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The original premise for this story was "what if one was dreaming and one got so bored with whatever one was dreaming about that one dozed off in that dream and started dreaming within the dream"… but there is much more going on here.
Where the Dream Begins
All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. ~ Edgar Allan Poe
The plans for the pyramid were unfolding. Ome Kochitta (Omek) stood on a hill a good distance away from the clearing in order to see the transformation against the backdrop of the jungle and the distant mountains. He needed more people. He was going to need many people to move the massive stone blocks from the quarry and then to put them in place. And he knew they would come.
He found a comfortable place under a tree, and he sat and laid out his smoking kit. After he had smoked a bowlful of his pipe, he saw the colors of the world more vividly. Everything he focused on became sharper and more defined. And after a while, he slipped into a mindless daze, his eyes barely open and gazing into nothingness… and he reminisced.
Desire and Despair
Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise, I must think of a new life, and I mustn’t give in. When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too, and a new day will begin. ~ Andrew Lloyd Webber
Omek wasn’t from this region. He didn’t even know where he was exactly, but he knew who he was, or at least who he had been. And he knew wherefrom he had come. He was of the Toltecs, from the far north. He had been a prince once, living a carefree and decadent life in a big urban center.
A time had come when his uncle, the monarch, had acquired yet another concubine. In Omek’s eyes, this one had been much too young for the old despot and mesmerizingly beautiful. Omek had been overtaken with a desire for her, and then he got caught in the act of seducing her.
In the demented mind of the old monarch, the girl was now tainted. And the poor, innocent, charming child was bequeathed to the slobbering priests, to be prepared for a sacrifice. And he, being a royal nephew and heir apparent, was spared his life. But he was exiled into the jungle, allowed to take only what he could wear, and given only a gourd of water and a spear.
Following some sort of whim, Omek overdressed in his finest garments, including a ceremonial headdress. Accompanied by two guards, he walked through the royal plaza with his head held high, defiantly… past the household servants, who bowed their heads in continuing submission as much as to hide their smirks… one tyrant leaving, the other decaying.
He descended down the great palace steps and proceeded through the open market, and he felt the stares and gestures of every citizen within sight. And then, he was walking on soil.
And they plodded on, past the tenements and the hovels of the laborers, the degenerates, the weak ones, and the invalids. He had lived in the palace for close to 20 years and had never known such sights and smells existed in such proximity. Glancing back at the great pyramid from here, he had a revelation about the structure of power.
People coming in to conduct business or to be awed by the grandeur of the city would see these denizens and this milieu as the lower layer or even as something below the structure. By seeing this first, they would be even more impressed by the ambiance and the finesse of the aristocracy up higher, assuming they would be allowed to go there.
Finally, they were on a wide, well-traveled, southbound road on which they walked until he could feel his feet sweating and sliding on the insoles of his sandals and beginning to blister. They met an assortment of people at different times, usually in small groups and toting various wares or produce from the jungle, on the way to the city, to sell or trade. The people would bow or lower their heads in deference to his garb, but he could almost hear their giggles as they got farther away.
Eventually, they came to a place where a smaller road led off into the jungle, and they walked on that for just as long. The little road eventually broke off into three different paths, narrow and not so well defined, and he had to choose one. He took the left one, because it seemed to lead south. He was thinking that perhaps, farther down, he might find his way back to the big road, and he could continue to follow it. It had to go somewhere.
The two guards watched him as long as they could keep him in sight, and then they started back towards the big road. Omek knew they would probably wait at the juncture, possibly for days, to make sure he would not come back that way.
But Omek also knew his life in the city was over. If he ever returned, he would have to live in the shadows, his identity concealed, degrading himself just to stay alive.
Now that the guards were gone, he removed his garments, except for a loincloth. He folded and rolled everything up and used one of the scarves to form a container. Then, he used a sash to make a shoulder strap, he tied the sandals to the bundle, and he resumed his journey on bare feet, on a path that was becoming less discernable.
He did not fare well, of course. Although, he did find a medicinal succulent, which he applied to his feet, he would have had to stay off them for any healing to occur. And he managed to find enough fruit to sustain himself for the time being. He faced a jaguar for the first time in his life, and he was able to drive it off with the spear.
