Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy
Mark A Davis

A Rueben in Raj-Hyella

"Three times did I dream of that beautiful city in the clouds, and three times was I snatched away from its marble-columned halls," the man said.  "It is a blessed metropolis more magnificent
than any you may imagine, resplendent with vine-covered gables shading Elysian gardens filled with cyclopean trees and verdant flowers most rare, and exquisite marble sculptures so lifelike you wonder that they do not offer you welcome to their enchanting domain.  My only goal, my only quest, is to reach that heavenly abode once again."

Grandpa Anarchy, dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast, sat at a wooden table across from a young man with a brown van dyke beard and a faraway look in his eyes.  The young man had introduced himself as Charles Carter.  He wore a brown wool suit, a derby hat, and a white shirt with an orange houndstooth tie.

They sat in a small, crowded cafe set in the corner of a large souq or bazaar.  The settings were Middle Eastern.  Men in brightly-colored robes and turbans with black beards and swarthy skin smoked hookahs, and sampled toasted flat bred with olives, dates, and hummus.  That among them strolled people that were humanoid but with the heads of dogs and cats was but one clue that this land was not actually a country in the Middle East.

Grandpa Anarchy looked about.  "Huh," he said.  "The last thing I remember is going to sleep...."

"Indeed," said Charles Carter.  "This city around us, the land in which it rests -- all lies within the realm of dreams."

"And without my sidekick, too," said Grandpa, frowning.  "So, is this gonna be one of one of those episodic dreams where I wake up each morning and I've fallen out of bed and bonked my head?"

Charles Carter shook his head.  "No," he said, "This is not that kind of dream.  This is the kind of dream from which it is difficult to wake."

"Ah," said Grandpa.  "More Dunsany-Lovecraft than Winsor McCay, huh?  Got it.  Well, crap.  Guess I'm stuck here then, until we fulfill whatever quest we're supposed to fulfill."

"As I said," Carter replied.  "I quest for that great city of dreams, which I have only spotted thrice...."

"Dream city in a dream, sure," said Grandpa.  "Now your dream cities that you find out in fields of Iowa or up in the Appalachian mountains, those ones are a real problem...."

"A dream city... in Iowa?" asked Charles, clearly confused.

"Or a dream baseball field, whatever," said Grandpa.  "Look, the point is I've done this before,  This is basically an Ozian fantasy world with a lot of weird names and images, but it don't even have to obey the few laws of physics and logic that a fantasy world is bound to.  Basically the dreamworld arises from our minds, so we can influence what goes on here.  Don't like the way things are?  Good.  Change it with your mind.  It's like those crazy people who think that you can change the world just by thinking positively -- except here, that works."

"I don't think..." the man began.

"Good.  Don't think.  Just do."  Grandpa turned and waved a hand at the man behind the counter.  "I'll have the Reuben!" he yelled.

Charles Carter frowned.  "Mr. Anarchy, we are in the dream city of Raj-Hyella, which closely resembles an earthly city such as Alexandria or Lebanon.  What they serve is largely like the Middle Eastern cuisine of our own world.  There is no 'Reuben' on the menu."

"That's what you think," said Grandpa.  "Tell me, are you wearing any pants?"

"Of course I..."  Charles Carter glanced down.  "What the...?  I was wearing them just a second ago...."

"Exactly," said Grandpa, as a turbaned waiter deposited a sandwich before him.  He breathed in the smell of roasted meat and then took a bite.  "Look," he said, waiving the sandwich about, "this rueben is just like they used to make at Papa Mike's Deli down on Fifth and Dreary."

"Your town has a street named Dreary?" asked Carter.

"Totally not the point," said Grandpa.  "See, Papa Mike's burned down in '71.  I haven't been able to get a Papa Mike's Reuben in years.  But I just got one -- exactly like Papa Mike's, down to aged swiss and the sweet pickles and the Dijon mustard."

"Mustard and pickles do not belong on a Reuben," said Carter firmly.

"Says you," Grandpa replied, taking another bite.  "But again, you're missing the point.  They don't even have a Reuben on the menu, like you said, but I wanted one and I got it.  I influenced the dream.  Just like when I suggested you weren't wearing pants."

"You cannot just rewrite the rules of the world by thinking about it," said Carter, frowning severely.  "Not even in the realm of dreams!"

