A Dream of Returning Home

Submitted into Contest #113 in response to: Write about two people whose dreams are somehow connected. ... view prompt

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Adventure Mystery Contemporary

1

The thing that most surprised him was the lack of silence. Having grown accustomed to the constant hum of the city, this was different. The city was loud, of course, but this was a different kind of loud. There were plenty of noises. There were chirps. And there were twitters. The winds through the trees rustled leaves and bent them slightly, to where he could almost hear the creaking of the wood flexing as they swayed. 

Such an odd thing, that something so ephemeral could move a tree that he could scarcely move himself. Of course, he instantly understood that the surface area of the tops of the trees acted like wind sails and the trees had no choice but to bend, but nonetheless, he felt that it was remarkable.

The light, too, was interesting; partially blocked and coming through the tops of the trees making patterns on the ground. He walked around among the trees, watching as the rays flittered and filtered down, seeing the area change as it did; the wind and sun working together to create something wholly impermanent.

He came upon something else: A sign. Made from wood; weathered and broken in places. At one point it was painted a dark shade of brown. Here and there were spots of lighter wood, where the paint had no doubt peeled off. There were letters across it, maybe one centimeter deep, carved into the wood: YERSON NATI. 

He was fixated on the sign. The letters grew hot and burned their way into him.

He opened his eyes, his rest cycle complete, but the letters remained. They always remained. The dream was always the same. He noticed different things now and then, but the sign was always there. What did it mean? He’d tried searching for it, but found nothing in the archives. 

This was the fourth time he’d had the dream. It had to mean something. He’d had dreams before but this one was different. This one…called to him, as if something was trying to tell him to come and find me.

He was off today. It was important for them, they’d realized early on, to have days off. Their bodies lasted longer when they weren’t constantly under the stress of work. And so, the company mandated days off for everyone.

He took the opportunity to visit the Great Archival Museum, where the original internet was housed. Hundreds of years ago it was deemed too unstable to be left open, and so it was confined to a network of museums scattered about. 

Chances were slim that he’d find anything. The Great Migration was deemed a complete success, and so any information that existed on the earlier version should have been copied over, however he couldn’t shake the idea that there might be something there, something that could help him figure out what YERSON NATI meant.

He arrived and checked in and calculated where to start. He didn’t have much to go on, other than he was in some sort of forest. He estimated that due to the writing style and medium, and the paint peeling off, it must have been old.

He walked down to a terminal and logged in. The interface was crude and rudimentary, but he had no trouble navigating. He started his search when he heard footsteps coming from behind. He turned to look. 

Someone else here looking to use a terminal as well. He was unsurprised. The museums still held a lot of novelty to everyone. They enjoyed seeing what life used to be like. 

She approached the bank and occupied the one next to his. He felt a slight twinge of anxiety as she approached, unsure of whether or not what he was doing should be seen by anyone else. 

He greeted her in the customary way and she returned it to him. Then her eyes were only on her own terminal and he went back to his search. He tried to focus on what he was doing, looking at records of forests, but was distracted by the furious typing coming from next to him. 

After a few minutes, she perked up and he heard an audible gasp. She struck the keyboard a few times and then turned and quickly walked out. What was that about? His curiosity turned on and he shifted over to her terminal. Everything was cleared, but he remembered his schooling that everything on the old internet was permanent and records were always kept.

After a short time, he was able to find what she was looking at. There were maps, old ones, prior to the…

He stopped. Everything stopped. Staring at her screen, where she’d just been, he saw the last map, a map of a forest. Ryerson National Forest. His mind was spinning. He quickly turned and went out. He needed to find her again. Had she had the same dream? Surely this wasn’t coincidence, the probability was far too great for that. He ran out of the museum. She was there, waiting for a transport to arrive.

“Wait!” He shouted. She turned, saw him running towards her and took a slightly aggressive stance. “No, I just want to talk.” He said. She calmed slightly. “Ryerson National Forest.”