But he was out of his element. He was not used to this kind of exposure and endurance. The insectile bloodsuckers became relentless, and this affected him mentally and emotionally, so that he began to feel helpless against them. And then the loneliness became unbearable. He would cry out and hear only his muffled echoes. He became disoriented to the point of mindlessness, and he meandered for days… until finally, the exhaustion and the malaria and the mental stress caused him to collapse.
The dream continues
But listen to the color of your dreams, it is not leaving… it is not leaving. ~ John Lennon
Omek felt a breeze on his face and realized inwardly that he had dozed off. This happened sometimes when he smoked the nanacatl (magic mushrooms). He opened his eyes just a slit, a grin of contentment spreading… and then, he felt a sudden chill and his eyes widened in disbelief. He was looking at the pyramid… completely finished, towering like a giant stairway to the clouds, splendid and magnificent!
It was impossible not to stare at it. For a long moment, it was all he could do, during which time, his mind tried desperately to understand. And then, little by little, his rationality began to return, and he realized that he must still be sleeping… and dreaming. He almost laughed out loud.
He had hardly moved at all, he was just so "tranquilized." With as little disturbance as possible, he refilled the pipe and smoked some more. He had to cough at one point, and he thought it strange that the irritation in his throat could feel so real. He drank a little water, sloshing it in his mouth before swallowing, and he laid his head back against the tree.
He was going to try to return to his original reverie, before he dozed off, before he felt that little breeze that woke him within his dream. He looked at the pyramid admiringly and smiled. "That’s the real dream," he thought, and he closed his eyes… and he remembered.
Ambition and Exploitation
Because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping; and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence. ~ Paul Simon
The people who found him were jungle dwellers who lived in small family tribes. There were many of them scattered throughout the jungle. Some were friendly and curious, and others were fearful and hostile.
At first, they thought he might be infected with something, so they decided not to eat him. They were going to take his things and just leave his body to the whims of the jungle spirits. But then, they became intrigued with the light, fancy spear. Searching through his bundle, they found his headdress, and they realized then that they were in the presence of royalty.
What followed, in a matter of days and weeks, was simple. The way they saw it, he was special, he was of nobility. And that meant he was educated, and that implied he was wise, at least, wiser than them. It did not seem to matter what he might have been doing out there in the jungle, alone and dying. Perhaps he had been delivered to them… perhaps he was a demi-god.
They nursed him as well as they knew how. And then, as he began to recover, they flocked around him with endless questions. If they could not get close enough to touch him, it was enough just to be able to hear him speak. The stronger he got, the more they pressed him for knowledge, for guidance, and advice.
And then, other jungle dwellers began to arrive from out of the jungle, and they set up their camps in the vicinity. It soon became necessary for Omek to give them chores… and eventually, to contrive a purpose for them.
He told them about life in the city … about the great pyramid, erected to reflect the reverence of the people for a great king. He told them about the great representations of the gods, how sacrifices were made to them, and how the people were then rewarded with abundance.
And then, he watched as the people came together to collaborate in their endearment of him. The leaders emerged, and the artists, and the architects, and the engineers. He heard, as they talked, and then argued, and then discussed. And then, he watched again, from this very hill, as they felled trees, and cleared brush, and paced off the perimeters, in that very clearing down there.
The Dream Within the Dream
First, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. ~ Donovan
Omek was looking at the clearing. Something was wrong. The pyramid wasn’t there. Had he just not seen it? Yes, he knew that he had. Was he dreaming… again… or still? He tried to remember the story line, as he stared at the empty clearing.
Of course, he remembered the years going by all too fast… the hot, humid seasons, and the relentless rains, and the dry times. There were those triumphant days when another tier would be completed. And then, there were the nightmarish days when accidents would cause the deaths of dozens of men at a time.
At first, they had come out of the jungle with caution and apprehension, looking like lost children just woken up. And then they had thrown themselves blindly into the work, believing only in the energy that had been cultivated around him. Later, on his suggestions alone, some of those same men had gone out and captured others, bringing them here and forcing them into the labor.
