From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

In Dreams Tangible

I.

Laurel wanders from place to place, scattering seeds of doubt wherever she goes. She makes people doubt the reality of the world, weaves illusions that have more depth than reality can ever have. She is a dream weaver.

We found her first tape long ago, hidden in between the pages of a book.

There are ships with flying sails in the corners of her mind. There are men in disguise, women dressed as men, pirates pretending to be dandies. She wonders about black holes and time travel, about parallel universes and big friendly giants. She thinks that snozzcumbers would taste terrible but longs to try them anyway. One should always keep one’s mind open. Open enough to catch every stray thought shooting out around them.

She is intangible yet tangible. One feels that if one touches her, she will dissolve into a puddle of soapy water like a wizard, or perhaps just disappear in a poof of light and smoke. Yet she is all too real, always there when you need her and always, always unattainable. Distant as a mountain’s silhouette on the horizon, as close as the empty presence in the other chair. Untouchable.

Everyone yearns to have someone like her in their life, as a mother, a sister, a lover, a friend, an ally. She will never let you down.

II.

She wasn’t attacked today.

Laurel was very worried about this. Her assassin was always prompt. In this world, the only things you could rely on were chocolate and assassins, not death and taxes. And even the chocolate was beginning to lose its gratification value.

She’d noticed the man dressed in black scaling the ivy on the wall of her dorm during the second week of college while gazing out the window. He had leapt through her open window, punching in the screen. She had watched calmly as he threatened her silently with a knife then she had kicked it out of his hand so that it flew into the air, glinted silver in the moonlight, then landed, hilt down into her hand. He was only a boy after all, perhaps a year or two older than she. They had bowed to each other and he had left, rappelling down the wall. She had waved as he leapt to the ground and headed away, blending with the night.

So that was the routine every night from then on. 9 o’clock sharp. It was a good thing that Laurel’s roommate was never around, preferring to spend most of her time in her boyfriend’s dorm.

Sometimes she and her assassin would share a smile as they went through the pattern, like an inside joke. They were like secret friends. She didn’t know him and didn’t know if he knew her. In her mind, she called him Astrophel. She could only see his eyes. He had golden eyes. Once, she wondered who had sent him and why he came every night but she soon forgot.

But today he hadn’t come. She waited and waited, time passing by on tiptoe, silently moving past. He was an actor, an essential part of their play for two. Assassins don’t let their victims down. She bit her lip, furrowed her brow then went to sleep at 12.

II.½

Who is Astrophel, you ask? He is mysterious and without morals. But what he has is loyalty and dignity. He will never let go of his pride although he knows the value of keeping his mind open. He is scrupulous. He cracks nuts with his teeth, shelling them slowly and eating them while the shells are in his mouth. He has good teeth. He will dangle off bridges, hanging from the tips of fingers and leap over cars in one jump. He likes to climb on statues and pretend that he is George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte or perhaps even the pirate, Bluebeard. He has no beard, though. He can spin so fast that his hair lifts him into the air, although his hair isn’t very long which just makes it all the more fascinating. He claims it makes him dizzy. He is reckless and interesting and someone one would want as a friend, never as an enemy. He will protect you if he likes you but sometimes, even people like him need to be protected.

And that’s what Laurel is for.

III.

That night, Laurel’s mind was filled with dreams. She dreamt of ghosts and shadows, things only vaguely remembered, odd shapes that lingered in the back of her mind. When she woke up, they fled like frightened mice, the dust of reality covering their trails. She fixed the dreams of others that came her way, wanting repair.

Robin wanted to be the same as the others. In her dream, they flew up all around her, light as clouds, swooping and soaring through the air like birds. She was left alone on the ground, earthbound. She gazed up through her tears, jumped, flapped . . . fell.

Laurel gave her wings.

And up she flew, laughing in exultation.

Christopher ran and ran, through a maze of brush, fog masking his way, his breath panting in his chest. Something was chasing him but what, he did not know. He was seized with a sense of urgency, of danger. He couldn’t stop and his destination was unknown. The landscape changed around his feet, the ground changing from water to sand to mud. He recognized nothing.

