First edition; Chapters 1 – 10.
Chapter 1: Dreams & Sand
It was time to play, open their enormous playground, their universe, where anything could happen.
The girl bit into the soft flesh of the fruit she had stumbled upon along the way. The tree it had come from was gnarled and worn, leaves brown and sporadic. She wasn’t sure what the fruit was, the crass green surface and thick skin foreign to her, but, she needed to eat. She had been in this place for two days, determined only by the rising of the hot sun and the freezing nights she had so far endured. The girl loathed the idea of touching anything around her, only fear of starvation causing her to even approach the unknown fruit, seemingly left there for her, as it had been the only one. Dust settled in her lungs as the dark breeze came hard across the deserted plain. She had screamed herself speechless, had prayed to her gods to forgive her for her transgressions, whatever it was she had done in her memory of existence, to justify her being sent here.
The fruit was not bad and she named it ektok in her native tongue meaning ‘sweet’. She sucked on the juice it gave thirstily, her only source of liquid since she had been there. How she longed for the clear waters of the fountains surrounding her home, she had hardly acknowledged them before but now it was as if she could see every detail of the sculpted pieces her mother and father had lovingly watched over, as they were made and mounted around them. She felt a pang. Mother. Father. Home. Where was she?
Hoofbeats. The sound came as a surprise to ears that had heard nothing but wind and the rustle of sand against her dress until then. It came swiftly and was something like music to one who had been long alone. One who was generally accustomed to having people laugh and talk and surround her. She looked quickly down at herself. She still wore the shimmering gown that had been carefully selected for her. It was rose pink and trimmed with white satin. It had not occurred to her while there that she should try to shorten the garment for more comfort, or remove her matching pink dancing shoes for that matter. She had ignored the fact that with each step the small heels of her shoes sank her into the sand, making her trek unnecessarily difficult. No, even in such conditions, she would always be a lady. It was the way she had been raised and she would have it no other way. Though a bit dirty, she was glad now that she was well-dressed, her father always said one never knew who one might encounter on one’s travels.
As the sound became louder, she threw the pit of the fruit away and looked to the east where it came from. Nothing at first, at first there was nothing but more dust, a billowing cloud that took away from the sound’s entrance, as she had to cover her eyes with her hands. It came closer and no longer did she stay blinded to it, but waved her arms in a frantic fashion, opened her mouth, though no sound came and hoped that the source of the disturbance would notice her, see her from beyond the sandy fog. That whatever it was would save her from this wretched place.
In what seemed like moments, it was beside her and she saw it completely. An animal she had never seen and did not recognize, with rider astride. He was dressed completely in black, from his head shrouded in dark cloths hiding his face, to his large buckled boots. She was alarmed at the appearance, but could not resist her pending smile. She would be rescued from this dreary place, where surely no one could survive. The rider halted the beast, letting the dust settle as she came closer and she fought the urge to reprimand him for his total disrespect before her.
When she was close enough, she made motions to curtsey. In a liquid motion, the rider drew a sword from its place by his side and brought it down upon her head. Her smile froze in place, eyes widening at her fate.
“Gilean, do not tell me you are not finished dressing yet.” The girl’s eyes snapped open. In her hand she held her ivory hairbrush. She touched the top of her head and looked around her. She was sitting in her room, its pink and white interior matching her dress, a dress she realised, showed no signs of sand or grime. She touched it cautiously, wondering at her own reality. She could see her sister Camille, angry with her as always. Screaming at her to prepare and warning that she would make them both late for father’s ceremony. She could hear her sister’s words, but they bounced and reverberated and she could not take them in.
She tasted the inside of her mouth, touched her face searching for traces of what she had just endured.
“Are you not listening to me Gilean, why are you . . . ?” The look on her face caused her sister to pause. Anger replaced by panic, as Gilean burst into tortured tears. Camille came closer, holding her younger sibling close to her bosom. “What is the matter child? Who has done you wrong?”
Gilean, thinking, believing that she still could not speak, opened her mouth to form the words.
“In another place, I have died this day.”
Jack took in the naked form of the sleeping woman next to him. She was so beautiful, hand tangled in her chestnut-coloured hair as she dreamt peacefully. His heart filled with tenderness as he watched her. Saw her ample breast heave up and down with each breath she took. He reached out to touch her, letting his hand stroke the soft skin of her face. Withdrew. He would never be able to sleep with her in his bed. His hand went from her face, to her arm and he shook her gently.
