“My friend, we have come through unscathed. Why do you cry?” I ask her.
“You are not done, Dreamwalker. There is much before you, and the night is young.”
“What do you mean?” I don’t like the fresh tears that are forming at the corners of her eyes. It’s making me nervous, and I feel a creeping uneasiness run down my back.
“The dreamscape you built; it is much larger than that first test. You are very powerful, and you built many layers to this test. Now that it has begun, we must complete it.” She looks away from me and I see her tail drop to the ground and curl around her feet. “I didn’t realize it was so deep when I brought you here.”
I want to hold her and tell her we’ll be fine. She is older than documented human history, but when I look at her, I see a child that needs a comforting hug. The solid feeling I get when my body materializes takes over me, and the lightness I had is gone.
I shift on my feet to get a feel for the body I now have. I look down at my copy of Chimera’s shape, and I cry out. My legs are no longer white and black striped. Instead of a tiger, I am now a lion. Just like the Griffin. I don’t want to be the Griffin. I want to be like my guardian and friend.
Chimera must see the fear in my face. She takes a step toward me and puts her arms around my shoulders. “You defeated the first Griffin,” she whispers in my ear, “this is the spoils of your victory.”
“But I don’t want it,” I whine. I wince at the sound of my childish response. Swallowing back the tears that want to choke me, I whisper back, “I want to look like you.”
“I believe you will find yourself much changed at the end of this journey, my dearest.”
I close my eyes and rest my head on her shoulder. My dearest. This creature outside of time that knows more than I could dream to considers me dearest. For that I can find courage. I can keep going.
Taking a deep breath, I step back. “I suppose we should keep going. If this really is as deep as you suggest, the sooner we start, the longer we have to finish.”
“You have but to take the first step. The world will build itself around you as we move forward.”
I stretch my hand toward her and flex my fingers until Chimera takes my hand. Her coal-black wings flap as she rolls her shoulders in preparation of movement. The wings are so large; they must be heavy. I want to ask her if she’s gotten used to them yet, but I know that’s just a delay tactic. I have to take this step. I have to move forward. Fear is only a hurdle to be overcome. Over, under, or around; fear will not step me.
I step cautiously with my right forepaw and feel the ground soften beneath my foot. Each step comes down on a spongy blackness. It’s like being back in the bog with Anne. My closest human friend in the dreamland who I watched cruelly die at the hand of her ex-husband.
My thoughts are rambling, and I can’t stop them. Before I can hang onto a single thread of thinking, it flits away into the blackness that still surrounds us.
The next step is onto solid stone. It is cold against the pads of my paws, and I don’t like the chill it sends through my body. The hair on my haunches bristles at the discomfort.
Gusts of wind blast me in the face, throwing my hair into my face. My vision is blocked by a tornado of toasted strands connected to my head. I raise my hands and try to get the tangled mess under control, but the wind continues blowing. It is coming from various directions, and I have no way to tie my hair back to keep it out of my eyes.
I bend my head down to try to find a way to see through the torrent of frizz. I can’t look forward, so I look down at my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something on my hip. Dropping my hands, I feel a belt around my waist. On my right hip rests a hilt with a leather-wrapped handle sticking out of it. I grasp the handle and pull out a double-sided blade. It can only be called a dagger. The blade is the length of my hand, wrist to fingertip.
As the metal is exposed to the air, the wind increases its tumult. My hair begins whipping my face so sharply it leaves thin, stinging welts. Strands intertwine to strike harder and leave larger welts. I stare at the blade, and I know what I’m supposed to do only because I don’t want to so badly.
I love my long hair. It cascades down my back in a chocolate waterfall, and I like being able to finally braid it.
But this is the dreamscape. It’s not really my hair. There shouldn’t be a problem with cutting off this nuisance that is only going to keep hurting me. I don’t want to cut my hair. It’s the most feminine thing about me. Not even my larger-than-average breasts define my feminine identity as much as my hair does.
