I looked up at her slightly. “You didn’t have to stay up for me.”
“I didn’t. And you didn’ have to sneak out.”
“Yeah--well--” Well what? Well nothing. “So, you wanted to talk to me?”
Her eyebrows jumped. “I forgot.”
“I had a nightmare. That’s,” she held up her mug high like a trophy and put it back down softly, “why I’m up.”
I glanced down at her mug and then up at her. “You had one, too?”
Not a blink. “'Too'?”
I jerked my head to the side and cocked my lips. “I finally had a dream.”
Her eyebrows rose a bit. “Oh.”
I looked down and nodded with a slight smile. “Yeah.”
“Well,” she launched a fist out to me with her left arm, “congrats.” Her arm fell. “Least something good came outta your sleep.”
The fridge hummed its mechanical monotony and I looked out the window into the purple night.
She stood up and waved both of her arms at her sides majestically and she tilted her head back. “Aereese’ Dream Interpretashuns iz now open fer bizness,” she said in a Russian accent.
"Whenevah convenient." She leaned over, pulled out another chair with her left arm, stood up straight and gestured to the chair. “Hav a seat. I vill be right back wit’ you when I hav retrieved my creestel ball.”
“Yeah,” I waved her away, “whatever.” I walked to the chair and sat down.
“You vill wait,” she said and pushed me in. She went off out of the kitchen, into her living room, and into her room, all with that limp. That natural, casual but damnable ka-thumping limp. It made my mind wrinkle at the way its sound and its memory echo in my mind. It still does. Ka-thumping like an offbeat heart beat, echoing in acidified hollowness.
I got lost in something. I don’t know what. Maybe it was a memory of hers and not mine, or maybe I was giving my indigo gaze, again, but I jumped at a book slamming on the table, causing me to jump in my seat and me to lose whatever I had. “The Library of Dream Interpretations,” it was, then I looked up at Aeres, glaring down at me. “Wake up, Alice. You were dosin’ off.”
She nodded. “Yeah, you were.”
“Oh.” I looked at the book. “Sorry.”
She put her hands on the edge of the table and slid her right leg in front of her, slowly bending her left knee and lowering herself into the chair. She kept her glare on me the whole time but I noticed she was now wearing a purple silk cloth with intricate designs on it that she tied into a bandana, its tail hanging behind her head and the front smashing her blonde bangs against her forehead. She also had on a golden loop hanging from her earlobe. “Comin’ over here at this time ‘a the night was a stupid thing, you know.”
“I didn’t wanna stand you up or anything.”
“That’d be better than runnin’ into trouble.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Don’t do it again,” was all she said. She just reached out for the hefty book, grabbed it, and dragged it towards her. “Aulright. Let’s begeen.” She open it to the contents page like a sacred thicket of knowledge and once she did that, the whole bandana and earring getup hit me and almost made me laugh. I tried not to, though. It was late, after all.
She looked at me and held her head up on the table with her right hand . “Deescribe yer dream to me.”
I smirked. “Well...it was night, an’ cold, an’ I was on top of Acmeis, watchin’ the city but I went past the guard rail.” I looked, played with my fingers, and shrugged. “Sort ‘a to the edge.”
“I hope you don’t really do that.”
“Alright. Go on.”
“Then,” I used the table as the ground and acted it out, “the ground suddenly collapsed underneath me but I turned around an’ caught the ledge an’...I was thinking about how I would fall, it’d be like the world swallowin’ me up. You know, like it does everybody else.” I shook my head and shrugged. “Sounds dumb, but--”
“Nah, it doesn’t.”
I tilted my head and stared at the table for a moment, but just breathed. “Well, I was thinking how imps were trying to pull me down into hell an’ all--”
“Wait--” she put her hand up, “did you think that or did you actually see imps an’ all?”
“I just thought it.”
“Skip it, then.”
“Alright. Then," I looked at my hands, "this person comes, takes my hand, and pulls me up an’ I go up to look at the guy but he had no face." My hands fell on the table as sure as my body would've hit the ground, and I looked up. "I got scared and let go.”
A stare. “Dat’s all?”
“Aulright,” she looked at the contents page and ran her index up and down. Her finger stopped on a word and she looked up at me. “Vawt kinda night waz eet?”
I frowned and leaned over to look at the word she stopped at: “clouds”. My eyes went wide. “Oh, yeah. It was cloudy.” I looked at her. “Cloudy just like it is now.”
Her eyebrows rose, her eyes seeming to get bluer. “Hmm. Eenturesting.” She glanced at the page again, and flipped a hunk of pages that landed her at the end of the B section so she kept flipping, repeating “Vere iz eet…vere is eet…” A few dozen pages later landed her at a page that she stabbed with her finger. “Heeur eet iz. Cloudz: zey represent caullecting cumpound of erupting emotions, also lack uf intelligence and presence uf confusion….”
And so she went on, her and her bandana’ed, earring’ed, Russian’y self and interpreted every keyword of my description she could find: she had missed cold and city so she went back to it, then she went on to faceless and fear. Feeling cold air: danger of losing touch with reality. The city: a sense of socialism and commuting. And I might as well have been looking in a mirror when seeing that faceless friend, because his facelessness was my own. Still searching my inner self and finding out just who I am. Fear: whatever gains I had gained wouldn’t be as gainful as I thought it would be. I’m having anxiety under certain situations in my life.
“But that’s not true,” I said, looking at her. "I haven’t achieved nothin’ lately.”
She just looked at me. “I ain’t sure you remember, but you jus’ graduated a week ago. We were all there, remember? Yer goin’ to high school come September. Gonna be a young girl growin‘ up.”
