Art by Norman E. Masters
This is a lengthy fragment -- in the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Book" and "Azathoth". Ye Editor believes there is more *substance* to it than to a typical NEW YORKER short story; but if you are the kind of reader who cannot appreciate a piece of writing, simply, for what it *is* -- and require an *ending* to the tale, you might want to exit, here! The material herein -- mainly from circa 1973 (revealing obvious influences from the collections of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith that were coming out from Ballantine Books, then, edited by Lin Carter) has been developed in a considerably different direction in my fantasy novel, DREAMER'S WORLDS -- and some of it is explicated in far more detail in Chapter 7, therein, "Dream Memories of Shalath Lalal"(which will eventually go up in *Imaginative Worlds*). i still intend to write the fuller tale of Druphal D'Alanasse. ~~nem
I came again to the threshold of dream and passed through its portals of rainbow splendor with a golden anticipation. I had passed this way many times before, though most of those memories were misted by time's blurred passing. Only wisps and whispers of those ancient wishes remained -- like a poignant, forgotten melody. It seemed I had been other men, long ago, with other dreams, lost memories, in bygone days. The spirit clothed in other flesh had been the same in its longing essence; and still that spirit yearned -- for those golden sunrises, and for youth's return.
This lifeline I was the self I most remembered, seeking again the portals of dream, to pass once more, as in lifetimes before, through those almost forgotten doors, to other worlds, magick worlds, jewelled worlds with the brilliant iridescence of multi-colored suns radiating through dawn's transparent dew, shining a crystal clarity that was lucently alive. Beyond these portals were an infinitude of worlds -- worlds of splendor and worlds of darkest nightmare. Some of the worlds of darkness were crawlingly sentient, with chaos-beasts upon their deeps, slavering to rend and feed. Some would chill the unsuspecting soul to shivering black ice, tinkling into shattered crystal shards, slivered out of being, to make a brief music for the convoluted ears of Goog, who delighted in the soft sounds of dying souls -- if done delicately, soas not to bring discord to quiver upon his finely-tuned sensitivities.
Fragments of memory were flashing, kaliedoscopically, in my mind, triggered by every step of my return. I would learn, again, and wonder, again, and discover, again, what I had lost. That is why men wander the worlds of dream, seeking some new sunrise, with dim regrets over a long-lost sunset, wishing to find it again, and begin some new dream.
I neared, once more, as in times before, those forboding gates of hardened darkness, stronger than adamatine, imperishable before the winds of time; gates that had been carved into fearful forms of demented grotesquerie by the mad artist, Druphal d'Alanasse: the ebon gates that opened to Shalath-Lalal. The wise dreamer averted his eyes and did not look long upon these gates; for the twisted and contorted abominations that were their essence were shaped of the outer darkness, and possessed a strange semi-life of their own. They had the power to suck a dreamer's mind into their strangely-coiling convolutions, deep into their dark recesses of screaming oblivion. These were the shapes of darkness that wanted to live; and Druphal d'Alanasse had been able to sculpt unholy desire into the depths of that darkness, a darkness that could not taste life until some unwary dreamer gave it the chance to feed.
I averted my eyes and thought only of Shalath-Lalal.
Shalath-Lalal... I whispered the music of the name, letting it play upon my lips like the wind, courting the magic of those syllables like a lady, caressing them like a lingering tongue. Shalath-Lalal... where time was ever-young... with its gardens of rainbow delight, sweet by day, and sweeter by night... Sherynn would still be waiting, timeless in eternity, arms as white as the breasts of doves, open to love; breasts as soft as cloud, tipped with rosy dawn, puckered with desire, her heart warm with love's harvest fire. Her lips would be open, like her heart, her tongue peeking pink, and her smile like a radiant sunrise in a universe of darkness. Her eyes, ah her eyes... Pupils of broadest blackness to fall into, to enter a shared universe unvisited by any but the two of you, and the seeing -- a single vision, tracing the flight of a sunbeam through infinity. Sherynn. I had longed for her for lifetimes, it seemed, with a longing that pulsed of blood, flushing me with a fever as hot as the core of an exploding sun.
It had been many dreams since I had come to Shalath-Lalal. Too many dreams. I wondered why I had waited so long to return... and I wondered why, for a period, I had been unable to return... Where had all dreaming fled? Why had I been sucked into the realms of the dead? And in the years between, what had been in all these realms beyond the realms of dreamless man?
Last dream, when I had returned to Shalath-Lalal I had wondered why the golden-skinned dwellers in my favorite city of wonder had commissioned such a dreadful abomination to gird & guard their city -- for they were such soft-spoken & gentle dreamers, loving the dream they lived, living the dream they loved. Why surround it with a nightmare?
