30 Aug “The Dreamers” by Blake Hill Saya
“The Dreamers” is a short story written by Blake Hill Saya and submitted to a contest on Reedsy prompts.
Warm wet wind glazed all my surfaces, slicking my hair and tunic backward. It felt utterly overpowering yet somehow not dangerous. I was inside my skin but also outside and above; observing my tiny form transfixed beneath an impossibly massive wall of water that curved over my head like a second sky.
Back inside my skin, my eyelids pushed back against the wind fighting for a better view of the living blue green wall; shimmering, semi-transparent. To my astonishment, I saw, sitting solemnly in the cradle of the wave was a pair of creatures. They sat upright on their haunches and looked like the beasts called tigers my grandmother told me were carved in stone in front of the place called library when she was a child. They gazed gravely back at me from the shimmering world of the wave, like friends who had come to deliver unsettling news. My arms spread themselves wide against the wind in an awkward attempt at welcome. I Reached toward their faces. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming thirst; for life, for whatever the tigers had to say, for whatever the wave wished to do with me. My mouth opened wide too, my tongue reaching for any drop – and the few that fell were sweet, not salty, warm and full of life. Every pore of me was open. I was a pulsating thirst, a dying thing hungry for beauty. The water sang to me with love like my mother used to sing, but the song was also like food for the animal of my body and information for the light of my mind. It was too much and not enough.
Then it all fell into chaos. The wave swallowed me and spit me back out into the tunnels. I was awake, my grandmother standing over me. Her eyes pierced through mine like sewing needles. Her precise fingers reached for my forehead, my upper lip, combed upward into my scalp, all the places I could feel I was wet with sweat. She rolled my sweat between her fingers and touched one to the tip of her tongue. Her eyes softened on mine and seemed to retract, creasing more deeply.
“You had the dream.”
“Don’t be stupid, you know what dream. Get up. We have to talk before the section wakes. Put on your boots, get your mask and a bag for foraging. I will meet you at the small opening. Be silent, Mulu, or I will smack your ears every day for a week. “
My head was still soggy from the dream but the urgency in her voice made my skin prickle. I wriggled out of my sleep sack, careful not to make my sleeping platform creak as I swung my legs over and felt for my boots. I pulled the long stockings out and rolled them onto my feet and up to my knees. My hand reached for dry fabric rolls, shorter for my loins, longer for my chest. My feet slid into my boots noiselessly, my old friends, mended hundreds of times and passed down from my mother when she was of foraging age. I reached for my large bag and carefully stood, sliding it up onto my platform ready to slip onto my back.
I stood silent, slowing even my own breath, listening for any disturbance in the sleepers further down our section. Why did I feel different? This moment had a tang of danger in it, I could smell it, like the presence of a stalking animal. I was suddenly very grateful that grandmother had demanded I sleep near her and closer to the section opening (she said it was because she needed help to relieve her bowels in the night; she had never asked me for help).
Satisfied with the familiar pattern of noises, I slipped my night shirt over my head, my hair flopping down on my bare back. My breast bandage, and loin wrap were rapid and habitual acts although my breast bandage was getting too short of late. My leather tunic was last, and I checked for the gloves, arm wraps and two masks always waiting in my bag. I would braid my hair by the small opening before masking up. I slid my long knife out from under my head rest and into place in my right boot and my short knife out of my bag and into the front fold of my tunic. My eyes were starting to cooperate. I charted my path over any obstacles between me and the section entrance, and began to move.
My scalp still felt damp. Deliberately I glided out of our section, moving upward past the last few sections of our corridor. Minimal movement and maximum snoring meant it was well before surface light maybe even three hours before. What could grandmother want to forage for at such an hour?
My heart nearly stopped as I bumped squarely into a man stumbling around the corner to his section from the waste barrels, his sleep shirt bunched in his hand. He cursed at me vaguely and I felt lucky he didn’t really see me in the grey light. His insults were decidedly masculine so he must have thought I was some rebellious yonk looking for trouble on the surface before light.
When I arrived at the small opening grandmother was waiting, loudly. Every muscle in her tiny frame screaming “ YOU ARE LATE!!!”
She shoved hard cake and half a can of bone brew at me and her narrowed eyes continued to scan the general area as I munched. When she was satisfied that I had fortified myself, she stashed the can in her bag and jerked her chin for me to move into the small opening ahead of her. She followed close behind me, her fingers pinching my elbow, modulating our speed. At the last set of stairs before the surface she jerked us to a stop and pulled me to one side into a small storage alcove.
There in the dark, still holding my forearm in her vise grip, her mouth by my ear, she told me who and what I was.
