Best Forgotten

By Doug Muder

For many years I have been afflicted by dreams. The one this afternoon was just one more in the sequence. I’m sure it means nothing.

I have never understood why they come to me, these strange dreams that leave me disturbed and wondering about my life and the world. I am not an imaginative person, not the kind of man who is so easy to dismiss as a “dreamer.” On the morning train to work, I read my newspaper diligently or (if I am facing a morning meeting in which I am expected to contribute) review my notes. I never cast an unfocused stare out the window and amuse myself with thoughts of what might happen in some improbable future. In my job I am not a “visionary” (as they like to call themselves) or a “troublemaker” (as the rest of us call them). I do what needs to be done, and I do it in the most direct and simple way.

Neither do I waste my private time on reverie or other impractical imaginings. I am no Walter Mitty, filling up the emptiness with fantasies of rescuing some incomparable heroine or saving the world. And if some would consider my life dull, that is their own problem and not mine. I do not complain about a shortage of excitement, and neither does my wife. Our sons, Jack (who is ten) and Billy (eight), complain constantly of course. Many a summer afternoon is blemished by the whine “There’s nothing to do!” But all boys their age do that. I did in my day and I’m sure their children will as well, and so on, down to the third and fourth generations.

No, I do nothing to encourage these dreams, nor do I in any way deserve them. They are a plague, and they come at the most annoying times. If there were a way to get rid of them without doing anything ridiculous like taking drugs or going into therapy, I would have done it years ago. I am more than ready to be done with them.

Most of my unsettling dreams are the same. Or rather, the same disturbing fragment invades my sleep again and again. In the middle of some perfectly ordinary dream about walking down an endless blank corridor or filling out the same meaningless form over and over, a man (or sometimes just a face) stands before me. It is always the same man — short, old, decrepit. He is dark-skinned like an Arab or a Jew or a Greek, and his beard is white and braided like an ancient statue. “You must wake up!” he says insistently. “You must wake up! We cannot stop him without you.”

Well, I wake up, of course. And of course there is nothing in the waking world that demands my attention. I am under an umbrella at the shore, watching Jack and Billy splash each other under their mother’s ever-vigilant eye. Or I am in my bed on a Sunday morning, the smell of bacon wafting up from the kitchen. Or I have dozed while watching a football game, and the only “him” who needs to be stopped is the opposition halfback racing down the sideline.

Even worse than being deprived of a good nap or weekend sleep-in, these dreams leave me with a sense of anxiety, as if simply waking up to this beach, this bed, this football game is not enough. For several hours thereafter, I carry with me the feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. And worse yet, that someone expects me to fix it, in spite of the fact that I have no idea what they are talking about. I get irritable and snap at people, which is out of character for me and causes everyone to look at me strangely. I find it all terribly embarrassing.

Worst of all, though, are the one-of-a-kind dreams that seem to arise for no other purpose than to spoil the special moments of my life. Take my first day of work, for example. Now, you have to understand that I had dreamed about (no, not “dreamed about”, rather “anticipated” or “planned”) working for TIC ever since my school days. It is the biggest company in my industry, and it is famous for offering the kind of long-term security that I felt was the necessary cornerstone of the life I wanted to make for myself. I had spent years building a resume that would appeal to them, and when they finally made me an offer, I felt that one of the major areas of uncertainty in my life had been settled once and for all. Taking the job involved leaving a city where I had a number of friends, but a person has to be prepared to make these sorts of trade-offs in today’s world. (Occasionally I wonder what has become of them all, or why I never hear from them, but I suppose it’s nothing to wonder about. Everyone is so busy these days.) All in all, I was overjoyed to be starting this new chapter in my life.

And then I had a dream. In the dream I am wearing some kind of monk’s robe, and I am leading a dozen or so other men who are similarly dressed. We stand beneath a hill capped by a castle with a high stone tower, and every time I look up at the castle I am consumed by dread. Something dark and evil is up there, though afterwards I can’t for the life of me explain what it was.

