After I’m sure the footsteps have passed, I try to open the door when I realize that it’s gone, leaving me in a totally different world. Everything looks like a darker version of the world I just left. Everything’s quiet, except for the soft sound of water running. I start walking towards the sound. I’ve only taken three steps when I hear laughter. I turn around, but it seems to be coming from all directions. I put my hands over my ears in an attempt to shut it out, and it vanishes. I take off running towards the sound of the water to get away from this place. Just after I start running, I hear something following me. I run even faster, trying to get away. I pray that whatever it is, it’s just a dream and not a nightmare. I trip over something and fall to the ground. I curl up and cover myself with my arms to protect myself from whatever’s coming. I expect to feel claws or teeth digging into my skin, but instead I feel something warm covering me. I look up and see a large blanket laying on me. I’m momentarily confused. I’m not complaining that I’m not hurt, but a blanket? I get up, and the blanket floats until it’s the same level as my waist. A flying blanket? I try not to laugh. I start to walk away, but it follows me. I try and shoo it away, yet it stays. I shrug. Maybe it can help me later. I keep walking, aware that the blanket is still following me. I finally find the source of the water sound, a watermill sitting on the banks of a pale…violet…river. Violet river? Is this someone's dream or nightmare? I walk around a small cliff of flowers a look down at the house attached to the watermill. It looks safe enough, light red bricks, dark blue smoke coming out of the chimney. The door opens and I duck behind a freakishly large rosebush. I look between the leaves and see seven dwarves walk out, followed by a tall girl with snow white hair and charcoal black skin. What the…?
The blanket seems to have already made up its mind, because it glides down the hill and towards the backwards Snow White and seven dwarves. I get and follow the blanket, part of me sure that this is all a bizarre dream and I'll wake up soon. Once I get past the rosebush, one of the dwarves spots me.
"Look!" The other six dwarves and princess look up.
"What is it?"
"It doesn't look like a nightmare."
"Maybe it's a dream."
The backwards Snow White stands up and brushes her hands off in her royal blue skirt. "My name is Charcoal Black, and these are the Seven Dwarves. This is Smarty, Weepy, Chirpy, Courage, Healthy, Wakey, and Doc." Each dwarf bows in turn. My first instinct was right, this is a backwards Snow White. I look at each dwarf. Smarty, (I think), comes up and stops right in front of me.
"What's your name?"
Charcoal Black looks up. "Shar, are you a dream or a nightmare?"
I shake my head. "Uh…neither."
There's a collective gasp from all eight.
"Then what are you?" Chirpy, (or is it Weepy?), looks up at me.
"I'm a human."
Charcoal Black worriedly looks around. "Come inside, all of you." Slightly confused, I follow the eight inside the house.
The eight close all the shutters and doors, stuffing fabric into every space leading outside. Two dwarves, (Courage and Healthy?), add a couple extra logs to the blazing red fire. A chair is pushed behind me and I sit down. The eight sit too, Charcoal Black in another chair.
"If you're human, then why are you here?" Wakey, (or Weepy) looks at me with probing eyes.
"Well, last night a group of nightmares passed through a door in the house I'm at and took one of the people staying with me."
"And you're here to rescue him? Oh, how romantic!" Charcoal Black claps her hands. Doc nods, an oblivious smile on his face. I lean over to Chirpy.
"What's wrong with Doc?"
Chirpy laughs. "He's not quite right in the head, if you know what I mean."
I nod. What kind of topsy-turvy world am I in? A cuckoo clock on the wall chimes, announcing that it's ten o'clock.
Charcoal Black quickly stands up. "Oh my! How late it is! Off to bed, all of you."
Reluctantly, the dwarves trudge…down…stairs into another room.
Charcoal Grey looks at me. "So how did you get through the door? Humans can't cross through unless they're transported by a dream or nightmare, or if they're a Keeper. And if you weren't transported, then you're a Dreamkeeper!"
I look at her like she's crazy, which in this world, I can see why. The fire crackles.
"Did the door say anything when you first saw it?" Charcoal Black leans forward in her chair and listens intently.
"Well, I heard a voice inside my head saying I was the door's guardian. Does that mean I'm a keeper?"
Charcoal Black nods as she spills something on her bright yellow shirt. She jumps to her feet with a gasp. I hide the smile behind my hand. The backwards Snow White wipes it off with a red towel.
"Charcoal Black, if I'm a Dreamkeeper, then what exactly does that mean for me? Is that going to help me rescue Jake?"
Charcoal Black sighs and sits back down. "Well Shar, it means that you're the most powerful thing in the Nightland. But it also means that the Nightmares will work harder to kill you."
Great. So I'm a Dreamkeeper and I'm going to get killed by three foot tall goblins. Can this nightmare get any more bizarre?
Charcoal Black looks at me again. "But if you defeat the Nightmares, then the Nightworld will actually have a Keeper for a ruler, and this hasn't happened since I first came here."
I look up, a strange thought in my head. "Do dreams ever leave here?"
She shakes her head.
"How long have you been here?"
Charcoal Black cocks her head and starts counting to herself. "About fifty years. Walt Disney dreamed me and my dwarves. But we're to opposite of what everyone else knows."
Another strange thought pops in my head. "So you're the original Snow White?" She nods and there's a flash of dim blue light. When it fades away, Charcoal Black looks just like the Snow White that the rest of the world knows.
I smile as she fades back to the backwards version I first met. "Thanks, Charcoal Black."
She smiles, parting dark red lips. Then she turns and starts grabbing things off shelves and out of cupboards. She sets it all in a cyan leather pack and hands it to me. "Here. Along with these and your blanket friend, this is what will keep you alive until you get to the Rocklands. That's where the Nightmares and Offspring are. Good luck, Dreamkeeper Shar."
Charcoal Black puts her hands on my shoulders and kisses me on both cheeks. I thank her again for everything and then head out as a gold moon changes places with a pale pink-ivory sun.