Dreams of Solace
by Cynthia Jeub
One last perfect verse is still the same old song
Oh Christ, how I hate what I have become
Take me home—but I don’t deserve it, I’m a whore for the cold world
Forgive me, I have but two faces—One for the world, one for God, save me
I’m a whore for the cold world…
Sliver was caught in the half-consciousness of sleep. She knew she was dreaming, but the theme kept playing: whore for the world. Whore. The words were hateful, but she knew them to be true, because like a prostitute who knew many men, she spent her time getting to know worthless things. This world was cold, she said to herself as she let down her long, dark blue hair and wandered out to the balcony to think. This idea that she was fornicating the things of this world was an attack on her past mistakes. No longer would she live that way. The moons showed that it was still the middle of the night, so Sliver returned to her bed and saw a vision:
Wood, the creator of all things, held out his hand to her and she took it. He gave her a gentle grin. He was the king, the most powerful, loving person there was and ever would be. As they flew across the galaxies together, Wood looked into Sliver’s auburn eyes and said gently, a test is coming.
Wood disappeared, and Sliver was standing in an empty meadow, the grass and flowers lusciously colored. To her right stood a beehive, quite natural and quiet in the buzzing of the busy bees. Then smoke began to billow up around the beehive, and the bees attacked her, stinging and whizzing in a great multitude around her head. Sliver could not cry out, but though she couldn’t express it with her voice, the bee stings were painful. She reached her hand into the beehive and pulled out a sticky piece of honeycomb, free of bees. When she held it, the pain faded away, and she knew only the warmth of the fresh honey and the sweet taste as she ate it.
Hold love like a honeycomb.
Immediately the scene changed, and Sliver was standing in the announcement tower of the palace, and all the people in the empire were listening intently to her. She had been mute since birth. Now standing on the tower, she did not move her lips, her silence drifting across all the people.
Your silence is my shout, the voice of Wood said.
The vision ended, and Sliver knew that it was time to go to the authorities and turn herself in.
* * *
Fool sat in his office, sorting through official documents. There were three piles of paper in front of him, some to be sent to his secretary, some to be read over more carefully, and some to be thrown away. None of the information he’d read so far this morning was at all interesting. There was a knock at the door.
“Enter,” Fool said absent-mindedly. Lack of Logic, the chief of police, walked in and sat down across from Fool’s desk. He looked bothered by something, and Fool waited for him to collect himself.
“There’s been some resistance among the people lately.” Lack said at last.
“Resistance happens pretty often. What’s the problem?”
“Well, it’s this religious group, I guess you could say. It’s nothing new; the Fragments have been around for years—”
“The Fragments? Hmm, they’re a pretty peaceful religion.”
“I know, that’s what I thought. But now that the government is growing more legionistic we’re running into problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
“Well, for instance, education. The Fragments are concerned that education is too standardized, that all the kids who go to the government-run schools are too alike.”
“They are. Why should that be a problem? Differences in people create problems.”
“Yeah, but they not only argue about that, they’re not letting their kids go to school.”
“Lots of things. The issue is incredibly deep. These people are quitting their jobs and trying to start their own businesses, not to mention the fact that they’re converting others to the religion by the dozens…and…well, I came to ask you about something.”
“You want to change a law?”
“Yeah. It would be a lot easier if it were illegal to be a Fragment.”
Fool sat back and thought. “I would have problems with that if it were a race, but people can choose their religion. Is it that serious, though?”
“Look, legionism is a new philosophy for running government. It means we know the masses, not individuals. It makes sense, it’s efficient, and I just think that Fragmentism is the only resistance left. These people refuse to be willing subjects. If it were outlawed, then we’d be free to make arrests, scare the masses from joining the Fragments.”
“More than that,” Fool finished, “anyone who insists on loyalty to this faith will be persuaded out of it.”
“Yes, like we’ve already done with other dissenters. They can be taught to believe legionistically.”
“Alright, I’ll write up the law and get it passed as a decree.”
That meeting had happened three months ago. Hundreds of Fragments had been arrested and under the intense means of persuasion from the government, had embraced legionism. Still, there were many more who were being found out and were turning themselves in. This was new for Fool, to have people go to government offices and confess that they had been hiding until now, submitting to arrest then and there. The fight was nearly over, and the government would remain unhindered by these people soon. Fool had taken charge of the prison, and worked tirelessly to talk these people out of their delusions. Today he walked into the office of the prison manager, Bystander.
