Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dream Catcher, Heart Listener by Christine E. Schulze

Blind cat-person Michaela falls deeply in love with a mysterious person who teaches her to see in her dreams in Christine E. Schulze's rich fantasy world.

He took her hand and whispered, "Hold out your tongue."

She slipped her tongue over her teeth, between her lips, and anxiously waited. Then, the cool drops began to slide gently over the plush fur of her arms, legs, and head. Several drops danced on her tongue which she zapped back inside, laughing, "Lemonade! It tastes like lemonade!"

He laughed too and said, "Now, open your eyes."

Her heart raced familiarly. She took in a deep breath, and then she opened her eyes.

She could see.

The colors surrounding her bloomed so crisp, so vivid, that though she had only ever seen them a few times before, she was certain they could not be this wonderful, this real, even in her own world. The symphony of rich smells overtook her, each of them enhanced, enriched just for her, to help her remember the colors - the precious, lively colors.

The lemonade rain glistened softly about them, lighting on the trees whose thick chocolate and peppermint trunks and limbs spiraled up and up, their browns rich, their whites and reds shimmering. Several pastel pink, green, and blue cotton candy leaves danced down with the rain. Beneath their feet, the soft fluff of green cotton candy stretched on and on, and beneath that, warm, brown dirt.

He bent over and scooped some of the brown stuff onto one finger, offering it to her. She licked it off his finger, smiled, and laughed delightfully, "Caramel!"

"Yes," he said, his voice smiling, "caramel."

Still holding her hand, he began to lead her through this new and brilliant world he'd fashioned for her. For them. He reminded her of old colors and taught her new; both of them sampled familiar and new flavors as they explored. Red was the peppermint bark of a twisting tree. Yellow was the scent of lemons; lemons were not just yellow, not just a color, but the sparkle, glitter. She wanted to remember glitter very much and imprinted it to her vast-growing memory bank as the rain glistened all about them.

Blue, purple, pink, and orange were the petals of the gum drop blossoms and the sweet-tart roses melting upon their tongues. All shades of green were represented in the aroma of many different tangles of taffy vines strung about the trees. Olive green was the taste of olives, and lime green the taste of limes, and grass green the scent of fresh, spring fields, and evergreen the smell of a Christmas tree.

"Are you ready for the surprise?" he asked at last.

She laughed again. "You haven't shown me the surprise already?"

"Hm," he mused, "no, all the candy was just a ploy to get you all hyped for the real surprise. Come on."

Squeezing her hand more firmly, he led her through the trees and down a gently sloping hill. At the bottom, a lake shone with a calming golden hue from the lemon rain.

"It's gorgeous," she breathed.

"It's yours," he said, "let's take a drink."

They knelt together by the lake. Cupping her hands, she scooped up the cool, refreshing liquid. Yet, as she lifted her hands, she paused, staring down, gasping, shaking her head in wonder. Then, she let the lemonade slip beneath her fingers to look down into the pool to see if it was really there, if she'd really seen it, or if she'd only just imagined it inside the small pool cupped in her palms.

But there it was, a young Monku lady's face staring dumbfounded right up at her from the lake's surface. Lush, pure white fur. Elegantly curved cheeks with high cheekbones. Small, pointed ears; the Monkus were a people who appeared human by day, but at night became cat-people, still very human-like but covered with fur and bearing feline faces and tails. The most elegant tail flicked gently behind her. Then, her black button nose. And eyes, a color she could not quite place. Blue was the smell of the ocean; her eyes were not blue. Purple was the smell of the lilacs he'd given her once. Her eyes were not purple.

As she reached up to touch her cheek, so did the girl staring at her upon the lake's surface.

"Your reflection," he said quietly, placing an arm around her. "I promised you I'd show it to you if I could. And now, I've finally figured it out."

Her reflection. She watched her brows rise. She watched as tears filled her eyes. She watched as her hand trembled against her cheek to brush them away, all for the first time.

"My... my eyes?" she asked.

"Indigo," he said, placing both arms around her, "beautiful indigo."

