“She always does this to me, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place once again.” I raged, deep in thought. “Sophia where ARE you! Enough now, come out! It’s time to go back!” I screamed. But my words just echoed into the darkness of the dream space. It’s getting late. The sun will be up any minute. Damn that girl, she always fooling around, never thinking of the consequences. MY consequences, since I’m always the rescuer behind her ill thought out adventures. “Sophie I’m leaving you here if you don’t show yourself right now! I mean it this time; I’m not getting trapped here!” I shouted again. I shuttered at the thought. Getting trapped in the dream space until nightfall might as well be an eternity. I wasn’t doing it again.
Stumbling forward, I tried to find anything that looked like tracks, but mist covered the ground, and this part of the forest was dense. I let out a cry of frustration. Tears started streaming down my face as I fell to the dirty ground. “Sophie. Sophie please, I can’t do this again, I can’t handle another night here. Not again, please!” I mumbled through my sobs.
“Oh, poor dear. Poor, poor dear. What ails you, Miss? Maybe I can help.” A soft voice called to me. Caught up in emotion, without thinking I called back “Sophie! My sister Sophie! I can’t find her anywhere. Just my luck we’d be in the damn forest this time. I hate the forest most of all. We have to get home before…” I paused. Looking around, I couldn’t find the source of the voice. Mother’s words echoed in my ear. “Trust no one, nothing, not even the friendly and familiar. The dream space is full of tricksters. They’ll keep you there forever if you let them. You’ll know a true friend by the feeling in your heart.” I nodded, as if it were to her, signaling I understood.
“Home before, what, dear?” The voice spoke again.
“Oh, just home before my mother wakes up, I wouldn’t want to worry her, I live just on the edge of the mountain side, my sister just likes to wander here.” I was hoping I could make myself sound convincing, like I was a dream creature, just lost. But the voice wasn’t buying it.
“Oh…oh I see….” It said in suspicion. “Well, never fear, my dear. I can find your sister and guide you home.”
“No, that’s okay. I was just having a myself a moment, that’s all. I’m okay to search now, she can’t have gone that far. In fact, I think I hear her little voice, calling in the brush! Sophie, I’m coming!” I dusted off my nightgown and bolted down the path. “Thank you anyway!” I shouted back to the voice. I was just far away enough that I barely heard it call back “We’ll get you one day you know, both of you!” as it cackled.
Normally when one enters the dream space, it’s to manifest a fantasy world. A happy place, where the sky is the limit. But sometimes a nightmare is stronger than a dream and it takes over. Sophie must have been having a nightmare when I entered her dream space. I’d never been to a place like this before. The trees towered over me, leaving no room for light to come through. Just up ahead, there seemed to be a clearing. I dashed for it, hoping to catch at least a hint of Sophie’s trail. But as I pushed through the brush, two giant doors stared back at me.
They were intimidating and seemed to go on forever. There was no way around them. Two gargoyles seemed to be guarding their own door. The left was chunkier, and almost seemed to be smiling. The right stood in a defensive position with a scowl. I let out a massive sigh. I was no closer to Sophie, or getting out of here, and now I could see the sky lighting up, signaling dawn. It would be another 15 hours until the sun set again. Another 15 hours in this Hell.
“Come now, Sunshine, why so blue?” Great. More voices from the void. “Over here darlin’, I don’t bite.” This time I noticed the mouth on the gargoyle by the left moving.
“Did you just speak?” I asked it. I felt a little silly talking to a statue.
“I sure did!” It chuckled.
“Speak? He never shuts up!” The one on the right called.
“Now you pipe down. I’m trying to get to know our new friend here. What did you say your name was again, lovely?”
“I didn’t” I replied hesitantly. “It’s Janey” I lied. I wasn’t about to give any creatures here my real name.
“Oh, c’mon now, we both know that isn’t true, doll. Or this sweet thing would have been calling you all this time. A shimmer appeared on the left door, and I could just make out my baby sister in its image, curled up on a stone floor. She was crying out for me. “Gretchen! Gretchen I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Please help me. Please!” The image faded away. Now I understood, Sophie couldn’t leave, she was too paralyzed with fear.
“What kind of game is this? Where’s my sister? What have you done with her!” I screamed.
“Us?” Lefty scoffed. “Not a thing, scouts honor. But the thing is darlin’, you need to start being honest with us, or we can’t let you keep going. We are all seeing, all knowing. One of our doors leads to your greatest desire. The other leads to your biggest fear. Only by telling the truth can we lead you down the proper door. So spill, give us the scoop, what is it that you fear the most?”
A look of utter horror and confusion swept across my face. “What? What’s that supposed to mean? How will that get my sister back?”
“Didn’t he just tell you that?” Righty snapped “Just tell the truth! Tell us what terrifies you most and we’ll guide you to your sister! Lie to us and your worst fear will manifest. So get on with it already! I’d like to get back to my nap.”
I thought for a moment. I’d love to be one of those normal people who can say they’re afraid of spiders or snakes, but my fears lie so much deeper than that. Was it this power? Mother taught us how to lucid dream just before she died. We were so young! I never fully understood why she wanted to share this “gift” with us in the first place. She said we could find our truest selves here. Seek advice, guidance, and peace if we could sort imagination from reality here. What a crock! I rarely come here. Only when I need to feel close to Mom. This was her space. I’ve always felt like a stranger here. But oh, the places she’d dream up and bring us to! I only seem to manifest nightmares, like the forest, no matter how much Mother tried to teach me and guide me toward the light. Not like Sophie. Sophie usually creates beautiful things, like Mom did. She was a natural. I was just a flop.
