Jack’s Dream–an excerpt from a work-in-progress

I’m working on a dream sequence tonight for another rough draft, and it got me thinking about this dream sequence for the novel I just finished. This one is obviously very rough still (the novel it’s come from I’m about to begin rewriting), but something which I enjoyed. I hope you enjoy.

 

The smell of autumn lingered in the air: chaff and rubble burning in farmers’ fields, crumbling, desiccated aspen leaves–the bittersweet smell of rot as life leaves the earth for a season. A Chinook wind sent the leaves dancing over the time-worn stones around him. It was as if the ruins of the castle had sighed—letting loose long-held breath, one of anxiety and worry. He watched the leaves rise upon a rushing gust. They gamboled over the stones and the bodies scattered across the forest floor. The gust died and they stopped dancing and dropped. One settled like a patch over the open eye of the young woman they lay at his feet, more blanketed a great bear slouched under an immense ash tree. Still others came down over the bodies and the earth, a patchwork blanket tucking in the dead.

Weary and worn, he took the crown from his head and set it on the stone steps. He sheathed his sword and laid it down on the steps as well. All of this running and hiding and fighting and he couldn’t remember why. So many died. He looked back at the ruined castle, its walls long ago having tumbled to the ground, the stone floor once carpeted by rugs now by wildflowers. All that remained of its former power and glory was the throne, in which sat the old woman. He had dreamt of her before, but she was always swaddled in darkness, laughing. He always imagined that she was sitting in a rocker, but now he could see that she sat upon a throne cackling and staring at him. A tree rose up behind her, towering over her, its branches a sheltering bower. Cawing in the branches were ravens. A murder of ravens, he thought. . . no, an unkindness of ravens. An unkindness of ravens sat brooding over the old woman, ruffling restlessly in the Chinook breeze, cawing lowly to each other, as if they were waiting for something—a signal from the old woman, perhaps.

He walked down the steps to the young woman. Her hair was black as the feathers of the ravens. Her brown eyes twinkled, even in death. He ran his thumb over her lips, to wipe away the crust of blood and dirt, and cradled her freckled cheek. Who was she, he couldn’t remember, but he knew that her death pained him. He rested her head back on the earth and walked through the gloaming studying the bodies. So many friends, their bodies shattered and hacked and pierced. He stopped in front of the bear slumped under the aspen. At the feet of the bear, limbs akimbo more ragdoll than man, was Gary. Arrows pierced his chest and throat—the shaft of the arrow lodged in his throated parted his beard. The golden bower of aspen leaves tinkled like windchimes, underscoring the old woman’s laughter so that she almost sounded heavenly.

He looked around one more time and knew what he had to do. He made his way back to the ruins of the castle. Picking up the sword and crown, he went up the stairs and strode across the ruined courtyard towards the old woman.

The wildflowers rippled as he passed, but not from the breeze. From the shadows on either side of him, figures rose. He could feel them on either side. He daren’t look at them, he knew better; instead, he kept his eyes straight ahead on the old woman. She returned his gaze. He could felt the figures on either side of him watching him as well, and the ravens in the tree.

His path ended in front of her. Her laughter ended, and now she sat smirking. Without waiting, without a word or signal, he placed the crown into her lap. Immediately a sense of relief and regret washed over him. And fear, for the ravens in above him began cawing loudly as they began to move about on the branches of the tree. The old woman made no movements to accept or reject the crown, but continued to smirk at Jack, and he began to almost suspect that she was made of wax or plastic, or that she was dead.

Before he had a chance to learn what she was, he felt a gust rush up his back. A blast like an arctic wind, but drier and colder, and reeking of abandoned basements and attics and older, fouler things, swept over him and drove away the comforting warmth of the Chinook air, souring the smells of autumn. He drew his sword, casting aside the scabbard and spinning around, his blade extended before him. The scabbard scattered fallen leaves as it slid across the crumbling cobblestones of the courtyard, while the blade bit through bone, causing its victim’s head to pop from its body like a champagne cork.

The figures that had flanked the path were now filing in around Jack, their bony fingers more like the barbed talons of an eagle than the fingers of the men. The opals and pearls in their crowns shone with more life than the dusty sockets beneath them. Their velvet and silk rags breathed with life as they billowed with the motion of their wearers. Twelve men, more dead than alive, pressed in upon Jack—they had numbered thirteen, but Jack had destroyed the one closest.

He watched as they continued to shamble closer to him, their skin shimmering like fish scales. Like an undead chorus, their mouths were moving in mock unity, but he could hear nothing. Their arms were outstretched as if to embrace him, and this made it feel almost like a family reunion, like they were a bunch of grandfathers and uncles and great-grandfathers and great-uncles excited to see him after so many years. In the place of death and desiccated flesh he almost expected to smell cheap cologne, cigars and bourbon.

Before they could get any closer, and before he had to behead any more, real talons dug into clothes, pinched at his hair and skin, and soon he was being lifted off the ground by the unkindness of ravens.

The kindness of ravens—for his feelings changed and couldn’t see why they shouldn’t be called a kindness—lifted him into the heavens and away from the clutching hands of the undead. He hung from their many talons like a marionette being picked up and put away. He watched as the castle ruins, the old woman and the squirming dead shriveled with distance till they were just insects scuttling across the ground. The earth spread out beneath him like a patchwork quilt being spread over a bed. The ruins he had just been plucked from swiftly passed away, swallowed by the sprawling forest. Ahead of him, a mountain range brushed against the stars.

He wondered what the ravens were doing with him—obviously they rescued him for a reason, but why, and where they were taking him was beyond him. He was tempted to ask the ravens what their plans were but he knew better—and what answer would they give him, besides their gruff squawks and caws. Instead, he watched the land pass beneath him.

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