♠ Scroll 21
It had been snowing for days. I pushed against the wooden door of the house and brushing off the snow from my overcoat, entered. I had just come back from an adventure with a good friend of mine and was frozen to the bone, but flushed with the new cash in my pocket. I struck a match to start the woodstove, and smiled in glee, recalling what had happened that afternoon. I thought such a deal would be made only in a movie or a fantasy, but a stranger actually bought my dreams at an incredibly high price and now I could finally be alone. The fire crackled to life and in the flames I saw, my goodness, the stranger's face!
I kept staring at the ugly face, which started eating the coals one by one—slowly and deliberately as the smell of burning flesh filled the room—until the fire was out as the face disappeared. Shocked, I ran to the phone and tried to call the police, but somehow alarmed, phoned instead a restaurant across the river to deliver cheeseburgers. The answer was, "Impossible, because of the snow" and the phone instantly died. I struck another match, and lit a candle to see inside the stove, but found only ashes. I opened the window to let the lingering burnt smell out of the house—an eerie, warm wind blew into the room stirring the ashes from the stove and swirling them into the room.
The next part of the story is a bit unclear from what happened afterwards, but I do remember the ashes taking the form of a woman, and the woman started smearing the ashes onto her face, when I remembered what my good friend had told me. He advised me not to sell my dreams, and if I did, he said, I would end up never having a dream in sleeping, but have nightmares in waking, which is how he had spent the rest of his miserable life. The ashen woman opened the door and beckoned me to follow her out into the night where snow-shrouded trees cast their shadows, because I was very hungry.
I could have eaten anything, dead or alive, and in that disoriented state I followed her at a distance, and found myself beside a frozen river. The woman was nowhere to be seen, and I found the weather had abnormally changed. It was hot outside and the ice had started melting, which made me feel impossible to walk to town across the river so I followed the river downstream, wondering all the while what had happened to the ashen woman and why it had suddenly become hot. Just a short way down the river I spotted a cabin, very similar to my own—a column of black smoke rising from the chimney. I approached the cabin, with a sense of foreboding and, looking through the smoke-smeared window, saw myself warming my hands beside a stove.
Behind me, the woman made of ashes brushed her hair and whispered into my ear, "Go inside and into your own body out there." I had no idea what she meant but found myself doing exactly as she said. I opened the door of cabin, stepped inside, and then looked up at myself from the stove. After a moment I started picking up my body piece by piece, glowing white among other ashes and bones in the stove, and swallowed them one by one. I felt warmth rising up from my stomach and spreading through the fragments of coal, which were igniting with fierce red and orange, blowing and scattering around the room. Soon the whole place was ablaze, scarcely before I bolted out the back door to buy my dreams back!
(Photo by James C. Hopkins: Bern, Switzerland)