The Dream Leaper
Milo’s eyes shot open. He saw his surprised face echoed in a ghostly crystal. A rainbow of blues and purples gleamed across its narrow wall.
Four sides enclosed him. More reflections blended and phased a hundred times. Countless more shards the size of his arm bristled the bottom of the prism on the outside. He wrinkled his forehead as he tried to remember where he was, but all he knew was that he was inside a crystal that seemed both solid and invisible.
He peered beyond his cage. Bright green hills rolled into the horizon, lined with bushes and trees… sprinkled with distant giraffes and what looked like small CDs without holes. Several other boys from his middle school wandered over them, riding the giraffes and playing kickball in the sky with glowing rocket packs.
Wait a minute, Milo thought… An unfamiliar weight dangled at his belt. He looked down. It was a sheathed dagger.
“Hey!” giggled a voice. “Milo, over here!”
And then he remembered he had a little sister. “Sh-Sherri?” he stammered. “Is that you?”
“Over here, stupid!”
Milo turned around. There she stood before his phasing prism in leggings and light-up shoes, her strawberry hair in a disheveled ponytail. A proud grin stretched over her face, revealing the gap where she lost her ‘vampire tooth.’
“What’s going on?” Milo asked desperately. “I feel like some kind of bubble boy… What is this?”
“It’s a crystal! God you’re dumb.”
“No tch--” Milo rolled his eyes and threw his forearms exasperatedly. “Sherri, where am I?”
“You’re dreaming. This world is yours. You can do anything you want!”
He furrowed his brows. This was his sister. There must’ve been a catch. “…You really mean anything?”
“Yeah! You wanna fly, you got it. You wanna join the circus, you’re there. You find some treasure, you take it. Oh! And collect the silver coins; you’ll get candy after you collect a hundred. Kind of like that game you play all the time.” She smiled curtly. “Have fun, okay?” And then she disappeared with a soft popping sound.
Milo was quick to his sister’s advice. With a single thought he and his massive shard flew weightlessly into the sky. He skimmed the ground and snatched some “coins” nestled in the grass, and then gathered three of his friends who resided in the hills. There they soared in the clouds together. They held each other’s hands in a line and swung in circles, throwing each other, tackling one another. More glimmering coins floated up to them like schools of salmon, and as they touched his body a tiny number appeared at the corner of his eyes. 98, 99—ding! Candy he’d never seen before rained into his pocket. 1, 2, 3, 4--
Suddenly he was sitting in a hoodless car in the middle of a flat nowhere. They were driving fast—his hair felt like whips on his face. The crystal prison sat with him with its bristles spiking out of the car, as though it wasn’t solid at all. Black clouds brewed and dipped, as if several arms tried to reach through them.
“Hurry!” Victor yelled. “God—can’t you drive? It’s gaining on us!”
Milo peered out the sides with fascinated horror. They were dodging twenty tornadoes. Coins and thick branches zipped over their heads.
44, 45, Bonus! 50, 51…
A thin, ferocious twister slid over them, and Milo looked up, frozen with terror—but it soon turned to amazement. It was a tunnel of endlessly dark ribbons, laced with lightning, and yet it felt like a cascade of gentle hairdryers.
The storm began to recede…
Only minutes later they pulled up into Milo’s driveway, and ran inside. (99—ding! Candy in colorful wrappers rained into his pocket.) He was perfectly convinced that he lived in a mansion, with green floor portals and plastic slides that bolted from room to room. He zipped through a slide and landed on firm feet.
“Hey, Milo,” Andy nudged his arm.
Milo turned to face him, realizing he was standing in Sherri’s room.
“Isn’t this your hat?” he pointed at the ground, where a Celtic’s cap was flopped over her carpet.
Milo sighed, annoyed. He stooped down and picked it up, another sudden memory flowing into his mind. Sherri bought it when his parents took them to a sports store. “Even in my dreams she copies everything I do,” he muttered, rolling his eyes.
“Andy! Milo!” Kelen called from the hallway. Milo yanked the hat on and the two boys caught up to him. Kelen was standing over a red floor portal. “Check this out, I got free tickets!”
They stood in a dimly-lit stadium. The soft, gooey walls pulsed and shifted, as if the room was alive. It frightened Milo. No coins marked the floor.
A mysterious crowd cheered and a bright, hot flash stung his eyes. He blinked to adjust. Actors dressed in bizarre costumes pranced on stage. They greeted his friends like they had improvised roles, but they glared at Milo. Many of them whispered to each other and peered at him reproachfully. Feeling hurt and puzzled, he stood there awkwardly, like something constricted him. This must have been what it felt like during recess when nobody liked you… Soon he noticed something was happening to the floor. Like an invisible painter blowing art onto the stage’s surface, grass and flowers replaced linoleum.
A dirt road winded around them and etched through a Roman landscape. All costumes altered into togas. An actor leaned against a building nearby, and he approached him timidly. “Uh, so. Where did you get those grapes?”
The actor ignored him.
