I dreamt of the garden again.
I enter into the dream through my grave, the way I always do in this dream. The grave is filled with millions of tiny white wriggling maggots and they press on my eyes and fill my nose and throat and ears and the touch is strangely comforting. They will smother me if I stay, so I must force myself to fight, to swim and claw upwards towards the air and freedom.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done.
When I pull myself out, I find I am standing on a high place. A hot wind stirs my hair and it smells of rot and consequences. Below me spreads the garden, fair as a maiden. It is a garden of many islands, each a jungle, wild and untamed and linked to the others by fragile filigree bridges, and the waters between them are poison.
I am dressed in court finery, and there is a sceptre in my hand. I disrobe, set aside the sceptre, and go as naked and weaponless as the lowest thrall. I go down into the garden, down a bone-carved way of many steps, and each pleads with me to turn back, to take them with me or accuses me of abandoning them. Some clutch at my feet with ghostly hands of ghostly despair, but I am resolute. The future is not saved by giving in to the past. To go back means surrender to the grave.
The black sun howls and screams overhead, louder and closer each time I dream, but it is quiet down here in the shadowed paths and its ravings come as but a whisper on the wind.
I hear footsteps behind me and am comforted, though I do not turn around. It is the footsteps of the living, and the dead, and those not yet born. I must lead them into the garden, away from the hungry eye of the sun.
There are guardians that move among the trees and the leaves, great scale-eyed leviathans whose tread shakes the ground, but they stop and silently watch me pass. I do not trespass here, and my presence is tolerated.
The path is made of many small, sharp stones and they slice at my bare feet. It is not a pleasure garden, yet it is an oasis, a place both untainted and untamed.
I make my way towards the centre of the island, where a great beacon of light burns.
About the beacon is a soft, wide lawn and I cry with relief as my soles sink into its green cushion. I am not used to such hardships, not yet. It will all be worth it, if I can touch the beacon, feel its light. It is filled with death, but it is a grave of a different kind, harder, harsher, yet also a sanctuary.
My way is blocked by a figure. A woman reclines upon the lawn. She is beautiful in the way that the hedonarchs, the sybarithines or the pleasure girls of lesser races are beautiful–fruit ripe and deliciously ready to burst. As I draw closer though, I see her skin is not her skin, it is the pallid, hungry grave-worms and her eyes howl like the sun.
‘So this is where you’ve been hiding yourself,’ she says and smiles a hungry smile, full of hungry teeth. ‘You disappoint me, Farseer. This is what you dream of? You would trade your palaces of air and crystal and the delights of sense and flesh for what–for mud and hides, for rutting in the dirt like animals? A small dream for a small mind.’
‘You are not here,’ I dismiss him, for the one before me is now a young man, lithe as a demigod and lush as a bed companion. ‘Not yet. You cannot touch this place.’
He yawns and waves a limpid hand in dismissal. A hundred pale worms drop from his outstretched arm and wriggle upon the grass. ‘I have always existed,’ he says. ‘I always will. That’s what makes this so futile. Your garden may last a millennium, an eon or two, and what then? Even if I do not find you, stars grow dim and fail, the worlds will die and your beacons will shatter and you will be mine. As long as there is desire, there is me and you cannot hide forever.’
‘No,’ I shake my head, more to strengthen my resolve than anything else. ‘Yet we will buy time. Time enough to live–what else can one ever do? What else is life but doom postponed? We will take joy in life’s smaller pleasures; We will be satisfied with enough.’
They shift again, neither man nor woman, yet the stamp on their features remains the same. There are entire geographies of desire there, whole oceans of want.
‘Life is never satisfied, or else it dies,’ they declare, with a leering smile. ‘Those who want nothing are devoured by those who desire all. Deny it though you will, everything wants something and when the end approaches your people will call out to me.’
The hopelessness of those words beat down upon me. I see the path before me, stretching from the lawn to the beacon, and it is but a tiny rented corner of reality, fenced with pain and ending like everything else, not in light but in darkness. In that moment, the dream trembles and quakes. The trees sway and the voices of those behind me cry out in fear.
The worm-hand reaches for me, and I know that I will take it.
Then the beacon pulses brighter. Even though I shut my eyes, still its light is blinding, and it swells and encompasses everything, the trees, the island, it is everywhere and everything and it speaks.
It tells me its great secret: ‘The dead desire nothing.’
The figure upon the grass dissolves into howls of impotent rage.
Then I awake, and know it is time to leave.
About the Author
Giles was born in England, grew up in Canada, lives in Japan and has no idea how to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ He writes professionally about the car industry, and extremely unprofessionally about science fiction, fantasy and 80s tabletop wargames. His passions include Tolkien, Monty Python, Iain Banks books of all flavors of M-ness, A.A. Gill articles, late 90s William Gibson and talking rubbish about 80s tabletop wargames.