DREAM CATCHER, HEART LISTENER

He took her hand and whispered in her ear, "Hold out your tongue."

She slipped her tongue over her teeth, between her lips, and stood, waiting anxiously. Then the cool drops began to slide gently over the plush fur of her arms, legs, head, and then, suddenly, several drops alighted upon her outstretched tongue and she zapped it back inside, laughing as she exclaimed, "Lemonade! It tastes like lemonade!"

He laughed too and said, "Now, open your eyes."

She took in a deep breath as her heart raced familiarly, and then she opened her eyes.

She could see.

The colors were so crisp, so vivid, that though she had seen them only a few times before, she was certain they could not be this wonderful, this real, even in her real world. The symphony of rich smells overtook her as well, the same as in her real world, and yet each enhanced, enriched just for her, to help her remember the colors, the precious, lively colors.

The lemonade rain glistened as it softly cascaded about them, lighting on the trees whose thick chocolate and peppermint trunks and limbs spiraled up and up, their browns rich, their whites and reds vibrant; several pastel pink, green, and blue cotton candy leaves fluttered around them with the rain. Beneath their feet, the soft fluff of green cotton candy stretched on and on, and beneath that, warm, brown dirt. He bent over and scooped some onto one finger, offering it to her. She licked it off his finger, smiled, and laughing delightfully, exclaimed, "Caramel!"

"Yes," he said, his voice smiling, "caramel."

Still holding her hand, he began to lead her through this new and brilliant world he'd fathomed for her, for them, reminding her of old colors, teaching her new, both of them sampling familiar and new flavors as they explored. Red was the peppermint bark of a twisting tree. Yellow was the scent of lemons; lemons were not just yellow, not just a color, but the sparkle, glitter. She wanted to remember glitter very much, imprinted it to her vast-growing memory as the rain glistened all about them. Blue and purple and pink and orange were the petals of the gum drop blossoms and the sweet tart roses as they melted upon their tongues, while all shades of green were represented in the scents of many different strands of taffy strung about the trees in tangles of vines. Olive green was the taste of olives, and lime green the taste of limes, and grass green the scent of fresh, spring fields, and evergreen the smell of a Christmas tree.

"Are you ready for the surprise?" he asked at last.

She laughed again. "You haven't shown me the surprise already?"

"Hm," he mused, "no, all the candy was just a ploy to get you all hyped up on sugar for the real surprise. Come on."

Squeezing her hand more firmly in his, he led her through the trees and down a gently sloping hill, at the bottom of which they came to a lake that shone with a pale golden hue, a calming yellow tint, from the lemon rain.

"It's gorgeous," she breathed.

"It's yours," he said, "let's take a drink."

They knelt together by the lake. She cupped her hands and scooped up the liquid which was cool and refreshing on her hands, yet as she lifted those hands, the lemonade pooled within them, she paused, staring down, gasping, shaking her head in wonder. Then she let the lemonade slip beneath her fingers to look down into the pool to see if it was really there, if she'd really seen it, or if she'd only just imagined it in the cup of her palms.

But there it was, a young Monku lady's face staring dumbfounded right at her upon the lake's surface. Lush, pure white fur, elegantly curved cheeks with high cheekbones and small, crisply pointed ears, because, of course, the Monkus were a people who appeared human by day, but at night became cat-people, still very human-like but covered with fur and bearing cat-like faces as well as tails. And hers was the most elegant tail as it flicked behind her gently. Then there were her black button nose and eyes that were a color she could not quite place. Blue was the smell of the ocean; it was not blue. Purple was the smell of the lilacs he'd given her once. It was not purple.

She reached up to touch her cheek. So did the girl staring at her upon the lake's surface.

"Your reflection," he said quietly, placing an arm around her. "I promised you I'd show it to you if I could. And now, I've finally figured it out."

Her reflection. She watched her brows rise. She watched as the tears filled her eyes. She watched as her hand trembled against her cheek, all for the first time.

"My. . .my eyes?" she asked.

"Indigo," he said, placing both arms around her, "beautiful indigo."

Indigo. Indigo, the color of her eyes, seen upon the first sight of her own reflection. She did not need a scent or a taste or a sound to remember indigo.

