Chapters 1 - 9 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 10 (Part 1) - A Vital Dream-Vision
Stepping back a few hours in time and following Big Ben's thoughts of his young Master, one would come upon a large brick and glass building in the heart of Delta-Town that was very unlike Alex's cozy old house. Dawn broke over Delta Hospital much too soon for the boy in the white-sheeted bed. Everything smelled too clean and the blanket on the bed felt too thin and cool on him for it to belong to his bed. The blankets he was used to were woolly and heavy on top and all around him like a small, warm cave. No, this bed didn't feel like his at all, it was too stiff and crinkly.
"Alex...can you hear me, son?" A warm hand that he knew to be his mother's caressed his forehead, brushing aside his long bangs of brown hair. Something hissed cool and dry against his face and the rim of something else hard and plastic-smelling pressed gently against his cheeks. Alex opened his eyes only slightly, in a sleepy sort of way because he was still very comfortable and drowsy.
His head lay on a stiff and puffy, unfamiliar pillow that popped and crinkled quietly whenever he rolled his head to look around him. From what he could see with his blurry eyes, he was in a white room with the curtains drawn across a small window to dim the warm rays of morning sunlight. To one side of his bed was also another, larger curtain which cut off Alex's view of the rest of the room. The bed had shiny metal rails running down either side and there was a clear plastic bag hanging off to one side on a shiny, metal pole.
Everything was white, clean and quiet. Oh yes...and his mom was there too. The ceiling above him was also white but it had hundreds of little brown holes like the bottom of a large cork. Interesting, thought Alex sleepily, there's a pencil stuck in one of the holes...how did it get there and why doesn't it fall? Hmm, I'll have to ask mom about that, she's smart...and cool. Real cool...
Alex closed his eyes again and drifted back to sleep. He seemed to be having a dream then...but he wasn't sure when it began, really. In the dream, he walked in a land unlike any he could ever have imagine. The ground he walked along was as desolate as an arctic steppe-land and the air felt cool against his cheeks. The land was low-hilled, damp and scruffy looking, with here and there a small fresh-water lake or pond to dot the low rolling landscape ahead.
Far away, on the broad lip of the low horizon, Alex saw what looked to be the white peaks of a distant mountain range, just visible above the quiet prairie. There was no wind to speak of, thankfully, or else he would surely have felt much colder. Every now and then though a pleasant, warm gusty breeze which blew in from somewhere else, caressed his face and ruffled his long, thick hair.
At some point in the dream, Alex thought to look down into the still waters of one of the countless ponds which dotted the landscape all around him. There was something that was happening to him which eluded his eyes but he did notice, for the first time, the kind of clothing he wore. Alex found that he was dressed from head to toe in tanned and supple buckskins with warm, comfortable moccasins laced to his feet.
Long beaded tassels hung from his sleeves and were sewn into the jacket in beautiful, decorative designs. Looking around again, Alex soon realized that it wasn't so much the land which held his attention as the sky, for it somehow seemed too small or too close overhead to be a normal sky. Every now and then, a bright spark flashed low overhead as well, causing Alex to glance up, startled and surprised. It seemed that he would surely be struck by one of those sharp, bright sparks and they made him quite nervous until he grew accustomed to them.
There was one more quality about this unnatural sky which made Alex look up and all round with a shiver: it seemed to moan with a low and faint thrumming moan that was more a vibration than an actual sound. It was haunting to hear because the sound waves flowed all around and through him like a natural force or a kind of thin vibration. The sound was muted and distant, as though from a far-off echo.
Curiously as well, the soft, low vibration only came to Alex several long seconds after each brilliant little spark twinkled overhead. It was like standing underneath an enormous glass bell-jar whose vibrations could be more felt than heard. And, the flint-like sparks could be thought of as being an endless volley of heavenly pebbles that a mischievous god-child might be tossing down on the crystal dome from his playful realm outside of the sky. They appeared very regularly and so, the low, hollow thrumming continued ceaselessly.
I really must be dreaming, he thought pleasantly. At that moment and rather abruptly, Alex heard a faint, playful laugh nearby. It drew his attention away from the mysterious looking and sounding landscape to search the empty air on his right-hand side, for that was where the sound came from. Nobody was there though, but just then, in his right hand, Alex did notice that he held his Luss and, in the dream, he felt its usual shifting, slippery surface in a very real way.
Then, as he gazed all around him once more, taking in the strangeness of the vast, empty land and the lowering, sparking near-sky, Alex's eyes came all the way round to his right side again. But this time, another figure was coming softly into view beside him. It was nothing distinct yet but Alex had the comforting feeling that another person, a companion of sorts, walked with him step-by-step like a vague mirror image. Oddly, the vaporous boy-sized form seemed to be trying to touch the other end of Alex's Luss as well.
