I had been tossing and turning for hours. Finally, sleep, illusive sleep, seemed about to overtake me. But something began to tug me back from the very threshold of dreamland.
“Mistress? Mistress, please wake up!” It was my Cleric, tugging on the sleeve of my nightgown, and whispering urgently in my ear.
“Wha? Wassamatter?” I forced one eye open and tried to focus.
“Please, Mistress, I must speak with you!”
“Now?” I demanded, trying to ignore the panic in my Cleric’s voice. I checked the clock on my nightstand. “It’s two in the morning!” I grumbled, getting ready to roll over and court sleep again.
“Please, Mistress?” Her quiet voice was raw with emotion, and she rocked back and forth on her feet.
“Oh, very well, then. Talk!” Sleep is so overrated!
My Cleric glanced over at my husband, who was starting to stir on the other side of the bed. “Maybe we should adjourn to the conference room…or at the very least, step out into the hallway?” she suggested.
I gave my Cleric a dirty look, but allowed her to pull me out of my nice, warm, cozy bed. She handed me my robe, and after three attempts, I managed to pull it on. As she led me out of the room, I tripped over my own feet and crashed into the door.
“Oh, Mistress, do be more quiet,” my Cleric begged. Her wide eyes darted up and down the hall, as if she was expecting the hounds of hell to pop out of the bathroom.
I sat bolt upright in bed, wide awake. Had I been dreaming? I had the distinct feeling of déjà vu. I pondered the scene I had just . . . dreamed? Relived? Slowly, it came into focus. The incident had occurred many months previous. My Cleric had roused me in the middle of the night, in a panic. It was when my Bounty Hunter had found himself in this world, fallen out of the pages of my manuscripts, just like the other characters who now made their home here. But I hadn’t thought about that night in ages! Why should it have invaded my dreams this night? I shrugged and shook my head. Who could understand the workings of the subconscious mind? I slowly nestled back into my blankets and courted sleep once more.
I awoke with a start. Where am I? Wait! Let’s not start that again. I know where I am. I am in my own bed, sleeping next to my husband! I reached over to the other side of the bed, only to feel cold, empty sheets. Wait! Where’s my husband?
I awoke with a yelp. I immediately checked the other side of the bed. Miles was there, sleeping soundly. I could see him snuggled under the blankets, and I could hear the steady rhythm of his breathing accompanied by the faint whoosh of his CPAP machine. The scene from my dream was real, though. It had happened just yesterday. But, why dream about it? Nothing bad had happened. When I had gotten up yesterday, disoriented and concerned over Miles’ absence in our room, I had found him already in the kitchen. He had greeted me cheerily, and presented me with a cup of hot tea. Not much fodder for dreams.
Or was it a dream? I raked my hand through my hair and sighed heavily.
No, surely it was more than that. In the words of a famous baseball personality, it was like déjà vu all over again. For the second time that night, I had dreamed . . . or relived . . . something that had happened to me before. I had not just remembered it, I had experienced it again. Every detail. Every word. Every thought. Exactly as it had originally occurred.
I scowled and looked at the clock. It was still hours before first light. I huddled back into the warmth of my covers and closed my eyes. I needed sleep. Contemplating my dreams, and the reasons behind them, would wait until morning.
First thing in the morning — well, right after his seven-course breakfast — my Old Dwarf went outside. Miles and I stood by the French doors and watched him. First, he meandered about the perimeter of the property, hands behind his back, whistling. Then he wandered around the yard, going from tree to tree.
He peered up into each one in turn, smiling and nodding as if they were the most fascinating things he had ever seen. Then he ambled around the garden, stopping to bend over and sniff each and every variety of flower, still grinning and nodding. Each bird, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk and butterfly he saw was blatantly scrutinized.
Miles shook his head. “Can your Old Dwarf possibly be any more obvious?”
“Oh, I’m sure he could be, if he really tired.” I winked.
We turned at a noise behind us. My Foreman cleared his throat as he, and my Young Hero entered the room.
Only. . . only it wasn’t my Foreman and my Young Hero.
