A dream; a story rewritten

I dreamed that the moon shone like a CD in the sky, even in the daytime. I glanced at it uneasily many times, unable to understand why nobody else was worried. Then it began to come closer, and I recognized it as unmistakably Earth. I stared as it seemed to fill my vision, heart pounding, and saw that it was surrounded by clouds of what looked like torn-up pieces of the crust. In the distance, millions of light years behind it, was a galaxy I was sure was the Milky Way. I began to hyperventilate, and I believe this was in reality as well as in the dream. When I dream that I am drowning, I don’t breathe.

 

Over what might be a tabletop, flat in the long view but scarred and pitted by years of misuse, a man walks, the collar of his black trench coat pulled up to his chin. Over the bare lichenous rock rolls thick mist the color of parchment, and the only light comes, diffuse, from the sky. Because of this, the man’s shadow should be barely a haze at his feet, but it is as black and as wet as fresh calligraphy ink. It pours over small pebbles, pooling in hollows as it comes slightly behind him, dragging. It leaves small pieces of itself in low places, but never diminishes.

At times the man glances down at it with nervous, birdlike motions of his head, and his shuffling step hesitates as if he is trying to scrape it off his foot. Despite this, if one were to look closer, one might see that he seems almost to be made of shadow himself, absorbing any scant light that lands on his dark trench coat and peculiarly tar-like hair. Judging by his manner, his ginger way of walking as if all his ribs are cracked, he does not much appreciate this. So uncomfortable is he made by nearly everything around him–the mist, the uneven ground, and the shadows, which is really all there is–that the only thing that does not seem to trouble him is his lack of anything that could be called a face. There is no possible way he can see where he is going, because where eyes should be the bone structure only is preserved, shallow depressions marking themselves on his head. The rest is smooth and masklike, looking like the cracked cream-colored glaze of an old vase.

He even seems to worry about the plain itself, or his presence there, though there is no obvious danger. Perhaps it is not this, though, that causes the nervous twitching to plague his twisting neck, but only the shadows. One long string of darkness is stuck under a stone far behind him, coiling limply all the way back to his feet, and he unceasingly looks back at it. Now and then he makes a motion with his foot as if to shake it loose, but it only stretches longer and lays itself in loops in the ground.

The next time he looks ahead he stiffens. Through the mist an enormous tree has loomed suddenly, bare branches tangled like twine and dividing fractally over and over until the smallest twigs are impossibly thin. They quiver slightly in the still, wet air like the antennae of a cockroach.

The man’s steps slow and become jerky, as if he is unable to resist walking forward, and he tucks his pointed chin into the collar of his coat. For the first time his shadow pools ahead of him, running forward like water down a gentle slope, despite the fact that the ground on which the tree stands is no lower than any other place. He makes his way slowly to the base of the trunk, whose roots dig directly into the cracked rock and in whose vicinity no lichen grows. As a marionette with cut strings, he slumps against the tree. At first nothing moves except the rapid, abrupt rise and fall of his chest, but after a moment his shadow begins to creep up the slippery grey bark. Faster, until within a few seconds the entire tree is coated in textureless blackness, and in a moment the tree vanishes into the ground with a grinding of stone that is too quickly muffled by the mist. Now the man falls onto his back, muscles unwilling or unable to support him, hanging half over the deep pit left by the tree’s sudden departure.

He is still, and then his trembling hands rise to hover in front of his face, where he quickly strips the black gloves off of them. His entire body tenses  as he watches their porcelain smooth over with perfect black, the fingers elongating quickly. In another moment they have multiplied and bifurcated  into branches capped with thousands of quivering filaments, tasting the wet air.

Slowly buds swell into being and glossy black leaves unfurl. Mist begins to condense and drip from them onto the man’s lack of a face, the cracks widening moment by moment. Soon the hollows of his not-eyes are little pools of water, and the surface of his skin has peeled away to show only blackness underneath.

Platte

I live in an apartment complex about half a kilometer from the Platte River, and as Colorado is famously outdoorsy there is an extensive network of bicycle and jogging trails. Quite naturally, there is one along the Platte. It seems extraordinary to me that the city should have spent so much money and effort creating such a place, but the culture of Denver and environs is very much conducive to projects of this type. The Platte trail is a lovely park with many shade trees, the delightful scummy smell peculiar to small rivers, and sunny cottonwood seeds drifting through the air.

Moreover, we passed perhaps hundreds of bicyclists in the ten miles we rode: professionals with slim thighs and advertisement-plastered shirts, the slow but game elderly, whole families matching their pace to young children, and several amputees (one of whom was performing the very exciting feat of bicycling quite fast without legs). Along the trail were gardens, bridges, highway crossings, and several signs for cafés (we are planning this weekend to visit Lucile’s Creole Breakfast Restaurant). At Nixon’s Coffee House, a mere mile from our apartment, several dozen bicyclists sat with their tiny water bottles (sometimes several apiece) and tiny saddle bags, chatting and cooling off over iced coffee.

What really struck me was that here there is a significant, cohesive bicycling culture. I think it does owe largely to Colorado’s cultural tendency to view outdoor activities as preferable, partially owing to its tourism industry, and this in turn is because of its preponderance of mountains and other sorts of gorgeous scenery. I believe it is different in this way from Utah, which suffers from a sad dichotomy: wherever there are great populated areas, there is much less exciting wilderness, and wherever the exciting wilderness is (the south) no settlements are anywhere nearby. Utah’s wilderness is inhospitable, but in Colorado it has been carefully preserved as it was settled. Here, it seems that people make more of an effort to enjoy and be part of nature. In Utah it is a pastime, but here it is just life.