The first time that Rhys Déluge had one of her vivid dreams was on the night of her seventeenth birthday. She was just returning from her weekly tennis lessons on a Wednesday afternoon, feeling a bit chagrined. Throughout the day she had experienced a peculiar tingling sensation that had spread over her whole body. She walked into the single family home she occupied with her parents. It was a regular two story brick house with honeybutter yellow curtains. Her mother had hummed while she hung them. They reminded her of the sweet rounded fruits that dangled on the tree in her yard back home. Rhys walked in frowning. The stinging had made it difficult for her to run over the court with her usual laser like concentration. “Everything okay?”, her father Momolou asked. He was not used to seeing his effervescent daughter with such a brooding frown. She usually illuminated the room, like rays of sun peeking through closed blinds, something he knew all doting dads would say about their daughters. Only, he was right when he said it. Momolou didn’t know about the tingling, of course. How would Rhys even begin to explain? The feeling was the sort of zinging typically caused by stepping out of the freezing cold directly into the warmth. But that couldn’t possibly be the cause since it was one of the hottest summer days yet. Rhys, as precocious as she was, thought the sensation might be a sign of nervosity because of her approaching birthday. She often thought about her future. And how she had decided from an early age that she wanted to become an archaeologist. It wasn’t the most common of aspirations amongst children but Rhys felt the desire deep within her like the roots of the Marula tree. As a toddler she often performed excavations in their backyard. Her parents played along by assisting in the brushing and storing of the alleged discoveries. This resulted in an extensive collection of mostly poultry bones and some tiny exoskelotons. All of whom earned their own place in her bedroom. “Dead animals also need a home,” she had reasoned. Now, she did not want to worry her father, so she did not tell him what was really bothering her. Especially since she couldn’t quite explain it to herself. Let alone convey it to another. “I’m fine, just lost a match,” Rhys replied to his question. She swiftly grabbed a shining red apple from the fruit basket and added: “Need sugar, hangry.” The tingling started three days ago and was an announcement of the unusual, which Rhys was unaware of but would soon find out. The first day she had felt a pin prick so small it was almost imperceptible by human senses. The second day the tingling crawled like a hundred-legged caterpillar along her legs to her midframe. The third day her whole body was trembling as if it were under electrical tension. On the fourth day it felt like she was receiving constant jolts of energy. It was a strange and painless sensation. One that actually foretold the coming of the dreams. Frankly, a quite limited name for an experience that felt as bottomless as the depths of the Atlantic. But all of this was still a mystery to Rhys as she arrived home.
Momolou smiled while dicing the onions for the spicy soup he was preparing. He was cooking peppersoup, a traditional broth with scotch bonnet peppers, braised chicken and fish. “The food is almost done then, little grumpy cat”, he teased his daughter. But his voice trembled, edged with a hint of fear. His mind involuntarily travelled to the earlier days. Before, when Rhys had also lost her sunshine he loved so much. Those days she had barely gotten out of bed. She had wandered the house barefooted like some masquerade spirit and he didn’t even believe in those. He chopped the peppers and vegetables diligently. His sturdy hands moving quick yet affectionately. As if they were serenading every ingredient. ‘He who cooks without love serves bitterness’, his mother had dutifully taught him. You could taste the result of his tender care in the fufu and soup that they ate later that evening. They dipped the sticky ball of ground cassava into the spicy red sauce and enjoyed it in silence. Rhys sat alongside Momolou and Alphia, her mother. There was a fourth chair at the table that always remained empty. It had been Ryan’s seat. Ryan was Rhys’ brother who had died five years ago. Her parents had been devastated, but no one took it as hard as Rhys, who retreated so far into herself, that she practically disappeared. Her lethargy depleted after about three years or so but the painful ache, like whispers in the wind, remained. Alphia kept glancing at Rhys as she slurped her soup. What you let out of your sight, may completely disappear from your gaze. A hard lesson she had learned after Ryan’s death. Rhys sighed softly, not because of the tingling that now whirled through her body, but because there was not a second she could actually relax in the presence of her parents. They were always vigilant, alarmed by every step and mood change, almost to an atomic level. Rhys often wished her brother was still alive, not only for her personal solace but also so Alphia and Momolou could have someone else to smother their warm but stifling blanket of love with. “I’m going to bed early”, she said as she faked a yawn. Her parents looked at each other with concern. She pretended not to notice. As she walked away she heard Momolou whisper reassuringly in Liberian pidgin English. “A tink da becoz of her loss today. Yu no she na lek losin na. Ahn tink there is anyting to worry about. ” He grinned uneasily and continued: “How the day treatin you?”