I wrote this for contest #268 (set your story at the boundary between two realms), but missed the deadline by seconds. Please enjoy!
For an entire year, Jamie came back to me in my dreams. He’d knock on my door and say, “I messed up.” And just like that, we were back together. The dreams were so real. Nothing Jamie said, nothing he wore, nothing he did was so much as a sliver off of real life. During those dreams, all of the pain I’d been carrying would melt off of me. It was, for a year, the only time of the day I felt anything close to happiness.
You might think, then, that I looked forward to going to sleep. The problem was that when I woke up there was always a period of time when I didn’t know I had been dreaming and I really thought that Jamie and I were back together. Once I realized it had all been a dream, every single time, the pain hit me all over again. The constant grief was exhausting.
As I approached the one year anniversary of when Jamie left, October 21st, my despair was unbearable. I couldn’t face another year of this cycle, but I saw no way out. An opaque fog settled in my brain. On October 15th, as I was laying in bed, knowing it was a bad idea, I called him.
“Samill?” I whispered.
Nothing happened for some time. I rolled over, reluctantly, to fall asleep.
“Giving up so soon?”
“You’re here,” was all I managed to say.
“You asked me for me, did you not?”
I pushed myself up my pillow. “Yeah, but I didn’t think it would, like, work.”
Samill laughed. “It worked. What do you need?”
“Well,” I hesitated, embarrassed. I looked around my room like something there would make it easier to explain myself. “I’m, I’m in pain. And I need your help.”
Samill could barely keep the light out of his eyes. Coming to him vulnerable was dangerous; the price for his help would be steep.
He looked at me appraisingly. “No. I can’t help you.”
“Can’t or won’t?” I asked, trying to hide my desperation. “What’s happening to me, it’s not normal. It’s been almost a year and every day hurts as much as the last. It’s torment. He comes back to me in dreams. They’re so real. And when I wake up, I forget it was a dream. It’s like he breaks up with me all over again every morning. Please, you must realize that this isn’t normal. I need help.”
Tears were starting to spill down my face.
“Dreams, you say?” Samill looked at me curiously.
“Yes. But they’re nothing like any dream I’ve ever had; they’re more like memories.”
He said nothing at first.
“I’m not asking for you to heal my heartbreak. Just take the dreams away. There has to be something that will stop them.”
“Dreams are powerful places; thin, liminal spaces.” He said. “You could ask the gods of the dream realm to take the dreams away.”
“I’ve never heard of the dream realm,” I said.
“Most mortals haven’t, except the unluckiest ones. It exists on the other side of our dreams and memories. There are six gods who live there, running the place like an opium den. People who have managed to enter the dream realm usually descend into madness. But if you stay focused, you’re probably safe.”
“This sounds like a trap,” I said. “What’s in the dream realm that you want?”
Samill feigned indignation. “Me? I have no ulterior motive.”
“There has to be something. What is it? Something you want me to steal? Someone you want me to kill?”
Samill sat on the side of my bed and smiled at me. “You begging for my assistance is immensely valuable to me long term, believe me.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Ok, how do I get there?”
His eyes brightened. “Tonight, when you’re asleep, and your paramour comes to your dream, try to access your conscious mind; realize you’re in the dream. Have you ever done that?”
“Yeah, to end nightmares.”
“Then, find your power within and look for the entrance into the dream realm.”
“Where’s the entrance?”
“I can’t say. It depends on your dream. Something will stick out, something unusual. That’s how you’ll get in there.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“But who do I ask to take the dreams away?” I asked.
“I imagine Nainu would be most amenable to helping you. You won’t be able to miss them, they’re monstrous.”
I shuddered. “Do I need to offer them anything?”
“That’s up to them,” he said with a smile. He looked at me seriously one more time. “It’s going to be tempting in there. Don’t get distracted. It will be easy to get lost and if you do, well…” And he disappeared with a faint pop.
It took me a long while to fall asleep.
Around 7:30 pm, there were three, rapid knocks on my door. I looked apprehensively through the peephole. It was Jamie, smiling sheepishly.
“Hey, Pheeb. Can I come in?”
My heart pounded so fast I couldn’t speak. I ripped the door open and stared at him a moment, willing myself not to throw myself at him.
He stepped toward the door, and I stood aside to let him in. We stood, face to face, in the hallway. He took my hand and said, “I really messed up, Phoebe. I’m sorry. I want to come back.”
I buried my face in his chest. He wrapped his arms around me. I could hear him smelling my hair.
Finally, I said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
I took him by the hand into my living room. I curled in next to him on my couch, my head on his shoulder. He gently stroked my hair while we watched re-runs of The Office.
This is where the dream usually left me; with Jamie, safe and calm. This time, though, I tapped back into reality. My conscious mind banged in my head until finally the dream version of me understood, This is just a dream.
I stared at Jamie, with my real eyes, appreciating his face and hair. If everything went as planned, I would never see him again after this.
