Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ippolit's Dream

"As if on purpose, just before his arrival I had a pretty dream (as a matter fact, of a kind I now have hundreds of). I fell asleep -- I think, an hour before his arrival -- and dreamt I was in a room (but not my own). A room larger and higher-ceilinged than my own, better furnished, light; a cupboard, a chest of drawers, a sofa and my bed, large and wide and covered with a green silk quilt. But in this room I observed a horrible creature, some kind of monster. It was like a scorpion, but not a scorpion, more loathsome and far more horrible, precisely because there are no such creatures in nature, and because it had appeared in my room on purpose, and in this there was some kind of secret. I studied it very closely: it was brown and covered with a shell-like skin, a reptile, some four vershoks* long, two fingers thick around the head, tapering off towards the tail, so that the very tip of the tail was no more than a tenth of a vershok thick. At one vershok from the head there stuck out from its body, at an angle of forty-five degrees, two legs, one on each side, each two vershoks in length, so that the whole creature, if looked on from above, presented the aspect of a trident. The head I could not make out, but I saw two feelers, not long, like two strong needles, also brown. There were two similar feelers at the tip of the tail and on the end of each leg, thus eight feelers in all. The creature was running round the room very quickly, supporting itself with its legs and tail, and as it ran both its body and its legs wriggled like little serpents, with extraordinary speed, in spite of the shell, and this was very loathsome to watch. I was dreadfully afraid that it would sting me; they had told me it was poisonous, but what tormented me most was, who had sent it into my room, what did they want to do to me and what was the secret? The creature hid under the chest of drawers or the cupboard, crept away into the corners. I squatted up on a chair and squeezed my legs underneath me. It quickly ran obliquely right across the room and vanished somewhere near my chair. I looked around me in terror, but as I was sitting with my legs tucked underneath me, I hoped it would not climb up onto the chair. Suddenly I heard from behind me, almost next to my head, a kind of crackling rustle; I turned round and saw that the reptile was climbing up the wall and was almost level with my head, even touching my hair with its tail, which was twirling and wriggling with extreme speed. I leapt up, and the creature vanished. I was afraid to lie down on the bed in case it had crawled under the pillow. Into the room came my mother and some friend of hers. They began to try to catch the loathsome thing, but were calmer than I, and not even afraid. But they knew nothing. Suddenly the reptile crawled out again; this time it crawled very quietly and as if with some special intention, wriggling slowly, which was even more repulsive, obliquely across the room again, towards the door. At this point my mother opened the door and called Norma, our dog --an enormous Newfoundland, black and shaggy; she died five years ago. She rushed into the room and stood over the loathsome thing as if rooted to the spot. The reptile stopped too, but still wriggling and clacking the ends of its legs and tail against the floor. Animals are not capable of feeling mystical terror, if I am not mistaken; but at that moment it seemed to me that in Norma's terror there was something apparently very unusual, as if also almost mystical, and that therefore she also had a foreboding, as I did, that there was something very fateful about the beast and that it contained some secret. She slowly backed away from the reptile, which was crawling quietly and cautiously towards her; it apparently intended to rush at her suddenly and sting her. But, in spite of all her terror, Norma looked dreadfully fierce, though she was trembling in every limb. Suddenly she slowly bared her terrible teeth, opened her enormous red mouth, adapted herself, found the right position, plucked up her courage and suddenly grabbed the reptile in her teeth. The reptile must have have jerked violently, trying to slip away, for Norma caught it again, in flight this time, and twice took it right into her jaws, still in flight, as though swallowing it. The sheel crackled in her teeth; the creature's tail and legs, sticking out of her jaws, moved with horrible rapidity. Suddenly Norma gave a plaintive yelp: the loathsome thing had managed to sting her tongue. With a yelp and a howl she opened her mouth in pain, and I saw that the chewed-up reptile was still moving across it, emitting from its half-crushed body a large quantity of white fluid, similar to the fluid of a crushed cockroach... At that point I woke up, and the prince came in."

-Ippolit, in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (my tr.)

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