One of my favorite differences in this world that I now called home was how other people looked. They sparkled. Or shimmered. Or something along those lines. Colors and lights radiated around them, especially when they spoke. Sometimes the air was so thick with this glittery movement that the form of the person speaking was obscured completely. Emotions could be read visually. It took getting used to. Some people emanated such a glow that, speaking or not, I never got a sense of what they looked like in a traditional sense. It was because of this that I didn’t recognize my sister right away.
I had been here several weeks when she arrived, and though I’d been one to resist taking in strangers in the old world, I found it quite easy to invite them into my home here. I could literally see if a person had good intentions. The empty rooms in my house filled up with artists and musicians and story tellers, and after a while it began to truly feel like home.
When Molly arrived, all I could tell of the person on my doorstep was that she was short, or small. The air buzzed around her with light and sparks and shifting colors, so much so that it was impossible to see past the light show to the form within.
“Welcome,” I said, stepping aside. “What is your art?”
“I’m here to take you home,” said Molly’s familiar voice.
I nearly fell to my knees. My first reflex was to worry for her. Had I drawn her here?
“Molly?” I gasped, wrapping her up in my arms.
Molly had grown some since the last time I’d hugged her. How long had it been? Months? Years? I wasn’t certain anymore. Long ago we’d been trapped in the same dream, but she woke up. Hadn’t she? What if that had been an illusion, as dreams do?
“It took me a while to find you here,” she said, “until I learned to read the signs.”
“Signs?” I prompted, leading her to the kitchen and putting the kettle on.
She grabbed one of the pastries from the table and hummed in pleasure as she chewed her way through it. She reached for another, still chewing.
“Actual signs,” she said around the pastry. “Along the road. ‘THIS WAY MOLLY,’” she said in a funny voice.
“There are signs on the road that say, ‘this way Molly?’” I asked skeptically.
“I didn’t trust them at first, but after a while there were so many of them, I decided to see where they led.”
I smiled. This world was full of wonders. I hadn’t explored much of it beyond my neighborhood so far, but I hadn’t needed to. Tiny miracles awaited discovery in every nook and corner. Of course there would be signs on the road leading my sister to me.
“I’m able to wake up from this world,” she said, helping herself to a third pastry.
I joined her with the tea.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Have you tried?”
“Tons of times. If I’d known you were here I would have followed the signs sooner. For a while I was just playing around.”
“Why haven’t I woken up?” I wondered.
Molly set down the uneaten half of her pastry. “Mama says I shouldn’t expect you ever to come back. She says I need to let you go, but I tell her I’ve seen you in my dreams. I tell her you’re fine.”
A chill tinseled my spine. “She doesn’t think I’m coming back?” I asked. It had been a while since I’d given thought to our family, or wondered about how my situation impacted them. Was I in a coma somewhere? That would make sense, this dream being so long. But Molly had said ‘come back,’ as if I were missing physically. And let me go? People let dead people go. I’d never considered…
“Mama doesn’t understand,” said Molly. She picked up her pastry and dug into it again. “Nobody understands. That’s why you have to come home with me. We’ll show them that you’re okay. It’s so easy to get here in dreams; you’ll see. You can come back every night if you want.”
“Sure, of course,” I said, but hesitation swept through me. I wasn’t certain I wanted to leave, even for a day. My life before this dream was a remote memory at this point, filled with familiar strangers. My days were spent in endless school, and cello practices, and helping wrangle my younger siblings. Here, my days were filled with art and music and hearing strange tales from traveling guests of the many magnificent places this world had to offer. I baked, and wandered the colorful market, breathing in its amazing aromas and delighting in the shimmering spectacle of the crowds. “But first we have to go to the Festival of the Giants tonight,” I added. “They light up the streets and everyone walks on stilts. All of the shops do business from their second story windows. It’s a blast.”
The light around Molly shifted and I wondered what she was thinking. She didn’t respond right away.
“Okay,” she said at last, but it sounded sad, and resigned.
The festival was even better than I’d hoped. People dressed in bright, flamboyant costumes and those of us less skilled on stilts followed ropes strung between the buildings for guidance and support. Music and fireworks competed in the air and sumptuous smells wafted from every open window. The dancing was the best. I lost my balance often, but the crowd was thick and hands merely pushed me back upright. Molly laughed throughout the night, but she said little. When possible, she slipped her little hand into mine and held on until she couldn’t.
“Five more minutes, Mommy,” she yelled suddenly. The light around her dimmed, and I was able to see her for the first time. She looked worried.
“Molly?” I asked, pulling her away from the jostling crowd to an alley where we could have some privacy. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to say goodbye to you,” she said. Everything about her was dimming and tears welled in her eyes.
“You don’t have to,” I laughed. “Come back tomorrow night and teach me how to wake up. We’ll wake up together.”
Molly didn’t smile. “I’m glad you’re in a happy place now,” she said.
That shiver found me again. Molly looked like she was blending into the shadows of the alley and her hand felt cold in mine.
“I’ll wake up with you now,” I offered. “How do I do it?”
“You have to want to,” she said, and her voice sounded far off.
An explosion of fireworks looked like they were careening right toward us and I flinched out of the way. When I realized I’d lost hold of Molly’s hand, I discovered that I now stood alone in the alley. I leaned against the building at my back and concentrated on waking up. It was a long time since I’d tried it.
“Wake up,” I ordered. “Wake up!” It was no use. I was out of practice.
I was agitated through the next day, watching the door; the empty walk. My agitation grew when Molly didn’t appear. I paced the house through the night. By sunrise, I was walking the road that led north, out of the city. I saw signs, but they pointed to destinations. None of them were to Molly. And then I came to a sign split between two roads. An arrow pointed in each direction but each side said ‘HOME.’ I laughed.
“Not very helpful,” I said, to no one in particular.
When I looked back at the sign, it had changed. The road to the left was now labeled ‘YOU HAVE TO WANT TO,’ while the road to the right said ‘YOU’RE ALREADY HOME.’
And then I understood. “This is my home,” I said. “It always will be. I want to see my family – I do want to go to that home. I belong there. But I belong here, too. Molly said I could come back every night if I wanted. Can I?”
I looked away to give the sign a chance to change. When I looked back, the roads and the sign were gone. Instead, before me was a door with a small silver object hanging from a string on the knob. It wasn’t until it was in my grasp that I recognized it. It was a valuable and dangerous object; one I’d held only once before. It could undo anything.
I thought about it for a great long while. If there were one moment, one thing that you could undo, what would it be? And then I knew.
“Here goes nothing,” I muttered, and I opened the door.Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!