Contest Winner! A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare
I’m happy to share the winner of the “Hermes the Babbler Contest!” Mileva Anastasiadou’s story is based on a dystopic, creepy version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Her story is entertaining whether or not you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s play, but it makes a lot more sense if you are. (If you want to refresh your memory about the play, here’s a link to the Thug Notes version!) A big theme in the play is Order vs. Chaos, and I loved the way Mileva played with that, tying the story back into the original competition parameters. The story itself feels dreamlike—a little confusing, but all coming together in the end. Nobody knows what is real and everyone lives in their own version of the world. The character of Lysander (called Eric in this story) tries to make his way through the world when his memories and mind are being played with. Thank you Mileva and congratulations!
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Midsummer Night’s Nightmare
Once upon a time, there were woodlands, and forests, and vineyards, and the city was small. Nowadays, forests have vanished, only a few remain around the city, where all inhabitants live their lives unaware of the past, considering it only a fairy tale, a figment of some creative mind’s imagination, or mythology, a pile of legends embedded into the collective unconscious. Things still get confusing though, resembling dreams. Or even nightmares sometimes.
“Unfortunately, your friend is not in here,” she said, closing the file. Mrs. Smith has been that kind of woman for her whole long life, never admitting to any mistakes whatsoever. I have known her since the day I was born, which could be considered an exaggeration in other worlds, but not on this one, where recollection of our birth is not unusual and memories are beginning to form the moment we set foot in life as we know it.
“I wonder if he has been swallowed by one of the magic holes,” I mumbled, but Mrs. Smith could not possibly hear me, as she shrugged twice apologetically before speaking. I could not be sure whether she was trying to hide the truth, or was playing naive in an effort to appease me.
“The archives are most properly arranged. I personally see to that. So a mistake is impossible,” she insisted looking me in the eye. The tone of her voice made it clear; I was beginning to bore her, or even worse, to waste her precious time that could be spent more wisely than dealing with unnecessary doubts concerning her work.
“Next please,” she shouted to confirm my suspicion. I left the building in despair, determined not to give up my quest for my lost friend.
My steps led my unwilling and tired body to the lake once again, where I spent most summers of my childhood, playing, swimming and fooling around like kids usually do. It is rather impossible to enjoy summer by the lake nowadays, as the waters have receded so much that they barely engulf the middle of my calf. A heavy drought has recently fallen over the region as they say, attributed by most of the inhabitants to the factory built on the edge of the town several years ago. I know better of course, but still I cannot prove anything. The waters have been swallowed by another magic hole, like the one that most probably swallowed my friend too, like the ones that appear and disappear continually in this place lately, eliminating persons, memories, feelings, and will eventually extinguish all the magic that lies hidden in every corner of the town.
Although the town I was born and raised in is rather unimportant, it will surely win a special place in history when the time comes, when the rest of the world will acknowledge its extraordinary features. No resident will ever admit to that, but we are special people, entrusted with special powers, that we are obliged to hide from the rest of the world. We are a country within a country, humans by blood, heroes by magic. Though mortals in nature, we are blessed with gifts no other mortal beings, even the ones that take pride in their imaginative capabilities, could ever dream of. This is the reason this place was chosen for the factory as well. All the magic involved enabled development, which led to more jobs available and increased the well being of the people who were lucky enough to be born here.
During the days of the Great Depression, just before the factory was built to lift our spirits, David came to me with his son, after he lost his job in the firm he had been working at for years. I stood by him, even though we had never been best friends before. I used to cook for him, when he could not even afford food. We used to share my daily pack of cigarettes, so he could keep an illusion of the old routine, and I even lent him my credit card once or twice. It took him six months to get back on his feet, but he finally did, thanks to the factory of course.
Never had I been more surprised in my short miserable life. Nobody is immune to betrayal, still I never expected this, although perhaps I should have.
We were both drunk that night celebrating his new job. I was proud as a father would be watching his son make it through difficult times. He was not my son though. He was just a friend, who transformed into the brother I never had. He was happy as a kid eating ice cream that night, or better as a student getting the long-coveted degree.
It was two of them. They took away all our money, before we had the time to react.
“Anything else on you?” the long haired guy asked.
“Sure, there’s a credit card if you are willing to search for it,” my friend answered.
