Life Among The Savages, Part 8.
One can perhaps imagine how disconcerting it was for me to hear a voice emanating from beneath my bed; in any circumstance, an disembodied voice would be surprising to say the very least, and almost certainly unwelcome. And, given the circumstances of my time out of port and the unsettling situations I had already experienced in my short few hours aboard the ship, yet another unexpected occurrence did not bode well for me or my person. To put it bluntly: I greatly feared another blow to the head. Thinking that discretion might be the wisest choice while I was in a weakened state, I stayed quiet but alert, hoping the voice was a result of my fatigue, a hallucination or misinterpreted noise.
My hopes were swiftly dispelled when the voice spoke again. “Are they gone?” came the entreaty once more. I laid still and made no sound. The voice was a thin, rasping whisper, muffled by the framework of the bed, so any clues as to the speaker’s appearance or character, save that he possessed considerable stealth.
“Stop your hiding, I know there’s someone there. Five people came in here and put someone on the bed, and five people left. You’re fooling no one.”
I stayed mum, as it were, hoping that I could indeed fool this person. How could he know so much about what transpired in this room while trapped beneath a heavy piece of furniture?
“Very well,” said the voice, and I felt motion beneath the bed. “Ha! Feel that, my silent friend?”
I did not respond, though my anxiety increased with every passing moment.
“Hmm,” said the voice. The speaker moved beneath the bed again, and then said “Ha! Feel that, my silent friend?” Again, I made no response. The voice was silent for a while. Then, in a pattern that was becoming familiar with great rapidity, I heard more movement beneath the bed and once again the excitable rasp of the person under the bed proclaiming “Ha! Feel that, my silent friend?”
For a moment, I began to feel relieved, as I appeared to be able to maintain sufficient quietude so as to convince the peculiar speaker beneath my bed that the room was, in fact, unoccupied. However, as the speaker repeated his exclamation several times, each to no effect, and then settled back into an almost-inaudible whispered conversation with himself about his apparently erroneous conclusions, an alarming thought occurred to me. Eventually, I would fall asleep, and once asleep, would be unable to persist in my stillness. I might even roll over in my sleep, shattering the illusion of my absence and more than likely inflaming the questionable passions of whatever madman dwelt below my bed, at a time when I would be virtually indefensible.
I considered calling out to anyone who might be passing by, but the corridor seemed silent, and as soon as I called out, my only means of self-protection would be taken from me. The chances of my escape from the room seemed slim, due to my incapacity and the unknown abilities of the person under the bed. Seeing no other option, I resolved to react to the voice’s next words, or his next actions, whichever occurred.
Unfortunately, my ruse had worked too well, and the owner of the rasping voice, having discussed at length with himself his apparently poor judgment and inability to differentiate between the possibility of a person being left alone in the room and a person actually being left alone in the room, had grown silent and inactive once more. No strange motions or exclamations were forthcoming, and I found myself in the exact quandary I hoped to avoid. Furthermore, I felt my conscious strength ebbing away. At any moment, I might fall asleep, and be completely at the mercy of the mysterious stranger residing under my bed. Only my fear of that gruesome outcome helped me stay awake, but even its anxious power was waning.
I knew I had but one choice: somehow, I must escape into the corridor. Perhaps I could force the locked door open, or at least pound upon it to attract attention, before the man under the bed could attack. I steeled myself for the exertion, and felt my limbs resist. They were not ready to endure such strain, but I felt my very life might be at stake. I had to flee the room, or fail in the attempt. A moment more to prepare myself and then I leaped from the bed.