Which is why it has to go.
I grab a handful of hair and saw at it with the blade. It’s sharp and cuts through cleanly. I grab another hank of hair and change my cutting style. Instead of sawing, I press the blade against the hair and flick my wrist away from my head. I drop the strands. The winds carry them away like dried straw.
It takes six or seven more cuts, and my hair is no longer long enough to fly into my face. The winds quiet, and I am grateful that the ground beneath my feet is not scattered with the discarded cuttings.
I look at Chimera, and the pity on her face fades as she looks in my eyes. It shouldn’t be this traumatic; hair grows back, and it’s not even my actual hair. I’m in a dreamscape. A dreamscape that was built by me to challenge myself to achieve greater heights. I sheath the dagger and take a deep breath.
Taking Chimera’s hand again, I continue to move deeper into the dreamscape.
I take a dozen steps, and the ground starts to shake. A deep rumbling sound grows louder, and the ground between my feet cracks. I have to let go of Chimera’s hand and jump to the left. I’m in the air, bracing for a landing on the ground to the left side of a crack that is growing larger.
I come down, but where the ground was a second before, now is a gaping chasm. I am falling, and I don’t have Chimera’s wings to fly out. I’m so heavy; I can’t get my stomach to stop fluttering with the sensation of falling. I’m going to die in my own dream.
I’m going to die in my own dream.
Where is Chimera?
Why didn’t I take on wings like she did?
Why did I have to have lion haunches, so I’m a huge lumbering beast falling through a void of nothingness?
Why am I still falling?
I’m still falling. I am still falling.
Is this another part of my test?
Where is Chimera?
I look up, but all I can see is darkness. The dreamscape above is blackness, and this pit is even darker being devoid of Chimera’s inner light.
I am falling for a reason. I’ve cut off my hair. I’ve been cut out of my body by a Griffin. I’ve separated myself from doubt.
Why am I still a hybrid beast then?
I sigh in annoyance with myself. These challenges are supposed to make me stronger and more independent. I want to be less reliant on Chimera. That must be why I keep being separated from her. I am a human in my personal dreamscape. I have power here. I will take control of my power.
I close my eyes. The darkness behind my eyelids is comforting instead of stark like the pit. Starting slowly, I roll my head around my shoulders. Gaining rhythm, my torso starts to move, and soon, I am spinning in the gaping chasm. I raise my hands above my head, and place my palms together. My body becomes an arrow, pointing to the sky.
I feel a change in direction of momentum. Still, I spin and spin. Curious, I pull my mind from my body to see just what I look like.
I have shed the lion haunches. I am a complete human girl, naked and spinning. My eyes are closed, but there is a faint smile on my face that makes my soul warm. Despite the hacking efforts I made, my hair is in a stylish bob around my head. The stomach paunch that I so despise in reality is there on my dream body. I look closer at my legs and see they point downward with my toes pushing as far as they can.
I am a bolt of lightning made flesh soaring into the blackness that awaits.
I burst through the fissure in the ground and the world around me blazes white. Drifting like a leaf on the wind, I float down to the ground. Landing on my feet, I continue lowering myself. I sit with my right leg bent across the ground, leaning on my left knee, my arms wrapped around my bent left leg.
The feel of my body is strange. I’m not used to being in my actual body in the dreamscape. Dreams let us escape who we are for a time. That is the point of my studies. We seek to understand who we become when the rules of the world around us are no longer preying upon us.
I don’t want to stand up. This test is far less gruesome than the Griffin, but it feels so much more personal. It’s easy to tear away the physical form. It’s easy to break through the everyday lies we tell ourselves to justify why we are the way we are.
This is more than a physical rending. Cutting away my hair touched something that I don’t really understand yet. I couldn’t hold on to the dream body when the last vestige of my false self was cut away.
I feel broken.
And I’m not sure I know how to stand up.