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Brooke Nescott, Stilton Dreams and the Secondary Alternate


Realm by Devon Pitlor

[Quoted in Wikipedia: "A 2005 survey carried out by the British Cheese Board reported that
Stilton cheese seemed to cause unusual dreams when eaten before sleep, with 75% of men
and 85% of women experiencing "odd and vivid" dreams after eating a 20 gram serving of
the cheese half an hour prior to sleeping."]

Prologue:

Brooke Nescott was sitting in some sort of large, basket-like thing. Alongside
of her was a distinguished looking man of about fifty. Neither of them could
move their hands, which were bound behind their backs by some sort of
invisible cords. Around them swarmed the small, pink bipeds that seemed to
fill the clearing. Before them sat large, ungainly, lumpen but humanoid
creatures with solemn, threatening faces. The clearing---and Brooke
instinctively knew it was a courtroom---was buzzing with a language she could
not understand. One of the ogres at the front silenced the room with a wave of
what looked like a long feather. He growled out two bursts of strange,
rumbling syllables. Then a taller porcine creature came up and sneered into
Brooke's face.

"Congratulations," it said in perfect English, "you have just been condemned


to death." Then peals of laughter and oinking cheers echoed from all sides.
I. The vague nature of reality at age thirty-six

In June of 2010, the fatal line was going to be crossed, or at least Brooke
Nescott, who had lived during both strange and desolate times, thought so. She
was about to turn thirty-six, and for Brooke, who had always fancied herself
younger than others, the age seemed to be fatal. It marked the plunge Brooke
knew she had to take into middle age, and she did not like it. The excitement
of youth, which Brooke so craved, was evaporating with each passing day.

The first decade of the 21st Century had had its moments of thrill and
grandeur for Brooke, as had the last decade of the 20th Century, but Brooke
could see time passing, and it was already leaving small, nearly imperceptible
marks on her face and hands. Though still fresh and young in appearance,
Brooke realized, as we all do, that we are on a passage to old age and
ultimately death. And there was nothing even slightly exhilarating about that.

Brooke's life had been filled with moments of blankness punctuated by events
beyond belief, such as the visit of Justine and her representatives from the
distant future who had definitively influenced the outcome of her first
marriage to Adrian Albritton and foreseen its ultimate dissolution. Then there
had been Dragonsnort, and Dragonsnort deserved a chapter of his own, but as
the fatal line in time neared, the downward slope, the descent, Brooke was
unwilling to write it. Even in her thoughts.

By age thirty-five, Brooke had already lost Dragonsnort, and that was
something that had not been predicted by her strange visitors from the future,
who seemed to have lost all interest in her after her choice to forego Chase
Kingsley and marry the infertile Adrian and thereby not make children whose
descendants would have a negative impact on the future of the world.
Dragonsnort had been hers and hers alone, and the hours and days she had
spent in his embrace were the most significant of her life, but, like all things
related to the drab march of the early 21st Century, these things began to fall
apart like sculptures made of sand and washed by waves, waves of chaos that
in 2001 Brooke had no way of foretelling. Dragonsnort had continued to play
with his band, Death's Messengers, and the band became slightly more
successful as the grim events of the mid-decade developed, transforming
American society into something much less hopeful and vibrant than it had
once been. The band had for a time thrived, and they began flying off to places
in private planes provided by an unseen manager who briefly appeared to be
making them rich. Dragonsnort had often been absent for long periods
playing in concerts in far off places that bore no names, but that was how
bands succeeded, he kept telling her. Brooke, regularly alone, accepted that, as
she had always accepted all other things relative to Dragonsnort.

But then in 2009, shortly after Brooke's 35th birthday, Dragonsnort and his
companions had boarded a flight for some island belonging to Spain, ostensibly
to perform in a resort cabaret. Going to the Canary Islands had become
somewhat routine for Dragonsnort, and there was nothing sinister announcing
itself about this flight. But over the Atlantic, the Cessna 480 carrying Death's
Messengers had just vanished. It was in the news for a while, but then the
story died out. Dragonsnort was gone, leaving Brooke only with memories of
his masculine and electrifying embrace and, of course, Jared, their son.

II. Jared Nescott

Of course, he was Jared Nescott because, true to form, the mysteriously


seductive Dragonsnort had---surprisingly---never told Brooke any other name
for himself, nor had the inseparable couple ever thought to marry. Jared,
therefore, could not become Jared Dragonsnort. That would have been even
more absurd than Brooke could have tolerated, even after a lifetime of small
absurdities, and so Jared, now nine years old, was fully branded with Brooke's
family name, and was the only male to carry it, as Brooke's parents had both
died years before, and she was an only child.
Jared was a prescient, knowing and very old soul. Like his father, he was wiry
and strong and a definite leader. His intelligence seemed boundless and far
advanced over other children his age. Notably, Jared had a remarkable talent
for listening, something most other children lacked. Jared was quite handsome
too, a boy with deep pools of blue eyes and a clarity of complexion enviable to
most other mothers. He was considerate of both adults and children, and like
his father, whom he missed quietly and without complaint, his physical stamina
had no bounds. Naturally, he was totally bonded to Brooke, as she was to him,
and Jared, by age nine, had begun to develop a very mature concern for his
lone parent. Long conversations ensued between Brooke and Jared,
conversations that seemed unnaturally adult for a boy of that age, but
conversations which took place nonetheless. Jared had a knack for
understanding the blithe unconcern his mother had with the world and life in
general, and he understood her immense sense of loss over the disappearance
of his father, Dragonsnort. Implicitly, he seemed to realize that his mother
lacked the excitement she had once lived for.

