My assignment is on Helen of Troy, but she’s frightfully boring. She keeps dreaming of sitting in an empty palace. That’s all. Just sitting. She doesn’t get up to walk toward something or someone. She just sits. How are you supposed to learn the motivations of a historical figure if all she dreams about is sitting?
It’s not due until next week, so tonight I can go where I want. “Chimera, take me to Anne of Cleves.” The wives of Henry VIII of England are fascinating. The German queen’s dreams are my favorites.
“Anne of Cleves again, Dreamwalker? Would you not prefer another time in history?”
“No, Chimera. I want to go somewhere I know. Will you join me?”
Chimera materializes in front of me. Her lower body is the strong, lithe haunches of an albino Siberian Tiger. Her legs are covered in soft fur striped in white and black. From the waist up, she is a young woman with creamy skin. Her breasts are artist perfect, and I feel the expected pang of jealousy when I see them. Though full and soft, my breasts aren't nearly as perky, and I am not ashamed I envy Chimera her perfect bosom.
Her face I do not envy. Not because she is ugly. A creature of dreams cannot be ugly. But she is too idyllic in her features. She is too symmetrical. She is too pretty. I understand your doubt that there is such a thing as too pretty, but I assure you, there is. Her dirty blonde hair is cut short to her ears and frames her face in that picture-perfect way.
I look at her, and my dream body materializes. When we are young, we pretend we are what we can never be. In dreams, we create a self that we can never live up to. We are who we have always wanted to be. Chimera was my first dream companion, and she was my first love. It is not surprising that my dream body is very much like her own.
I too have tiger haunches, white with black stripes, softer than goose down and more delicate to the touch. My torso is a little less perfect than Chimera’s. Not because my ideal is less perfect, but because I didn’t want to insult her by becoming her copy. Dream Guardians honor the bold, the creative, the inventive. My choice of body was meant to honor her in return. So, my belly is a little larger. My breasts are a little less perky. My face is far less symmetrical, so that I find my face more lovely than hers. My hair is long and wound in pieces around my head.
Chimera, ever the formal one. If I could, I would teach her to speak like a modern person, but then my darling companion wouldn’t be timeless. And that’s what the ages require: Dream Guardians who are timeless, ageless, and tireless.
“Then let’s visit my dear friend Anne, shall we?” I step next to Chimera and wrap my arm in hers. I lean my head on her shoulder and smile up at her. “Can we find one of her dreams about Henry? I do so love her romantic ideas of him. They’re so preposterous!”
“I shall try my best. We can’t always have a flawless walk.”
“Understood,” I straightened up and said, “let’s go.”
What draws me to Anne of Cleves with my free nights is her innocence. She was raised to be a consort to nobility, but she was not taught that her sexuality gave her power. So, she knew nothing about it. Her dreams are simple and unfettered by high education and lust for power. She is the adult I wish I could be. Free of the ties that bind us to reality, her dreams soar above mountains and touch her soft as a butterfly.
Chimera clasps my hand and the air in front of us shimmers. It swirls in a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. When the air solidifies into a plasma vortex, it glistens in silver and grows large enough for us both to walk inside.
My first step is always the most difficult because while I want to venture into the land of dreams, I often wonder what happens to my body if I don’t come back. Then, my mind starts creating scenarios that would occur to prevent me from returning to my body. Then, I get to the scenario where Chimera turns against me and says I must stay with her forever and keep her company because she is ever so lonely, and I begin to distrust my beloved friend and guardian. All of this takes the space of three seconds, but it’s a vivid panicky moment that prompts me to consider withdrawing my hand.
But I never do. Because Chimera is my Dream Guardian, and no matter how lonely she gets when I wake, she knows I will always come back the next night until there are only nights that stretch out before me.
The second step is a step down onto a bed of squishy moss. As my stomach settles, I grow accustomed to the bounce in my steps. The moss is soft on the pads of my paws. My four legs wobble, so I have to take a cue from Chimera how to stay balanced on the unsteady ground.
“Where do you think we are?” I ask her.