She turned to smile up at him. She'd grown accustomed to not being able to really see him. The outline of his body was there, but it was a blank, white canvas, shimmering with a white light, like a hidden angel. Neither face nor fur nor clothes could be distinguished, as though he was made of light itself. At first, not being able to really see him had unnerved her, but now, now she could tell by his touch, by his voice, when he was happy or sad, what he was feeling, and now she burrowed close to his chest and whispered, "Thank you, so much. I love you."

"I love you too, Michaela Hania. . . ."

Then he began to sing the special song he'd composed for her, the one he said was her lullaby, her heart song. At first, she resisted, for she knew this meant the end of the dream. But then, she began to succumb to the warmth of both his arms and the song he sang; after all, all dreams must end, he could not stay forever. Sleep shrouded her like a mother's quilt until she nestled completely beneath its covers. . . .

Michaela Hania awoke. She opened her eyes, staring into the blackness, trying to picture it all, the colors, the flowers, the trees, her own face, using the scents and sounds and tastes and wonderful memories to bring it all back to her. After all, she'd have to wait a whole other day now to see more, to see him again. Because, after all, she was blind.

He'd been coming to her for the past few weeks now. At first, he'd just been a voice, and that white light outline of himself. At first, she'd been afraid, for it had felt like one of those very real dreams. Then she was afraid because while she knew it was a dream, she knew also that it was real, that he was really beside her, not just in her dreams, but somewhere in her mind, really talking to her, really taking her to wherever they were.

Gradually, the colors appeared, first as shapeless blobs of floating light, but soon they took form. The rose garden, a single ring of trees and within them plush grass and rose bushes. That was when she'd seen her first real colors and learned them. Red was the smell of a rose. Green was the scent of fresh fields. Brown was the odor of a forest. Even then, the scents had been more than real to help her make the connections, the correlations, so she could see the colors and remember even after he was gone.

Then the scenes grew longer—longer periods of time, vaster worlds. She was immersed in amazing color after amazing color, in brilliant world after brilliant world, all of his own creation. She tried to ask him who he was, and he said he was a painter, and, yes, he lived in the Swician camp, and so, yes, he knew her. She wondered why he did not talk to her in person instead of coming to her in dreams, and yet, she did not ask, did not want to offend him, for the dreams were that unspoken sign from him that he cared deeply for her; he expressed his love—for that was what she grew to feel for him, and, she believed, he for her as the weeks passed—by showing her all the wonderful things he knew she could not see by day in the real world, beyond the realm of dreams. He showed her trees and mountains and flowers and animals and buildings and books and taught her how to read without having to move her fingers across small, raised bumps. She memorized the letters until she could write them her own self, even without seeing, and she memorized as many colors as she could too, to keep her preoccupied and hopeful until his next visit. He had promised her towards the beginning that he would do all he could to figure out how he might be able to show her her own reflection in the dreams, for he said he knew how much she'd like to see her own reflection. She didn't know how he knew this, but he did. He always knew many things about her feelings. He said even that if he could enable her to see her reflection, it might bring him a step closer to figuring out how he could use his talents to bring real sight to her eyes, though she said that was not necessary, and it seemed far too great a task to ask of anyone.

Somehow she felt that even if she could somehow miraculously see, and not just in the dreams, but really see like most other people, that it would not be as exciting, as exhilarating, as sweet, that the colors would not be as vibrant and wonderful, that none of it would mean nearly as much as it did in those short yet significant snatches of dreams he spent with her, he shared with her. True, there was also the fear that those snatches could someday stop, be snatched from her, cease to come altogether. But she hoped this could not be true. Because she did not need to see to see him to see that he loved her. Because while the visions themselves may have been a dream, she felt now that he was real, that he sent the dreams to her and her alone. This secret she voiced to no one, kept it hidden in her heart, not because she might be thought crazy, for powers of the mind were a gift of her people. But they were not widely encouraged, as they had been misused in the past, and she wanted no unkind word from anyone to mar his perfection, for he was, she felt in her heart, perfect for her.

She wondered often why he did not show himself to her, not even in the dreams. Was he simply shy, or did he truly wonder about her own feelings, that she too might feel uncomfortable towards him using his gift of stealing into her sleeping mind, blessing her with unreal and yet realer-than-anything visions?

