Gates of Silver, Gates of Horn

 

Stephanie Gertsch

 

 

He first met Angel in a coffee shop. It was a shabby, eccentric place, surviving only on handmade donuts and more hipster appeal than the local Starbucks.

      She was exactly what he would have expected, had he prepared himself for the unexpected. Which he hadn't. Her short pink hair was pulled back into an even shorter tuft of ponytail. Under her black apron she wore a sleeveless white shirt, showing a tattoo of a swallowtail butterfly on her left bicep.

      "Hi! You're the 200th customer of the day, so, well, here's a free drink. It's sort of a company tradition." She slammed a Styrofoam cup down on the table and dropped into the unoccupied across from him. "What's that you're writing? A story?  Awesome!"

      He mumbled, "It's not really..." but she was too quick for him.

You're walking down a hallway filled with doors. It's a hallway that might appear in any office building, school, or hospital. In fact, you feel like you've been here before. But you can't name the exact place. None of the signs offer clues, because either the language is written in some alien script or the signs are entirely blank.

The place makes you feel uneasy, so you begin to jog, then run. All the while you've felt as if something is watching, waiting for you to make a mistake. As you run, you realize it's the doors themselves that are watching you. [Add panes of glass to represent eyes?] And they're trying to...

      That was the end. That was also when the stranger grabbed it back suddenly, saying, "You didn't need to see that. I'm sorry. It won't trouble you." He slid the notebook back in his satchel and picked up the coffee she had brought him.

      "Wait!" she said. "It was good. So few people can write in second person without sounding overbearing. Usually I just get really pissed when some writer I don't even know tries to tell me how I'm feeling and reacting."

      "Second person point of view is required," admitted the stranger. He was still standing there, tugging at the strap of his satchel, but he showed no real signs of leaving.

      "Well, you make it work for you then."

      He sat down again, as if resigned to her presence. "I'm really not any good. I have five to write by midnight, and I'm sure they'll be mediocre and forgotten. Well," he added sarcastically, "they always say to write what you know."

      He stared down at his little gray notebook with a look of utter loathing. As if it were a dead cockroach in his shower. She was a bit taken off guard at the vehemence. These artistic types...

      "Hey, I'll help," she offered. "First, take out the panes of glass. The eye thing has been done too many times to be effective. I think you should add numbers, but make them out of order."

      "Why?"

      "Because then there's no frame of reference. You think the numbers mean something, but they really never do."

      The stranger didn't reply. He was writing, "Non-sequential numbers (denies frame of reference) in neat, miniscule handwriting. Only when he had finished to his satisfaction did he look up at her expectantly.

      "What?" she said. "My chest is down here, blockhead."

      There was an awkward silence as he passed over that comment entirely. "What do you think I should write next?"

      "Do they all have to be nightmares?"

      "No, in fact it's discouraged. Visionary dreams are in now."

      "Those are easier to write anyway."

      "Yes, because they're not as deep."

      Later, she would never remember exactly what they came up with for the other four scenarios. But it seemed as though several hours had passed when she said,

      "You know, normally I would find this all pretty weird. But it's not like that at all, Silver."

      He nodded, looking sad. "That's because it's breaking up now. Tomorrow you'll forget all about me. But thank you. Anyway."

      Just as she was beginning to say, "What?" she jolted herself awake. Slowly the walls assembled themselves into the bedroom of her apartment, complete with awful orange 70s wallpaper. The windows were dark, so it was after work hours.

      On the bedside table was a Styrofoam cup of coffee. Well, better than a blue flower. Hesitantly, she picked it up and took a sip. She grimaced. It was terrible. Oversweet from all the syrups and at the same time leaving a bitter aftertaste. To think she had served this to so many unwitting customers as an introduction! And most of them had said they liked it.

#

      Walking to work at 8:45 the next day she saw a strangely familiar artist scratching on the pavement with chalk. How she recognized him she couldn't say for sure, because she was never able to pinpoint anything distinguishing in his features. Height: normal. Face: normal. Hair: sort of brown. Clothes: normal.

      Angel stopped in front of him. "Hello again."

      He looked up, guilty.

