Desert Blood & Cold Sweats

My first awareness is the sharp press of cracked pebbles pushed into my face. I move my arms in vain and random movement and scratch my hands against the rough dirt. Lifting my head free of the dry ground, the pebbles wound me anew as I grimace. The facial movement nudges them free from my pocked face and they fall back to the ground.

Once more into the salt flats, I think to myself. But as I get up to my knees, I note the complete absence of the scent of salt. No, this isn’t there, but it’s just as dry. I look around carefully, trying to orientate myself.

It’s night. The stars spin overhead in impossible paths denying me a chance of mapping this place later. No clouds, no breeze, the air is still and quiet. It should be nearly true dark, with only the swirling stars for light, but I have developed a night vision quality to my dream self. The inky black is as gentle twilight to me.

I’m in the middle of a desert. Twisted scrub dots the landscape. I recognize sage and creosote. I think I see mesquite in the distance. The rocky mountains are hued in browns, pinks, and lavenders. I could easily be in the Mojave Desert, except I knew I was dreaming.

I look all about me, and find only the settled peace of a desert night. Small mammals scurry from plant to plant. Insects fly, skitter, and burrow without pause. I listen for larger animals, for hawks, owls, and coyotes, but feel no signs of their presence.

I take that to mean I am being watched.

I still myself, and spread my awareness across the landscape. In the distance, I feel something not of the desert. A campfire. Returning my awareness to myself, I set out for it. Miles pass like footsteps as the dream’s geography bends under the weight of my intent. But as the campfire becomes clear in normal vision, I find myself unable to take a step further.

I am close enough to see a person at the campfire, but not close enough to be heard. The ambient sounds deaden, and I know I have entered an area where my will does not hold reign. No matter how loud I shout, he will not hear me. Tentatively, I take a few steps towards him. It appears I am moving closer, but I realize the distance never changed. I break into a full sprint, but the dream’s geography moves under my feet like a treadmill. Many steps taken, no progress made.

I yield to the dream and turn away from the campfire. I hear sounds shifting behind me, a return of the ambient background noise. I look over my shoulder, and see the campfire, and its attendant, are gone. The dream has shifted the geography once again. I know I will not be able to return to that campfire this dream, if at all. Finding myself alone in the desert again, I simply begin walking. I know in this featureless landscape, it won’t matter what direction I walk towards. The dream will place me where I need to be.

After some time enjoying the scents of the desert, I notice I hear another set of footsteps. Something small, four-footed, and following me. I shift my walking pattern to lessen my own sounds, and confirm I’m being followed. I stop walking, intending to turn to face my pursuer. Instead, something small, cold, and wet has tucked under my feathered cloak and is nuzzling my ankle.

I look down to see a puppy. I expected to see a coyote puppy, but this fellow’s fur is far too long haired, far too bushy, and far too brightly white for a coyote. Where there is Baby, Mommy isn’t far behind. I look around, with night vision eyes and dream enhanced awareness, but find no other mammal but us two. A small paw scraping my leg gets my attention. The puppy is lonely. It looks up at me with true puppy eyes, wanting to be close to me. I’m wary at first, wondering if this is a trap baited with Cute. But I can find no hint of maliciousness, no shade of duplicity. Only a small fuzzy puppy, alone in the desert.

I sit down on the bare ground. Before I can extend my arms, the puppy is in my lap, licking my face, and bouncing around happily as puppies do. Now that it is in my hands, I can use my extended sense of touch to examine the puppy further. It is a coyote hybrid, but I can’t identify what species the other half is. The puppy is physically male, but I sense the emptiness of sterility. There are no wounds on him, and no debilitating internal issues that leap out at me. I can feel intestinal parasites within him, but this is to be expected for a wild born animal. Other than being unable to sire future generations, the plump puppy is in very good health.

The puppy and I play for a time, in the middle of the desert night. Soon, it tires out, and is content to lean against me. I wrap my arms around the tuckered pup, and wonder what else the dream has for me, and why it was important for me to meet the puppy. In the midst of my play, I became careless and stopped maintaining awareness of what else was around me. The first clue I was not alone with the puppy was a shift in ambient sound. Something soft and moving was nearby. Before I could turn my head, a wet nose was sniffing at my ear. I turned my head slowly, and found myself face to face with an adult coyote. Eye to eye, we stared at each other. Remaining physically still, I looked around with my enhanced awareness. I was surrounded by a pack of eight adult coyotes. I released my hold on the sleepy puppy, allowing him to slump down into my lap. I heard him yawn, then felt him cuddle up against me contentedly.

