Try as he might, Sebastian Mondo couldn’t focus on his work. He was numb and disconnected. Content needed to be written, messages needed to be sent, but there was something blocking him, a numbness that couldn’t be overcome. All he could do was sit and stare at his computer, sinking deeper into his desk chair. But at least his surroundings were knowable and safe. The printer was wheezing and whirring. The Keurig was spitting out warm urine. Frivolous chit-chat was coming from its usual frivolous corners. Frozen meals were being consumed under florescent lights.
At midday, Sebastian finally managed to complete a first draft for an upcoming press release. He hit the print button on his computer, stretched and then walked toward the printer on the other side of the office. He passed various cubes, each containing someone that he neither knew nor cared to know. Turning the corner, he walked up to the hulking machine and fished his print job out of the tray.
What is Cravenmoor?
Sebastian’s eyes widened in shock and amazement as dim, long-repressed memories exploded throughout his cerebrum. The black ink of the letters gleamed on the page, a contrast made all the more powerful due to there being nothing else written on the paper. His conscious relationship to the world then receded, usurped by something more primal and automatized. He walked mindlessly back to his cubicle, the printer paper held lightly between the thumb and pointer finger of his hand. “What is Cravenmoor?” the paper asked. That was indeed the question. But it was a question he thought had been answered many years earlier.
Before finding the note, Sebastian hadn’t thought about his childhood and young adulthood for nearly a decade. His time and energy had been consumed by other matters, funneled into relationships, jobs and material aspirations. But the note on the printer had triggered him internally, opening his mental floodgates to that which had long been buried. Broad strokes were quickly becoming fine details, and at the center of it all was his former life as a dreamer and the dreamworld that he had once inhabited.
From as early as he could remember, Sebastian had been a dreamer, capable of visiting imaginary worlds with little effort. As a child he could easily find himself on the Bejeweled Shores of Amberdeen, envision a life of scientific discovery on the Isthmus of Mecha. And as he got older, this dreaming had only intensified, growing until it eclipsed nearly every facet of his life. He worried his parents to the point where they decided to pursue professional treatment. He saw every type of doctor, dabbled with every variety of medicine, but there was nothing to be done, no way to inoculate him to the habitual wanderings of his mind.
In high school, while others were playing sports, he was placing bets on the Karakow Games, leading nautical missions to the City of the Outer Mantel. As his classmates fretted over homecoming, he was consulting with the Majory Kings, staging campaigns in the Fourth Arctic War. Still, it wasn’t until high school that he finally discovered the city of Cravenmoor, a secluded, sea-side hamlet nestled between the Arcadian Hills and the Atlantic Ocean. He had come to the city by the Strait of Zambeen, taking a train that wound its way down the Hudson River and through the thick forests of Pennsylvania. The route terminated at a depot adjacent to the Marshes of Mystery, and when he excited the locomotive, he was warmly received by the Cravenmoorians, as if he was the city’s long lost son. The hamlet’s inhabitants immediately doffed their caps before providing him with a tall glass of Merri Mead, a native beverage culled from the sunlit meadows above the Caracase Falls.
He spent many weeks in the city – enjoying midday repasts of honeycream and dates while consulting with the city’s chemical mages and taking rides in Cravenmoor’s famous Oragana Steamcarts. He gleefully joined practice sessions for the Civic Windriders and eventually even took a job in the Sagemarry Library, where he assisted the institution’s gruff bookmasters in the careful maintenance of its esteemed collections.
During breaks, he would sit in one of the library’s service rooms, a small, circular space that jutted out from the complex’s many corridors. Sebastian looked at this time as a chance to read the various texts that were temporarily out of circulation, books like Melville’s Isle of the Cross and parts two and three of Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. During breaks in his reading, he would stare out of the service room’s tracery window at Halos Falls, a multi-tier waterfall that wound its way along the eastern side of the Sagemarry Library before feeding the Pool of Meridian. The sound of the falls lifted his spirits even further than they already were, painting the world with the rosy quality of limitless possibility.
As is so often the case, however, things then started to change. Sebastian graduated high school and immediately entered college, becoming immersed in the social relationships, the jostling for status, the singular obsession with obtaining a career. Years went by and his self-obsession grew, exacerbated by a series of dispiriting failures that left him bitter and self-loathing. Relationships came and went, jobs remained out of reach and the world took on a dark and hostile tone.