      So is it this particular coffee shop that appeals to you? Or do you hop from one place to another for your free drinks?"

      I like your dreams of this place. They make it seem very cheerful and peaceful."

      Oh. Really? So, how do I know whether this is a dream, or if I'm meeting you for real this time?

      He shrugged. "There is a way to know if your body really is where you think it is, but you probably won't like it." He motioned her forward, and she leaned in curiously. Then he pinched her ear. Hard.

      Ow!" She jerked back. It really stung. And worse, it had been totally unexpected. "Why?"

      You couldn't feel that in a dream."

      She glared back at him before turning on her heel and marching away. At the glass door of the coffee shop, she hesitated. Then she turned back.

      He looked up expectantly, just in time for her fist to land in his eye.

      Ow! Why did you..."

      She shrugged. "You looked like you didn't know what that felt like."

      They looked at each other. He kept one hand clamped over his left eye. Three eyes looked at each other. Finally, he said, "Can I see you later?"

      Ok."

#

      They sat on a bench overlooking the river. The lamps had been on for a while, and couples passed them on their way to restaurants and shows.

      What's it like writing dreams?"

      Boring. It's candy-colored nonsense most of the time, and if people do remember, it doesn't mean anything. They go about their lives just the same. You spend your day thinking up scenarios for your portfolio, and your nights wandering the unconscious fitting them to whatever raw material, that is individual hopes and fears, you find. The next day it starts all over again."

      She laughed and shook her head. "I don't get you. Reality's boring. You keep trying new thing and it always turns out they're just as lame as the things you were doing before. No matter how romantic something sounds, it always changes when you try it for real. In dreams everything, no matter how trivial, seems to have some deep meaning." She leaned forward to look at him. "Like my coffee shop."

      I don't understand." But he said it in a way to invite her to say more.

      You said in my dreams the place was ‘very peaceful and cheerful. Come on. In reality it's a hole-in –the-wall place with mediocre drinks and a psycho owner who only tolerates me because my craziness complements her own. It will last another two or three years tops before it goes out of fashion and people ditch it for the Starbucks down the block. But in your eyes it's a charming place with flowers and a bookshelf of paperbacks to borrow."

      Silver only smiled. "You forgot to add, ‘Very kind employees.'"

      They were silent for a while. She said, "Say, how did you get into dream writing anyway?"

      It's easy enough. Though you probably won't like it. You die in your sleep."

      He said it so casually. That's what scared her. The tone left absolutely no room for doubt. It wasn't a joke or wishful thinking. He had accepted it, long ago.

      Um, sorry," he continued. He put out a hand to touch her shoulder, but drew back, curling his fingers into a fist. "Damn! Why do my words always fail?"

      Angel giggled at that, and the tension broke "Are you a ghost?"

      I hadn't really thought about it. I suppose here I might be. It's really more of an alternative to an afterlife than an afterlife itself. You'll understand, when...I mean, humans never really get it."

      Hey, are you saying I'm stupid?"

      What? No," he answered quickly. "I wouldn't say something like that."

      Nah, I'm just messing with you. Stop taking afterlife so seriously." Angel stood and leaned over the railing to look out at the dark water. The streetlamps left little patches of light-ripples on the surface. It almost seemed like a dream, especially when he came to stand beside her.

      Are you sure you won't try to blot it out tomorrow?"

      She looked down at their hands on the railing, judging the gap. "Honestly, this is the kind of thing I'd want to be true, even if it wasn't."

      Daintily, she extended her fingers and linked a pinky with his. It would have ruined the moment to say anything, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smile.

#

     They met again in an endless expanse of water that was only one inch deep. There were birds, but so far off in the sky they seemed to be in another world.

      I thought you might like this. It's really old," he explained apologetically. "But it's a creation I still don't hate, even now."

      Trying to impress me, then? I warn you, I won't be so easily wowed." She skipped ahead, splashing the shallow water. It was teasing, but also meant to flatter. After a moment he ran to catch up with her.

      I do have one question. Am I really here, or will I wake up in my bed again?"

      For answer, he caught her hand. "Not many humans walk bodily in dreams. But not many have a friend on the other side."

