Monday, 11 February 2008

Gallery of fools

Dreamt on 21/02/07

I was in a group booked for a conducted tour through a medieval castle in a remote part of England. Our coach had arrived later than the appointed time and this had no doubt incensed our tour guide, a man of very advanced age with a Lazarus type of beard engulfing half his face.
The Tour guide watched us pensively as we clambered out of the coach, holding his peace with a Sage-like indifference. The children in our group chatted excitedly as they ran past the guide towards the formidable fa├žade of the castle.
We grouped around the bearded tour guide at the massive doorway, our party offering suitably contrite smiles while our driver apologised profusely for the late arrival. The tour guide didn’t say a word; he merely nodded and shrugged his shoulders.
He led the way into the castle, pausing momentarily at the doorway to check that we were all grouped around him. We entered a vast airy hall through an arched doorway. The Tour guide’s lofty manners reminded me of an old butler I had seen in an old movie, a man of inscrutable manners and well grounded opinions about the importance of his position.
As it was late afternoon and winter, natural light was weak inside the Castle. But it was just light enough for one to appreciate the character of the Castle. The sheer size of the hall was breath taking. In my opinion, the most awe inspiring thing inside within was not the ancient battle axes which hung menacingly on the walls, but the tantalising winding staircase. There was something magical about that staircase and I found my eyes glued to it. Even as I listened to the tour guide reciting the history of the castle, my eyes were following the zigzagging staircase right to the top where it disappeared. I wondered what relics were locked up in the rooms above.
“Can you see the two huge eyes up there?” a young girl standing next to me asked. I was startled by her sudden appearance and at the same time surprised to see that the tour guide and the rest of my group had moved a considerable distance away. Although I could hear the tour guide’s comment clearly, it sounded to me like a message swept by the wind from the furthest corner of the Castle. I regarded the girl. She was wearing a rather old fashioned frock. Her mousy coloured hair too was styled in a rather old fashioned way. She had the look of a child dolled up by a history-conscious parent. I couldn’t help thinking that her mother had dressed her like that to fit in with the historical concept of our trip.
I couldn’t remember seeing the girl in the coach. But then again I had no reason to remember her. She was one of kids in the group; 15 or so. I had hardly paid attention to any of the kids during the drive from London.
“Eyes? What are you talking about?” I asked.
“If you look carefully, you will see two huge eyes right up there,” the girl said pointing.
I followed the direction of her fore finger. She was apparently telling the truth. A pair of huge eyes, bordered by eye lashes which were at least a foot long, hung between the ceiling and the wall. I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a painting or a mural.
“Those are the eyes of the Castle,” the little girl said.
I turned to her and smiled. “I think you should go and join your mother now,” I said pointing to the group. To my amazement everyone in the group now appeared inexplicably tiny, as though they had been shrunk.
“I don’t have a mother,” the girl said looking up at me with pleading eyes.
“Well, go and join your father then,” I said.
“I don’t have a father, either,” the girl said.
“So who brought you on the coach?” I asked.
“I didn’t come by coach,” she said.
Something about her made me feel uneasy. I studied her in greater detail. She was around 12 or 13, thin as a rack and with an oval shaped face. Her cheeks were very rosy. Under the fading light her eyes appeared steely grey. Her frock might have been hand sewn out of sack cloth; so rough and tough was the fabric. Her shoes were as outdated as anything I had ever seen outside a museum.
“If you didn’t come by coach, where did you come from?” I asked.
“I live in the Castle,” she said simply. “You can ask Old Marx if you think I am lying.”
“Who is old Marx?”
“He is the tour guide,” the girl replied. “I can show you the Gallery of Fools upstairs if you pay me,” she added quickly.
“Gallery of fools?”
“Yes,” she said “If you pay me I’ll take you up there.”
“No thanks,” I said shaking my head firmly. I decided that the girl was either old Marx’s grandchild or a local tearaway operating a gambit and skimming money from gullible tourists visiting the castle. But I was intrigued by her mention of the Gallery of Fools.
As I turned to walk away, having resolved to rejoin my group immediately, the girl suddenly let out a rather peculiar laughter.
