And The Train That Runs Through The Graveyard
By Maiji/Mary Huang
There was a dead guy who said, "Your mind is a place. It makes things like heaven or hell." Or something along those lines. Joe Milly-toe or whatever. Rog told me, in one of his long-arsed ramblings I never pay attention to. But I gotta admit - the geezer knows a thing or two, even if his inventions (and his brain) are a bit screwy.
God knows I believe it.
My mind is a place.
It's always been a place.
Fourteen years is a long time to go without dreaming.
Time passes no more quickly for his kind than it does for a human. He's been searching for it for a very long time. It's simply hard to get there without travelling in a dream.
Or perhaps it was because he had been searching in dreams, that was why it had been so hard to find it.
The sunset is red through the window, and the light is warm on my face – almost hot, even. Clouds, rivers, fields – the scenery just tumbles by. Everything rattles, but it doesn't disturb her. She's still sleeping soundly, head propped up against my shoulder. I've never been to Zurich before, I say, even though I know she's not going to answer. Think your mother will like me? I laugh lightly; laugh because we already went through this, lightly because I don't want to wake her up. It's been a long ride.
I hear the piercing whistle, see the platform slide up below our window. We're here, I say. She doesn't answer, so I repeat myself. Hey, sleepyhead, sleeping beauty, time to wake up. I shift my shoulders to make her move, feel her head slide limply off my shoulder. Hey, Alice, I say. Alice?
I'm still sitting there when the conductor comes. He must be saying something to me, but I don't hear it; I can't hear it. I can't even think. Somehow I take her, pick her up, a rag doll in my arms, and brush past the man. I stagger through the car, stumble down the steps without falling, somehow. I feel like people are closing in on me; it's getting hard to breathe, and I push them away left and right. They're yelling something, but I don't care. I'm looking for someone. Someone who might recognize her. A woman, I think. People stare, and I stare back.
I can't even see them. I can't think. God, I can't think. I'm looking for someone. Help me. Someone, someone-
I don't see a woman. I see a little old man with a wide hat, carrying a child. No, a doll. Walking towards me. Terribly sorry, he's saying, extending a hand out to me. And his lips are moving and I can't hear him. Must have been a long journey – Afraid Mrs. Elliot couldn't make it – Her brother-in-law – Alice's uncle- And – ?
I hear her name, and I step towards him. I stammer, Alice, Alice-
And like the people around us, he looks, and he sees.
"Dear lord," he whispers. I grab for his hand and miss, my knees buckling under me. I fall down; she's still in my arms. And I'm ten years old all over again, holding onto the body that's left, feeling the cold coming in like a storm, crying like a baby.
The train is gone. Long gone.
At last he has found it. It was only a matter of time – something he has in abundance. It had found the perfect hiding spot – in the non-dream of one separate from the Dreaming, a limbo where it was able to mute itself, to lie in the dark: unseen, unheard, untouched for fourteen years.
Fourteen years and it has but one human soul to show for it. Yet what it has managed cannot be unwrought.
Nineteen fourteen. Zurich, Switzerland.
It never rains but it pours. My mother used to say that all the time. God, it was so long ago; I remember the words better than I can remember her face, or her voice, or almost anything about her. When I try to picture her saying those words, all I hear are dim echoes, dying echoes.
It never rains but it pours. It's raining and it's pouring so goddamned hard right now. That's good, because that's what it should be doing. The whole world should feel so miserable and hopeless. Helpless. Useless. I watch it pound the earth for a while, soaking the newly-turned soil, drowning the grassless patch, and then I study the dirt and mud caked on my hands, under my fingernails. I think I'm gonna let it stay like that for a while.
"You're going to think I'm being a daft, insensitive old codger who talks too much," Gepetto says later, chewing on his pipe. Gepetto – that's the old man's name. "You're going to want to shut me out, shut the whole darned world out. But take it from me, boy; I've had my heart broken, just like you." He takes another puff. "My niece was a good girl, a sweet girl. She's gone now. But you, you have your whole life to live. She's given you that life. Don't waste it."
He takes the pipe out of his mouth. "And," he continues, "you'll be together, in good time. One night in dreams, one day in death. In good time."
I shake my head, knowing everything he says is true, except one.
"I don't dream," I tell him. It's the truth.
Nineteen fourteen. Switzerland. The border.
