I don’t hear him creep in my window, even though I’ve been trying to for months now. What I do notice is how my room gets still, and how the wind doesn’t whisper through the pages of my book on the nightstand anymore. Everything is still in his presence; even noises of the night are put to sleep. I can no longer hear the cars or the sirens that are the bane of city living. For now, the sleepless city is eerily silent.
“Are you sleeping?” He always asks me this. I’ve always wondered why he bothers. He would know if I was.
“Yes.” I can’t help the smile in my voice. I sit up on my bed, still dressed in the clothes I wore yesterday, and see he’s perched on the sill of my open window. I always keep my window open.
His hair is a silvery blue, like starlight, and his eyes are a golden color, like the harvest moon. His skin is pale, having never been warmed by the sun, and he seems to glow in the darkness with a white luminescence.
His features are difficult to describe. His face is always changing. I imagine that the soft nighttime breeze alters it subtly, brushing it around like the desert winds do the sand dunes, but I’ve never asked so I don’t really know.
Tonight, his nose is more angular than it usually is, but nothing else is different from the last time.
I’ve thought of many ways to describe him, but he looks like a fantasy prince from one of my novels more than any of the other ridiculous things I’ve thought up. He’s wearing old fashioned trousers, a white shirt that buttons, and a black cloak that seems alive with starlight. Grasped in his hand is a staff, like a shepherd’s crook, and from the staff hangs a lantern where all his Dream Slivers are kept. The lantern pulses with light and rainbow colors that are constantly in motion and never rest, like swimming fish.
The lantern is my favorite thing about him, it always has been, and it probably always will be. Theres’s a little, blue key that opens the door, in his pocket. I can barely hear it tinker against the others he keeps there.
“You’re not asleep.” He grins with teeth that are stunningly white. “You’re a liar as well as a thief.”
I get up and stretch, “Where are we going tonight?”
“That’s for me to know, and you to guess about.”
“Who told you I would guess?”
“You always guess.”
Tonight I am determined, and I will not guess.
I purse my lips, and he seems a little confused by my silence. He regards me for a moment, but then he hands me a silver drawstring bag about the size of my palm with sapphire tassels.
“You know it’d be easier if you’d leave this with me,” I tell him quietly, gesturing with the bag. But I know he won’t; he doesn’t trust me yet. I’m just impatient.
He looks at me as if I’m a psychopath and I have just suggested he let me have a knife that I will, but there’s always a chance I won’t, kill him with. “And let you run amok stealing dreams? No.”
My shoulders slump a little even though I know he’ll trust me in time.
“Can we go?” I ask, not meeting his eyes.
“Patience is a virtue, you know.” He says, raising a brow.
I smile at him, and take his outstretched hand, “It’s one that I don’t have.”
“I think so, ” I say, squinting and shuddering just a little. This is my least favorite part.
He laughs, wraps one arm around me, and then leaps out into the night.
The wind rushes in my ears, and I burry my face in his neck as the ground drops out from beneath us and we shoot into the cool night air. My eyes are shut tight.
I’ve never liked heights. I’ve never ever wanted to fly.
I bite my lip and my fingers curl around the collar of his shirt. My stomach is in my throat, and I have to swallow around it.
He laughs deeply and I feel it rumble in his chest, a pleasant thunder. “You should look.”
I shake my head violently, and he laughs harder. “Come on! You’ll love it.”
I swallow hard, and my heart sinks into my stomach as I mutter a very shaky, “No way.”
But there’s a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that I may be missing out. Maybe he’s right, I think. Then I start to wonder, and that’s the end of my resistance. It will be the death of me, my wondering.
I take a breath thinking that, if I’m not going to guess about where we were going, I could at least take a peek.
I let one eye open, and I peer down at a world that glitters.
Thousands and thousands of golden streetlights shine. I see tiny cars and yellow taxi cabs zooming along the busy streets. Blinking, ivory signs advertise a broadway play that I still have hopes of seeing next week, although the tickets are doubtlessly sold out. There are golden lights everywhere, shining in defiance of the dark, moonless night. I’ve never seen something glow in such a powerful, enchanting way.
I drink in the sight of my glittering city. But it’s more than that. The city doesn’t just glow, it pulses with a familiar life. Every bulb that flickers, every car’s headlights that shine on the road, even the people I’ve never met; absolutely everything in the city is connected to me.