"I can see this is going to require a stronger example," said Grandpa.  "Case in point."  He waved a hand in the man's direction.  Suddenly the man was shrinking.  His hair was growing longer.  Within a few moments, he was no longer a man, but a young girl in a ballet outfit.

"What... what have you done to me?" she exclaimed.

"Just proving a point," said Grandpa.  "I imagined you were my sidekick, and bingo!  You just have to imagine it hard enough.  Calls herself Swan Lake Girl.  Patterns herself after Nina Ballerina, I think."

"But you can't just do that!" the girl insisted.  "This is my dream!"  Change me back this instant!"

"See, that's where you're wrong," Grandpa said.  "One thing you gotta remember:  I'm the hero.  I'm the UR-hero.  I'm the hero of a thousand tales, the eternal hero, the protagonist.  The story revolves around me.  I'm the one that does things, and the one that everyone else looks to, the ones the villains loathe and fear.  If I'm in a dream, then it's my dream.  In fact, you might not even be a real person.  You might be a figment of my imagination."

"My name is Charles Carter, and I live in Frosthaven, NJ!" exclaimed the girl.

"See what I mean?" said Grandpa.  "Nobody who's a protagonist in a dream comes from Frosthaven, NJ."

"Oh for the love of -- you come from Frosthaven, NJ, Mr. Anarchy!" the girl exclaimed.

"Exactly!" Grandpa said.  He finished off the sandwich and wiped his hands on a napkin.  He stood.  "You know, now that I think about it, Dorothy of Kansas might suit you better.  This is an Oz riff, after all."

The girl across from him morphed again.  Her hair turned brown and formed into braids.  The ballet outfit became a gingham dress of blue and white.  A small basket appeared, within which was a small black terrier.

"That's more like it!" Grandpa said.  "Now, come on, Dorothy.  Let's get this dreamquest on the road.  I only hope we can manage to skip all of the boring parts...."

The Prophet of Wazzu

Grandpa Anarchy and the girl that was Charles Carter traveled far into dreamlands, across the Karana plains and over a great stone bridge that crossed the river Skol.  Here they entered the cat-filled city of Wazzu, wherein dwelt the great Prophet Hadacol.  As they passed through narrow, cobblestone streets past buildings with peaked rooftops and overhanging upper stories, the little dog Toto barked at every cat he saw -- and there were hundreds of them.  The girl in the gingham dress glared at Grandpa.

"Why am I still a girl?" she demanded.

"Because," said Granpda Anarchy, "Dorothy Gale of Kansas is a girl.  What else would she be?"

"I am not Dorothy Gale!" exclaimed the girl with the black terrier.  "I am Charles Carter!  I am a man!"

"Don't look much like one," said Grandpa.  "Hey, here's an idea:  try chanting ghouls and gugs and ghasts, oh my! while we travel."

"Stop this  foolishness this instant!" the girl exclaimed.  "I demand that you transform me back to myself!"

"Nah, it don't work like that," said Grandpa.  "People define themselves.  You don't demand that someone else define who you are for you."

"You did this to me!" the girl yelled.

"You let me do it to you," Grandpa replied.  "Your image of yourself is weak.  Your will to dream is lacking.  My ability to shape the dreams around me is greater than your ability to even imagine your own self.  That's the problem -- you claim to be the hero of this story, a man who is an expert at dreaming...."

"I am an expert!" the girl exclaimed.  "I descended the seventy-seven steps down into the Dreaming Caverns of Fire and consulted with the priests that haunt that place, and from there I descended the seven hundred steps to the gates of deeper slumber, and passed through the Enchanted Palouse of the Zags.  I dare to cross the black impious gulfs from the dreamlands of earth to other dreamlands, where since time began only three human souls have dared to venture and return, and two of them were afterwards quite mad...."

"I don't know where you're getting your information, but I got news for you," said Grandpa.  "Unpossible Girl, Dark Dr. Dark, Circuit Girl, Guy Shadow and I were there only a month ago, and while I'll certainly admit that none of us are quite normal -- we ain't mad in the classical sense.  Look, Dorothy, it's really quite simple -- in dreamlands reality is what you make of it.  Nothing should be more concrete and fixed in your mind than your image of yourself, so if I can override it by imagining you're a little girl from Kansas, then you got a lot to learn.  Think of it as your first test.  When your image of yourself is stronger than my image of you, then you've passed.  Until then, you're whoever I say you are."

