Dwelling in Sleep, Part One

Here is the “long short story” I mentioned. This is part one, and I should be getting part two on here soon.

 

I awoke, my eyes expecting darkness but finding none. Surprised, I looked at my clock. It read eight forty-five.
This was over an hour and a half later than when I normally woke up. I tried to think about the previous night, trying to remember if I had stayed up particularly late.
I had read, drank a cup of tea, and fallen asleep around ten o’clock, somewhat early for me. I started to get out of bed, but stopped when I realized what I was hearing.
Nothing.
No sounds as evidence that my two friends who shared the house with me were awake. We had originally bought the house together when we aspired to make a business selling musical instruments together. Unfortunately, that business plan fell apart, though all of us found separate jobs and continued living together. We hoped to one day continue the plan, once we all had enough money built up to start the shop.
One of the friends lived on the same floor as me, the second, and the other lived on the ground floor. In addition to those two levels, we had a cellar and an attic, neither of which we used very often.
The house itself was an old farmhouse, built sometime in the eighteenth century. It was quite large, yet still seemed cozy. It almost seemed as if the walls were thicker than they should be, crowding the insides of the house together.
It was tucked away in the woods, connected to other civilization only by an ill-maintained dirt road.
But we liked it that way, getting water not from a tap, but from a well and heat not from gas but from three wood stoves in various places around the house, in addition to one in the kitchen for our cooking.
We hadn’t been told much about the house. It had stood empty for close to sixty years, and all information about the owners before then had been lost in the war.
I put on my slippers and opened my door carefully, making sure not to wake anyone.
I had barely stepped out of my room when I heard a door open and close, and a sleepy-eyed Samuel appear.
He hadn’t seen me and was talking quietly to himself.
“All this sleeping-in. It will be hard to get the day started.”
He was rubbing his eye when he noticed me.
“Hi Andrew,” he said, sloppily retaining a yawn. “I don’t know why I slept in today. What time did you get up?”
“I actually just woke up,” I started, but was interrupted by the sound of someone coming up the stairs.
Isaac broke into our conversation.
“Why didn’t you guys wake me up? I have work to do this morning!”
“Both of us woke up just now as well,” I said. “Odd, all of us waking up at the same time, and quite late as well.”
“Problematic, for me, anyway. I’m going to get to work soon. I’ll get something to eat later, probably.”
He walked back down the stairs, then presumably into his study on the ground level. We had all chosen a room that we wanted to have to work in. Isaac and Samuel had theirs on the first floor while mine was upstairs. I had chosen a room with a fireplace. I rarely used it, but loved the atmosphere it gave the room. An ancient smokiness pervaded everything in there.
Samuel and I looked at each other and headed down the stairs.
Every stair creaked in the wooden spiral stairway. Several additions had been made to the farmhouse but the staircase was part of the original structure. It smelled musty. reminiscent of old books.
I went to start one of the wood stoves, and Samuel went to the kitchen. As I sat staring at the flames eat away slowly at the wood, I heard Samuel start cooking.
While all of us were able to cook, Samuel enjoyed doing so the most and made the majority of the meals.
I continued sitting in front of the fire, bringing warmth into my fingers and toes. After a few minutes, Samuel came into the room with two plates, each holding some diced potatoes and an egg. He handed one to me and sat down next to me, facing the fire. We ate in silence, entranced by the flames.
After we finished eating, I took our plates into the kitchen. I pumped the water into the sink and washed the dishes with with a cloth and a small amount of soap. When I sent back into the room with he wood stove, Samuel had gotten a few pillows and a book. He lounged in front of the fire, reading intently.
I went upstairs to my study. I had three floor-to-ceiling bookcases, all overfilled. I also had several stacks of books piled on the floor. I had been hoping to get another bookcase to clear up some space.
I located a book I had been reading and headed back downstairs after getting a few pillows from my room.
I propped myself up against the pillows and started reading.
I loved books. My room smelt of old books, for I kept my most treasured ones in my room, filling and overfilling another two bookcases.
After reading for a while, I looked at a nearby clock, a grandfather clock that had been in the house when we moved in. It was close to eleven.
I closed my book and got up. Samuel, interrupted from his reading, looked up questioningly.
“Work,” was all I said.
He nodded slightly and went back to his book.
A moment before I started up the stairs, Isaac burst into the room.
“I finished it!” he proclaimed, holding up a small bronze object.
He had been working on a small machine that would purify the water from a few particles that often made their way through. Once he had finished designing something, he would make several more and sell them.