“It would seem that she has found herself in a bog. The British Isle has sufficient land mass to suggest she is still in England.”
“I wonder when though. There aren’t any bogs near London. This must be after her divorce.” I walk across the moist land and feel the power of my haunches with each movement.
I love Chimera’s shape. It’s made dreamwalking easier. If I feel powerful, then I must be powerful, even when walking through someone else’s dreamscape. Chimera is the bravest beast I know. It’s not permitted to discuss your Dream Guardian with others. Each Guardian is tailored to the walker, and it’s too personal to share.
I can’t help but be curious though. What does that blonde girl in the third row see when she sleeps? How long did it take the tall guy with those dimples – oh, those dimples – to get used to the sight of his Guardian. Is it a hybrid beast like Chimera? Is it a talking elephant? Do Dream Guardians take human shape? I tried to ask Chimera once when I was new to walking. She refused to answer my questions. When I wouldn’t stop pestering her, she refused to open a portal, and I failed three assignments before she was convinced I understood forbidden territory.
The sunshine, clear skies, and open land get into my head. The squish around my toes makes me giddy, and I take off at a run. I hear Chimera behind me, but I want this moment for myself. For this brief moment, I can be free of all the obligations, needs, desires, and wants of everyone else. No assignments requiring completion. No chores that need doing before it’s an overwhelming avalanche. No meals to make. No dishes to clean.
No, the word that holds me back and keeps me so low on the totem pole is for once my word of freedom. I should be a leader among the Dreamwalkers. Chimera has pointed out many times that my interpretations are spot on. Of course, she phrases it with a more sophisticated tone, but it’s the same meaning.
Instead of taking my place where I belong, I wallow in doubt. Instead of looking to explore new territory and learn new things about the world that led to where we are now, I retreat back to my safe zones. I relate to the women who resigned themselves to their fate with quiet dignity. I seek out Anne of Cleves instead of Catherine of Aragon.
I once did an assignment on Catherine the Great of Russia, and I was so scared of her passion and desire for a strong Russia that I fled to dreams of her childhood in Prussia. I couldn’t handle such a fierce woman being in my head. I was in her head, but you see my point.
Anne of Cleves is my safe place. The disgraced queen gave up her family just to keep face in the British court. Her husband divorced her and retitled her his sister. She sacrificed a piece of herself in order to keep her back straight. I know that feeling. It’s why I come here. To see who she is in her dreams, so that I may be just as strong.
Chimera catches up to me, and the bog gives way to grasslands. We aren't near enough to the coast to hear the waves, but I can smell the damp in the air. It is a balm to my nerves that have been frayed all day. I slow to a walk with Chimera beside me, and then I see her.
The best thing about Dreamwalking is that because it is a fantasy, no one is ever surprised that you are there. They take your presence as expected, and they interact with you as though you are a part of them instead of an intruder treading in their deepest feelings.
Anne of Cleves is neither as plain nor as fat as history would have her be. She is a healthy Germanic princess with hips meant for riding and birthing children. I feel sorry for her that she will have no children of her own.
She is wearing a cotton shift and running through the tall grasses without abandon. The smile on her face speaks volumes to the freedom her dreams give her. I wonder if today she will ask for a ride on my back as she has on so many occasions.
Turning, she sees me, and her smile grows larger. I think she remembers me until Chimera touches my shoulder. “It is not us she sees, Dreamwalker. Behold.”
She turns to look behind us, and I follow her line of sight. An entourage is riding toward us on gilded horses surrounded by baying hounds. I look back at Anne and I watch her face change. Her smile fades from a bright sunshine to a cloudy day with a lone ray of hope peeking from the shadow overhead. She starts moving away from us, and I turn back to the hunting party.
The horsemen are men of clearly noble birth with the way they control their rides with their legs more than the leads to the mouth. The head huntsman is dressed in finery with fur lined jackets. His cap bounces as he rides toward Anne, and the white feather glides on the wind, a flag announcing the king. Even hunting he wears jewels that glint in the sun. Gold shines across his broad chest, and I take in his massive bulk. His horse is a monster of a beast to support a monster of a man.