They paused before the temple that sat atop the hill, overlooking the town.  Here was said to dwell the prophet that they sought.  Grandpa grinned at the girl.  "Last chance to put your best foot forward, and appear as yourself before the prophet," he said.  "Give it a try!"

The girl frowned.  She concentrated.  Slowly her body began to morph and shift.  She grew even shorter.  Her hair exploded in a mass of golden curls, held back by a white bow.  The dress became solid blue, and fuller, with a ruffled white apron over it.  The dog in the basket likewise morphed into a strange cat with a wide grin.

"Alice in Wonderland," said Grandpa Anarchy, "and her Cheshire Cat.  Seems more appropriate for a city of cats, don'tcha think?  Now, let's see what this famous Prophet Hadacol has to say to us."

They found the great Prophet Hadacol seated on an ivory dais in a shrine in the center of the temple.  He appeared to be a very old man, but with a sharp mind.  He smiled when he saw them, and at Carter-as-Alice he said, "My, what a lovely little girl-child, with your golden curls and your enchanting outfit!  Long has it been since such a vision of purity and innocence graced this temple!"

"Bite me," the girl replied.

Grandpa quickly said, "Forgive my foolish companion, your excellence.  We seek your aid in locating a fabled city that this girl has seen thrice in dreams -- only she wasn't a little girl at the time, you understand.  You wouldn't happen to know where this place is, or how to get in touch with the unknown gods who provided the original vision, would ya?"

The prophet closed his eyes and sat in silence for a minute.

"The gods do not wish to speak with mortals," he said.  "Especially bratty little tykes who don't respect their elders...."

"Hey!" the girl exclaimed.  "My name is Charles Carter and I'm a man!  This man is Grandpa Anarchy, and it's his fault that I look like this, and...."

Hadacol held up his hand.  "I know your circumstances, child," he said.  "Mr. Anarchy has chosen your form well, for if you cannot imagine yourself other than how he imagines you, then you are indeed a child in the ways of dreaming.  In any case, what I said is true:  the unknown gods removed these dreams from you for a reason.  To seek them out or to seek that which they have hidden from you is a dangerous path to  tread.  I will not aid you in it."

He paused, then lifted a small brown vial and added, "But could I interest you in some of my herbal vitamin supplement?  It's guaranteed to cure whatever ails you!  Only five dreambucks a bottle!"  He grinned and waggled his eyebrows.

Grandpa Anarchy and Alice withdrew a ways.  Alice said, "Mister Anarchy, I have a plan.  What you need to do is invite the prophet to drink.  Ply him with this Moon Wine which I was given as a gift by the Zags.  When he is drunk, he may reveal to us that which he now hides."

"I don't drink," Grandpa replied.  "Besides, I got a better plan...."

He turned, marched up to the prophet, and punched him in the face, knocking him off the dais.  Grandpa hauled him up by the collar of his silken robes and raised his fist.  "Now," he said, "are you going to tell us how to find these unknown gods, or am I gonna have to make a sacrifice here and now to the God of Fisticuffs?"

Butt Cheeks of the Unknown God

The bus bounced and swayed.  It creaked and rattled.  Grandpa Anarchy stared out the window at the passing rocky terrain.

"You know," he said, "when the prophet Hadacol told us about Non Sequitur Isle, I figured he was just tossing out some random crap that he made up that wasn't related to anything.  But once he explained it, it makes sense:  a carving of an unknown god on the far side of a remote mountain.  See the carving, and you know what the gods look like -- and by extension, what the humans who live near the gods look like.  Gods are always sleeping around with mortals, so your local humans are bound to have unknown god blood and look a bit like 'em.  Find humans that look like the carving, and you find the home of the unknown gods.

"But I figured we'd be in for a long journey across inhospitable terrain, and dealings with hostile folk and weird monsters who try to attack us at every turn.  I didn't figure there'd be a tour bus that takes you straight to the far side of the mountain."

"Times change," said Alice.  She sat on the bus seat beside Grandpa, staring sullenly ahead while she absently stroked the grinning Cheshire cat.

