Marie travels far without going anywhere, leaves her family only to find her family, and meets a familiar traveler who explains dNA and how it relates to her dreams.
My name is Marie. It’s a little like the word merry: to be happy or glad about something. Two weeks ago a bug bit me on the wrist. That night I had the first dream. My story begins with a dream and ends with The Doctor. Or maybe it’s still going on. You be the judge. Here is my tale.
I opened my eyes and saw before me an interwoven net of glowing lights, like those pictures of neurons in science articles. It lay above me and all around me, like the night sky over a meadow. It fluctuated, waxing and waning, connecting and reconnecting and ever branching. Suddenly standing, I took off running. The ground underfoot was like black marble; silky and reflective. I ran until I was breathless. My surroundings remained unchanged. I lay down once more and closed my eyes. When I opened them I found a familiar figure sat beside me. She sported a long elegant gown of cascading fabric, whose silver accents reflected the web of lights all around us. She smiled, her face framed by a million curls. “Hello Marie,” she said.
“River?” I said, then, “I’m dreaming.”
“Yes you are,” River agreed. “But this dream isn’t just random, and neither is the fact that I’m here. I’m to be your guide for a sort of journey. You see, this dream will rewrite your DNA.”
“O. K. … How could a dream rewrite my DNA?”
“You misunderstand me. Not DNA. Small d. dNA. Earth sciences won’t discover dNA for another century or two. Your deoxyribonucleic acid won’t be affected. This will change your dream nucleic acid.”
“My…genetic dream code?”
“You could call it that, yes. That code is about to be rewritten, and your dreams are about to become, more interesting.”
“But it all sounds like nonsense. If it is a dream, then isn’t my brain creating it?”
River shook her head. “Not this time. You were infected by a somnastravirus. The insect that bit your wrist transmitted it. I encountered the virus myself in my travels. The virus is also the reason we seem to know each other already. It can place memories of someone or someplace, as required. No need for introductions.”
“And it’s going to change me?” I asked. I could see overhead the tendrils pooling together. Were they getting closer?
“The effect on your waking self should be mild. Here, in the dream state, the effect is only painful at the beginning. You’ll want to wake up very soon. But the next time you sleep, you’ll notice the change. Some call it the dream legend. Moments of importance to someone generate a resonance that the viral dNA responds to and is pulled toward. As you sleep you’ll watch someone’s story unfolding; going wherever the virus is compelled. You’ll be transported to them each time you sleep, for about a week until the infection clears.”
As she’d been speaking the network above me was changing. The threads I’d been watching had curled together and were now alarmingly close to my face. “What’s happening?” I asked.
“It’s started,” said River.
I flicked the tendril away from my eyes with my hand. Undeterred, it wrapped around my wrist, touching my fingers with new outgrowths.
“How do I know I can trust this?” I said, frantically swatting at the tendril still gripping me.
“What you see attaching to you is without love or malice. It simply is. But trust me when I tell you it will be painful during the process if you remain asleep. There isn’t any way to stop this. So let it happen.”
“But how do I know you’re River?” I gasped as strands attached to me stung and burned like nettles.
“I’ll find you again next time you sleep. Take a look at your wrist,” said River. Shaking, I turned my hand to look at the inside of my wrist where the bug bite was. The tendril still held me, but the spot I was bitten looked like normal skin now; the welt was gone. With lightning speed, River reached across me, grasped my forearm, and shoved my palm into my forehead sharply. It was just enough to startle me into waking.
I jerked upright. I turned to Jim who was beside me. “You alright?” he asked.
“River! Jim, River was in my dream and oh- my wrist!”
Where the welt had been, there was now a different looking mark. It was very plainly a stylized symbol for water and a musical note. It was unmistakable. I showed Jim. “Did- did you put that there yourself? Is this a prank?”
“I’m not joking with you Jim. River was in my dream. That’s her sign to me.”
“Slow down. Tell me what happened. Please. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
I told Jim what I’d dreamed. He was quiet. Finally he said, “I can’t think of another explanation for your wrist. River said the process would be painful if you stayed asleep. Does anything hurt you now? You said the dNA, network thing was stinging you like fire.”
“No. I feel fine right now. It stopped hurting the moment I woke. River said she’d guide me in the dream state and I know you’ll be here when I wake, so I’m not afraid.”
I opened my eyes. I found myself in a long hallway filled with doors. Each door glowed and pulsed as though with its own heartbeat. River stood by my side.
“This is the dreamway,” she said. “Which story calls you?”
I heard faint noises from behind one of the doors. Voices shouted and whispered, alternately. Strings of words came to me “…the baby… we have water to draw… ancestors weep… twin sign, the holy twos…” I pushed open the door.
“Welcome to you traveler.” The voice came from behind me. I turned, leaning heavily on my staff. A man wearing a soft leather tunic held out his hand. “I work these fields and live over yonder hill. You are a guest to me and I offer you rest.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Is there water to draw?”