A well-meaning social worker or teacher, if privy to the extent of this mother-


son bonding following Dragonsnort's disappearance, may have at once advised
at least a short hiatus for the boy. He needed more company of those of his
own age and less soul-searching with his mother. But Brooke had no use for
counselors of any type and kept her intimate relationship with Jared secret
from all onlookers. She knew that she was passing her frustrations with the
dullness of life onto her son and realized that their mature rapport would have
been most suspect if examined too closely by any outsiders.

She revealed things to Jared that---perhaps---should have not been told to a


nine year old boy. Things like how Justine and weird visitors from the future
had caused her to make a choice between her two boyfriends in order to
salvage a future society from servitude and destruction. Things about how she
had left her first husband, due to his inability to deal with infertility, and found
Jared's father at a time in her life when the world appeared to be at its
bleakest low. Born in 1974 into a typically middle class American home,
Brooke had naturally experimented and used many of the fashionable drugs of
her era, and she hid nothing about this to Jared either. That alone would have
alerted certain social workers, but Jared was silent, understanding and, above
all, confidential.

It was these last revelations, those about her rather inoffensive drug usage, that
launched what was soon to become the next outstanding event in the lives of
Jared and his mother. And that is actually where this story begins. But first
we have to examine a rather pertinent question once posed by Brooke's more
than precocious son.

III. Jared's question

Jared Nescott asked his mother a lot of questions about life and the world in
general, things he could not ask teachers or camp counselors. One of these
questions came after a third grade picnic during which Jared's teacher, a well-
meaning lady named Sophia Barstein, who was Jewish, explained to the class
that she preferred---as according to her religion---to avoid all pork products.
The other students had taken this in stride, accepting simply that Ms.
Barstein's faith barred her from eating pork, but Jared wanted to know why.
Ms. Barstein could not, of course, answer this question. She had been raised
on the Torah, and the Torah said pork was unclean and do not eat it, so she
didn't, and that was that. Even Ms. Barstein had never thought to go farther
with the question. She didn't care if others ate pork, she didn't herself, and
that should have been enough for most children. It was not for Jared.

Jared learned subsequently that other world religions and cultures, notably
those connected with his three Lebanese classmates, also avoided pork. Using
his computer, which he was already good at, Jared found that the sanction
against eating the meat of the "unclean pig" was very widespread in the world
and very, very ancient. This bothered the boy considerably. There was no
reason for the prohibition, he thought. All the historical sources said was that
the ancient priests, imams and rabbis forbade it. Pigs carried microbes, etc.,
but so did other animals. Besides, his mother loved ham, and in fact, it had
been her ham sandwiches contribution to the class picnic that had started the
entire controversy. Not only did a huge number of people on Earth not eat
pork, but an even larger number did eat pork. And none of them seemed to be
any the worse from it.

Brooke was totally unable to give an answer to her son's dilemma, and she felt
bad about it. She liked the gifted element in Jared and wanted to answer
questions that others could not or would not, but, like her son, she found no
solid answers forthcoming.

And so Jared's question went unanswered, and it is noted here mostly as an


example of the boy's inquiring mind as he neared ten years of age.

But little did either mother or son realize that a more concrete answer would
soon be given to this question. But that will have to wait for later.

IV. Return to the "drug" issue

It is nearly impossible to write the history of person born in 1974, as was


Brooke Nescott, without mentioning the usage of recreational drugs, such as
cocaine and marijuana and speed. All parents emerging into the dark valley
which was the first decade of the 21st Century needed to either hide their
previous trespasses in this regard or, as Brooke did, be totally frank about
them and hope that their offspring would not fall into the trap of substance
abuse. Honesty, Brooke felt, was the best approach, and Jared seemed more
than satisfied with her explanations. These amounted mostly to warnings that
some substances were "just too good" to even try one time. So for Brooke, the
approach was not that "drugs were bad" or "just say no," but rather "drugs
are too damn good, so don't even go there." Jared understood and was happy
that at age thirty-five his mother no longer even smoked, something she had
given up with great difficulty a couple of years previous.

And then one day an absolute absurdity blossomed into the relationship
between mother and son. As noted, it was not, by far, the first absurdity to
mark the life of Brooke Nescott, who seemed to be fated to be apart from the
mainstream of humanity in so many ways.

It happened at another picnic.

