1. It was the only entry for its category, which meant that it made it to finalists by default. (Though I did have Claire Banschbach as the judge for the category and she did read it before sending it on.)
2. It was also the first entry that I received for the contest.
The Grand Prize Winner was selected by Aubrey Hansen.
(Oh, and just an aside note. I am working as hard as I can on the new website and blog, but it's turned out to be a bit more intense than I had envisioned, so I'm hoping to have it unveiled somewhere in the middle of next month. Anywho. It's been awesome so far. Finally found a use for my HUGE collection of giraffes.)
Now enjoy, and, Camille, keep up the awesome writing!
|Cover by Alea Harper|
My eyes shot open, and I was wide awake like I’d just chugged two double-shot espressos. With whipped cream on top. Had someone just shaken me by the shoulders? No? I was still alone in my moonlit room, still comfortably staring at the ceiling with the quilts pulled up to my chin. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as I could see. Just the pile of semi-clean clothes on the chair by the bed, my desk covered in wires and screens, and one of my old school science projects dangling in the corner—namely a solar system mobile made out of foam balls, which I had developed an emotional attachment to, which kept me from throwing the thing away. My air conditioner hummed in the window at the foot of my bed, blasting me with air so frigid I could almost see my breath.
I took a deep breath to calm that feeling that someone had been standing beside me. There’s nothing the matter so quit freaking out…
I glared at the 3:09 glowing on the face of my alarm clock then stared back at the plain white ceiling, trying to make my eyelids relax enough to close them again. It was no use. Someone had changed out my regular eyelids for spring-loaded ones. Thanks, eyelid fairy, but I liked my old ones better.
Time to count sheep. I had four more hours to go before I had to jump out of bed, hit the alarm clock, snarf a pop-tart and drive to my dream job. Oh, and I had to fit getting dressed into the lineup as well. Didn’t need any nightmares playing themselves out in real life.
Yep, I was living the dream job. Straight out of college into a high-dollar computer technician position—oh yeah, baby! After two years of direct deposit, I could count dollar signs instead of sheep. And there was my Lexus out back, and my espresso maker in the kitchen, and my custom-built Mac with Photoshop and Dragon NaturallySpeaking on it. Oooh, and my drone…
The air seemed suddenly cooler and cleaner than before. I sniffed. The air was almost crackling with some kind of icy energy, some kind of excitement, like it was the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… You get the idea.
The moonlight flooding my room even seemed brighter.
As I lay there in comfort, wondering why the world seemed so alive and poised like it was waiting for something, I heard a tiny tinkling sound, like crystal gently touching crystal. Or maybe the sound ice cubes or snowflakes make when they talk to each other. My cat prowling the house?
As I looked around the room, I heard a creaking sound, and suddenly to my horror I beheld my solar system mobile slowly beginning to spin on its own.
On its own, mind you. No strange drafts in the room, no cats batting at it. It moved. By itself.
My hair prickled to attention and I sat up. When I beheld a figure sitting in my window, my heart almost jumped clean out of my chest.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?” I shouted, leaping out of bed.
Great. My intense vocalization should have made any intruder jump, but the figure didn’t flinch. I saw it was a young boy; maybe ten? I stared at him, huffing deep breaths of pure panic. He was just sitting there in my now open window, lit by the moon, gazing at me. How had he gotten there without me hearing him?
“What is the matter?” he asked. His voice was so feminine I needed to re-evaluate my first impression of him—or her, whichever it was. Its hair didn’t help, being a sort of gender-neutral mass of curls. And his or her clothes consisted of what looked like a white knee-length t-shirt with a belt at the waist—just as confusing as the hair.
I was still freaked out, but my panic was subsiding enough for me to think. My phone was downstairs, tethered to a wall socket in its nightly re-charge mode. Too bad phones don’t respond to telepathic “dial 911” commands. But then again, this kid didn’t seem too threatening.
“Um,” I said.
