Weary is the Dreamer is part of an ongoing original series titled The Wandering Stranger. This story tells the tale of a man who cannot quite remember his name, a man who fears that he is being hunted by strange creatures …
He was walking alongside the highway, debating the idea of hitchhiking to the nearest town. Part of him was still shaken from his near encounter with the alfar.
Was it possible for the alfar to follow him here? He could be in any one the cars which sped by.
“Does he even drive?” the Wandering Stranger asked aloud.
Huh, so you’ve gone back to calling yourself that? Wandering Stranger. What are you doing?
From what he had seen of the man at the cafe gave the impression that he disdained the place and its people, like he had never set foot in that type of environment. He had moved very daintily, like he did not want certain things to touch him.
What was an alfar?
A car flew by, dangerously close. The force of the wind threw him off balance; it was fortunate for him that the shoulder was wide enough for three men to walk together side-by-side.
Where do I know him? Do I know him?
The sun was slowly sinking below the horizon, he realized. He had been so lost in thought he had forgotten the time. In the middle of a field he spotted an abandoned barn. Its silver-grey wood shone in the waning light of the sun; from his vantage it looked sturdy. It was still standing. That fact alone helped him make a decision. He slipped off the shoulder, jumped a fence, and waded into a grass sea. Despite the circumstance there were still aspects of the vagabond lifestyle that he enjoyed. Letting the tips of the wild grass brush against his hands was one of them. Deep down he had always held a love for the natural world.
Inside the barn was desolate, as was to be expected. Whoever had used it made sure to vacate it entirely. Or someone had stolen what was left. Abandoned buildings sometimes held priceless valuables.
After exploring the building he settled into a back room. He chose it because there was a door. The lock was gone but he could still barricade it. Also, the room was windowless, perhaps a room for tack or feed. No windows meant no prying eyes.
Setting his pack down, the Wandering Stranger began searching the barn for some old wooden beams. Once finished he blocked the door. He unpacked his bedroll. Now that the adrenaline had worn off he could feel every ache and pain in his body. Groaning, he laid himself out flat on his back. “One day I’m taking a trip to a laundromat,” he murmured.
Sleep overtook him.
Silence enveloped him. He was walking down the dirt road, heading towards the forest. There were trails which wound their way through the old growth, beckoning to him, promising him mystery. He took a moment to take in his surroundings. Every homestead, every tree, every rock; he knew every one of them. He had taken this road countless times, yet for some reason everything seemed … Clarified. It was if he were walking in a hyper-reality. Every breath, every step rang loud in his ears. And the things that he could see! He was in awe.
His heart began to beat faster as he drew nearer to the forest. Today he would find something.
He knew it in his heart.
Before he could blink his foot had touched the hard-packed dirt of the path. The wind picked up, rustling the leaves overhead. He was a mix of fear and excitement. A whooshing noise startled him; looking up he saw a crow eyeing him. The corvid flew off, and as he watched it go a prickling sense of dread came over him. “I need to leave,” he told himself in an adamant tone.
No, you can’t! replied a little voice. Something important was going to happen, but he was first required to find it.
To do that he must continue.
Se he pressed on, wading deeper into the darkness. A mix of raw emotion overtook him, sending his thoughts racing; there was a tightness in his chest which made it difficult to breathe. What is this? Over and over he repeated nonsense to himself, the thoughts themselves going by so fast that his state was worsening. It was like he was unconsciously asphyxiating himself. Outside of his head things were a different story. He still saw and heard things with an alarming clarity; it was as if he were in a dream land. From out of the corners of his eyes he saw dark forms flash past. Whenever he turned his head to regard them he was greeted by nothing.
Deeper still he went, and darker the woods became. With the darkness came the cold. It gnawed at his hands, the back of his neck.
A mosquito whined past his ear.
He swatted at it with his hand. A dull itch, picking up in intensity, sprang up on his left cheek. The Wandering Stranger wiped his hand on his trousers. He wouldn’t stand for the bugs, so he began to run.