But unlike his childhood, Sebastian did not seek out escape through the dreamworld. He doubled down on his lifestyle, solidifying his existence through habit and routine. And so it went, year after year, until eventually the dreamworld began to fade from his memory. Vistas such as the Tillacuta rice fields dissipated like a puff of smoke. The bewitched city of Orhan vanished underneath a subconscious veil. Cravenmoor was the last to go, the glorious dream city’s textures and features, sights and smells slipping inexorably away until he was left with nothing aside from an increasingly harsh and anxious waking life.
He found a modicum of peace at home. The silence in his small apartment was often deafening, the night’s shadows long and malicious. Each evening, he would sit in his tiny bedroom and try to write, only to be distracted by the tapping of dark tree branches against the thick glass of the room’s window. Yet his old pit bull, Sally, was an invaluable companion, a comforting fixture of a lonely life. The dog’s bed was located adjacent to his writing desk in a snug, comfy corner of the room. During his all-night writing sessions, Sally could be counted on to rise from her bed twice every hour, stretch her old joints and walk to his side in order to receive a scratch or two behind her ears. Together, they would pass each night, eventually emerging into grey-lit mornings.
But everything had changed with a cryptic question typed on a innocuous piece of printer paper. Cravenmoor had returned to him. Once again, the dreamworld had been made manifest, discarding the erroneous notion that his reality was easily definable. This was a thought that thrilled but also terrified him. It threatened a repetitious existence that, although unsatisfying, deflating and anxiety-provoking, had succeeding in grounding him for many years.
After the workday ended, he gathered up his belongings and slipped out of the office. He left his car in the lot, walking into the surrounding neighborhoods in an attempt to gain some clarity for his increasingly disordered mind. He turned down one quiet residential street before stopping dead in his proverbial tracks. The road ahead was starting to crack and fall apart. The people walking on the sidewalks fell screaming into this quickly growing chasm, fragile bodies tearing apart on razor sharp concrete and broken water mains. He felt himself slipping; the world tilted upward, sending him spiraling into a horrible abyss.
Blood-red cliffs rose above a violent blue sea, which was being sucked and spun by an unholy whirlpool at their base.
He woke with a start back in his bed, his sheets and clothes drenched in sweat. Sally was licking the hand that was closest to her, clearly attracted by the salty sweat that coated it. Settling back uneasily into the lumps of his pillow, his mind felt as if it had been lit on fire. The language of the dreamworld had reemerged, but he no longer knew how to access or harness it. It lay just beyond his reach, a painful fact now that he once again knew it to be valid, tangible and true.
Drifting off to sleep, he thought about how calling on the dreamworld had once been his specialty. It had been a deeply internalized skill, functioning almost as muscle memory. He could remember sailing through the anti-gravity hedges of Perecuerto. And he could poignantly recall tobogganing down the Path of Aquarius with fellow dreamers in sleds of pure quartz, celebrating the end of each evening with fabulous meals of blackberry bread and amber wine.
Still, that was long ago. It had been eons since he had surveyed a Malalorian Glacier; and he couldn’t remember the last time he had soared through the night sky on a beam of silverthorn. Adult life had reduced the elasticity of his mind to routines and patterns, cliches and loops. And he did not know how to return to what he had once been. As the weeks and months ticked by with no further sign from the dreamworld, Sebastian felt his simmering anxiety grow to a full boil. He longed to exert some control, to take the reins and pull his existence into a design of his own making. And yet it seemed impossible. There was no blueprint, no guide to help him recapture the headspace of the dreamer.
His mind became a bubbling abscess of gloom. Cravenmoor was no closer, and perhaps it never would be. This was a thought that made him sad on good days and close to panic on bad ones. And yet the more he tried to suppress such negative ideas, the more virulent and powerful they became. They brewed a terrible mental toxicity that wore him down, suppressing his desire to speak or interact with anyone. As he approached a year of dwelling on his morose dissatisfaction, something finally gave out within him. He surrendered himself and took to his bed, resolving to not get up again until he found the dreamworld once more.
Darkness descended and he walked through a door, a circular opening of unknown purpose. The door led to a neuron pathway of sea green light, a kaleidoscopic world that looked as if it passed through a fun-house mirror. He moved across it, but then the light evaporated and ruddy red dirt rushed up to meet him. He had somehow come to the landscape of his earlier vision, where blood red cliffs loomed over chaotic waters. He stood on a precipice 500 feet above the surf, whose raging waves could be clearly seen despite the thick fog that hung where stone met water.
