I dreamt one night, clearly and vividly, of my tomb. At least I thought it was my tomb. Sealed in monolithic stone upon a shrouded and isolated isle of primordial forest.
The image was so profoundly clear that I accepted it as a sign. With immediacy I set my seekers to find the location of my eternal rest. They searched far and wide, from the broiling depths of the Eastern Ocean, to the granite mass far to the west. Alas! No such place could be found.
And I was near the end, my old age preceded ever on as it does for all.
Desperation drove me to the ancient verse, compiled in ages immemorial. Surely through the divine and ancient teachings a location would emerge? So I searched the labyrinthine depths of the depository by the dim flicker of candlelight, briefly weeping with lack of success in some isolated corner. Was I to die outside of my destined grave? Expelled from the final womb? The cantos of divinity are empty in their glory.
Throughout the following nights the dreams became more feverous and vivid. I was drawn to the tomb, whether it existed or not, and my health declined severely.
My mind became the tomb, the primordial isle. I thought of nothing else. Yes…it was my every second thought. In my mortal desperation, I ordered my staff to carry me upon my sedan along the ancient mountain road. To take me to the mystical hermits who inhabit the decrepit and prehistoric monasteries. Perhaps, I thought, these old mystics have the answer I so desperately searched for.
The oldest monk was of a mighty and terrible age, yet he stood firm on trunk legs at the gate of the mighty dwelling. Ancient and vast, shrouded in mountain mist.
His library did have one perplexing and ancient map.
Upon the sacred parchment was an isle which appeared on no other records. The map illustrated this isle with myriad ruins, both ancient and bizarre. I immediately thought of the primordial isle of my dreams, scarred with megalithic ruins, of which one was my tomb. The monk lit an oil lamp as day faded, exposing his decrepit face in the ethereal flicker. He told me that this map was very, very old, older than any others known, that’s it’s language was transcribed in some proto-civilisation’s version of our script which he only just understood, its allusions and references were alien and bizarre, it’s geographical features unknown to him. He wagged his creaking finger in the lamplight, warned me that such a place must surely be cursed! I was struck by a certain terror, but was not dissuaded from seeking the isle…and my grave.
Despite the knowledgeable monk’s warning, the sight of that inconceivably antique and nameless map simply heightened my desire to seek my resting place. Feverishly, I was drawn to this fatal and final image and would stop at nothing to satisfy my mortal desire. I took a moment, walked to the edge of the monastery and observed the sun diminish over the horizon. It spilled orange light over the primordial mountains and I knew then that I myself was soon to falter, as all men must. I was not a holy man, I had not the qualities for deep contemplation, or the mind for esotericism, or the comprehension for sacred tomes. Yet I knew one thing for certain, sheltered as I was in my court, a ruler must go to his final rest in a place assigned by fate and fate had assigned mine in such brilliant clarity. I would not be dissuaded, my final sleep would be in the steadfast embrace of that dreamscape megalith.
Alas, I did not return to my beloved and golden capital, but to the ramshackle streets of the port city. Here I would commandeer one of the many vessels which was mine by divine right. There in the port city I saw the swirling depths of the ocean for the first time in years. The thunderous crash of waves, the ash-grey mist of salt spray, all invoked terrible and deep rooted fears from boyhood days—fears of another dreamt fate, that of my demise in watery depths. My father, the previous king, fond of sailing the fish-infested depths and with desires to mould me in his image, would take me to the high seas. But alas, as the whimpering coward I still am, instead of braving the deck I cowered beneath, shuddering and crying at every thrash of wave break. Always I have been weak, I could not even ensure I would meet my final tomb.
