NB: This is actually a set of recurring dreams experienced over the last ten years.
FIRST SEQUENCE (PURGATORY)
The first sequence unfolds in a mist veiled field at dusk. The field is endless, I can’t see the gates clearly but I know they’re there. This place isn’t meant to be breached unless it opens itself up to you. Huge swirls of crows circle above, some tiny, some gigantic like dragons. The giants are heavily scarred and disfigured in ways that tell whispered tales about battles ripped open across time. Jagged and grotesque beaks cracked with gaping holes, some lost entirely and perhaps buried in the eye-socket of a particularly vicious opponent. Colossal wingspans that cause tremors when beat at full strength, torn and frayed but no less terrifying or effective. Barbarously keen talons buried on the end of gargantuan metatarsals decorated with wounds, old and new. The ones without the means to feed themselves are waited on by the smaller male birds, bringing the elders pieces of carrion as they roar across the field demanding to be satiated. They are not left to die, rather they are revered as titans. The tiny ones know they will find the same fate after millennia of shepherding lives over the edge as they rend them apart in battle to feed the elders.
The first time I saw that grisly picture through the mists, as impossible as it might seem, I felt like I’d been standing there forever. I thought I’d see myself torn apart as an offering for a giant, but that’s not what happens. Not even close. The mountainous one eyed behemoth that sits amongst the rest tilts her head at me as if to tell me to begin. She is the biggest one of them all, sage and ageless like she was there before the beginning of time. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t need to. Even the lower ranking elders do things for her, shredding prime carrion with their talons to make it easier for her to swallow. She is not defenceless, but she is a Queen. Queens do not tend to themselves.
Hundreds of tiny females flit around her feathers, picking away that which ought not to be there. One of her feathers alone would span the entire wing of the largest elder. She is a titan amongst titans, undefeatable, but will eventually crumble away to dust after her existence spans several aeons and she grows tired. When she fades, a brutal war will tear the female elders apart to determine who will replace her. She is nameless, the gravity of her presence infinitely more powerful than any name she could be given.
Males are underlings here, regardless of their size they bow to the Matriarchs. Any dissent amongst the male ranks is met with ferocity, usually resulting in the offending male being feasted upon by the females. The Queen watches me intently when I appear, the roaring of the others dying down to silence before the slaughter begins. The mist sits thickly in the air, yet I can see through it perfectly. They’re all motionless, glassy corvid eyes watching my every move.
I’m wearing layers of heavy black woollen robes with a hood that obscures most of my face, yet I can see clearly. My feet are swathed with the same wool over leather. The wool feels like I’m wearing lead, but I can move freely as if I’m wearing a paper robe. My physical strength seems fathomless here, yet I’m aware under normal circumstances I would buckle under the weight of the robes alone. Tattered trails of wool drag over the earth, collecting soil and the dampness from the air.
A platoon of heavily armed men appear through the mist, headed in my direction. They’re all clad in protective riot gear so I can’t see their faces, not that it matters, they’ll all be ripped to shreds soon. They don’t seem to acknowledge the crows, even the titans. I wonder if they can see them, or if they’re only for me to look upon. They loom closer, and I lift the impossible weapon I’m armed with. It’s impossible because I know I wouldn’t be able to carry it, let alone fire it in the waking world. It’s a freehand Gatling, and it feels like I’m carrying a kitten. It’s blemished and dented in places, but it’s fully loaded and primed for use. As the men edge closer with their rifles, I raise it and brace myself for the onslaught, but they don’t even get the chance, they don’t STAND a chance.
I’m positioned in the very centre of the field, standing at the shattered and splintered door of a flat roofed dilapidated four storey building. It’s burned out with glassless window frames, and crumbling stone. Any shards of glass that remain are tinted with blood from the previous manifestation of this sequence. The men are closing in on me, and I start to fire the Gatling I know I wouldn’t be able to handle. A handful of them manage to return fire, but tiny male crows swoop down and catch the bullets and crush them to dust. I mow the men down like paper dolls, watching their flesh and bone pulverised in detail. Red mist sprays through the air as my bullets tear into them, shreds of flesh and riot gear flying around in a flurry of violence and diving crows. Their agony reaches a crescendo of deafening levels, the roar of the elders blasting a crushing bassline as if they’re wholly entertained by this frenzied display.
The combination of screaming and roaring reaches supernova, creating an earth shattering shock-wave, blasting me into the building. I can’t hear a thing, everything is in slow motion as I blink and try to regain my composure. Another shock-wave cracks through, speeding everything up as I’m thrown against a wall, but I don’t feel any pain. I pick myself up and focus. I feel a syrupy warmth seeping through my robes, and realise I’m standing in around two feet of blood, the air thick with the scent of copper.