The other man, the younger one, looked nervously towards my friend’s direction.
“Hurry,” the long haired shouted, “we don’t have all the time in the world.”
“What’s in it for me?” my friend asked. I thought he was joking at the beginning.
“You can have a piece of my pumpkin pie,” the long haired guy replied smiling. David laughed loudly as he took the credit card out of my pocket and handed it away.
They kept their promise. My friend enjoyed a bite of the pumpkin pie while writing down my pin number.
People do not want to be reminded they once needed crutches, so they throw away the crutches they once depended upon, firmly believing they will not ever need them again. Even if they do, they are willing to search for new ones, once the occasion arises. Weak people do not wish to be reminded of their weakness, especially when they get their strength back. They will get rid of the crutches as soon as possible, just to prove their strength. A piece of a half eaten pumpkin pie is considered a bargain in the case you get something back in exchange for something you wanted to get rid of anyway.
“You do not really think I gave them the correct number, do you?” David asked and we both laughed and I forgot all the stories my mind had made up.
I woke up next morning to a call from the bank. He did give them the correct number after all.
I have never spoken again with the former friend who sold our friendship for a piece of pumpkin pie.
Seven years have passed since that day and I am still looking for him.
If I still could read minds, as I used to, my quest would be easier, but little by little, our special powers have been stolen, taken away. There is a rumor that connects the loss of magic to the factory but no evidence to prove it. Our little community has grown, since more people have immigrated here in search of a better life, thanks to all the new jobs the factory has created. Some say, that the magic must be hidden, or else the impact would be detrimental, since if it was discovered by outsiders, the dangers would be enormous for all of us. I thought so in the beginning and tried to be discrete about them, until I discovered that they slowly began to languish until they finally disappeared. When I spoke to my neighbors about the fact, they pretended they had forgotten about them. About their own powers as well. I cannot be sure though whether they pretended or had in fact erased all memories of them, or even if someone else had erased them for them.
The only person I trust in town is Mrs. Smith. She is my only friend left in town and the only person who supports me in my investigations. She even visits from time to time and brings me food she has cooked herself.
“Are you alright, Mr. Dady?” she asked me when she first detected my restlessness.
“How can I be alright? People and powers disappear. Something very serious is happening here and nobody seems to care.” She stared at me through her thick glasses for a while.
“Leave it alone Eric,” she told me in an abrupt, determined tone and then advised me not to talk too much about the subject to anyone, as they would consider me crazy. That was the one and only time Mrs. Smith called me by my first name, which I found a bit comforting at the time and I think that was her intention too.
Despite her advice, I could not leave things down to their luck, so I kept searching for my friend and my lost powers, as discretely as I could.
Somehow I am certain that these two cases somehow interconnect. How else can I explain the behavior and later the complete disappearance of my former best friend, at the very moment when he found a new job and things started to work out for him? Even if he chose to betray me, he had no reason at all to leave town and disappear. I think it all started with greed. When we started using our powers to earn more, it all went downhill. I wonder what the cause of greed has been. I suspect that it’s all about a great misunderstanding.
What came first then? Greed or misunderstandings?
The box lay at the bottom of the lake that no longer existed. I took it in my hands and played with it for a while, unsuspicious of what it was hiding. When the fog began dissolving little by little, I opened it up and the secret was revealed all at once.
I have known Eric Dady since he was a little child, as we were close friends with his mother. He was born under a strange star alignment, which sealed her fate from the beginning. He was born a Virgo with Virgo rising, and strangely enough, his astrological chart was unique, with most planets in aspects with Mercury that, by the way, went retrograde, the moment he jumped out of the maternal uterus. The boy was unfortunate enough to grow up without a father, as Eric’s father left the family a few years after his son’s birth, infatuated by a woman. He stayed in town for a few more years and then left for good and nobody has heard of him ever since. That must have troubled little Eric a lot and explains in depth his current situation.
“I want you to take good care of him, he is such a sensitive young man,” his mother had told me before she died. I had no option but to agree. You cannot deny anything to a dying person after all. Especially your best friend.