Indigo. Indigo, the color of her eyes, seen upon the first sight of her own reflection. She did not need a scent or a taste or a sound to remember indigo.

She turned to smile up at him. She'd grown accustomed to not being able to really see him. The outline of his body was there, but it was a blank canvas shimmering with a white light, like a hidden angel. Neither face nor fur nor clothes could be distinguished, as though he was made of light itself. At first, not being able to really see him had unnerved her, but now, she could tell by his touch and voice what he was feeling.

Burrowing close to his chest, she whispered, "Thank you, so much. I love you."

"I love you too, Michaela Hania..."

Then, he began to sing her special song, the one he said was her lullaby - her heart song. At first, she resisted, for she knew this meant the end of the dream. But then, she began to succumb to the warmth of both his arms and the song; after all, all dreams must end, he could not stay forever. Sleep shrouded her like one of her mother's quilts until she nestled completely beneath its covers...

Michaela Hania awoke. Opening her eyes, she stared into the blackness, trying to picture it all - the colors, the flowers, the trees, her own face - using the scents, sounds, tastes, and wonderful memories to bring it all back to her. She'd have to wait a whole day now to see more, to see him again. Because, after all, she was blind.

He'd been coming to her for the past few weeks now. At first, he'd been just a voice and the white light outline. She'd been afraid then, for ithad been one of those very real dreams. Then she was afraid because while she knew it was a dream, she knew it was also real, that he was really beside her - not just in her dreams, but somewhere in her mind, really talking to her, really taking her to whatever magical new place he'd conjured, just for her.

Gradually, the colors appeared, first as shapeless blots of floating light, but soon they took form. The rose garden, a single ring of trees, within them plush grass and rose bushes. That was where she'd seen her first real colors and learned them. Red was the smell of a rose. Green was the scent of fresh fields. Brown was the odor of a forest. Even then, the scents had smelled more than real, enhanced to help her make the connections and remember the colors even after he was gone.

Then, the scenes grew longer - longer periods of time, vaster worlds. She was immersed in amazing color after amazing color, in brilliant world after brilliant world, all of his own creation. She tried to ask him who he was, and he said he was a painter. Yes, he lived in the Swician camp, and so, yes, he knew her. She wondered why he did not talk to her in person instead of coming to her in dreams, but she did not ask, not wishing to offend him. The dreams were an unspoken sign that he cared deeply for her. He expressed his love - for that was what she grew to feel for him as the weeks passed, and, she believed, he for her - by showing her all the wonderful things he knew she could not see by day in the real world inside their realm of dreams.

He showed her trees, mountains, flowers, animals, buildings, and books and taught her how to read without having to move her fingers across small, raised bumps. She memorized the letters until she could write them even without seeing. She memorized as many colors as she could too, to keep her preoccupied and hopeful until his next visit.

Towards the beginning, he had promised that he would do all he could to figure out how he might reveal her reflection in the dreams, saying he knew how much she'd like to see her own reflection. She didn't know how he knew this, but he did. He always knew many things about her feelings. He even said that if he could enable her to see her reflection, it might bring him a step closer to figuring out how he could use his gift to bring real sight to her eyes.

Somehow, she felt that even if she could miraculously see, and not just in the dreams, that the sights would not be as exhilarating, as sweet, that the colors would not be as vibrant and wonderful, that none of it would mean nearly as much as it did in those short yet significant snatches of dreams which he shared with her. True, there was also a fear that those snatches could someday cease altogether. But she hoped this could not be true; she did not need to see him to see that he loved her.

While the visions themselves may have been a dream, she had come to feel that he was real, that he sent the dreams to her, and her alone. This secret she voiced to no one, kept it hidden in her heart, not because she might be thought crazy, for powers of the mind were a gift of her people. But they were not widely encouraged, as they had been misused in the past, and she wanted no one to lay any unkind word against him. He was, she felt in her heart, perfect for her.

She wondered often why he did not show himself to her, not even in the dreams. Was he simply shy, or did he wonder about her true feelings towards him?

