Home > Most Popular > Dreams Lie Beneath

Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

Phelan had the decency to appear briefly shamed.

“Of course not, Mr. Madigan,” Lennox rushed to say. “And besides, you are here with your daughter, and we are ready to play out the challenge. Whoever defeats the nightmare will win the right to Hereswith.”

“Win the right,” Papa murmured, and I knew the words galled him, because they certainly irritated me. “Very well, then, Mr. Lennox. When the clock strikes nine, the new moon is announced, and your challenge will begin.”

All of us glanced at the market clock, whose face was illuminated by lanternlight. Three minutes remained, and they dragged by like years.

I fought the temptation to pace, to fidget. I made myself stand like stone, just as the two upstarts did, and waited for the clock to strike nine.

Finally, the chime sounded.

And the mountain wind blew through the streets, sweet and dark and full of magic.

Lennox frowned as he glanced about the market, waiting for the nightmare to materialize. Sometimes the dreams were born quickly, as if they were ripe and bursting, eager for the mortal world. Sometimes the dreams arrived gradually, shade by shade, like an artist painting a canvas. Sometimes they were easy to defeat, and Papa and I would be home within the hour with only a few rips in our garments. Sometimes they lasted until dawn, stubborn and vicious and crafty.

As I waited to see whose nightmare greeted me that night, I noticed Lennox and Phelan were rigid, and I knew this victory was ours. Papa was right; we had the advantage. We possessed the knowledge, the experience. I knew every nook and cranny of the streets of Hereswith, every garden, the slant of every roof.

This town was my home, and I would defend it.

I noticed the rain before the men did. Before Papa, even. A drop fell in my hair, then on the back of my hand, the moisture gleaming like a jewel on my skin. I resisted the urge to look up at the sky, because I didn’t want to tip off the magicians, but I took hold of Papa’s arm and began to guide him away from the market.

“Papa, let’s go,” I whispered.

Lennox’s eyes bugged at the sight of us retreating. I sensed he was tempted to follow us, to mimic everything we did, but Phelan had the same idea as me. He drew Lennox to the protection of one of the market stalls, and they melted into the shadows.

It was wonderful to no longer have to look at them. It was also unsettling, because now I wasn’t sure where they were or what they were doing. But I inwardly shook myself alert, giving my focus to the nightmare that was coming to life.

Papa and I stood in the eastern street beneath a hanging shop sign as the rain began to fall thick and hard, drenching us within moments.

“Do you recognize this dream, Clem?” Papa asked me, bending close to my ear so I could hear him over the melody of the rain.

“I’m not sure.” But I had an inkling. I looked down to the cobblestoned street, where puddles were beginning to deepen, iridescent.

And I knew it, then.

This was Archie Kipp’s dream. A little boy who had almost drowned earlier that summer and now was terrified of water. A child’s nightmare, and they were always the hardest ones to champion.

Papa recognized the dream when the puddles became ankle deep within a moment. “We need a boat,” he murmured.

I nodded but waited, holding my magic on the tip of my tongue, where it crackled like salt as Papa strove to build us a boat. The water was rising quickly now. It was almost to my knees, and I felt my first true pang of trepidation.

“Papa?” He was taking too long. His magic was weak and dim, beating like a faint pulse. I saw that he was attempting to build something infallible, a small boat of tin and wood, and while I admired his sense of grandness, I knew the flood would rise swiftly. And once it did, the serpents would also arrive, slithering in the water.

“Let me,” I said. Papa glanced my way, and I saw how he trembled with exhaustion. The waters were mid-thigh now, and I didn’t want to drown tonight.

My father reluctantly nodded and I felt the shift of power flow from him to me. This battle was not ours anymore; it was mine.

I called to the stray pieces of nature around us—stalks of hay, threads of grass, feathers from nests, lichens from roofs, smoke from chimneys. I sensed I needed more, so I reached farther with my magic and gathered the distant sound of an argument leaking from a threshold, the wail of a baby, the song of a mother, the sting from a skinned knee. I wove everything together and I made a small boat, rough-hewn and narrow but sturdy.

It bobbed on the water as Papa lifted me up and set me within its frame. I helped him next, and the boat nearly tipped as he hefted himself up and over with a groan. But we were safe from the flood. I quickly created a paddle from a few floating sticks, propelling us along the streets that had transformed into canals. The water was deep, lapping at second-story windows, and I wondered how much deeper it would become. Would it continue to rise until it reached the mountaintops, until it reached the stars?

“Look for the key, Clem,” my father said.

I didn’t need his reminder, but I held my retort. Every nightmare had a “key” that could appear in a number of forms and be physically claimed. It was the way to break a dream swiftly. If the dreamer could recognize and claim the key while the nightmare was ensnaring them, then they would wake. It was a similar experience on the new moon. I needed to find the weak point of the dream, locate the key in whatever form it took tonight, and wield it before the Vesper brothers.

“First the flood, then the serpents,” I reminded him, because the key to the dream would not appear until all the elements of the nightmare manifested. And so I navigated the boat and wiped rain from my eyes and waited for the snakes to arrive, my body tense as a coil, ready to spring into action.

My boat hit resistance. Frowning, I tried to paddle with deeper strokes, but the boat was hung up on something in the water.

“Can you see what’s impeding us?” I asked Papa, since he was sitting at the bow.

He carefully shifted to peer over the edge. “Lily pads.”

I sighed. Of course, I had forgotten about that one element of the nightmare. Archie was afraid of drowning, afraid of snakes in the water, and afraid of lily pads.

I quickly began to paddle us backward, and I could see the thick knot of lily pads on the water as we retreated. They seemed innocent, perched on the surface with their green leaves and blossoms, but I knew better than to trust them on the new moon.