The Abacus of Dreams

Abacus of DreamsNo, not his dream.  His dreams hold no answers that make sense.  It’s possible his dreams don’t hold any answers at all.  Not the ones we need to find her.

It’s her dreams we need.  It’s the link we need.  He had something of hers from the island.  But he lost it on his way to rescue.  He lost it in the delirium of dehydration.  Now he has only his memories, his dreams, his desperate hope.  And to help him, I have only the Abacus.

An abacus is used to count and calculate.  It is precise.  It is logical.  It is the opposite of what a dream is.  Maybe the one who made this abacus—whether it was the mysterious queen who mastered meditation until she became a dream-walker or the mathematician who wanted to dream his way to the answers of the universe, to the ultimate equation of existence—made it to link the known to the unknown.  Maybe its purpose is profound, it’s ultimate destiny grand, but for today, I hope to use it to do something just as important as uncovering the secrets of the human subconscious or the mysteries of the cosmos.  Today, I hope to use the sometimes famed and sometimes ridiculed Abacus of Dreams to save a woman’s life.

I’m not the one who actually uses the Abacus.  That would be, in this case, Bill.  I would be but the passenger.  True, I would guide him into his dream, guide him toward things his conscious mind has filtered out.  But Bill would take it from there.  Some of what he saw, felt, experience, was lost, but if it was missing from his memory, it might be present in hers.  And if he could find her in his dreams, then he could enter her dreams and see what she saw.  And if I saw what they both saw, I might be able to help find her.  I might be able to help find Bill Thorne’s soon-to-be ex-wife on the deserted island where he left her.


Bill was still recovering, still mending, still being restored from the husk that the Coast Guard found floating on a dilapidated but surprisingly sturdy raft.  So his body looks frail, burnt and beaten.  But his blue-gray eyes have already recovered.  They are clear and steely.  Whenever I say her name, they soften and then go steely again.

I am his last hope.  I try to put that out of my mind as I direct him to the couch.  Following my instruction, Bill Thorne lays down on the couch.  He closes his eyes and folds his hands over his stomach.  In his hands, I place the little abacus.  The Abacus.  I am a part of its story.  Most of the time, I know about an artifact first and then go hunting for it.  Most of the time, I don’t find what I’m looking for.  But this time…I found it before I even knew what it was.

I was on a flight back from vacation, a strange but relaxing vacation.  Strange because I hadn’t had a vacation in over ten years, and despite all the travel I do for work, even just sleeping in a different bed was exotic.  The last day of vacation I bought an abacus from a street stall.  The frame was made of some fragrant dark wood.  The counting beads were polished stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli, and jasper in the top rows.  The beads on the bottom two rows were made of precious metals.  Silver on one row and gold on the last.  It was quite possible that the construction of the Abacus from such precious and rare materials was merely an extravagance.  But I thought the construction had some meaning and purpose, as I do with most things.  The abacus was small, the size of my palm, and on the flight home, I examined and admired it, moving around the beads, counting until I fell into a restless slumber.  I had dreams about walking on top of clouds and reaching out into space and stirring up a nebula with my finger.  I rode on the back of a giant tortoise who spoke only Portugese, so we communicated through emotional telepathy and gestures and eye contact.  When I woke, I smelled the ocean in my hair.  Maybe it was imagination.  But I looked at the abacus in my hands with curiosity, and when I returned home, I studied it.  I realized it was no ordinary artifact.

I was still learning how to use the Abacus.  I hadn’t actually tried anything like what I was going to try with Bill Thorne, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.  I was his last hope.  The Coast Guard and other experts, oceanographers, researchers studying currents and drift patterns, they’d all done what they could to figure out exactly where Bill came from, so they could return and get Cassidy.  He’d been keeping track, but his notes were only able to get them so far, especially since he hadn’t been clear-headed for days before his rescue.  Bill Thorne was no seaman.  He was no outdoorsman.  He’d done his best and he had done well, but there just wasn’t enough information to go on.