But this picnic was an adult affair, and it took place in a clearing in the woods
not far from Aristock, an old Indian burial ground, where a newly wed couple,
both claiming to be of Susquehanna descent, decided to hold an outdoor
marriage reception. Many children were invited to this bucolic event, which
was both alcohol and drug free, and it was catered by one of Brooke's few
friends, a young woman named Stacy Edrich who made extra money by
planning food and drink occasions for marriages, etc. Stacy knew or cared
nothing about the forest venue of the event, other than she exacted a hefty
surcharge for bringing out food and setting it up on folding tables in the
woods. The food she brought out was very traditional, and, yes, there was
baked ham and other pork delicacies because the Susquehanna Indians had no
problems with eating pigs. Stacy had been very shrewd in her food choices,
buying items that were left over in her catering company from other affairs, so
the tables of food spread for the couple and their guests and children were very
eclectic and represented no particular culture, other than that of an employee
of a catering business who knew how to throw together odds and ends.

The reception was in no way remarkable. The parents of the happy couple
assured everyone that nothing Native American was being defiled and that in
fact they were doing honor to the Susquehanna ancestors by eating in their
special spot. Children ran about eating and playing and screaming and
frolicking. Adults sat in folding chairs and talked about hard times, failing
retirement accounts and general matters relative to seemingly endless
"recession" which had gripped the times. And when the sun began to set,
everyone left happy. Like so many other affairs, Brooke observed, it was
boring in its regularity and lack of incident.

Because Jared and Brooke were Stacy's guests, they remained behind,
ostensibly to help Stacy with the clean up. After this, Brooke and Jared would
return home, watch television, and then go to bed.

As Brooke busied herself with the leftover clean up, she remarked suddenly
that nearly everything had been eaten except a huge one pound wedge of blue
veined cheese. It had remained totally untouched on the table, ignored by both
children and adults alike. When she asked Stacy what it was, Stacy turned up
her nose and said that it was, strangely, the most expensive item on the table, at
something like $36 a pound and that it was always left over and never eaten.

"It's called Stilton," said Stacy. "Blue veined cheese like what the French and
Italians have, but this stuff is from England, and it is to some people very
special. But no one eats cheese much anymore, and, besides, it smells funny to
most people here. We've been trying to get rid of it for some time now. No one
ever eats it, so back in the cooler it goes. Funny that it is so expensive, but so
unpopular."

Jared, alert as always, listened to Stacy say this to his mother, and went over
and smelled the cheese. It did indeed smell strange, and Jared, who was no
experimenter with strange adult food, walked away, dismissing the issue as
unimportant. In his mind, he was still wondering how all these people had so
readily consumed the ham and bacon wrapped burgers with no ill effects, but
even that matter had started to grow dim in his curiosity.

But to Brooke it suddenly became another issue. Nearly forty dollars a pound
and no one touches it. For a second she remembered Dragonsnort. She knew
at once that had he been there he would have at least tried it. Dragonsnort did
everything that was unconventional on purpose. A cheese that was universally
ignored would have excited his curiosity, and so she thought it should excite
hers. The wedge of cheese was pretty in its own way, shot through with threads
of blue and edged by a thick gray rind. She had vaguely heard of Stilton
before and abruptly became eager to try it.

"Knock yourself out," said Stacy. "It's already paid for."

And so Brooke took a cheese knife and cut herself a rather large slice and ate it
rind and all with her fingers. Not unsurprisingly, it tasted rather good in a
sharp and pungent sort of way. Brooke liked strange tastes. She decided it
would go better with wine or beer, so with Stacy's permission, she wrapped the
remaining chunk of Stilton and put it in her car's cooler to take home.

V. Jumping forward: "drug" rehabilitation

Brooke waited for some doctor who was bustling in the back corridor of his
clinic wearing, atypically, a white coat. He carried a clip board and went from
room to room. She had no idea of exactly how she would approach this
therapist when her turn came. Of all the absurd situations that had marked
her life, this one was sure to be the most grotesque. Here she was checked into
an addiction clinic and about ready to talk to a psychiatrist. Her addiction was
Stilton cheese. She realized the doctor would never believe her, but the dreams
were real and something a psychiatrist would have a fun go at.

When she was finally alone with the man, who turned out to be a Doctor
Mustafa Aziz, she felt overcome with embarrassment. She wondered how
Dragonsnort would have approached the same state of affairs. Dragonsnort
would have just said what his trouble was and waited for a response. If
nothing else, Dragonsnort had been oblivious to the opinions of others. Either
the doctor could help, or he couldn't. So Brooke decided to speak right away.
Doctor Aziz didn't let her. He pursed his lip, read her written account, and
said pleasantly to her that she seemed very well educated and wrote well. That
put Brooke at ease. Her greatest fear was not being laughed at, but rather that
once in a psychiatrist's hands, where she had placed herself, she would lose
custody of Jared. A doctor had the power to do that.

Instead, Dr. Aziz just stared at her and said "Hmmm" a number of times.
"Your dreams were caused by the cheese, you know. There is a clear history of
that in some people. It has been documented for sometime now, especially in
the United Kingdom. However, the addiction part I refuse to believe. My
initial diagnosis is very simple. Get back to your usual routines, your job, your
life, your family and quit eating chunks of that ugly stuff. The dreams should
go away."

