The Wandering Bed
This week, Rich Larson’s crisply creepy story wakes us up with a new technology, and much older nightmares ~ Julian and Fran, September 24, 2023
The Wandering Bed
by Rich Larson
“Gather round, my good people!” the arcanologist booms. “Gather round for the demonstration! Do not be afraid; the operation of the dream engine is perfectly safe.”
The boy worms his way to the front of the crowd, navigating a thicket of grown-up legs, and finally sees it: a slab of churning cogs and pistons, canisters of aether and mirror-bright brass, every inch of which is etched with a strangely modified rune.
In the very center of the dream engine, nestled in soft blankets, a girl no older than he is lies sleeping.
“An introduction, for those of you who choose to live beneath rocks,” the arcanologist says. “I am Dr. Theophilus Bosh, and this wonder before you is the dream engine—or, as my colleagues in Vienna call it, the Wanderbett. A machine capable of bridging the astral plane with our own mundane reality. Observe.”
The boy watches, heart pounding, as the arcanologist throws a switch. The aether begins to sluice away. The crowd murmurs in anticipation. For a moment, nothing—then the sleeping girl’s eyelids flutter, and the air beside the dream engine begins to ripple.
The murmurs increase, then give way to gasps as the ripple becomes an aperture, a porthole into the girl’s dreamscape. The boy stares, entranced by the scene: she is swimming in a turquoise pool, splashing and laughing, surrounded by waterfalls that cascade upward instead of downward.
She dives, scoops a glimmering golden seashell off the pool’s stone bottom, and kicks back toward the surface. When she bursts out of the water, the boy feels a cool droplet strike his cheek. He reaches up to touch it, astounded.
“The dreams of children are particularly potent,” the arcanologist says, adjusting a brass dial. “And from them we may harvest all manner of curiosities. For instance . . .”
The runes of the dream engine give a curious pulse. The golden seashell rises from the girl’s hands, growing larger, and larger, and the boy realizes it is coming toward them. Even so, he cannot suppress a yelp of surprise when it clatters out of the aperture and onto the floor of the stage.
The arcanologist picks up the shell, rapping it with his knuckles to prove its solidity, and the crowd begins to applaud. In the aperture, the girl stares puzzled for a moment at her empty hands—but such is the way of dreams, and she quickly returns to her games. A beautiful fish with a colorful corkscrew tail swims about her in circles; she chases after it, giggling.
“Can living things be transported?” a woman in the crowd asks. “Or only the inanimate?”
“The fish!” another voice calls. “Catch us a fish, Doctor!”
The crowd chuckles, but the boy sees a brief uncertainty cross the arcanologist’s face. It smooths away as he returns to the controls of the dream engine. “That can certainly be done,” he says. “The principle is unchanged.”
The girl is still chasing the fish, which now makes a trilling, warbling sound almost like birdsong, or perhaps even human song—the boy can very nearly put words to it. Three short words, repeating.
The arcanologist adjusts the dials. The runes pulse once more, and the fish rises dripping from the pool. In the dreamscape, the girl watches with astonished delight, but on the bed, her face now bears a frown. Free from the water, the fish’s odd song is much clearer: Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.
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