“They have lit the Beacon of the Dark Flame,” I say to my monkish troop — speaking in some language that I know was not English at the time, but which I remember as English now. “If it continues to burn it will call to all the dark wizards of the world. They will assemble, and if there are enough of them, they may succeed in releasing the Old One.”

My followers look horrified, and one says, “Surely the binding is too strong to be undone by mere men, even if they have dark magick.”

“What was done by men can be undone by men,” I say. “In a moment the Sun will reach its zenith, and then we must do the ritual. If we can snuff the dark flame, then my brother’s army can take the castle, and the danger will be gone for this generation and many more after it.”

“But not forever?” one asks, and I shake my head.

“Evil is never defeated forever.”

We lay out our ritual trappings and the others begin to chant: Go taketch shemal. Go taketch shemal. It is the old language, the secret language of Sumer and Ur. The chant cannot be translated, but it is the beginning of all workings with the old magick, both light and dark. I feel the power building around me. I close my outer eyes and open my inner ones. Up the hill, inside the dreadful castle, I can see the dark beacon. It chills me, and I reach out to my chanting supporters for strength. My astral hands become enormous as I reach up the hill to snuff out the flame. The sentry-wizards see me coming and send out the alarm, but they are too late and too weak to stop me. When I touch the flame I go cold from toe to fingernail. All the breath goes out of me and refuses to come back in. But I hold on. My ghostly hands smother the flame until it is out completely.

For a moment I feel nothing but darkness and cold. Then I hear that the chanting has stopped, and a voice above me says, “Is he dead?”

“No,” I say softly, still not able to open my eyes. “I am not dead. I may even recover. But whether I live or not, we have succeeded. Tell my brother the attack can go forward. We must leave this place immediately.”

My little band cheers, and with all my strength I open one eyelid. The landscape around me seems to be morphing and flickering. Up the hill the shape of the castle is indistinct. It moves and shifts, reshaping itself into something entirely new, something that does not fit at all in this medieval landscape:

The TIC Tower.

I awoke with a shout, and looked around to see all the other commuters on the subway staring at me from the corners of their eyes, unwilling to look directly at me for fear that I might be dangerous. My heart was racing and I breathed in quick, deep spasms, but there was no emergency. I was just on the subway, going to my first day on the job. My briefcase was safely between my ankles. My stop was coming up shortly. What situation could be more harmless, more ordinary?

When I came up out of the tunnel and saw the Tower I felt weak and thought about bolting back underground, like a mouse who has seen the hawk circling overhead. But there was no reason. I was man, not a mouse — a lucky man, about to start the job I had always wanted. “I’m a lucky man,” I repeated, and just for a moment I wondered if those sounds had some other meaning in the old language. And then I remembered that there was no old language, at least not any that I knew. It was just a dream, best forgotten. I needed to collect myself and go to work.

I’m sure I made a horrible impression that first day. I was constantly on edge, ready to jump at any moment. My career at TIC might have ended right there if Gerald, my new boss, had not been so understanding. “Everyone gets nervous the first day,” he told me. “It’s nothing to worry about.” Thank God he was right.

And then there was my wedding day.

Again, I have to tell you: Jenny, my wife, is everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman. She’s pretty, pleasant, understanding. She runs an orderly and efficient household, and is a good mother to our boys. I had never had much luck with the opposite sex before I met her. (A lot of pictures from where I used to live show me with a tall brunette, but I draw a complete blank when I try to remember who she is. We must not have been very close.) But as soon as I looked at Jenny I knew it was all over for me: I would marry her or be alone forever.

I was amazed when I discovered that she liked me too. We were married a couple of months after the company party where Gerald had introduced us. Making such an important decision so quickly was out of character for both of us, but we couldn’t see the point in delay. We knew what we wanted, so why wait? Our wedding probably would have been the happiest moment of my life, if I hadn’t had another dream.