The boy or girl—I’ll just go with “kid”—cocked his head at the sound of my impressive dialogue.
“Um,” I continued. “Are you by any chance Peter Pan?”
Curls bobbing, the kid shook his head.
I cleared my throat. “Then how did you get in my window, which is…” I made a quick guess, “eleven feet above the ground?”
The kid shrugged. “I flew.”
Weird kid. Probably enjoyed breaking into people’s houses for a hobby. At night. Super freaky. He’d probably lifted the ladder I’d seen leaning against the house next door. Maybe I should call the police.
“Sooo, what’s your name?” A name would come in handy when informing the proper persons.
The kid beamed at my question. He puffed out his chest. “I am The Keeper Of The Sea Near The Moon.”
Oookay. Strange delusion. “No, like, your name,” I said.
“That is my name.”
“Your parents call you that?” I said sternly.
He cocked his head again and looked up at the moon outside my window. “I don’t have any parents,” he said softly. “At least, not like you mean when you say parents.”
I tried again. “Where do you live?”
“In the sea near the moon,” came the answer, short and sweet.
I was running out of questions. Apparently this kid was either sleep-climbing into people’s windows, in which case he needed help, or he was mentally unsound, in which case he…needed help. Either way, it was time to make a call. I edged toward my bedroom door.
The kid stirred. “I am here to show you,” he announced in a confident tone.
“Um, why don’t you come on in,” I said. “I don’t want you falling out the window on me. We can go into the kitchen and get some…hot chocolate, or something.”
The kid hopped down onto my bed and bounced to the floor, holding out a hand like he expected me to take it. Gingerly I reached out and made contact.
His hand was cold. Not just cool skin like he’d been out in the night, I mean cold. Freezing. And what was worse, his touch sent electrical prickles up my arm and down my spine, followed by a mountain range of goose bumps. I tried to fling his hand away, but his grip was like a pit bull in a fight.
“WHAT ARE YOU?” I shrieked, going right back into panic mode. Demonic? Angelic? X-men? Please God let me be dreaming!
The kid’s voice came gently through the sound of my heart doing the drum symphony number 2 in A major—as in, A Major Bad Occurrence. It took me a minute, but I heard what he said. “I told you already, I’m The Keeper Of The Sea Near The Moon.”
With that statement, he bodily dragged me (more than twice his weight) across the bed to the window. I pinched myself. This is a dream. It has to be. This is way too weird to be real.
“Just hold on,” the kid smiled at me.
Right, like I could let go even if I wanted to. I braced myself for what looked like it was going to be a Very. Strange. Dream. My panic faded to an awe at how weird my subconscious could be. When the kid pulled me through the window and began to fly, drawing me behind him in the clear, wonderful night air, I was hardly surprised. My guess of Peter Pan hadn’t been far off.
In amazement I stared at the moonlit ground flowing beneath me, sprinkled with shimmering lights like a flock of fireflies. Then I could see a mountain range in the distance, full of shadows, and then the ocean far beyond, its reflective surface silver. A light breeze stirred my hair, far too soft and sweet for the speed at which we were moving.
Yes, this dream was coming along nicely; my counting dollars must have worked. I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the stars and the moon. Slowly my thoughts turned back to the dollars I’d been counting. What was I going to do with them? I could buy a second home on the beach. Or I could invest in the stock market and watch my profits skyrocket. Maybe I could join the millionaires by the time I was thirty. To do that, I would probably need to start my own highly lucrative business. I’d have high-profile customers galore, profits off the charts, about a million boring meetings every day, espresso coffee every hour just to keep me going…
I looked up at the moon again. It was huge, a vast sphere hanging over me like a white version of the death star. I rolled over en flight and looked toward the ground again. Sucking in my breath, I saw the entire circle of the earth—continents, clouds, everything.
“How are we even breathing?” I asked aloud.
My hand was still attached to my Peter Pan friend. I looked his way, not sure if he would answer or not. He smiled at me. “We are almost there,” he said.
