This is a story about Norr, a city you wouldn’t have heard of because it exists only in my imagination. I visit the city and expand it, little by little, every time I sleep, and I sleep a great deal.
In the beginning, there was just the valley. I added in two roads, intersecting them near the river. I built an inn, and people started passing through. I added a few houses and a marketplace, and the place started to feel lively. A temple came next.
Over the years that followed, the place grew from a town into a respectable city. These nights, I wander the city not as a builder, but as a citizen, and sometimes even a tourist. The city has always had a life on its own, but now I too can live in it.
A tap on my shoulder. My mother wakes me from my sleep. She tells me she’s headed out, to get groceries. I acknowledge with a sleepy croak.
There is nothing to do for me in this house, in this place. I don’t leave the bed, and the view through the sole window is just the lake and the hills behind it, often obscured by thick fog. I suppose it can be a pretty view, but for me it’s just the same, day in day out day in day out.
There is nothing to do for me in this house except sleep, so I go back to my dream.
I walk in the sunshine along the quay and find a café with a nice spot in the shade cast by a linden tree. I order an iced lemonade and watch people walk by. Some of them acknowledge me (everyone here knows me) and others stroll along, minding their own business, enjoying another gorgeous day in Norr. The weather is always good.
The waiter asks me whether I need anything else, and I ask for the newspaper. The paper is entirely blank, so I make something up: the archeologists’ guild has received a permit to expand a dig site just out of town. They found the ruins of what could be an ancient burial site a while ago, you see, and they’re eager to figure what else is out there. I haven’t made up my mind what they’ll find yet.
The paper also mentions that a new theatre production is coming next month. It’s a comedy. I check my wallet and I already have tickets.
Another tap on my shoulder. My mother is back. Fruit, vegetables, berries, flour, milk, bottled water, etcetera etcetera. Three bars of chocolate, too, for chocolate milk later. My mom sorts the purchases and the noise makes it impossible for me to get any rest, so I stare out of the window, the same dull landscape being the same old dull landscape.
Dinner is carrot soup, surprisingly well spiced. I put all my energy into my frail arms to bring spoonfuls of soup, delicious soup, to my mouth. I’m rushing because I enjoy it so much, and some of it spills onto the bed. Mom reads her book and I sit in silence, staring out of that window. She makes herbal tea, good for sleep she says, and I pocket the sleeping pill she gives me and close my eyes.
I’ve got a host family and they’re all very nice except the grandma, who does not seem to like me very much, but then again she does not seem to like anybody very much. She just always is that way, the others say. I express my gratitude to them for having me, and they smile. Of course, they say.
Grandpa starts telling a tale from the old days, how he and his girlfriend (the others giggle) went on a hike for a few days, and slept in the wilderness together (more giggles) and woke up the next morning with a curious fox hanging out in front of their tent.
The conversation has made me sleepy and I retire to the upstairs guest bedroom that my host family prepared so neatly for me.
By the time I wake up, Mom has already prepared breakfast: porridge with a bit of spice and brown sugar, and tea (black). Mom finishes her breakfast quickly, but I need to ration my strength and energy. She reads the newspaper to me, but I don’t like the stories in there. A woman has gone missing here, a plane crash there, and the economy isn’t doing well. It is not clear to me what the economy is and how it impacts Mom and me, and I don’t understand why people care. I just want to go back to sleep.
I am a guest of honor at the banquet, and I give a speech where I thank everybody for their continued efforts to make Norr the great place that it is. The food here is unlike anything my tastebuds have ever had before, bringing tears to my eyes. I can’t even tell what half of the food is, and a handsome woman comes up to me, reading my mind and telling me in great detail about all that is on the table. She tells me about the farms and ranches up the hills, and the vineyards tended to most diligently by the monks for hundreds of years, yielding the grapes for the best wine in the continent.
I take a seat and lean back to relax, observing the attendees, all enjoying themselves. The banquet hall is majestic, marble with gilded ornaments, large windows flooding the room with sunlight, and balconies past the curtains where a handful of people are taking in the majestic cityscape.
A wooden knocking and my mom opens the door. The postman delivers a single letter. She has a concerned look on her face but she doesn’t tell what the letter is about. I close my eyes but can’t fall asleep. I wait and stare out of the window. It is drizzling but the lake and the hills don’t care.
Mom makes lunch but I tell her I’m not hungry.
Dinner is soup. It’s thick and I taste potatoes and leek, but it’s bland. I complain and Mom sprinkles in a bit more salt. It’s better, I suppose.
Mom makes herbal tea (good for sleep etcetera) but I’m not drinking it just yet. She gives me a sleeping pill and I pocket it. I wait for her to fall asleep and I swallow all the sleeping pills I’ve collected, washing it down with the herbal tea, now barely lukewarm.
I wake up, take a long, hot shower, get dressed, and head downstairs to the breakfast table. A friendly woman (her name is Maria I have decided) encourages me to sit down at the table filled with all sorts of pastries, of which I only recognize croissants, but I cannot wait to try them all. The children come in running and hoist themselves on the chairs. They get chocolate milk and orange juice. They smile at me and I smile back. This is my family now, and I can stay in Norr forever. I bite into a pastry and it has a juicy peach in it. It is delicious and I take another bite.
I go on a walk through the city, by myself. It is my city now, really my city, with my people. My throat feels weird and my eyes are moist. I belong here. A kid runs up to me and proudly shows me a rock they found. Maybe I would like children too — not just yet, but maybe later?
I take a right into a side street that’s less busy. There is a black tendril running along the gutter. Unusual. I keep going and it gets chilly, and more slimy black tendrils appear. I’ve never seen anything like them before and I did not create them. It is nighttime now but there are no stars, and I am worrying. I turn around but where I came from it is even darker and colder, and more tendrils appear, wrapping around the buildings and covering them in black goo. I run but it only gets darker, tendrils pull back but reveal nothing behind them, just a black void, nothing. I run faster but there is nothing, I scream but it makes no sound, I turn around and see nothing, blackness, oppressive blackness, nothing, I scream again but there is no sound in this place, I need to get out but there is nowhere to go, just nothing and
I puke in the pail in front of me, my entire body convulsing to violently eject everything, excruciating, I can hardly breathe, but the soft touch of a familiar hand convinces me I am not alone. There is someone else here, a person in white, a doctor or a nurse maybe, but my vision is blurry and I am in too much pain to pay attention.
I think I pass out; when I open my eyes again the person in white is gone and there is just my mom on my bed holding me. I have my head on her chest and her hand goes through my hair. With her other hand she lifts a glass of water to my lips and I take a sip. I am thirsty, so thirsty, and drink all the water. It feels so good. I close my eyes and drift off.
I don’t dream, I think. There is no Norr, not anymore.
When I wake up again I am bawling, and Mom comes over to hold me again. She doesn’t understand why I cry. I attempt to turn away in shame but she holds me anyway.
A while later I drift off into sleep again, but there still is no Norr, and I am convinced the city is lost forever. I try to tell Mom, through my tears, that I’ve lost everything, but she doesn’t understand.
Mom tells me she’s been saving up for a wheelchair, and that she wanted to keep it a secret until my birthday but that there’s no time like the present. She says she’ll be able to take me outside, to the lake and the hills and even beyond. The idea makes me anxious yet curious and excited, and I let out a quick laugh that catches me by surprise. Never in my life have I thought it would be possible to see those hills and the lake up close and I have no idea what to expect but I can feel it has instilled a desire in me now.
I need to wait a few weeks still, but it’s coming for sure, my mom says. We’ll start over, she says, better this time, caring and attentive.
A new beginning sounds lovely.