Categories > Comics > Sandman

Dreams, Absent.

by queasy 2 reviews

Nothing happens to Lucien, rather slowly.

Category: Sandman - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama - Characters: Lucien - Published: 2005-06-09 - Updated: 2005-06-09 - 1148 words - Complete

Yuletide story for Ekaterinn Duval

Disclaimer: points vaguely north-west-westward wherever Neil Gaiman is He did it! Characters, universe, whatever, all his doing. And even Murphy won't pay me for this here bit of writing.

Thanks to Oneiriad for catching and pointing out that I renamed poor Merv.

Dreams, Absent.

In the palace of dreams, Lucien walks down an endless corridor, between infinite rows of shelves filled with the innumerous dreams that are his charge. He tends to them carefully, these dreams of others, having none of his own.

Sometimes he lifts a volume down to leaf through the marvels contained in its pages: a tragic, fatal romance between a poor cashier unaware she is really a princess stolen from her royal parents and the proud prince who is really a beggar's child slipped into her rightful position... Romeo and Juliet's tearful reunion in the golden streets of heaven... if, perchance, he draws out a book to study, he always closes the volume gently and slides it back in its proper place, amid a myriad others like it.

The library is quiet, and mostly empty. Few disturb him inside. Occasionally strayed dreams drift through, and he gently guides them back out to where they can resume their roles. Their Lord is often absent on his own duties, or brooding elsewhere in the palace. His absence is not noted as matter of significance at first. Merv complains about their Lord's neglectful ways.

But their Lord does not return, even to embarrass Merv by overhearing.

It seems that the palace becomes a little more crowded, though it is as unbounded as it ever was. Perhaps the dreams are comforted by being in the heart of their Lord's realm, surrounded by visible, stable reminders of his power. Lucien is mildly taken aback to see a lovely young woman - the fashion thing, he thinks - in the library, giggling as she pushes down her skirts that are flying up in the draft from a crack in the window. He orders her out.

And then there are the nightmares that came to feel the absence of guidance late and had taken to stalking, swooping or oozing through the library, frightening the milder dreams and each other. He finds the Corinthian picking out little words from a book to sample. He orders them out as well.

Lucien is relieved that the instruction does not contradict their desires for the moment. The Corinthian wanders off somewhere out of his ken, for which he is selfishly glad. Fine lines appear in the walls.

The fashion thing returns, this time dancing jerkily down the corridor in an alarmingly pointed bustier as Cain rams Abel's head into the sharp edge of a shelf before he can stop them. Blood and gore splatter over the books, the Fairy Queen of the Cat-people reclining in her milk bath realises that she is holding a brain, not a sponge, and screams herself awake. Merv goes off somewhere and fails to return.

He orders them all out, and mops at the blood with his handkerchief in a kind of shaky detachment.

Outside, the griffin, its eyes bright and mad with hunger, has pounced on the rainbow-coloured unicorn and is ripping off long, crimson strips from its indigo carcass.

Cain shoves Abel out a window and seems half-startled that it did break. He stumbles down and drags the body away to safety as the griffin mantles over its prey and fixes them with a vicious red glare. Lucien... Lucien does nothing.

One day, the green glades and streams about the palace are gone. Empty space remains. No more dreams come; the library and palace seem less secure a reminder of their missing Lord. The library regains something of its peace for a while. He pauses by the shelves, wonders how long they will hold.

Lucien thinks about asking the raven woman for advice. "She's falling to bits too," says a dream whose name and likeness he will not remember, and - as if to demonstrate - it crumbles, melts and dissolves to nothing. The fashion thing toasts him with a glass of something red. It is the last time he sees her.

Cracks about the edges of the windows spread; glass turns crazed. The fine lines running all through the walls and even the furnishings deepen. Lucien picks up a fallen chunk of wall and sets it back in the space from which it broke loose.

Then the shelves creak, and finally give way all at once, books and fading ink spilling down as he tries vainly to push them back where they belonged. As well try to stem the tide: the volumes slide down all about him, falling heavily against his ankles and feet before enough pile up to slow the avalanche. Covers are torn, broken spines and sheets falling loose, a mass of books and paper piling to his ankles, to his knees, and he begins to think this is where he will be buried after all when the cascading books finally seem to find their level and settle. All is still.

He picks up a sheet, surprised to know the hand, and crumples it, half in shocked reaction. He drops it and digs through the flood for more, and just as he finds the damning name on the cover, snatches up the sheaf to see more, the words are gone and there is nothing left but blank paper.

Another fragment of wall falls off; he absently picks it up and sets it in its place. He does not know what to do with all these empty volumes that were dreams. He drops the sheets. Then even the flood of paper is gone. He feels only loss, though a voice in his head that sounds like Merv expresses relief that he will not need to sort through and restore the dreams to the shelves.

He walks out of the crumbling palace, hardly noticing that the bit of wall falls off again behind him, fracturing into smaller, dustier fragments as it hits the ground.

Outside, he looks up at into the firmament he remembers filled with myriad myriads of dreams sparkling in and out on the edge of unconsciousness. He is dismayed to notice, for the first time, the fixed, unlovely dreams like dull stones; glimmering shattered drifts of dream, and patches of void. He is not certain when this occurred. It might have been like this from the moment his Lord vanished. Another dream winks out without returning as he puzzles over the change. It feels like one more failure among the ruin of duties disintegrating about him.

Lucien rakes the remnants of the broken walls over nothing, and it looks like bare earth. He takes up gardening, or at least, he tries to.

He is not surprised that even nothing will not grow. The palace continues to erode, little by little.

Lucien waits.

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