The adult at my ear, remained there. He didn’t growl, nor show his teeth menacingly, but it was clear I was trespassing on their territory. My position held, the other adults sniffed me from head to foot, sticking their nose under my cloak and down my shirt. They all, except for the alpha male still staring me down, stuck their nose in my crotch and sniffed deeply. They took a brief sniff of the puppy in my lap. I felt that the puppy belonged to them. The others, having examined me thoroughly, backed away with nods and short yips. Only then did the alpha male drop his gaze and sniff me himself. Where the others were content to only smell at what was easily available, he pushed his head between my back and cloak. Nudging my arm upward, he sniffed my armpit scent deeply. He sniffed at my face, my marked eye especially, and at my marked hand. But he was careful not to disturb the sleeping puppy. Satisfied, he too, backed away.

The adults were waiting for something, some action from me, but I did not know what. I thought of the sleeping puppy in my lap, and surmised I should put him on the desert ground. He isn’t mine, and I need to display that I claimed no ownership of him. The puppy was sleeping soundly in my lap, I hated to wake him. I stroked his head, then realized, he was too still.

I nudged him, but he didn’t respond. I called gently to him. Only the breathing of eight adult coyotes answered me. As I picked him up, I knew he was dead. I cradled him in my arms, weeping, for the puppy had silently died in my lap. The adults eyed me curiously. My reaction was not one they expected. They did not know that in the Waking, I had some heavy weights on me, some concerns that keep me from sleeping. To have the puppy die in my lap triggered the release of tears I did not know I had stored up. My brief mourning quickly spent, I laid the limp body on the desert floor. I turned away from the puppy to get up, but the alpha male blocked me. He pushed me back to the sitting position and sniffed at my eye and hand again.

I picked up the puppy’s body, and examined it again. Again, all I saw out of place was the sterility that comes from being a species hybrid. I looked deeper, and realized the hybridization was never supposed to happen. The puppy should never have been conceived. The genetic code was intact to only so far in the puppy’s development. It happened to hit that limit, laying in my lap.

I now understood why the puppy was alone in the desert. The coyotes knew this. They understood the puppy would not live, and had abandoned it to the desert. They heard me playing with the puppy, this Not Desert Creature that I am, and came to investigate if I was a threat to the pack as a whole. Finding me Not A Threat, they waited until the puppy’s time was done. I started to lay the puppy’s body back down, but again, the alpha male nudged at my hand. I held the puppy tighter to me, and he huffed in acknowledgement.

The pack moved as a whole a few steps away from me, then turned back to me as if asking, “Well, you coming, or what?”. I took the hint and scrambled off the desert floor, holding the cooling body close to me. I walked to the rear of the pack, but the alpha male stared at me with strange intent. I moved closer into the pack, so that two coyotes were behind me. Satisfied at my positioning, the alpha male turned and led us into the desert night.

We strode in single file formation. The six coyotes ahead of me stepping in the same footsteps. My lumbering human gait, though quiet, left an easily followed trail. The two coyotes behind me meandering from side to side. I wonder if they were hiding my human scent by waving their own. Silently, we marched over the hilly terrain. When the pack paused, out of an instinct I did not understand, I would crouch down on the desert floor to hide my height. The dead puppy’s bright white fur was hidden by my black feathered cloak. Onward we went until we came to a strange mound.

The alpha male sniffed at the boundaries of the mound, but did not ascend it. Instead he looked towards me, and looked towards the mound, back and forth a few times. The other coyotes sniffed around it. They were hesitant to even be close enough to sniff the base of it. Skittish and nervous, it was clear they would rather be any other place. The alpha male sniffed at the dead puppy in my hands, looked at the mound, and barked quietly.

As I stepped to the border of the mound, my senses told me what this was, and why the coyotes were hesitant. This was an ant mound, built up by centuries of ant colony expansion and growth. But among the dirt, I saw myriads of little bones and insect carapaces. These ants were meat eaters. In the desert, nothing goes to waste. A dead body will be consumed within days of expiring. If not by large predators, then by these ants. The coyotes had brought me here, to lay the puppy’s body on the ant mound.

The ants are scurrying around me in quick action. I know not to tarry here. The mound is of girth that I know there are enough ants here to overpower a human. I’m sure they have some sort of stinging action, and since I’m allergic to these ants in the Waking, I’d rather not find out if that allergy follows me into the Dreaming. I lay the puppy’s body as near the entrance as I dare, and retreat from the mound hurriedly. Before I even turn, the ants have discovered the body and are pouring out of the mound to partake of the delight of fresh meat.