“The sea near the moon,” I muttered. Weird. Did he mean, like, water? I looked around, searching the vast space around me for our destination. I spotted it. A faint bluish-green hue like some kind of nebula or aurora. Presumably, this was the sea.
A minute later, I found my presumption was correct, for with a rushing sound like a flock of starlings taking off we entered the Sea. It was cool and wet like a thick cloud. At first I wasn’t sure if I could breathe in it, but then I remembered it was just a dream.
Several feet in, the Peter Pan character slowed to a halt and dropped my hand. The Sea supported me much like real water would. Treading water was my only real skill when it came to swimming—I put it to good use and found that I could easily float wherever I liked. Cool.
“This is The Sea Near The Moon,” the kid told me.
“So this is where the DreamWorks kid goes fishing,” I quipped.
The kid cocked his head. Now that we were in his home territory, he didn’t seem so human. The white light of the moon seemed to go right through him instead of reflecting, giving him an eerie ghost-like look. “Dreamworks?” he said. “No. This is where dreams go when they die.”
My attempt at humor was quelled by the mention of death. Ulp. “The ghost of Christmas… Something or other,” I muttered. Apparently my subconscious had a malicious sense of humor. Too many Christmas seasons watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, and now when I entertain a Scrooge-like habit, like counting dollars, I have dreams of being shown around by strange ghostly beings.
A speck of brilliant light floated in front of my face, radiating strands of light in shimmering gold. Okay, Scrooge contemplation over; time to gawk at something new. “Wow, what is it?” I said, awed.
Peter Pan ghost of Christmas Dreamworks kid hovered over my shoulder. “Touch it and see,” he offered.
Well it was just a dream, so it couldn’t hurt, right? I reached out and let the speck of light rest in the palm of my hand. It was warm. Golden light radiated out and lit up the blue-green sea around me, like a holograph that was literally all around me. And there was sound. Faint and distorted so that I could barely catch a word every now and then, but it was enough to make the scene seem real.
A child, a little girl, danced on the grass before me, her hair flowing out and her eyes and teeth bright. I could feel the breeze, and see the leaves of a maple tree overhead. There was a house not far away, a typical seventies era American dwelling, and other children running around in the background, their screams of laughter faintly reaching my ears.
“Mommy, look at me. See how high I can jump.” I half heard the words, half read the girl’s lips. I looked behind me and saw the mother smiling and nodding. Her hairdo was as outdated as the house. I felt like a sore thumb, standing in the middle of the scene in only my pajamas.
“Can they see us?” I asked the Dreamworks kid.
“No,” came the comforting answer. “This is only a dream that has died.”
The scene changed. Suddenly I was in the middle of a church, judging by the stained glass windows and the cross on the wall. I was standing on the stage, right next to a bride in a wedding. The guests were smiling, the bride was smiling and blushing, and I could hear the faint droning sound of the pastor officiating. A rustle of a program paper in the front pew caught my attention, and I turned to see two middle-aged ladies, one plump and one thin, their beaming wrinkles touched with rouge, their hats full of flowers.
Again I could only halfway hear the words, but the visual helped me construct what the plump one said. “How lovely she looks, standing there!”
“Strange material for a dream,” I muttered as the scene faded.
“Hush! It isn’t finished,” the Dreamworks kid told me.
Another scene unfolded before me: a man and a woman, the same as had been getting married in the last scene, walking together down a sidewalk in an urban area. They were smiling and laughing, and the birds were chirping in the trees that lined the road beyond them.
When that scene ended, others came. They seemed to all be the normal life of a woman; hardly the thing of dreams.
The scenes stopped coming, and the holograph retreated into the warm speck of light.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
My ignorance sparked a wide-eyed look of horror on the Dreamworks kid’s face. “Don’t you see?” he blurted. “She couldn’t walk. She wanted so badly to be able to play like other children, to be able to stand for her wedding, and to take walks with her husband and do all the things normal people do. But she couldn’t.” The kid paused to pant for breath. Such seriousness on the face of a child would have been laughable if I hadn’t been struck sober myself.