As she drifted to sleep even now, she told herself that she must make sure he felt completely comfortable with her, that he knew she accepted him fully, for, unless it was some glitch of her real blindness, if she was able to see his face, she wanted to more than anything, for it to be the first, if only face, she ever set eyes upon.

Daily, when she wandered the camp, whether heading up the hillside into the woods to wash laundry in the pure streams, whether milling through the camp's crowds of people with her mother to sell and trade baskets, garments, baked goods, or other such household creations, whether simply slipping to the tent next door to visit a neighbor or friend, whatever the case, she would listen, straining the delicate talents of her hearing, enhanced by many years of the necessity of relying on her ears where sight was not available. She would listen for that voice, his voice. Once or twice she thought she heard it, but it was muffled, almost distorted by the veil of cloth that had stood between them, and then, almost as suddenly as she'd heard it, it had ceased. Once or twice too, when she'd brushed against the hoards of people, she'd thought she'd heard it; his song, her song, made just for her. She'd thought, in bumping some unknown stranger, she'd felt that familiar spark, that the song had grown just a bit more intense. But then it would vanish, just as quickly, and she was never certain whether she imagined all these things, for, though they seemed so real in the seconds and half seconds in which they occurred, yet those moments seemed longer, and in seeming so, felt also intently real.

She sighed, closing her eyes, trying to settle deeper beneath her covers, trying to let their warm comfort soothe her back to sleep even though they did not share the same warmth as his arms around her, even though she knew he would not show himself to her a second time that night, even though she might never know who he was or if he was even really real, or if she was not just going crazy. Perhaps the loneliness made her crazy. Sure, everyone in the camp loved her. They all fancied her beautiful, sweet, kind, generous, strong. But though not alone, still she was lonely for that special connection, that connection that she shared with him. That's why she knew he had to be real, because of the connection, because it was so strong. Though, if he wasn't real, if she really was crazy, than he was certainly a most wonderful way to satiate that madness. . . .

"Michaela. . .Michaela, wake up, love. . . ."

The words seemed distant at first, and they seemed to come too soon. Gradually, she stirred, realizing that she had drifted into a sort of half sleep after all in dreaming about him and lemonade and gardens and spring weddings.

"Michaela, love, get up; today's the day we get fabric for your gown for the Autumn Festival."

She yawned and stretched, smiling sleepily. "Coming, Mama."

Then, as she sat up and dressed for the day, she smiled wider still. Ever since the Festival had drawn near, one wonderment had echoed in the forefront of her mind: might he be there? Might he pick such an occasion to make himself known to her? True, such a dream might be just that, a dream. Yet. . .

"Coming, Mama," she said, more loudly, with a hint of excitement in her voice, and, as she could now imagine, in her indigo eyes as well.

She slipped the silky dress over her head; its neckline was low, its bodice high, its sleeves draping off the shoulders and trailing in long, billowing bells. The Swicians loved simple lives yet were skilled in creating elaborate things; such talents came natural to them, and so their common gowns might've seemed to most as those that should be reserved for princesses or dames at the least.

She then brushed her long, silky hair, pausing to run the tips of her fingers over her smooth cheeks, her nose, her delicate ears. She wondered if it might be possible for him to someday come to her in a daydream and show her what her daytime human appearance looked like.

Finished with her minimal primping, she pulled back the flap to step into the front of the large tent, and then pulled back the second flap, following her nose outside to the scent of bacon as it roasted over the fire upon the soft turf.

"Good morning, mother," she said, sitting on the favorite log, feeling its rough texture and smiling. Trees, brown.

"Morning, love," her mother greeted, setting the plate steaming with bacon upon her daughter's lap. "Sleep well?"

"Mm, very," Michaela replied, savoring the bacon, savoring the morning sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the beach in the not so far distance. Water, blue. She heard also the clatterings and chatterings of other breakfasts of other families as they joined together outside their tents.

"So," her mother said, "have you thought about what kind of dress you want? Silk, satin, perhaps with those velvet-textured beads you love so, or even the princess cut rubies or emeralds or—"

"Indigo," she said, chewing then swallowing decisively. "I want the dress to be satin and silk made of indigo. Sleeveless, perhaps with a bit of embroidery. But all indigo, with light and dark shades."