Laurel twitched a dream strand here and there, out in the corners of the web.

He found his house in front of him and slowly drifted to a stop. Opened the door, shut it behind him and breathed a sigh of relief. He was safe here.

Only one stayed completely clear in her mind and that was her own. That one she recorded. The dreams that you remember clearly are always true.

“There is a light shining down dimly upon me. Or is it light? The world changes while we sleep, influenced by our dreams. Emotions seem abstract here, distant as a forgotten thought. Everything I see is tinted a slight blue and it smells the way the air smells after a thunderstorm. My roof has disappeared to show a clear sky; I am gazing into open space, the planets and stars thrown into sharp focus above me. I smile and the mushy material under my head shifts.

The horizon seems to be outlined by a light colored mass, which I walk toward, through a substance between liquid and solid. Along the way, I see a gun floating atop the liquid ground, rolling in waves toward me. Reaching down, I grasp it and suddenly shoot into the air. A small bright star shoots out, hovers in the sky and falls . . . sinks into the murk but lighting the way down.

When I reach the light colored mass, I find it to be an assortment of long thin sticks, glowing yellow. Some are so tall that they seem to disappear into one of the stars overhead while others are only double my height, their tips ragged as if they had been snapped; all of them go all the way down into the liquid that I’m standing on, so deep that they eventually seem to disappear into the darkness. They give off an air of frigidness, of cold. They are hot to the touch yet it seems like they are encased by entirely smooth ice. I snatch my hand away and look around more carefully. I reach one of the ones that are broken and notice that it doesn’t contain the same sort of energy that the non-broken ones do. It feels cool and I experience a strange vertigo while touching it.

The world tilts and I am

thrown

off.”

That’s how she realizes that Astrophel has been lost. She has to find him.

She buys a first class ticket to the moon.

She left her tape recorder. We found it on her bed, covered by her sheets.

III.½

There’s something that’s always said about dreams. They disappear like foam in the beat of a heart yet sometimes, they will stay with you forever, the images of the mind stuck in transit. Where do they go when they’re gone? Off the edge of the widest ocean, high up into the sky where they become true and not just some chaotic images from the minds of humans trying to make sense of their lives?

There are places only stars can go. There are places only assassins can go. And there are places where both assassins and stars can’t go but combined, can. And there is no place that Laurel cannot go.

IV.

The spaceship was a one-man, or in this case, one-woman vehicle. Laurel liked the feel of the chairs and how they swiveled. She liked the feel of being entirely enclosed in a tiny room of metal hurtling around in outer space. She saw the galaxies spinning away, past her window and sink into the star-specked ocean of space. She thought of them as fish.

The spaceship landed with a soft plop and the door opened. Laurel stepped out and looked all around. The ground was pale and filled with craters. She shook her head.

This was not what she was looking for. She waved to the spaceship and walked away, leaving soft white footprints. The spaceship lifted a probe and flew away.

She walked and walked, her feet barely touching the ground before she was up again, gravity a lesser force here than what she was used to. This was nothing like her dream. Here it was all solid, craters scattered about like so many dents on the face of the moon, pock marks. But she knew what she was looking for. Her dream had told her. A grove of light was the key.

Along the way, she told herself about a man named That who often appeared in one boy’s dreams of superheroes and battleships and warriors, of pirates and cannibals and secret agents. She felt lonely sometimes so imagined that That was traveling with her. When he appeared, she wasn’t surprised. After all, things from the mind took on a life of their own, a reality when Laurel was around. But he soon became annoying with his mask and his frequent shouting of “Superpowers come to my aid!” and “Zam! Pow! Kaboom!” so she banished him. We found him sitting by himself on the moon but he refused to talk to us. He said we were the enemy.

She found the grove soon after. The ragged ones were taller than the ones in her dream but she knew not to touch them. He was a fallen star, after all. So she grabbed one of the long ones that reached into the sky and touched a star and hugged it tight. The world exploded around her.

