The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
A Longboat Journey
And as he sat in the lake pushing with his oars, he heard splashing in the background. Powerful swish-swishes of large wakes were breaking around his canoe to rock it back and forth. 'Like I am in a cradle.’
He channeled his focus outwards to the splashes. To his amazement, he saw a long boat gliding towards him. Moreover, it was nearby and quickly getting closer to the canoe. Fifty feet in length, the longboat with curved hulls, was filled with the many rowers that sat lined down the middle. They moved their oars in unison to a watery verse being sung by the master rower, who also happened to be the boat’s captain. The captain’s voice, deep and resonant, carried melodiously across the waters.
Intrigued, David was with the longboat, like a blue arrow shooting his way. He saw both the rowers and the captain’s waists wrapped in loin-cloths. The captain’s hair was wrapped in a bun circled with a rope, whereas the hair of the rowers flowed to their shoulders. And while the lake’s waters were parting to allow the longboat access through the currents, the captain’s song guided the rowers close to David’s little canoe: the canoe bobbing and weaving precariously.
The captain of the longboat moved in long strides to the edge of the longboat. He called out, “Greetings.”
“Greetings to you, captain,” David returned after he found his voice. He continued. “It is a magnificent boat that you have, captain; I know that I have never seen a boat so long or so impressive.”
“Yes, chief,” the captain replied. "We need a boat of great length to collect the wandering souls of southeast Asia.”
David gulped. ‘How could the captain know that I am a chief?’
The captain continued- “Because the lost are crying out for a place of rest, we are gathering them up for a journey to eternal peace.”
David wondered how the captain could hear the cries of lost souls. ‘What would they sound like?’
Then, as though the captain was reading his mind, he replied, "The mourning doves echo their pleas. Winds in the trees howl with their searches. Surely you have heard both."
A long pause. “I didn’t connect the songs of the universe with mankind’s pleas for deliverance.“
“They are one and the same, chief. The hearts of the universe and her children beat together with the same heartbeat.”
“Yes, I believe they do,“ he replied in a slow way. His words splashed with the currents, but in his heart it was the captain’s words that echoed his thoughts- ’hearts of the universe and her children.’
He continued aloud. “Captain, where did you find these lost souls?”
And, as he knew he would, the captain replied - “These souls are coming from the valley of the doomed.”
David wondered, ’is the answer in my head or did the captain actually say these words.’
“Again, please, sir.”
“Yes, chief, it is as you heard.” The captain’s words rang out with the surety of truth.
‘The valley of the doomed. Only I escaped the fierce battles there. My entire platoon were slaughtered,’ David remembered.
Around the rowers and their boats flowed the waters of time. Swirling and rolling on; washing out and back again. Circling around to come to the moment; back to tomorrow. Circling into infinity.
And the boatmen, as did David, felt time momentarily standing still to be observed, to be contemplated, and to be questioned, but never to be understood; never to be changed. Moments later though, time in the river was slapping the sides of the boats and struggling to forward itself.
Finally, he said- “A very long journey for you, sir.”
“No, not at all, chief. The doomed valley is just around the bend.”
‘Just around the bend, just around the bend’ echoing back and forth in David’s head, even as his body fell forward in disbelief. The captain’s sense of time baffled him. ‘Or is it my own sense of time that is warped?’
He shook his head back and forth to try and clear it. ‘How long have I have been journeying away from the doomed? Away from my slaughtered platoon? How many nights sleeping in caves and
beside waters? Let me see: there was a storm of tree spirits and fireballs. A jaunt with arvin that took us to superman troops? Watching firefights, I laid in back of a log for how many days, how many nights? Another trail, another time. How long ago the time that took me to a Buddhists’ mountain ridge and a cave of love? Time past rice paddies into the jungles of evil spirits? The girl that circled me until I caught her. The journey to the sacred mountain. Many, and much more.
He further considered. ‘Were they, are they simply part of a long dream? Did the dream take place after I smoked pot with the NVA? Has it all been a drugged dream? Whose dream? A universal dream? Am I in the dream of other than myself?’
He knocked his head with his knuckles and waited for a reaction. ‘But my memories are not smudged like dreams. They are vivid as sunlight, sliced to the bone as truth. Am I traveling through dimensions? Or traveling in time running parallel with the river?’
It numbed his senses; these mysteries so far off; the answers so close he could taste them. Breath given to a portion of time; time to a moment of truth.
But the captain of the longboat was as sure as David was unsure. He questioned none of it; not the valley of the doomed, not his quest to gather up lost souls; not his timing. Nor did he wonder what dimension he was in, nor the reasons he encountered those he did along the way. He simply traveled on and knew, somehow, that he was here at this place, and in this time because that is where he should be.
The captain also realized that now was the time for him to take up his journey; take it up to sing it out in a rowing song that summoned the rowers to take up their oars and begin a journey onwards. Time for them to cut through the turquoise waters and enter a vibrant afternoon.
David watched them leave: he, the captain, and the rowers connected by the longboat’ wakes.
“Goodbye, mate," the captain called out.
Smiling in a slow, long way, David waved him off while thinking, ‘around the bend for the longboat has been such a long journey for me. For the rowers of the longboat though, their travels have been but a flicker in the eye of eternity. They travel together in moments of time that I cannot know.’
And as the longboat drifted into the mist of moments, David again took up his oars to row onwards through the waters.
© Susan Dale August 2012
Susan’s poems and fiction are on Eastown Fiction, Tryst 3, Word Salad, Pens On Fire, Ken *Again, Hackwriters, and Penwood Review. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.
More Dreamscapes stories
Journey To the Mountain
David headed off in the direction of the sacred mountain. Winds were picking up speed to scatter the fog into mists and beam frail rays into the horizon. Soon into his journey, the mists parted to an abandoned castle that once housed Asian nobles.
Sands Sifting Into Infinity
Sands upon sands stretched out before David, even as something inside of him was sounding warnings. ‘These sands stretch out as far as the eye can see, and beyond that. I can’t see the end of them.