Drifting back to sleep, she told herself that she must make sure he felt completely comfortable with her, that he knew she accepted him fully. For, if she was able to see his face, she wanted to more than anything. She wanted it to be the first, even the only, face she ever set eyes upon.

Daily, when she wandered the camp - whether heading up the hillside into the woods to wash laundry in the pure streams, whether milling through the camp with her mother to sell and trade baskets, garments, baked goods, or other such household creations, or whether simply slipping to the tent next door to visit a neighbor or friend - whatever the case, she would listen, straining the delicate talents of her hearing, enhanced by many years of relying on her ears where sight was not available. She would listen for that voice, his voice.

Once or twice, she'd thought she heard it, but it was muffled, distorted by the veil of cloth which had stood between them. Then, almost as suddenly as she'd heard it, it had ceased.

Once or twice too, when she'd brushed against the crowds of fellow Swicians going about their daily tasks, she'd thought she heard it - his song, her song, made just for her. She'd felt, in bumping some unknown stranger, that familiar spark, and the song grew just a little more intense. But the next moment, it vanished, and she was never certain whether she imagined all these things or not, though they seemed so real in the seconds and half seconds in which they occurred.

With a sigh, she closed her eyes, trying to settle deeper beneath her covers, trying to let their warmth soothe her back to sleep... even though they did not share the same warmth as his arms around her, even though she knew he would not show himself to her a second time that night, even though she might never know who he was or even if he was real, or if she was just going crazy.

Perhaps her loneliness made her crazy. It was true that she was well-beloved by all in the camp. But though not alone, she was still lonely for that special connection which she shared only with him. That's why she knew he must be real, because the connection pulsed so strongly between their hearts. And, if he wasn't real, if she really was crazy, than he was certainly a most wonderful way to satiate her madness...

"Michaela... Michaela, wake up, love..."

The words seemed distant at first, but then catapulted too quickly towards her. Gradually, she stirred, realizing that she had drifted into a sort of half-sleep in dreaming about him and lemonade and gardens and spring weddings.

"Michaela, love, get up; today's the day we prepare your gown for the Autumn Festival."

She yawned and stretched, smiling sleepily. "Coming, Mama."

Then, sitting and dressing for the day, she smiled wider still. Ever since the Festival had drawn near, one wonderment had echoed in the forefront of her mind: might he be there? Might he pick such an occasion to make himself known to her? True, such a dream might be just that - a dream. Yet...

"Coming, Mama," she said, more loudly, a hint of excitement trilling in her voice, and, she could now imagine, in her indigo eyes as well.

She slipped the silky dress over her head; its neckline was low, its bodice high; its sleeves draped off the shoulders and trailed in long, billowing bells. The Swicians loved simple lives yet were skilled in creating elaborate things. Such talents came naturally to them, and so their most common gowns might've seemed to most as those that should be reserved for princesses.

Brushing her long, silky hair, she paused to run the tips of her fingers over her smooth cheeks, her nose, her delicate ears. She wondered if it might be possible for him to someday come to her in a daydream and show her what her human appearance looked like.

Finished with her minimal primping, she pulled back the flap to step into the front of the large tent, and then pulled back the second flap, following her nose outside to the scent of bacon roasting over a fire upon the soft turf.

"Good morning, mother." She sat on the favorite log, feeling its rough texture and smiling. Trees, brown.

"Morning, love," her mother greeted, setting the plate steaming with bacon and toast upon her daughter's lap. "Sleep well?"

"Mm, very," Michaela replied, savoring the salty bacon, the buttery toast, and the morning sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the beach in the not-so-far-off distance. Water, blue. The clatterings and chatterings of other breakfasts met her ears as families joined together outside their tents.

"So," her mother said, "have you thought about what kind of dress you want? Silk, satin, perhaps with those velvet-textured beads you love so, or even the princess cut rubies or emeralds or - "

"Indigo," she said, chewing then swallowing decisively. "I want the dress to be satin and silk made of indigo. Sleeveless, perhaps with a bit of embroidery. But all indigo, with light and dark shades."

"Indigo?" her mother echoed; Michaela imagined her mother's eyebrows arching curiously; she smiled, and then quickly shook the thought aside.

