Author's note: Dreams fascinate me. I dream very vivid dreams that feel so real that it's like they really are.... Show full author's note »
The ShelterAnd they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.
Churches are very dusty places. I noticed this the first day I had to single-handedly clean the entire St. Mary Magdalene Parish. Father Jasper is always explaining himself, telling me that he would help out if it weren’t for his bad leg—he said it was a terrible accident that left him with his nerve endings wonky and a limp to bear with. He never did explain the specifics, though. And when it comes to helping me clean a month’s worth of north Bermondsey’s Christian population’s filth from every holy, waking surface of this chapel, I don’t believe a wee limp would hinder Father from polishing a pew or two.
But this is my only way of payment for him taking me in, and, take my word for it, janitor services sure beat scavenging snow-blanketed rubbish bins for frost bitten food scraps.
That day has snuck up on me again—the one day each month when I have to clean every inch of this church. I wake up moaning to find myself being kicked awake. I know it’s Father Jasper’s foot (the healthy one) jabbing at my side before I even open my eyes. I’ve been sleeping through the ring of my alarm clock recently and Father has had to go to these measures to get me up every day now. Then again, it could be his alarmingly unique foot stench that’s tipped me off. By the way, I’m putting things lightly when I say, “alarmingly unique.” Sometimes I wish Father would find it easier to lean over and shake me awake. With his hands.
“Chivvy along, Thomas! We don’t have all day!”
I groan and roll over, my back to him. “Yeah we do,”
I mumble into my pillow, my lips resting in a cold pool of drool.
“Don’t get cheeky with me, young man! Now, come on.”
I hear his uneven gait fade into the hallway. Thump CLACK! Thump CLACK! Thump CLACK! The CLACK is his cane.
I sigh and watch the face of the clock look back at me, it’s hands pointing at the 4 and the 6. No, not 6:20—4:30. I was actually supposed to be up at 4:15—that’s when the alarm goes off—and sod off to the kitchen to make my breakfast, like usual, but these past few weeks I’ve been oversleeping. Each night the tug of exhaustion pulls me into bed at no later than eleven—even after days when I hadn’t done much work. In the morning I’m still out like a spent light bulb, so much so that not even the incessant ringing of my alarm clock will get the job done.
But I ignore the weight of drowsiness still clinging to me and pull myself up and out of my bed, which is essentially just a grimy, tattered mattress on the dusty floor of my storage room bedroom. When Father Jasper set his mid to finding shelter for me, a home, apparently this was the most brilliant idea—me living in the church, sleeping in the dank, three by two metre, out-of-service storage room. There’s only one small window which looks out to the side of the brick Laundromat building no more than a metre away. I’ve come to love the smell of detergent. Betwixt the two structures lies a narrow, grass-gravel pathway that’s now devoured in snow, and a twisty patch of ivy that snakes up the neighboring building to a window that lies directly across the open space from mine. I rarely see anything happen in that room. It’s almost always dark. But from what appears to be the stick of a mop that leans against the window with a towelette hanging from it, I suppose it’s a storage room as well. Sometimes I wonder if there could be someone living in there like I’m living here, someone I could become friends with. Then I look back at that darkened window and remember that that isn’t a wondering, but only a wish.
So that’s my five-star view. The interior of my room is basically the same story; four concrete block walls of their naked, dull grey which looks monumentally darker with the limited light. Because of these literally rock-hard walls, I can’t very much decorate the place—not that I have much sense in that department, anyway. There’s no electricity in this room, so I have to use candles and a lantern at night. But I’ve come to prefer the cozy, soft light of fire over the harsh, man made light of light bulbs. It helps me fall asleep, though I haven’t needed much help with that lately. It’s comforting.