      It still feels like a dream," she answered . "I mean too happy. I can't believe I'm not going to pay for it later. In real life, moments like this just don't happen."

      In dreams," he said, "It's just as rare."

#

      "So what vision should we grant her? I know, she's late to an exam for a class she never attended all semester."

      She's not even a student."

      That's what makes it fun. Come on, don't be so morally superior you won't use your power to play with people a little."

 

      They walked through a green exit sign in the classroom, and stepped out of a church door.

      "Ohhh, cool," said Angel. "He's on a homestay in Germany and can't stop thinking about huge, empty cathedrals. He should dream of being back home in Melbourne, and with girlfriend, whom he broke up with before leaving. Only towards the end of the dream will he realize he has no memory of the flight home."

      "That seems needlessly cruel."

      "Hey, no one forced him to take the trip. He's gotta learn you can't have it both ways."

      Silver only nodded, with no further comment. In the next dream he led them to, he said, "This one left his family for his career, and because he was bored. In his dream, they'll be grown. The happy future he always wanted. But when he tries to call them something always prevents him. And then even the photos are strangely blurry."

      "Sounds like a melodrama."

      "I don't punish people unless they deserve it."

      "Okay, noble. That's why I like you." 

#

      Nearly a month later, Angel fell asleep and found herself in a dingy gray office. Two dreamweavers sat across from each other at a vinyl table. One was Silver. The other seemed older and had dark hair. He had a vague appearance, like a shadow.

      The senior dream weaver was saying, "No, in fact your performance has improved significantly lately. You're more inventive, more willing to take risks. Both are important in this vocation. As a relative newcomer, you probably aren't aware of this, but such partnerships have existed before. Humans call the dream weaver a ‘muse.' While such things aren't usually sought out, they're not discouraged either. An employee's work is more relevant than his or her particular methods."

      "Thank you. That's very open minded."

      The senior dream weaver raised his eyebrow, but chose to ignore the sarcasm. "In any case such a frivolous person would be unable to reveal our existence or change people's attitudes toward dreams." He shuffled through a binder on the table in front of him and drew out a sheet of paper. Shifting colored images displayed the layout of a dream. Angel found she could recognize it. She had suggested the butterfly tree.

      Looking up from the paper, the dream weaver said, "But speaking as your supervisor, and more importantly as a friend, I would advise you to consider this relationship as one of mutual convenience. The human gives you insight, and you give her harmless entertainment. Don't expect her to understand your situation. No human can. And don't think you entirely understand her, either."

      Silver tensed. He had been wary before, but this was more marked.

      Oh, Angel thought. He's mad.

      "And have you ever worked with a human?"

      "Not personally."

      "Then I won't expect you to understand my particular methods. Even if you had, you'd still have no right." He stood up to collect his portfolio. "If this fails to please, by all means reprimand me."

      Left alone, the supervisor leaned back in his chair. "It's always the quiet ones," he said to himself. "They really should put coffee machines in these rooms." He looked idly around the interior, and Angel was suddenly afraid that he could see her. In that moment of fear she found herself awake.

#

      One unintended consequence of Angel's role was that she lost the ability to be taken in by dreams.                    

      She returned to her apartment, only to find her ex-ex-boyfriend sitting at her desk, looking exactly the same as on that last tearful goodbye at the airport.

      He gazed at her dolefully, and guilt wrenched inside her, though she had always found the doleful look off-putting.

      "Marie, is that you?"

      "Marcus? Oh, Marcus. I'm sorry about de-friending you on Facebook. After promising to stay in touch...I just thought it'd be easier, y'know?"

      She patted his head as her mind raced. He and Silver must not be allowed to meet at any cost. How had he found her, anyway? She had been careful to cut all contact...

      Suspicious, she bent to examine his face. "Silver?"

      "Nope!" With a grin, the Marcus-shape skipped out of the chair, transforming into a girl under ten with a thin face, and twitchy, rodent-like movements. Another dream weaver. "I tooold you so!" she sang in the direction of the kitchen, where Angel now realized Silver had been watching the whole thing.

