Patrick’s intriguing author portrait has been created by photographer Tanya Linnegar.
Lost Dreams I“Auntie” Rita and her Tree
Tonight, Rita dreams of her tree. She can’t help it. In this place, she has no power, not even over her own dreams.
Maybe it’s the sound of the neon sign below her bedroom, flaring in the window of her shop. Some drunk rolling up Main from downtown, howling like a coyote at the moon had thrown a half-full beer can at it in the wee hours, the witching hours, and left it fizzling, flaring off and on and off again, making the whole blue and red PSYCHIC sign struggle to come to life with every flash of electricity.
Really need to get that fixed. Rita thinks to herself as she falls into the dream – a dream that is more memory than appetite and ambiance and emotion, a dream that pulls her back into her younger, slimmer, smarter body. The dream pulls her back to an island in a place they tell her never existed. But the ache for it is real, and for this short time in the dark hours, the remembering hours, she is there once again. A cool morning in early autumn, a crisp morning on the turn of the year…
It was a cool sunrise, dew clinging to the bottom of her robes, working its way into her shoes, just a shade colder and it would be frost, frost covering the grass like a breath across the green covering it in radiant crystals that would sparkle in the sun. Erede (and how easy, how deliciously, tragically easy it was to fall into that name. Her first name, her real name and true.) had come to this small meditation before Aposia and Merai came stumbling each from their small initiates cottages, blinking against sleep, shivering a little against the chill, drawing their robes close against the cool breeze.
Aposia looked as though she had barely slept, her hair dishevelled, although with the grin on her face, the flush on her cheeks, Erede had a feeling that a poor sleep had nothing to do with it. Sleep probably had little to do with her nights at all. The little country fair queen had even winked at her, and that was pretty much that.
Across the glen, from between the twin oaks, shaped by pure will to look like the arches of a temple came their Waymaker, their teacher Manon, in the long blue cloak of a true maker. In her hands she carried a sapling. A yew tree, perhaps only a few years old in a clay pot. Behind her two young acolytes each carried a tree as they stepped through the dew, scarcely leaving a trail. One was Edain of the Vale of Shadows, and the other…
(The older Erede, the dreaming Rita couldn’t remember her name. How long had it been? How many years, and a world apart kept her from this time? Still, even in sleeping she tried to place a face and birthname to the acolyte. Amarra? Embria? Avanessa?)
The other placed the tree down in the grass. The acolytes stepped back, and withdrew through the arch once more, and the mist swirled across the two trees once again, hiding the city of the Makers from sight.
“And so the test. This test.” Manon said. The yew tree on the ground in front of her – Erede could remember every branch, she knew every twist and turn and gnarl of that little tree.
“Tell me,” Manon said, in that crisp early morning air. “What does it mean to See?”
And all three girls (and they really had been girls, Rita thinks, in her sleep. She had only turned sixteen, Aposia was not that much older, no matter who she had kissed) The three young girls raised their voices in unison:
“Man sees the stone,
The dead stone, the silent stone.
He takes it, and shapes it.
And calls it his own.”
Manon nodded, and waved her hand for them to go on.
“But the Way is around it
and in it, and through it
We see the Stone in a River alive.
Time all around it,
all that could be of it
We See the bend of the way round the Stone.”
“And do you?” Manon said, and smiled.
Merai coughed. Aposia shuffled her feet in the wet grass.
“If I were to put a stone, here. In front of you could you see the stone’s future? Could you see the past around it?”
The girls took a moment, each to themselves before they nodded. There was still a little shame in admitting it – they were all from the mainland, where what they did was still…unnatural. Unusual. Erede had never met anyone who could…who could See the way Manon spoke of seeing, had never even known what she was seeing until the Waymakers came to her village to test her. This was the first place where they were among others. Where there was no shame in Looking.
“Of course you can.” Manon said, gently. “That is why you’re here.” she straightened, firm again, their teacher, and not a gentle shoulder to lean on. “But I tell you there can be more.”
Erede held her breath, hanging on every word. This was why she was the first to arrive for these meditations in the morning, the last to leave after every lesson. Why she didn’t sneak out like a…like Aposia into the village on the bay every night. Why she went over every lesson like it was a hard candy to dissolve on the tongue of the mind, sitting in her little initiate cottage awake until the early morning. The more. Because what could be more than this? Than seeing the future, the past swirl around a thing, a person? She wanted that more, she wanted it like nothing else.
Manon put her hand over the top of the yew tree. It reached almost to her chin.
“What do you see in this tree?” she said, looking to each of her students.
And in their own separate ways, the girls looked. Erede could feel it, in the back of her mind, that drop each of them took, together, down into the earth and themselves, how they opened their eyes together to see the Way as they had separately discovered, as Manon had guided them to, all three girls in a trance breathing slowly together.
“Good.” Manon murmured in the morning. Her voice carrying across the glen to them, across that line in the dew that separated a Waymaker from her initiates. “Look. See.” and then, after a while, she said, sharper. “Now. Wake.”
And they did, and the tree was a tree again, and not the river around it.