"Yes, indigo. A friend once told me I look good in indigo."

"Well, then, indigo it shall be, for it is indeed true that my daughter looks stunning in indigo. After all, it matches her eyes."

She imagined her mother smiling now and smiled too.

After finishing breakfast and setting the dishes aside to wash later, they made their way through the camp to Claire's Tent, where several other young ladies gathered already, ideas for dresses dancing in their heads.

Michaela's mother brought to her all the different shades of indigo fabrics she could find, waiting patiently as her daughter felt each one. Her mother described the colors and hues while Michaela felt the fabric. She would always say something like "this one is yellow like the sun," or "this one is red like roses," because, though Michaela had never known the colors, she knew whether she liked suns and flowers and what thoughts and moods such things invoked in her, and she could imagine well enough the meanings of "light" and "dark".

Thus, she could understand why her mother had been caught off guard by the fact that she'd actually asked for a specific color her mother had never mentioned to her before. But now, as her mother described each shade, she pictured the dark yet rich and vibrant hue of her eyes, the varying hues of their light-colored specks. She concentrated hard with both mind and fingers until she'd selected a smooth, dark satin for her gown, a dainty silk for an overlay, and indigo threads of shades in-between to embroider the tiny flowers.

The shopping completed, they met up with Salome, Geranel, Lililu, and several other of the girls and their mothers, heading for one of the grassy outcrops overlooking the sea. Several such familiar sewing circles had already joined together in similar fashions, and their laughter echoed between the low cliffs.

For a moment, Michaela listened intently for him, listened towards the ocean, wondering if he was amongst the fishermen catching the final fish for tonight's celebration. But then Salome said, "Your satin is lovely! It matches your eyes perfectly."

She allowed the compliment to break into her thoughts of him - perhaps because it didn't really break away that train of thought at all - and thanked Salome. She ran her fingers across her friend's fabrics, a smooth velvet and a rougher, gauzy texture, and then she set to sewing.

While the Festival was that night, none of the ladies fretted over finishing their gowns in plenty of time. The Monku Swicians were able to use powers of the mind to get things done more quickly, though all but the simplest of such skills were long forgotten; over time, most mind powers had come to looked down upon, and finally forbidden.

Several of the ladies could focus the power of their commands into their fingers, weaving the needles more deftly, swiftly, accurately, while others could concentrate so that cloth, thread, and needles hovered in mid-air, working on their own. As for measurements, there was no need to take any; such minute details were perfectly inscribed in their minds.

As she sewed, Michaela focused the larger part of her conscious upon the conversation around her. Janetta was wearing yellow. Yellow, sun, the scent of lemonade rain. Lililu weaved shades of lilac together. Lilac, the smell of fresh lilac blossoms. Geranel would attend the celebration in emerald green. Emerald green, the cold touch of an emerald bracelet he'd given her once, though she'd been able to wear it only for a time, while the dream had lasted.

Michaela listened as much as she could, practicing the colors in her mind. Even so, she finished her dress before many of the others; they completed their tasks just before the sun began to set, rushing back to their tents to dress. Sunset marked the time of their transformations into their feline alter-egos, as well as the beginning of the Autumn Festival.

As she slipped her gown carefully over her head, Michaela felt the fur rapidly sprouting all over her body; her ears shifted from the sides to the top of her head, their roundness transforming into pointed tips. The whiskers grew out from her cheeks, now fluffy with white. All this happened within seconds, yet she was more than sensitive enough by now to feel each detail as it happened.

As she stepped into her mother's half of their tent, her mother placed a hand tenderly on either of her shoulders. Again, Michaela imagined the smile as her mother said, "You look so elegant; you were right to pick indigo. It suits you more than any other color you've ever worn."

Michaela returned the imagined smile. "Thank you, Mama." Reaching up a hand, she stroked the short velvet fur of her mother's face. "You look beautiful too." She knew it must be so, and someday she would get up the courage to ask him to show her, if he could.

