I am very old and soon I will die. When, I do not know. Nor does it bother me that my time in this world is short. I see it as a blessing, for I know certain things are eternal. Although I am a simple man, I have glimpsed the infinite. This I keep secret as people see me as a gibbering old fool at the best of times.
When I was much younger, my brother and I would spend the holidays fishing in the dream river on the outskirts of Eve City. Usually we wouldn’t net anything more than a random image, real low-level stuff, like a fragment of an imaginary map or a winged pepper grinder. Occasionally we’d get lucky and catch a few seconds of a recurring fantasy, which we’d sell to the local adult dream merchants. They’d pay us the standard exchange rate and then splice it into their evening offerings.
One time we caught box of edible light. We really had to work the streams for that. The abstract ones were always the hardest to catch. They flickered in and out of existence, shimmering in the river mists, forever evading our nets at the last moment. But the payoff was worth it. We kept those dreams for ourselves. In the case of the edible light, we sat on the banks of the river for the rest of the afternoon, taking enormous mouthfuls and blowing multicoloured plumes of sweet vapour high into the sky.
There was an old man who use to wander the banks of the dream river. We used to see him everyday. He was forever twiddling his fingers whilst he stared at his hands intensely. We used to tease him, he was harmless enough, he never paid us any attention. It was often said that he used to be the best dream catcher in the Unknighted Kingdom, but one day he didn’t return from the day’s fishing. All anyone found was his tattered dream nets on the riverbank. It was assumed that he’d fallen into the river and drowned in the turbulent currents of a nightmare. Then, one day, two months later, he reappeared, muttering to his fingers as they performed an intricate dance. Lost in his own imaginings, he never uttered a word to anyone else from that day on.
On the day my brother and I caught the box of edible light, we were ambling through the woods on our way home when we spotted something not far from the riverbank. It appeared to be someone lying on the ground. I called out, but there was no answer. As we approached, I recognised that it was the old man. We’d seen him wandering around only an hour before. I asked him if he was okay, but he just lay there, eyes wide open, staring at the sky. I poked him with a stick, but it was obvious he was dead. My brother said we should tell someone. I just stood there, transfixed by his lifeless eyes. My brother called for me, breaking the spell. As I was about to leave, I noticed a gold coin sparkling in the palm of the old man’s outstretched hand. I reached for it, tucked it into my pocket, and ran after my brother.
Later that evening, the Eve City cops came to speak to us. Routine stuff. They asked a couple of questions, nodded, made a few notes and left. Nothing suspicious. To the cops I guess it was just an old man who happened to bite the big one whilst out walking. They must have dealt with this kind of thing every day. After they left, my dad told me to get in the shower as I was covered in dream dew from the river.
As I undressed in the bathroom, the gold coin I’d taken from the old man’s hand fell from my trouser pocket and rolled across the floor. I’d totally forgotten about it. I picked it up and took a closer look. As I turned it over and over in my hands, the strange symbols on its sides changed, never once repeating.
I’m still turning it now.