The train is long gone. I have no sense of time. I'm still trying not to think about it. Trying real hard. It's not working, I know. And Gepetto knows, and probably everybody who passes me by on the street knows. I haven't slept in days. Geezer tells me I look like a mess, like I rolled in from the back alley, like I was vomited up out of hell's stomach, but I don't give a shit. You could say it's all true, anyways.
A lifetime. That'd be a damned long time to go without sleeping. They say people die if they don't sleep. Well, I sleep, and people die.
But I was saying: a lifetime is a long time to stay awake.
Not that I ever made it that far, of course. But I've tried, god knows I've tried. The first time? I remember it like I remember the taste of blood in my mouth: bitter, disgusting, and all mine. When I was ten or eleven and living on the streets, right after that storm. The most I ever lasted was about five days. I'm beating my old record right now; it's pretty bad. From experience, I know that by the end I almost can't tell if I'm awake or not, and that's when I start walking into walls and talking to rocks and stuff. That's not the worst part.
The worst part is that I know, eventually, I'm going to fall asleep. I'll have to.
Don't talk to me about dreams. Don't even talk to me about nightmares. I can't remember when they stopped, but it must have been right after the storm. God, it was so long ago. I hear people call sleep a gift, a refuge, a cure for all your troubles. And for me? Sleep is a gate, a gate from hell, and I never know what's on the other side. When I step through, the best I can hope for is total blackout. And the worst …
The worst is that godforsaken place.
I don't want to sleep because I don't want to go there. I don't want to see what it looks like now; or even just see it, period. I don't want to see them.
But at the same time, part of me does want to. To go back. Find them. And then break their fucking mask faces.
I know what happened to her. Like I said. My mind's always been a place.
It's a place I was supposed to go to die.
All she did was steal my spot.
Why? Why did you do it?
Nineteen fourteen. Somewhere anywhere I don't care.
I find myself keeping company with the old man, day in and day out. That's how I find myself in this dingy old wretch of a wagon, being pulled by an overweight nag handled by a farmer I swear is getting more senile with every bump in the road. I'm cramped in the back with Gepetto beside me, and his creepy child-girl-doll-thing with her huge painted eyes. Cornelia, he calls her. Her loose wooden arm swings and smacks me in the leg every time the wagon bounces too much. I'd move, but there isn't enough room.
I preferred being awake. But now, right now, I'm beyond exhausted and I'd rather sleep. I don't want to be awake. Because awake means I'm on the wagon, with this geezer and his puppet, and awake means that I buried her in Zurich a week ago. A week ago, in the pouring rain, digging through dirt and rock and mud with my bare hands. I never cried so much since that storm, since the night my mother died. I remember trying to focus on the good, on the barest shred of good I could get my fingers on, and I remember thinking, at least Alice is still all in one piece. She looked like she was sleeping. I don't think I could bear the thought of seeing her like my mother.
Gepetto looks down at me. I'm lying sideways with my face half-hidden by hay, like I'm about to vomit. I fix one raw eye on him, give him my best what-are-you-looking-at glower.
Instead of a pipe, Gepetto has a blade of grass in between his teeth. He chews on it, pulls it out of his mouth, inspects it, sticks it back between his lips and chews on it some more.
"You got to sleep, boy," he tells me.
I nod blankly, hay swishing around the side of my face as I move. If only he knew.
I'm so goddamned tired. For the first time in a long time, I actually want to sleep. I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, they won't be there.
Or maybe I'm thinking I can pound them.
Beside me, the old man starts to hum, softly. I'm surprised he can carry a tune, but I guess that's what comes from living on the stage. I pretend I can't hear him.
The humming gradually gives way to quiet words. "It's a long way to Tipperary," sings the old man voice. "It's a long way to go …"
I don't even have the energy to tell him to shut up. I'm tired, and all I want, besides the one thing I can't have, is to sleep. I roll over and shut my eyes tight and I can still see the light past my eyelids.
"It's a long way to Tipperary/To the sweetest girl I know! …"
I squint. The light slims up and down to slits. Strangely, it's better than closing my eyes. Sleep, dammit. Just to drown out that scratchy voice, to drown out the smell of horseshit, drown out the world, drown out everything.
For once in my life I want to sleep, so why the hell is it so hard?
My head feels so heavy.