She followed her mother outside the tent, and they wound their way down the rocky, grassy hills to the beach below where the echoes of excited talk and laughter, as well as the hints of music - flutes, fiddles, guitars, drums, and the like - slowly drifted towards and then consumed her. As they walked, she listened, reaching out for him on all sides.

Once everyone had gathered, the young fishermen carried out platters piled high with steaming fish and fresh fruits and salads. Knowingly, the ladies, children, and other gentlemen seated themselves while the young men set the food in the midst of their circles and semi-circles.

Michaela inhaled the rich aromas of the scrumptious, carefully prepared foods. The sand, yet warm from the day's sun, slipped like the comforting fingers of old friends between her toes.

Several of the elders stood to silence everyone so that they could pray to their Creator and Protector Aryel, to thank Him for another year of harvest and protection and to ask Him to bless their celebration of thanks. As soon as the prayers had ended, the cheerful chatter picked back up, and all set to passing the platters and baskets around. For the first round, everyone would be generous, gracious, making sure not to take too much of one portion, making sure it was fair to the others around them. Michaela smiled as she selected exactly two drumsticks and passed the plate along, knowing everyone would've grown into a less polite and more festive spirit by the time second and third helpings came along.

She sat eating and talking amongst her friends, listening every now and then for any sign of him.

"So, what about you, Michaela?" Janetta asked as the musicians began to play again and as several couples, finished with their meal, jumped up to dance to the upbeat tune. "Do you have any promised dances tonight?"

She shrugged. "I always have those." What did it matter if she had any others if she didn't get the only one she wanted?

"Oh, Michaela, you're so lucky and you still don't realize it!" Janetta sighed in a huff.

"Hush, Jan," Lililu scolded gently. "Michaela can't help it she's caught the eye of practically every available Swician in the camp."

"You hush," Michaela snapped, feeling herself blush and grateful for night's cover.

"Oh, you know it's true." Michaela envisioned Lililu rolling her eyes. "Especially Cooper Myers. He's stuck on you like syrup on a pancake..."

Michaela zoned out as someone's laughter caught her attention. She strained. No, it wasn't him. Probably Cooper, knowing her fortune.

"Michaela, are you listening?" Lililu hissed.

"Of course -"

"Michaela!"

As she was whisked off her feet and twirled in the air by the infamous Cooper himself, she thought sulkily that if her mysterious lover truly cared about her, he would've gifted her with sight long enough to see Cooper coming so that she could've hidden.

"Good evening, Cooper," she said, mustering cheerfulness. He was a good friend, after all, just not the person she wanted to focus on that evening.

"Evening, Michaela! Ready for our first dance?"

"I -"

She didn't bother finishing the sentence, for he'd already pulled her into the circle of dancers as Lililu called after her, "Told you so!"

She allowed herself to get caught up in the laughter, in the quick, challenging, yet delightful steps of the Circling Dance, a favorite tradition in which everyone joined hands and danced rings about the musicians who played all the more enthusiastically. The dancers would quicken their pace until it became a competition between musicians and dancers to see who could last longest. Cooper tripped and fell out early enough. Michaela stayed in a while herself, but the last standing of them all was the flute player, who, upon squeaking his last note, fell backwards, passing out.

While he recovered, the other musicians prematurely began the first waltz of the evening. Michaela tried to slip away but, soon enough, Cooper popped up by her side, reminding her he'd promised the first waltz.

"You look so lovely tonight," he said.

"Thank you, Cooper."

"The indigo - it matches your eyes, you know?"

"Of course I know."

"Oh, um, I'm sorry -"

"No, it's okay." She knew he'd taken her snippiness as offence that she did not know, because, as far as he knew, she'd never seen her eyes. In reality, she was offended that his chatter interrupted her search of that special voice, song, whatever exactly she was searching for. Cooper took the hint, albeit the wrong hint, and fell silent.

As they waltzed and weaved, she listened, at first to the music. But then, she became distracted by the rise and fall of footsteps padding dully on the soft sand, voices shouting, talking, cheering, laughing, hands clapping. She listened, pleading for the music that was hers, that was his, that was theirs, for the music of his voice.

Michaela stumbled, falling against Cooper and nearly toppling them both to the ground as he caught and steadied her.

