The long line that had formed down the grand corridor never dissipated even as the Registrar was averaging three to four entries per minute. The quill in his hand shook violently as he scribbled down the information in their appropriate categories.
Item 1: Class
Item 2: Subclass
Item 3: Duration
Item 4: Cycle Number
Even as a very simple form, it was up to the Registrar to assign every entrant a destination based on a careful calculation of each line in relation to the others. Having mastered this task within the past seven-hundred and thirty-two years, however, it was as effortless as brushing his teeth.
“Class?” he asked, poised to write. Before him a woman stood clothed in sheer black lace and a scarlet bodice.
“Fantasy.” The Registrar ’s mustache bristled slightly.
“All night long.” He peered over his glasses at her for a brief second, then his quill continued to dance along the page.
“Cycle number?” There was no answer. “Cycle number?” The Registrar looked over her closely, examining her reluctance to answer. “You can either tell me, or I’ll look up your previous records.”
“Two,” she finally answered. The Registrar was dissatisfied.
“You’re at least a five. Maybe even a six.”
She stammered, “But how—what makes you think—”
“You’re missing a leg, sweetheart.” He pointed the feathery end of his quill towards her skirt.
The woman let out a cry of indignation. “How dare you!”
“Let’s see it,” the Registrar insisted. She looked about her seeking some kind of support, but the next few in line who had been overhearing the dialogue remained unsympathetic if not a bit curious to see for themselves.
“This is harassment!”
Realizing the state of her dilemma, she hung her head before pulling aside the flowing skirts. After a moment of looking down at the one remaining leg, the Registrar nodded solemnly. “It’s not the end of the world, you know. Everyone’s got to get reprocessed at some point. Why would you want to keep going on like this? Eventually it’ll be the other leg, the hands, the middle. Nobody’s fantasy there.” The woman burst out a volley of sobs she’d been holding in. “There, there.” He patted her hand, but simultaneously jerked his head to summon a pair of orderlies over. They took her arms and waited for him to fill in the lines of a blank ticket and rip its perforated edge. He handed it to the woman who looked at him with sorrowful eyes. “Don’t fret, now. The chances of you coming back as a nightmare is a four to one. Well, three to one. At worst it’s a fifty-fifty.” Her sobs returned as she was escorted away from the counter, and the next in line scooted up.
“Ahhh,” the Registrar sighed. “Duration.”
“I couldn’t really say. Out there in the suck where the only thing between you and the Almighty is a gun and a bullet, an hour could seem like seconds. But the nights…the nights last a lifetime!” The soldier blew out a stream of smoke from his cigarette.
“No smoking. What’s with all you soldier types? Now…what was the duration?”
“Thirteen minutes,” the soldier mumbled.
“Four.” The Registrar went back to his ticket book and filled out another for him.
“Next!” The Registrar called. “Class?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.” The Registrar looked up, annoyed with such an absurd statement. Over the centuries, he’d heard many excuses and stories but never something so ridiculous. A class was, well, a class. Every dream was born with one or the other, and to not know was simply impossible. He studied his subject through narrowed eyes, finding a girl on the edge of maturation. She stood serenely with her hands clasped loosely at her front, an innocence in her eyes but an equal determination in her smile.
“Do you know how long I’ve been doing this job?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” she began apologetically, “but as efficient as you appear to be, I would say for a long time.”
“Almost eight hundred years!” The Registrar exaggerated, extending a finger towards the domed ceiling high above his clerk’s visor.
“Oh, my! That is a long time. You must be the best there is.”
The Registrar eyed her even more closely, searching for sarcasm but finding none. He leaned in deeply and lowered his glasses. “You’re a little young to be here, aren’t you?”
“I’m almost nine,” she boasted.
“What do you mean,” the Registrar stammered, “nine? This is your ninth cycle? Why that’s simply impossible.”
“But that’s what—”
“Child, I have no time for these games.” The Registrar huffed and took up his quill again. “Now, tell me your class. Day or night?”
The girl stood silently biting her lip, her eyes jumping from left to right in consideration of the two options. “Both?”