Brooke realized that the clinic was filled room by room with people with much
greater problems than her own. Behind each door in Aziz's consulting corridor
were alcoholics and people with real drug dependencies. She didn't want to
take up any more of the doctor's time. She knew all about the effects of eating
Stilton cheese on weird dreams. That information abounded online, and she
had read it eagerly at first. She asked Aziz for a sedative, and, being somewhat
rushed, he readily agreed, scribbled out a prescription for Ambien and
dropped it in her lap. "Stop eating the cheese," he said, smiled and walked
out. The visit had cost her two hundred dollars.

As she drove home through the cluttered streets of Aristock, she knew she
would stop at the specialty cheese shop and buy more Stilton. The need to do
so would overcome her, and it did. The cheese being the most expensive in the
store, she spent nearly a hundred dollars.

Then she drove to Jared's school. Jared would be waiting in front for her, as
he did every day. He would be worried about her as usual. She hated herself
for giving in to the overpowering urge to buy more cheese. And later she hated
herself more for hiding it and eating two large chunks after Jared was tucked
into bed. The cheese was beginning to taste horrible to her, with or without the
two glasses of wine she drank to wash it down. Besides, it was fattening, and
Brooke, now at age thirty-six, had no desire to become fat. Deep inside she
harbored the hope that Dragonsnort would someday return. She wanted to be
thin and shapely to greet his homecoming. Thinness became yet another
obsession. Still she ate the cheese. A troubled, lonely single mother alone at
night in a big house with a sleeping son and a mouthful of blue-veined cheese.
Absurd, she thought.

She swallowed an Ambien and hoped the dreams would not come, but in a
strange way, she knew they would. In the other place she seemed to have
unfinished business. A lot of this involved Joel.

VI. The Stilton dreams

The initial dream came immediately after she had consumed the first slice of
Stilton after her afternoon with Stacy. She had found the cheese tasty and
wondered, as usual, whether Dragonsnort would have liked it. He had always
sought out strange tastes. If other people didn't like something, Dragonsnort
was sure to like it. That was his way. She had never lost the habit of relating
every activity to Dragonsnort.

She had watched some television, mostly news about flooding in the river
valleys near Aristock, and retired as usual to her empty bed. She patted the
spot where Dragonsnort would have been and said good night to her missing
soulmate. She had done that every night religiously since his fading.

Somewhere in the night, a technicolor dream burst upon her. She was standing
in a green forest overlooking what seemed to be a ravine of sorts. She could
hear water flowing far below, and to her right was very dark bridge which
appeared to be constructed of gray stone. It arched over the gorge and into a
patch of forest that was far darker than what surrounded her. In fact, about
midway across the chasm, the bridge and what followed it became---for lack of
a better term---black and white. After all, dreams are just mental movies, and
this one was no different, other than in one place color abounded and just
beyond that place everything was either sepia or simply black and white. She
was, however, able to guide her movements, and for some reason, she drifted
almost uncontrollably toward the dark arch of the bridge. She touched its
stone railing and found it rough and, above all, real. This was not like any
dream she had ever had before.

She wanted to cross the bridge and see what was in the monochrome stillness
which lay beyond. That part, at least, was in Brooke's nature: this curiosity
about the unknown. Dragonsnort had only fueled that aspect of her
personality. Dragonsnort liked bold, unrestrained people, and in his company,
she had always striven to be one. So across the bridge she would go.

A perfectly normal, if not strikingly handsome, man dressed in a shockingly


brilliant checked shirt suddenly was at her side. He was a passionate looking
person who seemed to be at home in the colorful woods which surrounded her
side of the ravine.

He blurted out "Don't cross!" but gave no explanation why.

A loud ring woke her up. Nothing could have been more normal. It was her
alarm, and it was time to get up, feed Jared, take him to school and get herself
off to work. Just like any other day. At the time she had not heard of the
strange effects that eating Stilton cheese produced. She had only learned of
these later after searching for Stilton online and finding multiple articles
discussing the phenomenon. But by that time, it was seemingly too late. She
developed an almost psychic need for the cheese and had gone off on her lunch
hour through the college section of Aristock looking for a place where she
could buy it. The store clerk apologized to her for the high price of the cheese
and then offered her a neatly printed brochure describing how to use it in
cooking and appetizer plates. In one line printed near the bottom of the
brochure, there was a slight mention of the dream phenomenon. This was
attributed to the British cheese marketers who had probably invented the story
to sell more of their overpriced product.

But the dream came again. This time she was again with the man in the
checkered shirt. He seemed muscular and sexy, a woodsman of sorts. If she
was going to have an affair with a dream person, it might as well have been
him. He introduced himself as Joel somebody and asked her if she wanted to
drink some strong alcoholic potion made from honey. She agreed and followed
him to a sort of crude shelter wherefrom he produced a stone bottle of very
sweet tasting, yellow liquid. "Mead," he said, pouring them both a large glass.
"Don't drink too much."

Brooke sat down on a log which served as a chair and stared at the man. "You
have something to tell me," she said.

"Yep," he replied, "but I doubt you will listen. This is a lot more real and
much less imaginary than you think, but, to be honest, some of it is imaginary
too. It all depends on how you take it."