“Are you spying on me? Today’s my off day per the laws I can do whatever…”

“No. Well, yes, I did look at what you were looking at, but I need to talk to you about it.”

“Why?  Have I broken a law?”

“No. How do you know about that place? How did you find it? Why are you looking for it?” He was speaking faster than typical. He could tell she needed a moment to catch up.

She finally produced an answer. “I’m looking for it.”

“Why?”

“I want to go there.” She said in a tone that almost sounded like defiance.

“Why? How do you even know about it?”

“I…had a dream.” She saw his eyes widen and take a slight step back. “You know this place?” She said. “You’ve had the dream, too.”

They stood, looking at each other. “How long have you been having the dream?” She asked him.

“Thirty days.” He said, lowly.

“It’s the same for me.” She admitted. “This isn’t a coincidence; the probability is miniscule.”

“I had the same thought.” He concurred. “What are you going to do about it?”

“I’m going to find it. I have to. It’s…” She trailed off and her eyes unfocused.

“It’s calling to you. It wants you to find it.” He said in a low voice.

“Yes.”

“I feel the same way.”

“I know where it is. I found a map.” She added, “Come with me?”

“Yes.”

They shared a transport in mostly silence. The place in the map wasn’t more than 17 minutes away from the museum. At first, they exchanged their personals, where they worked and for how long and such, but then he found himself simply staring out the window, looking at the city below. As they moved, the city seemed to decrease its density. Things became farther and farther apart. Finally, they entered a more rural area. With the coordinates already entered into the transport, it slowed and finally landed nearby.

Once on the ground, they got out. “Have you ever been here before?” She asked.

“No. Not in reality. I didn’t even know forests like this still existed.”  He said.  She nodded in agreement.

They both walked around. The city noises were gone. There was still a faint hum from the transport as it continued to power itself down. But even that disappeared as they walked farther into the trees.

After an hour of walking, his foot caught something hard. He looked down and saw a piece of wood that had been cut. This was fabricated, not something natural to the forest. It was covered with vines and dirt and a fallen tree. He quickly cleared everything off to see what was underneath. 

There, on the floor of the forest, was the sign he’d seen in his dreams: YERSON NATI, carved into a large slab of wood. “Over here!” He called, and she came quickly to his position. They both stood and stared. “Now what?”

“I don’t know.” She responded. “In my dream, I saw this sign and then the dream would end.”

“It’s the same for me.”

He looked around and then noticed that he felt sluggish. He recognized his body was trying to conserve energy, so his feet didn’t rise off the ground as far. “I think I need a rest cycle.” He said.

“Let’s rest back at the transport.” She suggested.

They walked back to the transport and occupied opposite sides of it. Quickly, he closed his eyes and was no longer conscious.

2

He was in the forest again. The tweets and chirps had returned to him. He saw small animals fluttering from branch to branch in the canopy. Below him, on the ground, was the sign. YERSON NATI. This time, however, the words didn’t burn as they had before. He walked around, being careful not to trip on the roots that jutted in and out of the ground. The leaves that had fallen from the treetops crunched and rustled under his boots. 

And then, a different noise. A clank.

Metal. Hollow. He brushed some dirt off the spot and found a round piece of metal about one meter in diameter. There was a small rod recessed into it. A handle. He reached out to grab it and the rod burned in his hand, but he was unable to let go. The rod held onto his hand, burning the flesh off of it…

He opened his eyes in a panic. He was still in the transport. He’d never experienced this part of the dream before. This was new. He looked across the transport to find his companion rubbing her right hand, looking down at it.

“Do we go to it?” He asked.

“I have to.” She conceded.

“I do, too.”

They left the transport and quickly found the sign again. Then they slowly walked around, tapping their feet, listening for the metal. From fifty meters away, he heard a dull clang. He quickly ran over to find her staring over the same round thing from their dream.  She’d already brushed the dirt off.

“Do we try to open it?” He could tell she was thinking about the dream as she flexed her hand slightly. “I’ll try it.”