“Darling, you’ve got to get up.” He always called them darling, never took enough time to learn their names. She didn’t stir and he sighed, he always hated this part of the exchange. He moved close to her, speaking into her ear.
“Come on lass, time to get up.” He shook her harder and this time she moved, snuggling deeper into the comforts of the bed before she opened her eyes. She smiled when she did, brown doe eyes looking mischievously at him. He smiled back at her, moving again to his own place at the bed’s edge, glad that she would soon be gone.
“What is it, haven’t had enough?” She made motions to touch him and he pulled deftly away from her.
“No darling, I need you to leave,” She sat up a bit, smile still in place. He cringed.
“Oh Jack, you want to play hard to get now is it? Well a bit too late for that because . . .” She got to her knees in a graceful motion and pressed her body against his. For a moment he said nothing, did nothing. Could just feel her curves melting into his sturdy frame. One thought consuming him. How was it that they never seemed to forget his name? The woman ran her hands through his thick black hair and he pulled away. Getting up he walked away from her and moved over to one of his bare windows. There he had a view of the gardens of his estate, high in the Hollywood hills. From his room’s other window, his gaze would rest upon the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park and he hated the idea of hiding any of this entrancing scenery with drapes or shutters.
“Oh my God, you’re serious aren’t you?” He didn’t look at her, but nodded. “It’s not even morning yet,” her voice sounded weak, reduced to a whine almost and he felt something like pity for her. Jack turned and gave her the smile that melted them time and time again.
“I can call you a cab if you like.” Her mouth opened in disbelief, then came the tirade he had been expecting. Women could sure find every insult in the book when they were hurt. He had long since turned away from her as she ranted and raved while struggling into her clothing. He loved to look out onto his well kept gardens, even now when they were dimly lit. It was like a peaceful haven in the midst of the circus life he lived daily. Jack heard the woman retreat to the bathroom, still carrying on as if he had done her the worst of wrongs. Her voice seemed very far away.
“We will not stand for this, the Gor say no!” Cold. It was so cold. Jack looked around him. He was in a room full of men. Angry men from what he could see. There was lots of pounding of fists on oak tables and raised voices. The men were large in stature and Jack, even at his six foot two frame, was dwarfed amongst them. He supposed he was dreaming, yet couldn’t remember having gone back to bed. A sickening thought hit him. What if the girl had drugged him, he didn’t know her after all, she could be psychotic. I don’t remember drinking anything and she . . .
“Who is this stranger among us?” In his reverie he had not realised that all eyes had turned on him. He’d initially thought it was one of those dreams where he was just looking on. Apparently, he was a part of it. The steely gazes of the men centered on him and a sort of divide was formed on either side of him, exposing Jack to the man who had spoken. “Bring him to me.” The man gestured to two others, each burlier than the last and silently Jack hoped he wasn’t about to experience a near death dream. He had heard about them, but had never had one. He also knew there was a first time for everything.
The two came towards him, the small path widening as the gathering made more room to let them through. The whole thing felt so real, that in spite of himself and his previous worry, he began to enjoy the dream. He always loved when he dreamt with such realism, he had done it a few times before and always woke up just as he was sure something really good was about to happen.
The man who had called him forward was tall, dark and menacing, as the cliché went, seeming to tower even more so above them all as he stood on a raised platform. His dark eyes however, were kind and Jack relaxed. The men deposited him and forced him to his knees on the wooden floor before their leader. The man looked at Jack hard before speaking, then came a host of booming questions.
“Who are you? Where do you come from? That garment you wear, does it protect you from the cold somehow?” He said this pointing to Jack’s boxers and Jack, as if remembering for the first time his aversion to the cold when he had first entered the dream, wrapped his arms around him, shivering violently.
“No, doesn’t do me much good,” he said, teeth chattering as his mind continued to catch up with the torturous cold he was feeling. The leader made another gesture to one of the men standing next to him and soon after his subordinate removed his own cloak without protest. It was made of animal skins and fur, the attire of all who were present. He was warmly dressed underneath and approached Jack, throwing it over him, allowing him to feel the warmth of another body as it settled on his shoulders.