I turned around to face her “Look up there!” she said pointing. “The eye in the Gallery of Fools is winking!”
I did as she bade me. The left eye was indeed winking! And it was doing so with all the zest and showmanship of a comedian charming a captive audience. I was astounded by the life like quality of the eye. Yet for it to be real eye it would have to belong to some unimaginable large human face.
Alarm bells started ringing in my head despite my reluctance to abandon the intriguing show.
“I must go and join the others,” I said to the girl, suddenly feeling pensive.
“What others?” she asked.
Around us darkness was closing in rather too swift for my liking.
“The other people I came with on the coach,” I said.
“Oh, but they have already left,” the girl said with a sad smile on her plain features. “Surely you must have heard the coach drive off?”
“You are lying,” I said, rather angrily. “They couldn’t have left without me. Moreover, we only just got here!”
“You got here exactly three hours ago, Brian,” a rather bemused voice said from my left. It was the tour guide. He was walking towards me carrying a lantern.
How swift darkness had engulfed the hall!
“Three hours?” I protested. “I haven’t been here for more than ten minutes.”
The tour guide shrugged his shoulders and throwing me a rather sorrowful look under the lantern light he said. “Well, if you say so.” He stared intensely at me for a few seconds then added: “We have a spare mattress you can use for the night. There is plenty of space in here,” he added waving his hand around the hall.
“What? I am not spending the night in this place!” I shouted. Recalling that he had called me by my name I said. “And how did you know my name?”
He gave me a sympathetic smile. “Oh, that. The coach driver called your name hundreds of times. When you didn’t respond he drove off with the rest of the group. Where were you, anyway?”
“I was right here,” I replied stamping my foot on the floor. “You can ask the girl.”
“What girl?” the tour guide asked.
I turned around to find the girl. But she was nowhere to be seen.
“There was a little girl with me all the time,” I said. I felt the hairs on my nape rising. A dreadful headache kicked in. “She was here just a minute ago,” I explained pressing my fingers against my temple where an agonising pain was charging through. “She said she lives in the Castle. I didn’t believe her of course. And she said your name is Old Marx.”
The tour guide allowed a genial smile to cross his face, then shaking his head slower than a tortoise might have managed, he said. “Old Marx is the name of a Crusader who built this Castle after returning from the holy war in Jerusalem.”
The moment he said that, I felt invisible hands grab me around my shoulders, chest and around my legs. I tried to scream but no sound came out. And judging by the terrified look on the tour guide’s face as I was being dragged slowly up the staircase, something unpalatably monstrous was pulling me.
I struggled in vain to free myself. Slowly a deadening calmness settled on my mind. The next thing I knew, the girl was shaking me and saying: “Open your eyes.” I did as she bid me.
It transpired that I was in a room resembling a medieval theatre. Lighting was provided by dozens of beacons placed strategically around the room. I was seating on a wooden bench facing the stage. Here and there around the room heads bobbed about and I could make out vague human shapes. I formed the impression that I was in a theatre full of people. On the stage under the full glare of a dozen or so lanterns hanging around the wall stood several men and women, all dressed in the most outlandish costumes. I reckoned that they were actors and actresses about to commence a play; perhaps a Victorian play.
I suddenly felt calm and not at all agitated. The mysterious girl had taken a seat next to mine. She leaned over and said. “I have brought you here to see the play my father was watching the night he was stabbed to death. He was a great man. But no one knows anything about him now because nothing has ever been written about him.”
“Who was your father?” I asked.
“His name was Old Marx,” the girl said. “I want you to find out who killed him and write the story of his life.”
“I will,” I said without reflecting even for a moment on the proposal. For some reason, I felt rather eager to commit myself.
“When the play starts, watch out for the Professor,” the girl said.
“The Professor?” I asked puzzled.
“Yes!” she said. “Watch out for the Professor! Don’t take your eyes off him!”
I was about to ask her how I could identify this Professor when her seat suddenly filled up with breath chocking smoke.
I woke up coughing fitfully with a thumping headache criss-crossing my forehead. END

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