In the past few days, I’ve learned all I can about my client.  Bill and Cassidy Thorne.  When they first got together in their early twenties, they fancied that they sounded like some Old West outlaw lovers (she called Bill “Black Rose” Thorne and he called her Calamity Cass).  They had a passionate romance that ended in an extravagant wedding paid for by expectant parents on both sides, a wedding from which they eloped in a small chapel in Las Vegas.  Both had ambitious dreams.  Both helped each other make their dreams come true.  Bill was an oil tycoon.  Well, cooking oil.  He owned a successful packaged food company.  Cassidy was an executive at a medical technology corporation.  They became a power couple.  They had no children and that was by choice.  Despite their success, they saw their present world as unworthy of any child their love could produce, unworthy, in fact, of anyone’s children.  They sometimes spoke of adopting, but never seriously.  They took vacations together, but they often did their own separate things.  Something happened over time.  They lost the passion, but not the love and respect.  They realized that their life together had become two lives together.  And they spoke of divorce, but never seriously…not at first.

They had chartered a plane to fly them down to the island resort where they’d taken their first trip together.  They owned a house there and hadn’t yet decided what to do with it.  It was where their lawyers would meet them, and where they would sign the final papers.  A storm hit.  And it blew their charter plane so far off course that the plane landed on a tiny island that the pilot could not locate on his maps.  All three of the people on the plane survived, the pilot, Bill, and Cassidy.  Even the plane survived. But they couldn’t fly it, because it was out of fuel.  Even if they could fly it, they didn’t know where they were, and where they would need to head.  They couldn’t call for help.  The communications equipment appeared to be intact, but it wasn’t working for some reason.  The pilot figured they were out of range of any structure or vessel that might be able to receive their call.  They built signal fires.  They built shelter.

One day, the pilot fell ill.  Bill thought he found an insect bite, maybe a spider’s, on the man’s ankle.  He couldn’t be sure.  There wasn’t much by medication in the plane’s first aid kit.  The pilot died in a few days.  The Thornes thought they would be next.  They were always waking up with bites and stings.  They feared it was a matter of time before one of those stings or bites turned deadly.  So they devised a plan to build a raft, stock it as well as they could, and follow the sun.  Cassidy got cold feet at the last minute.  Bill left, promising to return to rescue her.  But on the raft, he ran out of food first, then water.  He was dehydrated and near-unconscious when he was found by the Coast Guard.  He had been traveling due east, but at some point, the raft had drifted, and he hadn’t been in any shape to keep track of where he’d been and where he was going.  He couldn’t find the island where his wife was waiting for him to rescue her.  After trying everything to remember, hypnotherapy, guided meditation, drawing, lucid dreaming, Bill at last came to me.  He’d read that I was an expert in a practice that went beyond lucid dreaming.  A practice called parahynotic dreaming.  Or in simpler, perhaps clearer, terms, dream-walking.


The tortoise from my Abacus dream was me.  I had figured that much out.  I was the tortoise.  That was my totem animal, I suppose.  And I had to let Bill Thorne atop my great shell and let him guide me to where he wanted to go.  I started narrating the vision to him, the vision of the sea and the tortoise and riding on the tortoise.

He gripped the abacus.  He was touching the lapis lazuli bead.  Some people think the stone is for love and truth.  On the Abacus, it is the pathfinder.  As I left off my narration with Bill riding on the tortoise, Bill started speaking.  He started narrating his own dream.

“I’m on his back,” Bill said, speaking of the great tortoise.  “We catch sight of land and he swims toward it.  I wade ashore and thank him with a bow.  I build a fire, a lean-to, and then, a treehouse.  It’s some treehouse too.  I don’t know how I do it.  It’s sprawling among the palms.”  Bill described them, lush purple-leaved palms that grew in haphazard beauty some ways inland from the shore of glittering coppery sand.  The colors in his dream were vivid.  A good sign of the strength of his memories.  I reached my hand toward the Abacus and touched the labradorite for clear sight.  I shifted it slowly as one might move the knob on a microscope to bring the image on the slide below into focus.  I closed my eyes and listened to Bill.