“. . . such a prick. I hope you never get it up again you bastard.” Jack was standing at his window. His eyes focused on some disturbed birds as they took flight from the trees that shrouded his home from the road below. Feeling his shoulders, he realised that they were bare. The door slammed and he supposed the girl had finally taken her leave. It was just as well, he felt an overwhelming fatigue come over him and decided to go back to bed for the few hours before morning officially came. He settled himself under his duvet and thought the thought he had been avoiding. He was getting accustomed to these dreams, especially as he’d been having them for the last few months. Vivid dreams he usually had when he was in a deep sleep he supposed, but this time was different. Something told him he had never moved away from his window yet, he had been captured by sleep. How else could he dream?
He drifted, the thought worrying him a bit. Worrying him because it raised the question he hated to ask himself. Was he now falling asleep involuntarily and without prompting? He was a major movie star, he couldn’t have these things happening to him while he was on set or during an interview. No. He had to make it right. He’d see his doctor in the morning.
“Maybe you should see a psychiatrist instead Mr. Martin, you’ve a clean bill of health from this end.” Jack was sitting comfortably in one of Dr. Marianne Littlewood’s leather office chairs. He listened as she continued, wondering what it’d be like to take her on the carpeted floor. “I can recommend an excellent doctor to you, but if there’s nothing else,” she looked at him expectantly and he got the point. It was always amusing to Jack when women tried not to be lured by his charm. He couldn’t pass up the challenge.
“No, that’ll be fine Marianne, I mean, Doctor,” he looked at her intently, dark green eyes seductively tempting her as he took her hand to shake it. He saw her blush before it officially spread across her cheeks and watched as she touched her neck with her free hand.
“F-Fine, I’ll have my secretary set up a new appointment if your symptoms, persist,” she said a little breathlessly. Jack dropped her hand and walked to the office door,
“Okay doc, bye.” It was always such a bore when he’d won them over. He gave her an absentminded over the shoulder wave as he exited her office. There were still too many hours in the day before he could take Dr. Marianne to his bed. He’d have to take her to lunch, dinner and a show if he did. Too bad, had they met in a club, nearer the end, he would have gladly lost himself in that soft milky skin, those luscious lips. He almost turned on his heels to return, when his cell phone rang. He hated the thing, yet loved the way it always made one look important even when there was nothing to say.
“Maid service,” he answered heartily, the voice on the other end was less than impressed.
“You’re late for the fitting and Claudia doesn’t wait for anyone.” It was Eleanor Hutchinson, his manager and publicist. Jack adored the woman, even though she nagged him mercilessly when she was up for the task.
“Lee, how are you my lovely lass?” He could almost hear her seething on the other end. Besides completely disregarding what she’d said, he had used the nickname she loathed, a derivative of another she couldn’t stand and was only used by her family — ‘Elee’.
“This is serious Jack, if you don’t have a suit, you’ll be . . .”
‘I’ll be what dearie?” he asked cutting her off. He was on the street now and as usual was being ogled as people recognized who he was. He hated bodyguards and was glad he was in an upscale neighbourhood where residents would think it was crass to rush him. That didn’t stop the camera phones from whipping out though. Eleanor was a little more than screaming at him now.
“She won’t wait for anyone Jack, you know how these designers are. Yes, it’s Claudia but you shouldn’t . . .” he cut her off again.
“She’ll wait for me. Bye love,” he dismissed her cheerily and closed the flip of his phone. His usual driver Simon was waiting patiently at the open door of the limousine that had been called for him and passing the stocky man, Jack patted his shoulder good-naturedly. He slid contentedly onto the brown leather, remembering the doctor as he did. Jack’s thoughts turned to Eleanor and he smiled thinking of the fact that she would admonish him the minute she saw him. He gave her hell, but in truth she was the best representation he had ever had. She forgot nothing, paid careful attention to detail and took no slack from anyone. It was because of her that his career had so skyrocketed, landing him some of the biggest movie deals in the last six years. Each one had been a rousing success, making him one of the most sought after male movie stars in the industry. Eleanor was to him, indispensable, yet he could not resist being a pain to her. It was just his way.
He was slated to attend the premiere of his latest movie Deep End that night, but the excitement was lost on him at the moment. It always was until seconds before he stepped onto the red carpet, then the euphoria came flooding to him. The flash of the cameras, the screaming fans, it all culminated to make him feel as if he was nothing less than a god. It was a good feeling, one that would make him take at least three of them back to his hotel room to celebrate, well, him. Yes, three little darlings who’d show him just how much they loved his work.
