I gaped at my Young Hero. Rarely had I seen this easy-going half-dwarf lad so upset. Never had I seen his ire directed at me.
I tried to keep my voice even. “What do you mean, I should know? Just what should I know?”
The lad continued to glare at me. “You should know what is going on. Are you not The Writer, The Scribe, The Chronicler? Are you not the one who knows everything about every one of your characters, even things we do not know about ourselves?”
Before I was able to compose a retort, my Young Hero stomped out the door and headed toward the barn. I stood there watching him, my mouth hanging open. Finally, I turned to my Gypsy. “What is he talking about?”
My Gypsy lowered his eyes and shuffled his feet. “He has been dreaming about his past life, his life back in our own world. At least, that is what he thinks the dreams are. He . . . he has not been able to understand the dreams. He sees mere snippets of scenes in his dreams, moments that he feels are snatches of memories . . . memories he cannot fully recall. He is confused, frustrated . . . and more than a tad fearful.”
“I see.” I raked my hand through my hair and heaved a huge sigh. “I’m not sure how I can help him.”
My Gypsy rolled his eyes and scoffed. “As he said, Mistress, you are The Writer. If you cannot help him, then who?”
I had no answer.
* * *
While my Gypsy and I were talking about him, my Young Hero had stomped down the steps and had headed toward the barn. He had ducked between the wooden rails of the pasture fence and walked over to his pony, a saucy little chocolate palomino. He patted the pony, and the animal nuzzled his young master, nickering contentedly. As he stood there stroking the animal, the boy could feel much of the tension leave his body. After a few minutes, he walked over to the barn, intending to get a brush to groom the pony. Instead, the exhausted boy collapsed onto a bale of hay.
The boy awoke, his pony nudging him and whickering. He opened his eyes, and saw the golden pony standing over him. He stood up and patted the small yellow creature.
The pony turned and started walking away, through the emerald pasture. The boy followed the pony.
The landscape wavered. They were in a canyon. Something big was chasing the boy through the canyon, something big enough to kick up a huge cloud of red dust. The boy ran as fast as he could. He could hear two voices in the canyon, calling him. He knew these voices but could not quite remember to whom they belonged. Before he could identify the voices, their yells turned to screams and their screams mingled with the screams of his pony.
The screams went on and on and on.
* * *
My Foreman shook my Young Hero, first gently, then with more force. “Come on, wake up!”
My Young Hero jumped up and looked around. He was still in the barn. He could see his chocolate palomino pony through the open door. “Wha . . . what happened?”
“You tell me.” My Foreman frowned at him. “I was just coming out to work my horse, and I heard you in here screaming.”
“I heard you too, all the way up in the house.” I rushed to my Young Hero’s side and reached out to touch his shoulder, but he shrugged me away.
I sighed. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s happening.”
Without a word, my Young Hero turned and walked away.
* * *
The young half-dwarf touched the wall of the cliff. His hand went right through the stone. He pushed forward, and his whole body passed through the rocks, emerging in a dark cavern. A ghostly figure approached him, coming closer, closer, closer, until the boy screamed in terror.
* * *
“What is that caterwauling?” Dragon stomped into the living room, smoke drifting from her reptilian snout.
I ran into the room right behind her. “It’s my Young Hero. I think he’s having another nightmare.”
Dragon reached the prone figure on the couch and shook him awake. “Why did you not seek my help if you have been having nightmares?”
Instead of answering, my Young Hero glared at me.
Dragon looked from the boy, to me, and back again. “Well? Will someone tell me what is happening?”
My Young Hero attempted to stomp off again, but Dragon snagged him by the collar with one of her talons.
The smoke spewing from her snout grew darker, and she narrowed her eyes dangerously. “What is going on?”
The boy snarled. “Ask her.”
“I am asking you.” Dragon’s tone invited no argument.
I placed a hand on her arm. “It’s okay. Let him go.”
I turned to my Young Hero. “I don’t know what you think I know, but any time you want to talk, you know where to find me.”
* * *
The young half-dwarf was walking his pony across a meadow. Another boy, taller and of human heritage, walked with him, leading a larger version of the golden steed. Suddenly, the two boys saw something disappearing down a large hole under a fallen log. The half-dwarf leapt on his pony and raced toward the hole to see what was there.
The human boy swiftly mounted and rode his horse between the boy and the hole. “No! You cannot go with him! I will not allow it!”
The hole disappeared, and the human galloped away. The half-dwarf rode after him, pushing his pony to the limits of his speed and endurance. “Wait! Wait! Why will you not wait for me?”
The half-dwarf and his pony fell farther and farther behind the other horse and rider. Finally, the youth pulled his mount to a stop, slid from his pony, and fell to the ground, sobbing.
* * *
I walked into my office and found my Young Hero waiting for me. He sat on the edge of a chair, his hands clasped tightly in his lap. His tear-stained face was pale and drawn. He jumped up as soon as he heard me enter the room.
“Mistress.” He gave me a beseeching look but said no more.
