Copyright 1994, S Hartwell

Another strange dream. The elves names stayed with me and I scribbled them down on a notepad in the morning. The names remain a key to strange images and strange emotions even now.

I was walking through the London streets on my way to one of London's forgotten cemeteries - an oasis of green in a busy city. Like most people who worked in the city I had become immune to the seamier side of life - tramps, prostitutes, winos, stoned kids, litter etc - and saw only the bright lights and affluent bars, stores and busy offices. Like most who worked in the city I mentally blanked out the human litter from my mind as I walked through the streets.

There are many cemeteries in the City, they are a haven for urban wildlife and a refuge of workers who want to eat their lunch in these inner city oases. I went through the gap in the railings and stopped.

I should have been in a small square of green with two or three gravestones still standing and the rest lying buried by straggling plants. There should have been a black-painted railing fence along one side, a low grey stone wall along another and two sides with no boundary except a pavement. There should have been a couple of straggly elder trees and a couple of bushes in the corners or against the still upright grave markers.

I was not where I expected to be. I was standing in the leafy fringes of a sunlit wood. Tall oaks and elms towered over me and golden sunlight dappled the grassy and mossy floor. I heard the sound of splashing water and voices which sounded like chiming bells. I looked around behind me and saw a blurred image of black railings and fields beyond. Wherever I was I had stepped out of the city so I decided to check out the voices. Maybe they could tell me where this place was.

I followed a trail into the wood. I felt quite safe here, it was sunny and welcoming. In a clearing was a pool of water which reflected the bright blue of the sky. Three young men were sitting chest deep in the pool, laughing. Their laughter was like the chime and tinkle of bells. When they saw me they fell silent and I felt out of place - a clumsy stranger in a world of beauty. Then they gestured for me to join them in the water.

Oddly I felt no shyness. Their own clothes were lying on the grass beside the pool so I stripped to the skin and stepped into the water. It was cool and refreshing. The three men had curious features - all points and angles with pointed ears, large slanted eyes, prominent cheekbones and tapered faces. Their hair was silver, gold and chestnut. They began laughing and splashing when I sat down on rocks at the bottom of the pool.

"I am Sylverthein," said one, the oldest, pronouncing the name 'Silvair-thayin'.

"Devthein," said the second ('Dev-thayin') nodding in my direction.

"Evorial," said the third ('Ay-vorial'), the youngest, also with a nod.

"This is the pool of truth and seeing," Devthein said.

"It changes you," Sylverthein added, "It allows you to see what is hidden and be hidden from those you see."

"You will understand soon," Evorial said.

After further cryptic conversation, the three elves - for that was what they were - got out of the pool and dressed. I did the same, strangely not shy in front of them. They led me back along the trail the way I had come. Before us was the blurred railing fence and the fields beyond. Sylverthein ducked through a gap in the railings, followed by his brother Devthein. Evorial gestured for me to go next and that I must clasp Devthein's hand.

Beyond was London. It was a city of grime and chaos. Tramps sat in doorways begging for change or drinking themselves into stupor to escape from reality. A refugee woman with two screaming infants pleaded for money "no benefits, no benefits" she said in foreign accents. The street was littered with torn cardboard, old newspaper, junkies' needles, used condoms and all manner of garbage. It was filthy and I felt the filth seeping into my skin. This was the city I never saw, the city which was here all the time but which slowly becomes invisible to those who work in London. The city of sights we learn to ignore and block out, pretending it doesn't exist. It all seemed a little unreal as though none of the vagrants or beggars, junkies or underage prostitutes saw me. They looked through me. The elves led me through the sights.

"It allows you to see what is hidden and be hidden from those you see," Sylverthein had said.

"We come here to watch you," said Devthein, gesturing at the flotsam and jetsam of humankind, the unwashed and the unwanted, the forgotten and the lost.

"We do not understand why you choose to live this way," Evorial said, "It confuses us. As a race, you confuse us." He tilted his head, evidently perplexed by the squalor in which humans chose to live or work.

I was horrified. I had never properly seen the poverty and squalor.

Then there was a buzzing and I looked around to find the three elves had gone. A tramp approached me, can of lager in one hand and begging with the other. I could still see what was hidden, but was no longer hidden myself.

Seeing what is hidden brings madness too. The horror grates like vinegar on scoured skin. I saw other things which are hidden from men - the giggling faerie folk who play childish tricks on people by snatching and hiding small objects; strange creatures which move unseen among us and whose looks would cause horror. Seeing what is hidden brings madness. Climbing railings in an attempt to get back into the elven world brings a diagnosis of mental illness. Shouting at the creatures no-one else can see brings medication and locked rooms and softly spoken men in white coats.

The dream ended with me breaking free of two medics escorting me through a hospital corridor from one room to another. I ran out of the nearest exit, into the hospital grounds. I ran across the wide green field surrounding the mental hospital towards the railings on the other side. There was a small copse beyond the railings. With the kindly medics calling for me to return, I climbed the railings and crossed into

Not a small copse, nor a sunlit wood, but a dark and forbidden forest thick with the smell of rot and decay and a world in which men hid behind shuttered windows from the primeval horror which stalked this world. Behind me, the railings had gone and I could not get back into the safety of the mental hospital.

I would find worlds layered upon worlds, on one side of the scale were worlds gradually more golden, in the other direction were worlds each more ghastly than the last. One pivot point of the scale the world in which we humans live. Never would I again find Sylverthein, Devthein or Evorial; they would remain a tantalising memory and that memory was a pathway to madness.


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