"Goodbye Piccadilly/Farewell Leicester Square! …"
Goddammit. Sleep sleep sleep.
"It's a long way to Tipperary …"
But sleep …
"My heart's …right …"
Executioner. You disappoint me.
His presence floods the chamber like the ocean overfills a bottle, like night overtakes the skies. You were a fool if you thought you could hide here and play games without my noticing. His words trace dreams of crashing waves and thunderstorms. You were one of the few I created to mirror the darkness in humanity's heart. You were to be its realized form within their individual minds. You were to open the door to true self-reflection. And you use this power for what? For playing ringleader to minor demons? For toying with human souls in a petty, self-serving charade?
Eyes of blood, eyes of scars
and eyes of giants. These eyes have teeth and claws and after fourteen years do
not fear to show them, even to their creator.
The bottle fills with dreams of contempt. You think to defy me? You are little more than a defect. A defect with delusions. You will not be allowed to continue existing.
Fourteen years, and it will not be able to put up a whimper of a fight to keep its prize. A flesh-like scream, and wisps of sand will whisper across the cracked floor, dust falling into the crevasses of carved runes, teeth and claws disintegrating around the bright soul it sought. It will take little more than the wave of a hand, the ending of a dream.
Or rather, a nightmare.
I'm past the gate. I'm in the graveyard.
I'm in the graveyard.
And I want to scream.
It's exactly the same. Exactly. Everything. The rusted wrought-iron gate. The dying lanterns with the decaying moths around them, fluttering themselves to pieces. And god, the smell. Rotting roses, sickly and sweet. Just makes me want to retch.
I try the gate, even though I know it's going to be locked. Just hoping and praying desperately that somehow, against everything I've ever remembered and known, it might really be a dream this time. But why the hell would it be? I pull at the heavy latch, paw and claw at it, grab the thick metal with both hands and shake it viciously, kick it, beat it, scream at it until my throat is hoarse.
Surprise, it doesn't make me feel any better. I lower my eyes to the ground, arms out and braced against the gate. I grit my teeth. "Fuck you," I snarl, cursing it to rust itself into oblivion. I give it one more kick, as hard as I can, setting it rattling, then turn and stare out to the cobbled path.
The worn path fades into the dark haze in the distance, lit only a few footsteps ahead at a time by the ghostly lamplight. I wonder what the point is; I know where it goes. And there's nowhere to go but forward.
I take my time. Believe it or not, I'm in no hurry to get there. Slowly, gradually, I see the all-too familiar outline of fences, shadowy fences lining this graveyard of stone and bone into forever. And I can see the dark shapes of crumbling tombstones, silent and accusing.
And one tombstone in particular, white and new and mocking. I catch sight of it almost immediately, and I turn my head away, because I know what it says and I don't want to look at it. Because maybe not looking at it means it's not there. But I turn my head too late, and out of the corner of my eye I see the word, … Elliot, and god, it's like it burns itself right into my eye, into my brain.
Suddenly, there's nothing more I want to do than to get the hell out of here. I can feel myself panicking under my skin, in my head, and I almost want to laugh and cry because, hell, I'm already in my head, aren't I?
I run down the path, running, running, until I can see the mausoleum door looming in the distance. And I see them.
I'm going to fucking kill them.
The bird, the fish, the wolf, the flame, floating in the air. I see the insides of their faces. The backs of the masks, that look even creepier than when they look at you straight on. Like I'm seeing out of their sockets. They turn around before I get within five feet of them, their sickening eyeless faces, staring at me out from nowhere. So empty, and blind, and laughing. And their stinking, vapourous breath, hanging in the air.
"Well, boy," says the Gold Mask, its frozen lips looking like they've been drawn back in a sneer. "Hasn't it been a long time."
"Or has it not been long enough?" says the flame, the Staff Mask.
"You bastards," I say, the words low and hissed between my teeth.
"Tsk … tsk … tsk," the Sword Mask caws, and it makes me want to tear my eardrums out. "Is that any way to greet your old friends?"
I try to ignore it. "Give her back. It wasn't supposed to be her."
The Grail Mask laughs, its fins rattling like metal cutting metal; I wince at the sound. "Now don't you think that demand is a little unreasonable," it says, "when the girl went to all the trouble of clearing the malice of your demons away?"