It’s all a part of me that I’m seeing for the first time.
It’s my city, and to see it now from the sky, with a glowing brilliancy that only the sun can match, is indescribable. I wonder if this is how a mother feels when she sees her newborn child for the first time. I wonder if this blossom of happiness sprouted in my own mother’s heart upon seeing me.
“It’s beautiful,” I sigh, but there’s so much more I’m not saying. There’s so much more that can’t be put into words, but somehow he understands. “Do you ever get tired of it?”
I would never tire of such a sight even if I gazed upon it every night of my life.
“Enough gawking,” He tells me, “We’ve got a job to do. Are you ready?”
“No,” I mumble. I don’t want to forget this wonderful picture. I know it will soon be just a pathetic shadow of the real thing in my mind as soon as it’s torn from my sight. That makes me horribly sad.
“Well, tough luck,” he sighs as if the heaviness in my voice is familiar to him.
Then, just like a magic trick, the night folds in around us, and we vanish.
My ears pop as the clouds of night release us from their clutches. The two of us find that we have come to rest on a tin roof. We are in the middle of the countryside where the stars sparkle and shine like a million shards of broken glass in the lonely expanse above.
He lets go of me, and I turn in a circle to get my bearings.
We’re perched on an old farmhouse. In the distance, I can hear the faint calls of sheep trying to find each other to settle down and sleep. From a large barn, that I know is red even though the night has taken the colors captive, there comes a distinctly sweeter sound, and as my ears strain I realize it’s a lamb crying for its mother.
But it doesn’t take long for the life below to realize his presence, and soon all is hushed and still, like it’s been covered with a blanket. Even my footsteps on the tin roof are muted and hushed.
It’s a completely different kind of night than I’m used to.
This night is soft and gentle, but homey somehow like the pages of an old, well-loved book, or the taste of my grandmother’s creamy chicken pot pie.
“You humans see so little of the world,” he scoffs at my wonderment.
I roll my eyes at him as the breeze bathes me in it’s welcoming embrace. It’s cooler here than it is a home.
“You’re really not going to guess.” His head is tilted to the side mischievously as if he’s trying to figure out something to say that will tease me into guessing.
I give him my best elusive smile, and he’s intrigued. His golden eyes watch my face for the real, burning curiosity I’ve trapped between my teeth. It’s alive, and it struggles against my lips, fighting against me. He knows it’s there.
He raises a thin brow at me. “Weird.”
The oddest thing about him, I think, is that he looks like a fairytale, but he doesn’t sound like one at all.
He steps to the edge of the roof and swings down, disappearing below the eaves.
I rush to the edge of the roof and kneel down on my hands and knees just in time to see him alight on the widow sill of the second story, his cloak flaring like a pair of wings. He waves for me to hurry up, but I look at him curiously, wondering how he expects me to get to the window.
His eyes dance. I scowl.
“Jump,” he hisses up to me.
Now I look at him like he’s crazy, and he just stifles his laugh.
“Trust me!” He implores me.
“You won’t even tell me your name!”
“I don’t know your name either, Charlotte Anne.”
My jaw works as I process this new information. “I- how!?” I almost forget to be quiet.
He grins, succeeding in his mission to keep me guessing.
“I’ll tell you my name if you jump,” he bargains.
“Who cares what his name is? I probably can’t pronounce it anyways,” I grumble to myself and slide my legs over the edge so they dangle in the empty air. I think about being suspended in mid-air, and that’s always what gets me in trouble, the thinking. For a second, I panic, but then I get a hold on myself. I push myself over the edge with one hard shove, and I fall.
He snatches me from the empty space, and pulls me next to him on the window sill before I even know I’m falling. But I’m out of breath and slightly dizzy, and so I’ve forgotten the prize of my jump.
He rests his hand on my elbow, and leads me through the window. His body seems to fold in on itself like an accordion. The movement of him is so lithe and subtle that my grace is clumsy behind him as I creep through.
I step down into the room and earn a sharp glance from him as I make the ancient floorboards creak. I grimace, but there’s no way I can be as silent as he is.
The room is obviously a child’s. A purple, star nightlight is plugged into the painted blue wall, and there are toys scattered across the floor in such a way as to suggest, as my mother used to tell my younger self, a storm had raged through it.
It’s a little boy’s room.