"Where am I," asked Brooke amused. She knew she was sensually attracted to
Joel, but could not say why. Having an affair with a handsome man in a dream
would in no way be an offense to Dragonsnort, and Brooke wanted the episode
to continue. Even within the dream she wondered if she had set her alarm too
early or whether it was going to ring before their conversation was over. "Yes,
where am I," she repeated, "Cheeseland?"

"Maybe that explains it; maybe it doesn't," replied Joel somewhat disturbed.
"Right now you are in a different part of your own world," he continued
pensively. "You crossed a kind of perception barrier to get here. I don't know
which one either. I can't explain that. This is like another leg of the same
forest---if I can use that metaphor---that you live in. You are only slightly
removed. I came here by a different route, but that really doesn't matter. I am
of your species and speak your language. Over there (he pointed to the
ominously arching bridge to nowhere) they are not. You won't understand a
thing they say or anything about them. If you cross their barrier, which is that
bridge, you will be an intruder, and they hate that."

Joel went on to explain that in the past he had been a very ordinary traveler
from somewhere in the state of Delaware and that before taking up residence
in his brightly colored forest, he had a normal job and family. He gave no
explanation as to why he was living here. More and more, Brooke found
herself attracted to this fine-looking and compelling man. In her thoughts, she
interrupted what she knew to be just a dream by all sorts of fussy concerns
about her appearance. She was, after all, getting older and presumably less
attractive to men. Dream or not, she wanted to know what this striking and
magnetic guy thought of her.

I am vain and silly, she thought. Here I am in strange dream and worried
about how I look and whether he finds me pretty. Once again, the thought
amused her. But at least there was a little spark of enthusiasm and excitement.

Joel took her hand and said "Go back to wherever you came from. This is not
a good place for you. I can handle it because I have for a long time, but you
are totally out of place---and unprotected. I can see you want to cross that
barrier, that bridge, and you probably will do it if I am not around. I can't
help you at all if I am not there, and I can't always be there."

"Do any of these places have names?" asked Brooke suddenly, breaking off her
reverie about attracting Joel.

"Probably. I know a little of their language by now. And I know a little about
them."

"Who?"

"The inhabitants over there. They come in all varieties. Some are like swarthy
dwarfs, gnomes. Others are like rough and brutal ogres. Like characters from
fairy tales. Still others are reptiles. They are the mean ones, and they do a lot
of the dirty work for the ones that resemble us. One of their jobs is to keep
intruders away. They will not, therefore, hesitate to kill you, and if like you
say, you are dreaming, you simply won't wake up."

A strange birdlike thing buzzed through the blue sky above. It had no wings
but was rather a head and body attached to a large, balloon-like bladder which
sputtered as it propelled the creature through the air.

Then the alarm, the wake up, Jared, the school, and her job---where Brooke
sat dreamily all day thinking about Joel and his multicolored forest and the
dim passage that he had warned her not to cross.

After dinner that night, she sat down to talk to Jared as she always did. Jared,
wise as usual, stared at her and asked whether she had ever eaten any of the
cheese from the picnic two weeks before. Brooke, who had always been open
with Jared, broke down and told the boy everything. He was not happy. It
was as if she had taken up smoking again. He did not laugh, however, at her
addiction to cheese. He only assured her that he had never eaten any "because
it stinks" and that he never would.

Then, for some reason, she told him about Joel. "Your father has been gone
for nearly two years now," she said quietly. "What would you think if..."

"You found another man?" Jared's eyes brightened. "I'd like that for your
sake. But not some dude in a dream."
Brooke was fully aware that she was sounding silly, especially to her son, but
then something crossed her mind. "I have something else about your father to
tell you," she began. "You have heard just about everything except this. That
missing plane where he vanished, well, it was mentioned in the news. Death's
Messengers were not a big band, but they were an Aristock band, a college
town band. So there was an article in the paper. They named all the guys in
the group. I sort of knew them all too. Your father had always introduced me,
but they were stoned a lot of the time and just kept their distance. I was
Dragonsnort's girl, and they respected that. Some of them had girlfriends
too."

"What's the secret?" said Jared, his interest again piqued by news of his
father.

"The article never mentioned anyone named Dragonsnort, and there were no
strange names mentioned. I mean your father lived and died as Dragonsnort.
That was all I ever called him and all he ever told me about himself. On the
list of the missing there was no mention of him. It was as if he had never
lived."

Jared nodded his head wisely, glanced at both the clock and then, tellingly, at
the refrigerator. He knew, Brooke realized, that the cheese was in there. The
cheese that she had to eat before bedtime. He shuffled up in his pajamas and
said goodnight and walked off to bed. "I'm glad you didn't call me Jared
Dragonsnort," were his last words.

VII. The crossing

Cheese. Wine. Sleep. No Ambien. It didn't do any good. She was off to Joel's
forest whether she wanted to go or not, and she wanted. She knew she did.
Her entire life, save the years with Dragonsnort, had been one long panorama
of sameness and ennui. Nothing had ever come of anything. She had made a
decision once to save a future generation by her choice of husbands, and
nothing had come of that. It was an episode that had simply ended. Like
everything else in her life. Then the fire and eruption of Dragonsnort. There
was meaning and value and excitement....things she so much craved. And now
that was gone, and Brooke now thirty-six for sure was alone with the dingy
drabness of life that had always characterized her every waking moment
before Dragonsnort. Joel, the dream, the strange colorful vistas, the promise
of seeing extraordinary creatures, learning more, finding out secrets began to
obsess her. Yes, more cheese. By all means, more cheese.

