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When Dark I Dream

by Gino Marchetti 11 months ago in science fiction

A Sci-Fi Short about Coming to Terms with Loss

When Dark I Dream
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

“The remedy for curing desire lies not in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.” - Eleutherius

#

The drafty apartment was dark; a child’s eyes darted back and forth across the living room floor tracing shadowy outlines. His father lay on a ragged couch in the corner of the room, long legs sticking out from under the too-small woolen blanket that covered him. The child gingerly lifted the corner of the blanket, face hovering over his father’s. “Wake up, Papa. It’s time for me to go to school.”

Avitian stirred, yawning. “What?” he asked in Diasporan, not realizing that his son had spoken to him in Tellurian. He raised a four-fingered hand to rub the sleep from his clay colored eyes.

“I wanted to let you know that I’m leaving.” The boy replied in his father’s language, sapphire eyes locking with the elder’s. The boy was waiting for permission to leave.

The elder sat up, leaning in to look at the younger; his glowing eyes were a welcome sight in the dark. “Good,” his voice scratched out. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to wake you this morning, Alethes.” He paused, “It’s just… Work ran late last night…”

Avitian continued to hold Alethes’ gaze, straightening the tie on the boy’s uniform, patting his shoulder. “But you look like you have a good handle on everything, yes?” He flashed a tired smile at his boy.

Alethes smiled back and made a humming sound that varied in pitch. It was the sound of a familiar Somnian affirmation. “It’s alright that you couldn’t get me up. I forgive you.” Avitian felt no better as his son absolved him for his perceived sin.

The boy looked toward the apartment door. “I have to go now, Papa.” Avitian made another tonal hum, and the boy ran off, jumping over a loose floorboard on his way.

Avitian called after Alethes in accented Tellurian, “I love you.”

Alethes, just about to open the apartment door, ran back. He grasped his father around the middle, humming affectionately before letting go and running out the door.

When the bolts had slammed back into place, Avitian sank back into his couch-bed. He had no other desire at that moment than to return to his lucid dreams. He shut his eyes.

A moment after, his crescent shaped Neural-Net receiver on the end table beeped. The tenuous warmth of his onset dream seemed to vanish as the receiver was pressed against his temple. It buzzed, and then began translating the incoming signal into Psycho-manipulative tones that echoed in Avitian’s skull.

“Avitian,” said an alien voice, “get to the shop ASAP. Prep the van for an extraction; yesterday’s job just went FUBAR.”

#

Avitian swiped his passkey over the door and zipped up his ill-fitting thrift store jacket to cut out the pervasive chill. He turned to walk down the hallway, kicking up pieces of trash as he went, and he passed a sealed elevator—out of service for probably close to a hundred years, he reckoned. He pushed the heavy fire door open at the end of the hall.

Inside the stairwell, colorful graffiti had been sprayed onto the walls, some with iridescent paint. The images covered every inch of the walls from the 30th floor to the ground. Today, the fresh image of an erect Human phallus that spewed anthropocentric obscenities greeted him. It shook its luminescent fist at him with middle finger extended as he walked by.

Down thirteen flights.

At the bottom, in the stairs’ shadow, was a Somnian couple. They sat on overflowing trash bags, passing an inhaler of the drug Amp back and forth. That motion was the only way Avitian knew that they were alive.

The male held the red actuator to his lips; his stump-like fingers were blackened with necrotized flesh from exposure to the caustic drug. He sucked in the vapor that hissed out. The druggie moaned in pleasure, arching his back.

Taking the inhaler from his mouth, he leaned in toward his mate, nearly falling over on her. Brackish tar—the residue left from the Amp—clung on bloody lips as he planted his on hers. When he pulled away, he passed the inhaler to her.

She repeated the process.

Avitian’s hands were clenched at his sides; warmth flooded his limbs as his entire body tensed in rage at the spectacle. He bared his teeth as he looked once more at their sagging lips

meeting; at their gaunt jaws hanging slack as the tarry liquid mixed with the blood on their lips; at the acid-burned holes in their skeletal cheeks.

Avitian dared to look one of the Somnians in the eyes. They were bloodshot, hollowed out, covered by sagging lids. Dead. He could not make out their color, unable to look long at their Daliesque faces.

They did not even notice Avitian’s presence. They were lost in their drug induced fantasy.

Avitian turned away in disgust and left the building. Had his son seen it all, too?