“I’m hunting and foraging,” Bill said.  “I come across this rusty lock just lying in the undergrowth beside a fallen tree trunk.  It’s weird.  There aren’t any other people around.  But I guess it makes sense that sometime ago there were people on the island.  The lock looks old.  I don’t know about history and all, but it looks like something from a past century.  Maybe this is one of those islands that the French or Dutch settled or something.  Anyway, something about the lock fascinates me, so I take it home.  I climb to the highest landing in my treehouse.  I use it as a looking post mostly.  From there, I can see above most other treetops.  I can see the beach.  I clean the lock with freshwater and scrub it with sand.  I don’t have any soap, but it starts to foam up like soap and the dirt washes away.  When I’m done, it gleams silver and I wonder what’s behind the lock.”

Bill stopped then and frowned.  I waited for a moment.  I was about to speak when he continued.

“I need a door.  That’s how I can find out.  I build a door from planks of palm.  There’s a stack in the corner of the looking post.  When I finish, I cut a hole where the lock could fit.  I stand the door up in the middle of the chamber.”  He paused and frowned.  “I hear ringing.”  He turned his head slightly to the left.  “It’s coming from the other side of the door.  I walk around the door to the other side, but the ringing stops and all I see is the other side of the landing.  I walk back around to the front and hear the ringing again.  It sounds familiar.  I feel like…”

Bill moved his right hand to his hip and felt around as if searching or checking for something.  “Where is it?” he said.  “Where’s my phone?  It’s ringing.  Someone is calling me.”

“Who’s calling you?” I asked, opening my eyes.

“Cass.  It’s got to be.”

Bill’s hand shifted back to the Abacus and he gripped it tightly.  The gold and silver beads on the bottom layers clicked against each other.

“I think my cell is behind the door, but the door’s locked.  Dammit, I can’t get through.”  Bill’s forehead was creased, his breathing shallow.  Beads of sweat had formed on his brow.

“Bill, it’s okay,” I said.  “It’s okay.  Just calm down and look around the room.  Do you see a key?”

Bill shook his head from side to side slightly.  In his dream, he was probably looking around the room.  “I see a bed.”  He began to calm.

“I’m lying on the softest bed,” he said.

I took a deep breath.  I wanted to guide him back to looking for the key.  It was frustrating when I had a goal in a dream and got sidetracked.  That happened a lot.  But this wasn’t my dream.  It was Bill’s.  Before I interfered, I had to observe and gauge if there was a good reason for this new distraction.  Bill touched one of the larger beads on the top row.  I couldn’t tell which one.  He held it in his fist.  I took a picture so I could later see which bead he’d held.

“It’s warm, but the night is cold,” he said.  He took a deep, slow breath and exhaled.  “Ah, you know that feeling?  When you realize you don’t have to get up.  You’re warm and the world outside is cold and you don’t have to get up until you’re ready.  I just heard a loud pop and a bunch of smaller pops.  I open my eyes.  The sky is pitch dark, but it’s lighting up with stars now, and they’re all different colors.”  Bill laughed.  “It’s fireworks, not stars.”

What happened to the ringing?  The door? I wondered.

“Oh, it’s over.  There’s only one left.”  Bill’s forehead creased again.  “It’s not a firework.  No, this one is a real star.  And it’s dropping.  A star is falling from the sky.  I’m running toward it.  It falls just ahead of me.  I can see it burning.  The ground is on fire, but it’s dimming.  I have to find it before it dies.”  His breathing became shallow again.  He must have been running in his dream.  “There are no stars.  I can’t see anything,” he said breathlessly.  “I hear thunder, but there’s no lightning.  Wait, I see a fire.  A fire is burning ahead, but it’s dying.  Whoa!”

He huffed out a breath and froze.  He made no sound for several seconds.

“Bill,” I almost whispered.  “Bill, keep talking.  What do you see?”

“There are serpents.”  Bill whispered too.  “They look black, but against the fire, I can tell they’re red underneath.  They’re all twisted around something, no someone, lying by the fire.”

Now it was me who froze.

“It’s hot, so hot.”  Bill began to sweat.  His shirt was darkening with moisture at his neck and armpits.  His face was dripping.  I felt my own heart begin to race.  “I can’t bear it.  How can it be so hot?  The fire is dying.  I should be freezing.”  He began to shiver and groan.  His hands moved the beads of the Abacus.  I took another picture in case he moved them again.