“As the ancestors bless me so I bless you. They rejoice that you sit while I draw for you.” I settled onto a patch of grass while my host drew and brought me water. Carefully he drank half the cup before handing it to me. I took it and drank. Formalities over, he said, “I am called Hav. I must finish my work now. You are welcome to stay as long as you need.”
“I’m called Glad. Thank you.” I sat on the grass and rested. It was almost evening and I had far yet to go until I reached my destination.
As the sun dipped into the distant mountains, someone approached me. It was a woman. “Glad? I am Chalynge. My husband said I would find you here. Please join us at our meal, for the ancestors bless us.” I stood and gathered my staff. I followed Chalynge to a cottage of stone and split wood. Two children stood by an outdoor fire ringed with sections of log for seating. The girl held out a bowl of food. “As the ancestors bless us so we bless you,” she said.
“May I draw you water?” asked the boy. Hav emerged from the doorway of the cottage. “Bug, I have already greeted our guest.”
“But I haven’t!” Bug insisted. Hav laughed and said, “Very well. You can greet her too.”
Bug smiled and ran off to fetch a cup of water. I settled myself and waited politely for Bug to return. “He hasn’t been old enough to greet visitors until today,” Chalynge explained. Bug returned, almost leaping to bring me the cup. Most of the water had spilled out by the time he reached me. Bug drank. Frowning a little as I tried not to laugh, I accepted the cup and drank the rest.
“Ancestors bless me so I bless YOU,” Bug said enthusiastically. He picked up his bowl and crammed a spoonful of food into his mouth.
“Bug! Guests first,” Chalynge said. “Let’s all eat,” I said, taking a bite. Bug looked relieved he hadn’t made any serious mistakes and began to eat again.
After eating, Hav built up the fire. “Glad you must stay with us tonight, for the hour is late and there is nothing else near.”
“I thank you. But my hour of departure is early and you may rise to find me gone. Know I am blessed by you.”
The girl took a wooden flute from her pocket and played. “Well learned, Dare,” said Hav.
“I want to tell the welcome story,” piped Bug.
“Everyone knows that one,” said Dare.
“Let him tell it if he likes,” said Hav. “Go ahead, Bug.”
This is the story Bug told:
Long ago the people were suspicious. They did not trust one another at all. They only trusted their family. If you could prove you were someone’s family they would help you, otherwise they would attack you and be mean to you. Everyone was like this except a man named Swim. He could move through the water like a fish. Some people said he was part fish. Fish were his only family and he was alone. One day Swim traveled a long way. He came to a place he’d never seen before. On the path in front of him was a man who lay dying. When Swim came near he shielded himself, ready for Swim to kill him. But Swim instead held out a cup of water. Confused, the man refused the drink. “Poison!” He shouted at Swim. But Swim knew it wasn’t poison. He drank some himself to show it was safe. The man on the path still looked doubtful, but finally he accepted the drink. “I am Swim,” Swim said. The man replied, “I am nothing, for you have saved me but we are not family.” “That is easy,” laughed Swim. “You will be called Water. And you are my family now.” When we drink, we share the way Swim and Water did, to show we trust each other and we are all family.
“Well told Bug,” I said, yawning. I fell asleep to the sound of Dare’s flute.
“Glad! Glad! Is it you?” A familiar voice reached me through the crowd. It was Dare. She was easily a foot taller than when last I’d seen her. “My father will be happy to see you safe. Please come with me to the house.” It was hard to tell I was in the same place. The landscape had been reworked to smooth it in some places and a road was forming across Hav’s fields. In addition to this, tents were strewn about and people wandered in and out of campsites.
Quickly, I followed Dare to the house. “Not another wounded– oh! Glad, it’s you! How good it is to see you,” said Chalynge. “Hav! Come and see!”
Hav came in from outside. “Glad! Let me draw for you,” Hav said.
“We are still family. There is no need to draw. You are busy with your new relatives.”
“Yes,” Hav agreed. “They come in droves, and many are wounded. The ancestors whisper, but still we share what we have.” I glanced around and saw the house was set up like a medic parlor, with bandages and alcohol, and water boiling.
“But what has happened?” I asked.
Hav shrugged. “Ruffians from the South. They do not work for their food and drink, but fight and kill for it. Those pushed out come here, and we do what we can for them.”
Chalynge added, “They move north as they attack, or so we have heard. But we haven’t seen any of them here.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked. Chalynge and Hav looked at each other. Then Hav said, “If you travel on, you might come back to us with a wood circle to fix the well, and a good sharp pair of shears. But if this is impossible, travel with our blessing and what food and drink we can spare.”
I clasped their hands. “I will bring you what you ask and return soon.”