In the dream I am running through some sort of woods. My clothes sometimes catch on thorns and sticks, and are full of holes and little rips. They are black and old-fashioned, like the Puritans used to wear. I have just won some sort of battle, but now I need to get away. Every way I turn, the woods get thicker. Even turning back is no good; I just get more and more encircled by the gnarled and thorny trees.

Finally I am caught. Roots grab around my ankles, and I feel myself being pulled backwards towards one of the trees.

“Quite a chase you’ve given us,” says a voice. Gerald stands in front of me, in a spot strangely devoid of trees. Behind him is a figure in a hooded robe.

“You’ve lost,” I say. “You can kill me now, but that will change nothing. After today, you cannot release him in this epoch. And by the time you can restore your power, I will have been reborn. I will thwart you then as I always have.” I am locked in wood up to my knees now. My arms are pinned by vines. I can barely move at all.

“Of course you will be reborn. And perhaps you will even stand against us yet again,” he says, as if the possibility is of no concern. “If you remember. But what if you forget? What if you remember your mission only dimly, and tell yourself that these misty impressions are of no consequence? How will you stop us then?”

The figure behind throws back her hood: It is Jenny. She comes forward and kisses my mouth. Then she drops her robe and is naked underneath. She begins to dance and chant in the old language. I know the words well: It is the Spell of Forgetting.

“You cannot win, no matter what you do to me,” I say. “We bound him with a thousand wizards, and today there are barely a thousand wizards in the entire world. It is an age of science now, and each generation has less magick than the one before it. This was your last chance to release him, and it was a slim one at that.”

“It’s true,” he says, as Jenny continues to dance and chant. Her long blonde hair and full breasts rise as she twirls. Sweat glistens on her arms and neck. The tree has enclosed me up to the chest, and I must push against it to breathe. “We will have to find a way to do without the thousand wizards. Perhaps this age of science will provide its own tools.”

There must be a way to block a Spell of Forgetting, I think. I can’t allow my soul to forget what is best and most important about itself. But I cannot concentrate, and I can barely breathe at all. The wood is covering my mouth, holding my head in place, blocking my nose. I try to calm myself and focus, but my body has given way to panic and I can think of nothing but air, nothing but trying helplessly to expand my lungs and suck in cool, sweet air through the ever-thickening wood.

I woke up on my knees, breathing in loud, asthmatic wheezes. My hands were grabbing the floor like claws, and blue pile carpeting pushed up between my fingers.

“Got the jitters, have we?” Gerald asked pleasantly. He wore a dark tuxedo with an orange shirt. We were in the back of a stretch limousine. “Well, it’s about time, if you ask me. I thought you were taking this all a little too calmly. Who ever heard of a groom falling asleep on his way to the church?”

I reached up to the limousine’s bar and poured myself a glass of scotch, but I was sure I would choke if I tried to drink it. I felt as if I were on a high mountain, where the air has no oxygen and no amount of breathing will ever bring satisfaction.

“Oh, you’ll be all right,” Gerald said. “I remember the day I married Molly. It was like I had a jackhammer in my chest. I was sure the minister would have to stop talking and tell it to be quiet. That’s the funny thing about weddings. All your life you get self-conscious and think that everyone’s looking at you, and then on your wedding day it’s true! Oh, I don’t blame you being nervous. But we all do it, you know, and we all survive it somehow.”

He babbled inanely like that for some while, and it must have been exactly what I needed, because by the time we reached the church I was sitting up in my seat and breathing only a little harder than normal. I took my place at the front of the sanctuary and looked, I suppose, like any other nervous groom, and not at all like a victim of some otherworldly horror.

Jenny’s dress was beautiful, and showed off her figure marvelously without being the least bit daring. It seemed to take forever for her father to lead her down the aisle. When at last she stood next to me, she gave me a wicked, lascivious smile. In my mind I saw the dream image of her breasts pulled outward by the centrifugal force of her spin, and I shuddered and almost fell.