Sebastian rose painfully to his feet to take stock of his surroundings. The cliffs rose up cruelly before him, towering peaks that ended with razor sharp steeples of stone. Despite this, he began to trudge ahead with determination. It was slow going, and more than once Sebastian thought he might be lost to the cliffs. But eventually he reached the top of the closest peak, spilling over the top onto a meadow of sweet-smelling grass and endless mountain flowers.
And so it was that Sebastian passed over the Red Cliffs of Golgamon and entered the land of Ol’ Addi the Dreammaster. Nobody knew when Ol’ Addi had first come to the meadows past the Red Cliffs of Golgamon or, for that matter, where he had come from. If you asked ten different people you would receive ten different answers. For some he was a savior, appearing to offer relief in times of lean harvest or natural disaster. For others, he was an bad omen, a mysterious symbol who was to blame for whenever something went seriously awry.
Throughout his earlier years as a dreamer, Sebastian had heard a great deal about Ol’ Addi. He had, of course, overheard whispers during his time in Cravenmoor, and while he was on the Isthmus of Mecca, he had even seen a wood carving of the old man in the Library of Robotics, a prized relic that had been excavated from the surrounding hills 1,000 years prior. But despite having a considerable knowledge base, the unexpected nature of his arrival at the Red Cliffs prevented him from properly discerning his surroundings; he was unable to put two-and-two together and recognize it as the home of the mysterious legend of the dreamworld.
Ol’ Addi lived a hermetic existence in the center of the meadow, his home sitting between a dozen small streams that cut through grass and flower before eventually spilling over the side of the Red Cliffs of Golgamon. His home was a small wooden cabin, a rustic structure that was unlike anything Sebastian had ever seen before. While composed primarily of wood, shiny, metallic pipes shot out of the roof. On its sides sat marvelous steel beams complete with multiple hinges. The beams looked as if they could almost be appendages, which, if activated, could break the cabin free from the earth on which it rested. Of windows, there were few, but each one was spectacularly framed in wrought-iron borders and cut into non-traditional shapes like portholes and triangles.
Sebastian walked toward the cabin of Ol’ Addi, stepping gingerly over two of the smallest streams in the meadow. He could still hear the sound of the sea crashing against the Red Cliffs behind him, and even catch the briny smell of the surf when the wind changed. But the sound was becoming undoubtedly more muted – a gentle rush rather than a fearsome roar. Reaching the cabin, Sebastian couldn’t help but admire the handiwork of Ol’ Addi’s front door, which was shaped like an upside-down turnip bulb and composed of both wood and a metal that he could not identify. He took a deep breath, opened the door and then stepped inside the cabin, shutting away the pastoral meadow. He didn’t really know what he was looking for. All he knew is that he wanted to explore the cabin and come to know its owner.
Sebastian was standing in what appeared to be a mudroom of sorts, a welcoming space complete with a wall rack for clothing items, a long chest for boots, a marble washing sink and an ornate chandelier that hung down from above. Directly around the corner, he could hear the sound of crackling fire coming from Ol’ Addi’s study. He walked into the room and caught his breath at the comfort on display, at the welcoming hominess of the room. A beautiful fireplace stood off to the right, the polished black of its cast iron gleaming even in relatively dim light. Sitting almost parallel to the room’s doorway were two high-backed chairs resting on top of a large plush rug, each complete with its own footrest. Behind that was a large writing desk, its rosewood top covered in crinkly papers and texts, and a heavy-looking analog computer balanced precariously on the desk’s leftmost edge.
Wrapping almost entirely around the circumference of the room was a tall, wooden bookshelf, its shelves crammed with books of all conceivable subject matter. There were books on philosophy, biology, and history; texts on theology, anthropology and computer science; ample writings on sociology, art and economics; not to mention scores upon scores of novels from every country and time period. There were even multiple treatises on subjects Sebastian had long believed to be strictly in the realm of the pseudo or the lunatic fringe – such as parapsychology, cryptozoology and phantom time.
Opposite from where Sebastian was standing, a circular staircase led up to a second floor, which looked like little more than a loft. He crossed to it and began ascending, admiring that the book shelf continued unbroken even as it passed around and under the circular staircase that he was now climbing. Before long, however, his attention shifted to the rail where he had placed his right hand. It was a delirious mixture of interweaving metal pipes and tubing with boxy gears whirring and clicking between each piece.