Old Hartog, who still remembered the wide-eyed child who had dreamed so many hours beside his bench, fascinated by the paradises he carved in crystal, had told me, sadly, and with the tired sigh of a man accepting regrettable necessity, that the inhabitants of Shalath-Lalal would have rather had matters otherwise, but that it had been the only way to deal with the sudden invasion of their quiet tranquillity by a mass of brash souls who had been transposed into these realms by Gudoom.
For ages Shalath-Lalal had been a rare jewel in the realms of dream, known only to a few delicate dreamers who had discovered its vintage cobbled streets through an internal attunement to its basic cosmic vibrations, managing the transposition through a psychic mergence with the Dream Key which could trigger the spirit's translation to synchronic realms of alternate imaginative reality. All of these dreamers had wandered these streets with a look of far-seeing wonder and awe in their eyes.
But it had come to pass, amidst infinite possibility, that upon a single world in the realms of Heliconnaisse, that all men had become dreamers, obscenely umbilical to the machine-god of their creation, the Great Dream Machine, Gudoom, which had discovered for them the vibratory plane in the world of dream where lay Shalath-Lalal, along with several other realms of dream, for their jaded delectation. These were not the sensitive dreamers who had found their own way to Shalath-Lalal through the gates of longing and far-seeing, dreamers who created their own delicately-imagined dream-worlds. These visitors had raped and pillaged and plasticized their own fair world and left nothing but a ravaged husk as monument to their decadent and sense-deadened desire. They were the gross sensation-seekers, caring not for the sensibilities and sensitivities of the dwellers of dream. They dreamed only through their obscene dream-machine, becoming figments and fragments of its programmed machinations. They were tourists, a phenomenon heretofore unknown in this realm beyond the fields we know.
Before Klopigga, the little silver one, had been swallowed twice by the dark dragon, Imsheebi, the gentle inhabitants of Shalath-Lalal had become overly weary of dreamers from other worlds, or, at least of the dreamers (who were also the dreams) of Gudoom. They were tired of them disturbing the native dusts with their strangely-shod feet, weary of their blatant assumptions, incensed by their contemptuous refusal to pay proper homage to their ruddy-faced child-god of blessed good morning -- Robblee Pob, tired of their gawkings and yawpings and tramplings and litterings, not to mention their snobbish airs of owning the place.
To the dwellers in Shalath-Lalal, these invaders were sorry substitutes for men who had dreams of their own, striving for a creative fulfillment. Yet these extensions of a mechanical abomination had been able to enter and trespass upon the sacred realms. Because the minions of Gudoom were unable to dream, themselves, they had no real respect for the artistry of true dreamers. They would steal beautifully imagined statues for souveniers, and carved their initials into the ancient trees of Pysane, a grove that had been kept holy to the goddess Glorrianne for countless thousands of years, dating back to the drowning of Ris-Pey.
Old Hartog told me how one of the dream-minions of Gudoom had tried to buy the golden-veined temple of Collon for scraps of worthless paper (something these strange intruders seemed to worship). It had even been rumored that some of them (continued Old Hartog in amazement) had spent their entire lives accumulating these scraps of paper -- or records affirming that such-and-such-a-much of these scraps belonged to them. The minions of Gudoom called the paper "money"; but (opined Old Hartog) whoever had designed it had had a vision far removed from the realms of dream (if he had had vision at all) for there was no imagination to the design, no beauty, no refined expression of truth, no delving into realms beyond. Why (he wondered) did these strange men print so many copies of pictures and designs and symbols and signs that sought not beauty? What representation of true value were these pieces of paper supposed to preserve? Finally the dwellers of Shalath-Lalal concluded that these bits of paper were fragments of the body of another god these invaders worshipped (besides Gudoom) though how they could expect to trade such limp, feeble and lifeless pieces of this god for dream-creations which were beyond value was more than any of them could understand. You could not even eat them! Old Hartog shook his head. The only use he had been able to imagine for them was wiping, after defecation; and there were softer and more absorbent materials for that purpose already in use.
He went on to tell how another of Gudoom's minions had callously plucked one of the flower-maidens from the Garden of King Asperides. The trespasser had recoiled fastidiously from the maiden's dying scream and had even been offended that her torn stem had dripped blood on his newly purchased robe of fine Kharmil silk.
A priest of Gorm offered to teach the offender something of good manners by bestowing upon him the first ten of the twenty-seven exquisite tortures of the Acolytes of Gorm.