My faithful aide-de-camp sought out faithful mariners. Stout and hardy men who had braved all known terrors of the deep. These salt-dogs showed me to a royal lodging house. This place was draughty and cold, I drank brandy and kept close to a dim fire, trying to take my charmed mind off the journey ahead. But such thoughts were all consuming. I crept under the covers of my bed and relived my childhood cowardice, whimpering like a thrashed hound at every break on the nearby waterfront. Through all this however, I lost no desire to find my megalithic isle of death. My bones were locking, my memory waning, an old man knows when the hourglass is almost empty. Fate, fate, oh is life not an abysmal tragedy, are we not thrown into some divine and cosmic jest? A horror to us, but a terrible comedy to the divine? We are born for it…I suppose.
Morning was grey and bright, but I had the morning of an old man who had been drinking brandy. Sluggishness wracked my muscles. The ocean felt impossible. But the isle…the megalith, it spoke to me! I stumbled feeble steps across the damp stone of the waterfront, wrapped in bearskin and coughing—trembling all the while. Those stout men of the ocean, the look in their eyes, they knew this old man would not survive any journey. Regardless I summoned what remained of my fading strength and walked the gangplank to the sturdy vessel, which bore the royal flag and sailed under my mighty commission. Perhaps—perhaps it is the vast emptiness of the ocean which strikes such fear into men, is it not a mirror of our abominable condition?
The captain looked upon the map from the monastery, he stated (in a rough seadogs voice) exactly what I suspected: that no such isle exists, that we are to sail into an uncharted region that nonetheless he retains some small knowledge of. But coin and a royal commission proved stronger than fear. We set off at a constant and steady pace upon the churning deep. For the most part I cloistered myself in my cabin, channeling my inner child as I cowered from the waves. By oil lamp I studied the map and other ancient tomes I had requisitioned. One great thinker of antiquity had a theory for such dreams, that certain places, objects, yes even whole islands! May not initially exist until dreamed off, the dreamer then wills whatever it is into existence. Where there was nothing, there is now the desire of the mind manifest. Was this classical stupidity, or was this thinker right? Had this happened to me? I drifted uneasily between sleep and wakefulness for the remainder of the night.
Our vessel drifted steadfast toward uncertainty. Through the night we passed, the melancholy night.
There was no royal dining hall for me. In the morn I had to break my fast with these salty swine! I would have been offended if they had not been the only men willing to take the journey. My aide-de-camp appeared more concerned with the situation than I. I consumed the bread and preserves, finding such a quaint meal mildly amusing. Upon the deck it became evident that the freezing winds had cleared. What I witnessed upon emerging from the hull was a bright and calm morning, an endless expanse of passive blue gently rippling to the horizon. How one’s opinion of the sea—of the world—can change with its temperament! Now I was calm, confident and relaxed. The captain noticed me and produced a grizzled smile, I suspect because his job had become somewhat simpler. But he had complaints, all the sailors had complaints!
This stretch of ocean was uncharted. There was an eerie silence to it. The compasses would not work and simply spun in circles, making accurate navigation impossible. The sky was unrecognisable, the constellations only partly visible through a silver haze. But gold does talk, indeed it does. I began to point out features from the map, jagged rocks, sunken ruins of mysterious stone, half-submerged islands, greats walls which pushed up from the water as if protecting some long sunken harbour. Eventually we were envelop in a thick mist. We began to pass islands (clearly abandoned!) of megalithic ruins and primordial vegetation of unknown composition. I could feel it, I could feel the island! I smiled into the bracing wind.
The sailors were clearly fearful, fearful of this strange place. But I was experiencing a certain euphoria, for as far as I was concerned we had reached the seascape of my dreams. The compasses may not have worked, but I knew somehow that we drew nearer and nearer to my fate. Into the mists I gazed, drawn into a reverie. I imagined the magnificence of my royal court, of my sons who would take control of the tumultuous kingdom. Of the serfs and peons tilling the fields, of the traders marching between cities and of our great history both magnificent and resolute. What was my world without me? Would it cease, would anyone really notice? A great thinker once said that for practical purposes the world ends with you! My children, my children, my dear wife. What would be the fate of my nation in their hands?
