There was a storm last night that woke me in the early hours. Bright shards of light stabbing across the sky, backlighting the heavy clouds. Thunder grumbled and crashed around the mountains seeking an exit to the plains below. I am still deep within the recurring dream, still watching the group surrounding the ancient oak as they gazed into its branches. To one side there is a fire and the smoke from the fire swirls around the group. Wreathed in the smoke their chant has an air of command and supplication, demanding and pleading me to approach the fire. I find these demands difficult to resist but resist I do. The man stands on one side of the fire and I stand on the other as the storm continues its journey. In my dream the man is more real than the storm.
I met him on the stairs. I’m surprised; it is the first time he has appeared in my home.
Let me explain. The first time I saw him I was in the mountain rescue in North Wales. We had had a report of a group who hadn't returned to their hotel. We took note of the route they had posted in their hotel and set out to find them. We decided that the most likely place to start was in the foothills around Penmaenmawr. The lodestone around there can play havoc with a compass. It was dark when we set out and the weather was deteriorating. In late autumn, as it was then, the clag, or mist if you like, closes in very quickly. It is easy just to step off into nowhere and find yourself sixty foot below with a broken leg or worse.
There was a slight breeze causing the mist to swirl around giving a spectral feel in the torch light. The air smelt of autumn with all its damp and decay. We blew whistles every minute. In the gaps, the silence immediately closed in. The kind you find in a house when people are waiting for someone to die.
During one of these silences I caught my first glimpse of him. He was dressed like one of those people who re-enact old battles of the Bronze Age. The thick padded jacket and homespun trousers tied around with string at the waist, knees and ankles, shoes made from animal skin, thick bracelets on both wrists. I thought I was having a hallucination because he stood there without moving, he appeared to be more solid than his surroundings. He was about thirty years of age, with shoulder length hair woven with small beads. As I approached him his eyes seemed to follow me. There was coldness in there and the thin line of his lips hinted he was capable of cruelty and violence. I didn't speak. He just stood there, I walked round him, he never moved, I tried touching him, my hands slid past.
I shouted to attract the rest of the team. Ben stepped out of the mist.
‘What do you think of this’? I said.
Ben is not a big guy but when he appears it seems a pillar of granite has suddenly materialized in front of you. He has a no nonsense approach which makes him a superb leader.
‘Make of what?’ He asked.
Yeah, you have guessed it, the man had disappeared. I swore profusely and tried to explain to Ben, but it was no use. I already had a reputation for telling tall stories, and believing in the old deities. There was no way he was going to believe me. He looked at me with something like contempt in his eyes,
‘We are out here to try and save lives, not waste time with your juvenile stories. We've had a call to say the group has turned up at their hotel. Get back to the truck now!’
Needless to say the whole thing became a big joke every time the team went out for a drink. I left the mountain rescue three weeks later.
The next time I saw him was when I had been posted to Tengah. With some friends I went into Singapore town and started sampling the local beer which was far more potent than we had reckoned. Much later, and considerably less sober, we decided to make our way back to Tengah. Hailing a passing taxi, we were negotiating the fare when a second taxi pulled up and kept offering cheaper prices than the first. We finally accepted a ride for ten dollars which was ridiculously cheap. However as we approached the end of our journey, the driver demanded much more. We told him that he had no chance of getting more than we had agreed. He pulled up outside a police station and started screaming that he was being robbed. Panicking and tumbling out of the taxi we ran down the street howling with drunken laughter.
Running off in different directions we soon lost contact with each other. I found myself in a blind alley and it was dark, very dark like the inside of a witch’s hat. I was already slowing down when the figure appeared right in front of me and I thought I was going to run straight into him. The air seemed to twist and I fell heavily onto my knees. He just stood there, giving off a faint luminous glow and staring straight ahead. I went from drunken giggling to stone cold sober in the space of one breath. As I stood up the intense humidity and the smell of sewerage from the nearby monsoon drain hit me. I threw up. A voice called out from the end of the alley
‘Is that you Mervin?’
‘Yeah, I'm coming.’ I shouted.
‘Well hurry up we’ve got a taxi.’ I left the alley without looking back.
I've seen him three times since then. While on holiday in China, once when I was helping to crew a cruise ship in the arctic and then when I was a volunteer in the Amazon valley. He never moves or makes a sound and only appears when I’m on my own. I have no idea why me, or what it means, but this, his first visit to my home troubles me.
My first thought on seeing him was, ‘they have found me.’ Now why would I think that? I wish my grandmother was still alive. Although she never left Ireland she could always explain all the weird stuff that happened to me.
After last night’s events I decide to go for a walk today, it is hot and I seek the cool shade beneath the old oak, the heat making me drowsy.
‘Awaken Sleeper,’ the man’s voice said, ‘there is much to do and you have long resisted the call.’
I am back in the dream. This time I feel the grass under my feet and the heat from the fire on my naked skin, and see the man standing on the other side of the fire.
‘I’m dreaming,’ I say.
‘We know you dream,’ he says, ‘awaken!’
The chanting stops suddenly and everyone stands as if they are preparing to leave.
‘Is he here to stay now?’ One of group asks.
‘Yes,’ he continues, looking at me, ‘but it may be some time before he can rid himself of this dream world, his spirit has lingered there for too long and this future world has captured his spirit. His is reluctant to join us here.’
‘Where?’ I ask, beginning to completely lose it. ‘Where am I? I don’t understand what is happening. What is this place? What do you want from me?’ I look around seeking a way out of this situation.
Coming round the fire he places both hard callused hands on my shoulders and hands me a goblet.
‘Drink the essence of the mistletoe which cures all ills, when you have rested I will explain,’ he says. ‘Exploring the future is dangerous and we were not certain that you would survive this time. You must sleep now Merlin. Tomorrow we begin, you are no longer the Sleeper but you are not yet fully awakened. We must hear what you have found.’
Confused and uncertain I welcome the darkness as it wraps its arms around me like an old friend.