I never thought that this promise would take so much of my time. In the beginning I almost believed him. After he lost his job and especially after the divorce that followed shortly afterwards, that cost him his son, what he only cared about was his lost friend, David Addley. I actually had no recollection of him, although Eric insisted he used to live among us for a really long time before he disappeared, as he had been born in our town. He never told me what had happened between the two of them or why he longed to find him. I got suspicious when I realized that nobody in town had any recollection of this strange person either.
It did surprise me he was not out looking for his lost family instead, but Eric seemed to prefer never to mention his wife and son. He had been a faithful husband, unlike his father, and a good father to his son, determined to do his best for his family, but his wife, Hermione, did not appreciate his efforts. She left as soon as he got fired, taking their only child with her, and disappeared for good. It did not take long before Eric found a new job at the factory, as most men and women have, over the past few years. The factory saved this little town, which would have been deserted otherwise. His income is pretty respectable at the moment, but all could change if his mental state is discovered by his employers.
Finally, after years of research, he had come to admit that his lost friend might never be found. But he came back the day before yesterday, in order to check the records once more. I happen to work at the register office, which makes me able to cover his traces, but he seemed out of control this time.
“Unfortunately, your friend is not in here,” I told him firmly, pretending I was checking the file once more. He seemed disappointed, as if this was the first time he heard that no birth certificate with the name of his friend existed at the town hall.
He became obsessed after a while and his delusion got more and more complicated. He imagined black magic holes, that swallowed a lot more than just people. They obliterated memories also, things, even magic powers that he believed we once had. I thought about taking him to the doctor but my instinct told me not to. I am aware of the fact that someday I could be accused of criminal negligence, but there is so much at stake. If he looses his job again, I know he will fall apart. Further apart actually.
Instead, I decided to be supportive, although I made him swear that this would always be our little secret. This technique seems to be working so far. While at the factory, he is indeed functional.
I have wondered over the years how he came up with this name for his imaginary friend. His intellect left me no doubts that it was a symbolic name. I had never come up with a better anagram than Devil Dady, but still there are two letters missing. For some time I settled with this idea, that Eric thought of himself as dangerous and probably evil and developed a theory as a result, in order to redeem himself. Perhaps, he thought he was responsible for his father that once left him.
This is another reason I cannot leave Eric down to his fate. The only one responsible for him growing up without a father is me. I was the other woman and for this I will never forgive myself.
Standing here, by the place that once was a beautiful lake, feeling relieved but also terrified at the sight of the box as I recognize Eric’s initials carved on the surface, I can see the fog dissolving minute by minute, along with the mystery. There is nothing but a note inside, a single piece of paper with three words written on it; Dady evil dad.
Along with the air around me, my mind got all the clearer. I underestimated Eric’s intellect after all. Eric has always had a way with words. The true anagram of his imaginary friend lies now in front of my eyes and is complete. No missing letters. Eric seems to accuse himself of being a bad father. It was the loss of his son that made him fall apart after all.
3. Peter Quince
Once upon a time, the Athenians and their fairies used to make fun of us. They laughed at us in order to ensure their happy ending. Things have changed. Over the centuries we gained power and we now own the city. I, Peter Quince, own the factory that owns the city. Oberon is now my servant, and I use him wisely to ensure my privileges. In those old times only fairies knew they had magical powers. In truth, we all have powers here, but thanks to the spell I have cast, all but a few have forgotten about them.
Oberon was infuriated at his own failure.
“This pathetic old woman is too busy protecting Eric to ever give up,” he said to himself.
The magic hole he had created in order to eliminate her, jubilantly failed to fulfill its purpose. Titania Smith used to be his wife in the good old days. But then she betrayed him and all ended. To tell the truth, it was not her fault. Oberon had thrown a magical potion on her eyelids while she was asleep, so that she would fall in love with the first creature that would come her way. Things did not go as planned though. The rest is history but history tends to repeat itself. Back then, Oberon was angry at her because she chose to protect a child over him. Now, Titania is making again the same mistake. She chooses Eric, or Lysander, as they once called him before Oberon decided to change his name, and his recollections of his past life.
“That woman can never set her priorities straight,” mumbled Oberon, disappointment mingling with despair and anger in his heart, which finally has become so cruel, as jealousy overtook it and colored it green, that Oberon felt no love for his wife anymore.
“Titania seems to be invincible,” said Puck, who was standing right beside him.