"Are you okay?" Cooper asked.

"Yes, um, I'm sorry." She felt a blush beneath her fur, glad again for its concealment. "I think... I just think I should rest for a bit."

"But it's only the second dance." He sounded disappointed, and she imagined him frowning. She frowned herself. Imagining frowns was not so nice as imagining smiles.

"I know, I just... I'm not feeling well."

"Okay, well... that's okay, we can take a rest."

He still sounded disappointed, though making an effort to sound the opposite. He led her from the maze of swirling couples further up one of the little hills where sand gave way to plush grass beneath her feet; he told her to relax while he fetched some kiwi water. Stretching out on the grass, she thanked him. Then, as he hurried away, she listened intently.

Sitting still, she could focus better on the noises, the voices. True, the couples constantly moved, but there were fewer distractions without her dancing also. Adam and Jason came up to her after a few moments, each asking for a dance. She turned them down politely, and they too sounded disappointed as they said they understood, no doubt because they didn't understand at all, for she did love to dance.

After a few more moments, she stood to stretch, restless from the strain of listening all night, impatient to actually hear something familiar, something that would actually satiate. She wanted to hear so badly that she began to wonder if there truly was anything to hear, or whether she was just hopelessly wishing, dreaming for their connection so badly that she had only ever just dreamed it. She began also to wonder where Cooper could possibly be with the kiwi water and whether the Geri twins had drunk it all as they did last year, and if their mother currently scolded them for completing the scheme for a fourth year in a row; she was just beginning to feel glad for such thoughts to distract her from the strain of listening and thinking of listening, when -

A hand latched onto hers, firmly, warmly. Their hands hovered together for a moment as if he waited to see if she would draw away, protest at the sudden movement, but she did not resist. She knew that touch, and she smiled, taking in a sharp breath as he pulled her close to his heart and slid gracefully with her into the throngs of swirling colors.

As they danced, she imagined everything, the frilly lace, the wide hooped skirts of some, but especially the soft lights and the colors - yes, the colors most of all. She knew she couldn't get it quite right in her head, but she imagined it the best she could, for his sake, because he had given her that gift of color.

As the dance came to an end, he gently released her, but he did not leave her side. His warmth hovered beside her like a protective, inviting fire in that cool, night air. Another song began, and again, he took her hand, pausing as if asking her. She wondered why he did not speak. Perhaps he was truly timid. After all, he had only appeared to her by dreams.

Whatever the case, it made no difference he did not speak. He would when he was ready, she felt sure. His gentle fingers caressed the small of her back, holding her close; the fingers of his other hand entwined in hers with the softness of a child's touch yet the unbreakable strength and connection of a spider's web - all these subtle but sure affections silenced any small ability she might've had to speak in his presence, so she just smiled. For a moment, it crept into her head that if the dreams really hadn't been real, perhaps he did not know she was blind, and she began to feel self-conscious. But then, as the second song came to a close, his fingers brushed against her cheek, velvety and gentle, and she knew that he knew her.

As dance after dance continued, still he did not speak, and still, she did not mind, save that she longed to hear his voice. Then, she began to doubt; his touch was the same, yet his voice - he always told her sweet things, sang her sweet songs. Why tonight, upon their first real meeting, did he say nothing?

As the doubt crept into her mind, something else did too, a melody both a part of and yet detached from that which the musicians played. It was like the waltz, only slightly dissonant and dark, minor in parts. Did he at last try to communicate something to her through some new song? Its melody was unsettling; was he troubled by something, was that why he'd not spoken all evening? Or was the song some kind of warning?

A sharp pain stabbed her head, and a vision flashed before her, though it was for hardly more than a second. Yet it was vivid - one of the cliffs located above the camp. She knew the one, its edge towered over the ocean.

"I... I don't feel well," she breathed as a dizziness gripped her. She stumbled, and he brought them to a halt; her breath suddenly staggered with her feet. "Please, I... I need to get away, get some fresh air for a bit..."

She started to walk away, but a hand on her arm restrained her, firm yet gentle; concern radiated from his touch.

