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Book Two of the Dream Hunter Duet
By Elizabeth Knox
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2007 Elizabeth Knox
All rights reserved.
ON ST. LAZARUS'S EVE IN 1906, OVER ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE WERE AT THE RAINBOW OPERA TO SHARE A TRADITIONAL feast day dream. A dream named Homecoming, performed by the dreamhunter Grace Tiebold.
Grace had told the Opera's manager that she'd been having trouble falling asleep, and that it wouldn't do to keep her audience awake and staring at the ceilings of their bedchambers. She'd arranged for another dreamhunter, George Mason, to lie in with her. He had caught Homecoming too and so would boost her already famously powerful performance. Also, Mason was a Soporif. He often worked in hospitals, enhancing the effects of anesthetics. He would enter the operating room before the surgeons and their assistants, and lie down near the prepared patient—for anyone who was close to the Soporif when he fell asleep would fall asleep with him.
At ten that evening, Grace and George Mason were settled head-to-feet in the dreamer's bed, a silk-upholstered platform at the top of the dais in the center of the Rainbow Opera's huge auditorium. The Opera had a full house. Founderston's fashionable people—magnates, generals, politicians, and the President himself—were all in attendance. The manager was happy and, at the time, looked on the dreamhunter's change in the evening's arrangements as a good thing.
By midnight the Opera's four tiers of balconies were empty, waiters had collected the cups, liqueur glasses, and bonbon trays from the little tables and ottomans around each balcony. The padded doors to the bedchambers were fastened shut. Everyone—all but the President's and Secretary of the Interior's bodyguards, and the men from the fire watch, who were either patrolling balconies and back stairs in their soft-soled shoes or at their post in the window of the Rainbow Opera's control room—was in bed. The men from the fire watch were awake and vigilant. The building was secure and peaceful. A stage was set in the thousand drowsy heads of the Opera's patrons.
* * *
Grace Tiebold lay under the thick, down-filled quilt of the dreamer's bed. She could hear Mason breathing quietly. She waited to fall through the trapdoor of his sleep into their shared dream. It was nice at least not to have to worry about when she'd drop off.
Instead, Grace worried about her husband, Chorley. Chorley had packed a bag and left the house a week before, and hadn't told her where he was going. Grace worried about her daughter, Rose, who had been boarding for two terms at Founderston Girls' Academy, a school that was less than a mile from her home. She worried that Rose, having been sent away by her parents, wouldn't want to come back and live with them again. Grace wanted to do something to reassure her daughter that they were interested in her. Perhaps she should arrange for Rose to come out at the next Presentation Ball, instead of having to wait another year and a half.
Grace worried about her dreamhunter niece, Laura. Since Laura's father, Tziga, had disappeared earlier in the year, she had been quite distant from her family. But at lunch that afternoon Laura had behaved beautifully. She'd been polite and affectionate. She had even remembered to bring her aunt and cousin St. Lazarus's Day gifts—the kind of nice gesture that was usually beyond her. Not that Laura wasn't nice—only that she was solemn and wrapped up in herself. At lunch Grace had watched Laura smiling as Rose opened her present, a box of musk creams from Farry's, the family's favorite confectioner. Grace had thought, "She's finally growing up." Rose, even biting into a musk cream and moaning loudly in delight, didn't give her mother a moment's doubt about her maturity.
As Grace waited to fall asleep, she mused on that lunch. She fretted. True, Laura had bought gifts and behaved herself, but, as Grace gazed into her memory and studied the face across the restaurant table, she could see that Laura had a look in her eyes, a dangerous look—like that her dreamhunter father had often worn—a kind of dark haze made of desperation and determination and power.
Lying in the white cloud of bed at the pinnacle of the Opera's dais, Grace thought, "What is Laura planning?" She turned her head and looked over at the second-story balcony, and the doors to the Hame and Tiebold suites, where Laura and Rose were sleeping. Firmly fastened, the quilted doors gave Grace no clues.
A moment later she was drifting. Something passed through her mind, a proud happiness about her home, her city, her country, the golden age in which she was living, the fine people she'd chosen to manage her world. The thought pleased her—and amused her too, since it was so unlike her. Why should she be thinking of President Wilkinson when she had so much on her mind?
Then Grace saw the crisp brown, late-summer leaves of oaks in a grove by the road that would take her home. George Mason had fallen asleep and had dropped her into her dream.
And then—suddenly—she wasn't at home. She was in a coffin, and under the ground, and she could not get out.
* * *
Sandy Mason's bed at the Opera was one tier above and across the auditorium from the Hame and Tiebold suites. Sandy lay, his eyes fixed on the unadorned ceiling of his standard-sized room, and thought about Laura Hame.
When Laura saw him that evening, she had seized his hands and said his name, as if he was really something to her, more than a friend. Her hands were shaking, and Sandy was sure she'd been chewing Wakeful, the drug dreamhunters used to ensure they didn't sleep till they were ready to broadcast the dreams they'd caught. But if Laura had a dream, she shouldn't have been at the Opera. A dream would interfere with the sleep of people in rooms near her, and possibly contaminate the dream her aunt Grace would perform. Laura had made excuses, she'd said that her mouth was stained from sucking lollipops, not chewing Wakeful, but Sandy was sure that she was lying.
