1. The Old Man
Most people don’t know he exists.
Few who have seen him remember.
I know what he looks like, and I’m not meant to tell.
I’ll whisper it to you though, if you promise not to yell.
He’s an old man, but not so old that you would offer an arm if you know what I mean. His face is long, not tired, and not unhappy. He just looks like he’s been doing the same thing since Adam met Eve.
He doesn’t have a name, or at least not one he remembers. Most people have never heard of him. Most think the dreams they dream when the world shutters its lamp are their own. They don’t know he writes them all. But I do. And now you do too.
He sits at a desk a few shades darker than his dusty, pine green trousers, and writes in the bright leather dream books that his assistants pass him from the shelves. He grips the same pen he’s always gripped, rifled silver with a clip that never gets used because he never lets it go.
His assistants are a strange looking lot – each one a tangle of roughly drawn lines that shouldn’t make physical sense. An empty triangle outline for a head, triangular hands and feet. A mess of scribbled lines running down their middle with uneven sticks for arms and legs poking into their hands and feet. They look like distracted things found on the bent corner of a boring school book, things that should never be lifted up and out into the actual world. So they mostly stay out of it. The few times The Old Man has tried to describe them in a dream, their heads start to shake and they make frantic chattering noises. Their arm and leg lines wobble and blur like guitar strings plucked and left. But even then, they still do their job. They pick up up the books, put them into the cart, hand him the next, and wait.
The Device gets the dreams down to the sleepers. It sits in the middle of the room next to his, its whirring and clunking so constant he barely hears it over the scratching of his pen tip across the pages of his dream books. There was a time The Old Man knew its every pipe and dial, but he doesn’t have time to think about such details now, his assistants take care of that.
He can see The Device when his assistants open the door to push the rickety old cart filled with books from his room into the next. Sometimes he watches as one of them climbs the wooden step ladder and pushes a dream into the slot like the postman delivering mail. Sometimes he watches the contraption shake in panic, not enough for the rivets around its pipes to pop, but enough to make you scared they might. Most of the time, however, he is in the middle of writing something fantastic and doesn’t stop. Who has time for watching what others are doing when there’s doing of your own to be done?
Here, shuffle over and let me tell you about how I met him. It’s not a long story, and we’ve both got a bit of time on our hands.
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