“You mean Mrs. Smith.” Oberon was determined not to allow anyone to remind him that he once loved her. He was the only one that could still use her first name.
“Yes, of course, I mean Mrs. Smith,” said Puck, bowing his head in shame. Puck used to be a trickster, yet once the factory came to town, he had to change. Instead of playing tricks to humans, like his father—Hermes the God of Tricks and Hidden messages—had once taught him, he started working on his talent and decided to use it to manipulate people and earn money.
Just before the factory was built, when the big curse fell on the town, Oberon took advantage of the situation to complete his revenge. He cast a spell on his wife, in order to steal her first name, and afterwards Titania Smith became plain Mrs. Smith. She never wondered what her first was, neither did anyone else in town. He did not make any effort to protect her from the curse either. When I gave him the chance to protect some of his people, he made a selection, according to his needs, not according to what his heart advised him.
After my curse, there came the days of the Great Depression, as all the affected individuals became severely depressed without really knowing why. The reason, only known to me, to the rest of the factory owners and the few that helped us, is that they all had their powers taken away, but as recollection of them was completely erased, they could not remember anything. They only felt that something was missing but did not know what. Some years later, thanks to proper propaganda, the Great Depression meant something completely different.
“That was not propaganda, you fool,” Oberon insists. “That was magic.”
Puck, his loyal helper nods apologetically.
“I always forget the right terms.”
Puck doesn’t behave respectfully enough, but he does not have to either. Oberon is not a king, and Puck is not his servant. In all magic kingdoms around the world, as described in fairy tales, there are kings and queens and princes and dukes, but this is false. The truth is that in fairylands, equality prevails and all decisions are made after long discussions and mutual agreement of all persons involved. Direct democracy is considered a utopia in the real world but not in these places, although lately, since the appearance of the factory in town, things have changed. Oberon has been demanding obedience, as his superiors have been demanding obedience from him. Over time, he has been convinced of his superiority and wisdom. The people in the factory are responsible for this change obviously. Mainly me, truth be told.
Thus, the Great Depression took the meaning that has in the rest of the world and referred to the economic circumstances that went downhill just before the factory was built. Day by day, people of the town believed the reality that they were told to believe. The factory saved the town and all these small disadvantages and downfalls, as the drought for example, which could be also a natural phenomenon after all, have to be put aside, as the price the town had to pay to be saved.
“Eric is an intruder. He knows everything. He must be next, after Mrs. Smith of course,” said Oberon.
“That Robin Hood, thinking he can save the town without paying the price, would not be able to survive if it was not for the factory,” Puck agreed.
“He is called Eric, Puck. Eric. Robin Hood lives in a land far far away, you know.”
“I know. I am the only Robin here after all.”
“Yes, you are Robin—Puck—Badfellow.”
“You once called me Robin Goodfellow.”
“That is my power. To change names. Accept that and move on, will you?”
Oberon has become intolerant to disagreement.
“Thank God we took away his powers though,” Oberon added.
“If he could still read our minds, we would be in big trouble.”
“Do not forget either, that we were cautious enough to put the box at the bottom of the lake. At least, even if we did not succeed, you cannot say we completely failed.”
“He still remembers David Addley though. I have no idea how this is possible.”
“Well, he does not remember the whole story, which means he must not be totally invincible to the magic potion. We should increase the dose even more.”
David Addley, or Demetrius as he once was called, was a difficult case. Totally invincible to the curse. He remembered everything and kept his magic powers as well. We tried to take him by our side but he would never accept. After long negotiations, we made a deal. We let him seduce his best friend’s wife, using the same magic juice, that Oberon once used to cast a spell on his wife, and then provided a luxurious life for both of them and the kid in a faraway place in the real world. After all, Demetrius had longed for revenge for a really long time, ever since his marriage with Hermione was cancelled. He had pretended back then that everything was okay, in order to provide the happy ending every love story deserves, but he never got over the fact that Hermione chose Lysander over him. Helena served as a nice distraction, until he could reach his goal. It took him several years, but it was worth waiting after all. Eric was right. His friend had betrayed him indeed. He could not remember the real reason though.
Oberon’s phone rang. He answered it unwillingly, as he was not ready to face his superiors and explain his failure. It was someone else though. It was me informing him that there was trouble in town. He should be there as soon as possible.