The Registrar slumped forward, removing his glasses with a long exhalation. With eyes closed he spoke. “Young lady, I do not have time nor energy to entertain such tomfoolery. You are either one or the other. Not both! You can’t be both because there are only two classes of dreams! Night and day!” The Registrar caught his breath and continued quietly, “That is simply how this works.”
“Oh!” The child suddenly brightened with a newfound understanding. “But I’m not a dream.”
The Registrar blinked behind his glasses and stated quite assuredly, “But of course you are.” The girl shook her head patiently. “Then what could you possibly—” The Registrar choked his question to a halt, the dawn of realization breaking through. “Oh. Oh my.” From under the counter he produced a slanted microphone at the end of a cable and blew a cloud of dust from its base. Muttering to himself he flipped the switch and began speaking but stopped as his voice did not amplify. “This blasted piece of useless junk…Ah!” He gave it another try. “Attention! Requesting directorial assistance at station four! Requesting directorial assistance at station four! Code White. I say again, Code White.”
With the announcement came a flurry of activity from all around, including the other six counters where those registrars began craning their necks to have a look at the subject of such an alarm. The little girl did not move yet fell under no anxiety. Her contentment and tranquility remained in eyes that befriended the Registrar. The Registrar himself looked back into hers, and a shadow of sadness fell over his face for he knew she did not understand.
From across the Great Hall a small formation of guards approached in step. When they reached the station, the center two stepped aside and a suited gentleman took two long strides forward. He looked down at the girl before him, then with a single motion he removed the fedora atop his head and bowed graciously.
“Hello, young lady.” Turning to the Registrar, he assured him that the torch had been passed and to resume his work. Then back to the girl, “It seems there’s been a little mix-up. Yes?”
“I suppose so,” she replied, uncertain if she truly had any idea what was going on.
The gentleman grinned at her. “I am the Assistant to the Director of REM, Reverie and Trance. I apologize on behalf of the Intake Division for any inconvenience you may have experienced. If you’d kindly come with me, we can sort all this out.” The Assistant Director extended his hand towards some unknown destination beyond them.
“Of course,” the little girl agreed, but stopped after a step and turned to the Registrar. “Goodbye, Sir. I’m sorry to have troubled you.” The Registrar nodded but found no words to speak in return.
The girl entered the formation which closed around them again and walked along, marveling at the magnificence and beauty of the place. High above hung planetary rings as chandeliers glowing with starlight. Ribbons of amber extended through latticed windows to cast a hue of amber gold over the faces of a thousand dreams. As they ascended stairs to a second level in the palatial facility, the girl gazed over the rows of lines which seemed to extend beyond her vision. The lines wriggled with the subtle movements of the fairies, goblins, witches and freaks, clowns, acrobats, animals and insects, saints and devils, and some just ordinary looking people. The little girl stopped and peered over the rail, her eyes widening in awe.
“Twenty million, nine-hundred-thousand and eighty,” the Assistant Director proudly informed her at her side.
“What?” the girl blinked up at him.
“That’s approximately how many dreams you see before you now, and about twenty times that will come through each day. Of course, we’re only one facility of hundreds but as the Headquarters for REM, Reverie, and Trance, we draw the largest numbers.”
“What are they all doing here?”
“Reprocessing,” he replied, turning away.
The Assistant Director puzzled at her for a brief moment before saying in a hushed tone, “The Director is better suited to answer your questions.” He continued to walk, and she followed obediently until the group arrived at a tall set of wooden doors. The guards around them dispersed to take their own vigilant positions. The Assistant Director moved forward and led her through into an anteroom where a woman was seated behind a desk, though she did not pay them any mind. He instructed the girl to wait before slipping out of sight through another smaller pair of doors.
“Hello,” the little girl said to the woman who smiled radiantly in return.
“Hello there.” A clock ticked loudly in the silence around them. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Hope. What’s your name?”
“My name is Felicity.” The Assistant Director reappeared and instructed the girl to follow him in.
“It was very nice to meet you, Felicity.” The woman nodded pleasantly.
“And you as well, Hope.”
