You think the world is dull, but that’s because you have never peered into the nooks and crannies where magic still lingers.
Look hard enough, and you can see the cracks where it bleeds through into our world. You might hear the steady drip-drip-drip as it seeps into the foundation of reality. Close your eyes and you might even feel it swirling behind your mind. It’s everywhere, hovering just out of sight, like a shadow in a bright beam of sunlight. All it needs to become visible is a slight shift in perspective.
Consider something as mundane as sleep. You do it every night. The same old routine. Boring. Clean your face, brush your teeth, set your alarm, get into bed, turn off the light. Close your eyes. Do you dream? Sometimes, a tendril of magic slips into your memories when you are dreaming. When that happens, you wake up feeling strange. There’s a whispering on the edge of your consciousness. It’s as if one part of you is drifting through the clouds and another is swimming at the bottom of the ocean. There are usually no lasting effects to this kind of magic. Not after you’ve had a coffee, anyway.
Could something more happen?
Yes. But only if the magic doesn’t wait until you are asleep. Only if it’s an unusual night. Close your eyes, then, and think of a night that’s different. There’s a storm brewing. The first raindrops patter on the window. It’s spring, just after the equinox. It’s that time of the year when your weekend becomes an hour shorter. So after you have brushed your teeth, you turn your clock forward by one hour. If magic were real, you think, then you could travel in time like this.
If magic were real…
What if, at the precise moment that you set your clock, a ghostly thread of magic steals across the room? You would be caught in its wake and go where it goes.
Who knows when you will wake up?
An hour later than you normally do.
Or a hundred years from now.
Imagine opening your eyes to find yourself entombed in a snarl of brambles. If you lie still you won’t disturb the dust that has settled on everything, deep and heavy like the first snowfall of winter. Despite the eerie stillness, you feel calm. You know this story. You are awake. The curse has been broken. This is when your happily ever after begins.
It’s time to move. Be careful. Some of the thorns are as long as your hand. Sharp points that glitter viciously in the dull light that peers through the tattered remains of your curtains. You push aside twisted branches and slither through gaps. Your blanket, ancient now, disintegrates in front of your eyes. The dust dances around you in little eddies. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But you’re not afraid, you tell yourself. You just never realised that silence could be so ear-shatteringly loud. It’s edged with magic.
There are dense thickets of thorny shrubs in the hallway too. You squirm your way through them, ripping your pyjamas to shreds. In the living room, the brambles have run riot. The roots have pushed down into the cracks between the floorboards. Gnarly branches have twisted around the bookshelves. The books lie in a jumble on the floor. You pick one up and wipe off the dust. The spine is cracked. A few pages fall listlessly to the ground, where they crumble away into nothingness.
There’s nobody here. Why should there be? You live alone. Yet a part of you was expecting to find a snoring cook, a dozing scullery maid and half a dozen guards asleep in their armour, because that’s how the story goes. There should be a flock of pigeons sleeping with their heads under their wings and a few flies slumbering by the window. And they should all rouse themselves now that you are awake. The flies will buzz. The pigeons will flap their wings and fly away, cooing. The guards will shake themselves and straighten their uniforms. They’ll be very careful not to catch each other’s eye, because they don’t want to explain why they lost focus for a brief moment. And the cook will wake with a start and continue berating the scullery maid. Because that is how the story goes.
But you don’t live in a castle. You live in a tiny flat on the fifth floor of a post-war tower block. It’s full of dust and thorns. No roses bloom here. Something cracks underfoot as you step forward. You nudge the dust aside with your toe and find a tiny skeleton, its ribs shattered. It could be the mouse that used to scurry across the kitchen floor. Look around you. There are dead flies on the windowsill. Their bodies are dessicated and their wings have cracked. They didn’t sleep with you, and so they didn’t wake with you.
Keep wandering around the room. Find your half-forgotten memories that have been buried by dust and ravaged by time and thorns. Keep looking. There’s the guitar you always wanted to learn to play. There are the cookbooks you opened and closed after staring hungrily at the pictures. Keep looking. There are the photographs of you and your best friend. They were old even before you went to sleep. You meant to call, so many times. Keep looking. There by the window are your pot plants. Dead now, of course. Perhaps they already were before you went to sleep. Keep looking. There must be a prince here, somewhere. How else did you wake up, if not by his kiss?
The windows are dull with grime and age. You can barely look through them. Is there still a world? Is there still a sun? Does it still rain sometimes? You can’t see or hear anyone. Do people still exist? Do they meet to laugh and talk? Do children still play outside? You don’t know. You can never know.
Did you think you could simply carry on with your life, after sleeping for a hundred years? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s just in stories. You don’t even live to be a hundred. All you did was go to sleep, and your life sped away from you. Here one moment, gone the next.