Damien looked up to the sky, praying to the stars that this would prove to be the answer to all his problems. The stars blinked and glittered, refusing to give him any hints of what was coming.
Taking a deep breath, Damien walked into the building. Paint flaked from the walls, and not a single chair in the waiting room looked safe to sit in. The front desk was solid wood, and behind the desk sat a very blonde, very bored-looking girl around Damien’s age chewing gum.
“Welcome to North Star, where dreams come true.” the girl said with a monotone voice. She glanced up and down Damien. “Whaddya want? To be a hero? To be great?”
“Yes,” he said nervously. “I’m not sure how. I heard this was one of the best places to go.”
“You rethinking your decision?” the girl asked, popping her gum. Damien couldn’t help nodding. The girl rolled her eyes knowingly, saying, “Is it the furniture?”
The girls snorted. “Figured. The Dream Maker is always trying to drive freeloaders away. So are you staying or leaving?”
“Fill this out.” The girl handed him a stack of paperwork. “It shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. Ish.”
“Can I borrow a pen?” Damien asked. The girl smirked but didn’t say anything. She didn’t hand him a pen either. Damien sighed and looked down at the paper, mentally filling the blanks.
Full Name: Damien Alandro
Birthplace: St. Louis, MO
Birthdate: April 24th, 1999
Dream: Just that my family is happy.
Damien looked through all the paperwork, then asked if he could go home, fill it out, then come back. The girl smirked again, and told him to look one more time at the paperwork. Damien did, and to his surprise, all the blanks were filled in.
He looked back up at the girl. “How- what the... Um, here you go, I guess.”
The girl flipped through his work, and nodded in satisfaction. “You’re still missing something though.”
“What?” Damien was surprised. He had just done a ton of paperwork. What more could there be?
“The Dream Maker is ready whenever you’ve figured it out.” The girl stood up. “I’ll go let The Dream Maker know you’re almost ready.”
The girl walked away from Damien, and began to open a rickety door he assumed led to the dream maker’s office.
“Wait!” Damien called, realizing something. “You never told me your name.”
The girl turned and smiled at him. “You never asked.”
“Will you tell me?”
“I will. My name’s Henrika.”
“Henrika.” Damien repeated her name. “It’s gorgeous.”
“Thank you. The Dream Maker will see you now.”
Damien stood up. He wasn’t about to question beautiful Henrika, who the more he looked at the more he was enthralled by her. She clearly wasn’t new here. He wondered at her relationship to the dream maker. How did she know all he needed was to ask her name?
Henrika held the door for him, before leading him down a well lit hall. They entered a silver doorway, where she left him in an empty domed room. She ordered him to stay there until she returned when the appointment was over.
“Well,” Damien said to himself. “That was a warm welcome.”
After about fifteen minutes of waiting, waiting, waiting, a hunched-over, wrinkled woman walked in. Her hands were clasped in front of her, and a thin silver veil covered her hair and face.
“I am the dream maker.” the woman said, her voice soft and familiar. “What is your dream? What have you wanted all your life?”
“I-” Damien paused. He knew what he wanted. He wanted his family to be happy. But, something seemed off. “Do I know you?”
The woman looked away. “Of course not. I haven’t left this building for more than a hundred years. Now, back to business. What is your dream?”
Damien looked closer at the woman. Something was still wrong. Was his only dream to make his family happy? Did they really deserve this? Damien’s thoughts flew to his family, scrutinizing them one by one. His mother, a former drunk in a painful cycle of sobriety. His father, who wished to wander but stayed still for the sake of his family. His older sister, now a mean, spiteful woman. His younger brother, still a high school dropout.
Of course they deserved this. They did, they did, they did. Damien opened his mouth to tell the woman this, but instead, he found himself asking about the secretary, Henrika. “Where did you find her?”
“You could say she found me. Your dream?” The woman was still turned away, but Damien was growing more and more certain that there was something she wasn’t saying. He took a step forward.
“I want my family to be happy. That is my dream.” Damien said. The woman nodded and turned to face him.
“Yes, yes.” she said, approvingly. “Unselfish. Tell me your family’s names, and soon you will see them smile. It might not be immediate, because I am not a miracle worker.”
Damien nodded. The woman took another minute to look him over before turning to leave. “Soon… soon your dream will be made.”
Damien started to follow her, but the woman held her hand up. “No. You stay here.”
Damien sighed as he watched the dream maker leave. What a confusing woman. And what a confusing meeting. Something tickled the back of his brain as wrong. Something was off, but for the moment, he was just going to wait for Henrika to come back.
Again, after about fifteen minutes of waiting, Henrika returned. “So, how was it?”
“Good, but something seemed off.”
“Off how?” Henrika leaned forward.
“I think I knew her, but she said she hadn’t left the building for a hundred years. That means she would've been born here, but she seemed…” Damien trailed off. Where was he going with this?
“She seemed what?” Henrika asked softly and almost threateningly.