He went into the kitchen and affixed the mechanism to the spout of the water pump.
After setting his book aside and getting up, Samuel joined me in going to the kitchen.
Isaac had taken out a cup and was pumping water into it. In a moment he held the cup out for us to see.
“Look at that. Not even the smallest black bit in there.”
He took a drink and winked. “It tastes better too.”
“Will it work for those with the town water?”
“Of course. I should be able to sell plenty of these,” he said triumphantly.
Samuel stayed talking to Isaac while I went upstairs and to my study.
I worked as a writer and editor. Some of my work went into magazines, some I published. The book that I was currently working on was about rural living.
We three each pulled in our share for paying for the house and food, me with my writing and Isaac with selling his devices. Neither he nor I, however, knew how Samuel got the money.
He was somewhat different than either of us. Quiet, but still friendly. But he rarely talked about himself or what he did. And we didn’t think it would be proper to question him about it.
Most of his days he spent reading and cooking. Occasionally he would go into his study briefly, but it was usually just to get a new book or write a letter.
None of us got mail regularly, but for Samuel it was even more rare.
He did, however, sometimes leave the house for up to three days. When he returned, he would just go back to life as usual, not even seeming to realize he had been gone.
But at the end of each month, he handed in his money, and that was enough for Isaac and myself.
I had almost finished writing a chapter when I heard a bell ring downstairs, signalling that it was time for lunch. I finished writing the sentence I was working on, closed the book, and set my pen aside.
I went downstairs and was greeted by a table loaded with roasted potatoes, peas, and gravy. Isaac was already sitting and Samuel was just pulling out his chair to sit down.
I made my way to the table and served myself a plate. Isaac was busy telling us, in between mouthfuls, of the numerous features of the purifier.
Samuel continued eating, mostly in silence, looking up occasionally at Isaac and smiling or responding so something Isaac had said about the device.
But the rest of the time he looked as though he was thinking intently about something.
After the meal, Isaac and I cleared the dishes while Samuel went into his study.
He was still in there when we had finished the dishes.
“I wonder what he’s up to,” said Isaac. “He has seemed even more preoccupied today than usual.”
I nodded in agreement, then went back upstairs to work on my book.
I wrote for most of the afternoon.
I finished that chapter and three more before I glanced up from my paper.
It was four o’clock, and the sunlight coming in form the window had already started fading slightly.
I set down my pen and started downstairs. It was my turn to chop wood for the stove.
Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I noticed that, while the pillows were still there, Samuel was gone.
I heard someone in the kitchen, and went towards there, thinking Samuel must have started dinner.
When I go there, however, it was Isaac cooking, not Samuel.
“Where’s Samuel?” I asked.
“He left about an hour ago. He didn’t say anything about where he was going. He just finished his book, then left in a hurry. Actually, I think he left the book where he had it.”
I started back out into the living room as he added, “Are you going out to chop wood? Dinner should be ready in half an hour or so.”
Initially when I looked at the pillows, I saw no book.
After turning over a pillow, though, I found it.
It looked ancient, a thick leather bound tome.
I picked it up, but almost dropped it when the weight surprised me. It seemed to weigh at least ten pounds.
It had no title, or at least none that I could see. It did, however, have a few scratches in the leather that could have been an archaic language.
I tried opening it, but it didn’t budge. I looked at its side and noticed a small latch, I lifted it, then tried opening the book again. It opened with a creak, releasing a cloud of dust. A silverfish scuttled away, out of the pages.
I gasped slightly, then knelt and picked it up by its tail.
I looked around desperately. I found an empty jar sitting on a coffee table nearby. I put the silverfish in and closed the lid.
“I’ll put you outside when I go out,” I said, as my focus turned back to the book.
When I had set it down, the book had opened to the middle. On the left page was an ornate circle. In the centre was what looked like a tree, the branches reaching out towards, but not touching, the sides of the main circle, though a circle did go around the tree itself. Next were a circle of scratch marks similar to those on the cover of the book. Further out from the centre, there were two entwining snakes around the entire thing. This was the last thing in the circle, but it was surrounded by short thick lines, making it almost look like an ornately carved cog.
The right page was entirely covered with the scratch marks. There were no empty spaces, no margin.
I flipped to another page and found it similar, the left page with another ornate drawing and the right completely covered in the markings.
The musty smell oozing from the book was overpowering. My vision began to blur. I felt myself becoming sleepy, my eyes starting to droop and close. Somehow I managed to shut the book, and instantly the fog filling my mind was gone. I shook my head and grabbed the jar holding the silverfish.