The next room was dark, its walls ascending to a height immeasurable in the shadows and filled with the greatest collection of books the girl had ever seen. In the center of the room was a single chair facing a great marble desk upon which a lamp illuminated a pair of wrinkled hands folded in solemnity. The Assistant Director gestured for the girl to continue on but remained at the door as she approached the chair and sat. Her hands folded on her knees, she smiled at the man behind the desk as his eyes lit up in recognition.
“Hope,” he said, then repeated as if uttering a word in an unknown language. “I am the Director.”
“Hello.” The girl smiled at the old man whose signs of aging were given another ten years in the dimly lit room. The click of the door closing behind her echoed. The Director’s eyes glided over the girl’s youthful visage as she marveled at the expansive library. “Did you read all of these books?”
“Half of them.” Hope’s eyes met his and he looked away. “The rest I’ve written.” After some moments of silence, “You must be wondering why you’re here.”
“Yes. The very nice gentleman who led me here said you would be better suited to explain.”
“Perhaps,” the Director nodded with a chuckle. “An industry as old as time itself. Older even. There’s been little change to the whole thing besides the obvious need for expansion, new facilities erected, and of course we reprocess dreams now. Several millennia ago, we were still incinerating them. But with the rapid growth of the human population we couldn’t keep up with the demand.” He stood and began walking along the shelves. “On average a single dream can be redistributed up to seven or eight times before being reprocessed into a different dream, and for approximately every seventeen dreams reprocessed a single dream is born.”
“But how is a dream born?” asked Hope. “Do they have mothers and fathers?”
“No, no. Nothing quite so complicated as all that.” The Director stopped and turned to her, his shadowed eyes sparkling. “Shall I show you?”
“Yes, please.” Hope straightened up with excitement.
Without speaking further, the Director took three long strides back to his desk and stood with his eyes scanning the books. After several seconds, his eyes widened, and he retrieved an old book bound in ancient leather and hemp string.
“Books,” he said, “are the portals through which dreams travel with least resistance. They may appear antiquated, even archaic, but there is a reason why good men read books and evil men burn them.” The Director returned to his desk and placed the book reverently down, running his fingers over the aging cover. “Now then…You’d better hold on.”
As he flipped open to the first page, there was a flash of light and the floor beneath her seat gave way. A sudden weightlessness overcame her body in free fall, and around her the movement of shadows shot upward in cascading streams. Her ears filled with the rushing of air and space as she plummeted into the dark. The fall seemed to be lasting some immeasurable amount of time, but after several moments she realized she was in fact slowing down. Finally, she stopped without the hint of a jolt, or rather, she felt as though she stopped, for in the pitch black she was uncertain. A burst of white broke the seal of darkness, and the silhouette of the Director filled a bright doorway before her.
“This way,” he informed her, then stepped into the light. Hope followed, fluttering her eyes against the transition.
From the top of a narrow staircase, she looked out over a cavernous space. Enormous glass tanks were in neat formations of rows and columns extending as far and as high as she could see, each swirling with vibrant hues of mauve around a glowing axis, and she realized this collective of cylinders was what kept the space illuminated. A series of walkways supported by curving trestles gave access to the tanks. Across them were dozens of white-clad figures appearing to be conducting tests and measurements, examining instrument panels and dials before conferring with clipboards and discussing their findings with one another.
On the nearest walkway, the Director stood with his hands in his pockets, pleasantly looking into one of the tanks. He spoke briefly with one of the people nearest before giving a nod of approval and returning his attention to her as she descended the stairs. “These are the incubators.”
“Are those dreams inside?” Hope asked in fascination.
“Dreams of the Second Order,” said a thin voice from behind them.
The tallest woman that Hope had ever seen approached silently. She was dressed in white like the others but had long straight hair that seemed to blend directly into her slender overcoat that was lined with several small and unidentifiable instruments that one could only assume were for some scientific use. On top of her head rested a pair of circular safety goggles. The lady stood with one gloved hand holding the other.
“Hope, I’d like you to meet the Superintendent of Creation,” said the Director.
“Hello,” said Hope.