“Anyone new today?” Fool asked casually.
“Yeah, there’s this girl, she’s about seventeen, and she’s mute. She turned herself in last night, and I’ve got her in this cell.” Bystander pointed to a clipboard on his desk.
Fool lifted the clipboard. “You want me to talk to her? What’s her name?”
“Sliver. She wrote a lot. We’re convinced that there’s no convincing her; she claims to have seen visions, and that she’s unafraid of any pain.”
“So we’re just starting on the…uh…persuasion process?”
“If that’s what you want to call your torture, yes.”
Fool headed for the girl’s cell.
Sliver was Orulean, of the race with the blue hair and dark auburn eyes. When Fool arrived at her cell, she looked up at him with a wistful, far-off, but questioning gaze. She seemed, he didn’t know, ready for what he was going to do to her. The process of tearing down a prisoner doesn’t start out too bad. You can’t just start right in with the pain. Make the emotions thin, and then the pain is more effective and doesn’t take as long.
“Hi, Sliver. I’m Fool.”
She nodded her understanding.
“I just have a few questions for you, okay?”
Again a nod.
“Are you a Fragment?”
Yes-nod. This was going to be difficult; he hadn’t brought anything that she could write on to explain her dedication to her religion. It didn’t really matter, though, he decided. She would not be convinced just yet.
“Sliver, this is how it’s going to be. I need to convince you to abandon this belief set of yours because it’s against the law.”
She went a little pale, looked away briefly and took a deep breath, but nodded again.
“That means that I’m going to check on you now and then to ask if you’re ready to join the government and our legionistic principles. Do you think you can do that?”
No, was her firm decision.
Fool took out some handcuffs and she held out her wrists. He locked one cuff around her right hand, then looped the other one through one of the bars to the cell, and locked on her other hand. With her hands chained in front of her, she was in a standing position that seemed harmless at first, but he would leave her here for three days. The hunger, the solitude, and the difficulty in sleeping would do the work that was needed to make her listen. Usually this was the only thing necessary. Fool hoped this would be the case for this beautiful girl. He explained what would happen, and she looked away, a look of determination in her red-brown eyes. Then he left.
Alone in the darkness, Sliver stood for a few hours before she began to get sleepy. She couldn’t sit or lie down, or even lean against the bars of the cell, because her arms were in front of her. Leaning back in any way cut off the circulation to her hands quickly because of the cuffs. Soon the only thing she could manage was folding her hands together and leaning her forehead on them to get a few minutes of sleep, but it wouldn’t be very long before her legs would give way, waking her, or her hands, loathing the metal digging into her wrists, needed to have an adjusted position. Hungry and exhausted, she finally felt herself drifting into a vision of comfort from Wood.
Sliver was free of her chained hands, and she stood in the most colorful outdoor area she’d ever seen: surrounded by green hills, with dozens of flower varieties. A tree appeared with leaves of gold and sparkling-ruby fruits. As she walked toward it, a branch directed itself toward her, holding an envelope. Sliver picked up the envelope and saw a seal made from a kiss. She knew that it was the kiss of Wood, and broke the seal gently. Inside, there were two lines of delicately written words:
When questions question the questions
There will be suffering for the answer’s sake
But there was no pain. She looked up from the envelope and saw Wood standing before her. A smile spread across her face, and she looked at him hard, afraid to close her eyes. She didn’t even blink, taking in his genuinely friendly face, and at his simple but glorious crown.
Sliver, my daughter, look at me.
Daughter. Sliver wasn’t worthy to be called Wood’s daughter, but he reached out a strong hand and gently caressed her face, pushing her windblown hair behind her ear. She saw things written on his arms: maps, clocks, planets, names. The pattern of the symbols was beautiful and had many colors, but it wasn’t like a tattoo. It was like she was looking through his being to see things as they really were. Unity and intricate design had been produced out of these things that were frustrating and patternless from her perspective.
Come with me, Sliver. Wood said. She followed him closely over a hill and a waterfall was revealed just beyond it. Wood held her hand and they walked close enough to the waterfall to reach out and touch the stream. Gently taking her wrist, Wood held Sliver’s hand under the rushing liquid. To her surprise, it was not water. It was too light, too colorful, she now realized, to be water. Instead, the most beautiful sensation of creativity and calm and emotion filled her ears. She was touching the very essence of music—a waterfall of music. “What does this mean, Wood?” She asked. She could speak in her visions though she was mute in life, but rarely did.