"Indigo?" her mother echoed; Michaela imagined her mother's eyebrows arching curiously; she smiled at the thought that she could imagine what such a small detail looked like, but then she quickly shook the thought aside as she replied, "Yes, indigo. A friend once told me I look good in indigo."

"Well, then, indigo it shall be, for it is indeed true that my daughter looks stunning in indigo; after all, it matches her eyes."

She imagined her mother smiling now and smiled too.

They finished breakfast, and, setting the dishes aside to wash in the stream later on, they made their way through the camp to Claire's Tent, where several other young ladies were gathered already with ideas of dresses floating in their minds. Michaela's mother brought to her all the different shades of indigo fabrics she could find so that she could feel each one. Her mother described the shades as she always did to her daughter whenever they bought material. She would always say something like "this one is yellow like the sun," or "this one is red like roses," because, though Michaela had never known the colors, she knew whether she liked suns and flowers and what such things made her think of and what kinds of moods such things invoked in her, and, of course, she could imagine well enough the meanings of light and dark shades. So she could understand why her mother would be caught off guard by the fact she'd actually asked for a specific color, especially one her mother had never mentioned to her. But now, as her mother described each shade, she pictured the dark, yet rich and vibrant hue of her eyes, as well as their varying shades of light-colored specks. She concentrated hard with both mind and fingers until she'd selected a smooth, dark satin for her gown, a dainty, light silk for an overlay, and indigo threads of shades in-between to embroider the tiny flowers.

The shopping completed, they met up with Salome and Geranel and Lililu and several other of the girls and women and their mothers in the camp and headed for one of the grassy outcrops overlooking the sea; several such familiar sewing circles had joined together in similar fashions already; Michaela could hear their laughter echoing between the low cliffs. For a moment, she listened intently for him, listened towards the ocean, wondering if he was amongst the fishermen who were catching the final fish for tonight's celebration. But then Salome said, "Your satin is lovely! It matches your eyes perfectly."

She allowed the compliment to break into her thoughts of him—perhaps because it didn't really break away that train of thought at all—thanked Salome, ran her fingers across her friend's own fabric which was a smooth velvet and a rougher, gauzy texture, and then she set to sewing.

While the Festival was that night, none of the ladies fretted over finishing their gowns in plenty of time. Both Monku races were able to use powers of the mind to get things done more quickly, though all but the simplest of such skills were long forgotten because of most mind powers being looked down upon and forbidden. Several ladies could focus the power of their commands into their own fingers, making them weave the needles more deftly, swiftly, accurately, while others could concentrate so that both cloth, thread, and needles hovered in mid-air, working on their own. As for measurements, there was no need to take any; such minute details were perfectly inscribed in their minds.

As she sewed, Michaela focused the larger part of her conscious upon the conversation around her. Janetta was wearing yellow. Yellow, sun, the scent of lemonade rain. Lililu weaved shades of lilac together. Lilac, the smell of fresh lilac blossoms. Geranel would be attending in emerald green. Emerald green, the cold touch of an emerald bracelet he'd given her once, though she'd been able to wear it only for a time, while the dream had lasted.

She listened as much as she could, practicing the colors in her mind. Even so, she'd finished her dress before many of the others, all of which who'd completed their tasks just before the sun began to set, and all rushed back to their tents to dress. Sunset marked the time of their transformations into their cat-like forms, and also, the beginning of the Autumn Festival.

As she slipped her own gown carefully over her head, she felt the fur rapidly sprouting all over her body, her rounded ears shifting from the sides to the top of her head, their roundness transforming into pointed tips. She felt the whiskers growing out from her cheeks, now fluffy with white. All this happened within seconds, yet she was more than sensitive enough by now to feel each detail as it happened.

As she stepped into her mother's half of their tent, her mother placed a hand tenderly on either of her shoulders; again, Michaela imagined the smile as her mother said, "You look so elegant; you were right to pick indigo. It suits you more than any other color you've ever worn."

Michaela returned the imagined smile. "Thank you, Mama." She reached up a hand to stroke the short, velvet fur of her mother's face. "You look beautiful too." She knew it must be so, though someday she would get up the courage to ask him to really show her in one of their dream escapades, if he could.