As the party gets closer, a pair of greyhounds has sprung to the front and are dancing with each other before the lead horse. Their coats are slick with their journey through the boggy land, and they are enjoying the opportunity for fun.
The king is laughing and the men that ride with him laugh just as loudly. I look back at Anne, and panic flashes in her eyes. She turns and runs away from the man she had married.
Henry spurs his horse on to get closer to Anne as he pulls a cross bow up to his chest. “She’ll make a fine trophy in my hunting cabin! Come, Suffolk. Catch me up!” The leather of his saddle squeaks as he flexes his legs to encourage the horse to move even faster.
He is charging straight at me. My fears of dying in a dream flash through my mind, becoming far too close to real. The crossbow rises higher, and I watch him take aim at his wife. He is going to shoot my friend. I start to run toward Anne. I will carry her away, and we’ll enjoy a picnic on the beach instead of this nightmare.
Chimera grabs my tail, and the pain of being jerked back by an appendage I don’t usually have is a shock. I fall to my front knees and cry out. “You cannot interfere, Dreamwalker. This is her dream. You are here to observe and interact with minimal impact. You cannot prevent a nightmare.”
I start to cry for my dear Anne who is running through the grass. My vision is as good as I want it to be in the dream realm, and I focus tighter in on her. The tall grasses are whipping her legs, leaving red welts that must sting.
Briars have started growing up in her path. Her shift that started white is splotched in pink where the briars scratch at her feet, ankles, and legs. The dogs bray as they race out before the horses, and I get to my feet again.
Damn the rules, I will help my friend. No one deserves to be put through such an ordeal. The sky has gone dark, and it is much colder now. The king doesn’t glisten and gleam. His jewelry and tackle jangle like the chains of a tortured ghost. He starts to chuckle as he sets his aim.
Chimera throws her arms around my torso to hold me down, and I have to close my eyes. I can’t watch him shoot her. I can’t watch my friend be taken down like tonight’s dinner to be mounted on a wall and roasted on a spit.
The seconds pound by, and I want to scream, but I can’t. I can’t breathe in enough to get a sound out. Chimera is crushing my lungs to keep me from charging after the selfish monster about to pierce my darling Anne with his arrow.
She screams. It is as horrifying as I expect, and my chest no longer hurts with the force of Chimera’s hold. My heart is breaking, and I must go to her. I must help her.
I open my eyes and run. I run as hard as my four legs will push me, but I can’t gain any ground. I’m running and watching as Henry brings his horse up short and dismounts. His laughter is swarming my head like wasps defending a nest. I push myself to run harder, but I can’t get to them.
He is rotund and monstrous, yet he has no problem getting off his horse and walking towards his fallen prey. I focus on Anne, and my sight blurs from tears. She is lying on the ground with a bolt in her chest. Her shift is turning red as her heart continues to pump blood through the wound. The briars have kept growing, and her legs are wrapped in spiny vines cutting into her skin and climbing towards her hips.
She is crying and trying to scream, but the bolt must have punctured her lung. I hate the dreamscape that lets me hear every raspy breath that crosses her lips.
Henry is walking painfully slowly, savoring her pain. Suffolk has caught up and stays atop his horse. This is not a hart that will fight in her panic. The king is not in danger. He is going in for the kill.
Henry slides his dagger from its sheath at his hip. Within two steps, he’s standing next to Anne lying on the ground. The fear in her eyes makes me stop running. My sobs are loud enough for the both of us. The glee in Henry’s face as he lowers his knife to her throat makes the bile rise in my throat, and I scream when I see her blood spurt across his knuckles.
Chimera barrels into me, pushing me out of the dreamscape. I wake up in my cell, the echo of my scream still bouncing around the walls. The headmaster must have heard me. I panic that he will come to my room and learn I was not in my assigned dreamscape again.
Getting out of bed, I stand on the cold stone floor and wish as always that I could get a bigger rug. I walk to my dresser and stand, looking in the mirror.
I’m wearing a white shift of cotton just like Anne.
I don’t make it back to the soft bed before blacking out.