I created the senses you have. Why not combine feeling with hearing, as a way to experience music, one of my favorite creations?
She smiled, and let the music run over her hand until Wood pulled it back. There’s more.
She instinctively looked down at her feet, but she didn’t see grass; only hard dry ground. Wood knelt on the ground and began whispering to the dust. Poetry in perfect rhyme, beyond any that can be comprehended in this world, began to form in the shape of grass. It grew, paper-like and covered in black calligraphy, but when Sliver touched it the poem-grass was as soft as flower petals. Wood pointed her to turn and look at a little man who seemed to be frustrated. He looked at the poetry around him and, rather than just sitting in it and enjoying its softness, he began ripping the poetry from the ground and trying to decipher it. He tried to line up the words, but they just grew more jumbled with each new pattern he tried. Finally he started screaming in anger. “Move, words! Tell me what you say!” He screamed. Then his ears mysteriously folded upon themselves and his eyes turned a dull white.
Do you understand, Sliver? Wood asked.
“You know I don’t. You know everything.” She replied solemnly.
This man is narrow-minded, he cannot enjoy poetry in its lovely mysteriousness. The answers were right here for him: my words are soft and bring comfort, a place to rest. He wasn’t satisfied with that, so he passed the answer by. The second lesson is that whoever screams cannot see or hear. That was why his ears and eyes failed him; you can’t continue listening and observing if your only care is for your own words and demands.
“Why do you show me these things, Wood? Do I need them for a later time?” She asked.
The reader needs them.
The vision ended, and Sliver was aware again of the hunger pains in her stomach. She sighed and said an old proverb to herself: “alone with pain, everyone gets humbled.”
* * *
Now we turn to the tale of another prisoner, called Chip. When Fool walked into the interrogation room where the prisoner was chained to the table, Chip looked up and smiled. They exchanged names, and Fool took a seat.
“Chip, I’m here to ask you about this belief of yours. It’s become more common among the prisoners.”
He sat back a little and gave a half-smile as if he knew something.
“What is it?” Fool asked, making a feeble attempt to not sound too eager.
“We call ourselves the Fragments, but have you ever asked yourself, ‘Fragments of what?’”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I’ll tell you: Fragments of Wood. That is the name of our king, and we’ve all met him. You can’t silence us, no prison and no torture can frighten the Fragments of Wood.”
“Why?” Fool was angry now. “Why aren’t you afraid?”
“I’ll tell you what we’re afraid of. Monotony. Blending in. Becoming like everyone else. Everything that legionism is about.”
“But you’re a group. The Fragments are as easily categorized as any other group of people, and this form of government means that we are all comrades, we work together, everyone is equal.” It helped him to use the words describing legionism.
“You’ve spent many days arresting, incarcerating, and torturing us. Are we alike? Can we be stereotyped?”
Fool was silent for a moment. The truth was that they came from every race, from the Oruleans to the Karrans, all with different professions, different personalities. But he didn’t let the pause last long before he said, “you have one similarity. You have no fear. Equally dedicated, as a good legionist should be.”
“In losing yourself to the rulers of this land, you gain nothing. In losing myself to Wood, I gain a personality. That’s why I will never submit to legionism.”
“Then you will suffer and die. What does that say about this, this king who you say loves you?”
“If a man’s wife is in pain because she is in labor, has he stopped loving her?”
“But I’ve heard others say that Wood is supposedly powerful. Can’t he save you from the power of my wrath?”
“When evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.” Chip paused, considering what he would say next. “There’s a prophecy…”
“Stop it. You’re full of some sort of delusion about the world. There never was a prophet.”
“That’s what you’ve been told. But there were prophets ages ago, and there are still prophets today.”
Fool folded his hands, thumbs showing, and made direct eye contact with Chip. “You are not a prophet. You are full of strange ideas about dreams, and dreams don’t come true.”
Chip looked down at his chains. “I dreamed my arrest.”
“Anyone can make something like that up.”
“You’re right, but I think honesty isn’t about proving yourself to other people. It’s about being able to live with yourself as a dishonest person. I can’t do that—lie. It would drive me crazy. You don’t have to believe me for me to know and believe the truth.”
Fool ran his hands through his yellow hair. There was a pause.
“Back to the prophecy,” Chip interrupted his thoughts, “It said, ‘the battles are still won by losing, but the fool wonders how to maim the sliver.’”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Fool said.