      Looking from one to the other, Angel demanded, "What exactly is going on?"

      Silver looked down, but the child answered merrily. "I told him girls like you have a lot of guys in their past. But he didn't believe me..."

      "Quiet, Mouse," Silver snapped.

      "Meanie," the girl muttered, and fell silent.

      Angel rounded on Silver. "You could have just asked!"

      "Sorry..."

      Aware of the other dream weaver's critical stare, Angel came close to Silver and put her arms around him. "Crazy jerks, all of them," she whispered. "I just wanted to forget."

      "Should I punish them?"

      "What? No! Geez..."

      "But they hurt you. To betray a lover, I just can't imagine how someone could do that."

      Too serious. Now she'd have to unblacken her exes...  

      The child's voice scatched through her thoughts. "I'm still here, you know..."

      "Leave us," Silver commanded. Eye rolling, "Mouse" stretched and melted away into nothing. Then it was just them with no dream children or phantom exes to ruin the moment.

#

      "Wow, it's amazing! Just like I imagined it."

      I know. I used your imagination as the building blocks."

      They were standing at the foot of a tower, a graceful, delicate minaret of shining white. The carvings were so fine as to resemble lace. At the very top was a cupola, which sometimes opened into a giant flower. The last section leading up to the cupola had no stairs.

      The last part of the journey has to come as a gift," said Silver.

      I'm glad you remembered."

      They sat in the flower pavilion, looking down at the grounds. He made a luckdragon fly below them, singing. He seemed content not to talk and just sit with his arm around her, but she asked,

      I still don't get why you had to show me this today."

      Think back."

      To when?"

      Six months ago."

      For a moment she blanked. Only when she analyzed his face for clues and saw him start to get worried, did she realize what she had missed.

      Ha, I'm just testing you," she said. "So are you counting from the day we met or the day I whacked you one?"

      He took her hand. "Either is okay. You've shown me more real kindness than anyone, even when I was human.

      I'm not kind. She said, "What about your friends?"

      I don't care," he said to close the discussion.

      Later that day she went and got her hair dyed white, to match the tower. It seemed an inadequate gift, but what could you give to someone who lived in dreams?

#

      As Angel gained more experience, she began to enjoy taking a more active role in dream scenarios. Now she was on TV interviewing a 30-year-old housewife who had just written her first novel, volume one in a bestselling fantasy series.

      People always told me my stories lacked substance and they were all tell-no-show.  But then I write Fairy Dream Girl and suddenly everyone likes it!"

      And where do you get your ideas?"

      You know, from reading great literature. Current issues. Life!"

      What do you hope your readers will take from your work? Is there some overarching theme?"

      Oh, theme is the most important part of a story. Essentially, I want young girls to learn that no matter what anyone says, if they believe in themselves they can live their dreams."

      When do you find the time to write?"

      Now I'm staying home to take care of Hunter, I have time to write. I know he requires a lot of attention, but when he's sleeping or playing I can do some typing and still be there for him."

      It must have been a lot of work. Editing, rewriting. By the way, who's your publisher?"

      The woman's exquisitely made-up face seemed to crumple as she thought about this question. "I'm..I must be self published because I don't really remember..." She put her face in her hands as her windswept hair fell into real disarray. "Oh God it's not real, is it? Why didn't I know?"

      The lights flickered and the walls of the studio seemed to crawl like melting paint.

      Silver was there. "It's breaking up. As soon as the mood is lost there's nothing left to hold a dream together."

      The woman was actually sobbing. Angel hadn't known you could do that in dreams.

      I'm so worthless. Stupid. I'll never do anything, ever."

      Slowly, (as Silver stood by watching) Angel approached the dreamer and wrapped her arms around her. "At least you have people you care about. And who care about you. That's something."

      Who are you?"

      Angel shook her head. "I'm nobody."

      The woman vanished. She had stopped dreaming, leaving Angel and Silver in a run-down studio that had been abandoned for years. Soon the remains of the room would fade too, as they were no longer needed. Most of the color had already seeped away when Silver said,

      Well, shall we go?"

"I want to stop doing visions. Let's change things up."

"What do you want to do?"