“I don’t know. Maybe like she was hiding something.”
Henrika’s look darkened. She slammed Damien against the wall, and her voice was sharp as a knife. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Ye- yes.” Damien’s eyes were wide and his breath came faster, and the thought passed through his mind that maybe she was crazy. Henrika’s grip on him slackened.
“I’m sorry, Damien. I just, I haven’t --ugh, why is this so hard?”
“It’s okay. Just tell me what’s going on. Please. I want to help.”
“I know. Come with me.” Henrika grabbed Damien’s hand and dragged him down the hallway. They passed at least fifty doorways, all grand and impressive, and often embellished with gems or gold. Finally, they stopped in front of a small door that seemed out of place from the rest of the hall.
“Through here.” Henrika said, dropping down to her knees. “Follow me.”
Damien followed her. The door led to an equally small tunnel, which the two had to crawl through. When the ceiling was finally tall enough for them to stand, Damien asked, “Why did we have to crawl?”
“Are you doubting me?” Henrika asked, shooting him a look. Damien shook his head. Of course he wasn’t, he was just curious. Henrika relaxed. “Okay, come on. This is where I work.”
She motioned towards the wall, then stepped forward and pushed on the wall. It swung around, pushing them into a new room.
This room was broad with a low ceiling. It was a sort of organized chaos. Computers lined one wall, and racks of clothes, wigs, and makeup covered two others. The wall that hid the entrance was half-lined by tables, all of which were covered with papers, office supplies, and other junk. Against the other side was a small bed, bookshelf, and mini appliances.
“Is this where you live?” Damien asked, looking around in awe. Did she really live in one room? He decided that the beautiful Henrika really was crazy. The realization only made him fall for her harder.
“Yes.” she replied, turned to face him. “And you need to keep it a secret. No one else has seen through my disguises before.”
“Disguises? Wait, were you--”
“The Dream Maker. Yes, she was me and I was her.” Henrika interrupted him. When he asked her why, her response was simple. “You would trust an old lady’s word better than you would trust a little girl’s, right?”
Damien stared at her. Henrika was growing stranger by the minute. Damien turned away from her, pretending to be interested in all her disguises. “So, how many disguises do you have?”
“A lot. I haven’t not worn a disguise in years.”
“Why all the disguises?”
“Jeez, you ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”
Damien blushed. Henrika sat on her bed and offered him a seat. “I’m not who you think I am.”
Damien looked away, embarrassed. Henrika continued “I’m not exactly sure how old I am. Probably close to your age. Only I’m haunted.”
“Really?” Damien asked. He wasn’t sure which he was more curious about: the fact that she was his age, or that she was haunted.
“Yeah. My family hasn’t left this building for centuries, and their souls rest in me. I may be young, but I know hundreds of years. When I was younger, when my mother still bore the weight of the curse, I tried to sneak out. The sun was blinding, and the people were terrifying. Someone saw me, and called the police. The wailing sirens scared me so badly, I ran back inside. The police had seen me though, and followed me. That’s when…” Henrika broke off. Damien offered a hug, and Henrika leaned into him. “That’s when… That’s when I lost my mother. So I took over the family business, making dreams come true. And I fell in love with it. I could’ve left, but I didn’t because I was scared. And now I’m glad I didn’t.”
Damien held Henrika in his arms. She shivered, and Damien shifted so he could pull the blanket over her. Henrika continued talking, but she wasn’t talking to Damien anymore. Her eyes were spaced out, and she was reliving a time long gone by. “The police didn’t hurt her. My mother. She ran, wouldn’t let them help. They couldn’t find me, but my mother was gone. I was too scared to move. About a year later, I felt heaviness. Soul-crushing heaviness. The heaviness of souls. I knew my mother had died.”
Damien rubbed her back. “It’s okay, I’m here.” He repeated the words over and over. Henrika eventually fell asleep, and he laid her down on the bed. He laid down next to her, being careful not to wake her up. “I’m here for you.” he whispered, before falling asleep beside her.
When Damien woke up, Henrika was leaning over him. “Damien?”
“I’m awake! I’m awake! Is something wrong?”
“No, I just haven’t seen anyone sleeping before. I forgot you were here.” Henrika said, pulling away from Damien. “Did I wake you up? Go back to sleep.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I promise.” Damien stood up. “Okay, let’s get to work. How can I help?”
“Um, I don’t know. Have you seen me out of disguise yet?”
“Aren’t you out of disguise now?”
Henrika shook her head. “No. In reality, my skin’s paler, my hair’s darker, and I have gray eyes, not green or brown— what color did I put in yesterday?”
“Um, somewhere in between. I think they’re hazel. Could I see you with no costume?” Damien asked. Henrika bit her lip. She pushed her hair back, and fidgeted.
“I don’t know…” Henrika looked away. Damien frowned. He didn’t understand. Didn’t Henrika trust him? At least a little?