Sebastian found the loft to be much larger than he originally expected. Its extended easily thirty feet away from him and was divided by six bookshelves positioned at equal intervals across its width. The shelves were jam-packed with what appeared to be the entire history of scholarship on human dreaming. He could see the dream writings of the ancient Egyptians written on decaying papyrus, run his hand across the famous Iškar Zaqīqu. He spotted the Indian text, the Upanishads; glimpsed Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis; and of course spied Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Dreams and Occultism and the Interpretation of Dreams. His excitement rose with each new volume; it seemed that if he was ever going to fully rediscover the essence of the dreamer the answers he needed would be found in this cabin.
A light was on in the furthest corner, and Sebastian walked toward it, passing further texts analyzing the endless layers of the human imagination. The light was coming from a lamp that made up one small part of a luxurious reading nook – which featured two bay windows, a desk that contained numerous instruments of unknown purpose, one of the most comfortable chairs that Sebastian had ever seen, a side table and the lamp that originally drawn him in. On the side table there was a heavy volume, and Sebastian picked it up and riffled through it. As expected, much of the text was illegible, the letters of the words twisted perversely out of shape. He couldn’t read a single part of it, and was planning to put it down when he flipped to a page with a photograph of someone he recognized.
He dropped the book, its heavy weight crashing to the ground. His own face stared back at him from the page.
“Tis’ a dreamer you are; I would know – even from afar.”
Sebastian whirled on his heel looking for the source of the voice just in time to see Ol’ Addi step out from the shadows cast by the bookshelves, entering the circle of light provided by the lamp. He was bent and old, withered by what looked to be centuries of life. His face, however, defied easy classification. Deeply lined around the eyes, mouth and forehead, the man bore the visual signs of extreme old age. Yet in many respects, the man’s countenance also appeared youthful and vital, with a sharp jawline and a distressing lack of jowls that communicated an indifference to the ravaging passage of time. Further complicating matters was the man’s hair, which, although white as snow, was far too thick and illustrious considering his advanced age. The man had eyes that looked like they had seen it all, as if they had stared out at the world for millennia. Brown with flecks of gold, the eyes seemed to cut through Sebastian, to know him and to see him with all of his complexity.
For his part, Sebastian was floored; the greatest of dreamers was standing before him, and his mere presence promised that Sebastian’s journey had come to an end. The two men stared at each other, and neither one spoke. In fact, the only sound was the faint whisper of the wind blowing through the meadow’s grasslands outside of the cabin. For a brief moment, Sebastian felt the world shift and his knees quake. Ol’ Addi became him and he became Ol’ Addi. He saw himself through the old man’s eyes and did not like what he saw. Everything was on display. There was his selfishness and his neediness, his unrealistic expectations and his moral failings. Inside of Ol’ Addi, however, was a different story. There were failings to be sure, unsavory thoughts and impulses bubbling below the surface. But layered over these was a mollifying salve, indicating a level of composure beyond anything he had ever known.
Ol’ Addi’s mind was both familiar yet alien – filled with recognizable details yet obviously at the apex of its evolutionary curve. It was far above him, and it was clear that this was a consciousness shaped by every possible experience, informed by the entire spectrum of human knowledge. It understood the world, and it understood itself. Compared to it, he was nothing, obsessed with controlling a world he could barely comprehend. His mind snapped back, and he was himself again, staring into the ancient face of Ol’ Addi.
“If tis’ the dreaming you come for, let me show you what I have in store,” said Ol’ Addi in his strange, sing-song rhyming before skittered out of sight, his diminutive, robe-cloaked form disappearing into the darkness. Sebastian stood dumbstruck over what he had just experienced. Looking down the bookshelf row where Ol’ Addi had disappeared, he saw the old man dance around the corner and scurry out of his line of sight down the circular staircase. Sebastian wanted to stay in the light, never leave the safety of its glow. The bookshelves seemed to have grown in height, and their immense, unnatural size filled him with dread, as if he was actively shrinking out of existence. After a moment, he felt more in control of himself; the anxious energy drained out as though he was being bled, and he was able to follow the old man out of the cabin.
The rustle of grass and the low roar of the sea greeted him as he walked back out to the meadow, which was now growing dark in the gathering twilight. The old man was already at the edge of the Red Cliffs of Golgamon, staring into the misty abyss that stretched out below him. Sebastian stepped over several tiny streams before walking across a footpath that had been laid over a much larger one. He walked up to Ol’ Addi, stopping a few paces behind him and waited to be engaged. For a long time, the old man didn’t speak or move, he simply stood watching the waves that pounded the Red Cliffs of Golgamon.
