Tuesday, 15 November 2022

A Man and a Box.

He didn’t know there were such things as dream-cats, until he was bitten by one, at night in his bed. 

He had three cats but Poor-Paw was the youngest and to say he bites is a little excessive, nibbles is closer to the truth. They say that some toads are hallucinogenic if you lick them and with Poor-Paw he will always lick before he nibbles, so perhaps the dreams are in his saliva more than his bite. 

The first time it happened he did not make the connection, he thought just the cat's presence had disturbed his deep sleep phase and led him to the dream world, but the second time the dream was so vivid he knew the reason.


He was in a shanty town of dusty lanes, corrugated shacks and abandoned buildings. Except, they were not abandoned. In every one, layers of dust and layers of memories were mixed together and hidden by a jumble of objects and artefacts; searching through these lead him to discover the first of the passages. 

It was a long dark tunnel, partly flooded and strong with the sensation of being made of plastic; a plastic that seemed to be breathing and urging him to continue forward. Patches of light illuminated the passage at intervals and eventually he realised that the end of the passage was what he was seeking and he finally pushed upwards towards one, seemingly at random, and emerged into the ante-room of a Victorian theatre-house. An old man sat there and invited him to sit down.


He gave him a box which looked like a music box; it was clearly mechanical but much heavier than a box, as if it was made from cast metal, and where a key would have been there was a small silver handle. He opened the box and saw a disk that turned  a small spindle that had fallen from one of two holes, and a piece of wire that connected the spindle to whatever was missing from the second hole.


‘I don't know what fits here’, the old man said and then he stood and entered into the shadows of the theatre. The younger man would have followed but the box had his attention.


He placed the spindle into one of the hoes and turned the handle, expecting music but instead the spindle opened like a flower does; its petals and a small red device floated free and opened like a small umbrella, gently drifting to the ground like a parachute. He picked it up, folding the sides into place, replaced it in the spindle and repeated the action, it reminded him of flying a kite as a child in the meadow at the end of the lane behind the house where he had grown up. There was a feeling of summer, of calm and timelessness that enveloped him both then and now.


‘It needs a spark’, said a voice and he turned to see another man leaning against the side of the theatre. He was tall, very thin and smoking a cigarette: perhaps that was why he was so thin. In his hand he held a cigarette lighter which he flicked open and a spark rose to the night sky. It was only then that the young man realised it was night. The third time he turned the handle the thin man lent forward and sent a spark along the trailing free wire, the red umbrella drifted up once again but expanded as it did so until it covered the young man entirely and filled the night sky. It’s form now was that of a hundred or more thick velvet curtains layered upon layer and he reached towards them and found that each one revealed another and that each one could be moved aside as if leafing through files. As each one parted a bright light issued forth, each one pulling him towards them. After five or six curtains he entered the light, again at random as there were many, many other possibilities.


Time and space are not the same. You can be in the same space at a different time, or in the same time but a different space. You can also be in the same time and the same space, but what would be the point?


The young man was in a different space certainly, as for time he was unsure, but he knew for certain that he was being pursued and that he had to lose the pursuer; the prize was the box with the silver handle which he now held tightly as he ran. 

And he ran learning as he did so that he was in open country side with few places to hide. The lane he ran along twisted and turned offering little chance for him to see his pursuer or they, he, and he looked for anyway to confuse the pursuit.

Other lanes appeared on his left and right so he turned randomly and soon isolated buildings appeared which he entered and left by different doors until the doors opened onto new buildings and the buildings converged into a labyrinth of passages and walls, openings and closings. 

And then he came to the old man again, sitting in the same chair as he had before but this time at the angle of a wall and a garden. As he ran up the old man stood to one side and he saw the door was a portal, the young man dived in.


It took him back to where he had begun and he knew that he  had to hide the music box as quickly as possible. He started walking, confident that now his pursuer was somewhere else, somewhen else perhaps,  and he came to an open street market. Stalls of stalls of fruit were for sale, some he recognised, some not.

He realised that he did not know where he was , but he knew when - because walking beside him was his son, so he was now a parent, and the time was later. There was no awkwardness between them and it was clear that they had been together for ever. As the market stalls of fruit gave way to stalls of vegetables and then bric-a-bac, they stopped in front of one stacked with bags of all sorts. The man chose a small black backpack.


‘How much is this?’ He asked the merchant.

‘One promise’ the merchant replied.

‘A promise?’ He asked.

‘Your choice’ 

‘Ok, I promise…’ He started, but the merchant interrupted him.

‘Thank you, I accept’ he said, and then disappeared, as did his stall and the rest of the market and the man was alone with his son on a hillside of rock and boulders. They sat down and taking the music box he turned to his son.

‘We need a spark’ He explained.

The son leaned forward to touch the box and static electricity jumped from his fingers as the father turned the handle. He reached into the curtains as they opened around him and asked;

“When, or where?’

His son reached forward, leaning far to the right of him;

‘The future’.

‘Not too far’ The father said, uncertain, but before he could react he was drawn to where he held the curtain, and his son was drawn to where, when, he was.


Alone again, and back in front of the theatre he put the music box into his bag, put the bag on his back and stepped inside.

It wasn’t a theatre, it was a shop, full of thousands upon thousands of everything imaginable, and something was wrong, the bag on his back felt empty. He opened it , looked inside and it was. He knew that the music box was no longer here and now, but there and then, and that for him to find it would be as difficult as it might be easy for his pursuer to find, but that HEehad to do something quickly.

He started to walk among the rows and rows of objects that surrounded him and stopped suddenly when he saw at the back of a shelf between two glass vases, the music box. 

He reached for it but was unable to lift it. Surprised, he reached for one of the glass vases and it came away from the shelf easily. He replaced it and picked up the other vase and it too lifted easily. Once again he replaced it and reached for the music box. It was impossible to move it, as though it was part of the world that surrounded him and not a separate part. It was then he noticed the price tags that were on each object and each exactly the same.


Everything in this shop, that you don’t want, is free to take. 

Anything you want, is priceless.


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