It has always intrigued me that humans love before they learn to speak. Sadly, that divine privilege is too often wasted on promises of something greater. How reckless a poison promises can be.
Fortunately for young Mary, she has yet to learn a single word. Everything she knows of love emanates from the big people who feed, clothe and protect her. She has no concept of life’s promises as she stands in her cot, one hand grasping at the pink prison bars and the other clutching her teddy bear, jibbering stories to herself in sounds that mimic the colour of words. Mary is safe, and Mary is happy, but Mary is beginning to wonder if the big people realise that she is waiting.
“Good morning, Mary. Mummy and Daddy will be awake soon. There’s something very different about the sunrise today, and you can feel it, can’t you? Hold onto Teddy and never let him go.”
How simple a thing it must seem that I should lift Mary into my arms, to share her joy of life and absolve myself in her innocence. Oh, how I envy those who can. And how it pains me that I must now impose upon her father, Fabian, a choice that may deny him the chance to ever feel his daughter’s love again. Conflicted by my own selfish desires for immortality, I must leave young Mary and take to the final shadows of her father’s slumber, for I am the Painter of Dreams, and Fabian is the greatest dreamer of them all.
Why is it so dark?…Where am I?…And what the hell’s happening to my legs? I can’t feel anything. Someone, help me. Please!
Don’t panic Fabian. You are asleep and the lack of sensation in your legs is merely an illusion.
Who are you, and what’s going on?
Please forgive my intrusion, but you must try to breathe and stay calm. I am the Painter of Dreams. Time is against us, so I must hasten to present you with a series of images before you awaken. The first is a story of war which begins here, on the muddy battlefields of France. Night has fallen to the darkness of a new moon and you are surrounded by corpses- ally and enemy alike- in the manner of a last rat squirming through the foul stench of dead rodents in a poisoned sewer. But one other man lies only metres away holding on desperately to his own life. It was your bullet, Fabian, that ripped through his chest, moments before your own legs were taken by a hand grenade. Both of you will most likely die within the coming hours.
Are you here to help me? Don’t let me die here. Please.
First, I ask you to think of your victim’s family and consider what you’ve taken from them. Then think of your own daughter, Mary. Time will surely reveal that she is too young to remember you, but your wife, Jessica, will always remind her how much you loved them both.
What are you talking about? I’ve never even thrown a punch.
Look up, Fabian. The Angel of death descends upon you in her golden light. “May all men rest in darkness when their souls no more shall dream.”
The whole battlefield’s lighting up. Is that the guy I shot over there? He looks dead already. She must have come for him, not me. And there’s hundreds of bodies scattered everywhere so maybe it’s some of them, too. I’m not even a soldier.
Who amongst these men is any more of a soldier than you? I have painted all their dreams. Dreams of mountains that will never be climbed and innocent lips that will never be kissed.
Oh shit! She has come for the guy I shot. I’m so sorry, mate. I can’t believe I killed a man.
Who could believe such a thing of themselves, Fabian? No one is born a soldier until the Angel seduces them with promises. I feel her lies in every dream I paint, and the poison is spreading.
You gotta get me out of here. I’m not ready to die.
Then close your eyes. I think we have both seen enough of this place.
Okay. They’re closed. But please don’t hurt me.
Poor Fabian is understandably confused. The last thing he would remember was lying down beside his wife, Jessica. It is important for me to acknowledge that whilst he is a hapless dreamer, Fabian is basically a good person and a devoted husband and father. He is not on trial here.
Are you starting to feel your legs again, Fabian?
Yeah. But how are you doing all this?
Anything is possible with the magic of dreams. You can open your eyes now.
Woah! What the hell? How did I end up on a horse?
I wanted to provide you with the best seat in the house for that battle up ahead. I thought you may prefer to watch from a distance.
Are they using swords? Is this one of those mediaeval re-enactments?
They’re not acting, I’m afraid. Those men are dismembering each other in the most inhumane possible ways, and their only motivation is a desire to increase the wealth and power of your Kingdom. Or, perhaps, the Kingdom of that knight in the distance, mounted on his own horse amongst the red and white flags. On this occasion, neither of you will be lying on a battle field waiting to die because hundreds of men are falling in your stead.
This isn’t better. How can it be better to watch?