“These are dreams that occur while both asleep and awake,” the Superintendent continued, forgoing formalities. “And they do not have any direct connection to the dreamer’s reality. Only the light you see is the dream. The colors around it are the elements we keep circulating through to ensure the dreams stay well-balanced. It is a special combination of three parts imagination and two parts reality, the reality only necessary to make the dream believable in the way that old wives’ tales become legends. Of course, these are only the most basic of elements. Upon maturation, each dream receives their class and subclass and are then assigned a human. They can be transmitted simply even without books, making them the more common type of dream. It’s all a fairly simple process with very few incidents.”
“Incidents?” asked Hope.
“On extremely rare occasions, there will be an error in an incubator and the combination will get reversed to three parts reality and two parts imagination. It doesn’t hurt anyone, of course, but it makes for a rather boring dream.”
“That’s not so bad,” Hope smiled.
“Not for the dreamer,” the Superintendent said beginning a slow pace down the walkway. “But for us, it can lead to an array of complications in the reprocessing, and sometimes force the incineration of the dream due to its instability.”
“Oh, my! That’s just awful.”
“A dream with too much imagination can exhaust a dreamer to the point of insanity,” said the Director. “Too much reality can drive a dreamer to believe that there is some deeper meaning in the dream.”
“You mean there’s not?”
“You must understand that a Dream of the Second Order is no more than a hallucination, a manifestation of nothingness.”
“They seem very real to me,” Hope replied, gazing intently into one of the tanks. “And they’re quite beautiful.”
“It’s not that they don’t exist,” said the Superintendent. “A hallucination, though something unreal, is still something. Technically, nothing is something. It is the absence of a thing. It can be dangerous to misinterpret something as nothing, however, especially for humans. They have a bad habit of going overboard with it. Nihilists…” The Superintendent shook her head in annoyance.
“I’ve had dreams before,” said Hope as they continued along.
“Have you?” the Director asked.
“I think I have, in a way. They were more like feelings, like the way I feel now in my stomach. It’s the same way that happens a lot while Lucy is reading, especially when she reads Matilda. She’s read it three times already, you know.” Hope tucked her arm over her middle and scrunched her lips. “It’s not a sick feeling, just peculiar. Exciting.”
“Really?” asked the Superintendent with a hint of surprise. “What is your name, child?”
“Hope,” she beamed.
“Hope?” the Superintendent repeated with a raised brow.
“She just arrived,” the Director explained.
“Ah. Well then, that’s not so surprising,” she nodded to Hope. “Dreams such as those found in books are forever connected to their source, and it seems this is the connection you have made through that particular book. It is an occurrence we call Conception. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is the reaction when a human’s hopes and dreams combine. These reactions form Ideas.”
“I guess Lucy has ideas a lot,” she smiled.
“Lucy…this is your human’s name?”
“Yes. Sometimes her ideas don’t work out, and that makes her sad. Or she forgets some.” Hope looked out over the warehouse of dreams in warm reminiscence. “And sometimes her ideas do work out. And that makes her happy.”
“Conception involving a Dream of the Second Order happens quite infrequently,” the Superintendent replied dryly. “However, it is not completely unheard of, and the Idea almost always results in being forgotten.”
The tanks appeared to grow brighter as they neared an intersection of eight walkways where, in the center of the intersection, a book as old as the first lay on a pedestal. The Superintendent picked up two pairs of tinted glasses beside it and handed one to Hope and one to the Director. “Here. To protect your eyes.”
After lowering her goggles, she ran her long, slender fingers around the edge of the book before opening the cover. There was another sudden flash of light and a weightless journey into the dark, but Hope soon found herself walking again through a lighted doorway. The three of them had entered another seemingly endless space filled with more glass tanks, though the light at their cores was incredibly brighter than in the previous area, and she was grateful for the glasses.
“What are all these?” asked Hope.
“These are Dreams of the First Order,” the Superintendent answered. “The kind you connected with in that book. Here they receive both the elements of reality and imagination. However, they also receive the third and most vital element for their development.” She pointed ahead to the top of one of the tanks. “See there?”