She followed her mother outside the tent, and they wound their way down the rocky, grassy hills to the beach below where the echoes of excited talk and laughter, as well as the hints of music—flutes, fiddles, guitars, drums, and the like—slowly drifted towards and then consumed her ears. Still, as they walked, she listened, reaching out for him on all sides with the groping fingers of her mind.

Once all or at least most of all had gathered there, the food was brought out on platters by the young fishermen, and, knowing, the ladies, children, and other gentlemen gathered there seated themselves while the young men set the food in the midst of their circles and semi-circles. She inhaled the rich aromas of the scrumptious, carefully prepared foods as the sand, yet warm from the day's sun, slipped like the comforting fingers of old friends between her toes.

Several of the elders stood to silence everyone so that they could pray to Amiel, to thank Him for another year of harvest and protection and ask Him to bless their celebration of their thanks. As soon as the prayers had ended, the cheerful chatter picked back up, and all set to passing the platters and baskets around to all. For the first round, everyone would be generous, gracious, making sure not to take too much of one portion, making sure it was fair to the others around them. Michaela smiled as she selected exactly two drumsticks and passed the plate along, knowing everyone would've gotten into a less polite and more festive spirit by the time second and third helpings came along.

She sat eating and talking amongst her friends, listening every now and then for any sign of him, but not too hard, knowing that trying to hear too much while her friends talked excitedly to her about the festival, about their latest crushes and the like, would make it impossible to properly concentrate on anything else at all.

"So, what about you, Michaela?" Janetta asked as the musicians began to play again and as several couples, finished with their meal, jumped up to dance to the upbeat tune. "Do you have any promised dances tonight?"

She shrugged. "I always have those." What did it matter if she had any others if she didn't get the only one she wanted?

"Oh, Michaela, you're so lucky and you still don't realize it!" Janetta sighed in a huff.

"Hush, Jan," Lililu scolded gently. "Michaela cant help it she's caught the eye of practically every available Swician in the camp."

"You hush," Michaela snapped, feeling herself blush, grateful for night's cover of such a thing.

"Oh, you know it's true." Michaela envisioned Lililu rolling her eyes. "Especially Cooper Myers. He follows you around like syrup on a pancake. . . ."

Michaela zoned out as someone's laughter caught her attention. She strained. No, it wasn't him. Probably Cooper, knowing her fortune.

"Michaela, are you listening?" Lililu hissed.

"Of course—"

"Michaela!"

She found herself being wisked off her feet and twirled in the air by the infamous Cooper himself. She found herself thinking sulkily too that if her mysterious lover truly cared about her, he would've gifted her with sight long enough to see Cooper coming so she could've hidden.

"Good evening, Cooper," she said, mustering cheerfulness. He was a good friend, after all, just not the person she wanted to focus on that evening.

"Evening, Michaela! Ready for our first dance?"

"I—"

She didn't bother finishing the sentence for he was already pulling her into the circle of dancers as Lililu called after her, "Told you so!"

She allowed herself to get caught up in the laughter, in the quick, challenging, yet delightful steps of the Circling Dance, a favorite tradition in which everyone joined hands and danced rings about the musicians who played all the more enthusiastically and swiftly which caused the dancers to quicken their pace until it became a competition between musicians and dancers to see who could last longest. Cooper tripped and fell out early enough. Michaela stayed in a while herself, but the last standing of them all was the flute player, who, upon squeaking his last note, fell backwards, passing out.

While he recovered, the other musicians prematurely began the first waltz of the evening. She tried to slip away but Cooper had, soon enough, popped up by her side and was reminding her he'd promised the first waltz.

"You look so lovely tonight," he said.

"Thank you, Cooper."

"The indigo—it matches your eyes, you know?"

"Of course I know."

"Oh, um, I'm sorry—"

"No, it's okay." She knew he'd taken her snippiness as offense at the thought she did not know because she'd never seen indigo. In reality, she was offended that his chatter was interrupting her ears' search of that special voice, song, whatever exactly she was searching for. Cooper took the hint, howbeit the wrong hint, and fell silent.

As they waltzed, weaving, she listened, at first to the music, but then she became distracted by the rise and fall of footsteps padding dully on the soft sand, voices shouting, talking, cheering, laughing, hands clapping, and she listened, listened for the music that was hers, that was his, that was theirs, listened for the music of his voice.