Jack reached for his jacket and shrugged into it when he saw that they were nearing Claudia’s store. The reason he knew the designer would wait for him, was because the two had a special kind of relationship. It was one of the reasons he never hesitated to wear her creations on the carpet. They had an agreement, one made long before either of them were stars in their own right. His memories faded to that time and in the moments of warm feeling that swept over him, he thought of having his driver pick up something for the woman before they arrived. He remembered her love of candy.
Jack made motions to open the partition that separated him and Simon, then sat quickly back, his mind switching to the probability of the three unknown prospects instead. He pushed Claudia to the back of his mind, another night maybe. Tonight was a time for celebration, not past, not regrets.
“Do you know the way?” The accent was strange, but pleasant and Jack looked down to where the sound had come from, coupled with a persistent tugging on his leather jacket. Looking up at him was a small boy of about seven, with wavy ginger hair and the biggest, darkest eyes he had ever seen. They seemed to pull him in and he whipped his head away as of to avoid their power. Jack looked around him. Thousands of orchids surrounded him, replacing the interior of the car he had just moments before been riding in.
“No, no, no!” He shouted, causing the boy to shrink back a little ways from him. He was dreaming again. Sleeping, when only moments ago he had been thinking about how he would take the women he chose that night. How they would pleasure him. He spun round and looked at the boy again. The child stood at a safe distance, obviously bewildered as he stared back at the man before him. Jack noticed the boy’s clothes next. The tunic and shorts were of finest blue silk and his shoes of were heavy blue velvet. A golden ring set with a large diamond sat on his right forefinger, an ornament that weighed the boy’s hand down and on his other hand was a yellow gold bracelet, engraved with script Jack did not understand. Jack thought they were both weirdly mature for one so young, but it was his dream and he might as well accept it. Accept it and enjoy it.
He revisited the boy’s earlier question, relishing the various roles he got to play whenever he entered these dreams. It was like acting, where he was the director, nothing was set in stone and anything could happen. He was developing a love/hate relationship with his newfound dream state and if he was honest, the former often outweighing the latter.
Jack knelt before the boy, his tone reassuring, “Do I know the way to where lad?” The child gazed at him and again Jack had to avert his gaze. He had never experienced anything like it, this intense feeling of falling into nothingness.
“The way to the end of the orchid maze.” The boy said nothing else and turned away from Jack, indicating that he should follow with a wave of his jeweled hand.
“Might as well,” Jack muttered to himself. He watched the boy’s footsteps as they went from corner to corner, end to end. Yet there seemed to be no relief from the overpowering scent and endless flower prison that kept them there. Jack was becoming restless. Dream or not, he did not have the fortitude of a boy that age to keep searching. He had just about made up his mind that he would take a rest, when they came to a fork in the path. The boy, who had said nothing else to Jack since they’d started on their quest, spoke,
“This way.” He turned to the right and Jack decided to follow, thinking that maybe the child had remembered the route they should take somehow. Almost as soon as he had done this though, Jack felt something move violently in his stomach, something that wormed its way around and overtook his senses. It came so harshly, so unexpectedly, that he could not dispute its origins. This happened to him at times, a feeling that could be likened to stomach butterflies amplified a million times over. It had kept him out of trouble many times before and in this case, he just knew the boy was wrong.
“No lad, come on, it’s this way.” Jack turned in the opposite direction to the one proposed and realised that with the same immediacy that it had come, the discomfort in his stomach ceased. He looked over his shoulder, ensuring he was being followed. The boy looked at him for a moment, his eyes betraying nothing as he trailed Jack cautiously, following his steps which now moved purposefully through the maze.
Jack was elated. Finally the dream had given power over to him. It was he who was in charge now, so wherever he wanted the orchids to stop, they would. Yes, that’s it. How wonderful, he thought to himself. Not only did he have amazingly lifelike dreams, but he could also control them at will. He would have to talk to Spielberg about this, it sounded like an excellent movie idea.
They neared what Jack knew to be the end and he almost skipped a bit as they did. “Ah lad, we’re here.”
“Gideon, Gideon? Where are you?” A high-pitched voice called, obviously annoyed and with the same melodious accent as the boy’s. Jack felt the small body push past him and looked curiously to where the sound had come from. The boy — Gideon, ran to a girl not yet twenty calling to him. Her face contorted with fake anger as he approached.