“Sorry. I can’t do that.” Henrika said. She slipped off the bed and ran. Damien followed, concerned. Henrika crawled through the tunnel, and scampered up and down stairs after winding through halls, with Damien on her tail.
“Henrika! Wait!” Damien called after her. “You don't have to!”
They ran for several minutes, eventually looping back to Henrika’s bedroom. “Are you… --huff-- Are you okay?”
Damien took a step forward. Henrika skittered along the edges of the room, but didn’t take off again. “Please,” Damien asked. “I want to help.”
“You keep saying that.” Henrika said.
“Really, I do. Don’t uncostume if you’d rather not.”
“But… why? Why did you ask?”
“Because I think you’re pretty. And I want to see you the way you are.”
“I’ve never had someone else to trust before. I’ve read about it in books though.” Henrika pointed to her bookshelf. “Can I?”
“You can trust me.”
Henrika nodded. “Come with me, I’ll have to bathe to get the color out. The bathroom’s over here.”
Damien blushed. “I’ll stay here. I don’t need to watch you wash. Really.”
“But you need cleaning too. There’s room for both of us.”
“I don’t have clothes.”
“I have some clothes that would fit you.”
“No buts. Come on.”
Reluctantly, Damien followed Henrika to the bathroom. It was quite large, with marble walls and floors. There were two different sizes of bathtubs, a shower, a swimming pool, and an armoire. Henrika dug through the drawers, looking for clothes that would fit Damien. Eventually she held out two outfits. One was casual, with jeans and a striped t-shirt, while the other was dressier.
“Which one? I like casual, but a polo and tie is always classy.”
“The casual one.” Damien replied. She did the same for her clothes, settling on a periwinkle tunic and leggings. Henrika walked over to the larger bathtub. She turned on the water and started to get undressed. Damien’s eyes widened as her clothes fell to the ground and she slipped into the steaming water.
Seeing Damien’s expression, Henrika asked what was wrong. “Are you good? You can join me, there’s plenty of room.”
“Um, well, outside this building, people don’t, I mean, I shouldn’t get naked by you.”
“It’s, um, hard to explain.” Damien said. Why didn’t she know this stuff? Didn’t her mom explain it? Maybe she was still too young when her mother died…
“If you don’t want to share a bathtub, you can fill up the other one.”
Damien sighed in relief. He turned on the water, asking, “Who pays the water bill?”
“Whoever owns the building.”
“Mm, I'm pretty sure it’s my dad. He took off a while ago, but still tries to check on me. Sometimes he brings me a new book. Always asking about boys.”
Damien nodded and undressed, trying to keep himself mostly covered, since Henrika was looking at him intently. “Tell me about yourself,” she asked. “I like to swim. I’m pretty sure I have a pair of swimming trunks somewhere, if you’d like to swim after we’re cleaned up.”
“Um, I used to swim. I kinda fell out of practice after one of my bosses fired me.” Damien said, trying to distract himself. Henrika was standing up, washing with a sort of pink foam. As she washed, color drained from her skin and hair, leaving her with vampire-pale skin and silky brown hair. Henrika popped the hazel contacts out, leaving her with cool grey eyes. She poured water over herself, rinsing away the foam.
Henrika stepped out of the bathtub, squeezed out her hair, and walked over to the armoire. She bent over, looking for swimming trunks for Damien. She groaned when she couldn’t find anything. “I’m sorry, Damien, I couldn’t find anything. I could make you pair.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I have a better idea. To warm you up to going outside.” Damien said, taking the chance to wash up while Henrika was distracted.
Henrika turned to face him. “What?”
“The stars.” he said. “Can you put on clothes?”
“Oh. Yeah. I forgot you don’t like being naked.” Henrika said, passing him his clothes. She put on her clothes, then watched as Damien put on his. “Can we go see the stars now? I’ve never seen them.”
“Really?” Damien asked. “They’re absolutely beautiful, like a million tiny diamonds. Is there a way to get to the roof?”
“Oh, sure.” Henrika grabbed his hand and dashed out of the bathroom and up stairs, dragging Damien behind her. As they reached the top of the stairs, Damien tripped and they fell through the door to the roof in a heap. Damien’s face burned red. Why, oh why, did he have to fall on her?
Henrika recovered first, stood up, and helped Damien up. “Thank you,” Damien said. He brushed himself off. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
When Henrika didn’t answer, Damien took a good, long look at her. She was staring straight up. Her eyes sparkled, and her face was stretched into a smile. Actually, Henrika was radiant, like she was absorbing the starlight. Her hand groped at the sky, trying to grab a star.
“Do you like them?”
Henrika sighed happily. “I never knew anything more beautiful.” She leaned over to give him a hug. “Thank you.”
“It was nothing. The stars are always there.”
“And you’ll be there for me?”
“And I’ll always be there for you.”
“Always?” Damien asked.
“Always,” Henrika replied, a different sort of smile spreading across her face. "Always."