Josh Sczykutowicz

When I Dream, I Only Dream of You

 

“Time has led to this.”

The statue is worn and weathered, its face fading as dust cuts away at the features once so carefully rendered. Its eyes, once full of life, are now shaded stone. There is a jagged space where the mouth must have been. In its decay I find something beautiful. Time has a way of doing this to all things.

“How did you finally get here?”

“It was as if I had been looking for the sky on the ground all along. Once I was aware of the right direction, suddenly it was all I could see.”

“You have started to understand.”

“There is still so much I do not. I know that in your presence I am just a shadow.”

“It is good that you know the truth so closely.”

The Lost Castle of Sleep stands before me, staircases winding upward on both sides before me. The statue stares down, railing before its platform. I have waited so long to arrive here. I have waited so long to discover what must be inside.

“You are here to see what all men must dream of.”

“Yes.”

“You understand so little, do not forget it. You have illusions of what dreams may be, of what sleep may be, of the space that exists here. Like all illusions there is truth, but the truth is wrapped in misdirection. Go, see what waits for you.”

“It can’t be just for me.”

“No one finds the same things. Everyone finds the same things. You will see how nothing is different from anything else. All is made of the same matter. You are my face. I am yours.”

The mirror stops speaking, a fog coating the glass, my distorted shape wavering, flickering, and disappearing as all traces of my reflection vanish.

Blood runs down my hands, the thing that brought me here, the thing that brings all things here, but I am no longer lingering in such physical senses. Between dream and death I have achieved this place.

“And when I dream, I only dream of you, my darling,” a voice sings as I ascend the stairs, music swelling in the background. Sinatra would swoon. “And when I sing, I only sing for you, my dear.”

Blood paints the steps I ascend and ash flies in the air, a breeze carrying the memories of spent cigarettes and burned out buildings that lives have forgotten. The sky is an empty gray, knit clouds hanging like curtains and revealing a pale white that stretches forever in all directions. I turn around. I look at the world before the Castle and see that all there is are traces of me. Blood drops coat the hanging empty space. And how did I get here, anyway?

“And when you sleep, I lay beside you, even if I’m not really near, ‘Cause when I dream, I dream of you, my darling, And I sing, for you, my dear.”

There is a burning lake that I fell asleep inside of. Flames licked upon the water’s surface as steam began to rise, like smoke pouring from my nostrils. This was not Hell, this was eternity. In the water I was bathed in flame, and in that bath I shed my skin. It bubbled and peeled away like sheets of thin paper, placed ever so loosely atop fresh white skin, the color of this sky I now stand beneath.

Now ash like the burnt shreds of my shedding skin begins to rain down, blowing from the left and falling from above, swept in the winds that push me to the side. I must lean on my left leg to keep from falling onto my right. My hand grips the marble railing. The singing does not end. Ash in this storm of lost memory falls harder. The spires of the Lost Castle of Sleep are barely visible in the skies above. I hold out a hand and amidst the sticky red, black and gray flecks collect before dissolving completely upon my porcelain hands. Chemical waste spreads through water not far from here. I can hear it rushing in. If I were anywhere else, I would find it and dive in, let the clouded stream fill my eyes.

The lake gave way to something deeper, something purer. I could not keep my head above the burning surface, and the only place left to go was further down, swimming, kicking at the sky with legs newly uncovered. Wrists were cut on some jagged something, and blood flowed like clouds into the pure blue water surrounding. Something rushed forward to find the source. Swimming deeper still I found a hole in the ground, a place I could crawl inside of. Teeth older than me were narrowly avoided.

It took me somewhere else. Light filled my eyes, and without warning my feet touched cold tile. Standing in a bathroom I looked into a mirror and saw a man covered in water. I knew that he was me and I him.

“I knew I’d find you here” he said to me.

I was not affected. I dried myself. The towel became stained. I opened the door and walked from the bathroom to the hall, from the hall to the bedroom. I gathered clothes from the closet and put them on. There was a world I was pursuing, I knew. There was a place I had longed to go for so very long. Free from the burning lake and inside of this house I had never seen yet somehow knew, I laid in the bed whose sheets I had not seen yet whose fabric felt familiar to my touch. Eyes shut as they reopened. I was not asleep. I was awake, maybe the very first time in my life.