Standing atop the glass tank were a pair of the same figures in white, one positioning a large hose above a steel port and the other connecting it to the tank with a ring clamp. Once they were certain it was securely connected, they climbed down a ladder. Two large valves on adjacent sides of the tank were then turned in slow, synchronized rotations. Above them behind the glass, a sudden burst of deep blue erupted into the swirling scarlet and crystal light until it had become a bright and shining violet. Hope took in a gasp of amazement.
“What is that?”
“That, my child, is Belief,” the Director said, smiling.
“Belief,” Hope whispered. “It’s magnificent.” The Superintendent continued walking and they followed. “What does the Belief do?”
“Dreams of the First Order are the dreams most often experienced while awake. However, they are not daydreams but inspired dreams, dreams that have the potential to influence and alter reality. In order for them to be effective, they must remain active for a much longer period of time than Second Order Dreams. This requires Belief. It is the lifeline of First Order Dreams, like a heart, or a brain. Without it, there can be no reaction with Hope and, as a result, no Idea to be conceived. It’s odd,” she continued after a pause, “how, just in the past five hundred years, the required amount of belief to keep one of these dreams viable long enough has increased almost to ten times what it was before. There is so much skepticism with these humans now.”
“Maybe it’s another incident,” suggested Hope. “Too much reality?”
“Oh, no.” The Superintendent shook her head. “That’s never happened to these dreams. The only truly awful occurrence was during a period which humans have since called the Dark Ages. Books were rare, locked away. It wasn’t long before we had a massive surplus of First Order Dreams, but the moment things picked up in Italy…Well, there is a reason they named it the Renaissance.”
“Lucy loves to read. That must be why she’s always getting these wonderful ideas,” said Hope. “One time, she created a secret language that she and her two best friends only know. They call it Lucinese.”
“Is that so?” The Director chuckled.
“And another time, she helped her neighbors find their dog by putting fliers in everyone’s mailbox, not just on telephone poles.” Hope continued on, her enthusiasm increasing. “And she went door-to-door to collect money donations for animals displaced and injured by wildfires.”
“Lucy sounds like a very compassionate and loving girl,” he said.
“She is most of the time.” Hope looked down at her hands suddenly, twisting her fingers together. “Sometimes she gets angry.”
“All humans do,” said the Superintendent. “That is their nature.”
“But it’s not the same, I don’t think. Lucy doesn’t hate anyone. She’s just sad a lot. Her parents divorced, and she doesn’t know why. We used to hope that maybe someday they’ll be together again, but not so much anymore. It’s been months since she’s heard from her dad. Plus, Lucy had to start at a new school a year ago, and some of the older kids keep picking on her. There’s no one to talk to about it because her friends are at her old school, but then she made some new friends.”
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” asked the Director.
“They’re different though,” Hope continued. “They never like her ideas, and no matter what we do in hopes that they’ll actually accept her, it never seems to work. She still doesn’t have anyone to talk to. It’s like she suddenly stopped mattering to anybody. Nobody has time. Nobody cares at all what she’s thinking or even bothers to ask. Nobody—” Hope stopped short, suddenly embarrassed for losing her composure. The Director said nothing, a deep frown on his face as the light of the incubated dreams reflected brightly off his glasses. “And she stopped reading books.”
“Thank you, Superintendent,” the Director said after a long silence. “We’ll be moving along now.”
“A pleasure meeting you, Hope.” The Superintendent bowed. “Director.” And without looking at them again, she turned and walked away.
“Come,” said the Director.
“Where are we going?”
Without explanation, the Director led her down a hallway and into a room even larger than his office, filled with books as high and far as could be seen. In the center of the room was a projected holographic screen floating above a pair of empty pedestals. A scene played before them of a picturesque range of mountains with snow caps and towering redwoods passing far below in a birds-eye view. The horizon stretched farther than Hope had ever imagined, and she inhaled a breath of amazement. After nearly a minute, the scene faded away and a name and age appeared.
“Jorge Devitas. Eighty-three years old,” Hope read. As though in response to her words, the infinite collection of books began to shuffle up and down and side to side until one book found itself beneath a spotlight. A bent old man with a flowing white mustache that matched his tunic and cane retrieved the book and took it to the pedestal. Carefully, he placed it and turned open the cover. In a flowing river of light and color, the screen appeared to stream into the pages of the book until there was nothing left. The figure then closed the book and returned it to the shelf.
