Lily’s new companion was unlike any other dreamer she had met so far. For one thing, the other woman had not vanished after being rescued from her nightmare on the meadow path. Instead, she had wandered vaguely along behind Lily as she set off across the meadow.
For another, she was talkative. The woman was definitely trying to communicate, albeit incoherently. It reminded Lily of Ian, when he had tried to carry on a conversation while he was falling asleep. He would struggle to make sense, but his words would turn into a jumble as exhaustion won out.
“When you avoid what you deserve, it comes after you,” said the woman at that moment. “I could have reached him.”
Lily was pretty sure it wasn’t just random gibberish. At times, Lily found herself nodding along as if she understood, but as soon as she realized she was doing it, any sense of comprehension fled.
If some of it meant something, did all of it mean something? There was no way to know for sure; the woman wouldn’t answer her questions.
Wisps of fog began drifting across the meadow. Up ahead, it got thicker, a wall of mist across the landscape.
“What?” Lily turned. The woman’s gaze wandered blankly. “Is that your name? Mina?”
“I could have saved him.”
“Who, Mina? Who could you save?”
Before the woman could answer, the ground started vibrating.
Lily saw a writhing line of shapes in the distance, back the way they had come. The line surged closer; she could feel the pounding of thousands of feet through the earth. A few more seconds, and she was able to see the creatures that made up the charging horde.
Lily didn’t immediately notice that she was the one screaming.
“Oh. They’re here,” said Mina.
* * *
I kept moving until the tower was out of sight. It had taken a long time; it was huge, and the twists of the maze kept turning me back towards it, but eventually its peak dropped behind the walls and did not reappear.
I was hoping that the dragon would not leave its vicinity. There was no really good reason for that hope, except that, in all of the quest legends I had heard, the great big monster tended to wait around for the hero in one place. It wouldn’t really be fair, after all, if the monster flew out and slaughtered the hero before he had a chance to find the magic sword, the ancient wisdom, or whatever. Smart, but not fair.
But the monster was normally supposed to be dead by the time the hero left, so we’d probably already left the standard plot. Still, I needed to catch my breath, and it was an excuse. It wasn’t until I was standing there huffing that I got a good look at the walls.
Of course, I knew they were there, in a general not-dashing-my-brains-out-by-slamming-headlong-into-something-solid kind of way, but I hadn’t paid them any attention other than to avoid them. At first, they appeared to be nothing more than massive panels of rough-cut granite, anywhere from five to twenty feet in length. After a moment, though, the chisel marks and fracture lines, the embedded crystals and pitted hollows, began to relate to one another and form patterns. As my eyes adjusted, I saw words emerging on some panels; on others, images.
Walking onward, I was startled to see some of the carvings move; it was an effect much like lenticular printing, the images shifting as I viewed them from different angles. Once I had seen it, I could not ignore it, and the scenes became clearer. With every step, I was surrounded by motion; I felt as if the narrow confines of the maze had opened to reveal expansive vistas, and at the same time as if I had been dropped back into the claustrophobic chaos of the marketplace.
A lot of the writing seemed to be quotations from the Bible, or some other religious text; lots of “Thou shalt” do this and “Thou shalt not suffer” that. Some of it was more modern, language that was legal (“...shall be punishable by a term of not less than fifteen and not more than twenty years...”) or cautionary (“DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE”). The images showed greater variety, but the theme was consistent...a bank officer turning down a loan; a student staring hopelessly at an exam question; a collapsing bridge; a woman standing before a huge audience with an expression of horror. All around me were barriers of compulsion and frustration, fear and anger, punishment and rejection.
At that moment, I wanted to be anywhere else. And that was when I started to see images that were familiar.
The next wall panel offered a view of my dorm room. Apart from the supplies in my studio locker, everything I owned was in that room. It wasn’t a long list. When I arrived at Harkness, I had gotten rid of every last piece of junk, every last stitch of clothing that I had left from my time wandering, and started over. Much of what I had now was the same stuff I had bought three years ago. Three button-down shirts, supplemented by an assortment of t-shirts given away at campus events. Three pairs of slacks and a pair of jeans. One medium-weight jacket, one sweatshirt. A week’s worth of underwear and socks; a single tie; a pair of sneakers; a pair of dress shoes for interviews (by far the most expensive thing I owned). A toothbrush and a razor, some laundry detergent. I had two sets of sheets for the bed, a book from the library on the floor next to it.
On the desk, the phone, lamp and alarm clock were thrift store purchases; the textbooks were second-hand, and would be third-hand when I was done with them. A mug full of pens picked up here and there, a couple of notebooks for my courses in which I wrote in tiny handwriting. And a single battered suitcase under the bed, which could fit virtually all of the above.
Aside from my portrait of Lily, I had never brought any decorations into my room; the walls were bare, even of posters. College life, I had always thought, was meant to be lived outside; all of the activity was in the community areas, not private spaces. It was a lot like living homeless, in some ways, and I’d found the transition easier than I'd expected -- a lot easier than for some of my classmates from “normal” homes. I thought of the dorm simply as where I went to, well, not sleep, not lately, but at least to wait for the world to wake up again, and it served its purpose. But seeing the room rendered in stone made it seem cold and empty.
The wall across from the image of the dorm was full of writing. I scanned through the first few sentences and felt a rush of blood to my face, realizing it was from one additional possession that I’d forgotten about – the old porn magazine under my mattress. Not all of us have Internet access in our rooms.
I kept moving.
The panels continued to show scenes of my life, each more bleak than the last. That one was me being picked up by the cops after being kicked out of a bar in town; turning a corner, I saw the music store in Manhattan where I sold off the CDs I had brought with me when I fled home. That was me on the one Christmas I spent on the street, too ashamed to go to a friend’s place and too afraid to go to a shelter or a soup kitchen.
There were a lot of events in my life that I didn’t want to remember. Thanks to the sessions with Lily, I was even vaguely aware that there were certain things that I couldn’t remember, but I tried not to let it bother me – after all, we all forget things, right? How much of the person you are now is things you actually remember, and how much is just the stuff you’ve created to fill in the gaps?
* * *
[Go to Chapter 14.4]