I knew of the Castle before I ever knew how to reach it. Men had searched and women lingered on the thought of it. This was the space between everything. Shared reality, shared experience, singular realms of delusion and insight where all is the same and none is identical. No one had seen it, yet all had felt its influence. Now I knew that in between life and death a door existed, a door that one only had to choose to walk through to enter in. Between existence and oblivion stands the Castle, and now I, too, stand, staggering.

In the ash storm I pull back the jacket’s sleeve and see how my wounds have healed, blood still seeping through patched skin. I have read of this place and longed for it, seen its shapes appear in my dreams like outlines and silhouettes of reality. Black cardboard cutouts stood in the space of the spires, and fogged midnight clouded where the stairs would be. Lightning lit behind the stretching expanse of walls that lined this realm. But now my eyes are open, and the Castle is all I see.

Those who were said to have found it were said to have never left.

“Are you ready for this?” she had asked me.

“I can take it” I had said.

It was all given to me: the blood-letting, the swelling of the heart, the contracting and expanding of emotion and feeling. Where once I felt so much that it was too much, sensors overwhelmed, brain flooded and eyes clouding in emotion, now I feel so very little. The blood coming through this new skin is hardly felt as it accumulates and drips at the ends of fingers flinching.

“When did you lose your heart?”

“When it was taken from me.”

“Nothing was taken that you did not offer up in shaking palms.”

My hands are outstretched and fingers are twitching, drops of blood falling onto the steps, ash disintegrating upon my flesh. My mouth opens to see what memories taste like. Bitterness melts atop my tongue. I swallow and the skin inside my throat burns away, fire bellowing up through my mouth and into the air before dissipating.

I reach the top of the staircase. Footsteps move behind me and the smell of her perfume fills the air. When I turn she is not there, just my own familiar trail. The singing has stopped. The batting of the collar of my coat in the storm sounds like the flutter of wings.

The statue turns as I walk past it, grating granite on stone slabs overpowering all sounds surrounding. Its eyes look down at me unblinking. There are no pupils left in detail to dilate.

Static comes out of my mouth when it opens to speak, old television sets keyed in to the wrong output in mono.

The archway before the wide set of doors the color of my fingertips covers me, the columns to the sides shielding me from the ash and debris of fading memory. When I turn to look back, I can barely see the outline of the statue that is facing me still. My dreams and reality are becoming one, all things in shadow once more. I wonder how much more will be cast in the absence of light before this is through.

My right hand slips across the aged metal handle, timeless in its design. My left grips upon the other, twisting it and pulling. The hinges make no sound.

The air that rushes out as if it had been sealed in for so long is sweet. If the ashes were the taste of memory, then this air is the scent of loss. Things get left behind, things are forgotten, and pieces are dropped onto the stone beyond as I step inside. The door shuts itself. My eyes adjust. A chandelier hangs above the entrance. Spices and perfume fill the atmosphere. Light from seemingly nowhere glows and radiates, low pulsating luminescence.

Stairways reach and sprawl forward and downward on either side of me. A great glass window from the wall to my back allows fragmented colored light to pour in. Stained glass shards cast purple, yellow, red, and blue onto the ground before me. As I step slowly into the light, there is nothing warm found within it. Blood drops fall onto the wooden floor, and a searing sound is heard. It turns black. Smoke rises and the ground where the droplets land becomes clear once again. I run my hands over my face and taste the seepage of all things me as it coats my forehead, cheeks and jawbone.

“She told you that this was a place you would find one day.”

“I didn’t believe her.”

“Of all of her lies, that was the least deceitful.”

My own voice comes from the walls themselves, echoing, bouncing, fading back into me. Words I am not speaking but my throat seems to be making wash over my senses like great ocean waves.

“Are you really surprised to see me?”

“I can’t see you at all.”

“Yes, you can. You just aren’t looking.”

“Then where should I start?”

“Start within yourself.”

I see her face. I see bathroom walls lined in red. I see a tub with the curtain pulled in. I see a bed with the sheets in dismay. I see a sunset glooming over the coast. I see a beach of snow-white sand. Her hair blows in the wind as she smokes a cigarette.

“Those things will kill you.”

“Everything will one way or another.”

Her lipstick leaves stains on the filter.