"Shut your stinking face!" I snarl. "It was supposed to be me, damn you all! I'll kill all of you!"
"You do not understand, boy; we cannot 'give' her back," says the Gold Mask. "She is gone. The contract of the divine soul has been fulfilled and our lord Atman has devoured her."
No. God, no. I shut my eyes and clutch my head. I feel like I'm about to go mad.
"Yes, yes, yes!" the mask laughs, and I can't even tell which one it is. One of them; all of them.
I scream. If they had eyes, I swear I'd rip them right out of their sockets with my bare hands.
I'm just about to lunge for them, when I feel a shake in the ground, and I stumble. It's low and immense, a rumble, like something large and fast-moving coming close. And then, nothing. The masks fall silent.
I try to steady myself. "What did you do …?" I demand. It's supposed to be a yell, but it comes out like a whisper. Like my voice is caught in my chest, strangling itself there.
But strangely, the masks look just as trapped. They're not paying attention to me now. Their empty eyes are turned to the mausoleum, like I'm totally invisible, and I can't help but stare as well, wondering what the hell could possibly have captivated them like this.
The air chills, and without warning an enormous gust of wind blasts out from the darkness within the mausoleum. The wind splits open the great doors, revealing a stone floor with symbols carved deep into it, stretching out into an endless void. Dust billows out like a veil, washing out in thin and translucent layers.
I can feel this sick darkness wrenching up from my gut. But all I see is blackness.
Blackness. And then, the ghostly outline of a train.
And someone getting off the train.
The first thing in my head is, Oh god, what the hell, it's him again, but there's no heavy black boots and there's no military coat and there's no mask. Well, there is a mask, but it's different. It's not a fox. It looks like … a mosquito. A giant mosquito of bone, a dark mosquito head with a black cloaked body that swallows everything.
I'm beyond surprised when the masks shy away from him, like the sight of him burns them, like he's too bright for them to look at. I've never seen them so quiet, so petrified, like puppies with their tails tucked between their legs. I kinda like it. I'd be laughing at them too, if I weren't so surprised and shocked by the new guy in my brain.
Who is he? What is he? He's no god or ghost or demon. Or alien, for that matter. And believe me, I'd know. I've dealt with all of them at one time or another. But it's strange; I've never seen him before in my life, or in my graveyard, but he seems familiar … somehow. Like somebody I should know, somebody I used to know, but haven't seen for a long, long time.
I open my mouth and what comes out is, "Who the hell are you and why are you in my head?"
The mosquito turns to fix its blank stare on me.
I am known by many names. His voice is dark and deep, and echoes oddly. It makes me think of ripples in water when you skip a stone, which is a weird thing to compare a voice to, but somehow it seems to fit. Morpheus. Oneiros. Dream of the Endless.
"Uh," I say. "Never heard of you." I scrunch up my face. "Morph, you said. You wanna … take off that mask? I really don't like masks."
As you wish.
A hand – a very pale, human-looking one – rises up from the the folds of the cloak, fingers gripping the edge of the mosquito head, and it lifts up and off. Suddenly I'm looking at a man, or something that looks like a man, at least, with dark hair and dark eyes that I'm not even sure I can begin to describe.
The masks chitter madly, sounding like frightened insects. The man shifts his gaze onto them, and they instantly fall quiet again. He turns his attention back to me.
I see my sister has been here not long ago.
"Your sister," I repeat dumbly. Then it hits me. "Is that why she died? Because of you? Because of your sister? Or whatever? Because you came here?"
You are drawing conclusions with great speed and little accuracy. Nothing that has occurred was guided by my hand. And Death has little choice in the matter; it is her duty. It was Alice Elliot's time.
I freeze up at the sound of her name in his voice. "How can you say-" I begin angrily, but I know I shouldn't be surprised. I don't get just anybody in my head, after all.
The Seven-Eyed Mask, Atman the Executioner, was one of my nightmares, escaped from the Dreaming. I had been searching for him for a long time. He was not supposed to be here.
"Your nightmare." This statement surprises me, throws me off. But it comes and passes and I'm already off, clenching my fists, ready for a fight. "And it took you fourteen fucking years to notice?"
He ignores my question, and turns to sweep his gaze around the graveyard. He takes so long to say anything that I'm about to scream something to wake him up, when he answers. This place is not of the waking world, but is also not my domain. Atman selected it for that reason. It is an island, cut off from the living, the dead, and the Dreaming.
