A Traveler’s Dilemma

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On lonely nights, when the sun is silent and the winds are at slumber, I try to peer into the memories of my past, but I have lost so much to time. Sometimes I remember moments from my childhood days, when I was but a little girl—a little here, a little more there, but like water running through clenched fists, they no longer possess a definite form. However, my mind still harbours a few memories. They are not pleasant. They are of trauma, death, and horror.

One thing I remember like yesterday is that I should have perished alongside my family on the night that evil visited our home in Warsaw. But alas, fate would not have it so. My family was butchered by beasts who wore the flesh of men. These monsters claimed to be soldiers fighting for their country. It might have been for land or for glory. I cannot recall. All I remember are their faces, the mangled corpses of my parents and siblings sprawled on the cold floor, and the blazing embers that remained of our small cottage after the soldiers set it ablaze.

In the weeks that followed, amidst the bleak remnants of a war-ravaged city, I scavenged for survival. One evening, as night fell while I sifted through death, emptiness and ruins, a soft voice interrupted my solitude. The frail-looking woman stood as a silhouette against the setting sun. Her demeanour echoed the same misery emanating from me like a poisonous aura. Her pale blue eyes held understanding, bridging the gap of shared hardship. Without words, she extended a lifeline, welcoming me into her home. In that gesture, she became more than a saviour; she became the warmth I needed in the cold abyss of my existence. Her name was Sarah.

Sarah lived alone, for her husband had died a long time ago. She bore him no children, so in the stead of an heir, she adopted me. Loneliness relinquished its grip on my days, fading into the recesses of my mind as the warmth of a mother’s love enveloped me. Life unfolded in comforting normalcy until my twelfth year arrived, bringing with it a harbinger of strange dreams.

In one such dream, I found myself navigating the familiar corridors of Sarah’s home. The air hung heavy with an unspoken tension as I approached the kitchen. There, in the dim light, Sarah wept, her sobs echoing through the empty spaces. In fear, I asked her the cause of her despair, and she uttered words of mourning—“I lost my father this morning.”

Days later, reality mirrored the dream with eerie precision, as its foretelling unfolded before my eyes, casting a surreal shadow over my newfound reality. It was then, at the tender age of twelve, that I realised my dreams were not mere figments of imagination; they were windows into the fabric of time…

As time went by, it dawned upon me that I could control this remarkable gift. So, one night, I willed myself back in time, and watched as my father frantically hid little me beneath the bed, unable to get to my siblings and my mother before a bullet caught him in the face. I watched as little me coiled and whimpered in horror, seeing my father’s lifeless body hit the floor, and hearing the last screams of my brother and sisters as they were slaughtered like pigs, while my father’s blood traced a path to little me under the bed like a final farewell. I watched as the soldiers crowned their havoc by setting the place on fire, the roof falling as a blackened little me scampered her way out. I watched little me take refuge beneath nearby trees as the orange flames consumed my home and claimed the remnants of my family. I watched the horror until there was nothing left, nothing but dust, blackness, and death.

When I woke up from this dream, I wept uncontrollably, and regardless of how hard Sarah tried, I couldn’t tell her what I had just seen. However, seeing just how troubled she became over the next couple of days, I vowed to myself that I would never trace that particular memory again. So, instead, I travelled far and beyond to moments yet unborn, and to times long dead, for you see, in time, my gift permitted me to see both the future and the past. Sometimes, I would go back to the happy times I shared with my family before the horror. Other times, I would go further back, before even my father was born. I could go anywhere, any when. However, I was unable to alter events, I could only visit as an audience. Like a spirit, I could not be seen, heard, or felt.

As I ventured deeper into the realms of my dreams, the toll on my waking self became palpable. Each nightly travel left an indelible mark, etching weariness into the lines of my face. Dark circles adorned my eyes like silent witnesses to the price paid for glimpses beyond the veil of time. The vibrancy that once coloured my waking hours waned, replaced by the subtle shadows of an existence intertwined with the ethereal. Sometimes, I would stare at the mirror for an eternity, and I would be unable to find myself in the visage that stared back at me. The more I traversed the corridors of time, the more I felt a piece of myself slipping away, like grains of sand carried by a relentless current. The weight of unseen burdens pressed upon my shoulders, and the innocence of youth gradually succumbed to the burdensome wisdom of a reluctant seer.

Recognising the toll my dreams were taking on me, I consciously limited my late-night voyages. The weariness etched on my face spoke of the burdens carried from the ethereal world. Yet, despite the visible strain, the allure of these journeys remained undeniable. Each venture into the unknown held a fascination that, even against the backdrop of my weary reality, pulled me into its captivating embrace. The juxtaposition of exhaustion and fascination formed a paradox that defined my nightly sojourns into the enigmatic realm of dreams.