“Do you see me now?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Good, your eyes have been shut on the inside for far too long.”

“Am I dreaming?”

“You know better than to ask. This is not a kingdom of dreams. This is not a land of reality. This is more than the corporeal. This is beyond the abstract. You cut yourself in this realm and you will bleed. You fall asleep in this hall and you will awaken to find that your dreams have assembled themselves amongst the spires and upon the steps. You will sleep soon, but it will not last forever.”

“Am I going to leave?”

“Would you ever really want to?”

She stands before me now, my voice from her mouth and hers from mine until we step around and take the other’s place, feet in spots where the opposite once stood, and mouths return to the correct correlating sound.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I know you have. Go upstairs and see what I made for you. Or go downstairs and see what you made for yourself.”

“How could I have made anything for myself? I’ve never been here.”

“You truly have forgotten.”

“The air did that to me.”

“Then let my breath remind you.”

Her mouth meets mine once more. My lungs have emptied. Hers have filled. She blows, carbon dioxide flowing into my chest. The sound of electricity crackles in the air and disappears.

Images scar the surface of my brain. Blood seeps through my skull. My eyes are overflowing. My lips become the cave to some great waterfall. The mouth of a river is my own. The ground beneath me seems to give way as I sink into my own mortality. My eyes meet the ceiling and see the stained glass. In it is a portrait of the world as she presented it to me, and the sky as I saw it to be.

I rise and walk to the set of stairs upon my left. This was once my right. Perceptions are altered. Places are traded. She watches me. When I begin to step below, I turn my head and see the edges of her gown begin to flow like ink in water as she dissipates. The ash outside is calling her name. She joins the rest of the memories just as she was meant to.

In basement levels light finds no home. My eyes change shape and grow to expand and take in what stray rays are left hiding. There is the sound of skittering things, limbs crawling and sprawling and shifting away from the form of me. Moons bled in worlds outside of these. My skin glows like the moon I have always known to dwell inside of my false setting sun, and the blood drips like it always did when I used to be awake. I am not asleep, I am not awake. I am not dead. This is not suicide. This is transcendence. Oh, how I have longed to be within this Castle’s walls. To be held and insulated like a fetus in the womb. I will not become a miscarriage.

On this floor I find solace. Comfort floods my every wound.

I go deeper down. On this floor I find malice. I am capable of so much more.

Further still upon this floor I find my true face. The skin upon my skull stretches and tears away. I pick up the new one and just as the flesh upon the rest of me was replaced this face is now, too, as my real self is assembled.

There is far more for me to descend into, but I fear what I have left for myself beyond this face. I ascend, find the entrance floor again. But upon the entrance hall the stained glass has changed. The world is now how I saw it. The midnight sky is now her own image. A moon drips its menstrual blood across the great wall, and it singes the ground before smoking away. Lipstick filters through cages set upon the many who have gathered to worship the ailing sun above.

On the first floor she left for me I find new blood. The old is extracted, the new transfused. I am full of new life. On the second there is water in which I bathe. Cold porcelain sets upon my skin. The water left behind is pink and swollen. I walk naked upon the stairs. On the third is a set of clothes for me to wear. A mirror sits but all that reflects are the garments I set upon my skin. Black lines where those upon my new face must sit hang in the air of reflection. Light fills these floors.

“This is not the spire you were meant to ascend.” I am telling myself these things.

“What happened to the children?”

“We grew up.”

A lightbulb hangs above my head but it has blown. I reach the top of this tower and see through a window the courtyard beyond. There is ash and the shape of something more in the distance. They are shapes I will never come to see in focus.

Upon the entrance floor I find rooms and halls that lead to so much more. But I am meant for deep below. I descend further down, not knowing how much of myself I will begin to find, unsure of how much I am meant to lose. There are fragments, pieces, shards of me scattered throughout. I am undying. I am evolving. Blood has left these veins so more could flow within. Soon words will seem so small to me. I close my eyes but I do not sleep.

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Josh Sczykutowicz is a young author from central Florida who’s probably drinking too much coffee. Most of his work can be described as dark, alternative and literary fiction. He has been published in The Fable Online, Flash Fiction Online, and East Jasmine Review, among others. You can Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @jsczykutowicz1 and on Tumblr at http://joshsczykutowicz.tumblr.com/.

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