It’s adventure time! Read on and vote in the comments for however you’d like to proceed. =)
You’ve never been to the falls before but every part of it speaks of familiarity, like an old coat that rests, warm and comfortable, against your shoulders. At first you shrugged the feeling off as a temporary moment of deja vu but the farther you walk, the stronger the feeling gets.
That aspen to the left of the trail up ahead, without walking around to see the far side, you know it’s blackened from a lightening strike. Or beyond that, to the right, the trail curves around a granite rock face. On the other side of it, you know the falls open up into a vast pool with small waterfalls splashing down from the rock above.
For years you’ve dreamed of the pool with its rainbow casting falls. You’ve called it your haven, the place your resting mind goes to escape the tedium of life as a printer’s apprentice. Dark ink stains cover your hands and blacken your nails from your hours of copying text, day in and day out.
But in your dreams you never have to hold a quill or clean up spilled ink. Instead you swim in the pool, feel the water wash away your weariness and lay in the sun, letting it warm your too white skin.
Never, though, has the pool been anything but a dream, a mental escape.
You finger the piece of paper in your hand. On it a scrawled message beckons you to report to Marius Lancaster to assist in the writing of his will.
Nothing about such a note is unusual. The directions to Mr. Lancaster’s, however, led you here. Well out of town and into the mountains. Since you’re from a small town, you assumed you knew everyone around but you’ve never heard of Mr. Lancaster. When you asked your Master about it, he shrugged, not knowing the name either, and told you to leave early to make it to Lancaster’s on time.
The note shakes in your fingers. Something about finding your dream world to be real settles unease in your stomach like a lump of lead.
You remind yourself this day is like any other, stuff the note back into your coat pocket, and proceed up the trail.
Around the granite rock face, the pool opens, sparkling with water rainbows cast by the late day sun. The sight creates a deep ache in your chest. It’s beautiful, pristine.
The trail ends farther up, about fifty yards from where you stand, at a wrought iron fence. Inside it sits a dainty cottage decked in flower boxes. Everything from roses to tulips to daisies bloom in those boxes, giving a varied sweet scent on the breeze.
This is the first difference from your dream escape. There was never a cottage there.
At the gate, you pause half way through as you see an old man sitting just beyond. His shock of white hair could blend with snow.
His back rests against the cottage door and he’s staring at you. Probably has been since you rounded the granite face.
“In or out,” he says. “It’s dangerous to stand in between.”
“What?” you ask.
“In or out.” The statement’s soft but commanding.
You step through the gate and close it.
The man nods. “You’re late.”
You can’t disagree, so you just smile an apology.
“Have you seen this place before?” he asks.
You freeze in opening your satchel. Why would he ask such a question? When you look up at him, his eyes swirl with bluish color, unnatural but mesmerizing.
Do you say:
His swirling blue eyes watch as you debate your answer. They see your surprise and indecision. He’d probably know if you lied. Those eyes crinkle slightly at the corners with perception and understanding.
“Yes,” you finally say, “but I’ve never been here physically.” You frown, realizing how odd that probably sounds.
The old man’s lips pull up into a careful smile as though he completely understands but enjoys watching you struggle with words.
“Come,” he pushes off the ground to stand up, “let me show you something.”
You let the flap on you satchel fall closed without retrieving your paper and ink and follow him into the small cottage. Immediately within the door, the air touches your skin, thick and heavy with humidity. It’s a wall of moisture that turns movement into a conscious action because it slides the air across your skin like a caress.
On a shelf to your right, a cat watches you with bright green eyes. You make a face at it and the feline yawns in a toothy show.
“Dreams,” the old man says over his shoulder, pulling you from your fascination with the cat, “mean something.”
He picks up a clear marble from a table full of marbles. They vary from pea sized to grapefruit sized but all of them are perfectly clear like raindrops. The table’s edge curves upward, containing the marbles neatly within its frame. It’s not the only such table, you see, as you move deeper into the cottage to find dozens of them.