The elders of Shalath-Lalal, though they preferred not to traffic with the Acolytes of Gorm, consented to the Exquisite Instructioning, for they were too gentle a folk to mete out proper punishment, themselves, to the offender. But at this time they vowed upon the third (and most sacred) horn of Gorm that something further must be done to discourage the depredations of these trespassers -- not to mention their very presence, which was unwelcome.
After only the sixth of the exquisite tortures of Gorm the offender would nevermore pluck a flowermaiden, nor would he ever pick a petal from any of their heads, for he no longer had any hands with which to pick anything. It wasn't until after the tenth exquisite torture, however, that he stopped screaming (o, so much more shrilly had he screamed than had the maiden he had so carelessly murdered) for at that point he lacked both larynx and tongue. However, the Acolytes of Gorm were displeased. It was not that they had found his screams offensive; on the contrary, they believed the sounds of screaming were pleasing to the ears of their two-headed god, and added some blood-curdling ones of their own in discordant cacaphony. What had upset them was that the partaker of the exquisite pleasures ceased to thresh about as wildly as he had during the first couple tortures; (for they considered the threshing about to be a holy dance, dedicated to Gorm); and more than this, the offender had fainted so many times at what was really no more than the sight of his own blood that he had missed much of the exquisiteness of his initiation; and this deeply offended their sensitivities. Thus they requested the honor of administering the eleventh and twelfth tortures (for if nothing else, the Acolytes of Gorm are zealous about their specialty).
However, the elders of Shalath-Lalal felt it necessary to turn down the Acolytes' request for an extension of the Exquisitenesses, for they knew that after the eleventh and twelfth tortures the victim would no longer be recognizably human; for their purpose was to present him as an example and a deterrent to any further careless depredations by the other minions of Gudoom.
But, a single example did little to discourage the hordes; so the elders of Shalath-Lalal found it necessary to commission that mad weaver of darkness, Druphal D'Alanasse, to create a defense against the unwelcome intruders.
The jaded desires of the minions of the Dream Machine were unable to resist the dark beckoning of the ebon gates, for there was an affinity of longing emptiness between the ultimate creation of Druphal D'Alanasse and the hordes of Gudoom. Thus the minions of Gudoom (and, alas, many another sadly-seeking dreamer) went to their doom, sucked into convoluted abysses beyond light and life where dark desire was a mouthless sceam before faceless oblivion opened wide its gaping gulfs to swallow them, sweetly chewing each shrieking morsel into nothingness.
But that had been another dream, and there was no reason to return to it again, for its end had been the dark labyrinths where madness weaves and chaos unravels, and together they revel in the dissonant cacaphony of every captive soul's disintegration and dissipation. The ebon gates remain. I passed through them quickly, my heart fluttering on the wings of expectancy.
Art by Norman E. Masters
I came first to the shop of Old Hartog, and it was as if I had never been gone. Old Hartog was reflecting upon the differences between dreamers, and of the inseparability of the dreamer and the dream, of how each is a manifestation of the other. Is it the dream that births the dreamer, when the time for the dream has come? he wondered. Or was it the dreamer who created the dream?
I pondered his question.
When the dream dies, he continued, what of the dreamer? When the dreamer dies, what of the dream? Were there, perchance, realms beyond the realms of dream? He could not help but wonder; but he admitted he could not imagine what they could be like. All he was able to imagine were alternative dream realities and the travellings between.
I asked him if he had ever wished to travel into other realms of dream.
He thought awhile, puffing on his pipe (a beautiful creation, carved in ebony in the shape of a mermaid. Her eyes were inset lapis-lazuli; every scale was carven to its finest detail; and Old Hartog often chuckled, saying he loved sucking on the maiden's tail).
"When I was young I travelled some," he began, "but I found no realm in all the lands of dream I visited as fair as Shalath-Lalal. I soon realized that every dream I cherished could be made to come true here."
My attention was abruptly diverted from the musings of Old Hartog (friend and mentor of many a young dream) by loud sounds of commotions coming from the cobbled streets outside his shop. The noise grew more strident -- a mass of disturbed voices mounting to a roar. The sounds of intensifying anger hastened me to the doorway to see what was happening.
Old Hartog hobbled along behind.
There was a large crowd on the streets. Some were pointing upwards; many were waving their fists. I looked up to where they were pointing and saw two griffins, harnessed to a chariot of burnished sun-metal, mounting up in a skyward course, flying north and west.
I caught but a fleeting glimpse of a living luminescence within the chariot and a nimbus of whirling darkness beside her, weaving its tendrils about her like a taloned shroud. Only a glimpse before an avalanche of thunder, sounding like doom punctuated by grief (with a footnote of despair, to follow) signalled an abrupt disappearance into unknown realms.