Bill jerked upwards, arching his back.  His hands shifted to his neck and the Abacus slipped from his chest onto the ground.  His hands convulsed around his neck and he struggled to breath.  His face was growing red.  His eyes flew open.

I said the phrase, the phrase that should have snapped him out of the trance, but Bill continued to struggle.  I grabbed the Abacus from the ground and felt a sudden tightening around my throat.  Serpents.  He said there were serpents.  I held my breath and moved the stones of the Abacus until they represented a number that I hoped would function like a reset button.  Zero.

The tightening around my throat vanished.  Bill gasped out a breath and sucked in air as if he’d just emerged from underwater.  He looked at me, unable to speak.  But I understood.

I looked at the picture I had taken before he dropped the Abacus.  I looked at the rows of gold and silver beads.  And I understood.


From the helicopter, we saw the dying fire.  We couldn’t land close enough, so the paramedics were lowered down with the stretcher and their equipment.  It was the dead of night.  There was a new moon, so we had only starlight and the helicopters floodlights to see by.  I glimpsed a figure lying by the fire.  The figure wasn’t moving.  And there was enough light for me to see that the palms had dark purple fronds.  That the sand was glittering and coppery.  When they brought her up into the helicopter, she looked pale.  Her lips were blue.  Bill said she felt cold.  One of her arms looked swollen near the elbow and one of the medics mentioned seeing some kind of insect bite there.  I looked at Bill, but he didn’t seem to have heard.  He was looking down at Cassidy as if he couldn’t tell whether or not he was in a dream.

When we flew back, I followed the Thornes to the hospital, and I waited for a few hours.  But Bill never came out to meet me.  I wasn’t family or friend.  I went home.  My job was done, but I followed up of course.  Cassidy Thorne had indeed been bitten by something, but without a specimen, the doctors could only treat her in a general way.  She was in a coma for three days.  Bill called me after the second day of waiting for her to wake.  He wanted to use the Abacus again, to guide her back to consciousness.   He hung up before I could say anything.  But then he called back moments after to say he’d changed his mind.  She was in a fragile condition and he feared that he might do more harm than good.  He asked my opinion.  I told him the truth.  I didn’t know if it would harm her, or help her, or do nothing.  Then, on the fourth morning, with Bill dozing in the chair nearby, Cassidy woke.


I packed the Abacus away in a sandalwood box lined with black velvet.  I looked at it fondly before closing the lid and locking it, still not quite sure if it truly had anything to do with finding Cassidy Thorne, or if it had been Bill.  It probably did.  I’m the one who likely didn’t have anything to do with it.  I’m no newbie.  I’m no charlatan.  But walking through dreams…people think it’s not hard because everyone dreams.  But not knowing what anything really means, because everything means something different to different people, it’s a mess.  I wouldn’t have attempted it without the Abacus to help bring some order to the disorder.

Bill called about two weeks later to thank me again.  Cassidy was home and doing well.  He sounded calm, relieved, and tired.  Between his own recovery and Cassidy’s, he said he hadn’t had enough time to really think about what happened until then and he had a question.  He asked me how I knew where to find Cassidy.  I told him about the gold and silver beads.  About what they meant.  It was an abacus, after all.  It dealt in numbers and figures.  Somehow, between his dream and Cassidy’s, there was enough information for Bill’s fingers to pull the beads into configuration.  And I knew enough about the Abacus to know how to read it.  I did not admit to him that there was only one obscure and uncorroborated account that suggested the gold and silver beads were associated with latitude and longitude.

I too had a question.  I wanted to ask if the ordeal they’d been through had changed their minds about that divorce.  I couldn’t help but imagine them having that “gazing into each other’s eyes moment” and coming to the same realization at the same time.  But I didn’t ask.

After all, the dream that led Bill back to Cassidy, the one that helped to find her and save her, that dream was my business.  But the dreams they would have for the rest of their lives, whether they dreamt together or separately, those dreams were their business and theirs alone.


Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.

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