Perchance to Dream by Jon P. Gunn
Perchance to Dream
Jon P. Gunn
A Fantasy both logical and compelling—a true otherself experience.
Poet and Amazon Reviewer
Velz, the hermit, a student of the Sacred Pentacles and other holy mysteries, sat in meditation outside his hut in the wilderness. The hut, built of driftwood and mud, overlooked the steep banks of the Still River, from which arose the scent of stagnation. Beyond the river, bare yellow dunes stretched away to infinity. A hot, dry wind rasped his face. Beside him were a basket of scrolls, a clay bowl of wild radishes, and a staff surmounted by an iron lamp—the emblem of the Treaders of the Path. The ground around him was covered with his experiments, complex pentacles traced in the dust, some complete, most of them unfinished.
Velz was a happy man, far removed from the strife and tensions of the Wicked City, perfectly serene in his daily contemplation of Ind the Indivisible. His eyes were focused on the far horizon, his ears tuned to the Inner Voice, his mind and being so absorbed with the Great Ind that he did not notice he had a visitor. The visitor was Lyev, an anchorite of the same order, whose hut lay two miles up the river. He came upon Velz in meditation, and sat quietly on the sand, waiting. After some hours, he saw Velz’s eyes refocus.
“Peace and wisdom, holy Velz,” he greeted.
“Peace and wisdom,” Velz replied. “This, I take it, is the day we converse of sacred matters? I had lost track. “
Lyev pursued the same studies Velz did, in the same way—the only way possible, alone with Ind in the wilderness. Once a year, however, the two saints permitted themselves to meet for an hour, to converse and compare notes.
“Long have I awaited this day, most learned Velz,” said the younger ascetic, “for I have a favor to ask.”
“Ask and receive,” said Velz. “Everything I have, my life included, is the property of Ind the Indivisible, and therefore as much yours as mine.”
“Your generosity is a shining example to all Treaders of the Path, holy Velz. I have not come to beg your possessions, however, for in material things the Great Ind has provided all I need. But He has denied me wisdom. I need your advice.”
“What slight wisdom Ind has allowed me is also His, and I am obliged to share it freely with the worthy.”
“Worthy I am not,” said Lyev, “but perhaps your magnanimity extends also to the needy. First advise me whether I have sinned in experimenting with the rudiments of pentagraphy, which you were kind enough to teach me in years past.”
“The Sacred Pentagrams are dangerous knowledge in the hands of the unenlightened,” said Velz, “giving one awesome powers over other human minds. But if you never converse with anyone but other Treaders of the Path, what sin is possible?”
“I am overjoyed to hear that, illustrious teacher; I was afraid I had sinned. Now that my gravest doubt is dispelled, may I intrude still further on your time?”
“My time is allotted by Ind the Indivisible, and thus yours to demand.”
“My gratitude, wisest Velz, is boundless, inexpressible. In my rash experiments with the pentagraphic Precepts you taught me, I have devised figures to inspire joy, agony, desire, revulsion, obedience, rebellion, concentration, confusion, terror, contentment, stultification and awakening. Have I done well enough, or too poorly to deserve further instruction?”
Velz frowned in thought. “There are 579 pentacles recorded in my scrolls,” he said; “and the figures to inspire joy, agony, desire, revulsion, obedience, rebellion, concentration, confusion, terror, contentment, and stultification are among them. All of these are derived, directly or deviously, from the Precepts. The Pentacle of Awakening, however, is the Master Pentacle, the ultimate goal of all Treaders of the Path; and of course unknown to me.”
“Then, alas, I must have erred;” sighed Lyev. “If that pentacle is not in your collection, then the one I contrived must be false. Nonetheless, it does have a strange effect on my mind when I gaze on it for more than a split second.”
“Then it must be a valid pentacle, inventive Lyev, whatever its nature. On what Precepts did you construct it?”
Lyev sighed again. “I had hoped to derive the inverse transformation for the pentacle of stultification and drowsiness. My false theory—which I hope you will have the patience to correct for me—was that the inverse of stupidity is intelligence, and the inverse of drowsiness is Awakening. But I aimed too high, I see now, even though you warned me that no one may hope to discover the Master Pentacle without at least twenty years of spiritual preparation.”
“I am often mistaken,” said Velz, “and your theory does have logical merit. Perhaps you have surpassed all other Treaders of the Path in the intensity of your meditations, and thus become worthy of this discovery.”
“An utter impossibility,” said Lyev. “Still, perhaps you will allow me to submit my inept dabblings for your inspection and criticism?”
“By all means draw the pentacle,” said Velz. “I am honored to share the fruits of your genius.”
Lyev inclined his head modestly, disclaiming credit; then leaned forward and drew in the dust before him. Velz watched, first with his habitual saintly detachment, but then with greater interest.
“It is the inverse transformation of the pentacle of stultification,” Velz exclaimed when Lyev stopped drawing. “Others have tried to derive the Master Pentacle—I myself have tried, countless times—but no one before you has tried exactly that approach. Can it be that your studies are completed, after only ten years in the desert?”