I was useless for the rest of the day, little more than a prop pulled this way and that by photographers, caterers, and members of the wedding party. In the pictures I look like a hunted rabbit. I must have ruined the entire day for her, but Jenny has never made an issue of it. When people ask, she describes the storybook wedding she had planned, and not the disappointing event that I turned it into. That is one of the many things I love about her.

All this history puts today’s events into context, but I realize that it does not explain them. I am not well. I’m sure that’s part of the problem. I slept fitfully last night, and Jenny had to shake me awake in spite of the alarm clock. I brought the morning newspaper with me on the train, but I could not direct my attention to it. The car seemed full of unusual noises and strange characters. They must be there every morning, but today I could not ignore them.

Not until I started trying to work, though, did it become clear to me that I was sick. My mind wouldn’t focus, and when I tried to force it, I began to sweat. I didn’t have any of the symptoms I usually get with a cold or flu, but by 10:30 I was sure that I would get no useful work done. I told my secretary that I had a fever and went home.

The house was quiet when I got there. Not trying to read or work had made me feel a little better, but I could tell that I was still not myself. I found a multi-symptom cold liquid in the medicine cabinet, and drank a shot of it. Then I sat down in my recliner and thought about turning on the television.

Almost immediately I found myself in the following dream: I am asleep in a tent on a bed made up of animal skins. Salazin (the man with the braided beard) is sitting over me saying, “You must wake up. It is time. We dare not wait much longer.”

I feel weak and tired. I ache everywhere, but I force myself to stand up and put on a robe made of coarse and dirty cloth. Salazin is dressed no better. Leaning heavily on a staff, I walk out of the tent. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Since the victory. Almost a week.”

Too long. “We can’t wait,” I agree.

Outside is a plain of hard, dark clay. Across the plain is the ziggurat, all seven levels of it, the tallest tower in the world. Even with Salazin’s help, it will take me an hour to get there. Many roads converge on the ziggurat, and all the ones I can see across the plain have travelers on them. Some have skin darker than mud, while others are pale as corpses and have hair brighter than sunlight. I did not know there were so many kinds of people.

“They have been arriving all week,” Salazin explains. “In every land where the shadow of the Old One fell, the masters of magick have felt his absence, and have come to help us bind him. Some began their journeys months ago, even before we challenged his power. I cannot explain how they knew to come here.”

“Can you speak to them?”

“Very few of us can speak each other’s languages. A handful here and a handful there can converse, but that is all. There is no need to speak, just as there was no need to call them. All know the spells of the ancient ones. All know what we must do.”

I also know what we must do. The ziggurat was the center of the Old One’s power, and now the demon is trapped inside it. When the Spell of Demanifestation separates the Old One’s astral tower from this physical ziggurat, his path to this world will be blocked forever.

But then I realize the flaw in my plan. “It’s not forever, is it?” I ask Salazin.

“Nothing is forever,” he answers. “The spells of men cannot be forever. If a spell equal to ours remanifests the Old One’s astral tower in a new physical ziggurat, he can re-enter this world. But our spell will have the force of a thousand wizards behind it. It will not break easily.”

A thousand wizards. I did not know there were so many wizards in the entire world, but now they are all converging here to destroy this tower. As we draw closer to the ziggurat I begin to believe it. The strangers must come from all corners of the world. They wear so many bizarre costumes. So many barbarous noises come out their mouths in place of speech. And then I think how strange it is, that we would all come together for this one act and then go our separate ways — unable to speak to each other, unable to pierce the confusion of our languages.

“Our spell will not break soon,” I say. “But the Old One has many followers. Their power is shattered for now, but they will rise again. They will try to unleash their master on the world. They will never give up.”

Salazin nodded. “I have been wanting to speak to you of this. It pleases me that you see it for yourself. Otherwise I fear I could not ask of you what I must ask, if the world is to be saved for humankind. In this age you were our hero. You stood against the demon, and with the help of the kindly forces he has been cast down. But every age must have a hero in it, if the Old One is not to rise again.”