The coyote pack had retreated even further from the mound when I ascended. I shake my cloak and legs as I step again onto hard desert soil. Satisfied no ants have clung to me, I look up at the alpha male in askance. He returns my stare, huffs softly, and looks briefly to his pack. I take up my position as before, six coyotes before, two coyotes after. He leads us away from the mound silently. Behind me, I can hear the thousands of ant mandibles, working to cut through the skin. Strangely, it doesn’t bother me.

We arrive at a dry creek bed. I see the bones of prey scattered through out. A chill begins to seep into me. The alpha comes to a halt in the middle of the creek bed and turns to face me. I come to stand before him and stop. The other seven coyotes surround me, blocking my escape. He stares at me, and I understand. I should not have come to this desert. I have trespassed. There is a blood price to pay, and I will pay it one way or another. He thanks me for the gentle care of the puppy until its death. He is glad to see there was no harm to his pack. But he is the guardian of this desert, and he must fulfill his duty.

I am to die.

I reach for the clasp on my cloak. Several of the coyotes brace to attack but the alpha’s huff stills them. I undo the feather cloak, and will it to return to the depths within me. I do not want it damaged. I know there was a brief chance of escaping the coyotes’ attack by using the cloak. I could have flown away. But I know the master of this desert would not relent. I have trespassed, and there is a price to pay, one way, or another. Either I pay now, or run the risk of something following me to the Waking.

I have died many times in my dreams. What is one more death?

I kneel before the alpha. I surrender to the guardians of the desert. The others look at me questioningly, they are confused. This is not how prey is supposed to react to danger. But the alpha male understands. He walks up to me, sniffs my exposed throat. I lift my head to him, giving him clear access to my jugular veins. I spread my hands in submission. <I will make your death quick. None of your flesh will be wasted.> The only words spoken by the alpha male lept directly into my mind. I felt honored by his two pronouncements. I hear only the sound of my breathing, and his breathing. They are matched. In the stillness between breaths, he lunges.

In a display of control, he does not force me to the ground. He forbids the others from grabbing at my outstretched arms. His teeth deep in my neck, he shifts slightly to rip the wound even larger. I see a glimpse of arterial spray painting the left side of his face red, covering the eye. We lock vision, staring into each others eyes. It hurts. It really hurts. The dream does not withhold that from me. But I force myself to remain still, my arms to remain outstretched, to remain submissive. I bleed out quickly, my arms falling. I dangle limply in his jaws. My last human sight is him laying me gently onto the desert floor, my blood soaking the dry creek bed.

My awareness detaches from my body on death and takes an aerial view of the execution. The other coyotes want to begin feasting, but the alpha withholds them. He wants to wait until my body is truly dead. A moments pause, then he takes the first bite of flesh. I am amused to watch them fight over my thighs. I am pleased to see his words held true. Nothing of my body is wasted. What they didn’t eat, other scavengers finished off, until only the ants were crawling around my scattered bones. As my body is devoured, my awareness fades, until there is only the dark of death.

I need my sanctuary. I need to get to my lair. The thoughts weren’t so much words as they were desires. I pour all I can into that desire. A sudden light pierces my open eyes. Gravity takes hold as I stumble forward into the early morning twilight. The light from the fire before my lair blinds me for a moment. I continue stumbling, trying to gain my footing but my legs refuse to gain strength. At the sight of the entrance, I lose my composure completely and pitch forward.

Strong arms catch me. I wonder if Snake knew I was in distress and had came out in naga form to help me. But there was something wrong with these arms. Instead of soft human skin, or satiny scales, these arms were cold and hard, as if they had been chiseled from marble. I look up to the face of my help, and see eyes sparkling like struck flint. It is the last thing I see before exhaustion catches up with me and I pass out.

I’m being rocked from side to side, gently. An arm swings free. It takes me a moment to recognize the pattern of movement, it’s not one I have been subjected to in many, many years. I’m being carried. I don’t remember what led up to this moment, so I start to twist in my carrier’s arms. “Hush, Weaver. We’re almost there, and I’ll set you down.” The voice is familiar, and brings to mind memories of comfort and soothing. I surrender to the voice’s request.

I know I’m still dreaming, but worries from the Waking seep through. The evening was a rough one, with sporadic short-lived fits becoming longer in duration and stronger in effect. Add to that, the separate call of Over There that I was actively resisting, and I was concerned I was fitting in my sleep again. As I worried about it, the familiar dull bitter precursor taste filled my mouth. The arms carrying me hugged me closer as the trembling started.