After what seemed like hours, the old man finally spoke without looking around.
“If tis’ knowledge you seek, come to the edge, come to the peak.”
Sebastian walked forward. Ol’ Addi had not yet turned around; he remained silent and still, and continued looking out over the Red Cliffs. The wind was still whistling, the streams still flowing, but the environment suddenly felt airless and oppressive, as if the whole world was waiting for something to happen.
“Ask your questions, we have time for one or two. Ask them now while the sun remains in view.”
“How do I return to the dream?” Sebastian asked, his heart pounded in his chest.
For a long time Ol’ Addi said nothing. Shadows continued to deepen in the meadow, and it was growing colder. The wind whistled, chilling Sebastian to his core. Then the old man spoke.
“You can’t go back, such a thing cannot be. You must move forward; you must become me.”
Ol’ Addi whirled toward Sebastian, his robes swirling behind him. Wizened arms jutted out and clasped themselves around Sebastian’s neck, bony fingers biting into soft, vulnerable flesh. Sebastian had no time to cry out, no time to do anything before he was driven to the soft grass by arms that felt like they were forged with iron. He struggled with the vice-like grip of the old man, scratching and grasping at his thin, skeleton-like fingers.
He couldn’t breath, couldn’t speak. The world of the Red Cliffs was blurring in and out of focus, and all sound had been reduced to a high-pitched hum. His legs kicked out violently, pulling free clumps of the sweet-smelling grass. Spots exploded in front of his eyes, nearly blotting out his vision entirely. Ol’ Addi loomed over him. His lips were frozen in a toothy snarl, but his eyes communicated something radically different. They were full of rage to be sure but also a mixture of softer emotions: of pain, sadness and empathy. Panic was rising in Sebastian’s chest, but just as it reached its peak, a warm feeling of relief took hold, as he knew that it was not the end but the beginning.
Ol’ Addi removed his hands from Sebastian’s neck and got to his feet. He looked out once more over the Red Cliffs of Golgamon and sighed deeply, wiping tears from his eyes. Behind him, a massive flock of large, fearsome birds took to the sky screaming with rage. They soared away from the Red Cliffs of Golgamon, giant wings carrying them easily over the aquatic tempest.
Back in his bedroom, Sebastian woke with a start, body drenched once more in sweat, heart attempting to shoot a hole through his chest. Outside the room, he could hear the terrifying squawking and screaming of the birds from the Red Cliffs of Golgamon. They were sailing through the halls of Sebastian’s building, searching for him, hunting for him. The hallway walls had strangely become blighted and were actively decaying, as if they had gone unattended for hundreds of years. Sebastian twisted and turned in his bed, his hand instinctively reaching out for Sally. He expected to feel the familiar sensation of dog’s velvety coat, but instead brushed over the coarse rigidity of bone. Sally was no more. A chalk white canine skeleton lay in her place.
The birds burst through the door, and Sebastian started screaming. The world descended into a chaotic frenzy of feathers, whirling wings, pecking beaks and slashing talons. More of them then crashed through the window, further engulfing the small space in a cyclone of avian violence.
On the Red Cliffs of Golgamon, Ol’ Addi the Dreammaster wiped additional tears from his eyes before walking back to his cabin and shutting the door. Stars winked into the night’s inky sky, bathing the Red Cliffs in an astral glow. The streams continued to bubble, trickling toward and eventually over the Red Cliffs.
A few minutes later, the metal appendages on each side of Ol’ Addi’s cabin whirred and clicked to life, shaking loose clods of dirt as they lifted the cabin off the meadow. It hovered for a moment over the grasses. But then the appendages started moving, one after another, until the cottage was marching across the field like a giant spider made of metal and wood.
Across meadows and valleys, rivers and woods the contraption walked, always keeping a steady pace. It was not aimless, however; Ol’ Addi was shepherding it exactly where it needed to go. The path was not unfamiliar to him; he knew just what to expect. They would travel many leagues, navigating gorges that dropped hundreds of miles into the earth and traversing waterfalls that dwarfed the likes of Victoria and Iguazu. Eventually, they would walk through the Valley of Etoni, cross over the violent waters of the River Mize. The Marshes of Mystery would pass by on the right, followed quickly by the Arcadian Hills on the left. And finally, they would arrive at the Gate of the Sleeping King, its heavy of walls standing guard for the city of Cravenmoor, ever stalwart since the beginning of time.