Because the safety of you as a leader is paramount. In the grander scheme of things, don’t you feel so much more important than those foot soldiers? You have the power to decide when enough men have died and suffered. And it’s painless for you this way, Fabian. You can watch as they hack at each other’s limbs with those steel blades and axes. You can listen to the arrows whip through the air and pierce the flesh of all who stand in their way whilst you decide upon your next move. This is power, my friend. But, how long will you watch before you use that power to call an end to it?
I wouldn’t order anything like this to start with. I thought they were actors. Hey you over there! Stop those archers. STOP! And you. Call our men back.
It’s too late for that. Most of your men are already dead. The Angel bestowed upon you great responsibility with the promise of equally great rewards. Can you not remember that I painted you a castle filled with gold? And great feasts of endless food and wine, with beautiful, naked women waiting for you in every room. How could you give up on those dreams while there are men still able to stand and fight?
I don’t care about that. I have to do something before any more of those men die. How do I make this horse move? Go! Gee up. Come on, stupid bloody animal. Move!
You can’t stop it, Fabian? It is war, so people must die.
No one should die for another person’s dreams. And I can’t work out who’s fighting who because they all look the same. They might as well come from the same place.
Well, I’m quite happy to move forward if you’ve had enough. Is there some other scene I can paint for you?
Absolutely anything else. But no horses and no wars.
Sure. Let me see.
The funny thing about dreams is that no matter how frightening or real they become, people cannot seem to leave of their own accord. Waking up is more of an involuntary thing, so they just keep flicking from one dream to another without any control of what comes next. Perhaps I should lighten the mood with some inspiration from mother nature.
Hold on tight, Fabian. And don’t look down.
What now? Oh, wow!… Are we at the top of the trees? This is more like my kind of dream. I can see across the whole jungle to the mountains. And look at all the birds and cute little monkeys around me. I’m not much of a climber but at least there’s no fighting here. Hang on! I can swing between the branches just like the little monkeys; and look how hairy my hands are. No way! I am a monkey. Oo-oo-oo. This feels incredible. I never imagined how small everything on the ground would look from up here.
Good. I’m glad you’re finally enjoying yourself.
Enjoying myself? This is the best dream ever. And look! There’s Jessica over on the next branch? Mary’s on her back and she’s laughing at me. Watch this Mary. I can hang upside down. Oo-oo-oowwwait a minute. What’s with all the movement in those trees? Hey! You down there. Something’s coming up behind you. Oh, shit! They’re chimpanzees and they look like they’re going to attack. JUMP!
Too late again, I’m afraid, Fabian. They’ve caught him. Look at them tearing at his throat and limbs with their teeth. Who’d have known that chimps eat other monkeys? The Angel’s reign has already begun. Battle lines have formed before a single human word has even been spoken.
Why does this Angel hate us so much? I thought Angels were supposed to be good.
It is me that She hates. Like all things, the Angel is neither good nor bad. She merely exists. Before humans learned to dream, sleep was a place of darkness where She fed on the energy of living souls. But an Angel’s light must remain pure, and dreams are filled with colour and light. No one knows that better than you, Fabian. Her old feeding ground had become laced with poison, leaving Her to scavenge from departing souls of the newly dead. What better way to feed such hunger than to start a war. On that note, I think the chimps are still hungry. You should leave now.
Jessica. Hurry. We’ll have to go across the trees. Don’t let go of Mary!
You’d better be quick. There are more of them coming. You must have entered their territory.
Where can we go? This jungle’s huge but there’s chimps everywhere.
That’s what happens when you’re so small. You have to find a way to fight back.
I already told you that I don’t want to fight. Why did you have to paint my family into this? Just take us back home, or at least somewhere safe.
Ah, yes. Home. I wondered when you would ask.
Home is where all dreams begin and end. What better place for Fabian to take his family than a world of their own creation; unspoiled by the dreams of others. A place where love exists without promises, and time exists without words.
So, here you are back at home, Fabian. What will you do now?
Well, you got the right era for once, but this isn’t my home. Why are you so obsessed with painting war zones, anyway? It’s kind of morbid. There’s nothing but mounds of bricks and bits of metal as far as I can see, like a whole city was destroyed. Hey! Where are Jessica and Mary?
Have a look around you. Are you sure there’s nothing familiar?
I guess that does look like the park by my house. And…that could be my letterbox. Oh, no way. What the hell? Why would you paint this? There’s someone under those bricks. Help me get them out.
No one could possibly survive this level of destruction. I really am very sorry, Fabian, but the human race has destroyed itself. It was inevitable, I’m afraid. The Angel made too many promises to too many different people. Even if I paint every dream that is asked of me, very few of them will ever come true.
