PerSimmons



When Dreams Collide

by Wm. Mark Simmons

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: \RIPLEY\SIGMA

 

He awakes with a splitting headache.

That he awakes at all and with his head seemingly intact is enough of a tradeoff for the moment. He lies quietly, waiting for the temporary nausea and disorientation that usually accompanies program entry to pass.

Overhead, the stars twinkle against a backdrop of black velvet. He wonders--not for the first time--whether the Program creates an illusional canopy or if the vast depths of sky and space are analogued inside the Matrix. A Luna moth flutters close to his face, derailing his train of thought.

He sits up and the migraine fades with surprising suddenness. The fingernail sliver of a first-quarter moon is peeking over the horizon but it provides precious little light. It takes a few moments for his nightvision to kick in and several minutes more pass before he recognizes his surroundings.

"A drink," he murmurs. And struggles to his feet. He sways uncertainly for a moment and then straightens and studies the landscape. He can tell that he isn’t too far from the Tree but he is unsure of the direction. In the course of standing up he discovers that he is naked. And unarmed.

"What happened?" he wonders aloud. A Greek chorus of crickets scream an unintelligible answer and fall silent.

"Russian technology," he finally decides in a hushed voice. Sanctuary is no longer inviolate and he is at a definite disadvantage for the moment.

The first order of business is to get back to the Tree where clothing and armament are readily available. "And then a drink," he promises himself.

Maybe two.

He starts off across the glen, walking slowly and looking for landmarks in the near darkness. He is comfortable enough: no stones bruise his feet and it is warm enough that he can walk about sans clothing in comfort. As he searches his memory for directions, other images come to the fore.

Sky blue eyes and a great mist of brown hair touched with silver. Lips the color of coral and sunrise, luminous skin....

"Misty Dawn...." he whispers, remembering the Wood Nymph.

She died here, in his arms, professing her love and taking an arrow that was meant for him. What had made the circumstances all the more poignant was the fact that Misty Dawn had been modeled on Nicole Doucet’s likeness. As much as he had grieved for the Dryad, it had been like losing Nicole all over again....

Memories come flooding back like a tide of regret: he had buried her nearby. Between a silvery brook and the Faerie’s Dance, he had dug her grave, hedged it with white stones, and then tucked her into the sacred earth with coverlets of green ivy and white edelweiss.

Treading a pathway of memory, his feet have discovered the way: in a matter of minutes he is standing beside her grave-side.

It is much as he had left it, though the passing of another cycle of seasons has brought fresh growth. Already the moss and ivy has obscured the greater portion of the stone markers and a profusion of edelweiss is overrunning their perimeter. He wonders why his avatar has been neglectful of late as he sinks to his knees beside the small plot. He kneels there, lost in thought, while the stars turn and blaze overhead. And remembers....

A warm summer night and dancing at the forest’s heart...the salty tang of kisses mixed with tears....

A hand thrusting up out of the earth....

A hand thrusting up out of the earth!

He dodges backwards and falls as the ground around him begins to tremble. Vines are pulled and thrown aside as another hand appears. Then an arm.

He back-pedals and scrambles for a clump of shrubbery some twenty feet away. Throwing himself amidst the brambles, heedless of his unprotected skin, he lies flat, hoping to remain unobserved. He watches through a tangle of branches as the grave erupts in clots of dirt and torn ivy. And a body laboriously pulls itself out of the earth.

A portion of his mind is dispassionate even as he cowers in the foliage. How much time has passed? he wonders. How long was she in the ground? He squints, trying to discern signs of decay as she tears the tattered remnants of shroud from her body.

The night cloaks her in darkness, the branches dapple her in shadow, moist black earth cakes her uncertain flesh and he is only certain that it is Misty Dawn and that he is frightened by this midnight resurrection.

He watches in horrid fascination as she stretches languorously, arms reaching upwards as if to grasp the skies. Then she bends at the waist to touch her feet, runs questing hands over ankles and up her legs. And, as she laughs, her voice cracks as if unaccustomed to use. Its sound chills him and he shivers as she straightens and begins to look around. As her gaze sweeps the bushes where he lies huddled upon the ground, he presses his face against the grassy earth, willing himself to be invisible.

Long moments pass. When he raises his head again, she is gone.

He lies there for perhaps another half an hour before rising reluctantly. He does not want to encounter her in the dark, naked and unarmed.

He does not want to encounter her, at all.

The walk to the tree is a long and unsettling one. Leaving the glen he is encompassed about by a dense forest and it is only by trial and error that he finds the path most of the time.

The sky is predawn gray when he finally reaches the clearing where the giant oak rears nearly eight hundred feet into the air. Overhead, a latticework of bare limbs and branches contrasts the leafy boughs of the surrounding tree line.

He knows what happens to a Hamadryad when her tree is cut down or killed. But he has never considered what might become of a Wood Nymph’s enchanted oak if the Dryad were to die, first.

Reaching to unlatch the secret door hidden among the roots, he receives his next shock: his hand passes through the wooden door!

His body is as insubstantial as a ghost’s.

 

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