As soon as he touches the one marble, a grape sized sphere, it swirls to life with brilliant blues and purples.
The old man weaves his way amidst the tables to the middle of the cottage.
“Come,” he beckons you with his free hand. “You must see to understand.”
You move to join him by a flat, circular table. From its center flows a fountain of water that rushes evenly outward and cascades off the edge to land on the floor. There it steams on the dry wood and evaporates. Thus the humidity, you realize.
The old man places the grape sized marble into the very center of the table. It suspends there and the water rushing off the edge fills with wavering images.
Miss. Vera, the town’s only teacher, smiles down at a group of young children. One of them raises a hand and she calls on him before the image falls over the edge to disappear in a hiss against the floor.
“She dreams,” the old man says. “Mostly of her teaching. Those dreams come and go easily. She’s comfortable with her job. But,” he holds up a hand and walks to the far edge of the table. Instead of completing his thought, he points at an image there.
You rush around, thinking the image will disappear off the edge before you can see it, but you needn’t have worried. The image flows like a play, never finishing, never disappearing.
Miss Vsera returns home but hesitates on the porch of her small, faded-blue house. The color of the home darkens like night has fallen but you can see the sun still shining on the porch steps behind her. She sighs and her shoulders slump before she places her hand on the doorknob and enters her home.
The image doesn’t show what’s inside. It darkens briefly and then repeats.
“What happens inside?” you ask.
“Her mind doesn’t go there. Can’t or won’t?” he shrugs. “But we can send her a little encouragement if you like.”
“Yes,” you say instantly, “please.” The repeated image holds your attention, almost bringing tears to your eyes.
“Here’s the tricky part.” the old man draws your attention by sweeping his hand between you and the image. “Do we give her warmth or words?”
Miss Vera’s slumped form pulls your heartstrings. She’s always been such a sweet person every time you’ve interacted with her.
“Words,” you tell Mr. Lancaster. “She needs something direct.”
Mr. Lancaster nods once and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out another marble but it stays perfectly clear in his grasp.
“Your time in her dream will be brief,” he says, “so consider carefully what you’d like to say before going in.”
He stands there with the marble, giving you a moment to consider but watching you with his strange, swirling eyes. You wonder if his eyes reflect the marbles because he’s spent too many years gazing into them.
What do you say?
Maybe something about her quiet strength. How she deals so aptly with a classroom of children every day.
Or maybe something about how her presence always lightens your day.
Without knowing what awaits Miss Vera inside the house, you realize anything you say really is a shot in the dark.
But you’ve got to try. You nod to Mr. Lancaster that you’re ready.
He holds the clear marble up. “This will be rather jarring,” he cautions, “brace yourself.”
You get the feeling he’s not talking about holding onto the tables, so you simply nod again and watch him add the marble to the fountain, directly beside Miss Vera’s in the flow of the water that displays the repeat dream.
Your world shifts. Blues and purples rush past your sight like you’re stuck on a branch in a river and are watching the multicolored water ripple past your immersed head.
Then the colors solidify and you’re on the street just down the block from Miss Vera’s small house.
The sun shines brightly on your shoulder. You blink several times to clear your sight and Miss Vera’s slender frame appears down the street as she turns the corner on her way home from work.
A smile touches her lips until she reaches the gate to the faded blue house but the expression fades when she moves to open the metal latch. Just like when you watched her dream from above the fountain, all the color seems to fade from around her.
You rush forward with your desire to put the color back into her world.
She glances up at the sound of your steps, a friendly, polite smile returning to her lips, but the despair in her eyes does not recede. It adds lines to the corners of her eyes and darkens the beautiful chocolate around her irises.
You stop before her but the words you so carefully planned die in your throat. They’re inadequate beside the deep emotion you not only see, but feel, rolling through her. Perhaps that’s part of the dream, but you experience Miss Vera’s internal struggle like it was your own.
She watches you, saying nothing while you stand there with your mouth open.
You snap your lips closed. Your mind races, knowing your time is short to make a difference.
