Read Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) Online

Authors: Libba Bray

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy & Magic, #Juvenile Fiction / Girls & Women, #Juvenile Fiction / Historical / United States / 21st Century, #Juvenile Fiction / Lifestyles / City & Town Life

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)

BOOK: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
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For Alvina & Greg

True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that.

—William Goldman,
The Princess Bride

And for Alex Hillian

1970–2013

Sweet dreams, Senator.

New York City, 1927

Every city is a ghost.

New buildings rise upon the bones of the old so that each shiny steel beam, each tower of brick carries within it the memories of what has gone before, an architectural haunting. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of these former incarnations in the awkward angle of a street or a filigreed gate, an old oak door peeking out from a new facade, the plaque commemorating the spot that was once a battleground, which became a saloon and is now a park.

Underground, it’s no different.

Beneath the streets, this city grows. Tracks push farther out into Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Tunnels connect one place to another, closing the distance between impossible and possible. So many people to move. The city’s aspirations do not stop at ground level. The whine of the drill and the clank of the pickax serenade the workers as they clear out rock for a new subway tunnel. Sweat binds layers of dust to the men till it’s hard to tell where they leave off and the gloom begins. The drill bites away bedrock in small mouthfuls. It’s hard, tedious work. And then suddenly, they’re breaking through the rock too fast.

“Watch it! Watch it, now!”

A wall of earth drops away. The men cough and cough, choking
on the thick air. One of them, an Irish immigrant named Padraic, wipes a dirty forearm across his sweaty brow and peers into the large hole the drill has made. On the other side is a tall wrought-iron gate gone to rust, one of those ghosts of an earlier time. Padraic shines his flashlight through the gate’s bars, and the rusty coating brightens like the dried blood of an old wound.

“I’ll be,” he says and grins at the others. “Might be somet’ing worth havin’ inside.”

He tugs and the rusted gate shrieks open, and then the men are inside the dust-choked hole of a forgotten part of the city’s past. The Irishman whistles as his beam bounces around the tomblike room, revealing wooden panels grayed with cobwebs, tile mosaics obscured by layers of grime, a light fixture dangling precariously from a broken chain. A train car sits half-buried under a mountain of fallen dirt. Its wheels are silenced, but in the darkness, it’s almost as if the workers can hear the faint whine of metal on metal lingering in the preserved air. Padraic’s flashlight beam shines across the tracks, tracing them backward to a dead tunnel. The men move close and peer into the murkiness. It’s like looking into hell’s gaping mouth, tracks for tongue. The tunnel seems to go on forever, but that’s just the dark talking.

“What’s in here, then?” Padraic asks.

“A speakeasy,” says another man, Michael, chuckling.

“Grand. I could use a drink,” Padraic jokes as he heads inside, still hopeful of some lost treasure. The workers follow. These men are the unseen builders of the city, like ghosts themselves, and they’ve no need to fear the dark.

Only Sun Yu hesitates. He hates the dark, actually, but he needs the job, and jobs are hard to come by when you’re Chinese. As it is, he only got the job because he shares a cold-water flat with Padraic and several others in Chinatown, and the Irishman put in a word for him with the boss. It wouldn’t do to make waves. So he, too, follows. As Sun Yu navigates the mounds of fallen dirt and brick on the tracks, he stumbles over something. Padraic swings his flashlight beam over the tracks again and finds a pretty little music box with a hand crank
on top. Padraic lifts the music box, admiring the workmanship. They don’t make them like that anymore. He turns the crank on the cylinder. A song plinks out note by note. It’s one he’s heard before, an old song, but he can’t really remember it.

He considers taking the music box but puts it back. “Let’s see what other treasures are down here.”

Padraic swings the flashlight. The beam finds a skeletal foot. At the base of the curved wall is a mummified corpse mostly eaten away by rot and rats and time. The men fall quiet. They stare at the tufts of hair gone as thin as candy floss, and at the mouth, which is open as if in a final scream. A few of the men cross themselves. They left a lot behind to come to this country, but not their superstitions.