Milo thought this strange, so he glanced hopefully to Victor, who didn’t seem aware of his presence at all. “Hey, Vic?” He didn’t respond. Milo’s brows buried with sudden concern as he banged hard against his crystal wall. “Victor! Hey!” He said nothing. Milo anxiously whipped his head around and waved his hand at Andy’s face. Andy looked ahead, smiling. The four of them laughed and ate grapes with the Romans.
Milo dashed between pillars and buildings, feverishly tossing his eyes from one person to another. “Sherri? Can you hear me? Anybody?” Finally he saw coins littering the road and ran through them, but they just sat there.
Then he remembered the dagger at his side. Without any other ideas, he reached for it.
“Ah, ah, ah!” cooed a tiny, genderless voice in Milo’s head. Milo’s heart froze, and so did his feet, now shakily anchored to the earth. He felt naked as cool sweat ran down his legs. “Remember, this is your dream. This crystal—yeeesss, is all that keeps you tethered here. If you break it, you wake up. And if you wake up—heheheheee!—everybody diieees!” He swallowed numbly. He didn’t want his friends to die, or all these people. So there he sat. Lonely. Trapped.
Everyone went home, without ever asking where that freckle-faced boy had gone.
Milo sat there for what felt like years. He had run out of candy. Every time he would blink, the moon and the sun would dance. The village became ruins, the ruins became farmland, the farmland became a modern shopping square, and that soon became a launch bay for colorful rocket cars. Finally he stood and wandered the dream’s eccentric lands, not touching anything, or talking to anyone. Wherever he went his hand hovered over the dagger. It silently tempted him, mocked him… Milo was miserable, but if he broke free, all these people wouldn’t exist anymore.
But then he stopped.
Wait a minute… he thought. This is only a dream. When I go back home these people won’t be real! It doesn’t matter if they die! He again reached for his dagger and pulled it from its sheath with a crisp grate-- a relief to his ears. It was the first clear sound he’d heard in such a long time.
“Their souls will vanish into the winds,” echoed the impish voice. Milo hesitated. “Do it. Break the glass. May you choke on their blood.”
“They don’t exist!” Milo protested steadfastly.
“They exist here,” the voice said darkly. “Are you really that selfish?”
“I’m not selfish!” Milo cried. “They aren’t real, and I can’t take this anymore! I’m hungry and lonely, and I want to go home! I miss my friends and my family!”
“This is your world. You live here now.”
Milo’s face contorted with rage as he pulled back his arm and rammed the point of the dagger into the wall—clink! It cracked like a windshield.
Milo’s eyes shot open. Rain pattered against paneling as he stared at his bedroom ceiling. Wait, that’s right, he had a bedroom… And he lived in a house, and he went to school. What day was it again? Uh… oh, Saturday, I think. What a weird dream… His mind raced, but faded. Half of the dream was already forgotten, and yet it felt like he had awoken from a past life. It was hazy, but so vivid. Heaving himself off the bed, he headed toward the living room, leaving the Celtic’s cap on his pillow.
His mom was eating Cheerios. She looked up and smiled. “Morning, sunshine. Bowl’s set out for you.”
Milo sat across from her and grabbed the box. “I just had a really weird dream,” he grumbled as he opened the cardboard flaps.
“Yeah … I can’t really remember it though. But it was so weird.” Thunder rolled outside as he poured the cereal. “I didn’t know it would be raining today.”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “They were predicting about an inch today.”
“Huh…” Milo’s gaze floated idly to the window in the TV room—and he froze. Thin red creaks slid down the pane and spilled over the sill.
It was raining blood.
He jolted from his chair and pointed a trembling finger. “MOM—what’s going on?!” he shrieked. “It’s blood! The rain is blood!”
His mother stared at him, startled. “Milo…? Sweetheart, are you okay?”
Kelen—the guys! Sherri! Oh my God, Sherri! “Mom! Where’s Sherri?”
“Sherri…? Milo, what are you talking about? Who’s Sherri?”
Milo’s eyes shot open. Sherri stood over him and yanked off his hat, pulling it firmly over her ponytail. A glittery red fairy hovered over her shoulder with its fists pressed firmly on its hips. They both pouted angrily.
“That’s for stealing my hat, butthead!”
The fairy stuck its tongue out as Sherri turned to leave. “Pppplllbb!” It looped in mid-air and swept back beside her neck. “Man,” she muttered into the hallway, “you do one cool thing for your brother and he’s all, like…”
Milo’s head hit the pillow.
Sherri flopped onto her bed and sighed. The fairy let out a soft, sympathetic whimper and landed on her shoulder. “So much for him playing with me… Tildalune?” she asked, without turning her head. “You think I should say I’m sorry later? I mean, he was a jerk, but we were so mean.” She stared solemnly at the floor.
Tildalune frowned. Its tiny arm reached up and tenderly stroked her hair. “I’m sorry, Sherri,” it said brokenly, nuzzling its nose into her cheek. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so cruel. Seeing you hurt makes me so angry.”
Sherri smiled weakly. “Thanks… At least now he’ll know what it’s like to feel alone.”
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