My bag was heavy on my shoulder with things, although I’d discarded some of my own to make room for the wood circle and shears that Hav requested. I worked my way back with some difficulty. There were people walking past me northwards. Several of them looked haunted and did not speak. One man shook me when I said I carried no food. After this incident I stayed less in the open. Late in the day I reached the house, but it was deserted. Inside I found things in a state of disarray. Everything was empty or broken. Looking around the garden, things were the same. Nothing growing was left, much of the stonework was pulled apart, and fragments of dishes were everywhere. I went to the broken well to try to draw water before moving on, but it was caved in. I left the wood circle behind, happy to be lighter without it.
After an hour or two I came upon a band of travellers. I hesitated, fearful. One of them, a teenaged, came up to me. “Water,” she said. I didn’t know if she was asking me or telling me. I backed away slowly. “The ancestors show me no water today,” I said. “Glad, Glad!” someone was saying. The teenaged said, “I have water to share. Are you Glad? Chalynge said we were to watch for you.” She dipped her finger into the jug of water she carried, licking it quickly and handed it to me. I drank as little as I could before handing it back.
By now, Bug had reached me. “Glad, the ancestors… They are,” Bug tried to remember the formula. “They are hungry but not thirsty. Do you have food?”
“My ancestors have not fed me either,” I said.
Bug frowned. “Mama needs food. She says the baby won’t grow right if she doesn’t eat.”
“Where do you walk?” I asked. “North. It’s said there’s food there and we will be safe. Will you walk with us?”
“Yes.” I said and followed him to Chalynge and Hav. I did not see Dare.
Chalynge saw me looking and replied, “Dare is ahead on the road scouting for us.” As if summoned by the mention of her name, Dare appeared. She jogged toward us holding her hands together. She stopped in front of us and pushed a handful of dried meat at Chalynge. “Eat mother. You need to.” Chalynge looked pained. She said, “How can I eat until I feed my children?” Dare shook her head. “Feed your smallest one first. Bug and I are grown.”
“I never thought it would be like this,” sighed Chalynge. I walked near her, watchful in case one of the vacant ones in the family was driven to try to take the food. We walked until dark. Finding nowhere to stop, we kept walking. Far into the night, near morning, our group came to an open area under large trees.
“Let’s rest,” said Hav as he supported Chalynge with one arm.
“This is a good spot,” Dare said, squinting in the brightening dawn. “Those are barb trees. The husks are sharp but the fruit inside is sweet. We must gather as many as we can.”
“I can help,” I said, though I ached all over. The trees bore fruits covered in piercing spikes that made our fingers bleed, but inside each was a small tough but edible fruit. We filled a bag with them. I was feeling utterly exhausted by this time.
“Glad?” said Dare, “You look pale. Are you well?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. My arms seemed pinned to my sides. I heard voices distantly. A name formed in my mind. Jim. And was I named… Marie? I felt myself waking. I don’t know what it seemed to Dare was happening. But her face changed and she looked perhaps frightened, perhaps shocked. I saw her spin away from me in a blur. I could hear her voice calling, “GLAD Glad glad glad”
I woke. Jim was beside me. And River. River? “What happened?” I asked.
“It’s over,” River said simply.
“Over? No. The story isn’t finished,” I said desperately. “Besides, you said I’d have these dreams for a week. It’s been three days.”
“Your body cleared the infection more quickly than I expected. The dNA is retreating. The connection to the story is breaking.”
“But they need me! Dare and Chalynge and Hav and Bug, they’re in trouble. River! You must help me. I’ve got to get back there!”
“I’m sorry, Marie. The virus is going dormant. It will always be a part of you now, but only rarely would it recur.”
“It can recur? How?”
“Somnastravirus stays in the body but only activates in times of tremendous stress or sickness. It’s often misidentified as a fever dream.”
“Can we cause it to return?”
“It wouldn’t be safe.”
“But can we do it?”
River sighed heavily. “Can we do it? Yes there is a way. But it’s deadly dangerous. You’d need someone to watch over you and administer the antidote.”
At this point Jim broke in, “Antidote? It almost sounds as though you plan to poison her.”
I looked at River. River looked at me. Jim looked shocked.“I don’t like this plan. You said ‘deadly dangerous’. And hang on! You just carry around dangerous poisons and their antidotes, then?”
“A girl has to be prepared for anything.” River winked. “Watch me carefully, Jim,” she said. She took an object the size of a button from her pocket and pushed it against my arm until it clicked. The click hardly sounded at all in my ears because at the same time it felt like she’d driven a pencil-sized icicle into my vein. The ice crept through my arm and into my chest, advancing steadily, as I lay back helplessly.
“Cover her up Jim. Good. Oh! One last thing, Marie. The virus was nearly eliminated and the dream signal will be very low. You may not end up exactly where or when you were before. It should be very close. Good luck finding your family. Jim, you’ll need to check her for fever once every two hours. This is the antidote. You’ll need to…”
Continued in Part 2