The hourglass seems to be singing one long dreary note
beyond my ear’s range, that deranged looking
shell fixed to the side of my head
can’t hear it, too low
like how whales sing to draw
in deep and brooding waters.
But I feel it somehow, know it somehow
this mysterious hum from below the world.
It is in the thick glass. It is in the coarse grains of sand. It is in their ominous dance, falling from the sky as those once-sacred beings who directed their worship to the wrong god snake serpent light-bearer.
I can hearfeelknow their despair, each grain of sand, as they fall to the growing pile,
the dune, in the bottom half of the hourglass.
The countdown is occurring so steadily, so carefully, it is maddening. Drop. Drop. Drop. Drop. You forget how relevant time is until an hourglass the size of a house has stationed itself before you and refuses to leave, you alone. I feel myself attempting to look away, to find something else to fixate on. Maybe there’s another doorway waiting for me. Maybe I can make one. I’ve never tried that. Has anyone ever tried that?
But no, the hourglass
has other plans and
beckons me to wait
according to the will of the sand,
from which I was originally crafted.
The hourglass certainly isn’t changing size, and yet I feel smaller as more sand collects on the bottom. It is beginning to dawn on me that eventually, there will be nothing left at the top, that the countdown will be over, and dread unfurls within me.
Whatever time is doting on,
it will not be pleasant.
Other epiphanies take shape in my mind, but they are too vague and distant, these little thought-seeds that never sprout blossom bloom. I feel one thought, two, more, trying to be thought, but they fail to permeate the membrane that is my consciousness.
Luckily I don’t need explicit thoughts to tell myself where I am. The awareness is there, subdued, implied, with no need to be harped upon. I know I’m dreaming. I don’t even need to count my fingers or look in a mirror.
I return my focus to the hourglass.
It knows me.
The fifth of the quarter of the tenth knows no bounds and ultimately eats salads to ward off the statue with no arms famous can’t remember the name octopus octopi sushi I saw this guy on the bus with scarf warm winter’s coming grade grade should have written my paper yesterday theater face tooth now I have to write it tomorrow string loose
But neither of us has moved, not I nor the hourglass. So why do I feel like we’ve just returned to each other?
With significant effort, I am able to cast one shifty glance to my left. There is a figure there, either in poor lighting or naturally a sick shade of blue-grey.
With additional effort, I stare at it – her – for a second or two. She is almost a gargoyle, standing proudly beside the hourglass with guardian-esque poise, her face pulling into a fierce contortion when she catches my gaze. I learned quickly not to talk to anyone during Walks. Even unintentional eye contact can be hazardous. Some of the beings around here are only interested in gorging on your fear.
I snap my eyes away from her before she even has the chance.
I process what little information I have gathered thus far: there is a countdown taking place, and I sense that the forthcoming event will not exactly be a joyous occasion; there is a humanoid guarding this hourglass, but she may be a Lurker or Wanderer.
Should I ask her?
I’m tempted to ask because of the way her teeth shine and she is as steady as the drop drop drop ferns are really oh god phone’s ringing Sandra, your phone not here not now sorry please leave a message beep hi grandma what big claws you have not told me your name yet Sandra what the hell
“What is your name?”
The humanoid smiles, drawing me in, but I know better. Shit. It happened again. I felt detached from the dream and forgot the rules for a moment.
Too late now. She’s interested. She knows I made a mistake and she senses it as a weakness.
I can hear the dark smile in her voice:
“He’s waiting for you.”
I know who she’s referring to without any hints. I always know when they’re talking about him.
I inhale. Stare at the hourglass.
It is becoming a window.
The sand, a desert landscape.
The scene is changing fluidly but abruptly, as it always goes with dreams. More sand, dunes now. The glass is only a glare now, a result of the fierce sunlight. The humanoid is gone, and the barriers of the glass no longer exist. I am inside the hourglass, but without it.
Then, the heat. It encroaches on my skin, slowly but surely dominating my senses. It is scorching. Brutal. I squeeze my eyes half-shut against the sun’s sharp rays. Now my vision is blurred and monochromous. It all seems like one endless horizon of tawny and tan, with an overhanging streak of bright blue-white that is the sky. Sweat is already beading on my forehead. My throat cries out for water. There is none.
I start to wonder how long I am going to be sitting here, and what I am waiting for, when out of the corner of my vision appears a black speck along the skyline.
I force my eyes to open up a little bit and refocus. Details emerge: it is a bird, way up high, sailing on an invisible draft. I wish I could feel the breeze from where I am, to alleviate some of this heat. The bird seems not to notice that I am here, sailing with great ease above this desert setting. Its wings are large and black. I start to assume that it is a condor – this is, after all, a desert. But upon closer inspection, I understand that it is a raven. I wasn’t aware that ravens resided in deserts. Maybe this is just part of the dream.
But then I feel blasphemous for thinking that way: dreams are never “just” dreams. Of course they are real. Of course they are.
The raven sails on, only flapping occasionally, but otherwise piloting smoothly. It is so steady that it becomes almost statue-esque as it approaches the distance, as still and lifeless as the whole scene. I have to double-take to make sure it is still flying, and not just a speck in the sky.