He pulled on his respirator. Crossed the street. Boarded a shuttle. Flew away.

#

Off the shuttle; up thirteen stories.

The metal catwalks high above the city streets were flooded with the stench of pollution. He pulled his respirator tighter and went to his destination as quickly as he could. At the shop’s entrance, he punched in an identification code and verified his biometrics.

His boss greeted him as he stepped inside, “This is some deep shit, Avitian.” The man was leaning on an unmarked hover-shuttle, cigarette in his mouth as he spoke, face obscured by smoke. “Get the van ready; the others’ll be here within the hour.”

Avitian did not respond and let his boss storm off into his office. He did as he was told, suppressing the overwhelming anxiety he felt at the thought of a job gone wrong and its potential consequences. He threw bags of heavy equipment and weapons into the back of the van.

When done, he climbed into the driver’s seat, laying it back. Another dream found him there. He let himself be overtaken. The chill in the garage faded away.

#

When he opened his eyes, warm sunlight was falling on his face. He lay listening to the sound of a quiet breeze blowing in through an open window. He took a deep breath of the crisp air and cast off the sheet that covered him.

At the window’s ledge, he looked out to see the familiar terrain of Adamáh. On all sides, thick foliage grew in eternal bloom, watered by a thick mist that scattered the sunlight in every direction. Even the air was saturated with moisture; sticky water droplets clung to his parched exoskeleton. He felt refreshed by it all.

As he leaned out the window with hands folded, smiling, he thought, I’m home.

Leaving the bedroom, he entered under a portico that surrounded a square green with a garden in the center. The centerpiece of the garden was a single, spindly tree that shot up into the sky. This was the custom for Somnian homes.

Few large branches grew off of the tree’s main trunk in the garden's confined space, which was filled with flowering bushes. However, the canopy of the tree stretched out wide like an umbrella as it cleared the home’s roof, spreading out nearly twenty-five meters. The umbrella tree covered the entire garden and green below in thick shade.

Avitian caught sight of a female Somnian passing among the bushes, which created an intricate labyrinth beneath the umbrella tree. She rested a basket of fruit on her hip, wandering among the labyrinth as she harvested the plants’ yield. She did not see him as she passed through the thick banks of fog near the trunk of the tree.

Tiny drops of dew flew around as he crossed the damp green, and small insects scattered in every direction as he disturbed their morning rest. As he drew nearer to the tree, he could smell its potent red leaves and bark. The smell of the bark mixed with those of recent rains and flowers, purging his sinuses of the Tellurian stench.

Avitian heard music under the canopy as well: many tones that rose and fell as one. There was a vibrating quality to the tune, and he could hear soft words sung in ritualistic Adamaic. The incomprehensible words floated into his ears; he only knew they were the words of an ancient hymn.

The Somnian female came around one of the bushes to face Avitian, her image obscured by the fog. He roughly made out the features of her face though, noting how her mouth was moving in time with the ancestral song. He noted that her gait was not

that of a simple walk, but that of a dance.

Great Hymn of the Harvest, Avitian thought, recognizing the steps. Still, even recognizing the tune and steps, the words to the ritual hymn continued to elude him. They sounded like

buzzing bees in his head.

He stepped closer. The song increased in volume and pace, but its words continued to sound like nonsense. It was like listening to an alien tongue, one not his own. He almost felt the need to cover his ears in order to block out the sound, but he wavered. He wanted to hear the song.

Enthralled, she seemed not to notice him as he stood right before her.

He grabbed her free arm to break the trance. “Tavea.” The singing and dancing stopped immediately, though her mouth kept moving noiselessly for several seconds. At the same moment, the ringing stopped.

But the fog around the tree thickened.

She looked into his shifting eyes. "Avitian," she said with unblinking eyes and a blank face.

He stood mute before her, afraid to look her in the eyes. He let go of her arm, stumbling backwards. Her great sapphire eyes continued staring, piercing him.

"Avitian?" She closed the gap he had put between them, her face remained expressionless. "It's alright; you just startled me is all." She reached out through the mist and took Avitian by the shoulder to stop him.

A tenuous sense of calm took hold of him as she closed her hand around his bare shoulder. Her hand, covered in bloodred pollen from the harvest, left a great print where she touched him. He did not brush it off, but let the mark linger.

