A WORLD I KNEW
2001, Sarah Hartwell

This dream happened the morning of 20th July 2001. At the beginning of the dream I was listening to a CD of rock music; the chorus was so catchy (with a persistent beat marked by cymbals which sounded almost like a tambourine) that I was singing it to myself during the dream. I have no idea if this is something which I have half-heard and which stuck in my mind or whether it is purely imaginary.

"I don't wanna try anything different,
I don't wanna try anything new,
I don't wanna try anything different,
Just wanna tell a story 'bout a world I knew."

In my dream I began to drowse to the song.

I was a passenger in a car speeding down the road towards a tunnel. A large dark blue saloon car was trying to overtake us on the wrong side and nudge us away from our course. It looked as though the other car didn't want us to go into the tunnel. My driver, a man I seemed to know, nudged the dark saloon car. I gripped tight to my seat, but it was the blue saloon which was pushed off of the road and into the long grass on the verge.

"Hah!" exclaimed my companion as we saw the saloon car ploughed through long grass and came to a halt, "Grass-basketed him!" (This seemed to be the vernacular for forcing a person off the road and into the rough.)

My driver slowed down, we no longer had to race to reach the tunnel. As we got closer I saw two huge blue-painted wooden doors swing open to let us through. We were driving along the middle of what looked like a huge aircraft hangar. Either side of the road was a row of tree trunks - the roots were at our level, but halfway up the trunk, the tree went right through a floor and up above that, the spreading branches went through another floor. Either the trees were dead or the leaves were way up out of sight. The floors that the trees grew through were made of metal mesh, like walkways in a chemical plant or power station. The branches seemed intertwined with the mesh and it looked as though the trees fulfilled the role of floor supports. People were going purposefully from one pace to another. It was the inside of a busy hive.

"This is where we get out," said the driver, coming to a gentle halt, "You'll meet your friends at the coffee bar."

The hangar had widened out into a huge enclosed space with several floors made of mesh, supported by trees and by conventional supports. My friends were a man (whose name I forget) and a woman who I soon found out was called Kess. Kess seemed to be a melancholy personality. As well as a coffee shop there were shops and booths at this level. Kess wanted to go into one of them. When her companion went to the counter for service, Kess wandered dreamily into one of the shops. Concerned, though I didn't really know why, I followed her. At that point, she didn't seem to know quite what she was doing.

I went in with her and noticed the statues at the back of the shop. Except they were not statues, they were people in some sort of trance state. Each person seemed to be hanging by their wrists from ropes, but as I looked closely I realised that they were just standing there with arms lifted up and the "ropes" were thin pipes which entered their wrists. White liquid circulated through the pipes and presumably through the people. Their eyes were open, but blank and they breathed slowly, unaware of their surroundings.

"I'm going into sleep for a while," Kess told me dreamily, "It's the only way to escape from things. The owner tells me that I can sleep for up to five years, that should be enough time for me to forget things."

I looked at the standing sleepers with the tubes in their wrists. The other end of the tubes went up into the ceiling and I had great misgivings about what Kess intended. Something seemed wrong. I had the feeling that this wasn't a service to help people who wanted to forget, but that the sleepers were being bled dry somehow. Of course they would not be conscious of the their slow death. I just had this terrible sense of foreboding.

I looked back at Kess. She was seated on a tall stool and a technician had fixed a white circular piece of plastic to the inside of each of Kess's wrists. These had punctured the blood vessels and a short stoppered pipe protruded from each pad. It was where she would be plugged in to the pipes of white stuff. The techie was ready to lead Kess to a place among the standing sleepers. There was no other preparation than that. So simple to put someone into a living death sleep.

"Stop it!" I yelled, grabbing Kess's shoulder, "Don't do it."

Kess looked dreamy, sad and shocked but the techie fixing her wrist-plugs looked really angry. The techie was a male transvestite (quite a normal thing in that world) and he got between Kess and me. He didn't want to lose another client and I wondered what these people got from their sleepers that was so important. For sure, they were slowly bleeding them dry of something.

Behind him, some of the standing sleepers rolled their eyes blindly and moaned or twitched. The white liquid in the pipes seemed to pulse.

The transvestite grabbed both my shoulders and tried to push me out of the shop. He tried to head but me and though I didn't want to fight, I bit his nose. I bit it until blood ran and he howled. His nose parted from his face very easily, more like a thick gel than flesh and gristle. He howled and stepped back, clutching at the hole in his face. I grabbed Kess by her wrist, just above the plug and pulled her out of the shop. Another techie tried to pull her back in. Whatever they were doing, it seemed that they didn't want to lose anyone. Then Kess's male friend arrived and the techie let go of Kess. It must have been bad publicity and they didn't like the way people were starting to stare at them.

"No-one comes out of those places alive," Kess's friend said grimly, "Those aren't real people at all, they are more like parasitic wasps which paralyse their prey and lays an egg in the body. That stuff keeps people alive and paralysed while their young hatches inside it and eats it away from the inside."

"How do they get away with it?" I asked.

"Because people go in there of their own free will. The creatures lure weak-minded people in there. After five years, the creature's young has completely taken over the sleeper's body so it looks like the person is okay, but really they've been eaten away from inside and their tissues replaced by the parasite," he said, "Kess doesn't have a very strong mind and she is depressed so she hears their call and thinks it is her own free will."

"Why did the sleepers start moaning and all that when I bit the owner?"

"I think they are telepathic with each other and could feel his pain. That fluid that goes into their keeps them alive and it keeps them paralysed - the process of being eaten from inside out must be excruciatingly painful and they have to preserve the brain so that they can take over a person's personality and memory - that's why they use the wrists and not the carotid arteries."

I looked around me. There were so many ordinary people around.

"How many of them are, are ?" I asked.

"Are replacements?" he said, "I don't know, but far too many of them. Soon the only humans left will be those they farm for their bodies. The car which tried to stop you was one of them. Your driver was just one part of an underground railroad to get humans to safety. We have to go - Kess doesn't have a strong mind and we have attracted to much attention already."

"Why is Kess so important?" I asked.

"Kess is my wife," he said.

I began to hear the song more loudly in my mind (that's how I knew I was waking up)

"I don't wanna try anything different,
I don't wanna try anything new,
I don't wanna try anything different,
Just wanna tell a story 'bout a world I knew."

I woke up then. The song chorus stayed with me most of the day (I kept humming it or hearing it in my head). As soon as I woke, I wrote down the words of the chorus (sadly I can't translate music into written notation, my mind just can't make the link between the notes I hear and marks on paper) and the images I had seen.

DRAGONQUEEN'S LAIR

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