"How about nightmares? That's how this always turns out anyway."

"All right." He opened a seam in the wall, and they walked off together in a dark tunnel.

#

      The Ivory Tower seemed to be a special dream place for Silver, because he had marked it out especially for Angel. So she returned there every so often, but for her the charm of dreams was that they were always different. What she would do when they finally ran out, she didn't know.

      This time  the sky was gray, and the stone no longer glittered. But whose hopes or fears caused the change, neither cared to ask.

      "Can you lie in dreams?" she asked.

      "Things are always disguised," he answered after some thought. "But never concealed."

      "Then I want to say...There might come a day when you start to hate me."

      "I seriously doubt that."

      "I mean it. For most people I'm nothing special. But some people--and I can tell who--really like me. Some people really hate me."

      "I can't imagine anyone hating you. It would be like hating sunshine, or life itself."

      There was a pause.

      "Okay," said Angel. "It's the same people. The ones who hate and the ones who like. It's always the same."

      Below them the maze was beginning to turn gray and insubstantial. This was what happened in the story when the Nothing ate its way into the heart of the land. It was what had to happen.

      "When you do," she said, "remember this. And try not to hate me too much."

      "I'll never hate you," he repeated.

#

      Then came the nightmares.

      The monsters that lurked in the corners of the ceiling, that only you could see.

      The gory movies that wouldn't turn off. And then the characters started talking to you.

      All the light switches and lamps that just inexplicably and against all hope, didn't work.

      The people with gruesome masks, who, when they took the masks off, had no faces at all.

      They walked through the world of dreams, sowing misery and despair. Then came one dreamer to whom Silver said,

      This one is stuck in an endless desert of bones, where no matter how long he stays, no one knows his face or his name. Only the birds caw in rasping mockery. And each day he wakes knowing that nothing will ever change his fate. If only one day..."

       Angel interrupted,

      It took her five years of college to get a degree in English she'll never use, and she's had a series of stupid jobs, and a string of guys that don't really get her, so she dyes her hair in a pathetic attempt to look interesting because there's nothing interesting inside."

      For the first time, Silver looked ironic. "That's extreme, isn't it?"

      I'm done. I suck at this." She stepped out into the gray dreamspace that comes right before you wake up.

      Are you all right?" Silver asked cautiously.

      Sure, why wouldn't I be jazzed about living through nightmares? I don't get any kicks in real life. My boss can only pay me for part time now, so I make up the difference tutoring the kid next door in SAT English. Twenty lousy bucks an hour."

      Well, I'll drop you off here," said Silver, who seemed determined not to argue. "If you want to talk later, you know how to find me."

      Yeah."

      Hope you feel better."

#

       While waiting for her appointment at her usual hair salon, Angel read a magazine article about what lip gloss colors celebrities were wearing. It had been a long time since she looked to the real world for amusement.

      When it was her turn, the stylist asked her, "What will it be this time? There's this new shade in called Blue Ruin..."

      "I don't really feel like a primary color today."

      The stylist held up a length of hair speculatively. "You could always go with Raven. It's very dramatic."

      Angel looked at her plastic-cloaked self in the mirror. "Actually I think I just want brown. Light-ish brown." Then she smiled.

      "Brown would be cute," said the stylist. "Let's take a look at the chestnut palette..."

      When she went to pay, the clerk said, "Looks good on you."

      "Really?" She vaguely remembered seeing him here before, but she must not have paid attention. He was taller than either Angel or Silver, with dark brown hair and an angular face emphasized with narrow glasses. But when he smiled, he almost beamed.

      "Sure," he was saying, "nothing wrong with distinctive hair. (I won't deny a few months with dredlocks myself.) But before when people notice, they notice the girl with That Hair. Now you'll be noticed for yourself."

      He tore off her receipt and scribbled something on the bottom edge before pushing it over to her. "I hope that wasn't too pretentious. I did minor in philosophy."

      "My philosophy journey got me as far as Hume. Then I gave up on the class." She slung her bag over her shoulder and turned to leave.

      He held the door for her. "You know, if you had just stuck around a little longer, you would have gotten to Descartes. Then you get to prove you're thinking."

