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Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #2316969
A dream of a vast meeting underground. 2nd in Out of the Fog Contest, March 2024.
The Meaning

In the deep, dark mists of time there floated a dream. It was a dream that Henry recognised, a dream that he remembered from his childhood, a thing so vivid and compelling that it had never left him, its memory recurring at certain moments in his life as though suddenly relevant. The dream demanded interpretation.

It was so filled with a sense that it meant something important, that Henry had picked away at it for years, always hoping that this time he would recall how it ended. For it was cut short in his memory, not by wakening, but almost as though he had turned away at the precise instant when all was revealed. Always there was the feeling that a crescendo was about to be reached, only for everything to go instantly dark, with no clue how resolution and revelation might be poured out on such troubling events.

How old had he been when the dream occurred? Henry searched for telltale signs that might pinpoint the time. His first thought was that he must have been about ten years old. Certainly, he thought of the dream as being a childhood thing akin to the invisible monster that had chased him so many times in even earlier dreams. And childhood did not stretch beyond about ten - a year or two older and he would be dealing with teenage years.

But there were details in the dream that seemed to indicate a later date. The fact that everyone in the dream was wearing a monk’s habit, even down to the inevitable hood, for instance. Was he aware at that age of the significance of such clothing, how redolent of meaning and reference? From the vast distance of his seventy-five years, Henry doubted it. Those carefree years of his first decade were slipping away now, very little remaining to be pored over and even less to be trusted. The old man watched his younger self and knew him not.

And the religious connection of the dream would be more appropriate to his mid-teens, when he first started to deal with spiritual matters and decide what he believed. But that was what scared Henry about the dream; that it seemed to have meaning that he would rather avoid. His only defence against this had been that the dream was earlier than his teens. But he was facing the possibility now, in his old age and dotage.

From the few glances he had given to the chance that it was about religious matters, Henry knew that its meaning remained shrouded in mystery. The later date merely added to the ominous and threatening feeling it inspired, without offering a crumb of explanation.

Henry cast his thoughts back to the dream itself. It started in the tunnels, he was sure of that. No explanation of why he was there and what made him hurry down through the dimly-lit labyrinth with such apparent purpose. Hurrying through the frequently branching tunnels with no consideration of the route and complete ignorance of the goal. Down and down he went, ever deeper into the earth.

And then he came to a vast underground cavern that stretched away into utter darkness before him. There was a dim light emanating from somewhere near the centre of the space and this made it possible to see that the cavern was filled with a crowd so numerous that it was only possible to stand at the edge of their packed mass. There was no chance of squeezing through the bodies to get closer to the centre, so Henry stood at the edge and watched.

The crowd were still and silent, waiting patiently without a word spoken between them. All were dressed in monk’s habits with hoods up so that Henry could see nothing of their faces. He joined in their silent waiting.

Then the light became brighter as the glow in the centre began to grow. Steadily it enlarged itself until it was a huge, incandescent mass in the heart of the crowd. Then a great streamer leapt out of the glow and, like an arm reaching out above the people, it advanced in an arc over their heads and then plunged down to land in their midst.

At which point it blinked out, plunging the scene into dimness again in contrast to its burning brightness. The crowd remained impassive and motionless, waiting still.

Then another streamer arced out to land somewhere in the crowd, with the same result. This was followed by another, and yet one more, until there were streamers launching out at every moment and in every direction.

Henry could not see what was happening when they touched down but eventually one landed very close to him. And the man that it touched vanished instantly, not even a few grains of ash being left in the dark emptiness that followed. Those around the man stayed still and silent, apparently unaware of what had happened to him. Or not caring.

Henry did not stay to see any more. He turned and began to run down the tunnel that had brought him there. He ran as though his life depended upon it, although there was no sound of pursuit behind him. Onwards he ran, faster than he’d ever run in a dream before, never slowing or tiring, just desperate to get away.

And then the dream ended. Long before he had reached the surface or realised that he was hopelessly lost, Henry was deserted and left to surface slowly into awakening, already plucking at meaning as response to the dread in his bones.

The dream was persistent, that was clear. Even as much as sixty-five years later, Henry could recall it quite vividly in spite of its single occurrence. Its meaning was a nagging problem that returned again and again to haunt him. Was it possibly just a piece of cheese consumed too close to bedtime? But how likely was it that indigestion could produce something so apparently meaningful?

Those religious connotations did not help either. Everyone being in a monk’s habit spoke immediately of sects and cults and religious orders. And the streaming fire seemed too obvious a symbol of something else to be ignored. Was it perhaps prophetic, a vision of a future dalliance with belief that was subsequently rejected? Or a warning against involvement with wild-eyed preachers with weird ideas?

There was even a possibility that the dream spoke as a metaphor of things entirely unconnected with the religious. It could be seen as a fair picture of Henry’s life, with his rejection of the standard views on everything, to be replaced with an honest search for the truth. Which left a clear path into the political.

With these thoughts echoing through his mind, Henry rose and prepared for bed. When he finally retired, he lay there in the dark, his mind still occupied with the dream and its possible meanings. Eventually he slept.

Later, he found himself once again in the tunnels, in that dimly-lit corridor with a strong sense of which way led deeper in and which out. Determined to put the thing to rest once and for all, he headed down toward the chamber.

Word count: 1,194
For Out of the Fog Contest, March 2024
No prompt but write of a dream.

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