Along with the calm, another sensation filled him as he fixated on the handprint. This sensation served to counter his hesitation to accept what he saw before him. It was the warmth

of her touch; it made him want to believe that she was more than the illusion he feared she was.

Conflicted, he finally began to give in to her touch. He took great pleasure in it. He was determined now not to give further thought to the voice of doubt that lingered. She was with him now, and he would not lose sight of her, his great solace, again.

He swallowed hard, suppressing a nervous tick, mustering his strength. "It's… good to see you."

She laughed, hand back at her side. She seemed not to notice how he was suppressing nervousness and evading her eyes. "You say that like it's been a long time since you last saw me."

He looked at the ground, embarrassed by what he had just said. He knew it would’ve sounded odd to her—for her, it had been only hours since they last saw one another. For him, it had felt like eternity. "I meant that you're beautiful, and so it's-"

"Good to see me?" Another tonal laugh.

Avitian cocked his head to one side slightly, showing his flustered assent, still avoiding eye contact. His eyes thirsted after hers; they drank in the beauty all around, the blooming flowers and the heights of the tree, everything except her eyes. He feared they would be a dry spring. "Yes," he let a sheepish half-smile creep onto his face. He continued to try to muster

enough courage to look her in the eyes.

"Likewise, then." She continued smiling at him, drawing him in with the warmth of her voice. Her persistence wore him down so that his gaze no longer wandered from hers.

He let his eyes meet hers for but a second. In that brief moment, they tried to quench their thirst, but they could not drink deep enough to satisfy themselves. The short glance only intensified his longing.

The sense of warmth that her touch had instilled in him suddenly flared up inside, a true flame. It wrestled with his remaining doubts.

Suddenly, she turned her back to him. He sensed how her gaze itself left him, and he nearly called out her name, wanting her to turn back again toward him. She looked over her shoulder, as though sensing his distress, and she gestured that he follow. He did not delay but walked close behind her as she wandered deeper into the mist. He stood watching as she sat at the foot of the shady umbrella tree, waiting to be summoned to her side.

The overflowing basket she had been carrying was on the ground next to her. She picked out a fruit, biting into it, carmine juice running down her face. She held it out to him. The internal churning he felt lessened, and, seeing how she enjoyed the fruit, he did not hesitate, but partook of it with her.

Taking the once-bitten fruit in hand, he sat down at her side in the damp shade. They sat so close that they nearly touched. Avitian longed to be closer.

They turned to face one another. He bit into it like she had, and then silently passed the twice-bitten fruit back to her. She looked at him, accepting, taking another bite. She passed it back for the last time, and he grabbed it eagerly. His desire to taste it was greater now than it had been after the first bite.

He finished it and crushed the husk. A red shower splashed his face and soaked his hands. A great ripple of heat radiated out through his body and into his head.

He looked again at Tavea. She was leaning her head back against the tree, eyes closed; a frantic passion to look into her deep, sapphire eyes welled up inside him. It was the feverish desire to search for something submerged in them. Something, he hoped, that would extinguish the flame dwelling inside; something that might also drown out the relentless doubts that still lingered.

His vision began to swim ever so slightly as the fever worsened. He sat, swaying to-and-fro in the shade. All his senses intensified.

He hears the sound of her breathing, calm, steady; and the sound of his own heart, racing. He smells the scent of the fruit. It intoxicates him. Staring at her with wide eyes, he catches sight of the handprint on his shoulder. Her phantom hand is resting there, pressing down on him. It sends a tremor through his body.

A blaze now roars.

He places a hand on his scorching chest, feeling his heart pound. His skin is burning. He hears the blaze howl inside. How does she not hear it?

He reaches out to touch her. Stops.

That fearful doubt in him fights weakly one last time. It whispers for him to go no further but is quickly burnt up like chaff. The tiniest whisper of its final plea is not heard.

She lies asleep under the tree. He takes her face into his hands. His gut wrenches, and, driven mad by ineffable desire, he kisses her. He burns as he sits in the cool shade.

But the fire blazes on. It refuses to be extinguished. It hungers for more.

Eyes still shut, she does not push away, feeling how his body burns against hers. She slowly opens her eyes as he pulls away, and immediately his eyes dart to hers. Great horror overtakes him though as his eyes drink deeply of something other than the familiar blue he had always remembered. They drink in vaporous clouds of bluish steam. Nothing else.