I’m guessing you wouldn’t enjoy living here. Well, neither do I. But I do enjoy it more than any place I’ve lived in the past few years. Which isn’t many places, by the way, when you counter in the fact that I’ve never battened down the hatches for more than a fortnight or so in one single place. And I find great pleasure in having things to occupy me, having work to do. With his sixty-seven years and botched leg,
Father Jasper has put me to work doing everything he can’t do regarding the upkeep of this church, which is pretty much everything. He has me prepare the sanctuary for mass every Sunday morning and evening, as well as every Saturday at the same times. Then he has me clean up after all the quaint old ladies, scruffy old men, and the few hyperactive children that attend. Father sends me out to the Town Market to buy us food and supplies, even the wine for communion if we ever need more. Mr. Hopper, a quiet man who has the coolest mustache I’ve ever seen, sells the bulk of the alcohol in Bermondsey and is a regular attender of the Sunday morning mass. He’s a great friend of Father Jasper and knows me enough to trust me with his type of merchandise—something I highly commend him for because it seems as though teenagers like myself are always trying to get their fool’s hands on alcohol. And I even would have more reason to do that than most teens in this town. Mr. Hopper doesn’t know those reasons, nor does he need to.
So, I don’t mind all the work. Like I said—It keeps me moving, although, ironically, this is the least I’ve been moving for a long time. In other ways.
The flame in my lantern is small and dim, but bright enough to penetrate the thick, early morning darkness so that I can write in my journal. I sit down on my low bed and pull the thick, hard-covered book out from its home under my mattress. After unclipping the pen from the book’s spiral binds, I flip through the dozens of wrinkled, stained pages that I’ve scribbled years’ worth of information until I get to the next blank page.
I start to write.
Alright, now, don’t think I’m one of those softies that cry about their troubles and have to write it down in a book because they’ve got no one else to sob to. This isn’t a diary. It’s nothing of the sort. I have to write down information, you see. Keep a record, you might say.
My night life has always been very active—what I mean is, I’m always having dreams. At least four or five nights a week I would be bombarded with them.
But these days, I’ve been dreaming every night, no exceptions. I’m not lying. And some have been reoccurring, too. Good dreams, bad dreams—I’ve experienced them all. Recently they’ve been feeling more and more real, so real that sometimes when I wake up, I’m convinced I’m still in whatever world I was in while dreaming. It’s scary—sometimes I drive myself barmy wondering whether I’m dreaming or not, when I’m awake.
These past few weeks, every night I’ve visited a very mysterious place in my dreams. I’m running, running through miles and miles of dark, dense woods. The canopy high above my head only rarely opens up to a bright, periwinkle sky, shedding light and warmth on my clammy skin. I always have a headache when I’m there.
I don’t know what I’m running from, though. Or maybe I just don’t remember. I don’t know if it’s a place I’m trying to escape, or a someone. Or both.
But whatever it is, I don’t think it’s right at my heels, if it’s something that can come after me. I just want to get as far away from it as possible, I guess.
A few years ago, I decided to start recording what happens in my dreams. Every morning, immediately after I wake up, I pull out this journal and let the ink flow, before I forget what I’d just dreamt. I’ve discovered my right hand to be very sore recently.
“Thomas, what’s the delay?!” Father Jasper calls from somewhere within the chilly bowels of the church.
I feverishly scribble down the last sentences of my dream and then shove everything back under the mattress.
* * *
A warm waft of apple and cinnamon scented air hits my face when I enter the church’s musty kitchen.
“Thanks for starting my oatmeal, Father.”
I shuffle over to the gas stove where a steaming pot sits above a lit burner. My chilled hands tingle with warmth as I hold them over the burbling oatmeal.
“No problem, Tom,” Father replies, his tone deep and informing. “Though it will be if I have to do this anymore than I have been.”
I nod in understanding, though I know he won’t have seen it with his mammoth nose stuck in the binding of his Bible.
I test the oatmeal, then turn the gas off and pour the pot’s sticky contents into a bowl. I take my breakfast and sit at the round, wooden kitchen table across from Father Jasper.
We sit silently as I eat my oatmeal in small bites, my stomach fluttering with too many thoughts. Too many questions unanswered. Too many questions not yet revealed.
“Thomas, are you ill?” Father says without once glancing up from his mammoth book.
“No,” I mutter in answer before dropping my full spoon back into the bowl.
“Then stop gallivanting around! We have much work to do today.” He couples his words with a bit of chuckling.
