How can you reach a man inside his dreams?
My mother started me down that road when I was young. She was a whore, as I said, but not always a comfort to her men. If they beat her or mistreated her she took revenge.
Every man fears the dark, and with good reason – the forms that come to us in dreams are beyond our control. When my mother charmed a man those night-fears started to spill over into bright day.
The trouble was, she couldn’t stop what she had started. Those forces, once unleashed, would have their way. She could direct them where to go, but couldn't turn them back.
And so it was, when I was seven, and she came home one day to find me being pawed by her latest lover, she showed me how – with herbs slipped in his food, with incense and with ready words – to haunt a man's head till he ran mad.
That fat pig cut his veins within the month.
As the years went by I passed beyond her skill – learned how to compound love potions, to implant good thoughts as well as bad. The danger, always, is that you can’t stop once you’ve started. The forces will come back on you if you don’t make haste to send them on.
The Tomites knew my powers, and respected them. My Roman guest resented woman’s magic – that was the feeling I got from him. He liked the sun-bright world of rapist gods and cruel heroes: all he could see in me was dark blood and misty superstition.
He was eating again by now, so it was little trouble to slip the herbs into his food. He was used to my fires of invocation, too, so that didn’t rouse his suspicions.
I chose to enter him at his most vulnerable moment. I lay down next to him naked and tempted him to take me. As he spent inside me I fixed him with my eyes, as a hawk does its timid prey, and he was mine …
Oh, but his dreams were confused and formless! At first the darks and lights were so extreme I could hardly see my way. His life, the myths he’d studied, the books he’d read all jumbled in a mad cacophony.
I stood in a bright field at midday. There were reapers nearby, women and children stacking the wheat they’d cut, the mice and small vermin of the ground boiling out ahead of them as their steady line advanced. Looking up from the tree I was sitting under, I saw a wolf. Fearless, it sprang at me, and I wanted to run. But couldn’t. The beast’s teeth met in my flesh as it sprang on me. It tore at my face, darkening my eyes forever …
I was at sea, cowering below decks in an overloaded merchantman. A storm had broken out, and the sailors were afraid. I heard them muttering that there was bad luck on board, and I had brought it. I felt their sinewy hands taking hold of me, as they dragged me, weeping and begging, up on deck – the great mountainous swells threatening to engulf us all. They tied my hands to stop me struggling, then threw me overboard. The last thing I felt as I went down was a pressure on my lungs, a darkness in front of my eyes …
I was walking through a snowy landscape all alone. The drifts were deep and soft and slowed me almost to a standstill. My clothing was thin, and I shivered at each step, my feet turning to ice inside my boots. I saw something dark in front of me. I thought it was a man ahead, and started to call out. My tongue was frozen too. I started to hurry with feet of lead, as the dark shape flickered and undulated in front of my eyes. It seemed to be receding. I yelled and hurried on, stumbling and picking myself up. Finally the figure turned …
the weight of matter
The loops of his dreams went from city to city, from blindness to fear to cold and back again. His guards had all deserted him. He lay alone, in the dark, with himself.
I offered him my hand.
He wouldn’t take it, flinching from me as if from his worst enemy.
I offered it again, baiting it with all the things I knew to offer – the taste of honey and berries in spring, the fresh fish of the streams, the sun on meadows, the touch of a lover on a winter’s night, a draught of barley wine.
He stood in his winter darkness, swaddled in ice and sadness.
At last he reached out, and put his hand in mine.