"Are you okay?" Cooper asked as she stumbled, falling against him and nearly toppling them both to the ground as he caught her, steadying her.

"Yes, um, I'm sorry," she said, feeling her skin blush beneath the fur and glad again for its concealment. "I think. . .I just think I should rest for a bit."

"But it's only the second dance." He sounded disappointed, and she imagined him frowning. She frowned herself. Imagining frowns was not so nice as imagining smiles.

"I know, I just, I'm not feeling well."

"Okay, well, that's okay, we can take a rest."

He still sounded disappointed, though making an effort not to. He led her from the maze of swirling couples further up one of the little hills where sand gave way to plush grass beneath her feet, and there he told her to sit and he would fetch her some kiwi water. Sitting, she thanked him, and then she listened intently.

Sitting still, she could focus better on the noises, the voices. True, the couples were still moving, constantly moving, but there were fewer distractions without her dancing as well. Adam and Jason came up to her after a few moments, each asking for a dance. She turned them each down politely, and they too sounded disappointed as they said they understood, no doubt because they didn't understand at all, for she did love to dance.

After a few more moments, she stood to stretch, restless from the strain of listening all night, impatient to actually hear something familiar, something that would actually satiate. She wanted to hear so badly that she began to wonder if there was truly anything to hear, or whether she was just hopelessly wishing, dreaming for that connection so badly that she truly had only just dreamed it. She was beginning to wonder too where Cooper could possibly be with the kiwi water and was wondering if the Geri twins had drunk it all as they had last year and was wondering too if their mother was currently scolding them for completing the scheme for a fourth year in a row, and she was just beginning to feel glad for such thoughts to distract her from the strain of listening and thinking of listening, when—

A hand suddenly latched on to hers, firmly, warmly; their hands hovered together for a moment as if he were waiting to see if she would draw away, protest at the sudden movement, but she did not resist, did not pull away, for she knew that touch, and she smiled, taking in a sharp breath as he pulled her close to his heart and slid gracefully with her into the throngs of swirling colors.

As they danced, she imagined everything in her head, the frilly lace, the wide hooped skirts of some, but especially the soft lights and the colors, yes, the colors most of all. She knew she couldn't get it quite right in her head, but she imagined it the best she could, for his sake, because he had given her that gift of color, and she wanted to imagine it the best she could, if not for her own sake, then for his.

As the dance came to an end, he gently released her, but he did not leave her side. She could feel his warmth yet hovering beside her like a protective, inviting fire in that cool, night air. Another song began, and again, he took her hand, again pausing as if asking her. She wondered why he did not speak. Perhaps he was truly timid. After all, he had only appeared to her by dreams; hadn't he? Perhaps the dreams had only been dreams, or hopeful longings, or visions of this very night to come and they had not really ever met at all, though his tender touch ignited sparks in her very soul that said it must be so that they had met. Perhaps he too had seen her only in his dreams. Whatever the case, it made no difference he did not speak. He would when he was ready, she was sure. His gentle fingers caressing the small of her back, holding her close, the fingers of his other hand entwined in hers with the softness of a child's touch yet the unbreakable strength and connection of a spider's web silenced any small ability she might've had to speak in his presence, so she just smiled, hoping he saw it was a truly sincere smile. For a moment, it crept into her head that if the dreams really hadn't been real, perhaps he did not know she was blind, and she began to feel conscious herself, but then, as the second song came to a close, those fingers brushed against her cheek, velvety and gentle as a comforting stream, and she knew that he knew her.

As dance after dance continued, still he did not speak, and still, she did not mind, save that she longed to hear his voice, and then she began to doubt; his touch was the same, yet his voice—he always told her sweet things, sang her sweet songs. Why tonight, upon their first real meeting, did he say nothing?

As the doubt crept into her mind, something else did too, a melody that was a part and yet detached from that which the musicians played. It was like the waltz, only slightly dissonant and dark, in a minor key in parts, unlike the waltz itself, which was sweet and cheerful. Was he trying to communicate something to her at last through some new song? Its melody was unsettling; was he troubled by something, was that why he'd not spoken all evening? Or was the song itself some kind of warning?

A sharp pain suddenly stabbed her head, and a vision flashed, though it was for hardly more than a quarter of a second. Yet it was vivid, one of the cliffs located above the camp. She knew the one, its edge towered over the ocean.