“The Great Ind would never bestow such success on so unworthy a seeker,” said Lyev.
“You have omitted a line,” said Velz. “The figure should have seventeen lines, but you stopped at sixteen.”
“Yes, and quite deliberately, holy Velz. The complete figure produces an odd effect over which I find I have little control. I needed your advice before I risked seeing it again in its entirety.”
“Again? Then you tried it once. With what result?”
“A moment of fascinated abstraction, nothing more.”
“The Indivisible Ind saw fit to spare me the full effect of the Pentacle. I dared not test His patience twice.”
Velz nodded slowly. “A wise decision. The hazards of actually discovering the Master Pentacle warrant a second thought. We know the sensory world is illusory—a dream—but how many of us really wish to awaken from it, before our fated times?”
“That was not what stopped me,” said Lyev. “Life is a nightmare from which all wish to awaken as soon as we may. My only doubt was whether I was worthy. If not, then is this discovery made with the will of Ind, or is it merely the dabbling of a presumptuous acolyte?”
“Everything proceeds from Ind,” said Velz.
“Everything valid and existent, yes,” said Lyev.
“But illusion and evil proceed from ourselves. In the absence of a clear Sign, how shall I know?”
Velz shut his eyes and steepled his fingers. “A valid point, holy Lyev. We emanate from the imagination of Ind, and thus exist as figments of His dreams. If we awake, by the use of this Pentacle, do we awake to Union with the Indivisible and Infinite, as Ind Himself—or do we awake to nonexistence, annihilation, the just reward for our pretensions? The saints of old have handed down no clear answer.”
“And if we awake to annihilation, wisest Velz, by deliberate use of this, or some other, Pentacle, have we thereby committed suicide? And how can the quandary be resolved, except by experiment?”
“Alas,” said Velz, “there is no other way. The greatest tragedy for me is that if you use this Pentacle, and awaken to Reality, I shall never know what you have experienced. Each Treader of the Path must discover the Secret for himself.”
Lyev looked shocked. “If I use it! Surely the illumined Velz is jesting! After only ten years of study, how can I think of trying to use it myself?”
Velz glanced at Lyev, and raised an eyebrow. “Did I not hear you say you had already tried it, subtle Lyev?”
“Only by inadvertence, profound Velz, and only for a fleeting moment. I dared not contemplate it fully until you had approved it.”
“Because I have spent more years in meditation, you conclude that I am closer to enlightenment, ingenious Lyev? Your courtesy far surpasses your logic, I fear. You have discovered this Pentacle, not I. Who, then, should be the first to use it?”
Lyev bowed his head. “Such is the law we live by as Treaders of the Path, O generous master. By the Precepts you taught me I have drawn a Pentacle, but the Indivisible Ind has seen fit to withhold all knowledge of its nature from me. Is this not a sign that it must first be competently tested? If my imbecilic scribblings have indeed resulted in the Pentacle of Awakening, then you are far more worthy than I to reap the benefits. If my Pentacle is false, then you are better prepared to cope with the hazards.”
Velz thought this over, and nodded gravely. By the Laws of the Treaders of the Path, Lyev had acted rightly in bringing his discovery to his teacher; and he, Velz, was obliged to assume responsibility.
“Very well; but you must help me guard against possible snares, of which you are as well aware as I.” Velz took a scroll from the basket beside him, and unrolled a foot of it, which turned out to be blank. “Cover my face with this scroll, and allow me to view the Pentacle only for the duration of one breath. From that glimpse, if the Great Ind wills it, I may gain enough insight to guide the next steps of our experiment.”
Lyev obediently took the scroll, rose, and moved around behind Velz. “Tell me when to cover your face,” he said.
“As soon as I draw the last line of this Pentacle,” Velz instructed. He proceeded to do so, and felt an odd, powerful tugging at his mind during the split second before the parchment came down to block his view. Small wonder Lyev was wary of this!
“Whatever it is,” he said, “it is a figure of great potency. when I nod my head, remove the blind, but for no longer than the space of one breath. Are you ready, learned Lyev?”
“I await your signal, saintly Velz.”
Velz nodded. The parchment rose, and Velz gazed on the new Pentacle. As the seconds passed, his alarm increased, along with his fascination. He found he could not look away from the Pentacle, but then found he did not want to look away. He had lost the will to try.
To be more exact, he dreamed he had lost the will to try. He also dreamed that he was, in fact, awakening—but not as Ind the Indivisible.
That nonexistent deity had been a figment of his dream, and not the other way around. He was awakening as himself, John Spratt the biochemist; and the reason he could not look away from the Pentacle was that the pillow, on which he was lying face down, hampered the motion of his head.
As soon as he was awake enough to distinguish parchment from pillowcase, and distinguish Lyev, the Still River, the Pentacle of Awakening and the desert from real life, he opened his eyes, blinked, rolled over, groped for the alarm clock and shut it off.