But his lightheartedness doesn’t rub off on me.
“Father, what does the Bible say about dreams?” I dare.
“Well,” he says as he sighs, long and sharp. “The Bible says a lot about dreams, visions. I could spend months lecturing that subject.” He slips a piece of paper between the two pages he was reading before closing the Bible and setting it down on the table. He looks at me. “Why do you ask?”
I shrug and divert my gaze from his eyes. “Just wondering. I have a lot of dreams.”
He nods once. “Well, most dreams are simply a projection of the subconscious; you inner troubles, desires, played out through symbols. While others…” He looks out the window to his left, my right, and at the snow falling outside it. “…others can be visions; messages sent by God. There are a huge number of instances and stories of that happening in the Bible. Take Daniel, for instance. God gave him the ability to interpret dreams. God spoke to him through dreams often. And Daniel, he wrote those dreams down. In fact, you should record your dreams as well. You never know when it could come of use.”
I nod, picturing my version of David sitting on my mattress, scribbling in my book by the lantern light.
Father Jasper coughs. “Well, why don’t you finish your breakfast and then start on the dusting, eh?”
“Yes sir,” I say before jamming my spoon into my mouth. It’s all I can do not to pester him with any more questions.
* * *
Today is Monday, thus there are no Bible studies going on, so I basically have the whole church to myself. Father Jasper is probably in his office, studying the Bible or whatever he does there all the time. I’ve only once been in his office, but that was about four months ago when I had only stayed here for a short time and was a bit arrogant. I was looking for Father and found him in there taking notes or something, but as soon as I took two steps into that room he shot up from his desk like an upturned lightning bolt and shooed me out as fast he could. I’ve since learned to knock on every closed door in this place before entering.
So I’m all in my lonesome as I clean, save Father’s phonograph and the soothing notes of Beethoven to keep me company. With the tall wooden ladder angled steeply against the wall of the sanctuary, I climb up it, feather duster in hand. When I get high enough to reach the sills of two stained glass windows, I stop and sweep the duster across the cool stone.
I watch the dust particles get roused into the air. The thin sunlight of dawn filters through the window, making the grey specks glow in greens and reds. They glide slowly through the stagnant air, twirling at my breath, as if they’re dancing. It’s the perfect choreography to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which is now echoing throughout the room. I blame these dusty dancers for my watering eyes and itching nose.
All morning I make my way around the modest-sized sanctuary, sprucing up each hopelessly dingy window frame, carving, and sculpture. By the time I’ve reached the last window, the sun is high in the sky, illuminating the snow outside and showering the sanctuary in a dazzle of bright hues.
No matter how many days I’ve witnessed this scene, it never ceases to daze me with its beauty. Of all the places I’ve been, I don’t doubt that this is the most picturesque place I’ve ever seen. Or possibly ever will see.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind living here forever.
And it’s not just the building I love, or the entire town—it’s Father Jasper as well. I wouldn’t mind living with him forever, too. Well, he doesn’t actually live here like I do—he has his own house in Bermondsey—but he spends most of the daytime here, with me. He treats me well, doesn’t push me to disclose my past or anything else about me for that matter. He teaches me things, not only regarding the Bible, but things I would learn in school as well, since I don’t attend. He can be a fun bloke too, sometimes. You know, I can’t just do chores every minute of every day! We play cards and other games. He taught me how to whittle and set up rabbit traps (He tells me he grew up on a farm way back when).
A brighter ray of light shines in my eyes as I dust this last window. I look up to the source to find a fist-sized hole in the glass that narrowly misses Jesus Christ’s head. Cracks spider out ten centimeters from the missing chunk of blue glass.
Swearing under my breath, I follow the path of the hole with my eyes and to the isle betwixt the pews, where a dirty baseball lies. Tiny fragments of glass I hadn’t noticed before sprinkle the floor beneath me and the ladder. This must have happened a short while after Father Jasper left yesterday evening and as I was out buying my supper.
After cleaning up the mess, I go down to Father’s office to break the news to him. I know he’ll be infuriated by the broken window—that stained glass is a hundred some years old and would cost just as many pounds to restore. But, as a reverend, he’ll probably be even more angered that whoever threw this ball and broke the window didn’t come forward and at least apologize.
