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The Last Dream

Gordon R. Dickson

  The Last Dream

  Gordon R. Dickson




  Editor’s Introduction by Sandra Miesel

  St. Dragon And The George





  The Present State Of Igneos Research

  Ye Prenitce And Ye Dragon

  A Case History

  The Girl Who Played Wolf


  With Butter And Mustard

  The Amulet

  The Haunted Village

  The Three

  Walker Between The Planes






  The Last Dream




  The aged face of the man who called himself James Rater Bailey had worn a snarl when they left him alone in the cell with Doug. His gnarled fingers clutched at the tattered charms he always wore about his throat and he muttered something, as if praying to the devils it had been said he worshipped.

  Doug has never sought help, knowing he could expect none. It had been a fair fight after he was attacked, and the hoodlum’s death had been an accident. Doug could have escaped if he had not called for an ambulance. But he had not asked for mercy even after he had learned the drunk was the son of the state’s Governor. He had faced their gas chamber without pleading.

  “Doug.” The old man’s voice had been urgent. “I came to help you—for your grandfather’s sake.”

  Doug snorted. “Miracles don’t work against cyanide.”

  “Doug, listen. You won’t believe me—nobody ever did. But take this!” A tiny capsule had fallen from his crooked hand.

  Now, fighting the spasms from the deadly gas, Doug seemed to be dreaming . . of another time and place…


  These stories have appeared previously, in a somewhat different form, as follows:

  “St. Dragon and the George,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1957. © Fantasy House, Inc., 1957.

  “The Present State of Igneos Research” and “Ye Prentice and Ye Dragon,” Analog, January 1975. © Conde Nast Publications, Inc., 1974.

  “A Case History,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1954. © Fantasy House, Inc.

  “The Girl Who Played Wolf,” Fantastic, August 1958. © Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., 1958.

  “Salmanazar,” Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1957. © Mercury Press, Inc., 1962.

  “With Butter and Mustard,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1957. © Fantasy House Inc., 1957.

  “The Amulet,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1959. © Mercury Press, Inc., 1959.

  “The Haunted Village,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1961. © Mercury Press, Inc., 1961.

  “The Three,” Startling Stories, May 1953. © Better Publications, Inc., 1953.

  “Walker Between the Planes,” Worlds of Fantasy #2, 1970. © Universal Publishing and Distributing Corp., 1970.

  “The Last Dream,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1960. © Mercury Press, Inc., 1960.

  Editor’s Introduction

  by Sandra Miesel

  All real living is making—of truth and beauty, of goodness and love. “If you are not making,” said a wise man, “you cannot possibly be happy because it is the destiny of every man to be a maker.” What remains potential in the many is actual in the artist. Then he in turn offers his work and shares his happiness with the many.

  In his well-known analysis of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien describes the literary artist as a subcreator who gives the Secondary World he makes “the inner consistency of reality.” By realizing imagined marvels, he builds a place that commands active belief, not the mere suspension of disbelief. To visit such a Secondary World is to find our dreams of loveliness, horror, and whimsy come true. A measure of the enchantment that refreshes us there may return to the Primary World with us and awakens splendors in everyday things. Once we have wandered in the forests of Faerie, “a tree is a tree at last” even if it grows beside a car-clogged city street.

  It is a blessing that fantasy “fans fresh our wits with wonder” lest we smother in mundane chaos and corruption. Values only fleetingly glimpsed in our Primary World stand out clearly in a well-made Secondary One. Thus it can offer a satisfying vision of moral harmony unattained here. In particular, fantasy speaks to our sense of justice. We want to see the ogre slain, the witch bested, the cripple healed, the prince and princess live happily ever after. Nihilists who delight in letting “doom come and dark conquer” pervert the very essence of fantasy and mock the longing for joy that animates it.

  What is made in fancy may yet be made in fact. Humorously or grandly, humbly or nobly, modern fantasy carries on the work of mankind’s oldest stories. It leads each of us readers beyond ourselves to discover that each of the Hero’s thousand faces is our own.

  J.R.R. Tolkien “desired dragons with a profound desire.” Yet even the keenest draconophile must set some limits to intimacy.

  St. Dragon And The George




  He knocked again. There was the sound of a hasty step inside the small, oddly peak-roofed house and the door was snatched open. A thin-faced old man with a tall pointed cap and a long, rather dingy-looking white beard peered out, irritably.

  “Sorry, not my day for dragons!” he snapped. “Come back next Tuesday.” He slammed the door.

  It was too much. It was the final straw. Jim Eckert sat down on his haunches with a dazed thump. The little forest clearing with its impossible little pool tinkling away like Chinese glass wind chimes in the background, its well-kept greensward with the white gravel path leading to the door before him, and the riotous flower beds of asters, tulips, zinnias, roses and lilies-of-the-valley all equally impossibly in bloom at the same time about the white finger-post labelled S. Carolinus and pointing at the house—it all whirled about him. It was more than flesh and blood could bear. At any minute now he would go completely insane and imagine he was a peanut or a cocker spaniel. Grottwold Hanson had wrecked them all. Dr. Howells would have to get another teaching assistant for his English Department. Angie…


  Jim pounded on the door again. It was snatched open.