In the times of the great Pharaohs of Egypt, I witnessed the grandeur of the pyramids, their colossal stones rising against the desert sun. Among the awe-inspiring structures, I saw workers toiling under the scorching sun, their backs bowed beneath the weight of the gigantic stones, a testament to the sacrifice woven into the tapestry of ancient history. During the sinking of the Titanic, the air was pierced by the haunting cries of desperate souls plunged into icy waters. Amidst the chaos, I glimpsed the anguished struggle of a man, teeth gnashing in a futile attempt to survive. I watched as hope abandoned him and he accepted his fate as he sank into his watery grave, encapsulating the tragic drama of that ill-fated night. Standing atop the Great Wall of China as it was being built, I felt the Earth tremble beneath the collective effort of countless labourers. Amidst the symphony of construction, a loose brick shifted, sending a man plummeting to his demise—a stark reminder of the human cost woven into the fabric of monumental endeavours.

These initial glimpses into historical events were but scratches on the surface of what my dreamscape held. It was a gradual unfolding, an evolution within the tapestry of my dreams. One night, while wandering the corridors of my dreams, I stumbled upon a celestial expanse—a realm untouched by the limitations of mortal existence. The stars whispered secrets, and galaxies danced in cosmic harmony. In that boundless void, I sensed a profound connection to realms beyond my human comprehension.

With each subsequent dream, the realization dawned upon me like a gradual revelation. I found myself traversing not only the annals of history but venturing into fantastical landscapes and alternate dimensions. The dreamscape became a canvas upon which the extraordinary and the impossible converged, transcending the conventional boundaries of my waking reality. In time, I discovered the extraordinary extent of my ability to transcend worlds within the realm of dreams. With this newfound power, I embarked on surreal journeys, visiting the sun—a brimming volcano in the dreamscapes—walked the moon’s desolate surface, and soared through the skies with a sense of liberation that defied the laws of physics.

This transcendence wasn’t simply a matter of sightseeing; it became a quest for understanding the limits of my own capabilities and the mysteries that the dream world held. As I explored these fantastical realms, my excursions evolved into a delicate dance between between harnessing my powers and unravelling the enigmas concealed within the fabric of my dreams. Each visit became an opportunity to peel back layers of reality, to fathom the depths of imagination, and to test the boundaries of my connection with the ethereal dimensions that unfolded before me. But even though Sarah knew nothing of these dreams, the toll they took on my body betrayed a strangeness she could neither understand nor stop worrying about. When the doctors got tired of my visits, they postulated that rapid ageing was probably embedded within my genes. I nodded in agreement, convincing her that my real mother was that way too.

And perhaps I would have stopped, but one night, within the vast expanse of my dreamscapes, I sensed the presence of another traveller like me. The dream unfolded in hues of indigo, and amidst the surreal landscapes, her silhouette emerged. A figure cloaked in an ethereal glow, her features shrouded in the enigmatic play of shadows and light. Our encounter unfolded in a dreamscape reminiscent of an ancient library lost to time, with towering shelves that held the volumes of forgotten lore. As our gazes locked, I discerned a familiarity in her eyes—a shared recognition of the solitary journey we both undertook through the corridors of time.

She stood with an air of quiet confidence, her presence transcending the dreamlike ambience. A cascade of silver strands framed her countenance, and her eyes, pools of endless curiosity, held the wisdom of one who had traversed the dreamscape for millennia. In measured steps, I approached this mysterious fellow traveller, our gazes unwavering in the timeless space between dreams. The air around us thrummed with a palpable energy—an unspoken understanding that, in the boundless tapestry of dreams, we were not alone in our sojourn through the corridors of time.

Her name was Hannah. She was a little older, and in time, we became like sisters. She told me many things, including the fact that we were not so unique as there were several of us. Through her travels, she encountered men, women, and children alike. I found comfort in her words, and the world felt less lonely. She said they called people like us “Travelers”. I do not know who christened us with the name. But I believed it a fitting one.

“You can only travel as far as your imagination permits”, Hannah said. “If you lack imagination, you will never go very far.”

Hannah took me to places I could never have imagined. We flew far and wide, from the cold stiff lands of Antarctica to the hot terrains of Africa. She took me beneath the seas, and we flew across the ravines. We even visited other worlds—other civilisations. I bore witness to the splendour of it all. One night as we floated through the vacuum of space, I asked her the furthest she had ever travelled.

“Billions of miles from here,” she said before pointing to the stars sparkling and dimming in the distance, “but one day I will love to visit the stars.”

“Indeed, I would too,” I thought to myself. “Indeed, I would.”