. Rhys smiled because her parents always thought she could not fully comprehend the soft, drawn-out sounds of the Liberian language, with words strung together like beads. She also smiled because Liberians never asked how your day was. They asked how it treated you, as if the day was supposed to serve man and not the other way around. Sleep caught her quickly and brought along thousands of dreams. There were flashes of places, colors and even voices. Sometimes she found herself somewhere so hot she feared she would melt. Then it switched into the freezing cold, where it seemed to rain diamonds. It was unclear where she was. She was surrounded by complete darkness, but the diamonds tumbled from the sky, sparkling droplets of stars. The dreams played out before her eyes like a movie. They consisted of different scenes that did not necessarily share the same plot. She could only catch glimpses of images, as if flipping through a photo book at lightning speed. There was neither chronology or linearity to anything she saw or didn’t see, for that matter. The only constant was her experiencing every moment as someone else who, peculiarly enough, resembled her. The merry-go-round slowed down and one scene began to unfold, with a silky feminine voice narrating….. Trees, everywhere are tall, slender trees. I take a deep breath and taste the saltiness of the air on my tongue. The Atlantic. It’s about time this worked. I’m in the rainforest of Monrovia in Liberia around 1850. Back home we would assign this year to one of the 50,000 gray tones, because of it’s transitional character but that is obviously irrelevant at this point. Okay, focus. If I walk to the center where the object is stationed, I might still see it. The leaves on the trees stop rustling as I pass by. There is little time. I think they want me to find it. Trees are intuitive and powerful organisms, better suitable as friends than people, to me anyway. I have to walk faster or I’ll miss it. A square construction emerges from the dark. It is smooth and darker than the dark itself. The material from which it is made is very advanced for this time, but honestly our ancestors were much more enlightened than some of the Neanderthalers that currently walk amongst us. How can I see through this massive object? I start to run. It is about to happen. My lungs burn and my breath turns into fire. I have quite a poor condition for an observer. I stop, breathing heavily in front of the building. Before I can think of how to observe anything that’s going on inside, the images simply flood into my head. An old man is lying in the cube. His vibrant strength emanates from his body with waves, even through the massive walls of the cube I can sense it. But his life energy is decreasing. There is another life force present, a younger one. And then I detect something else. It’s alive but not human, kind of reminds me of my ex. It seems to be inside of the old man but it suddenly pushes itself out through his mouth. I would be completely nauseated, if this wasn’t so fascinating. For a second it floats motionless in the air. The shape of the object is difficult to describe, oblong perhaps? It seems round but is constantly morphing. It is colorless yet immensely bright. The round not so round object seems to turn towards me, but then it throws itself onto the younger life energy and makes its way inside, through his mouth to the area under the heart and above the stomach. Before I can fully register the events, I am sucked away as if I were being pulled through a tube. I end up in sand, miles and mountains of rough, pink sand. Like the sticky granules of sugar before they turn into sweet woolly cotton candy. It is the only time that I have completely no control over where I am going as an observer. I mean, I’ve been of the mark occasionally by a year or, you know, fifty but this is different. Yet, all I can seem to focus on is getting to know what that device is I just saw. The woman who looked like an older version of Rhys guided her through everything she dreamt. She was almost like an alter ego. Perhaps, to be called ‘Alter Rhys’, for convenience. They wore the same face but Alter had a different physical package in every scene. Sometimes she was male, sometimes female, sometimes both, sometimes neither. Their hair was also similar, as red as glowing embers with locks that moved like flames. Alter Rhys frantically penned down every detail of her observations. Those were the thoughts Rhys was hearing. She also felt a certain affinity with this main character of her dreams. But even though she could hear her thoughts as loud and clear as if they were her own, she was fairly certain they weren’t. As dawn broke Alphia and Momolou went to congratulate Rhys with the annual birthday song, her favorite blueberry pancakes and the first present of the day. It was a make-shift tradition they’d created to overcompensate for Ryan’s absence. After all, today would have been his birthday too. They did not expect to see the havoc they encountered as they entered Rhys’ bedroom. The bed frame was broken, splinters of wood, shards of mirrors and hundreds of tiny bones – collected by Rhys over the years – lay scattered on the floor. A single orange boy short with pandas swung from the ceiling lamp. In the midst of it all was Rhys lying motionless on the carpet. Alphia gave a highpitched scream that created tiny cracks in the windows. Years later the neighbors would still speak of the hellish shriek. The tray with the pancakes and the gift clattered from her trembling hands. Rhys lay pale – or as void of color as her brown skin allowed – as the Vitruvian man on the floor. “Not this one,” Alphia grunted as she knelt beside her daughter. “Not this one too.” The ambulance entered their street with swaying sirens and brought them to the hospital where Rhys was immediately admitted. A doctor came, then a general surgeon, then a neurologist and then nothing. Alphia sat by Rhys’s hospital bed remaining as lifeless as the bright colored plastic flowers on one of the side tables. Waiting for a sign of life or at least more information from one of the befuddled medical professionals. In their despair Alphia and Momolou consulted a traditional medicine man, despite previously