(Modus operandi: this is part of a series I’m doing to stay creative during my obligatory training with the Swiss military. The stories are short and are meant to be read while listening to the music pieces written to accompany them. This fourth story is about a dream I had that I tried to write down as accurately as possible. It’s a bit random and surreal, the way dreams tend to be, but it was fun to do, so… *throws it at the internet* Also if there are any dream-readers out there, tell me your theories as to what it means! 😉)
Very early on a grey, chilly morning, I crept into a shoe-shop together with a figure made out of boiling black shadows.
The shoe-shop stood in the depths of an ancient metropolis, spires, cracked sidewalks, scrawny trees. The sky was criss-crossed with power lines. The sun was at least an hour from rising, and the shoe-shop was closed to business, but the door had not been locked and so my dream-self and the shadowy figure, reprobates that we were, went in.
It was a very nice shoe-shop. The ceilings were high and it had a dark, fusty, Victorian grandeur to it, a black-and-white tiled floor, and palms in brass pots. All the shoes were lined up on gothic shelves, Oxfords, every one, spectator shoes in chestnut and red and linen, gleaming dully in the gray light from the plate-glass window. They looked like pairs of insect wings, waiting to fly you off somewhere.
I don’t know what we wanted in the shop. I don’t even know who the shadowy figure was, with its face and limbs twisted from coils of darkness, but we entered with much nervous excitement and closed the door quietly behind us, and slipped over the tiles to sit down on one of the red-velvet benches where during daylight hours the assistant would measure your foot.
The shadow figure told me something, and we discussed that for a while, until with a start, I realized that a long, low, old-fashioned automobile had pulled up across the street – a boat of a machine, gleaming blue and gunmetal gray – and three men in tweed suits and bowlers had stepped out. I knew at once, with that inevitable certainty of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Murphy’s Law, or whichever rule of nature it is that lets you know that the world is doomed and everything is inevitably going to go wrong, that they were headed for the shoe-shop, which was closed, and which we were not allowed to be in.
The men strode across the street, and all was very quiet except for their shoes on the cobbles, and that dull, fuzzy hum of early morning.
I and the shadow figure jumped up at once and looked about for a way of escape. It was then we realized that the shoe-shop had a museum inside it. Or perhaps the museum had a small, grand shoe-shop just off the entrance. Behind the mahogany desk with the cash register, you could go down one step into a lobby of sorts with a glass donation-box for orphaned children or politicians. Beyond that, cordoned off with twists of velvet rope, was a grand marble staircase that split several times and led up to the galleries and displays. This was all quite gloomy and dim, with all the light still caught in the high bay window to the street.
I and the shadow figure had a brief, whispered conversation where we argued whether to run into the museum or duck behind the counter of the shoe-shop. It was one thing to be caught in a closed-up shop, quite another to be caught in a museum full of priceless treasures. And yet there was also the possibility of not being caught at all, and so we ran, quickly and silently, out of the shoe-shop and under the twisted velvet rope, bolting up those wide marble stairs toward the hushed rooms above.
I don’t remember hearing the door to the street open, but I was certain we had only just avoided the three men entering the shop.
We ran up the stairs and down a long, white gallery lined with beheaded elk and bears, and oil-painted people peering blearily from gold frames, also looking rather like hunting trophies, grotesquely preserved.
At some point I lost the shadow figure (perhaps it had decided to hide somewhere among the chair-legs) and I ran on into a very large, cluttered room – furniture and busts and books lying open and spine-up – as if it were in the process of being moved out of. Why it was in a museum I do not know, but I hurried through it, and the whole time I was terrified that the three men down in the shoe-shop had heard us in this vast silence, opening the doors, our feet squeaking on the marble, and were coming after us, and all I could think was to get as far away from them as fast I could. Every room passed through and corner turned felt like a cushion staving off some horrible fate. I went through a very large banquet hall, sterile and gilded, the kind they have in hotels to host charity dinners and weddings with lots of bitter relatives at round tables.
And then I turned to the right off the banquet hall and came to a room with no doors but the one I had come through, and I knew I had to hide.
I could hear the three men behind me, and very selfishly I did not think at all of the shadow figure.
The room I was in had a bank of high mullioned windows facing a field, which was strange, because the shoe-shop had most decidedly opened into a city. And yet here I was, peering down onto an early-morning field, white with dew. Not far behind me, I could hear the hurrying feet and voices of the three men. They had most definitely caught my trail, and if they found me here it would surely be the end of me. I would go to jail for trespassing, or at the very least have to explain myself, which seemed almost as bad.
I opened the window and looked out, and the next thing I knew I was falling down to the grass, a full ten feet below, completely unbothered by the force of the landing, and running full-speed across the field and up a short slope toward a gathering of trees. I did not hear anything from that great house I had just fled, and I ran and ran, my breath loud in my ears, and when I reached the trees at the top of the hill, I found a girl there, sitting next to a pond on a stone bench and peering intently into the waters.
“Do you see something?” I asked her, “in the water?” and she said, “Yes. There is a bottle down there, and inside is my family.”
I went to the edge of the pond and looked down, and sure enough, lying half-buried in the moss and silt at the bottom of the pond, was a bottle of deep blue glass. Inside were a few little people wandering to and fro, completely unfazed by me, or the museum down the hill, or the girl, or any of it.
I looked back toward the place I had fled, the one open casement gaping wide in the bank of windows. No one was looking out, none of the men in bowlers. Perhaps they were still searching the museum, rushing through all those silent, cluttered rooms.
I hope the shadow figure got away, too. I never did find out why I was in the shoe-shop to begin with.