My friendship with Hannah grew stronger over the years. And in time, I forgot the promise to myself to drift less often. In our dreams, we would meet at a place that only we knew, and from there, we could go anywhere. We were timeless, unbound by flesh—we were infinite.

One night, we travelled and found ourselves in a foreign land. The sun was white, and the waters sparkled like diamonds. The air was so still, each step we took echoed across a vast plain. How we had gotten there we could not tell, but it seemed we were drawn to this ethereal place. In the distance was a garden. The most beautiful garden I had ever seen. We ventured into this green magnificence, drawn to its by its beauty. In the garden’s heart sat an aged woman, her weathered face and sagging skin attesting to the weight of time. Wisps of silver framed her frail form, and her once-vibrant eyes now bore the milky film of blindness. Despite the years etched upon her, a regal grace emanated from her presence, as if the garden itself paid homage to the one who had witnessed the passing of countless Eons.

Hannah was braver of us two, approaching the woman and asking, “Who are you?”

“My name is Duma,” said the old woman in a weak, gentle voice.

“Where do you come from?” asked Hannah.

“I?” replied the woman with a bland smile. “I come from a long time ago… from days unremembered.”

I cannot recall what made me ask the next question. But somehow, I knew the answer before the question parted my lips. “Are you alive?”

She looked in my direction with her glazed eyes and smiled. “I died a long time ago.”

We did not know what to say to her words, so we let the silence play its part. I had sensed she was not of the living, for her presence felt somewhat peculiar, so her response did not surprise me, although it shocked me, nonetheless.

“In life, I was very much like you…” The dead woman began her story. “I travelled to the furthest places. I bore witness to the beginning and the ending of the world. I was present in the times of the Great War—the last war—when the air turned to ash, the clouds turned black, and with the blackness came the fires that scorched nations and ended the world. I was there when the first men walked the Earth, when the first kings built their castles and fortresses. I was there when those castles fell to time and decay. I was there when civilisations crumbled and became undone. I have been to places you can never imagine; seen things no one has. I have been to the edge of the universe and beyond…”

She rose and walked towards us. Even with her sightless eyes and aged body, she moved with lofty grace. As she drew closer, I began to feel a certain air around her. I could not tell what it was, but I knew it to be unnatural, sinister even. If only I had taken heed to my heart, perhaps…

“Where do you come from?” Hannah asked again, her voice filled with wonder and awe.

Duma pointed at the skies, to the glowing distant orbs above.

“The stars?” Hannah asked in astonishment.

“No,” the blind old woman replied, a mysterious smile playing on her lips. “Where I come from transcends even the celestial tapestry. It extends far beyond the sun itself. A place beyond the stars…”

Hannah, caught in the enchantment of the revelation, couldn’t suppress her euphoria, her hand instinctively covering her mouth in awe.

“A place where time is but a whisper,” the old woman continued, her words carrying a mysterious weight, as if unveiling a fragment of a cosmic secret hidden within the fabric of existence.

I did not know if Hannah felt the same foreboding as I, but if she had, she took no heed to the winds. In awe, she asked, “You live there?”

“Yes. Many who have once lived in your world now live there too.”

“You mean dead people?” I asked in fear, for I had just realised what the place was. It was the abode of the dead.

As Hannah made to take a step forward, I held her back. It seemed she had been put in a trance, swayed by the old woman’s words. The moment I broke the trance, the woman was gone, the garden had withered, and we were left in a barren land where not even the wind resided.

Weeks passed and all Hannah could talk about was the old woman in the garden. She yearned to see her. She screamed her name, but Duma would not appear. I tried to dissuade her, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Hannah longed for that special place, and I knew there was little I could do to stop her.

This went on and on, until one day, Hannah was gone. Our dream encounters, a familiar dance in serene moonlit clearings, abruptly ceased. No longer did Hannah grace the shared dreamscape. The comforting echoes of our laughter turned into a haunting silence. In the absence of our rendezvous, the realisation hit me—Hannah had departed, venturing to the place beyond the stars, leaving the dreamscapes a lonely expanse. The very place she longed to explore had become her sanctuary, leaving me to navigate the dream realms alone, haunted by the echoes of our shared journeys.

Several months passed, and I was already starting to get used to not having Hannah in my dreams, then one evening, she was right there. She sat atop a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. She was dressed in white attire and her back was turned to me. Slowly and cautiously, I approached her. Thrice I called her name, and thrice I did not receive an answer. I placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and breathed her name once more. My old friend slowly turned to look at me, revealing a face devoid of expression. Like Duma, her eyes were now glazed. She too had become blind!