      "For some that would be difficult indeed. But I think I could try."

      "Then look him up."

      She smiled and waved back. "I will."

#

      When Angel finally did get to the coffee shop, the owner kept her forty minutes going over the icing because no one besides Angel could get the distinctive criss-cross pattern just right.

      "I really feel you need the lighter colors and textures here to contrast with the rich taste of a cake donut--especially if it's pumpkin flavor."

      "You're such a live-saver, Angel Really. I just feel sorry for that young man of yours. He always seems so droopy for some reason. Vitamin deficiency..."

      Angel threw the last batch in the oven and thumped down the wooden stairs to the dining area. Of course he was still waiting. Sitting on a bench by the bookshelf with a package of flowers under one arm and a plastic shopping bag in the other. He looked so forlorn, she immediately walked over and put her arms around him.

      "I'm so sorry..." She meant to finish, "For being late," but he put his head on her shoulder and the words withered and died. After a moment she said, "Hey, let me get you a latte, Ok? You need coffee. Then we'll talk."

      He pushed the flowers at her, and she caught them against her chest. "Daffodils, huh? These are sweet. So sunny. Okay, coffee."

      Soon she had gotten two drinks and pulled an extra chair to his table.

      "I pushed you too far," Silver spoke up suddenly. "I asked you to walk into deeper darkness than humans are meant to endure. When all I could see was my own career. For that I'm sorry."

      Angel slid into her chair. "Oh, it's not your fault. My own stupid idea, remember? But you're right. It turned out lame. For me, I mean. You were in your element."

      When the oven dinged, she brought them two of the donuts. Silver ignored his and removed a gray velvet case from the shopping bag. He pushed it over to Angel.

      She put down her mug. "For me?" she asked, trying to smile. Inside the box was a silver chain threaded with a crystal. She held it and let it turn in the light.

      "For a human, walking in dreams might be futile," he explained. "But this will show you your dreams in their purest form."

      She let the pendant fall into her hand, and closed her fingers around the chain. "I can't accept this."

      "It won't harm you," he reassured her.

      "No...I mean I can't." She hurried to find words to explain. "I mean, there's no way you need me spouting random nonsense to inspire you, when you're obviously writing dreams just fine on your own."

      "I never saw you as a sidekick or secretary."

      "I know." She slumped down and let the crystal fall gently on the table. The chain spread out like a spider's web. "It's us too. I don't think we should see each other anymore."

      He started to say something amid which she heard the word "Sorry." She sat up. "It's not your fault, okay? You've done nothing wrong."

      As she spoke on, she knew for the first time that an apology could hurt more than the most elaborately constructed insult.

      "That day in the coffee shop, it wasn't by chance. I was looking for someone. It could have been anyone. It happened to be you. Since then, every word, every gesture, every look was calculated to an effect. I was curious. I wanted to see what you could do if you gave yourself the chance. I'm just sorry I had to lie to do it."         

      Silver looked like he was struggling to find some different interpretation to her statement, some loophole. Though his reply proved he understood her perfectly. "Then..." The effort was obvious. "I forgive you. It doesn't matter now."

      It was almost too painful to continue. But Angel knew that showing weakness now would spell disaster. The only decent thing to do was be cruel, keep twisting the knife and hope for a clean break.

      She lowered her head and said, "There's someone else."

      In the silence that followed she didn't dare look up right away. Studying the tabletop, she spoke softly to fill the gap. "I wasn't looking for him. He found me. And he didn't like me because I had bizarre hair and acted annoying."

      Then she looked up. It seemed odd, later on, how even in the moment she could think, "That's the expression he had on the day we met, like he's looking at something disgusting and slimy he'd like to get rid of." Except this time it was directed at her.

      A crack appeared in the front window. It grew with a scratching sound, and suddenly every window in the room exploded into a thousand shards of glass. But they didn't fall; they spun suspended through the air as if gravity had been temporarily waived.

      Angel rose from her seat, with a stunned idea that she should find a doorway to stand in. As soon as she moved, splinters stopped their forward trajectory and wobbled in place so that none cut her.