"I. . .I don't feel well," she breathed as a dizziness gripped her and she tumbled as he brought them to a halt, as her breath suddenly staggered with her feet. "Please, I. . .I need to get away, get some fresh air for a bit. . . ."

She started to walk away, but a hand on her arm restrained her, firm yet gentle; she felt a concern radiating from that arm.

"I'll be okay," she assured, then wrenched away, hurrying from him. She had to get away from that song, that awful song that pierced her with fear and held over her an unexplainable control which caused her to fear even more.

She slipped into the woods, away from the festival, away from the source of that terrible, dissonant pounding, that eerie cacophony of melody and harmony. But she could not get away, even though she ventured further and further from the source. As she raced, tripping, stumbling, glancing frantically over her shoulders as she felt the darkness first behind her, then beside her, then before her, glancing even though she could not see, she realized, only too late, that the dark presence from which that song emanated surrounded her on all sides, that in drawing into the woods she drew closer to it, drawn on by it, and yet, though she knew this, though the fear of it drove her all the more frantically into terror, the further she ran, though she wanted to turn back more and more, the more consumed by that magnetic force she became, unable to turn back, stumbling upon her own feet as they tried vainly to resist. She screamed, knowing it would do no good. The music only grew louder, enveloping her every fiber until there was only it, and the fear that it drowned her in, making her want to go on, forcing her forth though at the same time she wanted only to turn back, to no longer feel its chill.

She emerged from the woods, sprinting upward; a chilled wind ruffled her fur, accenting the fear that the dark presence laid upon her with its cold fingers that had gripped her hands, her ankles and now both pulled and pushed her up the incline, as if overeager to complete its task; the song culminated in a deafening volume and terror, and she recognized the instruments for what they were. Chimes. Chimes like one might hear in a child's music box, chimes like those that might lull a child to sleep, into some peaceful, blissful state.

Their rhythm intensified into a more frenzied, irregular beating, the melody screeching wild, high notes like the laugh of some crazed, excited hyena, and she knew, even as she moved upward, she knew without seeing that she was being dragged to the edge of the seaside cliff.

"MICHAELA!"

As her foot stepped off the cliff's edge, she suddenly felt strong arms hefting her in the air about her waist; she felt her limbs flailing madly, kicking him, hitting him, screaming wildly at him, felt her body out of control as the chimes commanded her to do everything in her power to resist this man who dared to thwart their authoritative call.

But, suddenly, she heard another song, faintly at first, only a dull thudding, but gradually it morphed into elegant melody; rich, calm, yet pleading harmony, an almost crying harmony, and she struggled less, her body falling limp as her mind and heart was seized, forced, though gladly, into the comfort of that new song which soon drowned out the first until she could feel once more, could feel in control of her own body, and she felt arms holding her close to a beating heart inside a firm, softly furry chest, and she knew the touch was his, that he held her.

She listened to the song, its gently comforting strains, his soft breathing synchronized with its rhythm which all the more soothed her until her breathing too steadied.

"Are you alright now?" he breathed.

"Yes," she whispered, snuggling closer to his chest. "Yes, I'm fine now, everything's fine. . . ."

She realized then that her eyes were closed, and, opening them, she saw the luscious trees, the gently glittering flowers, the fanciful, pure light that seemed to radiate all around her, and she could see tufts of soft, gray-white fur upon the chest she was hugged close to, and she smiled. He had rescued her into a dream.

"Can you stand?" he asked.

"Yes." She longed to stay in his arms, but she could not lie to him.

He set her down, holding her a few moments before releasing her to make sure her feet were steady enough, and then, as she stood, she looked up and gasped, staring. He stood before her, unveiled, the light no longer concealing his true form, his face, his fluffy grey-white fur, glistening like silver in the purity of the glow of everything, his eyes that shone golden like the liquid sun she'd only ever dreamed about; his chest was thick with the luscious, warm, majestically illuminated fur, as were his head, his arms, and his feet which stuck out beneath the hem of his dark blue pants. He stood like both a guardian angel and a superhero and a most impossible man of her dreams all at once before her.