“What you have done is the Seer’s Way.” she said. “The prophet’s Way. It is one of the Ways.” she smiled. “And if you choose it, now, I won’t deny you. They have their place in the world, and even on this island, the Seers have their home.” Erede knew it, had passed it in the wagon that took them to their cottages here. A small village along the winding path through the woods, with low huts all facing a wide shallow pool. And a door cut into the hill – the place of Oracles.
“But know it is one of the lesser ways.” Manon said, and tried to make it not sound…the way it sounded. “For it is one thing to see the Way. It is another to change it.”
“Change it?” Erede said, and didn’t even raise two fingers the way the Waymaker had asked them to when they wanted to interrupt. Manon arched an eyebrow, but Erede didn’t back down. “Change it how?”
“How it calls to you.” Manon said. “How you each see it change. And this is the test.” and she pointed to the trees. The stupid yew tree in its pot.
“You will take these trees home. For three months you will care for them. Look into them. Watch them. And when you are ready, you will know how to Touch them.” She stared right at Erede, through her, almost, searching, trying to see the Way through her. “I will see your progress then. Here, at sunrise when the first snow falls, you will bring these trees to me, and we will see your Work. Are there any…any more questions?”
Merai raised her two fingers.
“Waymaker.” Merai said, “How will we…” she was a pale little girl, skinny and always on the lookout for stray cats to take home and care for. “How will we know what to change?”
“To change anything in the tree is the path of the Waymaker.” Manon said. “The Wizard, the Sorceress. But how, and what, is different for each Waymaker. It will show us where your talent lies.” and again her eyes went to Erede, searching. “Now on your ways.”
And so they went home. And Erede stared.
Every night, before sleep she stared. Every morning she glared at the stupid tree. She watered it, and she took it in from the chill and she stared at it. She repotted the thing, and stared at it. It was a yew tree. And that was all. She could see the thing grow, in the years to come. She could see it planted in the Grove of the Makers, next to her brother and sister trees – the sign of becoming a Waymaker and Wizard, a beautiful tall yew tree growing happily rooted next to its kin. She could look back, and see the seed planted in the soil by a meditating acolyte, the calm knowing that the tree would be given to an initiate. The loving murmur of mantras over the seed as it was covered. She could do all of that. But she couldn’t see how to change it. She couldn’t make the stupid tree do anything.
The night before the test was up, while the first snow had started to dust down over the island of the Waymakers, far from home she stayed up. All through the night she forced herself to stay awake, to try, and try, to make the tree something…other than the way that it was. And there was nothing.
No one later knew this story. No one who knew of Erede Tuscay in the years afterwards ever knew of this night, this long long night where a young girl in a wool shift wept. Wept, her stomach in knots, sweating, knowing she had failed. That she was stupid, and that she had failed. No matter how hard she tried to will it. The tree was still the tree.
She was going to have to go back, home to Quintar in the south, and tell young girls which men they should marry, tell farmers when to plant their crops like a common…Seer. And she would get chickens in the fall and goats in the summer and she would be revered and…normal. Her stomach twisted, but the tree didn’t give up its secrets. It stood, in its pot. And she hated it.
Aposia was there before her, in the glen. And grinning. And did Aposia’s little yew tree look different? Erede couldn’t tell. She didn’t want to believe it did. But she could…she could feel it.
“Goodness.” Aposia said, looking at Erede’s tree from pot to tip in a way that made her ears burn. “I can’t wait to see what you’ve learned.”
Merai came from her cottage, and she wasn’t scurrying like a little kitchen maid anymore. She drifted, drifted through the snow, carrying her pot like a chalice, and set it down in the snow with an inner glow that made Erede want to smack them both. She straightened, and behind Erede’s back, the two girls on either side took hands and squeezed them. A togetherness that they just…they already knew Erede didn’t share. And it was too late to walk away.
Because the mist between the trees had parted, and from it came Manon, and not just Manon, but the whole school of Waymakers, old and young, to see the new initiates. They drifted, they flew a little above the snow, they murmured to each other and Erede could feel the power, the simple, raw power around them all as they came across the snow to stand before the three girls. And two of the three looked back to them, and were not ashamed or afraid to be there.
“And now,” Manon said. “We begin the Way.” She breathed in, and Erede felt the river around her sink into the earth, steadying, grounding. “Show me what you have learned.”
“I have been writing since I was about three or four, at least as far back as I can remember,” says Patrick. “While I have written and produced a number of relatively “straight” plays – “When I was Jesus”, “Full Moon Fever”, and “La Bella Luna”, I have always gone back to fantasy since the first time I read “Lord of the Rings” when I was very, very young. The piece here, “Lost Dreams” is part of a larger over-arching storyline for me, of which the collection of short stories “Kings of Nowhere” plays a part, here and there. Like all the pieces in that collection (and a lot like life as well, I suppose) it is only one small sliver of a larger work, that only really should get clearer once lots of other slivers come together. But no one sliver knows it’s just a sliver – to every person their story is THE story, I suppose. I try to get as many of them down as I can, but there is always a lot more story to tell.
Many thanks to Patrick for joining me on The Friday Fiction this week, and giving us a privileged first viewing of his captivating new short story, Lost Dreams. You can find his book, Kings of Nowhere on Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.