Oberon went downtown to search for Eric. He decided he should take measures, in order to prevent any kind of disorder. He was a leader after all.
“Hello Eric. I think we should talk. Let me introduce myself. I am a psychiatrist.”
“Is magic more powerful than words? It could work better the other way round, if I gave it a try,” he thought to himself, Puck on his side, reminding him of the past, when the God of Tricks played his greatest joke on humans, dividing them by creating different languages and misunderstandings.
“I will make certain he stays hypnotized,” Oberon told Puck the moment he hang up, yet Eric had already lost his powers and could no longer read his mind.
In the seven years I spent searching for David Addley, it never occurred to me that he did not exist. That the person I had been searching for was actually a piece of me, broken and discarded as undesirable, yet necessary to complete the picture, the jigsaw of my true self, who stood stranded and fragmented for such a long time that could not recognize the particles he was made of.
After the recent events, I was forced to spend two months in the local psychiatric unit. There, I managed to get in touch – and finally come to terms – with the realistic side of my personality that had been buried and by my vivid imagination. David is actually a figment of my imagination, or better, as my doctor explained, I am Eric Dady, with little pieces of David scattered in my head, that I tried hard and finally managed to incorporate into my identity. You see, David served as a necessary vehicle that carried all my regrets, so that I would not have to carry them myself. I was not ready for that kind of burden, which I willingly threw on the shoulders of a character I made up, so that I could get rid of my garbage in the safest possible way.
That morning, Mrs. Smith came to find me, holding a box in her two hands.
“This is yours Mr. Dady. I think you should keep it.”
I took the box but I could not understand her words at all. I was certain at the moment that the box was not mine. The doctor explained my reaction as repression, a defense mechanism that serves to put uncomfortable thoughts and ideas deep into the subconscious brain, so they become inaccessible and less disturbing. I still have no recollection of the box whatsoever, but the therapy has not yet been completed. In time, memories will come back, as the doctor reassured me.
Mrs. Smith then showed me the note.
“Dady evil dad,” I read. “What does that mean?”
“You wrote it Eric.”
“You certainly did. If you read carefully, you will see the name of the friend you are supposedly looking for.”
“This is an anagram Eric.”
Mrs. Smith was right. I stood confused staring at her for a long time. To tell the truth, time stopped, as I slowly started to understand what she had been insinuating. I know her intentions were good, and that added to my confusion. I was almost ready to give up and believe her, but then visions started to form in my brain.
“There is no David Addley, Eric. You made him up, after you son was taken away,” Mrs. Smith explained.
“Son? I never had a son. David had a son,” I replied, but my thoughts were running back to the past, uncontrollable, and then an image was formed, a familiar, yet terrifying image, of David and my wife, and a kid, and there I was, saying goodbye to them.
“She left you and took your child with her. There was not another man involved though.”
I could hear her, but my mind was diving deeper in the past, and watched David in bed with my wife, and me standing on the door watching them before I cried out that this could never be possible.
Then I began screaming, as the pain I thought I once felt came back even stronger, ripping my heart in two. That was when Mrs. Smith called for help.
Those were hallucinations, as the doctor explained. The pain they incited was nothing, compared to the real pain I was feeling as a supposedly inadequate father.
So, now I feel like a whole new person. For the first time in my life, I feel completely myself, at ease, as all humans should feel.
The doctor was pleased with my quick recovery. Just before I left the clinic, I went to his office to thank him.
“I finally won, Eric. Words sometimes work better than magic. Paradoxically.”
The doctor never said those words of course. For a moment I thought I could read his mind, but soon all healthy parts of me joined their forces to prevent my relapse.
“Is something wrong Eric?” the doctor asked.
“Thank you for saving me doctor. Thank you so much,” I replied and went out of the hospital, determined to move on with my life.
Demetrius, or David Addley as he is called nowadays, woke up suddenly, leaving a terrible dream behind. All memories of the dream disappeared, but an unpleasant feeling remained, along with the sweat that he attributed to midsummer heat.
“Life feels so unreal sometimes. As if I do not even exist,” he said to himself and turned on his other side. Soon he fell asleep.
© 2017 Mileva Anastasiadou. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact me or the author to request usage.SUBSCRIBE