“That dream,” the kid continued. “That dream died. She never walked.”
“Oh,” I managed.
Silently my dream guide turned and walked onward through The Sea. Dazed by reality, I paddled after him. More flecks of golden light floated past me, but I did acrobatics to avoid touching them. Seeing other people’s dreams unfulfilled was not on my Christmas list. Guilt tugged uneasily at my heart, but I pushed it away. It wasn’t like I could help whose dreams came true or not. Not my fault I had a dream life and a ton of money.
Besides, all this was a figment of my imagination… I hoped.
A fish swam past me, almost luminescent gold. Wait! A fish? “Ha, you really do go fishing here!”
The kid turned and smiled. “Oh, that is a dead dream, too.”
“Uh huh,” I smirked. “Then how come it looks like a fish? All the other ones look like lightning bugs.”
The boy looked up at the moon and sighed. I could have sworn I saw an eye roll. “It is so hard to communicate with you humans sometimes! I’ll put it in your terms: that is an extinct fish. It no longer lives on the earth.”
I scratched my head. “I thought you said it was a dead dream.”
“It is!” The boy waved his arms in what appeared to be exasperation. His translucent curls bobbed vigorously. “Don’t you see? It was one of God’s dreams. He made it, and it faded into nothing. A dream, once living, now dead.”
“So, like, there are dinosaurs in here too?” Curiosity struck me.
“There are,” the kid nodded.
“Can I see some?”
“Very well, if that is your wish.” The Dreamworks kid turned and walked toward our left.
I swam after him, eager to see the creatures that had consumed much of my childhood interest. The specks of light grew thicker the further I swam. Clouds of them sprang up as the Dreamworks kid walked, like dust stirred up with a passing breeze. Try as I might, I could not avoid the swirling eddies of dreams. I tried batting them away, but that was a useless gesture. The sea around me lit up with flashes of gold every time one touched me. Whispers of sound from a hundred dreams assaulted my ears.
Dancing. A friend. Peace. Mount Everest. Freedom. Discovery. Property. Family. Music. The essence of each dream touched my mind.
Love. Architecture. The sea. Recognition. Giving. A home. Respect. Farming. Innovation.
Golden arms and legs shot past me, belonging to dancers, racers, people swinging hammers and riding horses and hauling in sails, building cathedrals, working metal, leading armies, feeding children and planting crops. Faces flashed around me from every nationality, age, and time period. I saw Spanish skirts, ancient Egyptian clothing, African tribal garb, Victorian dresses and modern t-shirts. The sounds hissed and whispered and rose to a continuous chatter like a flock of birds. The whirlwind was dizzying; the flashes of the holographs hit me like strobe lights until I was so overwhelmed I could barely see where I was going.
And all these visions were things that had never come to pass in the lives of those who had dreamed those dreams. The unfulfilled desires of a thousand heart-cries flowed through my soul. I couldn’t contain it. I felt like I was drowning in wave after wave of the cumulative desires of the centuries.
“Dreamworks kid!” I wailed from the midst of a hundred thousand dreams. “I mean, Keeper of the Sea! Where are you?”
Against the sea of writhing gold, my childish guide suddenly appeared. “Take my hand,” he said.
This time without any qualm I grabbed hold of his ice-cold death-grip and let him tow me through the millions of dreams. I squinched my eyes shut tight to block out the blinding barrage of golden light but no amount of curling up in the fetal position could save me from the massive heartache that was the unfulfilled desires of the entire world. If I hadn’t known better, I would have honestly believed that I was the one who had always wanted a family. I would have believed that I was the one that had never had a home, had never seen the sea, or been able to walk.
This dream was a nightmare!
“We’ve got to save them!” A man’s voice said with stunning clarity.
“We must save them!” a woman’s voice spoke. I flinched.