I stood up to go find the entrance to the dream realm, but thought, what could it hurt? I could spend just a few more minutes with Jamie. It would be just a conversation or two; some extra time.
“Remember the grumpy old guy from up the street who suntanned on the sidewalk?” I asked, playfully, sitting down again.
He laughed. “How could I forget? How’s he doing?”
“He died, if you can believe it. This neighborhood got significantly less beautiful.”
“Really? What happened?”
“I’m not sure, but it turns out he was like ninety-five.”
“Wow, he looked great,” Jamie laughed. “Rest in peace suntanning man.”
“I’ve been dying to tell you that,” I said, grabbing his hand.
He smiled. “I have so much to tell you, too.”
I felt a weird pull, like I was being sucked into the couch. Oh, no, I’m waking up. I quickly put my face into his chest as I was pulled back into consciousness.
Damnit. I squandered a dream. But it felt so good. And for the first time in 359 days, I didn’t wake up sobbing.
The next night, I fell asleep, resolving stay on task.
This time I knew I was dreaming when I heard the knock on the door. I went to the door, a smile on my face as I opened it.
“Phoebe.” Jamie said, smiling.
“Jamie,” I grabbed hand. “Come in.”
He bent down and kissed me. For the last time
Using all of my willpower, I said, “I’ll be right back, ok?”
“Sure thing,” Jamie answered.
I went into my bedroom, taking a second to calm my mind, and summoned my power. In the corner of the room by the window an oval-shaped shimmer appeared near the wall. I stepped toward it.
“Phoebe?” Jamie asked, standing in the bedroom doorway.
“Jamie, hey,” I said, surprised. I moved my body to block shimmer.
“Is this real?” He asked.
My stomach dropped. “What do you mean?”
“Last night and tonight I had these dreams. We were together and when I woke up… I don’t know how to say it. It wasn’t my dream, it wasn’t in my head. It was yours. Is this your dream?”
I said nothing.
“Are you hiding something?” He asked, trying to see around me.
“No, just.” I stepped closer to the corner. “Listen, can you just step into the hallway a second?”
“Phoebe, are you a witch or something?”
“It’s complicated, Jamie.”
“I knew it. I knew something had changed.” He ran his hands through his hair.
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Two years ago, something changed. You felt different. I was so stressed being around you. I tried to ignore it for so long.”
I bit the inside of my cheek near to bleeding to keep from crying. I never asked for my power back.
“Look, Jamie, Go into hallway." I was desperate to enter the portal before it closed. "I’m sorry I can't give more answers.”
He looked stricken, but stepped out of the room.
I leaned into the shimmer, breathing in sharply as the bitter chill hit my face, and was pulled out of my bedroom and in to another place entirely. It was strangely colorful, like bad photo filters. Golden mountains jutted up out of tiny green hills. There were many, indistinct, noises. I walked along an endless pathway that seemed made of light. It was the only thing I could see that gave any sense of direction.
A hand landed on my shoulder. I screamed, grabbing it, and bringing the person to the ground with one fast motion.
“Jamie?” I gasped. “What the… How did you get in here?”
He looked up, shocked. “I just went into that corner. In your room.”
Panic rose in me. “Jamie, you have to go back, right now. This isn’t safe. I’ll walk you back, ok?”
We turned back, but everything behind me looked different. The path behind me was smudged away like charcoal; the golden mountains gone.
Oh no. I'm disoriented. I wanted to scream, but I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me, neither Jamie nor I would get out.
“Ok," I said, "Listen to me.”
Jamie looked at me.
“You have to stay next to me. And please, trust me. Trust that everything I’m asking you to do is for your own safety.”
We came to a break in the road that looked like a small village. Little mounds littered the ground; they were piles of writhing people; some laughing, others crying. The light path ended at a brick wall that ran interminably in either direction. In the center, just in front of us, was a wrought iron gate guarded by a silver woman in rags.
“What do you seek?”
I glanced at Jamie and then said, “An audience with Nainu.”
She turned her head toward me, she had no eyes. “Nainu does not take audiences.”
“What do you require to let us past?”
“Give me a dream. Your best dream. I no longer have any of my own. I lived too long ago for memory.”
“How do I give it to you?” I asked. Jamie gestured like he intended to stop me, but I held him back.
“I’ll take it.” She pointed to my forehead, placing one finger there. Images zoomed before my eyes and finally landed on a dream I used to have as a girl of Stella and I flying through the clouds.
She smiled wanly. “I have always loved the sky,” she said, tucking the dream into a bundle of rags on her chest.
She opened the gate. The other side was all marble and gleaming metal. A group of plush divans and arm chairs were clustered toward the center.
“Nainu? Your… excellency.” I called. “I seek your audience.”
Stillness descended. A figure, half golden bear, half man, rose from a chair and turned toward us.
“You’ve been too long in this realm, mortal. You play a dangerous game.”
I spoke quickly. “I’m being tormented by a dream. I beg you, take it from me.”
“I am not at the beck and call of mortals.”