Up at the front of the bus a strange creature stood.  It was vaguely humanoid, but thick, black, and faceless, with rubbery skin, horns, a barbed tail, and with leathery wings.  It held a receiver in one prehensile paw.  "Ladies and Gentlemen and creatures of all sorts, welcome to Nightguant Tours!" the creature exclaimed -- though no mouth could be seen to move.  "We're almost at the viewing area!  In a moment, I want people to exit single file -- no pushing and shoving!  Remember, stay behind the protective fence!  The gods frown on photography but paintings and drawings are fine, and we have postcards for sale in the souveneir shop.  And once again, thank you for your patronage!"

Grandpa and Alice filed out with the other tourists and stared up at the side of the mountain, on which appeared a titanic sculpture several miles high.  It was magnificently carved, more detailed than Michaelangelo's King David.  It was of an unknown god -- specifically, of his derrière.

"I can't help but feel the gods are telling us something," Grandpa commented.

"The titanic sculpture of the moon of the gods!" exclaimed their tour guide.  "The carven butt-cheeks of an unknown god himself!"

Alice sighed.  "Well," she said, "now all we need do is find the people whose butts bear this likeness, and we will be close to the lands where the gods dwell...."

"If you think I'm going to go around pulling down the pants of every Atal, Pictman, and Kuranes in dreamland," said Grandpa, "then you got another think coming."

A Meep of Cosmic Fear

"Okay," said Grandpa, "we've started a couple of wars, we've negotiated a couple of treaties, we've been to hell and back -- and I mean that literally, we've been to the underworld kingdoms at least twice now -- we've visited a dozen weird places with weird names populated by weird creatures, and frankly most of those names felt made up -- and we've skipped over all of that because it's boring as heck.  In short, we've spent weeks and months in dreamland doing only the unknown gods know what.  Are we done with our quest yet?"

Charles Carter, who currently was a little boy with dark hair dressed in an old-fashioned white nightgown -- "Little Nemo, from Little Nemo in Slumberland," Grandpa had said.  "Gotta respect the classics!" -- stared up at the gates of the massive onyx castle.  They had arrived at the brooding Onyx City, whose towers and spires rose up so high as to be lost in the distance.   The two humans were like ants before these vast, Cyclopean gates.

"Well," the boy said, "we're finally in the city of the unknown gods.  Let's see if t hey have any answers for us."

Slowly, ponderously, the gates swung open.  Lines of dark-skinned soldiers waited inside.  Grandpa and Little Nemo were escorted through vast hallways, until they came to a room where a small, old man sat in a battered lawn chair.  He had on a greasy Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, tennis shoes, and black socks held up with garters.  He was reading a newspaper, and smoking a cigar.

"Greetings, travelers," he said.  He gestured, and two more lawn chairs appeared -- one sized for a kid.  "You've been travelling a long time to get here, aintcha?  Take a load off.  Can I get you anything?  Iced Tea?  Lemonade?  Mildred makes some great lemonade...."

Little Nemo frowned.  "We were told this was the abode of the gods...." he began.

"Of course!  Of course!  Only they ain't here right now, they're out gallivanting around -- visiting Dreamworlds Disneyland, you know.  Big summer trip with all the kids, that sort of thing.  You know how it is."  He paused to take a puff on his cigar.  "So what can I do for ya?"

"You are...?" Grandpa asked.

"Speaker for the unknown gods," said the old man.  "Name's Al.  Al "Crawling Chaos" McGill.  Nice ta meetcha."

"Oh great speaker for the unknown gods," Little Nemo began.

"Call me Al," said the speaker.

"Oh great... Al," said the boy, tentatively.  "We have journeyed far in search of a city that I have only seen thrice in dreams -- a blessed metropolis more magnificent than...."

"Whoa, whoa, I get the picture," Al said, holding up his hands.  "No need to wax eloquent or nothing, I read the first scene already.  Look, boy," he said, chewing his cigar.  "The situation, it's like this.  This dream city of gold and marble that you dreamed about?  It's basically your home town, as you remember it from your youth.  You recreated it in the land of dreams as you remember it from when you were still in diapers.  That's why it's such a fantastic place -- a city of towers and spires and tangled gables and chimneys and a lush, violet valley with a cerulean river flowing lazily through it, and many stone bridges crossing over.  It's the city of your distant memories and half-remembered dreams."

