Moira Berg breathed in. Half-asleep. The air was a thin waft of mustard.
There was a memory there, cloyingly attached to the smell. She had been to the Welsh Fens to visit her great-grandmother Loucks last summer. The entire family was there, waiting; a tiny ember of fear bobbing in their stomach fluid. Great-Gran was so weak of late, so tired. Their bellies were full of bright, acrid tension, and sorrowfully empty of the foods that the old matriarch had traditionally prepared when family came on holiday. So many other rituals and practices had been absent in those two and a half weeks. There were no fantastic stories from Great-Gran of the old family’s clashing backgrounds: a Christian woman and a pagan man. She had been a Juliet, he a Romeo. There were no walks around the pond, set far back, prized deep in the woods. Moira and her siblings used to pretend that the only “safe” place to be during tag was on the miniature island at the center of the pond. To be precise, you had to touch the stunted alder tree cluster that pierced the islet’s center.
She tossed in bed. Her fiancé, Ben, stirred next to her, his dark hair falling so that it shrouded his eyes. She made sure not to wake him. All these memories were coming back to her because of that smell. She turned back, more awake. She checked her Blackberry for messages and noticed the date at the screen’s header.
Wednesday, June 26
It was now 2010. The funeral was one year ago that very day. During the visit, Great-Gran had passed away, just as everyone had anticipated. That must be why she was having the delusions of smelling the English countryside that Great-Gran and her elderly peers had so affectionately called “The Wash.”
During this contemplation, Moira began to drift off to sleep again. The more she retreated from her semi-wakened state, the farther her thoughts drifted from the melancholy memories of the funeral…
First, Moira was an observer, as often occurs in dreams; sweeping over the Wash and breathing in the smell of fresh English mustard plants. Presently, she fell into herself within the dream, and found she was looking out over the Fenlands from one of Great-Gran’s little hilltop guest cottages. It was a clear, starry night; the sky was the purest navy she’d ever seen. It only grew lighter as it reached the dark lands’ horizon. The moon shone in the east, and lit the world in a ghastly beautiful contrast of sharp, pale white and oozing tar.
Upon becoming more lucid, Moira realized that in the dream she was standing in an odd position looking out the window. She wondered how she had gotten there, but an irresistible inner force compelled her to ask no questions. She was on the ledge of the open window, barefoot. She had begun to raise her arms with an unknown purpose. There was something old lying dormant behind her sternum. Ancient, it was in control. She was not herself in this dream; she felt powerful despite her willowy frame.
She drew herself into an out of body state and observed herself. Her normally dull, oceanic eyes blazed a blinding blue. Her shoulder-length chocolate brown hair rose and fell defiantly, slowly, irregularly around her head. The golden chain around her neck floated slightly away from her chest, lofted by the heirloom Crucifix that normally hung from it. The symbol itself flushed an unnatural white-gold. The white night-clothes she had on shone a brighter white in the moon and billowed slightly, though the wind was absent in this strange world.
Back in her dream body, Moira shivered. Her task seemed to be a particularly destructive one. There was a growing power that began as the moonlight reached her eyes. It traveled down her spine, and little by little, raised her arms from shoulder socket to finger tips.
The long-grass of the Fens trembled and the nearby mire rippled, the water undulating violently. When her arms were fully extended over the calm, soggy Wash, it erupted into a roaring sea of muddy water and sod. Whatever was she doing? The infant waves crashed indigo and thick brown, tossing mustard greens and peat about. Moira didn’t want to be in this dream anymore; she didn’t want to be the cause of this destruction. But, the terror persisted. She could not push it or pull herself away.
With her toe-tips brushing the windowsill, she was practically afloat, and making ruin of the beautiful English mustard fields with the force of her will.
She began to chant, “I am the Deity of the Moon-Lit Blue.”
What did that mean?
“I have no love to give, so in this land I find strength to live.”
This was not Moira speaking. Was she possessed?
“I am the Deity of the Moon-Lit Blue.”
The voice filled her mouth with a thick, blinding power that bloated her tongue.
“I come in the hour of the Full Moon, and now leech life of the ancient Wash.”
This place was her childhood.
“Watch, as it swoons.”
Another figure appeared on a hilltop diagonal to Moira. He began to sing a deep song. All that he called down to him was darkness. It was a powerful incantation, an invocation of aid. The night was called down, and shadowy figures within its midst. In the light of the Moon he was a dreadful thing to see. His dark, shaggy hair blew violently, and his midnight cloak billowed behind him; its highlights lit only to the extent of a dull, deeply dark gray even in the Moon’s light.