By the time they had gotten halfway through, many hundreds had perished in accidents and hazardous assignments and failed experiments. But there had arisen such a collective maniacal obsession with seeing the project to its end, it was as if the pyramid already possessed them, and the people drove themselves, leaving him to do nothing but watch.
It took them over twenty seasonal cycles of brutal impetus, with sweat and blood and tears, brilliant engineering, and fantastical feats of tenacity… Omek had seen it all. And in that span of time, watching had become boring to him. He had found ways of distracting and amusing himself… but season after season and year after year seemed to go by, showing little change.
Sometimes, he remembered, it would seem as if there wasn’t enough being done, and he would become annoyed, angry even. And then, some of the old people came forth with power plants, plants to give vitality and imagination to the mind, energy and motivation to the body, and plants to pacify and sedate and to bring forth the deepest of dreams.
And he remembered… the setting of the first block, the first tier leading into the second, the faces of the men… the angry, the sad, the resigned, and the abandoned… and the flow of small treasures and piles of food placed before him… and the young women sent to him. It had all been mostly good… until it got boring… and then, even thinking about it got boring. But something else was wrong now.
Dream and Memory
And I’m only just beginning to believe what you have done, how you turned it upside down, this world of mine. And it seems while I was looking, it was right in front of me all the time. ~ Justin Hayward
He had no memory of aging. How was it that he had memories of the pyramid going up, but he could not remember the progression of his life? Was he dreaming … again… or still? Or had he only dreamed of seeing the pyramid?
He remembered coughing. The irritation in his throat had been real enough. And then, he had taken a drink… and he could taste that water even now. And the pyramid had been there!
Omek closed his eyes and took stock of his situation. He was sitting under a tree, reclined against its trunk, on a hill that offered a panoramic view of the clearing a good breadth away. He had just been thinking about the epic construction of something huge and solid… that wasn’t there now… and he could not remember having lived.
He opened his eyes and gradually realized that he was looking at himself, just as he had just pictured himself in his mind. He was outside of his body, looking back at himself! And there was no pyramid. And now, he began to understand.
He had been remembering, or dreaming about, his uncle’s pyramid! During its construction, he had been just a baby on his mother’s lap. And someone had decided that it would be a good thing for the child to watch the entire process… season after season and year after year.
How many riotous triumphs… the drumming and the singing and cavorting … and tempestuous catastrophes… the hideous cries of crushed and mangled men and the monotonous wailing of families… had he fallen asleep to, during the very crescendos of their occurrences, while gorging on his mother’s milk?
He wanted to laugh, out loud and longwindedly, but he realized he couldn’t. He was out here somewhere, and his body sat there, under the tree, in a stupor. And he didn’t know how to return to himself.
The Awakening from Life
I’ve looked at life from both sides now; from up and down, and still somehow, it’s life’s illusions I recall… I really don’t know life at all. ~ Joni Mitchell
He watched the construction of that accursed formation to its completion, season after season and year after year, and he saw them inter his carcass in one of the chambers. He saw his eldest son on a throne, acting the tyrant, he and the siblings squandering the wealth and wasting their humanity on gluttony and lust and greed.
And then, he saw his granddaughter take over the reign, and she unleashed an inferno of cruelty and perversion that was worse than anything he could ever have imagined. The gods of the environment had manifested themselves in those generations, and she offered them the blood of her perceived enemies, season after season and year after year.
He saw her drain the coffers and the larders. And then she kept on, draining the hearts and souls of the people. The community and the land itself became so polluted with iniquity and horror and fear and blood, nothing of the living could exist there anymore. Everything and everyone wandered away or vanished into obscurity, until there was nothing but a cold dark monument, surrounded by degradation and ruin.
In time, the Earth and the jungle began to reclaim what was theirs. It was only after all this, the many, many seasonal cycles of watching, that Omek’s spirit began to rise and disperse. He began to see the endless emerald span of the rainforest, the valleys and the majestic mountains. And then, the ocean came into view to the east, and what he glimpsed there made his spirit shudder, and he was glad to be departing.
r. nuñez, 10/2013