The hologram flickered back to life, and in a moment, a new image appeared of a monster with a contorted and frothing mouth and bloodshot, evil eyes. It slashed and snarled at them. Hope shuddered, and the Director put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Welcome to the Reprocessing Center,” said the old man approaching with a limp. “I am the Chief Curator. I see you’re receiving the grand tour.”
“What is that?” Hope asked, pointing to the hologram.
“Those are dreams as they appear to humans,” said the Curator. “Wild and untamed things. They must be matched to those who are capable of surviving them.”
“Even good dreams can kill,” he sighed. “In fact, they do more often than bad dreams. This is why we screen them. Technology has come quite a long way for this process. In the beginning, it was a judgement call. Now, we have algorithms to determine which human will best match with each dream. Of course, this isn’t a flawless system. Humans are creatures of continuous change and evolution. But nevertheless, once the dream has been assigned, transmitted, and used up, it returns here to its place of origin for reprocessing. This happens up to seven or eight times, and then it dies. Its elements are harvested and reused. This is the lifecycle of a dream.”
Again, the scene stopped, a new name appeared, and the walls of books moved mechanically. Once more, the Curator took the designated book from its place and opened it for the dream to enter its pages.
“Those books, are they people?”
“They are the link through which dreams are transmitted,” said the Director. “And yes, there is a book for each individual human. Within the books are kept chronological records of the dreams transmitted.”
“There’s a book for everyone?” asked Hope.
“Everyone that has received a dream from this facility, yes.” The Curator coiled the end of his mustache around his finger as he returned to them. “Before you is the largest and most extensive collection of dreams in existence. I have the pleasure of looking after them all.”
“What about Lucy Jane Bingham?” Hope turned to the Curator. “Do you have Lucy’s book of dreams?”
“I should say so,” he replied. The Curator took a few steps toward the wall of books, then searched through his spectacles. “Ah! Yes. There it is.” He cleared his throat, then bellowed, “Lucy Jane Bingham!”
For a third time, the walls moved in swift and monumental increments until a book, newer than many others, appeared in the spotlight. The Curator retrieved it and placed it in Hope’s hands. Hope was mesmerized as she looked upon the cover, a crimson pastel, smooth and soft in her fingers. Lucy’s name was embossed in gold, curling letters.
“Of course,” said the Curator, motioning to the second pedestal.
Hope approached the hologram which appeared much larger than before as it hovered above her. She placed the book carefully upon the pedestal, and after an encouraging nod from the Curator, she turned the cover open.
The same radiant color and light that had entered the other books began moving slowly upward from the pages and into the hologram. Lucy’s name and age were displayed in the top right corner of the screen, the number ticking down from twelve to zero. Gradually, moving and excited blurs filled the screen until the images were clear. Bright, vivid colors swirled and danced together before melting into grand scenes of the sky, green fields, smiling faces, and dogs. Lots of dogs.
“She really likes dogs,” said Hope with a smile.
The scene of a playground gave way to a dark shadow in a bedroom, a fast-moving train, and the sound of a screaming whistle. Hope covered her ears until it was over. The three of them stood watching for a long while, good dreams continuing steadily on with rare, intermittent bad ones making their appearance. As the dreams played through, so did Lucy’s age advance higher at a more rapid rate.
“It appears that Lucy was paired with fewer dreams as she grew,” said the Curator.
“Fewer dreams? But why?” asked Hope.
“Well,” he began, looking into the book over his glasses, “it appears she was assigned plenty of dreams, but few of them survived long enough to be experienced, and that can be caused by a number of things. More than likely, she built up an immunity to belief, and that is generally a byproduct of something happening in reality.”
“We call this Realistic Saturation,” said the Director.
“Something like what?” she asked.
“That I have no way of telling you with any certainty,” sighed the Curator. “More often than not, however, I understand it to be a sign of trouble.”