"I'll be okay," she assured, then wrenched away, hurrying from him. She must flee that song, that awful song piercing her with fear and holding her with an unexplainable control which caused her to fear even more.

She slipped into the woods, away from the festival, away from the source of that terrible, dissonant pounding, that eerie cacophony of melody and harmony. But she could not get away, even though she ventured further and further from the source. As she raced, tripping, stumbling, glancing frantically over her shoulders - first behind her, then beside her, then before her, glancing even though she could not see - she realized, only too late, that the dark presence from which the song emanated surrounded her on all sides. In fleeing into the woods, she'd drawn closer to the song's dark pull, led on by it.

She knew this, and its knowing drove her all the more frantically into terror. Still, the further she ran, though she wanted to turn back more and more, she became more and more consumed by the magnetic force of the song, unable to turn back, stumbling upon her own feet as they tried vainly to resist. She screamed, knowing it would do no good.

The music only grew louder, enveloping her every fiber until there was only it, and the fear that it drowned her in, making her go on, forcing her forward though she longed to turn back, to escape its haunting chill.

She emerged from the woods, sprinting upward; a chilled wind ruffled her fur, accenting the fear that the dark presence filled her with. Cold, unseeable fingers gripped her hands, her ankles, pulling and pushing her up the incline, as if overeager to complete its task; the song culminated in a deafening volume and terror, and she recognized the instruments for what they were. Chimes. Chimes like one might hear in a child's music box, chimes like those that might lull a child to sleep, into some peaceful, blissful state.

Their rhythm intensified into a more frenzied, irregular beating. The melody screeched wildly, high notes like the laugh of some crazed, excited hyena. And she knew, even as she moved upward, that she was being dragged to the edge of the seaside cliff.

"Michaela!"

As her foot stepped off the cliff's edge, strong arms hefted her in the air; she felt her limbs flailing madly, kicking him, hitting him, screaming wildly at him, felt her body out of control as the chimes commanded her to do everything in her power to resist this man who dared to thwart their authoritative call.

But, suddenly, another song. Faintly at first, only a dull thudding, but gradually morphing into elegant melody. Rich, calm, yet a pleading harmony, an almost crying harmony. She struggled less, falling limp as her mind and heart was seized, though gladly, into the comfort of this new song which soon drowned out the first until she could feel in control of her own body once more. Arms held her close to a beating heart inside a firm, softly furry chest, and she knew the touch was his, that he held her.

She listened to the song, its gently comforting strains, his soft breathing synchronized with its rhythm.

"Are you all right now?" he breathed.

"Yes," she whispered, snuggling closer to his chest. "Yes, I'm fine now, everything's fine..."

She realized then that her eyes were closed. Opening them, she saw the luscious trees, the gently glittering flowers, the fanciful, pure light that seemed to radiate all around her. She could see tufts of soft, gray-white fur upon the chest she was hugged close to, and she smiled. He had rescued her into one of their dreams.

"Can you stand?" he asked.

"Yes." She longed to stay in his arms, but she could not lie to him.

He set her down, holding her a few moments before releasing her fully, making sure her feet were steady enough. Then, as she stood, she looked up and gasped, staring wide-eyed. He stood before her, unveiled, the light no longer concealing his true form - his face, his fluffy grey-white fur, glistened like silver in the purity of the glow surrounding them, and his eyes shone golden like the liquid sun she'd only ever heard of in travelers' stories. His chest was thick with the luscious, warm, majestically illuminated fur, as were his head, arms, and large feet poking from beneath the hem of his dark blue pants. He stood like a guardian and a legendary hero and a most impossible man of her dreams all at once.

"Yes, we're still in a dream, and yet, we are not," he said, guessing her thoughts; as he caressed her cheek, she closed her eyes, but only for a moment, lest the vision of him vanish from her. "I did just save you, and I do stand before you, but only through the dreams can we see each other. And I thought, at last, especially since I know how much you've been wanting it -"

"It was you," she breathed, "you who danced with me all night, you who saved me, you who sent me the dreams - all the same person, all you."