She arrived into the technicolor vista just in time to see Joel disappear over the
shadowy bridge. She called out to him, but he was too far over to hear her or
answer. He simply dissolved into the blackness, and she stood alone watching
odd looking creatures scurry back and forth in the underbrush. This was a
dream, right? And she always woke up from it. What harm could really come
to her in a dream?

Without much further reflection she was at the opening of the gray stone
bridge. She climbed over a ravine, the bottom of which she could not
distinguish and into a strangely shaded eclipse of sepia which gave way to a
glowing black and white pathway which extended from the far side of the
bridge. Behind her was the flush and splendor of Joel's forest. Ahead lay only
a bleak channel leading into...into more brightness and light!!

Just beyond the black and white zone, which Brooke assumed to be the barrier
Joel had spoken of, the colors became even more dramatic. It was a world of
neon iridescence, a sparkling tangle of purple and red and orange vines from
which strange fruits in unfamiliar geometric shapes hung, triangular and
octagonal fruits...the stuff of a real dream.

Two alligator things stood upright on their rear legs and eyed her passage.
They had wide but slitted eyes which seemed to follow her every move as she
penetrated this new dreamland. They glowered at her in obvious disapproval
but did not make a move. Between the two lizards seemed to pass a type of
psychic understanding. Like humans, they shook their heads menacingly as if
to warn her away. On Joel's trail now, she passed between them without fear.
This was a dream. She could wake up. A cheese dream but a dream
nonetheless. If an upright alligator made a move to attack her, she would
scream, and the scream would awaken her. Of that she remained confident.

Farther on, Brooke passed at a distance of several yards a group of squat,


thickset dwarves who seemed much wider than tall. Some of the dwarves were
lounging around what looked to be a stone sundial. Others were striking at the
huge neon fruits with long cudgels. They too observed her passage. On their
wrinkled faces were looks of displeasure. She knew she was intruding, but
wasn't this what Alice did under the rabbit hole? The dream was worth the
adventure. Perhaps the puzzling and seductive Joel would be the prize.
Brooke pressed forward. She passed more and more of the erect lizards and
the stubby gnomes hard at work with the glowing plants. It was magical and
exciting. Far more exciting than anything she knew in her life. And she could
tell Jared about it when she woke. He would believe her and be interested in
what she saw.

Then suddenly it ended.

But it was not the end of the dream. No, she was still in the same place. The
ground under her feet continued to vibrate, and she could sense that the dream
was far from being over. But something or someone had pulled a dark sack
over her head and clamped her hands behind her back. Other thick, oily,
unseen hands held her shoulders and waist.

Wisely, Brooke decided not to struggle.


The dream had to come to an end soon. She would just wait it out.

VIII. The dream continues

But this time, the dream did not end. There was no ringing of an alarm, no
getting up from bed, no Jared to drive to school, no job.

Just heavy and coarse hands holding her and guiding her somewhere that she
could not see. She could feel actual pain in their abrasive grasp. How could an
innocent dream of an imaginary place cause her so much actual pain? Brooke
writhed in the strong holds, finally attempting in vain to free herself. She
heard the sounds of grunts and snarls all around her. A strange language. Joel
had warned her. When she finally did scream, there was no response. When
she screamed again, a heavy smack fell across her lips. Whatever had taken
her prisoner wanted her to be quiet. Brooke felt the very real drip of blood
from her lips and tasted its salty essence. This was becoming too genuine for
words, too real for screams. She found herself mumbling "Joel...Joel" under
the coarse fabric of her head cover. The muffled sounds of alien laughter
surrounded her. Whatever beasts were holding her prisoner were laughing in
a crude way and attempting to utter "Joel" themselves. Their grumbling
sounds were not human.

Finally, she was thrown down onto what felt like soft dirt, and she heard the
heavy hinged creaking of what must have been a door. Her hands were still
bound behind her. A dream within a dream, in exhaustion, she fell asleep.

When Brooke Nescott awoke, she was not awake. The dream was continuing.
But the scenery had changed. She was in a small chamber with a dirt floor.
The mask had been removed from her eyes and her hands were free. Some wet
slices of the strikingly colored fruit lay in the dirt beside her. Food, she
thought. I must eat. And she did. The fruit, though gritty with soil, tasted
fresh and invigorating.
Then she saw another person in the cell with her. It was a man. He was
crouched in the far corner. This was an older guy with graying temples and a
wise but hopeless look on his face. He said a timid hello, then turned his head
to one side with a expression of great sadness.

"What is going on?" shouted Brooke as if her companion had an answer.

The older man continued to look at the door. He did indeed seem to know
what was happening. Brooke could sense it. He knew everything. He just had
that air. So where was Joel and who was this guy? What would it take to get
him to talk? Once again, Brooke interrupted the fear of her dream to wonder
about her looks. Was her lip swollen and bleeding? Was she still engaging
enough to get a strange man to talk to her? Was she actually thirty-six now,
and why was she worried about that at a time like this?