“We have to save them!” a hundred cries took up the refrain. I had a sense that this was not just a save the whales rally.
Great. Just great. The heart wrenching cry of people desperate to save them (whoever them was) was going to make me flip out and start bawling. The cry echoed around me again and again, and I curled up tighter and tighter, clenching my teeth to keep from wailing along with them.
Then suddenly there was silence. Even behind my shut eyelids, I could tell that the light show had stopped. The Sea was silent. I opened one eye a crack. Whew! Dreamworks kid had pulled me out of the cloud of dreams and was towing me onward. I opened both my eyes.
But I couldn’t forget what I’d seen and heard and felt. I was sober now. My own existence, honestly, felt kind of, well, measly compared to the intense desires of all these people whose dreams had never been fulfilled. And the haunting cry of “we must save them” was still echoing through me. Save who? Evidently they had never been saved, whoever they were. Somewhere in the world were a million graves belonging to people who had evidently been mourned.
My dinosaur was all but forgotten when Dreamworks kid broke the silence with “Ah, here is one of the creatures you wished to see.”
Dreamworks kid let go of my hand. There in front of us was a golden Stegosaur, large as life, looking like a tranquil antique statue with ornate gold patterns on its sides, and of course the golden plates sticking out of its back. It was floating contentedly in what looked like a school of…babies?
Yes, babies. I wasn’t much of a baby person, but in my emotionally drained state I had to admit that the scene was pretty cute. Babies were floating all around the golden Stegosaur, laughing and squealing, their chubby little arms and legs waving all over the place. There must have been a hundred of them.
The nearest baby swam right up to me and grinned a toothless adorable grin. I was surprised. It acted like it could really see me. Should I smile back? Oh well, it couldn’t hurt.
“Sooo, this must be…” I made an educated guess, “the dream of some couple who couldn’t have kids?”
To my surprise, my guide shook his curly head. “No.”
“Then where did he come from?”
My guide motioned toward the baby. “Why don’t you ask him?”
My eyes went back to the happy baby floating in front of me sucking his fist. With a shock, I realized his eyes were blue—not the standard holographic gold. Such big, innocent eyes staring at me while he gummed away at his fist. I swallowed, realizing this was going to sound a lot like Dory the fish talking to a random floating being.
“Hey there, little fella,” I croaked. “Where do you come from?”
The baby pulled his hand out of his mouth and grinned so big his eyes crinkled up. I half expected to hear the holographic whisper, but his voice was clear. It was just as babyish as could be, except real words came out instead of gurgles.
“I come from the earth.”
Duh. I tried again. “Yes, but how did you get here?”
The little fellow looked at me, his cute smile melting to a quivering lip. His eyes looked like they were about to start pouring out tears. “I never got to see the world,” he whimpered.
“Trust me,” I said, hoping to forestall a deluge of baby tears, “the world isn’t always such a great place.”
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Slowly the little guy’s face screwed up in the most pitifully sorrowful baby cry I had ever heard. His little arms flailed in distress.
“Nobody wanted me!” the baby sobbed.
His words cut me to the heart. Here I was, faced with what I now took to be a sentient dream of God’s, a dream that had died before it was even born, and all the comfort I had offered it was basically “you’re better off having never seen the world.” How arrogant of me! How insensitive. To suppose that I could judge whether another’s dreams were worth pursuing or not.
The baby kept crying. “I could have helped make the world a better place. I could have tried, anyway.” The baby paused, then his face screwed up again, a wail coming on. “I never even got to have a name! No one wanted me!”
The baby’s flailing arms and legs carried him away. I stayed where I was, stunned, the baby’s words ringing in my ears. “I never even got to have a name.” A thing I took for granted. “No one wanted me.” I couldn’t even imagine my parents despising my very existence.
I’d passed the local abortion clinic on my way to work for two years, and though I cringed at the thought of the practice I’d never once realized how devastated the babies were.
No one cared.