Twigs snapped in his wake, the sounds hanging in the still air. Ragged breathing soon added itself to the din. All the while twilight deepened; here and there one could pick out stars in the night sky. Oak trees loomed over him, flanking the path–and him–on either side.
His foot caught on a root and the Wandering Stranger fell. Unmoving, he lay on the ground. A trickle of blood dribbled down his face like a bead of sweat.
Where did that come from? Gingerly he felt his forehead, then drew his fingers away; he expected to find fresh red blood, but was instead greeted with a shimmering gold fluid. This is not my blood, he told himself, adamant.
Slowly he eased himself up from the ground. His head spun. He grabbed onto an oak and used it as a support, pulling himself onto his feet.
An owl hooted in the distance.
The path broadened out into a circle–near perfect in shape. At the centre there rose an old, gnarled ash tree in triumph. It looked as though the oaks were shying away from it. In comparison to the ash they looked malignant. Motes of dust caught the light of the moon.
He drew near to the tree and sunk down at its base with a sigh of relief. His eyes became heavy-lidded; he allowed himself a moment to soak in the darkness.
In the absence of his sight his other senses became more keen. Far off he could hear animals: racoons slithering up trees, the chittering of squirrells. The thrum of a thousand beating wings filled him–so many birds–like a second heartbeat.
And then he heard the one sound he had been waiting for: the delicate sound of a foot carefully placed. It could have been anything, but the feeling he received was that of a creature more similar to himself.
It was not human.
There was a soft rasping noise, as if a knife had just been drawn.
His eyes shot open. From his vantage he knew that he could turn around freely, so long as he was close to the tree. On hands and knees he edged around to the other side of the clearing, the side his back had been facing just moments before.
At the edge of the circle he saw nothing. There was nothing but the steady darkness. Squinting, he put all of his will into seeing beyond that. There was a very pregnant pause which followed. Every creature seemed to have stood still with him, understanding that concentration was vital.
A pair of glittering obsidians ghosted in the darkness. As the gems came close it soon became very apparent that they were eyes. A pale face followed them into the light; a smooth, elegant, and yet angular face. Soon the rest of the body emerged from the shadows. The creature was male. Tresses of black hair fell away from its face. Acuminate ears poked out from its hair.
Those ears . . . His eyes were fixed on them. Like an animal. And eyes like dark pools, mysterious, like that of a deer . . . Only these eyes were almond shaped, tilted.
It was beautiful even if it held a long knife towards him.
“Alfr,” he breathed.
The thing was looking directly at him, returning him equally gaze for gaze. It stopped, dropping to a crouch. He lay the knife on the ground before him, then rested his hands on his knees. His posture, the way in which he moved, the look on his face–all of it spoke of a deadly grace. One in which he was confident in.
A large wolfhound loped out of the shadows. It brushed up against the being, then sauntered into the ring. It sniffed around for a while before returning to its master, where it lay down at his feet.
The Wandering Stranger rose, careful to keep the tree at his back.
The creature picked up his knife and rose with the stranger at the exact moment.
Anger welled up inside of him. “Segane!” he barked. It was more of a shout actually.
The creature narrowed his eyes, lowering his head. In warning, perhaps?
Clenching and unclenching his fists he continued: “Stay away from my sister! She is a young maiden, innocent of these affairs. Don’t drag her into this. Don’t let me see you near her again!”
The elfman took a step into the circle; its dog, Wolf, began to growl deep within its throat. “You’re insane,” he hissed. The way in which he spoke was beautiful to listen to, but the way in which he pronounced his words–the way he intoned sentences even–sounded wrong.
The Wandering Stranger took a threatening step. His left hand grasped at a tree branch.
In a blink the elfman was up in his face. They were of the same height, roughly. Segane held the knife under his chin. “Gregory!”
He woke up so fast that he bumped his head on the wall. “Is that really my name?” he muttered under his breath.
Does it matter?