I had a dream the night before last. Along a windy, narrow street, in the middle of a forgotten part of a large city, a man came walking toward me. I could tell from his clothes and how he walked that he was not meant to be walking in that part of town. Every now and again, he would stoop down low in the shadows, where the black brick buildings met the cracked concrete. And when he came out of the shadow, into the ring of the lonesome streetlights, it seemed as if he was putting his findings into an inner pocket. As he got closer, I could tell that his clothes, once expensive and better than money could buy, were spattered in blood. The knees of his trousers were almost worn through and his badly wrinkled shirt was missing buttons. Right in front of me, he stopped and knelt down again. From the dirty gutter, he began gathering scraps of paper, which I saw had once been stapled together. He sifted through them, as if searching for something. After letting several sheets slide back to the ground, he found one stained, torn leaf, which had been ripped off the rest of the manuscript. After glancing through it for a few moments, he nodded to himself and put the loose leaf carefully in his jacket pocket. After he had walked off into the night, I picked up the loose leafs he had left on the ground. It seemed to be nothing more than the badly written remains of a cheap dime novel.
My dream then shifted scenes. I found myself in a small study lit by some sort of flickering firelight. My feet sunk into a think soft carpet as I looked around. My eyes were immediately drawn to the books, unlike any I had ever seen, which lined the walls, from floor to ceiling. They were bound in expensive leather and the pages dusted in gold. Their only flaw was that on each book’s spine, a streak of some dark substance covered any writing that might have been there. A strange urge began to rise within me to pull one of the books off the tall shelf and flip through its pages. I chose one off the shelf, a small blue bound volume, but as I turned it to open its cover, I found the book was bound with a strap of leather around its middle. At that moment, I heard a cough. Hurriedly replacing the book where I had found it, I turned to face the cough’s owner. At the far side of the study, was a figure I had not noticed. I ventured slowly closer and recognized, from behind, the man who I had seen earlier walking in the alley. He was sitting at a small, wooden desk which seemed strangely out of place in the plush study, almost bent double over something I couldn't quite see. His jacket was torn and his hair long and dripping. I felt no fear of the man, only a curiosity to find what he was doing. At that moment, he coughed again, uncontrollably, a horrible retching sound which filled the small study as thunder fills the space between the rain drops. The sound kindled some kind of unexplainable fear in me and made me want to hide, but there was nowhere to go. As he leaned back in his chair, I caught a glimpse of another book on the desk, like the others around the room. Beside the book was the scrap of paper I had seen the man choose earlier in the alleyway. After the coughing had finally stopped, the man leaned back over his work, breathing heavily through a dry, raspy throat. He was carefully writing with a feather quill, so concentrated that I wondered if he was aware of me at all. As he worked and coughed, a drop fell heavily from his furrowed brow. In the light of the study, the drop looked dark and inky, splashing to the desk. I turned to see what was casting the strange light on the study and saw a fire in the hearth, almost burnt out. The hearth was ornately carved to look like the branches of an apple tree. Inside the fire place, orange coals and the tongues of flame licking at what was left of a log mesmerized me. I thought I heard strange guttural cries and chanting which seemed to grow slowly louder and closer. The fear I had felt a minute before deepened as I stared into the flames, unable to tear my eyes away. When I, with great effort, roused myself and looked back toward the desk, the man was closing his book. As I looked closer, I saw that his hands were bleeding from deep cuts. He took some of the blood on his shaking fingers and wiped it across the spine of the book. After he had done this, he sighed heavily and laid his head down in his arms.
As I watched, my dream changed again and I found myself alone in the same study. I ventured closer to the desk again, drawn by a deep longing to know what was written on the scrap beside the closed book. I picked up the torn scrap and scanned its fragments. And I knew them. Untethered fear raced through me and I wondered who else had read this scrap. I turned hastily and threw the paper into the fire. But as I watched and waited anxiously, the fire would not consume it. Though I greatly feared the heat of the flames, I reached my hand into the hearth and withdrew the paper. To my surprise, the fire did not burn me and the paper was not even hot. Disgusted, I stepped toward the desk again. I picked up the book, wondering how he could have used the scrap. The book’s binding was a deep crimson color, bound in gold, the spine stained with his blood. As I picked up the book, the leather fell away and I was able to open its pages easily. The book was written in the most beautiful calligraphy I had ever seen, each letter a work of art and each word more than I felt I could bear. There were pictures as well, which seemed to move as I looked at them. And the book drew me into it, as the sea draws the river. I don’t know how long I lost myself in its pages. I cried as I read, for I knew the story. The author had taken the fragment and rewritten it. He had somehow made it into the most beautiful story I had ever felt, heard, or seen. As the words and pictures washed over me, I wept uncontrollably. The scrap of paper I had kept balled in my fist fell forgotten to the floor. How the story ended, I never found out. For as I sat, immersed in the crimson book, golden sunlight flooded the study and I began to wake. In the moment between dreaming and waking, I thought I heard a deep voice laughing. I could do nothing but laugh with it. I awoke, crying and laughing, in the sunlight of my dorm room.
And though I have tried, I cannot remember what the man’s face looked like.