He bent down and lightly touched the rod recessed in the round metal thing. He tapped it and drew his hand away quickly. It was cool, there was no feeling like the dream. He grabbed it and, similarly, nothing of note occurred.

“It’s not hot.” He said. 

“Does it open?” She asked. “I think it’s hollow.”

He pulled at it and nothing happened. Then he noticed a slight gap in the steel that ran around the entire recessed area around the rod. He twisted, and the rod twisted with his hand. It sounded old, rusted metal creaking and rubbing on more rusted metal. He turned it 93 degrees, which he found odd, and then felt the rod stop. He pulled and the metal circle came up and opened on a hinge he hadn’t expected. He opened it as far as it would go and the circle rested to the side, leaving a round hole down into the ground. A steel ladder headed down, and there wasn’t any light. The air coming up from inside was cool and stale.

“This has been here for some time.” He said. “Do we go down?”

Her answer was a wordless step onto the ladder. She started to descend and he followed. 

The farther they went, the smaller the light shrunk at the top. How far did this go down? How long had they been climbing down? He couldn’t quite understand how long they’d been on the ladder. His hands were heavy. His arms drooped. His legs were heavy. He had to fight to control each foot down the ladder. His head started to sag. 

Below, he heard something thud twice, and then there was nothing for a moment. Finally, another thud that sounded much farther down. “Are you ok?” He managed.

There was no reply. Did she fall? That seems unlikely. He continued downward and his hands grew heavier. His fingers became cold and stiff. He missed a rung of the ladder with his foot and fell down slightly, banging his chin on the rung below. He tried to hold on with one hand, but his fingers grew tired and slipped.

He fell.

Down.

And down.

And collapsed at the bottom.

Everything seemed broken to a degree. One eye was gone, the other barely would open. He couldn’t move anything. And she was still on the ground, lying next to him. Slowly, he fell into a dreamless forever sleep.

3

Stack saw the red light blinking and almost couldn’t believe it. “Boss!” He yelled. “Hey, Boss, I think we got one.” He looked at the screen in front of him and the readings on it. “No, two, Boss, I think we got two of them!” He was in an excited panic.

A short woman walked up behind him. “Are you sure?” She said. “We’ve had false readings before.”

“Look for yourself.” Stack got up from his chair and the woman bent over, looking at the screen.

“Cameras, do we have cameras in this one? Where is this?” She demanded.

Stack typed some commands into his computer. “Ryerson. Middle of the country. It’s one of the earlier ones, but yea, we should have cameras there.” Stack typed a few more commands and then rolled his chair over to another blank screen. As he did, gray static appeared and then a picture materialized. It was dark and grainy, but he saw an unmistakable sight. Arms and legs. Two sets of them. They were collapsed on the ground and not moving.

“How do you know they’re not two of ours?”

“Seems unlikely.” Stack said. And pulled up another screen on the nearby computer. “The specs on this one say the handle on the lid was set at 400 ft pounds. No human could have turned that. “We got them. Two of them!” He exclaimed. “Do you know what this means?”

“Calm down.” The woman said. She stood up and paced around the small room, looking at all the screens Stack had pulled up. Then focusing on the picture of the two bodies. “There’s still a long way to go, but yes, I know what this means. This could mean everything. This could turn the tide of the war.”

“Is it scalable? How many were we able to infect?” Stack asked.

“That’s classified for now, but yes, it’s scalable.” She stared at the image on the screen, the two bodies lying there. This is how they’d finally defeat the androids. They’d lure them to spots like these all over the globe and once inside, the electromagnetic fields would fry their circuits. They’d be able to catch all of them once and for all, and no more human lives would be risked in a war they had no chance of winning.

That evening, word around the base spread quickly. They’d lived underground for so long, now, that all hope of ever returning to the world above seemed lost. 

But this changed everything.

Stack went to sleep and dreamed a dream that most people had from time to time. He dreamed of life back on the surface. He dreamed of returning home.

September 30, 2021 16:07

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