There, in the grass, was a trio of small, furry creatures, each no more than half a foot tall. I cautiously approached and looked closely at them. With their handsome golden-tan, sable-brown, and creamy-white markings, they appeared to be common Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels. One stood there on its hind legs, eyes closed, paws clasped in front of its face, as if in prayer or supplication. A second huddled in the thick grass, staring at us wide-eyed and ready to bolt. The third peered about curiously, taking in the entire scene and boldly eyeing us over its shoulder.
Wait. There, in the grass? Huddled in the thick grass? But, weren’t we in the living room?
I started thrashing about, and awoke with a thud as I fell out of the bed. What was happening? Why was I having these strange dreams?
The bed started creaking. I craned my neck, and I saw Miles prop himself up on one elbow and remove his CPAP mask. He looked at me, sprawled out on the floor, and furrowed his brow.
“Honey? Are you okay?”
“What are you doing down there?”
I glowered at him. “Why, I’m feeding the dust bunnies that live under the bed, of course!”
Miles chuckled and raised an eyebrow at me. “Really?”
“No, not really. What do you think I’m doing down here? I fell out of bed!”
“Well, ask the dust bunnies to help you back up. Just be careful they don’t bite you. I hear dust bunnies can be very vicious, especially if they haven’t been fed recently.” Miles kept a straight face, but merriment danced in his eyes.
I pulled myself up from the floor, crawled back into bed, grabbed my pillow and beaned my husband with it.
“Hey! What was that for?” Miles tried to look indignant, but his grin belied any annoyance.
“That was for being sarcastic.”
“I’m sorry. How did you manage to fall out of bed?”
“I was having a dream.”
“Not exactly. And it wasn’t just one dream.”
Miles listened attentively as I detailed the strange dreams, and the feelings of déjà vu they engendered. When I finished, Miles looked a bit pale.
“What is it?”
“I remember bits and pieces of dreams I had tonight. They match what you just described.”
I gaped at him. “What?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea why we would have the same dreams. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe just hearing such vivid descriptions of your dreams made me think I had dreamed it all, too. You know, power of suggestion? I’m not sure now.”
I raked my hand through my hair. “Well, even if we didn’t have the same dreams, I think something’s going on. The dreams were more than just dreams, more than memories. It’s as if I was there again.”
Miles furrowed his brow, and stroked my hair gently. “Honey, I know the dreams felt real to you. But you know as well as I do, when we sleep our minds tend to jumble things together and take unexpected twists and turns. If I were you, I wouldn’t let the dreams upset you.”
I sighed and nodded. “You’re right, of course.”
“Look, it’s starting to get light outside. Why don’t we get up and get our breakfast? A nice cup of hot tea will help you feel better.”
A half-hour later, showered and dressed, we entered the kitchen and stopped short. My Cleric was slumped over the table, fast asleep, her head on her arms. My Foreman and my Gypsy, sitting on either side of her, looked as if they hadn’t slept all night – their eyes were bloodshot, their hair was uncombed, and their clothes were rumpled.
Slowly, the rest of my characters stumbled in and collapsed into chairs. Each looked as bad as, or worse than, the first three.
All except one.
“Eh, what be goin’ on here?” My Old Dwarf fairly skipped into the room, eyes bright, and a wide smile not quite hidden by a well-groomed beard. He looked about the kitchen, from person to weary person.
“Quiet, please.” My Gypsy moaned and held his head, much like a person suffering a hangover.
“Ye all look like ye been samplin’ me good dwarven brew!”
“It is not libation that has caused our misery.” My Sorceress shook her head and yawned.
“It seems we were all troubled by dreams last night.”
“Really? I sleeped liken a log all the night long.”
I frowned. “That’s strange.”
“Not really, lassie. I al’ays sleep liken a log. Clear conscience.” The old reprobate winked at me, but I ignored him and addressed the others.
“Anyone else enjoy a dreamless sleep last night?”
Everyone else shook their heads.
“I want to hear about everyone’s dreams. Cleric?”
Cleric roused herself, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and yawning widely. “I dreamed of the night the Bounty Hunter arrived here, and I woke you in the middle of the night, Mistress, fearing what his presence in this world might signify.”
My Bounty Hunter rose from his chair, frowning. He stepped toward Cleric, eyeing her closely, then he turned toward me. “That was my dream, too.”