But the stillness catches up to me, creeps up like a scavenger calmly overtaking a corpse. I can no longer deny the eerie lifelessness of this whole setting. The dunes are moving, yes, grain by grain, invisible to my mind’s eye. I am sure there is a breeze too, somewhere. And that raven is definitely still flying, albeit too far away to easily see.
However, the drop, drop, drop, drop of the countdown is coming to a halt. It had been the background noise of my thoughts until now, a metronome reminding me that we are all waiting for something. It was there, the way your pulse is there even when you don’t feel it, keeping things in motion while you absentmindedly go about your life. But eventually, even that stops.
Somewhere, I feel the final grains of sand hit the bottom of the hourglass. The countdown has ended. My breathing has stopped.
The desert scene hangs suspended between worlds, awaiting its judgment.
I would say minutes are passing in this stillness, but the stillness is so thorough that even time cannot pass through. I would say I am anticipating what will happen next, but no amount of waiting will have prepared me.
There is sand,
there is sky,
there is raven,
and then, there is a sharp crackling sound, like a sudden clap of thunder that jolts you from sleep.
The whole scene seems to tremble briefly, bowing down to this sound.
The raven is petrified, mid-flap, and then it is careening downward, so burdened by death that its wings can no longer carry it.
It has been shot.
My gut lurches, breath comes flooding back into my lungs, and suddenly I am crying. Deep inside me, I know. I want to hunch over and hold myself and rock back and forth and cry and cry and cry but it isn’t over. Raven is dead, I am here stuck in waiting, and here he comes.
In my tear-stained sight, he is only a blurry, khaki-colored dot, not too distinguishable from the surrounding sand. He is steadily approaching from the horizon. I blink furiously to clear my sight, and his figure becomes clearer:
The khaki suit, the combat boots, the ammo belt. The gun. It is slick black proud unrelenting. It is dangerous.
Now I am panicking uncontrollably. I look down and count my fingers onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten no way that can’t be right onetwothreefour -- shit! I am desperate for reassurance that this is a dream, that I can wake myself up on command.
I glance up and realize he is much closer now, maybe twenty yards away. His gun almost looks like an extension of his arm, an extension of him, the way it swings mechanically by his side with each step. His steps never falter or fall out of rhythm. He is machine, cold and feelingless, he is soldier, he is war.
I dare catch a glimpse of his face and only register his merciless blue eyes before looking down again, trying desperately to wake up before he reaches me. I can’t remember my Method. I try telling myself, “WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP” but I simply cannot. I am still here, on my knees in the sand, not sinking but feeling like I am.
Then it hits me. My mirror! I whip it out of my pocket and fumble to set it straight and look into it.
But it is at an angle when I see icy blue eyes staring back at me
a swift black barrel knocks the mirror out of my hands
the sand swallows my face
the barrel, cold, presses against the underside of my chin and lifts
I am staring dead into his eyes.
I fervently wish for time to stop again. I wish to be awake. But another cruel reality strikes me: waking up can’t stop him. Nothing can.
So I, obediently, hold still while he gazes into me. His skin has been tanned by the sun; his hair is naturally the color of sand. He is at one with this merciless desert; he is the twin of this damned place.
He moves his gun from under my chin to point the tip of the barrel at my mouth. I feel the hard metal push on my lip, but I cannot even summon a whimper. I am frozen.
Finally, he points the gun between my eyes.
Beyond the black metal mass, I can see his face: the unwavering gaze that knows no mercy; the tough, thin line of his mouth revealing his eternal silence; the well-carved cheekbones, the smudges of dirt here and there; his face was fashioned by war. This I know.
He doesn’t flinch as his finger curls around the trigger.
I close my eyes.
I open them. I am in the coffee shop again, with Ellis, and she looks like she’s about to call an ambulance for me.
“What the hell just happened?” She is mindful of her volume, lest anyone else in this coffee shop becomes concerned for me. Whispering, “You were so zoned out for like a good minute there.”
I take a second to return to the Waking: there is a medium chai latte at my right, a hard-boiled egg and an avocado wrap on a plate before me, bustling voices coming from every corner of the place, and my very concerned friend Ellis waiting for my response.
I quickly count my fingers. All ten, safe and sound. But the realization nags at me: I had ten fingers in the dream too. There’s no way to tell if I’m not dreaming now.
“Sandy?” she says again. “Really? What’s wrong?”
For the sake of the moment, though, I’ll assume I’m awake. I can figure out the technical stuff later.
“I’m okay,” I say, blinking and shaking my head in a very exaggerated manner. “I was just… having a bit of a daydream.”
She raises an eyebrow at me, watching like a hawk for another few seconds to make sure I’m really with her right now, before returning to her breakfast.
Whew, close one. I pretend to be interested in my breakfast but sneak a long glance into the mirror on the wall of the diner. I see Ellis, eating, and I see myself. My face. Unadulterated, intact and mine.
Normally, this would reassure me.
But now, it only reminds me: