Of Pinipeds and Silverfish

SYNOPSIS: Some say we use dreams to work out problems in our waking world. Some waking world problems are harder to solve than others.

Snuffle. Snick.

The piniped following Alaric d’Olmstead up the watchtower’s winding stairs had found the next coin and consumed it, then flahped up to the next step and – snuffle snick — it found and consumed another coin.

It quickly searched and flopped up three steps on which Alaric had left no coin.

Snuffle. Flahp. Snuffle. Flahp. Snuffle. Flahp.

Alaric focused so intensely on his pursuer coming up from below that he almost missed the fluttering on his neck as a spoon-sized silverfish darted from between the cold ancient stones. This one wouldn’t bite, or so Alaric hoped as it jittered around his neck and jiggled down his bare chest. It paused, furry antenna wiggling like wheat in a stormy wind, then crossed to Alaric’s right hand in which he tightly held the bag of coins.

Not coins! Souls!

He strangled silent the words that were struggling to become a shout. No reason to let everything in the tower know he was there. But the bag seemed heavier whenever he remembered that each coin represented the trapped soul of someone in the village far below.

“Souls!”

It wasn’t Alaric’s voice, but rather the silverfish screaming in it’s tiny tinny voice a sound that meant “souls” to any who could hear. A horde of silverfish began pouring down the walls from cracks between the stones. They attempted to congregate on the coin bag, and Alaric got busy shaking them loose.

Each time he had them cleared, he saw the fabric of the bag was getting thinner. So thin that he could see iridescent faces of villagers in the faces of the coins. Alaric hated seeing the coins with such distinctions revealed. He had been taking care not to look at the coins each time he placed one sacrificially on the stairs.

He felt a bone-chilling cold as the silverfish recovered and engulfed his hand again.

He shook them free, then glanced across the well of the tower and saw, in a brief flash, a landing he had not seen before. He slung his legs over the inner stair rail, locked his feet in whatever unseen foothold they seem to have found, and then launched himself toward that landing.

His trajectory took Alaric across the chasm and into bare wall. The bag of soul coins exploded in shreds from the impact, sending a fountain of flashing and flickering coins down deep into the dark.

Arms and legs flailing, Alaric tried to find some purchase on the wall. He saw the swarming silverfish flowing down the wall in pursuit, and heard a loud “harrumph” from below as the pinniped sensed his sought-after snacks falling past him into the impenetrable dark below. The pinniped threw its gargantuan bulk over the rail and, eventually, hit bottom.

Alaric felt the tower spinning, collapsing around him.

When he awoke, he was in a hospital bed. Tending him was his very ancient mentor.

“You got further than any of the others,” the mage said. “We’ll give it another test run after you’ve rested.”

“The watchtower was a test run?” Alaric asked, “and how many have I done?”

“Not enough,” the mage replied. “Not enough.”