categorically denying the existence of the supernatural. When all modern life has to offer fails, the call of tradition becomes louder. Ironically enough, he arrived in a two-piece suit, carrying a briefcase. Inside of it were all kinds of powders, mixtures and spices, none of which he used to examine Rhys. The medicine man, like the medical professionals, also disappointed Rhys parents by not even bothering to do a thorough examination. He stared at their daughter for a couple of minutes as she lay inerted on the hospital bed and muttered something about ‘the power of life’. According to him, there was nothing wrong with Rhys. She simply had to discover ‘her strength’. He left as swift as he came, a hint of incense and clove lingering in his wake. “Quack,” Momolou called after him as he raised his hands to the heavens. His concern for his daughter turned him – an innate mild mannered man – into a skeptical pessimist. This entire incident felt like an ordeal he was not prepared for. How do you even prepare for a suffering that is worse than your own, because it’s your child’s? Miraculously enough, a week and a half after her birthday, Rhys opened her eyes of her own accord. “How long have I slept?”, she asked in a creaking voice. Alphia wept. The medical staff could still not agree on what ailed Rhys. The neurologist diagnosed her nocturnal seizures as parasomnia, abnormal behaviors during sleep. Although she insisted she had not seen these particular symptoms before. The psychiatrist was thinking of a schizoaffective disorder, a mood disorder with a combination of depression, hallucinations and mania. These were all plausible diagnoses, yet Rhys did not seem to fit the clinical profile. The doctors ultimately agreed on her taking a variation of pills and scheduling weekly visits with a psychologist. Meanwhile Rhys had some thoughts of her own that she wisely kept to herself. She wondered why things were only considered real when they happened in the physical world. Because what she had experienced in her dreams was so visceral. Rhys actually knew pretty well what a depression felt like and this did not feel nearly the same. But she didn’t protest against the medical advice either. Her dreams had left her exhausted and she just wanted to go home and lie in her own bed. Secretly though, she hoped that her dreams did mean more. That this cold and unpredictable world was not the only reality, but could perhaps be seen as the waiting room. Maybe people created alternative worlds in their dreams. And in that way functioned as the conductors of their own lives, fabricating the compositions through dreaming. They would then all step into the dreams to live after they’d completed their perfect world. Arriving home Rhys was immediately put in her new bed by Momolou. Next to him Alphia appeared with rainbow coloured pills and a glass of water. “We’re glad you’re back, cherie.” Momolou said in words what Alphia communicated with her eyes. He kissed her forehead. “If you take this before you go to bed, you should have less trouble, erm, sleeping”, and his eyes darted around the room. “We’re going to do some grocery shopping we haven’t done in a while, but we’ll be right back, unless you’d prefer us to stay.” She suddenly noticed how severely upset her parents were. They twitched nervously, bags of their skin hanging under red-rimmed eyes. “No, I actually want to sleep in peace, go on,” she reassured them quietly. When the door locked behind them, Rhys finally had some room to think about her dreams. She might have been immobile in the hospital bed but she had experienced a lot internally. Out of fear of being diagnosed clinically insane, she had concealed it from her doctors and parents. But she had visited so many places with Alter Rhys. And seen so many things. One was … it was bizarre to even say it to itself, but it seemed to be a city, made of light. With houses of light. Where the tallest buildings were built in different light forms and colors. It had been dazzling, warm and bubbly. The roads were of a vitreous element and curled around the city. As she visited, she felt like she was bathing in sunlight. No, as if she were sunlight. There was bright warmth that hugged every part of her body from the inside. Are there sleeping pills between the rainbow pills? She suddenly felt drowsy. She had dreamt about the cube too. It had been a recurring dream during her comatose state. Time and time again she visited Liberia in 1850 and watched the ritual unfold. She always ended up in the pink sand though. Defeated. Her light snoring filled the room as her subconscious became more active and brought her back to Alter Rhys’s thoughts and the cube dream. This time everything was slightly more blurry because of the pills she just took, which luckily also prevented her from moving too much while dreaming. Her parents could not afford to purchase another bed. I arrive at the cube, panting. How is it that I am here so often and still out of breath every time? I take the recording device that I stored in my pocket to see if I can record audio from the transfer through the impenetrable walls of the cube. The device shuts off. How is that possible? I have definitely checked it ten times before travelling and I’ve charged it thrice. Well, this is shit. I turn my gaze to the cube and the familiar images flash in my mind like a movie I’ve seen thousands of times. I summarize it: old man, young boy, sun device goes into the air, floats briefly. Enters the boy’s body. Then the suction arrives and I’m somehow left in bubblegum sand. And I hate pink. Everything transpires as stated but just before I’m sucked up into the tube, I catch a glimpse of a shape in front of me. I suddenly feel a warm hand in mine while I am being drawn into the tunnel again. I’m not alone. The shape pulls at me at one end and the suction at the other. The shape wins and I travel alongside it. We pass the pink sand. Where are we going? I look down at my hand and then see there is a man next to me. With jet black hair and equally dark eyes framed with eyelashes as long as daddy long legs’ legs. I open my mouth to ask questions but he beats me to it and rudely says: “They have been trying to send you here for centuries, but you always end up between the sand dunes.” His mouth keeps moving……