The toys scattered across the floor are plastic, army green soldiers, and metal, red fire engines. A real rocking horse, one that was hand-painted with love, sits still in a corner. A wooden treasure chest, where all the toys are doubtless supposed to go, is cozied up to the foot of the the bed.
In the bed, a little boy is tangled in the camouflage bedsheets, suffering from a nightmare. His fair blonde hair is matted to his head with sweat, and his pale cheeks are flushed. This is not the normal kind of nightmare that plagues us all. This is something stronger.
And that is why we are here.
I’ve forgotten about his name, and I don’t care. I’m here to help the boy; to steal his dream.
I cross the room to the side of the boy’s bed, and kneel down. Here, I can see the black tendrils that weave through the air above his forehead. The filaments of the fear and darkness align to show me a picture. They show me what the boy is dreaming of, and what he’s being tormented with.
I see an exact image of the boy’s home, but his parents are gone, and it’s dark and the shadows are deep. A man in a stiff black suit is releasing the sheep into the maws of waiting wolves. The growls of the wolves and the cries of the sheep are deafening. The man pauses in his mission of destruction and murder, and looks at the house for a long while with that evil tension of a cat that’s ready to pounce. The boy struggles to move, and I feel the terror squeeze his heart as he tries his best to stop him, but this is one of those dreams that you can’t move through. It’s one of those dreams where it feels like you’re dragging yourself through peanut butter. Then his home bursts into burning, red flames, and in a deep crescendo of horror the man in the black suit slams a foreclosure sign into the ground and disappears with a great cloud of thunder and blackness.
I close my eyes, and I understand.
The boy’s heart and his home are the same. Everything he loves is here, and nothing else will ever do.
And he is going to lose it.
I pull the silver bag from my pocket, and, slowly, as if I’m playing the harp with strings of glass, I drag the slender folds of blackness into the bag with my long, pianist fingers. The darkness burns my fingers, and my intent face changes into a wince.
I can feel him watching me steal the dream. His curse is to give, but not to take or mend. He’s fascinated by my crafty hands as always.
I ignore the pain–this is the first time they’ve burned me badly–and my fingers slip. One string of black crashes to the floor, shattering, and the boy gasps in his sleep.
I feel him go more still that normal behind me, and a bead of sweat begins to form on my forehead.
I’ve made him worry.
I swallow, and I’m more careful. There aren’t many black slivers left, and for that I’m suddenly thankful. I don’t think I can take more of this suffocating pressure.
One by one I pull them into the bag. The last one struggles against my finger, but I fight against it and soon the silver bag is full of darkness and the boy’s head is empty. I have a stinging red welt to show for it.
He takes the, now heavy, bag from me, and I breath a sigh of relief as he kneels beside me and unlocks his lantern with the blue key from his pocket. He reaches inside and draws the Dream Slivers from it. They hang from his fist like crisp rainbow ribbons.
I choose one carefully. The first color is the most important part, and I look around the room trying to find a dominant color. I look for the color the boy finds most comforting.
His nightlight is purple, and his walls are blue.
I choose a sliver that’s in between.
He watches me differently now, as if he’s not so sure of me as he was at the beginning of the night. I don’t blame him. I’ve never slipped before.
I weave with a purpose, my fingers painting a new dream for the boy. A bright one, full of life.
His parents still aren’t present, I don’t know what they look like, but the sky is blue, and the undertone is purple. The sheep are all safe in their pastures, not food for hungry wolves, and it’s quiet and calm as it only can be when you feel safe.
Then I cause the dream to shift, and I take him somewhere else.
I show him my city.
I show him that other places can be beautiful too, that his heart can be filled with a million precious places rather than just one. I show him the lights that shine and all the people bustling everywhere. I let a green strand show him the thrill and the excitement of being surrounded by a different kind of life.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to him when he loses this beautiful place, but I can give him hope. It’s no use removing that foreclosure sign in his yard, so I leave it.
For a child, the most important thing is hope.
If I can’t let him hope to keep his home, I can have him hope of someplace else. If not a better place, then somewhere different and exciting, like my city.
I weave and weave, my fingers hurting as I work.
Only when I have a picture that is just the right in color and spirit, am I done.
I take a breath, and let the image go. It drifts, and, with a sudden puff, it’s gone. The only traces of its presence now are the colors that dance above the boy’s head.
I sit back, exhausted and completely satisfied.
He’s still next to me, of course; I had forgotten that he was here.