A sense of dread descends on me. “What are you asking?”

“That you bind your soul to this cause. That we ask They Who Guide With Soft Breezes to return your soul to this earth whenever the power of the Old One threatens to rise.”

I stop walking for a moment and lean hard against my staff. Salazin knows what he is asking of me: an eternity of lives as a man, endless ages without rest in the Fields of the Blessed. I hang my head and want to cry, but no tears come. “It is necessary,” I say.

“I wish it were not,” he answers.

A circle is forming around the ziggurat. As we approach it Gerald rushes to meet us. (He has another name now, but I cannot recall it.) “Salazin, what have you done?” he yells. “You’ll kill him, dragging him all the way up here. He needs rest. He needs to recover before we attempt this. We should wait.”

I shake my head. “Demons recover faster than men,” I say. “If we wait for my recovery, the Old One will never be bound.”

“But you must wait,” Gerald says. He has been such a good friend to me in this quest. So often he has worried about my safety and tried to persuade me not to go on. “You will die if you do magick in your condition.”

“Then I will die,” I say.

He protests, but I will hear none of it. Around me the Chant of Rising Power has begun. All the wizards know it, and whatever uncivilized accents they have in their mundane affairs, they say these words with clarity: Go taketch shemal. Go taketch shemal.

The power is enormous. I have never felt its like in all my days of wizardry. Somehow we all know when the power has peaked, and begin to shape it with the Spell of Demanifestation: abra fearow flareon seel . . .

The ground begins to shake beneath us [venomoth porygon paras lapras]. Cracks appear in the ground inside our circle. They work their way toward the ziggurat and begin to crawl up its sides. As we near the end [arbok moltres golbat], I can barely hear my own chanting over the earth’s quaking, and with the final magmar the great stone tower crashes with a tremendous roar.

And then we roar as well. A great cry of joy comes from all sides, and wizards in robes embrace wizards in loincloths. The clean-shaven dance with those as hairy as beasts. Nothing matters, nothing but the knowledge that the Old One is gone for our lifetime, and only the force of a thousand wizards can ever bring him back.

And then I feel a hand on my shoulder. Salazin wears a solemn look and reminds me that he and I still have one more ritual to do. I walk to the center of the circle and pick up a piece of the fallen tower’s rubble. “It might as well be now,” I say. “Go taketch shemal.”

And he responds, “Go taketch shemal.”


I awoke in my recliner, in the living room. Jack and Billy and their friend Jason from across the street were home from school and gathered in front of our TV. They had obviously forgotten my existence, or thought of a sleeping Dad as just another piece of furniture, just one more Lay-Z-Boy accessory. They were watching that show, that cartoon I never get the point of. It was at the end now, where they call the roll of show’s strange cute-but-monstrous characters. The boys knew every one, and sang along with gusto.


And for a instant, for one of those strange moments when you have not quite fully woken up, I was sure I understood what they were saying. It was the old language, and I knew what every word of it meant. It was the demon-releasing chant, the Spell of Remanifestation.

In a flash of horror, I recalled the magickal force of childhood and wondered how many children it takes to equal a thousand wizards. How many children at this very moment were gathered in front of TV sets around the world, chanting with gusto? Ten thousand? A million? If there were not enough today, what about tomorrow? He was coming, I was sure. This time I would fail, this time he would not be stopped.

And then I came back to myself.

I was in my recliner. I was home from work with a mild fever. I had taken some cold medicine, had fallen asleep and had a fever dream. My sons were safe in their suburban home, safe in their own living room under their father’s watch and protection. Jenny would be home soon, and then there would be dinner and television, another night like all the others that stretched out ahead and behind in an endless row.

Nothing was wrong.

I sat up on one elbow and looked at the boys. They were just boys, nothing more. And if their eyes still seemed to glisten with a heathenish glow, it could only have been my own imagination, a hangover from yet another damnable dream.

I’m sure it’s nothing.


Doug Muder, 2000