I nodded and bade him sit. He slowly collapsed back into the chair. I sat at my desk and faced the lad, studying him for many long minutes. He sat, staring at the floor, silent.
Finally, I cleared my throat. “I understand you have been suffering nightmares for several weeks now.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/nightmares/
I paused, but got no response. “Would you care to tell me about them?” I tried to keep my voice soft and soothing.
“You do not know what I dreamt?” My Young Hero seemed confused.
I raised my hands, palms up, spread my arms, and lifted my shoulders. “How would I?”
He stared at me, wide-eyed. “You are The Writer.”
I raised an eyebrow at the boy. “You’ve said that to me before. I don’t know what you think a writer does, but my skill as a wordsmith does not grant me clairvoyance.”
“But you have written about the things that happened to me, to all your characters, in our own world.” He scooted to the edge of his seat again and looked at me earnestly.
I nodded. “I have, but not through clairvoyance or any preternatural means. I simply documented what happened.”
My Young Hero furrowed his brow and chewed on his lower lip. “Mistress, I cannot remember all that happened to me. I have been seeing things in my dreams that I feel . . . nay, that I fear may have happened to me, but I cannot recall.”
He told me of his dreams, the snippets of scenes his sleep-fogged brain had seen.
“And you think these dreams may actually be memories attempting to surface?”
The lad nodded.
I narrowed my eyes and stared intently at the lad. “Do you have any recollection of your previous life? Any at all?”
The boy nodded. “Some. I remember most vividly the things about which my fellow characters and I have spoken. I know that three of us – your Foreman, your Gypsy, and myself – were horsemen in my world. I know my father owned the largest and most successful equestrian breeding and training farm in the kingdom. I know that Cleric was my Protector – something akin to the concept of a godparent in your world, only with equal emphasis on physical protection and spiritual guidance. I know your Gypsy was my best friend. I know we spent a lot of time in an inn, and our friend, the Innkeeper, made a stew so renowned, the king himself used to come to the inn to sup.”
He paused, furrowing his brow as if trying to dredge up other memories. He shook his head. “Other than that, I have little knowledge of myself.”
I tilted my head and studied the boy. “Are you certain this is all you remember?”
I squirmed in my chair. “Is it necessary for you to know more?”
The boy sat, pondering. Finally, he looked me straight in the eye. “Yes, Mistress, I think it is. The dreams I have had – the people and events seem familiar, as if they are a part of my past, not a construct of my imagination.”
I sighed heavily. “You know each of you – the characters who have fallen from my manuscripts and now reside here in this world – each of you fell from a different spot in the manuscripts. I do not know the exact moment at which any of you left the story.”
My Young Hero tilted his head and mulled over that information, then nodded.
I stood up and paced the length of the room. “Then you know I cannot reveal more than you already know.”
The boy frowned. “Why? If all of us characters get together and compare what we know, those of us who fell out of an earlier part of the manuscripts will discover what happened after.”
I nodded, hoping he did not notice the beads of sweat that were forming on my forehead. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. I certainly cannot prevent you from doing just that. But remember, none of you know all that happened. You each know only the tale from your own perspective. Even if you had fallen from the last page of the manuscripts, you would know little more than you know now – much of your stories remain unwritten. There are several more books for me to pen.”
My Young Hero slumped in his chair, disappointment written clearly in his face. Finally, he rose and headed for the door but stopped half-way there. He turned and looked at me. “Can you reveal but one thing to me, Mistress? There is one thing I must know.”
“What is it?”
“Why do you call me a Young Hero? I do not remember any heroics in my past life, and I certainly have done nothing heroic in this world. And the fear engendered by the nightmares that plague me points more to cowardice than heroism.” He stared at the floor, and continued in a timid voice. “Mistress, how could a hero have nightmares?”
I pursed my lips and rubbed the back of my neck. “Fear and heroism are not mutually exclusive; nor is fear solely the province of cowards. Suffice it to say, the best definition of a hero I ever read was in a publication called Psychology Today. I keep the quote here on the wall over my desk. See?” I pointed to the memo on the wall.
What actually makes a hero? I’d argue it’s the willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.”
I paused, giving my Young Hero time to ponder that quote. After a moment, I continued. “Without revealing any details, I can assure you that you are the most heroic person I know. You sacrificed more than most for the benefit of others, for people you did not even know. Some of what you sacrificed was ripped from you by others, by happenstance, by fate. Some of what you sacrificed you surrendered yourself, knowing full well what you were giving up.”
I approached my Young Hero and placed my hand on his shoulder. “Wear the title proudly, Young Hero. Never doubt but you have earned it a hundred times over.”
A smile slowly spread over the boy’s face. When he turned and left the room, he held himself a little straighter, and there was a new confidence in his step.
Once I heard him going up the stairs, I scurried off to find Dragon.
Why do I need to speak with Dragon? What is it about my Young Hero’s memories that I find so disturbing? Be sure to come back next week as the tale continues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.