“There is no word for ‘fool’—that’s just a name, and a common one. But I didn’t think the rest of it made sense, either, until I thought it through. The battles are won by losing. By not fighting back, by turning ourselves in, we are showing you that we have a greater strength than you do. Our strength is the strength to face the dreadful treatment that awaits us in prison. And “maim the sliver”, a sliver of what, Fool? A sliver of wood. Wood is what we are, we’re all fragments, representatives, of king Wood, but he has asked each of us individually to call him Wood.”
“You all speak of this ‘Wood’ as if you’ve met him, and as if he’s always with you.”
“He is. We love our king, he’s told us that we can be with him if we die at your hands. You try to wound the sliver of wood instead of going after Wood itself. That’s why we suffer at your hands, you can’t track Wood down and try to kill him. He’s powerful beyond you, and even though he doesn’t have to, he’s present in the cells of this prison, offering comfort to those who suffer because they love him, and he loves them.”
“Just listen! Fool, you wonder how to maim the sliver. And you won’t stop.”
“Guards! Take this man away.”
As Chip was led out, Fool refused to give him the pleasure of receiving a last glance. These followers of Wood had to be stopped.
That night, Fool retreated to his office and looked up at the moons—one rising, one overhead, one setting beyond his view from the window. The words of this “prophecy” of Chip’s wouldn’t leave his mind. He refused to be superstitious, to let the prophecy come true. He must do the opposite: stop trying to maim the Sliver.
But killing isn’t maiming.
“Kill the Fragments, instead of trying to maim them,” he said to himself. Starting with Sliver, because her name was in the prophecy alongside his.
Sitting on the floor of her cell, Sliver clenched and unclenched her fists, careful not to move too much because of the pain in her back. “Wood,” she said, “Please, help me through this. I’m hardly even like you yet, I’m only a sliver of wood. A Sliver.” She did not weep hard enough to shake—that would hurt too much. Opening her right hand, she watched the tears fall into her palm with the apathy that is a combination of despair and distraction. Her hand formed a fist around the water molecules. She mouthed the words: “Would you wash the tears from my salty fists, Wood?”
Would you let me? It was not a voice, not emotion—a sense, a notion. If I came to wipe away your tears, would I have to pry open your fists, or would you open your hands willingly?
“Let you. Please Wood, I don’t want to be a whore. I want to be a fragment of your goodness, your love.”
Just then she heard footsteps in the corridor. It was Fool and an executioner. They pulled her to her feet and walked her down the hall to a room with a metal table in the middle of it, chains attached to each corner. They laid her down on the table and chained her to it roughly. Fool crossed his arms and watched as his companion lifted a long knife. Sliver closed her eyes tightly and her heart began to beat rapidly when she sensed the voice of Wood: Be still, my child, you’re almost home
She told herself not to strain at the cuffs around her wrists.
Oh, when did you become so cold?
She forced her eyes open to watch the glinting blade draw close to her face.
All you need is to feel my love
Drawing her last breath, she bit back the scream that was no longer from pain, but fear.
You’re beautiful, not a whore
Search for beauty, no more war
The knife across her throat was quick, clean. Then all the pain and fear was washed away.
You forgive them all, bleed no more
Out of the hurricane the rainbow reaches like a hand
Sliver’s eyes opened, and she felt awake and ready for some sort of adventure. She was flying over an ocean, and she found her shore: the one with the sparkling sand, with the colors of the rainbow dancing across the warm beach. Her feet, white and perfect, landed gently on the shore. The ocean was as blue as her hair, now long enough to reach her knees. Sliver waded into the water, letting the cool foam brush the ends of her flowing pink dress.
You have such oceans within. This time it was not a mere notion, it was a real voice—the voice of Wood.
“Wood!” She said, her dark eyes unable to meet his. She started to kneel before him, but he took her hand gently and opened it, revealing the salt from her tears that was caked on her palm and fingers. Wood wore a robe full of colors Sliver had never seen before, patterns that were otherworldly and beautiful. A bird in one of the palm trees chirped gently as Wood raised Sliver’s hand to his lips and kissed it. The salt disappeared, her hand was clean. She grinned at him now, there was no room for mere gratitude, only joy. He pushed back the hair that the wind had blown into mild strands across her face, and kissed her forehead, then wrapped her in his arms.
The voice of Wood was heard once more: In the end, I will always love you.