Jane Harrison is the Dreamer of Nian. Not that anyone knew it, when Great Grandpa Joel passed the gift down to her he was laying on his death bed, cheating time with every last breath he could manage, and he only bothered to tell her not to let anyone know. Quickly, Jane is forced to come to terms with her new abilities, and a mission of saving a land she has no responsibility for.
"Let's go!" Dad gripped the steering wheel tightly and the car lurched forward. "Morons. We'll never make it on time."
I stared out the window, watching the streets and platinum colored buildings go buy. I didn't know how I felt about Great Grandpa Joel. We only visited on holidays, and even then I didn't pay him much attention. We pulled into the parking lot of the old folks home and hurried inside the building. Really it was just a glorified hospital for old people, but with dim florescent lights and carpeting.
"Take your earbuds out," Mom whispered harshly as we walked though the first pair of doors.
I pulled at the wires and stuffed them in the pocket of my coat. The woman at the desk unlocked the door and let us in. I followed my parents across the lobby and down the first hall. The rest of the family was already inside, crowded in the small space facing the bed in the middle. Everyone knew Great Grandpa Joel was dying, even he knew it, but Dad's side of the family wanted everyone to be there to show how much he was loved when they took him off the machine, even though they were mostly gathered here out of guilt.
I stood against the wall and tried not to sneeze. The room smelled of stale air re-fresheners and powerful cleaning supplies. Really, the entire building smelled this way, but it was even worse on the second floor.
Grandpa Joel coughed and everyone moved to help, but the nurse beat them to it.
"Where was I?" he mumbled. "Oh yes, the Harrison's,"
Everyone looked up. Grandpa Joel only had one daughter, who ran off with a boyfriend to live somewhere in Colorado when she was twenty-four, and then all boys down to the grandchildren. Of the seventeen great grandchildren, I was one of three girls, also the youngest of the cousins besides Clair and Wyatt.
Scanning the room for my parents, I quietly pulled my earbuds out of my pocket. It would be a while before my turn to say goodbye came.
He was mid sentence talking about the good old days when he stopped. "Is Jane here?" He must have seen my parents.
Embarrassingly, I took my earbuds out again and put them in Mom's outstretched hand, her all-knowing eyes shaming me as I walked toward his bed.
"Hey, Grandpa," I said when Dad nudged my back.
"Hey kiddo," His voice was dry and raspy.
I felt a sharp, perfectly manicured finger poke my back. Looking over my shoulder Mom raised her eyebrows.
"Can I get you a glass of water?" I suggested.
"No," He coughed, drool sprayed his hand and he whipped it on his blanket. "I'm fine."
I gulped. I didn't know what else to say. I waited patiently for him to start talking again.
"You know," he coughed again. "You always where my favorite grandchild." I quickly scanned the room to see if my cousins had heard him, but they weren't paying attention. "You've always reminded me of myself. Which is way I was saving something for you." He coughed again, trying to clear his throat as he reached for something underneath his pillow. The nurse tried to push him back down but he wouldn't give. After another moment he pulled out a small red box and dropped it into my hands. "Can't remember which one it is, but thought it would be the easiest way to get you there."
"Get me where?"
I picked up the silk cube and examined it. It was heavier than I had expected. The red cloth was adorned with plastic gems and faded yellow thread. A simple latch once held the lid close, but the hook had fallen off. On the side Great Grandma Cecil's initials had faded into the fabric.
He looked at Mom, then back to me with caution. "Promise me you won't get ride of it, it's special, and it can't be yours until you've met with the Father's of Time and the Sister's of Measure. You must keep it with you."
"What can't be mine?" I started to open the box, curious to try and see if what he was talking about was inside.
Suddenly Grandpa sat up and stopped me, holding my hand tightly to the top. "Not now!" He yelled. "What are trying to do? Kill me! Wait until tonight, promise me!"
"At ten, you have to be the first," he coughed, "no one can know."
As the Uncle's helped him back down I stood and backed away. I had never seen the old man get so worked up over something.
Dad moved to help him back onto his bed. "Come on Grandpa, you have to lay down."
"You can't let anyone know who you are." His excitement threw him into a coughing fit. "There, or here. You have to wait until you're alone or it will be bad."
Mom's hand gripped my shoulder. Suddenly the machine above the bed began to beep quietly. The nurse turned from flirting with Uncle Eric and walked toward us. She looked at Grandpa Joel and then the computer next to him. After adjusting the oxygen tank the machine stopped beeping.
