Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dreams and visions of the afterlife

I had a dream last night rich in complexity and detail.  It sounds like the setup for a Brandon Sanderson story.

The dream began with my arrival in a deep, dark cave.  The cave was filled with unearthly sounds - subhuman grunts and wicked laughter.  There was no light, save a distant gap far above.

This was the place I would come to call The Cave.

I spent only a moment in the cave when a massive train, larger by far than any train of my past experience, caught me up and pushed me forward.  One did not board this train, it simply picked people up somehow if they should be on it.  It was as though I was seeing through the front of the train, where the headlights would be if this were an earthly vehicle.  The train surged upward, impossibly defying gravity as it swiftly approached that distant point of light.  As we came close, I saw that the hole was massive, larger still than the enormous vehicle beneath me, of whose size and composition I was remarkably aware.

The train came to the surface, revealing a dry, parched landscape, filled with crags and crevices, though none so large as the hole through which I passed.  There was no desert sand nor fertile soil, only barren rock as far as the eye could see.

The only other thing visible beneath and cloudless sky was the long, sinuous train track, bearing the train along with immeasurable speed.  Thus, within the space of a thought, I found the train coming to rest in a crack in the base of a large hill or mountain.  The crack seemed narrow from the perspective of the train, with barely an inch of clearance on either side.  The top of crack was lost in darkness far above.

The inside of the crack itself was filled with people who bustled about with a great sense of purpose.  Goods had been deposited for the train and people were watching expectantly to see who might emerge.  I separated from the train and was greeted warmly by the dust-covered men who called this crack The Cove.

Among the men, I found an old friend whom I had not seen for many years.  I spotted him quickly as his clothing bore a redder hue than the dirt-brown jackets of those around me.  I realize now that he must have been sent to watch for me, to help me understand my circumstances.

We were all dead.  This was some form of afterlife.  The Spirit Train bore souls and cargo to where they were needed.  The Cave, the central hole from which I first emerged, was a sort of Grand Central Station to which and from which all tracks led.  Every soul entering this world whose name I did not learn during my visit began in The Cave just as I did.  All those with whom I spoke told a story similar to mine of awaking in The Cave and being conveyed out by the Spirit Train.

You could only board the Spirit Train if you were meant to do so.  The religious among the men said that God controlled the train and decided if you needed to be on board.  Call it God or Fate or whatever you would, there was no escaping the beckoning whistle of the Spirit Train for long.

I saw no women in The Cove, but I supposed that people lived deeper in the cracks of the mountain and sent their men to the train platform as needed.  Either that or they were in another Cove of their own.  There were, in fact, many Coves scattered throughout this rocky terrain, each with their own population.  No one explained to me how it was that a fractured tunnel through a hill came to be referred to as a Cove, despite such being a nautical term.

As I talked with my friend and as the dust from the train's passage began to settle, I noticed that the reddish hue was not confined solely to his clothing but rested also on his skin, emanating from everywhere except his eyes.  He explained to me that every soul becomes aligned with a certain element or combination of the elements, generally depending on the disposal of their bodies.  Those cremated, for example, would become aligned with fire.  Those buried in earth would be aligned with earth.  Those buried at sea would be aligned with water.  While those who dwelt in The Cove seemed to know about those aligned with air - both their origin and their existence - they never spoke of them in more than whispers, and certainly not to me.

Some, like my friend, were aligned with multiple elements.  He was of both fire and earth, allowing him to be comfortable in either environment.  The Coves were where those aligned with Earth came to dwell.  I did not learn during my brief visit about my friend's other home, where it might be or how one might come to be there.  My own element or combination had not yet fully manifested.  Such things took time but I was most likely at least partially aligned with earth.

This elemental alignment came with more than a change in the tone of one's skin.  It bore with it both certain powers beyond those of mortal men and certain burdens.  I learned that those aligned with fire, for example, ran the risk of "burning out", causing their bodies to vanish in a puff of smoke and flame.  My conscious mind imagines that this is how they return to their other home amid the flames, though it is apparently quite painful.

This entire conversation, in the way of dreams, happened in the blink of an eye, but in a very different way from that of the train's passage.  While as in any dream, many details are skipped over but you somehow know what happened, the train literally traveled at the speed of thought when one was on board.

While one could easily leave The Cove on foot, there was little enough to do on most of the barren landscape.  Following the tracks one way led to The Cave.  The men, smiling gently between themselves, encouraged me to follow the tracks the other way to see what I could see.

When I did so, I found myself lying in a little wooden church, listening to a conversation between the local priest and a man who, it seemed, had come to visit the graveyard which lay beyond the window.  They were discussing the location of the grave of the man's grandmother, "beneath the distant willow tree."  As I listened, I realized that they were speaking of a woman not yet buried but who soon would be.  Finally, the priest gestured in my direction and assured the man that they would take good care of her.  I then understood that I was observing the scene through the senses of his grandmother's corpse which was awaiting burial.

When I emerged from this vision, I found myself at a spot on the tracks only a short distance from The Cove.  It was beginning to push an enormous white-wrapped cylinder longer even than the train itself through the crack in the mountainside towards The Cave.  What might be in the cylinder?  I never learned the answer to that question.

I returned to the Cove and was told by the Men of Earth, with an edge of compassion in their tone, that my friend had "burned out" while I was gone.

Here, the dream ended as my daughter came to wake me up for the day.

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