In a Dream
Posted on Mon Jan 2nd, 2012 @ 10:44pm by Mister Nicholai Doran
Chapter 2: The Map says 'Go Here'
Timeline: The fourth night
Laughter and conversation reached his ear from the mess. He shut his eyes, blocked it out. Nicholai's head was pounding, his teeth mashed together with the migraine. He took to his bunk before the rest of the crew, curled up with a grubby old blanket that smelled strongly and not pleasantly of seawater. He laid with his coat on, still shivering beneath the heavy fabric.
Eyes closed, he searched for sleep. It came and it went; in his half-dreams he heard the ship creaking through the clouds on mechanical wings. Raucous laughter. Heels on boards, and the hum of the engines that gave them flight. In his half-dreams, Nicholai saw his Slavic-born mother, his Western father. The faces of his sisters brushed together like a mottled painting. They always looked the same now, when he thought about them. His brothers... their eyes were dark like the rest of them. Faceless people, his memory had long since blocked them out.
Nicholai shifted in his bunk, sweat making his hair cling to his forehead.
A year or more ago now, it was. It had been raining that night, a harsh downpour that turned the dry dirt and rocky waste into long hungry rivulets of brown water. The town where he grew up was miles wide but scarcely populated. In the center were the mines, their livelihood. Nicholai worked underground from the time he was thirteen, like his brother before him and his father as well. Every man went into those mines, for better or worse. They married the Earth in those mines, died there or lived there.
But it was raining that night and it was what he dreamed. He stepped into the tavern to get out of the rain, shaking the water out of his dark hair. A hushed silence fell around him, his ears were ringing. At a table, he saw one of his brothers, a faceless man in his nightmare. Or were there more of them? He had three brothers but he couldn't remember.
In his dream, he was trying to find their faces. When he tried to run and they chased him down, he tried to tell one from the other. And he thought, how could they have found out? Why did they care what he did? He couldn't even remember what that man had looked like, the sweet face that had cost him his life. It was only a few hours, an embrace.
They dragged him toward the mine, and the mud clung to him like wet claws. He tasted blood. He smelled their alcohol, and his heart pounded. It was four against one and he was skinny even then. He tried to twist away and get away but they were stronger.
In his bunk, on the Steamhawke, he dreamed; but in his nightmare, he lived the ordeal over again. Two of them held him down as he squirmed. One kept laughing, loud and wet. And the other, he reached into the flames with pincers and withdrew with a burning coal, blood red. Blood seeped out of his nose as he twisted against their grips, and he pleaded, he asked them please, and he screamed. Oh God, he had screamed that night with the rain coming down on him.
The pain took him in his dream, and in his bunk he woke and cried out in a muffled voice. There were tears on his cheek. He held in a sob and sat up, running hands over his face. His body shook; he wrapped arms around his torso to keep himself steady.
They left him on the ground beside the fire, in a pool of mud and blood and shit. Before the sun rose, he was gone. How he survived he didn't know. He supposed that he was numb to the pain, and he only knew that he had to go. So that was what he did.
And there he was, shivering and crying silently. Surrounded by a past he didn't want.
Nicholai climbed out of his bunk and took to the main deck, buttoning his coat around himself tightly. The cool air calmed him some. His brow creased as he felt an unfamiliar object in one pocket. He found a harmonica in his hand, weathered and scraped. Before the Captain advertised for a crew, he played that instrument and begged for coins at taverns and inns.
He played it now, slow and low, and he thought of what to make for breakfast in the morning.