‘Hypnotica’ (Part Four) by Chris Mahon
‘Hypnotica’ is a story about dreamwrights, mage-musicians who travel across the dreamscape at night to hijack dreams and turn them into mind-bending concerts. The story focuses on two dreamwrights, GRIN and NO-FOOT, who are left picking up the pieces of their lives after one of their shows turns into a nightmare.
She led them into the higher reaches of the Oto district, following a path that wended its way through the ruined streets. The sun had set and the streets were dark now, but the rain was still coming down hard, running in streams down NO-FOOT’s face and getting in his eyes. As he looked across the mountain at the other ringed districts of Senkaku, the rain turned their lights into brilliant constellations and blurred everything but the crane woman.
Together they climbed to the top of one of the buildings, going up staircase after staircase until they were on the roof. The woman walked to the edge of the roof and raised her hands, her index finger touching the air at different points. One by one, the lights of Senkaku went out, until they were standing in an ocean of darkness. She lifted her arms, as if she was calling up an orchestra. A glow began to gather in the city, and from the darkness rose the blue and orange-tinted landscape of the Yoshira, in all its glowing splendor. Then she took one, two, three steps off the building into the night air, turned to them, and held out her hand.
In a second, GRIN was climbing up onto the ledge and stepping off the roof. He set one foot in the air, then another, until he was standing next to her. She smiled delightedly and clapped her hands. Her blindfolded gaze turned to NO-FOOT, and GRIN spread his arms wide, as if to say easy!
NO-FOOT stepped up onto the ledge and closed his eyes. There was still rain running down his cheeks and dripping off his chin. He could smell the rest of the city, even if he couldn’t see it: frying oil, wet lumber, and smoke. There was nothing here for him.
He slipped his mask on and stepped off the roof.
Mono tilts her head to look up at the hundreds of paper kites floating above the Yoshira. Their golden faces are emblazoned with the names DEKAY and OZO. The streets are packed tonight, and the parlors are overflowing with people. She tears her eyes away from the face of the seven-foot-tall ghost gliding by her side and turns herself sideways to squeeze between two people who, like idiots, have stopped in the middle of the street.
After seeing the two dreamwrights in the tea shop today, she had to come back to the Yoshira. The smell is what she loves the most. Besides the scent of chocolate and liquor, there is a simmering heat to the Yoshira that glazes everyone’s skin in sweat. The heavy fragrance of it drifts through the clean, cool night air, and it makes her think of slick bodies sliding by one another like salamanders. She wants to dance.
Threading her way down to the lower streets, following the strings of the kites, she comes to the circular reservoir in the center of the district. Its surface is crowded with floating paper lanterns, drifting in glowing shoals that illuminate the plaza with faint light. The edge of the pool is piled with mounds of robes, as if hundreds of people suddenly vanished, leaving their clothes behind. Mono shrugs off her own robes, glancing around in case anyone is looking at her.
She sits down and dips her foot into the water slowly, then pushes aside the shoals of floating lanterns and slides in. With these reservoir shows, you have to be careful when getting in, or you can break the surface of the water.
As soon as her head is under, she feels herself dropping down through a hole in the world. The dreamscape is a dark, vertical shaft, reaching down forever. The walls are painted with flickering faces, and the music throbs like the chambers of a heart. Swirling tracks of colors burn in the water like highways, and everywhere people are cartwheeling and spinning in time with the beat. She descends through the center of it all, towards the two figures that lay at the bottom: there is one lying on their back looking up at the surface, her voice booming, and the other is moving in his own dance, a silhouette of light controlling the shadows and colors like a puppet.
DEKAY and OZO, she thinks.
She feels her mind dissolve into the music. Soon she is looking at her masked face through the eyes of hundreds of people at once, cycling between their heads like a merry-go-round, with her dancing body at the center. Then she sees a pair of ice-blue eyes.
Back at the surface of the pool, two girls are excitedly stripping off their robes, helping one another undo their sashes and adjusting their masks. They kick off their sandals and sit on the edge of water, holding hands. One of them glances around nervously and freezes. Standing next to them, silent and motionless, are two figures wrapped in black jackets. One of them wears a red porcelain mask, grinning like a demon, and the other has a blank, expressionless one that reflects the plaza in rainbows. There are no feet in his sandals.
The girls watch the pair back up a few steps, shrugging their shoulders in circles and stretching their necks. The one without feet catches their gaze and motions to cover their ears. Their eyes widen. Then, bowing their heads down, the pair sprint forward. The girls watch in terror as they dive into the reservoir head-first. There is a second of wire-thin silence, and then the ripples left in their wake rebound and collide, exploding like fault lines. One hundred feet of rolling, deafening sound erupts from the water and echoes across the Yoshira.
The world around Mono ends in thunder. Roiling waves of noise destroy the euphoria coursing through her body, and she feels her skeleton being ripped out of her body and slammed against the dome of the sky. When she looks down, all she sees is an endless plane of black, humming noise. Her lungs re-inflate and her esophagus opens, and in spite of herself, she lets out a giddy laugh. Goosebumps are stiffening on her arms, and she can feel every muscle in her body humming like strings. The humming began to rise. She bites her lip and closes her eyes. This is something new. The music kicks in, and someone starts singing. It’s a different voice from before. Someone, another pair of dreamwrights, has hijacked DEKAY and OZO’s show.
Close your eyes and die, come and say goodnight
Our blood will stain the moon, and you’ll remember tonight
If we have to die, we’d rather do it in the sky
Towering walls of sound annihilate her bones. Her mind is struck free, and in an instant she’s in the sky above the Yoshira, looking down at the lights and crowds, falling toward the streets, dancing like she is already dead. When she hits the ground, she breaks through the paving stones like water, gasping for air, laughing like a kid again. All around her, dozens of melodies and harmonies unfold and crisscross like the threads of a loom, tessellating into lotus flowers. She opens her eyes and finds herself face to face with a mask the color of a conch shell, reflecting her own face in its rainbows. It’s singing to her.
Show me the night, and how to fly
If everyone has to die, I’d rather do it in the sky
She stares into a pair of jittering green eyes. She remembered the names carved into her table at the tea house, and the little three-finger salute.
Her eyes open again.
Mono stood knee-deep in the reservoir of one of the abandoned districts on the west side of Senkaku. The sky was alight with stars. The plaza was silent around her. Her wet nightgown was stuck to her legs and water was working its way up the fabric. She took off her mask and wretched from the sheer cold soaking into her skin. It smelled like it had just rained.
Did I sleepwalk all the way here? she thought. She’d never even been to this part of the city before.
Shakily, she climbed out of the reservoir and stood up. How far had she walked in her sleep? She pointed herself in the direction of home and clenched her eyes shut. Her lungs were working hard and her body felt tight, as if she was still freefalling from an endless height. She started to walk.
After a few steps, her feet brushed against something soft, and she opened her eyes again. She was standing in front of an old, dilapidated wooden building, twelve stories high, and her toes were tangled in a wet robe, lying in the street. Scattered around her were porcelain shards, bright red or the colors of the rainbow.
Two bodies lay on the paving stones, crumpled from the impact.