I looked down and growled.
“Maybe dat’z wat’z bodderin’ you.”
“Just a little.”
“Not to yer noggin,” she poked at my forehead with her finger. “High school can scare ya. You go in, not knowin’ who you are,” she poked again, “or not bein’ in touch with yer inner self,” and again. “An' if Junior High was already bad, high school can make it seem like a joke.”
She leaned in close to my ear. “Makes ya anxious and confused, doesn’t it?”
“Shut up,” I shoved her face away with one of my hands.
“Screw you,” she said and shoved her hand in my face. “Fitty dollahs.”
“I’ll write you an I.O.U.”
“Bah.” She took off her bandana, put it on the table, and brushed her bangs to the sides of her forehead. “Cheap.”
“The clouds thing is weird, though. Just like the ones outside.”
I looked up at her. “Yeah.”
Suddenly, her bang-brushing hand banged her head. “I remember now!”
“What I wanted to tell you. Half of it.”
She threw her thumb over her shoulder. “We gotta keep on cleanin’ up Nights tomorrow." It dropped. "We ain’t done.”
I shrugged. “I know that. I’m gonna be there.”
“Yeah, but now we gotta start in the mornin’.”
“Don’t clouds mean a thing to you?” She poked my forehead again. “You dreamt about them, didn’t ya?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just tell me why.”
"Haven't you been hearin' the news lately?"
"Like I listen to that."
"You should, sometimes. That way, you can," she held her hands up, "discover the wonders" wave, "of meteorology."
I just stared at her hands for a moment before my eyes widened. "Oooh. You mean that hurricane?"
"Yeah. Tiamat. It's a bad one." She shook her head. "Already ripped up a few towns south, and we're its last stop before it'll die out."
I looked off for a moment, reflecting back on the clouds I saw in my dreams and above our heads and wondered if they would be spitting bullets tomorrow. That wouldn't be good for anybody.
“So, unless you wanna catch pneumonia, and if they don't show up, we gotta get some work done, ourselves, in the mornin’. Eight. It‘s comin‘ anytime between ten an‘ noon.”
I looked back at her. “That won’t be enough.”
"So, what's the point?"
"The point is, we're gonna save ourselves some time later," her hand gestured forward into nothingness, "by doing what we can at the moment," then to the table. "Rain shouldn' mat us to the ground."
"But," I looked at her elbow, being rubbed for an eternity, "what about--"
"Don't worry about it."
The volume of her voice piqued the peaceful air of the house like a claw, and pushed my worry back into the depths of my soul, leaving behind just ticking and crickets. Timely ticking, and annoying crickets.
“Look. Everybody’s gotta be there. One person gone’ll set us back a long time. Innocent not there’ll set us back the whole freakin’ day. Alright?”
"Yeah," I snorted. “We’re gonna be there for awhile, then.”
“If everyone cleans up their act before cleanin’ up the building’, it’ll be fine.”
I looked out of the window behind Aeres, staring out of it for a moment, trying not to look at, or hear her rubbing. Search, in sight, and my conjecturing crosshairs were locked on the clouds.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if the clouds in my dream had somethin' to do with those clouds?
She laughed. “Please. I told you: it’s high school. I felt the same way.”
“What if it’s not high school, though?” I rose my arms in the air, “What if it’s something big?”
“Thinkin', again, Alice.”
“Don’t you think it’s just a little weird?”
She looked at me, over my shoulder, tilted her head, and cocked her lips. “Sort ‘a.”
I glared and pointed my finger at her. “And I actually dreamed for once.”
She looked back at me. “I told you before."
“Yeah, I know, but why wouldn’t my mind've been clear before?”
“You know what."
I didn't say anything.
“Stop thinkin’ so much,” she said and stood up. “It’s dangerous.”
I just sighed, sat back, looked ahead, and thought with a glare about what more the whole thing could mean.
“Go home. It’s late. I don’t want yer dad wakin’ up an’ seein’ you gone.”
I looked up at her and smiled. “Aw, c’mon.” I put my hand on her book. “Let’s do your dream, okay?”
She looked at me for a moment but then glared and shook her head. “No." She starting walking away to the door. “Some other time.”
My smile died a death only survived by a frown. I didn’t bother trying anymore. I just got up and walked to the door with her but I saw she was putting on a random coat off of a nearby coat rack.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
She looked at me as she let the shoulders of the coat fall on hers. “I’m takin’ you home.”
“You don’t have to do that." I motioned outside. "It’s a ghost town out there.”
“Yeah, well, even a ghost town has its ghosts.”
“I’ll trust you this time,” she said and opened the door. “An’ when you go back to bed, jus’ clear yer mind an’ focus on rememberin’ the dream. You’ll remember more.”
I nodded, walked out, felt cold air beat upon me in a tiny gust but it died quickly. “Oh, yeah. Dress warm. There‘s enough raincoats fer everybody so don‘t bring one.”
I looked behind me. “Alright.”
“Good.” She smiled slightly and waved at me. “Bye bye, Alice.”
She closed the door and, with a final lock of the door, I was alone again in a cold night amongst a sleeping city. I felt sort of lonely--being alone in a dark night like that. The stars would’ve made me feel better but I glared up at the clouds. Those clouds. Blocking my beauties, hovering above the city like some stereotypical impending force of doom. I wasn’t sure how they were related to my dream but I was at least grateful for the interpretation. Her and her cheerful way of doing it, despite everything else. Anything else. Past, Present, or Future.
That was Aeres. The woman nobody ever really knew.