Sun Yu is uneasy, but he doesn’t have the words in English to communicate his feelings. This woman met a very bad end. If he were back in China, he’d see to the proper prayers and burial. For everyone knows a spirit can’t rest without that. But this is America. Things are different here.

“Bad luck,” he says at last, and no one disagrees.

“Right. We best be back at it, lads,” Padraic says with a heavy sigh.

The men pile out of the hole. As Padraic closes the gate, he regards the unearthed station with pity. It’ll be gone soon enough, knocked out to make way for new subway lines for the growing city. Progress keeps progressing.

“Shame,” he says.

Moments later, the high-pitched hum of the workers’ jackhammers melds with the constant rattle of the subway trains; the city’s song reverberates in the tunnels. Suddenly, the work lights dim. The men pause. Wind wafts down the tunnel and caresses their sweaty faces. It carries the faint sound of crying, and then it’s gone. The lights brighten again. The men shrug—just one of those odd things that happen in the city under the city. They start in again; their machines turn up the earth, burying history in their wake.

Later, the exhausted workers return to Chinatown and climb the stairs to their shared room. They fall into their beds, the dirt of the
city still caked under their ragged nails. They’re too tired for bathing, but they’re not too tired for dreams. For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning. The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams.

The men dream of the music box and its song, a relic from a time long ago.

“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me / Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee.…”

The song calls to their blood, ferries them into the best dreams they’ve ever had—dreams in which they are aboveground, men of fortune and renown, owners in a country that smiles on owning. Michael dreams of overseeing his own construction company. Padraic dreams of a farm upstate filled with horses. Sun Yu dreams of returning to his village as a prosperous man, and of the pride in his parents’ faces as he brings them to America, along with a wife for himself. Yes, a wife to share the burdens and joys of life here. He can see her smiling at him. Such a sweet face! And are those his children beside her? They are! Happy sons and daughters welcoming him home at the end of the day with his slippers and pipe and happy cries of “Baba!” as they beg for a story.

Sun Yu reaches for his youngest child, and the dream fades to embers. There is only the dark of the tunnel they found earlier in the day. Sun Yu calls out for his children and hears soft crying. It breaks his heart to hear it.

“Don’t cry,” he soothes.

In the gloom, there’s a sudden spark. For a few seconds, his longed-for family life comes alive again, as if Sun Yu were looking through a keyhole at happiness. One of the children crooks a finger, smiles.


Dream with me…
” he whispers.

Yes. I will
, Sun Yu thinks. He opens the door and steps across the threshold.

It’s cold inside, so cold Sun Yu can feel it even in his sleep. The stove isn’t lit. That’s the trouble. Sun Yu moves forward and notices that the stove isn’t really a stove at all. It wobbles, and underneath that
image, he can make out old bricks gone to rot and ruin. Out of the corner of his eye, he spies a rat. It stops to sniff a pile of bones.

Alarmed, Sun Yu turns to his family. The children are no longer smiling. They’re lined up, staring at him.


Dreamwithusdreamweneedyoutodream…
” the children chorus, his wife looking on, her teeth sharp and her eyes like coals.

Sun Yu’s heartbeat begins to double, an autonomic response. Fight or flight. Even in sleep, it works. Sun Yu wants to wake up, but the dream won’t let him. It’s angry that he’s trying to escape. When he runs for the door, it slams shut.


You promised
,” the dream growls in a voice as thick as a choir of demons.

The music-box song plays. The last of the pretty facade peels away. The dark moves in.

One by one, the other men sense the danger lurking beneath the beauty. It’s a trap, this dreaming. In sleep, their fingers stiffen as they try to fight back against the terror invading their minds. For the dream knows their fears as well as their desires. It can make them see anything. Unspeakable nightmares surround the men now. They would scream if they could. It’s no use. The dream has them, and it will not relinquish its hold. Ever.

Back in their beds on Mott Street, the men’s bodies go limp. But behind their closed lids, their eyes move frantically as, one by one, they are pulled deeper and deeper into a nightmare from which they will never, ever wake.

BOOK: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
13.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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