Even though I've only been here twice before, I recognize this place. I recognize the people, some of them anyway. They are always silently going about their business, communicating by looks or gesture; the brave whisper, I think.
I see their lips move but hear no sound.
The last time I was here, there were a group of men and boys digging out a pit. It was rough and shallow, full of stones and such, but today I see that they have finished the pit, at least it looks that way though it's hard to see beyond the line of crude huts that curve ahead in the distance.
I don't know what the pit is for, I don't even know why I'm here.
I don't understand this place, and I am terrified of it. Truly, completely terrified.
When I first arrived, I couldn't see the huts, or much of anything really. My vision seems to expand with each visit. And that I do not understand either.
For nothing makes sense.
I am vaguely aware that I am dreaming. Of course, I must be dreaming. The more I think this, the more I realize it to be true.
Slowly, like a fish underwater, I spin in a circle taking everything in:
Ahead of me snakes a deep and empty moat, or a pit as I've said, stretching to what looks like a final stand of squat, stickly huts planted like withered shrubs across the rocky hilltop. Black Hills, ... they call it Black Hills and I know this name.
I have a home in Black Hills. But it's not this place, it couldn't be. Yet, such are the ways of dreams.
Behind me now, there, over to the left. Not a hut like the others. Something far older, larger and more substantial. Formidable, one might say. A fortified home?
I have to blink my eyes and concentrate, really focus to snap my sleep-weakened vision into clarity. Yes, a mini-fortress, fortified home, all river stone and mud-mortared. It looks and surely is, ancient by its very contours. Derelict, but still ... useful ... comes to mind.
Why useful? By who? For what purpose?
There, leaning out an upstairs window, is a boy. Nearly a man, he looks. I can't fully see his face, but I know he stares at me. Barely visible is the look of horror etched across his dim features, the tight jaw and firm mouth forming an O.
I think he is about to scream my name and he does.
Suddenly I know, through the wave of vertigo that swamps me, that hits me like a fist, and the rush of bitter nausea that floods my throat ... suddenly I know that he has just made a terrible error in speaking my name aloud.
And immediately before the velvety blackness overtakes me, something makes me glance upwards, towards the sky, or where a sky should properly be.
Instead of clouds, or sunshine, or starry light, nor birds or delicate creatures of flight, ... there rises above me, miles perhaps, a hooded ceiling as seen in caves - this one vast, arcing ... menacing. An eerie canopy fashioned of earth and rock, from the surface of which sprout lichenous forests of wan, twisted and sickly trees that sweep ... dangle as it were ... upside down in a frozen tableau as far as the eye can see to the northern west.
My semi-lucid mind dredges up a terrible summation - the Inverted Land. Or the Land of the Crawlers.
Then I am released, and tumble mind-first into the soft escape of unconsciousness.
As the shrill noise from the alarm clock set on my cellphone propels me to wakefulness, I hear the boy's cry echoing through my head. "Charlotte.....