“When I was an infant, before the surface changed, when green was a color everyone could see, I was given a new mother and father by the government. They told me this was lucky, and, as I grew, I felt lucky on the outside. On the inside I felt blurry; lost. I grew larger on the outside, and on the inside I stayed small.”
“I was taught all the things that made me able to talk about and do the things that my new family talked about and did. I especially liked going to the place called library. I loved learning new words, and books especially the ones about nature and the wonders of the world. My family were proud of this and said they would help me find more learning. The days were getting hotter and the library was dark and deep and cool. My parents talked loudly behind closed doors about leaving the city. Strangers were getting stranger on the streets. The world felt dangerous. One day I was feeling strange so I curled up under a library desk and slept.”
“I dreamed I stood under a breaking wave bigger than the city, bigger than the sky, but I was not afraid. There were wild beasts I had only seen in books within the water looking out at me, and the water tasted sweet. For the first time in my life my inside was as awake and as big as my outside. I woke up wet with sweat that tasted like honey, and with a man who worked in the library staring at me. I ran all the way home.”
I listened to my grandmother’s voice in my ear, frozen in place. This was more than I had ever learned about my grandmother’s life. I couldn’t believe how perfectly she had described my dream, as if she had been there standing beside me beneath the breaking wave. What could this mean? Her fingers pinched me back to attention.
“When I got home I tried to forget about the dream. But I was so thirsty. It was like I could smell and hear everywhere in the house that water was. Before the surface changed there was water in almost everything. In things called faucets and in white containers called baths that you could put your whole body in just to wash. There was water inside all the green things and in all the things we used to eat. I could hear it singing to me. I could tell if it was hot or cool, good to drink or foul, salty or fresh. The water inside people told me about them. It told me if they were angry or sick, good or not to be trusted. The water inside my parents began to trouble me.
At first all this information was torture, I couldn’t sleep. Slowly I made it part of me and we accepted each other as part of a whole story. I never told my government parents. I knew they were already becoming strangers, like all the people in the streets. The days got hotter.”
“My government family left me to go to the new settlement. I was not surprised. I knew I was not welcome in their new world. The voice of water had become feeble on the surface. Beautiful things were dying and the people left behind were dangerous. I hid and foraged to survive for a while. Then I decided to follow the voice of water into the tunnels. I went alone into the dark, trusting what I knew. I met your grandfather at the first spring I ever found. We each knew how the other had found it. Your mother was born by that spring.”
“Your grandfather and I built this settlement, dug deep, found each consecutive spring, defended ourselves, learned to forage on the surface, built a community family by family. The voice of water was our unspoken treasure, our duty to follow and interpret. Since he died I have heard the voice of water less and less. With you near me I can hear it a little more. Your mother never had the dream. I hoped that you would.”
“ But I can’t hear anything grandmother, all I feel is thirsty and confused. Everything feels dangerous.”
“Are you afraid?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I..I feel like I’m not alone, maybe for the first time.”
“That is because the voice of water is with you, and because there is so little of it left here, or in any of us, it isn’t loud and everywhere like it was for me when I had the dream.”
“ What do I do now?”
The Surface light was growing and grandmother shifted in the alcove, turning my face toward hers by my chin. In the grey light I could suddenly see how she might have looked as a girl, alone, following the voice of water into the tunnels; making a life where no life seemed possible.
“ What do you do Mulu? You listen. You learn what I can teach you in the time I have left. You tell no one what you know, unless they too have had the dream.
Then, when you are ready, you lead us out of here.”
“You will know. You must trust that you will know. You have given me back my hope, Mulu.
If the dream can still find us we can still follow it home.“
Light was dawning on the surface as we masked our faces, gloved our hands and shouldered our bags. I felt exhausted and heavy with the burden of all I had learned in the space of an hour or less. Work had to be done in these few precious hours of visibility before the light would begin to burn. Grandmother’s wiry form led the way, the dust rising around her.
A tiny voice began to sing in my ear, thin, sweet, sharp. I stopped. It pulled at me like grandmothers fingers pulling at my elbow. My eyes saw nothing but dust and twisted metal.
Grandmother was watching me now. I let the tiny voice pull me to the familiar heap of a vehicle long since stripped, a landmark of sorts for the small opening. I struggled with half of a drum buried in filth and ash, finally turning it over.
Under it, singing to me, was a slender green, living thing. I looked up at my grandmother my heart and eyes overflowing with wonder.
“That, Mulu, is called grass.”
Submitted to Reedsy Prompts in response to the prompt – Write about a character whose job is to bring water to people.
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