Soft Floating Dream Machines

Contributor: Tony Rauch

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I find myself floating through the sky, sitting in a strange mechanical device. It looks like an old, brass canoe – but with the front and back gradually tapering to curl up at the ends, with long canvas wings and delicate mechanical gears controlling it – fragile gears, rods, and thin levers at my side projecting from the curving floor. I don’t know how to control this thing. I’m afraid to even touch anything, so I look around in wonder as I drift through soft white clouds, floating gradually on a slow, gentle breeze.

It’s as if everything in the sky that was once old is now new again, for I see palatial mansions appearing through the clouds. Some are up close and some are scattered in the misty distance. It looks as if the mansions are built on the clouds. Large weeping willows surround their yards. The houses and trees in the distance look grainy and hazy, as if semi-transparent - as if they’re there and yet not there, as if stuck between time, caught between realities.

I pass so close to one large ornate house that I can see inside its big windows. It has rooms of decorative wood and burgundy carpets and chandeliers. In back there is an elaborate classical garden with a fountain and formal hedges circling the yard.

Then there is a brick lined sidewalk with a fancy iron fence and street lamps. I approach another tall, brick house with a steeply sweeping mansard roof and iron work running around the top. Inside the corner turret I see one of my cousins. She is looking out the window. She recognizes me and waves with a sudden, surprised smile. I watch as I slowly pass. I smile and wave. She runs from the window, as if running for the door. She runs around the side of the house and begins running along my gently floating sky boat. “Pull the lever,” she waves and slows as she knows I am drifting away. “Slow down. Come inside,” she calls, trotting in the mist.

“I don’t know how!” I call back, kind of loud, but yet kind of quietly at the same time, as if I don’t want to wake anyone or disturb anything.

“The lever!” she cries and points, “Pull the lever!”

My head darts - looking to my sides, looking to the floor. “Which one?” I shrug. There are several golden brass rods shooting up at my sides. I don’t know which to pull. I should pull one, anyone, to try and stop, but for some reason I just can’t seem to decide. This is a familiar feeling – too startled in a moment to react. So I just stay there, stuck, unable to do anything. My cousin turns to mist and becomes transparent with the brick houses and full trees and everything else in the crystalline, celestial distance, and the moment is gone as if slipping away into forever. And at that instant I remember my cousin had died a long time ago. She fell asleep one night and never woke up again.

I continue through the milky fog, strands of clouds waving by like twisting blankets and long strings. I wonder if she wanted to get into the sky boat with me. If she did, would it bring her back to the living again? But she asked me inside. What would that do, if I went inside? Maybe this is a dreamland? One of several perhaps. Maybe she fell asleep and ended up lost here, unable to get out, and thus unable to wake again for some reason.

Then I see a clearing to the side with a tall gazebo. A brass band is playing in front of it. There are some people scattered about before the band, dressed in their best clothing – women in flowing frilly dresses with parasols on their shoulders, and men in tight suits with tall top hats holding fancy canes. The band is dressed in navy blue uniforms with gold tassels and trim. They wear tall, furry hats. There are only a few band members though. There are spaces between some of the band members where I can only assume others should be standing. Their music is hard to hear through the gusts of breeze and the long distance. What I hear is an incomplete, fractured sound – something almost beautiful, poetic, and inspiring, and yet at the same time somehow completely beautiful and inspiring in its incompleteness, in its wanting to be more.

I turn to watch, but continue floating on. The band passes my view to disappear into the soupy mist of the distance. Another small boat machine appears ahead, but is passing directly in front of me, right-to-left, about two hundred feet ahead and thirty feet above. It glimmers a golden brown. Three large mouse-like beings appear to be riding in it, sitting in a row, one in front of the other. One is wearing a green derby and plaid vest.

