“What does the fish think when he is jerked up … through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe …?” – Stephen King, The Dark Tower
Panic rose in my throat. It was my first trip to the Bayabi Hall of Justice. I felt an urge to flee but knew that would condemn me to a life of solitude, to dream alone until my final day of bursting.
The great domed hall smelled of the sea, salty, moist, and warm. Its animated wall and ceiling décor depicted the Bayabi concept of the universe: a vast sea filled with strings of bubbles, snaking upward to touch and burst on the molten silver sky. I imagined I was one of those bubbles pressing onto the surface.
Everyone wore simple, knee-length, white gowns. The Judge behind the high altar looked down, paying me no notice.
“Righteous Judge,” announced the clerk, “may your bubble rise, and in the fullness of time, burst in glory on the surface of heaven.” The Judge nodded the clerk to proceed. “First on the docket, the inquest into the bursting of the Navigator, Gorlet. Arthefal is here as witness.”
The judge narrowed her gaze on me. “You are Arthefal? You understand your summons?”
“I am. I do. I am to give account of my relationship with Gorlet.”
The Judge corrected, “This is an inquiry into the nature and the departure of Gorlet, generally known as the Navigator. Thus we shall refer to him in these proceedings. You knew him well?”
“The Navigator initiated my first dream with—”
“Briefly, recount the highlights of your relationship.” The Judge sounded impatient.
“For the brevity you request, my I dream my experience?”
The Judge nodded, and I drew her into my dream. We stood in darkness … a shaft of light cut through … gray bands appeared in the haze, thinning and darkening, becoming the wizened image of Gorlet the Navigator. “Come, my little one,” he said. “Come and dream.” I blinked, panicking at the unfamiliar light and reaching about in the open space. “Dreams have no walls,” Gorlet explained calmly. “Have no fear. Your bubble has not burst. The surface of the eternal sea remains far away.”
I dream-guided the Judge through my early experiences, making sense of colors, chords, and colognes, waves of impressions crashing, slowly gathering form and meaning.
Gorlet said, “Many beings cannot dream, and we must dream for them.” He demonstrated by turning a formless spark into a swirl of blue petals atop lacy, green leaves.
The Judge flew with me and the Navigator, through dreams of rivers and mountains, over reedy ponds, into caverns and canyons. We talked with dream citizens: village venders, dancers, and street philosophers. At long last, we took sail with the Navigator on a small craft, outbound on the dream sea to the end of all dreams, where waking and bursting become one, where only Navigators dare.
The Judge pulled suddenly back, her hands and head shaking as if from intense cold. “I respect your skills and the skills of the Navigator,” she said, “but to go so near death, so near the bursting … it frightens me.”
The Judge’s words recalled to me Gorlet’s warning. They respect our skill and courage, but also fear us for our insights. I looked at the Judge. “The Navigator was an artist. He taught me the art of dreams, that they are limited only by our fear and imagination.”
“Very good,” said the Judge still shaking. Her hands clutched the folds in her white gown. “The Navigator gave you a fine education, but did he ever teach you any … proscribed practices?”
“No.” I effected a confused expression. The Navigator had warned me not to betray knowledge that might condemn me.
“So you haven’t heard of the Harvesters?” The Judge got to the point.
I chose my words carefully. “I know they are a heretical cult that despises our dream culture, but I have no knowledge of their specific practices. Harvesters worship demons. They believe demons exist outside our dreams and beyond the great sea. They wait to pluck us up from the sea when we burst—harvesting us when we are ripe. Harvesters conspire with these demons to gain favor. Their hope is to dream forever and never burst.”
“Have you had liaisons with the Harvesters?” The Judge pressed.
“Not to my knowledge. They keep their membership secret.” I decided I needed to clarify. “Navigators are not Harvesters. Navigators seek to understand dreams. We see them as evolving truth. Harvesters seek out demons to gain power over our dreams.”
The Judge nodded. “Arthefal, your answers are satisfactory. I assume with your training complete, you now inherit the mantle of the Navigator, and will begin training others?”
“That was my promise to Gorlet.”
“Go in peace then, Arthefal. May your bubble rise, and in the fullness of time, burst in glory on the surface of heaven.”
I was relieved the Judge had withdrawn from the last dream and not pursued its meaning. The abbreviated version I shared with her had left out the morning discussion.
“This is my last dream,” Gorlet had said. “My bursting dream, where all mystery ends.”
I protested: he was too young and my training was incomplete.
“My bubble has risen a thousand dreams,” he said gently. “If you believe you are unprepared, you may refrain from the final lesson.”
That wasn’t an option and I told him so. Without further discussion, he swept me onto that small craft and the journey the Judge had fled. We were well out to sea, headed where sea and dreams meet the molten silver sky.
A tempestuous wind rose quickly. Mountainous waves crashed over the deck and sent our craft plunging. I hung on.
“It’s the bursting storm,” Gorlet shouted against the howling wind. The dream sky flickered, went black, then flashed and brightened again.
“When the doorway cracks open—” he started to say, but before he could finish, we were bathed in an impossible blazing light. The current carried us forward. I leaned behind Gorlet’s shadow to shade my eyes. The sea before us was draining through a glowing gateway.
“Depart now,” Gorlet yelled and pushed me into the sea. “Find safety in your own dream or you’ll burst in mine.” He paddled toward the light.
Suddenly in my own formless dream, I reached out to Gorlet’s churning sea. He saw me return and waved me back just before vanishing through the glaring gateway. I splashed, tasted salt, and struggled to stay in the Navigator’s dream, now a half dream as he began to wake.
The scene changed. A narrow crack blinked at balls of light hovering overhead. The sea was gone. Gorlet’s bubble was gone. Undecipherable, soft sounds filled my new ears, pungent odors stung my nose, and I felt myself lifted by large warm hands.
“They welcome me,” Gorlet said, sharing his fading dream. “I don’t understand … but I feel I’m part of them.” The edges of the hovering lights softened and melted. I found myself alone in my own dream.
Dear students, I preserved this dream to share it with you now. The walls of my bubble grow thin, and soon you may witness my own bursting. Our predecessors speculated that there was life after bursting. Embracing that concept compels us to reconsider the purpose of our dreams.
May your bubble rise, and in the fullness of time, burst in glory on the surface of heaven.