Chapter 5: The Impossible Hangover
The Impossible Hangover
I am awake. Like, actually awake. My eyes snap open as that horrid hypnic-jerk-falling-feeling washing over me. It causes my heart to race, my breath to quicken, and I find myself snapping up straight in my own bed. I sit up and stare into the darkness, making out the outlines of my vanity desk and wardrobe, my television and bookcase. I feel a sudden longing for that lost dream, the madness of it... I remember it vividly, far more vividly than I've ever remembered a dream before; names, faces, places. Bilbo, Kili, the Shire. But more potently, I find that my head is burning with a horrid, hollow sensation. My fingers are tingling, and it feels as though my brain has nestled in the corner of my head.
...Have I got a hangover?
Not possible, I tell myself. I don't really drink all that much, not in real life, and I spent all of the evening before I went to bed huddled on the sofa with my Ma, my pets, a bag of Jelly Babies and my head buried morosely in an open textbook. No drinking there, unless my mother decided to spike my hot chocolate.
This is your brain playing some sick psychological joke, I reassure myself. You've been dreaming about sloshing it with a group of Dwarves, you're head's bound to be a little muddled. Even as I think it, the feeling begins to fade. I decide that a glass of water will set me right at last; I venture downstairs, glug my tap water, give my excitable puppy a pat on the head and creep back to my bed, hauling myself back under the covers and closing my eyes, my cat balled up at my feet. I lie there still for a long time, craving sleep but unable to reach it. I try counting sheep, but all I can think of is those My mind drifts to those bloody stupid cotton balls, scampering after me down that bumpy pebble path with the wolf at their tails, and without warning I feel that lurching feeling of falling again, and I'm sitting right back up...
...As I do, my head makes contact with something hard and warm, and I fall right back down with a loud, agonised cry.
I open my watering eyes to find the young beardless Dwarf from my previous dream, Kili, kneeling beside me and holding his head in his hands, murmuring what must be cursing in some language I don't understand.
"Oh, not you again!" I yell, exasperated and in pain, "what the hell is going on-?!"
"You just smacked me in the head!" Kili shrieks, scampering to his feet, "bless the might of Durin, that hurt, woman-"
"Defeated already, are we?" teases the blonde brother, laughing as he helps the dark-haired Dwarf up before lending me his aid, "perhaps you should be more gentle when waking sleeping maidens. If I were Miss Lavender, I too would have jumped out of my skin at the sight of your unfortunate face."
"Sorry," I mumble to the Dwarf, taking the arm of his blonde brother as he helps me back onto the stool from which I have fallen, "sorry, Fili- or Kili or... whichever one you are."
"Kili," the darker Dwarf reminds me, rubbing at his bashed skull, "I'm Kili, he's Fili."
Stupid names anyway, I think as I regain my composure, standing straight... only to realise that I am once again in the drawing room of the Hobbit's home, surrounded by the battalion of bemused-looking Dwarves, all of whom stare at me now with looks mixed between horror and amusement.
This isn't right. This doesn't happen in dreams. It just doesn't. Everything is exactly the same; everything. The stern look on Thorin's marble face. The deep-throated chuckle of Dwalin. The plush velvet curtains, the marvelous array of beards and the tiny pomegranate lights. I remember every little detail vividly, right down to the feel of the fabric covering the stool which I now sit on. This isn't how dreams work.
"How is this happening?" I say to myself more than to those surrounding me. "This all feels so real..."
"I think the lady might have hit her head a little harder than we thought," Balin smiles kindly, "perhaps rest is the best thing for her."
"Nonsense," Fili insists, "Kili's head is hollow enough... come, Miss. There is a reason we woke you in the first place. The Wizard would like to speak with you. Kili will show you the way, won't you, brother?"
Well, if anyone around here can help me to figure out what's going on, it's the hallucinogenic Wizard, I suppose. I follow Kili, who now has a raised pink bump on his forehead, through the winding corridors of the Hobbit's hole. I reach up and feel the middle of my forid; it hurts like a normal bruise. Is that even possible? Can you feel pain in dreams? Jesus... I think I could probably do with a little more of that fruity wine. The headache is wearing off at last, but the dull wine-induced feeling I had before waking has not gone.
"I really am sorry about your forehead," I tell Kili, and he turns to me with a crooked smile.
"I have suffered far worse than a bump to the head. I think I can survive this one... I'm sorry, too. I didn't mean to give you a fright."
"It's not that. I sprang up because I had that funny falling feeling, you know what I mean?"
"I think so," he says dismissively, then knocks once on the door to what I presume to be the study, and the soft voice of the elderly Wizard calls me in.
"Do you know what he wants?" I whisper to the young Dwarf, who shrugs his left shoulder high, throws me a wink and leaves, light footsteps disappearing back into the laughter of the softly-lit, smoke-filled sitting room. I open the door and step inside, sitting down opposite the kindly Wizard. I feel oddly nervous, like I'm about to receive exam results or something. 10/10 performance on dealing with Dream-Dwarves, Alice, congratulations. Now you're ready to go out and be a professional weirdo, collect your certificate at the door. Gandalf nods at me, sucking on his pipe. He's not real, I remind myself. It's all in your head, even that stupid pointy hat. No one in the real world would think of wearing such an atrocious outfit, Wizard or not.
"Miss Lavender," Gandalf begins, handing me over a warm cup of what looks to be malt tea, "I wonder if you might be able to tell me more about how exactly it was you got here."
