Chapter Six

Carriage Three.

Dog is sitting by the door licking the black paint. Coating appears to be wet. First thought was that it was wet paint. But no, it is water. Tasted it. Salt water. Resist licking door. Tell dog to stop. Dog shakes head. Can hear bullet rattling around in dog’s skull. Cannot remember dog’s name.
Possible names for dog:

  1. Two – after carriage number, and second life.
  2. Dog – makes sense.
  3. Brekker – to help me remember the man in my mind. Might help keep him from turning to sand forever. With Brekker written down so much and dog’s name, could be strong enough to beat the desert’s advance.
  4. Lucy – see point three. Lucy is too beautiful though. If I find a cat, maybe.
  5. Holstenwall – that glorious town of my youth in life.
  6. Couldwell – next scheduled stop.

Decide not on ‘Couldwell’ as the idea of stopping there is dreadful enough. Don’t need dog to remind me. Need dog to be companion. Dog has stopped licking door. Handle is dry and cold. Simple brass. Has Rhombus and ‘X’ on it. Easy match to symbol in Mr H_’s carriage. We are going in. Will report back. No fear now dog is next to me.

Carriage is completely empty. Dog asleep on the bench opposite. Its insides are fascinating. Intrigued by watching him breathe. Far less hypnotic than Mr H_’s gurgles. Far more interesting. The intestines, the liver. Can’t see too much, but interesting all the same. No more symbols in the room and no hidden compartments. I used the same system of checking as I did in first carriage. Nothing on the window, no markings. There is a cyclone in the distance. Watched it for an hour and it didn’t move across the horizon. Tried to use that to gauge its distance and the speed in which we were travelling. But in the hour, no other landmarks passed. No reference point.

Can’t quite write down my disappointment of the emptiness of the room. Built up expectation of some discovery. Some clue. Something. Maybe the emptiness is a clue. Maybe not. Difficult to tell nowadays. Difficult to decipher my thoughts from the things around me. I wonder if I am attributing false importance to all around me. Everyone takes this train I think, so it stands to reason that it means nothing singular to one person above anyone else. Conversely it stands to reason that the train means everything to everyone. I can’t ask the dog what he sees. I can’t ask the dog to use the Brekker Rule Number Three. I can’t ask if he is a figment of my imagination, or I of his. Perhaps we are both figments of somebody else’s mind?

The people in dreams, they walk around not bothering the dream author. They must be sure to have their own lives and hopes. Must be completely oblivious to the horrible truth that they are scenery in someone else’s dream. Is that what I am? A background character in someone else’s dream? Am I through the looking glass? What if that person wakes up? Maybe they already have and this is the place where cast members of dreams end up? I feel alone.

I have felt alone like this only once before. In Pripyat. There, I guarded an empty town and a power plant. A reactor leak had killed most, the rest had fled. I was stationed there to guard it. Guard what? The soil and the air? I didn’t know and there was nobody to ask. In the three years I sat in that wooden kiosk I saw only one other person. One day, on the horizon, after years of solitude there appeared a figure. I traced its journey as it walked towards me. From dot, to mass, to silhouette, to figure. A woman. An old woman. She walked up to the kiosk and looked me over. I went to speak but no words came out. Finally she said something in Russian, and then turned and left me. I remember almost crying as I watched her leave because I could not speak Russian. It was the first voice I had heard in three years and I couldn’t understand it. For months after I investigated the meaning of her words in my mind. I explored every possible interpretation. In the end, I concluded that she had told me her secret. Her secret she had carried all that way to tell me. A secret about me.
“This dream doesn’t belong to you,” she uttered.
She must have she said that, because I am remembering it now. Of course, that kiosk and Pripyat itself is now a desert in my mind.
Here is an experiment - I am going to close the diary, wait five minutes, reopen it and re-read the above passage about my time in Pripyat. I will then close my eyes and objectively write down the first image or word the passage evokes. Maybe I can overcome the desert and create a new memory? Good luck. Here we go.

‘Zone of Alienation’

I am overjoyed! That is the mystery of the carriage solved! The mystery of where I am! I am in the Zone of Alienation! Of course! This empty room was meant for me to feel like I did back in Pripyat after the reactor leak. I was meant to remember that old lady, her words, my interpretation, and then to succumb to the desert’s erasing of my memory, only to realise it all over again. My investigation is working! I know I don’t have to fight to remember, but work alongside this place, this train and everything inside it, to get to the bottom of TheNeverRealm. I wonder if I would have made this discovery had it not been for my dog, Mr H_, the lady with the Tumour Baby or the boy with the toy soldiers? Everything is here, leading me and I am unravelling it. Of course, I only know now how to read certain parts of this language. I have only unlocked one symbol in this code, but it is a breakthrough all the same. I know where I am. Right now we are travelling through the Zone of Alienation.

I don’t know yet how everything else fits into this discovery and how in turn that discovery fits into me, and I into it. Does this affect the meaning of my dream? Will it get me closer to the truth? Closer to beloved Lucy? I do know that I badly need to see Brekker - to see him alive and well, so that he can see the joy on my face at this discovery. Locating oneself in the world, or the universe, or the mind, stops the chaos, stops the madness and helps to order. Now I know where I am, I can measure everything. Time, distance, space, everything. I am God, creator of my universe and right now I am equal to the power of this NeverRealm.
I have decided to call the dog Paisley after the swirls on the carpet in the corridor. The green matches the green of his skin. I smiled when I connected the two. And, when I called him Paisley, he barked and the bullet in his head rattled comically.

Graham Thomas