There was a gradual connection that was occurring and the Luss was perhaps a bridge between them which would allow this to happen. They walked on together in this manner for what seemed like a very long time, with Alex feeling that this whole world was theirs to explore. Surely, the land wasn't without some amazing discoveries for them as they happily wandered it together.
It seemed that, as their walk brought them nearer to the yonder mountains, the ghostly boy beside him appeared more and more distinct and solid as well. One day they spent several hours traveling around and passed a gigantic pillar as big around and as high as a mountain. The structure stood alone, a tall mesa surrounded by the glassy ponds and rolling steppe-land for miles all around.
Its cliff walls were straight and steep and higher up them, like ancient caves, were large round openings from which the mysterious, warm wind could be felt blowing in strong, regular gusts. A low, shuddering moan could be heard coming from the blow-holes whenever the subterranean breeze was blown forcefully from them in every direction. The pillar had obviously been hand-made by an unknown people long, long ago.
It was so set apart from the natural landscape around it that Alex just had to take extra time walking all along a small section of the massive base, exploring it. He searched and tapped at certain spots, hoping to find a secret door to the inside, but to no avail. The young phantom had great fun at his expense too. The ghostly boy reclined against a moss-covered boulder, at his leisure while Alex tapped and felt for possible hidden passages.
"Over here...no-no, now I remember...it's over there!" he laughed while Alex vainly hunted to and fro. He had obviously been there many times before and was already convinced that there was no way to enter the monolith.
There was a purpose for the huge pillar though, which was plain to see: it was to hold up the sky. For this pillar was not only very wide, it also reached hundreds of feet up to the dim gloom of the heavens, where the other-worldly sparks and flashes occurred. If one stood far enough away from the awesome structure, a juncture could actually be seen where the top of it met the bottom of the clear, solid bubble-dome sky.
Hovering above the distant lip of the pillar could also be seen a disc which had the same circumference as the ponderous structure and Alex surmised that it rested on the outside of the thick glass sky. There was no other reasonable way of describing it, the sky was truly made of glass, and this explained the faint, low thrumming bell-gong which accompanied the flashing and skittering sparks far, far above.
And so passed the strange days on the even stranger world the two boys were on. Sometimes filled with bizarre, fascinating discoveries...other times just filled with a quiet peace that allowed them hours to fill with boyish chatter of the imagined dangers and adventures yet to come.
After some time together, all good traveling companions feel free to share their deepest thoughts with one another, and so it was with Alex and the young ghost. He talked about everything; his home, his school, all the new inventions he wanted to make and all the adventures he had been through with his new friends, Rainah and Dart the Dragonfly. The phantom boy seemed to pay special attention to Alex when he spoke of his time with them.
Then, Alex went on about his parents and how he hoped to find his dad on Mars very soon. But, after a time, his hopeful words fell away as if carried off on the warm breeze. Alex trailed off and fell silent for he could tell that the boy also missed someone very much. An empathy and familiarity continued to grow between him and the softly glowing phantom though, and as time passed, they soon were sharing their thoughts as well, which Alex found was pleasing and much easier than talking. He found that his emotions also flowed unfettered with his 'spoken' thoughts as a single wonderful stream that mingled easily with those of the other boy.
Sitting down to rest sometimes, he and the ghostly boy shared a quiet calmness and honesty with their thoughts that was beyond all words of expression. One day, as they lay on a patch of cool soft moss, gazing up at the flashing sparks and feeling the constant low thrum drumming down over them, Alex finally thought to ask his new friend something rather simple and important.
"Hey, what's your name anyway?"
((I am Halden)), the boy quietly replied in his head. The name seemed somehow familiar but, in the dream, it seemed to be new to Alex again and that is how he accepted it.
"I'm Alex", he said and sat up to extend his hand for their first handshake. The glowing, fuzzy form gave a funny little laugh and asked, "What do you do, Alex?"
"It's...well, I want to shake your hand."
"Why must I prove that I have a hand?" Halden replied with the puzzling question.
"Well...I don't know", Alex said, now feeling quite stumped himself by this odd ignorance of a common handshake. "It's just...what we...I mean what people usually do to show that they like each other." Alex suddenly had an insight and wondered why he had never bothered to ask Halden where he actually came from. After asking him this, the ghostly boy sat up and gazed at the far horizon for several seconds before answering. But his reply was a confusing one.
"I once used to live here but I was born where there is no one left now. From here I then journeyed to the Blue Waterworld and there I still exist, but only in the Glass Tunnels. Come, I will show you them, we are nearly there." They continued to walk toward the mountain which always lay ahead but gradually grew larger with each mile they traveled toward it.