I was sundered from this dream by a symphony of maritime profanity. A wind drew us dangerously close to a vast metallic spire which pushed up from unknown depths. The compasses spun, then locked in place. As we passed the spire, I too felt the fear and uncertainty of the crew. For it was no natural feature, but the mighty hand of a colossal, submerged figure. The statue must have rested upon the ocean bed, only it’s mighty head was visible under the churning water as we passed. Evidently the likeness of some ancient patriarch. No matter how hard I try, immortality, even in the memory of my subjects proves a lie! Even the likenesses of kings fade to the ages. The sails were dropped, the course corrected. It was no wind which drew us in, but some inexplicably powerful current. Beyond the statue were the submerged ruins of some once proud kingdom. The domes of their temples could be seen under the winedark sea, proclamations of pagan blasphemy. This current, it drew our vessel carefully through this drowned world and towards a shrouded isle, ringed by a crumbling wall. This is it, said the boatswain, adjusting his eyepiece. Yes, I agreed, for the great wall was clearly marked on the ancient map. My aide-de-camp muttered something to the captain, who absorbed his look. I knew the heart of their mutterings…had I…a mad king, drawn these men to their deaths? All for some vain dream.
The shore was not sand but some thick, silty sludge. One sailor hopped from the landing vessel and sunk to his waist. I was far too feeble to trudge through this viscous obstacle. After many failed attempts of trying to cross the mud, clung upon the back of some stout sailor, we retreated. Instead the grizzled captain piloted the landing vessel and guided her into a small inlet or river mouth. This flow had worn away the great wall in one place and allowed the men to row past the sludge and the wall. Finally we were heading into the interior of the island, and into the interior of my dreams.
Monolithic stone columns were pocked across the land. The banks of the waterway were lined with sinuous, leafless trees I had never seen and the landscape was scarred and dusty. Eventually the inlet became too narrow and shallow to continue. I stumbled off the tottering boat and onto my unsteady feet. My aide-de-camp and the boatswain grasped me by the elbows to prevent me from falling. Blast! Was I such an old man, not long for the world? Yes, I supposed. In the distance were structures seemingly from the same submerged kingdom near the shore. Perhaps the isle was much larger in ancient times. What wondrous antiquity once stood upon this ruined ground?
It took me a long time to reach this “city”, the men grew frustrated and restless, desperate to leave this cursed place. There were many megalithic tombs resembling the one in my dream. Great granite constructions craved from single blocks of stone, composed of jagged yet accurate angles. The interiors were marked with bizarre hieroglyphs, even my aide-de-camp could not read them, a man who was vastly knowledgeable of antiquity. The first tomb was not such at all, but instead was some shrine or place of remembrance. The second megalith sat atop a great hill or mound, yet it was small and angular and was not the tomb of my dreams. Soon a third construction was discovered, hidden between the walls and houses of the abandoned city. It was cubical and vast, and was indeed a tomb as it contained a sarcophagus of luminous jade, but alas it was not the tomb of my dream. The men became frustrated and to avoid mutiny I agreed to set camp for the night.
Firelight licked the long dead city. Shadows cast chilling projections and illusions of former inhabitants. There were mutterings between the sailors as to what this ancient place could be. My aide-de-camp watched a twisting dust storm through his eyeglasses, just visible in the gloom. Here he said something strange to me that history has no arrow sire, and all possible worlds must end. It is no march forward, but a dream, only a dream of rise and collapse. Perhaps the pompous scholar was right, even my history, my vain illusion, my kingdom—myself. What would it read? The vain king disappeared in some hysterical quest to chase a dream? A face was carved into a nearby tower, a tragic visage with piercing eyes. I am not certain, but I may have fallen asleep locking eyes with the carving.