“Here, my friend. I think you know this chamber well.” I was laid upon a cold hard surface. At first nothing lay under my head, but soon something soft was tucked under me. A stiff hand rested on my chest until the trembling eased. I opened my eyes to find myself in a stone hewed room. Markings lined the top of the walls, glowing bright teal to my dream heightened senses. I have been here before. This is the svartalf’s chambers. But what am I doing here?

A face leans over mine. I recognize the eyes, but not the form. “I don’t know where you’ve been Weaver, but you should never have gone. You are in no shape for traveling tonight. Your physical weaknesses have caught up with you.” He moves my head to the side, examining my neck closely. “These bruises are fading. They are not as deep as they were when I found you. Where have you been, Weaver, that you had your throat ripped out? And what were you doing, Weaver, that you have no other wounds on you?”

I did not answer him. The mannerisms were that of my svartalf friend. The verbiage and the way he cocked his head while examining me were the same. But I don’t remember my svartalf friend being so damn tall, nor his skin so damn dark, nor his build so damn thin. He studies how I am studying him, and smiles slightly. “You don’t recognize me, my friend. Your silence betrays that. Your Sight is improving, I can hide less of what I am from you now.”

I tremble slightly on the cold table. “What are you, then? If not the svartalf I have adventured with?”

He sighed, that patient enduring sigh that I know so well. “What other names do you know my kind by?”

I blinked several times, trying to remember. “Dokkalfar. Dark Elves. Dvergar. Dwarves, some would say.”

“You’ve read many things written about us. Tell me, Weaver, what do they say we are?” As he spoke, he examined my hands closely. But I didn’t know what he was looking for. Some say you are the Dead, was my thought. But I didn’t want to follow that line of questioning any further.

“You’re distracting me. If you’re my friend, then you’re trying to calm me. If you’re not my friend, then you’re trying to fish for information to help you masquerade as him. I’m not saying another word until you tell me the name of my friend, the special name that only he gave me.” I pulled my hands free from him, and tried to sit up. To my surprise, he helped me, pulling me upright.

He leaned in close, so his mouth was by my ear. Holding my hands firmly, he whispered, “I never gave you a name, Weaver. And now I understand why you never insisted on one.” I could feel him smiling. Noting the position of the bruising on my neck, he suddenly remarked, “The only way your throat could be ripped from this position, is if you allowed it to happen! Where have you been?”

I pushed my friend away and slid off the table. Feeling more like myself, I called my feather cloak around me. Feeling it settle on my shoulders emboldened me. “Never you mind. It was a singular task, and I doubt it will be repeated.” Now looking fully at him, the thin build, the long black hair, I realize who he resembles. “You wouldn’t be White, now, would you?”

He raised an eyebrow in humorous surprise. “White? The color? I haven’t appeared to you in that shade for many months now. No, you mean someone that has come to visit you.” I nodded. “No, that wasn’t me. You still question who I am?” I nodded again. “Look around you, Weaver. You know this room. It will obey only one person, the one that made it.” I glanced at the markings in the walls. The table I was leaning on was similarly marked. Yes, I know this room, very well. He spoke a word, one that I was not able to understand the sounding of, and the markings changed from teal to deep blood red. I felt a trembling begin deep within me.

“You demand I prove myself, and I shall. I know you mean to leave, but you are more broken than you think. If I allow you to leave in the state you are in, you will be harmed when you return to the Waking. Forgive me, my friend, I must restrain you.” I pushed him away and tried to turn towards the exit. He muttered another word, and both doorways were sealed with stone that appeared within them. I turned to face him, meaning to call forth a runic strike. But the fit that had been teasing the edges of my senses bloomed into overwhelming torment. My limbs jerked into painful positions as I fell. He caught me quickly, and held me until the stiffness passed.

I am fully aware of what is happening around me. But I am unable to move or communicate. I know I’m dreaming, but I’m unable to exert my will onto my dream body. I must be fitting in my sleep. The stiffness passes without warning. Now, instead of holding a mannequin, the svartalf is holding a doll. He has to quickly shift his grip to keep me from hitting my head on the floor, or on the granite table we are crouched beside.

“Well, I see I don’t have to use bindings to stop you.” He wraps my feather cloak gently around me to collect dangling arms, picks me up, and places me back on the granite table. I start to move, randomly at first, then something resembling coordination starts to work to my advantage. He sighs deeply. “Why are you fighting me? I’m trying to help you.”

