I was dreaming, again and again. It was not vivid, not at first, so perhaps some of this story will be a mere extrapolation of what was sensed. And somehow, I knew, in all this, that I was merely dreaming. Commonly, I believe dreams to be reality. Thus, something must have been irregular from the beginning.
And in this knowledge that I was dreaming, came the hope that I'd remember the dream. Often, I retained only torn shreds of what my sleeping mind had experienced. And so, I retained nothing, at least the first time.
Luckily, it would recur. Yet not as a book read yet again. Rather, as a storm that moves and rains differently every time. Always unique, always a new experience. And always the same dream.
This proverbial storm came with fluttering drops of flavour and fancy one moment, and torrents of acid and wind the next. My first impression was to have been quite deceived.
I wonder, even still, who it was that first disturbed the delicate balance of this newfound world. Perhaps we are all guilty of it.
It was a forest, or something like it. Though it had the semblance of one, the word seems inappropriate. There were flat leaved towers of greenery and bark, as well as pinnacling conifers of needles. Yet so too, there were trees and plants the likes of which I had never seen and could not comprehend so easily.
Birds were singing ambiently, though not so far above. I caught sight of a hummingbird, too, patrolling a bush of bright flowers as if it expected me to steal one.
And I saw a squirrel. Not the kind I'd ever seen before. It did not swear at me, or scold me for my presence. Its silver fur shone as if threaded by a tailor. It looked at me curiously, and then scampered up a tree.
Needless to say, this was a dream of beauty and wonder by its first impression. My attention was lost from one thing to the next, and my feet surely must have been moving. They had a curiosity of their own. A need to reach into the tender earth, and take root in a new awareness.
The dream was becoming more vivid. I could taste the air, now. There was a hint of something, nearly vanilla. It must have been that fresh dew I saw upon every unstirred leaf.
And, gradually, it came to be that I was following a trail. It began as the random fluttering of a butterfly that my eyes wished to cling to. It was a Monarch, yet the pattern was not. I wanted another glimpse, and so did my feet.
Ever so slowly, the thatch and brambles beneath them parted, and became trodden as if the odd person or two had passed before me upon what was now, almost, a path. Dirt emerged, then a patch of mud. There were now roots to trip on, and a turtle to step over.
I noticed the rock before I noticed her. She was standing upon it, a big gray outcropping in the middle of the widest part of the trail. The sun was shining through the leafy thin panoply, yet she eclipsed it in a way that made her but a dark silhouette to me.
She spread her arms like wings, as if she had many, and I felt something that beckoned me forward.
"Well hello there, Janus," she yelled to me with but a hint of glee. It was an unmistakable Texan accent.
I had no idea, then, how she knew my name. I felt like something was caught in my throat, and so I approached without calling to her.
Now, I could see her better, without the darkening contrast. She had red hair, the same colour as the butterfly's wings. And she wore a webbed black summer dress that was frilled like a doily, over fair skin that was bravely attempting to nurture a tan. I wasn't sure if she was wearing any make-up or not.
Before I could ask who or where, in my nervous stutter, she put a slender finger to my trembling lips and said, "Shhh..." Her voice had dropped to a whisper, then, "I hear the horseman coming."
I frowned, in the silence. And after a long moment, I too heard the clip-clop of a horse's hooves. To my surprise, it came from behind me. I turned around, towards the knoll I had descended. It was now a massive hill, and the path had become wider while I had not observed it.
"He's coming this way!" she said, as she pulled me by the arm and dragged us both into the brush. As she parted branches and ducked behind another large gray rock, I barely heard her mutter, "Damn, someone must be having a nightmare."
"Huh?" I asked. "I mean, pardon?"
"Shutup, you're not real. I don't need to explain things to you."
I laughed at the audacity of this girl, who I assumed I had dreamed up, "I'm dreaming all this, it's not real. That's my line, not yours."
The trees grew close together here, and they reminded me of clearcut patches that had been replanted systematically. They were all pines, all laid out on a grid, in the few yards around us. This synthetic part of the forest, for the moment, gave us shelter from the horseman.
"Are you mocking me, pal?" she began to seethe with bitter amusement. "I'll will you out of these woods if I have to! Even if it makes me wake up!"