V.

Or rather, she exploded out into outer space. She saw whirls and sparkles that stung her eyes and bits of infinite darkness so she closed her eyes, held on tight, and waited for the world to subside. The vein of a star was hot under her fingers. Living.

She arrived in the middle of a dinner party. We watched her hurtle through the skylight like a shooting star, sparks of light glistening all around her, dwarfing the light of the chandelier. The skylight sealed up after she came down.

Her small mass was light to the masked man whose arms she fell into but later on, he told us that it was like holding the sun. She smiled at him and he closed his eyes. She whispered into his ear then kissed him on the cheek and then she disappeared into the dancing crowd, an ordinary girl. Ordinary? No, never ordinary. The masked man later told us that she had told him that he was a star like the one she was looking for. Her smile hurt his eyes.

V ½

Who was that masked man anyway? Maybe he was the father, the son, the older brother of someone you know. Maybe he kissed you goodnight when you were young or scowled at you angrily when you took his daughter out on a date. He might have baked you a birthday cake once. The one that actually had your name spelled out correctly and flowers made of lemon peels, which made you tear up because it was oh so perfect.

The assassin would call him father. But what are fathers to stars? Especially fallen ones. We wonder what his name is. Could it be Turpentine? Semi sweet? Aphrodisiac? Or something more common like Roger or Carpenter or Courtney? Perhaps he is a woman dressed up as a man dressed up as a woman dressed up as a man. We will never know.

VI.

Laurel was in the depths of the world. She had found it through a trapdoor under the dinner table. Stairs going down and down, twisting and turning under her feet like moss-covered rocks, chittering like insects. She told them to hush and their chittering subsided only to be replaced by utter silence. She didn’t like that either but decided to let it be.

The stairs led to a door. A door of age darkened wood, covered with grime. The door would not open. So she kicked it down. And she went through.
We wondered what she was searching for. It looked like a star to us, a bright shining star. But to her, it was a boy. A boy she called Astrophel. She could recognize him by his eyes.

His hands and feet were bound and his hands tied but with one look from Laurel, they sizzled away like nothing. What was reality to someone who wasn’t real? Natural laws became permeable, the very substance of the world separate and malleable. He smiled. She smiled. And the door opened.

A large man blocked the door. “What’s the best way to kill a star?” He paused, “Combine him with another star.” He pulled out a gun and shot.

VI.½

Everything needs to be done in a certain way. Even when there are no normal rules, there are rules governing the unnatural. Or else the world would be total chaos and no one wants that.

Astrophel understood that. Sometimes to fly, one has to fall. Sometimes stars have to be shot. Laurel understood that. Things have to be allowed to run their natural course.

There is something beautiful about explaining logic with illogic.

Let’s run our unnatural course and see what we find. A tape, perhaps?

VII.

A sickening mirage of light and shadow and sound pounds against the senses.

Haloed by fire and trailing light, they sailed through space at hyperspeed, shot from the barrel of a gun. Caught by a stray cloud, they landed softly on a hill overlooking the world.

And the first thing the assassin ever said to Laurel was, “Thank you.” He smiled. She smiled. And that was it. But that was all that was needed. After all, what could an assassin who was a fallen star say to a person like Laurel who can see their dreams? So they sat and watched the sky.

And while they sat and watched stars shooting through the galaxies, Laurel told her assassin about That. A man who was only a figment of an imagination, made real on a distant moon light years away. Then she told him about the countless dreams she has woven, their threads twanging from her touch, the dreamers forever unknowing in their bliss.

She knows everything there is to know about anyone. That is why we wish we could have someone like her in our lives, someone who will always understand.

We have the tape she left behind, on that hill on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. We never heard about her again. After all, it’s hard to catch a shooting star. We can only wish.

Su-Yee Lin is a first-year MFA student in Fiction at UMass-Amherst. She graduated from Brown University in 2009 where she learned all sorts of things like moondancing and parkour and won the Francis Mason Harris prize for her writing. “In Dreams Tangible” is her first published story.

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