  “Dragon!” cried S. Carolinus, furiously. “How would you like to be a beetle?”

  “But I’m not a dragon,” said Jim, desperately.

  The magician stared at him for a long minute, then threw up his beard with both hands in a gesture of despair, caught some of it in his teeth as it fell down and began to chew on it fiercely.

  “Now where,” he demanded, “did a dragon acquire the brains to develop the imagination to entertain the illusion that he is not a dragon? Answer me, O Ye Powers!”

  “The information is psychically, though not physiologically correct,” replied a deep bass voice out of thin air beside them and some five feet off the ground. Jim, who had taken the question to be rhetorical, started convulsively.

  “Is that so?” S. Carolinus peered at Jim with new interest. “Hmm.” He spat out a hair or two. “Come in, Anomaly—or whatever you call yourself.”

  Jim squeezed in through the door and found himself in a large single room. It was a clutter of mismatched furniture and odd bits of alchemical equipment.

  “Hmm,” said S. Carolinus, closing the door and walki
ng once around Jim, thoughtfully. “If you aren’t a dragon, what are you?”

  “Well, my real name’s Jim Eckert,” said Jim.

  “But I seem to be in the body of a dragon named Gorbash.”

  “And this disturbs you. So you’ve come to me. How nice,” said the magician, bitterly. He winced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyes. “Do you know anything that’s good for a perpetual stomach-ache? Of course not. Go on.”

  “Well, I want to get back to my real body. And take Angie with me. She’s my fiancee and I can send her back but I can’t send myself back at the same time. You see, this Grottwold Hanson—well, maybe I better start from the beginning.”

  “Brilliant suggestion, Gorbash,” said Carolinus. “Or whatever your name is,” he added.

  “Well,” said Jim. Carolinus winced. Jim hurried on. “I teach at a place called Riveroak College in the United States—you’ve never heard of it—”

  “Go on, go on,” said Carolinus.

  “That is, I’m a teaching assistant. Dr. Howells, who heads the English Department, promised me an instructorship over a year ago. But he’s never come through with it; and Angie—Angie Gilman, my fiancee—”

  “You mentioned her.”

  “Yes—well, we were having a little fight. That is, we were arguing about my going to ask Howells whether he was going to give me the instructor’s rating for next year or not. I didn’t think I should; and she didn’t think we could get married—well, anyway, in came Grottwold Hanson.”

  “In where came who?”

  “Into the Campus Bar and Grille. We were having a drink there. Hanson used to go with Angie. He’s a graduate student in psychology. A long, thin geek that’s just as crazy as he looks. He’s always getting wound up in some new odd-ball organization or other—”

  “Dictionary!” interrupted Carolinus, suddenly.

  He opened his eyes as an enormous volume appeared suddenly poised in the air before him. He massaged his stomach. “Ouch,” he said. The pages of the volume began to flip rapidly back and forth before his eyes. “Don’t mind me,” he said to Jim. “Go on.”

  “—This time it was the Bridey Murphy craze. Hypnotism. Well—”

  “Not so fast,” said Carolinus. “Bridey Murphy ... Hypnotism… yes…”

  “Oh, he talked about the ego wandering, planes of reality, on and on like that. He offered to hypnotize one of us and show us how it worked. Angie was mad at me, so she said yes. I went off to the bar. I was mad. When I turned around, Angie was gone. Disappeared.”

  “Vanished?” said Carolinus.

  “Vanished. I blew my top at Hanson. She must have wandered, he said, not merely the ego, but all of her. Bring her back, I said. I can’t, he said. It seemed she wanted to go back to the time of St. George and the Dragon. When men were men and would speak up to their bosses about promotions. Hanson’d have to send someone else back to rehypnotize her and send her back home. Like an idiot I said I’d go. Ha! I might’ve known he’d goof. He couldn’t do anything right if he was paid for it. I landed in the body of this dragon.”

  “And the maiden?”

  “Oh, she landed here, too. Centuries off the mark. A place where there actually were such things as dragons—fantastic.‘’

  “Why?” said Carolinus.

  “Well, I mean—anyway,” said Jim, hurriedly. “The point is, they’d already got her—the dragons, I mean. A big brute named Anark had found her wandering around and put her in a cage. They were having a meeting in a cave about deciding what to do with her. Anark wanted to stake her out for a decoy, so they could capture a lot of the local people—only the dragons called people georges—”

  “They’re quite stupid, you know,” said Carolinus, severely, looking up from the dictionary. “There’s only room for one name in their head at a time. After the Saint made such an impression on them his name stuck.”

  “Anyway, they were all yelling at once. They’ve got tremendous voices.”

  “Yes, you have,” said Carolinus, pointedly.

  “Oh, sorry,” said Jim. He lowered his voice. “I tried to argue that we ought to hold Angie for ransom—” He broke off suddenly. “Say,” he said. “I never thought of that. Was I talking dragon, then? What am I talking now? Dragons don’t talk English, do they?”

  “Why not?” demanded Carolinus, grumpily. “If they’re British dragons?”

