Travels and transgressions. Emigrations and imbrications. Diffusion and osmosis.
The eighth part of The Kindly Ones suggests that borders are breaking down, that walls once seemingly sturdy may be more rickety than we supposed, that to be Endless is not to be free of the threat of an end.
The first page gives us five children who travel to the King of Dreams in search of their lost mother. The second and third pages portray Dream traveling through his realm, encountering a variety of states and citizens. On the fourth page, he returns to his castle. “The heart of the Dreaming is as large as the Dreaming itself,” the narrator tells us. Throughout these first pages, space and time are delineated: we know the days (Truesday, Wodensday, Thirstday) and their approximate hours (“In the afternoon…”, “When this day was almost over…”); we know the places outside and inside the castle.
Dream is not merely wandering his realm, he is enscribing it.
Delirium then visits him from her own realm. She is concerned with making sure she does it right, that she respects the rules and the borders. She questions what her brother means by the word “responsibilities”, and he says, “I use it to refer to that area of existence over which I exert a certain amount of control and influence.” She sees things differently: “Our existence deforms the universe. That’s responsibility.” Place versus being. Ecology versus ontology.
After Delirium and Dream, we move to Rose Walker and Jack, her solicitor, who she ends up in bed with. (A bit of a no-no. A crossed line.)
Then to Matthew and the new Corinthian, who locate the charred body of Carla in a morgue. The Corinthian takes out her eyes and puts them in his own, to see what she saw — he crosses into her last sight, giving it new life in his own eyes.
Ravens lurk in the shadows on the outskirts of Dream’s realm.
And then visitors arrive at the gate of the castle, and achieve the impossible: they kill the gatekeeper Gryphon. The Wyvern does his duty — his responsibility — and warns the visitors not to stray from the path in the castle, but then adds: “You killed my friend, woman. Stray from your path.” (This double statement — do not stray/stray — echoes the double statement Destiny gave to Delirium, as she reports: “He said it couldn’t hurt to come and see you. He told me not to come and see you, too.”)
Dream mistakes his visitors for Lyta Hall. “We are far more than Lyta Hall,” they say. Identities merged and mixed. The visitor as plural individual. Lyta Hall, Kindly Ones, Erinyes. Vengeance, hatred unending. Doom.
To Dream, death and destruction are not final. “We destroyed your gatekeeper,” the visitor says. “I can create another,” he says, “who would not even know that it had ever died.” Crossing between the realm of death to life; a single being with many lives.
(“You think these are clues?” Matthew asked the Corinthian. “I think they’re echoes,” he replied, “or ripples, or…”)
The visitor threatens to destroy Dream. In the second panel of page 19, Morpheus asks if there is a reason they want his doom. We see then a statement by Lyta Hall on the left (“You killed my son…”) and by the Kindly Ones on the right (“…You killed your son.”) We know that one is true and one is false. Both statements concern murders, or perceived murders, but the true statement is the most transgressive: one family member who killed another. A family is a realm, an ecology and an ontology, a time and a space. The oldest rule, it seems, is that the ties of family must not be cut by the family members. A family story must not be ended by its protagonists.
Dream asserts his power, his control, his responsibility. The Kindly Ones point out a simple fact to him: the gatekeeper, destroyed.
Dream looks to another world to see how the Corinthian and Matthew are progressing. They are not in the waking world; they have crossed into elsewhere, travelers to another realm, to a place the Corinthian says is “a long way from the real world.”
Page 22 gives us three panels and three people’s stories. Lucifer, approached by a waitress with a Janus face, has “an urge to move on”. Thessaly, who now calls herself Larissa (another name, identity, self; another game of you), reads omens in the flight of birds and expects a visitor soon. Nuala, now returned to Faerie, searches her memories for happiness. Her travels are over, her past is more alive than her present.
On page 23, Rose Walker calls Jack and discovers he is not as unencumbered as he seemed. He is not quite who she thought he was. Their transgresssion was more complex than she knew.
Rose sits alone in the top third of the last page, angry and frustrated, the world a little different from how she had perceived it moments before. She had been reading an old diary entry, amused by her past self, and then she called Jack and her present got reconfigured, and now she must be wondering about the future, about the cycles of life and love, about unknown possibilities and inevitable dooms.
Below her, a single panel for two-thirds of the page, and a simple narration: “And on Son’s Day, they held the first funeral.” The sentence and image are rich with possibilities — the funeral is for the destroyed Gryphon, but this is Son’s Day, and we know that the Gryphon’s death cannot be the only one Dream is thinking of.
Autumn leaves fall in this panel, reminding us of the leaves falling in the big panel on page 4 that shows the castle and the path leading up to it. Autumn, the season of harvest, when winter’s deaths sit on the horizon and the rebirths of spring are little more than whiffs of dream.
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including One Story, Weird Tales, Locus, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. A collection, Blood: Stories will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016. He is the former series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies and currently a co-editor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator. His blog, The Mumpsimus, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005. He is working toward a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of New Hampshire, where his research focuses on the work of Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, and Samuel R. Delany.