Laura had lied to him, but she had grabbed his hands and pulled him close, and gazed up into his face as if looking for salvation.
Sandy sat up abruptly, pounded his pillow a few times, then flopped back down again. He decided that he'd rather stop thinking about Laura Hame. She was too difficult, a sad and secretive girl. And despite the fact that they were both dreamhunters, had first entered the Place at last autumn's Try, earned their licenses only months apart, despite all they shared, they were from very different worlds. Laura was wealthy. When her father, the famous dreamhunter Tziga Hame, had disappeared into the arid and silent interior of the Place, he was missed by dream palace patrons and mourned by all the invalids he had helped to better health. Laura's aunt was on the dreamer's dais and about to deliver a vivid and perfectly clear print of Homecoming to the audience of a dream palace that had been built for her. Even Laura's non-dreamhunter uncle, Chorley Tiebold, was famous—a figure of fashion and a talented hobby inventor. Laura was somebody by pedigree, while Sandy—Sandy was the middle child of seven, whose family lived in the provinces and whose father was the shop steward in a factory that made flax matting. Sandy's father thought that dreamhunting was fortune hunting. He'd said to his son, "Most dreamhunters wind up like wizened, squinty-eyed old gold prospectors, and the rest are corrupt or crazy." Sandy's father saw himself as the salt of the earth. He scorned his dreamhunter brother and was disgusted that any son of his should want to take up the trade, "if you can call lying around in a stupor in silk sheets a trade," he'd said. Sandy's father saw dreamhunting the way much of the population of Southland did—those too far from the Place for dreams to travel and keep fresh. The majority of South-landers thought that dreams were a luxury, a drug of idleness. And though Sandy wanted more than anything to become a great and famous dreamhunter, a star like Grace Tiebold, or a magician like Tziga Hame, part of him felt his father's squeamish mistrust of dreamhunters.
Sandy bashed his pillow some more and told himself sternly that he was not falling for Laura Hame. He was only starstruck and infatuated with the idea of her family.
Sandy felt his Soporif uncle fall asleep and for a moment resisted the cozy wave of weakness; breathed through it as though it were a spasm of pain. He held to his memory of Laura Hame's pale face and dark eyes, her stained lips and the mauve cave of her stained mouth. Then he felt himself slipping, and then he was asleep.
* * *
... he woke, an invalid, weak and encumbered in sheets, wrapped in smooth cloth. Why was it so dark? He took a deep breath and sucked in a bubble of lily-scented satin.
A shroud was covering his mouth.
He flung out his hands. They hit the soft quilting that lined the sides of the casket, beneath which he felt the hard wood of the box itself. The box—narrow, and irresistible, and dark ...
* * *
The Rainbow Opera was oval. One of its longer curves faced the Sva River, the other a paved, crescent-shaped plaza. The building and plaza were enclosed by a high fence, built to keep out anyone hoping to get near enough to the auditorium to pilfer dreams. But the Opera patron's chauffeurs and coachmen parked overnight in the plaza could go to sleep if they needed to, for dreams very rarely spilled beyond the Opera's walls.
A dreamhunter's projection zone was known as his or her "penumbra"—a term borrowed from astronomy, where "penumbra" describes the partial shadow the moon casts on the face of the earth during a total eclipse. (The "umbra," or totality, was the dreamhunter himself or herself, asleep and haloed by the shade of a dream.) Grace Tiebold's three-hundred-and-seventy-five-yard penumbra could comfortably fill all the Opera's rooms and spill only a little beyond its walls. If one of the Opera's security men, patrolling between fence and walls, did happen to hunker down and doze off, he might well find himself involved in one of Grace Tiebold's dreams. Grace's brother-in-law, the great dreamhunter Tziga Hame, had had a four-hundred-and-fifty-yard penumbra. Dozing guards or chauffeurs could find themselves immersed in any dream Tziga Hame performed at the Opera. However, city ordinances and cautious supervision by the Dream Regulatory Body had, for years, guaranteed that none of the households above shops in the streets surrounding the Opera would ever feel the faintest bit of color from any of the Opera's performances.
That was until the early hours of St. Lazarus's Day 1906, when sleepers in those houses found themselves snagged by the rim of a great, screeching wheel of nightmare. Only its edge—and although they woke with their hearts pounding, and gasping for breath, their distress quickly passed, to be replaced by something else. Fear. They sat up in bed and strained to hear. Some ran to their windows and threw them open and looked toward the festively lit Opera, from which came the sound of screams—a hellish howling that filled the still, chilly spring night.
* * *
Grace Tiebold knew that she was caught in a nightmare and wasn't really in her coffin. She was a skilled and experienced dreamhunter who'd had to free herself from nightmares before. She fought to be free from this one. At first she fought it on its own terms—she struggled with the shroud, tore at the padded satin lining of the coffin, and finally with its undressed wood. She made the futile repeated movements—the clawing, thrashing, hammering—of the person she was in the dream. In the dream, she reminded herself, and kept in mind, as the spark of her experience, her mastery of other dreams, brought her back to herself.