“I told you not to run into the garden without a companion.” Gideon stopped her, pointing to the place Jack stood. Jack stared at her, identical dark eyes making it obvious that the two were related, gazing questioningly back at him. She was the most exquisite creature he had ever seen. Rich ginger curls, so big they were like an expanse of waves cascading past her shoulders and though he could not see, he was sure they extended way past her back. She wore a dress of palest pink, bodice in corset style that reminded Jack of the Victorian-era. The skirt was long and full and her feet lay hidden beneath pink and yellow folds of thin lace that trimmed its bottom.
“Gideon, run and call for Camille, quickly,” the boy ran off, obeying his sister. When he had gone, she asserted herself.
“Who are you? Though I suppose I am in your debt for finding my brother. I was meant to look after him, but, other, things arose.” Jack almost laughed. Her airs of importance amused him and he wondered which woman in his life she was meant to represent in this dream. He could think of none. Looking into those dark eyes, intrigue settled upon him.
“Jack Martin at your service, I’m . . .”
“Mr. Martin, shall we drive directly to Miss Claudia’s, or will we be going elsewhere first sir?” Jack heard Simon’s voice plucking him out of his sleep. He was annoyed and let it show. “Home,” he snapped.
“So shall I call Miss Eleanor and let her know sir? She will be expecting you at three.”
“I said home Simon. Take me home.” Seldom did things upset Jack and the driver, noting his employer’s disposition, pressed him no further. The more Jack thought about it, the angrier he became. It wasn’t that he had unknowingly fallen asleep, it wasn’t the fear of it happening tonight at the premiere, those were things he could fret about later. It was the fact that he had left the girl, left that beautiful vision, right before he could know her name. Left her in the orchid garden, where he was sure he would have been able to take her.
Slowly she wandered through the heavy sand, no recollection of a before, no idea of a final destination and no memories except for the past three days, where she had done nothing but walk in the desolate place of sand dunes and valleys.
The sun baked her light caramel skin, freckles spawning by the hundreds. In the first days, she’d found some amusement counting the ones on her arms, but now, this occupation grew tiresome and she had taken to watching her feet instead. The way they sank in a bit and how the sand tried to swallow them before they moved forward again. As she moved onward, ever onward, purposefully, as if there was an invisible path she unconsciously followed.
She fiddled with her hair, tried to run her slim fingers through it . . . impossible. The wind, sand and sun’s unrelenting attacks on it, had not only turned it golden, but also worked her tight curls into a series of knots. She sighed, giving up this seemingly hopeless task and instead touched the burns the sun continuously caused on her practically naked body, clad only in a transparent dress that fell to her upper thighs. The burns seemed to disappear as soon as they appeared, leaving no scars and inflicting no pain. The healing occupied her mind for a while as she walked on through the scorching sand, but this was not nearly as interesting as watching her feet.
Zoe, a name, a description. Somehow she recognized that as the word that named the being that she was, though she had no recollection of what had branded her with this, or what was, before she arrived there. Here? She knew nothing about where this ‘here’ was, or if there was anything else or more than what she had seen thus far. For her, it was merely sand never-ending, sun unrelenting and wind, picking up the sand and whipping it against her skin.
Her thoughts flowed constantly and chaotically through her, thoughts of things to come, things that had been, premonitions and memories, though she had no grasp of their meaning and she knew nothing of her past or her purpose. It was only clear to her that she did indeed havea purpose and that she must continue walking, that it was essential that she always kept moving.
The vessel that harboured her being, the body, slim, borne by long athletic legs, arms, perfectly defined, curves now nothing but a faint dream, was pleasing to her. Yet she seemed to be developing and changing, always changing. She was three days old and yet she had the appearance of one who was on the brink of adulthood.
These changes fascinated her. At first she’d believed them to be conjured by her own vivid imagination, but touching herself and feeling the buds beneath her dress growing bigger and that her hips had expanded slightly, she’d been left no other possible explanation. Her vessel was undergoing metamorphosis, just as her mental state appeared to be.
The continuous and erratic thoughts bursting through her left behind traces. She was still unable to grasp the full meaning and implications of her thoughts, but the fragments were manifesting themselves, fragments that slowly but surely would connect, forming structures and a sense of meaning. So she walked, resolute in the fact that though still unknown, her purpose would eventually become clear.