Then I pass a field. There is long grass, then some short plants with big leaves in the distance. I notice some figures in the field. Five of them. Their backs are turned. As I pass I see they are tending to the fields, dressed in workers’ overalls, and bending and digging with long sticks. One bends and pulls something up, what looks like a head of lettuce. The figure turns in my direction and peels away some of the leaves. The figure is a hunched-back beast of some type, with curls of dirty blond hair obscuring its face and several large horns curling out of either side of its head. It is peeling away the leaves to reveal a baby in its large clawed hand.

More trees appear, getting thicker and thicker, and I veer around them, as if my mind is controlling the steering of the sky boat. The trees are thick old willows, twisting and leaning, draping me in a silky shadowland. There is a small wooden hut in the trees and a woodsman walking away, carrying a wicker basket at his side. A yellow cloth covers the basket. Then there is a little winding creek filled with large stones and a stone bridge curving to arch over it under a thatch of thick trees.

Then there is a series of small stone houses. Some have tall turrets on their corners, others have tall, curving roofs with small dormer windows. On some houses the dormers are tall and narrow, on others they are low arches. The area is overgrown with plants and trees. Then there is a small clearing, like a town square. Several people are in it and playing what looks to be a strange form of baseball – the diamond is a square with four bases instead of three. There is an ornate bandstand behind home plate with pointy spires or finials on the tall, curving roof. This viewing area is half filled with well dressed people. They are watching the game at hand. Some of the people have the heads of great lizards with scales that glisten green and purple and gold, while many of the others have regular people heads. The players in the field are wearing floppy uniforms that look too large for them. They are adorned with a strange large symbol on their left chests, as if an insignia of some sort. There are two batters standing on either side of home plate, one slightly behind the other as to not hit one another as they swing at the pitched balls. There are two pitchers. One swings and misses, while the other manages to make contact. He runs to the base on his left and another runner on a different base runs to the same base from the other side. Unfortunately, I wander on before I can report anything further.

I pass into more trees for a moment. Then the trees thin and I pass another of these machines. As I come closer to it I notice my friend, Parker, is in it. She is sitting and taking it all in, just like me. I smile in recognition as she moves closer. “Hi, Parker,” I grin, “This sure is a strange place, isn’t it? How do you suppose we got here?”

“I don’t rightly know,” she answers in wonder.

“Should we hop out and run around?” I call, “Maybe go into one of the houses?”

“Oh no, I don’t think we’d wanna do that,” she swallows hard. “We probably shouldn’t go in there, go in any of ‘em. . . I got a feeling this is the land of the dead or something,” she is working the levers to slowly steer her machine to spin around to be next to mine. “I’m afraid if I get out, we’ll be stuck here forever.”

“You’ve been here before?” I ask as I look down, through the clouds that reveal another rolling field about fifty feet below me.

“Oh, yeah. A couple of times now,” she shrugs as she slowly spins and settles to rest at my side, “I think this is the land of the dead, or half-dead anyway.”

“When you’re sick or something? Or are we both just dreaming?” I ask.

“No. Not when I’m really sick or anything. And I don’t think this is all just a vague dream. I just find myself here. Sometimes. But not often. But I’ve learned to kind of control this boat thing and steer things. . .” she slows up along side me and bobs gently on the slight breeze.

“Really? Wow. Can you show me how to?”

“Yeah, I guess,” she shrugs. “It’s like everything else, I suppose. You just have to learn how. . . It just takes practice.”

We drift ahead, into some curtains of fog. There is a strange creature that comes into view. It looks like a tall penguin – at least four feet tall, but not a penguin, but something penguin-like, or penguin-shaped. It has short white fur all over and short, flap-like arms running down its sides. It waves at us as we glide past, five or six flap-like arms rising slightly on one side. “Hey,” it says in a thin, human-like voice. “First time here?”

“How’s it goin’?” I nod casually. “Yeah, first time for me, but not for her,” I nod over to Parker as we gradually slide by.

“Well, enjoy your stay,” it says as we drift on, “It never seems to last as long as you think it should.”

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Tony Rauch has three books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press). He has additional titles forthcoming in the next few months.
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