“Is there something I can give, in exchange?”
“Samill, of course. It would be a prize to imprison him here.”
I swallowed nervously. “That’s not possible. He is too wily and too powerful. He gets the better of me time and again.”
Nainu laughed. “You’re correct. He’s the one who has been sending the dreams.”
Anger surged up from my feet and to my head. Of course he did.
“Contain your anger, mortal. I can still help you with the dream. I’ll take him,” he said, pointing a massive claw at Jamie.
“No,” I said, immediately. “I’ll just live with the dream. Thank you for meeting with me and we’ll be out of your hair in just a moment.”
I grabbed Jamie’s hand and ran away as quickly as I could, but Nainu appeared just as quickly in front of me to block me. He was laughing.
“You take risks you do not understand, woman. Give me the man.”
Jamie looked terrified but was trying to maintain a brave face.
“Let’s go,” I said. “This is the dream realm. Let’s dream.”
I understood somehow that I could manipulate this environment. I imagined the ground beneath Jamie and I rising us up above Nainu and over the wall and it happened, we soared into the air. I pulled Jamie close to me to keep him from falling. We were almost over the wall when Nainu knocked the mountain of ground out from under us and we fell, but I countered with a pile of pillows. On the ground, we ran, zig-zagging. I threw whatever barriers came to mind at Nainu, spikes, poles, a car. Nainu’s claw emerged from a fog behind me and managed to tear the cloth on my shirt. We had reached the gate, and I willed that it become smoke.
The mounds of people, trapped and tormented in dreamland, emerged from their heaps to chase us down, coming from every direction. I blasted them away with explosions from my hand. We ran and ran in the direction that I thought was whence we came, but there was no path, no walls, no direction.
“Stop, hold on a second,” I said to Jamie, panting. Our pursuers were gone, but I feared we were trapped.
“Phoebe, can you explain what in the ever-loving hell is happening right now?”
I panted a few more times, “No, I don’t think so. Come closer to me, wrap your arms around me from behind.”
He stood behind me and pulled his arms around my waist. Some part of my brain appreciated how nice it felt. I knew that my entrance into the dream realm could not be some fixed, geographical location, so it must be a liminal entrance created in my own mind, depending on different circumstances and my own power. If I could make this space in my dream apartment, I could make it here. I stilled myself, concentrating as hard as I could, and summoned power from my core. Nothing happened.
A voice boomed. “Trapped. Lost. Now you will both me mine.”
Jamie whimpered lightly.
“It’s ok, I got this. I promise.”
This time, I focused on my rage; my searing anger at Samill. I felt for my power again and this time I found it. The shimmer appeared in front of us. I pulled Jamie as close to me as possible, and dove through it. As we were falling through the space I heard Nainu laugh, “I’ll see you in your dreams, Phoebe.”
We were back in my apartment, still in a dream. Jamie collapsed forward on to the bed, half crying, half laughing. “I had no idea you could do any of that. That was incredible.”
I smiled, my eyes fillings with tears. I would love to have shared this part of me with Jamie. But, as I just learned, Jamie was, and would always be, in danger with me.
“I love you,” I said. “And I’m sorry this happened.”
“No, look, I… I have missed you a lot. And it’s all a lot to process, but…”
I shook my head.
“What?” He asked.
“You’re not going to remember. It’s for your own good.”
I put my hands on his chest and sent him to sleep, taking the memory of the dream from him as I did. Afterward, I passed out immediately and woke up in my real bedroom, no tears in my eyes.
“Samill!” I called. He was already there. He started to say something to me, but I interrupted. “You have made a grave mistake, Samill.”
“Oh?” He said, smiling from ear-to-ear. “Please, tell me how.”
I walked over to him, looking into his strangely glowing face.
“You’ve made an enemy of me.”
He burst out laughing. “Good gods. You’re serious.”
“I’ll admit that my experience with gods is limited, Samill, but there’s one thing in common with every god I’ve ever met. Do you know what it is?”
“They all hate you. They all want to kill you. And now I have a very good reason to help any of them who asks for my help tracking you down.”
The grin on his face faltered just a moment. “Aren’t you testy. I want us to be friends. I’ll take the dream away now.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, “It won’t come back. Now get out.” I shoved him, hard, into my wall and he disappeared through it.
I never dreamed of Jamie again, but I went on missing him.
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Oh, I can't tell you how happy I am for a sequel to Samill the Trickster. That remains one of my favorite stories I've read so far on Reedsy, and I'm happy to read more about Phoebe and Samill :) Nice work, Catherine! --Tommie Michele
Terrific characters and story line would love to see this as a Netflix series...unlimited possibilities that are very interesting and emotionally entrancing...I'm addicted
Hey, what's up. I really enjoyed reading your short story. I'm currently developing a app which includes short stories and I would like to implement yours. Is that ok with you? Have a nice day
I enjoyed the story, lots of atmosphere. Maybe filling it out with more menace and descriptive phrases would increase the atmosphere!