  “But I’m not a dragon—I mean—”

  “But you are here!” snapped Carolinus. “You and this maiden of yours. Since all the rest of you was translated here, don’t you suppose your ability to speak understandably was translated, too? Continue.”

  “There’s not much more,” said Jim, gloomily. “I was losing the argument and then this very big, old dragon spoke up on my side. Hold Angie for ransom, he said. And they listened to him. It seems he swings a lot of weight among them. He’s a great-uncle of me—of this Gorbash who’s body I’m in—and I’m his only surviving relative. They penned Angie up in a cave and he sent me off to the Tinkling Water here, to find you and have you open negotiations for ransom. Actually, on the side he told me to tell you to make the terms easy on the georges—I mean humans; he wants the dragons to work toward good relations with them. He’s afraid the dragons are in danger of being wiped out. I had a chance to double back and talk to Angie alone. We thought you might be able to send us both back.”

  He stopped rather out of breath, and looked hopefully at Carolinus. The magician was chewing thoughtfully on his beard.

  “Smrgol,” he muttered. “Now there’s an exception to the rule. Very bright for a dragon. Also experienced. Hmm.”

  “Can you help us?” demanded Jim. “Look, I can show you—”

  Carolinus sighed, closed his eyes, winced and opened them again.

  “Let me see if I’ve got it straight,” he said. “You had a dispute with this maiden to whom you’re betrothed. To spite you, she turned to this third-rate practitioner, who mistakenly exorcized her from the United States (whenever in the cosmos that is) to here, further compounding his error by sending you back in spirit only to inhabit the body of Gorbash. The maiden is in the hands of the dragons and you have been sent to me by your great-uncle Smrgol.”

  “That’s sort of it,” said Jim dubiously, “only—”

  “You wouldn’t,” said Carolinus, “care to change your story to something simpler and more reasonable—like being a prince changed into a dragon by some wicked fairy stepmother? Oh, my poor stomach! No?” He sighed. “All right, that’ll be five hundred pounds of gold, or five pounds of rubies, in advance.”

  “B-but—” Jim goggled at him. “But I don’t have any gold—or rubies.”

  “What? What kind of a dragon are you?” cried Carolinus, glaring at him. “Where’s your hoard?”

  “I suppose this Gorbash has one,” stammered Jim, unhappily. “But I don’t know anything about it.”

  “Another charity patient!” muttered Carolinus, furiously. He shook his fist at empty space. “What’s wrong with that auditing department? Well?”

  “Sorry,” said the invisible bass voice.

  “That’s the third in two weeks. See it doesn’t happen again for another ten days.” He turned to Jim. “No means of payment?”

  “No. Wait—” said Jim. “This stomach-ache of yours. It might be an ulcer. Does it go away between meals?”

  “As a matter of fact, it does. Ulcer?”

  “High-strung people working under nervous tension get them back where I come from.”

  “People?” inquired Carolinus suspiciously. “Or dragons?”

  “There aren’t any dragons where I come from.”

  “All right, all right, I believe you,” said Carolinus, testily. “You don’t have to stretch the truth like that. How do you exorcize them?”

  “Milk,” said Jim. “A glass every hour for a month or two.”

  “Milk,” said Carolinus. He held out his hand to the open air and received a small tankard of it. He drank it
off, making a face. After a moment, the face relaxed into a smile.

  “By the Powers!” he said. “By the Powers!” He turned to Jim, beaming. “Congratulations, Gorbash, I’m beginning to believe you about that college business after all. The bovine nature of the milk quite smothers the ulcer-demon. Consider me paid.”

  “Oh, fine. I’ll go get Angie and you can hypnotize—”

  “What?” cried Carolinus. “Teach your grandmother to suck eggs. Hypnotize! Ha! And what about the First Law of Magic, eh?”

  “The what?” said Jim.

  “The First Law—the First Law—didn’t they teach you anything in that college? Forgotten it already, I see. Oh, this younger generation! The First Law: for every use of the Art and Science, there is required a corresponding price. Why do I live by my fees instead of by conjurations? Why does a magic potion have a bad taste? Why did this Hanson-amateur of yours get you all into so much trouble?”

  “I don’t know,” said Jim. “Why?”

  “No credit! No credit!” barked Carolinus, flinging his skinny arms wide. “Why, I wouldn’t have tried what he did without ten years credit with the auditing department, and I am a Master of the Arts. As it was, he couldn’t get anything more than your spirit back, after sending the maiden complete. And the fabric of Chance and History is all warped and ready to spring back and cause all kinds of trouble. We’ll have to give a little, take a little—”

  “GORBASH!” A loud thud outside competed with the dragon-bellow.

  “And here we go,” said Carolinus dourly. “It’s already starting.” He led the way outside. Sitting on the greensward just beyond the flower beds was an enormous old dragon Jim recognized as the great-uncle of the body he was in—Smrgol.

  “Greetings, Mage!” boomed the old dragon, dropping his head to the ground in salute. “You may not remember me. Name’s Smrgol—you remember the business about that ogre I fought at Gormely Keep? I see my grandnephew got to you all right.”

  “Ah, Smrgol—I remember,” said Carolinus. “That was a good job you did.”