The interior is as grim as the outside. The walls are cracked and crumbling, painted crimson and trickling with decaying mould. The building shakes with aftershocks of the earlier blasts, leaving pockets of dust floating to settle wherever it wants, but I don’t lose my footing. Annihilated pieces of furniture float atop the blood, with once beautiful paintings splintered and torn, hanging askew. What remains of oxblood leather furniture is tipped over, ragged and utterly destroyed by fire and projectiles. It’s a fucking mess, but much worse waits in each room beyond.
I can hear the men screaming in agony as I wade through their blood. They’re crunched over and huddled in various states of fucked up. Mangled flesh torn open by jagged and splintered bones, glistening with blood amongst cartilage and shredded muscle. Organs spilling out over what’s left of their bodies, splayed and tattered beyond all repair, almost as if they’d already been put through an organ grinder. Partially bulging and dangling eyes stare at me, some blankly, some filled with pain, their contorted faces wanting it to end because as much as they should be dead, they are not. A murder of crows at various sizes filter in, cawing in a fevered attack to start eating them alive. Several men are dragged back into the field by the horde, only for a few of the titans to carry them off in their talons before dropping them from a great height. That’s how it ends for the lucky ones. For the rest, they are ripped and picked apart in a feeding frenzy.
Another flash puts me back out in the field, and all I can do is watch the ruthless onslaught before the Queen tilts her head at me once again. The elders roar across the field louder than ever before, and the ground fractures beneath me in reverberation. My legs fail me, and I fall endlessly into cracked earth.
SECOND SEQUENCE (LIMBO)
My descent through cracked earth reaches its climax; I’m in the same field and building structure, except everything is serene, intact, and brilliant white. It’s in perfect condition; everything inside it is white, even the pictures are squares and rectangles of white in white frames. The windows are open and framed with softly billowing curtains that flow through the floors as I move through them. I foolishly thought this was a place of safety during my first visit here, a place of benign intent.
I’m dressed once again in layers of shrouded wool, except that this too is white, I’m not carrying a Gatling, and nothing is frayed or torn anywhere. I am aware of pain throughout my body, the same kind of pain you get when you’ve hit the gym too hard, and everything hurts the next day. I try to shrug it off, and assume it’s due to the weight of my shroud.
I drift around endlessly, climbing seemingly unending staircases and eventually wandering into whichever room sits at the top, but once I enter, each door closes behind me and melts into the wall. The pain in my body climbs slowly, leaving me breathless and clutching at the rails. Whilst I was strong and invulnerable in the previous sequence, I am sluggish and I can’t ever go back the way I came. I can only move forward, wandering through corridors that go on forever, and climbing staircases that make me think my legs will fall beneath me before I hit the last step, only for me to find myself at the next door. I become increasingly fatigued and a heavy ache reaches around my body, building in intensity the further I walk.
I get little respite in each room once the doors melt away. Some rooms are larger than others. When I’m afforded one the size of a ballroom, I know I can slip down to the floor and catch my breath as the surroundings shift and slide around me. The walls move inward, the items inside with me pushed ever closer, gradually robbing me of any space. It’s a slow process, and in a ballroom sized area I can have a few hours of rest. When the door behind me melts away, I see a new one open at the opposite end, the room around me closing and pushing me closer to it with every shift. When I am pushed out into another corridor, I am physically unable to keep from walking, even if my body feels like it’s on fire and heavy like lead. I sometimes wonder what would happen if my bones were to break, or I were to collapse, but I’ve never found out because I can’t stop, even though it’s exceptionally painful.
When I feel at my most exhausted, and the pain levels are excruciating, that is when the rooms are so small that I can reach out and touch each wall without needing to move. There is no blood, there are no screams of agony, there are no roaring crows, and there is no brutality; there is only silence, even as the building moves. Even without the savage landscape of the previous sequence, that does not make this limbo any less terrifying. I don’t know how long I am in there, and I have never been able to find my way down to the entrance. I am caught in a white web, almost like a toy at someone, or something else’s behest. I don’t know who or what that is, I’ve never seen anything to address my suspicions, but then this is limbo in every sense of the word. It is not meant for me to know. I exist here for a time, that’s all. I never know how I end up escaping this place, I simply blink and find myself in the next sequence.