His thoughts swim as his eyes linger on her, scorched by his embrace. His vision flashes, filled with cloudy spots. He holds her close with bone-crushing force as convulsions rack his body.

Then, in his arms, she explodes into a cloud of pitch-colored ash. A hot whirlwind blows through the garden. It carries her away, a thousand pieces of shattered dream.

#

The scene flashed and nothing was as he remembered a moment before. He now kneeled on scorched earth, hands on his knees in submission. The glowing embers of the garden surrounded him on all sides. Many ashes, still blistering, blew in deafeningly from the surrounding jungle.

The ashes coated Avitian’s naked body, scorching his exoskeleton wherever they landed. They covered him like a cloak, so heavy he could not shake it off to free himself. Trembling, he tried to take steadying breaths, but the boiling, ash laden air scalded his throat.

Gasping, he clutched at the piles of ash on the ground; they slipped through his fingers. This cannot be happening again, was all he managed to think.

He tried to wake himself, but he could not; the dream was now entirely out of his control, and he realized it had been since he first looked into her eyes. The sense of peace that was supposed to prevail in this world, his world, had vanished.

He began crawling through the ruin of his home. He cried out as the soft skin underneath his shattered exoskeleton cooked in the intense heat. The heat left his soft skin as nothing but blisters, which oozed blood through the cracks in his exterior plates. It mixed with the ashen cloak he wore to become like black sackcloth.

The whole world was veiled in mourning.

The only light that pierced the darkness around him came from the flames in the remains of the jungle. By this light, he crawled on, though he did not know where his mind was driving him to go; he was moving by instinct alone. It was only after several minutes that he realized he had been crawling toward the sound of a shrill voice.

No, he realized, not one voice, but many.

A sudden sense of urgency overtook him; a cooling sensation flooded his veins. His thoughts cleared, and he no longer questioned how or why these things could be. He no longer cared. The voices were crying out to him and no one else.

Veins flooded with adrenaline, Avitian stood tall and began running toward a great wall of flame. Every step he took kicked up monstrous clouds of ash that blinded him. He could only make out the towering wall of fire in front of him. It was consuming the bountiful harvests of his fields, the fields where his children so often played.

When he saw this, he panicked and called out their names. It was their voices that had been crying out in the black.

They did not cry out to him anymore.

He called out to them again and again as he drew nearer to the fiery wall. As he got closer, the flames began surging out at him, lashing him like whips. They scourged him, and he cried out from these new pains. The flames nearly consumed him whole before he retreated to a safe distance. He did not stay away for long though, rushing back after only a moment; he was unable to abandon his own flesh and blood to the furnace.

Again, he called out to them, “Where are you?” He listened, hope failing, trying to make out the cries of his children over the roaring flames. However, the fire overpowered his senses, deafening him to everything but its howling.

All of his senses were failing him, one by one. They were devoured by the flames, which left nothing untouched as they rolled hungrily across the field, across the entire face of Adamáh. Even his vision failed him again, this time not for the clouds of ash, but for the intensity of the blaze. His eyes had been consumed, leaving nothing but burnt out hollows in his skull.

He ran blindly for a time, coming full stop when he heard a voice whisper, “Papa…”

The voice echoed inside Avitian’s head, but it sounded as if it had come from behind. He spun around, shouting the names of his many children again. He hoped he might still find the source of the voice, even blind. “I’m over here; where are you?”

“Papa…”

He turned his head in every direction as he tried to make out where the voice came from. One hand reached out to grope at the blackness all around. “I’m coming!” He stumbled. Bracing himself, he fell into a mountainous pile of ash.

The pile collapsed on top of him.

The weight was beyond measure. He sensed nothing anymore. There was no more pain, only black silence.

The darkness surrounding him was somehow even more oppressive than his earlier blindness had been. The only thing he knew was that he was sprawled out on something hard and uneven. It shifted underneath him as he moved, snapping like twigs in a quiet forest. He felt around, realizing there was not one twig but many. No, not twigs, he realized. Bones.

He lay on the small, parched bones of a thousand Somnian children. He instinctually tried to guard them close to his chest, to protect them, but as he grabbed at them, they crumbled into ash. The harder he clenched them, the more they slipped through his fingers. The wind of the Grave then snatched them all away. He let out a wretched sob, his sense of hearing suddenly vanishing again.

In an instant, the whole ground gave way underneath him, and he began falling into the infinite abyss below. The bones fell with him, faster and faster until they were completely lost in the deepest part of the grave. He vainly reached out after them, all of the bones of all the Lost.