Minutes passed in silence between them until the man began to speak. He had
a very thick accent, which seemed to be French, but his words came fluently
enough and without interruption.

"We are both intruders here," he said in a highly inflected monotone. "I
suspect that you came here by a different route than I did, but nonetheless we
are still here. The pigs and their friends are going to put us on trial. That is
what I think."

"Pigs?" interjected Brooke.

"That is what I call them. They look a little like pigs, the smooth ones here in
the interior, and I believe after years of studying this place from different
angles, entrances if you will, that pigs describes them exactly. They walk both
on all fours and vertical when they want. They are not like the gnomes, which
are basically harmless. The pigs live here in the core. That is where we are,
you know. We are in the interior of a place often called in your language the
Secondary Alternate Realm. This is a place of miscellaneous creatures, some of
whom used to live among us in our world centuries ago. The gnomes, for
example, the ones who tend the fruit."

"What about the pigs?" stammered Brooke, growing more anxious by the
moment.

"It goes like this, I think. When the Ancient Progenitors came to Earth and
established our civilizations, there were many thinking creatures to choose
from. Some looked like us. Others didn't. They chose us to breed and form
their first civilizations with. Others they banished somehow in this alternate
vibratory place. I suppose the gnomes had little value to them. Nor did the
huge pig ogres, who are just another variety of the porcine creatures that
abound here. In our world, some of them were allowed to remain. But they
were ignored by the Progenitors and devolved. Eventually they lost their sway
over man and grew more animal like and smaller, and the Progenitors even
warned everyone not to eat them. Most of us never got the message. Some did.
Back in our world, their descendants are eaten now. Here in the core, they
rule. They hate us for what was done to them. They have always wanted to
find a way back. A lot of it is about revenge."

Brooke thought about Jared's question about the ancient restrictions in so


many religions about eating pork. If what this man was saying were true, it all
seemed to make sense. A forgotten and disowned species. Just like the gnomes
and the sentient lizards. This was a world where they all ruled or at least co-
existed, and humans were simply trespassers.

"Do you know anyone called Joel?" Brooke asked the strange, foreign man.

He shook his head calmly and said yes. Yes, he knew Joel, and Joel knew him,
and that was all he could say. Later he would add "They just haven't been
able to catch Joel yet." He did not appear to like Joel very much either.

The discussion then seemed to be over. The man buried his face in his hands
and muttered something to himself in what Brooke supposed to be French, the
little she knew of it from school.

IX. The trial

Rough manacles once again bound the wrists of Brooke Nescott and her
unnamed companion as they were taken from their miserable underground
cell into the overly dazzling sunlight of what now Brooke knew to be the
Secondary Alternate Realm at its inner core. The creatures who escorted them
were smooth-skinned porcine beings that walked upright but apparently had
hoofs instead of feet. They did, however, have perfectly prehensile hands, and
these grasped the pair, relentlessly steering them through the mystifying and
tangled foliage to a circular opening in the vegetation. The sounds of
incomprehensible chatter filled the heavy, perfume-laden atmosphere around
them. Like pigs, their captors spoke in strings of guttural grunts and made
oinking sounds. Their faces seemed boldly spiteful, though intelligent. They
had small, beady eyes and flattened noses which resembled what could have
conceivably evolved into pig snouts in a further evolution, which the stranger
had claimed for them in Brooke's world.

In the absence of all gentleness, the prisoners were pushed into the branchy
seats of a kind of basket in front of a long paneled bench which stretched
before them. Their feet were secured in place. Behind them sat a host of
porcine beings interspersed with the squat gnomes that Brooke had at first
observed tending the neon vegetation. The crowd was also punctuated by the
occasional vertical lizard, although none of these latter entities spoke or made
intelligible sounds.

Some kind of unseen horn blasted, and larger pig-like beings wearing strings of
unknown fabric about their shoulders entered the circle and ceremoniously
took seats in front of the soon to be condemned couple. Without warning,
these larger pigs produced little handheld flails which looked like chains of
barbed wire on a handle. In unison, they stripped down the fabric covering
their pink shoulders and began thrashing themselves on the back until each of
them, and there were three, were profusely bleeding. Then another horn
blasted, and the largest one rose and spoke. He held his flail by the handle and
pointed it at Brooke's male companion. A long string of grunting sentences
issued from his snoutlike mouth. Then he sat down. The same was repeated
by the second and third of the accusing pigs. None of their words were
intelligible but their intention showed in every malicious gesture they made. At
times they all brayed at once, more like donkeys than pigs. At times they
paused to flail themselves again. Self-flagellation seemed to be expected of
them and long rivulets of blood streamed downward from their torn backs.

Another horn blasted and the act was repeated, only this time the grunting
invective was directed toward Brooke. When it was finished, the trio of judges,
flagellated themselves once again. One then grabbed a long feather and
whisked it through the air in front of him. This silenced the nattering crowd
behind. He made a bellowing sound louder than the previous grunts and
pointed his flail at both victims.