“Nice job, Charlie,” He whispers to me, and I remember he still owes me his name. I chafe at the fact he somehow knows mine.
“You never told me your name,” I say, or slur rather. I’m more tired than I realize.
“If I did,” He grins, “you wouldn’t remember it. Come on, we have to go or else our efforts are wasted.”
“Our efforts?” I hiss as he pulls me up, and I’m too sleepy to resist.
“Those were my Dream Slivers,” he says tossing his staff and the lantern out the window, where they promptly vanish.
I’m distracted from being agitated, “Where do they go? When you make them disappear?”
“My home,” he tells me as he gathers me up in his skinny, but surprisingly strong, arms. I’ve only allowed him to do this a few times.
“Which is where? On the moon?”
He jumps out the window softly, not leaping like he had out of mine.
“I thought you weren’t going to guess.” He replies, smirking.
“I’m not,” I say feeling the folds of darkness creeping up on us again. “I’m asking questions.”
His laugh echos as we vanish for the last time tonight.
I don’t realize I’m asleep until I feel the soft cushion of my mattress beneath me.
My eyes snap open, and I remember, quickly, the events of the night. I’m afraid he’s already gone, but no. He’s still here, leaning over me.
“What’s your name?” I ask quickly, rubbing my already sandy eyes, and hoping I can at least stall him for a little while.
He sighs, and sits next to me on the bed. “You don’t get distracted, do you?”
I sit up, and he takes my burned palm and holds it between both of his hands.
“Heal,” he whispers to my skin and it obeys. I watch the red, angry welt disappear.
“Thank you,” I whisper back, waggling my fingers experimentally.
He smiles at me in the dark, but there’s nothing romantic here. I find it to be one of life’s more hilarious ironies that I finally have a boy in my room and I don’t care.
But then again, he’s not exactly a boy.
“Least I could do,” he tells me.
“I’m going to start calling you Peter Pan,” I threaten.
He rolls his eyes, “You’re no Wendy Darling so how could I possibly be Peter Pan?”
That remark takes me in a completely different direction than the one I had planned on a few seconds prior. My train of thought spins three-hundred and sixty degrees.
“You know the story? How? Do you have a day job? Do you live like normal? Are you a super hero?”
He blinks at me, “Wow.” His mouth forms a perfect ‘o’ with the word.
I huff, completely frustrated, “Tell me your name.” I bite off the sentence, and my teeth snap.
He leans very close to me, his silver hair almost tickling my forehead. “You won’t remember it,” he says in a musical voice.
“I will,” I swear, more to myself than to him, “because I won’t dream of anything to put it from my head.”
His mouth quirks at the corner at this private joke.
His breath smells like the cold. “My name,” he says impossibly slowly, “is…”
I lean even closer, desperate for the answer. The smell of his sweet breath is making my eyelids heavy, but I fight the drowsiness. I know exactly what he’s trying to do, but he’s so close to telling me. It’s on the tip of his tongue.
My eyelids flutter, but I’m stronger than his charm. His voice is so quiet, it leads me to believe that his name is a precious secret that he has finally decided to trust me with, and I barely hear him.
“Brumous,” I repeat, disbelieving. He actually told me! “Of grey skies and winter days; filled with heavy clouds or fog. Relating to winter or cold. Sunless weather.”
His eyes narrow. “Showoff.”
I sigh and repeat his name again. “Brumous.”
It feels odd in my mouth, like I’m rolling a marble around in my mouth. It fits him perfectly. Some people have many fitting names, but I could never think of any for him. Now I know why.
He only has one.
“Brumous the Dream Lord,” I say, liking the pleasant ring. “Charlotte Anne the Dream Thief doesn’t sound as good.”
He leans away from me, “Sorry to break it to you, but not everyone can sound as fabulous as I do.” He’s cocky to a fault.
He gets up and walks to the window, “Until the next moonless night.” He places his hand on the cool glass pane, “Oh, and Happy, belated, Birthday.”
I automatically look towards my nightstand, and there is the card I had thought I lost two days ago. Inside I see my mom’s sophisticated handwriting: “Happy 17th, Charlotte Anne!”
So that’s how he knew my name.
And he had the gall to call me a thief.
“Until the next moonless night,” I whisper frustrated, but he’s already gone, carried away by the restless winds to the place where dreams meet reality.
There he stays, tending to the dreams of the world, and here I wait, creating my own, until the next moonless night.