He turns his gaze back on me. Your kind, on your father's side, made a pact long ago in the Age of the Gods. An exchange of sorts, if you will. Demons, for dreams.
"So I guess demons don't dream, eh?" I answer, sarcasm dripping from my voice. Rich.
He ignores the tone of my voice. More recently, it appears a pact was made with the Seven-Eyed Mask. You made it as a child on the eve of the storm; the woman completed it in your stead. His gaze seems to intensify, becoming … I don't know. Deeper. More penetrating. The Executioner took advantage of your ignorance and your desire for power, but it was your decision. It was her decision. It is not my place to void either part of the agreement.
I can't believe what I'm hearing. "They were your goddamned monsters!" I jab a finger at him accusingly. "You're telling me you can't do anything about it?!"
It is no small thing for such a contract to be nullified. And the dead are what they are. You are neither the first nor the last to lose a love.
I want to say, if you'd been just a few days faster, found your goddamned pet a few days earlier, none of this would have happened, Alice would still be alive, Alice would still be here, here, but I'm boiling and beyond words now. I draw my fist back, and for a split second, there's nothing more I would love to do than to punch him right in the sucker, hear the satisfying crack beneath my knuckles.
I look him right in the eye, and he stares at me silently, paying completely no attention to the fact I'm about smash his face in. His dark eyes seem to glimmer like a star. And suddenly I think of the Émigré Manuscript Rog and I buried in the deepest pits of Wales. I remember England, and I remember the rain, and I remember that poor fucker Jack and his mother. How he used the book, and how things ended up, him cowering and bawling in the disgusting, bloated shadow of his mother's newly reborn form.
I lower my arm. It's shaking so much I have to steady it with my other hand. And right this moment I am so glad that Wales is millions of miles away. The idea that I might not be able to control myself scares me even more than the masks used to, than even Fox Face used to.
I take a deep, ragged breath, hold it, let it go.
It's hard, letting go. It aches, like something was latching on so tightly to you that it's left holes.
"I ... I can't do anything about it, can I?" I ask him.
He shakes his head. It is written in your blood.
"It figures." I run a shaking hand through my scruffy hair, scratch the back of my neck, shaking, shaking, try to be cocky again. "So what are you going to do with Atman? Take him back home with you?"
I have already Unmade him. I do not suffer such transgressions gladly or lightly.
The way he says it – Unmade – sends a shiver up my spine. I'm kinda glad I didn't punch him now.
I look away. So it was that simple. Everything could be undone so easily. Everything except the one thing that I wanted the most.
And Alice? I want to ask.
Her soul has not been devoured, he replies, before I can say a word. I wait, and he says nothing else. I want to know more, but something holds me back.
I swallow. "And what about these sad puppies?" I thumb at the whimpering masks.
These masks are not mine. They are yours.
I stare at him blankly.
They are aspects of yourself that hate you the most, and would destroy you. Greed, slothfulness, desire – he says the last one faintly, almost like it pains him – They exist in every human, but have been given greater shape and form by the demons you devour, and have been assisted in this by Atman.
"If they're mine, I don't want them," I mumble, feeling sick, finding it hard to believe what I'm hearing, what he's accusing me of.
You cannot live without them. But I can dismiss these forms, which have been given shape by dreams. Give me the periapt.
"The wha- oh."
I reach around to the back of my neck to unclasp the necklace. It takes me two or three tries before I finally take it off. I can hear the chittering of the masks grow louder and more manic. No, I think they're whispering, no no no, and I don't even bother looking at them. "Shut the fuck up," I say, as I hand the talisman to him.
The moment it touches his hand, I blink, and I swear, everything disappears. Just like that. No masks. No moths. No roses. No glowing tombstones. Only a faint darkness, and hard gray stone, and maybe a bit of dust. Like everybody decided to just pack up and move out.
My eyes dart around the place. "Where-" I start.
They are not gone. Only hidden. As it is with other humans.
"Uh, okay. Thanks."
He turns my necklace over in his hand. You have been wronged. But it is not my place to resurrect the dead, much less reverse the journey for one who chose to take the step willingly.
"Sure. Whatever," I reply, then decide I'd better not leave it at that. "I understand."