THIRD SEQUENCE (APOCATASTASIS)
I’m in an old airport, the kind you find in small cities with decor from the seventies that’s never been updated. Normally bright white displays holding flight information with rotating letters and digits have yellowed over time, clacking noisily as they revolve. Staff are present, but they’re not sentient; they have bodies but their faces are entirely blank and gaze at you as if they actually had eyes to see you at all. They’re dressed in the same era clothing as the airport projects, old seventies gear complete with appropriate hairstyles and accessories, draped over their blank faces. Their staring is continuous, it’s gone from casual gazing to halting their work with blatant ogling.
We don’t belong here. We’re all wearing modern clothing. By we, I mean the twenty children surrounding me. The faceless tilt their heads to one side as if they’re oddly curious, slowly edging closer as if we are some manner of freak-show.
The children range in ages from three to twelve years old. They’re all trying to cling to me, terrified and unsure of what’s going on. I’m dressed in plain clothes, there are no shrouded cloaks or firearms, and there are no crows or a mysterious building. I’m trying to touch the children in a reassuring manner to let them know that things are going to be okay, but it’s hard to give a part of yourself to twenty children all at once.
Two faceless security guards approach us, although they are unarmed. They don’t speak, but motion towards a tunnel hammered out in a wall, as if recently punched through by construction workers. They funnel us down a dark corridor lined with steaming pipes, and the kind of dim orange-yellow lights you find in bomb shelters. We are escorted to an old giant cargo plane that has been battered by weather with years of overuse. It looks like it might collapse at any moment, and yet their blank faces and body language insist we climb aboard. The children are crying now and I’m doing my best to keep them calm, but you know how it goes when a huddle of children get scared; it’s contagious. I start singing to them softly to try and set them at ease, but it only works for a little while before their cries escalate again. We all get situated, but because we are all individually strapped in, they start to scream loudly because they can’t touch me for comfort. I try and unbuckle my safety belt, but it won’t budge. I look down to see what I can do, but the metal is clamped shut and fuses completely before my eyes. The children claw at their own belts, but it’s futile; we are all trapped. The older ones appear terrified into silence, as if they know there’s nothing they can do. The babies are shrieking, and although I try to sing to them again, it is drowned out and nobody can hear me.
I feel the plane rumble into movement, loud, heavy, and rattling. I am amazed as we actually take off and make it off the ground, the pandaemonium not letting up for a second as we lift. I can hardly hear the children over the deep rumbling of the plane’s engines, but I can see every single one of their contorted faces, fighting to break free of the restraints albeit ineffectively. A vicious storm brews ominously through the skies. It’s so dark, and regular flashes of lightning show me that we are flying over a body of water as I crane my head around to look through the scratched window beside me. I might not be able to undo my restraints, but I have a little wiggle room. We navigate the storm with major turbulence, some of the babies passed out and exhausted from screaming for so long. The older ones are still wide awake and staring into nothing, their eyes glassy and faces streaked red and blotchy with tears. I wave my arms to try and shift their attention, but it’s like they don’t even see me. All I can hear is the shaking rumble of the gargantuan engines struggling through the storm, rippling through the entire plane. I keep trying to get them to focus on me, but it’s not working. The storm intensifies as we are hit by lightning, and we begin to plummet down into the angry body of water.
I watch their faces. It starts with the older ones. They close their eyes, and I am forced to see them sealing shut. Their noses seem to ripple and refocus, the shape still there but their nostrils are not. The last thing to go are their mouths. They simply close, and their lips fuse and disappear. I can’t see their ears, but I can only imagine they’re similarly blocked. All evidence of facial features begin to fade and flatten out, leaving blank canvases with nothing behind them. My hands fly up to my own face, expecting to meet the same fate, but I remain entirely intact. All I can do is watch them sit perfectly still, silent and upright like mannequins as we drop faster and faster.
There is nothing I can do, we’re going down into the water and I begin to fade out. I feel the impact crack through us, rending the plane apart like it was wet cardboard. I see metal bend and rip itself apart in slow motion, the body rupturing as it is torn into several parts, spiralling down into the dark. The seats holding what used to be the children seem to remain in place, nothing touching them at all. The door to the cockpit opens and I see one of the faceless nod at me before I black out.
What seems like moments later, I wake up in the midst of the wreckage, except it’s filled with soft sunlight filtering in through broken windows. The water is calm, and I’m bobbing up and down in it along with plane debris, and the occasional flash of a beacon that went off as soon as we hit the water.
It’s warm and reassuring, except I’m the only one there. All the children have gone, and I don’t know where they are. It’s just me floating around the wreckage in the sun.
I wake from the sequence soon after that point, breathless and disorientated. My mind feels murky and heavy, and I’m hopelessly lost.