The Dreaming : The First Portal
by Everett A Warren
October 10, 1997
In the times before he mastered the path of the moonbeams, or its daylight distant relation of the rainbow – for each path required different means of approach, precautions of travel, and knowing one did not imply that the other would ever be accessible – the way to the dreaming was far more arduous. He did not remember fully how he learned to leave his body behind and walk about in another form for the remainder of the night, for he had his mind filled with years beyond his years of such travel, and he did not worry overmuch about this first mystery, for he knew, like all mysteries, in somewhen and somewhere he would find this knowledge only when he needed to know it. He did remember quite clearly how he found the way to spend those hours when one would think his body was sleeping walking in his chosen physical form in realms of the dreaming and beyond. Of that initial mystery, however, he did suspect a certain old tom who had roamed the cobblestone ways of the antediluvian city near the home of his early childhood, for it would certainly be fitting that a cat should be the one to teach him how to take the shape of a cat.
He had memories of certain hunts in the old city, of city things such as long tailed rats and stray slum dogs. He could remember, at times, the old tom sitting beside him coaching him in ways to avoid the teeth of the hounds, and how to tell by the tone of their voice when they were restrained and when they roamed free. How to smell the disease in the rat, so that you would know when to use claws and when to use teeth. His early childhood he had spent thus, stalking the back alleys, hunting mice in dirty tenements, grinning at the red faced fishmonger who could not recapture his catch, purring contentedly after supping on a saucerful of milk set out by a kindly man, and playing with other kittens – play which honed his feline senses and grace, and assisted greatly during the campaign to end a conspiracy of the rats that threatened the Two Footed Folk, as his furred associates had termed humanity. And before his two footed form mastered the two legged walk, he had arisen to a position of respect within the feline community, and here his memories grow stronger and clearer, but here he has no more memories of the kind old alley cat which first introduced him to some of the mysteries of the world. And soon thereafter, even the memories of the city itself warped and faded with time, as his family moved into their inheritance, leaving the city, and moving into the sprawling, almost palatial, splendour and disrepair of the estate built by his ancestors.
It was there he learned of the deeper mysteries, deeper than the one which allowed a quiet, introspective baby to sleep deeply and then leap out of the crib on four sets of soft foot pads. Here, he conversed with stealthy loners who did not pledge themselves to any of the baronies or armies that governed most of the city, and these travellers and hermits spoke to him of the dreaming, and continued his education in the true ways of the world. He went down to the village on some nights, and chanced once to her a beautiful lady speak of dreams changing the world, and how it was a dream that made cats smaller and men larger, so that they might no longer hunt and play with mankind as they had of old, and how further dreaming on the part of the cats might reverse this fortune. On another occasion, he spoke with a cat whose home was far away, over both time and space, and he listened to tales of a city wherein the laws stated that no man may kill a cat, which did not give him cause to reconcile and philosophy on his dual nature of man and cat, but rather brought about a closer union between these two polar regions of his being. The event also convinced him that he, as cat, would become just such a traveller, and he would find these realms far and asunder, and he would walk ways few men or cats even dreamed of.
Thereafter, he spent all of his time and energies into discovering the door the traveller had used to cross between worlds, which, he suspected, was no less than a gate to the dreaming itself, that place which the elders and hermits spoke of reverently, and which was visited nightly by all and sunder, if only in spirit rather than person. And so it was, as a dreaming child – having overexerted himself the previous night in far wanderings of the woods and wilds around his native land – that he glimpsed both the Gatekeepers, and the passages that lay beyond Them. It was then he heard the soft purring of the lady whose tale had so chilled him, and with whispers even softer she bade him look away, before They realised he could see beings such as They were – meant to be functional within the dreaming, yet part of no dream whatsoever, confident that They would be forgotten upon waking. And so turning from Them, stroking the white cat in his arms, he took one step and found himself in a dream of the faeries, where the ffolk danced merrily in a roundabout, weaving to and fro with the very stones of the circle, enticing the rocks to be their partners.
And soon he was awake, breathing hard, blood from scratch marks upon his arm, faerie song and laughter still filling his head, along with her startling realisation that he was not who she thought he was. Finding the young child holding her tenderly instead of walking alongside the raven hued kitten was unnerving. "Forgive me, I thought you to be another...", she said, upon leaping to the deep matted forest floor, faeries already glittering away into stars, standing stones rising higher into thick boughs covered with leaves. With a glance the cat ran from the clearing, back to her dream where she hunted smaller two legged mammals, away from the large one who had so disrupted her dreamscape. Hands rubbing his eyes cleared away the last visions of the primeval forest where cat hunted man, and where he was both, at one time or another. And he knew, despite being afraid of both her story and her preachings, that he was infinitely thankful to her, for inadvertently she had taught him much of the way of things in the dreaming, of the guardians which she knew of, and of the stone circle which was pure chance for him to find, but never would he have turned if it had not been for her presence.
On the very next eve, and on each one following until he learned of more tractable paths, he began the long, loping run through the countryside to the hill and the stones, where to observers, the black cat with blue eyes and white fur atop his head would leap into the boundary, roll and play for but a moment, and then run out again with all speed. With luck and a growing skill beyond luck that helped him deal with any obstacles, he made it back to his human body with enough time for several hours of true sleep. And in that brief space of time he spent within the stone circle, as much time as fifty years did pass as he walked other realms through the Timehenge, but only a very patient observer would see the outward changes in the playful cat that occurred at some indiscernible time between entering and exiting the marked spot atop the hill.
Copyright (c) 1997 Everett A Warren
You can find this story in my collection, Cautionary Fables: Warts & All, available on Amazon.com or by order from your local bookseller.