I had a rigid grin stuck to my face. And I stared at her silently while, in my private thoughts, I was laughing hysterically.
"Noo-o-o - wa-a-aay!" she exclaimed. "You're a real person too!"
Somewhere, beyond the brush, I heard the horseman pass us. The hooves were thunderously foreboding. However, they were of such a speed that I ignored the possibility that we'd be seen. My expression went blank, "Yes," and I nodded with languid sarcasm, "I a-a-am a ree-e-eal person."
She returned a forbidding look.
"Umm... do you have a name?" I asked.
"Oh, aren't we being polite," she teased. "Gotta ask, do we?"
I was beginning to think she wasn't real though, or was at least crazy. Probably both. All I could say was, "Wha-huh? I mean... par--"
"Oh my goodness, y're new, aren't ya, Janus? You don't even know how to read me! No wonder you didn't react to the horseman until I told you he was coming."
"New? As in, first time in these woods? Yes. Except maybe that one tree over by the rock you were standing on. I'm sure I've seen it before, near my cousin's cottage."
"Yeah, you're probably the reason that tree is in this world," she told me. "This is an amalgamation of dreams, Janus. Now, care to put something onto that canvas?"
"What canvas?" I asked, still rather baffled about... everything.
She pushed her head out just a bit, and her eyes bulged towards me. I looked down at myself. I had become an effeminate little boy in a white t-shirt and nondescript denim jeans.
"What's wrong with this?" I was defensive.
She grinned, "It's not you. It's not... anybody. Maybe it's something like what you once were, but I don't reckon you're that young given the way you look at me. Where's your individuality? You've made yourself appear as a blank slate. Are you a girl or a boy?"
I smiled, "You know my name but nothing else, eh?"
"Well, you speak like a Canuck or someone from one of the northern States. But, yeah, you're keeping a lot of yourself bottled up. All I can get is a name, and a few stray thoughts."
Fury met my features.
"And now no thoughts. For a newbie, you have a strong guard. Why so bottled up, newbie?"
I stood up, because the horseman was now long since passed without discovering us. Brushing the dirt from my jeans, I sighed.
The young woman beside me stood up beside me, groping against a tree trunk. Or was she still a teenager? Or a young girl who chose to project maturity? It all seemed so deceiving.
"What was that horseman?" I asked.
"Someone's nightmare. Not mine. I don't find him scary. Just a nuisance, really. He comes by with a sword and tries to cut people. Messed up my favourite strawberry bush two nights ago."
"Why do you eat in a dream?"
"Pleasure. Sensation. Enjoyment."
"Oh," I said. "Wait, so aren't there a lot of... umm... wait, how many are there like us?"
"There aren't many dreamers in tune with this frequency, I suppose that's what it is. It just started last month. And it won't last long. I expect it will end when Emily gets out of her coma. So, we make the best of it until she does."
"Who is Emily?"
The girl's eyes and head went up, towards the trees above, "This whole forest is Emily, mostly. Bits and pieces of us show up, like your tree and the horseman. However, she has the most power over things here. She is things here. Sometimes, if you really listen, you can hear the beeping of the machines in her hospital room."
I gaped, "Where does Emily live?"
"I don't know, Jan. May I call you Jan? But, anywhom, I can take you to find someone who does know."
I smiled, "I'd like that."
And it was at this moment that I truly began to make up my mind about her. She extended a hand towards mine, and I reached for it. However, it all seemed so far away. And then my hand flickered, as a television channel with bad reception.
"Oh no," she began to panic. "This was too much for you. Janus, you're fading. Janus, don't go! I'll, I'll... my phone number is --"
My awareness became indiscernible at this point. I doubt I woke up just then, though I must have at some point. And when I did, I remembered nothing of this dream except the tree. For some reason, I knew I had seen that tree. However, it all came back to me whenever I returned, and eventually it stuck with me even in the waking world.
Throughout the day that followed, I was inexplicably eager to return to sleep. And when I did, I could not find that forest, that dream, again. Somethings inside me, that was aware all along, feared I had lost contact with Emilia, as Emily was actually called, and the girl who had walked with me below those towering trees.
The weekend was the first time, thereafter, that I fell once again into a deep sleep. And as my eyes closed, a long moment passed with urgency, and another set of eyes opened to glimpse those woods once more.