Might as well give it to him straight. "I'm dreaming, Gandalf. I went to bed..." I gesture nonchalantly, sinking into the warm comfort of my armchair. "And then I was walking down that path out there, just like a normal dream. Then those freakishly large sheep turned up and I knocked down poor old Bilbo's door to escape them." I lean in closer to the aging Wizard, speaking now out of the corner of my mouth like a villain in a noir film. "Next thing I know, I'm dining with that band of wackos out there, and then there was the singing, all mountains and caverns and long-forgotten-gold, and then I fell asleep. And woke up back home. And then fell asleep again, and... well, sort of woke up again, I suppose. Sort of. Does that make any sense to you, Wiz-box?"
By the look of the face of the Wizard, it does not.
"Well, that's what happened," I explain to him. "I was back at home. With a hang over, I might add... I'm just glad I took those paracetamol. Then I fell asleep again, and here I am. Back in this dream, and still a little tipsy."
The old man nods. "And you believe this to be a dream, nothing more."
"Well of course it's a dream," I tell him with a delirious smile, not entirely believing it myself. "I'm asleep, and you are all projections of my subconscious... it's all quite simple, really."
No, Alice. It really isn't.
"You fell asleep in your world, and woke up here?" I nod. "And sleeping here lead to your awakening in your home realm."
"Don't you do that psycho-mumbo-jumbo on me, Gandalf," I warn the Wizard, "I'm confused enough as it is. I'll just go with the flow, then wake up tomorrow and carry on with my life. Everything will be fine."
He does not look convinced. "Lady Lavender, there is a definite possibility that you are, in fact, insane..."
"No. I'm not... I'm fine. You people are the crazy ones." Inside my head, I begin to majorly freak out. And suddenly, I find I am laughing, and rather hysterically. "I am not about to sit here and argue with a projection of my own subconscious-"
"...Or you could be telling the truth." I stop then, and look up at the bearded man. "Your dress, your mannerisms... they are not of Middle Earth, Lavender. They are foreign, alien... I believe that there may be something here going on beyond dreams and madness."
Utterly defeated by the bizarre nature of it all, I nod along; let him talk, I think. I'll be awake soon enough, and this will all be over.
"Perhaps this is all just a dream," Gandalf says, and it is more than clear from his tone that he is humoring me; look at this. My own subconscious, laughing at me behind my back. "In which case none of this is real, and your normal life shall resume when you awake, as you predict. But if there is more, I would like to learn as much about it as possible. You are truly fascinating."
"Thank you," I say half-heartedly, gulping down the malt mixture; it manages somehow to soothe my aching head.
"If all of this is real-" again with the condescending tone- "I know many people who would be interested in hearing of your case, in meeting you. How would you feel about that?"
I just smile along with it. "Sure," I say, raising my hands to the ceiling, care-free. "Whatever you say, Mr. Wizard man. I'm open to all your suggestions."
"Good. But if this isn't just in your imagination, you cannot stay alone in this hobbit hole. When morning comes, we are leaving this place."
"So am I," I tell him, and the Wizard laughs, presumably at my wit. Or maybe he just thinks I'm a loony, like everyone else seems to.
"...Yes. But presuming for a moment that I am right, you'll still be here. In which case, I would like to ask you to accompany my unusual band of friends and I on an adventure."
"Hmm. I plan on meeting with some older, wiser friends than myself who shall, should you still be with us by morning, most certainly know what to do with you. They will be able to decipher what is happening, should you choose to come with me. They will be very kind to you, I am certain."
The laughing starts again; this is insane. Bizarre. Utterly flabbergasting... I never knew I had such a vivid imagination.
"Why not?" I smirk, "sure thing. You are a Wizard, after all. If anyone knows what they're taking about around here, it's going to be you... do you think I could dream up a Dumbledore, as well?"
He ignores my comment and continues, "So you will join us?"
I smile again. "I would love to, Gandalf."
He looks satisfied. "I will take that as consent. I shall speak with Thorin about bringing you along with us."
Quest, I recite mentally. That sounds important. I smile, standing from my warm chair and heading for the door. "You might have a little difficulty with that... I don't think he's my biggest fan, to be honest. Not after the whole 'that-girl-is-sitting-in-my-chair' thing. And I- uh- may have called him 'Nose.'"
"I will find a way to convince him that your company is worth having," Gandalf reassures me. I give him half-hearted thanks and lead the way out of the room. as I reach the hallway, the Wizard places a huge hand on my shoulder and directs me towards the vase of flowers I was stood beside when the two of us first spoke.
"Those are Heathers," he says, "Miss Lavender."
I gulp nervously, and smile. "Uh... good to know."
He gives me a knowing smile, bids me goodnight and retreats back to the Hobbit's study. Guess I'm not as good a liar as I thought. I head back to the living room, sleep the only thing on my mind. That malt drink has got me sleepier than a baby lamb, and the paracetamol I took when awake seems to be soothing the effects of the alcohol, if that's even possible. Deciding that dreams are far too confusing for my liking I drift into the nearest armchair, wishing now for nothing more than to just wake up and leave this madness behind me. I've had quite enough of Wizards, Hobbits and Dwarves for one lifetime... but then Kili comes into the sitting room from the kitchen, nursing a tall glass of what looks to be that sweet, sweet wine from earlier.
...Well, maybe not all Wizards, Hobbits and Dwarves.