Finally, Alex and Halden came upon a sloping rock quarry whose quiet and tumbled down boulders lead up toward a small cave in the mountainside. Alex sensed that there was an end coming soon to their journey...and their companionship. There was a point beyond which Alex knew he could not continue with Halden, for he felt a quiet melancholy beginning to grow in his heart.
It was the kind that came to him whenever thoughts of his father crossed his mind. This sad yearning must have also been felt by his strange new friend because there was a gentle tug on the end of his Luss just then. Alex stopped and turned to see the boy, still faint and ghostly yet his features becoming clearer as he faced him with a quiet, caring expression.
"Do not feel sorrow, friend Alex", Halden said gently. "You and I are friends and brothers and shall forever remain so." There was a tugging on his heart then too that could never be explained and a little sore lump stayed in his throat.
As Alex stood watching helplessly, the ghost of Halden let go of his Luss and turned to walk slowly up towards the small cave. After only a few paces though the shade of a boy hesitated and stopped, half-turned then made a very curious request.
Gesturing at Alex's Luss, Halden said, "May I ask a favor of you, friend Alex, it is but a small one and I shall ask for no more."
"Sure, anything", Alex said, taking a step forward. Perhaps he had a change of heart and wished to stay after all. Halden came back and sat down cross-legged before him, and so Alex joined him.
It was a mystical sight to see, two boys sitting at the base of a crumbling mountain, within a glass-protected world, with small crystal-clear lakes and ponds scattered all around them. One boy clad in supple, beaded buckskins was surely in a dream but had long since forgotten that he was, and the other was a ghostly, vaporous figure who perhaps could just be a limb of that dream, yet was surely not; he was much more.
Halden sat straight and proud, a young, Royal Warrior from ages past. Without preamble he held a hand out and said, "May I ask that you share equally your Luss with me, friend Alex?"
"Where I have been and where I must now return can be a place of lonely illusions. I have existed and explored in there for some while now but I have always had to be cautious of my path choices else my soul would be scattered and forever lost. Your Luss will help me and greatly ease my life inside the tunnels until I find someone dear to me again. After I have said goodbye to him, then I must return to my new clan for the rest of my days.”
It was a very strange request that Halden made, and his last words made little sense at all. Whatever he could do to help his new friend though, he would do without a second thought; and there was a hint of sadness in Halden's last words that made the decision easy for Alex to make. He placed his Luss in the hand of the ghostly young boy who had become his best friend on this strange world under the over-arching glass sky.
Halden gave a little laugh, "It is not quite as simple as that, Alex. Here, I will show you."
"This is the handshake that my people give each other, but it does not happen very often and it is only done between true brother-friends," Halden said as he took up the Luss.
((This is a moment of reverence, friend Alex so please, close your eyes)), Halden said quietly. As much as Alex wanted to see what was going to happen, he nonetheless obeyed his friends request and shut his eyes and then bowed his head as though they were about to pray.
The first thing he heard was a high, clear and beautiful song-note which he knew must be coming from his Luss; it had happened before, but being in the dream-world he was in, he couldn't quite remember when or where though. Alex couldn't resist taking a peek so he cautiously looked at Halden between his nearly closed eyelids.
"Owch!", he gasped, a little frightened as an unusually bright, ghostly light forced him to shut his eyes tight again.
"No peeking", Halden chided him with another mischievous little laugh. Alex kept them closed this time and the very odd thing about the light was that it appeared to be blinding when he tried to open his eyes. Yet, when they were closed again, the light was blocked out completely—no brightness shone through his eyelids at all.
Halden's laughter and the single note faded suddenly as though he and Alex's Luss had been very swiftly taken to a hilltop far away; it still remained there, singing but he barely heard it. Then, as Alex strained to listen, focusing with all his might, something remarkable happened. The note seemed to begin to multiply itself in such a way as to sound like a buzzing hive of bees off in the distance.
As the sound drew nearer again though, it took on the quality of a large group of people, talking among themselves. At first, their speech was just a babble, making no sense at all but, as Alex continued to concentrate, their words gradually became clear and understandable. This all seemed to take place over a long period of time but, with his eyes closed, it was difficult to judge time at all. Indeed, for all Alex knew, only minutes could have passed in this new, befuddling experience within his dream.
He remained sitting where he was but now it sounded like there were people standing and sitting all around him. As well, he heard another sound like a roaring river, still faint but growing slowly louder and stronger.
Finally, Alex couldn't resist the temptation to look around and see who all those newly arrived people were. When he did finally get up enough nerve, Alex took a quick peek and was relieved not to be blinded again. What he did see when he opened his eyes wide though, was truly astounding!
Next: Chapter 10 (Part 2) - The Nethlins...
A profound and frightening event from the past shakes Alex to the core. And only Halden, his new friend, can explain the terrible dream-vision.
As of 2018-02-26, Chapter 10 (Part 1) can be read at: DeepSkyStories.com