      "A dream?" Angel whispered. "Guess I should have known. Ursula never listens to my suggestions about baking." She looked at Silver. He was still seated in almost the same position as before. But now he leaned his head on his hand, looking bored.

      "It's ironic," he told her. "Now you admit to beginning our acquaintance on a lie, when to be honest I did the same. You don't need to die to become lost in dreams so that even your body vanishes. You simply enter the dream world through accident or arrogance, and fail to find your way back to reality. Or you can trespass on the hospitality of the dream weaver who invited you."

#

     Angel ran through the never-ending hall of doors. She was so exhausted she could barely make her legs move; it felt like running through syrup. But she didn't doubt that something nasty was coming up behind her, waiting for her to stumble. Her only hope was that if she could put a few corners between her and the thing, she would be able to slip into one of the rooms and wait for it to pass by.

      One pane of glass looked out onto her Ivory Tower. Somehow, even though she could see the whole building from roots to cupola, she could still make out the two figures at the top. One was Silver, and next to him a girl with white hair. She tried to call to them, but Silver only looked back vaguely as if he didn't recognize her. The white girl blew a kiss.

      Then Angel had to run again. Just when she thought for sure the monster was right behind her (but she didn't dare look), the maze ended in a green exit sign, and she slammed against it and pushed through into the night.

      Now she was standing on the same bridge where she and Silver had idled. There was the same lamp, and the same iron bench. Someone was sitting on the bench, but as she came closer she saw it was the dark-haired dream weaver from the office room. He was wearing the same suit as before, and had a briefcase on the ground next to him.

      Angel froze, suspicious that he had recognized her. He motioned to her to sit down, saying,

      "Yes, it's a mess, isn't it? I only just arrived myself. Come, we have much to discuss."

      She took a seat, a little self-consciously, making sure to keep at least 12 inches of space between them.

      He leaned back with one elbow on the back of the bench. "Angel, isn't it?"

      She nodded.

      "I'm Shade. A colleague of Silver's. I think I've seen you somewhere before?"

      Angel shrugged. "We see many friends in dreams, but unless all dream alike, you cannot ask others to remember."

      "Touché. Then let's get to business. This might be difficult to explain for a human, but you've heard the saying, ‘If you die in a dream, you only wake up?'"

      "Yes."

      "Well, then. As applies to us who live in dreams, I suppose you could say your friend met the fate of those who fall asleep while already dreaming."

      "No! He's..." She choked, "...Dead?"

      "Lord, no. Worse. He...quit." Shade looked as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. "When the company hasn't had a loss in fifty years. To craft his own dreams, to become lost in them, or perhaps even walk the human world again. The arrogance."

      Angel thought she knew where Silver had found the grit.

 Shade rose. At the same time, he took the briefcase, letting it dangle from his hand.

      You've been elected as Silver's successor. That's the only reason I'm here this evening." He tossed her the briefcase, which she caught heavily against her chest, wincing. "This contains all the materials you will need. I look forward to your first report."

She glared at him as he turned to walk off. No wonder Silver had hated him.

"Don't I get a choice?"

"It is unorthodox. But we have quotas to fill, and Silver praised your highly for powers of illusion. Waxed eloquent, in fact. But as you're my colleague now, and I have a certain regard for those who share my fate--I'll give you a piece of advice.

 "You may have heard the legend about two gates to the land of dreams, one that shows true vision, and the other that gives forth meaningless lies. Forget it. Gates of silver, gates of horn, it doesn't mean a Goddamn thing. In the land of dreams you're screwed either way."

      Angel watched him fade into the night. The corner of her mouth twitched, and then she shrugged. Briefcase in one hand, silver necklace at her throat, she walked off to begin writing her own dreams.

 

 


Author Bio

Stephanie Gertsch is an average American 20-something trying to make her way in Japan. When she's not working or studying, she likes to puzzle out strange and unlikely scenarios. Sometimes it turns into a story. Stephanie blogs about her experiences in Japan at http://lisestarlancer.blogspot.com/

 


 

 

"Gates of Silver, Gates of Horn" Copyright © 2014 Stephanie Gertsch. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 10-28-14.

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