Portland sleeps; the city dreams. Eleven bridges cross the Willamette, not necessarily leading to the other side. Streets are reshuffled, entire neighborhoods rearranged, towering redwoods growing beside downtown skyscrapers. Portland’s dreams are full of rain, creating music in the puddles and reflections that refuse to stay still. Portland dreams of you, and you are not yourself.
In the dream you stagger down a long corridor in the industrial district, bumping into walls and leaving them streaked with blood. You clutch a crisp white envelope with the name ‘J. Powell’ scrawled across it. In the stairwell on the other end of the corridor lies the man who tried to kill you. Your mission is simple: deliver the envelope before the city awakens. You step out into the rain, into the breathing streets. Blood from your shoulder drips into the sidewalk puddles as you make your way to the train station.
The train car is empty except for a little girl and her dog, a greyhound that looks like it might break if it takes a deep breath.
“You’re late,” the little girl says. You grip a steel bar as the train lurches forward into the glittering city. The girl’s name is Johnson. Everyone knows this. “Things are going to fall apart,” she says. “You might need this.” She reaches across the aisle and drops something in your hand, something tiny and sharp. The greyhound has no eyes but seems friendly.
The train rattles past the airport, then crosses the Sellwood bridge, which bucks and squirms like a spooked steed. You pass downtown twice before you get to your stop, where the Sunset and Forest Lines cross at Pioneer Square.
“Good luck,” says Johnson as you step outside. The envelope breathes in your pocket, impatient. The rain shrouds storefronts and road signs in fog. You let the city slide by below your feet; dreaming places already know where you need to go. The house is in the trendy part of Northwest. There is a rocking chair on the porch, and in the chair is a woman with a goat curled in her lap.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she says.
“J. Powell,” you say, and hold out the envelope. You feel dizzy, like the ground is slipping away. Is Portland stirring, or is it just the blood loss? A glimmer of sunrise peeks over the Tualatins, and Portland yawns and turns over. You hold on to the porch railing, only to slip and fall back into a spruce tree, and before you can get up again there are hands around your throat. You thrash, grasping at the attacker’s clammy fingers. They’re shouting something about order, about what you did to the man in the stairwell, about things that don’t belong in the waking world. Red tower lights blink along the top of the hill, blink twice, blink green as the pressure builds. Your hand finds its way into your pocket, finds something tiny and sharp. It’s a miniature rose pin, impossibly detailed, with real thorns. With your last strength you reach up and sink the pin into the attacker’s wrist, which immediately goes limp and lets go, dropping you onto the soaked lawn.
On the porch, Jessica Powell and her goat are watching you. The sun is rising and you can’t get up.
“Take it,” you gasp, holding out the envelope. “Take it!”
Jessica Powell doesn’t move. She no longer wants the dreaming city’s secrets. You lie in the grass, helpless, bleeding, out of time. Finally you tear at the envelope’s soggy paper. If Jessica Powell isn’t willing to bring the message to the morning, you’ll do it yourself. The letter is brief, just one page long, and as you begin to read the city shudders again, streets settling into familiar grids, towers blinking off, Johnson sighing as she rides to the end of the line again.
As the dreams tumble off your lips the morning dew is illuminated by dawn. You are fast disappearing, becoming yourself again, but this time is different. This time, Portland is listening. This time the city will remember its dreams.