Hope stood staring up at the darkened hologram with steel brown eyes. “If I’m here, then I must be a dream.” She turned to the Director. “But I didn’t see myself anywhere in all those dreams.”
“That’s because you’re Hope,” he answered. “Yes, in a sense you are a dream, but you don’t come from a place like this.”
“Where do I come from then?” she asked.
“You come from Lucy, of course,” the Curator explained. “Lucy created you with all the required parts, imagination, reality, and belief. But there is a fourth part that you consist of, a part which we cannot manufacture here.”
“Something that exists only in human beings. That is Ambition. And the four together create you: Hope.” The Curator smiled. “You are a remarkable creation, you know. Since the dawn of the human species, hope has been responsible for the perseverance of those facing certain ruin. It has freed slaves and enslaved dictators. It has sparked love and extinguished hate. Hope is the strength that balances the weak and the mighty. It is the whisper that can be heard in a sea of noise saying, ‘Hold on for just a while longer.’ With Hope, all things are possible. It is the most powerful element in the universe. Even more than love. Hope can outlast almost anything. Yes, you are quite remarkable.”
Hope listened to his words carefully, and an expression of grave concern fell over her. “If that’s true, then what am I doing here?” she asked.
“Do you not understand what this place is?” the Director asked. She made no response. “This is where dreams are created. This is where dreams are reprocessed. This is where dreams go to die.”
“To die?!” she repeated.
“Despite its fortitude, hope is not something that can exist on its own. As much as it is a creation of man, there are those who seek out and sever the bond between people and their hope. This is why it must be held close to the heart, or it could be lost forever.”
“You mean…Lucy has lost me?”
“You shouldn’t take it personally,” he answered. “No one ever loses hope on purpose. This is most often the work of Despair.”
“Despair? But what will she do without me?” Hope asked, her voice rising in distress. “She needs me. I have to get back to her. She can’t face Despair all alone.”
“She needs me!” Hope cried, grabbing the Director by the arms and shaking him. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes. “She needs me!”
“You’re already here, Hope. There’s nothing to be done.” The Director held the child close. “There’s nothing to be done.”
Hope wept, her body trembling in the old Director’s arms. Lucy had been her whole purpose for existence, and suddenly that existence was enveloped by a shadow that had somehow overpowered her. There was no way that she could reach any other conclusion but that it was her fault. That she had failed Lucy, and now, who knew what was to become of her?
“With hope, anything is possible,” she whispered.
“What’s that?” asked the Curator.
“With hope, anything is possible. That’s what you said, isn’t it?” Hope looked at him, her sorrow having evacuated her countenance altogether.
“Well, yes, but it’s just a figure of speech,” the Curator chuckled. “There are always impossibilities.” Hope stepped away from the two and closer to the screen where a seashell had appeared in the hands of a child, then running feet on cool, wet sand.
“I can’t abandon Lucy, not without trying at least.”
“Trying what?” asked the Director.
“Young lady,” said the Curator, “I suggest you stop and think for a moment. There are processes that must be adhered to. This has worked for thousands upon thousands of years for a reason.”
“The Superintendent of Creation said that dreams are always connected to their source. She said that I made that same connection. If I can get back to that dream…”
Hope picked up the book from the second pedestal and placed it onto the first.
“What do you think your doing?” the Curator demanded.
Hope flipped from page to page, watching the hologram jump from one dream to the next. Suddenly she stopped, her eyes fixed on the image projected above them.
“This is the one,” she laughed. “This is my dream!”
“Hope, you’ll only destroy yourself,” the Director warned. “Do you think you’re the first to try this? If you do, there might be no hope in existence for Lucy at all. None!”
“If I don’t try, there will certainly be no hope for Lucy,” Hope replied.
With one unhesitant motion, she placed her palm flat on the page. A warmth began to climb upward through her fingertips to her wrist, then to her elbow. The heat spread throughout her whole body in a flooding sweep. She could not her the Director and the Curator anymore as the room began to whirl around and a forceful wind picked up. A light brighter than all the rest began to shine around her until she could feel the light, could sense herself becoming part of the light, until in a flash, there was nothing.