Down, down.

A still vision appeared before him as he plummeted unendingly: his children standing at the field’s edge. The sky shone brightly, and the world was peaceful again. Avitian smiled for a moment at this new hope, only to realize that it was not the sun that shone in the background, but the inferno coming up from below.

He yelled at his children to run, but it was pointless. They could not hear him. They continued to laugh and play in the field. He screamed again, so loud that he felt his head might burst, but all he did, all his force of will, was all in vain.

The wall of fire shot up, and all the children suddenly turned to him, faces blank. Their fiery eyes meet his. They accuse him silently.

The fire reached them, swallowing them up, all while they kept staring at him in silence. Avitian watched as their flesh was eaten away, leaving nothing but tiny skeletons standing in

the holocaust’s aftermath. Their lifeless frames turned to dust, bursting, being carried off into the raging fire. He let out one final muted scream as he was consumed, too.

A scorching gust blew by him as he burned. He exploded, turning into a thousand pieces of black ash, and was carried away by the scorching wind. Alone.

#

A hand was touching his bare shoulder.

A fit of coughing. A gasp for air. Eyes open wide. Unable to move in the paralysis of sleep.

“Papa?”

The paralysis wore off, and he shot up on the couch.

Alethes jumped back. “Are you alright, Papa?”

Avitian looked down at his son, who was already back at his side. The boy’s shining blue eyes gazed up at him. A gentle cooling sensation trickled through Avitian’s veins. “Oh, yes…” He paused a moment, still breathing fast, confused about where he was. Why do I go back to that moment again and again, he wondered?

With his senses recovered, he asked, “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I forgot something.” Avitian saw that Alethes held his personal datapad in hand.

“Oh, well, hurry up then, or you’ll miss the shuttle.”

“I’ll walk.”

That thought frightened the boy’s father. “I’ll go with you then.”

#

Avitian slid his passkey over the door; the locks slammed into place. The two Somnians walked down the hall; Alethes held onto his father’s hand tightly. The boy pulled Avitian along, and so neither seemed to notice the trash that they kicked up, the roaches that scuttled away in terror, or the dilapidated elevator that did not work. In the stairwell, Alethes laughed at the crude images, and Avitian joined in.

Down thirteen flights.

They were still laughing together as they reached the ground level. They walked past a great neon-blue tarp in the shadow of the stairs; a sign was hung on it that read, “County Coroner. Biohazard. Do not touch.” The two Somnians, the younger still guiding the elder, laughed again; they did not even notice the tarp, or that it was covering two bodies.

In the street, as they walked to the boy’s school, the little one looked up at his father. He said to him, “I dream about them too, Papa. Sometimes…”

The father looked down at his son. He was still able to see the glimmering of his sapphire eyes, even through the smog. However, he did not know what to say.

“Sometimes,” the boy continued, “it’s hard to leave them. Sometimes… sometimes, I wish I could sleep all day just to be with them. They seem so real, don’t they, Papa?”

Avitian hummed the familiar Somnian affirmation, looking straight ahead. A tear rolled down his face.

Alethes did not notice his father’s tear. “But,” he began again, “when it’s hard to get out of bed, or when I just want to spend all day…” He began to cry, “D-dreaming about them…” He stopped, and hugged his father’s legs, unable to say another word.

Avitian hesitated, and, unable to speak, just knelt down and hugged his boy back. And wept.

“I remember you,” Alethes finished.

A pause.

“It doesn’t make me stop dreaming of them… missing them. But-”

Avitian finally found a few words, and some courage, “I know, Alethes.” He pulled off his respirator and kissed his boy’s head, “It’ll be OK.” He recognized these as the words that he himself had longed to hear for so long. He hugged his son tighter still, and he sobbed when he felt how his son did not slip through his fingers.

The boy cried more as well, holding more tightly to his father. His tears rolled onto Avitian’s chest. Avitian felt the last embers of Desire finally go out. Those tears were its extinguishing, even the drowning of his doubt.

“It’s OK,” he said once more to his boy. To himself.

A cool breeze blew by them, and they both continued on their way. Together.

science fiction

Gino Marchetti

As a writer, my purpose is to explore how the written word can be used in order to bridge the gap between the complex experiences of our external and internal lives, thus binding people together on an intellectual and emotional level.

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