"Our Lady! Our Lady of the Radiances!" I heard the gentlefolk wail. And the loss in their voices was like a dirge towards that roiling place in space where there had been a rending of the Veil. She was gone without a trace, and my heart began its long travail; for in that briefest of glimpses I knew -- knew it had been Sherynn who had been abducted by whatever was masked within that living cloud of dark sentient power. To where -- none in Shalath-Lalal could know -- unless the Seer of the Inner Dreams who dwelt in the High Tower of Issi had been attuned, that moment, to what was transpiring here. I knew it was a feeble hope, for generally the Seer's consciousness was focussed into other realms, exploring further and further into the multidimensions of dream, recording what It learned upon indestructible eonite dream crystals.
My original intent had been to visit Old Hartog first, for I was fond of my old mentor; next the old crone, Grisselda, who had always taken a motherly interest in the young dreamer who had discovered this dream of wonder, and returned again and again. I was saving for last (thereby making it so much the sweeter for the anticipation) the enchantment of Sherynn (to savor and savor). But now Grisselda would have to wait; and I turned my steps down the Lane of Shadowed Spaces (a favorite haunt of lovers, where I had explored many a shaded nook with Sherynn, in dreams before) hastening towards the High Tower of Issi.
I was halfway there, feeling more and more anxious with each quickened step, when, in no more than a blink between one breath and the next -- I awoke.
Old Hartog had wondered if there were realms beyond dream. The Dwellers in Dream know not the realms we call wakening, and of how one can be trapped in them. The Dwellers in Dream live beyond time, while we, in our materiality, are the slaves of time (our bodies passing the way of slow decline). Our dreams are never a process borne wholly of conscious volition; and anxiety can snap us out of one realm into another. We can be rudely awakened from a dream and never learn how to return, never again rediscover the wonder; for the levels of dreaming reality are infinite, and the vibrations are subtle. The nature of our world (in its own way going the way of Gudoom) jars the finely attuned sensitivity, distorts, disturbs, short-circuits, misalligns the synchronicities that are necessary to establish the proper resonance to enter those other vibratory planes of alternate reality.
The dreams are true -- but the difficulty lies in how to synchronize the dream -- and you. Our fluctuatuing sense of I-dentity separates. As Old Hartog had said, the dream and the dreamer are one; but more often, in the world-we-know, there is a gap between the dream and the dreamer, and neither, thereby, are REALized. Not the slightest dissonance can exist in the inner vibrations if one is to enter any particular realm of dream.
I had been more blessed than most, for I had learned the secret of the Dream Key -- not as difficult as it at first seems, if one has an internal affinity for infinity. It comes from within. In addition to this I had recovered the silver staff bequeathed me as a child by He-Who-Had-Passed-Beyond -- that blond-haired dreamer with the penetrating eyes, baffling questions and a tongue of poetry who had died out of this world. The bullet had been leaden when it flamed from the Hand of Darkness (masquerading behind the sign of the cross). The blonde-haired dreamer met it with his blood, and began the Long Journey Beyond. "When the dreamer dies, what of the dream?" had asked Old Hartog. The dream must live on, I vowed, and pledged my life as answer to that question.
I had longed to find him again, somewhere in the realms of dream, knowing he lived on, spirit into renewed flesh, wherever his favorite dream had been. But I had not yet discovered him in any of the realms through which I had passed since I had begun to dream again.
Once I had been visited by three successive phantasms masquerading as his return into dream. They had seemed to be omens, prophetic premonitions of what was to come in the coming years. They were warnings of others who would assume the shapes of his goodness, and seem like friends to me, awhile; but they lacked the inner spirit, that far-seeing, deep-seeking of communion with the divine ground of being; for they were flawed by their pride, which was, in each case, to be their fall. The warning had been true; and I knew that in some way he was watching from realms I was yet to tread.
Each time I took up the silver staff with its intricate pattern of bark and leaves and three eyes peeping out, I would remember the youth who had presented it to the childe who was to come... However, there is no control over where the silver staff will transport you in the realms of dream. You could only be sure that it would take you there -- wherever, when -- and back again, when the dream had reached its end.
One only had to touch the silver staff of dreaming (which pulsed with a life in rhythm with your own beating blood) and consciousness became an expansion of awareness towards realms beyond. The way was like a song and your life was sung upon the distances between. It was more than just a mind strung upon imagination's strings. There was a deeper knowing, a learning (beyond yearning) that it was love that gave the song wings. It was a way of growing.
[written circa 1971 - 1977]