Morning was blood red. It was not particularly easy to notice that the sun had risen. Dust storms raged across the isle. Scarred and crumbling towers circled us, yes perhaps this was the end of some possible world. I raised myself with what grace I could muster to my creaking knees. I felt so very cold and wrapped my cloak firmly around my body. I followed the sailors and my aide-de-camp through winding boulevards of decaying stone and trouncing dust. The map had become caked with brown dirt, I looked over it and saw the imperious stride of my aide-de-camp and the languid amble of the sailors. We stopped at a sharp precipice, a few sea-dogs barely saving themselves from tumbling into the abyss.
When I finally reached the edge I almost collapsed. I was struck by a terrible and mystical convergence. Yes, I knew I was looking upon the very likeness of my dream. A formidable crater extended from the edge of the ruined city to a line of shrouded cliffs in the distance, upon the cliffs were facsimiles of the submerged statue. The crater was protected from the swirling dust and in the centre —yes I wrenched the looking glass from the boatswain’s hands—was the monolithic stone tomb of my dreams. What convergence between dreams and reality? Which influenced which? And where did I stand in the maddening landscape between? Shaking, I placed my hands upon the shoulders of my aide-de-camp and descended a timeworn trail down the side of the crater, dust kicked up into the air as our expedition descend into my very dreamscape.
It was a puzzling ruin indeed, seemingly hewn from a single stone and cut into impossibly accurate angles. And it was one of many! Even the men gasped at this. This crater was some vast necropolis. Aside from narrow walkways which provided access to each monolith, every cubit of space was filled by a stone tomb. So it was a place of death already? And who’s resting place would I usurp? The very cuckoo of the grave that I was. Hours passed as we navigated between this maze of the dead. The sun shone through the curling dust above as we trailed from tomb to tomb. Then, finally, I reached the tomb of my dream, an angular, crumbling wreck of a monolith slightly aside from the geometric placement of the others. I was certain, I had a resonance of the deepest inner-mind, the images were as clear as the will of God. This was my final resting place.
The sailors wrenched a cumbersome circle of stone from the entrance, which tumbled down some steps and smashed into a hundred pieces. Before it was destroyed I saw the image carved on its face, it was of a great king, perched upon a throne, grasping a sceptre which marked him as protector of the nation. I felt drawn to this man, a double of the spirit, a secondary alter-rex of some fantastical age. An oil lamp was lit, a dim glow illuminated a narrow staircase of grey stone which descended into the heart of the tomb. Led by the surefooted gait of my aide-de-camp, our expedition proceeded with vigilance into the gloom. At the cumulation of this descent was a small oval room. In the centre was a sarcophagus of intricate jade, carved with images of animals I had never seen.
Sire! My aide-de-camp said. Are we truly to defile this man’s grave? I nodded, catching his concern in the lamplight. The sailors were hesitant, but did as asked and wrenched the jade lid off the sarcophagus. It too smashed, the intricate carvings sundering into myriad pieces. The mummified corpse of the long-dead king lay with arms crossed, his face covered by a mask of finely worked gold. The sailors backed off, muttering about godlessness and blasphemy. Soon my aide-de-camp joined them, retreating to the stairs. I could not see the men, they were obscured by the darkness, I was alone with the oil lamp and the dead king. Trembling, I reached forward and grasped the golden mask with my withered fingers. In feverous one-mindedness I tore the mask from the dead man’s face. What I saw next struck me with terrible horror and uncertainty. The man behind the mask, unmistakably, was myself! I had come face to face with my own deceased and mummified body, I was truly standing in my own tomb. I dreamed not of some unavoidable future, but of the present, of reality. I shook and clambered up the stairs, trembling. I laughed. No aide-de-camp was with me, no sailors. I was alone in this dead city, utterly alone. An ancient monarch alone in the ruins of his world. I collapsed laughing. It was the life I dreamt, not the death.
Sanjay Bheenuck is a writer from the UK, you can find his short stories scattered here and there. He’s currently writing a novel about fly-tipping.
If you enjoyed ‘The Dream of the Tomb’ leave a comment and let Sanjay know.
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