Good. He places the mask – which is more like a helmet, now that I think about it – back on, covering his entire head. I stare at the mosquito head; the mosquito head stares at me. I must leave now. There is much else I must attend to.
"Yeah. Maybe I'll see you around, Mosquito Hea-er, Morph."
Perhaps. He considers me for a moment.
Farewell, Yuri Hyuga. I am sorry for your loss. I would leave you with a dream of the one you love; but for one such as you, that is impossible. However, I can leave you with something else.
He reaches his hand towards me, the talisman in his palm. I reach out to take it back, but when I look down I nearly jump, because the stone is completely black, and suddenly it cracks-
And I'm there, alone. No mosquito head, no Morph, just little ol' Yuri standing there with his hand sticking out in midair like an idiot and the necklace dangling from my fingers, everything in a big haze of white nothingness.
The pendant swings like a pendulum, tick tock tick tock, and the hazy nothingness begins to fade slowly. Not into blackness, but into something else, something with more form and shape and substance. Like the faint light you see when you're just on the verge of waking up, assembling itself into furniture, objects, people and what-have-you.
I look around. I'm in a valley, in the middle of a bright, white field. It makes me think of when I was a kid, back in China- no, of something before that time. The sky is a deep blue, and there's just a hint of a wind.
It's a place I've never been in: a graveyard during the day.
I don't care what he said, what I've said before – that I don't dream, that people like me don't dream, that this isn't a dream – it's been so long since I actually did it, so I can barely remember it, but I know I've done it, and hell, this sure as hell feels like a dream.
A hollow, metallic whistle pierces the air, and I look to my left. Like clockwork, a train appears out of nowhere, speeding up as it nears me, driving across the graveyard, moving so fast it blurs. It's solid and loud and clanking and I can even smell the fumes as it passes.
For some reason, one of the cars in the middle seems to slow just as it crosses my vision, freezing for a brief moment, long enough for me to fix it in my mind.
There are two people in the car. They look like they're talking about something. One of them is sitting to the right, a profile to me, the other standing in the aisle and facing towards the window.
The one in the aisle lifts his head, and it's him, without his mosquito-helmet.
The one in the seat is a girl, also black-haired and pale, with strange eyes. I feel like I know her, like I've seen her many times before, like we're almost painfully close. She looks up, smiles, and waves cheerfully at me. By reflex, I half-raise my arm to wave back at her, and then I see it.
A third person, a person on the left, across the aisle from the girl with its back towards me. The closest one against the window; how the hell did I miss it? I don't know why, but I can't quite make the person out like I can the others, but I really, really want to know who it is. I start walking towards the train, and for no reason it starts to pick up speed, and all of a sudden I'm running, running as fast as I can alongside it, straining and craning my neck up to see, shouting at them to slow the train down, stop it.
The girl gestures and seems to say something to the other figure. The figure starts to turn its head towards me, and I think it must be, it must be- and then-
Nineteen fourteen. Somewhere that is not a dream.
"Thank you. And what about …?"
"I already talked to them. He's staying on the bench and he won't leave the tree. I swear, if everyone keeps this up it's going to get real crowded in here."
"I'm sorry for the trouble."
"No, don't apologize. I'm just kidding. I think."
"I want to stay. With him."
"If it's okay with you, it's okay with me." She looks up, grins. "And it's okay with my little brother."
The man with the dark eyes doesn't say anything. He merely nods.
- And then, something smacks me, hard, in the leg.
Suddenly I'm staring up at a pink-gray sky. One quick whiff, plus the feeling of hard straw under me, tells me instantly I'm back in the wagon with the stinky horse and the two old guys. And - I'm reminded, as a pair of wide glass eyes, round and blank and staring, come into my view - with Cornelia.
"Good of you to join us," Gepetto says, nodding the puppet's head at me. Her blonde curls (real human hair, he told me once) bobble up and down, her mouth set forever in that bright red smile. Her unblinking eyes are blue and heavily lashed and just huge. They take up practically half her face. It's creepy, but … now, less so. I don't know; I'm getting used to it, I guess. Really.
Cornelia's really kind of … cute, you know. In her … creepy … doll … way.
Well. At least she's got eyes.
"I do believe you were out." He takes off his spectacles, wipes them on his dark shirt, puts them back on his face and adjusts them. "You certainly had me worried for a while there. Thought you were having a nightmare a while back, but then you seemed okay."