His wife Cleopatra opened one eye. “What the hell time is it?” she inquired.
“Same time it always is when that damned thing blows up my nightmares,” said John. He sat up, holding his head in his hands. “Zowie! No more of your anchovy chow mien for me!”
“Nightmares, eh?” said Cleo, getting out on her side of the bed.
“Weirdest dream I ever saw,” John confirmed. “I thought this whole world was a dream.”
“That is psychologically impossible,” said Cleo. “To dream that you’re dreaming.”
“I didn’t exactly dream I was dreaming; I dreamed I was awake, but believed the whole world was a dream. Not mine; somebody else’s. God’s dream, maybe. What do you make of that?”
“Beats me;” said Cleo indifferently. She was not a psychiatrist, merely a psychologist’s stenographer. “I guess it was me that finally told you that you were dreaming, wasn’t it? I’m the only realist in this family.”
“No,” said John.
“I never dream about you; I’ve told you that. Nobody I know was in it. In fact, I wasn’t in it myself. I dreamed I was somebody else. His name was Velch or Vells or something. I mean my name was. I was some kind of hermit, living in celibate holiness on the bank of a river that smelled like a ripe sewer. It was on some other world, I think. It wasn’t much of a world. Mostly desert, at least where I was.”
“I’m still insulted that you never dream about me,” said Cleo, “but if you were a hermit, at least you weren’t dreaming about some other woman.”
“At my age?” John chuckled, then laughed.
“You bet! Dreams are about the only competition you’ve got, now!”
Cleo put on a housecoat, and started into the kitchen. She paused by the door. “At least years ago, when you retroactively brag that I did have things to worry about, I could drop in at your lab and check. At this Project Armageddon, there’s a twelve-foot, barbed-wire fence and two armed guards at the gate.”
John laughed again. “For your information—for your unclassified information—the only woman at the Project is a fifty-year-old Ph.D. with horn-rimmed glasses and a crooked nose!”
Cleo made a contemptuous noise.
“You mad scientists and your top-secret projects!” she said, and left the room.
“Nag, nag, nag!” John called after her. I’m only doing it for the money. If they didn’t pay me, I wouldn’t even work there—and if I didn’t have a job, I’d really hear you nag, nag, nag!”
He sat on the edge of the bed for a minute or two, letting his heartbeat catch up with his half-wakened brain, thinking back on his peculiar dream. Dreams were supposed to be fragmentary, as well as nonsensical. This one had been nonsensical enough, but it had been thoroughly coherent and convincing; and the more he thought about any particular aspect of it, the more he remembered of his life as Velz, the hermit. It came to him, as he sat there with one shoe on his foot and the other in his hand, that he had dreamed not only a whole alien world, not only a whole mystical science in which his dream identity was versed, but a whole life history for that identity.
He finished dressing, and went into the kitchen, where Cleo was buttering toast. He sat down at the table, rested his chin on his hand, and thought some more. Presently he reached up, tore a sheet of paper from the scratch pad by the kitchen telephone, took a pencil from his shirt pocket, and began to sketch.
“Preoccupied this morning, aren’t we?” said Cleo.
“Yeah,” said John, continuing to draw.
“Homework?” said Cleo, coming to look over his shoulder.
“No,” said John. “Something I dreamed about. The Pentacle of Awakening. Except I can’t get it right, now. It’s like that time you said you wrote a sonnet in your sleep, and couldn’t remember rhyme or reason of it the next morning.” He discarded his sketch, took another sheet of paper, and started over.
“I’ve got that dream of yours figured out,” said Cleo. “It’s a clear case of wish fulfillment. You can’t stand married life, so you dream you’re a lonely celibate. You’re a misfit in modern society, so you dream you’re living in an uninhabited desert. You’re a washout as a biochemist, so you dream you’re an expert at some pseudoscience that no one ever heard of.”
She took a closer look at the diagram John was still trying to draw.
“Is that a horoscope or a circuit diagram?”
“A theorem in transformational geometry,” said John sullenly.
Cleo finished buttering a slice of toast, and dropped it on the table in front of her husband.
“Thanks,” said John absently. “Say, this is almost right!”
“Well! That’s a switch!”
“No; I don’t mean the toast. The toast is still too light. I was talking about this pentacle.” John erased two lines, and replaced them with three more at different angles. Cleo watched him skeptically until the electric percolator shut itself off with a juicy sigh. She went to unplug it.
John saw her coming back to the table with the coffee pot, but only with his peripheral vision. Then, when Cleo noticed the glassy stare with which he regarded the pentacle, became alarmed, and waved a hand in front of his eyes to distract him, he became annoyed at her—but found himself unable to react. He felt her hand on his shoulder, shaking him. “Hey, John, wake up! What’s wrong with you?” She shook him again, and he came out of it.
And of course it was not Cleo’s hand on his shoulder, for Cleo did not exist. It was Celestine’s hand. And he was not John Spratt, who did not exist either.