Just stop talking and help me. JESSICA! MARY!”
Are those tears? The wars have finally ended and there are no people left to hurt each other. Shouldn’t you be happy to see so much cruelty finally come to an end, or are you only concerned for your own sacrifice?
Shut up! Just shut up! Oh, Jesus. It’s Mary’s teddy. Where is she? No! No! No!
You’re on top of her bedroom, aren’t you Fabian? I think you know where she is. You’ve seen this happen on the news a hundred times, but it was always another country or another time. How is this any different? And why have you never cried before?
Because it never felt this real, okay! Tell me you can paint us sitting together in that park; that I’ll wake up and forget I ever saw any of this.
I’m sorry, Fabian. But life doesn’t always work that way.
What life? Mary hasn’t had a life yet, you arsehole. She wouldn’t hurt anyone.
I tell you what. I’ve painted something else that may help you get through this. Come over here.
What now? You’ve already destroyed everything.
By what reasoning could you possibly blame me? I have done nothing but give your species whatever dreams you wanted. Now, I have one last thing to show you that is of my own choosing. Look at the sunset. Can you see how beautiful it is? Try to understand how the end of a day is such a wonderous thing? The end of humanity may seem sad to you, Fabian, but from a distance, don’t you think someone else will see the beauty of it?
I can’t look at humanity from a distance, can I? I’m a part of it. How can I watch everything I love with all my heart as it turns into nothing? Who or whatever you are, surely you can understand that.
Strangely enough, I may be the only one who does understand. I’ve been painting dreams since the beginning of humanity, but no one ever dreams of bloodshed until they’ve seen it. No one dreams of wars until they are over. I’ve painted a million sunsets, but I’m the only one who ever considered that I would eventually have to paint this one. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it alone, Fabian, no matter how beautiful it is.
So, that’s why you brought me here? You wanted me to see how hurt and lonely you’ll be when there’s no one left to paint for. Well, point taken. My heart is completely shattered, and I know how you feel. Can we get out of here now?
No! You’re still missing the point. This is real. I’m showing you the future and I’ve shown you how humanity found its way here. The Angel of death turned your own words against you by promising more riches than this world could ever sustain. The reason I brought you here is to ask you to stay with me, and I promise that I will paint you a world beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed. You could be a King and a hero. You could fly over mountains as a giant eagle or hold the moon and stars in your hand. I need your dreams so I can continue to exist, Fabian. Together, we can create a new world without war. Please! Take a minute to think and watch the sunset.
What about Jessica and Mary?
You cannot save anything of your old world, but you can have more than you ever dreamed possible, and we can live forever.
Then, I don’t need to watch the sunset. I already know what I want.
Finally. Tell me, Fabian? Tell me what I can paint for you.
Don’t paint me anything. I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t want to live in dreams whether they’re wars or not. I can’t stop what people did a thousand years ago any more than I can stop what they’re doing now, so just let me wake up and be with my family. At least while I’m alive, here and now, I can do the right thing by them.
As you wish.
I cannot deny my disappointment, but I envy and admire Fabian as he walks into Mary’s bedroom to find her awake and waiting for him in her cot. Even my promise of eternal dreams cannot deter him from the magic of this one moment with his daughter. As he lifts her into his arms, she swings Teddy up onto his shoulder and her other hand slaps playfully against his cheek to feel the curious wetness beneath his eyes. Mary does not need to say a thing because her smile says it all. She loves and needs him. What I would give to feel such magic, if only for a moment. Heroes rise and fall in search of immortality while their children die alone, but Fabian is a dreamer, so Mary will die knowing that she is loved.
Fabian carries his beautiful daughter to the kitchen where Jessica is serving breakfast and she looks across curiously, noticing that her husband is fighting back tears. He reassures her with a smile. What else can he do? Mary laughs and kicks her chubby, little legs excitedly as she slides down into the high chair, never letting go of Teddy. Glorious light shines through their kitchen window as the Angel of death hurtles toward the earth, a burning crucifix of blue crystal flame, daggering into the poisoned fires of a rising sun. Behold the Queen of Hell as she falls, leading Her battalion of one thousand nuclear warheads hammering into mountains and plains, destroying everything that stands upon this earth.
“May all men rest in darkness when their souls no more shall dream.”
As the last breath of humanity falls to the ravages of war, I paint my soul in giant wings that lay upon Fabian and his family, so the warmth of their love will stay with me for all of eternity.