“How could it be? You were not present when I awoke the Mistress!” Cleric furrowed her brow.
“But I saw it all in my dream last night.” My Bounty Hunter went on to describe in perfect detail the incident as it had occurred, first many months previous and again, last night in our dreams.
I raised an eyebrow.
“Did anyone else dream about that?”
Everyone else shook their head.
“My dreams were of you, Mistress.” Sorceress stifled another yawn. “You were in your bedchamber, sleeping. You woke suddenly, and seemed afraid when you did not find Master Miles in the room with you.”
My Arrogant One’s eyes widened, and he jumped to his feet. “But . . . but that was my dream as well!”
I paled and my legs started to feel like rubber. I grabbed a chair and sat quickly.
My Foreman rose and started pacing. “I . . . I dreamed of the morning you and Master Miles stood by the doors in the living room and watched the Old Dwarf in the yard, Mistress, as he searched for Morcant’s familiar.” He paused, chewing his lower lip. “I entered the living room with the Young Hero, and I cleared my throat. But then . . . then the dream changed.”
My Young Hero interrupted. “Yes, it changed. We were in the yard, looking at those creatures that appeared here yesterday.” My Foreman gaped at the lad, who frowned and bit his lower lip. “I had the exact same dream!”
“As did I,” My Gypsy said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“And I had all those dreams and more.” Dragon thumped her tail on the floor.
Miles looked at me. “What does it mean?”
“I’m not sure, but I think we better spend the day in the yard, looking for our furry little visitors from yesterday.”
Sorceress raised an eyebrow and nodded at me. “And verifying a certain bird did not steal back in the middle of the night, bringing mischief with him.”
Miles stared at her. “Do you think Morcant is behind this?” He swallowed hard.
“I do not know, Master Miles, but I think it best to find out.”
“I agree.” I pointed at my Old Dwarf. “It strikes me as odd that the only one here who enjoyed dreamless sleep last night was my Old Dwarf, who has a natural immunity to magic.”
Breakfast was a hurried affair that morning. No one felt much like eating, or conversing. No one except my Old Dwarf. He ate enough for all of us, and kept up a cheerful monolog until a cranky Dragon threatened to put him on the menu.
It was not yet mid-morning when we all took to the yard, searching. We needed to find the trio of Thirteen-line Ground Squirrels who had appeared and spoken to us yesterday. We also needed to see if the milky-eyed grackle who served as familiar to the evil wizard, Morcant, had returned during the night.
I found the bird almost immediately.
“Good morrow, beldame.” Morcant’s screechy voice spilled from the beak of the bird, who was sitting in the tree closest to the front porch. “Where, pray tell, are your diminutive visitors of yesterday?”
“What business is that of yours, Morcant?”
“Dost thou truly not know?” The bird’s beak opened wide, and the sound of Morcant’s cackling laugh poured forth.
“Morcant, I do not have time for your games.”
“But time is all I have, thanks to you.” His voice changed to a bestial snarl. “Every second, a lifetime; every moment, an eternity.”
“For the last time, Morcant, I had nothing to do with your present situation. You committed the crimes, the judicial system of your world tried and sentenced you, and the coven of witches carried out that sentence. I merely chronicled the events.”
Before Morcant could reply, Dragon slipped around the corner of the house and leapt upon the grackle, snatching it from the tree. She held it firmly in her taloned hands, and brought it to me.
“Place it in the box it was in previously.”
Sorceress, dashing up from the side yard, frowned and shook her head. “It escaped from that box once.”
I grimaced and rubbed the back of my neck. “Can the two of you secure it magically within the box?”
Sorceress tilted her head and thought for a moment, then nodded. “I believe we could accomplish that. We can get the Gypsy and Cleric to assist, so the bird does not free itself while we work.”
I nodded. “I’ll find them and send them to you in the conference room. The rest of us will remain here in the yard.”
As I prepared to go find the others, I stopped short. A thick fog was rising quickly from the ground. The last thing I saw before the fog enveloped everything was Sorceress, her eyes wide, and her mouth open as if she were screaming. Then, she was just . . . gone.
Be sure to come back next week for the conclusion of this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!