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 mostly played with my cousins. We pulled into the parking lot of the old folks home and hurried inside the building.
"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 living room facing the bed that replaced the couch. 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 listened quietly. The room smelled of stale cigarettes and old dust. Really, the entire building smelled this way, but it was even worse here.
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 to live somewhere in Colorado, 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 Aunt Jackie's books when he stopped. "Jane." Grandpa's voice turned their eyes on me.
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, though I knew all three cups held old coffee.
"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," Great Grandpa Joel 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. Darn. "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 lap. "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 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, it can't be yours truly until you've met with the Father's of Time and the Sister's of Glory. 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, backing behind the chair. I had never seen the old man move so quickly, it was startling.
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 else it won't work."
Mom's hand gripped my shoulder. Suddenly the machine above the bed began to beep quietly. The blond woman turned from flirting with one of the cousins 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 old gardening supplies, 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. I shook my head. The only thing that really made any scene was that I had to open it alone, and even that was strange.
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."
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 a case while Dad found a late night snack. Finally, the clock turned to ten 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 complex, a series of bins under the edge of my bed I could keep my t-shirts and jeans neatly folded in while I pleaded with the wardrobe. This only worked if you kept a tight schedule of washing your clothes in a timely matter and immediately folded and put 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 to terms with 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 snorted, it was last thing I would have expected. I dumped the buttons out and sifted through the different sizes and shapes. Stuck around a black and green one, Great Grandma Cecil's engagement ring gleamed under the lamp light, probably put in by accident. The simple band was missing one of three fake diamonds, but was pretty nonetheless. I felt suddenly obligated to take of it, to put it somewhere safe like anyone else would, but my attention was quickly drawn to one of the buttons. It was black and bronze, the word FASHION was painted across the middle, with hearts on the top and bottom. It looked like something you would find on an expensive coat. I set Grandma's ring inside the box and reached for the button. Static fizzed between it and my fingers, sending shivers up my spine. I debated picking it up, but the shock wasn't too bad. I studied the plain thing, there was nothing special about it, but I couldn't put it down.
A knock on my door brought me to my senses and I hid the button under my knee.
"Sweet rolls are done if you want some," Dad said, the smell of baked bread and sugar wafted in.
"I'll be down in a second."
Quickly, I scooped the buttons in a pile on my desk and stowed the FASHION button under my pillow. I didn't know what to do with the ring, so I set it next to the buttons. Grandpa would probably want that back. Checking the special button one last time, I eagerly joined Dad for his midnight snack.
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 layers 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. They guided me around to the front of the wagon. There were two benches, a boy sat on the front seat, hunched over with his hat covering his eyes.
"Adham," Kenishca called, waking the boy up. "biz tayyoramiz."
The boy pulled his hat back and sat up, he couldn't be much younger than twelve. 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. Adham whistled and the wheels begin to turn. The cart wasn't strapped 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. Adham stopped whistling, but the cart continued to roll. I assumed his final note acted as a cruise control.
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 walked lazily across 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 they hooked the screen to the end of the bench. It wasn't comfortable, but it was better than sitting in the blazing 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. The company separated into groups of five carts. Fires were lit, bread rolls and raw vegetables were passed around, and music began playing at some of the camp sites. Kenishca and Adham sat beside a man with dark skin and a long beard, I figured they were a family by the way they acted. Kenishca the loving wife, while Adham the obedient son. Chirri watched over me like mother watches her child, sharing her cup with me and making sure I had plenty to eat. Once the prayers were said I was allowed to bite into my roll, the outside was hard and almost 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.
After a while I began to feel sleepy, a different exhaustion than I had during our trek. I catch myself nodding off and turn to Chirri. She nodded her understanding and guided me back to the cart. In the corner of the wagon she set down different patterned blankets and a thin pillow. I smiled and nodded my head to thank her. Before she left she clasped her hands around mine and kissed my knuckles.