“Do you see?” she whispered, her blind eyes peering over my shoulder at something that stood behind me, something that was beyond my sight. I knew it stood behind me for I could feel its presence.

I turned around slowly as my eyes trailed her gaze, but all I saw was a gentle wind stirring up debris. When I turned back to look at Hannah, she was gone.

When I woke up from that dream, I looked myself in the mirror and felt Sarah’s panic for the first time. At only twenty, I looked exactly like my mother did at thirty-five—the age she died. I convinced myself that I could no longer afford to make these dream-trips.

And so, years passed, forests gave way to civilisations, man flew the skies more frequently than birds, and I forgot how to fly in my dreams. I met a man, fell in love, left Sarah, and bore children. In time, I forgot completely about my gift. I beseeched it to stay where it belonged—in my memories. However, my curiosity refused to be buried, and for years I sought to find Hannah, not in dreams, but in real life.

I searched far and wide until I found myself in front of her little cottage in a distant land. How I found her, I do not know. Perhaps I was drawn to her. Perhaps we were connected by bonds unbroken by distance and time. Like me, Hannah had aged, but she had been in a deep slumber for years, unable to wake up, at the mercy of her aged mother who tended to her.

“She has been in a coma for seventeen years,” said the poor old woman. “Since the 14th of June 1952.”

I remembered the date. It was the last time I set my eyes on her; the day she disappeared atop the Aegean cliff.

I sat next to my friend and wept. Like a child pleading with her mother not to leave, I implored Hannah to return to the land of the living, but it was to no avail. My friend was already gone. Gone to the place beyond the stars, and I knew she was never coming back.

As I left, I held her palms in goodbye, and the moment my skin touched hers, I felt the same sensation of dread and despair I felt all those years in the garden—the day Duma appeared to us.

I immediately relinquished my hold on her, but it was too late. I started to feel eyes on me. Eyes unseen. Eyes that did not belong to the living. In that moment, I knew they saw me- the dwellers of the place beyond the stars. I could not see them, but they saw me… I could feel their sinister gaze upon my soul. I thought if I left Hannah’s cottage, I would be rid of them, but alas, I was wrong.

Now, everywhere I go, I feel them in the winds. I cannot see them, but I know they are always with me. As days pass, the feeling grows stronger, and I know that one day, I too will be gone.

It is midnight now. A feeling wakes me up from my sleep. I cannot tell what it is, but I can swear that I heard my name being parted from inhumane lips just before I awake. The Ambience is strange and the silence unnerving. As I look around the dark room, something catches my eye.

In the corner of the room, beneath the shadows, stands something… something unnatural. I cannot tell what it is, for it is shrouded by the night. The more I stare at it, the more it begins to take form. It appears to be the silhouette of a man, gaunt and ravaged. Its fingers are unnaturally long and thin, having the semblance of claws. Its long neck is bent at an awkward angle, as if broken. It shares a strong resemblance to a withered corpse hanging from a hangman’s noose.

It looks at me, but not with eyes. It has no eyes, yet I know it is looking at me for I feel its gaze piercing my flesh and into my very soul. Its presence is malignant, its intent is sinister.

With dry, fumbling lips, I ask, “Wh…Who are you?”

“A visitor,” the entity breathes.

It does not reply with words. It is as though we are connected by our minds, and we can commune our thoughts with one another.

“What do want?” I ask again, trying to sound as if I am unafraid, though I know my faltering composure betrays me.

The entity laughs in a shrill inhuman voice that makes the hairs of my skin stand on end. It slowly raises its wasted hand, pointing one of its malformed fingers at me. “We…want…you…”

As I stare at the monster in the shadows, I begin to feel the fear trickle down my spine like icy water. It seems my feet have been rooted to the floor for I am unable to move in the slightest. But then, as mysteriously as the visitor came, it disappears, and I am left in terror and fear.

As the sweat pours down my face, I realise there are some places we—Hannah and I—should never have ventured. There are some things the living is not meant to see.

The visitor is gone, it has left fear and dread in its stead. The mirror completes the horror, showing me folds and wrinkles when I look back at my thirty-five-year-old self.

I know that soon, the visitor will be back; they will be back—whoever and whatever they are. I know one day soon, they will be back to take me to the place beyond the stars. They will take me…and I shall never return.

Mohammed Babajide Mohammed

Mohammed Babajide Mohammed

Mohammed Babajide Mohammed is a dedicated writer whose passion for storytelling was ignited in early childhood. Writing became not just a hobby, but a guiding beacon in a life that felt directionless. From a young age, the pen became his compass, leading him on a journey of self-discovery and providing a pathway back to a sense of purpose and belonging. Mohammed's words serve as both a map and a destination, guiding not only himself but also those who immerse themselves in the worlds he creates.