No one thought of the dreams these babies might have in the future. They dreamed of love; they dreamed of family; they dreamed of having a name.
They dreamed of life.
A tear made it past the lump in my throat and squeezed its way out my eye. Suddenly I realized the important things in life had nothing to do with my Lexus or my espresso maker or how much money was in my account. Maybe there was something I was missing in my dream life. Maybe I needed to dream bigger.
“Dreamworks kid,” I knuckled the tear out of my eye. “Why did you bring me here?”
Soberly he stared at me in the way only a reproachful child can. “Your dream—it is dying.”
My response was knee-jerk. “What? Are you kidding me? I’m doing what I always wanted to do!”
The kid shook his head. “No, you are not.”
I crossed my arms. Little punk, trying to tell me about my own dreams.
A speck of silver light floated from out of nowhere toward my face. “Oh no you don’t!” I told it, squirming to get out of its way. “If I see one more dream, I’m gonna freak out!”
The speck kept floating towards me as I thrashed away from it. Unfortunately, The Sea was not the easiest thing to move around in. The speck kept getting closer and closer as I got more and more frantic.
“Why are you afraid?” Dreamworks kid asked. “That is your own dream.”
“My dream isn’t dead!” I howled.
“Not yet. That is why it is silver. It is fading. If you do nothing, it will eventually turn to gold.”
I stopped thrashing. The speck floated inches in front of my nose. It seemed to be humming with energy, with expectation that I would touch it. Still I hesitated, not sure what I would see. Could I really have forgotten my own dream?
The humming continued, pulsating like a subwoofer. Fascinated, I reached up and touched the brilliant speck. White light shot all around me in the now-familiar holograph. In a moment I recognized the scene. It was the house I had lived in when I was ten years old. There was my dad’s favorite recliner with the remote lying on the arm. There were the floor-length drapes I liked to hide behind. The window was open, apparently, because I could hear birds singing outside and could see the breeze ruffling the drapes. I could even feel the breeze myself.
On the floor in front of me was an image of my ten-year-old self, fiddling with what was now an ancient cell phone. I remembered that time. Mom’s phone wasn’t working, and I had taken it upon myself to fix it for her, because I had heard Mom and Dad talking about how they couldn’t afford to buy a new one just then. I don’t even know what I did to it—probably the phone realized it was about to join the army of toys belonging to a ten-year-old, and decided it had strength enough to behave for a while longer.
“Look, Mom!” the child figure of myself shouted. “I fixed it!”
The scene started to fade, and I withdrew my hand from the speck of light. A word whispered itself in my mind—service.
Service. I remembered, now. My first encounters with the technological world had been motivated by a desire to help other people. I had found out I was good at helping people with their phones, finding the right cords for computers, and understanding what was going on with every new thing that came out.
But somewhere along the line I had focused instead on the almighty dollar. I looked down at my bare feet, ashamed. Service had been thrown to the wayside, forgotten.
“I see, now,” I whispered.
Dreamworks kid’s face lit up. I’ve never see a kid so overjoyed, except on Christmas morning, of course. “Really?” he exclaimed. “Then you’ll revive your dream?”
I nodded the most solemn nod I’ve ever nodded. “Yes.”
The kid motioned to the silver speck. “Then take it with you,” he said.
How was I going to see where I was going with a holograph playing all around me? I shrugged and grabbed the speck. To my surprise, instead of lighting up the sea around me with images, I felt that same cold electric prickle I had felt when Dreamworks kid had first grabbed my hand. I got goose bumps all over again.
“Um,” was the only word I could say before everything went white. Yes, “um.” Me and my superior communication skills.
For several seconds the white-out continued. When it faded, I was not exactly surprised to find myself standing in my own room again. I looked at the clock. It said 3:58.
As I snuggled back under the covers, yawning, I vaguely wondered if the whole thing was a dream, or if it had really happened. After a moment’s thought, I concluded that it didn’t really matter.
Tomorrow was a new day. Of service.