"Maybe." I sit up and stretch. "I don't know."
"So what happened? Did you dream about her? You look better already."
"I told you already, you old geezer. I don't dream." I brush some straw out of my hair and collar, then crack my neck. "Where the hell are we going?"
"Away from what?"
"From the war. From the rumours of the war, the talk of the war. Trouble's a-brewing, and I'm staying out of it as best I can. I'm getting too old for that sort of thing."
Truth be told, I'm getting pretty sick of it too. "Fine," I say. "Where do you want to go?"
"I was thinking the countryside. Lovely place; peaceful. Do you fancy France? Maybe a nice, quiet little village."
"Whatever you say, old man."
He spends the rest of the ride singing old stage tunes, and I spend the rest of the ride staring at the sky and thinking about trains.
I remember a train I got on, what seems like a lifetime ago, when the only things I had were the clothes on my back and a voice in my head. And I remember a train I never saw sweeping through a field that never was, on a day that never happened. And I know it wasn't a dream.
I think it must be coming. At least, I hope it's coming. I'd even pray for it.
I don't dream. But I want to dream about who might be on that train.
And where I might find it.
The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.
- John Milton, 1608-1674
Author's Notes: The Irish/British music hall/marching song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" was written in 1912 and is commonly associated with World War I.
Quite a bit of creative license taken throughout this fic, I hope it didn't jar too much ...
It's mainly a gameplay issue and not a story one, I know, but I always wondered why the dream graveyard emptied and changed so drastically between Shadow Hearts and Covenant. Especially since in the true ending, Yuri never defeats Atman and the masks just kind of … poofed by the time of the sequel. They got the soul they wanted, after all, but it was kind of anticlimactic for them to just DISAPPEAR. I missed them, really; there was something so eerily rich and distinct about the original dream graveyard and its inhabitants. In any case, I came up with an "answer" after reading Gaiman's Sandman series in four days (it definitely made for some interesting dreams).
I started this a long, looong time ago, and it took me a long, looong time to write because I was so unsatisfied with how it was turning out. I have ambivalent feelings about crossovers in general, so I'm not sure how well I managed to execute this idea – not to mention working against the intimidating skill of the writer whose characters I'm fiddling with. I hope it worked, and that I was able to do justice to Yuri's characterization as well.
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read this! I still feel this piece is rather rough around the edges, and that there are sections of awkwardness (both with and beyond the stylized writing I was aiming for), so any comments and critiques are thoroughly appreciated!
UPDATE: Dec 26, 2007 - Big thank yous to ariescelestial and AphelionOrion for your feedback! I've made some adjustments to clarify Morpheus' comment regarding my interpretation of Atman's pact which hopefully will make the unwritten "backstory" of ideas to this piece a bit clearer. Yuri's problems with the masks/Atman (and his multiple fusion souls) seem to be a unique issue for him as a Harmonixer (compared to say, his relatives), so I always considered him and his relationship with Atman an aberrant for that reason.
I've also corrected Yuri's age at certain pivotal points, thanks to ariescelestial's eagle eyes and a foray into the SH:C Theatre (thank god for that feature). Stupid story: I originally ignored the official profile info (as it sometimes contradicts itself, e.g with Zhuzhen's age) and had been working backwards with game script to piece together a logical timeline myself. Working around the age of 9 for his parents' deaths, based on Yuri's SH age and the Demon's Gate Invocation taking place 15 years ago, I always mentally placed Anne's death as being earlier than Jinpachiro's for some reason (assuming Dehuai had premonitions and also taking the fact that, being a late winter, I guess I made it really late and assumed around the beginning of the year or something haha), but after reading the review and replaying "Family" from Chapter 15 all my intricate calculations were dashed to pieces. Lolz.
Karin: Your father died while fighting that wizard ... blahblah
Yuri: ... Yeah, I was ten years old
Maiji's brain: Damn it!
Karin: And your mother?
Yuri: After my father was killed, monsters attacked us at our house.
Maiji's brain: CURSES FOILED AGAIN
I imagine Yuri's memory (as with all humans :) also realistically isn't quite so hot, so here in And The Train ... he gives approximations as well. Thanks for catching my error! XD
Phew! Sorry for being long-winded. Again, thank you for taking the time to read and review!