The place where Hope had stood was vacant, only her handprint branded onto the page any indication that she had been there. The Curator and Director stood frozen in place, any and all words stolen for several minutes.
“Did she do it?” the Director finally asked.
“I don’t know,” the Curator answered. “I don’t know.”
“Lucy Jane Bingham, don’t look at me like that. I know you’re mad, but that doesn’t mean you get to glare at me. I’m your mother, and I know what’s best for you. You’ll thank me someday for getting you away from this place for a while. You’ll see. There’s been too much stress lately. How could anyone expect you to keep up your grades? You used to be such a good student. Stop twisting your hair like that! You’re going to make it fall out. And don’t pick your nails. That’s disgusting. It’s no wonder you’ve never had a boyfriend. You’re always messing around like that, and you never wear the clothes I buy you. Always jeans and hoodies. You’re a girl, Lucy. You’ve got to start acting like that. Start looking like one. Try being pretty every once in a while. You’ll see, your Aunt Phoenicia will get you straightened out. Did I tell you she’s a home ec teacher? She’ll have you finding your way around the kitchen in no time. And, she puts your cousin Renee in beauty pageants. Renee has almost too many trophies. You’ll see. But it’s only a testament to your aunt. She clearly knows what she’s talking about. And I’m telling you what, Lucy Jane. While you’re there, you’d better learn from her or I’ll make you stay out there longer. See how you like that. Oh, sometimes I wonder if I failed you. I mean, you’re practically a tomboy. I didn’t raise you to be a tomboy. I should’ve never let your father get you into sports. God! The smell! He never did listen to anything I said. I guess it’s your father’s fault. He failed you. Not me. He failed both of us. That’s why we’re in this mess in the first place. I just don’t have time right now. That’s why it’s not fair for you to be mad at me like this. I didn’t do anything wrong to you. This is for your own good. Right now, you’re failing school, you’re unattractive, you’ always sulking and being difficult. But things are going to change, Lucy. It’s going to be so much better when you’re gone. I mean for you. When you’re there it’ll be better for you. You’ll see…”
Lucy Jane Bingham slouched in the backseat of her mother’s car. There was no point in responding, she wouldn’t hear her anyway. Lucy was to be sent away to her aunt and uncle’s home, and that was that. They lived so far across the country that it might as well have been another planet. And she wasn’t even allowed to pack her things other than some clothes because her mother wants her to “purge the nasty.” Whatever that meant. Leaving them behind was difficult, but what made it nearly impossible to take was the knowledge that she would never see those things again. It would be less than a week before it was all in the dump, and she knew it. Everything that was anything was being ripped away. She would see, though. It was her mother’s new mantra, and ever time she heard it…
“It’s me,” Lucy thought. “Mom just doesn’t want me anymore. And Dad would’ve done something about this if he cared at all. He doesn’t. Neither of them does. Neither of them wants me.” And this thought repeated itself over and again as she was driven to the airport.
Her flight wasn’t for another hour, but her mother had a hair appointment she couldn’t miss. After waiting and walking through the search lines, Lucy found a spot on the floor against the wall of the overcrowded terminal. She tucked up her knees in front of her and buried her face in her arms. She cried silently so that no one would hear, a skill she had mastered in recent months as her mother had implemented the rule of no more crying.
“Care for a book?” a woman’s smiling voice asked from above her. Lucy smeared away her tears on her sleeves as she lifted her head.
“A book?” Lucy repeated. The woman was plump and motherly, pushing an assortment of books on a small metal cart. “No, thanks. I don’t have any money.”
“Well, that’s perfect then, because these don’t cost anything. Let’s see what we can find in here for you…” Without waiting for a response, the woman began digging through the pile, speaking softly to herself. “Here it is! I always loved this one. Perhaps you’d like to read it.”
Lucy stared at the small book extended to her. She remained still until the woman shook the book, urging her to take it. Lucy accepted it and continued to look upon the cover transfixed.
“Thank you,” Lucy finally said, but the woman was already gone.
Crossing her legs, Lucy rested her elbows on her knees and opened the book to the first chapter.
“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers,” she read. “Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
And Lucy laughed.