"Yes, we're still in a dream, and yet, we are not," he said, guessing her thoughts; she closed her eyes as he caressed her cheek, but only for a moment, lest the vision of him vanish from her. "I did just save you, and I do stand before you, but only through the dreams can we see each other, and I thought, at last, especially since I know how much you've been wanting it—"

"It was you," she breathed, "you who danced with me all night, you who saved me, you who sent me the dreams—all the same person, all you."

He nodded, eyes glittering tenderly at her; something in their golden hue shone so powerfully that if she were a stranger, she might have felt daunted, at unease. But their liquid gold only filled her with a warmth, their strength filling her with a strength of her own as she asked, still gazing in wonder, "Will you tell me your name now?"

He smiled, though a sadness touched those golden eyes. "I may as well, now we've met. My name is Dominique."

"It's a beautiful name," she said.

"Beautiful," he said, the suns of his eyes gleaming.

"Why did you never tell me?" she whispered, her fingertips tracing his face, and his soft fur she could truly see; even though they stood in the dream-like world, she knew the vision before her was just as real as the comfort she felt with the sensation of drawing her fingers across that face before her eyes. "Why did you not want me to know who you were?"

"Because," he said, "in the dreams, I talk to you, sing to you, because they're dreams, because anything we want to be real can be. If I can make it so. But in the real world, I am deaf. I cannot hear. I am learning to speak, but I know I'm not very good yet and. . .I didn't want to embarrass you, disappoint you. I wanted to wait, to be perfect for you just like in the dreams. . . ."

"But you are," she assured him, tenderly cupping his soft, fuzzy cheeks in her hands, "perfect for me. How could I be disappointed in you after you accepted my blindness, more than that, showed me such beautiful things, taught me things so I too might know the part of the world that you know, the world of sight. Don't you see what a precious gift that is, that you are? How could I be disappointed?"

He kissed her forehead tenderly; she did not need to see him, to see his eyes glittering lovingly as he pulled back, to know they were his lips, his touch.

"Your songs," she said gently as he entwined her hands in his, holding them to his heart, "how did you hear them? Did they come to you in dreams as well?"

"No," he said, "you remember when I called your lullaby your 'heart song?'"

"Yes."

"Well, I meant that."

She searched his tenderly sparkling golden eyes.

"It's something I've always been able to do," he said, "to hear people's hearts. Each heart plays a song, some pure, some terrible, some lovely, some dark, but each has their own rich, complex melody, harmony, and rhythm. That's how I was able to tell at first what things you did and didn't like, made you happy, because it took me a little while to be able to read your actual thoughts—not all your thoughts, not the private ones, just those you spoke to me aloud in words—even now, I can't hear your voice. But I don't need to, because I hear your heart, and it is beautiful enough."

"My heart really sounds. . .like that song you sang me?" she breathed.

He nodded, smiling. "Sometimes, yes, at least. . .when I held you, it seemed to calm you, calm your heart."

"It did."

She paused before asking, "Dominique—" the very sound of her voice speaking his name made her heart flutter and she wondered if he could hear, what it sounded like, "Dominique, what happened tonight? Why wasn't I able to stop? Why did that song have such a powerful sway over me?"

The golden eyes darkened as he said, "I don't know exactly what happened. But there have been those in the past who've tried to abuse our powers of the mind, twist them to fit their own purposes. I have talked with the leaders, have heard talk of a sect who has been conducting some. . .experiments, if you will, with these powers and other newer theories associated with them. Unfortunately, as you saw tonight, such experiments often end up getting someone hurt, or worse."

"Do you think anyone. . . ?" her voice trailed, unable to imagine the horror any more than her heart could.

He shook his head. "I think they had it under control. But you. . .they showed a special interest in you, led you on, didn't want to let you go. I don't know why. Maybe they know somehow about our dreams, think you have some special gift in mind control or mind invasion yourself. . . ."

Her eyes searched his, panicked suddenly, but he looked down, smiled, then drew her close to his warm chest and said, "You don't need to worry. I'll keep you close by my side. They won't harm you. Ever."

She closed her eyes and snuggled closer, deeper, til she could almost feel as though they were one; she listened to the beating of his heart, and though she could not hear its song, it was enough, even as seeing him only in their special moments of surreal dreams was enough. It was enough even as she opened her eyes and found that the dream around her had faded. It was enough because she was still in his arms.