He nodded, eyes glittering tenderly at her; something in their golden hue shone so powerfully that if she were a stranger, she might have felt daunted, at unease. But their liquid gold only filled her with warmth; their strength flooded her with a strength of her own as she asked, still gazing in wonder, "Will you tell me your name now?"

He smiled, though a sadness touched his golden eyes. "I may as well, now we've met. My name is Dominique."

"It's a beautiful name," she said.

"Beautiful," he breathed, the suns of his eyes gleaming as he stroked her face.

"Why did you never tell me?" she whispered, her fingertips tracing his face. Even though they stood in the dream-like world, she knew the vision before her was just as real as the comfort she felt from the sensation of drawing her fingers across his velvety face. "Why did you not want me to know who you were?"

"Because," he said, "in the dreams, I talk to you, sing to you. Because they're dreams, because anything we want to be real can be so, as long as I can learn how to make it so...

"But in the real world, I am deaf. I cannot hear. I am learning to speak, but I know I'm not very good yet and... I didn't want to embarrass you, disappoint you. I wanted to wait, to be perfect for you just like in the dreams..."

"But you are," she assured, tenderly cupping his soft, fuzzy cheeks in her hands, "perfect for me. How could I be disappointed after you accepted my blindness - more than that, showed me such beautiful things, taught me things so I too might know the part of the world that you know, the world of sight. Don't you see what a precious gift that is, that you are? How could I be disappointed?"

He kissed her forehead tenderly; even though she could, she did not need to see him, to see his eyes glittering lovingly as he pulled back, to know that they were his lips, his touch.

"Your songs," she said gently as he entwined her hands in his, holding them to his heart, "how did you hear them? Did they come to you in dreams as well?"

"No," he said, "you remember when I called your lullaby your 'heart song?'"

"Yes."

"Well, I meant that."

She searched his warm golden eyes.

"It's something I've always been able to do," he said, "to hear people's hearts. Each heart plays a song - some pure, some terrible, some lovely, some dark - but each has their own rich, complex melody, harmony, and rhythm. That's how I was able to tell at first what things you did and didn't like; it took me a little while to be able to read your actual thoughts - not all your thoughts, not the private ones, just those you spoke to me aloud in words - even now, I can't hear your voice. But I don't need to, because I hear your heart, and it is beautiful enough."

"My heart really sounds... like that song you sang me?" she breathed.

He nodded, smiling. "Sometimes, at least... when I held you, that seemed to calm you, calm your heart."

"It did."

She paused before saying, "Dominique," the very sound of her voice speaking his name made her heart flutter, and she wondered if he could hear that fluttering and what it sounded like, "Dominique, what happened tonight? Why wasn't I able to stop? Why did that song have such a powerful sway over me?"

His golden eyes darkened. "I don't know exactly what happened. But there have been those in the past who've tried to abuse our powers of the mind, twist them to fit their own purposes. I have talked with the leaders, have heard talk of a sect who has been conducting some... experiments, if you will, with these powers and other newer theories associated with them. Unfortunately, as you saw tonight, such experiments often end up getting someone hurt, or worse."

"Do you think anyone else followed the music and...?" her voice trailed.

He shook his head. "I think they had it under control. But you... whoever they are, they showed a special interest in you, led you on, didn't want to let you go. I don't know why. Maybe they know somehow about our dreams and think you possess some special gift in mind control or mind invasion..."

Her eyes searched his, panicked suddenly, but he looked down, smiled, then drew her close to his warm chest and said, "You don't need to worry. I'll keep you close by my side. They won't harm you. Ever."

She closed her eyes and snuggled closer, deeper, til she could almost feel them become one. She listened to the beating of his heart, and though she could not hear its heart song, it was enough, even as seeing him only in their special moments of surreal dreams was enough. It was enough even as she opened her eyes and found that the dream around her had faded. It was enough because she was still in his arms.

3 comments:

  1. Nicely descriptive, a sort of Disney-like romance story making for a fun read.

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  2. i think this brilliantly well written and for a change a story with a happy end.

    Michael Mccarthy

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  3. A unique take on love filled with memorable imagery.

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