I went to the mudroom, which was on the opposite side of the house. I put on my leather boots, a coat, and a thick woolen scarf I wrapped over the entire lower half of my face. It was October, and quite cold outside. I stepped outside and released the silverfish onto the leaves covering the primarily dead grass.
I set the glass jar down on one of the stone steps leading to the mudroom and headed out towards the shed.
We had been told that the shed was the same age as the house, constructed by the same man, and it certainly appeared so. The shed could very well have been another room in the house, it looked so similar.
The axe was leaning against the wall just inside the door, so I took it and went towards a small addition to the shed that held wood. This had been built by some later owners of the house. The only way they knew that, not having the records, was a date scorched into one of the supporting posts: 1879.
Still a while before the war, I thought.
I took a few large pieces of wood and put one of them on the chopping block sitting a few feet away.
I chopped it into four smaller pieces, then did the same with the other two logs. I set the axe back inside the shed once I was done then gathered up the wood in my arms and headed back towards the house. On my way inside, I carefully shifted the wood towards one arm so the other was free to pick up the jar. I put the jar on the top of the stack and opened the door.
Scents of the almost-done dinner greeted me as I gently set the pile of wood down and straightened it.
I took a piece of wood and the jar into the kitchen. I put the jar in the sink to wash later and looked at the wood stove. The fire was starting to die down. I began to put the wood in, but Isaac yelled from a distant room.
“Don’t bother putting any more wood in – dinner is done. I was just keeping it warm.”
I set the wood on the counter and carried a pot out to the table, which was already set.
Isaac emerged out of his study.
“Thanks for bringing it out. I was making a few adjustments to the purifier. I noticed today that if the water pressure is high, some particles get through. I think I’ve fixed it now though,” he said, affixing it to the spout once more.
I sat at the table and started ladling out some of the corn chowder in the pot.
“I hope Samuel gets back soon. I don’t like it when he is gone overnight like that,” I said.
“I doubt it. But I’m sure he will be fine. He always is.”
Isaac started eating, and, sensing an end to the conversation, so did I.
When we had finished, I cleared the tabled and washed the dishes, deep in thought. I was even more concerned about Samuel than I usually was.
Before I had yet finished the dishes, I heard a cello in the living room.
I paused for a moment, listening. But Isaac was just tuning it, so I finished washing the dishes before going into the living room.
He had started playing Bach’s first cello suite, one of my favorites.
I sat down and closed my eyes, entranced by the music.
Once he had finished playing, I went into my room and retrieved my guitar. I returned downstairs. Isaac was waiting patiently for me.
I began a complex, flowing finger picked piece I had been working on. It started out slow and quiet, but gradually picked up tempo, soon involving all four fingers of my chord hand, moving lightly up and down the strings. I bent my head forward, swaying slightly with the rhythm. After the final arpeggio, I let go of the strings and took a deep breath. I realized with a shock that I had been holding my breath during the final part.
“Wow. You’ve certainly mastered that one,” Isaac said.
“Thanks,” I replied. “You sounded good too.”
He gave his thanks and started on a deep piece, slow yet constantly moving.
We continued going back and forth, playing music on various instruments late into the night. Still Samuel didn’t come back. Once the clock struck eleven, I decided I would go to bed. I finished on my mandolin and looked at Isaac.
“I’m tired. I’ll be going to bed now.”
He rubbed the corner of his eye. “I’m pretty tired too. Goodnight, Andrew.”
I gathered my scattered instruments and walked tiredly up the stairs.
I put the instruments away, put on some pyjamas, and fell into bed heavily. I reached over and turned off the light.
Darkness flooded the room instantly. I closed my eyes resolutely and drifted to sleep quickly.
I had odd dreams that night. Mostly my remembrance of the dreams was splotchy, only remembering a few scenes.
Even in the parts I couldn’t remember, however, there was a feeling of dread.
But the dream that stood out most to me was one in shich I stood in a dark field. But I wasn’t alone. I could see someone in the distance. I tried to go towards him, but no matter how long I walked, I got no closer to him. It even seemed I was getting farther away.
But the next second, I was standing right next to him. It was Samuel. I wasn’t sure if it was I that had moved closer to him, or him to me.
But he wasn’t looking at me. He looked distraught and was gazing into the distance. Then, without so much as looking at me, he started striding through the field in the direction he had been looking. Then he turned suddenly and looked at me.
“Wake up,” he said.
I woke, and took a deep breath.
Where is he? I mused, then glanced at the clock.
It read eleven-thirty.

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