Disclaimer - I don't own The Dreaming. Neil Gaiman does. Though we all know that Dreams will never die, and therefore Dream himself is a person (or at least an anthropomorphic personification) all on his own and is owned by no one. He, nor any of his siblings are in this story, just the Dreaming itself.
A/N - This is my first Sandman story and I hope people out there enjoy it. Written in the first person. Please read and review.
The exercise was started and the carpet was hard yet somewhat more comfortable than the plain hardwood boards on the rest of the drama room floor. We have been told to close our eyes, to not think of anything but what the teacher is saying loud enough for us all to hear, but low enough that it sounds like a whisper.
"You are walking along a path, any path, a path which makes you happy..." the soft voice told us all, and I found myself walking on a forest path. Whatever else the teacher was saying I did not know. I was alone. To all my astonishment, it felt real, so real! I knealt down on my hands and knees, crawling for a few moments before getting back to my feet. Yes, I could feel the dirt on my knees, between my fingers, I could feel the gentle breeze as it blows through my hair. Not once did I stop my walking.
I heard a call somewhere inside my head, I couldn't understand what it had said but my feet began to move me off the path, and I was filled with excitement. This was right, this was where I was meant to go. The voice stopped and I found myself beginning to jog, and then run. The wind whipped around my head, the ground fled beneath my feet as my speed went past that any human could ever imagine reaching. I lost my clothes, I lost my shoes even, and I was still running, joy like none I had ever experienced in my life filled me.
I was on all fours again, running so swiftly that I almost seemed to be flying. If it wasn't for the ground I could feel at the bottom of my feet, I would have believed that I was.
The woods around me opened to a small lake, a waterfall feeding it a continuous stream of sparkling fresh water. It looked so good, so healthy, that I stopped my running, put my head down and drank deeply. The water tasted like water never had before. It tasted as it should. Free of chemicals, of dirt, of any influence human beings could ever have on it. It tasted pure.
After my drink I looked in the water and started. I was no longer the girl I thought I was. The transition from two legged creature to four had been so seamless I had hardly noticed, though I had known it had happened. Golden eyes stared out at me, slowly weaving as small ripples made it's way through the lake. My face, usually flanked by thin, light brown hair was a rich black colour, a muzzle instead of a mouth and nose.
For a moment I almost took off running again, this time in panic, but that voice reached out to me again, told me not to be scared and the feeling fled. I looked down into the water again, looking at myself and realised that this was me. The real me. That joy filled me again, so sharp that I could have cried. If I had been human in body at the time, I am sure I would have. I knew that this was not a lesson being taught any longer, this was no longer just something to pass time with when our usual teacher was away somewhere on a trip with her husband. This was a gift, a wonderful shining gift that would always be treasured.
I didn't voice out the questions that I wanted the answers to: Where was I? What was this place? Why was I here? Because in a way it didn't matter. I was here, in this place and it was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It just was. As it was meant to be.
I felt another odd feeling wash over me and I cocked my head slightly. It wasn't a voice like last time, but still felt like a beckoning of some kind. My feet took me away from the lake and to a shack nearby. It was old, it had been abandoned, and the smell of who had once lived in this place had completely gone. I knew that if such a thing still existed I would have been able to tell. A small stove stood to one side, pots and pans hanging over it ready for a dinner of rabbit. A bed, not more than a bundle of rags on an old mattress was what filled the rest of the shack, that and a table big enough for one person, perhaps two if such an occasion ever would arise.
I was tired then, so tired. I yawned widely, padded my way silently over the wooden floor to the mattress, jumped onto it and laid myself down. I curled up in a nice neat ball and closed my eyes.
A hand was shaking me, telling me to wake up. A growl escaped me, but I did as I was told and opened my eyes. I could feel my hands by my sides bunch into fists as anger made itself known. Why had I been woken? Couldn't this stranger of a teacher know that I had been happy in my dream world. That for the first time in my life I had truly known and understood myself?
"Alright, now I want you all to tell me, one at a time what kind of road you found yourself walking on," she asked us. Out of a class of eight, only three of us answered a wooded path.
"Did you all find yourself at a body of water?" she asks us next. Most of us said yes, two said no. They were told they could leave the class. "What was this water in your dream, what did it look like? Where was it?"
Most of the class stated that the water they had been to had been a fountain of some kind, though two others said a tap. The fountains were in a city populated with people. The taps, outside of homes that they had felt the urge to turn on. I was the only one who said lake. I was the only one who could describe what the water had tasted like, none other had even tried to drink it.
"Did you all see yourself reflected?" was the next question. And this one made me smile and nod. Again two said no, they were told to go home. They packed and left, glad for the early mark.
"What did you see?" Most of the class said that they saw themselves in glass as they past buidings in the city. When asked what they looked like, they had gotten confused and said like they looked here.
The teacher turned to me. I had been quiet, the anger having left me after the latest question. "And you, what did you see, what did you look like?"
I smiled at her and was only then beginning to understand. We had been tested in a way none of us had ever been before. "I was reflected in the lake as I had finished my drink. I looked as I truly am, not as I look here. I saw the real me, and I am glad of that."
She smiled at me then, and I got a good look at her eyes. They were sharp, clear and a deep brown. That brown turned slightly lighter for a second, and much sharper and I understood that at one point in her life she had been tested in the same way she had just tested us and she had seen too. I wonder if she saw something of me in my own eyes.
Something in me told me that she had. We nodded at each other at the same time, before she told the rest of us we could leave, that the lesson was over for the day. It was now home time.
Now, almost ten years later, I still remember the Dream, almost as vividly as if it were happening though it is slowly fading. I remember the real me, I remember the lake. I don't remember the taste anymore, nor what the ground had felt like. If all else fails, the one thing I would always remember, even when I am old and my mind failing me, is that I had fallen asleep, curled up and happy on a bed dusty with disuse. I will remember being shaken awake by a stranger who had led me there in the first place.
It makes you wonder really, doesn't it? Which world is the real one? Was it the one in my Dream, the one where I had seen me as I truly am, only to fall asleep and begin dreaming this life again? Or is this the real world and I had a rare glimpse of another?
Sometimes I still think that I should just wake up, even when I am so. That I am stuck in a dream and that the real world is waiting for me on the other side. All I need to do is wake up.
I just need to remember how.