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Novel Excerpt: POWER OBJECTS

Excerpt from Chapter VI: Kate's Dream Sequence (right after the Irish session at the MacCauleys' house, the night following the protest rally on behalf of Melanie)

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Women in my family float into our dreamworlds. I don't know how often my mother floats in her sleep, but her mother always said that, back in the first house she raised her family in, she had often had the sensation of floating from room to room at night. And it seems the floating in unconsciousness had passed on down the matriline to yours truly. I used to think it was flying that I did, since I often got a fair distance off the ground, especially in nightmares where something was after me. But to do so, I had to take an initial leap off the ground or floor and make several breast-strokes in the air, as if I were springing up from the bottom of a pool. I had swum this way many times when awake, and I expect this was also my formula for flying in dreams.

This night, it took me nearly forever to get cleared for takeoff. Tunes and snatches of songs spun through my head for hours, like they always did when I tried to sleep right after a session. Besides that, I couldn't stop seeing Kieran in the foreground of my mental vision, though now he was enveloped in white spotlights and seemed to shimmer, as if he were no more than a filmed image reflecting off an invisible screen. I recalled that, throughout that evening, the more we sang, harmonized and accompanied each other, the closer together he and I had been sitting. Now my memory replayed every sight of him, from every angle and position in relation to the MacCauleys' overhead and wall lamps.

The lights now were dimming, until my head cleared and I could see that I was floating over a range of small, tree-covered hills like those bordering my neighborhood. I was moving forward not more than eight to ten feet off the ground, making an unknown course between tree trunks and over shrubs and hedges. I expected to smell the needles and sap of evergreens, and the musty litter of dead leaves and black walnuts freeze-drying in the late evening air. But, in fact, I couldn't smell anything, and, as far as I could perceive, neither could I see anything moving around me. It was like moving through a photograph in 3-D.

My surroundings went out of focus again, and it appeared that I had entered warm water. As in other aquatic dream environments, I could actually breathe underwater while I floated on; and high over my head, the trees and hills continued to confront me and remain rooted behind me, now in afternoon daylight. The coming twilight darkened the underwater track more quickly than it did the terrestrial surface overhead. The bottom of this pleasantly warm body of fresh water sloped down gradually from its formerly stable plateau (as I noticed as soon as I bothered to look down from the water's surface), and off in the distance ahead was my first sight of lights and the outlines of buildings through a thick, dimly lit fog.

While still on the outskirts of this fog bank, I glanced off to my left and found yet another new phenomenon. A human figure, a distinctly male one, was swimming toward me. He appeared to be naked, but in the fading light and my own blurred vision, it was hardly a graphic nudity. I thought he must be someone I knew: as he got closer, I kept asking myself, is it Kieran? Cail? Terry? Someone I've worked with? One of the guys in Sarah's group? The question was never answered, for even when we floated side by side and eventually melted into an embrace, I still couldn't make out his features. There was just a sensing running between us which dictated that I knew him and he knew me. In the midst of his rocking me in and out of currents of twilit water, I lost track of myself and everything once again.

At last I stood on solid ground, in the fog-wrapped neighborhood I'd seen while floating into darkness. It was a loosely spaced but competently laid-out community, similar to mine and perhaps close to it. Like my neighborhood, it was situated along the side of a small cleared hill overlooking a stream channel and a narrow floodplain surrounded by woods and hedges. Perhaps two dozen houses lined both sides of the well-paved circular street rimming the hillside, the front of each facing the street from whichever side it happened to occupy. From the outside of nearly every house, mostly opposite a first-floor front window, at least one child stood looking in.

None of these was standing idle, of course. All appeared to be engaged in constructive (or at least leisurely) activities which each child thoroughly enjoyed. One girl in her early teens plucked a guitar in a small company of friends jamming on flute, electric bass and keyboards. The smallest child I saw was wandering freely through a fascinating display of toys, cosmetics and abundant sugar-coated confections for the taking. A young boy loudly celebrated his chosen abstinence from attending boring church services, while a nearby trio of teenagers performed an unnamed religious ritual with three candles slowly rotating atop something resembling a mechanized potter's wheel. One girl of middle-school age attempted to focus a telescope beyond the cloud cover and onto the winter night sky, and another of similar age had left behind all academic pressures to devote most of her time to her horse and two dogs. One boy in his mid-teens made carefree love with the girl of his dreams, while the slightly older boy next door openly expressed a homosexual orientation. Yet however fulfilled and purposeful these young people appeared, a sad and yearning expression entered their faces each time they looked through the front windows of their own homes and saw exact duplicates of themselves sitting or moving stiffly through their houses, each wearing a tight-fitting mask over her or his face. I found the masks to be of especially horrid significance, because the faces on these masks were universally shaped and painted into dull, passive, placid expressions; and whoever wore one had little choice but to take on a similar countenance to make a comfortable fit with the mask. Most of those who were masked were visibly unhappy, though in many cases they could not identify the cause of their grief. From my point of observation, this cause was rather obvious. The masked versions of the children had been separated from their true selves, without exception banished outside. They could only do what others directed them to do, or suggested to them. Turning to the teenagers circling the device with candles, I interrupted their current chant to ask, "Why can't these kids inside the houses get together with those outside? You'd all be a lot happier!"

"In there, you have to leave yourself outside", one of them answered glumly. "The masks separate them from us. The kids inside who start to question things can sometimes see out the windows, but they can't get through the doors."

I walked past this group to the house in front of them and stared through the windows, which were developing a suspicious fog around the edges of the panes. There the three masked teenagers in various adjoining rooms, listlessly going through the motions of studying, reading college catalogues, and talking to their parents and each other, but saying and doing nothing not approved beforehand. The minds of the adults in the house were also open to my senses, and every corner of the house seemed to pulsate with their thoughts of, "I will reproduce myself in my own image, so that I, like my own parents, will be immortal--"

"HEY!" I screamed through the window at the teenagers, though they apparently could not hear me. "Don't you see that you're losing yourselves in there? Get rid of those damned masks and get back to what you are!"

Something cracked around my head, and in the same instant, I stifled a scream and wondered if I had suffered a mysterious head injury. My head briefly rebounded after what felt like a huge weight fell away from my face. When I looked down, I discovered my own mask smashed to pieces in front of my feet.

1987 by Karen I. Olsen. Updated version 2001 by Karen I. Olsen.

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