"That don't make no sense," said Grandpa.  "We both come from Frosthaven, NJ, and let me  tell you, that place ain't nobody's vision of a dream city.  It's practically the armpit of New Jersey, and that's saying a lot."

"No, Grandpa, he's right," said Little Carter.  "For you see, I grew up in Frosthaven -- but I was born in Providence, Rhode Island.  That quaint city of seven hills overlooking a blue harbor, with green terraces and steeples and citadels of antiquity -- that is the half-remembered city of my dreams."

"Providence?" said Grandpa.  "A dream city?  Why, that place is the most corrupt, crime-ridden, mob-ruled...."

"I remember it as a beautiful and glorious place," said Carter.  "I was only three at the time, after all.  But now that I know what my dream city is, I also know how to reach it."

The little boy spread his arms, and suddenly he grew.  In moments he was a man again -- the same young man that Grandpa had first met in Raj-Hyella, with the brown van dyke and the brown wool suit, derby, and orange houndstooth tie.

"You were right, Grandpa," he said.  "When we met, I did not know how to properly dream.  But I have learned.  See how I've learned!"

Carter waved his hands, and suddenly he and Grandpa were on cobbled streets, in a bustling New England city so quaint and beautiful and perfect it could only exist in dreams and Norman Rockwell paintings.  The old man Al -- speaker for the unknown gods -- was nowhere to be seen.

Carter spread his arms wide.  "Voilà!" he exclaimed!  "The city of my dreams!  We have arrived!"

"You shoulda just done that to start with," Grandpa replied.  "We coulda completely avoided all those long, boring adventures that we skipped over."  Grandpa looked about at happy people laughing and shopping and enjoying the sunshine, and kids skipping rope.  "Nice place," he said.  "So this fulfills your quest, I hope?"

"Only the first part," said Carter.  "For the other half...."  Here his face became the mask of a man mad with power, "I must conquer it, and rule this land with an iron fist... Ah ha ha ha ha!"  His mad laughter echoed down the street.

Grandpa Anarchy stared at the man.  "Come again?" he said.

"You see, Mr. Anarchy, I now control my dreams!  I am whoever I imagine myself to be!"  His body began to morph again.  He grew taller and more slender.  His skin became white as bone.  His beard vanished, and his face became smooth and beautiful, but cold and cruel.  His hair grew long and white, and his brown suit became a long, flowing gown of a blue so pale it was like looking into thick ice.  He became a she -- a pale, haughty woman nearly six and a half feet tall.

"And who I imagine myself to be, Mr. Anarchy, is Glacia, Witch of Winter and Queen of Ice and Snow!"  The woman waved a hand, and the city was encased in ice.  Wind howled, and snow fell.   "I shall remain in dreamland forever and never return to the waking lands!" she exclaimed.  "Here shall I rule over my dream city of Providence in icy splendor forever and ever!  It shall be always winter, and never Christmas!"

Grandpa frowned.  "Well, that's a heck of a thing..." he began.

"And you, Mr. Anarchy," said the witch.  "You shall rot in my dungeons for an eternity!"

She snapped her fingers, and Grandpa found himself in a dim and freezing cell block with bars of iron.  Ice coated the walls.  He shivered.

"Well, crap," Grandpa said, looking about.  "Looks like I taught Carter a little too well.  Or Glacia, as the case may be."  He  frowned.  "On the other hand, our little Witch-Queen has forgotten one crucial little detail... in this dream, I'm the hero."

Grandpa cracked his knuckles, then grasped the metal bars and bent them apart.  He slipped through.  "Okay," he said.  "Looks like I got a witch to defeat, and a dream-city  to save.  I'm going to need a sidekick...."  He paused a moment, then snapped his fingers.  An eight-year-old girl appeared with dirty blonde hair, wearing a dark brown dress with a light brown sweater.

"Lucy Pevensie, youngest of the four Pevensie children," said Grandpa Anarchy, "who goes through the wardrobe and into Narnia -- later to be crowned Queen Lucy the Valiant.  How'd you like to help me defeat a Wicked Witch of Winter?"

"Of course!" said the girl.  She produced a short, sharp silver sword.  "Ready when you are, Grandpa!"


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