She felt a dusky, electric power surging from him that was profoundly musical. It was strangely calming. His song soothed her into pitch darkness, an opaque land of music that pulled her in like a magnet. She wondered what that meant. His aura was not malicious, but more like that of a savior. What did anything mean? Her head was throbbing.
The only thing that she could understand anymore was that for some reason she was fighting to rip apart her great-grandmother’s marshland as thoroughly as she could, and the sorcerer on the other hill was trying to calm Moira, to calm the Moon, and to preserve the old land.
Her chants held their ground with the power of a bright light, but his dark, smooth voice was melodious and overwhelming. Then Moira realized that this voice, her dream voice, was something she’d heard before. In another dream, or a long-lost memory… But, it was more than that. It was the exact voice that her Great-Gran had spoken in when she told stories. She uttered the same tones; sharp, yet sometimes soft and feather-light, other times ominous and powerful.
A wave splashed up in front of Moira, shocking her, and in its multi-faceted reflection was something even more startling. All across the mirrored surface were the faces of women and a few men, all of whom resembled her in different ways. One of them was Great-Gran. Another was her grandmother who had passed away before she knew her, and yet another was her infamous great-great-uncle, Uriah Loucks. Each mouth was chanting in the same many-layered voice. Without giving her time to question it, the upsurge dissipated in a sparkle of a thousand faces. Many of those visages belonged to characters from Great-Gran’s old tales.
The dark figure on the other hill had become still, serene. He was surrounded by humanoid shadows. Supporting him. Protecting him and the land. He reached skyward and the world rumbled.
With a great crack of lightning from the tip of the wizard’s finger, the whole world became light. Moira fell blindly forward from the night sky into the reality of her tangled bedding, the air whooshed from her ribs like a bellows. Ben stood in the doorway with his finger on the light-switch, hair mussed like a little boy at the breakfast table, clad only in his black boxer briefs. There was an awful stench in the air as Moira Berg took her first fully-conscious breath that very early morning. Her nose crinkled and her eyes cracked open, like walnuts.
“What is that?” her groggy mind croaked.
It was pungent; green and yellow like an English fen. An English fen! That’s what her dream was about!
‘I never remember my dreams…’ said her brain.
“I just left the room to get a snack and you’re already having more nightmares?” he asked accusingly, but with worry in his eyes.
She slowly inquired, “What happened tonight? Have I been dreaming this entire time?”
Ben told her that they had gone to bed that night like any other night, but that she’d begun to tremble and woke him up. He tried to get her to wake up at first, so he carried her over to the window where the moon was shining in. She had begun to chant when he brought her into the moonlight, and he thought she was waking up until she tried to throw herself out the window.
“Do you remember any of this?” he inquired, his brow furrowed with fretful thoughts.
“No. Well, not exactly, the strangest pieces of it were in my dream,” she answered as truthfully as she was able to.
He told her that he had hauled her back to bed and pulled the window shade slowly, although she put up quite a fight. The entire time he had murmured his family’s old lullabies in her ear to get her to calm down – They had worked on his youngest brother’s night terrors, he explained. When she quieted, he had tucked her into the blankets and left her alone in the pitch black room for a few minutes, only to return to her thrashing and screaming.
Ben sat on the edge of the bed and motioned for her to come to him. Moira looked pensive, and it was clear that he was not the only one who was concerned now. She scooted closer, nuzzled her head on his shoulder and clung to his waist.
“That actually explains a lot,” she said quietly. “That’s pretty much how my dream went, except it was based at my great-gran’s cottage, near the Wash. Wait, why do I still smell mustard?”
“Oh bugger! Well, we left the sandwich stuff on the table before we went to bed…I was about to clean it up, but then I heard you again. I guess we shouldn’t do that, or we’ll be in danger of having another awful, sleepless night,” he gently chided.
“Ah, well,” Moira yawned, “I’m actually much too awake to go back to sleep. I’m gonna go see what’s on the telly.”
Ben followed Moira out to the living room of their second floor apartment, flicking off the bedroom light as they left. She clicked on the television and they snuggled up together on the couch. The news was on, and BBC was running an emergency broadcast about something which had happened in the Fens.
“Turn it up,” Moira gasped.
Ben found the sound remote and turned up the newscaster just as he was saying, in a disconcertingly calm tone, “…been a strangely violent flooding in the Fens tonight. Scientists worldwide are speculating that it was related to the extraordinary lunar eclipse which occurred during the night, as this seems to be a recurring event in these particular wetlands…”