Rhys woke up in a pool of her own sweat, in utter confusion about her whereabouts. Waking up after vivid dreams was like spinning in circles, afterwards you must take the necessary time to adjust back to regular reality. Are my parents already back, she thought when she finally realized she was in her own bedroom. “Mom? Dad? “, she called. No answer. She thought about the way her dream had ended. It had not been in the pink sand this time. The stranger had still been talking to Alter Rhys but the sentences were unintelligible to Rhys. Who was he? He seemed vaguely familiar. She slipped out of bed to grab a clean towel and a glass of water. As she walked to the bathroom and pondered about the dream, she heard a noise in the living room. “Am I still dreaming or is there someone in the house?”, she asked aloud as if to arm herself with more confidence. She walked down the stairs in her slippers as slow and quiet as she could. On her way to the living room, she grabbed the racket that stood behind the door. She swung open the living room door and shouted, “I’d watch out because I’ve got a gun!”. Of all the faces that Rhys had not expected to see, her own was highest on the list. The racket slipped from her hands. It made a dull sound as it hit the floor. For a moment she thought about Alphia who dropped the tray with food when they found her after that first dream. That thought faded into the background as she took in the same full lips, big eyes, even an identical birthmark under the right one. Most people never get to actually see themselves, only their reflection. It was an eerie experience. “Am I still dreaming?”, Rhys did not understand any of it and could only stammer. Her doppelgänger who, now she thought of it, seemed to be a bit older stared at her with twinkling eyes. The twinkle changed into concern when she saw that Rhys had not moved an inch. “Oh right, he said that you might be in shock. Do you want to sit down?”, the doppelganger said. It slowly started to sink in. This person standing before her, sort of jeerlingly actually, was Alter Rhys. She was actually really standing here. In her living room, offering her a chair in her own house. “I’ll grab a glass of water for you and then we’ll go through it quickly, okay, because I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Alter said as she strode into the kitchen. She gave Rhys a glass of water and sat across from her. “If you drink, I’ll explain and afterwards you can ask questions.” Her tone was resolute, that of a person who was used to giving orders. “My name is Rhys Déluge, yes, just like you,” she added when she recognized Rhys’ astonishment on her face. “We never seem to get rid of that name either,” she muttered to herself.
‘I come from Au, the golden year. The years aren’t categorized numerically in my time but by colors and elements. Which there are so much more of than the people in ancient times knew “. She stopped for a moment and looked at Rhys. “Which means, you.” Rhys blinked and wasn’t quite sure if she should be insulted. She would decide once she had gotten the full explanation. “You’re from the future”, Rhys asked and stated simultaneously. “Some historians still stick to numbering out of occupational sentiment. As a result, we know that the year I live in currently would have been called 2242 in the olden days. Which for you, living in 2018, is indeed the future.” She could have just said yes. Rhys thought, but out loud she asked: “So you are real? All those places we’ve visited in my dreams … were … real.” “Yes, of course”, Alter Rhys exclaimed. “Or did you think you had the imagination to conjure all of that up yourself?” The corner of her mouth pulled up in half a smile and she added. “You know, ultimately it depends on what you define as ‘real’. In this reality I did not exist but in mine I do. In my reality you did not exist but in this one you do. Now we are together in this reality, both existing. In the end, we are all both real and unreal. As is time.” Alter Rhys glanced at Rhys to see if she was still following it and seemed pleased with what she saw as she continued. “I am an observer. It is my job to document everything that ever was. My life, yours and especially the lives of the people who carry a message for the next generation. Those must be transmitted flawlessly.” “How do you do all that then?” Rhys asked. Alter raised her left brow: “Time travel, of course”, she answered briefly. I have been to many places but I’m originally from Liberia. We call it ZiZa, the place where light was born.” She beamed, as she spoke of her city of light. “ZiZa”, Rhys tasted the name on her lips. All these answers sounded familiar to her. As if they were buried somewhere deep in her subconscious and now crawled up to breathe like a playful seal. “He said that I’d have a lot of explaining to do”, Alter suddenly remembered. “Who did?”, Rhys asked. “The boy that brought you here?” “Yeah, your brother really loves you”, she replied. Rhys almost fell out of her chair. She felt gutted. “Broth…He’s…he’s alive?” “Like, I said, things that aren’t real in one place, are very real in others. Energy never dies, it simply…transfers. He might not look like your brother as you know him, but he is”, she gently added. In that very moment Rhys felt a weight drop off her shoulders. One she didn’t know she was still carrying. Her heart had been torn to shreds after Ryan’s death and in the following years she had somehow collected the pieces. But they never quite fit back together until right now.