The whole trial, as it were, took less than twenty minutes by Brooke's
reckoning. Brooke for some reason had given up the idea of waking from this
dream. Whatever was happening was as authentic as anything in her waking
world, and she knew she would just have to see it through to the end. She
wondered what the "verdict" was. Within seconds, another standing pig
pushed his way through the crowd at the side and approached the prisoners.
This pig was seemingly the translator, for it leered at both of them and
informed them each in good English that they had been condemned to death
"as unwanted intruders" from a hated and wicked dimension which everyone
present seemed to loathe equally. Peals of happy laughter rippled through the
crowd. The judges stood up in unanimity and walked off out of the clearing,
their self-shredded backs streaming blood.

A group of several pigs...and Brooke was now consistently calling them


that...approached the older stranger and pulled him to his feet. One or two
alligators stood vertically alongside, acting for all the world like cops. Brooke
remembered how much she hated both cops and courts. But her real life
suddenly became more of dream than this dream life. She watched as the older
man was led to a crude wooden platform on the side of the clearing. When she
looked away, several porcine hands twisted and held her head so that she was
forced to see what was about to happen.

The stranger, sobbing to himself and still speaking what Brooke supposed to be
French, mounted a ladder made of logs and stood in the middle of the
platform. A twisted and knotted vine rope fell from a tree branch above.
Brooke remarked that it was lucent purple in color, one of the most stunning
shades of violet she could ever imagine. The vine ended in a noose, which was
summarily looped around the man's neck and tightened. Brooke watched in
abject horror as the pigs and lizards backed off, gave each other some kind of
whistled signal, and the gray templed man dropped through a trap door, his
neck stretched impossibly distant from his shoulders and his eyes glossed over
and bulging with his last vision of life. He was very dead.

Then his body was cut down. It fell with a heavy thud to the dirt below and
was dragged away by some of the stumpy gnomes.

Now it was Brooke's turn. This is where I wake up, thought Brooke. The idea
gave her courage. Goaded by the pigs and lizards, she mounted the scaffold
and stood on the same trap door through which moments before her one time
cell companion had fallen. Another purple noose fell and was clinched
painfully around her neck. She knew she would either die or wake up. So not
struggling, she resigned herself to an uneasy patience. Her bedside alarm clock
would surely ring.

But it did not.

Somewhere out of the tangle of vivid vegetation a man arrived carrying a


blazing torch. It was more fire than Brooke had ever seen issuing from a stick,
and a dense black smoke billowed up from the blaze as well. Before her
blurred vision, Brooke recognized Joel. Joel was swinging the torch in all
directions, and Brooke's captors seemed to recoil swiftly as he moved up and
onto the scaffold. With a slice of an unseen blade, Joel cut her loose and
pushed her off the side of the scaffold. "Run," he screamed.

"Run" was the last word Brooke heard, and it didn't take that word to make
her do it. She blasted off in any direction that seemed open. Behind her was
Joel and his fire and the now cowering denizens of whatever world she was in.
But the run did not last long. In an instant Brooke was stopped cold by a solid
object which caused her to drop onto a hard floor.

The floor turned out to be the tile of her home. The thing that stopped her was
her bathroom door into which she must have run. She was, in effect, back
home.

X. Conclusion

The noise Brooke made when she crashed into her bathroom door had
awakened Jared, who bounced down from his room still wearing his orange
pajamas. It was, Brooke realized, Saturday, and Jared had no school, nor did
she have work.

The dream had been far too much this time, far too vivid, and Brooke grabbed
her son in the most undisguised of fears. She was covered with sweat and her
heart pounded. Whatever she did from now on, she would avoid Stilton cheese
for life. What remained of the expensive substance in the refrigerator she
would throw immediately in the trash...and later she did.

But before that, she shivered uncontrollably and clung to Jared. Jared looked
into his mother's wide and dilated eyes. He could sense a fear that he had
never seen before. He knew it was the dream, but the dream must have been
worse than ever before. Jared became afraid himself. Afraid of what he saw
burning in his mother's eyes. For several minutes the two simply clutched one
another without speaking.

In time, both mother and son regained their calm. Brooke went to the kitchen
to make some coffee and breakfast, and Jared went to get dressed. It would
just be another serene Saturday, with perhaps mother and son enjoying a day
at the park. Brooke was still shaking, however, when she put Jared's cereal on
the table and poured her own coffee. She shook almost uncontrollably as she
walked in her night gown to the curbside and threw the remaining pieces of
Stilton cheese into the trash bin.

Then she sat down at the table with Jared. She was about to tell him about the
dream when Jared's eyes opened wider than Brooke had ever seen them
before. He was staring at her neck and searching for words. Without
hesitation, Brooke got up and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. A
blistering red ring of tortured flesh, bleeding in places, circled her neck. It
was, of course, the mark left by the noose.

She stared at the hideous bruise for several seconds then pursed her lips in
quiet resolve. "Thanks, Joel," she whispered to no one in particular. Then she
paused long enough to say it again:

"Thank you very much. And I do hope we can meet again. I do."

And after Jared had heard the story, he agreed that someday his mother might
indeed meet Joel again. Like Brooke, he was certain that it would happen, and
like Brooke, he wanted to say thank you himself.

________________________________________

Devon Pitlor -- May, 2010


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