What you were going to say isn’t adequate, you know it with a deep certainty. But you need to say something.
Make Something up on the Spot
Give her a hug?
The Falls-Give her a hug
You smile an apology for just staring.
No clear, perfect words come to you and you doubt if you open your mouth anything helpful will come out. Instead, you say nothing and step forward to hug Miss Vera.
She gives a small sound of surprise but then hugs you back, tightly.
“No!” The voice of objection is Mr. Lancaster’s but when you glance around, you don’t see him and apparently Miss Vera didn’t hear him.
There’s a brief moment of perfect understanding between you and the teacher, a moment of comfort, but then your world shifts like you’ve been thrown into a storm. Miss Vera disappears. The blues and purples return in a chaotic swirl and you’re spun around and around. Your stomach heaves and only a force of will keeps it from vacating through your throat. Everything goes dark.
You wake a while later and sputter at the water Mr. Lancaster was splashing on your face.
Wiping a hand across your eyes, you find the old man watching. His face is drawn, not angry but frustrated perhaps.
“You cannot,” he says emphatically, “touch a person in their dreams.”
“Why?” you ask, remembering the moment of comfort for Miss Vera.
“It messes with their reality,” he stands while shaking his head. “It’s like breaking the fourth wall in a play. Their brain knows the interaction isn’t something it came up with and that messes with them.”
He wanders away and returns with a mug of tea. Handing the steaming mug to you, he leans against one of the marble tables and crosses his arms.
The tea gives a strong hint of mint and something else. You take a sip and the liquid steadies you. You didn’t even realize how wobbly you felt, perhaps because you haven’t tried to stand, but the mint and whatever else clears away the haziness from your head.
“I’ve looked in on Miss Vera’s dreams while you were sleeping,” he continues after you take another sip of tea. “Her recurring dream is gone.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” you ask.
“Perhaps,” he admits, “but the faded colors from the one dream have now overtaken all of them. The color’s gone out of her world.”
“Oh,” you sip again. “Maybe if I go see her, actually hug her, it’ll help.”
But Mr. Lancaster shakes his head. “If you leave the falls, you will never return. I’ll explain tomorrow.” He takes your now empty mug and points to a door behind you. “There’s a bed in there.” Then he leaves you.
You peek outside and see he’s right, it’s well into the night. You make your way to the room and the bed but when you lay down, your mind just won’t leave what happened in Miss Vera’s dream alone.
You can’t just sleep on it.
The cottage remains still as you get up and pass the fountain and all the marbles. Leaving the falls behind feels odd but nothing stops you from hiking back to town.
The next day you wait out front of Miss Vera’s house like you did in the dream. Maybe she’ll write it off as some type of deja-vu.
There’s shock on her face when she sees you but she smiles politely and actually lets you into the house with her.
Below the coat rack just inside the door, you see two pairs of slippers. Both are blue and well used but they’re different sizes.
“Someone else lives here?” you ask.
Miss Vera’s face looks stricken but then she hugs her arms around her middle and answers, “Someone else lived here. My sister passed away last night.”
Everything clicks together in your mind. “How long was she sick?” you ask.
“Ten years,” she explains how her sister didn’t want anyone to know, instead letting the town think she left for parts unknown. Tears steam down her face. There’s grief there but also a sense of relief. Ten years of taking care of a dying sister would do that.
You hug her, let her cry, and there’s that perfect understanding again.
You return to spend time with her every day and hope you’ve added color back to her world. But you’ve no real way of knowing if you are succeeding.
You attempt once to return to the falls and the cottage, but they’re gone. Just gone. You never see the place again, in your dreams or in reality.
But you do make a lifelong friend in Miss Vera. A part of you wonders how much more you could have done if you stayed with Mr. Lancaster but you’re content with the choice you made to leave.
Dreams are crazy things! But you gained a lifelong friend =)
Thanks for participating in the adventure. The adventure will be back on the 26th.
Until then, blessings,