“He’s actually pretty cute”, Alter said barely containing her laughter as Rhys looked up in shock. In a serious tone she said: “He’s been watching over you. He knows you’re special.” Alter looked at Rhys with some interest for the first time since appearing out of nowhere. “It is quite exceptional that people in ancient times have the powers that you possess. You know, you and I are kind of the same person but also, we aren’t. I am you in the future of another dimension. Do you understand?” Rhys nodded slowly, her head still reeling from the previous revelation. Ryan was alive, sort of. She smiled and tried to focus on what Alter was saying so she could ask more questions about him later. The concept of other worlds and times was in itself not unknown to her, even if it had not yet been completely verified scientifically. But Rhys had an inkling that Alter was going to explain anyway. She was right. “There are different dimensions and they all have different timelines. It is like a hand holding a couple of strings, those are the dimensions. And every string has cords, those are the timelines. And then you have a multitude of hands that hold onto strings, perhaps into infinity. We and our universe are just one of the hands, “Alter explained. “People of my time, such as observers, can travel back and forth and sideways. Something that most people of your time can not yet. Well, there were a few. ” She hesitated as if to say something and changed her mind. “… Anyway, you are one of them. Because you do not have an earthly body in the future, you choose one that resembles yours so you can travel. You’re kind of a … parasite.” “And I do so subconsciously through my dreams?”, Rhys asked bewildered, ignoring the last part. “Yes”, Alter looked up as if she were being called. “We have to go,” she said sternly. “Go? Why do I have to go, why are you here and my parents? “, Rhys asked. Alter sighed and rolled her eyes: “I forgot how little you know in ancient times. We will return before they come from the supermarket.” She grabbed Rhys by the hand. “Where to?”, protested Rhys. “You have to help me find the key to the sun device. I apparently need you because of your unique heritage”, she said mockingly. “Why would I be able to open the sun device?”, Rhys murmured in amazement. She wondered if she would see Ryan again. “Because it originated from your ancestors. ZiZa … I mean Liberia, 1850. It can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Something with complete destruction of the entire universe. One jerk and all strings unravel, can you imagine?” Rhys didn’t understand why Alter sounded excited. It seemed terrifying. Alter Rhys blinked and a milky white web suddenlys covered her pupils. With an elegant swing of her wrist she opened a rectangular portal that looked like a mirror but instead of glass had a whirling centre. She pushed Rhys through. It felt like crashing down from an immeasurable height on a roller coaster. Rhys spirit was practically being flung out of her body. She closed her eyes. While spiralling down the unknown rabbit hole like Alice, she heard the deep laughter of Alter echoing behind her. “We are going to save the solar system”….. The lights grew brighter and shone even through Rhys’ closed eyelids. When they subsided she slowly opened her eyes and stared straight at the egg white ceiling of her bedroom with Alphia hovering over her. “She’s awake!”
Clarice M.D. Gargard (1988) is an American-Liberian-Dutch journalist, columnist and filmmaker. She has worked for varying audiovisual and print media in the Netherlands, BNNVARA, AT5, NTR, NRC, the Correspondent and some International like Talk Radio 702 and Afropunk. In 2019 she will be representing the Netherlands as a Women’s Representative at the UN. She is specialized in politics and social issues relating to emancipation and equality. Gargard was born in the United States where a part of her family lives but her parents are originally from Liberia. She has lived in the Netherlands since she was four years old. And is currently working on a documentary and book about her family background and the Liberian civil wars.