I rap my knuckles on his door, clutching the grimy baseball in my other hand. “Father?”
I was almost sure he’d be in here. He usually is during the day when there’s nothing else going on.
I turn and start back down the hall, back to work, but then I hesitate. The mischievous side of me gives me a poke and reminds me of how rare a moment this is—Father Jasper leaving his office abandoned and possibly unlocked. When Father goes home for the night, he always locks his office, so I have no chance to sneak around. If I ever wanted to be a snoop, this would be my best chance.
I turn around and go back.
Lifting my hand to the brass, patina doorknob, I hesitate. If this dark-stained door looming tall and heavy and closed in front of me could speak, it would be taunting me to open it, trying to make me break and get into trouble. And I wonder, Have I already broken?
I turn the knob.
Cringing at the squeaking hinges of the door, I push it ten centimeters open and peer inside.
The room is dark, with only a hint of light spilling from the line where the thick curtains on the single window meet. I squint to see the outline of Father’s swivel chair behind the desk, and I don’t see the bump of his head protruding from the top, nor do I hear the hoarse whistle of his breathing, so the coast must be clear. Quietly and with caution, I step inside, then gently close the door behind me.
I carefully weave around unrecognizable blobs of black sitting on the floor as I make my way towards the window, tripping over a box or something and nearly falling flat on my bloody face as I do. But I catch myself on Father’s desk and make a sigh of relief when I don’t hear glass shattering or anything of the like.
Finally, and without much destruction of my surroundings or myself, I reach the window behind the desk. I pull the heavy, carpet-like curtains apart, sending a flood of light into the small room and rousing a swarm of dust particles into the air. There’s so much dust that my eyes begin to water and I have to cough like I’m hacking up a squirrel.
When I look up, I find a treasure trove of dust-blanketed knick-knacks and eerie, neglected artwork. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with disarrayed rows of books line two of the walls, and distorted old paintings of all sizes lean against the others. A severely crooked cabinet that’s missing half its drawer knobs sits to the left of the door I entered. The top of it is cluttered with a multitude of mismatched bottles and containers of contents I neither know nor am eager to find out.
On Father’s desk lie piles of books and stacks of papers, which become yellower and yellower as they get closer to the bottoms of the stacks. The wooden surface of the desk is scratched and scuffed from who knows how many years of use, and countless rings stain the wood from countless mugs of tea.
But the one thing that makes me shudder the worst about this room are the whole furs of real animals hanging on the walls, draped over tabletops and shelves, and just about everywhere else I look. There are ones that look to be creatures as big as beavers and as small as squirrels, but the size of the furs does not change the common look of torture and emptiness in their colored glass eyes. That is, if they acquire any.
Fearing any moment wasted pondering the reason for my peculiar acquaintances, I return to my mission, if in fact it is one. I don’t know what I’m looking for, so I just sort of nosey about the room.
Father’s desk sits in front of me, rigid and cold looking in the dim light, as if it’s just waiting for the warmth of working hands to dance upon it. I reach down and grasp the icy drawer pull and tug, gritting my teeth at the dry groans of wood sliding against wood. Finally I open it up about five inches—enough to see some of its contents, of which is more than you could fill up a large stew pot, probably. More than I could flit through without putting something out of place. But I keep at the drawer, hoping to at least glimpse all of its treasures, if not to touch them.
Then something catches my eye.
It’s the bottom half of a thick, chunky notebook peeking out of the gloom from deep in the drawer. With its black covers it would almost melt into the shadows if it weren’t for the gold ribbon tumbling from the book’s pages, glimmering like fire in the dreary light.
I reach down and touch it, ever so gently, with my tingling fingertips. And then, slowly, as if it could bite me, I cradle it in my grasp and begin to pull it out of the shadows.
And that’s when I stop like the final beat of one’s heart, because that’s when I hear it, echoing off the stone walls beyond the door and growing in loudness with every second:
Thump clack, thump clack, thump CLACK!