Most likely I should have steeled myself more, as the resultant leap which I achieved failed to throw me clear of the room, or to penetrate the locked door to my room, or even to reach the locked door to my room. In fact, only my upper body managed to escape the confines of the bed, thanks at least in part to the rigorously tucked bedclothes. My head, chest and arms moved swift and true in the direction of the door, but my legs, tangled in linens, pulled down the rest of my body as if they were anchors, and arrested my hopeful trajectory with decisive suddenness. My forehead was pulled handily into the floorboards. My chest and arms soon followed, and then after a time, my legs as well, as the bedsheets gently relinquished their grip and my entire body slid slowly onto the floor of the room, where I lay in a crumpled heap for an indeterminate period of time, as I had been rendered insensate once again by the impact.
While on the floor, I had a prolonged and extensive episode of dreaming, wherein fancy and memory intermingled, as is the general pattern of dreams as I have observed. I wandered through a seemingly endless forest of dark trees while a pale ceiling of clouds churned overhead. I could feel the presence of others following me, perhaps even hunting me, but never observed my pursuers. Eventually I happened upon a secluded glen, where the widow von Kant dwelled as a faerie queen, ensconced in diaphanous robes and sparkling jewelry, who smiled at me but remained inscrutable, while her consort, who bore a striking resemblance to Captain Stagg, skipped around the glen bellowing about porridge. Jones was also there, completely untransformed by my dreaming brain, puffing away on his pipe and nodding at me occasionally. I inquired of the queen as to the location of a road or path that might deliver me from the dark woods, and she smiled and spoke, but I could not understand her words, and then without notice I was walking through the woods again, still sensing I was being followed but unable to discern any visible threat. Starkey and Turner appeared as goats, one of them wearing a knitted cap, the other stealing and eating it. I asked them which way to go and they pointed in opposing directions with their hooves and then began butting their heads together, with a loud and somehow satisfying clacking sound. I walked on and eventually, in the seamless manner that time passes while one is within a dream, the forest faded away and I found myself on a country road, and then at an intersection of two country roads, both stretching over near and distant hills before disappearing over the horizon. A young woman stood at the crossroads, clad in strange gray clothes that resembled long strips wound around her entire body. She bade me to come to her with a wave of her hand, and I did so. She had kind gray eyes and a gentle smile, but when she spoke she spoke in the raspy voice of the person beneath the bed. “Beware the dirty man,” she said. I inquired as to the identity of the dirty man, and she had opened her mouth to tell me, when I was roused from my dreaming by a sharp pain in the left temple. I looked up to see Captain Stagg and Dr. Blight standing above me, in the doorway to my room. Blight was speaking with the captain as I regained my senses.
“Don’t worry, Captain, it was a glancing blow, and you had no way of knowing he would be lying in front of the door.” Dr. Blight turned to me. “What are you doing on the floor, lad?” Dr. Blight asked.
I uttered some words describing the voice from beneath the bed, but the captain and the doctor only partially understood.
“Let’s get you back into bed, so you can get some proper rest. And you must stay there this time, or you’re certain to do yourself more harm, and perhaps even permanent damage,” the doctor said, and he and the captain assisted me in returning to my convalescent’s position.
“Perhaps we should tie him down,” the captain suggested. “I’ve got some rope right here.”
Blight regarded the captain strangely for a moment, and then said “That won’t be necessary, as long as our young friend promises to stop these foolish attempts to overexert himself.” Dr. Blight’s face took on a stern aspect. “Now: no more of this nonsense. You must rest, young man, by order of Doctor Blight.”
‘And Captain Stagg as well,” Captain Stagg added, smiling widely. The captain clutched me near the elbow with a paternal squeeze, and then he and Dr. Blight left, after the doctor had removed the captain’s hand from my arm. Thankfully, they left the door slightly ajar.
All my effort for nothing save two new contusions on my head, I decided that following the doctor’s advice was my only true option; that if the strange voice beneath the bed meant me harm, it would be discovered while attacking me and hastily dispatched; and that the sooner I recovered, the sooner I would be able to defend myself and begin to unravel the strange mysteries that pervaded this ship, and the strangely symbolic substance of my dream. So I drifted to sleep once more, hoping for another vision of the beauteous widow von Kant. Instead, I dreamed of a talking cat.