Could losing her be my biggest fear? Losing my baby sister to this fantasy world? She had been coming here almost every night. And there was that one time she almost disappeared entirely. Sophie knew the rules. Only manifest from sundown to dawn. Going in after her was nothing new, she’d fall asleep sun tanning on the beach, or manifested herself a pair of wings and got caught up souring with the birds. But that was the night was different. That’s the night she manifested Mom.
She’d been warned that the dead should stay dead. But Sophie is only 10 at the time, and she missed her mother. I don’t blame her for wanting to try. She was warned if we didn’t leave by sunup we would be stuck here until nightfall. But I practically had to rip her from this world when I found her, just sitting there in a field, talking with our mother. She didn’t want to leave, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to sit down next to her and talk to mom. Tell her how much better I was now that I wasn’t an angsty teen. Tell her I graduated with honors. Tell her I made the dean’s list at Georgetown. Tell her about my first job. First boyfriend. First heartache. All those things a girl should have her mother there for. Tell her how sorry I am for all the late-night fighting, the arguments over grades and attitude and how she just didn’t understand me. I’d take it all back if I could, just to make her proud. But this wasn’t mom. This was a manifestation. And the REAL mom would never let Sophie stay here so long she’s trapped. The REAL mom would hurry her along home, where she was safe. No, this wasn’t mom at all.
Sophie didn’t speak to me for weeks after that. As badly as it hurt, I didn’t care. I didn’t lose my sister that day, and that’s all that mattered. Finally I spoke up.
“Losing my sister to the dream space. That’s what scares me most.”
“Are you sure, girl? You only get one try at this.”
I paused a moment. “Yes, I’m sure.”
The gargoyles hummed simultaneously. “Right door, dear. And good luck.”
I nodded and pushed the right door open.
The wood continued, but the mist had cleared. I could see the outline of my sister’s slippers in the soil. The path was wide, and I noticed what looked like a cottage in the distance. Sophie must be in there. She had to be. “I’m coming, little sister” I whispered in affirmation to myself. As I ran, a figure started to form outside the entrance. I feared the voice from the start of the path was back to keep his promise and slowed to a fast-paced walk. But it was a woman. Her honey blonde hair and crystal green eyes matched mine. Her face appeared soft, and gentle, almost angelic. She wore a flowing white dress that was just a few shades off from her pale complexion. It was Mom.
As I approached her, my emotions flooded out. Of course, it wasn’t really Mom, but maybe this was my chance. Maybe I could say and do those things I wanted to do when she appeared for Sophie, just to get them off my chest. She held out her hands to me.
“Gretchen. My Gretchen. Come to me.” She said in a soft, quiet tone.
“…Mom.” I sobbed. I opened my mouth and let the words flow out, the apologies began, the accomplishments fired off. But she stopped me.
“Gretchen.” She smiled and touched my face as I continued to cry. “You are, by far…my greatest disappointment. Being your mother was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. You were in a constant state of gloom, impossible to connect with. Impossible to love. Your sister came so easily, she was always so eager and full of joy. You ruined that. You aren’t even half the mother I was to her. You failed her. And now you may have lost her forever.”
I fell to my knees, screaming. “But Mom…Mommy I tried so hard for you. I just want you to be love me. I just wanted to make you proud, I did my very best without you, for Sophie, I tried to love her like you would have… I…” And then it hit me. “Trust no one, nothing, not even the friendly and familiar. The dream space is full of tricksters. They’ll keep you there forever if you let them. You’ll know a true friend by the feeling in your heart.” And then the gargoyle’s words: “Lie to us and your worst fear will manifest” My worst fear wasn’t losing my sister. My sister knew this world was temporary. My sister knew what real love is, and that I’d always find my way back to her, because I love her just like Mom did. My biggest fear was failing them. Failing Sophie as a stand in mother, and failing mom as a daughter.
“You are not my Mother.” I told the figure. “My mother was full of warmth. My mother loved me. My mother would have been so proud of how I raised Sophie” The figure started to shriek. I stood up. “Even though we fought, even though she isn’t here to see it, my mother is proud of me.” I lifted my head high and walked toward the cottage as the figure backed up. Her face decayed, and melted away, and her dress turned to soot in the doorway. “My mother loved me. My mother was proud of me. My mother loved me.” I repeated to myself over and over. I had done it. I conquered my biggest fear. With confidence I slowly reached for the doorknob. Inside, a little girl was curled up in a ball on the floor, rocking herself back and forth.
“Sophie is that you? Please be you.” I called to the girl.
“GRETCHEN!” She screamed, wiping her tears on her filthy nightgown. She took a running leap and threw herself into my arms.
“Wait! I yelled. Tell me something only the real Sophie would know.
“Uhm. You’re my big sister, this is the dream space, we are NOT supposed to be here right now, and…and…” She let out a sob. “And I screwed up real bad Gretch. I’m so sorry.” She cried into my chest and I weaved my fingers into that honey blonde hair that matched mine. I felt it. The warmth in my heart that said I really was holding my baby sister.
“It’s okay, Soph. This isn’t real. This place isn’t real. We never have to come back here again.” I took her hand.
“Come on, we’ll ride this out together. Then let’s go home.”