Lucky you! You’ve reached the not-so-secret Free Story page! This is where you can find your free gift, a super-short fairytale called THE SLEEPER DREAMED.
The sleeper dreams she is lost in a library that is also a labyrinth. Something is in the library with her.
Is it the monster of her nightmares? Is it the man of her dreams? Or is it both?
The sleeper dreamed.
It took a long time for the dream to begin. At first, she walked through the rooms of the castle and found nothing but chaos, as if some great disaster had come. Furniture was tumbled and broken. Food had been left congealing on the plates. Dust lay thick enough to write in.
As the dream continued, she began to hear sounds. Not of human activity, but a low vibration, almost a growl. When she turned to look, she caught the edge of a fleeing shadow. Was this the thing that had caused such devastation?
Through the long nights of the dream, it never approached her. After a while, she ceased to be frightened of it. Instead, she found it oddly comforting that she wasn’t alone. This wasn’t quite a nightmare.
There were many rooms to explore. Some were locked, so she learned to pick locks. Many of the rooms contained nothing special. They were only locked because the previous inhabitants had done so out of habit before fleeing.
Some rooms held treasures of gold and jewels, silks and spices. The fabric was fine and lovely, and she spent hours of her reverie luxuriating in the soft slide of it against her skin. The spices left an exotic musk in the air, and the pearls and diamonds with which she played warmed against her skin.
The last room she unlocked held the truest treasure. Books and documents of all kinds beckoned, offering knowledge and beauty, information and imagination. Through the days and nights she dreamed, and came here often and spent hours studying the maps, trying to discover where she might be, and if she found herself, where she might go when she awoke.
For the dreamer understood that this was not real. That this was but a sleeping vision, though she never seemed to wake. She slept and rose and lived within her phantasy.
The more she learned from her books, the larger the library grew until it resembled a maze. After getting slightly lost once or twice, she began to unwind a ball of thread behind her. Ariadne in the maze of the minotaur.
On this day, however, she forgot to unwind her string as she went in search of a new map. The book she had been reading told a tale very similar to her own. A man who had been a soldier returned from the war as a beast and dreamed of a castle with many rooms. He came for refuge, but lost his way. He needed a guide to save him, to end his nightmare. In the story, he also found a library, and in the library, he found a book about a woman who was lost in a dream.
She read on and on, eager to learn more of this man, more of his sorrows, more of his growth. Hours later, she glanced up with a start.
When she began her quest, morning light had shone an indirect glow through the library, but now long shadows crept up the shelves. She reached for her girdle, but found no thread attached to the loop. She hadn’t even carried a lamp to help her read in the shadows of the stacks.
Panic rushed through her in hot and cold waves, but she took a steadying breath and settled herself. “No need to fear. It’s only a library.”
A rustle sounded nearby.
“Who’s there?” she called out, to no avail. “Where are you?”
She had never tried to speak to it. She had never heard it so near before.
The rustle faded and she asked, hoping she spoke only to herself, “What are you?”
“I am not a dream,” the voice snarled softly from the other side of the shelf.
She started violently. She had been dreaming for months, possibly years, and in all that time, it had never spoken. She had very nearly forgotten what other speech sounded like, but she knew it ought not to be this half-beastly rumble that was all too human in its language.
“You must be a dream. Or a nightmare.”
“I am no nightmare.” It paused. “At least, not to you.”
She walked quietly down the row, wanting to see what lay on the other side. “Are you part of the dream?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I dreamed long before you came here. Perhaps you are part of my dream.”
The row lengthened and grew, curving and twisting around on itself. She turned and turned, but though she heard him walk along side, keeping pace with her steps, she could not find him. There seemed to be no end to the line of books, yet she continued, determined to meet the voice.
“I have so much to ask you,” she said. “So many things I want to know.”
“I have no answers. I may not be able to give you what you seek.”
She stopped, frustrated by the maze. “I seek only to see you. To meet you, a fellow dreamer.”
As if by magic, a break appeared. She would be able to round it and see her companion. She stopped at the edge.
“Why do you stop?” he asked.
“I am afraid.”
“Afraid of me?”
“Afraid of how the dream will change.”
“You were lost, as I am,” he said. “Perhaps I am only here to guide you back to the dream you know.”
“No. The dream will never be the same now that you are here. Now that we are here together.”
“That is true. Before you appeared in my dream, I was a beast, wandering alone through these halls. Since you arrived, I have become a man again. In seeking you, I have become a better man than I was when I was awake, I think.”
She still hesitated. “What if I am not better?”
“You will never know if you do not turn the corner.”
“When I turn, do you think we will wake?”
“I think, perhaps, yes. We have wandered through our dreams in search of a means to awaken. I could not come to you until you searched for something. For a change in the dream.”
“Have you been waiting for me?”
“Yes. But you might not have found me, you know. There are other paths. You might find your way out on your own. You might simply turn the corner and discover you are still in the dream and nothing has changed. Or you could turn the corner and discover something else.”
The dreamer slept. Then woke.
She opened her eyes.
He lay beside her on the pillow and looked at her.
“Good morning. I love you.”