"I think that's enough for today." She began ushering us out of the room. "Let's give Joel a break, and you all can come back tomorrow."
"Jane!" Great Grandpa Joel called after us. "Find Margaret, she'll help you."
The chilly air of mid January blew snowflakes across the frozen sheets of snow. I held the little box gently between my hands as we drove home. I didn't know that's how Great Grandpa Joel felt about me. I didn't think we were anything alike, but here he was offering me the only gift that he really cared about, one that seemed to come from the peanut gallery. Sure Aunt Annette was given the task of locating, and retrieving a shed full of Great Grandma's stuff, but it's not like she was told not to let anyone know why she had to do it. I guessed Grandpa could have developed a kind of dementia since the last time we visited, but he didn't seem like he was confused.
A sudden pot hole jerked the car, inside the box the sound of little beads clinked together in protest. Again I considered opening it, we were far away from Grandpa, he wouldn't know I had disobeyed him and opened the box early.
As if my thoughts were projecting onto Mom's brain, she turned around in her seat and opened her mouth.
I pulled one earbud out. "What?"
"I said, what do you think is inside?"
I clamped my hand on the lid. "I don't know."
"Guess we'll just have to wait. It's exciting though, don't you think?"
Setting the box inside the cup-holder, I put the earbud back in and watched the trees go by, promptly falling asleep with the vibrations of the car at my back.
The little box rested in front of me, creating a small divot in my blanket where it sat. I stared at it, memorizing every crease and stain it had acquired over the years, while trying to guess what was inside. It was almost ten, just two minutes to go. Mom was in the study down stairs, working on another case while Dad found a late night snack. Finally, the clock turned and I reached for the box.
All this waiting had driven me to cleaning my room, something I tried seldom to do. I had a system, one which allowed me to surpass a small closet and a wardrobe with such an attitude it rarely let me open any of it's drawers without a fight. I called it the clothes trough system, a series of bins under the edge of my bed I could keep my t-shirts and jeans neatly folded in while I bargained with the empty box of wood. This only worked if you kept a tight schedule of washing your clothes in a timely matter and immediately folding and putting them away, a chore I already hated. So I spent the time going through the piles of laundry against my desk and door, and coming up with a peace treaty for the wardrobe. It would have to be burned before it willingly excepted my underwear.
I flipped the lid open and stared inside. The box was filled with buttons.
I dumped the buttons out and sifted through the different sizes and shapes. In the middle of the pile was a small ring, probably put in by accident. The simple piece of metal was beautiful and missing two of the five white opals. I picked up the ring. I didn't remember Grandma's ring, or if she even had one, but it looked like something she'd wear. I tried it over my fingers, but it was so small it only half way down my right ring finger. A burning pain shot through my wrist and I yanked the ring off. On the inside of my finger the skin had turned red and stung. Below the knuckle a small spot puffed up like a blister. I blew on the skin, the heat was gone but it still hurt.
"There's food in the kitchen if you want some," Dad said as he opened the door. "You okay?"
I showed him the blister on my finger. "There was a ring in the box, it burned when I tried it on."
Dad picked up the ring and inspected it. He put the ring on the tip of his pinky finger, but nothing happened. He raised his eyebrows. "Well, come on downstairs and we'll take of that."
I scooped the buttons in my hands and tossed them back into the box, Dad did the same with the ring.
"I made the sweet rolls, so we'll have to think about something else for breakfast tomorrow."
A bright light pierced my lids and I squeezed my eyes shut. I stretched, my whole body ached and shivered with the cool breeze. I reached for my blanket, but my hands filled with gritty dust. A shadow covered my face and something rough drooped across my body. I opened my eye, a woman crouched in front of me. She was dressed in many layers, the tips of her long graying hair brushed the orange sand. I sat up and looked around. Other than the short train of wagons passing a few feet away, all I could see was never ending sky and a sea of orange sand.
"Siz yaxshimi?" The woman asked, drawing my attention.
I gave her a confused expression. "What?"
"Uning kimlig so'rang." said a younger woman.
The older woman reached for my shoulders and helped me stand, my legs felt numb.
"Qaerdan kelding?" she waited for me to respond, but I didn't understand. She scratched her chin and pointed to the wagon. "Yurasizmi?"
"Shunga o'shash" the younger one said, exaggerating her steps toward the wagon.
Realizing they wanted me to go to the wagon, I nodded my head and followed them over.
"Tu nima?" The younger one asked.