I struggle to form words. After a few attempts that looked more like I had peanut butter stuck in my cheek, I gave up trying to move under my own will. I was tired. The events in the desert was starting to seep back into my memory, and I was concerned about some of its implications. But I was also in the middle of what I call a fitstorm, when I have several intense, but short-lived, fits in rapid succession. If it was so severe that I was fitting in the svartalf’s chamber, I knew my body was putting itself through the ringer. I surrendered and accepted my friend was going to care for me.

“Do you remember the last time I had to ‘fix’ things?” I tried to shake my head, but only my eyes jerked around instead. “I had to help you rewire some responses. I suppose you don’t remember, you weren’t… all there.” He smiled with mischievous delight. I did remember, but I thought I had imagined the episode, as it occurred while I was wide awake. He was correct about my not being completely present for the episode.

His grin fled. “I’m going to help you again, like that. Take advantage of this series of fits. Nothing I will do here will affect you physically. Instead, I will show you different ways of dealing with the source of the problem. But you have to trust me, Weaver. If you don’t, you will not be able to adapt.” He stroked my face gently, with hands larger than what I was used to him having. “Do you trust me, Weaver?”

While he did not look like the svartalf I knew, his mannerisms, his style of speech, and his control over the room attested to him being my friend of old. “I trust you.”

He walked the length of the table, folding the feathered cloak over itself. It sealed as he did so, wrapping me in a continuous length of black feathered cloth. Examining his work, he returned to the head of the table. He showed me a piece of odd colored stone. Clear, yet obscuring. Smooth and lumpy. “You have this. You don’t know what it’s for. I will show you.”

He whispered more syllables under his breath and the table shifted under me. Instead of a smooth flat surface, it bowed in slightly. I was now laying in a shallow trough that was fitted to my body. He held the stone to my right temple, and placed his left hand against my left temple to balance the pressure. “I am going to send you away from here, Weaver. Your body will be safe here, but there is something you have to do for yourself, and by yourself.”

I started to answer, but I started chattering my teeth instead. The trembling came from deep within me, like a sudden shiver on a windy day. I felt my limbs stiffen, and I knew I would not be able to force this fit to end. I just had to ride it out. At the peak of it, the svartalf charged the stone he held next to my head, and discharged it into my skull.

I was forcibly ejected from my body, and fell into a different world. In that disembodied state, I was inundated with many visual paradoxes. I have no words to describe what I sensed and felt. Only that it was terrifying. Utterly, thoroughly, lurchingly terrifying. But as it continued, I began to make sense of it. Instead of being at the mercy of the terror, I began to command the terror. I became comfortable with the terror, and started to make it my own.

I knew how to use this terror in the Waking, how to apply it to myself when the fits began. I understood its limitations, and the difference between my learned response to the fits, and the actual physical hampering caused by the cranial damage incurred when I was a small child. But the terror was in itself a weakness. Overuse of it could change my personality. Which was not surprising. “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

I became so comfortable with the terror, I did not want to leave the intimate connection with it I had developed here. I felt something calling me away from it. I refused to leave. The calling became stronger, more urgent. I did not want to return to the svartalf, to return to the Waking. I felt all powerful here, and did not want to become weak again.

“Let go, Weaver. Stay there too long and you forget yourself.” The svartalf’s words settled in my mind clearly. I wanted to ignore them, but the accompanying understanding would not leave me. Grudgingly, I released my hold on the terror. I made a note to myself to try and bring the knowledge of the terror with me.

I woke up in the svartalf’s chamber. Shivering and drenched in a cold sweat. “I’ve done all I can for you, Weaver. But now you have to awaken. It is imperative. I do not know what you had done before I found you, but you must take that knowledge back to the Waking.” He wiped my face with that impossibly dark hand, while resting the other on my chest. “Are you ready? Are you ready to wake up?”

I nodded. I really wasn’t. But I did have to write this dream down as soon as possible. “Wake up, Keri.” He lifted his hand off my chest and I dissolved from his chamber at once.

I sat up in my bed, noting I had a cold sweat in the Waking as well. My mouth tasted of fits and blood. My neck itched. I grabbed the first recording device I touched, and made a list of keywords for Twitter. I was able to get another hour of dreamless sleep before getting up for the day and beginning to write out the dream proper.

If this account seems more disjointed than most, it is because there are many details that are private to me, and private to those I care for. What I have written here, is the public version, full of blinds and contradictions. Written more for the sake of story telling, than for journaling. Those that need to know the private version, knew of it an hour after waking.

Yes, there is more. No, I’m not telling.

Make of that, what you may.