There is nothing more dangerous than a dream, Rivka. Your elders, old women and men like me, know this and have surrendered seeing dreams. Now you do not believe me; all children live for hazy worlds constructed with matchsticks and butterfly scales—you grow up from that, zeeskeit.
Ah, there again—you doubt. I see you shake your head over the fire, sending sparks dancing through your hair, and I know why the kind dreams love you more than me. Youth blooms through you—enough to rattle my bones into telling you stories. This, I suppose, is why you ran up the mountain in the depths of midwinter against your mother’s permission, carrying nothing but your slippers and satchel.
Such dedication must merit something. So here, your story:
In a land far removed from ours, where it snowed flower petals instead of ice, a girl named Nava collected dreams in a woven basket. A fragile, ghostly girl, Nava found she loved no one, and no one loved her in turn.
The village which housed her did not fear her. Rather, she was and would remain a bastard, the daughter of a strange woman who spoke a strange language with a strange, jewel studded tongue who had drowned herself in a nearby river.
When all was still and quiet in the evenings, just before the sun touched the horizon and the moon broke from its nest, Nava would listen for her mother’s last, faint cry in the waters.
Always an odd child, Nava passed from hand to hand. Each house that tried to raise her gave her up. This girl, they would say, is unmanageable, unreachable. She creeps about at night, doing who-knows-what.
So when no family felt required to keep her fed and housed, Nava was set loose to the river, where she built her own house from oak branches and reed fronds and thunderclouds and lightning strikes.
The solitude gave her peace. Nava treasured the hours when others slept, even if sleep itself came to her rarely. She had learned how to touch temples and comb hair to release the dreams building up inside a person. Spinning in the open air, those dreams painted beautiful fantasies only Nava saw.
The dreams, you see, loved her.
You know that dreams have thoughts and feelings of their own. You know too that only occasionally do dreams make their nests inside human noses and skulls. Some dreams mean no harm. Others mean all the harm in this world or that world.
Nava was like you and I. Unlike the poor, blind people of her village, Nava saw dreams in their natural states, with no human host. Nava was the first of what we now call the Dream Speakers. Nava conversed with the spirits, and in turn, they kept her company.
But one heavy and hot summer night, Nava reached her seventeenth year, the year that the consciousness of a Dream Speaker fully separates from their body and soul.
A dark spirit saw this and hid itself in her basket. Only he did not look like a dark spirit, he looked like the love Nava had never had. He rose in her house that night.
“Lovely one, can you really see me?” He said.
“I can,” Nava replied, using a knife to strip another layer of wicker for her basket. “So tell me, why are you here in my village?”
Now this spirit was as clever as it was dark and beautiful, and it said to our Nava, “I am looking for you because I need you. Only you hold the key to freeing me.”
And Nava, who had never been needed before and who had never known that she needed to be needed, felt a new sensation rise in her chest, almost as if a pit of roses made its briary nest along the lining of her stomach and in between the white pillars of her ribs. “Need me? Why?”
“Close your eyes, and I will tell you.”
Nava did as the spirit instructed, and by laying his palm across her cold forehead, the spirit cast Nava into sleep, a sleep which he inhabited, taking her body as his own, hoping that by capturing her, he might fill the void that churned within him, for he had never seen someone so at peace with their own solitude.
For years, he walked with Nava’s legs.
They traveled as one being, from desert to highland, Nava still encased in her sleep. Finally, the spirit came to realize that the wholeness that Nava had did not come from this world, so he took her body to another through twisted and strange passageways.
When he finally let her go on the peaks of our mountains, a quarter of a century had passed. With her eyes at last opened, Nava did not recognize her own skin. “Why,” she cried out to the spirit, “Why have you done this?”
The spirit, already gone, did not answer.
With a scream that broke ice from the mountains, Nava cast her dream seeing power high into the air and away from her so that dreams might never torment her again. A man that inhabited those parts and had never met another living soul heard Nava’s weeping. He was our Zayde.
It took many months for Nava to trust him and many more to love him, but when she gave birth to her new daughters and sons, the magic Nava had cast from her found its home in them. When she learned that they too could touch and taste and speak to dreams, she told them the story that I tell you now.
And on their seventeenth birthdays, Nava’s children forsook their magic like I have and you will.
So now, you know. Someday, you too will reach the age where your consciousness can come unmoored, and you will make your choice, but go now, go enjoy your dreams and your new worlds of delight.
Artwork: Alexandra Khitrova, Moon light