Grace finally burst right out of the battered limbs and welter of blood and filth—out of that miserable, suffering self. She jumped like a specter out of the trapped body, the grave, the dream. For a moment she was paralyzed by sleep, then she struggled free from the silk quilt, panting, and found that her face and fingertips were torn and slick with blood.
She fell off the bed, got up, and looked around the auditorium.
The balconies were empty. Electric candles around the walls of each tier, and the unsteady glow of the gas jets beyond the stained-glass dome, showed Grace her beautiful Rainbow Opera—just as it always was, but as though turned inside out. Its beauty looked ghastly. The men of the fire watch looked monstrous. George, lying rigid, his face contorted, mouth alternately straining open and snapping shut, looked monstrous too.
Grace shouted at the fire watch to sound the alarm bells. She could barely hear her own voice over the storm of screaming that came from the closed bedchambers.
A door was open on the second tier, the door to the Tiebold suite. Grace saw her daughter, Rose, lean over the balcony, her hands gripping its rail. Grace felt herself swoop toward her daughter. She nearly jumped from the dais, stopping herself just in time. As Rose's face came into focus, Grace saw that her daughter was pale and confused, but not bloodied or maddened.
Grace turned back to George Mason. She picked up the water jug and tipped it out over him. Then, for good measure, she slammed the jug itself down onto his chest. The Soporif woke, then rolled onto his side to spit out blood and a piece of cracked tooth.
Grace turned back to Rose, who wasn't looking at her. Grace followed her daughter's gaze and saw someone running toward the fire watch control room.
It was a man in a long coat and broad-brimmed hat. He moved fast but as though he was skating, his limbs seeming to stretch and blur. He jumped into the control room, among the fire watch.
Then, it seemed, Grace momentarily lost her grip on wakefulness, and the dream came back to change the shape and sense of events she was trying so hard to follow. She saw the coat and hat float to the control room floor. Had the ceiling collapsed? The men of the fire watch appeared to have been knocked flat and were struggling under something that had fallen on them—something dark and heavy. Then one body got to its feet, although it seemed to be covered from head to foot in some crumbling substance, as if it had been in the ground and had emerged contaminated by earth. The body moved toward the power board, put out a hand, and was suddenly caught in a cascade of blue sparks. The control room went dark. The bells didn't sound.
Mason was still struggling to get up, but kept flopping back as if stunned. Grace didn't wait for him to recover. She left the dais. The turns in the spiral stairs forced her to lose sight of her daughter several times as she descended. When she was only halfway down, she felt the dream leave the building. It didn't disperse but departed all at once, like a flock of birds breaking from a stand of trees.
Grace reached the bottom of the dais, located the nearest staircase, and scrambled up it. From above her came the sound of timber splintering.
Halfway up the stairs, Grace was knocked back against the wall by a phalanx of men—the President's bodyguards. They were carrying President Garth Wilkinson on their shoulders, like a body on a bier. Bloody foam spilled from Wilkinson's gaping mouth.
Grace Tiebold was used to being treated with respect, to being somebody. It was years since she had been shunted aside by anyone. These men did just that—shoved her aside. Worse, she was noticed by the last man, the one following those who carried the President. He was rushing too, but he stepped aside to avoid bowling Grace down the stairs. Then he recognized her, his face filled with disgust, and he struck her across the mouth. It was an open-handed slap, but it knocked her down. She clung to the handrail, her ears ringing. She thought: "He thinks the nightmare was me."
Once she'd had this thought, another followed it: "If it wasn't me, then who was it?"
Then, "Laura," Grace thought, though she couldn't think where her niece might have gone to catch a nightmare like that. It was like something from the "shadow belt"—a region in Band X, four days' walk into the lifeless desert of the Place. Grace knew that an eight-day walk In and out again was beyond Laura's stamina, that her niece was simply too small and weak to carry enough water for a journey of that length. So where had the nightmare come from? How had Laura managed to catch it? And why would Laura bring a dreadful thing like that to the Rainbow Opera on St. Lazarus's Eve?
Grace collected herself and went on. She reached the top of the stairs and saw her daughter. Rose's jaw went slack, and she took a step back, apparently appalled at her mother's appearance. Grace ran to Rose, took her hands, and scanned her face. Rose was unhurt—her lips were mauve, but, Grace recalled, that was only the stain of the musk creams she had been nibbling since lunch.
The terrible howling had stopped. Behind the Opera's doors, people had begun to call out for help—a sane, human clamor. A few started to spill out onto the balconies.
The door of the Hame Suite opened, and Laura emerged, her face white and mouth bloody. She was clumsily unwinding bandages from her hands.
Grace called to her. Laura looked at her aunt, her expression closed and remote.
Excerpted from Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox. Copyright © 2007 Elizabeth Knox. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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