The older one pointed to her chest. "Chirri," she pointed at the younger one. "Kenishca." She pointed at me and raised her eyebrows.
"Jane." I answered.
"Jane?" They copied.
I nodded and they smiled. Chirri was shorter, and had a more boxy build than Kenishca. While Kenishca strode with the grace of a young woman no less than thirty, her smile betrayed her stern features. Her long brown hair cascaded down her tan arms in large curls.
Kenishca pulled the curtain aside on their wagon as I passed underneath. The inside was covered in reds, purples, and yellows. Different goods occupied the many shelves and hung from the frame of the wagon. The aroma of spices was thick inside and made my nose itch. Chirri began searching through one of the crates while Kenishca held the curtain closed. She pulled out a dark red dress and held it up to me, measuring it to my body. It's short puffy sleeves and layered skirt was made in different styles to make it look more loose and busy. I held it with one hand and the blanket with the other as she dug through the chest again and pulled out a pair of brown pants and a shorter under-dress. Handing the last of the outfit to me she left, urging me to hurry. The red dress's neckline matched the brown under-dress, while the pants puffed out under the edge of the skirt, giving it more body. I opened the curtain to leave but Chirri stopped me. She adjusted the neck line of the dress and pulled the sleeves below my shoulders. She looked at me with the scrutinizing eyes of my own mother, looking my outfit up and down. Kenishca pointed at my hair and made what sounded like a snarky comment, but Chirri agreed with her. I guessed blonde hair wasn't a good thing to have here. She pulled one of the scarves from her neck and wrapped it around my hair like a turban. Allowing me to keep the blanket on against the chilly morning, they guided me around to the front of the wagon. There were two benches, a young boy sat on the front seat next to an older man hunched over with his hat covering his eyes,
"Adham, Aman," Kenishca called, grabbing their attention. "biz tayyoramiz."
The older man pulled his hat back and sat up. He covered his mouth as he yawned and stretched, then began rumbling a series of excuses. Kenishca waved her hand impatiently and helped me up to the back bench. The younger one, Aman I had guessed, gave a short up-tuned whistle and the wheels begin to turn. The cart wasn't attached to any animal, nor was there room for it to have an engine, but it rolled on. As the boy's pitch changed the cart speed up and got back to it's rightful place with the rest of the company, fourth to last, and then slowed down to the pace of the other carts. Aman stopped whistling, but the cart continued to roll.
By the state of their wagon, I imagined they were traveling to a vast city filled with people, great buildings and good smells. When I blinked I expected to be there, but the endless ocean of sand stayed in front of me.
The cart moved on, the sun climbed lazily up the sky, casting exaggerated shadows of the wagons on the ground. We rode for hours, the heat changing with the time. Kenishca pulled a rope against the wall of the cart and a thin curtain fell down, she handed one edge to Adham and the other to Aman, and they hooked the screen to the end of the bench. It wasn't comfortable, but it was better than sitting in the sun.
Soon the sky turned a pale yellow, fading to a dark purple. We stopped well after dark, my endless journey to this desolate place was rewarded with the amazing sky of stars and colors. Two large moons danced together across them, one a pale blue, the other a light pink with a visible crater on the side that left a trail of rock and dust. The company separated into groups of three carts, pulling the wagons together for shelter. Fires were lit, bread rolls, raw vegetables and dried fruits were passed around and music began playing at some of the camp sites. Once prayers were said I was allowed to bite into my roll, the outside was hard and almost completely black, but the inside was pale and fluffy. Wheat shells not fully ground got wedged in between my teeth as I chewed. The men began talking, about the trip I figured, and about me based on the looks they stole. Chirri rolled her eyes and tried to tell me not to worry, but ended up looking like she was just constipated. Kenishca and Adham sat close, holding hands and leaning on each other like newly-weds. Their son, Aman, poked a stick in the fire and waved it in circles. Kenishca gave a warning and he stopped. Chirri, in her loving grandmotherly way, was eager to make sure I felt included in the group, sharing her cup with me and making sure I had plenty to eat and understood the basics of the stories being told from the others in our group of thirteen.
The men kept the fire well stocked. Bedrolls were laid and final good-nights were spoken. I tossed and turned in my place close to the fire, another one of Chirri's 'helps'. I faced the outside, the blanket Chirri had given me draped across my back, shielding me from the heat.
"Xayrli tun." Chirri said next to me, almost ordering me to fall asleep. I moved my bedroll a few inches away from the fire, just enough not to burn, and promptly fell asleep.